I’m just a girl, standing in front of the school board, asking them to reopen her school.

2020 September 13
by Jennifer

The first day of virtual school did not meet my very low expectations.  Or at least I didn’t.  I expected it would take at least two weeks for the virtual learning situation to bring me to tears, but no. By 11am on the very first day, I was crying, ready to call it quits, and researching if the Peace Corps accepted kindergarteners and/or cats.

After few weeks of days not much better than that one, I was ready to take action.  I felt compelled to share our unpleasant experience with virtual school and assert the importance of in-person education to anyone who would listen.  So, I did what generations of women have done before me—I sat at my kitchen table and launched a letter writing campaign.  This I know for sure: People in power love to hear from women who have come unglued.

I opened my laptop, grabbed a cup of coffee and began ranting writing. 

My first email was to our school’s principal.  I heard a rumor that he thought things were going along just swimmingly, so I made it my personal mission to change his mind about that.  I calmly and clearly articulated the challenges of virtual kindergarten.  I attached this photo.

It felt good to do something. To connect with our principal.  To share my experience.  But does he even have a seat at the table when it comes to decision making?  Does he have any say-so whatsoever regarding schools reopening?  Two more cups of coffee, a few internet clicks and I found the contact info for the entire Atlanta Public School Board.

I decided to revise and repurpose the principal email to send it the decision makers.  

With fresh eyes and my new audience in mind, I re-read my initial email to the principal.   Though I was aiming for concerned and competent, I came across as a tad…unhinged.  So, I logged out of Gmail and switched to Outlook.  Now the emails would come from my corporate email address, complete with my work signature, fancy title and company logo.  I wanted them to see that I wasn’t your average crazy mom, I was a professional crazy mom. 

Next, I emailed our district’s representative on the school board.  I told him a little bit about the challenges of virtual kindergarten.  It is best to have a specific ask in mind, so I suggested a reopening plan that prioritized making in-person learning available to students with special needs and to the youngest students (i.e. Kindergarteners. Like this one. She was supposed to be “learning” but instead she spent the morning creating this desk for her unicorn). 

I continued to work my way down the contact list, each email serving as my template for the one after.  With each subsequent email, I gained momentum in my conviction around the ineffectiveness of virtual school specifically for early learners and those with special needs.  I also started outlining the disproportionate impact school closures have on students and communities most in need.  I cited news articles about how virtual learning further widens the achievement gap between the haves and the have-nots.

By my last board email, I was officially an expert on the correlation between third grade reading levels, truancy, and the prison population.  I was punctuating my points with relevant statistics as I built my case. Maybe I was just screaming into a canyon, but at least it had the placebo effect of feeling productive.

Then I went back to my Gmail and sent a thank you note to my daughter’s kindergarten teacher. I told her she was crushing it. I praised her efforts to adapt to providing instruction in this new medium.   I told her she was a war hero who deserved a Purple Heart.  I apologized that a unicorn crashed the kindergarten zoom.

The decision of whether to reopen schools for face-to-face learning is complex.  Many teachers don’t want to risk getting sick if schools are open. Many parents can’t work if schools are closed.  Many children can’t learn if they are at home. Many homes are unsafe places for children.  Children with special needs are losing key skills, missing milestones and falling behind.  Children of parents with financial means are getting ahead thanks to tutors, private school and enrichment programs—advantages unavailable to children at some public schools.  Many public schools serve communities that may be at higher risk for contracting the virus.  Many teachers may be high-risk themselves or caring for loved ones that are.  Many children are at high risk without the structure, security and meals provided by the school system. And on. And on. And on.  It’s messy and complicated and scary and sad all the way around. But as case numbers continue trending in the right direction, the pros of reopening outweigh the cons.

It’s been a week now since I gave my two cents to via email the Atlanta Board of Education.  I know a lot of other parents who have done the same.  Women far more savvy than me are launching Facebook groups to gather support and circulating petitions (please sign it).  Enough crazy moms can certainly move the needle on this thing, right?

Just this morning, this email landed in my inbox: 

Basically: The school board might be planning to plan to formulate a plan to make a plan to begin planning for reopening. Eventually. And that plan might incorporate a tiered approach that prioritizes children who are having the most challenges distance learning. Maybe they’re reading the influx of ranty emails from disgruntled homeschooling madwomen afterall? Only plus or minus 129,398,408,484 days of virtual learning to go.

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It’s the First Day of Virtual School and We Haven’t Quite Mastered the Mute Button

2020 August 26
by Jennifer

7:40am: My daughters come downstairs, dressed and ready for their first day of virtual school.  Look! Mom has left a thoughtful surprise at their breakfast spots: new books and handwritten letters of praise and encouragement.  It’s going to be a great year! We got this!

7:45am: Students enjoy homemade healthy muffins. There was zucchini hidden in there and they had no idea.  Compliments to the chef!  

7:50am: I want to always remember this big day, so I take a video asking my children what grade they’re in and who their teachers are.  The kindergartner gets both questions wrong.

7:52am: We walk outside to take classic first day of school photos on the front porch.  The 3rd grader wants the cat to be in the photo.  I insist on taking a few without the cat as well.  At this point our pandemic pet feels more like a random girlfriend than a real member of the family. We walk back inside.

8am: 3rd grader logs into her Google Classroom.  She chitchats with classmates who have also logged on early.  They discuss Jojo Siwa and whether they like him…or her.  I don’t know who this person is, but apparently my daughter does and is not a fan.  I’m thinking that’s the right answer.

8:10am: School is in session!

8:11am: Not so fast. Tech glitches in kindergarten. Is it me? Is it this iPad? Is it our internet? Am I clicking the wrong link? I go find another iPad.

8:20am: Two-year-old wakes up.  Technically, she has been awake for a while, but it’s probably time to get her out of the crib. Dad gets her up and puts her in the shower to buy some time and keep her out of the way. She loves showers.

8:25am: Two parents are now troubleshooting on multiple school, work and home devices attempting to get our kindergartner in her class. No luck.

8:35am: Husband leaves home and heads to the office.  Wife is feeling a little jealous frazzled, but still high on the fact that she lovingly penned two thoughtful notes that her children will surely treasure forever. And how about those those fantastic muffins?!

8:55am: School is finally happening in kindergarten. I think.  I panic-text other moms to make sure everyone’s audio is choppy—not just ours.  The teacher is teaching the children and their parents how to turn their microphones off.

9:02am: Transition toddler from the shower to a two-inch-deep bathtub full of bath toys. Pinterest calls it sensory play, I call it the splash cage.

9:10am: I rejoin the virtual kindergarten to find that instead of sitting at her desk, my daughter is sitting under it. I put her in her chair and tell her to pay attention.  To what? Not quite sure.  Looks like the class has yet to master mute and unmute.  And I’m pretty sure the teacher is still taking attendance.

9:15am: 3rd grader is in virtual PE and doing jumping jacks to party tunes in her bedroom.  Her computer screen displays a countdown clock telling her when to get back in her chair.   At least someone in this house is self-sufficient.

9:20am: Looks like the kindergartner has clicked out of the Google Classroom and is playing games on the iPad.  Wondering if those games are perhaps a better use of her time?  Are we missing something or is everyone doing this?

9:36am: Two-year-old is out of the bath and requesting breakfast.  She was asleep when I delighted her sisters with those superfood magical muffins this morning.

9:39am: Two-year-old refuses to eat the muffins.  I’m not gonna fight it today.  How about an all-you-can-eat cereal buffet instead?

9:40am: Bowl one.

9:45am: Bowl two

9:50am: Bowl three.

9:52am: Racking my brain for a two-year-old activity that doesn’t involve eating, running up the water bill, or parental supervision.  I put her outside in the driveway and close the gate.  I put the cat outside too.

10:02am: 3rd grader calls me upstairs.  She needs help with an All About Me presentation.  I tell her she needs to do it by herself.  I help her open PowerPoint and I realize that she actually does need my help and she probably can’t do it herself. I keep that a secret for now. But I expect to be called back in very soon.

10:10am:  Two-year-old comes back inside. Independent driveway play didn’t last as long as I hoped it would.  She has also decided that today is the day she wants to potty train! Potty training is not on my to-do list this calendar year. She BEGS me to take off her diaper, and when I finally take it off she refuses to let me help her get on the actual potty. She wants to get up there allbyherself. Once she is up there she seems afraid. Nothing happens. Diaper back on. Repeat.

10:20am: Back upstairs. Due to tech glitches in the Spanish immersion program, Kindergarten sounds like a remix at the discoteca.  The kindergartner plays with dolls on the floor of her bedroom while the DLI EDM soundtrack blasts from the iPad.

10:25am Two-year-old has taken OFF her diaper and is walking upstairs to join us.  I rush to secure it and realize that she has left a trail of poo balls in her wake.  She has one in her hand. 

10:29am: Back in the bath. This time with soap.

10:32am: Kindergartener needs help logging out of one zoom, into another and simultaneously into some other program. This maneuver requires both an access code and an advanced degree in information technology.  I have neither. Once we’re finally in, it’s time for yet another round of the mute/unmute tutorial.

10:58am: I realize that the cat is in the 3rd grade with the door closed.  That is absolutely against the rules because if the door is closed, she can’t get to the litter box. I open the door to take the cat out of the bedroom but in runs the two-year-old.  Now the 3rd grader is visibly upset because she wants the toddler out but wants the cat to stay in. The kindergartner is no longer at her desk and somehow the iPad is missing. She walks downstairs and points to another tiny poo ball on the step that somehow I missed the first time.  Or is this a new one?  I hear the ding-ding-ding from my work computer reminding me of the to-dos that await. Everyone needs me rightthisveryminute.

11am: I cry real tears. I am frustrated and angry and overwhelmed. And somehow, I am also a cat owner. How are we going to do virtual school from 8:10am-1:30pm every single day?   HOW IS IT ONLY 11AM? WHY AM I HOLDING POOP?

11:15am: Quit virtual kindergarten. We are logged out and I refuse to put forth the effort required to log back in.  It has become clear that virtual kindergarten is an oxymoron and an impossibility.  I tell the kindergartener to do a puzzle.

11:30am: Lunch Break! This I can do. 

11:36am: Not so fast.  I burn three grilled cheeses.  Clearly off my game. I decide they are salvageable and scrape off the charred bits. Lunch is served.   

11:45am: Still on lunch break, I play music to lift my spirits and I give myself a major mental pep talk. I search for silver linings. We dance in the kitchen.

12pm: Lunch break is over.  Back to school!

12:02pm: 3rd grader is back at her desk learning. Like actually learning. The teacher and my daughter are talking to each other in Spanish. She is taking notes with a sharpened pencil as she sits in the desk that I built. (Ok. Built is strong. The desk that I assembled.)

12:05pm:  I close the door to her bedroom feeling very proud of her but mostly proud of myself.  I assembled that desk! And that chair!  What a marvelous little learning nook I created.  What a precious little learner.

12:10am Kindergartner is logged in and doing kindergarten-ish things. Maybe even learning?   Yes. Learning is happening.

12:30am: So this is kindergarten. They are talking about letters and colors and feelings.  Everyone is muted except for the teacher.  The system seems to be working. 

But wait. What is this?  Oh no. I feel my tears coming.

12:35am: I excuse myself to cry. Again.  The 11am cry was because I was frustrated by the technology and overwhelmed by it ALL.  But this time I cry because I’m genuinely sad.  Virtual school makes me sad. This is not at all how kindergarten should be.  I am sad for my daughter who isn’t meeting her amazing teachers in person, being the line leader, the lunch captain, or the lucky one who gets to feed the class guinea pig. She doesn’t get to meet new friends and ride the bus with her big sister like she has dreamed about. Virtual 3rd grade is fine, but pales in comparison to the in school experience. I cry for the teachers who did not sign up for this either.  I know they have broader learning objectives than just teaching the kids how to mute and unmute. Not being able to really connect with their new students must break their hearts. I wonder how many teachers cried today too.

Our district has promised “at least” nine weeks of virtual school.  In my sad cry, nine weeks feels like an absolute e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y.

12:45pm: I pull it together and read a few books to the two-year-old.

