Alpha Mom parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Sat, 30 May 2015 04:06:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Bug Season is Here. Let’s Craft a Bug Party! Fri, 29 May 2015 20:33:51 +0000

It’s that time of year again. Time to make sure you have screens on your windows and citronella candles on your patio. But if you’re like us, you love bugs. Especially butterflies and caterpillars. We don’t love the flies and mosquitos quite as much.

We thought it would be fun to make some buggy crafts that might come in handy for bug-themed birthday parties or just an afternoon of it’s-almost-summer fun.

Bug Crafts (Butterfly Clip + Caterpillar Bracelet) by Brenda Ponnay for

What do you need for making bugs? Not much!

Supplies for this Bug Craft

1. Chenille stems
2. self-adhesive googly eyes
3. tissue paper
4. beads
5. imagination!
6. hair clips (optional)

Some tools that might help along the way:
1. wire cutters
2. a pencil for wrapping chenille stems around for curling
3. scissors

Bug Crafts (Butterfly Clip + Caterpillar Bracelet) by Brenda Ponnay for

Tutorial for Bug Crafts

To make a butterfly, simply snip a chenille stem in half. Bend that piece it in half. Then slip a small rectangle of tissue paper between the two stems. Slide a bead over the two open ends and crinkle the paper down to create two wings. Curl your ends like antennae and add eyes to the bead. If you want to make a butterfly clip, just slide a hair clip through the butterfly’s chenille stem body on the back side, clip to your hair and ta-da! Butterfly clip!

Bug Crafts (Butterfly Clip + Caterpillar Bracelet) by Brenda Ponnay for

To make a caterpillar bracelet, first make a bracelet by twisting two chenille stems together and clasping at the ends so it can circle your wrist. Be careful to bend all pokey wire bits tightly back around so they don’t scrape your skin. Then create your butterfly again like we described above but instead of adding tissue paper for wings, skip that step. Add eyes to your bead and curl the antennae. Then use another chenille stem to wrap around the body. It will look like stripes on your caterpillar and double as a way to attach to the bracelet.

Then wear and enjoy!

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Epic Tantrum Time Fri, 29 May 2015 12:23:18 +0000

Dear Amy – Your advice column and blog have gotten me through so much of my pregnancy and early motherhood. Your low-key advice and humor is my inspiration to also be low-key and humorous in parenting, and my husband and I love the Satter method that you turned us on to.

My son (turning 2 in July) has started to have some pretty epic tantrums lately. Up to this point, he’s been a relatively easy going baby, and we’ve been using baby sign language to try and stem issues with pre-verbal freak outs. He sleeps 12-hours a night (7 – 7) and take one 1.5-hour nap a day. His tantrums have caught me somewhat by surprise. He used to occasionally get upset, but now they’ve reached full blown sobbing, throwing himself on the floor, slamming doors tantrum level. He will also throw everything on the floor he can get his hands on. He does some hitting, but it is mostly just sobbing and throwing things.

I know that toddlers have tantrums, but I’m not sure how to deal with them or minimize their happening/severity. It seems like they are caused by him not getting his way. I try to limit the number of things he doesn’t get to choose (this hasn’t helped so far) and to make sure he is getting frequent snacks/drinks/not too tired/not too bored. Holding him or trying to distract him just seems to make the tantrums worse. Honestly, walking away usually ends the tantrums the fastest – he will start to get upset again when he sees someone is paying attention. We’re still having multiple meltdowns a day though and it is incredibly draining.

This may be related or not, but he is starting to try and talk.

Pulling out my hair

Ah, welcome to toddlerhood. This isn’t the most encouraging thing to say but it’s the most honest I can be: You’re likely in for a couple VERY YELL-Y years. But at least rest assured that your son’s behavior and tantrums are actually pretty normal? Meh?

If there’s a single magic solution to ending toddler meltdowns altogether, I haven’t found it, and I don’t think anyone else has, either, since I’m sure you’ve been to a restaurant/grocery/airplane lately and witnessed some other poor soul’s child freaking the hell out over not getting cookies or not being allowed to take their pants off or air touching their body.

Does it help to understand the developmental stuff going on behind the tantrums? Maybe. I dunno. Obviously the “not being verbal and thus able to communicate wants/needs/feelings” is a huge one. This is why I still highly, HIGHLY recommend teaching babies and young toddlers some sign language. (You can now get individual episodes of Signing Time, my personal favorite program, for $1.99 on Amazon Instant Video.)  Sign language won’t solve EVERYTHING, but I found it to be oh so helpful at this stage if my toddler had the ability to make basic requests and “talk” to me about his favorite things (trains, trucks, etc.). Do NOT worry about sign language having any detrimental affect on his speech development, by the way — it really only enhances his understanding and desire to communicate. He probably points at things he wants all the time already, so sign language allows him to use a more specific gesture from the get-go and offset any frustration when you aren’t sure what he actually wants.

