Sunday, June 17, 2012

Daddy = Magic

My Dad is magic. Always has been. Always will be. I am 35 years old and in my mind, he can still make anything happen. Yes, it may be naive or childish, but for me it's true. 

Ever since I was a small child he has been everything I think a Daddy should be...hardworking, fun, protective, playful, creative, and present when it matters. Add those things together and it makes MAGIC.

On the day I was born, my mother says he yelled at the nurses who were cleaning me up in the operating room for "rubbing me too hard. That protective nature never quite went away. As a toddler I had a terrible fear of people singing happy birthday to me. It brought me to tears for years. In today's age of helicopter parenting, we'd just avoid singing happy birthday at my party. But in the late 1970's and early 1980's this would not be acceptable in my big, enthusiastic family. So they sang. I cried. And magic Daddy took his position of hugging me through it.  We have several pictures, each one with me a tiny bit bigger, but each in this same location and position.

When I was old enough to question if Santa really came to our house and came down our chimney. He made sure he had proof for me. Christmas morning was magical with gifts but even more magical with child-shocking proof of the big man himself sitting in OUR chair, eating OUR cookies, in front of OUR chimney. Magical. (I'm still not sure how this occurred...I mean, no one can really see Santa, right!?)

One Halloween, which I specifically remember was a school night. My busy, hardworking teacher of a Mom, rushed home from the high school, picked up candy to pass out, prepped snacks for friends we were expecting, and handed me my K-mart purchased costume to put on. Black cat headband ears, tail that was to be pinned to my dancing leotard, slippers, and some face paint. Great, right? Wrong. In my whimsical, creative mind (OK, and a little high maintenance attitude) I had dreamed up some specific homemade creation, but there just wasn't time.  You would have thought the world had ended (DRAMA). I remember being in my parent's room, crying in part from disappointment from the situation, with equal disappointment from myself and my behavior, and part panic that I knew it would be time to leave for trick or treating any minute (How would I go a whole year without my Reese Cups?).  In comes Dad, with his "Dad work look" (stained and ripped jeans, boots, and flannel shirt).  After figuring out what was wrong and assessing the situation, he did not yell or tell me to get myself together and be grateful for what my mother already gave me (side note: as a parent now myself, this is exactly what I would have done in this situation).  He simply said, "You'll be a ho-bo clown." What? He pulled out his clothes and began stuffing them full of t-shirts, painted my face, and promptly got me outside and paraded us around the neighborhood.  I remember laughing and finishing the tears at the same time. MAGIC.

They say you often choose a man like your father (for better or worse, right?). And there are clear differences in my husband is wonderful, but is not nearly as handy as my Dad, and forget my Dad ever doing something as "out there" as spending a morning doing yoga with me like my sweet husband will. But one thing is the same. THE MAGIC. I see it in my husband as he searches out new book series to read with our daughters and makes the library trip an adventure.  I see it when he has the patience I don't have to deal with the girl drama in our house. I see it in the twinkle of his eye when they joke and rough house.

Daddy's are MAGIC. Or at least they always should be. If you are a child, I hope you spend some time today remembering the MAGIC of a Dad (or Dad-like figure) in your life. If you are Grandfather, I hope you find joy in continuing to make MAGIC. And if you are a Dad, I hope you realize the magical powers you have in the important role of fathering, and make some MAGIC of your own today! 
Magical Daddies Turn Into Magical Papaps

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Every Child Needs "A Place"

When I was a child, my hard working carpenter of a grandfather, would unload the tools from his truck and load in four rowdy grandchildren.  My brother and my cousins and I would tumble in to the back of his truck, which had a cap, a carpeted bed, and homemade benches for us to sit on (shout out to 1980 something motor vehicle safety).  We'd ride two on one bench and two on the other, facing each other, while our Papap drove the curvy West Virginia roads to the next town over.  When he pulled into Bucks Ice Cream Parlor in New Cumberland, WV, we'd squeal with delight and tumble out of the bed of the truck and straight up to the counter. We had arrived at "our place." The smells were familiar, the smiling faces behind the counter were the same, my grandfather joking in his thick Arabic accent unchanged.  Even the flavors ordered rarely changed. I can remember mint chocolate chip for my cousin Tania and peanut butter for me.  We'd sit on benches outside of Buck's struggling to lick the ice cream off the cone before it dripped on to our clothes, avoiding my Teta's remarks about stains on clothing. We'd finish our treat, hug him and give him a few "Hip, Hip, Hoorays" (usually per his prompting) and climb back into that truck to ride home, signing some repetitive song (Father Abraham...had seven sons....). Bucks was OUR PLACE. We knew what to expect and we liked it. The routine was predictable, safe, comfortable, and happy.

Why am I thinking of Bucks this many years later? Last weekend as I stood in the field of our neighborhood orchard, I thought to myself, "This is my kid's PLACE" and I immediately thought back to my childhood PLACE. Orr's Orchard is a family run orchard just a mile or so from our home that is a year round business that grows fruit and ships it around the US and the world.  When I was transplanted to this part of West Virginia, it was their orchard and their nectarines that I first fell in love with.  I adore the hardworking steel town I grew up in, but this seemed so fresh and natural. 

