Book of the month: Escargot

I love to share what brings me great joy and delight.  As an avid reader of picture books (it comes with the parenting territory), I occasionally find a great one I want to shout about from the rooftops.  So this year, I’m going to bring you a picture book review each month of something that I (as a parent, former Montessori preschool teacher and aspiring picture book author) truly recommend.  So here is my first review/recommendation for 2020.

As winter blues, cold and flu kick into high gear, a little way to combat these downers is a natural pick-me-up: laughter.  It is an antidote to stress and discomfort. Tastes in humor vary widely, so I can’t guarantee my recommendations will align with yours, but I have recently encountered what I consider to be an absolute gem in the picture book world.  

escargotEscargot (2017), written by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Sydney Hanson, makes adults laugh as much if not more than children.  And even if it doesn’t entice laughter, it will leave you speaking a little French  “Ooh la la”  and probably craving salad.

Written in the speak-to-the-audience style popularized by the Pigeon books by Mo Willems, Escargot is the story of a self-loving, carrot-loathing snail en route to enjoying a salad.  The audience/reader is invited to interact, from making fierce faces to answering Escargot’s handful of questions (is your favorite animal the earwig or wildebeest?).  This androgynous main character is engaging for girls and boys. Modeling healthy social skills such as good sportsmanship, self-confidence, interest in others and even some vulnerability, the reasons to love this book are vast.   For as masterfully as Slater’s writing is, Hanson’s illustrations are equally delightful. Her colorful renderings take the reader on a mouth-watering tour across a picnic table filled with olives, cheeses, and of course, salad. Making a snail lovable in text and picture is no small feat.

This book begs to be read with a French accent, the worse the accent, the more you will laugh at yourself or whoever is reading, so don’t be shy, give it your best effort.  Targeted for the 4-8 year old audience, my 2 year old daughter and 44 year old husband love this book; it truly speaks to all ages. It engages the older reader with its francophilial flare and absurdity, the young audience with opportunities to interact with the “beautiful’’ and charming Escargot.

Next time you are looking for a good bedtime story, need a gift for a young child, or just want a light-hearted escape from a dreary day, you need look no further than Escargot.

 

Where Do You Focus Your Sights?

“Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” 

Charles Dickens

Sometimes we have seasons of change, other times are more “things as usual.”  Just as life starts to settle, there often seems to be a wave that brings up an “opportunity for growth” as I like to call it, i.e. a challenge.   

The past few months have brought an interesting new wave of challenge into my life: terrorists- literally on my doorstep.  I have found it to be a teachable moment: I’m learning a lot about how to decide when and where I put my attention.  It has been a strange mix-up of my home being misidentified as the home of someone who has upset a host of terrorist groups.  They are trying to intimidate him by stalking and posting (online) suggestions of harming my family’s home (which they believe belongs to this disrupter).  

So what does one do when your home and family are threatened by terrorists?  Well, there are a lot of ways to go, but human nature is fight or flight.  My initial impulse is to sit in fear and self-pity.  What does that accomplish though?  I started to reflect on all the people who don’t just live in fear of intimidation but who live with frequent violence in their own homes, neighborhoods and towns.

I thought about people who are mistreated simply for the color of their skin.  Listening to recent stories of Jews being the targeted has made my heart ache for them with a newly heightened sense of empathy.  Then there are the millions of refugees and migrants who brave life-threatening journeys to escape extreme abuse and poverty.  

My current conclusion: overall, I have a really great life and a lot to feel grateful for.  Does the posed threat of my home burning down and losing my children sink in? Painfully so.  But then I remind myself: I still have healthy children, a loving marriage, a home, food and so much more to appreciate.  You never know how long things will last, so embrace them while you have them.

As you embark into the future, perhaps you’ll ask yourself with me:

What do I want to focus on: the light, the dark, or the whole picture?20191127_090456

And while I recommend taking a moment each day for a gratitude practice, if you are ever feeling sad, angry or fearful, that is an especially helpful time to take a few minutes to ponder:

What do I have to feel grateful for right now?

