Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Last Hurrah of Summer

Tomorrow I leave on a vacation "up north" with my daughter and her friend. Originally, Paul and our two dogs were coming along as well. But a change of plans has me going alone with two 13 year-old girls.

Depending on who you are and your current association with 13 year-olds, this vacation could sound like a dream or a nightmare. I'm thinking it could be a "dream."

Why, you ask? How could a vacation with two 13 year-olds be a dream? Well, here's what I figure:
- They can bathe and dress themselves,
- They can feed themselves, and
- They can entertain themselves.

I'm taking a stack of books, my writing notebook, and my favorite pillow. Of course, I'll play cards with them, go on hikes, and probably even cook for them. But overall, I'm hoping for a long weekend of chillin' out.

I'll let you know how it all works out. Maybe it will be a "dream," or maybe I'm kidding myself and I'm just "dreaming."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Volunteering with Kids

Last week, my husband, daughter and I volunteered at Project Home. Project Home is a local program where area churches house homeless families when the shelters are full. Since the shelters are always full, Project Home is busy all year.

Our church commits to providing volunteers for certain weeks. There are two sets of volunteers each night. One group spends the evening hours with the families, visiting, providing snacks, playing with kids and more. The other volunteers - usually a man and woman - spend the night at the church with the families.

Paul, Juliana, and I volunteered for the evening shift. Before we went, Juliana did not want to go. She was quite adamant about it. I didn't blame her. It can be a little scary volunteering with people you have never met and who are at a difficult point in their life. What will I talk about? What will I do? Will three hours seem like forever?

Well, I told her we were all going. Frankly, the idea of sitting on my couch watching TV after a long day sounded appealing to me too. But, we had made a commitment.

So, we went to Project Home. Five families were our guests that evening with family members ranging in age from 1 year to mid-forties. At first, Juliana didn't know what to do. She sort of stood around next to her dad. But then she started to warm up.

She played Candyland with an 8 year-old boy and then worked on a puzzle with a Mom and 16 year-old. Then, Candyland came back out for another round with a little boy who arrived later in the evening.

When our shift was over and we were headed home, I asked Juliana if the evening was OK after all. She said, "It was fine." I thought that was a pretty good answer for a 13-year old.

I think it's important to volunteer as a family. It shows kids that helping others is valued and that their participation is just as important as the adults'. Plus, a side bonus is that you might meet new people and have a lot of fun!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quote of the Week

"It's hard to keep my finger out of my nose."

- Juliana, age 4

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Minnesota State Fair

The Minnesota State Fair, aka The Great Minnesota Get-Together, started today. Every year, the 10 days leading up to Labor Day are dominated by the Fair. At least in my neighborhood, which is only blocks from the fairgrounds.

Some people hate the fair and take their summer vacation this week. Some people see dollar signs during the fair and park cars on their lawn or sell mini-donuts in front of their house. I am one of the thousands who love the fair and go every year, usually several times.

It's crazy, hot, and crowded, but it's also fun, exciting and nostalgic. Plus, you can get practically everything on-a-stick from pork chops to s'mores.

One of my favorite things to do at the fair is visit the animal barns. For one city friend of mine, the pig barn practically made him vomit. I know it smells bad in there. But, I love the animal barns. It reminds me of visiting my cousins' farm every summer when I was young.

When I was little, Machinery Hill at the Fair was filled with - you guessed it - actual farm machinery. There were tractors and threshers and huge combines. My brother and I would crawl all over those machines. These days, Machinery Hill is dominated by riding lawn mowers, pick-up trucks, and lumberjacks. (I'm not opposed to the lumberjacks.)

I know things change but I'm glad there are still 4-H animals, blue-ribbon jams, and hand-sewn quilts on display. I mean really, that's what a State Fair is all about.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Barnyard Dance

Barnyard Dance by Sandra Boynton is one of my favorite upbeat books for babies.

When people talk about rhyme and rhythm, they often get the two terms mixed up. But these literary elements are two very different things. Rhyme is when the endings of words have similar sounds, as in "sun" and "fun." Many kids books rhyme. But not all books have rhythm. Rhythm is the musical flow of the book. When a book has a definite pattern, bounce, lilt to it, it has rhythm. And Barnyard Dance has rhythm!

I dare you to read this book and not fall into a square dance kind of rhythm in your voice. It isn't possible. Go ahead and read this book out loud to a little kid. You can't help but be caught up in the dance!

Monday, August 22, 2011

So Bershon

My husband, 13-year old daughter, and I just got home from a long weekend at a friend's cabin. We had a wonderful time hanging out, swimming, boating, making smores, and playing games.

My friend has two boys, age 13 and 10. The 10-year old is a big bundle of enthusiasm. He's excited to try every new activity. And he's always willing to have others join in on the fun.

Now the 13 year olds - my daughter and her son - get along great and are wonderful kids but, boy-oh-boy, did we see some excellent examples of "bershon" this weekend.