1:00pm:  Kindergartner calls me in. Her iPad has 10% battery left. Interesting considering it literally charged the entire weekend. 

1:02pm: Plug it in.  It immediately runs out of batteries and won’t turn back on.

1:05pm: Quit virtual kindergarten. Again. Definitely for the day and maybe for the year.  

1:06pm: Something must be done. Activate Problem Solving Mode! Do we join a pod? Do I hire a tutor? Maybe I will pull her out of public school and homeschool? Maybe I’ll just buy a kindergarten workbook and some flash cards? Should I read to her for three or four hours each day? Who needs kindergarten anyway? French children don’t learn to read until they are eight or nine, right? Maybe she repeats kindergarten and this year is just practice? How about a gap year? Maybe we should buy and RV and drive to Australia? Should we send her to a private school offering in-person class? To whom shall I write the check?

1:15pm: Break my no-TV-during-the-school-week policy and turn on PBS Kids. Then, it’s back to third grade to help with the All About Me PowerPoint.

1:30pm: Closing Bell! The first day of virtual school is finally over. 

2pm: Nap time for the two-year-old.  Exhale.

2:30pm: 3rd grader practices piano, kindergartner colors beside me, and I tackle my inbox.

3:30pm: My kindergartner tells me I’m her best friend.

4:30pm: Husband calls and says he is coming home early.  This never happens. He must have gotten the Bat Signal.  He offers to take the girls to the park. Clearly I made the right choice when I made him co-signer of those thoughtful first day of school letters.

5pm:  Dad walks in the door. As usual, he receives a war hero’s welcome from his three daughters. His wife is also truly delighted to see him. 

“How was the first day of school?” he asks the 3rd grader. 

“SO awesome.”  she says.

“How was school?” he asks the kindergartner. 

Perfect.”  she says.

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Updates from the Upside Down

2020 March 23

Here is what’s going on right now in my Cabin at Camp Coronavirus.

Allow me to paint the picture of my current responsibilities:

  • Working. Usually my day job brings me a sense of joy, purpose, pride and accomplishment. But corporate America currently feels like this.  I work in healthcare, and I feel compelled to step up at work now more than ever.  We’re all are trying to put down the railroad tracks as the train comes rolling behind us.
  • Homeschooling my second grader.  She typically spends her days at a Spanish immersion elementary school.  I do not speak Spanish, nor do I speak Common Core math. Fielding her questions in two languages while keeping her on academic quarantine during school hours so she can concentrate on her work is a challenge. So far, my teaching method of explaining the directions the exact same way only louder each time doesn’t seem to be helpful for her education or for our relationship. The “educational” games (games!) on her school-issued iPad seem too easy, while the stacks of worksheets seem too complex.   
  • Parenting a two-year-old. Our resident two-year-old, to complicate matters, has zero interest in watching TV.  (Delivery room mix-up. DNA test pending.)  I’d let her sit and watch The Godfather trilogy if it would give me a little break.  She’s happiest when she is eating or emptying the contents of drawers.  
  • And I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh yeah.  The middle childHas anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh. There she is.  She’s in my bathroom playing with my makeup. And why won’t the toilet flush? Because it’s clogged with half a roll of toilet paper torn off one sheet at a time. I mean, read the headlines, kid.

Here is snapshot of a single moment in time: I’m answering work emails, resolver problemas matemáticos con mi niña, muting the conference call so I can discipline, console, referee, educate, and feed one of a thousand meals a day to three frat boys who don’t understand why I’m rationing the bread.  

After too many long days of that losing game of wack-a-mole, I reached my breaking point. I could feel the tears rising to the surface.  And you know what finally broke the floodgates?  Bing. I accidentally downloaded a nasty virus wherein every time I Google something, the bunk search engine Bing opens instead, along with five  pop-up ads.   The Bing virus was my breaking point that made me feel ALL THE FEELINGS associated with Coronavirus.  I started bawling.  Cue the full-on ugly cry.

Bottom line: This new reality is disorienting and draining for me as a working, homeschool mother, quarantined…with a two-year-old.   And oh, the open-endedness of it all! How long will this last? And the middle child. Has anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh. There she is.  She’s in her bathroom putting Vaseline in her hair and smearing it all over the counter.

In my blissful previous life (three weeks ago) I could have written a book about work-life balance.  My secret? Setting clear boundaries between the two. I try my best to be all in when I’m at the office and all in when I’m at home.  In the word of social distancing, there is no separation and no boundaries between home and work. It all inevitably bleeds together. My work responsibilities seep into the nooks and crannies previously reserved for home life and hands-on parenting.  And my parenting responsibilities have increased now that I am the head teacher (profesora) and the primary childcare provider.  I feel exhausted and overwhelmed and like I’m failing at ALL OF IT.   

In the good old days, I felt zero guilt going to work.  I was at the office while my kids were at school, at preschool, at soccer and ballet.  Or I was working from home — a child-free, clean, quiet home (ahhh, paradise). But now we are all home. All together, all day.   I’m constantly having to make choices about who needs me most.  I hate missing out on quality time with my little people when I’m working. But when I’m dealing with the screaming and complaining and arguing and snack demanding, I fantasize about my former life in my quiet office where I could concentrate and wear real clothes.

And I have a confession.  I envy other mothers who seem to be living their best lives right now.  I see their color-coded homeschool schedules, themed scavenger hunts, culinary creations and art projects.  Some of my best friends are really loving the teaching and the togetherness.  And so would I. I think.  If that was the only thing I had on my plate and if the youngest student in my class was 8 (not 2).  And oh yeah.  The middle child.  Has anyone seen her? Wait…Where is she?  Oh, there she is.  Using a green permanent marker to scribble on her white bedroom carpet.

This quarantine, social distance scenario amplifies the tension and guilt that working mothers feel even on the best, pandemic-free days. 

I had a good solid cry followed by a long walk (still legal) to process my feelings and catch my breath.  What I tried last week didn’t work. It was unsustainable and who knows how long this whole thing will last. Weeks? Months? I’m gonna make some changes. Here’s the plan:

I will be my own version of a homeschool teacher.  Even at my best, I am no substitute for my daughters’ amazing teachers. I’m taking the pressure off and we will all just do our best to get it done. I can manage and maybe even enjoy it if I do it my own way.  This will involve scrapping the common core and encouraging my students to focus on reading, reading, reading, letter writing, and learning new dance moves.  Mrs. Fizzle will be the substitute Spanish teacher via El Autobus Magico on Netflix.  My school will not operate during traditional school hours. And the lunch lady is hot.

I will get my job done and make a meaningful contribution to my team at work. I love my job. (Shout out to my man in the IT department who helped me remove the Bing virus).  Sure, sending an email will take me longer with three children sitting in my lap, but such is life for a working mom.  The workday may have stops and starts and the work week may be longer but that will be OK for now. I know this won’t last forever. Right? Right.  I’m also rethinking our decision to social distance from our beloved nanny. Doing so made me social distance from my sanity and I just don’t know if it’s worth it.

I will use this time to soak in the amazingness of each of my children, at exactly the ages they are right now.   Last week had me peering through the windows half envying families with older children. I felt like my kids were too young for me to relish this particular, albeit peculiar, moment in time.  Many families are finding peace in the tranquility and stillness that this forced timeout offers.  They are playing rounds of Scrabble, baking bread, and learning to play the piano. That peaceful picture of life during this pandemic feels quite different than the day-to-day in my quarantined cabin.  We can’t do crosswords, thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles, or have a family game night without someone eating the pieces. Only three out of the five of us can actually read, so I don’t have endless hours to crank through my personal to-be-read pile of books.  But there is joy to be found in the sequestered slow-down and an opportunity to soak up extra time with my children, ages 7, 4 and 2. I could write a mile-long list of silver linings.

I will treasure these long days and lazy weekends.  Today, the girls and I made pancakes, did chalk art in the driveway, danced and decorated for Easter.  Yes, there were meltdowns, minor burns, and a raisin in the ear incident, but it was a good day. A really good day.  I took a stroll with my one-of-a-kind-seven-year-old and we played Sleeping Queens while the little ones napped. Even the two-year-old had moments of true greatness.  I am convinced she will be a value-add to our family in the long run. And the middle child.  There she is. She’s across the table from me, peacefully building a magna-tile mansion for her family of figurines.  I love the imaginary worlds she creates.

This week out there in the world will not be a good one. We will witness the increasingly devastating impact this scary virus has on our nation’s health, our healthcare system, and our economy. 

I will continue to be grateful that my struggles are nothing compared to what others are facing right now.

But I am committed to making this week inside my cabin at Camp Corona better than the last. 

I will lower my expectations.

I will let some of it go.

I will prioritize the things that matter most.

I will stop comparing my experience to everyone else’s highlight reels.

I will take time to create special moments with each of my children.

I will offer myself and my fellow campers grace and patience as we figure this out together.

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Nanny Trauma Drama: The Sequel

2020 March 17

Required preread: We Thought We Found the Perfect Nanny

Whence last we spoke, I was in a puddle of tears due to the no-show-nanny on day one of my new job.   The exhaustive nanny hunt followed by the nanny trauma drama had me shook, but as we women do, I put one high-heeled foot in front of the other and marched onward.

By day I was leaning in, learning the ropes at my new company and proving to them that I was the right man for the job.  Each workday also offered the logistical challenge of onboarding a patchwork of pinch-sitters in efforts to keep things rolling along as smoothly as possible for my three little girls. 

By night I was interviewing, reference checking, and mining the fields for a new crop of potentially permanent nannies.

But by late night, was conducting a Keith Morrison style investigation into who exactly this woman was that betrayed my trust and evaporated into thin air with our house key and our car seats.  Hindsight, fact finding via the online Yellow Pages, and Monday morning quarterbacking have led me to these grim conclusions:

Red Flag #1: She gave me a printed copy of her “background check.” Even more concerning: she did not accept my request through Sittercity to conduct an official background check or driving record check of my own.  What was she hiding?

Red Flag #2: Turns out she has three different names according to the internet. Anyone who has seen one episode of Dateline knows this is code for creepy.   

Red Flag #3: In the words of my four-year-old who spent time with her during her orientation, ”She was nice but her car smelled bad and I didn’t like her music.” Car smells are a BIG DEAL to kids. I can still recall the stench of a certain wood paneled station wagon from the carpool of my youth.  I am convinced that my acute adult motion sickness originated while sitting in the backety-back of our neighbor’s smelly Buick as a kid while Kenny G blared from the tape deck.  To this day, any time I hear this saxophone sonata, I am immediately nauseous.  Simply put, Hallie did not care for that stanky stank or the soundtrack.  These. Things. Matter.   

I see some of you out in the wild and I always get asked “Did you ever get your car seats back?”  That brings me to the next red flag.

Red Flag #4: After a STRONG dose of legalese from my husband via text and voicemail, the car seats finally appeared on our back porch in the dark of night a few weeks after it all went down.  But. Instead of unclipping them like a normal human, she cut them out. That means she used some sort of industrial strength pruning shears to cut the seatbelt material attached to the latch clip that attaches the car seat to the car.  Car seats are useless if they can’t be secured to the car. What conclusions can we draw from this seat snipping situation?

  • A) This lady has ZERO childcare experience because anyone who has been around kids would know rudimentary car seat mechanics. This would therefore mean that she faked her references. Something that makes sense considering those phone calls were, well, odd.
  • B) This was an act of malicious aggression. 
  • C) All of the above.  

I am currently using my # 2 pencil to fill in “C” on my scantron.  Keep your eyes on your own paper.

In conducting this postmortem, I can see it all so clearly now.  We dodged a serious bullet by not having this duplicitous wackadoo take care our most precious precocious possessions.  I really think Someone was looking out for us, and I am honesty relieved that this woman did not spend another moment in my home with my children.

Thankfully, this suburban legend has a happy ending. We found the perfect nanny who has now been with our family for over a year.  I love her, my children love her, and she does all the things necessary to keep the all spinning plates in the air on the home front.  I would literally give her my kidney if she needed it.  She can certainly have my gallbladder and I would most likely give her one of my more vital organs if the need arises.

Her car even smells good.

