Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Noah: "Mom! I have a new motto for our family."
Me: "What is it?"
Noah: "Bacon."
Natalie: "Yeah!"
Me: "You think we should replace 'Never Give Up' with 'Bacon'?"
Natalie: "No! We'll add bacon...bacon can be our symbol of peace.  It lifts you up...it makes you feel good and..."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Turning 9 is Simply Divine

Today my baby is 9!

...Though right after I wished her a happy birthday she said, "Now I'm almost 10!"

Sigh...She may be in a rush to reach double digits, but for now she remains impish and silly.

She loves smelly markers, fluffy dogs, mythical creatures, making up jokes, listening to jazz music, practicing her British accent and catching everything from butterflies to bluegill. She's on the small side but her empathetic heart is big.

Happy Birthday Natalie!


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Secret to Securing Your Child's Future Success

Raising children is a piece of cake...said no parent ever. Unlike adults, kids are in a perpetual state of growing into and growing out of something – whether it's clothing, foods they'll eat, wonder about Santa, sports or friendships. With more than a decade of parenting under my belt, I've noticed just when things seem to be running smoothly, we hit a bump...or should I say a growth spurt. Suddenly, my idea of “cute” doesn't jive with their sense of style or PDA is no longer tolerated when their friends are around. While I've gladly let go of diapers, The Wiggles and competing with St. Nick, there is one area I plan to hold onto longer than most – reading aloud to my children. According to Jim Trelease, author of the million copy best seller, The Read Aloud Handbook, it comes down to simple math: A child spends 900 hours a year in school and 7,800 hours outside school. Which teacher has the bigger influence? Where is there more time available for change?”

Reading is the center from which all education flows. Research shows reading aloud to your children improves their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. It's the most economical way to secure your child's future success. When my kids were toddlers, reading aloud to them was a way to “fill the time” when I was tired after a long day and needed a quiet activity to wind them down. Reading aloud became part of our bedtime routine. Once they entered school and began learning to read...reading aloud to me became the norm. At this stage reading and listening to my kids sound out each word was tedious and draining for both of us. Once they could successfully read alone, I found I missed reading to them. I missed smooshing together on the couch with them and sharing adventures that can only come from reading books together. I reinstated “story time” at our house, but finding reading material that was engaging for both my kids, ages 7 and 11 (at the time) proved to be a challenge. We took turns selecting material and agreed to stick with a book for at least three nights. If after that time, we really didn't enjoyed it, we were free to try something else. Weekly library visits turned into thrice-weekly visits. I also started something with them called “Read & Ramble” in which we selected a book and found an activity to pair with it. For example, we read E.B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan and then followed it up with a visit to the Audubon Center at Riverlands to watch some real trumpeter swans in action.

For those who may not see the value in reading aloud to a 5
th grader who can easily read to himself – Jim Trelease responds, “Your child may be reading on a 5th grade level, but what level is he listening at?” A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than he can read himself.

And, if you have a child (like me) who only likes to read comic books and graphic novels– here's some exciting news (taken from The Read Aloud Handbook):
...Anyone questioning their (comic books) success in creating readers should consider this: in the IEA assessment of more than 200,000 children from 32 countries, Finnish children achieved the highest reading scores. And what is the most common choice for recreational reading among Finnish 9 year olds? 59% read a comic almost every day.
....List of authors who had extensive comic book collections -- Stephen Krashen, Cynthia Rylant, John Updike, and Ray Bradbury.
...According to Bishop Desmond Tutu: "My father was the headmaster of a Methodist primary school -- like most fathers in those days, he was very patriarchal, very concerned that we did well in school.  But, one of the things I am very grateful to him for is that, contrary to conventional educational principles, he allowed me to read comics.  I think that is how I developed my love for English and for reading."

I spoke with three librarians to create a list of books kids will enjoy reading along with ones that are good read aloud books. For those interested in a more in depth list of read aloud books, I suggest reading Jim Trelease's book, Hey! Listen to This: Stories to Read Aloud.

