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Guests and Ghosts

Guest bloggers ... ghostwriters ... It's like Forest's box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get!
To submit content for this blog, please email: mary(at)fredericksburgparent.net

Ready for Kindergarten

As a kindergarten teacher I often hear from parents who are concerned about whether or not their child is ready for school. My feelings about this are that if a child is legally old enough to attend kindergarten and is excited about going to school, then that child is ready. However, I do realize that doesn’t answer the question for most parents.

There are some things that make kindergarten teachers very happy if children come in already knowing. That said, a child not knowing these things certainly isn’t cause for concern. They’ll learn these things in kindergarten.
These things don’t need to be explicitly taught or drilled to children. They will learn them best through conversation and activities done together.

Academic skills that are helpful for kindergarten include being able to identify letters, both uppercase and lowercase. When you read books together, notice letters and talk about them some. When you’re at the store, point out letters and name them. If you help your child notice letters they will be interested in learning about them.

The same holds true for numbers. Letters and numbers are symbolic. There’s nothing about an S that is inherently s-like. There’s nothing about a 5 that suggests five. They are symbols children have to learn and memorize. Being able to identify and name numbers from zero to nine is exceptionally helpful. Numbers are everywhere around us. Notice them, share them with your child.

In addition to identifying letters and numbers, children have to learn more than just their names. With letters, children need to learn the sounds they make (no easy feat in English as some letters make multiple sounds and even more sounds when attached to another letter). With numbers, children need to learn the quantity that is represented.

Counting objects can be done frequently. Count carrots as you put them on a plate, count toys as you put them away, count cars you walk past as you go into the library, and so on. Counting to ten is wonderful, counting to twenty is astounding. Those teen numbers are a real pain as they don’t follow a pattern closely. As a result, children often struggle with the rote memorization of them.

One last idea is rhyming. There is research to show that rhyming plays an important role in children’s literacy development. It can be a challenge to understand so playing around with rhymes is a wonderful thing to do. Rhyme your child’s name, even if it means making up nonsense words. Rhyme words your child likes to say. Anything that works!

All of these things, letters and their sounds, numbers and their quantities, rhyming, will help your child in kindergarten. None of them are as important for a child’s development as talking with them and reading to them. Preschoolers ask a ridiculous number of questions every day. It can wear a parent down. (I know, I have two daughters. They are past this age but the memory is still strong.) Listening to those questions and responding, with answers or with your own questions, supports a child’s oral language development as well as their larger understanding of the world.

The more things children have discussed, the more background knowledge they carry with them. This, too, will help them as they become readers and writers and more mature thinkers.

Children are natural learners. It begins from day one. They learn so much about their world and themselves in their first few years. They learn to walk and talk and play in many different ways. Children are ready for school. They’re always learning.

Jennifer Orr is in her 18th year of teaching. She currently teaches kindergartners and has also taught first, fourth, and fifth graders. She is mom to two daughters, a third grader and a seventh grader.

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Open Letter to my Son

To My Son,

Growing up I didn’t have many struggles with basic development or school, but my brother, your uncle, did. I remember thinking he was such a great brother and would find myself wondering why something as simple as putting pen to paper was so difficult for him. Then I realized that, despite his struggles in school, his high energy and love of life were what made him funny, clever, fast witted, and likeable; no one seemed to see his struggles as flaws. He always seemed to look at the bright side of things and overall passed that down to me. His actions and personality showed me what it is to really embrace and love the person you are, no matter what your differences are or types of challenges you may face. It is with that mindset I was able to really understand the true meaning of love. I hope that I do my best by you, as your mommy, and pass this understanding of life on to help you with all that you may face in yours.

You are exactly who you are supposed to be. The day you were born, we knew you were special and going to bring such adventure into our lives. Although it hasn't been the exact adventure we had planned, it is an adventure full of life, love, and happiness; what more could I want? You were two and a half years old when we were told that you had a severe language delay. You were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder that day, and I'll always remember it so clearly, because that is the day that changed our lives as parents. Daddy and I were told that you were not where you should be, in regard to language development, and that you would require speech therapy and Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy to help you get where you need to be. The fear and worry became very surreal, but I am your mommy and I told myself "you must stay strong and remind Caden that he is everything God wanted him to be. This is merely a small bump in his road, not a tragic end to his beautiful life".