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We THOUGHT we found the perfect nanny

2019 January 11
by Jennifer

As you know, we spent the month of December on the quest for our Mary Poppins. We needed a nanny before I began my new job in early January. After a literal zillion hours spent calling references, phone interviewing, and conducting face-to-face interviews, we offered the coveted nanny position to a lady we’ll call *Carol.* Carol had all the bells and whistles: a cheery disposition, a stellar resume, glowing references, and the desire to –and I quote-“make my life easier.” When we offered her the job she was elated. She couldn’t wait to care for our “smart, funny, adorable children.”

I spent the week before her official start date writing a dissertation on the care and keeping of my children. The mental and emotional load that we mothers carry is a heavy one to share. I did two days of training with Carol in an attempt to download all of the minutia about rules, routines, and the preferences and particularities of each of my girls. We drove the carpool loops together and along the way I pointed out the local parks. I introduced Carol to our neighbors, installed new car seats in her car, and gave her our house key.

I went to bed the night before my triumphant return to the working world confident that the two most important decisions were behind me. I had found the perfect nanny and I had found the perfect outfit to wear on my first day. I was ready to walk the road ahead in my sensible pumps and power suit.

Carol was supposed to arrive at 8:15 on Tuesday morning. Around 7:45 I got this text:

No worries. Neither me or my husband had to be at the office early that day.

Atlanta traffic is the worst, and though she had been to our house several times, she had yet to do the drive during morning rush hour. She quickly texted back.

Meanwhile my husband and I were wondering who would ever want to drive that far for work. We had a hunch that the commute would be too much and asked her MANY times thought the hiring process if the drive would be too far. She repeatedly reassured us that it wouldn’t be a problem at all. “As long as I have my music,” she said sweetly, “the drive won’t bother me a bit.” Then around 8:30am I get this text …

Of course she won’t. It’s way too far to drive for work, no matter how smart, funny and adorable my children are. I grumbled that I wish she had realized this weeks ago. Ugh. I texted back:

No response.

And crickets. I called her twice. No answer, no response, straight to voicemail. 8:30. 8:40. 8:50. The pit in my stomach grew and grew as my husband took the hopeful stance that GPSs aren’t always accurate assuring me that surely she will be here any minute.

I stood on our front porch in my power pumps with my baby on my hip, willing her tiny black car to come down our street.

By 9am when it was crystal clear that Carol was not coming, we sprang to action making a backup plan. I frantically packed a bag of baby paraphernalia, did some car seat shuffling, and made plans for my amazing parents to take care of #3 all day and pick up #2 at school. My husband took the baby to my parents’ house and I jumped in the car for my first day of work. On my commute, I called the elementary school and a dear friend to coordinate after-school arrangements for #1. Adrenaline pumping after the chaotic morning, I walked in the office on my first day a cool ten minutes early.

For the next 8+ hours I completely compartmentalized. I dove headfirst into my new role and tried to make at least a decent first impression with my colleagues. I even made a new friend in the IT department which, as you know, is essential. I got in the car after a great first day, with the peace of mind that this is exactly where I’m supposed to be.

On my commute home I interviewed yet another nanny. I held back tears as I explained to her what we were looking for and what went down earlier that morning. But when I walked in the door to find my mom holding the baby and my dad serving mac & cheese to the big girls, I started bawling. My oldest daughter started crying when she saw me crying. She LOVES drama and was on pins and needles as I tearfully recounted the morning’s events. My three-year-old gave me a big hug and kept telling me how sorry she was that my hair was turning brown. “I’m so so sorry your hair is turning brown, mommy” she kept saying. She understood the real trauma of the day. Roots.

I felt exhausted after putting so much time and emotional energy searching for the person to care my three most precious possessions– for nothing. I felt betrayed and lied to. Clearly Carol is a person of questionable character. Better that we know that now. She ghosted on me in my time of need. Screening my calls and not returning my texts to tell me she wasn’t coming was low. She had spent time in our house and babysat for my children the weekend before her official first day. I was sick to my stomach-and I still am as I revisit all of this. What did I miss? Were her references even real? Had she really been rear-ended the week before when we sympathetically rescheduled her training day? She sent me a PDF of her background check. Am I an idiot for not doing my own Kentucky background check on her? My calls go straight to voicemail. And though I have sent polite texts requesting that she return the car seats, they are still at large. Was all this just an elaborate scam to steal a few Gracos from an innocent family? Oh yeah, and she still has our house key.

To be honest, I thought that the background check that she provided us with would have been adequate. However, looking back on it now, I definitely should have got a second opinion. In case you were not already aware, if your job is going to involve regular work with children or vulnerable adults, you will be required to have a standard or enhanced DBS check. Put simply, nowadays it is possible for potential employers to use a dbs checking service to verify the background of each candidate. Needless to say, this is definitely something that I will be more diligent about in the future.

This weekend I’m back at the beginning. Calling references, interviewing nannies, making an appointment for highlights, and I’ll most definitely be contacting the likes of this Locksmith Elwood about changing our locks. In this situation, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry.

And to think, my #1 concern about Carol was that she seemed too nice.

*Name changed just in case that wakadoo googles herself.

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If You Want This Choice Position

2018 December 20

For Christmas this year, I’m asking for the perfect Nanny for my three children.  In January, I am starting a new job at a new company that I am super excited about. BUT! We have less than three weeks to find our very own Mary Poppins. Let me give you a breakdown of the nanny hunt thus far. 

Step 1: Emailed all my friends asking if anyone knew anyone who knew someone who knew someone. A direct referral would be ideal. (net: one candidate)

Step 2: Put an ad on SitterCity, AKA Nanny Tinder.  (I got dozens of responses. some scary. some qualified. pretty hard to tell what’s what. )

Step 3: Put a post up on the local moms’ Facebook groups. (two leads)

Steps 4-8: Conducted phone interviews, face-to-face interviews, working interviews, contacted references, stalked Instagrams, and ran background checks. Thus, filling every nook and cranny in the already CRAZY month of December with nanny chatter.

Step 9: Lost excessive amounts of sleep wondering which one is the RIGHT one.  (Still not sure.)

Step 10: Drafted an annotated version of the letter written by Jane and Michael Banks that manifested into Mary Poppins. The bold words below are my personal requirements and wishes. I’m hopeful that by writing this down and putting it on the internet, our magical dream nanny will appear.

Before we begin, here is the video of the Banks children singing their nanny song to freshen your memory.

Wanted a nanny for two  three adorable, spunky, smart, kind, creative, clever children

If you want this choice position—so far I have held this position unpaid so perhaps a paid gig is choice? These are the most important people in the world to me and you will be spending a lot of time with them. So this job is a huge deal and we are taking choosing the person for this choice position quite seriously.

Have a cheery disposition.  Yes. I want my children to want to be with you.  I want you to blend naturally with our happy family.

Rosy cheeks, no warts!  Appearance isn’t everything but it does count for something. Being put together shows you care. One of many data points.

Play games, all sort.   We love games.  Play games with them but DO NOT let them win (or cheat).  One day we will release them into the Real World and they need to know how to win fairly and lose gracefully. 

You must be kind, you must be witty. Yes yes.  A good sense of humor is key.

Very sweet and fairly pretty.  Fairly is the right word.  Pretty but not too pretty.  I have been reading US Weekly way too long to know how that story ends. The hot nanny didn’t do great things for the marriages of Jude Law, Ben Affleck, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Why play with fire? Amiright, ladies?  A 7 out of 10 would be just fine.

Take us on outings, give us treats. Take them on lots of outings (particularly to the places I don’t want to go) like the Aquarium, the Planetarium, and the germ-ridden bouncy house place.

Sing songs, bring sweets.  We love music so play the hits and dance, dance, dance. Sweets and treats are fine, in moderation.

Never be cross or cruel.  But don’t get walked over. They are crafty. Earn their love and their respect.

Never give us castor oil or gruel. But mandate that they eat all their vegetables if they want dessert.  Make them brush their teeth.

Love us as a son and daughter. Yes. Please please please LOVE my children. Get to know each of them individually.  Figure out the ways they feel loved, and celebrate and appreciate and adore them.

And never smell of barley water.  Good hygiene is key. Smokers need not apply.

If you won’t scold and dominate us. They will need scolding from time to time. Let’s try to be on the same team as far as discipline. Because it will be needed.

We will never give you cause to hate us.  Though they might test your patience and push the limits, they really are fantastic.

We won’t hide your spectacles  So you can’t see  (But they might throw minor tantrums when the Elsa dress needs to be forcibly removed.)

Put toads in your bed  Or pepper in your tea.  (But they will squabble over who gets which colored cup, who gets the map placemat, and cut one piece of paper into amillion little pieces that you will find all over the house)

Hurry, Nanny!  LIKE SERIOUSLY. On a deadline.

Many thanks.

Sincerely,

Jane and Michael Banks   Jennifer

Let’s go fly a kite.


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Pregnancy after a Miscarriage

2018 October 1
by Jennifer

I wrote about my first miscarriage shortly after we received the heart aching news that there was no heartbeat at the 13-week appointment. That was March of 2016.

What I didn’t share quite as publically was my second miscarriage that happened in December of that same year. Nine weeks, no heartbeat. You know why I didn’t write about it? It wasn’t that I wanted to keep it private. I learned from sharing the first time and getting a resounding chorus of “me toos” that there is healing power in being open with this all-too-common loss. I didn’t write about it because I had nothing to say. I was so so sad about our second loss, but having a second miscarriage also made me a little bitter. I was frustrated and feeling sorry for myself and just plain pissed about having to go through it all again. I thought I learned all the lessons the first go round and I simply didn’t understand why I – we- had to deal with another loss.

It took a few months before I was physically and emotionally ready to try again for baby #3. I had to feel okay about setting myself up for more pain and disappointment and the possibility that this could happen again. But I couldn’t quiet that desire for another child, and we couldn’t deny the feeling that our family wasn’t quite complete.

So eventually I got back on the horse (bow chicka bow wow) and started trying yet again for illusive baby three. And thanks to a cocktail of COQ10, Clomid, canoodling, Pregnitude, and prayer, in June of 2017, I saw the faintest plus sign on a pregnancy test. My heart skipped a beat but I immediately tempered my joy. I pressed pause on the imaginary highlight reel of this child’s life before I let it start running in my head. I even kept the news completely to myself for a few days, not even telling my husband, as I oscillated between excitement about the future and fear of the unknown. One morning over breakfast, I casually slid the positive test across the table towards My Man. He was excited… but guarded. We knew enough to know that a positive pregnancy test is just the first step, and that there are 40 long weeks ahead.

I didn’t immediately calculate my due date, nor did I sign up for the BabyCenter emails that inform you weekly which obscure fruit or vegetable matches the size of your growing fetus. I thought it best not to know whether my baby was the size of a radish, a Japanese eggplant, a kumquat or a star fruit. I didn’t let myself go there.

I went to the first ultrasound around eight weeks and I can clearly remember how badly my knees were shaking as I put them in the stirrups. The past two times I had been in that same dimly lit room, my heart had fallen through the floor at the silence and stillness on the screen. I started crying the minute the ultrasound technician opened the door. “I’m a little nervous” I told her. “I know,” she said. “I saw your chart.”

My tears started again when I heard the heartbeat and saw the little flicker on the screen. I was relieved and hopeful, but still hesitant to shout news of this pregnancy from the rooftops.

Back in at 10 weeks for another ultrasound and the blood test that detects chromosomal abnormalities and can also tell you the gender of the baby. You can do the former yourself with a portable ultrasound and some good training, but the latter… Um, science is magic. We are finder outers as far as gender goes, but opted to not find out at 10 weeks. It felt wrong to know the gender before I even knew if the pregnancy was viable. Between appointments, my constant nausea and exhaustion were pleasant though uncomfortable assurances that something was hopefully happening in there.

It was a long walk to the perinatologist for my 13-week ultrasound. I was again on the verge of tears as we waited for the doctor. This one was big. It was this appointment where we got the sad news of my first miscarriage, and it is after this appointment that, assuming it goes well, miscarriage risk drops significantly. All was well. Exhale.

