Friday, December 8, 2017

Why I Hate Mondays (no, not the obvious reason)

The worst day of my week is Monday, but not for the obvious reasons. Before I had kids, I was the strange soul who enjoyed Mondays, seeing them as a fresh start to the workweek. The reason I dread them now is because my seven-year old son hates them and makes our whole family suffer as a result.

Every Monday at 4 p.m., he has to do the one thing he [claims] he hates most: attend a piano lesson. The entire ordeal lasts a measly 30 minutes, but add to that the painful minutes leading up to it: “I HATE piano! I want to quit!” and after it: “That was the WORST LESSON EVER. Now when can I quit?!” and you've got yourself a miserable few hours.

Quitting piano lessons would be the easiest route for all of us. There are times I've daydreamed right along with my son about the joys of quitting. Ahhhh, I think, how happy we'd be, without the piano battles. How peaceful our home would be, as we sit around playing Candy Land and baking cookies. What would I do with all that glorious free time [i.e. the 5 minutes per day I spend convincing him to practice]?

And yet. My husband and I haven't given into this siren song. We just can't pull the trigger on the dreamy quitting fantasy because we ask ourselves this: Does making life easier mean it would be better? So far we think the answer is no.

We aren't forcing our child to take lessons in order to pump up our own egos, so that at family reunions and school concerts we can bashfully accept compliments on his behalf, blushing politely. Thankfully, neither of us sees his talents as reflecting our own value; some twisted need to produce a prodigy doesn't motivate us.

We have four much more practical reasons we suffer right along with him:

  1. He'll thank us later. He will, right? Doesn't every single one of us who quit an instrument regret it? If we can endure the whining during the early years, my son won't have to add quitting his instrument to his list of regrets when he hits middle age. He is getting a gift here, though he may not appreciate it for many agonizing years to come.
  2. There's a life lesson at play we want our kids to learn-- you can't just quit everything that is either A. hard, or B. sucky. As adults, we know there are certain parts of life we simply must push on with, despite how much joy they suck from our lives. Bills must be paid, toilets must be cleaned, assignments must be completed, reunions must be attended.
  3. Piano doesn't necessarily come easily to my son, and as a result, he 'hates' it. We think there's inherent value in not throwing in the towel because something is challenging. Have you ever done anything great--- something you're really proud of-- that was easy? Me neither.
  4. Last, learning music helps in other aspects of life. For a growing child, simply the act of listening to music activates and nourishes the brain, but learning to play music coaxes the brain into boot camp. My husband and I remind ourselves often that by encouraging our son's brain to workout and stimulate all those electrifying neurons, he can grow to see his full potential and stretch to reach any goals he may dream up.

While all these compelling reasons feel rather flimsy on Monday afternoons at 3:30 p.m. when I pick up my son from school and I feel the scowl on his face even before I see it, onward we go! Anyway, didn't Nietzsche say “to live is to suffer?” If so, we're definitely living.

What do you think? Seize the day and quit, quit, quit, or keep on keeping on?

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A little light reading...

Hello one and all!

I've been a bit absent from my 'cute little blog' as I dive back into teaching (I've started working one-on-one with children with learning disabilities again) and contribute my work to various publications, so I thought I'd share the links to some of my recent favorites with you here.

Here's one that is guaranteed to get some people riding their high horses. BUT I'm trying not to care about any mean comments because I LOVED writing this one for

What is the Bechdel Test and Which of Your Kids Favorite Movies Pass it?

In a less controversial move, here's one I wrote about the benefits of teaching kids how to play chess. It inspired us to dust off the old chess board at our house. Maybe it'll do the same for you!

Why Teaching Kids to Play Chess is Worth the Time and Effort

Last, I've had fun trying my hand at food writing for Splendry. Here's the link to my favorite granola recipe of all time!

Maple Granola Article

I hope all of my wonderful readers are enjoying the start of another holiday season. We got our Christmas tree last week and I must say, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Monday, November 6, 2017

Awesome Early Chapter Book Series

With the onslaught of video games, after school activities, homework, and handheld devices constantly beckoning our kids, it's not hard to imagine why reading for fun often takes a backseat. My son, now 7, picked up reading at an early age, and I was thrilled to share my passion for the written word with him. However, his interest in reading waned as his world expanded to school, sports, friends, and of course, screens.

I eagerly brought home handfuls of books from the library, hoping to introduce him to the perfect series-- the one that would not only grab his attention, but keep it and encourage a lifelong love of reading. 

Oh how the mighty have fallen!

For over ten years, I've taught a wide variety of students, including those with significant dyslexia and ADHD, how to read and how to comprehend, and yet I couldn't inspire my own child!

Thankfully, after lots of trial and countless errors, we found four age-appropriate chapter book series that he really, truly enjoys, and that as a reading teacher, I think are fantastic for elementary students who know how to read but don't necessarily like doing so.

  1. The Data Set by Ada Hopper.
One requirement I have for an engrossing early chapter book is that it includes plenty of pictures. Because while our kids will insist they “aren't babies anymore,” I find over and over again that pictures engage kids and help them comprehend what they read, which is the goal of reading once you know how to read.

The Data Set series is about a group of whiz kids-- boys and girls-- who are interested in science and experiments. The vocabulary is what I would deem 'just right;' Hopper carefully introduces and reviews new words, but most of the words are familiar. The characters are diverse, and one even introduces basic Spanish to readers through conversations with his mother. The characters engage in easy-to-follow dialogue, and the storyline is entertaining, fresh, and quick-moving. This is truly a perfect series.

