What’s in My Bag?

I don’t need a diaper bag anymore. But I do love a pretty and functional handbag. Nell is hosting a link up/giveaway today for a Lily Jade bag, which is probably much too big for my needs, but you never know. Maybe someday. . .


What's in my bag


Aren’t you just so interested?




Prepare to be dazzled:

  • Carpet samples for our basement
  • A pack of hand wipes
  • Some paint sample cards
  • A pack of tissues
  • Two lipsticks (why??? I don’t even wear lipstick)
  • Lotion
  • Two rosaries (the silver one is mine from my husband, the blue one was given to the girls by a nice lady at church on Sunday)
  • A bunch of paper = receipts, coupons, and a coloring picture from Sis’s gymnastics class on Tuesday
  • More paper (pink) = three copies of the Children’s Worship Bulletin from church on Sunday
  • A business card from a car salesman
  • My wallet
  • A Decision Point CD that our priest gave me yesterday

I would just like to note that all of the paper items went straight into the recycling after this little exercise.

Want to play along and try to win a bag? You don’t even have to have a blog, you can use an Instagram or a Facebook pic. Check out Nell’s bag and the link up here, and check out more Lily Jade here.

Good luck! (notreallyIwantthatbag)

“The Other Mother” – Read this Book

I love to read a good book. To me a truly good book is one that tells a great story in a beautiful way. One that speaks to you and keeps you thinking, even after you’re done reading. I just finished reading such a book.

I was asked recently to review a book called “The Other Mother: A Rememoir” by Teresa Bruce.

2013-05-04 Other Mother 6x9 cover 72dpi

In it, the author tells the story of her own young self and the woman she came to call her “other mother.” This woman, Byrne Miller, came of age during the depression. She was a dancer and dance instructor, a wife to a struggling author, and a mother to two biological daughters, one of which was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age five, the other killed in a car accident in adulthood. Teresa brings Byrne to life in her book and showcases the amazing spirit of the woman who “collected” children wherever she went, remarking, “If the family you’re given cannot make you happy, or vice versa, collect another.”

Teresa was one of Byrne’s collected daughters and she tells Byrne’s story with compelling honesty and insight. She refers to Byrne’s colorful comments and bits of advice as “womenisms,” and these are peppered throughout the book. As I read, I found myself captivated, experiencing a strong sense of connection with the unique and gutsy character of Byrne, in spite of the fact that she was of another generation and lived a life vastly different from mine.

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I really loved this book, but I struggled with figuring out how to write a review because of one major aspect of Byrne’s life. Not long after their daughter’s diagnosis with schizophrenia, Byrne catches her husband Duncan having a secret affair, and upon confronting him, learns that he wants to have an “open” marriage.

He wanted an arrangement,” Teresa writes, “an escape hatch from the broken child he could not fix.” Byrne accommodates him, stipulating that they must always at least be honest about it. One of the womenisms attributed to Byrne is, “Monogamy is overrated. Honesty is imperative.” Another is, “Every woman should have at least one affair. It builds confidence.

I vehemently disagree with both of these statements (except the second part of the first one). So much so that I had a hard time reconciling my dislike of statements like these with my love of the book and with the character of Byrne.

There is so much more to this book and to Byrne than this piece of the story, but it was hard for me to figure out how to write about it because of that one part that I feel so uncomfortable with. Obviously, the book and the author are not advocating having affairs or open marriages. But… I got stuck on this issue when trying to find a way to formulate my review.

For one thing, I could not connect with the character of Duncan, in spite of feeling empathy about his having Alzheimer’s and the inclusion in the book of several moving passages about his love for Byrne. For another, I couldn’t get on board with the portrayal at points in the book of Byrne and Duncan’s relationship as being so amazing and wonderful. A few times in the book, Teresa writes about one of Byrne’s daughters “finding her Duncan” as a metaphor for finding the perfect man. Knowing that he cheated on Byrne throughout their marriage, I could not understand why anyone would want to “find a Duncan.”

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Teresa was very open to discussing the book with me and answering questions through email, so I expressed my feelings about this to her. She noted that she didn’t think Byrne’s advice to have affairs was meant to be taken literally (though Byrne did have at least two affairs herself in her open marriage, as described in the book). Teresa also commented that she knew the open marriage thing would probably be a hard part of the story for many women to swallow. In an email to me she wrote, “As a ‘daughter’ of Byrne I kind of wanted to protect that part of her story, but as a writer, I thought I had to include it because it was part of my journey of going from thinking [Byrne and Duncan] had a perfect, fairy-tale life and marriage to realizing the truth.

