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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!
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Little Drops of Kindness

A month ago my family was out eating lunch and as usual my sons finished eating before my husband and I. To keep them occupied we took out a few Thomas the Tank Engine Minis for them to play with at the table.

A few tables over, a grandmother was out with her three grandchildren. Just like our little ones they had eaten quickly and were ready to play. The sweet boy at that table seemed heartbroken that he didn’t have a train to play with. My three year old son showed a side of him that I had never seen before; he reached out to show a stranger empathy and compassion. He asked me if he could let his new friend play with one of his trains. The child ran the train across the table, up and down the booth, and across the top of the booth seats. You could also hear random train toots and the conversation as imaginative play began in earnest.

thomas minis

After about five minutes, I heard tears from the other table. I looked back to see our new friend leaning over desperately trying to find the train that he had dropped behind the booth. Unfortunately, the booth at the restaurant was bolted to the wall and the tiny toy was irretrievable. Our son was saddened by the loss of his train, but put on a brave face and he told the other child that it was okay and shared another one. We reassured the family, after all a Thomas Mini costs about $1.50, and we have duplicates of many of them. The grandmother voiced feeling horrible about the situation, but my husband and I assured her it would be just fine. Both families eventually packed up and left, and although our son asked for “Gordon”, the lost train, on the way home, the whole episode was soon forgotten by us.

If you haven’t guessed it, my boy’s favorite show is Thomas and Friends. One of the reoccurring themes in Thomas and Friends is friendship and teamwork. Through sharing, our son learned that he could bring joy to others, and maybe make a new friend. I love that I could use their favorite show to have conversations about how good it feels to be kind to others and to share what we have.

It seems that day at the restaurant sparked a fire in us all to show random acts of kindness more often. My children are in the process of learning to share with each other, and this provided an excellent teaching example of kindness. I see smaller examples of this between my kids more and more now, such as when they will ask for two of something in order to give one item to their brother, or coming up to give a hug or pat on the back when the other is sad.

About a month had gone by; we were at our usual Sunday lunch spot, and the kids were once again done eating and engrossed in their trains, when a little girl came over to our table and gave us a package of three new Thomas Minis. I was a bit taken aback and didn’t recognize her at first. I went over to her table to make sure there wasn’t some mistake. As soon as I greeted the family I recognized the grandmother. Apparently, a few days after the original lunch, she had gone out to purchase a replacement and had carried it with her in hopes of running into us again.

This small act brought joy to my family. It was probably the first comment I had received in a long time about my boys or my parenting. My kids were smiling ear to ear and were delighted to have a new toy. They both wanted to run over and say thank you for this gift. It was proof of the lessons that we teach our kids about the power of selfless giving. All day long my son kept saying how nice his new friends were, and wanted to share his story with all his family, friends, and neighbors.

train overalls

I encourage everyone to reach out beyond their comfort zone and to take the plunge to show compassion. My children showed the smallest kindness to someone they had never met before, and it resonated back to them. This one simple act will stay with my family and provide a reminder that goodness is alive and well in our community. If we encourage our kids to be kind and lead by example our children’s generation may be the ones who set this world in a better direction.

Kristy is a stay-at-home mom by day and social media expert by night. When she's not chasing after her lively boys or writing about their adventures, she enjoys scrapbooking and traveling.

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Style: You Can Do It!

Can you believe a brand new year is upon us? It's crazy to think that 2016 is behind us. If you're like me, your time went to the demands of everyday mommy life. Getting kids to and from school, activities, play dates and doctor appointments, not to mention running a household, making meals and even getting yourself to and from work. Speaking of which...I probably should be doing one of the aforementioned things right now...

How often do you forget what day it is, or things are so hectic that your kids’ names become some merged version of everyone’s name (“Emmaowen...whoever you are”). Heck I’ve even called my kids by the cat’s name. Life is crazy, I get it. My kids are 6 and 4, are 18 months apart, and they sure keep me busy. In addition to my full time mommy job, I work part time as a family photographer. There are days when I don’t even know my own name.

