Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Friday, December 31, 2010

Anything Can Happen: New Year's Calendar Swap

Try this family New Year's Eve activity. Buy a new PAPER family wall calendar. One with pages that can turn, not one you erase weeks gone by. Take down the old one together and go through it month by month.  Talk about things that happened during the year. Reflect out loud for children too young or struggling to reflect for themselves. [Ex: "Remember how nervous you were about the first day of school and who would be in your class? Now look at how well you know the other kids!"]

Then get out the new calendar.  Write in birthdays for everyone, marked with heart stickers or drawn with red marker circles.  Mark anniversaries or other family events that you know about.  Maybe even put some goals on sticky notes and attach to the calendar. Agree to use the family calendar a new way: Mark challenges, guests, celebrations, achievements, events and appointments. Turn the monthly pages, don't rip them off and discard them.
Reflection is healthy.             Perspective is even better.

Next New Year's Eve you can gather again to reflect on the calendar diary of the year you will have created over the year, and prepare for another calendar for another new year.

Image credits:,

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Parenting tips: Stay in pajamas!

The plague hit our house this week.  The seemingly inevitable vacation week plague.  Two kids taking turns throwing up in the bathroom, one hacking and sneezing, and me with a bullfrog in my throat and goodness knows what in my chest!  So, today I bring you a parenting tip my mother passed on to me years ago:
When you get NOT get dressed until you are well.

Stay in pajamas and it will signal to your children that you are not yourself [assuming of course that pajamas are not your normal daywear]. If you are a single parent and must work, change into pjs as soon as you get home.  Even small toddlers will sense that something is different. 

Does wearing pajamas make it easier for you to keep the house going through the course of infection? No.
Does it gain you sympathy? No.
Will anyone seem to care that you too are sick? Probably not.
But ...
The second you drag yourself out of bed, hand over hand, and pull on sweats or jeans or any real clothes you have crossed a magical, clinical line in the minds of your children. In that moment you have been transformed. The good health fairy has come to you and bopped you on the head with her magic wand and... you are healed!  You and I know that an APB is still out for the mack truck that ran you down. Any adult can [and hopefully will] notice the sniffles, bloodshot eyes, or frantic races to the bathroom! But, in the minds of your children, you are well!
So, stay in those pjs even if you start feeling you can tackle life for a few moments at a time. Only when you can last a whole regular day... wash your hair, take a bath, put on your lipstick, brush your hair, and finally put on your clothes and really BE well.   Good Luck!

Image credit:

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Soapbox: Personal Renovations

So the tree is down and the holiday things are off the wall... okay, I admit it, they aren't really put away yet. One step at a time.  My goal is to have my house back by New Year's Day.  I love the holiday decorations, but by now I am more than ready to have the simpler, less cluttered living room etc. back.  The rooms always seem so much bigger to me somehow.

There is something about putting away all that stuff that makes me itch to refresh, straighten, sort, throw away, etc. the spaces in my houses.  [More accurately the places that have no space left!] Much like New Year's resolutions, I have as much urge to clean and reinvent my house in January as the more tradition spring cleaning season. As I was working it occurred to me that living spaces aren't the only things that need occasional renovation and refreshing. People do too. Goodness knows I do. Some of my renovations have been forced reincarnations and reinventions. But sometimes it has been by choice as well.  Children need to renovate and reinvent too. Some children reinvent themselves more often than adults. Others need help, guidance, and support to change, redefine, and renew.  Just as they need to be taught how to pick up or to clean well, they need to be show how to grow, adapt, and reinvent. Helping them learn how to grow and change is one more part of our job as parents.

So today/s soapbox is less a rant than a thought.  Everybody needs renovation after a while. We need to allow ourselves and our children the time, space, skills, and support to choose to change.  Now it we could just find the energy!!

Image credit:

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Focus on Fostering: A Recipe for family fun

Ok.  I know that diet season is upon us.  BUT... this is the time of year when you can make something semi-evil and tell yourself it is okay because you will only eat one piece and give the rest away.  Right.
Anyway... I found this amazing recipe for amazingly delicious shortbread and it is toooo easy.  People will think you slaved over it but it is a breeze. This is awesome to make with kids!.. They can wash their hands and then squish the dough by hand to mix it and then pat it into the pan by hand.  Consider it a post-holiday, vacation boredom buster present to all of you?