It wasn’t until after that appointment that my husband and I actually talked for the first time about the fact that I was pregnant and the realities of having another baby. Over lunch we discussed questions like Where will we put this child’s nursery? What if it is a boy? How would we feel about another girl? Who is the child’s father? Etcetera. We cautiously started to let ourselves get excited about our growing family. At was at this point that we suddenly started to be welcoming of whatever kind of pregnancy advice we could find. Things like a Best For Mums tearing guide are really useful for helping you prepare for whatever can happen in the process of giving birth.

After a successful 18-week appointment wherein I got to hear the pitter pater of the little heartbeat, I unpacked my maternity clothes. It had been weeks since I could comfortably zip my regular jeans, but in the beginning I was too afraid about the emotional toll of having to lug them back up to the attic if we got bad news. I was immediately reminded how maternity jeans are ah-mazing and how I will likely wear full panel elastic waist jeans from now till forever. And I finally FINALLY put the baby’s due date on the Google calendar. I don’t make a trip to the mailbox without putting it on the Google calendar so to think that I didn’t put such a significant event on the cal certainly says something.

The world loves a pregnant lady, but it took me a good while to accept congratulations on this pregnancy and partake of the perks that come with the prenatal package. In the early weeks, whenever anyone said congrats, I wanted to diffuse it and temper their expectations the same way I was always checking my own. “Congratulations!” They would say. “Well I had two miscarriages so we’ll see.” Or “Thanks, it’s still early though.” But as the weeks passed, I finally accepted congratulations, put my hand on my ever-expanding belly, smiled and said “thank you. We’re really excited.”… “And yes. Please carry my groceries to the car.”

I was gradually settling into this pregnancy, and each week that went by, I was able to remove a brick from the anxiety backpack I had been carrying. I let myself start dreaming about life with three children, and timidly pressed play on my dreams about the future. It was around this time that we told our daughters that I was pregnant.

Despite settling into the idea that this may actually happen, I had a chorus line of “what ifs” dancing in my head approaching the 20-week appointment. That is the ultrasound where you can officially find out the baby’s gender and where they carefully examine every vital organ for potentially scary abnormalities. I went in feeling anxious and left that appointment feeling grateful and relieved. We looked away as the doctor was scanning the anatomy and left the appointment with an envelope disclosing if #3 is a boy or a girl. SPOILER ALERT! A(nother) girl.

As my third trimester creept by, I did not take a single kick for granted. Bring on the nausea, the insomnia, the restless leg syndrome (most annoying pregnancy symptom), the cankles, and the corn flakes (#1 craving). I was so beyond grateful to be in the magical miraculuous baby baking business once again.

And on February 10th, when I finally got to hold the precious baby I had been praying for, I felt like I won the lottery. Having two miscarriages may have stolen my blissful innocence from the experience of pregnancy, but it made this child’s birthday that much more meaningful. Babies are freaking fracking MIRACLES and I am still pinching myself that I have been blessed with three. She was well worth the wait.

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Gadgets for Grownups

2018 July 16
by Jennifer

So it turns out that a big part of being a grownup is making wise choices and creating rules for yourself on a continuous journey toward self-improvement.  Unfortunately, these rules often involve limiting your consumption of things you truly love.  For example:

  • “I’m only going to drink wine on the weekends, not during the week.”
  • “I’m going to let myself watch this season of the Bachelorette but I’m NOT going to watch Bachelor in Paradise.”
  • “I’ll only eat at Chipotle on a day that included some sort of exercise.”

More flossing, less Bravo, fewer carbs, earlier bedtimes, and dessert limited to special occasions.

It’s a total drag.

For me, one such rule has been to not look at my phone in bed at night. About a year ago, I realized I had a problem. It would start innocently, reading news articles that inevitably put me in a sour mood. From there I would turn to Instagram to lighten the vibe.  I’d loose track of time in the abyss of friends, friends of friends, and flat-out strangers’ renovations, adoptions, breast augmentations, weddings, separations and vacations.  Mindlessly immersing myself into the goings-on at your neighbor’s bachelorette party should be fun, but it left me feeling hollow and a little jealous of all those neat ladies who just spent the weekend in Palm Beach. The biggest problem was that all of this aimless scrolling was cutting into my pre-bed reading of actual books, something I truly love.  But I confess that I had become somewhat addicted to ending my day with my phone in hand.  So what is a gorgeous Xennial to do?

I’ll tell you what I did.  I bought a Kindle Paperwhite.  It is exactly like the classic Kindle e-reader but with a really pleasing mellow backlight that enables reading in all scenarios, from pitch black darkness to the sunny beach.

 

My Kindle Paperwhite fills that tragic mellinial void of needing time in front of a screen before bedtime.  Because of this awesome gadget, my reading life has been taken to new heights.  I read more, read faster, and I have instant access to any book ever.  My phone is far less appealing these days and it has all but been eliminated from my pre-bedtime ritual.  I even got My Man a paperwhite for Christmas and he too is totally in love.  And reading our e-books side-by-side in bed is far more romantic than reading on iPhones. Right? Right.

I am sharing this today because it’s Prime Day! I’m still a little confused about what exactly we are celebrating there, but let’s go with it.  In honor of this sacred day honoring our addiction to Amazon and maybe Jeff Bezos’ birthday(?), I wanted to spread the good news that this darling little gizmo is on Super Sale.

Buy one.

Once you pull the trigger, here are two ways to make the most of your Kindle:

  • Download the Libby or Overdrive apps and checkout e-books from the library’s online catalogue. Your local library has zillions of titles that you can get wirelessly delivered to your Kindle for FREE. FREEEEEEEE!
  • Subscribe to the Modern Mrs. Darcy daily email wherein she shares which worth-reading e-books are on major sale each day. Snatch em up. (It was her podcast that inspired this awesome evening.)

An eReader will never replace actual paperbound books in my heart, but it sure does make it easier to read books like this in bed and/or in public without judgement.

 

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The Secret to a Better Beach Vacation

2018 July 11
by Jennifer

A week at the beach for parents of young children can be described as almost anything other than a vacation. It is more of a relocation-to a beautiful place where the responsibilities are exactly the same as they are back at home-only new dangers lurk around every corner. Oppressive heat! Undertow! Jellyfish! The deep end! Horseflies! Hot sand! The open seas! Zika! Sunburn! SHARKS. It’s an all-out battle against the elements.

For our family, typical beach days are full to the brim with the application and reapplication of sunscreen and extreme lifeguarding as we schlep between the beach and the pool. When it comes to swimming, our children’s confidence far outpaces their actual ability, so my stress and anxiety is on high alert when my little daredevils are near open water. And when we are on the beach, they want to be IN the ocean, not quietly building sandcastles. This means that we, their parents, are in the ocean too, playing man on man defense between them and the crashing waves. Why even bother bringing beach chairs because there is absolutely no sitting during daylight hours. One child demands to be carried across the “dirty” sand, the other complains that her sunscreen stings, and both battle with us over who has to wear a puddle jumper and a swim shirt and who doesn’t. When we’re on vacation, we always seem to catch that one rainy day that stops us from being able to go to the beach and one year we were in Australia and this same problem happened, we decided that because the kids love going on long car rides at home and, we wanted to see some of the sites that we should rent a car, it was a similar place to Andy’s Auto Rentals and it was a great idea! The car was extremely affordable and the kids loved us driving around in the rain, playing games, and looking at all the sites. We made the best out of our situation and the next day we drove out a bit further and explored a new beach, I would highly recommend doing this as it gives you so much more freedom on your vacation. It’s a week full of memories and glimpses of family fun, but man, it is hard work. Sometimes it can even be quite a financial setback. I often worry if we will be able to afford to go away for some years. I know friends who have used the services of Tower Loan in order to get a vacation loan so that they can go away on a much-needed break without putting themselves in a financial bind.

There has to be a better way! My husband and I said to each other after a particularly expensive and exhausting family beach week a few years ago. Well, there is! We just got back from a family beach trip and it was fantastic. I feel rested and refreshed and even more in love with my man and my little ones. YES, it’s possible. Lean in and listen closely as I share the two words that will help you turn your family TRIP into a true VACATION:

Beach Camp.

We are on our second summer vacationing this way and it is just the best.

Last year we went to Hilton Head, South Carolina and I scoured the internet to find a local day camp for our then 2 and 5 year-old daughters to attend. I found a precious Montessori preschool with spots for both girls and signed up. Double bonus that the camp happend to be in biking distance from our beach house. Each morning, we took the tandem to camp drop-off and hugged our chickadees goodbye, then headed off to enjoy 4+ solid hours of actual vacation. My man and I went out for breakfast, took long bike rides, and actually (wait for it) sat in our beach chairs on the beach. It was blissful. Then around 1:00pm, we biked to pick up our campers and enjoyed the rest of the day as a family.

This year we intentionally set out to find a new beach destination that had the option to put the biggest sisters in camp. We found a lovely rental house at Kiawah Island, South Carolina. It was a five minute walk to be beach, a four minute walk to the pool, and a three minute walk to Kamp Kiawah. And as you know, when you spell camp with a “K” it has to be fun. So that is where we spent the first week of June this summer. It was bliss.

With so much to see and do in South Carolina, it’s no surprise that so many people choose to move here. We were even tempted by some of the luxurious properties we found online at https://www.weichertcp.com/. There really are some wonderful coastal properties out there.

In the mornings, we dropped the big girls off at camp and then enjoyed relaxing breakfasts on our porch. What followed would be some combination of golf, tennis, walking, beach sitting, reading, or exploring grounds of this gorgeous hotel. I finished a handful of books and actually got to have meaningful conversations with my husband. Both of those things made possible by the fact that I wasn’t lifeguarding all day long.

Playing golf was a huge part of this holiday. Before this trip I had not played much golf, however, we have definitely been converted to keen golfers! One of our friends likes golf and often goes to the Wildhorse resort & casino for their golfing facilities. Perhaps we might have to join him next time!

Meanwhile, our girls were having big fun at beach camp-I mean Kamp. They LOVED it. We’d pick them up after lunch and have the rest of the day to live it up as a family. Because I had spent the first half of the day recharging the ol’ battery, I easily transitioned in to super-awesome-mom-mode. I raced my oldest daughter down waterslides head first, collected shells, swam in the ocean, and carried the 35 pounder accross the “dirty” sand without so much as an eyeroll. At night we swam until the pool closed, explored different beaches on the island, found a radio station that played Delilah, drank margaritas with a view, and played rounds of (naked) Headbandz-still legal in South Carolina. It was an amazing week.

Now that we have seen the light and tasted true rest during a family trip, there is no going back-at least not for a while. One day in the future, when each child has passed the YMCA swim test, can read chapter books, be trusted to apply their own sunscreen, and wipe independently, we will embrace a week of full-on family beachness. Until then… Beach Kamp.

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Great Games for Every Age

2017 December 10

If we’re honest, all parents will admit that there are a few things we love doing with our children…aaaaaand a few things we don’t. For example, though I am always up for a trip to the playground, I have a semi-firm no pushing on the swing policy. Not my thing for myriad reasons I’ll explain another day. And ugh. Time literally drips through the hour glass soooooo slowly when I play ball sports in the driveway with my little ones. At this age, that translates to me fetching stray tennis balls in the bushes. Hard pass-at least until my youngest teammate finetunes her hand-eye. Luckily for me, there are board games, and my children are old enough to understand the rules of these games when we decide to play them, and it isn’t just limited to my house either. Every now and then, we visit a friend of mine and play board games with her and her sons. They had sooooo many games in their house, some of which I had never seen nor played before, and when I asked her about them, she told me that she read about them on a site similar to https://hittaupplevelse.se/2020/10/upptack-andra-landers-spelkultur-pa-natet/ that talked about introducing games from different cultures into their game nights. It was such an interesting idea to me, and while my children aren’t old enough to play these games right now, I would like to have a look at them in the future. However, for now, I’m fortunate that there is a growing list of things I truly enjoy doing with my children that overlaps with things that they love doing. I will gladly build majestic Magna-Tile castles, I’ll draw, I’ll dance, and I’m theoretically always up for baking and crafting. Legos. Are. Awesome. I also adore reading to them so I never say no when my girls bring me a big stack of books and want to get cozy on the sofa and read it out. For the past few years, something I really enjoy doing with my oldest daughter is playing games. I have always been a game lover and this has been a great way to spend time with her that is fun for both of us. You should get board games online from Cubox as they have such an awesome range.