The other main driver behind the epic meltdown, as you’ve correctly pinpointed, is your toddler’s desire for attention and natural instinct to test you and push boundaries. What kind of reaction will he get if he throws a toy? What if he screams as loud as he can? What if he kicks the floor or dog or you? It’s a maddening game of trial and error, and generally the best response is to NOT PLAY ALONG. Ignore him. Walk away. Move him to a safe place where he can have his fit and then leave the room. If you’re out in public, silently pick him up and remove him from the situation. Take him outside or back to your car. Give him as little attention as possible (safely, of course) and wait for him to quiet himself. When he seems calm-ish enough, you can then make the call to return to whatever you were doing or take him home.

(With older toddlers it can be helpful to have consequences beyond the cool-down time to curb public tantrums — you throw a fit at the playground or fun activity, you go home. Your son is probably too young for that, and since it can be a pain in the butt to enforce [it can end up punishing YOU more than him, if it’s an outing you’re enjoying] I wouldn’t rush it.)

After he turns two, it can help to have a designated “cool-down” spot in your house. A step is usually a good place, or a small chair. Don’t stress too much about him keeping his butt ON the step or chair, but focus on keeping him just in the general area for a couple minutes. Again, it should be a safe spot where he’s unlikely to hurt himself (no top of steps or near sharp corners) and be kept clear of toys and other ammunition to throw. This isn’t a punishment, although obviously it’s a precursor to time-outs, but it lets you remove him from whatever set him off to begin with, and provide a slight distraction from the fit that doesn’t involve any attention from you. It also sends the message that hey, it’s okay for you to be mad and frustrated and I’m not gonna tell you not to feel those things…but it’s not  acceptable to express those feelings by kicking and screaming and hurling things at the dinner table, for example. So stay here until you’re calm enough to rejoin us.

The last piece of advice I have about tantrums is to try EXTRA MEGA HARD to provide your son with POSITIVE attention whenever possible. Whenever he’s NOT throwing a fit, find some behavior to praise and reward. It’s hard not getting your way, but if freaking out about it = zero attention and not freaking out about it = YAY AWESOME HAPPY LOVE CLAPPING, he’ll sloooooowly start seeing the benefits of a little flexibility and easy-going-ness.

And I do mean slooooooowly. It’s a long-ass haul, to be sure. It probably won’t stop overnight once he starts talking, because words tend to fail toddlers when they get upset/tired/emotional and they default back to crying/screaming. Just like you may of had to teach your son how to self-soothe himself to sleep at night, you’re now faced with the challenge of teaching him to self-soothe during the day when he’s frustrated. Try to lesson possible frustrations whenever possible, pick your battles carefully (although don’t give in and cave once he’s tantrumming), and perhaps try limiting the endless choices a bit. Some toddlers do like having choices and feeling in control, but this can backfire when they are simply offered too MANY choices about EVERYTHING. They can feel overwhelmed by the choices…or become overly inflexible and angry at the first thing that ISN’T a choice. (And let’s face it, there are lots of things he just isn’t going to have a choice about, and that’s just life, kiddo.) Stay patient and calm, but don’t feel badly if YOU need to leave the situation for a few minutes of cool-down yourself.


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Transitioning To Middle School With ADHD Thu, 28 May 2015 13:38:58 +0000

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom—official name is still TBD—and today is our first reader question. We just felt like Amy does such a great job with her Advice Smackdown in handling the little-kid questions, why not try out a similar format for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.


Hi there!

You’re very pretty. :)

I have two beautiful, smart daughters. My elder one, 11, has ADHD-PI. She is so smart but scattered like whoa. I get it, I have some of those traits myself, but I feel like there is a large debris field in her wake. I’m sure it’s multiplied because of tween X inattentiveness.

She’s starting middle school in 3 months, and I am TERRIFIED. How is she going to stay afloat? Her 504 with the middle school is not as robust, because they want to see if she matures more and can handle it better than elementary school.

Any tips? Techniques? Favorite flavored adult beverages?

Rueful in Roswell

Dear Rueful,

Fist bump of solidarity, Mama. My daughter has ADHD-PI and wasn’t diagnosed until well into high school, which means I still have several years of therapy ahead of me to finish conquering the guilt of all those years of “but why can’t you” and “didn’t you pay attention” and “just do it already!” People (and especially girls) with inattentive type ADHD sometimes fly under the radar until well into adulthood (or, you know, forever), and spend their lives thinking they’re lazy and/or dumb. So let’s start with the good news: You already know, at 11, that this is her challenge. That’s huge. And I’m not just saying that because I feel bitter and guilty that my ADHD kid floundered through middle school because we hadn’t figured this out.

You say “her 504 with the middle school is not as robust,” which has me a little confused. Am I understanding correctly that you’ve already met with the middle school to discuss, and they took out some supports she was provided in elementary school? If so, my level of concern would vary depending on what those supports were, exactly, although I would also be making the argument that transitioning to a new school is not the time to be helping her less. That said, in the interest of not alienating any of the staff you’ll be needing to work with for the next three years, I would be very tempted to request another meeting (either now, over the summer, if they’re available, or, say, the week before school starts), and I would probably do that by contacting the person who coordinates 504s and saying something like, “We’ve been looking over her plan and still have a few concerns. While we’re willing to try backing off on [whatever they originally cut] a little bit, we want to be certain that contingencies and some sort of rescue strategy are in place just in case this doesn’t go as smoothly as we all hope it will.” If anyone tries to tell you to just “try it out” and have a meeting a few months into the school year, reiterate that upon review (and if you feel like you need more clout, you can throw in “and upon the advice of her doctor” or something similar) you feel the plan is not ready for action. It’s your right to ask for a meeting at any time if you have concerns, so be persistent if you need to be.

