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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Focus on Fostering: Bonding books

What are you favorite bonding books? All children love bedtime stories, but children in care seem to have a special need for books about connecting, books about unconditional love, and all the things they dream about.

The Kissing Hand and Love You Forever are two perennial favorites. 

My kids and I also like:
How Many Kisses Do You Want Tonight?  
[by Varsha Bajaj, Ill by Ivan Bates, pub: Little, Brown and Co., ISBN 0-316-82381-3]

When I read this book I follow along with the story giving kisses by the number each animal requests [1-10]... the kids are usually giggling happily by the time we get to the little girl who asks for a hundred. 

I Will Hold You 'Til You Sleep  
[by Linda Zuckerman, Ill by Jon J Muth, pub: Scholastic Press, an Arthur A. Levine Book, ISBN 0-439-43420-3]

This book starts with reassuring a child that you will be there to share the happy times, the rough times, the painful times, and the fun times. But it also goes beyond that to show that constant supportive love is not only a gift to your child, but from one generation to the next, both forward and backward by ending with a unique turnaround of comforting an loving presence.  

Send me your kids' favorite comfort books and maybe we can get a list going? 
There can never be too many bonding books to read to kiddos at night!

Monday, January 30, 2012

School Days: Get out of School Free Passes

Tomorrow I will continue a family tradition that many consider strange... especially for a teacher. Tomorrow one of my kiddos will stay home from school just because he has chosen not to go. There will be no consequences from me. Huh? ...Each school year I give each of my kiddos a "Get out of School Free" pass. It isn't exactly permission to play hookey since that is defined as absence from school "without permission." This is absence from school without the school's permission but with my permission.Now don't panic and think I have lost my mind.  Read on and then think about it.

I couldn't give this to my own children until they were old enough to stay home alone safely because I was working full time as a teacher. I could give it to my current kiddos at an earlier age since I am no longer teaching. They each get to pick one day a year when they may choose to stay home without penalty from me. It cannot be on a day they have a test, nor the first day of school. They can only use this pass one time per year.

I find this token is rarely used. I remind them of it whenever they try to play sick and clearly are not. It seems to eliminate some of the usual hassles/whines about "I don't want to go to school today." It avoids most of the rants and rages and fights by putting a bit of choice/power in their hands. I simply ask if they are using their Skip Pass that day and remind them that they only have one. Usually the child decides s/he might need it more later and goes ahead to school. If they choose to use it, fine. Sometimes they choose to use it on their birthday, as my kiddo is tomorrow. I call the school to let them know that s/he will not be in school that day. They may spend the day as they choose as long as it is acceptable behavior that doesn't break family rules and doesn't interfere with my duties for the day.

My kids like the idea, teachers live with it [once I explain it is only one day], and I find it acknowledges the wishful thinking we all have about working, helps the children be honest, to make conscious choices and it helps promotes good decision making. Besides... it is one of the rare things I do that they think is cool. :-)

Image credits:,

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Caring Heart: Lost in the Loss

Some children seem stuck, unable to move forward or even see the door to a new and better future. This is for those parenting such children.. 

Lost in the Loss

He is so sad.  He is so lost.  He cannot look past all the pain in his young life.  He views himself as an accumulation of things that have gone wrong.  He sees a childhood mountain of lost joys.  I can only try to imagine how that must feel.  He certainly has had pain and had far too many losses.  Emotional bruises that I can never truly understand and that last far longer than the broken bones or physical bruises.  But if he is ever to heal, he must learn to see or find or create a dividing line in his life.  He has to choose.  If he stays locked in the belief that he is and always will be a victim, he will limit his future happiness.  He needs to recognize a time when things began to change, when his life has begun to improve.  When good things have happened to him.  But he doesn't .  I don't know if it is a choice or not.  Bur he doesn't, or can't, admit that things are better.  He can't even acknowledge that they might be better one day.  Uncloud his eyes.  Tear down the bricks around his heart.  Loosen the shutters in his mind.  Let him see hope.  And one day... let him see joy!

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Anything Can Happen: Edible Fun

This is one for younger folks.... but ONLY if no one in the family or who will be playing has a nut allergy!!

Get your critters together... clear a clean spot on the table, lay out a large bowl [or two], wash hands well, put on aprons, and get ready for some creative fun where kids can be sticky, then playful, and can eat any mistakes!   You only need three ingedients to get started.

Edible Play Dough

Mix together:
2 cups powdered milk
2 cups peanut butter

Blend in 3 Tablespoons of honey

Add more powdered milk a bit at a time if the dough is too sticky to use at first.

Add edible extras for texture, taste, fun or to decorate what you create with the basic dough!