Seasonal Shifts with My Favorite Picture Books for Fall

Each year as summer heads towards a close, when I’m not sure I’m ready to put away the comfy shorts and lake gear summer affords, I start to see changing leaves, watch kids head back to school, and can’t help but feel the excitement of fall setting in. Fall always gets me excited.  I take in the crisp smell of leaves letting go. I watch pumpkins plumpness pop in gardens, store fronts and porches. Cozy soups and comfy sweaters call to me and I head to my bookshelf to reread a few perennial favorites. This year, I add a new one to the list I just discovered with my daughter: Leaves by David Ezra Stein.  

 

These books deal with fun and rather mundane turned to challenges and fear-facing.  They open doors of new understanding and self-confidence, modeling for children how to draw on creativity to overcome new challenges in a variety of ways.  Several always leave me headed to the kitchen- be it alone, with my own child, students or friends…I mean who doesn’t want popcorn, a soup-making party and pumpkin muffins or pie to share with neighbors?

  1. Popcorn by Frank Asch (1979)                     fall2019popcornI have yet to find a story more delightful to a group of 3-5 year old children than this!  In Frank Asch’s Popcorn, bear pops popcorn -gifts from each of his Halloween party guests.  There is so much popcorn that the whole house gradually fills up with it and the party guests have to help their host eat everything up to remove all evidence of the party before his parents return.  Lesson learned -perhaps- and certainly exciting to watch the rooms pile up with popcorn. Somehow it still makes me want to pop it (in moderation) with each read.

 

  1. The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams, Illustrated by Megan Lloyd (1986) fall2019littleoldladyA terrifically fun sequencing book with a spooky spin and sound effects that invite the reader/listener to physically play along (e.g. “two shoes go clomp, clomp”), this story is a must to read with your 4-7 year old.  One little side lesson here: it definitely opens the door for a safety lesson with your child-talk about the importance of always hiking with a companion you know and trust.

 

  1. Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White, Illustrated by Megan Lloyd (1996) fall2019toomanypumpkinsAnother story wonderfully highlighted by Megan Lloyd’s talent for bringing female protagonists and their pumpkin-filled dramas to life, Too Many Pumpkins is a creative solution to a real-life dilemma experienced by the author’s aunt.  Fed up with pumpkins after depending on them as a child, the main character avoids them at all cost-until they completely fill her front yard and she has to face her fear!  A change of heart comes with hard work and an effort to be a good neighbor- along with a delicious ending that just may leave you in the mood for baking. With a little more text than some of the others, this story is terrific for ages 4-8.

 

  1. Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper (1998) fall2019pumpkinsoupWith Cat and Squirrel stuck in their ways, Duck’s curiosity is unwelcome and turns into a squabble that leaves everyone needing a break from each other.  With Duck gone longer than anticipated, his friends worry and set out to bring him home. A good reminder to try doing things differently on occasion, have patience with less-skilled practitioners, and the joys of cooking with loved-ones, this tale is terrific for 3-7 year olds.

 

  1. Leaves by David Ezra Stein (2007)    fall2019leaves

This simple and sweet story is a great introductory lesson on seasonal changes. David Ezra Stein blends his classic style of gentle humor and perfect understanding of child development, this takes its reader through the seasons, starting and ending with fall.  Perfect for toddlers, this story is geared for children ages 0-3.

And while you consider all you may love about the change of seasons, perhaps you’ve noticed new challenges standing out like the fire-toned leaves  in your own life? Maybe one of these books will inspire you to get creative as you work through those new hurdles- like the protagonists, young and old, in these stories.  Happy Autumn!

Biking is Easier

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Two weeks ago my family made a huge leap: we moved from rapidly sprawling Denver to a small town in Michigan.  We moved 1,200 miles with a confused dog, vomiting toddler, pregnant mama, coughing daddy, 2 cars, and 4 storage crates packed to the brim…one might say for fun.  It was a total quality of life move. Not easy, but in the grand scheme, a relatively smooth process (maybe minus the family illness and anxious dog) that has already opened doors in directions we have been wanting our life to move.