Backing up here a little bit, when my kids transitioned from one school to another, part of that process involved having someone from their team at the previous school come be part of the meeting at the new school. It’s a great way to debrief on current issues in the language school officials understand. If you didn’t have that experience, and if someone at her old school might be a good advocate for her needs and is willing to come to a meeting, ask for that person to come with you once you have a meeting set. Parents can ask for anything, but in my experience, school officials are more willing to listen to other school officials, especially when they can say, “We tried X, but found that she really responds best to Y.”

Lots and lots of kids will experience a period of academic “drowning” when they start middle school. A good school will both see this as typical but also work really hard to prevent it—for everyone. The problem when you’re advocating for your easily-overwhelmed kid (and perhaps we could change ADD to OMG, if your kid is anything like mine) is that some of the things which are no-big-deal, we-can-handle-this for neurotypical kids turn into “I give up” for kids like ours. Unfortunately, some school officials might not see the difference during planning time. To wit: Someone might say, “Well let’s just [whatever wait-and-see strategy they’re advocating] and then if [your kid is down at the bottom of the pit] we’ll revisit.” That is why you want another meeting, because you need to clearly convey that what is an acceptable and recoverable level of disorganization/falling behind for a neurotypical kid is not going to be workable for your child.

If they are completely unwilling to provide what you feel are reasonable supports in the name of “seeing if she’s matured” or whatever, focus on building a safety net. Clearly define what happens if/when she misses deadlines and get front-loaded with a parental notification system. (Notification is crucial so that you don’t end up with a stressed-out kid buried under weeks worth of work.) If she doesn’t have an accommodation for extended time to make up assignments without grade penalty, get that added. If she doesn’t have an accommodation stating written instructions for every assignment (perhaps emailed to you, as well, if you’re comfortable asking for that), get that added. And do disaster planning now—map out the level of trouble you would consider her maximum load (5 missing assignments, say, or whatever you think makes sense) and what the strategy is to get her back on track at that point (including, perhaps, reinstating old supports because she’s not functioning well without them).

While the whole point of IEPs/504s is that they’re customized, here are some of the supports we have in place for my own ADHD-PI kiddo: The aforementioned extended time to make up assignments without grade penalty (and if for some reason an assignment cannot be made up—it happens, sometimes—either an alternate assignment or the grade is dropped). Extended testing time. Written instructions for everything. Larger assignments must be broken down into smaller steps with teacher checkpoints. Back in middle school and even early high school, we had a system where she had to record assignments and the teachers signed off on whether she’d done that or not, every day (we no longer need to do this, but it’s a pretty standard shaping exercise for a kid with organizational challenges). Even now my rising senior has it written into her plan that missing work requires a written notification both to her and to us. No, I’m not going to college with her, but as long as she’s a minor, I get to know when she’s slipping so that I can help urge her along.

Get another meeting. Bake something yummy (or pick up a yummy snack, if you’re not a baker) and present it with a smile and tell the team how grateful you are for their time and their partnership in supporting your child. Have a list of points and don’t let them shoo you out the door until you’ve gone through it all. Stress that everyone knows management is an easier and kinder road than recovery, so obviously everyone wants to set your kid up for success.

And then take some deep breaths and remind yourself—and her—that the first few months may be rough and you’ll get through it, together. Keep all lines of communication open and as the saying goes, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. My bet is that with you in her corner, she’s going to be fine.

Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Setting Time Limits at the Table Wed, 27 May 2015 13:34:31 +0000

Hi Amy,

Can we continue a little Ellyn Satter discussion here? Yes? I flipped through her book again but didn’t see anything for this issue, and I feel like you have mentioned it here or on your blog. But I can’t remember the resolution.

I have two kids. Ages 6 and 2. They are decent eaters, they’ve been “Satter-ized”, and it’s all fine. Except. EXCEPT. Meal times take FOREVER in this house. Like, currently my two year old has been at the breakfast table for over an hour, and is still eating. And playing. And talking. And singing. And I hate to hurry the kid along, but for the LOVE OF GOD JUST EAT FASTER SO WE CAN DO SOMETHING ELSE.

And when they are at the table together meal times are a loud, yell-y, giggly, LONG process. They are not doing anything terrible. And I do try to repeat in my head “They are making memories. They are making memories.” But I’d much rather be outside playing than sitting at the dinner table for an hour while they sing and giggle and eat. And eat.

So how do you limit the amount of time at the table, without hurrying them along or making them shove food in their mouths or stopping them before they are really full?

Sick of Sitting At The Table

I am definitely down with enforcing time limits at the table. I’m fine with a nice long, leisurely breakfast on the weekends, but other times it is perfectly reasonable to expect kids to focus on eating and keeping mealtimes to exactly that: Times. Consistent times of day with a beginning and an end.