Scottish Shortbread:
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt.
1 cup softened butter

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl and blend well.  Cut in the butter and when well cut in, knead with hands to make final dough mixture.  Press firmly into an 8 inch square pan [or pie plate or shortbread mold].  Bake for 1 hour.  Shortbread should be pale in color , not browned.  Cut while still warm! [Otherwise it is so flaky it tends to split and break.]

Note: The "official" way to make these is to bake them in a pie pan and cut them into pie-shaped wedges OR to bake them in special shortbread pans.  I am too lazy so I just make them in a square or rectangular pan and cut into squares. If I am going to dip them in chocolate I just cut them in longer thinner strips rather than just squares.  [Usually in too much of a hurry to roll them out and cut.]

P.S. If you want them a little less sinful... Chill the dough in the frig and then roll it out and cut out little shapes [simple rounds about 1 inch or small hearts] and bake on a cookie sheet.... [Takes less baking time, so watch carefully.]

Evil?   A friend of mine makes shortbread even more sinful by putting little dabs of confectioner's sugar frosting on top! I sometimes dip them in chocolate for fancier gifts.

Image credits:,

Monday, December 27, 2010

School Bell: On vacation... thank you notes

Since this is likely a school vacation for most of you I decided to give our usual School Bell entry a vacation too.  So here is an alternative.  I struggle to get my kids to write their thank you notes.  This year I found this online and used it to get them laughing... then writing.  We sang the song one verse at a time.  After each verse I read them the matching thank you note.   Enjoy ! ! ! 

The 12 Thank-you Notes of Christmas

Dec 25
My dearest darling Edward,
What a wonderful surprise has just greeted me! That sweet partridge, in that lovely little pear-tree; what an enchanting, romantic, poetic present! Bless you, and thank you.
Your deeply loving,

Dec. 26
Beloved Edward,
The two turtle-doves arrived this morning, and are cooing away in the pear-tree as I write. I'm so touched and grateful!
With undying love, as always,

Dec. 27
My darling Edward,
You do think of the most original presents! Who ever thought of sending anybody three French hens? Do they really come all the way from France? It's a pity we have no chicken coops, but I expect we'll find some. Anyway, thank-you so much; they're lovely.
Your devoted,

Dec. 28
Dearest Edward,
What a surprise! Four calling birds arrived this morning. They are very sweet, even if they do call rather loudly - they make telephoning almost impossible - but I expect they'll calm down when they get used to their new home. Anyway, I'm very grateful, of course I am.
Love from Emily

Dec. 29
Dearest Edward,
The mailman has just delivered five most beautiful gold rings, one for each finger, and all fitting perfectly! A really lovely present! Lovelier, in a way, than birds, which do take rather a lot of looking after. The four that arrived yesterday are still making a terrible row, and I'm afraid none of us got much sleep last night. Mother says she wants to use the rings to "wring" their necks. Mother has such a sense of humour. This time she's only joking, I think, but I do know what she means. Still, I love the rings.
Bless you,

Dec. 30
Dear Edward,
Whatever I expected to find when I opened the front door this morning, it certainly wasn't six socking great geese laying eggs all over the porch. Frankly, I rather hoped that you had stopped sending me birds. We have no room for them, and they've already ruined the croquet lawn. I know you meant well, but let's call a halt, shall we?

Dec. 31
I thought I said NO MORE BIRDS. This morning I woke up to find no more than seven swans, all trying to get into our tiny goldfish pond. I'd rather not think what's happened to the goldfish. The whole house seems to be full of birds, to say nothing of what they leave behind them, so please, please, stop!
Your Emily

Jan 1
Frankly, I prefer the birds. What am I to do with eight milkmaids? And their cows! Is this some kind of a joke? If so, I'm afraid I don't find it very amusing.

Jan. 2
Look here, Edward,
This has gone far enough. You say you're sending me nine ladies dancing. All I can say is, judging from the way they dance, they're certainly not ladies. The village just isn't accustomed to seeing a regiment of shameless viragos, with nothing on but their lipstick, cavorting round the green, and it's mother and I who get the blame. If you value our friendship, which I do (less and less), kindly stop this ridiculous behaviour at once!