Gather some cookie cutters, presses, decorating stencils or whatever you would like to use for decorating and shaping.  We found that even egg molds will work!
You can decorate your creations with anything edible. [Ideas: nuts, raisins, and chocolate chips mix in well.  Stick pretzels, MandMs, gum drops, string licorice, and even sprinkles can be added to make roads, trees, etc. in your play dough world.]

My granddaughters tend to make fake cookies, cakes, flowers, etc.
My grandsons are more likely to make cars, roads, and villages.
What will your kiddos think of?
Think of it this way.... at least when your little one makes you play cookies of edible dough... you can eat them rather than fake-eating clay or play-doh creations.

Have fun.... after all it's Anything Can Happen Day!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Parenting Tips: Get the Kids Talking

Do you ever feel like extracting teeth would be easier than getting your kids to talk other than arguin?  Do your dinner times conversations feel like they alternate between mini-interrogations and that your children withhold information with a skill spies would envy?

Shake it up a bit. Pick up any of the dozen or so versions of:

KidChat : Questions to Fuel Young Minds and Mouths
by Bret Nicholaus and Paul Lowrie
Pub: Questmarc Publishing
ISBN 0-9634251-6-1

I have used the 2001 edition [shown here] for years both at home and at school for writing prompts for my middle school students.  There are holiday versions, KidChat Extreme. etc. etc.  Each book has new and different questions to start a conversational ball rolling.  Some are silly, some thought-provoking, some teaching opportunities, and more, but all are safe and entertaining for kids roughly 7-13 [though I have used it for older also].

Great for imagination, discussion, and just plain conversation, I have found the book a life saver on long car rides, and even when a sleepover starts to lag a bit or needs a bit of calming down. Try some--

A Few Examples:
1. If snow could fall in any flavor, what flavor would you choose?
2. If you could be famous for anything at all, what would you want to be famous for?
3. If you could get out of school for a week but instead had to spend those five days helping an adult at their job, whose job would you want to help out with for that week?
4. If you were a king or queen, what is the first rule you would set for the people of your kingdom?
5. If you could ask the president of the United States [or your state governor] one question, knowing that you would get an honest answer, what question would you ask?
6. If you could be shrunk down to one inch tall for just one day, what do you think would be the most exciting place to explore? 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Soapbox: How to Say "No"

Have you ever had that same struggle with the word "No" in response to being asked to do something?  Now I can say "No" to my children firmly and definitively without batting an eye.  It's part of parenting 101.  But when a church member or colleague, or even friend asks me to do something... it is a whole new ball game.  No matter how busy my schedule, how exhausted, or how firmly I have resolved NOT to take on anything new... the word "No" just doesn't seem to come out.  I admit it.  I am "No"-impaired!

Last Wednesday I said that I felt rewarded if I came away from an advice book with at least two concrete new strategies to try.  The book I was talking about last week [The Now Habit by Neil Fiore] gave me a second strategy... this one about how to say "No." for those of us who are "no-impaired." 

At first I thought his advice was foolish, a simple gimmick, a sneaky twist, or something else ineffective.  Like the slogan "just say no" I thought... it's not that easy!  ...But then I tried it.  To my shock it worked, and worked beautifully.  I actually did NOT agree to do the task.  Not only that, but the person who asked left feeling good about it, and so did I.

His trick?  Start by saying "Yes."  Not "Yes" and I will.  But continue after the "Yes" in a way that affirms the value of the request and end by saying that you cannot.  Huh?

Sally:  Can you come over to the house this Friday and have supper?
You: Yes, that sounds like it would be fun, but I'm afraid that I can't. Thank you for asking. Maybe another time.

Sam: Can we put you on the committee for the eighth grade graduation?
You: Yes, I can see that you need people for that committee, but that's not really something for me.  Good luck !

Advantages: You acknowledge the need, or the invitation, or the value, but you still say that you cannot or will not say yes.  It doesn't close the door, it merely says no.  It gives you a moment to fight the knee jerk reaction of a quick "Yes" [that is inevitably followed by hours of regret and self-flagellation for being such a wimp]. For those of us who are "No"-impaired it can be a first step to learning that "No" can indeed be a complete sentence.

Image credits:,,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Focus on Fostering: "You chose this"

Last Wednesday on "Soapbox" I told about a different perspective on life situations.  Not labeling things as simply Have to do [the things we dread, avoid, and hate doing] vs Want to do [the things we love, choose, and do happily.  Adding a category of Choose to do [though not wanted].  This made me think of foster parenting and I promised I would explain that today even though it isn't soapbox day.  I suspect my experience is not terribly different than many of you foster parenting challenging children.