Sometimes, I feel so rushed and frazzled that something as simple as remembering my kids’ doctor appointment seems like a huge accomplishment. This one appointment in particular, we got there EARLY, only for the receptionist to look at me and say there’s no appointment in their calendar...that the appointment I was thinking about was from last year (I blame my phone). Whoops! Guess I need to make an actual appointment, then.

There have been so many times when I feel like a duck in water, calm on the surface but paddling madly underneath. Thanks to all this, up until recently, I paid very little attention to myself. Style? No way, I didn't have time for that. I couldn't care about something so trivial when there were two kids who needed me... every bit of me and my energy. Same pants, same shirt for days in a row? Sure! Who cares?! Ok, that might be an exaggeration, but if I wore the same clothes repeatedly before washing them, that’s less laundry to I right?!

go to outfit

(My go-to outfit, circa 2012)

But someone did care; she just didn't realize it yet. In the midst of mommy duty, probably sometime between activity #3 and doctor appointment #27, something happened. I took time for myself. It might have started with a new haircut or new glasses or a shopping trip alone. You know those glorious moments when you can stroll the aisles of a store and actually think?! It was during one of these trips that I noticed I avoided the mirrors.

When I did accidentally catch a glimpse of myself I wondered, Who is that frumpy lady? The baggy shirt and tired shoes...what is that on her shirt?!? I realized then that I had to find myself again. That reflection wasn’t really me. My younger, pre-kid self screamed at me to make a comeback; I wanted to start paying attention to myself again. I took a long hard look at my wardrobe, as sad as it was: five shirts - most of which had holes, two pairs of jeans that sort of fit, zero dresses, zero skirts, and 1,954 pairs of black leggings or lounge style pants. Oh, and three pairs of shoes: the sad beat up flip flops, my “fancy” sandals and a pair of boots. Then I thought...How is it that my 4 year old daughter has a more extensive wardrobe?!?

So, I did it. I said goodbye to my ill-fitting, but oh- so-comfy, jeans. Adios to my baggy t-shirts with holes (you know those tiny mysterious holes that show up on the bottom half of shirts!). So long to wearing pants all year long, because who has time to shave?!? I even got rid of my tired, but beloved shoes.

But how would I start to rebuild my wardrobe? Standing over a pile of frumpy clothes has a way of defeating you, like it might be easier to climb Mount Everest then to conquer refreshing your style. But don’t be afraid, take your time, find the way. How? I joined a very uplifting Facebook group, Outfit of The Day. I looked at the women who posted their outfits, paid attention to their advice, and tried to find similar pieces. I started a subscription clothing service, Stitch Fix, to help me break from my dowdy rut. Finding time to try things on is never going to be easy, and creating this new, better version of myself didn’t happen overnight. But with the help and encouragement from my husband, I did it. Now I am a new me, a better me. Better because I feel beautiful and more empowered. I get up, get dressed and get to it. Being a mama doesn't mean you have to sacrifice yourself. If anything it means you have to better yourself.

goto outfit

(Go to outfit, circa 2016)

I did it and so can you. Style doesn't have to be out of reach. It's attainable and I can help! Follow me and I will show you what I’ve learned. From thrifted style (which is a favorite topic of mine) to active wear, dressy and casual put together looks. Even how I put outfits together and pre plan what I will wear for the week ahead. Style can be many things but it has to be beautiful and true to you. If my 4 year old can rock four different patterns then add rainbow leg warmers on top of it all and feel stylish, then we mamas can handle a bit of style too. Maybe just not the rainbow legwarmers.

So tell me: where do you want to start?!

Lorraine is a family photographer in Fredericksburg, a mama to two young kids, a wife to a supportive husband and a style enthusiast. Lorraine graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2006, with a degree in advertising photography. She enjoys quiet moments, silly kids, clothes, shoes, coffee, and a little wine too.