Jan 3
As I write this letter, 10 disgusting old men are prancing up and down all over what used to be the garden, before the geese and the swans and the cows got at it. And several of them, I have just noticed, are being a nuisance with the milkmaids. Meanwhile the neighbours are trying to have us evicted. I shall never speak to you again.

Jan 4
This is the last straw! You know I detest bagpipes! The place has now become something between a menagerie and a madhouse, and a man from the council has just declared it unfit for habitation. At least Mother has been spared this last outrage; they took her away yesterday afternoon in an ambulance to a home for the bewildered. I hope you're satisfied.

Jan 5
Our client, Miss Emily Wilbraham, instructs me to inform you that with the arrival on her premises at 7:30 this morning of the entire percussion section of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and several of their friends, she has no course left open to her but to seek an injunction to prevent you importuning her further. I am making arrangements for the return of much assorted livestock.
I am, Sir, yours faithfully,
G. Creep
Attorney at law

With grateful thanks to the clean joke site:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Caring Heart: Missed Holiday from Home

Whether a holiday or a birthday or a graduation, anyone who does foster care for very long will see this happen to the child in their care.

Missed Holiday from Home 

Nothing came. Just like Thanksgiving.  Just like her last birthday, and every Valentines Day. And now this holiday too.  Couldn't her parents at least manage to send a card?  She doesn't need a present.  She doesn't need much.  But a simple card that acknowledged their connection to her would mean so very much to her.  Oh, she's tough.  She tries to pretend she doesn't care.  But the dame is still real to that small child within her that still wishes she were like everyone else.  Still wants to believe, somewhere deep inside, that the people who gave birth to her remember her and care.  Don't let her build too much scar tissue around that fragile heart.  She needs that heart, and the more walls she builds around it, the harder it will be for her to open it up one day.  Help her find the strength to keep her heart safe and open to see a better day.  Help her parents remember to reach out, to value her.  Protect and fill her heart, Lord.  

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Anything Can Happen...Christmas Flash Mob

Since I used a youtube video for my Hanukkah gift... here is a youtube video for my Christmas gift.  I would love to have been there.  I love the airport greeting flash mobs, I think they would be fun too. Heck, I would love to be part of a flash mob event in general... [except for the no-pants subway flash mobs!]  But imagine getting into the spirit of a holiday by being part of an event like this. I still haven't learned how to put a video on the blog so you will have to click here for the video.  or Here for an amateur video reaction.  Or for non-Christmas flash mob fans click here for a commercial for phones that surprised passengers returning home.
Merry Christmas Eve!

Image credit: dolt101

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Parenting Tips: Pause and Breathe

Regardless of what you do or do not celebrate, this is a time often surrounded by stress.
My tip for today is to take a moment now to -
Stop reading this blog [much as I appreciate you visiting!],
Turn off your computer, and
Pause ---sit for a moment with your children, your partner, even alone...and just
Breathe out the frustrations.   ---    Breathe IN the love.   ---   Breathe out the rush.   ---   Breathe IN the compassion.   ---   Breathe out the chaos.    ---    Breathe IN a moment of peace.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Soapbox Derby: We need a hero!

Wanted:  One champion!

The statistics on foster care are frightening [see below]  We don't need Superman or Wonderwoman.
We need a celebrity spokesperson,
a public champion for all the nameless children.

Where is that hero to take up this cause, to focus attention on the need, to mobilize community action?  

All I want for Christmas?  I want someone to help America take action for the lost futures of these children, to improve these statistics. These children need a better future. That outlook improves most with lifelong connections to caring adults.

Wanted:  One champion!

  • over 500,000 children in foster care in the United States
  • average age of foster children  10 years old
  • most in care due to parental abuse and/or neglect
  • each year an estimated 200,000 children age out of foster care, many only 18, still needing support services, and with no meaningful adult support system or connectionResearch shows that young people in foster care are far more likely then their peers in the general population to endure homelessness, poverty, compromised health, unemployment, incarceration and other adversities after they leave the foster care system*
  • U.S. statistics show that 50% of former foster youth will be homeless during their first two years exiting foster care
  • barely 54 % earned a high school diploma*
  • only 2% earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher*
  • 51% were unemployed*
  • 30% had no health insurance*
  • 25% have been homeless at one time*
  • 30% were receiving public assistance*
  • 84% became a parent often repeating the same cycle they went through* 
Where is the celebrity champion for THIS cause?