Obviously you don’t want to make the mealtime unpleasant with tons of nagging and haranguing. That’s very anti-Satter. A better approach is to simply have a set time limit (30 minutes to an hour, or whatever you think is reasonable for what food is in front of them) and gently give them warnings at the 10/5/1-minute marks. Then calmly announce that the mealtime is over and clear their plates. If they protest that they are still hungry, remind them that snacktime or their next mealtime isn’t that far away. Treat this just like you did when you first implemented the Satter Method and they refused to eat at all: They won’t starve. They’ll be fine. 

A visual timer can also really help: We had a Time Timer on our table for AGES because our oldest simply. Could. Not. Focus. On. Eating. Mealtimes would last FOREVER, which is maybe okay (albeit tedious as hell) when you’re talking about a 2 year old with no place to be, but doesn’t work at ALL when you’re trying to get a preschooler out the door, or trying to leave enough time after dinner for dessert or a TV show. My son would do everything BUT eat for the bulk of the mealtime, and then when we’d announce that dinner was over he’d freak out and insist that he was still hungry. The Time Timer helped him grasp the concept of a mealtime ENDING at some point, and helped him figure out that it was best to use his time wisely and eat.

Make sure, as well, that you’re serving something kind of hearty and filling at each meal: If breakfast is simply bowl after bowl of dry Cheerios, then yeah, it’s probably going to take your child a really long time to feel full. My kids will go through a dozen frozen waffles in a morning and still insist that they’re hungry — not so much if they also get a serving of scrambled eggs or a bowl of oatmeal with a lot of nuts/protein.

If they aren’t asking for more but just lingering over their first initial serving, then a visual timer is probably the way to go. Plus you can give them an incentive for finishing on time — tell them where you are going or what you want to do after the meal. Those are good memories to make too, and more interesting than sitting at a table for two hours, turning an otherwise pleasant mealtime into a loooong, grazing snacktime.

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The Family That Clays Together… Tue, 26 May 2015 20:15:29 +0000

Because my husband married into a package deal—take on the wife, get two kids for free!—we have always referred to our wedding anniversary as our familyversary. Each year he looks up the “traditional” gift for whatever year we’re on, and then appropriate gifts are doled out to all three of us. Last year, on our seventh anniversary, because the traditional gift is copper, we each got a framed set of pennies, one from each year we’ve been together as a family unit. (Super sweet and creative, right? I got the very best husband. Don’t even bother arguing.)

This year we celebrated eight years of legal entanglement (guess who’s the romantic in this pair…?), and the traditional gift is pottery. On the day in question, my husband handed me a beautiful hand-made dish from a local shop, and then announced that he’d signed all of us up for a 2-hour pottery wheel class a few weeks later. I was thrilled. Also: worried.

Let’s back up for a minute. We’re still dealing with the emotional fallout of the decision to sell our camper. Although quite stoic about it, initially, as we readied the camper for sale, my husband was clearly going through a mourning process. I recognized what he was going through, because I’ve done it myself (though I did it a lot earlier than he did); it’s much less about the current event (in this case, selling the camper) and more about the “what if”s and “if only”s of having a different family than the one you pictured. I adore both of my children. My husband does, too. But this is not the family life purported to be the norm. We are raising two special needs teenagers on the autism spectrum who have good days and bad days and days in-between. Sometimes they’re like everyone else; much more often, they’re just not. Life turns out to take a lot more planning and patience and flexibility than we’d anticipated. My armchair psychologist assessment is that my husband is not sad about selling the camper, he’s sad about the fact that camping is a lot harder for the kids than it was for him, and also that lots of things are harder for our family than it seems like they should be. In the grand scheme of things, we are very lucky and have a good life, but still… sometimes those differences just feel really unfair.

Back to the pottery class: I was elated (how thoughtful! how fun!), but then I was nervous. We’d be taking my son somewhere new with lots of people and probably noise, which could be problematic. We’d be taking my daughter to do a very messy activity (not her favorite…), which could be problematic. Neither kid tends to do well with something they can’t master, and I knew that as novices we’d likely not be walking out of there with gorgeous creations.

It would be a blast, or it would be a disaster. That much was clear. I put it out of my mind until it was time to go.

We all donned old clothing and arrived early. We were so early, in fact, that we were the first ones there. Perfect! We got to pick our wheel locations, which meant I could sandwich my son between me and the wall and my daughter between me and my husband. We sat at the far end of the studio, away from the sinks and the clay, so there was no one walking behind us to retrieve things. It was the best distraction- and stress-free zone I could manage. One teacher showed us the steps of preparing a lump of clay and working it on the wheel, and another stood by ready to assist, if necessary. Ideally, each member of this class would have the opportunity to make two items in the first hour, then paint them and ready them for firing for the second hour.

The first thing you need to know about this adventure is that we were all just terrible. I mean that between the four of us there wasn’t a single speck of aptitude for pottery. But the other thing you need to know is that my worrying was really for naught—we had so much fun that night, it absolutely didn’t matter. We got filthy. My daughter and my husband both ended up with the teacher quickly throwing a small bowl for each of them because their clay kept flying off the wheel or collapsing in a heap or otherwise refusing to cooperate. And we laughed for hours and totally got into it.

