Words, Words, Words

Morgan is just shy of 18 months old, and she’s picking up new words every day. So far, identifiable words include:

  • Mama
  • Dada
  • D’in (Dillon)
  • Pupa (puppy)
  • Daw (dog)
  • Baba (bottle)
  • Baby
  • Book
  • Min (Minnie Mouse)
  • Mow (more)
  • Door
  • Deedee (Dillon’s blanket)
  • Bow (bowl)
  • Ear
  • Mouth
  • Hair
  • Eye (eye)
  • I (ice)
  • Nose
  • No
  • Nurz (nurse)
  • Bird
  • Bear
  • Hi
  • Bye
  • Tickle
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Best School Ever

Sweet Boy is in kindergarten!

It doesn’t seem like a huge change to me. He’s been at the same school for the past two years doing full-day preschool with before- and after-care, so he’s felt like a school-kid for quite a while now.

But this year does mean a new teacher, a new classroom, and a new level of learning — full-day kindergarten just became mandatory this year, so I guess this is the “real thing.”

The afternoon before classes began, we dropped by the school to check out his room, meet the teacher and otherwise prep for a new year. And I got yet another reason to brag about the amazing learning environment we enjoy in the Pacific University Early Learning Community.

First, we were greeted by his teacher: This is her first full-time teaching position, though she ran the kinder class last year after the primary teacher went on maternity leave. I’d never met her, and she’d only interacted with Sweet Boy in passing.

Still, she greeted him on sight, by name.

She introduced herself to me and my husband, but her focus was on her student.

“I heard you really like numbers and you’re really good at math,” she said.

She knew our son’s interests and abilities already. The teachers had collaborated before school began, and she’d already learned a little about her students.

“Yeah,” he said. “I heard we’re going to learn to read this year. I don’t like that so much.”

(I’m not thrilled with this attitude, but not surprised. As much as he likes writing, reading takes work and he’s resisted trying.)

“Oh, but did you know that you can use numbers to read?” the teacher asked.

“What?!” His mind was blown.

And the conversation continued a bit, as she set him up to be more excited about the coming year.

So let’s recap:

  • First-time teacher.
  • Incredibly decorated/prepared classroom.
  • Already knows her students on sight, by name.
  • Has collaborated with previous teachers to learn about students’ strengths and interests.
  • Before classes begin, has strategies in place to differentiate learning for those students.

I am in awe.

Add that to everything else we love about the ELC:

  • Incredibly caring staff.
  • Small class sizes and high adult-to-student ratio.
  • Play-based learning.
  • Natural materials.
  • Outside time every day.
  • Respect for children’s natural development (including rough-housing, etc.)

I never intended to seek out private education for my children; I’ve always believed in public education. But as we transitioned from preschool to kindergarten, we knew we wanted to stay at the ELC because of the amazing environment and people. And that decision is reinforced by experiences like this. Every. Single. Day.

Do the Math

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to write an in-depth piece on a rare public school program that operated within the local maximum-security prison. It was, at least at the time, the only public school program that offered a traditional high school diploma — not GED — within a maximum-security prison.

It was a fascinating experience, visiting the prison, learning the rules around wardrobe and behavior (it was a men’s prison), then talking to young men who had been convicted of some incredibly serious crimes.

It was eye-opening to say the least, and it had the opportunity to be an incredible story for my portfolio, too, until I made a critical mistake.

The administrator told me it cost $100 a day to house a prisoner, so reducing recidivism would save $365,000 a year — more than the $337,600 spent annually on the program.

I printed his facts verbatim.

Only after the article went to print did I realize that $100/day would equal $36,500 a year, not $365,000 a year. That changes the story considerably.

It should have been an easy mistake to catch — if I had done the math, instead of trusting someone else’s numbers.

Journalists are infamous for being bad at math, but they shouldn’t be. Basic math is a critical component of everyday life, even for a writer.

I’m sorry to say, I made a similar mistake much more recently. I trusted a resume that said a person had worked at their company for 27 years. I had both the start and end date of the individual’s employment, so it would have been simple for me to figure out that he, in fact, worked there for 39 years. But I didn’t stop to do the math — and I ended up with a story that needed a correction.

The takeaway: Don’t take numbers for granted. Do the math yourself.

He said. She said.

Stated. Noted. Uttered.

Laughed. Chortled. Snorted.

The list of words that writers will come up with to attribute quotes is exhaustive.

As in, it exhausts me.

