Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My Kids are Funny

My son spoke very clearly – and in complete sentences - at a very early age, and ever since then he’s been ahead of the curve verbally. My daughter wasn’t quite as advanced but she makes up for it with the sheer hilarity of what she says. Actually, both of them are pretty funny. My husband is fond of saying that if we could catch even five percent of the funny stuff they say on video we could post it on YouTube and make millions.

I write down a lot of the funny things they say, but somehow the humor is often lost without both the context and the delivery. For example, the other day my son proclaimed, completely out of the blue, “Sometimes, I just HAVE to lick my elbow.” Now, that’s a pretty funny line by itself, but when you add in the fact that it was a total non sequitur and the perfectly serious delivery complete with slightly furrowed brow, it’s REALLY funny. My daughter gets in on the non sequitur act herself, like a few weeks ago when in the middle of quietly playing with her dolls, she suddenly shouted from across the room in an urgent, almost panicked tone of voice, “I NEED A KISS!!! RIGHT NOW!!!!” Of course, I raced right over and kissed her, and she responded very calmly and matter-of-factly, “Thanks, Mum,” and went back to playing with her dolls as if nothing unusual had happened. And yet another time, she was playing with a toy giraffe near a pair of my sneakers that were on the floor, when she suddenly stuffed the giraffe into one of the sneakers and announced, “We gotta go. Come on, giraffe. We gotta go. Get in the shoe. GET IN THE SHOOOOEEEEEE!!!!!!!”

Sometimes my son is funny because he makes up words to express something that he doesn’t know the right word for. After enjoying a particularly buttery English muffin for breakfast one day, he examined his hands carefully and informed me, “Mama, I need to wash my hands. They’re all…muffin saucy.” Making up words is nothing new for him, though. When he was about 3, we were driving home from a friend’s house and he asked my husband if we were on a highway. Upon being informed that we weren’t at the moment, he quietly murmured to himself, “Oh, we’re on a low-way.” At about the same age, he noticed my niece’s pedicure and informed her that he really liked her toenail disguises.

At ages 3 and almost 5, my kids are smack in the middle of the time of life when everything is new and amazing. They’re young enough that they’re constantly experiencing things for the first time, and they’re old enough to be able to process and appreciate those experiences. And they’re full of curiosity about everything around them. Half of what makes them funny is the pure joy and wonder they find in everything that’s around them. Their joy is contagious, and you can’t help but laugh with them as they discover the joy and humor in the world around them. 

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Friday, September 26, 2014

What Is Homeschooling Like?

Even though I’m not “officially” homeschooling yet (my son misses the age cutoff and is not eligible for public kindergarten this year), I’m doing it formally enough that it occasionally comes up in conversation, and people often ask what it’s like to homeschool. Every homeschooler is different, so I can’t answer that question in the broadest sense, but I can share what homeschooling is like for us. Here’s an example of a typical homeschooling day for us.

My son is naturally very curious, so I try to develop lessons based on what he’s interested in. Instead of having a separate math lesson, reading lesson, writing practice, etc., I try to tie them all together using something that he’s interested in. So I based this lesson on a police car craft that I found on Pinterest. 

I began by carefully writing out step by step instructions:
  1. Color the car blue.
  2. Cut out 2 black circles.
  3. Cut out 2 white squares.
  4. Cut out 1 red rectangle.
  5. Cut out 1 yellow star.

I gave him a paper plate that had been cut into the general shape of a car, a box of magic markers, a pair of scissors, a stack of construction paper with the appropriate shapes drawn on, and the page of directions. 

 In this single project, he had to 1) read, 2)  hold a marker properly, 3) follow sequential directions, 4) identify colors, 5) identify shapes, 6) master using scissors for both curved and straight cutting, and 7) use glue without making a big mess.

I followed this lesson by asking him to draw each of the shapes that he had cut out, and then had him figure out how to spell and write out the name of one of those shapes with help from alphabet flash cards.

From there we moved on to reading a library book about different kinds of vehicles (including police cars). As we read, we talked about the difference between nouns and verbs, figuring out which words were “things” (ambulance, policeman, siren, headlights) and which were “doing” words (drive, stop, help, fly). After that, we watched a “Schoolhouse Rock” DVD, starting with songs like “Verb: That’s What’s Happening” and “A Noun Is a Person, Place or Thing,” then we moved on to a little American history with “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” and “The Great American Melting Pot” and a bit of math with “Elementary, My Dear” and “Figure Eight,” all with appropriate discussion as we went along. And then we finished off the lesson by practicing writing numbers with more help from flash cards and workbook pages.

The nicest part of home schooling is being able to set our own pace and our own schedule. We can take breaks whenever one of us needs one and plow through when we happen to be on a roll. If we find ourselves on an interesting tangent, we can go with it instead of having to steer back to the original topic. Sometimes we take a wiggle break because we feel like it; sometimes we skip a boring book and find one that’s more exciting at the moment; sometimes we scrap a lesson altogether and find something else that works for us. Sometimes we get much more in depth than I'd anticipated and go two or three lessons at a time. If one of us is having a crabby morning, we can work on fun projects like crafts or coloring or cooking, and work on the harder or less interesting stuff after lunch when we’ve both gotten our second wind. Sometimes we "double-dip" by thinking of different kinds of ocean animals while we're swimming or practice walking like different kinds of animals while we're having a stretch break. We can even do lessons after dinner or on weekends to make up for breaks we’ve taken during the day. 