Since it’s the season to be giving. And receiving! But mostly giving. Because baby Jesus in the manger. I wanted to share a Gaming Gift Guide of sorts. I love gifting games to other families and really appreciate when they are gifted to my children. Games offer far better bang-for-your-buck than those one-note trendy toys (this year it’s Hatchimals and those creepy little finger monkies) that get played with once and end up at the bottom of a toy basket, never to be played with again.

The list below includes games we love playing in our family and games I love gifting to families with older children. I even threw a few in there that are on our family’s wish list this year. These are mostly listed in order of age appropriateness, but your child is likely a genius and can probably start young. P.S. don’t let your little people win, at least not every time. For the sake of empowering the next generation with any prayer of getting us out of the mess we are currently in, don’t let them win.

Great first Games:

Sneaky Snacky Squirrel (3+) I played this Educational Insights game just yesterday with my daughter. This is a competitive game with twists and turns and a great game for learning early strategy and hand-eye coordination. Also great for learning how to be a gracious looser and keep on spinning if the wind blows all of your hard-earned acorns back.

Candy Land (4+) This simple race-to-the-finish game is practically a right of passage. Good intro to the wide world of games. Chutes and Ladders is another that has stood the test of time.

Hi-Ho-Cherry-O (3-6) Fun way to trick your preschoolers into developing basic math skills.

Uno Moo (3-10) – preschool version of Uno that uses cute lil barn animals instead of cards.

Richard Scary Busytown Eye Found It (3+) This is a cooperative, non-competitive game that still packs a thrill because you are working together to beat a common enemy (greedy pigs). It has a 6 foot long game board and requires imagination, teamwork and Where’s Waldo style find-it abilities. This is the perfect game for children of multiple ages to play together because older ones will enjoy it too.

Memory (3-7) Classic. I have great memories (pun!) of playing this growing up. Great brain builder and you can find in a themed version for whatever your child is into.

Hoot Hoot Owl (4-8) This is a great introduction to board games for your little one. You work together and collaborate over a strategy to accomplish a goal instead of competing.

Games for Growing Gamers:

Outfoxed (5+) This is one of my daughter’s current favorites and a game that I really enjoy playing with her. Outfoxed is a great cooperative play Clue-ish whodunit game where you use deductive reasoning to outsmart a thieving fox.

Guess Who (5+) Another classic that is easy to learn and you can play multiple rounds in one sitting. My daughter loves this one.

Zingo (4-10) This is a super popular game with families with young children and it was another of our family’s first games that I enjoyed as well. A lot like BINGO, players get picture cards and try to fill them up. There is a speed component too that makes the adrenaline kick in. We started with the standard version and are hoping for Zingo Word Builder and Zingo Sight Words for Christmas. Both are supposed to be excellent for new readers. Bingo can be great fun for all the family. Nowadays, there are even Bingo games online that you can enjoy. You can find some of the Best New Bingo websites by visiting bestnewbingosites.co.uk. If you are new to Bingo, doing your research can make sure that you get off to a good start. Fans of online gaming like bingo where there’s money to be won may take an interest in mobile casino games over on the Conquer Casino website – follow this link to find out more about their wide selection of titles for you to try your luck at.

Uno Attack (7+) the random card shooter in this tricked out Uno makes fort a exciting and unpredictable game. The classic UNO is always a hit.

Castle Logix (3-8) and Camelot Jr. (4-8). These are great brain building single player puzzle games. The goal is to assemble the wooden blocks and towers to match the challenges included in the booklet. You begin with simple challenges and build up to more complex puzzles that (cough) I even find challenging. A great independent game for quiet time, it helps develop logical thinking skills and spatial reasoning abilities.

Sorry (6+) Sorry was one of my favorite games when I was young. It is simple and fun and it teaches children to be good sports when they win or when someone draws a “sorry” and sends them alllll the way back home. The game Trouble, which I’m sure you also remember from the days of yore, is similar.

Games for Bigger Kids and Families:

Qwirkle (6+) This is a SUPER popular strategic domino and scrabble-like game that has won the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and the Mensa National Competition Award. Sold. The pieces are shapes (no reading required), so it can be easily played by young players but there is enough strategy to it that it keeps older players engaged.

Rollick (10+) This is a cool spin on traditional charades and a fun team party game where all ages can participate. Instead of one actor and the rest guessers, it is all actors and one guesser per team. You can use props that are in the room which adds a fun twist.

5 Second Rule (10+) and 5 Second Rule Jr. (6+) Fun party game that involves quick thinking. Hilarity often ensues.

Ticket to Ride (8+) This is one of the most popular strategy games of all time that is supposed to be really fun for the whole family. It is on our Christmas wishlist. The goal is to build railroad lines across the USA and earn more points than your opponents. Apparently this one can be learned quickly (always a plus) involves strategy (yes)-and the gameplay is quick, with no lulls (ideal).

Scattegories (12+) A classic and forever personal favorite that still gets my blood pumping and mind racing.

Killer Bunnies (13+) and KinderBunnies (5+) are strategic card games that get high praise. These on our wishlist this year.

Bonus Round! Stocking Stuffers:

Spot-it (7+) Spot It is an awesome think fast matching game that works across age groups. The goal is to be the first to identify a match on a pair of cards and to call out the name of the figure in common (surprisingly harder than it sounds). We brought it to the beach to play with our daughter but ended up playing with the adults after the kids went to bed and got hyper-competitive. We have the original version, but there are Spot It Junior games if you want an easier version for little people to play-as well as themed versions for different interests.

Go Fish (5+) Love this E-boo version. Big cards with pretty graphics. Classic.

Sleeping Queens (7+) This is a fantasy card game that gets azillion 5 star Amazon reviews. It helps develop memory, strategy, and basic math skills. The name queens makes it sound girly, but there are queens, kings, knights and more, so it works for everyone. Great intro to strategy for young players. Quick to learn and doesn’t take a whole lot of time to play.

[more into books than games? Here is a post about our FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOKS as well as a post about PRINCESS BOOKS WITH A TWIST]

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55 Questions to Ask your Child Instead of “How was your day”

2017 November 27
by Jennifer

 

Our firstborn started kindergarten this year. Kindergarten. What’s that saying about the days being long and the years being short…?  Yeah. That.

A perennial optimist and off-the-charts extrovert, she had extremely high expectations about how the whole thing would go. Her dad and I walked her in on that first day expecting to have to deploy encouraging parenting wisdom and perhaps dry a few tears, but instead we were shouting “wait for us” as she skipped down the sidewalk into her new school.  She found the hook with her name on it, hung up her backpack, and walked right in her new classroom like she has been doing this for years.

I waited anxiously for the bus that afternoon, hoping that day one of kindergarten lived up to her oh so high expectations.  “This was the best day of my life,” she said before I could even ask.

Yes. The best day of her life. I haven’t heard that since Disney World.  But beyond it being the “best day of her life,” it was hard extracting specific details. (Well, she was able to go into elaborate detail about the cafeteria and what delicacies the children whose mothers hadn’t lovingly packed their lunches that day enjoyed. Clearly she was less than impressed with her mom-made pb&j.)

The next day I got an “awesome” when I asked her about her day…but then nothing else.  I felt like a little lap dog as I peppered her for details each afternoon.  Nothin.  Clearly asking “how was your day” was getting us nowhere.

It was time for a new tactic.

 

In an effort to know her and her world better, we started a dinnertime tradition.  I wrote out a bunch of questions and conversation starters on little pieces of paper.  Each evening while the little ones are eating dinner, we pick three or so colorful questions out of the bucket and read them.  Her answers include tons of detail and I usually get stories about the day and insight into what is really going on in her heart and what’s on her mind. The grown-ups usually answer too—most of these questions can be paraphrased and applied to what when down at work as easily as what went down at school.  Our two-year-old even answers a question or two, and we nod along as if we understand her version of English and/or reality.

Here is a list of questions that you can pick and choose from to ask your star students. Great conversation guaranteed.

  1. Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw or showed today?
  2. Can you think of a helpful thing you wish you had done today?
  3. Do you know anyone in school who has trouble making friends? How could you help?
  4. Can you imagine being a teacher at your school? A bus driver? How do you think you would feel doing those jobs?
  5. Can you think of one act of kindness you would like to share tomorrow?
  6. Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh?
  7. Did anyone get in trouble today?
  8. Did you notice anyone struggling today? What happened?
  9. Are you worried about anything?
  10. Do you think your teacher ever feels frustrated, tired, or angry at school?
  11. Does everyone have a friend at recess?
  12. How did someone fill your bucket today? Whose bucket did you fill? (referencing this lovely book)
  13. How did you help somebody today? How did somebody help you today?
  14. How were you brave today?
  15. If I called your teacher tonight, what would she tell me about you?
  16. If you could call anyone right now, who would it be?
  17. If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?
  18. If you could plan the family vacation, where would you take us?
  19. If you could re-live anything that happened today, what would it be?
  20. If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be? And why?
  21. If you got to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you do?
  22. Is there anything you wish you had done differently today?
  23. Rate your day on a scale from 1-10. What would have made it a 10?
  24. Teach me something I don’t know.
  25. Tell me one thing that you learned today.
  26. Tell me something good that happened today.
  27. Tell me something I don’t know about you.
  28. Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  29. Tell me something you like about ________ ? (Use the name of a sibbling, friend or teacher.)
  30. Was there an example of unkindness? How did you respond?
  31. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  32. What are you proud of today?
  33. What did you do today that was creative?
  34. What do you like best about our family?
  35. What do you most appreciate about ________ ? (Use the name of a family member, friend or teacher.)
  36. What do you think you should do/learn less of at school?
  37. What do you think you should do/learn more of at school?
  38. What frustrated you the most today?
  39. What is one thing you are grateful for today?
  40. What is one thing you hope to do better tomorrow?
  41. What is something you heard that surprised you?
  42. What is your favorite thing to do at recess?
  43. What made you feel loved today?
  44. What made you smile today?
  45. What made you the happiest today? What made you the saddest today?
  46. What questions did you ask at school today?
  47. What was the best thing that happened at school today? What was the worst thing that happened at school today?
  48. What was the hardest rule to follow today?
  49. What was your least favorite part of the day?
  50. What’s the best book you’ve read lately?
  51. Who did you enjoy spending time with today?
  52. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to?
  53. Who is the funniest person in your class? Why is he/she so funny?
  54. Who would you like to play with at recess that you’ve never played with before?
  55. Why do you think it’s important that friends, teachers, and students help each other during the school day?

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What You Should Read Next

2017 March 22

Do you know about the awesome podcast, What Should I Read Next?  It is the show for every reader who has ever finished a book and faced the problem of not knowing what to read next. Each week, Anne Bogel, of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, interviews a reader about the books they love, the books they hate, and the books they’re reading now. Then, she makes recommendations based on that person’s tastes and her seemingly infinite mental card catalogue of every book every published.

Inspired by that primo podcast, some bookish friends and I decided to have a dinner party wherein we played literary matchmaker for each other.  Here is how it went down.  A few weeks in advance of our dinner, an email (and corresponding excel spreadsheet (nerd alert)) went out with these three questions:

  1. What are three books you love?
  2. What is one book you hate / didn’t like?
  3.  What are you reading now?

Having each person’s picks in advance allowed us to thoughtfully consider books that person would enjoy, and come to the main event armed with suggestions.

When we gathered together for dinner, we took turns going around the table telling why we loved the books we loved, and what rubbed us wrong about the books we didn’t like. We pulled out themes based on preferences (i.e. WWII historical fiction, endearing narrator in a story well told, dystopian epic, family saga, mildly disturbing memoir, etc.) and discussed favorite authors. Then we played literary matchmaker for each other by answering the big question for each person: “What should I read next?”  It was so nice to hear sentences like “If you loved The Nightingale then you HAVE to read All the Light We Cannot See.”  “If you appreciated The Sound of Gravel then download Under the Banner of Heaven on your Kindle immediately.”  Around the table a cumulative zillions of pages had been read.  It was like a live version of Pandora–but for books–with wine and dessert.

