Friday, April 30, 2010

Tree Houses, Huts, and Forts, Oh My!

My son's birthday is the day after Christmas.  Yeah, I know, I know, I didn't plan that well!  It certainly can make for a hectic time of year.  A few years ago, I was bound and determined to not overdo the gift thing.  You know, presents on Christmas Eve, more presents on Christmas Day, and even more on his birthday.  So, each year my husband and I abandon the "gift" thing on Jack's birthday and do something a little different.  On his 3rd birthday, I built him this "Pirate Hut."  Each day when Jack was at preschool or at Grammy's, I would work as quickly as I could to build this hut - without him knowing.  Yes, even on Christmas Day, I would stir the pot in the kitchen - getting ready for Christmas dinner - and would hop out to the yard to put the final touches on the hut.  It was crazy, ridiculous, and wonderful - all at the same time.  I don't know how I had the energy - but I did it!  And it felt so much better to give him something that I had poured my heart and soul into, rather than popping into Toys R Us and buying him something off the shelf.  

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Motherload TV

Hey, everyone! Check out Motherload TV! A friend of mine from my touring days in the theatre has launched a fabulously-funny webisode about Motherhood - its ups and its downs. 
We can ALL relate...

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Reading - "The Old School Way"

I remember when I was a kid, I used to ride my bike down Main Street to the public library - an old stone building with huge steps that led up to huge carved wood doors.  When I entered, the place smelled of musty pages and book bindings - but I loved it!  (Somehow I also remember that the late fee was only 2 cents a day - that was only in the late 1970s!)

But, as big box book stores have popped up, it seems that our kids don't have that same experience that I used to cherish.  We go to these massive stores, and easily lay down $50 for a few books and stop by and get a latte on the way out.  We may be teaching our kids about the importance of reading, but we are also drilling into them that you have to pay to read - consumerism at its best!

So, how about a trip down to the local library?  I admit I have fallen in and out of this habit - more "out" lately.  But, it is time for me to get back on the library-wagon.  A visit to the library every week or two is an adventure kids can always look forward to.  "What will we learn about this week?"  is a phrase my son asks when we venture through the bookshelves.  And libraries have an endless source of things to learn from!  So, I am dusting off my library card and putting it back in service this week!  (even though I am sure I have a late fee - and it's probably not 2 cents.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Practical Life At Home

How many times do our kids yell, "Mom, I need some milk! Mom, I spilled my cereal! Mom, I need my favorite shirt! Mom, Mom, MOM, MOOOOOOOOOMMMMM!" As we mutter, "What am I? Your servant?" under our breath - we acquiesce - we get the milk, we clean up the cereal, we search for the shirt. But, we are just setting ourselves up for the next tirade from our little prince or princess. 

As moms, we often take on a larger load than we need to. Our kids (even the wee-little ones) are perfectly capable of helping around the house.  In fact, if you teach them how to properly do a task, such as sweeping or wiping a table clean, they will probably enjoy the responsibility.  Let them have cleaning tools that fit their little hands.  Place them in a spot where they can access them.  Here are some handy items for your little helpers:

Child-sized brooms (long and short handle) and dustpan
Access to a garbage pail
Spray bottle with an all-natural/non-toxic cleaning solution
Small dusting cloths

And with the extra few minutes this will buy you, you can breathe for a moment!  Aaahhhhh....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

All-Natural Insect Repellent

'Tis the season for mosquitos! And, unless I am traipsing through the rain forests of Central America, I don't need a super sticky, oily, foul-smelling repellent. I don't want to "feel" like I am wearing repellent, but I certainly don't want to get gobbled up!  So, I turn to Burt's Bees!  They have a fantastic herbal repellent. And it smells delicious! It is 100% natural and includes oils of Rosemary, Lemongrass, Geranium, and Citronella as well as other oils that those pesky skeeters don't like! DEET-free, so it is safe for kids and pets.  

Many stores such as Target and CVS are carrying these products now, but if you can't find it, check out the Burt's Bees website:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Strawberry Yogurt (and Date) Smoothie

My son loves smoothies. And, for me, they are a great way to "sneak" things into his diet. Now, I know I could never get him to eat a date. I am sure he would say that they look like "cockroaches" - and they kinda do. But, dates are a wonderful source of fiber. So, here is my "sneaky" way to work them into his diet.  