I sometimes feel like those around me think I have no right to complain or sigh or moan.  Too often I hear the comment that I didn't Have to do this. They assume that choosing to do something means we Want to do it.  Particularly for those doing kinship care nothing could be farther from the truth.  We never wanted to be in this position.  Our nightly dream is a world where all children are raised by loving, caring, adequate parents.  But they aren't.  We don't have that world yet.

But all children deserve to be raised in a loving, safe, nurturing environment and so, with heavy hearts and many prayers we step up.  We choose that which we don't want because it needs to be done.  

So the next time someone says to you with that annoying attitude... "Well... you didn't have to do this... you chose to do this" remember and maybe even explain:
1. We never wanted to know that there were children in the world who have endured and survived what some of our children have endured and survived. 2. Not wanting to deal with all that fostering brings does NOT mean we don't love the children, and even enjoy them.
3. We don't do it because of the money, or the fun, or even the joy.  When the joy and the fun come they are welcome bonuses, rewards for the effort and the pain.

We do it [or at least I do it] because it needs to be done.  Because every child deserves to be loved, to be safe, and to know joy.  Be sad that not all children can/do get this from their own parents.  Be proud that this is something you choose, that you choose to give children that love, that safety and to teach them to see and feel joy.  We DARE to choose to foster parent and kinship care.

Image credits:,

Monday, January 23, 2012

School Bell: Learning Alphabet Letters

For those of you with little ones who are starting to learn their letters... here are two really easy ways to help both entertain your child and help him/her learn.

1. Find the letter
    For a really inexpensive way to give your child lots and lots of practice recognizing letters grab any of the inexpensive word search collections. Instead of using the pages as word searches, use them as letter searches.  Hand the child a page, two crayons, and challenge them to circle all the As in red and all the Ps in blue for example.  [Hint: Pick one with relatively large letters to make it easier.]

When I had little kids around, I would keep a couple of word search pages in my purse in case I needed to keep them occupied for a few minutes [in a waiting room, while I finished a phone call, etc.]

2. Alphabet Around the House
    Using sticky notes or index cards, label things around the house with the first letter of its name.  C/chair, T/table, M/mirror, B/bed  and so on.  You can focus on one letter at a time or do multiple letters depending on your child.  Have the child help you to multiply the fun, the connections, and the learning.

Image credit:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Caring Heart: Compromises and Priorities

Some fo

Compromises and Priorities

Oh God, I hope I am making the right choices.  It is so very hard to know.  Other people are so willing to judge my choices.  They think I am letting her "get away with" things, that I am "giving in." They don't understand the difficult priorities I have to juggle.  Haircuts given without permission during bio-family visits, outrageous clothes they give her that I would never let her wear, yet sometimes must because they are that precious gift. Or times that I decide the issue is mild, temporary, or lower risk and I allow it because my focus is on higher priority safety issues.  Guide me through this minefield of decisions.  With my other children it has been easier to maintain the key priorities without making major compromises.  They were steeped in my standards from the day they were born.  But with this child I have to choose what to give up on or step back even important things.  Consider high school. My children always planned to finish high school. It never occurred to them not to finish.  I never had to consider compromises to keep them in school.  But with this child graduation is definitely a huge question mark.  She does not the the risks of dropping out, in fact her eyes see mostly advantages.  And since she will be eighteen long before graduation and she is not legally mine, I can't force her.  I may have to make some really tough choices if my priority is to keep her in school until graduation.  Give me the wisdom to protect her in the times and in the ways she lacks wisdom.  Guide me and support me in the right choices. 

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Quick Takes: Yes Day PS

Yes Day  . . .  .
                       Important P.S.
So, I heard from a couple about the Yes Day idea and realized that I had omitted one key element in describing my family celebration of Yes Day.  When I have done Yes Day, I pose it as a day without "No"s.  That means not just from me, but from them.  The challenge is to get through the whole span of time without anyone saying the word "No." 

It's kind of like a team contest, with everybody pulling together to keep the word "No" away.  For example, that means that the kids "can't" say "No" to a parent request either!  [See how it can be a good thing?] You may find that kids will be helping you by discouraging a sibling from making a request that would require a "No" for safety reasons or other significant issue.

Not a single person [which is how to not ruin the day by saying "n_  one"] wants the Yes Day to end before the day is over.  It also helps children find more creative ways to word things than a flat "No".  "Would you like to do my chores next week dear brother?" one child might bait a sibling. "I would love to, but I am afraid that is impossible right now." might be the careful response. The game gets fun and while I wouldn't want it everyday.... for one Yes Day, it can be a lot of fun for everyone.

