Pen Parentis Fellowship Now Open

This is a photo of me in New York City with antlers, not horns. That’s significant, if you’ve had a chance to read my story “Cernunnos and Me.” The story is about being a hunter, about going after what you want. The day I took this photo was the day I attended my first Pen Parentis salon and received my fellowship award.

antlers

Antlers, not horns.

 

Writers are hunters. We chase after our prey – the elusive story – consume it, and crave more.

Sharpen your weapons, writers, because the Pen Parentis Fellowship is now open to submissions. From now until mid-April, Pen Parentis wants your new, never published stories. One skilled writer will be selected as the 2017-2018 Fellow and have their story published in Brain, Child and receive a $1,000 stipend to continue their craft.

pen parentis fellowship

I still remember the day I received the call from M. at Pen Parentis. I was smack in the middle of parenting. It was summer and I was picking the boys up from art camp and they were telling me three different stories at once and I had my hands full of art projects and was trying to thank the teacher and my phone rang with an out of state number. I don’t often pick those up, but this time I did.

As I answered the phone I said, “Boys, can you just give me one moment to take this call?”

M. laughed and laughed and told me she knew she had the right person and told me I had won the fellowship. I was in shock. I sat down. My kids stared at me and then broke out in cheers when I explained what was going on. It was one of the most special moments of my life as a writer and as a mom, and honestly, I’m glad they were there with me.

Pen Parentis Salons

The Pen Parentis award night was in September, my birthday month, and I was so lucky that my mother-in-law could stay with the boys while my husband and I spent three fun days exploring the city and attending a literary salon in Manhattan. I’m not really a shy person, but I felt surprisingly nervous about reading my story aloud. It’s quite different to share my stories at critique group, or have people read them quite a distance away from me. But reading aloud at a salon meant the reactions were immediate and quite visible.

I met other wonderful writers who offered support and some very kind compliments on my story. My favorite, most thrilling part, was when the audience laughed at just the right moments.

My children do inspire my writing, but it also seems like sometimes they conspire against it. It’s a balancing act, but groups like Pen Parentis know that and want to support us. I look forward so much to returning to New York this fall and meeting the next fellow. When I won, I was passed an invisible crown. I am thinking I might pass on something more personal, something inspired by my story.

I wish you a bountiful hunt.

Let’s Close the Word Gap

Ready to learn about the Word Gap?

I love to sneak learning into all parts of life. I’m a curious person, I can’t help it! My son asked if we could go on one vacation without learning things, and I answered with a maniacal laugh and a deep, sonorous NO. In this family, we love to learn!! And we talk about what we learn!!

Seriously, learning does not have to be boring. Learning can be fun if you do it the right way. And the right way is to make it into a game.

On car trips, when our kids were very little, we played rhyming games. They are all now school age so we will often play ‘Spelling Bee’ and give our kids funny words to spell at their grade level. We also keep a small but mighty trivia book tucked in a seat pocket and take turns passing it around and answering questions.

But let’s say you’re not on vacation and want some fun learning games for young kids. My first recommendation is BINGO. Yes, the classic game of Bingo is perfect to start playing with young kids (and older kids).

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Learning Numbers

When my oldest started kindergarten, I couldn’t wait to volunteer and help out. So as we neared Halloween, his wonderfully patient and experienced teacher invited me in to play a game with the class. I brought in our Bingo game set, complete with rolling ball and playing cards and red plastic markers. I started calling out letters and numbers and my son (and maybe a few other students) marked their cards. But most of the kids didn’t know what I meant when I called out double-digit numbers.

I felt embarrassed, but I also knew these kids could learn these numbers and that a game like Bingo was the perfect way to help them. We had been playing Bingo with our kids for a long time. If I hadn’t been so flustered, I could have written the numbers on the board and helping the kids look at their cards and match them up. I also could have done peer teaching and paired kids up.