Strawberry Yogurt (and Date) Smoothie

2 cups of fresh or frozen strawberries
6 pitted dates 
1 cup vanilla non-fat or low-fat yogurt
1 cup of water
1/2 tablespoon of agave nectar or honey

Before you go to bed, place the dates in a cup of water on the counter. Let them soak overnight. In the morning, drain the water. Put all ingredients in the blender. Blend well. Makes 2 smoothies.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recycle for UNICEF

At my son's Montessori school, all the families bring in their recyclables each week in order to raise money for UNICEF.  Each month, one of the parents signs up to deliver the bins full of glass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans to our local recycling plant.  Last year, the school raised over $600 for UNICEF.  The money was used to purchase 60 mosquito nets for villages across the world where malaria runs rampant.  
One child is killed every 30 seconds by malaria. UNICEF is one of the largest buyers of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs).  These nets are pre-treated, and require no extra insecticidal treatments during their lifetime.  UNICEFs goal is to "achieve bednet coverage in endemic countries by the end of 2010."  
Please join the challenge NOW and raise money to save the lives of millions of children.  For more information about this program:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth Day Pledge

Earth Fair 2010 was a blast!  We learned so much!  Jack became totally interested in gray wolves, because he was able to talk to a volunteer from the California Wolf Center.  (He has been researching these wolves, drawing pictures about them, and cuddling with his "baby" wolf ever since Sunday.)  My husband looked into an electric bicycle that he could ride to work.  By the gas he would save, that bike would pay for itself in less than 9 months!  I learned about grey water systems.  We bought a solar oven for $20.  I think I will try it in a few days, so I will keep you posted on how it works.  

Jack had a wonderful time in the children's activity section.  He made a robot out of random odds and ends you would have around the house (cups, straws, sticks, pipe cleaners, and, by all means, googly eyes!)  I got connected with an organic farmer who makes hydroponic systems for vegetables.  We will probably be installing one of these systems in Jack's Montessori school next year, so I soaked up as much info as I could.  I spoke with a wonderful man from war-torn Northern Uganda.   It was all I could not do to weep as he told me the "real" story of what is going on over there - what we as t.v.-watching Americans do not see.   Such an enlightening day. And I couldn't help but walk away with a few thoughts - which I am turning into a PLEDGE to the EARTH. 
Dear Earth, 
Over the years I have become more and more connected to you.  I have been to the rain forests and seen deforestation.  I have seen what non-organic farms do to the land, the wildlife, and the people.  I have seen animals caught in trash dumped into rivers.  I have made changes because of the things I see.  I shop for local, organic produce.  I have planted fruit trees and vegetables in my own yard.  I recycle. I consume less.  But I can continue to do more.   MUCH MUCH more.  Although my intentions are good, I have gotten a little lazy here and there - so here is my pledge to you as of Earth Day 2010:

1.  NO MORE plastic bags!  In the past couple of years, I have used the canvas bags (of which I probably have 20) only about 75% of the time.  My problem has been that I forget to put them back in the car after unloading the groceries.  Often times, I stop by the store when I am already out and about and I don't have any bags in the car.  So, here is my plan:  1:  put the darn bags back in the car after I unload groceries!  2:  As a back-up, I now carry a fold up bag in my purse.  It takes up hardly any room and I ALWAYS have a bag with me - no matter what.  Plastic bags----sayonara!
2.  NO MORE plastic bottles!  Now, I am pretty good about this already.  But, I have now made a point of carrying my own bottle (and my son's) wherever we go.  So, there will NEVER be a reason to purchase those plastic bottles.
3.  Drink tap water.  Since my son was born, I have had water delivered to the house.  So, I figure, that is 6 years x 6 bottles per month... so, we have had  over 400 bottles of water brought in, hauled in over the past 6 years.  That truck has probably come to our house 144 times!  What a waste.  Our tap is fine.  And, I can get a filter if I need to.  Bye-bye, water company.  (Hey, and we will save lots of money by cutting out this service! - Added bonus!)
4.  Use our laundry line when it is sunny outside.  (And we live in San Diego, so that is almost all of the time.)  O.K., so last year I bought the laundry line, but we have had such a rainy winter, that I have really gotten out of the habit of using it.  But, the sun is out, the days are beautiful - that dryer is going to get a break.
5.  Summer project - create a grey water system from out clothes washer and add rain barrels to our gutters.  I have wanted to do this for years - this is the year!!!!
Earth, thanks, for everything you provide for us.  Now, it is our turn to give back!


Friday, April 16, 2010

EARTH DAY Celebration!