Image credit:,

Friday, January 20, 2012

Anything Can Happen: Yes Day?

A while back I got a book for my kids named Yes Day!  [by Amy Krouse Rosenthal,  pub:HarperCollins ].  It tells the whimsical story of a child who suddenly and unexpectedly is granted a day of Yes-es.  Imagine for a moment what we as adults would ask to do on a day when the answer to any question or request was automatically "Yes!" .....

Ok, stop imagining.... you are having way to much fun with the idea.  This book is about kids having that opportunity.  Now, I know that there are certain safety rules that must be followed. But, if you stop and think about it, and especially if you plan ahead, it is amazing how many of our "No"s can in fact be transformed into "Yes" es for a single day.  Thinks about creating a "Yes Day" for your child or children.

The first time I tried it, I didn't even tell the children what was happening.  I wanted to see how long it would be before they noticed that everything was getting a "Yes." It was great fun watching them be delightfully surprised, then when they started realizing what was happening, curiously testing their theory, then their unadulterated joy and exhuberance for the remainder of the day. [To be fair, the first time I tried I chose to start on a Friday afternoon to limit the time frame.] Thereafter  it has remained a rare delight, about once a year, never proclaimed in advance, but sprung on them on a day when the weather, the moods, and everything seems to give it the best shot at success.  Try it!  Let me know how it goes...  Anything can happen!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Parenting Tips: Kid's Books on Decision Making

Do you remembering any of the "Choose Your Adventure" type books?  At various points in the story you have a choice to make.  Depending on what you choose, you go to a different page in the book, over and over making each reading somewhat different.

There is a great series that uses this same approach but deals with moral decisions, peer pressure, etc.  At my last check there were 5 books in the series [$6-10 each], plus a leader's guide [$15] available for the whole series.

Each book is around 60 pages total, but depending on your choices, the actual story length varies. Great for readers 7-12 or a bit older if they struggle with reading.There are several different authors who contribute to the series and the topics are all situations that children face all the time. The same publisher also makes a similar [reader choices] series for ages 4-10 called Kids Can Choose, but I haven't seen any of those myself so can't actually recommend them yet.

The Decision Is Yours series:

Finders, Keepers :  What should you do with the wallet and money you and a friend find.

Making the Grade : More time on soccer than homework and a bad report card make a tricky mix.

First Day Blues : How do you make friends on your first day in a new school?

Bully on the Bus:  What do you do if an older kid in school threatens to beat you up?

Under Whose Influence? : To drink with friends or not?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Soapbox: Procrastination and Choices

I recently have been reading a book about procrastination*.  So far I do not think it is a great book, but my personal measure of a helpful book is whether I finish the book with two-four specific takeaways that I think will be helpful to me. So far I find the book a bit labored, and with fewer concise, practical tips or strategies than I had hoped, but I am glad I am reading it, because I have already found two good takeaways. 
Today I want to share a particular viewpoint of the author that struck me as very valuable. Having occasionally struggled with procrastination myself, and having raised children who seemed to use procrastination as their default setting, I was intrigued to try this way of looking at things. 

The author said that most people label things/tasks as either:
     1. Things we want to do.  [positive, things we enjoy]
     2. Things we have  to do. [negative, tasks forced on us, things we dread]
Those two categories and only those two. The author suggested that since we feel powerless to refuse the things we are required to do, we often procrastinate doing them as our only way of exerting power over the task. 

The author proposed including a third category... Things we choose to do. 

Things we choose to do may be things that might carry a cost [emotional, time, or money] that made them something we didn't want, but might still be worth doing because of the reward. 

Since reading this I have found the concept helpful to reframe my thinking and have a better attitude. Try it and see what you think, then share your reactions.

[On Focus on Fostering next Tuesday I will tell how this helps in fosterparenting and next week I will share the other takeaway I have gotten his book.]

*The Now Habit   by Neil Fiore, PhD

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Focus on Fostering: What's in a Name?

One of the things that makes foster children feel like odd man out is that their last name is usually different from everyone else in the family.  The longer they are with the family the harder it is.  I have often had long term foster children who have desperately wanted to have the same name as mine or the other children in my family.  The desire to "match" is strong.  Sometimes I have even had foster siblings who had different last names from each other making an even wider array of last names in the house.  They still missed that sense of matching that says we belong.

