The Freezepocalypse in picture books

I’m typing next to an open window, and there has been a steady stream of pedestrian traffic outside.  It’s up to 28 degrees today, and it’s a comparative heat wave.  Last weekend, we were preparing for a Freezepocalypse of ridiculously low temperatures (even for Minnesota), and my family spend two and a half days stuck inside our small apartment.  Here are three picture books that, together, represent our Freezepocalypse:

imbored2  babypenguinsev soupday


I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black is for my six-year-old, for obvious reasons.  I felt more like the mama penguin who needed a little time to herself in Baby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion.  Side note to parents: Do you need a time out yourself? Read your kids this book to introduce the idea.  You’re welcome.

Fortunately, my wonderful partner decided it was a Soup Day as in Soup Day by Melissa Iwai, so we were well fed.  Soup makes everything better.

Books and soup.  That’s how we got through our Freezepocalypse.   How about you?


Our Digital Life

It’s official.  My daughter, age 5, now has a digital device of her very own.  Granted, it’s just an old hand-me-down iPod Touch with a few games on it.  But  still, there’s a part of me that feels weird about dedicating a device to her use with all the talk in parenting circles about limiting screen time.  Not to mention the fact that we’re a tech-oriented family already.  I’m not sure I’m ready to add another generation in the digital mix.

hellohello3There are about a million lists of do’s and don’t’s for families navigating screen time issues, but I’m more inclined to look to books for advice.  I think you might be surprised at what you can learn from picture books, even if you’re a not a kid.  Like Matthew Cordell’s Hello!  Hello!, for example.  In this picture book, everyone is too busy with whatever gadget to say anything but a distracted hello to the little girl who is restless and sick of her own electronic options.


Until the girl is beckoned outside by a little leaf


From there the book explodes with color and imagination as the girl and her family say hello to what they’ve been missing.  It may sound a bit over the top or message-y, but the story is wry enough to transcend what might have been preachy.  Instead of rolling my eyes at yet another guilt-inducing admonishment to put down my smartphone, I was smiling, nodding, and looking around.  Asking myself, what have I been missing while glued to my device?

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d say a book like this is more effective than a list of the ways that screen time is bad for families any day of the week.  There’s only one rule on my list of do’s and don’t’s: Read picture books.

Okay, two rules: Read picture books and take their advice.

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Kids & Pets (& picture books)

After nearly five months with us, our temporary cat has gone home.  We’ll miss the little kitty.  Of course, Ladybug took it upon herself to create a way to remember her first pet experience, taking a cue from the girl in I Had a Favorite Dress.  Ladybug’s drawing of Frances is now proudly displayed on the refrigerator.

Since, you know, I’m me, the first first thing we did when we welcomed Frances into our home was read up on cats.  I blogged about Take Care, Good Knight, but we also read Cat Secrets (for fun) and My Cat Copies Me (for imagination) in that first week when it was new and interesting. We talked all about what cats like (& dislike), how to take care of them, and how to be friends with them.

It wasn’t until I was wading through the newest picture books for a presentation at work that I discovered the book that shifted my view of how I should be talking to Ladybug about Frances. Funnily enough, it was about a dog.

A Ball for Daisy, which you might remember as the book that took the Caldecott Medal this year, is a wordless picture book about a dog and her toy.  In included it in a Books in Bloom post about picture books & character education since it addresses courtesy, but the real strength of the book–and why I imagine it took the award–is in the way that the illustrations portray Daisy’s emotions so clearly.

It was a light bulb moment for me.  Having an animal around will help my daughter learn to read the non-verbal cues that cats–not to mention people–use to communicate.  Turns out I’m not the first person to come up with this, but I still felt pretty proud of making the connection myself.  Ultimately, it reminded me to stop with the inundation of information about cats and just help the two become friends.  I’m happy to say it worked.  We are sad to see Frances leave, but we are happy that her real family is ready to have her back.

For the moment, we are a pet-less household, but I wonder how long that will last. :)


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Happy Thanksgiving!

While everybody else was eating turkey yesterday, we were eating tofu curry.  Today while everyone is either shopping or buying nothing, we will be digging into our turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie.

Regardless of the day, though, gratitude is kind of a big deal.  Christine Carter, of the Greater Good Science Center, said of gratitude in Raising Happiness:

“Appreciation is one of the most important ways that we can teach our kids to form relationships with others.  So much of our human relationships are about giving, receiving, repaying–the stuff of connection.  Expressing gratitude acknowledges just how deep those connections run.”

You can learn more about how to start a gratitude practice with your children in this podcast with Christine Carter and Rona Renner as part of the Happiness Matters Project.  For me, the take away point is that expressing gratitude is a skill–something to be learned, something that we need to model for our children.  In particular, this means not getting impatient when your child doesn’t know what to say or repeats the same rote thing every single time.  Don’t give up! (I’m saying that to myself.)

Including Kids in Exercise (Guest Post)

This is a guest post by Diane Jorgensen about her efforts to be a more fit person–and include her young daughter in the process.  Thanks for sharing your story, Diane!