Learning Words

It’s really important that kids learn their numbers, but it’s also important that they master our language and learn the parts of speech. Having a strong and varied vocabulary increases our ability to explain ourselves and understand others, to express complex thoughts and build connections between concepts and create new ideas. And that’s where Mad Libs comes in.

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Yes, Mad Libs. That old school paper book (not an e-device) that asks players to write in verbs, adjectives and nouns. The one where you couldn’t resist writing “butt” and “poop” at least a few times. It works.

My friend took a Mad Libs story into her son’s fourth grade class as a part of a holiday party and she was surprised how few kids could provide suggestions for the parts of speech. Standards in third grade already covered adjectives, adverbs and proper nouns! By fourth grade, students should be able to provide appropriate suggestions for those parts of speech. But even if they struggle, Mad Libs is a fun, non-academic way to encourage them to think about what kind of word is both grammatically logical but also hilariously out of place.

The Word Gap

Thinking about Mad Libs brings me back to the Word Gap. Simply put, kids from low income families are hearing and learning fewer words than kids from high income families. By age 3, kids from low income families are hearing 30 million fewer words. 30 million. And the discrepancy only increases as the kids age. It impacts these kids in terms of school success, which in turn impacts their chances of continuing education, job readiness, and the cycle of poverty.

A lack of words? It’s totally unfair.

It seems so bitterly unjust to me, someone who loves to talk and learn, that these children are already behind due to a lack of words. I try never to talk ‘down’ to children (or adults). But lots of people aren’t aware of this and say they aren’t sure what to say to kids. And sometimes when I take my children’s writing to more general critique groups, I get comments that my vocabulary is too high and I need to ‘dumb it down’ or ‘make it more kid friendly.’

But now you and I know being kid friendly means offering them more words, not less.

There are some amazing ideas out there. People are working to increase the number of words kids see, hear, read, learn and say. I’d love to contribute in some way to reduce the Word Gap. I’m going to keep thinking about it and I’m going to ask my kids what they think would work.

How would you reduce the Word Gap?

 

Pen Parentis Fellowship 2016-2017

Keeping it Real - fun

Keeping it Real – fun

I wanted to be a writer before I was a mom, and after I had kids I still wanted to be a writer. I think writing influences me as a mom, and being a mom influences me as a writer. That’s why I’m so proud to have been chosen the Pen Parentis Fellow for 2016-2017.

I still laugh when I read this part:

…she’s able to create surreal, clean, sharp, hilarious, strange, moving, wonderful fiction, despite the demands of her three kids!

I’ll take hilarious and strange. And yes, sometimes it’s hard to believe I get stuff done with kids around.

I’m still in awe about this whole thing. I’ve entered their fellowship contest before and not won. I’ve entered lots of writing contests actually, and I am no stranger to rejection. But I’m also learning what it feels like to be accepted! It doesn’t seem that long ago that Highlights for Children bought my submissions for the first time. That was in the fall of 2015. And I still remember the thrill when I learned FamilyFun wanted to buy my essay on helping grumpy kids, all the way back in 2012.

But this award is something else entirely. It’s only awarded to writing parents, and that’s why it feels so special. If you read my bio, you’ll see I’m a writing mom on the run. That first sentence describes some of the major parts of my identity and how they influence me.

And the story I submitted is a little different from these other pieces, too. When I submit to magazines, I try very hard to imagine what the readers want and what the editors want. But this story was something I wanted to write purely for the joy of writing. While I am proud of every piece of writing that’s been published, this one wasn’t sent in for commercial purposes. It was a bit of pure fiction I wrote for the sole reason that I wanted to write it.

Big parts of this award still haven’t sunk in with me. For instance, my story will appear in Brain,Child magazine, a publication I love and have been submitting to for years. Another achievement that feels pretty amazing.

Also, I get to go to NYC and read my story out loud, in a literary salon, with other writers. And it’s the day before my birthday. It feels like a dream.

My kids are of course, thrilled. They know how hard it is to get a rejection. And they know how amazing it feels to get an acceptance or win an award. And they take some credit and remind me I couldn’t do this without them.

