Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Podcasts for Little Ones

My kids have grown up hearing "Mommy's podcasts." For the most part, they've ignored me while I listen and wash dishes unless they hear a snippet that intrigues them (side note: both kids learned to clap along to "NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" while they were toddlers. Future NPR lovers.).

Here is a list of our favorite podcasts for kids, available for free download. These are a perfect accompaniment for car rides or sitting down with an art project. To give you an idea, my son is 4.5-years-old and he loves these podcasts, but they would also be great for older elementary aged kids.

Story Pirates: these zany stories are written by kids and performed by professional actors, comedians, and sketch artists using almost exact language of the original composition. Each episode includes a reading of the original story, the performance, and an interview the writer. This inspired my four-year-old to submit his own story which will be performed live in NYC in December by the StoryPirates. Needless to say, we are big fans.

Sparkle Stories: These are sweet, calming stories centered around families and overcoming everyday challenges. These stories preserve a child's innocence, while encouraging them to explore the world and face their fears. The Sparkle Stories website also offers extra stories, recipes, and crafts. They also offer a subscription service if you need more Sparkle Stories on demand all the time. My son will listen to these stories repeatedly for up to an hour while he plays with Legos or does craft projects.

But Why: This podcasts picks the theme based on real kids' questions (you can send them your own question) and has real scientists, professors, historians, etc. answer them through a conversational interview. Some episodes have held my son's interest better than others.

Tumble: Science Podcasts for Kids: These science podcasts are specified for kids aged 8-12 years and also told via interview with well-known scientists. I am a great believer in being able to learn from a wide variety of materials, even those harder or easier than one is accustomed to. My son still enjoyed of these especially the space ones and most especially the Journey to the Deepest Part of the Ocean because we are all about the Marianna Trench. I can see him really loving this podcast in a few years.

Not podcasts, but other free things to listen to...

Our favorite stories on Spotify: A collection of our favorite stories found on Spotify. You can listen for free with commercials. Eclectic, goofy, and thoughtful, this playlist is a wide variety of stories.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dear Kiddos, Be the Change.

Dear kiddos,

I write this to you so one day, when you're a little older, we can have an in-depth conversation. I hope we will continue to revisit this conversation throughout our relationship because this is important. 

I want you to know that there are a lot sad things happening right now. Sometimes my heart is so heavy I feel like it's fallen somewhere down by my feet. I want you to know that people are not becoming more evil, but that we are shedding light further and finding more shadows, darkness that always was. Only if we find the darkness, can we shed light on the shadowy places. 

There are people in our world who don't have many of the good things we take for granted, such as safety, peace knowing there is money in the bank, a roof over their heads, food on their table, and family who can help if needed. I know you give thanks for these things every night. I hear you pray for those without and my heart smiles knowing you care, that it's one step towards not assuming you are the norm.

Throughout history, people have tried to decide that some humans are innately better than others whether that is due to ancestry, disability or ability, skin color, religion, physicality, country of origin, age, gender, or sexuality. There are those in power who try to keep those without without. 

This is still happening. It's important to be aware, to listen. We are called to listen to the minority, to those who cry, to those who shout "injustice!" or those who have no voice. I want you to be unafraid to talk to people even those who disagree with you. I want you to have the courage to examine your heart, your conscience, and then trust yourself and trust grace to see you through.

We have always taught you that all lives matter, have infinite worth. Sometimes you need to speak up for a particular, singular group that is not being heard or valued or understood. That is why currently there is a movement called Black Lives Matter. It does not mean that black lives matter more than other skin colors. The movement started because the personhood, the very lives of black people have been undervalued for centuries. And it's long past time for change.

So. Never stop listening to the marginalized. Speak up. Be brave. Don't forget you are privileged, but don't get mired in guilt. Be grateful for the opportunity to stand with the disenfranchised, to lend a hand, to shine the spotlight on the shadows, to speak the truth, and give the microphone to someone with no voice. You have tremendous conviction. I know you will use that in beautiful ways in the future.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." The change I see is you. And it gives me hope.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Offering Up Sleep Deprivation: Finding a Tired Spirituality

I often think back to before I became a mother. And then I laugh really hard. I assumed so many things, one of which was that my children would inevitably sleep. My imaginary, angelic children would sleep soundly while I would accomplish all the chores, make a healthy dinner, exercise, pray, and improve my mind, probably bring in a lot of money by freelancing. As it turns out, sleep is not really my kids' favorite activity. I'm not looking for advice, but more to share about the struggles of sleepless parenthood from a spiritual perspective. 'Cause the struggle is real.

Something I did not realize about sleep deprivation is that how much energy it can take to focus on one thing. I often feel scattered, unable to focus, and fall asleep praying. So how is a tired mama (or papa) supposed to pray, to transcend the ordinary and find God in the sleeplessness? 