I came away from the evening with a solid list of TBR (to be read) books I know I will like, and the joy of recommending books I loved to others.  The whole night was chicken tortilla soup for the reader’s soul.  (This recipe, for those who’d like to know.)

For your reading pleasure, I wanted to share the books that each of us identified on our three BOOKS WE LOVE lists.  I am not going the mention the books we hated because we all know the internet is a place for only kind words, rave reviews, and positivity.  I implicitly trust the taste of these ladies, AS SHOULD YOU.  So look no further than the list below to decide what you should read next. I know these titles will grace my bedside stack for months to come.

Books We Loved:

Euphoria (Lily King)  |  The Outlander Series (Gabaldon)  |  When Breath Becomes Air (Kalanithi)  |   Homegoing (Gyasi)

The Glass Castle (Wells)  | The Nightingale (Hannah)  |   Walking on Water (L’Engle)  |   The Language of Flowers (Diffenbaugh)

The Prophet (Gibran)|  East of Eden (Steinbeck)  |  Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (Demick)  | NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (Merryman)

Eligible (Sittenfeld) |  The Hours (Cunningham) | Bossypants (Fey)  |  Hellhound on His Trail (Sides)

Poisonwood Bible (Kingsolover)  | A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)  | To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)  | Devil in the White City (Larson)

The Examined Life: How we Lose and Find Ourselves (Grosz) |   Wild (Strayed) | Boys in the Boat (Brown) | How Children Succeed (Tough)  |  Tasteful Nudes (Hill)

Definitely consider throwing such a dinner with your book club or a group of your bookish friends. It is a surefire way to reinvigorate your reading life, a new way to connect with old friends and get to know new friends better.  Great conversation guaranteed.

 

(More into listening than reading? Here is a post about my favorite podcasts. )

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The Wonderful World of Disney

2017 February 16

We just got back from Disney World and I’m here to say it lived up to the hype. The whole trip was the thrill of our daughter’s little life so far, and it turned out to be a total highlight of parenting for us. But let’s start at the beginning. Because I want to remember all of this.

Travel Day

After the Christmas surprise and the weeks of anticipation, the big day was finally here. Harper’s first plane flight did not disappoint. “Blast-off” was a thrill and so was trying to find our house from the sky. We made it to our hotel by lunchtime and spent the afternoon swimming in the pool and riding the escalators in the lobby. We could have stopped there but the hits kept comin.’

My parents arrived in time for a sunset loop on the monorail. Next we took a boat ride from our hotel to the restaurant at the Wilderness Lodge, where children are actually encouraged to ride wooden horses around the table while they wait for their meal. There was a light parade in the lake outside our hotel room which we caught just as we were heading in to call it a night. “They must have known it was my first day!” Harper said. “They threw this parade for me didn’t they, daddy?” Yes Harper. Yes they did.

Day One:

Our hotel was in walking distance from the Magic Kingdom so we all walked to the park together on that first day to be ready for action when the gates opened at 9am. We were originally looking at an RV Rental Orlando had on offer, but we decided to stay in a hotel instead. I’ve always wanted to stay in an RV but my husband, unfortunately, wasn’t too keen. I’ll try and persuade him for our next vacation though! Anyway, my parents were awesome and fully committed to leaving it all on the playing field. We took Harper on the Teacups, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, It’s a Small World (had to. we’re not monsters), The Carousel and the Jungle Cruise. Harper loved her first roller coaster, the view from the Dumbo ride, the surprise dance party on the castle steps, and the chance sightings of the character celebs. “She is the perfect age for this,” I noted to my parents as our 4-year-old handed her autograph book to Belle. “I am the perfect age for this,” my 65 year old father replied.

There is a parade around the Magic Kingdom every day at 3pm so we were sure to stake out a primo spot on the route. Harper shouted and waved at each character “Hi Peter!” “Hey Piglet!” “Hi Ariel!”-truly amazed by each new float emerging containing her heroes.

We headed back to the room for a round of late naps around 4:30, but were back at it by 6:30 and stayed until the park closed. Bedtime schmedtime. There was a light show on the castle and fireworks and ice cream, and rides, rides and more rides. On our first day as we strolled out of the park at a cool 10:30pm, a tired but joyful Harper said “mommy, this was the best day of my life.” It’s moments like these that make parenting worth all of the struggles; what an amazing thing to have done for your child and their gratitude is so rewarding to hear. I’ve always loved that aspect of parenting; having the power to to make somebody happy, to such an extent that I have considered starting a career in child care. I know that Kla Schools offer franchising opportunities so it might be something I look into seriously a little later down the line. Anyway, back to Disney!

Day Two:

We said goodbye to my parents and the remaining three of us hunkered down for another few days. We spent the morning at Hollywood Studios where we started the day bright and early with a character breakfast. Not sure which Harper liked more, meeting the characters from her favorite Disney shows or the Mickey-shaped waffles on the all-you-can-eat buffet. We did the Frozen Sing-a-long, some Star Wars rides, the Tower of Terror, and then it was onto Epcot for the afternoon. Lunch and tequila shots in “Mexico” and a lap around The Test Track were highlights. Back to the room for late power naps and then we spent the rest of the day at the Magic Kingdom.

Harper, it turns out, is a thrill seeker. She loved the roller coasters so naturally we wanted to take her on Space Mountain-the biggest thrill at Disney World. We measured her outside the ride and learned that she was three inches too short. John and I figured that if we gave her a big hairdo and padded her shoes a bit, she would make the cut. So we went to work to get that girl to grow.

Jury is out whether the sight of a father shoving balls of napkins in his daughter’s shoes while her mother constructs a voluminous topknot in efforts to sneak their too short daughter into a roller coaster constitutes a parenting high or low.

We will consider it a high.

Day Three:

By day three we were exhausted pros. We spent the entire day at the Magic Kingdom from the time the gates opened-ish to when they closed. We were on a one word basis with the rides (Splash Mountain= Splash, Big Thunder Mountain=Thunder…Pan, Cups, The Cruise, etc.) We worked the FastPass system, smugly laughing at the schmoes waiting 130 minutes to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (ahem, Dwarfs) as we breezed through to the front of the line. We knew the fastest routes between Adventureland and Fantasyland and had front row seats for the show on the castle steps. Harper got to hug “THE REAL” Cinderella, Rapunzel, Elena of Avelor and Tiana. We found the top spot for delicious ice cream and hit up our favorite spot for above-average park food (Pecos Bill’s. Guacamole bar on point). We shut da club down.

Obviously every night at Disney involves fireworks because duh. They are truly spectacular. Buuuut, we realized that the lines for some of Harper’s favorite rides were way shorter while the masses head to watch the display. When our tiny Tinkerbell politely asked the ride attendant “can we please go around again?” he couldn’t say no. So round and round we went. We were able to take loops around Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain without having to wait in line.

Our daughter has to hold the world record for total trips taken down Splash Mountain. And her parents win the award for being willing to get soaked in recycled theme park water to make her childhood dreams come true.

The Last Day

We spent the last day in Orlando just kickin’ it poolside before packing it up to go home. When we got in the bus to head back to the Orlando airport, I noticed sweet Harper was in tears. “I don’t want to leave,” she sobbed. We had to remind her that she had a little sister waiting for her back at home, and we assured her that we would come back when little sis was old enough to join us.

On the plane flight back, I had a moment to reflect on our whirlwind adventure as my four-year old slept in my lap. Being away from the routine, the rules, (the one year old), work and school, provided the opportunity for me to simply enjoy my oldest daughter, and do so in a place that illuminates everything remarkable about this particular moment of childhood. It was a gift to see it all through my daughter’s eyes and I want to always remember exactly how she is right now…

She expresses awe and wonder when she experiences each new thing. She believes in all of it–happy endings, fairy tales, the power of pixie dust-and that possibly the parade is being thrown just for her. She is fearless and free and totally unselfconscious, feeling beautiful in her hand-me-down princess dresses and up for dance party in the street with total strangers. She thinks it is totally tops to have the undivided attention of her parents and feels on top of the world when she is on her dad’s shoulders. She makes wishes on pennies and stars, truly believing that her wishes will come true. She knows no other way than to be truly present in the here and now. Even simple things and out of the ordinary surprises (like ice cream and staying up past bedtime) are spectacular. Her imagination runs wild and she simply believes.

Through a child’s eyes, Disney is magical. But the magic for me was that our trip made me understand how magical, fleeting and truly precious childhood is. Our time away with just our sweet girl made me realize that we are in the thick of the magical years of childhood, and I want to soak up every bit.

A few tips, tricks and do’s and dont’s to consider if your are planning a trip to The Mouse House:

  • Having an hour or two of downtime back at the hotel was a great way to recharge so we all had the energy to stay out late and enjoy late-night Disneyness. I’m sure this is one of the main reasons none of the children or adults in our party had meltdowns.
  • Disney is not the place to try to look cute. If there was ever a time to say “F-it. I’m wearing a fanny pack,” this would be it. Dress to combat the elements: massive crowds, the Florida sun, obese people in scooters, drippy ice cream cones, sweat, and bossy moms aggressively maneuvering double strollers, just to name a few. Wear a hat and sunglasses and sunscreen and clothes that can get dirty wet and durty.
  • Work the FastPass+ system. For those of you not fluent in Disney, a FastPass is basically a reservation for a ride so you don’t have to wait in line. Hey-oh. Work the system and only use your FastPasses on rides with the longest lines (like the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Peter Pan, etc). As soon as you check in for your third FastPass+ reservation, open the My Disney Experience app and get a 4th. And on and on.
  • Download the My Disney Experience App. You can see menus, ride wait times, photos, make reservations, and manage your FastPasses. Easypesy.
  • Rent or bring a stroller even if your child has outgrown the stroller phase. So much walking for little legs. Be sure to tie a colorful ribbon so that you can easily identify your stroller from the THOUSANDS parked outside the rides. Plus we used the under the stroller storage for dry layers, maps and snacks. Which reminds me:
  • Bring snacks. Lollypops are great for waiting in line, and the snack bars, oranges and peanut butter crackers we packed kept us fueled between meals. And BYOB to save a few shekels. B as in bottled water. But you do you.
  • I suggest watching parades from Frontierland. All parades start in Frontierland and end at the front of the park. Find a shady spot behind the white rope.
  • If it can be avoided, don’t bring your smallest children. Disney, it turns out, is no place for children-I saw mothers with nursing infants and two year olds and felt sorry for them.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. My dad’s Fitbit exploded because we walked so many steps on our first day. Running shoes are mandatory. After three full park days at Disney, I feel like I just completed an ultramarathon. I’m glad sites like Mobile Mob exist as I’m pretty sure my Fitbit strap is worn out from it too, and I’ll definitely be needing a new one, so bear that in mind when you go.
  • Plan a trip while your little ones are in the magic years and believe in all of it. So SO glad we did.

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We’re going to Disney World

2017 January 9
by Jennifer

I have a very clear memory of my first trip to Disney World when I was four-and-a-half years old.  We loaded up in the family station wagon and headed south, likely without seatbelts because it was the 80s.  We rode the Teacups and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (and the woefully underrated Carousel of Progress, a childhood favorite of mine where there was never a line), ate Mickey shaped ice cream, waited in line to have our turn on It’s a Small World , and chased down A-listers like Goofy and Donald for autographs.  It was absolutely magical and I cried all the way home.

We knew this was the year to take our four-and-a-half year old daughter Harper for her first time. So early last fall I started looking into planning a trip. Well my friends, lesson one is that a lot has changed since the Disney trips of the days of yore.   It is not as simple as it was in 1986.  We started planning our February trip in October, which I found out was really late in the game—nearly too late to get a room with a park view and a meal with even a second-tier princess.  So we enlisted the help of a Disney Vacation Planner (yes those exist).  She helped us navigate the world of Fastpasses, character meals, MagicBands, hotel reservations, the Disney app, park hopper tickets, and all the other new-age logistics of our grand adventure.  And her services are FREE–the only free thing in what is shaping up to be the most expensive trip we have taken since our honeymoon. To a private island.  Basically my husband and I could go to Europe for a week or take our four-year-old to Disney for a few days.  We chose Disney because…well because… childhood is but a blink. And magic!