And when they are done hugging me in comfort or in celebration, they know just how to keep it real and remind me I promised to find their missing Pokemon cards. Or that I have to make their brother share the blue lightsaber, or that I forgot again they won’t eat cooked spinach at dinner. Or that they can’t remember if the clothes on their floor or clean or dirty so that’s why everything went back into the laundry, or that it actually isn’t time for bed yet because it’s still light outside.

It’s ok, though, because I’d rather do this with them.

 

My Little Muses

My Little Muses

New Secret Tip for Picky Eaters

I’ve collected lots of tips for helping parents work with their picky eaters and get more fruits and vegetables into their diet. But new research shows that one of kids’ favorite things – recess – could be a huge help!

Schools in a Utah school district switched their schedules so that recess happened before lunch and guess what happened? Kids are more fruits and veggies. Lots more!

In the schools that switched recess to before lunch, children ate 54 percent more fruits and vegetables than they did before the switch, the researchers found. Moreover, there was a 45 percent increase in the number of kids who ate at least one serving of fruits and vegetables a day. But in schools that kept recess after lunch, children actually ate fewer fruits and vegetables as the year went on.

54 percent! That’s a lot of broccoli! Active kids are hungry and hungry kids are less likely to be picky eaters. And it’s exciting that there was an increase in children actually eating fruits and vegetables. This shows it wasn’t just kids who already ate these foods, it was new children eating these foods. I’m all for increasing physical activity in schools. I’ve learned a lot from Action for Healthy Kids about the value of recess when it comes to academic learning and positive behavior. But now we can add eating healthier foods as another benefit of recess! I encourage every one, kids and adults to be more active. Being active is invaluable to me as a writer. It’s a win-win decision.

But the great news doesn’t stop there. The study also showed a decrease in wasted healthy food, too. I can’t stop smiling at this good news! Why aren’t we hearing more about this? What do we need to do to convince schools to switch their lunch and recess schedules? I am betting that the decrease in food waste could be the stronger argument if it can be connected with saving money.

This article also argues that parents and children who sit and eat together also eat better. How often does your family sit and eat? We try to sit and eat dinner together every night if we can, but we also find time for breakfasts and lunches together over the weekend. It’s one of the happiest times of our day, now that we’ve developed new ways of working with our picky eaters. No more food fights!

secret tip for picky eaters

Give those new foods a try!

You have to read the entire article and let me know what you think. The full study is out in the Journal of Preventative Medicine. Why aren’t we hearing more about this good news? Do people just not care about kids eating healthy? Would your school flip lunch and recess? Why or why not?

Take a look at more tips for picky eaters in these posts and if you want to help your picky eater have some fun trying new foods, grab a copy of My Food Notebook.

New Food at Pittsburgh’s Farm to Table

Open wide! New food

Open wide!

It’s almost time for the ninth annual Farm to Table Conference here in Pittsburgh! This is one of my favorite events in the city because I get to meet new people and try new food! I’m really thrilled to participate this year for several reasons. As usual, I’ll be hosting a table and selling copies of My Food Notebook, but I’m also going to unveil a new game for kids called “TASTE or TEST.” When kids visit my table they can choose to TASTE a Mystery Food or take a TEST and answer a really tough (wink, wink) question about Pennsylvania farms and agriculture. If kids are really brave, they can tackle both challenges! When a child does a TASTE or TEST, they will earn an entry into a raffle drawing for a basket of fun, healthy prizes.

I’m also going to bring this fun TASTE or TEST game into the first grades at my local elementary schools to coincide with the Farm to Table unit in the curriculum. As I work on different projects and books for children, I find that taking a look at the standards really helps. I use the PA Standards Aligned System site to see what teachers need to cover in the classroom. Then I try to make sure that the information in my games, activities and books matches the needs of the teacher.