I am so excited - I can hardly stand it!  Earth Day is around the corner.  This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day celebration.  On Sunday, my family and I are heading down to Balboa Park here in San Diego for Earth Fair 2010!  This years marks the 20th anniversary of our city's fantastic celebration. Each year, it draws over 70,000 people - is produced by 400 volunteers - features 350 exhibitors - has 
special theme areas, a Food Pavilion, a wonderful Kids’ Activity Area, three entertainment venues, the Children’s Earth Parade, the eARTh Gallery art show, and the Cleaner Car Concourse. I mark this event on my calendar just as any other holiday.  For me, it goes right up there with the big ones - Christmas, New Year's, Valentine's Day, Easter, Earth Day...  

I urge you to check out your hometown and see what activities and celebrations are going on this weekend. It is such an important event to involve your kids in.  Also, here are some ideas on things you can do at home to celebrate this remarkable occasion. 

Have a SLOW FOOD meal.  Eat a meal that is cooked from start to finish by you and your family.  All ingredients should be local and organic (within 60 miles of your home.)  Farmer's markets are great places to shop - as is your own backyard (if you have a garden).  Check out these websites for more info:

Pick up trash your neighborhood.  We have done this for the past few years - and our son really gets into it.  Finding trash almost becomes as much fun as an Easter egg hunt, oddly enough! Take precautions - wear gloves.  And keep an eye on your children - you can pick up the broken bottles and dangerous stuff - leave the paper to them.

Even though the official Earth Hour has passed - turn off all of your lights and appliances from sundown to dawn one night.  Eat by candlelight.  Play cards.  Sing songs.  It is great for Mama Earth and a nice bonding time for your family.

Plant a tree in your backyard.  Last year, we planted a plum tree to commemorate Earth Day.  
And now we have baby plums all over it!  

To learn more about Earth Day, please visit:
They have a great site.  Check out their mission statement:
"Earth Day Network was founded on the premise that all people, regardless of race, gender, income, or geography, have a moral right to a healthy, sustainable environment. Our mission is to broaden and diversify the environmental movement worldwide, and to mobilize it as the most effective vehicle for promoting a healthy, sustainable environment. We pursue our mission through a combination of education, public policy, and activism campaigns. Earth Day Network has a global reach with more than 20,000 partners and organizations in 190 countries. More than 1 billion people participate in Earth Day activities, making it the largest secular civic event in the world."

For San Diego's Earth Fair, go to:


Thursday, April 15, 2010

10 more things I love about Jack

OK... I said, in my last blog, 30 things I love about Jack, and only wrote 20!  Boy, my math skills are a little rusty.  So here are the remaining 10 things I love about Jack: (by the way, he is helping me write these - my son...the future blogger...)
21.  Jack loves that I draw such cute drawings.  And I like the he draws such cute drawings, as well.
22.  I love that Jack plays so nicely with his friends at school.
23.  I love when he goes to sleep, cuddled up next to the cat.
24.  I love when he gives me "zerberts" (aka "raspberries!)
25.  I love when he gives me hugs and kisses.
26.  I love that he tells his teachers that they are the best teachers ever!
27.  I love that Jack "composes" his own music.  He will plunk some keys on the piano and sing into the mic, and his daddy will mix it down into a cool song.  The best one ever was the song they made for me last year on Mother's Day.
28.  I love that he is so into reading right now - whether it is a book or a street sign - he never stops reading.
29.  I love the way he writes phonetically.  It may take a minute to decipher, but it really makes such sense, when you think about it.
30.  I love that he is sitting with me at my desk right now, with his arm around my neck and his head on my shoulders.  Doesn't get better than this.
More to come... as the list is really never ending...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

30 Things I Love About Jack

I follow a beautiful blog called Madeline Bea: Life Set to Words.

A recent post of hers talked about 30 things she loves about her child.  So, I am following suit. Here are the 30 things I love about my son, Jack:

1.  He says "I Love You" probably 20 times a day.
2.  I love that he sometimes calls me "mama"  instead of "mom" or "mommy."
3.  He is such an adventurer.  He has been hiking since he was 1 year old.  Kayaking since he was 2 years old.  He ziplined in Belize when he was 3 years old.  He loves exploring caves, Mayan ruins, and tropical rain forests just as much as we do.
4.  Even though he is a big boy ( 6 years old ), he still loves to cuddle with his mommy and daddy.
5.  When he finds something really funny, he has the best belly laugh!
6.  He is such a "boy" - digging up earthworms, making a snail farm, climbing trees are favorite past times.
7.  He loves being "catcher" at T-Ball, because the padding looks like a cool costume.
8.  He can't say the word to our favorite restaurant (Hacienda de Vega) correctly.  So, he will say, "Hey, mama, let's got to Haca-va-VEN-dah va-VE-ga" (with an Italian accent.)
9. He likes prosciutto and ceviche but can't stand mashed potatoes.  
10.  I love watching him sleep.
11.  I love that when he needs some peace and quiet, he will say "Mama, I need some peace" (and he will flash me the peace sign with his fingers.)
12.  I love that he loves to draw and make his own "books."  He can sit there for hours creating.
13.  I love that he is finally really interested in singing.  Last night we had a voice lesson (which he initiated) and he sang "Chim Chim Cheree" about a 1000 times.  He had so much fun.
14.  I love that he likes to make up his own yoga poses.
15.  I love that he likes to go on "dates" with his mama.  We may go to the museum, or a drumming class, or a movie - and he is such a little gentleman.
16.  I love it when he does interpretive dance on the living room floor or sometimes in public!
17.  I love that he is very spiritual - on his own accord - one day we passed a field and he said, "Look, mama, there's Keith (my uncle who passed away a couple of years ago).  See that yellow flower?  That's him!"
18.  I love that he falls asleep every time my husband reads "The Lorax" to him.  My husband will read in the most monotone voice, it lulls Jack to sleep in five minutes.  My husband has never finished the book, so he has no clue how it ends!
19.  I love how Jack loves his pets, Dizzy, Bartok, and Brownie, so much.
20.  I love that he has made my life complete!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lessons at Home

At his Montessori school, my son has lessons with his teacher - one on one.  The lesson may be with the golden beads (a mathematics tool), or maybe it is learning the proper way to use and care for the gardening pruners, or perhaps it is how to sew a straight stitch on a piece of cloth.  It is a special time for him and his teacher.  
Recently, my son was home on a rainy day from school.  He had a touch of a cold - and not being sure how contagious he was, I kept him home.  Of course, by 10 am, he was bouncing off the walls! So, I thought, "let's do a lesson!"  And, I used that term, lesson, since he was very aware of its meaning.  He jumped at the thought of having a lesson with his mama.  How special!  That day, we did a 20 minute lesson on Earth Day.  I read to him from a book that had ideas for kids on how to be kinder to the Earth.  We learned why the Earth is in such trouble. We talked about what we could do.  He wrote down our plan.  And now we have put our plan into action.  
In a way, I hope this sets him up for the day when he actually has homework (he is only 6.)  By saying, "let's do a lesson," he knows he is really going to learn something interesting.  And, it is a peaceful time with just the two of us.

Friday, April 9, 2010

BEAUTY - The Italian Way

“The child should live in an environment of beauty.”

-Maria Montessori

I have just finished the first third of "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert.  This is a book that has sat on my shelf for over a year anxiously awaiting to be read, and I am thrilled that I finally have the time to read it.  It is a book which follows the author's quest for peace and happiness.  She embarks on a year long journey, in which she will spend 4 months in Italy, 4 months in India, and 4 months in Indonesia.  In Italy, she will discover the earthly beauty of the Italian language and food.  In India, she will discover peace by delving into the spiritual realm.  In Indonesia, she will learn how to incorporate the two - "to live in this world and enjoy its delights, but also [to] devote [herself] to God." 

As I read the section on Italy, I couldn't help but think of Maria Montessori.  Gilbert speaks of beauty and Italy.  Here is an excerpt from chapter 36:

"Luigi Barzini, in his 1964 masterwork The Italians (written when he'd finally grown tired of foreigners writing about Italy and either loving it or hating it too much) tried to set the record straight on his own culture.  He tried to answer the question of why the Italians have produced the greatest artistic, political, and scientific minds of the ages, but have still never become a major world power.  Why are they the planet's masters of verbal diplomacy, but still so inept at home government?  Why are they so individually valiant, yet so collectively unsuccessful as an army?  How can they be shrewd merchants on the personal level, yet such inefficient capitalists as a nation?  His answers to these questions are more complex that I can fairly encapsulate here, but have so much to do with a sad Italian history of corruption of local leaders and exploitation by foreign dominators, all of which has generally led Italians to draw the seemingly accurate conclusions that nobody and nothing in this world can be trusted.  Because the world is so corrupted, misspoken, unstable, exaggerated and unfair, one should trust only what one can experience with one's own senses, and this makes the senses stronger in Italy than anywhere in Europe. This is why, Barzini says, Italians will tolerate hideously incompetent generals, presidents, tyrants, professors, bureaucrats, journalists and captains of industry, but will never tolerate incompetent 'opera singers, conductors, ballerinas, courtesans, actors, film directors, cooks, tailors...'  In a world of disorder and disaster and fraud, sometimes only beauty can be trusted."