As young writers, we are taught to build our vocabulary, be descriptive and vary our word choice. But in attributing quotes, this advice can be dead wrong.

In almost every case “he said” or “she said” is the best choice to follow a quote.

Why?

First, many of the alternatives are just inaccurate.

Did your source really “laugh” through his entire sentence? Didn’t he get a little breathless?

Wouldn’t your source use a pen and paper, not her voice, to “note” her point?

And how, exactly, can a person “imply” the exact words that came out of his or her mouth?

Using “said” to attribute quotes is not boring or redundant — it’s accurate.

It’s also unobtrusive. As a writer, you should be selecting the direct quotes that are the most poignant and illustrative of your source — why would you distract from their words with flowery attribution?

Yes, there are exceptions. There will be a moment when your readers need to know that the source “whispered” a certain phrase. And, perhaps, “snorted” is both accurate and connotes a tone of sarcasm that wouldn’t otherwise come through in text.

Those cases, however, will be rare. The rest of the time, it’s best to avoid the temptation to overwrite.

“Keep it simple,” she said.

Quoting Sources

Quote are opportunities for your sources to shine (or not, as the case may be*).

Direct quotes give your readers the opportunity to “hear” a voice other than yours and to get to know the person about whom you are writing.

They should be agates in a field of gravel: colorful and rare.

As the writer, it’s your job to ensure that the quotes you choose are accurate representations of your source and that they add to the reader’s experience.

What good quotes are:

  •      The words that came out of your source’s mouth, verbatim
  •      Insights into your source’s feelings, thoughts, rationale
  •      Complete thoughts

What good quotes are not:

  •      Your interpretation of what your source meant
  •      Your entire interview, in your source’s words
  •      Fragments that need explanation and excessive context
  •      Information that you can write more clearly or concisely

Some examples:

She said that the experience was “great.”
This is not an insight into your source, nor a complete thought. Though your source may have used the word “great,” a single-word quote — unless it is a dramatically unexpected word — does not even need quotes. Look for what your source said next: why it was great.

When asked what he liked best about the trip, he said, “the food, the hotel and the skydiving.”
If you need to explain your question, the quote is not strong enough to stand alone. There are times, however, that an incomplete sentence may be worth using — if you set it up well. For example, had the above quote been stronger:
The best part?
“The food, the hotel — and the 10,000-foot fall.”

“I went to Odense for the semester as a study abroad. That’s a city in Denmark. I’m really interested in fairy tales, and Odense is where Hans Christian Andersen — you know, he wrote the Ugly Duckling — that’s where he’s from, and they have a museum to him there.”
If you can recount the facts better than your source, do. Save the quotes for the parts you can’t do better: the thoughts and feelings.
Her interest in fairy tales led her to study abroad in Odense, Denmark, the birthplace of The Ugly Duckling author Hans Christian Andersen. “They’ve turned his childhood home into a museum. I could just see him as a child dreaming up stories — just like I did.”

Over time, you will develop an ear for a good quote. You will know, in the middle of an interview, which sentences are especially important to record word for word, and you’ll find yourself writing your stories around the best quotes.

In the meantime, look in your sources’ answers to your most complex questions: the whys and hows.

 

* Illusions of objective journalism aside, how you use a quote is, ultimately, subjective. Your responsibility is to be as honest as possible. If you’re covering a public official for the news, you might choose to let your source back himself into a corner, if that’s in the public interest. If you’re writing a feature profile (say, er, of an alumnus of the university you work for, for the university website), you might be more forgiving in your quote selection — but still authentic and honest.

Get Involved!

As a young reporter in Alaska, I was assigned a story on the local cadre of Young Marines.

Early on a Saturday morning, I headed to the local fire training center, where teenage boys were rappelling down a three-story tower.

I watched from the bottom, taking notes on the activity, talking to the leaders, and gathering quotes from some of the young men. I had enough for the story I was assigned.

But then, they asked if I wanted to try it out — if I wanted to climb the stairs to the top of the tower, let someone harness me up, then step backwards into thin air.

Yes. Yes, I did.

Not only was the experience awesome, but the story was so much better, because I could describe the steepness of the steps, the final climb by ladder, the structure of the harness, the coarseness of the rope, the adrenaline rush of the controlled fall.

Now, I haven’t always chosen to participate in my stories. In Wyoming, when I was writing a piece about life on the local Native American reservation, I was invited to partake in peyote ceremony. I was curious, but that particular experience wasn’t within the scope of my story — and I had to drive back to town an hour or so later — so I opted out.