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The Never-ending Weigh In

Four Years..FOUR YEARS!!!!!! I can’t believe it’s been that long since I had my gastric bypass surgery. The past three years since I blogged for Fred Parent at Weigh In have had more ups than downs (pun intended). I have gained 20 pounds since hitting my lowest post-surgery weight. But I also have continued to adjust to life as a healthy person with more joy and self-confidence in my appearance than I have ever had in my life. I’ve run 4 half marathons, hiked mountains with my family, and even taken pole dance classes. I declined a tummy tuck and boob job, opting for Spanx and pushup bras to hide my saggy skin. (Though my sagging skin seems to continue to firm up as time goes by!) My healthy life continues to be a journey with unexpected twists and turns.

Michelle progress

My biggest fear post-weight loss success was that I would get injured, stop exercising, and gain weight. That did happen in 2015. I had two separate injuries that stopped me from exercising for most the year. Of course, no exercise and eating like I was running 20 miles a week led to gaining weight. Then in January 2016 I said “Enough.” I signed up and started training for my second Marine Corps Half Marathon.

Michelle running

Then I went back to logging my food and looked at the number of calories and quantity of carbs I was eating. That was a shocker. So, I started watching what went into my body. Reaching out to my online network of weight loss surgery friends was the hardest, because I had to admit that I wasn’t the perfect patient and own my weight gain. Surprisingly, both of my closest friends had the same experience. We all had surgery within 6 months of each other and we all had put on about 20 pounds and were having trouble staying motivated to take it off. In May of this year, I joined an online support group focused specifically on healthy living. Some of the ladies are about weight loss; others’ thing is eating clean. We have a wide range of ages and sizes, but are committed to positive feedback and supporting each other. It is a safe environment to share insecurities about our bodies. There are monthly fitness challenges and we have our very own personal trainer as a member who vlogs training tips for us. I’ve only lost 5 pounds, but my size 2 jeans fit fantastic, so I’m calling it a non-scale victory!

Some things change. I don’t like diet soda anymore. I was the queen of Diet Coke for breakfast. Now I will drink a cup of tea in the morning and rarely ever have a soda, opting instead for Propel water. My love of unhealthy food continues to diminish. Just last night I turned down a slice of Dutch apple pie I made, because I knew the sugar content would make me feel yucky. My hair has returned to its golden glory. I had great hair pre-surgery and then my first-year post-surgery it became fragile, so I dyed it a darker color to cause less damage. I’m thrilled it’s healthy again and I’m back to blonde (it hides the gray much better).

Some things stay the same. I still love ice cream (my latest go to is Sugar Free Klondike bars. There is built-in portion control and the ice cream tastes yummy). Breakfast is always a protein shake (except Sundays). I still weigh my food, especially dinner. Exercise makes me feel better and I try to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week.

Maintenance sucks. Doing the same thing day after day and not getting any “reward” (looser clothes, lower number on the scale) is a bummer for me. I am a goal oriented/project planning woman. To combat the tedious treachery of weight maintenance I have found ways to focus my energies. Initially, it was running farther/faster. That was great, until I got injured. These days I am relying on my support group and the little challenges that we share. It is a battle for me to stay motivated, especially when my commitments slip, so sometimes I try a daily challenge. (For example, today I will log everything that goes into my mouth.) When I focus on “just for today,” I can rejoice in the little successes.

Head games aren’t fun. As much as I try to stay out of my head, sometimes I just can’t. I will look in the mirror and irrationally see the same fat woman I was 4 years ago. The first thing I do when this happens is try and find a some aspect of myself that I think looks good. It may be my hair or makeup, it might be the way my shirt fits. I also share those nasty feelings with my husband and my support group. They always have my back and help me look at the situation more logically.

Focusing on the positive makes things better. The most important thing I have learned over the past 4 years is to focus on the positive things in my life. I’m not perfect, and really...I would be pretty boring if I didn’t make some mistakes along the way. The reality is my life is so much better now that I’m healthier (both physically and mentally). I no longer sleep with a Darth Vader mask due to sleep apnea, I have helped other women by being honest about my struggles, and most days I like the woman who looks back in the mirror.