Keep Calm and Read On.

Picture Books
Wednesday Surprise by Eve Bunting
Click, Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin
Weird, Dare and Tough series by Erin Frankel
Bark, George by Jules Feiffer
It's a Tiger by David LaRochelle
Elmer by David McKee
Purple, Green and Yellow by Robert Munsch
Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Book that Eats People by John Perry
The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant
Skippyjon Jones series by Judith Schachner
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Midnight Farm by Carly Simon
Scaredy Squirrel series by Melanie Watt
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
The Mud Fairy by Amy Young

Elementary/Middle School
Ivy & Bean series by Annie Barrows
Franny K. Stein series by Jim Benton
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Bailey School Kids series by Debbie Dadey
Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
The Familiars series by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke
My Weird School series by Dan Gutman
Seekers series by Erin Hunter
Ungifted by Gordon Korman
Katie Kazoo series by Nancy Krulik
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Bless this Mouse by Lois Lowry
Stink series by Megan McDonald
Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald
Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne
Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park
Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker
Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
The Creature from My Closet series by Obert Skye
The Quirks series by Erin Soderberg
Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood

Holiday Read-alouds
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
The Wild Christmas Reindeer by Jan Brett
Dream Snow by Eric Carle
Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer
Cat Nights by Jane Manning
The Halloween Kid by Rhode Montijo
Jingle Bells Batman Smells (P.S. So does May) by Barbara Parks
Clementine series by Sarah Pennypacker
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Angel Pig and the Hidden Christmas by Jan L. Waldron
Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh

Comics and Graphic Novels
Princess Pink and the Land of Fake Believe series by Noah Z. Jones
Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce
Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan and Robert Venditti
The Yeti Files by Kevin Sherry
Phoebe and her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
Bone series by Jeff Smith
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson retold by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin
Desmond Pucket by Mark Tatulli
Star Wars Infinities by Chris Warner

Friday, October 16, 2015

Musings From Natalie #117

Natalie: "Mom, what do you think humans will evolve into?"
Me: "Hmmm...what do you mean?"
Natalie: "Well, I've seen pictures that show a chimpanzee becoming a human and wondered -- what's next."
Me: ?
Natalie: "I think we'll become pegususes."

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Deep Thoughts From Noah #70

"Mom, if you could have a super power what would it be?"...

Me: "I've always wanted to fly."

Natalie: "I'd like to have the Midas touch...only instead of gold I'd be able to turn anything into candy.  I'd just have the power with my left hand though."

Noah: "I wish every time I ate a piece of bacon I could make a new piece appear!"

"My Miriam Story"

Recently I was asked to share our family's "Miriam Story". Miriam School is a private school located in Webster Groves, MO that serves children with learning disabilities.

AndreaFNow that back-to-school season is upon us, it isn’t unusual to hear an audible, collective sigh of relief among parents as they drop their kids off each morning. Carefree summer days are great, but after a few weeks juggling work while keeping kids entertained in things other than screens is anything but relaxing. However, I remember when I’d give anything for the school year to be over for my child.

I vividly recall the morning of my son Noah’s first day of kindergarten. He and I entered into a sort of wrestling match to get him dressed for school. When he refused to walk to the car I carried him while he kicked and screamed in protest. He unbelted himself as quickly as I belted him back in. By the time we reached school, we were both exhausted, but getting him into the car proved to be much easier than getting him out. He held onto the back of the driver’s headrest with a death grip. This tearful battle continued for weeks yet when it subsided other troubles cropped up at school.
Noah is on the autism spectrum and struggles with a host of learning challenges including expressive language, sensory processing, hand-writing, reading comprehension, and social skills. But, the big hairy challenge which covers every inch of his being is anxiety – the cornerstone that links kids on the spectrum together. It’s part of their fabric and not something one can simply medicate away.

