So I’m not going to do reading logs this year.

I dislike homework. It’s a pain to put together, it’s a pain to grade and record, and I tend to read the research speaking against it. If memory serves me correctly, I had no homework until junior high. Why in the world do I want my 2nd graders having homework?

Last school year and the year before I had great plans to do away with homework. And then came our Wildly Important Goal. I’m up those WIGs, don’t get me wrong. But when I found out we were tracking homework and reading minutes? Curse being a team player! So I dutifully sent home homework so we would have something to track, though in retrospect couldn’t the zero homework be included in that tracking? Fortunately, by last school year the homework tracking had been nixed, but still we had to track reading minutes. So I simplified my homework to largely reading minutes, which still included printing and stapling and counting and tallying up totals I’m not sure I trusted.

This year began with more talk of WIGs. I prepared myself for another year of reading log drama on my part only to find, to my deepest delight, our WIGs were moving in another direction.

I could very well be free of reading minutes. No great authority is insisting I record them. And why in the world do kids have to be tracking reading minutes? I have no memory of tracking reading minutes in my own school years. Kids read, it’s their job as students and with any luck they learn to like it.

Last summer I read Debbie Miller’s Reading in the Wild, her follow-up to The Book Whisperer. Her focus is on getting kids to read, not “making them”. I sure would love to raise a class of second graders in the ways of wild reading because what is cuter than a bunch of 7-year-olds happily clutching their books in the way any child ought to be enamored of a book?

Yet does the tracking of reading minutes do anything to help with this? Sure, you have those particular children who like to jot everything down, but that seems something they could do on their own. I am positive I had a bunch of kids last year who just colored in whatever on their reading minute sheets and had their parents sign whatever. Because, who cares?

This year, I’m doing something different. No reading logs. Nada. At least as that apply to me. I created my class letter template for the year and sure enough I provided a few varieties of reading logs to go with it…with the explicit instruction these were for individual use as needed/desired only. I didn’t want them back.

What I do want is my students reading. Wild readers do read at home, and I want to mess with the minds of my 2nd graders until they view reading at home as a normal, daily activity. An enjoyable one and a necessary one. You know, reading like it is one of those things one just does because that is what one just does.

In my class letter I will talk up reading. I will ask questions to consider, all coming from the view that I assume they are reading. I will possibly attempt to create a new normal for some of them, one that goes beyond the assumed required reading. You’re a student, you’re a child, you’re a human. You will read.

Maybe I’ll get a few wild readers.

Cleaning my house with a bar of soap

Some years ago I hopped on the bandwagon of DIY cleaners, leaving behind the college life white glove check store run where we grabbed something for every project. Vinegar baking soda, a use for the essential oils I just can’t seem to use medicinally, and, of course, soap. The book I originally used as my bible for this often spoke of castile soap, so I bought that and I still keep as bottle around as my cleaning supply. But I waxed more lazily.

These days I clean the house with a bar of soap. Bath soap. Cetaphil brand, to be sincere. Amazon Vine gave me a 6-pack of those last year and they failed to mesh with my husband’s skin. I was currently using other soap, so I just opened up one of the bars and used it clean stuff.

I love it.

When I first began cleaning with a bar of deodorizing skin clarifying soap, I sought approval. The interweb didn’t provide much, mostly suggestions on ways to use bar soap that ultimately weren’t cleaning anything. But those soapy housecleaning rebels were out there, also seeming to feel a tad awkward over their delve into cleaning with soap.

But why not? What were people cleaning with before fancy cleaning products? Soap. Soap that was hanging around the house and offering so many wonderful cleansing uses.

I still have a few general cleaning products, but one of those bars of soap sits on my kitchen windowsill waiting to be used.

How do I use this soap?

  1. I run it under some hot water to make a nice soapy water mix.
  2. I rub it over a cleaning rag and scrub away.
  3. I rub in my microfiber mop pad.
  4. I shred it up and use it for laundry soap.

And it works, comparatively with any other green cleaning method or commercial cleaner. I can leave the soap water on a gross stovetop for a few minutes, then wipe. I friggin’ mop with it.