[In the interest of full disclosure, I feel it only fair to mention that I made a really lovely bowl—much to my surprise—and I was feeling smug right up until it collapsed onto itself while waiting to be painted due to an uneven/too-thin area I hadn’t noticed. It shall be my Dali bowl, I guess.]

When it came time to paint, my son coated his creations in record time, then got up and went and sat by the door rather than staying at the crowded table with the rest of us. One of the teachers asked me if he was okay. “He’s fine,” I said. “He’s just done.” I realized this wasn’t as explanatory as I’d hoped. “He’s autistic,” I continued. “Two hours is a long time for him to spend in a giant group of people doing something new. He’s just decompressing over there.” I realized that just a few years ago, instead of removing himself from the fray and remaining cheerful, my son might’ve fretted and complained and eventually melted down right in the middle of the class. I noted to myself that it was interesting that other people were concerned he was unhappy, when I was internally doing a little happy dance because he was doing such a great job of self-regulation. As we drove home, I asked him if he had a good time.

“It was really fun!” he said, a note of surprise in his voice. Fair enough.

My daughter was the last one finished, time slowing to a crawl as she meticulously decorated everything to her satisfaction, chatting the whole time. All the other students were gone by the time she was done. Did she have fun? “That was GREAT! But wow, I’m covered in clay. I’m fabulous.” Another victory.

Best familyversary yet? I’d say yes. Thanks to my husband once again pushing us all outside of our comfort zone, we had a fun new experience and everyone lived and even had a great time.

Maybe our triumphs as a family don’t look the same as in other families, but that’s okay with me. Our family is my favorite one.

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We’ve Got Each Other. And That’s All That Really Matters. Tue, 26 May 2015 13:22:06 +0000

So a few weeks ago, I found out that I am going to have to move. Well, unless I wanted to purchase the home I’m currently living in, which while has served me well and I was hoping would serve me well for a couple more years, isn’t something I want to actually own.

I’m perfectly happy renting a home, mostly anyway, which is something that seems to baffle most people, at least in the suburbs. I realize that real estate agents make no money off of finding someone a rental home, and it’s their job to at least ask if I want to buy a home, but after awhile, the question gets old.

But it’s hard to get the “why don’t you buy a house?” question, coupled with the guilt I’m feeling for having to move my kids, especially that it will involve a new school, even though we’re going literally 2 miles down the road (yes, I counted).

I am single, and I like the idea of just calling someone to fix things. Also, the idea of home ownership scares me, especially after having to pay someone a lot of money to take my home in Atlanta.

And so, renting it is for me right now, and perhaps for a long time, which also means there’s the chance I will have to move.

Hence the position I find myself in.

As you might guess, I tried, desperately, to find an option that kept my kids at their same school, then another option that would keep my oldest at the same school (if I could find a place that fed into the same middle school).

But where I picked to live isn’t much of a rental community, and so, after weeks of losing sleep and probably more hair than I already was (yay hormones!), I found a wonderful place that’s considered more “in-town.” We can walk to shops, restaurants, the library, you get the idea. And the new schools are just a hop, skip, and short bike ride away.

I’m finally excited. I think.

I’ve spent the two years since I moved trying to create a stable environment for my kids in a time that was incredibly unstable, and so, the hardest part of all this is not the inconvenience, the money involved, or any of that, but rather, the shift for my kids who have come to be in a good place in their lives.

I’ve also come to be in a good place too.

And then I’m reminded, by friends, dear sweet friends, that it wasn’t the house that did that. It was the family of five we’ve created, the routines and rituals, the traditions we now share, that brought us to the place we’re in.

I love my life and a day doesn’t go by that I don’t feel thankful for what life has afforded me, so much good — some given, lots earned — that this is really just a small blip in our lives.

It will be hard and there will be bumps, but we’ve got each other. And as cliche’ as that might sound, it is all that really matters.

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DIY Star Garland for Memorial Day Sat, 23 May 2015 15:13:05 +0000

I love to decorate for holidays no matter how big or small. Sometimes I go all out and sometimes it’s just something little like this cardboard star garland. It’s a fun activity to do with kids and a great way to talk about what Memorial Day stands for. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most whether it’s spending time painting outdoors or a picnic or just singing some songs around the dining room table. We thought this homemade garland added just the right homemade touch to our Memorial Day.


DIY Star Garland for Memorial Day by Brenda Ponnay for

You can make one too following these steps.


1. cardboard
2. a box cutter or blade for cutting cardboard* and a cutting board or self-healing mat
3. hole punch
4. washable kid-safe acrylic paint in red white and blue
5. some twine or string
6. party lights (optional)

DIY Star Garland for Memorial Day


First you’ll need to cut out your stars. (This step is for adults or someone who can use a sharp blade responsibly.) I cut out 14 stars but I’m the cardboard whisperer and I love cutting things out of cardboard. You might not have as much patience as I do. Even a garland of three stars would be cute. The best way to cut cardboard is to lay your piece of cardboard on a cutting board or self-healing mat and cut away from your body or fingers. I use a box cutter and an x-acto knife with a sharp blade interchangeably.