After Noah’s first year of school, we were introduced to Miriam and began enrolling him in social skills classes through the Learning Center. For years, we continued to supplement his education in this way, but it wasn’t enough. Despite monthly “team meetings” with his teachers and therapists, the gap between him and his peers continued to grow. By the time he hit fourth grade, social circles had completely inched him out. He felt defeated and was becoming more withdrawn each day.
“Mom, it’s not like kids are mean to me…it’s just that they completely ignore me,” he said.
Fast forward to today, Noah is in his second year at Miriam School. He looks forward to going to school every day. He has a solid, circle of friends and he’s thriving. In the evenings he now asks for extra reading time before bed.

Extra reading time!

When I asked Noah what he liked most about Miriam School his answer took me by surprise. He didn’t mention the school’s gigantic OT room complete with a ball pit, obstacle course and a variety of swings. He didn’t say it was because he now has a bunch of friends who appreciate and share his unique sense of humor. He didn’t refer to Miriam’s dynamic team of teachers and therapists who never tire of unlocking his potential. Instead, Noah said, “Miriam School makes me feel safe.”

Me too, buddy.

As a parent, Miriam School gives me the assurance I am giving my child the best chance at life. I trust the teachers and therapists will do all they humanly can – to ensure my son is successful. And, it reminds me of a quote by Maya Angelou, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’m so grateful to Miriam School for helping kids and their families feel safe and good and enough.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

National Alpaca Farm Days 2015

Last weekend our family participated in National Alpaca Farm Days. An opportunity to enjoy a leisurely drive to the country while soaking in the sunshine and fresh air. Northern Prairie Alpaca is located about an hour from St. Louis in Sullivan, MO. The moment we pulled up we were warmly greeted by owners, Les & Deb Wellinghoff. who kindly directed us to a nearby pen and let the kids hand feed the animals.

The Wellinghoff's have been raising alpacas for six years.  Though Les is quick to interject Deb is in charge of the farm - he just works for her. Deb's love for her herd is evident as she shared her passion and knowledge for these curious, docile creatures. She is committed to the health and well-being of her herd and loves to educate others about the unique qualities of alpacas.

While she has 20 alpacas, one thing worth noting is her farm does not smell -- at ALL.  That's because alpacas are considerate beasts.  They mainly eat just grass or hay (and not much of it) A 60 lb. bale of hay can feed a group of about 20 alpacas for a day.  In addition, herds establish communal dung piles which Deb and her husband clean up twice a day. They are also fairly quiet and generally make only a pleasant humming sound as a means of communication.  Occasionally you will hear a shrill alarm call if they are frightened.  Male alpacas make a guttural, throaty sound called orgling to attract females during breeding.

It was a relaxing and fun visit.  We look forward to their next event.  In addition to making and selling alpaca products, Deb hosts a variety of classes including weaving and animal listening by listening expert, Cindy Meyers. To learn more about alpacas or to register for a class, visit Northern Prairie's FB page.

Fun facts:
*baby alpacas are called cria

*alpacas do not have hooves -- instead they have two toes with hard toenails on top and a soft pad on the bottoms of their feet which minimizes their effect on pastures and makes them an "environmentally friendly" animal

*alpaca fiber is stronger, lighter, 30% warmer and four times less abrasive than merino wool of the same weight. It's also considered "hypo-allergenic" because unlike sheep wool, it contains no lanolin  which can cause skin irritations.

*there are two types of alpaca: Huacaya (which produce a dense, soft, crimpy sheep-like fiber), and the Suri (with silky pencil-like locks, resembling dreadlocks but without matted fibers).

White Lightning is their newest addition - just 9 days old at the time of our visit.
Deb shows us Sunkissed's lips (similar to a camel's). Alpacas only have front teeth on the bottom and a hard gum on top for crushing grain. Unlike goats and sheep that have long tongues and can rip plants and grass from the root, alpacas have short tongues and nibble only the tops of grasses and other plants. Making them better for the environment.

Glamorous Grace kept an eye on our Natalie Grace.

Deb makes and sells yarn and lots of beautiful products made from alpaca fiber.