My stuff is clean. The house smells nice because soap has that lovely soapy smell. It’s so easy to use and it’s as teeny as anything.

Soap. Why were you abandoned in the cleaning world?cetaphil

Nerdy Mom Post: When Rocket is pretty much just a raccoon.

Be it known this my nerdy mom post.

I have Guardians of the Galaxy on my mind right now.  As Marvel movies go with a girl who knows comparatively little about comic books, it’s easily one of the best. Watching Vol 2. back in May was a huge treat and darn it all if my 4-year-old doesn’t like the first movie. As much as I theoretically want to limit her screen time, her occasional request to watch such movie means I get to, by way of being a good mom, watching the movie with her.

And I do enjoy it so much. The soundtrack ought to be a scholarly example of just how to create film soundtracks, Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan are adorable with or without crazy assassin alien get-up, and the balance of heart, humor, and action is nigh unto perfect.

One of the best slices of quirky wonder is Rocket. Oh, how I love Rocket. Hands-down my favorite character. I was always vaguely aware of his existence because of one of my cousins, but how these movies brought him to life! He’s brash and rude with that barest hint of poor wounded animal under it all and I love him for it.

My husband says Rocket wasn’t originally selected to be in the movie due to worries over whether an audience could accept a really mean, animated raccoon with a machine gun. But that awesome aforementioned balancing act carries over here. He’s a raccoon, but more importantly he’s a bounty hunter and weapons expert who happens to be a raccoon. I daresay this is what made Rocket work. He is his own character first, and the animal jokes are kept effective few and far between.

Yet I love those little moments where we are reminded that Rocket is a raccoon (or some other similarly evolved critter). The joke is still kept subtle and to the minimum, but those little moments remain endearing.

When He Moves Like a Raccoon

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I get a kick out of this. Visually, it’s fun to watch. The tough little bipedal guy has moments where moving on all fours is the best way to go. His first meeting with fellow Guardians is literally leaping animal-style onto Gamora and from there until she tosses him off perching on her head and shoulders like any proper attack raccoon. Later at sleepy-time in the Kyln, he leaps with such agility from a mass of sleeping bodies in order to follow Quill. Eventually following events lead to the full-on prison madness scene which finds Rocket running on all fours and scurrying up and down various objects and buddies. The animation is fun to watch, yet these actions are so subtle one doesn’t even think about them–Rocket is just doing his thing.

When He Does Stuff With His Hands

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Now, my understanding of raccoon behavior is that they do not in fact wash food. They apparently just really like to use their hands to hunt for food. Seems fitting that Rocket’s instincts of fiddling have led him to creating intricate bombs and weapons, and I am personally grateful to the movie powers that be that let me enjoy just how cutely he does this. Watch Rocket anyone time he is working with some various machine of destruction, the way his hands so quickly and deftly move. It’s raccoon behavior and the nicest touch to add to Rocket.

When He Washes Himself

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This one surprises me and makes me wonder if raccoons do in fact wash their faces with their paws the way cats do. But they all had a raccoon they were studying to the animation and at one point I like to think Oreo the Raccoon washed his face. This moment also occurs as part of a rather humorous incident in the Vol. 2. Rocket and Quill wrecked the ship, the team just met Ego and Mantis, and everyone is sitting around having some type of hobo-style campfire dinner. And there’s Rocket, licking his paws and rubbing them over his face. No wonder Mantis thought he was a puppy. Which leads me into the next animal behavior I like about Rocket.

When He Snarls and Bites

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The aforementioned scene has Mantis petting Rocket for the briefest of moments before he, startled at the fact some weird lady he just met ran her hand over his head, turns, snarls and even snaps at her. Literally snaps his teeth at her. Now, I don’t react to startles like that. This isn’t the only time. In the first movie, the Collector’s collection includes Cosmo the Space Dog. In true enemy fashion, he and Rocket snarl at each other.