I’ve created a quick printable template in a star shape if you need some help cutting out your stars. I recommend printing it on card stock, cutting it out and then using it as a tracing pattern on your cardboard.

DIY Star Garland for Memorial Day by Brenda Ponnay for

After you’ve cut out your stars, punch them in one corner with a hole punch. This will require some muscle but you can do it!

Then set up a painting station with three bowls of paint, give your kids strict instructions to not mix the paint (if you don’t want light blue, pink or purple in your patriotic color palette) and let them have fun. Messy is good. It gives the garland a soft homemade touch that somehow seems appropriate for appreciating military families and all the sacrifices they make for our country.

After you’ve painted your stars, let them dry. Once they are dry you can string them up. I actually chose to tie each star up individually with it’s own piece of string so I could keep my stars from moving freely along my string. However you do it, I’m sure it will look perfect.

Then hang and enjoy!



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Great Graduation Speeches: Because We All Need A Little Inspiration Fri, 22 May 2015 22:34:56 +0000

There are two kinds of graduation speeches, the ones that inspire you to live your best, boldest life and the ones that cause you to doodle in your program and maybe even nod off for just a moment. And since it’s graduation season, we thought we’d share some of the amazing ones.

I don’t believe there is one list of the absolute greatest graduation speeches of all time. Because for every person, it would be a slightly or very different list. But there are some speeches that seem to resonate with a lot of us. They make us think. They make us laugh.  They hopefully embolden us to be better, more courageous people whether we are 21 or 81. Even if it’s not graduation day for you or your children, these speeches will give a bit of inspiration to the daily grind of life.

Steve Jobs, Stanford University, 2005

The late Steve Jobs (creator of Apple and Pixar) was a genius and his graduation speech is quite uplifting. He may have been a tech guy but he understood the importance of following your heart and intuition. He told the graduates, “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Jobs talked about getting fired from Apple (spoiler alert: he would work for them again), as one of the best things that ever happened to him. “The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

And Jobs stressed that all of us must find what we love to do. “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Hearing his words made me really wish he was still on this planet creating and motivating all of us to do better.

Mary Schmich, The Sunscreen Speech, 1997

This is the graduation speech that wasn’t actually a graduation speech. The hypothetical commencement speech, called, “Advice, Like Youth, Probably Just Wasted on the Young,” was writing by columnist Mary Schmich (although it is widely and wrongly rumored to have been given by Kurt Vonnegut at MIT).

The memorable essay went viral via email and gave graduates practical advice like… keep old love letters, throw away bank statements, avoid beauty magazines, do one thing that scares you every day and of course wear sunscreen.  I do! I do!

This guide to life for graduates was written almost 20 years ago and still holds true.

Jim Carrey, Maharishi University of Management, 2014

I’m not the biggest Jim Carrey fan. But I love the graduation speech he gave at Maharisha University of Management (in Iowa by the way and obviously big Jim Carrey fans). In one poignant part, he talks about his father who could have been a great comedian but settled for a job as an accountant. Then his father got laid off. Carrey told the students, “I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.”

The speech intertwined inspirational moments and lots of humor. “The decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. So many of us chose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect so we never ask the universe for it. I’m saying I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it. And if it doesn’t happen for you right away, it’s only because the universe is so busy fulfilling my order.”

Colleen Margiloff, Longwood University, 2012

This is a very under the radar convocation speech at Longwood University in Virginia given by Colleen Margiloff, the then President of the Alumni Association.

By the time I finished watching it, I wanted to get drinks with her and be her bestfriend.  She’s conversational, funny and just real. She encouraged graduates to always tell loved ones how they feel, recalling how she was running late on 9-11 and never said a proper goodbye to her husband, who was headed off to look at real estate across from the World Trade Center. Thankfully, by late afternoon, she was able to reach him and confirm he was okay.

Margiloff told graduates to be bold, to vote, to get a mentor and never put anything on Facebook you wouldn’t show to your grandmother and your boss. My favorite advice is about tattoos, including a confession that she will have a dolphin tattoo on her ankle for the rest of her life.

Casey Gerald, Harvard Business School, 2014

When you watch Casey Gerald give the student address at Harvard Business School, you can’t help but think you are watching a future leader of this country. He’s incredibly poised, self confident and inspiring. And he does it without notes.

Gerald talks about a near death experience with gunmen in his home that altered the direction of his life. “A strange thing happened as I accepted that I was about to die – I stopped being afraid.” He made a decision to give his life to a greater cause than himself.

Gerald went on to found a non-profit, MBAs Across America, a movement of MBAs and entrepreneurs working together to revitalize America.

Maya Rudolph, Tulane University, 2015

I’m a gradate of Tulane University and man, I wish someone like Maya Rudolph had given the commencement speech. (They got Ellen DeGeneres in 2009 too!). Although Rudolph’s speech is light on advice, it has a lot of laughs and even some familiar impersonations. She also encouraged the graduates to create their own destinies, hold on to their friends, kiss their mamas, work hard and put their damn iPhones away once and awhile.

