Saturday, November 28, 2009

What I Bought on Black Friday

Tickets to see Little House on the Prairie, The Musical, with a couple of my best friends.


Friday, November 27, 2009

Christmas Presents?

I'm not a Black Friday shopper. Hopefully never will be. I guess I don't really see the point. The big ticket items, you can't get unless you sit all night in the parking lot, and the small ticket items -- is it really that big of a sale? There are other times in the year when you get prices just as good, or pretty close, without the chaos.

I hate crowds. I try to get my shopping done before Thanksgiving just to limit the amount of time I have to spend in stores between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I think another thing that makes me shun Black Friday is all the STUFF. Do people really want and need all the stuff they're grabbing off the shelves? Really? That much stuff?

Now, this time of year, I see tons of bloggers talk about wanting to simplify Christmas (I'm all for that), and only get their kids a couple small gifts (great for them, but I know I could never do it) -- and I also see a lot of comments about Laura Ingalls and her tin cup and peppermint stick Christmas. I see comments such as, "I don't even remember all the stuff I got for Christmas, and people who get just an orange or just a stick of candy remember it their whole lives."

Really? You don't remember the stuff you got for Christmas as a kid? Because I do.

I think of childhood Christmases, and I see the twin dolls and the Holly Hobbie record player I got when I was 3... yes, 3, and I SEE that record player UNDER the tree, unwrapped but with wrapped presents around it, and I see that one little baby doll in its crib waiting for me under the tree Christmas morning, and I see my dad's cousins come in bearing another gift -- the same baby doll -- and my instantly loving them both and raising them as twins. And I was barely three.

Every other Christmas is as vivid, if not more so as I got older. I know what I got for Christmas. I may not remember every single gift -- but I sure remember a lot of them. And I definitely remember the "big gifts". We had several wrapped presents that made their appearance under the Christmas tree at random times throughout the month of December. Always an exciting moment to wake up and discover there are more presents under the tree!! (We never did Santa so the presents could come out whenever my mom got them wrapped instead of having to wait until Christmas Eve, and I wouldn't trade all the joy of anticipation while shaking and feeling and guessing about those wrapped gifts for a belief in Santa that would have later been dashed anyway!) On Christmas morning, our "big gift" sat unwrapped and waiting for us -- a dollhouse, a toolbench (for my brother), a table and chairs set, a special much-longed for doll, etc.

I remember those gifts, I see them clearly in our living room, sitting on that red felt Christmas tree skirt and sometimes spreading over onto the blue shag carpet. I see the tree, with its gawdy gold tinsel, icicles abounding everywhere, those enormous bulb lights with the foil underneath them that looked like cupcake wrappers, and the familiar ornaments, some we made, hanging on the branches. I see those red stockings with fabric initials sewn on them, hanging against that brown paneling on the wall over the heater. It was the 70s, after all. I even remember the stocking contents -- those big plastic candy canes filled with M&Ms, socks and panties, hairthings, pretty pencils and notepads, lip gloss, and other little things that make little girls happy.

So I have to admit, I don't understand these people who don't remember their "big Christmases" and marvel at the memory of the child who only got an orange. It leaves me pondering -- what made the difference?

The only thing I can come up with is the possibility that perhaps these children got lots of things all the time. We didn't. We got a couple of small things for our birthday, and we got a nice Christmas. We didn't get things the rest of the year. I watch Wendy beg for something every time we go to the store -- and most of the time, my dad buying whatever it is she wants -- and I remember that we never asked... never thought to ask because why on earth would we get a toy for no special reason? We asked for what we wanted, sure -- but we always asked as a gift. If we were at the toy store and found something we loved, we asked if we could have that for Christmas.

So maybe I remember all those lovely Christmas gifts because it was the only time in the year -- with the exception of birthday, which was much much smaller -- when we got all those things. Maybe the other people got toys and things year-round. I don't know.

But I do know that the best way to make, and keep, something special and magical for your child is to abstain from it most of the time. And that's something I think our culture has lost. If a child loves something, we want to give it to them again and again -- and it loses its appeal because it isn't special anymore.

So, I will spoil Wendy and John at Christmas. Because -- other than a birthday gift -- I don't give them stuff throughout the year. Other people do, unfortunately, especially the begging Wendy because John's parents are much firmer and don't allow constant gift-giving, but not me.