One example of this is that our new home backs up to a trail, something I really hoped we could find close proximity to since we love to hike and jog.  Let’s just be clear, I am not your skinny, super-fit, ultra productive type-A (i.e. seems to rock EVERYTHING) kind of woman. However, amazingly to me, this pregnancy has been far more comfortable than my first and my joints have felt pretty good jogging (something my soul strangely has always loved and longed for) in moderately small doses.  

So….

On a recent afternoon I found myself jogging uphill, in the midday sun, pushing a stroller (containing previously mentioned, adorable almost 2 yr old), leash in tow attached to my 50 lb meandering shepherd mix and I’m nearly 6 months pregnant.  A tall, lean, gentleman with white hair peeking out from under his helmet rolled by me in the opposite direction on his bike, smiled and said: 

“Biking is easier.”

Yes, he is right.  100%. Biking downhill, solo, is easier than jogging uphill while lugging your young family along.  But what’s the payoff?

I used to justify my overstressed life with thinking that essentially the harder I worked (at a miserable marriage, very low-paying career, volunteering to the point of having virtually nothing left for self-care) was well worth it.  True I learned a lot, grew to love many wonderful people, and had plenty of great experiences. But when I took a few huge steps to trade it all in, with each stride my life became tremendously happier and new wonderful opportunities, people and experiences took the place of a life that was too ponderous to allow the fruition of my dreams.

So sometimes…by all means, I’m a big fan of hopping on a bicycle and going for a relaxing ride.  There are absolutely times in life we need to do a little lighter work (I’ve been to spin class and mountain biking…cyclists, I am not down playing by any means what kind of workout you can get on a bike- this type of riding is a different metaphor).  But when I hear the internal beckoning to challenge myself and circumstances allow it, be it a move to a new home/place, a shift in career, or jogging uphill while very pregnant, I always find it rewarding when I accept the challenge.

So take a moment or a few to notice if you are speeding downhill, at a moderate flatline, or jogging uphill in various aspects of your life.  Does it feel like you belong where you are or is it time for something to change? Find where your heart calls you and just see if you don’t experience the joy of Being in the Flow.

 

Finding Common Ground

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On a recent trip to Michigan -where everyone dreams of vacationing mid-winter- my family found ourselves in a hotel pool joined only by another family with a few rambunctious little pollywogs of their own.  We quickly struck up a conversation and as we discussed new awakenings, somehow the father of the other family turned the conversation to the pro life-pro choice debate. He had strong feelings about the issue, as many people understandably do. It is literally a matter of life or death…at times for the mother-to-be, always for the growing little one inside her.  

Historically, I tend to stay quiet (or a long time ago, hotly debate) when people communicate strongly in a direction in which I lean differently.  But as I watch the political divide ever-increase in the United States, people literally choosing to rub shoulders as much as possible and even live in neighborhoods with predominantly those of like-minded views, I see dischord, fear, and even a lack of our leaders being able to reach across the aisle and find compromise.  As Brené Brown points out in Braving the Wilderness, the current culture is full of dehumanization based on ideological differences…when we still have so much in common.  So on this occasion, I spoke up.

I didn’t attack my fellow swimmer nor pretend to agree with him. I focused on how I love that we can see things entirely differently, but both of our reasonings were based on compassion.  One was looking with compassion focused on the right of any human to get every chance to live. The other was looking with compassion centered on quality of life for both parents and children.

we_are_all_in_this_together

There are so many ways to look at every issue.

No one formed an opinion with the intent to hurt others.  Both formed their opinions with a deep sense of compassion and care.

I omit my opinion on this topic today because this isn’t about me.  This is about us as humans finding common ground: with our neighbors, our relatives, our leaders, and those of different customs, religions, cultures and countries.  It is about seeing what we do have in common, what we share. This is a hope and plea that we see the light in everyone and remember as Mem Fox writes so aptly in Whoever You Are , we all smile, laugh, hurt and cry, share joys, love and pain.

handshake of the generations

I hope you find common ground in an unlikely place today.

Halloween Treats

So typically I utilize this platform to try to provide soul food with a deep message and provocative questions.  Admittedly, I love holidays though. One of my most treasured pieces of advice that I ever received came from a woman in her 90’s who I met one winter morning.  I asked her advice for a long happy life. She paused for a moment to ponder, then said:

“Celebrate Everything.”

