Softening the Edges

I’m not sure where I lost my fun side.

Perhaps it escaped the clutches of living in a harsh city like New York by taking the Long Island Railroad and retired on Long Beach.

Maybe it became trapped in the Diaper Genie after my son was born and was carried out to the dumpster along with a days worth of soiled Huggies. Or swallowed up in the wash of hormones that brought on post-partum depression after my second baby came home from the hospital.

More likely, it’s been shoved down deep, trapped under an avalanche of feeling like I can never get caught up with housework, carpools, and laundry.

Wherever it went, or however it disappeared, it’s gone. And I miss it.

Softening the Edges

But I know it won’t magically reappear out of thin air. That I won’t suddenly wake up one day and, BOOM!, I’m back to the less-stressed-out version of my self in my 20’s.

Sure, I was never one of those carefree, go-with-the-flow kind of people. Friends wouldn’t say they never saw me freak out or get consumed with a nasty case of Crankititis.

But I know I didn’t use to be this uptight. That at one time, I embraced being cheesy and silly and stupid more often than I do now.

And my kids have missed out on that person.

Oh, sure, there have been brief, fleeting moments of that forgotten side of myself. When I let go of my need to control every situation, forget about my to-do list, and bring out that easier, goofier side, I can see the flashes of excitement in my kids’ eyes.

Like, “Who is this fun woman, and why can’t she be my mother more often?”

For a brief moment, I act like the mother I hoped I would be.

And just as quickly, she’s gone, overtaken by the crazy lady that gets easily frustrated at the mound of crumbs that have been dumped on the kitchen floor.

Why can’t she make an appearance more often? Why is it so hard for me to say YES to play? And why do I let myself be more consumed by accurate bedtimes and a quieter house?

In essence, when did I become such a tight ass?

I mean, in theory, I get it. Life and having kids has a way of changing people. Some rise to the occasion and flourish. Others allow those challenges to harden them. And that’s what’s happened to that younger Me, the one that said Yes to things more often then No.

I’m sure the house would be happier if I let that person come out more.

It’s really up to me to bring her back. To play more. To be playful.

So, I’m trying. I’ve started dancing for my kids in the driveway, still in my pajamas, as their father drives them to school. I’m pulling out all the stops. I’m talking the Running Man, Roger Rabbit, The Kid-n-Play and fan kicks.

And my kids love it.

I’m trying to tickle more at bedtime, even though the controlling side of my brain wants to make sure the kids’ bodies are calm before trying to go to sleep.

I’m singing more around the house, including my requests for getting homework done and feeding the fish. It seems to get more smiles than my drill sergeant approach.

Sure, it’s not much, but it’s a start. And I’m not consistent, yet. Last night I went in to full-on command mode, barking orders for bedtime commencement like it was boot camp. It wasn’t until I had closed their doors that I realized how quickly I reverted.

But perhaps awareness is half the battle.

And next time, I can ask my kids to start brushing their teeth in my best opera voice.

Quick Sound Bite: “Free to Be…You and Me” by Jason Didner and Suzi Shelton

I love when artists take a song that was popular when I was a child and release it at a time where it becomes relevant for my own children. It’s a win-win – my children experience a classic for the first time, and I get to rediscover my youth.

I was a baby when the original “Free to Be…You and Me” by the New Seekers came out, but I can remember listening to Marlo Thomas and her friends sing about gender equality throughout my childhood.

FTBYAM Cover 1400x1400

It’s amazing how much of this message still resonates in today’s social and cultural climates, so it seems only fitting that Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam and Suzi Shelton have revamped and breathed new life in to this 70’s classic with their latest single release of “Free to Be…You and Me.”

This duo’s take on the song retains that feel-good vibe that brings me right back to my bell-bottomed, carefree days as a child in the 70’s, but adds a bit more energy and drive to the original. Produced by Marc Bazerman (of Baze and His Silly Friends), this version offers rocking saxophone solos and a great horn section, electronic guitars and a jamming coda instead of the original banjo sound. Suzi Shelton’s sunny and strong vocals mix nicely with Jason Didner’s raw quality, and the effect is smile-inducing.