Image credits:, the

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Limiting Holiday "Stuff"

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the holidays often include redecorating and rearranging around the house and the yard to create whatever your traditions consider festive.  This is true of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and more.  Any holiday that the business world can convince us is better decorated than plain soon adds to the list.

The problem is that for many foster children, familiar structure is not only helpful, but crucial, to them feeling safe and secure.  All the changes that we see as temporary holiday "stuff" can be very unsettling to those who need consistency for security.  If your child is one of these, consider limiting the ways the holidays affect/change your living patterns.  [Maybe make one room the holiday room and leave the rest in their usual arrangement?] Talk out loud about it.  Let the child know that we all feel the disruption, even when it is good stuff. We know holidays are stressful for people who don't have the "Hallmark Card" family life.  But it is common to forget that even the surface business of a holiday can be an extra stressor for kids in care and for us. Kids who depend on familiar surroundings and structure for security can be undone at holiday time... when there is already more stress!

Holiday excitement and disruption is better than those caused by sadness or trauma, but it is still disruption. Sometimes all we can do is be aware and be prepared.  Hang in there!

Monday, December 20, 2010

School Bell: Learning for Sale --Cheap! [part 2]

For part two I offer a bunch of ways to use probably the cheapest gift.-- Playing Cards! You can get them for under $1 at discount stores, but for a fun gift, choose a themed set to match your child's interests... Disney, cartoons, TV, or their favorite sports team!!   A simple pack of playing cards and a few minutes of instruction can become a great tool for practicing math facts and have fun doing it.  No need to spend money on commercial flash cards. Bury the practice in a game and change the game up as the kids grow. Here are a bunch:

1- Play "War" with a twist--
Decide whether to use addition or subtraction [or for older kids multiplication] before you begin. As the two players put their cards down, instead of the high card winning, the first player to correctly call out the math total wins the cards.  Both speed and accuracy improve the more often they play. First player with all the cards wins the game.  [Up the stakes for older kids by playing with more than two people making the addition harder.]
Note: If doing subtraction subtract smaller number from larger unless you are trying to make it tougher with older kids.

2. Take away the competition-- 
Don't make it a race for the right answer.  Take turns with who gets to do the math.  If the answer is correct, you give the cards to your opponent.  If you are wrong you have to keep your cards, putting them at the bottom of your pile.

3- Level the playing field between siblings--
Have the older child do tougher computation while the younger does simpler. [Ex:  Older does multiplication, younger does addition or younger subtracts smaller from larger, while the older does the reverse].

4. Math Sets--  [Endless variations!]
Play it with a pre-agreed "set" goal.  Agree on whether or not suits or colors will matter. [The easier the better for younger children.] Deal out five cards to each person. [Refill from draw pile as you empty.] Put down sets of two, three or four.  Examples of pre-agreed sets: even numbers in order, odd numbers in order, cards that add up to 15 or 13 or 10 or 21 or whatever you agreed before the game started.  You can even make it multiplication by requiring that in order to put the set of 2 or 3 cards down you have to be able to state the math result [ex: 3, 5 multiplied total 15]. If you are write the set stays down, if not, it goes back in your hand.

So get out the deck of cards, agree on the game and have some fun with your kids... Never has practicing math facts been so much fun!

Image credits:,

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Caring Heart: A Home Visit

Many times foster parents deal with the conflicting emotions around a home visit for the child in their care. Because it is such a common thing, this meditation is from the "Milestones" section of the book.
A Home Visit

She is going on a home visit this week, God.  Be with her, keep her safe.  Keep her body safe, and even more please guard her heart.  She is so excited and has such a perfect picture in her mind of what this visit will be.  I know her mother may be able to hold it together for a while, but sooner or later I fear she will disappoint this child again and break her heart. I can't even decided if it is better to be heart broken sooner or later. Will her father be there?  How will he do? Is it better for this child to have wonderful hours, a good visit to bank against a later disappointment, or not?  Will this be the time her parents step up to the plate and make a new and better beginning?  I leave it to you, God, to know what is best and to be with this child through all of it.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Quick Takes: Creative Rewards #11-15

Today's quick take is five more creative rewards for your kids.  Since this is December, the holiday season, I've chosen "gifts" that children find an extra delight, making them wonderful rewards. I've also chosen rewards that are for the whole family.  Examples are for a mix of ages and genders. [Creative Rewards #1-10 are in Oct 2, Nov 6 blog entries.]