Offer up sleep deprivation as a sacrifice: 
Apparently many cradle Catholics grew up with an understand of redemptive suffering and being told to "offer up" various discomforts and problems. As a covert, it took several years for me to figure out how to offer up anything (and if this is something you're unfamiliar with I highly suggest this Catholic Mom article). I have since found peace and even joy in offering up physical pain and illness as a prayer. However, it was only four and half years into parenting (I know, I know, I'm dense. The Lord is also rolling His eyes) that I suddenly realized that sleep deprivation can be a form of redemptive suffering. Not only can I take care of my children's emotional and physical needs in the middle of the night, but I can offer up my suffering for their spiritual needs. I can also sing a hymn as they go to sleep or mumble a prayer if I'm awake enough.

Sleep Deprivation is a type of Suffering:
At first, I was very hesitant to call sleep deprivation suffering; that recognition was reserved only for serious problems, pain, and illnesses. This perspective led me to not give myself much grace throughout the day because what was I caterwauling about? Only a little lost sleep. I wondered how other people managed to focus or get anything done in life while I was really struggling. Then I learned that sleep deprivation is sometimes used as a form of torture. I realized that I was not being humble or realistic about my limitations. Humility is not a self-righteous, resentful martyrdom. True humility is the right understanding of self and God and how two are in relation. By acknowledging my personal challenge of sleeplessness, I was becoming more humble and living more truthfully. I like sleep, my kids don't, and I'm learning to live with that. I also realized that nighttime parenting is actually a gift of self, another type of laying down our lives for the sake of our child. 

Sleeplessness as a Prayer for Our Children:
Right after Jesus' instituted the Eucharist, he went out the garden to pray all night. The sacrificial passion of our Lord started in sleeplessness. His ultimate gift of self started with a sleepless night. I like to imagine that the  Blessed Mother also knows something of sleeplessness whether from Jesus' night waking as a child or when he was lost in Jerusalem. Our Heavenly Father sees our parenting and our offerings of a the difficulty parts and can use those prayers to help our children's spiritual lives. Just as we try to give our infants the best nutrition and care during those early days of their lives, we can offer up our parenting challenges as fodder for their spiritual lives.

Offering Up Nighttime Parenting:
This can be as simple as glancing upwards and breathing a wordless prayer of offering. Sometimes when you're so tired, there are not words left. Sometimes I end up mumbling "Hail Mary, full of grace... Hail Mary full of grace" unable to finish a single prayer. That's okay too. Or you can say something like the following:

"Lord, I offer you this sleepless night. I offer up my exhaustion. I offer myself as a watchman before dawn (Psalm 130:6), comforting and loving this little soul in the darkness. I offer my ineptitude tomorrow as I stumble through the day. I rely on you to give me the grace I need for the daylight and nighttime hours. I stand on your promise "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." (1 Corinthians 12:9) May my children see your love in me even when I feel I have nothing left to give."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Learning to Love Writing (ages 0- to 4-years-old)

Today, my son published his first ebook on Etsy. I'm so proud of his dedication and drive in completing this process. He also dictated 784 more words to me today, the beginnings of a collection of interconnected short stories about monsters. Tonight, he begged to stay up later so we could write more. Did I mention he is only four-years-old?

I am an English major and have long loved the written word, both consuming and producing it. I have dreamed of sharing this love with my children as they got older. My son is currently not so interested in reading, but he adores writing. I'm not worried in the slightest as I know that one leads to other which leads to other skills. And I'm proud (but a bit jealous) that my son is out-writing his writer mama.

Note: I'm not an literacy teacher. I'm just a mama who loves to share what is working for our family. If you have any concerns about your kids, you should consult a professional.

How to make writing fun for kids?

Allow them time to write for the fun of expression and communication. Fostering the love of writing and self-expression is important. There is plenty of time to perfect letters, grammar, and punctuation.