We have had our highs and lows along the way, but hearing you finally say words and seeing you express your thoughts through sign language is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. You were so excited when you realized we were finally understanding the messages you were trying to send us!! The glimmering light we saw in your eyes when we were able to respond to what you needed is a memory I will hold onto forever! Life doesn’t always go as you plan, but it’s those unexpected pieces that make you, you.

Being different is okay. You may feel different or weird, but remember that different and weird can be good and make you who you are. I want you to know that you are loved and appreciated for all that you bring into our lives, and into this world. No two people are the same; embrace who you are. The differences between you and the people in your life may be difficult to understand or adapt to at times, but embracing the skills and tools you have been given will make your life just as wonderful as the next person's.

I know the Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) machine is not something you wish to need, but this machine helps you to show who the world you are. It helps you to communicate with the people you know and love. With the AAC, you have been given a way to express yourself; that is something we are all proud of, and I hope we succeed at showing you that it is something worth being proud of!. When your uncle Jeremy was in school, he was unable to put his thoughts to paper, therefore unable to perform the tasks required in his classes. He was assigned a stenographer to put his thoughts into writing and he felt like the odd kid in class. At first he was really embarrassed, but once he embraced this "gift", he was able to discover some amusement in it. It became very easy for him to make friends and poke fun at his struggles, rather than let those struggles define him. That is all I ask of you, my sweet little Caden. Find the fun in life, in your differences, and embrace who you are!

Caden

Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. You are so gifted, Caden. From the very beginning of your life, you were showing your true talents. You hit each and every milestone early. You rolled over in four months, walked in eight and a half months, and learned to balance and climb on things, things that many three year olds would not even have had the bravery to attempt, at just one and a half years old. Your love of life is infectious. You are full of affection, love, and smiles! One simply can’t resist being happy and full of joy when in your presence. Your embraces of hugs, smiles, cuddles, and kisses are enough to brighten even the darkest of days. The look of happiness is always on your face in a giant, dimple-filled grin. The good Lord pairing that contagious smile with those big, sparkling blue eyes made you such a heartbreaker and loveable kid. We are all amazed at the short amount of time it takes you to grasp the tasks asked of you. Things like picking out letters of the alphabet, identifying animals, choosing specific object from groups of objects, and requesting for more of an activity were a breeze for you. More often than not, it only takes one time of showing or telling you something and you have it mastered. Your teachers and therapist have always raved about how quickly you learn and how smart you are. Those are the things you need to focus on. At this particular point in your life, you need a machine and therapist to help you express your thoughts, wants, and needs, but you don’t need their help in expressing who you are or what you can do; you do that all on your own.

Don't let the assumptions of others become the realities of you. During your lifetime, there will be plenty of people who do not understand you and many who simply feel sad for you, but there is nothing to be sad about. You, like everyone, have quirks. Not everyone will understand your quirks, but that's okay, because they are what make you "our Caden". Adaptation and embracement of your differences is what makes life enjoyable and fun filled. At times you will be judged, and that is okay. Just remember, those who judge you or your differences are just afraid of what they don't know or understand. You have the ability to influence perceptions and the world's perspective on what it is to truly be different and what it means to love who you are. I have been blessed with the wonderful gift of being your mother and taking this journey with you. It has not always been an easy road for you, nor me, but I know we have become, and will continue to be, better people from our experiences and differences. Be who you are and never let yourself down. Through this journey I have discovered what it means to truly love selflessly and unbiased. You have taught me what it means to truly love who you are without seeing flaws, because they are not flaws, nor imperfections; they are perfection.

With love,
Mommy

Caden family

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The Cat Superhighway to HELL

I may not have any human kids, but my three fur-kids (as my sister insists on calling them, even though I’ve begged her not to), are my surrogate children, I guess. At any rate, like “real” children, they take up a lot of time and money and require a lot of TLC.

So…in our ever-hopeful effort to keep them happy, my husband and I just shelled out a rather large amount of money for some wooden shelves. WAIT. These aren't ordinary shelves; no, sir. They are, in aggregate, a CAT SUPERHIGHWAY (CSH). So, obviously, they are worth the cost, no matter how exorbitant. That's what I keep telling myself (and my continually-about-to-divorce-me husband).

I saw a setup like these on Jackson Galaxy's show (which is totally not to say what I've done here is at all endorsed by him, so please don't sue me, Mr. Galaxy). The cats on the show -- formerly implacable enemies -- were alternately lounging and cavorting on the shelves. The idea is that the CSH gives cats a whole new area to explore and get the hell away from each other if/when needed. Or, better yet, the CSH offers a new level on which the cats can race around and chase each other PLAYFULLY. At least, that was my hope. Here are a couple of the shelves after my husband spent hours painstakingly arranging them.