 11.  Tickets to see a special event  [concert, sport event, new movie]

 12.  Kids breakfast in bed [served on a fancy tray with all the trimmings!]

 13.  A TV show BEFORE homework...[once in a rare while won't kill their study habits and the firmer the rule, the greater the privilege]

 14.  A chore free Saturday [this is best if the chores are replaced with family together time such as games or holiday activities]

15.  Family Movie Night [Rent a goodie, pop the popcorn, serve up movie candy, bring pillows out on the floor, the whole works]

Note: Even if only one child earned the reward, letting the whole family share is a powerful message. How nice for a child to know THEIR good deed brought pleasure to the whole family.

Image credit:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Free Week on Maine Coast!!!

Yes, you read it right!  I am letting you know about a fantastic contest for a free week at an amazing home right on the water of Maine's amazing rocky coast, just outside Portland. The home is fully furnished, 3 bedrooms, and a panoramic view that you have to see to believe!  [This photo from the deck is just a taste of the 180 degree views.]

Details are on the house's website:
After you check out the home page, click to news and views for the contest details. The week is April 2-9, 2011. I know the house is amazing and the contest is on the up and up because the house has been in my family for decades, converted to a rental after my folks died.  Though I will not be judging the entries personally, I am excited that we are going to continue our tradition of finding unique ways to offer the peace and tranquility of Seascape to people who could not otherwise afford it!

All it takes is 1-2 paragraphs and "Wish" in the subject line and you and your family and or friends could be having an amazing respite on the Maine coast.  True, in April there might be snow or there might not.  2010 April was gloriously spring-like here but one never knows.  [It is a year round house, don't worry.] The website has tons of photos, comments from previous guests and more.

Go for it! If you can't go, but know of someone who deserves this treat getaway, send them this info and have them apply. You [or they] could be sitting at Seascape looking out the living room windows or deck at the Two Lights Lighthouse made famous by the Edward Hopper painting, or driving three miles to walk around famous Portland Head Lighthouse.The deadline is in a few weeks.  Check out the website and if you have any questions, let me know!
Good luck!!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Parenting Tips: Personalized Gift of Communication

At the request of a friend, today I am sharing how to make personalized notebooks for your kids or that they can make for their friends.  It costs very little and takes less than an afternoon.  Best of all, there is no sticky mess or gooey mystery left behind when you are done!

I use these notebooks as gifts and also as back and forth communication notebooks between my kids and I.  Sometimes they will write something in that they want me to know, or want to ask without being face to face.  They put the notebook on my bed.  When I find it, I read it, then write a reply to them in the book and put it on their bed.  Try it!

Take an ordinary spiral notebook. The goal is to create a new, personalized cover on a plain sheet of paper and then glue the decorated paper over the old cover. 

Personalized Spiral Journals  To make theses journals follow these steps:
1. Start by cutting a piece of paper the same size as the cover.  [Hint: Do the personalizing BEFORE you glue it to the cover in case you want to make changes.] 
2. Glue a photo of the child prominently on the cover. 
3. Decorate the rest of the cover with other photos, stickers, words about the child or words showing the child’s interests and hobbies. You can use rubber stamps, pictures and words cut from magazines, etc.
4. When satisfied with the new cover sheet glue it carefully on top of the old notebook cover. 
5. To add protection and strength, cover the front of the front cover with clear adhesive paper. 
 a. Cut a piece of Contact paper 1 inch larger than the top, side, and bottom. 
 b. Start the contact as close as possible to the edge of the spirals. Carefully and slowly peel the backing off the contact as you apply the clear contact from left to right across the surface.  
 c.  If air bubbles occur, try to smooth the air  toward the edges with your fingers. If not possible, prick the bubble with a pin to release the air, and smooth again.             
 d. Use scissors to make cuts at the corners so that you can fold the extra to the inside of the cover's top, side, and bottom. 