  • Start with pretending, telling each other stories, nursery rhymes, and singing. Play is the beginning of literacy
  • READ. Listen to audio books, podcasts, read aloud, read together. Read, read, read. Go to the library frequently. Become friends with your librarian. Make use of the library's audio books, talking books, easy readers, chapter books, non-fiction books. Swim in books. 
  • Have your child dictate a story to you. Write it down exactly and then read it back. Talk about what sounds funny (beginnings of self-checking in grammar). Ask questions about description (what does that character or location look, sound, smell, feel like?). Talk about what is confusing, interesting, funny. Most stories written by children are hilarious. Keep story time short and fun.
  • Have your child sign their name on every birthday card you send and every picture they draw.
  • Have them write out the grocery or to-do list. You can draw pictures next to each item making it easier for everyone to read at the store. 
  • Make a map of your neighborhood complete with signs and street names. We have also made fictional maps of imaginary worlds (great to bring in toy trains, cars, and animals!). 
  • Write a story with your child about their favorite character or toy. In the beginning, take turns writing but still sounding out words together. 
  • Write a longer piece together, having your child hold the pencil first with your hand covering theirs. This is an incredibly cozy way to write together. 
  • Ask your child to draw a picture. Then diagram the picture with words explaining what is happening. This works especially well in conjunction with science - anatomy, biology, technology, mechanics, etc. 
  • Ask your child to start a diary (start with a short period - like a vacation or weekend). A nature journal a la Charlotte Mason would also be perfect. 
  • Listen to the Story Pirates podcast. These zany stories are written by kids and then adapted by by professional actors and comedians. They welcome story submissions! My son recently wrote and submitted a story that was accepted by the Story Pirates! The piece will be performed this winter. So exciting.
  • Work up to writing a multi-page story with illustrations.
  • Write an ebook with your child! This is as simple as writing a story, inserting photos or illustrations or graphics, then saving as a pdf.
  • Tune into what motivates your child. My son is very interested in earning money at the moment. His deep desire is to go to college to become a Lego designer which he knows costs money. Thus, creating an ebook for sale (even if it's only bought by the grandparents!) was a logical jump on his part. This also opened up the conversation about market forces (why an ebook for $1,000,000 doesn't sell, but if you sell ebooks for a smaller amount you are more likely to make more money), fees and profits (Etsy charges for listing fees), means of advertising, and the rudimentary basics of graphic designing. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Spinach Applesauce Muffins

Before I had my children, I imagined raising offspring that would be able to tell the difference between curry and garam marsala. They would beg for unusual ethnic food, request truffle oil on their mac and cheese, toasted edamame and Sriracha added to their broccoli. They would enjoy a variety of flavors, textures, and colors of the wonderful world of food. I adore food and I hoped my children would as well.

Early on, I read Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious. At the time, I scoffed. I wouldn't need to sneak vegetables on my children's unsuspecting palates. They would clamor for vegetables. For their birthdays, no less.

As my mom says, raising children is always a good opportunity to cultivate humility. Turns out my son does love food, but only certain kinds at certain times under certain conditions. And that's iffy at best. I'm okay with it.

Today, I enjoy trying to prepare new foods with creativity, keeping in mind the cutie pies who will hopefully enjoy the meal. We always eat at least one vegetable or fruit with our meal. This is a delicious snack with a little extra nutrient kick. (I'm so sorry I ever scoffed, Jessica Seinfeld!). Somehow cupcake-shaped foods are usually a hit in our household no matter the color. My kids really do love these cupcakes and think the green color is fun. I accidentally added too many chocolate chips to this batch. No one complained.

Spinach Applesauce Muffins

About 1/2-3/4 C frozen (preferably organic) chopped spinach
3/4C unsweetened applesauce (if using sweetened, cut back on sugar)
1 C Unbleached white flour
1 C White brown flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 - 3/4 C sugar to taste (lessen amount if using sweetened apple sauce)
sprinkle of salt
1/4 C of milk
2 eggs
a generous handful of chocolate chips (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. prepare cupcake tin with liners or spray oil. Makes approximately 14 muffins.

Add applesauce and spinach to a microwavable bowl with measurements (can also use measure and put on stovetop on low). Combined, the spinach and applesauce should equal about 8 oz. The more spinach you use, the more "green" the muffin will taste. More applesauce will taste more traditional. Microwave spinach mixed in applesauce until spinach is tender. Use immersion blender (I love this one my mom bought me for Christmas one year. The attachments make it so easy to whip up, blend, chop without much mess or hassle. Plus dishwasher safe!) or blender to make spinach uniformly blended with applesauce. The mixture should be quite green.

Mix dry ingredients then add to spinach-applesause mixture. Add milk and eggs and mix. Add chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

**Contains Amazon affiliate links.**

Friday, May 13, 2016

Our Lady of Fatima, Tantrums, and My Missionary Field

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro via Wikipedia
Today, I had planned on prayerfully reflecting on Our Lady of Fatima and my continuing journey to Jesus through his Blessed Mother. I had intended on taking my children to a peaceful daily mass this AM, maybe saying the rosary as a family later if we got ambitious. But as they say: Moms make plans and kids laugh (or loose their freaking minds and cause absolute chaos)

This feast day is special to me. I learned about Our Lady of Fatima 16 years ago in RCIA. The adults were talking and my sister and I were watching this old video of the story of Fatima. And we were eating cake. Why, I have no idea. My memories are a little fuzzy on the why and big on the cake. And Mary.