His Tail

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I know, I know, Rocket has a tail and it’s fluffy and it’s cute. A lot of people like his tail. It’s a fun part of being a forest creature. But there are a couple of moments when his tail helps express his emotions. First the notably sad example, the ending of the first film. The team has defeated Ronan, part of the city is busted up by the space ship crash, and Groot’s literally all over the place. It’s been a tough day for Rocket and we find him sitting on a pile of something crying. His tail his curled up so tense, only to relax when Drax starts petting him. Subtle, but so meaningful. The second example is that hilarious scene of the second movie involving the bomb and Groot and the bomb’s death button. Baby Groot is about as clueless as any of my offspring or 2nd graders about what to do and Rocket is growing more agitated by the second. You can tell this because he’s voice is not only getting louder and his patience is wearing thin, but also because his tail swinging and twitching all over the place.

When His Buddies Treat Him Like an Animal

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That sounds awful in words, but there it is. Though Quill references him as a raccoon on more than one occasion, everyone generally sees and treats him as an equal. To revisit the ending of the first movie, we have sad Rocket and Drax figuring he ought to comfort him in some way. So he pets Rocket. Yup. How many of your friends comfort you in such a fashion? How many have you comforted? Who thinks “I shall express sympathy to my upset friend by putting my hand on their head and stroking it” as the go-to method of comfort? I love this scene because not is it only bittersweet, but because there really seems to be a joke being played here, pulling out that “he’s a raccoon!” bit and people might as well pet him. The other side of this? He, after some initial surprise, just accepts is. Heck, maybe he even likes it.

All of this makes me wonder about the nature of Rocket. Sure, he talks big and with impressive eloquence and seems at least as clever and with-it as anyone else. But how much animal instinct is floating around in his brain and body? There’s at least a little, because those makers of these movies clearly are bringing in those neat little details.

Rocket is all the better character for it.

Why I Don’t Like to Play With My Kids

Lately Ruby has railed against her car seat. She is four, and finds the crazy constraints of her harness beyond tolerance. So, I figured it was maybe time to start looking into the next phase up. Whilst browsing for booster seats I found a great deal via online ads for a in-box one, and went to the apartment complex to make the deal. Unfortunately, the seller wanted to meet by the complex playground, which meant letting the girls out to play because, hey, we were at a playground.

So I let the girls run around the playground while I set up the booster seat and it was pretty  nice. Except for the other kids on the playground. All began well enough, with the local kids interacting with mine.

Then the local kid saw me. The boring 30-something mom. Forget the small children, there’s an adult! And two kids wound up coming by to talk to me.

Perhaps my role during the school year as a teacher has warped my reasoning. I’m a teacher. Nice enough to share an amusing anecdote with, but no purely social interaction is meant between student and teacher, kid and adult. It’s not the I’m opposed to healthy social relationships between all ages, but I do draw the line when fellow children are passed up in favor of an adult.

I like kids, love them even. Childhood is magical.

But I am not and probably never will be one of those moms or teachers who spends a significant amount of time playing with kids.

Reason No. 1: Playing with kids seems to be a new shiny badge for modern moms.

I have no memory of my parents playing elaborate games with me. Oh, there was fun stuff here and there and my childhood was happy, but I was playing with my brothers or neighborhood kids. I do not feel slighted or ruined because my mother didn’t play games with me. She was the mom, I was the kid.

But these days, every other commercial promises this product will allow you to perform lively acrobatics with your offspring. While such health giving the option of doing so is certainly desirable, should that be the only goal? A good mom gives her all to entertaining her kids?

Some time ago, Ruby kept pulling me into cycling imaginary games to the point I could hardly function. I couldn’t do anything, think anything, just be sucked into a kiddie game. I asked for advice and sympathy on a forum, and one response stuck in my mind. To paraphrase, my job as mom wasn’t to be their entertainment, but to raise them to responsible, sane adulthood. Oh, and to do my other household family duties. Like cook and clean and whatnot.

I have heard of social media debates over how clean houses versus kids. Some moms decry messy houses while others proudly announce their messy homes signify all the hours spent playing with their children. My house is hardly super-tidy, but my heart lies with the former. I don’t think I’m a bad, uncaring mom for not playing with my kids.

Reason No. 2: Kiddie games are so boring.