As I read this, it made so much sense that Maria Montessori emphasized the importance of beauty in an child's life.  She lived in this very world that Barzini describes.  Montessori knew that beauty is incorruptible.  It is something that we as parents and teachers can control.  Beauty cannot be taken away.  How items are displayed on a shelf, the manner by which a table is set, the way a simple vase of flowers are arranged are all essential for a child's growth and education, according to Montessori.

Here are a few simple ways to bring more beauty into your home:

~ Place a small of vase of fresh flowers in your child's room.

~ Play classical music as your child plays.

~ When serving his/her meals, arrange the food in a beautiful way on the plate.  Teach your child to arrange his/her meals in this fashion.

~ Encourage drawing, painting, and sculpting.  Have a well-maintained stock of art supplies.

~ Sing with your child.

~ Enjoy an evening stroll with your child.  Listen to the beauty of the nighttime birds and other sounds of nature.

~ Point out the beauty in everyday things - a field of wildflowers alongside the road as you are driving, the glistening of a dew drop on a leaf in your garden, the sound of the breeze whistling though the trees...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Playtime - It's Not Just For Kids!

How often do we take our kids to the park and sit on a bench sipping our Lattes while we watch our kids play?  Or, we drop them off at an art class, dance class, or karate class, where we wait on the sidelines as we browse through the latest magazine. 
The other day I played tag for the first time in a LONG time.  That same day, I took an art class with my son.  We drew dinosaurs, and didn't really care if we drew outside the lines.  Then, we went to the park and had a contest to see who could swing the highest. Yesterday, I caught my husband playing with silly string!  And the day before that, I was on my hands and knees drawing on our patio with chalk!
As parents, we often get so wrapped up with the ticker tape of to-do-lists rattling through our brain, that down-time seems most productive sipping a coffee, or reading a book.  But, I encourage you to "let go" and get silly!  The next time you take your child to the park, get up on those monkey bars with him.  Leave your iPhone in the car and have a race!  Play I Spy.  Throw the ball around for a bit.  Have a go at the slide.  I guarantee you will feel more refreshed, and your child will have a ball playing with mom! (or dad!)

Thursday, April 1, 2010


As we make our last minute rush to the store for Easter, the lure of plastic grass, plastic eggs, and ready made baskets may entice some, due to their convenience.  But, I urge you to get creative.  This year, think GREEN!  Also, think MONTESSORI, when creating your children's Easter baskets.  Here are some fun ideas...

Purchase a kid's sized wheelbarrow, and fill with child sized garden gloves, spade, seed packets, garden boots, straw hat, and top it off with a 6 pack of geraniums!
Buy a colorful storage tote and fill it with art supplies, such as crayons (for directions to recycle your own crayons, see below!), colored pencils, markers, sidewalk chalk, paint, paint brushes, pipe cleaners, and paper.  Shredded construction paper and natural raffia can replace green plastic grass and curling ribbon.
Fill a gently used basket with colorful cloth napkins (instead of green plastic grass).  Add a child sized rolling pin, cookie cutters, and apron.  Also, there are lots of cooking books for kids - they would make a nice addition to this Chef's Easter Basket!
Purchase a small toolbox and fill it with real tools such as a hammer, safety goggles, phillips screwdriver, sandpaper, nails, screws, washers, and other interesting hardware.  Shredded newspaper would dress the box up, in lieu of plastic grass. 

If you add candy to the basket, keep in mind how much packaging goes into wrapping up each little piece of candy.  Choose wisely.  Also, if you purchase eggs for your Egg Hunt, find paper mache ones at stores like Cost Plus.  And remember to reuse them next year! 


First, peel the paper off the crayons and break them up into little pieces.  Divide up the crayons into metal muffin tins. Mix up the colors pretty well.  Preheat to 350. When you have enough crayons peeled and broken, turn the oven off and place the muffin tin in the center.

You will want to check the crayons frequently, just turning the oven light on should work. Once the crayons start to look a little soupy remove them from the oven and place them immediately in the freezer. Freeze for 30-45 minutes and remove. The new crayons should pop out easily. Drop them into your hand though, I made the mistake of popping them onto our hard counter and a couple of them cracked. Once back to room temperature they are ready to color with.

Happy Easter!!