So what did I buy for the kids' Christmas this year?

Wendy gets a Skitter and an Active Live Outdoor Games Wii game. Got to keep that couch potato active any way I can make it happen. :) I gave John a Skitter for his birthday and she loved it and has been begging for one, so I know that will be a hit -- and hopefully she'll love the Wii game and stay active all winter because of it.

John's is a little more interesting. After much thought and much online research into the world of Thomas and his little train friends, I finally settled upon a set and an expansion kit that I thought made the most sense for him. I could have saved myself the trouble. My brother took him out window-shopping several days after I had made my purchase and while looking at the Thomas stuff, he kept pointing to one particular set and saying, "Want THAT one!" My brother pointed out set after set, but he kept returning to the one set. My brother called to see which one I'd chosen -- and wonder of wonders, the set I had purchased was the same one that John has his heart set on. Hooray! And now whenever you ask him what he wants for Christmas, his answer (except for the occasional time when he still answers Disney World!) is a firm, "THOMAS." He should have a happy Christmas. :)

He also gets some floor puzzles and Disney's Robin Hood on DVD. He loves Peter Pan so much that I thought Robin Hood might also have some appeal...

(The Black Friday sale on the Thomas stuff is buy one get one free. I got it two weeks ago for 40% off. Which I actually think is a better sale because you aren't forced to buy two sets to get the discount! See? Who needs Black Friday?)

So... I'm ready for Christmas. Are you? :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Best iPod Apps for Toddlers with Speech Delays

As a speech therapist doing early intervention with toddlers in their homes, sometimes it's helpful to have a trick or two in my back pocket for those times when attention just can't be held any other way. And so, an iPod has become my newest best friend. But while there are some really wonderful apps available for language-learning toddlers, I have scoured the web looking for recommendations and find them very poor. There are recommendations for toddlers or preschoolers, recommendations for so-called "learning activities" for this age range, but I just don't have the same idea of what constitutes a good learning activity as most people. Yes, there are preschool apps galore for "teaching" colors and shapes and letters and numbers, but most of these I don't honestly find to be all that great, and our speech-delayed little ones need more basic skills than that anyway.

So for any other speech therapists out there looking for app recommendations for their own iPod or iPhone, or for parents of little ones with speech disorders who are looking for something new to use with them, here are my recommendations. Keep in mind that I don't view these apps as something to hand the child and expect them to soak up learning from; the intent is for an adult to sit with the child and use the app as a teaching tool -- but the adult is still the one doing the talking and the teaching!!

1) Peekaboo Barn. ($1.99, lite version free)
I love this one. Absolutely love it. There are many apps with animals and their sounds, and some of those are nice too, but I love that this one makes the child think. An animal is shut up inside the barn. The child listens to the animal sound and guesses which animal it is. Touch the barn and the animal appears. It's great for so many things -- working on simple animal names and sounds, focused listening skills, answering questions ("Who is in the barn?") -- and kids LOVE it and will play again and again. At the end of the paid version, the animals go to sleep, so you can work on simple words and sounds like "Shhh" and "ninight" as well. The only fault I find with this app is that while inside the barn, the animal sounds are very quiet, making the app unusable with our kids with mild hearing loss or even just an ear infection.

2) SmackTalk! ($.99)
Have a quiet little one that you just can't seem to motivate to talk? Try this fun app. Talk into the device and a guinea pig, kitty, or puppy will say it back to you in their own fun modified way! Gets even the quietest toddler yapping away! Note: If you're using an iPod touch, you'll need a microphone.

3) Baby Sign ASL and Signing Time (both are $4.99, but both have free lite versions)
I list these together since they obviously both work on teaching kids to sign, and because I can't choose a favorite. The free versions will be enough to start your kids off, and if you find that they love one or the other and have learned all the signs offered for free, then you know where your money should go. I only wish that Signing Time would add some of their wonderful Baby Signing Time songs to this app!

4) Wheels on the Bus ($.99)
This is a wonderful interactive storybook app, with tons of verses to this popular children's song! When used with an adult, this can be a very language-rich activity with simple words that children can imitate ("poke" the bear; the horn goes "beep beep"; "pop pop pop" the bubbles; "tickle tickle" the bird; etc.) and some great concepts are included too. (Open and shut the doors; make the bus go fast and slow, etc.) The same company also makes Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald which you might also want to give a try, but I've found Wheels on the Bus to be the most usable and fun for the kids!