The first decision we made was to leave one-and-a-half-year-old Hallie back at home while the rest of us fly to Florida. I am well aware that children under two fly for free and get into Disney World for free, but that is definitely a booby-trap. Free does not equal fun nor does it equal wise.  Hallie is way too young to remember what would amount to a high-wire feat of A-level parenting required to keep her happy in a stroller for 14 hour days.  She is also afraid of roller-coasters.

Once we had the trip logistics nailed down, we had to decide how and when to tell Harper the Big News that we were going to Disney World. We considered telling her the night before we planned to fly out.  I think I saw that in a Disney commercial once and it was awesome.  She would have gone BANANAS, but we would have missed out on the solid gold that would have come from her anticipating the trip.  One of the things I love most about Harper is how genuinely excited she gets about pretty much everything. Birthday parties, elevators, desserts, a song on the radio, Tuesdays, school days, weekends, a new toothbrush, old goldfish she finds in her car seat—all of it. She just gets hyped up about whatever’s now and whatever’s next.  On a recent Target trip, I bought her some basic white socks.  She was absolutely beside herself with excitement when I pulled them out of the bag to show her.  “Oh mommy, how did you know?! This is exactly what I wanted! I love them so much.  Thank you thank you.  And they fit perfectly!”  My precious little orphan Annie.  If she was that excited about new socks, I knew the Disney surprise would blow her little mind.

So for Christmas we made a plan for her last gift to tell her that we are taking her on a trip to Disney World.

Hidden in the tree was a red card with her name on it that said “open me last.”  Inside was the first clue to the scavenger hunt, or “scabenger hunt” in her precious preschool pronunciation.

The first clue was in a bag that said “WHO?”

The clue inside said “You! And Mommy and Daddy” and told her where to find the next clue.  It also told her that my parents (AKA Mimi and Buzzo) are joining us for part of our mystery adventure.

The next clue said “WHEN?” and the paper inside told her “The first week of February” and had a little countdown calendar with the day marked.

The next clue was in a bag marked “WHY?”  Inside the paper said “Because we love you!” and told her where to find the next clue.  She rushed from room to room with all of us following behind.

The next clue was in a bag that said “WHAT?” on the outside and inside said “A very special family vacation on an airplane!”  At this point she started freaking out because that will be a first for her. And we should all freak out a little because flying through the air really is quite remarkable.

The last and final clue was in a big bag that remained hidden until she came back in the living room.

The bag said “WHERE?” and inside was the big reveal of exactly where we’re heading.

The video of her opening the final clue and figuring out that we are heading to Disney World is something I know I will treasure forever.  (Click HERE to see it if it doesn’t load. worth it.)

That poor little orphan child who cried tears of joy when I bought her new socks has never been on an airplane before.  She is beside herself with excitement about that component of our adventure.  In fact, we could probably just take her to ride the big escalator at the airport and stop there to watch the planes and it would be the thrill of a lifetime for her—but we will press on to the Magic Kingdom. Hi Ho!

If I’m honest, John and I are just as excited as she is.  Seeing your children experience new things with pure unfiltered joy of is one of the absolute best parts of being a parent. I’ll choose that over a trip to Europe any day.

Click HERE to see Harper talk through the details.

((And for those of you planning a trip to see Micky Mouse in his natural habitat, you absolutely must reach out to Tara Verdigets at WDW Getaways (tarav@wdwgetaways.com). Her services are free and she speaks fluent Disney.))

 

 

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What the Elves are Working on (Gift Guide for Kids)

2016 December 6

Jingle jingle. It’s Christmastime in the USA. Our consumer culture took major liberties interpreting the story of the Magi at the birth of Our Savior in a lowly manger to become the gifting extravaganza it is today, but I am totally down. I delight in the season dedicated to thankfulness, togetherness, faith, family, Baby Jesus, and PRESENTS.

I love giving (and receiving hint, hint, hint), and I put a lot of thought into the gifts I give my children, our godchildren, nieces and nephews, and other little ones in our lives. I want to give toys that will be played with, or something funusful (fun and useful), or something that can be enjoyed by multiple family members for years to come. I have been researching the best wagon for kids for my niece who’s family lives on a farm. This is the kind of present that can be fun to play with, but also useful around the farm. When I saw trampolines for sale I knew that the whole family would be using it if I was to purchase. It’s definitely something I’m considering! That would be a great purchase, although it is quite extravagant. Maybe I’ll get that, or maybe I’ll treat the family to some unique gift from your photos instead. Some of my family would love that sort of thing. Often, just putting a picture on a mug or a jigsaw puzzle can make a gift seem so much more special, so I might look into some personalized options for my family too.

So here are some of the gifts we are giving others and have requested when Santa and doting grandparents have asked. Perhaps some of these may be perfect for the little people in your world. ((And I’ve done my due diligence in the Amazon Review Bermuda Triangle so you don’t have to. All of these receive top ratings.))

LEGOs

legos

My daughter received the LEGO Friends Heartlake Cupcake Cafe as a birthday gift. It took us four days to assemble all 439 pieces but both the 34 year old and the 4 year old in our family loved the process and felt a serious sense of accomplishment once we had precisely placed each piece. I think I may superglue that thing together and make it a circulating trophy to be awarded to anyone in our family who accomplishes something hard. For Christmas big sis wants another LEGO set (maybe this one or this one. Learning to follow directions is important ) and I would love for our home to have a basic set of LEGO bricks for spontaneous creative builds. It can be difficult to find the best lego sets for your child (and for all adults involved!). You can take a look at Lego set reviews at Bricks n Studs if you’re interested in finding the best sets.

Kids Digital Camera

kids-digital-camera

Harper loves taking pictures on my phone. Of me. When I’m not paying attention. So I think she will really enjoy having a camera of her own. (Side note: Nothing is more humbling than scrolling through her photoshoots. Kids have an uncanny knack for knowing just the angle to capture all the chins and the lighting that really emphasizes the dark circles under the eyes.) This Christmas she will be getting a kid-proof digital camera of her own to capture those special family moments, document vacations, and immortalize those amazing family angles.

Y Bike

ybike

What the heck is that thing? is the common question asked when people see our 18-month-old wiz by on her pink Ybike. It is hands down her favorite pastime and possession. Perfect gift for kids, like my nephew, not quite old enough for a pedal trike. Here is another version that gets high praises too.

Games Games Games

games

I love gifting games because they can be played for years to come by the whole family. Playing games with my daughter is one of my favorite ways to spend time together. These all come highly recommended and many can even be enjoyed by adults when the kids aren’t around. Spot-it! (different versions for all ages ) Set (ages 6+) Hoot Hoot Owl (ages 4-9) Labyrinth (ages 8+) Enchanted Forrest (4+)

Books!

books-for-kids-christmas

We adore reading so every year we aim to give and hope to receive some quality reading material. The picture books we are giving are Rosie Revere Engineer, Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau, and Iggy Peck Architect. And we are just dipping our toes into read aloud chapter books, so something along the lines of Anne of Green Gables or Little House in the Big Woods would great gifts that our little bookworms could grow into.

Sesame Street Letter Board

elmo

Our youngest played with the Elmo On-the-Go Letters at a friends house for over an HOUR all by herself. Yes please! Bonus points being educational and neatly packaged in in its own case.

Headphones

kids-headphones

I want my daughter to have her own pair of headphones especially designed for kids. These will be great for her to use while watching things on the iPad when we are on trips and for listening to Audiobooks.

Magna-Tiles

magna

My parents gifted the girls a set of Magna-Tiles for Christmas last year and those things get played with literally everyday by both children. Yes they are crazy expensive but dude, they are worth it. The stand up to toddler abuse and can entertain adults–My Man and I have constructed some architectural marvels. Santa, if you’re reading this, we wouldn’t be mad at ya if there was this add-on set under the tree.

Disney Movies

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We are building our collection of Disney classics. This year we’d like to add Finding Dorie and Beauty and the Beast.

Christmas PJs

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There is nothing and I mean nothing cuter than precious little children in matching pajamas. I adore the Christmas PJs from Hanna Anderssen. I would totally be into the whole family wearing matching pajamas but My Man vetoed that one. But if your man is a little more open to making magical memories, then check out the selection at target. They have super cute striped PJs that come in all sizes.

Art Supplies

art-supplies

I love that my oldest is at an age where she will peacefully entertain herself creating art projects up in the playroom and be trusted not to draw on the walls. Unfortunately little sis has literally sucked our markers dry (stay tuned for long-term side effects). That said, it is time to replenish the supply. I think big sis will like this Washable Marker and Paper Kit and this Melissa & Doug Stamp Kit.

Roller Skates or a Bike

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It’s up to Santa, but it is time for a Big Girl Bike without training wheels or a pair of beginner’s roller skates. And obviously a helmet because eeeks.

A BIG Surprise

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My 4.5 year old’s big gift this year is a surprise. I think she will actually explode when she opens it. Stay tuned for details…and sushhhh.

Eager for more? Here is a post about the gifting that went down last year: http://takethedayoff.net/2015/12/what-the-children-are-getting-for-christmas-shhhhh/

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Awesome Princess Books (Even Anti-Princess Parents will Appreciate)

2016 November 28

Last year for Halloween, my daughter was the lone chicken in a sea of princesses.  I was proud that she made the choice to go as a barnyard animal, smugly thinking that she was different than the rest of the girls her age who had fallen hard for the prevalent princess propaganda. She’s unique! She’s a free-thinker! She beats to her own drum!

I am definitely doing something right, I thought to myself as my free-range chicken went door to door trick-or-treating around the neighborhood.  Sure I would have been even prouder had she wanted to dress up like Malala Yousafzai, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or Rosa Parks, but she chose to be poultry over being a princess and that was good enough for me.

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Weeeeeeeell, by Christmastime that same year, she was sitting on Santa’s lap asking for this Ariel doll, a Princess First Aid Kit and an Elsa dress. In the past year our costume basket has exploded with tulle, tutus and tiaras, and our bookshelf runneth over with books featuring princess protagonists.

She always brings home princess books from the school library and together we have read and reread no less than 6 billion pages of princess prose. And we all know how the typical princess tale goes:  Meek and mild damsel in distress gets rescued by a heroic handsome prince. They get married and everyone lives happily ever after.

I’m all for happily ever after, but let’s give the damsel a little more dimension. Make her brave, courageous, creative, spunky, independent, and the hero of her own story.  Here are a some of our favorite princess books that turn the tired story-line on its head, and a few of these clever tales even offer solid little life lessons for your little princess.

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There are some gawd awful children’s books out there, but there are also some treasures—even, and perhaps especially, in the princess genre.   I hope you enjoy these as much as we do. They will help give your daughter’s princess aspirations a little more pizzazz.

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Interstellar Cinderella  ♥The Apple-Pip Princess  ♥ The Monster Princess  ♥  Part-Time Princess Follow, Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems

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The Princess Knight   ♥ Falling for Rapunzel  ♥  Not All Princesses Dress in Pink ♥  Sleeping Cinderella and Other Princess Mix-ups  ♥   Waking Beauty

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The Do Princesses… Book Series ♥ Princess Hyacinth (The Surprising Tale of a Girl who Floated) ♥  The Paper Bag Princess  ♥  Very Fairy Princess series

(And be sure to check out this post featuring some of our other favorite Children’s Books)

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What To Do When Your Friend Has A Miscarriage

2016 September 21
by Jennifer

miscarriage

It is never easy to know what to do when a friend is experiencing pain or a loss of any kind.  And miscarriage is particularly hard to discuss openly because it affects each of us who experience it differently and it is a tragically taboo topic.  It is the loss of someone we didn’t get the chance to know, the loss of a dream for the future family we imagine, and a loss of innocence for future pregnancies. As we approach the due date for the pregnancy we lost earlier this year, I wanted to reflect back on the things that other people did for me that really helped during that tough time. I felt so unbelievably supported and cared for because of the outpouring of love from my friends.  Here are some ideas of things to do for your friends if they are going through a miscarriage, taken directly from what my kind, generous, thoughtful and funny friends did for me:

Send a note, email, text, telefax or telegram.  It is so hard to know what to say when a friend experiences a loss like this, and it may seem easier to do or say nothing out of fear for saying the wrong thing.  Not sure what to say? Then say, “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.” No matter how eloquent or ineloquent, every single letter, text, note, email and voicemail meant so much.

