Friday, December 19, 2014

A Walk in the Park

The beginning of the week graced us with unseasonably warm temperatures and so we took advantage of the opportunity to take Ari and Edward for a walk in the Metroparks.

Below, the boys stop along the towpath at a sign describing some of the history of the Cuyahoga River, the canal, the towpath and lock system.


Without fail, venturing into the nearby Metroparks or the Cuyahoga Valley National Park affords opportunities for wildlife viewing. We've seen deer, beaver, frogs and toads, turtles, blue herons and a whole host of other birds and ducks. On this visit we saw Mallard ducks (below) and turtles sunning themselves on mossy logs in the canal just next to the path.


Edward meanders along the path. I love this photo and not just because it represents one of the few times he wasn't running off ahead of us!


I couldn't help but think that passersby might mistakenly think that we had twin boys on our hands!



These beautiful days with warmer temperatures and blue skies are so refreshing since winter here can be so long and dreary and gray!


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Elizabeth's Sprinkle

You know you've been away for a long time when language and popular culture evolve in your absence. Somewhere along the way, the term 'baby shower' evolved into a 'Sprinkle.' I'm not exactly sure when that happened but not long after I heard the term for the first time, I found myself involved in the planning of a 'Sprinkle' for my sister-in-law, Liz.

Expecting their third child, Liz is now legendary as girls are somewhat of an anomaly amongst this generation of McMillin males. Out of sixteen children born to Brian, his siblings and their McMillin cousins, only three are girls and both mother's are the McMillins. So for Keith and Liz to be having a girl is a really big deal!

Liz's other sister-in-law, Dawn, was one of the party planners and she and her mom crafted this diaper cake as a gift.


Liz with her mom, Penny, and twin sister, Kathy.


Heather, Liz, Jenn and Dawn.


Riker, Cael and Gavin share a game.


Ever crafty Heather came up with the idea to do a quilling project as a collective gift for the nursery. Quilling involves rolling, shaping and gluing strips of paper together to create decorative designs.


Colorful hearts and swirls created from many helping hands.




Heather brings the trunk of the tree to life.


Once we had enough hearts, we sorted them into a rainbow of colors.


I made this butterfly for Riker, at his request.


He liked it very much!


Liz, Dawn, Aaron and Heather plan the placement of the colorful leaves.


The finished product is absolutely gorgeous!


What a fun day and another great example of a loving family coming together to celebrate the stuff that matters. This is why we are here. So much love to Keith, Liz, Gavin and Edward and we can't wait to welcome the new baby girl into the clan!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Giveaway: Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Dr. Laura Markham of Aha! Parenting

I've just finished reading the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham of Aha Parenting.  I liked it so much (and am so confident that you will too) that I'm giving away a copy of the book to one lovely reader!

I've read a lot of parenting books and have spent a lot of time researching the many aspects of this gig called parenting. (You can see my recommendations for the best of the best on my PARENTING page.)

I think of myself as a gentle and conscientious parent and I try my hardest to live up to those ideals. Yet the demands of everyday life with two little boys can easily add up to a recipe for less than peaceful parenting in actual practice. Maintaining composure in the face of defiance, selective hearing and sibling arguments is a tall order. Which is why a toolkit of actual responses is so useful! 

Most parenting books focus on changing on a child's behavior. Without addressing the needs and emotions driving the behavior however, this tactic isn't usually very effective and often worsens the problem. This book explains why children respond as they do and reminds us of what is developmentally appropriate behavior to expect from our children. Most importantly, it challenges us as parents to evaluate what we can change to improve our relationship with our children and subsequently, their behavior.

Written for parents of children up to the age of nine, the book explores Three Big Ideas:

Regulating Yourself
Fostering Connection
Coaching, Not Controlling

Part One, Regulating Yourself, explores the notion that managing our own emotions and actions is what allows us to feel peaceful as parents. Ultimately, we cannot control our children but we can control our responses to those times when our buttons are being pushed. This section offers tools to help us as parents regulate ourselves and our emotions, which will in turn teach our children to do the same.

Part Two, Fostering Connection, is full of information on how to build and maintain a deep relationship with your child based on love, trust, respect, security, and independence. These chapters address everything from the daily challenges of getting out the door with your child to getting him or her to bed. It also tackles things like how to listen as a parent and what to do when your child shuts you out or won't listen to you. 