So I do.  I find it makes life a lot more fun.  

Today, in honor of Halloween, I want to share my playful attempt to celebrate by participating in Susanna Leonard Hill’s Halloweensie Challenge   of writing a 100 word Halloween story.  It is a tribute to one of my favorite childhood activities of making popcorn balls with my mom.  Back then, we used corn syrup and orange food coloring. My recipe is ever morphing, the current one is a little more like the contents of this story.  Happy reading and Halloweening in whatever ways make you smile!

jack o lantern on grass
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Halloween Treat

By Dawn Shea

 

Halloween winds howled, leaves danced, Trina shivered.  “Time for something toasty!” She knew what must be done.

“Witches! Fetch the cauldron!” A pot was placed on the stove.

“Light the fire!” The stove was ignited.

“Pour in toads’ toes!” Soon popcorn kernels began to pop.

“Add werewolf mucous and crocodile bile!” Honey and peanut butter were cooked and combined.

“Mix the poison.  Shape it into rocks.”

“Now simmer goblin gruel.”

Smoke billowed. “Ahhh! Simmer, don’t scald!”

The pot was cleaned, gruel added again. The sweet scent of chocolate wafted.

“Dribble gruel over the rocks!”

“Witches!  Grab a stone!”

“Delicious!” 

Embrace the Closeness

This morning I awoke before dawn to my dog yelping in her sleep.  Sometimes she gets excited in her dreams. Inevitably, however, my nearly 9 month old daughter awoke as well. “Mamama” she called as she rustled in her crib.  I slid out of bed and walked the 3 feet to her crib. I picked her up, gently bounced and rocked her. She made playful airy noises through her lips, flipped her head back and forth trying to find the right position on my shoulder, looked up at me, then started to settle back into rest.

I returned her to her crib.

Immediately she rolled around.  “Mama” she called out again. I picked her up, told her it was “sleepy time” and this time offered to nurse.  She gladly latched on as we made our way to bed. She tried to convince me it was time to rise and make sweet googly eyes at each other.  I again encouraged “sleepy time” as I closed my eyes and eventually she dozed off again, unlatched and started to flail in a way that indicates “give me some space.”

Once again I returned her to her crib.  Once again she flipped over to her tummy, inch wormed forward to the edge of her crib, pulled up to stand and called out: “Muuuuuu.”20180614_063106(9)

Again I slid out of bed, picked up my precious baby girl and began to snuggle and swing her.  Her eyes closed, her body went sleepily soft, and as far as she was concerned, all was right in the world again.

One could say “that baby has got you wrapped around her fingers” and to some extent that is true.  But usually she does sleep well on her own. And on the sweet occasion when she just wants to be held, I turn to gratitude: for a child who trusts me, for someone who feels safe in my arms, and a loved one who requests a warm embrace.  In the grand scheme, these tender moments of closeness are rare.

20180307_074621I embrace the closeness and just smile.

Be Happy As You Are

bodydysmorphia

As a teenager I encountered a comic of a skinny girl looking in the mirror and seeing her reflexion looking rather walrus-like.  I could relate. I wasn’t skinny, but people’s feedback let me know I had some element of lacking self-perception. It was the best description of body dysmorphia I’ve encountered and something I have long struggled with.  Not to say I’m a twig like the woman we all kind of loathe on “This Is Us” who goes to Kate and Toby’s support group for people struggling with being overweight.

I do have a hard time seeing reality though.

An example: this weekend I was (needlessly) eyeing with dissatisfaction my slightly wrinkly belly, softened with stretch marks from my earth shatteringly wonderful new gift: the chance to be a mother.  I was harping on myself and hoping for change and feeling a bit on the -as I judged myself- “bigger than I am happy with” side.

Then I tried on a pair of capris I haven’t worn in nearly 2 years.  Pants that rarely fit around my derier before I had a baby and here they were saggy and oversized around my back side and legs.  They are size 0.

Now they aren’t loose around my waist, and it may be a larger than average size 0, but I fit into a tiny pair of pants and somehow still struggled to feel thin.