She also pushed the students to admit their dreams – like when she admitted her dream of being on Saturday Night Live. She encouraged the graduates to say, “yes” and see where it might go – a reference to the rule of improv where you always say, yes and then add to the story.

Rudolph’s father attended Tulane and her cousin was in the 2015 class.

Sheryl Sandberg, Barnard University, 2011

If you need to get motivated to get out there and kick some butt today, this speech is a good one. Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook, is well known for her Lean In philosophy (she wrote a book about it) where she encourages women to rise to the top of their professions so females can become an equal voice at the table.  She urged the graduates of this women’s school to help stamp out gender inequality. She said, “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”

She told the graduates to celebrate their accomplishment and then, “You’re going to find something you love doing, and you’re going to do it with gusto.  You’re going to pick your field and you’re going to ride it all the way to the top.”

Sandberg encouraged the women to think big, believe in themselves and “go home tonight and ask yourselves, “What would I do if I weren’t afraid?”  And then go do it.” We could all follow that advice.

J.K. Rowling, Harvard University, 2008

I’ve never read the Harry Potter series but I’m still a J.K. Rowling fan – simply based on her  2008 commencement address at Harvard. In the speech, she talked honestly about pushing through failure and poverty by directing her energy into the only work that mattered to her.

She said, “Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

She also talked about the importance of raising one’s voice on behalf of those who have no voice. She stressed,  “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

And Rowling ends the speech on a beautiful note, “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters. I wish you all very good lives.”


What commencement address would you put on your list? We’d love to know. Inspire us!

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Secondary Infertility & Knowing When to Stop Fri, 22 May 2015 15:00:30 +0000

Dear Amy:

I will try to be brief. (I will likely not be brief.)

I’m 36, with a soon-to-be six year old. When I got pregnant with her, it was of the “maybe we should start thinking about babies and I’ll just go off the pill and see what happens and oh guess what I’m pregnant” variety. Guess you can see where this is going, right?

I’ve been trying to get pregnant for four years now. When I do the math, and add up the months and months of doctor’s appointments, ovulation predictor kits, pregnancy tests, medical tests and lab work, medical procedures to fix the issues we had, counting calendar days, taking temps, fertility drugs and treatments, etc., I lose count. I’ve made myself nutty with different kinds and dosages of fertility drugs and hormone supplements, three rounds of IUI, two miscarriages…you get the drift.

Recently, after another failed IUI, my husband (who is insanely supportive and involved and patient) and I sat down for a very (VERY!) long talk (one of many many talks we’ve had concerning the subject and how far we are willing to go) and decided that for now, we need to stop. I need to stop. I cry too much and worry too much and snap at everyone too much. I have lost focus on what matters and have likely taken my daughter for granted in my quest to add to our family. So, we agreed to stop the treatments and just let things fall where they may, if it happens it happens, and to be grateful for what we do have, which is a solid three member family. That month was the first month in years that I didn’t cry for hours when the pregnancy test was negative.

But. (Of course there’s a but!) How do I stop the nagging voice in my head telling me to keep trying, to give my daughter a sibling, that our family isn’t quite complete? I’ve got closets stacked with bins and bins of baby clothes and stuff I felt certain I’d need again. I had colors picked out for a nursery (yes, I’m that person). Add to that my two very best friends in this world are pregnant, and I’m trying to be happy for them and not “that person” that can’t put my own shit aside. Add to THAT I have a very well meaning mother, who, when she has a bad day, calls me and says “I need a grandbaby to cheer me up” (she knows every nuance of our journey). When innocent acquaintances (or those asshole strangers) ask when we are going to have another child, I’ve perfected the smile and “oh we’ll see, you never know” – even though it feels like my mouth is full of broken glass.

So how do you know when enough is enough? Will I ever stop counting days? If I can’t have another child, how do I really and truly let it go and allow myself to move forward? I’m tempted to donate every single bit of baby stuff so I don’t have to see it anymore, but I’m not sure I can get behind that yet. I feel sad that there are things I learned the first time around that I won’t get to do differently with a next baby, I’m worried about my daughter being a lonely only, I’m worried resentments and regret could creep up and affect my marriage (even though it’s no one’s “fault” and thus far we’ve handled it well), I’m worried that even if I do manage to get pregnant again I’ll have another miscarriage and I’m not sure I can handle another loss. It all makes me lie awake and second guess myself at night, and every time I think I’ve made peace with a decision (any decision), I go down the rabbit hole all over again.

Any advice would be much appreciated!

First of all, I am so sorry. For your struggles and your losses. I can’t even imagine.

Secondary infertility is a special form of brutal.

Second of all, I can’t answer the questions in your final paragraph, or tell you to just do X, Y and Z to magically feel better. I don’t have those answers. I don’t know.  I can remind you that neither path (continuing treatment vs. stopping/pausing treatment) offers any guarantee — of pregnancy OR of coming to peace with your family as-is. Neither path is the “right” one, neither path is the “wrong” one. You take a deep breath, choose one, and move forward.