If this problem has ever come up for you, did you know that they can often use your last name for most ordinary purposes?  For example: They can use the family last name [let's say "Sally Smith"] on the school homework papers, permission slips, church, synagogue, scouts, etc.  The only thing they must understand is that all legal papers must be in their legal name[let's say "Sally Jones"]. This means report cards, evaluations, therapy and medical reports, etc. will have their legal name. Sometimes if you talk to the school and your school is cooperative they will put both names [ex: "Sally [Smith] Jones"] If you plan to do this, let teachers know so they aren't caught unaware, and so they can adjust their alphabetical lists accordingly.

Often this can even be done with the blessings of your human services caseworker, particularly if your child is in counseling and the therapist agrees that it would be therapeutically beneficial for the child. They often don't crave the legal change as much as the chance to blend in socially. 

Image credit:

Monday, January 16, 2012

School Bell: Check In Time

This is mid-terms week for many semester-based school systems, roughly half way through the school year.  The students and teachers have settled in, gotten used to each other, and have hopefully learned the patterns and expectations of the current grade level.  Now the real meat of the school year is on the table, the next few months are the key months for new knowledge. Review and getting back up to speed is past, now is the time to really pack in the learning before vacation fever starts showing up. So consider some of the questions below as possible assessments for your student or his/her teacher as you head into the core teaching time of the year.

1. Is your child willing and comfortable talking to the teacher to ask questions, asking for help or clarification?
2. Does your child able and willing to participate in group activities/projects?
3. Does the amount of time your child spends on homework match the teacher's expectations?
4. Is the amount of time your child spends on homework similar to the time spent by classmates?
5. Can your child name two classmates s/he could and would call with a question about class work?
6. Is your child willing and able both to do homework independently and to ask for help on homework?
7. Does your child remember to bring homework materials home and remember to hand completed work in at school?
8. Is there an adult at the school that your child has connected to, comfortable with, and that the child perceives as fair?
9. Does the child talk about some of his/her classmates as friends?
10. Does your child share both good things and bad things that happen at school?

These are not the only ten questions, or even necessarily the best ten. Some you can answer yourself, some you may need to ask the child, or his/her teacher. But the answers to these ten questions will give you a pretty good sense of red flags or green flags to watch as you start the second half of this school year.

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Sunday, January 15, 2012

Caring Heart: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Martin Luther King, JR

Lord, these children need to learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.  There are so many of his lessons that speak to the challenges faced by children of trauma and neglect.  He dealt with the label of race. They live the labels of their past... foster child, abuse victim, child of violence.  They need to learn to measure themselves by the "content of their character" not their past or their parents or their beginnings. Help them work to build the content of their character and to value their character. Martin Luther King, Jr taught non-violence.  They have so much anger, and with reason. But they need to learn to deal with their angers without violence.  Violence is a fast route to more serious problems, and oh Lord, they don't need more problems. So let them learn from Martin Luther King, Jr.  Help me teach them these lessons. Guide their ears and minds to hear and absorb, and to believe.

Read "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker   Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Quick Takes: Creative Rewards # 61-65

Today's quick take is five more creative rewards for your kids. This is generally a once a month feature that offers alternatives to stickers, food, or purchases for treats and rewards.  Examples are for a mix of ages and genders and locations. Adjust for your own kids and your own region. [Creative Rewards #1-60 can be found if you search "Rewards."]

61. If you live where it is possible, build a snow sculpture 
62. Get a “Skip a Chore” card

63. Choose a weekend family activity
64. Make s'mores or toast marshmallows over a stove burner.

65. Go to a movie theater

Image credits:,

Friday, January 13, 2012

Anything Can Happen: Remember Hand Shadows?

Did you ever make hand shadows on the wall?  I did.  Winter's early evenings are a great opportunity to teach your children this old time fun. Who knows? You might even rediscover it yourself in the process!

Flying birds are the easiest, but there is a whole world of figures to explore: dogs [see the how-to diagram at right], boys, elephants, rabbits, and many many more.

Click here for a blog with pictures like the one above that will teach you how to help your kids make 5 different hand shadow shapes.

Click here for Henry Bursill's  Hand Shadows To Be Thrown Upon The Wall. Here you can choose from a variety of formats, even slideshow! The free text & illustration version is also available from the Guttenberg project and can be downloaded if you click here.

Google on YouTube for "hand shadows" and you will find a video of Louis Armstrong and friends singing "It's a Wonderful World" with a super sweet baby hand sequence, even a German car commercial based on multiple hands shadows.  And last, but far from least, even if you don't speak the language you can be amazed by the hand shadows in this clip from India's Got Talent tv show.

Go forth and shadow....

Image credits:

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Parenting Tips: Today show --Lying to our Children!