“Free to Be…You and Me” by Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam featuring Suzi Shelton is now available on iTunes.

Do you remember this song from your childhood?

 

Disclosures: I was provided a copy of this products for review purposes. All opinions are 100% completely my own. Full Of It is a participant in the iTunes Affiliate Program. If you click on some of the product links above, I will receive a small commission which in turn helps run this site. Don’t fear, I only recommend tunes that I think you’ll love!

Life Lessons From the SkatePark

“Don’t walk up on that ramp, Mom,” my eight year-old son warned me when we arrived at the skatepark.

It was my first time taking him, though he had been to this skatepark a couple of times with his father. While I surveyed the park and pondered what bowls and dips my son might break his limbs on, my son filled me in on the particulars of the skatepark.

From what I gather, it’s usually crawling with foul-mouthed teenagers who sneak in a cigarette behind the large concrete wall at the back of the park, the one my son tried to steer me clear of.

When I asked why I shouldn’t go back there, my son informed me that it was covered in graffiti. But not just any graffiti – “bad word graffiti.”

And he wasn’t kidding.  The least obscene phrase, which elicited a giggle from both me and my son?

Ball sack.

But mostly? The wall was covered in a litany of curse words, introducing my son to the correct spelling of just about every explicative known to man.

Looking at the list, I wondered if, when my son saw it for the first time, if it was the First Time he’d heard of these words. Not the tame ones like hell or damn or even ass. But instead, you know, the vulgar ones.

Life Lessons from the Skate Park

I keep things fairly clean around my kids, though I’m sure they’ve heard me mutter “shit!” when I’ve broken something, or dropped an f-bomb whisper here and there.

But some of those words on that list made ME blush, and I’m 41 years old.

I had a moment where I thought about taking this opportunity to explain all of these words to my son to let him know why they’re offensive. To use Dan Pearce of Single Dad Laughing’s idea about granting a child five minutes in a “bubble” of amnesty for them to say bad words without consequences to get the curiosity and mystery out of their system.

But then I chickened out.

Like I did when my son nonchalantly asked me, from the back seat of our car as we pulled in to the school parking lot, “Mom, what’s Ebola?” My answer was quick and simple – an illness.

I was too frozen with fear to say anything more. I was afraid that I wouldn’t have the right words to explain the disease in a way that wouldn’t make my kids scared. I was afraid of over-explaining. I didn’t want to flood my children’s ears with issues that seemed too adult for them to comprehend.

I never dug deeper, never brought it up later. School let out in the afternoon, my son didn’t mention it again, and I forgot to bring it up. To clarify. To ease any worry.

Later in the week, as we watched a football game one afternoon, a report came on that two kids in our town were being tested for Ebola. Before I could even get a gauge on how much my kids heard, my son launched in to an explanation to his younger sister of what the disease was.

To my surprise, it was mostly accurate. It didn’t go in to much detail, but in true little-boy-gorey fashion, he made sure to divulge that Ebola can make someone’s eyeballs bleed.

So, I asked my son where he had heard that.

On the bus. From an older kid, of course.

Immediately I started thinking about what else this 5th grader was explaining to my son. Drugs? Sex? How to file taxes?

It feels too early to have these conversations with my son, the eight year-old who still fiercely believes in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, who willingly watches Mickey Mouse Clubhouse when it’s on the television while shopping at Gymboree, and hopes to get footed pajamas for his birthday.

And yet, I fear if I don’t have these discussions with him, he’ll hear them from someone else, and hear them wrong. As much as I enjoy sharing information about the wonderful aspects of living on this planet, I just don’t feel like I’m going my job as a parent if I let a 5th grader, or a graffiti-smeared wall, teach my children about the darker parts of the world.