To resume the aforementioned story of Ruby’s irritating game, I was miserable. She is four, and her games are fairly simplistic, often variations of the theme of the day. Cute for five or ten minutes, but hardly something an adult can sustain true interest in long-term.

I have things to do, things I have to do and things I want to do. My life does not revolve around playing boring games. It revolves around caring for my children and raising them. That means homemaking, money-earning, and showing them how responsible adults act.

Reason No. 3: I shouldn’t have to be my kid’s playmate.

This reason speaks of a frustration of mine: the difficulty of making playdates. We have a kid next door, a cute little girl who attends Sunbeams at church with Ruby, but she always seems to be at one activity or another. The fact she has two teacher parents doesn’t help. Our ward being full of teacher moms and even a few dads, summertime seems to be major family activity time and who could blame us?

The Free-Range parent in me wants to send her on her way to just knock on doors and find other kids, but we do live on a busy street and once again, Ruby is four. In a year or so, sure, but not now. May Lenore Skenazy forgive me.

But I digress. Why should the difficulty of finding regular playmates fall on me by making me the playmate?

Kids are meant to play with other kids. The choice to play with my kid when I want to does not trump the importance of kids forging friendships and alliances with other kids.

Kids understand each other in a way adults don’t. They appreciate each other’s games, imagination. They fall almost seamlessly into sync with each other as they create awesome games, maybe fight, and find and solve problems.

Those fights and problem-solving don’t play out the same way with a child and an adult. Being a teacher has made me stand back even more from minor-to-moderate childhood disputes. Oh, I may moderate, I may even step in–but not every time. I firmly believe the adult tendency to jump in to “rescue” kids from childhood social disputes ruins the building of important social skills. As an adult, I can teach many fine social skills and that’s part of being a parent and a teacher, but I can’t replace the lessons of peer interaction.

When those kids came up to me to find me more interesting than my daughters, was it because modern parenting had programmed them to seek adults rather than the awesome kids around them? I don’t know, but I do worry modern ways may have contributed.

I will continue to say, Go, child, go play with other children. I’m a boring adult.

It’s not that I don’t think you’re awesome. It’s not that I don’t love my own daughters, care for my own students.

It’s that I just don’t want to play with you. It might be better for you if I don’t.

And now I excuse myself, because Ruby wants to play Puppies are Lost in the Forest and Princesses Find Them. I’ll play for a few minutes, then I’m cleaning the kitchen.

 

 

The horrendously disgusting thing I do when my baby poops in the bathtub…

Several years ago, my water-loving Ruby had something of an accident in the tub involving a waste process a blind eye is not easily turned to. I texted my mom, referring to my child as “your precious bubbergirl” and how she relieved herself in the tub.

If only Ruby’s ways had carried on.

Little Jade poops in the tub more often than not. We keep meaning to make a shower her default cleansing ritual, but it hasn’t happened yet. I notice Jade is filthy, I fill up the tub, I plop her in, the 75% chance of her pooping erased from my mind. Jade has psychic powers that way, I’m sure of it.

Ever since she had meningitis, she has been eating us out of house and home to the point that her last well-baby had her announced at 21 pounds and 19th percentile for weight/length. Yeah, she’s a big one, and perhaps it’s that love of food that is creating a little extra waste, I don’t know. Or perhaps that soothing warm bath water just relaxes her so…

Whatever the reason, it’s gross. I have built up a tolerance to the nightmare, but when I stop to think about it the disgust wells right up. Poop. Baby poop. Right there on my porcelain tub. Ruby had nothing on her little sister.

So I developed a cleaning method. I would rinse what I could down the drain (because pipes), a block-up not unheard of. I would wipe away what I could. I would then scrub the tub clean, sanitize bath toys, only to have it happen one or two nights later. Unfortunately she still shows no interest in potty-training.

Then, this spring, I partook of the grossness myself. The lawn was coming in, plants needed to be watered, and I just so hated having to scrub the remnants of my daughter’s filth away. I decided I had to find a better way of dealing with my baby pooping in the tub.

I grabbed an old plastic bucket from the garage and began bailing. Bucketful by  bucketful I carried poop water out to the lawn, to the flower beds, even, I confess, to the compost bin.