I was particularly struck by the story of Fatima. The three peasant kids. The sun swirling in the sky. The fact that Lucia was still alive at that point and that the third secret had not yet been disclosed. The retired priest, Fr. Hannon, overheard my enthusiasm and offered to lend me some books. I arrived at the rectory the next week to find a huge bag of books and DVD's on the Blessed Mother and St. Therese. I credit Fr. Hannon for providing me the tools and encouragement to start my journey of loving the Blessed Mother and finding Jesus through Mary.

Back to this morning. Loving offspring #1 was having a challenging time focusing on finding his socks, putting on his shoes, actually everything that was not Legos. After ten minutes of much gritting of teeth (on my part) and running around talking about Legos (on his), he finally put on his shoes while singing me a ditty on controlling my anger from Daniel Tiger. Le sigh.

The morning truly crescendoed when he discovered which church we were attending mass at (our usual church) and he just started flailing, screaming, with a few tigerish roars thrown in for good measure (I guess Daniel Tiger was still on his mind). A lady in front of us angrily shushed us. I ended up bursting into tears before the penitential rite when we ungracefully departed.

I wasn't quite expecting a scene such as this picture 

But I also was not quite expecting an apocalyptic tantrum.

I angrily blasted marian hymns on the way to our next errand. Cause that's how angry Catholic mamas roll. I was embarrassed, frustrated, and angry. I was saddened that I could not share my faith in the way I wanted with my children. 

Then I thought of what Mary had communicated to the children of Fatima. She appeared to the children and taught them over time, not in one big chunk. Mary begged the children to offer everything as a sacrifice. She asked them to say the rosary. As far as I've read, the Blessed Mother did not angrily stomp around when the Jacinta, Francisco, and Lucia prayed a short-cut rosary only naming the prayers and not saying the whole thing. She is gentle and kind, slow to anger. Sound familiar?

In the end, the message of Fatima is a story of a mother gently loving and instructing her children. And my job as a mother is to be a little missionary to my brood, to follow the Blessed Mother's footsteps. Mary is not famous for spreading the Gospel to the ends of the Earth, but "simply" for mothering, raising our Savior and for always pointing us back to Jesus. To spread the message of Fatima means not to force-feed it to my children, but offer it gently and beautifully. Most of the apparitions of Mary make mention of how beautiful she is, how viewers can not look away. I want to offer truth, discipline, and love gently like our Blessed Mother. 

So after that very gentle reminder from Mary on teaching my children, we bought a tree, planted it, got very muddy from watering every living thing in the garden (including each other), and took a bubble bath. Now we are watching The Day the Sun Danced by CCC of America. A short, sweet cartoon about Our Lady of Fatima. My son may have even mentioned how he wants to see the Blessed Mother. 

The Pardon Prayer (given to the children by the Angel of Peace):

My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee! I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee.

And we hope and pray we can share this belief and love with our children with love.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Thoughts on "All the Light We Cannot See" and Today's Political Climate

I am not going to give a synopsis of this book. This post is not a review, but more a meditation on the book and our current political situation. 

If you're curious about the plot, I urge you to read the book. It's a simply gorgeous novel. Otherwise, Bishop Barron does his usual superb job of explaining the complicated in his beautiful simplicity. Actually, don't read that link after all. There's not much to say after Bishop Barron is finished writing.

Doerr tickled my brain with this book, writing beautiful prose that managed to not be overwrought. Interesting without overwhelming the reader with too many descriptions, flowery verses, or philsophizing (all of which I enjoy, but in good measure). 

The book has several themes, some of the most obvious are the contrasts between light and darkness, sight and blindness. Marie-Laure is blind, but understands human nature better than most. Werner has no such handicaps, but often chooses to overlook darkness in others, refusing to judge lest he be judged (by the school? by the Nazis? by himself?) and found unfit.

Perhaps due to their adolescence or the process of growing up in wartime, but both Marie-Laure and Werner repeat urgent mantras as young adults such as:
“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever” 
“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” 
I've been thinking of these mantras, turning them over and over in my head, just as Marie-Laure turned over the wooden puzzle boxes in her hands. I want desperately to respond appropriately to what is going on in our country today. I don't want to be left with regrets like Werner. 

I am tempted at times to feeling it doesn't matter what I do, that I am only one piece of a huge puzzle, with more working parts than I can imagine. I think if this book communicates anything, then it's message of that individuals matter, have incredible worth. We truly have so much light inside that we cannot see. Just as Werner finds hope and redemption in the beauty of Marie-Laure, I look to my children and see good news for the world. The beauty of their light inside, the hope and wonder they display so naively to the world, give me light and courage for my path today. 

I am just one person, but I am a lamp to my children and they are watching me. They may be the ones to change the world when it is their time. So I must do my part now.
“All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?”