That last statement was a great way to sum up the progression of the book around this topic. It reminded me that saying that someone had found “her Duncan” wasn’t so much saying she had found the perfect man, but that she had found the perfect man for her. And though their marriage was far from ideal, Duncan seemed to be the perfect mate for Byrne, and she for him. They seemed to understand and complement each other and to truly love each other in a way that worked for them. Teresa also pointed out her own dedication of the book to her husband, “For Gary, the man Byrne always knew was out there for me.” NOT, “For Gary – my Duncan.”

As Teresa reveals poignantly, Byrne’s life was anything but a fairy tale. Her older (biological) daughter Alison was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age five, and her younger daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Her husband had Alzheimer’s. And there was much more, but I don’t want to spoil some twists in the story.

For me the most haunting chapter in the book was the one in which Teresa describes the time when Alison was diagnosed, and Byrne reluctantly agreed to allow her to undergo electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Byrne was devastated, feeling she had betrayed her daughter by allowing this treatment. But also,  in 1943, she was shouldering the blame for her daughter’s illness, as it was still thought at that time that schizophrenia was caused by a “schizophrenogenic mother.”

After the ECT failed to produce desired results, the doctors suggested Alison be institutionalized. My favorite line of the book follows this, “‘Speak again of taking my child away from me,’ [Byrne] threatened, a cobra about to strike, ‘and I will attach those ECT wires to your testicles.’” I wanted to cheer when I read this. And I wanted to cry. I could absolutely see myself saying something similar if I felt one of my children was being threatened. At the same time, I couldn’t imagine being in that position.

As a mother, I devoured the parts of the book about Byrne’s efforts to “cure” Alison herself. She was like a one-woman army, going into battle with a mysterious and elusive enemy to save her daughter’s mind. As a psychologist, I cannot imagine that struggle. Obviously no one (not even the most dedicated mother) can cure schizophrenia through hard work and sheer force of will, but Byrne did help Alison to be able to attend regular schools and function throughout her life mostly independently.

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One of the womenisms Teresa attributes to Byrne is, “When what is painful can’t be fixed, close the door behind you and walk into another room. The brain has more chambers than the heart.” Byrne seemed to me the perfect example of the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” She did not dwell on hardship, but made the most of whatever situation life handed her.

Reading about why she made the choices she did, how she made them work, and what she learned from them was something I really loved about the book. I especially enjoyed reading about some of Byrne’s unorthodox parenting choices, which I found both amusing and challenging.

For example, when Duncan quit a job and suggested they leave New York for someplace quieter so he could write, they went to Byrne’s aunt’s old country home, only to find that the actual house was gone and all that was left was a chicken coop and a tree house. Byrne allowed her daughters to live in the treehouse, while putting a tent around the chicken coop for herself and Duncan. Yes, you read that right. She allowed her two young daughters to live in a treehouse.

This cracked me up at the same time it kind of horrified me. I would never allow my girls to live in a treehouse (entertaining as it was to read about someone who did), but reading about Byrne’s way of finding unconventional solutions challenged me and spoke to the part of me that knows I need to lighten up about many things with my own girls.

And therein lies the beauty of this book. If you are a woman, it speaks to you. It speaks to mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, and friends. It speaks to anyone who finds joy in self expression and art and movement. It speaks to those who have lost loved ones, whether through death or descent into psychosis and/or dementia. It speaks to anyone who has made bad decisions and to everyone who would do anything for her family, biological or “collected.”

The parts of the story that I felt most connected to, naturally, had to do with Byrne’s struggles and triumphs as a young mother. But I also appreciated the grit and spirit of this woman who fought for her children and for her marriage, even if it was often in unusual ways.

The relationship between Teresa and Byrne is one I find to be a model of how women can and should always have a support system of other women, whether that comes from blood relatives or others. I have written before about how everyone should have a Super Friend. I guess I could even refer to Super Friend as my “Other Sister.” But Teresa brings up another relationship that is critically important also, that of a mother. She reminds us that we can have this relationship even when our own mother does not or cannot provide it.