More importantly, I struggled to feel happy with myself.  

Houston, we have a problem.

So now the work…the ongoing process I have been working on for over 20 years.  It is not to self-condemn for being shallow and out of touch with reality (clearly there is some of that going on).  The work is to keep learning to love who I am.  I am healthy, strong, kind, a caring friend, mother to a wonderful little girl, married to my best friend (who happens to be one AWESOME guy), a lifelong learner, and I happen to have a soft tummy.  So what? It’s still strong and healthy. I have plenty of other features I love- inside and out.

Comparison can be a hard enemy to fight.  It can also be a helpful tool. The fact that clothes which were once too tight are now too loose gives me a point of reference and shows me what I don’t recognize without the comparison.  It reminds me my body is in about the best shape it ever has been, so my work of consistent exercise and ever-improving eating habits are paying off (don’t worry, I eat three full meals, plus little snacks on a daily basis).

I may never look in the mirror and see my physique as most people do, but there is so much more to each human than what meets the eye.

I don’t need to be perfect to be happy.

I can love myself and others…as the exquisitely beautiful, imperfect beings we all are.

How to Beat Boredom: A Guide for New Parents

A few months after graduating from college I began my first “real” job working in a small Montessori school’s Infant/pre-Toddler classroom in the mornings and a 3 year old class in the afternoon.  I had earned a Minor in Early Childhood Education, but that didn’t really cover babies and toddling people, so while I had plenty of experience from babysitting and being an attentive older sibling, I had relatively little true understanding of this age group.  

To be completely honest, they were darling, but I got bored spending my mornings with very new humans.  boredbaby

So as much as the prospect of parenting excited me, I was a bit nervous I would be bored the first year or two.  

Wonderfully, all my worries are being proven pointless!  In graduate school, one of my favorite classes was Human Development.  It gave me a different lens to observe people and culture for the rest of my life.  I look for and admire each tiny or great step of development in my daughter with celebration and awe.  Do adults learn so much still or do we all slow down?

I got to thinking, maybe some new moms or caretakers of babies do get bored.  If that’s you, here are some ideas that keep life full, interesting and engaging with a tiny human every day for this mom, former Montessori teacher and lover of curriculum design (hint: I’m handing you a free month’s curriculum, so feel free to utilize any or all parts you like).

Literature and Music

We’ve been focused on fables, fairy tales and operas.  We read lots of fairy tale stories, a collection of Aesop’s Fables, The Barefoot Book of Stories from the Opera, a graphic novel version of Peter and the Wolf, and A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist. If you are not familiar with the Guinea Pig series, they are pretty fantastic.  They do a nice job retelling classic stories while calling attention to animal rescues as they are illustrated with photographs of real rescued guinea pigs in costume to recreate the stories.  Amazing!  I laugh every time I read this book.  On the days we read operas, we listen to the operas we were reading on Spotify.  The operas were longer than the stories, so we listened throughout the day.  We have listened to David Bowie’s gorgeous rendering of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf numerous times.  I’ve also gotten on a Mozart tangent, reading about him, listening to stories about him and to more of his operas and other pieces he composed which were not in our book of operas.

peterandthewolfOn top of lots of fun listening and reading, we go for daily walks around the neighborhood, local trails and parks.  On cold or windy days we tend to take shorter strolls, but

getting outside and exercise are good for everyone

(sunshine + fresh air + movement= happier you and happier baby).  

We visited a couple of exhibits at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, introducing planets and prehistoric life as we walked around (baby in a carrier), reading and chatting with our companions du jour (another baby, parent and grandparent).  The babies finally noticed each other, perhaps more than the exhibits.  A couple of times each week we either visit or welcome visits from neighbors, friends and family; the socialization is important for both of us.

Gross Motor Development:

 I often place my daughter on the floor on her back with a small toy in her hand or nearby to encourage interaction.  She rolls on her tummy a lot now, and I give her space and time to play there.  When she lets out a few little fusses, I know she’s feeling done and flip her over.

I want her to work hard and know that she is heard and supported, so she enjoys challenges and wants to return to them.