Just because information is required doesn’t mean it can’t be fun! I know kids love learning about healthy foods because I worked with the folks from Farm to Table to create the Super Fun! Local Food Challenge assembly and have performed it in front of screaming crowds of school agers.

I think the TASTE or TEST game is going to be a hit for parents and kids, because trying a new food is a tough challenge for many people.

Trying New Foods

When’s the last time you ate a new food? And I don’t mean trying a new flavor of Triskets. I mean a new fruit or vegetable, maybe a new kind of cheese, or even a new kind of grain.

We get into habits (or ruts) where we eat the same things every day. I know personally it’s easier for me to cook familiar foods. I know how to cook them and (usually) don’t ruin or burn them. But it’s important for parents to model trying a new food if they want their kids to try a new food.

Here’s a challenge. Try to eat one new food every day. Could you do that two days in a row? Could you do it for a week? I’m thinking the next time I go to the grocery store, I could grab five new kinds of fruits and vegetables and give them a try once a day. Sounds intimidating but also a little exciting!

Parents want their kids to try new foods. I asked friends on Facebook what new foods they wished their kids would try and got a great variety of responses. Here are some of the foods:

  • Kiwi
  • Spinach
  • Peppers (red, yellow, orange, green)
  • Tomatoes (twice)
  • Rambutan (I don’t even know what this is!)
  • Mushrooms (twice)
  • Eggplants (twice)
  • Mangoes (I’m allergic)
  • Lima beans
  • Roasted brussel sprouts
  • Oranges
  • Bananas
  • Grapes

That’s a pretty good list of new foods to try! Some of those are delicious. But what the heck is a rambutan? Sounds like a new food I need to try.

Be honest now: Which of those foods have you eaten yourself? Which have your kids eaten? If you’re going to tackle this list of new foods with your family, let me know which ones they taste!

Do you think the TASTE or TEST game would be a hit at your child’s school?

 

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New articles published

I am excited to announce a few new articles are now published and ready to be read!

In August, my article “Make Your Open House a Hit” went live on PTOToday.com.

In September, my article “Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School” went live on SchoolFamily.com.

And in October, my article “What to Do With Poo” came out in the November 2014 issue of Odyssey Magazine.

Odyssey magazine

Attention grabber!

The Mom Con in Pittsburgh

the mom con Pittsburgh

Nov. 15 – Don’t miss this!

There’s buzz, no doubt about it, surrounding The Mom Con happening in Pittsburgh on Nov. 15, 2014! It’s going to be a great event this year and although I’m not able to attend as a vendor for family reasons, I have to say I’m excited to still be involved and learning from the organizers.

The theme for this year’s event is “Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering” and frankly I’ve felt all of those things even before going to the event! I’ve been learning about the businesses and vendors that will be there and I’ve been inspired by the founding moms. I’ve connected with other moms at pre-Mom Con events. And I’ve felt empowered to reach out and try some new events outside of my comfort zone.

Check out this list of speakers  and the schedule. There are still tickets available and if you haven’t gotten yours, I suggest you get them soon!

 

 

Tomboys or Sissies: Which do you want?

boys sculpture tomboys

My boys view Miro’s sculpture “The Caress of a Bird” described as a “totem of female sexuality.”

“I’m pretty sure my daughter will be a tomboy,” my friend, father of a nine-month old girl, proudly announced. I automatically smiled, because I think my friends would describe me as more tomboy than girly-girl. My sons are often surprised when I wear a dress. Because girly-girls wear dresses, right?

But then I started thinking about my three boys – and how the male equivalent of the word “tomboy” is not nearly as kind. If I said to another parent, “I’m pretty sure one of my boys will be a sissy!” I doubt they’d smile and congratulate me.

Books for Tomboys? Or Sporty Kids?

Recently I received an email from Kara Thom, the author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom announcing her new book series Go! Go! Sports Girls! The series really interested and excited me, but it also made me wonder what comparable series would be written for boys.