Women can and should bring out the best in each other. This book provides such a beautiful portrait of one way this can occur. If you’re a woman, you should absolutely read this book. And then email me and tell me what you thought, because I am dying to talk to someone about it! Get a copy, or win it here!

Again I have an opportunity to give away a copy of this book. This time, I have in my possession an autographed hardcover copy that I can’t wait to send to someone who will enjoy it. So, like last time just leave a comment to enter. I’ll pick a winner (via Random.org) on Monday, December 16th at 9pm Central time.

Have you ever had an “other mother” or another woman outside your family who meant as much to you as your biological relatives? Have you been an “other mother”?

** Disclosure – I was given a two signed copies of this book in exchange for writing a review of it.

Book Review and Giveaway – Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from My Six-Month-Old

Everything I Needed to Know I Learned From My Six-Month-Old: Awakening to Unconditional Self-Love in Motherhood by Kuwana Haulsey, is part memoir, part self-help book, part inspirational journey. It’s a story about a mother. A mother who is going through the trials of all new mothers and sharing them in a way we can all learn something from.

Kuwana Haulsey writes beautifully about the process of becoming a new mother, getting to know your baby, losing yourself, and then finding yourself again. This is, to my knowledge, a universal experience of new mothers.

New motherhood is something new and exhilarating and overwhelming. Beautiful and crushing. Kuwana Haulsey delves into this new stage of life with lovely insights into the process of becoming a mom.

It’s not the same for every mom, but I think the inevitable transformation after having a first baby often involves similar stages, such as Losing Self in Precious Baby, Losing Self in Deprivation (sleep, time, self-care), Losing Self in What? The? Hell? (i.e. how do I get dressed each day?, how do I stay an individual person when there is constantly a sweet yet oh-so-needy little person hanging from me?, how the heck does this carseat work?), then Finding Self in Purpose, Finding Self in Balance, Finding Self in Managing to Shower Every Day. And so on.

Kuwana Haulsey describes this process in a much more eloquent and in-depth way in her new book. She describes the Every-Mom process of losing-and-then-finding-self by documenting lessons she learned from her son. Each of the 15 chapters in her book consists of a lesson the author learned about herself and life from observing her newborn son through the first several months of his life. Lessons like:

“If You Are Irritated by Every Rub, How Will You Ever Be Polished?”: Choosing Harmony Over Resentment,

When It All Falls Apart: The Art of Joyous Failure, and

Love Is Like Musk – It Attracts Attention

Some of the observations she makes are just so “how-did-I-never-think-of-it-that-way?” wonderful. She writes with a beautiful mix of simplicity and complexity that leaves you pondering the lessons that our children have to teach us.

And that is the real point of this book. Over and over, Kuwana points out how her newborn son’s perspective on the world is an opportunity to learn to embrace life more fully, find the beauty in the hard moments, become open to change, and learn to love oneself for real.

A few of my favorite lines:

“A newborn baby is a living, breathing, screaming, pooping meditation.”

“This is how we evolve: by rubbing the sticks of truth and meaning together until something inside sparks.”

“In the adult world, thinking ahead makes us rational and responsible. You’re congratulated when you relinquish the art of being lost in the moment.”

This is a wonderfully written book. Although there are some parts where the dialogue gets a bit stilted, and I found myself feeling kind of jarred by it, the majority of the writing and the message of the book more than make up for these awkward passages.

The book provides many reminders of ways in which changing your perspective can change your heart. In the case of this book, the perspective taken is that of an infant. The journey is in realizing that so much of our world can be simplified and embraced by looking at it through the eyes of someone who hasn’t yet been burdened by the expectations and judgements of adulthood.

As a mom, I try to remember to look at things through my kids’ eyes and experience levels. I often fail in these attempts, but I do try. This book provided me with even more ways to do this and ways to think about bettering myself and appreciating myself more in the process. As the author says,

To embrace fear and anger and misgivings right along with my child allowed me to embrace myself too. Placing tender, nonjudgemental attention on the situation and staying in the moment . . . allowed something fresh and relevant to spring forth, what the old folks use to call mother’s intuition.

This is a recommended read for other moms or moms-to-be. It’s a highly enjoyable and even inspirational read.