Image credit:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Soapbox: Keep it Simple

The holidays are full of wonderful sights, sounds, and events. The streets are transformed by lights and more full than usual of shoppers, most of whom seem even more in a hurry than normally. Our homes are often crowded with extra decorations on tables and walls, with trees to be hauled inside and decorated. Many people have trees hauled into living rooms or dens with chairs moved here and there to make space. For most of us this is all part of the holiday, the hustle and bustle an accepted thing we roll with for the duration..... and are secretly relieved to pack up and put away as the house returns to normal.

Maybe we need to remember that less is more.
That stunning and simple often go together for a reason. 

Traditions are part of what bind us together as families, as regions, as cultures. Traditions are meant to add value not provoke stress.
Be mindful of that just as good stress is better than bad stress, but is still stress.  Holiday excitement is no exception.  
Busy-ness and excess need not be a tradition.  -   -  -   -   -
Does overwhelming stress need to be part of the tradition? 
Keep it simple.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Hidden Holiday Traps

As the Christmas holiday gets closer and closer, don't forget to look out for hidden holiday traps for kids in care.  Remember that we often do not know what the children have experienced before coming to us.  Be mindful of mixed messages we send.  "Don't go with strangers"  but "Go, sit on Santa's lap and smile" are just one example of ways that we can certainly confuse children, and for some can terrify them.

At Christmas there are often expectations of casual kisses among friends, gifts from people who are our friends, but more like strangers to the kids. There are relatives they may never have met, and who may have little understanding of the emotional needs and issues of children in care.  These generally are children who have not experienced the public image of Christmas, the family gathered round a tree loaded with presents, happily playing with toys and games, while lovely music fills the air and good will abounds.   Try to prepare children new to the family before the fact.  Fill them in on what to expect at the caroling party or the church holiday fair, the neighborhood gathering, or even just the traditions and decorations and habits of your family.  Remember, surprises are always a risk. Prepare ye....

Image credit:

Monday, December 13, 2010

School Bell: Learning for sale..Cheap [part one]

Today Hanukkah is winding down, Christmas is coming soon, Kwanza right after, and birthdays are constantly popping up.  So, I decided to share a few of my favorite inexpensive tidbits to give for a quick learning boost for your kids.  No, these aren't commercial products and yes, they will require imagination and instructions [brief]. Here are a couple of suggestions to end the year with fun and discovery.

1. Magnifying glass--
Found in most department stores, kids stores, or online, these stimulate and build on the natural curiosity in all children. Add any kind of box or latching case and you have an instant science kit for collecting and comparing shells, pebbles, wood, or even different fabric clothes.  Add a memo blank book to keep track of their discoveries and comparisons. To really boost the fun, get a couple of different strength magnifying glasses for close and closer-ups. If you have time, download or print a list of adjectives they can choose from to widen their vocabulary in describing things.  Cost $3.95 and up.

2. Maps --
Develop an awareness of where we fit in the world with simple United States or World wall maps and a set of map tack markers.  Mark places where family members live.  Mark where friends move. Mark places in the news.  See how many states or countries you mark in a week, in a month, in a year. How many continents? One year we almost got all 50 states by Dec 31st.  I never saw kids listen to the national news so intently. They even brought articles cut [with permission] from magazines and newspapers at school. You will also gain dinner conversation topics as you talk about the stories you have found, the states that have the most [and why], the least, etc.  Cost: $2.99 and up.

Next Monday... a gift to make math practice FUN.... for under $1

Image credits:,

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Caring Heart: A Good Bio-Family Visit

Not all bio-family contacts are negative.  Sometimes a visit works really well for the children... and definitely in the "Celebrations" category, in life and in the book.