Making our own schedule also means we can be inspired by anything and everything around us. At the grocery store, we talk about nutrition, how plants grow, and where different fruits come from. We read the signs at the end of each aisle and talk about why the foods are grouped together the way they are. While we’re making brownies, we talk about the different ways we can measure things and we practice reading and following directions. In the car the other day, my son saw someone smoking a cigarette and asked what it was, and it segued into a discussion of health, how we breathe, and the meaning of the word “consequences”.

To quote John Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” And, in turn, life itself is education. 

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Facebook is always something of a mixed blessing. There are posts that make you laugh and posts that make you shake your head. There are conversations that cement friendships and conversations that end them. There are trends that you look forward to and trends that make you want to poke yourself in the eye with a rusty spork. Throwback Thursday is a trend that can sometimes be both.

I love it when an old friend posts a TBT photo of themselves at the age when I knew them best: high school friends posting high school photos, college chums posting college photos, childhood buddies posting childhood photos. The memories of our shared friendship come rushing back. But sometimes an old friend posts a photo of one of their KIDS at the age when I knew the old friend best. And to be perfectly honest, that kind of freaks me out a little. Because it reminds me that I’m growing older. (Not old, just older.)

Oddly enough, when a friend who’s around my age has a birthday, it doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t remind me of my own birthday. But when their children start having milestones, like turning 12 (or 16, or 21), or getting their driver’s license, or going off to college, it reminds me of how quickly time is passing by. I remember so clearly passing all those milestones myself – but wasn’t that just last week? Or at most, last year? The number on the calendar doesn’t bother me; it’s all that time that’s gone racing by that has me worried.

Time really does speed up the older you get. Remember when you were a kid and summer vacation seemed to last for years? Now that you’re an adult, blink and you missed it. Spending an hour on the playground felt like a month. But when you steal a moment to watch your kids playing on the playground, it seems to flash by in a heartbeat. It used to seem like a century between each birthday; now you can’t believe you’re having a birthday because didn’t you just have one two weeks ago? Time speeds up as it goes by.

But that’s also a reason that I love seeing the old throwback photos: it helps me remember back when time stretched on endlessly. The times when nothing existed in the world besides riding your bike through the woods, or sledding down an icy hill, or playing hopscotch, or having a pillow fight. The times when all you focused on was the fun you were having right now. No worries about what would happen tomorrow, or next week, or next year. No thinking about your future, or trying to solve problems before they happen, or stressing about plans. Just enjoying the moment.

That’s something I need to remember how to do: to just enjoy the moment. There are so many wonderful moments in my life that I spoil by worrying, or being distracted, or by thinking ahead, when I should just take a moment to stop and enjoy the now. So instead of letting Throwback Thursday remind me how quickly time is passing, I’m going to try to use it to remind myself to stop and enjoy it. Maybe that will slow it down, just a little.

And even if it doesn’t, at least it might remind me that it’s a good thing time didn’t stop at that particular moment…

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

New York Fashion Week 2014

It's Fashion Week in New York! All the designers are parading their upcoming lines for spring and summer of 2015. If you're anything like me, what you expect to see at the cutting-edge runway shows going on this week is wacky, unwearable, impractical or downright ugly designs. But as I browsed through the various designers' collections this year, I found an impressive number of beautiful, practical, and wearable outfits. Here are a few of my favorites.

Designer Juan Carlos Obanda's contribution to the continuing animal print trend is this striking outfit. A slim but long and flowing leopard skirt with paired front slits is lined with black satin, echoing the belted black halter top. Paired with sleek hair and strappy metallic sandals, this is an elegant but fun evening look that many of us could pull off.

Many of the pieces in designer Marc Jacobs' collection were obviously military-inspired, featuring boxy jackets, pleated and tabbed pockets, and "uniform" colors such as khaki and olive drab. This particular piece struck me by pairing square, utilitarian military styling with shiny satin fabric, a very short, very flared skirt, and an oversize cross-body bag. It's a bit short for ordinary wear, but paired with leggings it could be a very cute look for the under-25 set.

The J. Mendel collection featured large color blocks of pure white mixed with silvers, grays, black, and mustard yellow. Styles included everything from a swirly, full-skirted strapless dress with a swath of delicate print down the side, to a simple squared-off shirt paired with snug-fitting print cuffed ankle pants, to a white sheath dress with criss-cross bodice and silver detailing on the skirt. Not too fussy, not too plain, just feminine and flattering.

Ralph Lauren's collection had a very international feel to it, with a number of sari-inspired pieces and quite a few others with something of a "Banana Republic" vibe. The collection, as well as each individual look, blended tailored styling with softly draped pieces for a practical but fashionable look. The Casablanca-inspired safari suit with soft hat and draped belt, the swirling black skirt with belly-baring, fittted-to-the-wrist sleeved black jersey, and the snug leather leggings paired with a flowing top consisting of a long floating swath of chiffon, each combine fitted with flowing for an enviable look.