It's funny how 12 years later, this orchard has become my children's PLACE. They know and recognize many of the sweet people who work there and will often say things like "Mom, Miss Katie said the strawberries are good today!" or "Miss Lisa is here today!"  They associate fruits with the seasons of our life. Strawberries are the first thing ready after the orchard has been closed for a few months for planting. We pick sweet cherries about the time school is out. Nectarines and peaches are ready in time for a beach trip. Sunflowers and Gerber Daisies are ready to be picked about the time our dear friends from North Carolina come and stay with us during hurricane evacuations. Apples and pumpkins are here at football season.  

They've learned about animals through the many unique ones that reside on the orchard - buffalo, pigs, & peacocks to name a few and have religiously voted each year in the contest to name the new baby buffalo born each spring. Last years winner...Tayor Swifttail. We've been taught about the practice of renting bees to cross pollinate fruit trees and special heaters to keep crops warm during cool nights by the generous family who runs this beautiful place.  We've celebrated birthdays there and participated in festivals, hayrides, and local foods feasts.

So last Saturday morning, as I took a break from our combined efforts of picking 4 buckets of sweet cherries (YUM), I stood back and watched my equally sweet girls energetically climb those ladders and get excited about picking and felt gratitude. In a place I once never imagined could feel like home, my children had their own PLACE.  

So I thought I'd share some beautiful images from our PLACE with you.  Shouldn't every kid have a PLACE where they can build memories as sweet as cherries? What's yours?

Picking our favorites from the bins
Apple anyone?

Bee boxes rented to help pollinate trees

Beautiful berries

Buffalo Buddies

The greatest dad around leads the way to the berry patch

My girls and I on a blossom tour at Easter Time

My pumpkin with her pumpkin
Makes me want to be a kid again!

Finding the best berries

Fall fun
Friday, June 1, 2012

FUN ways to enhance communication - using your EARS not your MOUTH! Introducing Night Light Stories!

Think about what you hear all day long but don't pay attention to:  the air conditioning kicking on and off, the tick tock of the clock, cars outside our window.  What do we really listen to?  What sounds do you choose to tune into?  We have to consciously decide when we want to listen.  We hear involuntarily, we listen by choice.

Good listening skills can be taught to our children by reading to them.  We know they are listening when they correct a rhyme we misread in their favorite book, or catch us when we skip a page!  And good listening skills come with practice.  Think about all the lectures you had to LISTEN to in school.  You first learned those listening skills when you were read your bedtime story as a child!  This is why you hear all the time how important it is to read to your child every day for at least 20 minutes.
When we ourselves listen, without actually seeing a picture, it forces us to "flex" our imagination muscle. That's why reading a book before seeing a movie is always so much more rewarding! The same happens with our children. When they hear stories, their thoughts run wild with creating their own versions of characters, settings, and events.

We hear parents, teachers, and therapists speak of language.  The first thought that comes to mind with this word is oral or spoken language, but  RECEPTIVE language is just as important and is often left out of the conversation! Receptive language is our comprehension of spoken language.  Examples include when someone asks a question we understand and respond appropriately, or when we are given a direction to follow, and we know what to do.  We often KNOW what we want to say or do but can't effectively SAY it.  The same holds true with children. We all know that "uh uh uh" sound coming out of a child's mouth while we dance around providing option after option..."Do you want a drink? Nap? Snack? Play?" And it goes on and on until we guess correctly, but that baby knew he or she wanted our cell phone or keys. Those words just weren't ready to come out just yet.

Little ones first show comprehension of language when they respond to their name being called and look for their bottle or blankie when they are named.  Parents are often fascinated with how early their child can recognized those named objects by looking at them when they hear their names or labels. This often occurs months before spoken language. And receptive language doesn't develop effectively without good listening skills.

What's one of the best ways to enhance those listening skills? PRACTICE! Beyond enriching your child's day with labeling objects you encounter (yes we are proponents of naming fruits and veggies at the store, even if your baby isn't talking yet! Who cares if people look at you like you are nuts!), routine reading and listening to music are great opportunities for receptive learning. Another wonderful way is LISTENING to stories. In a world so focused on TV, movies, and handheld devices, the simpleness or using our ears to LISTEN and imagine is often and forgotten and the benefits missed.

Listening to stories on an I-pod was a life saver when my then three year old had bedtime troubles (and troubles is putting it kindly).  Allowing her to focus on a story, helped her to forget her fears at bedtime and met my goal of getting she and I both to bed!

We recently were introduced to a very creative couple, Mel and Chris Bugaj.  Together they formed Night Light Stories and they provide incredible FREE stories that they have written and recorded on their website, They can also be found on Face book and Twitter. We interviewed them for this blog post. Enjoy reading their answers below and have fun learning about and discovering their work.  Download some Night Light Stories to motivate your little one at bed time, or even in the car or during quiet times during the day --and let the magic of their imagination grow!