A Good Bio-Family Visit 

Wow! What a difference it makes when the family visit has gone well. First, everyone showed up.  Then they actually played together and talked with each other.  No one shouted.  No one got angry.  No one pushed the limits.  It may have felt a little strained to me.  It always seems so artificial and a little forced what with all the required setting and structure. But I don't think the kids really noticed that.  They seemed to be really comfortable.  I hope it was real. I hope they weren't just trying to make their world more normal.  As if visiting there parent/s for an hour at a time with people supervising and watching every move is normal.  Grant these children a sense of normalcy even if just for these short stretches.  Grant them the joy and the pleasure.  Let them truly enjoy these times together.  Thank you.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Quick Takes: Kids' List #21-30

This is the third installment of "Kids List." My "Kids List" is things I wish all kids could get to experience before they are grown up and independent.   This month I am focusing on holiday traditions and holiday or vacation activities.

Kids List #21-30

21. Share in a Hannukah celebration
22. Write and send a postcard 
23. Help trim someone’s Christmas tree  
24. Make a snow angel 
25. Plan and host a party for at least 3 friends 
26. Go without television or screen games for 24 hours
27. Sleep over at a friend’s house 
28. Make supper for your family   
29. Fix someone else breakfast in bed 
30. Make and date a poster with your whole family’s handprints   

I try to do one Quick Takes entry each month from my Kids List. Hope you try some of these with your kiddos.  List #1-20 are in the Oct 16 and Nov 13 blogs.

Photo Credit:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Riddle Me This

This Anything Can Happen Day let's share a riddle or joke...If you are brave enough for more, check out the sites. [Riddle answers at the bottom....Don't Peek!]

Q1. Why does Santa Claus like to work in the garden?

Q2. Why did Santa push his bed into the fireplace?

Winter:  [With a tip to Twilight's popularity]
Q3. What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? 
Q4. What kind of ball doesn't bounce?

The differences between Christmas and Hannukah: 
1-Christmas brings enormous electric bills. Candles are used for Chanukah. Not only are we spared enormous electric bills, but we get to feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis.   
2-Christmas is a major holiday. Chanukah is a minor holiday with the same theme as most Jewish holidays. They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat.


A1. Because he like to hoe, hoe, hoe!   A2. Because he wanted to sleep like a log.   A3. Frost-bite!    A4. A snowball.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Parenting Tips: Mom's Store

I happen to believe that it is important for children to learn to give gifts.  As shown by my post last Monday, I believe they need to learn to give gifts other than just purchased gifts, but I also believe in children spending their own money to buy something.  So, as soon as they have an allowance or a way to earn money [even if it is provided by me] I expect them to use some of that money for gifts for siblings etc.

Before the wonderland of dollar stores was available it was nearly impossible to find anything a child could afford in a store. Plus, some children are not really ready for store shopping, even with parental help. So my children start out by shopping at their own personal store.  I buy things I know the children need or would enjoy [hopefully both] when they are on sale and stash them away for the next time the "store" opens.  Then when the next birthday or holiday is near I lay the items out on my bed marked with prices they can afford and each child gets a turn to come to my store one at a time. I vary the prices depending on the age of the child [and the size of their allowance]. I have wrapping paper right there and they buy, wrap, and tag their gift[s] and leave all ready for the big day.

As they get older, we gradually shift to dollar store shopping [candles, tools, cute sticky notes, and card games are big favorites]. On the other hand, even at dollar store prices, a holiday can become expensive for a child so my store remains popular as children get older.  The final bonus is the pride each one feels when they are old enough, and have budgeted generously and carefully enough to be able to shop all on their own in stores. [Remember this is possible a lot earlier and less expensively if you use my four-square gift method explained in that Dec 2 post.]

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Soapbox: Don't Make a Good Thing Bad

This won't take long, I promise. This time of year it is very popular to try to teach children altruism, the importance of giving to others.  This is a good thing.  Unfortunately sometimes the way organizations and groups do this turns it into a not so good thing.  Case in point:  Local school always does food drive this time of year.  They used to do it by placing large boxes in the hallways and kids who brought stuff in would just place it in the box as they arrived at school.  That was great.

Then they started totaling the boxes and keeping track from year to year, trying to beat the previous year's total.  Still OK. The next step was putting collection boxes in each room, and now I was starting to get nervous. [I don't like social pressure that accents the haves and the have-nots in a classroom.] Now they have gone over the edge... they now have competition between each homeroom for the most collected in that grade and between the grades for the most collected.  The winning homeroom gets a pizza party and the winning grade gets a special privilege.  NOT good!