To be fair, Thom does state the series is for children – not just girls. And my boys willingly read books about boys and girls, so they’d probably love the books about soccer, swimming and running, three sports they really love. Here’s what Go! Go! Sports Girls! is about, according to Thom:

The 32-page illustrated books explore social-emotional growth through sport in engaging stories that empower children to “Dream Big and Go For It!” The titles are:

Soccer Girl Cassie’s Story: Teamwork is the Goal
Swimmer Girl Suzi’s Story: Winning Strokes
Runner Girl Ella’s Story: Family Fun Run
Gymnastics Girl Maya’s Story: Becoming Brave
Dancer Girl M.C.’s Story: One Step at a Time
Cheerleader Girl Roxy’s Story: Leading the Way

This project has been a passion for me as I raise three young athletic daughters, but also because I’m part of a movement to give girls better choices. Girls need more than the stereotypical options packaged in pink, as well as options other than over-sexualized toys such as Bratz, Monster High, and their ilk.

Go! Go! Sports Girls are age-appropriate, proportioned to a real girl’s body, project a positive image, and deliver a healthy message. The Go! Go! Sports Girls better reflect our family’s lifestyle and values. Girls play sports and so should their dolls. My daughters McKenna, Kendall, and Jocelyn have grown up playing with Go! Go! Sports Girls, and still do. I might add that my son, Blake, who has no concept that his mom is the author, is a fan of the books as well.

To be clear, I completely agree with Thom’s goal of motivating and inspiring young girls in a different way than lots of popular media representations of girls. But what about my boys? How can I encourage them to follow their interests and passions if those interests aren’t typical “boy” activities? And how come we don’t have a cool word for boys who act like girls? It’s so unfair that girls can be cool tomboys but boys acting like girls is labeled an insult.

I’ve been trying to come up with examples of behaviors that are frequently seen as feminine that I’d want my boys to feel free to adopt in a world without gender stereotypes. Maybe being more empathetic? I wasn’t sure that what I thought was feminine was feminine, by social standards. I found this on Planned Parenthood:

WORDS COMMONLY USED TO DESCRIBE FEMININITY
dependent
emotional
passive
sensitive
quiet
graceful
innocent
weak
flirtatious
nurturing
self-critical
soft
sexually submissive
accepting

I wasn’t really thrilled when I read some of the items on the list. Because I’m certainly not graceful or quiet. But I would totally love it if my boys learned to be quiet sometimes! Maybe that would be one of the books in my series about boys exploring new behaviors: Little Tommy Learns Not to Scream Every Word! I could get behind a book for boys focusing on that. But I’m not really thrilled about a lot of those qualities on the list. And I think that’s why lots of parents are proud of having ‘tomboys.’ But they wouldn’t love it if their boys were described as weak or passive.

To be fair, Planned Parenthood didn’t make that list to say how women should behave. They follow the lists with this:

“Clearly, society’s categories for what is masculine and feminine are unrealistic. They may not capture how we truly feel, how we behave, or how we define ourselves. All men have some so-called feminine traits, and all women have some so-called masculine traits. And we may show different traits at different times. Our cultures teach women and men to be the opposite of each other in many ways. The truth is that we are more alike than different.”

What could we write?

But I’m really serious in my question here! I’m all for tomboys and girly-girls doing what they love most. And I love that these books for girls are about social-emotional growth through sports (traditionally and still a heavily male arena) because sports and physical strength are a key part of my happiness.

What series of books could we write about boys embracing traditionally female activities for social emotional growth?

Why Farm to Table is Great for Kids and Families

 

Farm to table Pittsburgh

March 21-22, 2014

This weekend is the 8th annual Farm to Table Conference in Pittsburgh! I am really excited to be involved in this year’s event again. The theme for this year is Food Sources and the conference again offers lots of excellent activities for children. The conference has always been family friendly, but a new feature of this year’s conference is the special Kids’ Track of programs! Both Friday and Saturday there will be programs and speakers just for kids and families. The Kids’ Track is a great way to introduce kids to the joys of eating healthy, local food. And if you’re not already convinced to bring your kids downtown, remember that kids under 12 are free!