I was just settling into the second trimester when I miscarried, so that meant most people in my world knew that I was pregnant.  I was so grateful when a dear friend volunteered to tell our nearest and dearest about our loss so that I didn’t have to do the talking.  This may be a job best suited for a sister or bestie, so if that’s you, volunteer to be the bearer of bad news.

Drop by food. I was emotionally out of commission on the days following the no heartbeat news, and physically out of commission for a few days following my D&C.  I so appreciated the simple meals and sweet treats dropped at the door for our family when cooking wholesome family meals was the last thing I wanted to do.

Share your story.  After I shared my story about my miscarriage, so many people reached out and said “me too.”  It is at once heartbreaking and comforting to know that so many of you have gone through this.  Hearing your stories helped me know that I wasn’t alone.

Give a gift certificate for something your friend likes.  A thoughtful friend surprised me with a gift certificate for a pedicure with a note that said treat yo self.  It was such a treat, and definitely in tune with the be gentle with myself mindset I adopted as I healed physically and emotionally.

Remember the dad too.  It takes two to tango, and the baby’s father experiences his own grief.  It was amazing to see how supportive my husband’s friends were to him.

It’s certainly not an occasion for champagne, but a bottle of wine is always divine.  A sweet neighbor dropped off a bottle of wine at my door with a simple note basically telling me that she would totally understand if I drank it all by myself that afternoon.  Flowers are nice too.

A best friend who has been there before sent me a sweet care package with a cute tea cup, the makings of a vodka cocktail, cozy socks, and an awesome sticker book for my daughter that prompted hours of independent play. Getting mail always puts me in a good mood and this particular package made me feel especially known and loved.

Having a miscarriage sucked.  But it was made better by the fact that I had two precious children already.  That said, it is hard to be an emotional basket case in the fetal position and continue onward with perky parenting protocol as if nothing is wrong.  Sweet friends took my oldest daughter on adventures, ice cream outings and playdates while I was out of commission.  If a friend of yours is going through it, tell her that you are coming by to take her child on an adventure, outing, or playdate.  I’m pretty sure that my oldest daughter had the best few days of her life while I was feeling low…which made me feel a little better.

In some cases, it is best to tell, don’t ask.  So often we say no when someone offers to do something kind for us or offers to help us in anyway.  Instead of asking, “can I bring you dinner?” “Can I come get your big kid?” Tell.  “I’m bringing dinner. I’ll leave it on the back porch.”  “I’m going to pick up your daughter and take her to the park. Ill have her home by 6.”  Your thoughtful initiative will be appreciated.

Check in a week later, a month later, and around the due date.  Knowing that we were due in September, my nearest and dearest have asked how I am doing, or simply told me that they were thinking of me this month.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

Odds are that someone you know has had or will have a miscarriage. So if one of your friends experiences a miscarriage, take a page from my peoples playbook and show you care.   Any little word or deed will go miles to make your friend feel loved.

 

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Primo Podcast Picks

2016 September 8
by Jennifer

My perfect day would include a long walk on shady trail, gentle breeze and 70 degrees.  In this vision, I am rocking the latest Lululemon and my naturally blonde hair bounces in one of those peppy ponytails with a slight wave. I walk for as long as I please, losing myself in the gentle rolling hills and the beautiful scenery…..  The realty looks a little different: These days, if I get to walk it is rarely alone.  My unintentionally ombre ponytail complements my Old Navy active wear as sweat drips in my eyes because it is 106 degrees on the cement. I am using all of my might to push the stroller up hills and bribing its passenger with snacks and toys to keep her content in attempts to eek out another mile without an emotional breakdown.

But! The common thread between fantasy and reality is that in both scenarios, I am listening to podcasts while I walk. Hands down, my very favorite hobby is going for a long walk while listening to podcasts.  (Actually my #1 favorite hobby is going out for dinner when someone else is paying, but the walking podcast thing is #2) Anyway, I crank up the volume to drown out the whining, and I lose track of time as songs, stories, tips, and talks stream through my headphones.

For you grannies out there who think I’m speaking Japanese when I say the word podcast, here’s how it works.  Podcasts are kinda like free, on-demand talk radio. And there are zillions out there on just about any topic under the sun. My preferred method of listening is via the iTunes Podcasts app on my phone, which comes pre-installed on most iPhones and iPads.  Simply search the app and hit “subscribe” on the podcasts you want to listen to or click “feed” and choose an episode from the archives.

Because of the sheer volume out there, I wanted to share some of my very favorites for your listening pleasure…

favorite podcasts

Goodness in the form of (mostly) true stories:

This American Life.  This is the gateway drug of podcasts. I discovered This American Life one Sunday evening as I was driving back to college after a spring break trip around the turn of the century.  It changed everything I thought I knew about public radio.  I was instantly hooked and have rarely missed an episode since then.  Ira Glass is on my short list of people with whom I’d like to dine.

Modern Love– The best columns from the Modern Love section of the New York Times, read by actors. Then the host follows up with the essayist for a quick chat about the piece.

The Moth– Regular people like you and me but cooler, telling their true stories live on stage.

The Longest Shortest Time So entertaining and enlightening for the parents among us.  Definitely worth taking a trip through the archives.

Advice (Eavesdrop on Other People’s Problems):

Dear Sugar Radio– You call it nosy, I call it emmpathetically curious–but whatever you call it, I truly love hearing people talk about their problems.  And there are lots of podcasts out there that scratch that particular itch.  On this podcast, authors Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond give thoughtful advice in response to letters they receive.

New Life Live– An advice call-in radio show which is awesome for two reasons: 1. The people calling in have really big and messy issues 2. It is call-in (not write-in) so there is a dialogue and follow-up-questions between the caller and the experts.

Get Smarter:

Marketplace– This daily radio program is about business news and how it affects you. This one happens to be more family-friendly than some of the others, so it is a good one to listen to on the loudspeakers while I am momming.  And host Kai Ryssdal’s radio voice happens to be my favorite.

Clark Howard-Consumer advocate Clark Howard helps you save more of your hard earned money and not get ripped off.  I always walk away with a few good nuggets of financial savvy.

TED Radio Hour– Each show is centered on a common theme and highlights some of the most fascinating TED Talks.

Interviews:

Fresh Air– My favorite genre of podcasts is the interview and Fresh Air is probably the gold standard as far as interviews are concerned.  A chat with host Terry Gross is mandatory on most legit press tours, and I always enjoy listening in on her chats interesting people, authors, politicians, and actors. Terry Gross has my dream job.

WTF with Marc Maron– Comedian Marc Maron interviews musicians, writers, directors, actors, and other comedians. It’s a known fact that people go deep with Maron, probably because of his self-deprecating humor and the comfortable and casual nature of his conversations.

Nerdist– I don’t listen to this one with just any ol guest, but there are some treasures in the archives.  Take a look through the archives and listen to the episodes featuring your favorite comedians, actors and musicians.

Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin– Alec Baldwin is a great interviewer.  He asks thoughtful questions and talks to interesting artists, policymakers, taste-makers, and performers.

Death Sex and Money– Anna Sale interviews people — both famous and not — about three of the most taboo (and most interesting) conversation topics. So good.

What Should I Read Next– Armed with seemingly infinite bookish wisdom, Hostess Anne Bogel interviews readers and asks them these questions: What are three books you love? What is one book you hated? What are you reading now?  and What would you like to change about your reading life?  Based on the guest’s tastes, Anne answers the big question, “What should I read next?” I get 85% of my reading list from books I learn about on this awesome podcast.

Current Events of the Pop Culture Variety:

Channel 33-Bill Simmons is the guru of sports and pop culture, the founder of Grantland (RIP), and the machine behind the recently launched site The Ringer. Channel 33 is one of the Ringer’s network of podcasts that offers unique and thoughtful takes on tv, tech, movies and music.  Because I really trust their contributors’ tastes, I often turn to them to get a cue on what is worth watching next.

Pop Culture Happy Hour– is a conversation about books, movies, music and television.  I like hearing this group debrief media I have recently consumed.

Dinner Party Download-It’s a podcast structured like a dinner party, and intended to make you a dazzling guest. They bring in a celebrity for a short interview, dish out interesting tidbits about current events and have a themed cocktail.

 

There are exactly 2.985 bazillion podcasts so this list is hardly scratching the surface, but these are on my short list of worthwhile listens.  What is on your list?  What do I need to listen to? I am always on the hunt for new-to-me goodness. Sound off.

 

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The Dating my Husband Experiment

2016 August 8
by Jennifer

As I was looking through old photos in preparation for My Man’s most recent milestone birthday, I stumbled upon a stack of pics from our dating days. We looked so young and so smitten. Man it took me back…

dc dating

We started off dating long distance, swapping weekends between Atlanta and DC. I recall many tearful Monday mornings after parting ways at the airport, tears running down my cheeks that were sore from smiling so much. Our weekends together were a blast. We played tennis, took long walks, went to concerts, and danced at weddings. We talked for hours over dinner, drank wine on back porches, took road trips, and got to know each other’s friends and families. He taught me how to play guitar and talk intelligently about Braves baseball, and I taught him how to lose graciously at Gin Rummy and appreciate The Bachelor (Brad Womack round two). We publically displayed boatloads of affection, wrote love letters and mailed each other mix CDs.

Dating the person you are going to marry is the very very best.

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Then we got married. And that sentence should definitely end with an exclamation point because our marriage has been pretty dreamy. I have to say that I absolutely picked the right one. We just fit. Of course we are two imperfect humans, sharing a life with bills and babies and a mortgage and car maintenance–and one of us can never find her credit cards and the other of us gets irrationally aggravated with a losing baseball team and being on hold with the cable provider-so naturally we have occasional squabbles and attitudes, but things on the marriage front are good. Like really really good. Lo these many years later, I still have a huge crush on him. Our marriage is not full of tension or endless compromises and negotiations. We are great friends who love spending time together, more alike than different, and so secure in each other’s love.

But because things in our marriage are “easy,” it makes it easy to get a little lazy. Many days I go straight from workout clothes to frumpy PJs with white dabs of zit cream dotted on my face. I confess that I sometimes save my most charming and engaging side for other people, my most serving and selfless side for my children, and he ends up getting whatever is left.

When I reflect back on our dating life, which seems like ages ago, I think what I miss most is the dating version of me. It was me who was different-well not different, but definitely letting my sparkliest sides shine. And falling in love brings those sparkles out, doesn’t it? I recall one specific instance that pretty much encapsulates the whole thing. It was the time I woke up at 5am on Thanksgiving morning to join him for the last few miles of a half marathon he was running. Together we ran 5 miles uphill in the dark cold pouring rain. Everything in that last sentence is just plain wrong. But this was love and we were dating and that is the kind of thing you do without even a complaint or second thought when you are dating. It wasn’t that I was selling him a bill of goods or baiting the hook-I was just all in. I had that insatiable desire to be with him and make him happy and if that meant being cold and physically exerting myself before sunrise on a holiday intended for sloth and gluttony, then damnit, let’s do it.

So today, on the eight-year anniversary of when we got engaged, I want to commit to dating my husband. Not necessarily planning romantic rendezvous and epic dates per se, though that would be nice too, but more so being the version of myself that I was when we were dating.

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Sure, I got this thing on lock, but I want to try harder…

I want to put a little more effort into my after-hours appearance. I want to try to sparkle a little more. More talking, more togetherness, a touch of flirting, occasional eyeliner. I want to continue to get to know him-to ask him questions and to understand him and care more about the things he cares about. I want to compliment him and cuddle with him and go out of my way to do kind things for him. I want to (metaphorically) say yes to running together, uphill in the rain.

Let’s see if he notices.

Off to make My Man a mix CD.

guitar lessons

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