Why does that bother me?  Because I watched children being pushed and pushed to bring in more and more and more.  I saw children bragging about how they went to the store and bought the food and then put it in the homeroom box with great fanfare, counting each item. I saw children whose parents were both unemployed bringing in canned goods that they needed themselves, because they didn't want to be teased or to be the "reason" why their class "lost." The result was children who felt badly, who felt guilty and even worse than they already did about their family's condition, who felt the have-not of their lives and the choice of whether to be honest or keep the "shame" a secret.  This is NOT great. This is NOT ok.  You don't have to stop doing the good thing.  Just ....don't make the good thing bad.  Let it stay a good thing.

Image credit:,

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Focus on Fostering: "Stop Tapping Your Fingers!"

So, I know there are worse habits that we deal with as foster parents. But, just because there are worse things doesn't give us a free pass from the basic annoying habits of life.  For example.... tapping fingers on the table.  Why is it that the noise and repetition can induce mind-exploding irritation.  The next time you are tempted to scold, try this... redirect your child.  Grab a computer and say... hey, I just saw this really cool thing on the internet and maybe you should try this... [in your own space!] Then show them the video of these two Irish step dancers who decided to try "hand dancing"  They have since been on the Today show, Rachel Ray, Nightline and many many other shows, not to mention thousands and thousands of viewings of their video.

Check out their demonstration on the Rachel Ray show and show it to your kids!  View it here.  I think this is a better clip that the original video. Maybe we should be encouraging that finger tapping?!

Challenge your child to come up with a routine to show you at dinner the next night.... [or even sibs to put one together cooperatively?] Instead of making it a source of frustration, maybe it can become fun and funky!
Check it original you-tube video----Warning :  start it about 17 seconds in to show your kids and avoid the wall art.

Image credit,

Monday, December 6, 2010

School Bell: A boy named Taylor Emmons

People often speak about teachers who influence the lives of their students.  People may not realize that it is sometimes the other way around. 

I had written a post for today about inexpensive learning gifts but that has been bumped to next Monday so that I can use this space to pay tribute to a young man named Taylor Emmons.  Taylor was a student in my last fifth grade class [2001-2002].  I learned Sunday that he was killed by a car walking near his college campus in Florida, where his family now lives.  Taylor was one of those students that before the school years is half over you know you will never forget. There were lots of them in that particular class.  [It was as if God knew that it would become my last year of teaching [I didn't] and gave me the present of an amazingly wonderful group of children for my last group.]  When I learned a week before the end of school that it would be my last year of teaching [after 32 years] I was heartbroken. Right or wrong I felt betrayed by colleagues I had trusted, I felt tricked by assurances and advice from people who had been friends. I was devastated professionally, personally and emotionally.

Enter Taylor, a fun loving, bouncy boy with an ear to ear grin and twinkling eyes who had been a delight all year.  With the help of his parents I am sure, and a couple of friends, he thought of, planned, and pulled off a mind-boggling surprise for my last day. [To over simplify the story a great deal...Our class in Maine had corresponded all that year with one of the NYFD firemen from 9-11 after I met him near Ground Zero delivering cards from my class.] Taylor decided to [and did] track down, contact, and arrange for "Fireman Joe" to take the train from almost 400 miles away, stay at Taylor's house, and surprise me and the class that last day for a very special day.  Taylor's plan turned one of the worst days of my life into one of the best memories of my life.  The compassion and thoughtfulness that Taylor showed demonstrated a maturity greater than many many adults I have known.  I know I told him several times since then how much that day meant to me, and I am glad I did, tho I doubt he understood the magnitude of its impact even so. 
I expected Taylor to continue to grow and develop, and was eager to see what he would do as an adult. He might not have changed the world, but he might have. He certainly would have impacted the lives of those around him.  His wonderful family will never get to enjoy the adult he would have become.  But I will never, ever forget Taylor as he was.  He was a true blessing in my life and I am very sure in many other lives as well. 

People often speak about teachers who influence the lives of their students.  People may not realize that it is sometimes the other way around.  Taylor was a student who influenced the lives of his teachers, myself in particular.  I wish you all could have known him.  Thank you Taylor. I will miss you.  I will remember you.