Right now, that decision is brand new and fresh and strange. You haven’t had time to take many steps forward. You feel better, but the other path is still basically right behind you and it’s normal to have second thoughts. Is this really the right way to go? Is it too late to change my mind and go the other direction?

I don’t know you, but I like to think I’ve gotten pretty good at reading in between the lines of the emails I get. I can usually tell when the writer is being overly dramatic, or telling a story to slant the facts in their favor. Other people tend to downplay the depth of their sadness/worry/fear or hedge it with self-deprecating humor. (I INVENTED THAT MOVE Y’ALL.) And then there are writers like you, who probably know deep down that I can’t magically fix or solve anything, but who just need to sit down and pour all their raw emotions over the keyboard for awhile and use the “send” button as a way to get those emotions OUT and AWAY FROM THEM — somewhere, anywhere, into the internet tubes!

Lots of times, before I’ve even gotten the chance read those emails, the writer sends a follow-up to request that I not publish their question after all, they just needed to vent and writing the email was enough to help them work through the original problem.

I hope writing this letter helped. Because I think you are making the right choice. You needed to stop. That much seems pretty clear to us both. And while there are no answers right now to the rest of it, I also think it’s GOOD that you’re acknowledging all those fears and worries and writing them down somewhere OTHER than the inside of your brain at 3 a.m.

You’re not down the rabbit hole. You are on a path in the woods. You are moving forward.  One foot in front of the other. You don’t have a map, but that’s okay. You weren’t going to escape the unknown and the what-ifs even if you stayed on the other path anyway, so screw it.

Maybe at some point, in six months or a year, the other path will meet up with yours and you’ll decide you’re not 100% done with treatment after all. Or maybe this path will continue until — with enough time — you look around and realize you’ve left the woods and are somewhere beautiful and perfect, with your husband and daughter.

Obviously, the ending I HOPE for you is that stopping treatment brings you peace…and a surprise positive quickly followed by a healthy, uneventful pregnancy. And there’s no saying that can’t or won’t happen! And it’s okay to continue hoping for that ending! To feel how you feel when you feel it, rather than trying to force your brain to accept someone else’s script. (Most likely the classic secondary infertility script of “be grateful for what you have, some people can’t even have one baby, blah blah Pain Olympics blah.“)

Keep writing your feelings and worries down if it helps. Take care of yourself. Do fun things with your daughter. Keep the dialogue open and honest with your husband about how you’re coping.  Don’t hesitate to find a therapist if your thoughts get too intrusive, or if you simply can’t deal with all the well-meaning asshats in your life you who can’t leave well enough alone.


But mostly, give yourself some time. A break. Both from the hormonal grind of IF treatment and from the feeling like you need to be 100% on-board and okay with ALL OF THE POTENTIAL OUTCOMES, RIGHT NOW THIS INSTANT. Your journey isn’t over yet. I hope, wherever you end up, you can find happiness and contentment there.

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Dealing with Your Kid’s Negativity. It Ain’t Easy. Thu, 21 May 2015 14:32:00 +0000

My 5 year old son, Chase, is not a “look at the bright side” kind of kid. Like when my husband recently bought tickets to a baseball game and it ended up conflicting with a superhero party, my son was pretty much convinced he had the worst life ever.

For two straight days, all I heard was the constant whine, “I WANT TO GO TO THE SUPERHERO PARTY.” It got so repetitious and soul-sucking, that I finally gave-in and said, “I’ll take you to the party. You don’t have to go to the game.” And he responded, “But I don’t want to miss the baseball game!”


Look, I get it. He’s five. Disappointment and choices aren’t easy to process at his age but sometimes I find with all my kids (and there are five of them, so it’s not a bad sample size) that negativity is their default emotion. And it makes me crazy.

Sometimes when my older daughters get in the car after school, they are talking over each other, trying to tell me the worst part of their day. I know I’m the mom and I’m glad they feel comfortable sharing their angst and upset but I want/need to hear the good stuff too.

I don’t really know how to respond when my kids focus on the glass half-empty. Sometimes I want to squash the negativity by telling them to be grateful for everything they have. Other times I try distraction. (Cupcakes anyone?) Or another technique I use, is that I turn into Sunshine Suzy and become ultra-positive about whatever is going on.

I usually bounce back and forth between these solutions and none of them really work. But I am starting to realize that sometimes you just have to honor and empathize with your kids’ feelings.

Dr. Alissa Sheldon, a child psychologist, says, “If a child feels disappointment that is the result of an actual event or slight, then parents can use the experience as a teaching tool.” She says, let them know that it’s okay to be sad or angry.

Kids (like adults) need to feel heard and acknowledged. And then as parents, we can help them deal with these emotions.

Sheldon says, “By helping to translate what these feelings mean and that they are normal, a child can then begin to incorporate this understanding and perhaps be less troubled by these feelings when future disappointments occur.” As a parent – this is a hard place for me to be because my inclination is to try to fix everything, not sit there and help them process their feelings. 

My son Chase went to the baseball game. I survived his complaining and he survived the disappointment of missing his friend’s superhero party. I think he even had a pretty good day.

The reality is that disappointment is a part of life. If we can allow our kids to feel it and move through it, haven’t we taught them a valuable life skill?

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