Ok, I try not to get personal on my blog, and I know yesterday was soapbox day, but I feel compelled to beg parents everywhere to buck what Parenting magazine is calling the norm.... lying to our children.  I was truly upset yesterday to see this prominent magazine that many new parent look to for advice advocating the "necessity" of lying to our children for convenience!  [You can check out yesterday's  NBC Today show interview on the topic with Ann Curry online.]

I'm not talking about allowing young children the fantasy of a Santa Claus or a Tooth Fairy when they are the age that needs magical thinking.  They were talking about lying when it is [in her words] "more expedient."  The example she used was trying to get a toddler to leave the playground if you need to get to an appointment.  She said that in our "frenetic" over-scheduled lives it is simpler to tell the toddler the park is closing than to tell the truth.  If our lives are too busy to be honest with our children, we need to take another look at our priorities.

I admit, this is a hot button topic for me because raising honest children is the topic of the book I am currently finishing with my writing partner, A. Patricia Miller.  But parents CAN be honest with their children if they choose to and if they prepare.  Parents CAN teach their children how to be honest and still save face. "White" lies are still lies, regardless of fingers crossed, trying to be "kind," or any other excuse. If we want to raise honest children we must surround them with the environment of an honest home, teach them the skills of honesty, and give them the belief that you can be honest, even in an often dishonest world.

I would like to think that a backlash is in order.  I do not want to think that the "experts" and the "majority" condone lying.  I suspect that the TODAY show's usual parenting expert [Michele Borba] would have a fit over this! Please check out the interview and respond, to me, to, or even to the Today show.

P.S. Sorry the post is late.... finally a snow storm [lst of the winter!] and had to shovel before I could get to my blog. Welcome winter  :-)

Image credit:,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Soapbox: Power

Feeling powerless is easy. 
Recognizing the power we have is more difficult.
Focusing on using the power we have effectively is even more challenging. 

Many times each day I choose what to do. Even when I can't choose what to do I may choose how to do it. Will I do it joyfully, or begrudgingly?  Will I do it to the best of my ability, or just well enough to get it done? Will I do it promptly or only after postponing it to the point of desperation? Will I do it with pride or with resentment? You get the idea.

We do have power. Like Superman and other superheroes... will we use it for good?

Image credit: howtosolve.blogspot

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Focus on Fostering: Anxiety Books for kids

Here are two books that help young kids understand and deal with fearfulness.

Don't Be Scared, Little Cub 
by Jillian Marker and John Bendall-Brunello
pub: Paragon Publishing
Cute little story about a lion cub and his father on a nighttime walk.  Frightened by the noises and shadows in the night darkness, Little Cub is reassured by the presence of his father. The story ends with the tables being turned and Little Cub being brave.

There's A Nightmare in  my Closet
written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer
Dial Books [Pied Piper series]

Fun story of a child who defeats the nightmares in his closet only to end up comforting them when he discovers they are more afraid of him.

Also available on YouTube in several versions, including a fun animated version narrated by Billy Crystal.

Monday, January 9, 2012

School Bell: History Help

Kids often complain that history classes and history itself are dull, boring, and too hard. Flashcards, outlines and charts may help them organize, cluster, and memorize information. But, if you own a television, a DVD player and a library membership you have another opportunity to get your kids involved.

Children who have grown up in the television era [not to mention computer age] will find it far easier to focus on a television screen than a textbook.  Your job is to find sources that have accurate information.  These DVDs [or older videos] also help kids who are visual learners and can retain information they have watched better than information they have to read. Some of you may be old enough to remember the days of filmstrips in school.  Even filmstrips were more fun to watch than reading the history book assigned chapter paragraph by paragraph each child around the class!

Look through your child's textbook to see what topics and people will be covered during the year. Then search for programs about those.

Go online and search for National Geographic, Biography, and History Channel specials.  National Geographic has an array of interesting programs on state parks, regions of the country, and other geography based topics.  The History Channel is your source for info on wars, historical eras, etc.  The Biography Channel will help bring historical figures alive with details and more.

Once you have found a program, check out your school library or your town library to see what they have available for sign out.  If there is a specific one you want, ask the librarian if it is available through inter-library loan. Plan a 'Desserts and DVDs' or 'Brownies and Biographies' night at the start of each unit.  Your child will have an introduction to the topic that will be a baseline to hook with the information they cover in class. This will not only build interest, but help them retain what they hear in class. Try it!

PS. These DVD programs also provide great idea starters for history projects. [Ex: The History Channels program on the Navajo Code Talkers really fired up one of my kiddos to get excited about his project!]

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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Caring Heart: Appointment Overload

This was written for all parents who are raising children with special needs: physical, intellectual, or emotional.