I’m not sure if my responsiveness had anything to do with her learning to roll to her tummy a little early, but I’ve decided to take this approach after seeing the effectiveness of the pedagogist, Vygotsky’s theory of Zone of Proximal Development or ZPD.  

ZPDWhen she is tired and feels she can no longer hold herself up and doesn’t think (or feel able) to turn over, I am helping or “scaffolding” her learning by showing her she can roll  to her back when she’s tired.

Fine Motor, Attention and Visual Development: 

I give my daughter toys and small instruments to hold, shake and explore (everything goes in her mouth right now).  I play them in front of or above her and watch her eyes track, seeing how far up, down and to the sides she will look and stay focused.  I experiment with speed of movement.  Currently she likes objects to move quite slowly in order to focus on them.  I offer objects both in front of her center or to the side and notice which hand she reaches with or handles them.  At only 4 months, she is already showing right handed dominance.

Having worked in and studied the Reggio approach, I learned about provocations.  I often try this with my daughter by setting out a toy just a few inches away from her as she lies on the ground.  The idea is to ignite interest or spark exploration.  She has worked hard to roll to one side to try to reach and then handle the toy.  I used this approach the first time she picked something off the ground herself.  I had no expectations and watched her emit more effort and determination than I had every seen her put into an act.  It was so exciting!

We also do lots of singing and dancing (I often dance with her attached to me in her carrier), cooking and cleaning.  Just recently, for the first time I held her while brushing our dog’s teeth and she was delighted!  Lots of modeling and more starting to have her with me rather than in the swing or on a blanket as I do tasks in hopes she will learn a bit from observing.  She is getting more interested in seeing how adults do things.  I just watch what she is looking at; I find her fascinating.  She notices more and more all the time, and I think the Lady Bird definition of love speaks worlds: noticing is love.  

I hope you notice and love every moment with whoever is in your life.

 

This Too Shall Pass

On a recent evening, as I was 4 minutes from finishing a choir rehearsal, I peeked down at my phone and noticed a text had come from my husband: “Please come home soon.  Thank u.”  I knew that meant something was awry with our baby girl.  So I scooped up my belongings and ran out, calling home the moment I left the building.

In a soft, near-whisper, my husband explained that our daughter had wailed at a volume, pitch and length he’d never heard.  Of course, just before I called, she finally fell asleep in his arms.  After a long day of work, he had spent his evening trying to soothe our daughter.  Dinner had been ordered, but when it arrived, he was concerned that if he moved the baby might wake and return to her previous state of distress, so he never answered the door.  I returned to my sweet, exhausted, hungry husband.

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It got me thinking of countless times in life when I felt worn to my wits end when relief finally arrived.  Sometimes I brought on the shift myself, sometimes I had no control over the situation, but the ancient Sufi wisdom seems pertinent in life so often: “this too shall pass away.” 

This weekend the 2nd Women’s March takes place all over the United States and the world.  After countless years of women being treated as second class citizens, a giant wave is rising that has united people to feel empowered to finally bring a new shift.  Voting rights were a start.  Laws about equal employment opportunities brought another new start.  #MeToo and the culture shift coming from it is not just visible, but tangible.  Even those with intellectual disabilities are getting to  tell their stories and finally be heard and believed.  All the world’s ills are not going to be fixed in one big sweep, but on a huge scale, it seems long-held cultural norms are  changing. womens-marcha-2018

With this in mind, I look down at my precious baby every day and feel optimistic about the world she will grow up in.  I remind myself to not worry about a hundred other good things I could, but choose to not do right now.  There have been and in the future will be plenty of opportunities to focus more heavily on my career and have a cleaner house.  The stage to nourish my baby from my own body, snuggle her for hours and cover her in hundreds of kisses is short lived, so I am taking full advantage.

I remind myself the time for countless hugs and kisses is limited, so too is the length of every melt down and other trying stage we encounter.  Each moment passes, the painful and the precious.  So I embrace the joy and take deep breaths with a mind focused on movement when times seem harder than I have the strength to get through.  And life goes on.

What is hard right now?  

How can you create movement through it?

What experiences do you want to truly embrace in your life right now?

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