Cat1

Okay, empty shelves aren't as good as shelves with lounging/gallivanting cats, so I'll show you the amazing CSH in action:

Cat2

Here come the cats! The arrows show you where they SHOULD be.

 

Cat3

Yay! There's Squeaky! She loves the string! 

 

Cat4

And, look -- it's Capt. Nap! "MMMMM! Is this catnip?"

Cat5

Awwww, little Peeper loves to lounge on this CSH shelf! 

 

So there you have it -- our CSH is a roaring success. Oh, wait -- what's this?

Cat6

Why it’s Squeaky, lazing on the couch directly opposite the MFCSH. Yes, she's yawning in my face. Jerk.

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Talk Tea to Me Part II

Herbal Tea

When you think of real comfort in a cup, herbal teas are where it’s at. Some popular brands that I enjoy and highly recommend are Celestial Seasonings, Traditional Medicinals, and Yogi. All can be found in your favorite grocery store and are usually on sale (Stop & Shop likes to run “2 for $5” on all of these brands almost year-round). It’s hard for me to pick one favorite herbal tea blend. But, lately I’ve been drawn to Celestial Seasonings’ Tension Tamer, Sleepytime, Mandarin Orange Spice, and the aforementioned Bengal Spice. Recently, Celestial Seasonings re-branded their products, which led to some concerns among the herbal tea faithful that the company was discontinuing a number of popular blends. To watch one fearless individual’s quest to track down Tension Tamer tea, check out the hilarious Coco Peru in this video. (Incidentally, if you’re having a craptastic day and need a laugh, this video will assist you with some solid ha-ha therapy. ☺

Traditional Medicinals are my go-to teas for when I’m run down with a cold or the flu. From Throat Coat to Breathe Easy to Gypsy Cold Care, these are fantastic for providing comfort while convalescing.

Yogi Tea, similar to Celestial Seasonings, has a number of blends suited for various ailments. I’m a fan of their Honey Lavender Stress Relief blend. Some herbal teas that contain lavender tend to be overpowering for me. But, this blend gets it just right. If you’re seriously stressed out, I highly recommend this particular blend. 

Rooibos Tea

Is it a tea? Is it an herb? How do you pronounce it?

Technically, it’s not a tea since it doesn’t come from Camellia sinensis. However, it is classified as an herb. It comes from the South African plant Aspalathus linearis. The name, Rooibos (pronounced “ROY-bos”), literally translates as “red bush.” The fermentation of the plucked leaves gives it the red color. There are a number of health claims for rooibos tea, so it’s become more popular among herbal teas on the market. Personally, I never warmed up to rooibos tea on its own. Much like my feelings on white tea, I need to have it blended with other ingredients in order for me to really enjoy it. I discovered a really tasty blend made by MEM Tea Imports called Rooibos Decorated. In addition to the rooibos leaves, they also add vanilla, orange peel, and blue cornflower petals. 

Preparation

There’s a science of sorts behind tea preparation. Meaning, some teas require longer brewing time, some shorter. Additionally, the temperature of the water needs to be considered. There’s an entire market of tea accoutrements dedicated to tea timers and thermometers.

thermometer timer

Personally, I think a lot of it makes the entire tea brewing process rather complicated. There’s a few basic rules of thumb for brewing that I adhere to: green tea typically brews for 2 minutes; oolong and black teas usually brew for 3-5 minutes; white teas usually brew for 3-4 minutes; and, anything herbal (including rooibos) can brew for up to 7 minutes, sometimes longer. When in doubt, follow the instructions on the box of tea. Also, there’s some trial and error involved – once again, it all comes down to taste and personal preference. If you prefer a wicked bitter green tea, by all means, steep it for over 5 minutes. (Though, I wouldn’t recommend it.) ☺  

Turmeric Tea

You know this tea is a big deal if it gets a section all to itself. It’s an herbal tea, and it’s frickin’ magical, to put it mildly. You may already know about the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric and use it in your cooking. But, it also makes a mighty fine tea! I came across this recipe on the Hello Glow blog and I’ve been making a cup of it nearly every night for the past month. It’s tasty, warming, soothing, de-stressing, shut ye olde brain off and get some sleep, and perfect for winter time:

INGREDIENTS

1 cup almond milk
½ - 1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon honey

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the almond milk in a small sauce pan. When the milk is warm (not hot) stir in the spices. Pour into a large cup and add honey to taste.

turmeric tea copy

I like to use a whisk to stir the spices in the pan. Also, I keep a spoon in my mug while I’m sipping it. The spices don’t fully dissolve and tend to settle at the bottom in-between sips, so you have to periodically stir it to get the nice mixture of flavors throughout your drinking experience. Don’t make any plans for the rest of the night – you’ll probably fall asleep within 1 hour of consuming. (At least, that’s what always happens to me!)

So Much Tea, So Little Time

There is SO much more tea that I can talk about. But, I hope at the very least, your interest is piqued in exploring the many varieties of tea that are available. Maybe you’ll find a new favorite brew! For now, I will leave you with the invitation to talk tea to me! What’s warming up your cup? ☺

hit me with your best pot

Kim Santo lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. A self-confessed tea addict connoisseur, Kim enjoys sharing her love of tea with anyone who wants to learn more about her favorite beverage.

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Talk Tea to Me - Part 1

Cup of Comfort

“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.” – Rev. Sydney Smith

If I were to tell you that there’s a beverage that can help reduce stress, restore depleted energy levels, control high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, boost antioxidants, promote overall well-being, and just make you feel pretty darn good, wouldn’t you want to try it?

tea for thatImage source: www.someecards.com

Now, before you start rolling your eyes, let me first say that there has been extensive research conducted on the health benefits of tea. (Seriously, just Google it and you’ll see). However, the findings of any study should not be a substitute for consulting with your doctor(s). While I sing the praises of tea multiple times each day (just ask my Facebook friends), the content of this article is not meant to treat, prevent, or cure any disease. I’m simply offering some comfort in a cup. So, without further ado, let’s talk about tea!

Camellia Sinensis!

Hold on there, Harry Potter. Lower thy wand. This isn’t a spell. It’s the official name of the plant where all of the major teas – white, green, oolong, black – come from.  The differences in the tea are a result of how the leaves are processed:

tea chart
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org 

You might be asking yourself, “Hey – where would herbal tea be in that chart?” Well, believe it or not, herbal tea isn’t really “tea” at all because it doesn’t contain any part of Camellia sinensis. The proper name for herbal decoctions is “tisane” (pronounced TEE-ZAHN). Those of you who are avid watchers of Agatha Christie’s Poirot on PBS will recall that our beloved fastidious Belgian detective usually enjoys some sort of tisane – this could be made with any number of herbs. However, I recall a few episodes in which he has asked Captain Hastings for a chamomile tisane at bedtime. In essence, he was drinking chamomile “tea.” For the purposes of this article (and in the interest of keeping with the vernacular), I will refer to tisanes as herbal teas.

Whole Leaf or Ground?

In recent years, there has been a movement of sorts to promote the use of whole leaf tea in lieu of the humble mass-produced tea bag. The driving force behind this movement is the claim that whole leaf tea is more flavorful and retains more health benefits. However, several large tea companies have created pyramid-shaped sachets that allow full leaves to be comfortably placed inside and brewed without sacrificing the convenience of the tea bag. While I agree that brewed whole leaf tea tends to feel more pleasing on the palate, it’s not so pleasing to the wallet. For example, 2 oz. of Monkey Picked Oolong tea from Teavana sells for $24.98. If you’re lucky, you’ll get 20 cups out of it. (Incidentally, this is my favorite tea, ever. The flavor is exquisite, so you are certainly “getting what you paid for”). But, you can also visit your local grocery store and spend $2.50 on 20 bags of Twinings’ Pure Oolong tea, and still have a lovely tea experience.

White Tea

Often referred to as the “least fooled around with” of Camellia sinensis, white tea has gained popularity in the U.S. over the last 20 years. After harvesting, the leaves are simply allowed to wither and dry. White tea has a very delicate flavor. You can find it in most tea catalogs as Silver Needle, Silvery Tip Pekoe, Fujian White, or China White tea. It tends to be the most expensive of all teas, especially in whole leaf form. I don’t personally drink a lot of white tea, but when I do I typically prefer a flavored white tea, such as Teavana’s Youthberry White.