Tell us about yourselves and how Night Light stories began.

 Welcome to Night Light Stories!  We are so happy you found us! My name is Miss Mel.  My husband and I are both special educators with twenty-four years combined experience. I have taught all grade levels from preschool to grade five in both general and special education. Currently, I am a Supervisor for student teachers for Walden University as well as a Homebound Teacher. My husband is a speech-language pathologist and founding member of the Assistive Technology Team for Loudoun County Public Schools. He and a co-worker recently were published by the International Society for Technology in Education. Their book is called "The Practical (and Fun) Guide to Assistive Technology in Public Schools".  After hours he also produces and hosts the A.T.TIPSCAST, an award-winning podcast about free or commonly found technology that can be used to help students meet their educational goals.

My husband and I created the podcast called Night Light Stories where I narrate original children's stories that we've written. Every episode is available for free in audio format on our compendium blog or on iTunes. On this blog you will find vocabulary from the story as well as comprehensive activities that engage the child's imagination. We also produce a weekly visual dictionary called "Lighting The Way With Words" where we choose a vocabulary word and pair it with an original photo. The audience is invited to send in their own pictures to help define the word. Our goal is to promote education and family time.

We started the podcast and blog as a creative thing to do together. We thought it would be a fun alternative for families, educators, and classrooms to listen to our stories on car trips, around the house, transition times in the classroom, or anytime.  We also thought that since our kids seemed to enjoy the stories, other kids around the world might like them too.  We say in the podcast that the stories are "for children of all ages" and it is our hope that families are enjoying the stories together. 

Besides the blog, you can find us on Twitter and our Face book Page . This is where people can get updates about all things related to Night Light Stories; including what's going on with story development, recent pictures, and more. We hope you enjoy listening to our stories as much as we enjoy creating them!  As always, we look forward to watching the glow grow brighter with the many stories we can share together.

Who/what inspires the stories you write?

Inspiration comes from a variety of sources. For instance, our 6yo drew a picture of the number 8 as a person with an opossum as a sidekick. Who is this mysterious number 8 man? Why does he have an opossum as a sidekick? This is just one of many ways a story idea may start.

What is your favorite NL story and why?

Ms. Mel's is "The Watermelon Seed". It holds a special place in my heart because it reminds me of when our daughter was born and how our son reacted to it. A fun fact about that story is it took me about 17x to record the ending without crying.

Mr. Chris' is "Alien Pursuit" because it has aliens and hip hop. Who doesn't love aliens and hip hop?

Who is your favorite children's author, favorite children's book?

Ms. Mel's is "The Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree". My grandfather used to read that to my brother and I whenever we stayed over their house. His voices for the characters were so perfect. No matter how many times I read that story to my children, I'll always hear the voices as the way he read it.

Mr. Chris' is tempted to say "The Piano and Laylee Learning Adventure Series" about two dogs teaching students how to become positive digital citizens. But, if he had to pick just one, it would be "Good Night, Good Knight". Whenever I get the chance to be a guest reader in a classroom, I read this book and kids love it.

How do you want NL stories to benefit/impact children and their families?

Research shows that listening to audio stories improves the reading abilities of children.
It's our hope that while kids listen to the stories they are engaged and entertained with their families.

What are some ways your listeners have tied your stories into their daily routines?

Listeners have told us that they have incorporated our stories into their bed time routines. They've also used the stories to help pass the time on car rides, during bath time, or before school. What is most heartwarming is when listeners share stories of how a particular Night Light Story helped them through a difficult situation. For instance, one listener listened to the story "Stitches" while waiting in the ER to see the doctor after cutting themselves.

Do you wish to have your stories published into books one day?

Yes. Currently our stories exist in audio format only.  Therefore we would love to see the stories come to life with brilliant illustrations and/or some interactive components.

What is your favorite thing to play with your children?

Ms. Mel likes to play Zingo. The kids always get so excited when they beat me.

Mr. Chris likes to play dress-up. I finds that they create rich characters and hilarious stories which spark not only their imaginations, but mine as well. 

Thank you to Nightlight Stories for creating FUN resources to enhance family routines and receptive communication skills!

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Welcome to our blog! As longtime friends, we recently decided to combine our professional experience (as a speech-language pathologist and physical therapist) and "Mommy Experience" to create a company dedicated to something we are both extremely passionate about - letting kids be kids! Milestones and Miracles, LLC was formed in 2010. Our mission is to empower parents in understanding the natural progression of their child's development (and not rush it along and skip stages). We develop and provide developmental products to support this learning process, bonding families through engaging, fun, and meaningful experiences! We are thrilled to share that our first product, 1 2 3 Just Play With Me is available for sale. Visit to learn more and order a unique product for yourself & your child or as a gift! We will continue use this blog to share about topics that interest and excite us. Stay tuned!


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