5) Toddler Flashcards -- itot apps ($.99)
There are tons of flashcard apps available, all of interest to kids, but this one is my favorite because the cards are categorized (another great language skill) and they say the words for the child so this is the one app you can turn your child loose with if you must!

6) Make your own!
I don't know how to make my own app, but I do know how to make the music and photo features of the iPod work for me! I have long used and loved the music from Kids Express Train but have been frustrated at the difficulty involved in bringing music into a home, setting it up properly, etc., just to find and play the one song I need to work on a particular skill with a child. Therefore I haven't used the songs nearly as often as I'd like -- but the iPod has changed that. I uploaded my CDs to my iPod and now they are all just a touch away! And even better, a few minutes on Google's image search and I had pictures to go with my favorite songs. For example, do you have a child working on final consonant deletion? Play "Put the Sound on the End" and whip out a folder with pictures of the 15 words practiced in the song. Kids will want to play it -- and practice!! -- again and again. Voila -- your own speech therapy app!

Have some suggestions for me to try out!? Please leave them in the comments section! (Just don't recommend Preschool Adventure/Arcade!! Seems to be everyone's top recommendation, but I'm not impressed. They're okay... just in my opinion, not the wonderful teaching tools everyone else seems to think they are!)

Monday, November 23, 2009

And Michelle Makes Six

As an advocate for Compassion International, I volunteer to work at the Compassion table at local events. A dangerous position for me, to lay out or pass out packets of several hundred children in need of a sponsor, because I invariably find myself wishing I could sponsor at least half of them. But I must show restraint. I have five sponsored children already. I just can't take another.

Saturday I was working an event when a startling picture caught my eye. It looked like my little niece Wendy was laid out amidst all the dark-skinned dark-haired brown-eyed boys and girls on the table. I snatched up the packet to take a closer look. Sure enough, a little girl with blonde ponytails and light eyes looked back at me.

Everyone marveled over her. The official Compassion point person, who travels from one event to another to do this very job, who has seen thousands of child packets, even said she had never ever seen a blonde haired Compassion child before. It was clear that this child was really something special.

I laid her back on the table and said a little prayer that she would find a sponsor that day.

I kept an eye on her even during our busiest times at the table. When people swarmed the table and shoved forms and checks our way and peppered us with questions, still I kept glancing at her out of the corner of my eye. Person after person picked her up. And person after person set her back down.

At lunch, I started to contemplate sponsoring her myself for the first time. I remembered my little Rebecca in Uganda -- a child whose family brings home about a dollar a day to feed their family of ten or more -- who told me that she is praying for God to triple my income. The question of being able to afford to sponsor another child seemed ridiculous in light of that thinking. These kids have nothing. I have so much. Of course I can sponsor one more.

But should I? I prayed again for little Michelle to find a sponsor. If she wasn't meant for me, the right person should take her. But if by day's end she was still on the table, I would know God intended her for me.

Guess what. She's mine.

Welcome to the family, little Michelle from Colombia. I can't wait to see what amazing things God is going to do through you.

Want to sponsor a child?

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Shorts Smell Like Poor People

One day this summer, I'd just gotten home from work and a friend wanted to do something. "Well, give me a minute to change clothes first," I replied. "My shorts smell like poor people."

I said it without thinking for it was entirely true. I can't explain the smell but there is a SMELL of poverty. And when you spend time in the midst of it, especially sitting on the floors of impoverished homes, the smell clings to your clothing. It just does.

My friend just laughed and laughed, thinking the statement the funniest thing she'd heard in a long time. But really, it isn't funny. The sentence has come back to me from time to time, and I've spent some time dwelling on the deeper meaning behind it. For there is deeper meaning. But somehow, it never seemed the time to blog about it.

Today, suddenly, it is. The Compassion bloggers are on their way to El Salvador to see what Compassion is doing in that country, and to share it with the rest of us throughout the week. And you know what? I bet their shorts are going to smell like poor people. And that's okay. Because sometimes you have to get right in the middle of it, you have to wear the smell of poverty, before the need and the compassion to meet those needs can really sink into your heart.

You too can have shorts that smell like poor people. Just dive in. Pour your heart into one of these needy little ones, and carry the smell of poverty proudly. It will change your life.