Now with summer well underway, I can’t go back. I am able to spot water needed areas of the lawn. I am able to regularly soak my compost bin. I feel that, in a way, I am conserving water. By the time this baby poop has made it outside it has been dispersed and diluted to the point there’s no nitrate attack waiting to happen but even perhaps a fertilizer effect. As is stands, I’ve only seen good things for my flowers and lawns, particularly in this conscious spot flooding and the benefit of pouring a bucket of poopy water all over a dry spot and watching it come back to life.

As for the tub? It is much easier to clean when the vast majority of the poop is removed. Not nearly as much sinking down to the bottom of the tub to cling in its ickiness. I bail, rinse a little, spray a little cleaner and all is forgotten until next time.

Jade pooping in the tub is still not a good thing in my book, but at least it gives me an opportunity to do some specific lawn care.

Banana-Nut Bread with Lavender

Bananas do not fare well in hot Utah summers.

Some months ago, I pleasantly accepted the reality that Jade enjoyed a banana each morning at breakfast. Considering that my school year breakfast is not uncommonly a Rock Star and a raspberry fritter from the 7-11, I can’t harden my heart to a cute toddler expecting a banana. Plus, they’re cheap. What’s not to love? I can buy a bunch once or twice a week and she’s a happy girl.

Then summer hit. The darn things went bad as soon as they landed in the fruit bowl, leaving me to buy fewer bananas more often.

And occasionally making banana-based substances.

I have been fiddling with this basic recipe for some time now. A couple of years ago my grandmother-in-law gave me this old southern cake recipe book. This book is beloved. Only three recipes have seen the light of day, but the book is warm and friendly and full of tips. My favorite recipe was that of “banana-nut cake”, which I gradually tweaked a little bit to my own tastes and what was getting a good response from the family.

Then today, on a lark, I added lavender in two forms: mixing in a couple of drops of lavender essential oil with my eggs and using for part of my chocolate a lavender chocolate bar.

The bread already has a magnificent crust and the molasses makes it rich. But the lavender? There’s something a little wondrous about it, a subtle richness particularly in the chocolate.

Perhaps I’m in a lavender mood. I am attempting to grow some out in my garden and whilst at the farmers’ market today I found myself at the stand of Blue Canyon Farm with their awesome lavender. Lavender… sigh. It’s just so summery!

Here we go, then… Banana-nut Bread with Lavender:

1 stick of butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp.  molasses
2 eggs, room temperature
2 medium ripe bananas, mashed
2-3 drops lavender essential oil
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 bar of lavender chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat sugar, molasses and butter together until fluffy. Obviously, you can substitute the sugar and molasses for actual brown sugar, but I like being able to control it. I can’t go back to packaged brown sugar anymore.

Add the eggs, bananas and essential oil, beat well.

Combine the flour, salt, powder, and soda together and slooowly combine with the wet stuff. Mix until it is just mixed. Apparently overbeating things is bad. I try to avoid this.

Then, add nuts and chocolate. Pour into a greased bread pan and pop into the oven. Bake it for 1 hour, 15 minutes.

 

 

My baby had bacterial meningitis

Lately it seems everyone we talk to compliments us on how healthy Jade is looking. She’s happy, healthy, and, while still rather tiny, resuming her growth and skill progression as any little baby should.

Last month, on February 1st, we found ourselves in the emergency room receiving the diagnosis of bacterial meningitis. That was a fun week, let me tell you.

One morning, sometime in the middle of January, Jade woke up rather sick. She was tired, pale, and vomiting. A pleasant situation for everyone, I assure you. Well, Layne worked from home that day as well as the next, that second day being when he ran Jade into the doctor’s office where she was diagnosed with an ear infection. Antibiotics were prescribed and we carried on.

But she wasn’t quite perking up as we hoped. About a week later, I took her into Urgent Care. Ear infection still doing its thing. We carried on. And then a few days later, at the close of the original antibiotic, we went back into our family doctor office. Ear infection was still hanging out in one ear, and another, stronger, antibiotic was prescribed.