  1. Dragon Masters by Tracy West.

Dragons are all the rage these days (if you hadn't noticed), and I happened on this enchanting series while randomly skimming the library shelves. It's another one about a group of boys and girls who go on adventures, but this series takes place in a fantasy world with kings, queens, and pet dragons. There's a wizard (of course) who guides the new “dragon masters,” and it contains charming illustrations on almost every page. The plot is easy to understand, the story moves quickly, and the vocabulary is just right. Perfection!

  1. The Magic School Bus (by a variety of authors).
The Magic School Bus franchise has been around forever, but I'm specifically talking about the early chapter books. In the chapter book series, a classroom of elementary school students goes on adventures all over the world with their wacky teacher, “The Frizz,” and learn about anything from volcanoes to dinosaurs to the human body. The pictures are comprehensive and keep readers engaged and understanding the plot. New concepts are cleverly defined and reviewed throughout the book. This is a great series for curious readers who love learning as much as possible about whatever their current fixation may be.

       4. According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney.

My son mentioned his teacher was reading a Humphrey book to his second grade class. I hadn't heard of it, but since he said he liked it, I made a beeline to the library and checked out a few. The Humphrey series is about a cute class hamster named Humphrey who makes smart observations in the classroom and takes turns visiting different students' houses. The reader hears the story from hamster's perspective-- Humphrey is the narrator-- which is amusing to young readers. Again, there are plenty of pictures to break up the text and aid in comprehension.

Literacy experts stress the importance of reading comprehension as kids grow because generally in third grade, the focus at school transitions from learning to read to reading to learn. What the experts don't always address is how to help children enjoy reading to reduce battles at home and to avoid making reading feel like a chore. These four series hit the mark in our house, and I hope they help others in the same situation.  

What early book series do you love (besides Harry Potter)? What ones have been a hit with your students and/or kids? 

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Monday, October 16, 2017

Letting Go of Holiday Card Angst

It's fall, arguably the most gorgeous season of all, which can only mean one thing... golden leaves? plump pumpkins? Nope. MAKING HOLIDAY CARDS & the frantic attempts for the perfect photo.

[insert blood pressure spike here]

Let's take a deep breath together now... Innnnn....Outtttt...


Isn't it defeating to point of it all-- spreading good cheer-- to make the annual holiday card some kind of competition/stress case/source of insomnia? I've noticed over the last few years that the majority of cards we receive are professionally created and beautifully crafted. Nothing wrong with that. IF you enjoy it. After all, I love a great family photo, and I think the expense of getting them professionally done now and then is worth every penny.

BUT an annual formal family shoot with the intention of sharing it with everyone on our address list totally stresses me out. Planning the perfect time, place, outfits, and most challenging of all-- getting the kids to behave-- is the stuff of tension headaches and heavy drinking.


This year I've let my expectations go. We will still make a card, of course, but I have let go of the idea of the 'perfect' one.

Last Sunday, in fact, my husband asked, "should we take a photo now?" I looked at our clothes-- we happened to still be in church clothes-- not perfect, but not bad. The sun was out. The leaves were pretty. The kids were...well fed and relatively content.

"Why not?" I shrugged. While smiling and kneeling on the wet grass with wiggly children wasn't the most fun 10 minutes of my life, it wasn't so bad. I liked the spur of the moment feel because there was zero pressure and buildup.

Are the tripod results yielding my favorite photos of all time? Not so much. But all four of us are looking at the camera with some semblance of a smile on our faces with our eyes open. This year, it'll do.

~Julia @ Frantic Mama

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Favorite Fall Shows

I'll admit it: I love a good show I can really sink my teeth into. In general I prefer comedies, but I'm not averse to the occasional drama or reality show.

Here are a few shows I'll carve out time for when I can this fall (usually OnDemand!).

1. This is Us
A rare drama in the Frantic Mama household. If you are one of the few people who has not yet watched this gem (which started last year), you are missing out. Such good acting. Such a cool concept (jumps around various time periods). Just. So. Good.

2. Young Sheldon
Why did they only show us 1 episode and then announce it won't really start until November? I don't know, but that one episode has piqued my interest. If you like the Big Bang Theory (and I do), then you'll probably like this one: it's all about young Sheldon (aptly named). It's not all snark and sarcasm; there's a real sweetness to it. Plus, the boy (in a good way) reminds me of my son, and any camaraderie I can get with that situation is embraced.

3. The Middle
What an underrated show! It's been around forever, so you'd be remiss to start anywhere but the beginning. I'm thrilled it's on for another season. The characters are SO REAL. This is one show (besides sports) FranticMamaHubby likes too.

4. Before the 90 Days
My guilty-not-so-guilty pleasure. Delicious in all its reality show glory. This is about couples spending time together before their 90 day visa begins (based on the main TLC show, 90 Day Fiance, about couples who meet abroad (or online) and then have 90 days to marry if one of them moves to the U.S. due to citizenship laws). These shows document-- quite realistically in my opinion-- what happens during such a unique, emotionally intense situation. I Can't Look Away. Don't make me.

5. I'm open.
No, that's not the name of a show. I really am open to suggestions. Someone mentioned there's another season of Curb Your Enthusiasm coming our way? Is this true? If so, sign me up! What about Portlandia? I think I'm all caught up unless there's a season 8 or 9? I don't want to miss out on any Women and Women First action. Anyway, I want to hear what you love to watch, so tell me!

~Julia @ Frantic Mama