I’m a plus size middle-aged mother. Every day I work on the correct balance between work, personal commitments, family relationships and of course, parenting. That often leaves little room for self care. And yet, I know by personal experience how important it is to take care of myself, especially with exercise or even simply focusing on increasing my physical activity day to day. When I add spending quality time with my daughter to needing time to exercise often the best solution is to combine the two. In addition, knowing my little one has half of my genes is added incentive for me to keep her active and instill in her an appreciation of physical activities.

I look at physical activity for Punkin and me in three categories: there are my activities, her activities, and then those things that we can enjoy together. When I am in the final stages of training for my now 2nd annual triathlon and I need to get a 15 mile bike ride in, I have to schedule it during a time when she is happily occupied with my partner or with other family or friends. Most of the year, however, there are many things we can do together, and I can include her in my workouts at least once or twice a week.

Our most enjoyable activity to do together is to bike ride. She loves it, and I enjoy her company. I don’t go as fast as I do on other rides and she can’t tolerate a very long ride, but we both enjoy the rides, the fresh air, and our time together.

When she was a toddler we bought a bike tutor bike seat on-line. It’s a little saddle that attached to my bike between my bike seat and the handle bars. She wore a belt that attached to the saddle for safety. The saddle also had some foot rests on it. The Bike Tutor came with a separate U shaped bar that attached to my bike to become her  handle bar. The many rides we took on the bike tutor will forever be cherished moments for me. She was comfortably seated directly in front of me, and the entire ride we were close, almost in a hug, with her back to my front. I was able to hear her and whisper in her ear. Her view was very similar to mine, and we could talk about the all the wondrous sights along the way.

Now, three years later, she has outgrown the bike tutor and graduated to a tag-along. This is a half bike that has a long pole in front. The pole attaches to the post of my bike seat, making “our bike” a three wheel, two rider contraption. Our rides together continue to be fun and exciting, though they are more separate experiences as it is difficult to talk to each other and she has to look around me to see ahead of us.

I also do a lot of walking. Most weekends I plan to do an easy 1.5 mile leisure walk. Several times she has accompanied me on this walk. I let her bring a doll and we bring her backpack for her to carry it when she inevitably gets tired of holding her baby. I make a point to have it a type of nature hike, discussing the various trees and other fauna that line the trail. She generally enjoys the walks, though she does need to stop once to rest her legs.

When Punkin wants to be included in my other workouts, I try to  do my best to accommodate her. I’ll take her to the Y with me so she can be in the child care program and I answer her questions about what I was doing on exactly which machine on the way out. One time at home I was doing my kettle bell work out and she wanted to do it, too. I set her up with a blanket to mimic my workout matt and we used some weightless toys as her kettle bell weights. She lifted in tandem with me, groaning appropriately and making comments throughout about how well we were both doing and how strong we are. It was a little distracting and very entertaining!

Other “exercise” we enjoy together:

  • Playing Wii Fit games as a family
  • Taking her swimming as much as possible
  • Helping her master skills on the playground
  • Going snow tubing as a family a few times a year

We also have Punkin in her own activities:

  • Dance – She has chosen to take dance classes at a local studio, but I also look at is as a way for her to fight against any ungraceful genes of mine that could try to manifest themselves as she grows into an adult body.
  • Swim – This is more so that she can learn to swim than to have her be physically active, but it definitely keeps her limbs in motion and tires her out. Personally, I believe all children need to know how to swim for their own safety. To me it is a necessary life skill.

For my part, I am committed to taking her to both dance class and swim lessons weekly and I watch her in both, praising her on her progress and on her accomplishments.

In the future I expect we’ll continue to adjust how we are physically active together. It won’t be too many more years and she can ride her bike while I walk or jog alongside her. This summer I enjoyed watching a happy little girl, a few years older than Punkin, bike on the bike path around Lake Harriet, beaming at her father who was jogging next to her on the separate pedestrian path. I hope to do that with Punkin in a few summers. And, as we progress to that state and beyond, who knows, maybe rather than her just cheering me on at the transitions and the finish line of the triathlon, we’ll cross together.

In addition to being a mom, Diane is a social worker in Minneapolis.  In the interest of full disclosure, she is my step-mother-in-law, and Punkin is my five-year-old sister-in-law.  :)  Families who want to be more active together may also be interested in my post about the 5k I ran last year (and books to get kids moving) or this post about the joy of riding bike.

Finding a World Greater Than Ourselves

“I take of my hat on the walk

down to the park

because it feels like a church

and I want to feel

connected to the sky, and I realize

it is a church–

it contains my religion:

the trees, the birds, the air so smooth

into my lungs. This is my cross,

my prayers, my communion.

I take off my hat because the trees

tell me to. They say, you

walk in a greater world than yourself;

show respect to this powerful world which you

might leave at any time.”


This excerpt of a poem by Nicole Guenther is from the anthology Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25.  The anthology is full of youthful passion, but this thoughtful meditation on religion is the poem that stood out to me the most.  I am not an “outdoorsy” person by any stretch of the imagination.  I feel like a bit of a fraud acting as though I have this strong connection to nature when the closest I get to nature are my long, meditative walks during which I get all my great ideas and inspiration.  And even that doesn’t feel right to say–I’ve hardly made the time for such walks since Ladybug was born (she’s almost four now for those keeping score).  Perhaps that’s why I haven’t had as many great ideas lately….

In any case, I hope to experience a greater connection to the trees and the sky and to share this sort of “spirituality” with my daughter.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

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