Now, the best part of this post is that I get to tell you that I am able to give away one of these books to one of you. If you want a chance to win the book, simply leave a comment on this post and make sure you include a way to contact you. I will close the giveaway on Sunday night (12/8) at 9pm Central time. Good luck!

** I was given a free copy of this book (plus a copy to give to a reader) in exchange for my honest review**

Little Pim DVD Winner

Just a quick post to announce the winner of the Little Pim DVD:

True Random Number Generator  1

Powered by RANDOM.ORG

Commenter #1 Dianne wrote, “We would love to learn Italian.”

Congratulations Dianne!

If you still want to try out Little Pim, check out all their stuff here.

Thanks so much to everyone who entered.

P.S. I just dragged the Random.org graphic showing the result of the numbers I plugged in into this post (I couldn’t figure out any other way to get it in). There were 37 comments on the giveaway post, and I did actually use the number 37 as the maximum value. I don’t know why it doesn’t show like that when I put it in here.

Little Pim Language Learning DVD – Review and Giveaway *CLOSED*

I don’t usually do product reviews on this blog. I’ve been approached to do a few, but have never wanted to spend the time to review a product that didn’t seem to me like it would really appeal to the people who tend to read here.

But, a few months ago I was starting to look into programs for teaching foreign language to my girls. I had really been slacking on including any foreign language in our homeschool, and was looking for a little help. I took three years of Spanish in high school, and have a very basic recollection of the language, but I certainly cannot speak it and didn’t feel very confident to teach much more than vocabulary to my girls. Even that I wasn’t doing regularly, so I wanted to find something to provide more structure and better instruction than I was giving.

It just so happened that, around the time I was beginning to do some research into the available programs for preschool-aged children and was having trouble finding something appealing, I was contacted by someone at Little Pim and asked to review one of their language DVDs. I checked out their website and was impressed, so I agreed to do the review.

Little Pim produces DVDs, books, flashcards, music CDs, and games to help children from ages 0-6 begin to learn a foreign language. Their method:

The Entertainment Immersion Method® integrates the latest scientific research regarding kids’ language learning and brain development. Pimsleur Levine developed the series with leading neuroscientist Dr. April Benasich, director of the Rutgers Infancy Studies Lab.
Each of our educational DVDs has a unique, child-friendly theme, such as eating, playtime and feelings. The method teaches 360 words and phrases, providing the essential building blocks for language learning. A child only needs 500 words to be considered “conversational” in a language. Babies, toddlers and kids respond enthusiastically to Little Pim’s format, which combines animated and live-action videos.
At Little Pim, we understand how children learn, so our videos are segmented into 5-minute episodes to accommodate a young child’s attention span. Simple sentences are broken down into easy-to-understand parts and reinforced through repetition by native speakers.

They offer many languages, including Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, and Italian, to name a few. I chose to have the Spanish DVD sent to us, largely because this is the language I am most comfortable with trying to teach my kids, having some background in it myself.

The DVD that was sent to us is #2 in the Spanish DVD set, “Wake Up Smiling.” I put it on for the girls the first chance I got and sat down to watch it with them. I did this at first without looking in depth into the many suggestions Little Pim offers, both on their website and in the packaging of the DVD itself, for helping kids get the most out of the DVDs.

To begin, we just sat and watched together.

My first impression? The girls loved it. They laughed out loud at Little Pim and the silly things he does throughout the video, and they were really into it, asking to watch it again and again.



Other initial thoughts were that I really liked the repetition of the words and the way the short segments alternate between animation of Little Pim and live action of children and adults engaging in the behaviors or interacting with the items that represent the Spanish words being spoken. I loved that the DVD doesn’t just show pictures and vocabulary words, but uses common phrases as well. I needed more help with teaching Spanish phrases using the correct grammar than with teaching vocabulary words, so this part is especially useful to me.

It was a good first impression.

We began watching the DVD a few times per week, as recommended. The first few times we watched it, I just sat with the girls, turned on the English subtitles, and repeated the English and Spanish words after they were said in the DVD. We talked about many of the words (those I could remember) afterwards and at random times through the day between viewings. After watching it with them a few times, I took the time to read up on the recommendations on the website and that go along with the DVD and look into some of the other great offerings on the Little Pim website.

As recommended, I increased my attempts to use the words from the DVD in conversations with the girls throughout the day. I printed out the companion guide provided on the website to help with this. I almost always sit and watch the DVD with them and repeat the words as they are said in the video, encouraging them to do the same.