Jade still acted sickly, but not as she was originally. Layne was working in Park City for that week, and one day I stayed home when Jade acted particularly sick. Toward the end of the week, health finally seemed to be on the return. She was happier, had a better appetite, and crawled and played more. We were getting our happy baby back.

Then, that Sunday, she ended her run of the second antibiotic. Okay. The next day, she went downhill and downhill fast. We all knew something was wrong. Our daycare provider said she was sick. My mom said she was sick. We knew she was sick. So we made another appointment and went into the doctor. We couldn’t see our regular doctor, so the appointment was made with a nice NP. I dragged in Ruby and the pale and frail Jade. The nice NP examined her, a frown appearing as she said “this isn’t right.” She went and she pulled out regular doctor from whatever he was doing. He also examined her… and told us he was seeing signs of meningitis and that we ought to get down to Primary Children’s Hospital.

Whoa, I thought. Layne was at work. I called him and told him we needed to head down to Salt Lake City and we made plans to meet at his office. I dropped Ruby off at my parents’ with hardly a by your leave, and they weren’t even home and my sister found herself in charge. And off we went to the hospital to sit in the ER waiting room.

At this point, everyone wasn’t positive it was meningitis. Our doctor said he was actually betting on dehydration, but still wanted us to get it checked out by those more powerful. Even the ER doctors were asking repeatedly for just why our doctor sent us down here with the suspicion of meningitis, because not all symptoms were there and they tested for a lot more meningitis than they ultimately diagnosed.

But test for meningitis they did with a spinal tap… and within a few hours we first had definite meningitis followed by a diagnosis of bacterial meningitis.

Our cute little happy girl had a fairly rare and fairly serious disease and was admitted into the hospital. We were there for four days while she was given antibiotics and the doctors waited for cultures to determine more specific antibiotics. She was poked and prodded and even had residents come in to feel her swollen fontanel (a meningitis symptom) so they too could recognize it.

One of my greatest fears during this time was that we had brought her in too late. She had been sick more or less for over two weeks. Had she had meningitis this entire time?

Fortunately, no. The ER doctors hadn’t been jumping right to meningitis and part of that was apparently most of the cases they saw had the patient coming in much later. Her meningitis? Probably that day or the day before, likely stemming from the prior ear infection, maybe kept at bay by the antibiotic.

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We went home four days later with a happier baby (just joyful to be out of her hospital room), a PICC line, and a plan for the home health people. We then spent the next week and a half pumping medicine into her PICC line every day. While this was happening, Jade was obviously getting better. She was still pale, still a little tired, but worlds better than she had been. And every day she became better and better, more or less returning to her old self and her old ways.

Of course Layne and I spent that first night in the hospital googling bacterial meningitis and frightening ourselves. Except… we weren’t really frightening ourselves. Once we were rested, we felt calm, that everything would be fine. The doctors couldn’t be sure, but they did say we had brought Jade in time and the prognosis was good. We just had to get her better. That just wasn’t a worry for us.

She’s fine now. She passed her hearing test the other day. She’s practicing walking, practicing talking. It’s all good and for that I am eternally grateful.

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You must understand I still don’t quite comprehend just how serious bacterial meningitis can be. It’s a big deal, a very big deal and babies and people can die from this.

What I have Learned About Bacterial Meningitis

Obviously, this is caused by bacteria, in our case from the ear infection. It’s different from the more common and less severe viral meningitis. There are several bacteria usually causing this. According to our doctors, many are vaccinated against now, leading to a rise in cases from other bacteria. This is what happened in our case, though I still give the warning, as a believer in vaccines, to vaccinated your children.

Symptoms of meningitis in babies

  • Listlessness or drowsiness
  • Deydration-like symptoms
  • Bulging fontanelle spot
  • Vomiting (This is what sent me running home the day of the ER visit)
  • Stiffness, presenting in babies as seeming to have pain or stiffness when picked up or moved
  • Headache
  • Purple rashes (Jade did not have these)

Funnily enough, I had read about meningitis earlier in the ear infection battle. She wasn’t hitting most of these until that week, and I had told myself it couldn’t possibly be meningitis.

Pay attention to these symptoms if a baby just isn’t getting better. And keep your doctor in the loop.