Too Many Appointments

I am sick of so many appointments!  Give me patience, Lord and endurance for this long haul.  It seems that each day is a new round of trips to counselors, dentists, psychiatrists, evaluations, family visits, court dates, social worker meetings, family team meetings, school meetings.  It just goes on and on and on and on!  Some days I can barely remember who it is that we are seeing and why.  Sometimes I am filled with guilt about that other appointment that I still haven't scheduled.  I get so tired of it all. I am tired of trying to give a sixty-second recap to introduce the situation without humiliating the child sitting and listening.  When I feel so tired of it all, please stop me, Lord. Remind me to imagine what it must be like for this young child who must be equally sick of these endless appointments.  Help me imagine what it is like to be the subject of all this investigation and evaluation and treatment and questions.  How fearful that may be.  What must that do to self-image, confidence, and hope?  Take away my frustration and impatience and replace it with empathy and with support.  Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker  Artwork from the book's cover by Anna Parker David

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Quick Takes: Easy Kid's Chicken/Pork Recipe

Okay, I'm both late posting and no pictures to offer.  My phone/camera for some reason is refusing to send pictures and after fighting with it for most of the morning I am giving up and posting without them! Sorry bout that folks.  Trust me... this recipe looks delicious when made.  [My grandson made it last night for the demo pictures that I can't seem to transfer!]

I think one of the best tools for independent living is the skill of making easy, nutritious meals independently.  Here is a great, kid-friendly recipe for chicken or pork.

Easy Ranch Chicken or Pork

chicken or pork [I use boneless breasts or pork chops] enough to serve the family
1-2 envelopes of dry ranch dressing mix [depending on meat quantity and size pieces]

1. Cut the chicken or pork into manageable sizes. [Pork chops do not require cutting, but chicken cooks faster if cut into chunks or strips.
2. Roll the meat in the dry dressing mix till coated at least lightly. [If easier put the mix in a plastic bag and shake the meat around until covered.]
3. Cook meat in non-stick pan or electric griddle, stirring as needed to be sure meat is thoroughly cooked.  [If pan is not non-stick you might need to add a bit of oil, but we use no oil with our non-stick griddle, just the liquid the cooking meat makes. ]

That's it. That's all there is to it!  Serve with rice or noodles or potatoes and vegetables and/or salad.
It is delicious, easy even for kids, fast, AND healthy to boot!

P.S. If I get the dang camera working I will add the pictures later!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Anything Can Happen: Crazy Great "Swim"

Next time your kids whine that "There's nothing to dooooo," share this.  All over the coast of Maine this is the season for crazy.  Crazy but great.  All kinds of wonderful, worthy organizations raise hundreds and thousands of dollars counting on crazy to win over common sense.  All ages are welcomed to share in a "Polar Bear Dip" .... racing in the middle of winter into freezing cold Maine water clad in bathing suits and accompanied by wild shrieks and screams as water touches skin. More sensible people offer money pledges to encourage this madness and to raise money for cause X or Y.

Next time you go for a dip at your local indoor swimming pool [or those of you who live in southern climes, when you go into the ocean] and complain that the water is too cold at 65 degrees.... think of the crazy, zany, dedicated ones who dove and splashed into the waters of Portland's Casco Bay this January... into water that is around 34 degrees!! Try that Michael Phelps!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Parenting Tips: New Years Resolutions

In January it seems everyone is focused on New Year resolutions.  The good part of this is that people are trying to improve themselves which gives us a chance to talk to our kids about improving pieces of their lives or their habits.  We also have the chance to model it for them with our own resolutions to improve.  The not so good part is that people can easily fall off the resolution wagon and give up. 

We must teach them how to succeed at changing, not just model how to try and then give up! I am no expert on resolutions or resolution-keeping, but I have found some tricks that have helped me be better at both.  Try these five steps with your kids.

1. Focus on the change. The most important thing is that you/they are trying to do better, to change. Talk about the many opportunities we have for new beginnings.  A new year.  A birthday year older. A new school year.  A new job.  A new month.  A new week. Even a new day is a fresh beginning. Use all of them if need be.

2. Keep resolutions focused on the process not the result.  For example: #2 above is better than #1.  The resolution should be the action that will lead to the goal. This makes success possible in smaller chunks.  If your goal is to be healthier or in better shape [weight, strength, or otherwise] than a list of actions that will help you is a better, more achievable goal than "losing weigh" for example. Just like with eating, the smaller the child, the tougher the food, the smaller the bite! 

3. Think of the changes as specific steps in a plan.  Look at one week at a time.  A year is far too long a chunk for kids.  For younger kids, keep resolutions to day activities. "I will tell mom two things about school each day." or "I will set my alarm clock every night." Not "I will talk to mom more" or "I will get up better." Remember... small bites.