Your level of participation is, of course, a choice. But the more you can get involved — the more you can see firsthand, whether by participating yourself or just shadowing your subject through their activities — the richer and more authentic your writing will be.

Sleeping Through Second Pregnancy

Hahahahaha! You’re pregnant, and you have a child at home? And you think you’re going to sleep? Again, I say, ha!

See, just like the first time around, this pregnancy is probably causing all sorts of not-so-fun midnight “experiences.” Heartburn and indigestion, the constant need to pee, shriek-inducing charley horses, tingly limbs, and crazy dreams are just a few of my favorites. I think it’s nature’s very confused way of preparing you for the sleeplessness that comes with a newborn (though I would argue that a few months of really good sleep would be better preparation).

If, like me, you’ve also probably got a little one at home with his own sleep issues, you’re really in for a treat. Sure, we’d love to think that somewhere in their first year of life our children learn to “sleep through the night,” but that’s not really true. There are calls for water, middle of the night accidents, nightmares and the untimely energy that seems to come standard with a preschool-aged body.

Some of you might be thinking, “That’s what your husband is for,” and you’d be right. Mine definitely does his share of midnight duties. But I have yet to master the trick of sleeping through the nighttime crisis. It’s not that I don’t trust my husband to handle it — I really do — but my body will not drift off to dreamland while my kiddo is crying in another room.

And so, we get last night:

7:40 p.m. Started bedtime routine. We read stories in the big bed, went potty, put on jammies, ate vitamins, brushed teeth, put all the “friends” to bed, took of Monster Baby’s jammies (for reasons that only a 4-year-old can understand), rocked, and read some more.

8:45 p.m. Sweet Boy is in his own bed, clutching Monster Baby and Deedee (his beloved tag blanket), almost asleep. The fact that he doesn’t want his star nightlight on is a good sign. Perhaps he’ll pass out soon. Husband and I creep downstairs.

10:30 p.m. Grown-up bedtime. We were talking a bit too much on the way upstairs and heard a moan from Sweet Boy’s room, but everything stayed still. Phew. Kiss goodnight, and I put in my earplugs (because Darling Husband’s snoring is a whole different issue).

1:15 a.m. I have to pee. Then drink more water. I know this is a vicious cycle, but I can’t help it. I head back to bed and realize baby is awake and kicking me in the ribs. This will last a while.

2 a.m. Sweet Boy marches into our bedroom demanding jammies for Monster Baby. The same jammies he wanted to take off the doll at bedtime. I refuse. Sure, it would have been easier to give in, but I have principles, dang it. Daddy gets up to put screaming boy back to bed. I unwillingly listen and force myself not to intervene when I hear, “I just want my mommy!”

2:20 a.m. Daddy’s back and Boy is quiet. Re-insert earplugs, try to sleep.

2:45 a.m. Kick Darling Husband repeatedly to make him turnover and drop the snore-decibel level a bit. Baby turns over a few times, too.

3 a.m. Sweet Boy is back. He doesn’t want to be alone. “I want to be with someone I love.” This is his favorite line, because he knows it breaks my heart. I pick him up, take him back to his room, and we rock until he’s calmer.

3:30 a.m. Pee again.

5:30 a.m. Sweet Boy has wet the bed. He’s 4, but this is still a periodic issue. This time is a big accident. Monster Baby and Deedee are both soaked. Daddy and I both get up — he changes sheets and jammies while I start the laundry, pee (again) and try to assure Sweet Boy that his beloveds will be okay in the washing machine. He climbs into our bed and wants to cuddle.

5:45 a.m. Daddy is snoring. Sweet Boy is “cuddling” by laying on half my body and squirming. When I tell him to calm down, he whispers, “Is this why you put me in my own bed.” Yes, yes it is. Baby Girl is kicking Sweet Boy’s back through my tummy.

6:40 a.m. Sweet Boy is done “cuddling.” He moves to the center of the bed and suddenly is still.

6:44 a.m. Soft, steady breathing from my left indicates Sweet Boy is finally asleep.

6:45 a.m. Alarm goes off. Time for Mommy to get up. Oh well, I had to pee anyway.

8 a.m. Wake the boys to get ready for school.

8:15 a.m. I’m at work, ready for a full day, followed by one of Sweet Boy’s friends’ birthday parties. Pregnant or not, I crack open the first shot of caffeine. Happy Friday!

DIY Family Recipe Towel

If you’ve never tasted aebleskiver, you’re missing out more than I can say.