We are so lucky to have this event in Pittsburgh. I recently spoke at the Parenting Expo here in Pittsburgh and discussed how helping children experience food with all of their senses increases their comfort level with foods and can help them learn to try new foods. Growing foods, shopping at farmer’s markets, attending events like Farm to Table and seeing gorgeous photos of fresh foods being grown, even meeting our local farmers, are all positive ways to help children develop a willingness to try new foods.

I’m so excited to be a part of the Kids’ Track on both days. On Friday, I’ll be hosting a special Tasting Party for kids, and on Saturday I’ll be hosting the Super Fun Local Food Challenge School Assembly! Both of these programs are available as school classroom workshops or assemblies and work with the Social Studies standards for Pennsylvania schools.

Of course in addition to these programs there’s the Local Food Tasting on Friday night and the Saturday Networking Breakfast. Both events are hugely popular. By the time I got to the Saturday breakfast last year all of the food was gone – it was so good no one left a crumb!

I’ll have an exhibitor table again and I’ll offer an encore to last year’s very popular Pizza on a Stick Tasting Party. My boys love coming to Farm to Table and roaming the tables, trying everything from local honey to local cheese, pickled vegetables, fresh milk, apples and more. This year I have decided to get one of those mushroom logs. I love mushrooms and Pennsylvania is the nation’s leading producer of these tasty fungi!

Looking forward to seeing you at the 2014 Farm to Table Conference. Bring the kids, stop by and say hello!

 

Recipe for Success: Working Mom Tips

As a contributor to 30SecondMom, I have connected with interesting, motivated and funny moms across the country. These moms also offer some really excellent working mom tips, and as a working mom myself, I often find my balance shifts day to day, hour to hour.

That’s why I’m proud to share this interview with fellow 30Second Mom and author Marci Fair as she launches her book TILT – 7 Solutions To Be A Guilt-Free Working Mom as a part of my Recipe for Success feature. Marci is a wife, mom of four & friend who has worked in real estate for over twenty years. She founded kares4kids.com, which has served over 15,000 children since 2005.

working mom balance

TILT by Marci Fair

What is TILT?

TILT-7 Solutions To Be A Guilt-Free Working Mom is a practical parenting guide brimming with real life suggestions, tips, and advice for working mothers. It encourages them, as they help their children reach for their goals and dreams, to continue to reach for their own. It is filled with over 70 quotes from the author’s children, over 100 practical guilt-free tips and the wisdom of over 80 other amazing working mothers.

Was writing TILT self-motivated? 

As a working mom of four, I had to find my own meaning and peace within the chaos I had created. And balance was not an option. So, I TILTed instead.

I wrote TILT to cut through the commotion of my day-to-day life and find solutions that worked for our family. As I learned how to incorporate these ideas into our life, I found the answers I wanted to enjoy my mom-journey.

With so many of my mom friends also struggling with mom guilt, I wanted to share my best ideas with them on how to overcome that painful problem.

What are your favorite parts of TILT? 

I have many parts that I really like about TILT – the funny Mom Quizzes, the silly children’s quotes (70+!), and the Guilt-free Tips at the end of each chapter. I also really appreciate the 86 ideas from other moms included in TILT.

As I have matured, I have also realized how much I still need to learn. So I asked other women to share their own hard-earned mom wisdom in TILT as well, to make it an even richer book for the reader.

What was your favorite part of the process?

I have been working on this “heart-project” to write TILT for many years now. It was very challenging for me to put all the parts and pieces together. I had it edited over, and over, and over again to make it the best that I could.

As it’s “construction” was challenging, I would say the most rewarding part for me has been after its publication, to hear and see how amazingly well-received it has been. I am so thankful that it has only “5” Star reviews on Amazon so far (40) and delighted when a mom tells me how much it has helped her in her life. The strength of the feedback and the conversations with the moms are my favorite parts!

Get your copy of TILT!