Today I am feeling great about myself and weight loss surgery. This surgery was a huge commitment for me and my family; it is not a cure-all or a solution for everyone. I must remain vigilant or deal with the consequences. There are many ways to lose weight and Susan Wanderer from My Stomping Grounds here at Fredericksburg Parent just blogged about her start. You can join her weight loss journey.

Going into the holidays I always find it tough to focus on weight. Let’s be serious, it’s way more fun to bake cookies with the kids, go to parties, and embrace that holiday vibe that usually centers around food. Years ago, when I was attending Weight Watchers the leader commented that not gaining from Halloween through New Years’ was like losing weight. This stuck and I continue to apply it annually. Something new I plan to implement this year came from an article I recently read in Runners World that said even 5 minutes of exercise is better than no exercise. When out shopping I always park far away and walk. The extra steps help burn off that skinny vanilla latte and the reduction in stress from the crazy holiday shoppers is worth the effort. Please share your holiday weight maintenance suggestions in the comments below. Wishing you the happiest of holiday seasons!

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3 Things to Know When You Relocate as a New Mom

2016 has been a whirlwind of a year to say the least. I am a New York City native and I was certain I’d always live there until my husband and I got the pleasant news that I was pregnant and due in May 2016. All of a sudden the public transportation I relied on daily seemed too difficult to imagine navigating with a stroller and newborn. The busyness of the city, which we’d always loved, seemed perfect for us--but not for our baby. Before I knew it, we were packing boxes during my second trimester and headed to Spotsylvania. As much as I love Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg, and the businesses we’ve encountered--it’s been a big adjustment. I’ve realized I’m not the only one experiencing a big adjustment during this season which brings me to my first point.

Baby Will and Imani

1. You are not alone.

It may not seem this way as you pace back and forth rocking a crying baby. As diapers pile up, spit up lands in your hair, and you feed a seemingly insatiable little human--it can seem as though you and your baby are the only ones in this season. My saving grace has been chance meetings with moms and parents who have been there.

When we first arrived here, I was six months pregnant and we had to organize our baby registry at Babies R Us. As I was mulling over my 14 page registry (first time mom!), I got the chance to chat with a man who worked there who had a son. We were able to discuss what he and his wife thought they needed vs. what they actually needed and I was able to make purchases I could feel good about.

My husband is an amazing photographer so as soon as we moved in, he looked into businesses we were familiar with--like co-working spaces. They’re pretty popular in NYC and allow you to work within a community without running the same risks as sitting in a restaurant that has wifi. We were incredibly relieved to attend Open Coffee at the Foundry, with little William in tow. He was well received and I later learned one of the cofounders has a 6 year old who frequents the location. She told me, “It’s tough to be a working mom especially if you have to watch your little one. But it’s important that you are able to take care of your family just as freely as you are able to work. I’ve been there first hand when I brought my daughter as an infant to a boardroom meeting! “My three month old is their youngest entrepreneur yet!

There’s a beautiful sense of relief that comes as mothers recount their first few months with their child(ren). It helps to refresh my mind and help me to see the bigger picture. This newborn/infant season is temporary. I am strong enough to make it through, and every single parent has hard days. You are not the only one dealing with your experience. Finding at least one person you can relate to can bring a world of comfort.

2. The logistics will work out.

My family has seen a slew of different doctors and medical practices since we’ve arrived. This is particularly because when we moved here, I was so close to the point where we’d begin having weekly check-ups for the baby. It can seem overwhelming to look into a home, find a doctor that shares your values, switch over insurance, get a new license, figure out the best grocery store, adjust your dietary needs etc. in a new place. The weight of responsibility can wash over you, leading you to feel like you don’t know where to begin.