"Striking separates" is the term that comes to mind for Erin Featherston's designs. Some separates were perfectly matched, like the white lace crop top and pencil skirt; some matched colors while mixing textures, like the yellow lace top with matching brocade skirt; and some paired a print with a matching solid, like the white top with blue print and solid blue shorts. Crisp, tailored but interesting, and just unusual enough to feel like designer clothes but still wearable but we mere mortals.

The Elizabeth & James collection was almost too simple: clean lines, very little detailing or accents, solid or simple print fabrics. And yet, it all worked. Add a pop of interest with a bright bag, a great pair of shoes, or a statement necklace (or, in the case of that first blue suit, maybe a shirt), and you've got a great everyday look.

 Maybe fashion week isn't just for people with perfect figures and no credit limit. Maybe real people really can wear fashionable clothes! Just probably not any of these:

Saturday, September 20, 2014

2014 Fall Fashions That I Love

There are two things that I love that come with the advent of fall: fall cooking, and fall clothes. I love fall comfort food: casseroles, soups, baked pasta dishes, and anything that can be made in a crock pot. I also love fall comfort clothing: snuggly sweaters, lovely layers, beautiful boots, cozy coats. And every time fall rolls around, there are a few new (or recycled) fall fashions that I just love. Here are a few of the fall 2014 fashion trends that I love.

Print Dresses

Some years, every dress I see is in a solid color. Which is fine, but I love prints. So I'm very excited about the many print dresses that are being shown this year: ethnic prints, animal prints, stripes, funky geometrics. The silhouettes are simple and the visual interest comes from the fabric instead of the tailoring details. It's a nice change of pace from years past.


Every year, some kind of boot or other is in. But it seems like this year, EVERY kind of boot is in. High boots, ankle boots, booties, slouchy boots, riding boots, suede boots, patent boots, brown boots, black boots, multi-colored boots. There's a boot for absolutely everyone. Even if you don't like boots, there's a pair of trendy boots out there this year that you'll love.


Maybe it's because of Pinterest, but scarves are everywhere this season, and there are as many ways to wear a scarf as there are women who wear them. Tie them in a bow, weave them back on themselves, loop them around, toss them over your shoulder, braid them or twist them, add beads or fringe, solid or print or textured - no matter what your taste or what your outfit, there's a hot scarf waiting to give it that final POP!

Fun Bags

Alongside the usual neutral colored handbags and totes, there are plenty of "fun" styles of purses, bags, and backpacks this year: bright colors, interesting shapes, wild prints - bags you can have fun with! I'm not even a big fan of handbags, but there are a lot of styles catching my eye this year. A fun purse is a great way to liven up an outfit, and this year there are plenty of fun ones to choose from.

Retro Shoes

As a theatre person and a costumer, I am always delighted to see any kind of retro or vintage styles in current fashion. This year, there are plenty of deliciously retro shoe styles to choose from: 1940s T-straps, 1980s low booties, 1950s ballerina flats, and 1960s penny loafers. They're all comfortable and they're all fun!

Interesting Sweaters

I love sweaters that I can wear over and over - but let's face it, sweaters can get pretty boring. But this year, we're seeing a lot of sweaters with interesting textures, whether it's an open weave, or a nubby yarn, or some kind of a pattern. Pair your fun sweater with a basic scarf or solid colored jacket, and you've got yourself some fashionable (and cozy!) layering.

Wrap Coats

Many coats this year, instead of closing with a front and center zipper or row of buttons or snaps, are overlapping as a wrap or a double-breasted closure, often finished with a belt. It's a flattering (and slimming) silhouette for all figures, not to mention quick and convenient when you're in a hurry!

Longer Skirts

The past few seasons it's been next to impossible to find a skirt or dress any longer than mid-thigh length (not counting maxi-dresses that drag on the floor unless you're over 5'10" or regularly wear 4" heels). But this year, many skirts are falling to the top of the knee or even a few inches longer. You can find a flattering pencil skirt, an a-line skirt, or a flared skirt at a reasonable length even if you're over 40 and weigh more than 130 pounds. Hurrah!

Overlapping Layers

If, like me, you're always cold once the weather drops below 60 or so, this is the fashion year for you! Layers are in, in, in. Lots of long, overlapping layers. Leave your shirttails out under your snug sweater (or two!) and layer a long cardigan or a jacket over it, along with a looped scarf, all over skinny jeans or leggings. Finish your look with tall boots or short slouchy booties and leg warmers or even cute ballerina flats. Go dressy with a tailored jacket or casual with ripped jeans. Lots of cozy layers, lots of mix and match, lots of use out of everything in your closet. And don't forget to throw your great bag into the mix.

*Note: All the clothes shown in this blog (other than the "overlapping layers" outfits, which are from Choies, I have no idea, and Michael Kors, respectively) are available from Dress Barn, Macy's, and J.C. Penney. Yes, really!

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