Part Three, Coaching Not Controlling, leads readers through the process of coaching children to handle their emotions, manage their behavior and develop mastery rather than controlling for immediate compliance. It explores emotional intelligence, empathy, anger and handling meltdowns.

Here is what Dr. Laura writes about her book:
Fostering emotional connection with your child creates real and lasting change. When you have that vital connection, you don’t need to threaten, nag, plead, bribe — or even punish. If you’re tired of power struggles, yelling and searching for the right “consequence” look no further. You’re about to discover the practical tools you need to transform your parenting in a positive, proven way.
Perhaps the very best thing about this book is that it offers action guides and realistic scripts for navigating through challenging situations that seem to come up on a daily basis. 

Sound like something that could make your days just a bit easier and more enjoyable? Enter my giveaway for your chance to win a free copy of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by using the entry form below. The winner will receive one paperback copy via mail and I'll ship to any country. My way of sharing the love and saying thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Good Job

Ever notice how often we use the word "good" in speaking to our children?

Good boy!
Good job!
Good swinging!
Good painting!
Good listening!

Sometimes I wonder if this omnipresent adjective actually means anything to our children anymore. How can a single descriptor maintain any real meaning when used across the board to refer to behavior, performance, effort and well, pretty much anything?

Of course I think it's fine to commend children for their actions, but "good" is problematic in that it's both generic and judgmental. Given its overuse, "good" becomes a totally non-descriptive word. And surely kids internalize a message that if there is indeed a "good" way to paint, then there must be a "bad" way as well and they better keep on doing it the right way so as to please mom or dad. I daresay this wouldn't encourage creativity or innovation.

And wouldn't it be better to let the child decide if their painting is good? I know that not every craft I produce is worth gushing over and surely kids have an opinion about what they create. If I was always told that everything I did was great, I probably wouldn't put much stock into the words of that particular observer anymore.

I don't like the phrases "good boy" or "good girl" either because they subtly suggest that when they're not pleasing us, they're "bad" children.  I'm not a big fan of using praise to manipulate children and research demonstrates that overuse of praise can actually backfire and make children lose interest in whatever they were doing.  The point becomes not to read or draw, but to get the sticker or the "good job." Excessive praise can also cause kids to become more cautious and avoid challenges. It's as if they are afraid to do anything that might cause them to fail and lose our high appraisal.

So my challenge for you is this. (Didn't know there was a challenge coming, did you?) The next time you find yourself about to say, "Good job!" or "Good drawing!" or "Good girl!" choose instead to comment specifically (and sincerely) on the action or effort you were intending to praise. Or, at the very least, make an observation that demonstrates you were paying attention and not just making a generic statement or offhand comment.

So, rather than saying, "Good job," try, "You poured that glass of milk all by yourself!" or "I've noticed that you're remembering to brush your teeth now without being reminded most of the time."

Instead of "Good drawing!" try, "I see you drew three red flowers next to a very big house with a chimney." Perhaps add, "Are you happy with how your picture turned out?"

Instead of "Good balancing!" try, "You were really concentrating hard to hop all that way on one foot!"

Instead of "Good girl!" try saying, "When you take your shoes off by the door it makes it so much easier to find them tomorrow!"

A word of caution however. Try to avoid simply replacing the phrase "good job" with an observation that starts with "I like how you..." This statement isn't all that different from "good job" in that it still conveys granting of approval.

I also try to avoid commenting on innate ability such as saying how smart or talented a child is. It appears that this can cause kids to become frightened of failure. Once labeled, they don’t want to do anything to lose that label. It's better to focus instead on praising a child's strategies, persistence or effort. This sets kids up to believe that their success is based on things they have control over.

So why does all this matter?

It may seem like a small thing but I'm convinced that our language can influence whether our children tend to be extrinsically or intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation means that children perform only to receive the praise we dole out. Intrinsic motivation on the other hand, comes from an internal sense of joy and achievement resulting from pride in one's work or from simply doing the right thing. I want my children to know that I've noticed their efforts, but I don't want to them to feel evaluated such that they start to look to me for approval rather than finding joy and satisfaction in whatever they're doing.

Motivation aside, I have no doubt that this simple technique improves a parent's relationship with their child. Like adults, kids can feel the difference between a thoughtful compliment and empty words. The people who love and trust us the most will thrive on our sincerity and genuine interest in their endeavors.

If you try this in your family, I'd love to hear how it goes!


Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Ari Art

The boys have access to a range of drawing and painting tools and apps on our iPads. Whenever I poke around on them, I'm blown away by the awesome things they can do. Ari hasn't taken much interest in them to date, but the other day he was using an app called Hello Crayon and he called me over to show me his work.


He explained how it was mostly his favorite color, blue, but that he'd also used red, yellow, purple and green. I thought it was pretty cool but was particularly tickled by the sense of pride he had in his creation.


Monday, December 01, 2014

Ari's First Day of Preschool

Today we sent our darling three year old off for his first day of preschool!


It's an odd time of year to start but we had to wait until he was fully potty trained to enroll him anywhere that wasn't a child care center and a spot only just opened up in this particular school. Plus, with all the tasks of settling in here, it's taken a while to research the options and figure out where we wanted him to go, so the timing worked out pretty well.

We chose a little cooperative school that offers a two day per week program at 2.5 hours per day. I liked the school because the teachers are just lovely and seem to get the notion of respecting kids and treating them as competent and responsible little people. The building is occupied by interesting play equipment and toys and is tastefully decorated with natural materials. I don't know about you, but I can't stand centers filled with plastic junk and overstimulating, cutesy decor. We also liked that his cousin Edward, who is about ten months older than Ari, is in the same class.

It's Ari's first experience with any sort of group childcare or school setting and we think he'll enjoy the time there. We hope he'll have some great opportunities to socialize with other kids and have enriching experiences.

I hope you have a terrific day buddy!

Postscript: Home by 11:30 am and Ari enjoyed his first day at preschool!

When I asked him to tell me about his first day, he said (with some prompting throughout the conversation), "Make gingerbread. Eat gingerbread. Play with Edward. I did a mouse project. He was doing that (makes fingers crawl like a spider). Mama, I did something that I forgot. There was blue, yellow, green, red. Uh, and orange."

Not a bad description coming from a three year old! He's looking forward to going back tomorrow and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy a few hours to myself!


Blue Hen Falls

Yesterday we wrapped up a lovely five day holiday at home with a trip to Blue Hen Falls. Just down the road in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the falls are a lovely destination offering great opportunities for exploring!

An easy half mile hike in makes the falls accessible even to young children.


Ari and Riker steal a glimpse of the river below.


At the falls, Riker gets out his camera, just like mama!


Blue Hen Falls drop about fifteen feet but even though they're not terribly dramatic, it's a beautiful sight.


Out of batteries!


Daddy lends a helping hand.


Handsome boy!


Love exploring with these two - never a dull moment!


Riker, Brian and Ari get close to the falls after we all scramble down a rocky incline.


More silliness.


Mama and the boys.


Sometimes I can't pick just one.


Plenty of time for poking in the creek and throwing rocks.


What an excellent spot for a rest!



On the hike out, up in front of me on the bridge, I hear Riker saying, "I'm a runner, a walker, a climber and a leader mama!" Yes, my boy(s), always remember you are powerful, and you can do whatever you set your mind to.

This was such a delightful day out and we were lucky that it only started drizzling as we neared the car. Plus, I adore these photos and plan to print and frame some of them for that much anticipated acquisition of a house of our own!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

A (Birth)Day in the Life

Yesterday was my birthday and since Grammy and Grandpa just left for a vacation in Hawaii, we had the house to ourselves. We filled our day with simple, but fun family activities.

Brian found some of his old paints and a few canvases in a closet so he brought them out for the boys to explore. Riker wanted to paint a train and they started by sketching a rough outline of what they wanted the painting to look like. Then they squeezed out acrylic paint from the tubes that hadn't dried out. They mixed blue and white and started painting the sky.


With lots of help from daddy, the painting slowly came together. Then the artists started to add their signatures.


The finished work!


Riker wanted to photograph the painting with his camera as well.


Later Brian whipped up this frame for the painting. He loves having his father's woodworking shop in the basement at his disposal if you hadn't already noticed!


While the train turned out pretty terrific, the process didn't leave much room for creative exploration, so Brian got out another canvas and let the kids have a free for all with the paints.


Riker discovers a toothbrush amongst the paints and realizes it too could be used as a paint brush!



Ari mixes paints in an egg carton.


What fun is a painting session without getting your hands in red paint!


Messy but fun!


Late in the afternoon we headed out for some sledding at the Sleepy Hollow golf course and had a great time on the gently rolling hills!


We finished the day with hot chocolate, a fire in the fireplace and a movie. Nothing special really, but then I always try to remember that extraordinary moments often masquerade as ordinary life.