4. Build in flexibility. Remember that the goal is improvement, not perfection.  Build in margins. Do not expect complete or instant change.  Use those small bites to build your skills and your successes. 

How does this work?
Example: I need to relax a bit more to reduce my stress.  Since most of the stresses in my life are outside my control my plan for reducing stress is to build small chunks of down time into my days. My resolution?  "Build in time to relax and unwind." My whiteboard's daily checklist now includes two 15-minute chunks for crafting, two for reading, two for "wasting time" [being still].  My goal is to do at least two of those 15-minute chunks per day.  One day they both might be reading, another day they might be crafting, or 15 min crafting and 15 min just chilling. This makes my chances of building in relaxation far more likely to succeed. Since I have never been good at this I consider succeeding even once a week progress.  When I have managed it once a week, I will try for twice a week, then three times, then four times, etc. using a new week/month as the new beginning for an uptick. See how it works?  If I had a resolution to do 30 minutes a day of crafting, reading, or down time and expected to achieve that every day starting Jan 1st I would probably fail before the end of the first week.  But by using the system above, I feel successful all along, and can at least be confident that I AM building in time to relax and unwind. 

Good luck!

P.S.  Sorry I'm late posting today.   Image credit:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Soapbox: Happy Holidays?

Christmas is over.  Hanukkah is done.  Kwanza is past.  Even New Year's Eve and Day are behind us.  The next holiday [Martin Luther King Day] has not yet been burdened with gifts or house decorations.  [Yet, being the operative word!]

So, until Valentines Day in February we are entering a holiday-responsibility-free zone. This is a good time to take stock of what worked these holidays and what didn't.

Think about it yourself.  Talk to your spouse and your kids and get their reactions too.  Write down what was most important, or most successful, or most fun, [or even easiest!].

Pack your lists up with your holiday decorations to help you plan more effectively for next year.  OR if you are digitally inclined... make a file and an automatic reminder for next year.   Plan now for a happier holidays 2012.

Image credit:,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Focus on Fostering: Blessings Cake

As all experienced foster parents know, kids in care often see their lives as bleak, as filled with negatives. Part of our job is to help them recognize what is good in their lives.  One strategy I have used is a "Blessings Cake."

I make their favorite kind of cake and frost it with their favorite flavor icing.  Then I buy whatever their favorite colorful candies are.... M&Ms, Skittles, Mike and Ikes, jelly beans, or gumdrops all work fine.

This year I did it as part of our beginning a new year celebration, though not on New Year's Eve.

Each child received a small dish of one color candies, and there was a bowl of mixed colors as back up.

The kids helped me make the numbers of 2012 in one color candy in the center of the cake.

The set up was simple.... We went around the table and took turns naming people that were a blessing in our lives.

Whoever thought of the person put a candy somewhere on the cake to honor them.  IF the same person had been a blessing to more than one, the others could also add a candy as well. We could also name events or situations [getting braces off, having a warm house, etc.] that were blessings.

I found that by using the candy/cake combo the kids were far more invested in thinking up blessings than if we had just been sitting around as a family having a discussion! [The only start of disagreement was whether to make a design with the candies or just toss them randomly on the cake.]

When we ran out of blessings or candies we shared the cake happily aware of the multitude of blessings which each of us had.

My favorite response? 
"Hey Nana, next year we might need TWO bags of Skittles!"

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back to School-Back to Blog

So, vacation ends at my house tomorrow.
School begins again.
Back to the routine of mornings, laundry, chores and challenges.
And so, too, does the familiar routine I have set for this blog.

     Sundays....Caring Heart meditations
     Mondays... School Bell  [hints and helps for the challenges of school, homework, and learning]
     Tuesdays....Focus on Fostering  [ideas for the special needs of children living in care]
     Wednesdays.... Soapbox  [ramblings, musings, and opinions of mine and others]
     Thursdays... Parenting Tips [ideas for helping all parents with typical situations]
     Friday... Anything Can Happen  [as it says... humor, the unusual, random, whatevers]
     Saturday... Quick Takes  [quotes, recipes, reward ideas, book recommendations, etc.]

Happy New Year!

If you are new to Upbeats and Downbeats... browse around.  Invite a friend.

If you have a topic or question or situation you would like to see a hint for... let me know!

If you preferred the style of Decembers single topic idea let me know.  Otherwise I will continue the 7 day rotation of the last year or so.

Well. I've limbered up my fingers.

I'm ready to go.

Let's get to the tasks of another year...
                    but together!

Image credits:,,