My advice would be: don’t look at the entire mountain of tasks-- focus on the one in front of you. Focus on today’s to-do list. Postpartum, I had no idea how to adjust the way I’d been pre-pregnancy and during my pregnancy. I was the planner in my family and I was used to being the one who gets things done around the house. I was surprised at how bad an idea it was to come straight home from the hospital and begin cleaning/lifting things. I was used to working 10+ hour days sometimes and though I worked from home I didn’t realize how much pausing I would have to do. My newborn needed cuddling, changing, swaddling, burping and feeding. Now that he’s three months old, he crawls all over me and wants to “converse” no matter what I am in the middle of. My schedule has changed from wake up, work, sleep, to trying to complete the top 5 tasks of the day. I’ve become extremely flexible and I’ve learned to give myself grace for what I can do in this season of life.

If the laundry isn’t finished, I’ve learned that doesn’t make me a bad wife or mother. It’s something I truly struggled with when we first brought the baby home. I expected to be able to do all the things I’ve always done and handle motherhood simultaneously. I’ve learned to accept help (thanks husband!), pace myself (there’s no award for being the “fastest dish washer”), and take in the moments. I’ve been able to run into moms on walks around my neighborhood, who don’t mind my talkative baby, and give me tips on how to get plugged into mom groups in the area. If you know of any near Spotsylvania, please share in the comments section! I’d love to gain friends who understand how hard it is to write a blog while rocking a baby with your other arm.

Before you know it, the huge mountain will be a small and manageable pile. Don’t lose hope; it’ll all get done eventually.

3. Have fun!

You deserve fun. You deserve to eat out, watch a movie, go for a swim, go sightseeing, play with your children or do whatever it is that brings you joy. In the midst of a busy schedule, the best thing you can do is set aside time to maintain (or regain) your sanity. Take a load off and take a day trip. The last day trip my husband and I took was to City Dock near Sophia St. in downtown Fredericksburg. It was so beautiful watching people paddle boat and kayak with their families. We also tried Benny’s Pizza in downtown Fredericksburg--it was life-changing! It reminded me of Artichoke Pizza Company in New York. As the weather cools down, we look forward to trying the Virginia Aquarium and indoor skydiving. Do you have any recommendations, by the way? I’d love to hear your thoughts on good day trips and outings for a 4 month old!

Consider exploring your new home or visiting neighboring cities. It may even feel nice to go visit back home to see friends or family. The point is to create a balance between the work that needs to get done and the memories that are waiting to be built. It is a great bonding experience to do fun things with your family. It helps remind them that no matter how long the to-do list is, family comes in first every time!

So, if as you read this your child is screaming or drooling on your shoulder, you’re not alone. Baby rashes, colds, long nights, early mornings, and the struggle to find a shirt without spit up (that will stay that way for 24 hours), can seem like never-ending process. On top of all of this you may want to work out, invest in your relationship, check on family, and it can seem laughable that you’d find a place for all of this in your schedule. Remember, you are not alone; you can find comfort that at least one other mom is in the same boat (me!).

One of my favorite quotes is: we are all figuring out this parenting thing day by day. Even the most “put together” mama faces the unexpected because kids are just that unpredictable. The logistics will work out, so take a deep breath and focus on what you can do, not what you think you should be able to do by this point. Accept help and look for resources. And finally remember to have fun! We won’t always be brand new to the area, my son certainly won’t always be an infant, and the best way I’ve found to manage the stress is to pull away and dive into fun experiences! Find a way to make life about more than the work in store for you. Make Monday your day to try a new cafe. Or make Tuesdays your day to check out a new activity in town. Whatever you choose, fun will help you and your family to enjoy this process more.

Coles Family

Imani Coles is an entrepreneur from New York City who endeavors to change the world one young person and one conference at a time. Her life’s goal is to walk alongside others, encourage them, and inspire them to push themselves towards their purpose.

Her heart is to serve others and aid them on their journey through life by connecting them with influential community members, publishing books, blogging, speaking, hosting workshops, and loving others.

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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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Pouches' Community Corner

Bikers Against Child Abuse, Inc. (BACA) exists to create a safer environment for abused children by empowering children to not feel afraid of their world. Imagine how an abused child feels when a group of large bikers rides up to their house, inducts them into their club and then escorts them to court to testify against their abuser.

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