A traditional Danish dish served around the holidays, these little buttermilk pancake balls are dipped in butter and sugar, then enjoyed until your stomach is ready to burst. You might even add in some really good sausage, served, of course, with homemade applesauce, to round out your meal — but in my opinion, that’s always been optional.

aebleskiver
Is that my helping?

The aebleskiver tradition in my family comes from my maternal grandmother’s family. Both her parents were first-generation Americans whose own parents immigrated from Denmark in the late 1800s. We, sadly, have lost the language and probably a whole lot of our heritage, but aebleskiver is a piece that remains.

Many years ago, there was a picture in our small town newspaper of me, my mother, my grandmother and my great-grandmother making aebleskiver together. My mom’s now-laminated recipe was typed by my great-grandmother and contains a couple of hand-written notes, and the distinctive cast-iron pans used to make the breakfast treats are special gifts among my cousins.

Megleskiver — Sister Meghann whips up a batch of batter for a New Year's morning feast.
Megleskiver — Sister Meghann whips up a batch of batter for a New Year’s morning feast.
Mom's got her hands full with two aebleskiver pans.
Mom’s got her hands full with two aebleskiver pans.

For Christmas this year, I decided to capitalize on a bit of the tradition by making hand-stamped towels featuring the recipe. (My first idea had been to have custom fabric made out of a picture of the original recipe, but since the recipe card isn’t handwritten, I didn’t think it would be that cool.)

I started by designing a simple version of the recipe in Illustrator.

Then, I sent it off to this company to have a stencil created. (In retrospect, I should have had a stamp made instead — it would have held up longer and bled less — but a stencil is what came to mind when I was planning.)

While waiting for the stencil to arrive in the mail, I searched for some simple flour-sack towels. It took a bit of research to find what I had in mind, but I ended up with some from Fred Meyer. (Had I more time and money, I may have gone for higher-quality fabric and made them myself, but you have to set boundaries somewhere.)

Flour sack towels
Flour sack towels

I pre-washed and then ironed the towels, then spent a couple of evenings stenciling the recipe onto each towel with fabric paint.

Fabric paint
Fabric paint
Aebleskiver stencil
Aebleskiver stencil

Like I said, the stencil did start to bleed, but I figured no one would be using their towel as the actual recipe. It’s decorative!

Then had to dry for three days for the paint to set (bye-bye dining room table), but then they were ready for another wash.

A full table of drying towels
A full table of drying towels

I found from my first ironing experience that these towels would never be crisp, so I didn’t both with a second attempt. I just folded them as best I could and wrapped each pair with some baker’s twine and a gift tag.

I didn’t bother with wrapping, either. I just handed them all out simultaneously at our family Christmas gathering. Definitely a big hit!

Benefit of the Doubt

Lately, Sweet Boy has been saying “fine” — a lot. As in, “Eat your breakfast.” “Fine.” “Get dressed, please.” “Fine.”

Out of his mouth, the single syllable alternately drips with venom or whistles out on a breath of exasperation.

I joke that this is a preview of his 15-year-old self … but in reality, I had been giving him the benefit of the doubt. I figured that he had picked up the word and tone from a friend or TV (or, OK, maybe a parent), but that he really thought it was just another way of saying “OK” or “yes.”

Foolish, foolish Mommy.

Daddy finally got a little tired of the early adolescent attitude and told Sweet Boy that “fine” wasn’t really a nice answer.

“Well,” Sweet Boy explained logically, “‘fine’ is just a word for when you don’t really want to do what your parents want.”

Great.

Vocabulary and self-expression is well-developed. Attitude, um, advanced.

My Gestational Diabetes Meal Plan

I may have eaten out more in the past two weeks than the last year combined, but for the most part, I’m a homebody when it comes to mealtime. Planning and preparing my own food has been key in maintaining a healthy gestational diabetes diet. A friend recently asked for a peek at what my diet looks like, so I thought I’d share a few of my go-to items for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks with their estimated carbohydrate totals. These are some of my favorites, based both on my personal tastes and what I’ve learned works for my body. Everyone’s different, though, so learning what works for you may take some trial and error. (Talk to your doctor or dietician, too, about your carb goals for each meal — this is what was recommended for me but may not be what’s right for you!)

BREAKFAST (GOAL: 30 GRAMS)

Fruit is, unfortunately, a morning no-no for me — and I can’t tell you how much I’m craving gallons of orange juice after the baby is born. In the meantime, breakfast is a high-protein affair.