I’ve also been talking with them a bit about Spain, showing them on our world map, and cooking some traditional Spanish food (paella, empanada, etc.), so they get a little bit of context for what “Spanish” means outside of just a bunch of different words we say. I used Post-Its around the house to label various items and actions, mostly to remind myself to say these words as much as possible with them. DSC_0485

Both of my older girls are able to repeat many of the words and phrases while watching the DVD.

Miss (my four-year-old) in particular has had lots of fun trying to say the words in conversation with me. We have been watching the video for only about five weeks, but she is really beginning to pick up words and phrases. Last night while getting ready for bed, she randomly said, “los pies,” while smiling up at me. I asked her what that means, and she (correctly) held up her foot.

Lass (age 2.5) is also beginning to remember a few of the words and phrases. Her favorite is to say, “Adios, hasta pronto!” (Goodbye, see you soon!), which Little Pim says at the end of each segment of the video.

Sis (age 1) isn’t speaking much yet (in English), but she does attend to the DVD for short periods when her sisters are watching.

Overall, I really like the DVD we are using.

But, I don’t love the idea of just using a DVD and nothing else. I want a program that is more interactive, for two reasons:

One is simply that I believe providing interactive experiences is a better way to learn anything than by just staring at a screen.

The other is that, after the first few viewings, the DVD has failed to hold my girls’ attention really well for very long. They still enjoy sitting down to watch it, and will pay close attention and repeat the words back for a couple of the segments (about 5 minutes each), but they don’t sit and enjoy the whole video anymore like they did the first few times they watched it. It’s just not that sort of video.


That said, I realize that the”interactive” piece with a DVD like this has to come from me, which is why I watch it with them and try to incorporate the words and phrases in conversation throughout the day. Though the DVD is somewhat interactive (Little Pim asks questions here and there such as, “Que es esto?” – What is this?), the video seems to me to be more of a tool to get parents engaged in speaking a foreign language with their children rather than expecting that a child will learn Spanish purely from watching this DVD (or the set of DVDs) over and over. I’m sure simply watching the DVDs repeatedly would produce some learning of the language, but doing the additional activities recommended by the Little Pim folks are what is really going to make the experience beneficial.

And fortunately, Little Pim has several other, more interactive, products available as well. For the past five weeks I have only been using the DVD that was sent to me, because I wanted my review to mostly focus on that. But, recently I also downloaded some free Little Pim games on my phone, which Miss loves. These seem to have boosted her comprehension and interest quite a bit very quickly, and they’re free. Additionally, I am planning to get the Spanish Word and Phrase Cards, a few additional videos, and maybe the Little Pim music CD, as well as a few children’s books written in Spanish to increase the methods we have for presenting the language in our home.

Bottom line? The DVD is great. In short viewings, my girls really enjoy it and benefit from it. It helps me to remember and add to my old Spanish knowledge so that I can use it to teach them what’s on the DVDs and also some other things I remember. Add to the DVD the helpful tips Little Pim provides, the word and phrase cards, CD, books, and downloadable games, and I think the Little Pim program is really well-rounded for providing foreign language instruction for very young children, which is hard to find. It is also very reasonably priced, with each DVD costing only $17.95 and several different packaged deals from which to choose.

We will be watching our DVD plenty during our 10-hour drive to my parent’s house on Saturday to provide breaks between Disney movies!

I recommend the Little Pim DVDs and games to anyone who wants to expose a young child to learning a foreign language. I will also be purchasing the flashcards and music CD to try in our house as well***

Now, for the fun part. The folks at Little Pim have agreed to provide another DVD for one reader to win. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment below telling me which language  you would want to try.

For two additional chances to win:

1. Like Motherhood and Miscellany on Facebook (you can click this link or just use the “Like” button on the sidebar >>). Leave a separate comment and let me know that you’ve done so.

2. Like Little Pim on Facebook. Again, leave a separate comment telling me that you did.

Be sure I have a way to contact you if you win (email, FB, etc). The giveaway will be open until Monday, April 15th at 8 PM CST. When it ends I’ll use Random.org to pick a winner. Good luck!

*** Little Pim sent me the DVD I reviewed for free and is providing the second DVD for this giveaway. I did not receive any other compensation for writing this, and all opinions contained in this post are my own.