Green Tea

Hailed as the “super tea,” green tea can be found nearly everywhere. Touted for its antioxidant properties, green tea is said to help lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, neutralize the free radicals that contribute to cancer, and help with weight loss. I can personally attest to the last claim – green tea is a dieter’s best friend. It gives me energy without the jitters of coffee, and helps curb cravings. But, here’s a newsflash – doctors and researchers are now saying that most of these same health benefits can be found in all forms of Camellia sinensis. It just so happens that, historically, green tea tends to be researched more for health benefits than other forms of tea. My favorite blend on the cheap is made by Twinings – it’s green tea with jasmine, and it’s simply divine! I’m also a fan of Twinings’ Nightly Calm decaffeinated green tea – it’s blended with chamomile, spearmint, and lemongrass. If I want to spend the big bucks, I like to drink Teavana’s Jeju Island green tea. It’s a Korean green tea that sells for $10.98 per 2 oz. I love making a full pot of Jeju Island green tea and sipping it slowly over several hours while reading a good book or binge watching Netflix.

Oolong Tea

The name of this tea may sound like a bad pick-up line: “Hey, baby…do you OOH-long?” But, rest assured, there is nothing cheap about this tea. No longer green tea, and not quite black tea, oolong is sort of that moment of perfection tea, as I like to call it. There is a short fermentation process before it’s fully dried that adds to the flavor and color. As I stated above, Teavana’s Monkey Picked Oolong is my favorite tea, ever. However, the box of 80 tea bags selling in Marshalls for $6.99 by Choice Teas also provides me with a darn good cup of oolong. Fun fact: the tea you are served in Chinese restaurants is nearly always some form of oolong tea. Those of you who have eaten with me in Chinese restaurants in the past will no doubt recall the horror you felt as I proceeded to consume an entire pot of oolong on my own. (Hey – I offered you more, but you declined. And, I never let perfectly good brewed tea go to waste. But I digress…)

Black Tea

This is the tea most of us think of when we hear the word “tea.” Companies like Lipton, Red Rose, and PG Tips have long ruled the market on black tea production. Ever hear of Darjeeling tea? It’s a type of black tea, and also a favorite of mine. Fortnum & Mason makes an amazing “First Flush” Darjeeling tea, which means the tea comes from the first grown buds of the harvest season, providing a light, floral flavor and an orange hue once brewed versus the typical redder hue of most black teas. Many drinkers will take their black tea with milk and sugar; however, I prefer drinking it straight up or with a squeeze of lemon.

English Breakfast Tea, Irish Breakfast Tea, and Scottish Breakfast Tea are all variations of black tea. The difference lies in which leaf variety is used and its strength. English Breakfast will resemble your standard cup of black tea (think Lipton). Both Irish and Scottish Breakfast tend to be stronger and almost malty in flavor. Of the three, I really enjoy Scottish Breakfast. Taylors of Harrogate makes a nice Scottish brew. Sometimes I can find it in TJMaxx or Marshalls. But you can also find it on Amazon! It’s a nice eye-opening tea in the morning. For more information about these blends, I found a great article from The Kitchn blog.

A popular variation of black tea is chai. Assam black tea is blended with warming spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and star anise. This is one of those heart and soul comforting teas in the middle of winter. You can find various chai blends in the grocery store or a more expensive specialty tea shop. But, you can also blend all of the ingredients together yourself. You can also make a caffeine-free version by using either decaffeinated black tea or chicory and blend with the spices. Celestial Seasonings makes an awesome caffeine-free chai called Bengal Spice. They also throw in some vanilla for a touch of sweetness.


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Earl Grey tea. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an affinity for Earl Grey tea. It’s simply black tea flavored with oil of bergamot. The taste itself isn’t what wins me over – it’s all about the fragrance. Also, there’s this:  (You’re welcome, ladies.)

Picard Earl GrayImage source: venturebeat.com

Up next, Part 2: Herbal tea, tea preparation and more! 

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Pouches' Community Corner

Adoptive parents in Fredericksburg now have a new partner on their journey to a healthy family. In 2016, Children’s Home Society was awarded a $125,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Social Services to extend their Richmond area post-adoptive services to the Fredericksburg area.

ChildrensHomeSociety

Now CHS is looking to find adoptive families in the area who need support before they hit a crisis point. “It doesn’t matter which agency they adopted from, or when that happened,” said Buckheit. “We want to offer a lifetime of support to adoptive families in the Fredericksburg area, especially those who haven’t been aware of our services in the past.”

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