Option 1:

  • One slice of whole wheat toast (11 grams) with natural peanut butter (3 grams)
  • One container light Yoplait yogurt, any flavor (16 grams)

Option 2:

  • Egg sandwich: 1-2 eggs, scrambled or pre-baked as scrambled egg “muffins” (2 carbs), 1 slice of whole wheat toast (11 grams), 1 slice cheddar cheese (0 gram), 1 tablespoon ketchup (4 grams)
  • ½ cup skim milk (11 grams)

MORNING SNACK (GOAL: 15 GRAMS)

I pack a couple of snack options to take to work and choose whichever I’m in the mood for at my morning snack time. I try to eat the snack right after my post-breakfast blood sugar test, whether I’m super hungry or not, so that I don’t give into office-snack temptation (those M&Ms!).

Option 1:

  • String cheese (0 grams)
  • Satsuma orange (11 grams)

Option 2:

  • Apple (19 grams)
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut butter (6 grams)

Option 3:

  • Light Yoplait yogurt (16 grams)

Option 4:

  • 2 oz dry roasted peanuts (12 carbs)
  • String cheese

LUNCH (GOAL: 45 GRAMS)

My blood sugar tends to peak after lunch, so it’s important for me to try to plan my meals ahead of time instead of grabbing leftovers or takeout. Lunch meat is somewhat frowned upon for pregnant women, so I have been roasting a turkey breast in the oven every week or so to make just-like-the-day-after-Thanksgiving sandwiches. They’re a big hit with Hubby, too.

Option 1:

  • 2 cups green salad with ranch dressing (4 grams)
  • 2 slices cheddar cheese (1 gram)
  • ½ cup grapes (15 grams)
  • 1 slice whole wheat toast with peanut butter (14 grams)

Option 2:

  • Roast turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo (24 grams)
  • Satsuma orange or other fruit (11-19 grams)

AFTERNOON SNACK (GOAL: 15 GRAMS)

A different option from the morning snack list. Again, I try to eat my snack shortly after my after-lunch blood sugar test, so that I don’t get the munchies and face the temptation of less healthy snacks.

DINNER (GOAL: 45 GRAMS)

Really, if I watch my portion sizes, just about anything goes for dinner. Carbs, though, definitely need to be the side dish, not the entree. I’ve found I can have a bit of couscous or rice alongside a heartier meal. My body, however, doesn’t seem to process pasta well (even the whole wheat version), so I’ve found it very inefficient as a meal or side. We’re big on burritos, carnitas and quesadillas in my home, but tortillas also spike my blood sugar, despite their relatively acceptable carb content. If dinner has a Mexican theme, I’ll have one tortilla at most or just skip it and put the filling on a salad.

Option 1:

  • 1 baked or grilled chicken breast (0 carbs) or fish (2 carbs)
  • Steamed broccoli (7 carbs)
  • ¼ cup whole wheat couscous (33 carbs)

Option 2:

  • Tuna melt on whole wheat bread (23 grams)
  • ½ cup tomato soup (17 grams)

Option 3:

  • Beef roast (0 grams) with ¼ red potato (8 grams) and baby carrots (3 grams)
  • ½ cup peas (10 grams)
  • 4 Ak-Mak crackers (16 grams) with spreadable Laughing Cow cheese (1 gram)

Option 4:

  • Homemade chicken soup with gnocchi (29-40 grams)
  • Green salad (4 grams)

EVENING SNACK (GOAL: 15-30 GRAMS)

This tends to be where I splurge, depending on how much I’ve eaten throughout the day. For me, nighttime is the best time for a sweet snack, like a bit of ice cream or even a cookie (I’m really luck that I can handle a modest amount of processed sugar). However, it’s important to get something a little healthier in before bed, too, because if your sugar drops during the night, you’re body will over-compensate, likely reading to a high fasting level in the morning.

Option 1:

  • Anything from the morning/afternoon snack list

Option 2:

  • 1 slice whole wheat toast with peanut butter and/or homemade jam (14-30 grams)

Option 3:

  • ¼ pkg sugar-free pudding made with skim milk (16 grams) with or without 6 Nilla Wafers (18 grams)

Option 4:

  • 8 oz homemade smoothie with frozen berries, Greek yogurt, banana, skim milk (33 grams)
    This recipe makes more than 8 oz. That’s important, because a whole banana in 8 oz of smoothie would be way too many carbs!

Option 5:

  • ½ cup ice cream (19 grams) with or without diet rootbeer (0 grams)

Option 6:

  • 2 oz (before popping) air-popped popcorn (18 grams)