Bershon is "a facial expression of distaste, distain, sulkiness, exasperation, or all four simultaneously." (Fritinancy website)

The Urban Dictionary website defines it this way:

Bershon is pretty much how you feel when you're 13 and your parents make you wear a Christmas sweatshirt and then pose for a family picture and you could not possibly summon one more ounce of disgust, but you're also way too cool to really even DEAL with it, so you just make this face like you smelled something bad and sort of roll your eyes and seethe in a put-out manner.

I dearly love my 13-year old and wouldn't trade her for the world. Plus, no one else could possibly be as bershon as my kid. Except, perhaps, another 13-year old.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Baby Carrots

Kid Quote of the Day:

"I don't like parent carrots. I just like baby carrots."
- Juliana, age 3 1/2

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back In The Day

Back in the day, my brother and I never wore seat belts in the car. We rolled around the backseat arguing about who was on who's side or crossing "no-man's land" in the middle.

On one nighttime road trip, my dad rigged up a bunk bed across the backseat of his sedan. One kid lay on the seats and the other on the make-shift bunk suspended at the level of the back window.

Another time, my father had a huge Chevy station wagon with a trundle type seat in the way back. You could fit two kids comfortably back there, just inches from the rear window. My brother and I would sit back there and wave at truckers. Little did we know we were one rear-ending away from being squashed.

Back in the day, safety was more a matter of chance than prevention.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pretend Soup

The book recommendation for today is PRETEND SOUP by Mollie Katzen. Katzen is the well-known author of the Moosewood Cookbook. PRETEND SOUP is "a cookbook for preschoolers & up."

PRETEND SOUP is fun, colorful and very accessible for young children. In addition to providing recipe information for the grown-ups, Katzan has illustrated step-by-step directions for the kids. It can't be much easier or straight-forward.

Some of my favorite recipes in PRETEND SOUP are Number Salad, Hide and Seek Muffins, & Zucchini Moons. If your little ones show interest in cooking, PRETEND SOUP is a great way to get them started!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Interview - The Power of Three

My brother, Scott, has three young boys ages 6, 3 and 1. Since Scott works for the public schools, he has summer off. This summer he has been home full-time with the boys. I took the opportunity to interview him about his summer so far.

Dara: What has been the best part about staying home with the boys this summer?
Scott: Getting to spend lots of quality time with them.

Dara: What has been the hardest part?
Scott: Juggling all the different temperaments and button-pushing between the three boys.

Dara: Give me an example of something super crazy or difficult?
Scott: When all three of them are high-pitch screaming and fussing. Also, when they leave toys everywhere. That's no fun.

Dara: How about an example of something really sweet?
Scott: One thing really sweet is every morning the youngest wakes up and looks around for the other two and says, "Hi" to them. He wants to say good morning to them every day.
Also, when the middle child is sad or emotional, he runs to his older brother for comfort. That's very cool.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer Kid

The summer after my daughter finished 2nd grade, I told her she was now a 3rd grader. She said, "No, Mom. I'm a Summer Kid. I'm not a 3rd grader until school starts." She was adamant about it, insisting that she was a Summer Kid and the discussion was over.

As a parent, I sometimes forget how long summer felt as a kid. When I was young, I remember summer feeling almost the same length as a school year. There was no way I was a 3rd grader in the summer. That was way too far away. That was a whole different "year".

So, I understand the Summer Kid thing. Why force our kids forward too fast? Why not let them enjoy summer? Life? Why did I buy my 2012 calendar last week, in the middle of summer? A kid would never do that.

So, now my daughter is 13 and still a Summer Kid. Not an 8th grader, yet. It's 8:30 am and she, of course, is still sleeping. I tried to tell her that in September, at this time in the morning, she'll be in Geometry class. She just groaned and said, "Mom, pleeeeaasee! I'm still a Summer Kid. And can you close my door on your way out?"

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Welcome to Planet Parenting

Hello fellow parents! Planet Parenting is for everyone trying to raise happy, healthy and creative kids while remaining relatively happy, healthy and creative themselves.

I'm Dara Dokas and I've been a parent for 13 1/2 years (and counting). I'm a children's book writer, bookseller, and children's book buyer for a great, independent bookstore. I've also been an English and drama teacher, museum interpreter, television office coordinator, theater grant writer, waitress, data-entry clerk, and factory filter-maker.

I love organization and own just about every book there is on organizing your home, office, family, and/or personal life. Still it alludes me. But, in the name of organization, I've structured Planet Parenting to, hopefully, maximize its fun, creativity and usefulness.

Thus, here's the Planet Parenting weekly plan:

Monday - Monday Update
Tuesday - Open Topic
Wednesday - Featured Book
Thursday - "Back in the Day"
Friday - Quotable Kid

I hope you enjoy it here at Planet Parenting. Join in the conversation and we'll see where we go.