So, I’ve started sucking it up. When I’m caught off guard, I take the excellent advice of a fantastic parent-friend of mine and say “I’d love to answer your question, but I need some time to think about it. Can we talk about this later?” And then remember to have that conversation later, instead of waiting for my kids to bring it up.

I’m trying hard to not shy away from answering tough questions when my son asks them, as uncomfortable as they make me. I’m asking more questions to his questions to find out why he’s asking and what he’s asking for, offering just enough information to satisfy curiosity, while trying to gauge how much my son can and wants to handle.

Because he probably can handle more than I give him credit for.

I mean, after all, he did snicker at “ball sack.”

 

How do YOU handle those tricky questions? I’d love to hear your advice and experience!

New Music: December Sound Bites (and a GIVEAWAY)

You’ve survived the season of thanks. Now, welcome to the season of giving! There’s so much to be excited about –time spent with the ones you love, festive cookies, and large sweaters to hide my holiday weight.

And you can count some awesome music in that list, too. So, without further ado, here’s some music to check out this month!

December Sound Bites

First up, Big World Audio Theatre presents The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow.

I am so excited about this two-CD digi-pack release. On one CD unfolds a fascinating tale, told by amazing voices and striking music. The other CD is just the music that comes from the tale, which could easily stand on its own, but put them together and you experience a magical world.

The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow is a nautical adventure about fisherman Sleepytime Greg and his charming crew on search of treasure, featuring beautifully and effortlessly woven song and narrative.

If you’re traveling by car this holiday season, the narrative CD would be great to listen to. While listening to this eccentric group of musicians and artists share Captain Greg and his crew’s story, it becomes clear that sometimes in life, the treasure is the journey itself, and that meeting new friends and experiencing exciting adventures can’t be measured in gold and silver.

Musical standouts on the album include “Ode To the Tater-Tot” (a waltz about a beagle, layering beautiful harmonies and syncopated melodies), “Barnaby’s Song” (a lopping tune akin to a Beck composition, sung by an octopus, reminding us that our differences are what make us unique), and “Lost Lullaby” (a waltz sung by toads, voiced by two rich and mesmerizing vocalists that are purely perfect together).

This gorgeously produced project is a musical voyage as well, traveling through a variety of tempos and moods, all with sea-fearing sensibilities. Songs like “Swab the Deck,” “Sleepytime Greg,” (with its washboard, spoons and fiddles), “This Island Life” and “Life Is Good” provide an upbeat contrast to the mellow tracks on the album.

But it’s the more tender tracks on this project that pull at my soul. “Aquinas” is a sentimental goodbye song to a pet fish. Perhaps it’s because we just lost a pet, or more likely, it’s due to the soulful melody and heart wrenching strings, but this song is my favorite on the album. Those lovely harmonies get me again in the quiet lullaby “My Sleepyhead.”

Rounding out the album are the tracks “Big World,” “Follow the Albatross,” “Where Monsters Never Sleep” (with its tense string trills and eerie bellows giving a delicious dark quality to the tale), and the lovely piano instrumental “Above the Clouds”.

Seriously, I can’t get enough of this album, and continue to listen to it way after I drop the kids off at school.

The Peculiar Tales of the S.S. Bungalow is available on iTunes, AmazonCD Baby and their site.

But you know what? I love this project so much and think it would make a fantastic gift this season, so I’m offering one lucky reader a copy in a giveaway. Keep reading to find out how to enter!

The first time my family heard Billy Jonas’ “What Kind Of Cat Are You?,” we became huge fans. In Jonas, my kids found a musician who created catchy melodies that also plugged right in to their sense of humor without being cheesy.

Billy Jonas has now released his first studio album in five years, Build It Back Again, an album rich in the compositional variety and surprises, humor, and optimism that is uniquely Billy Jonas.

Jonas, about this new album, mentions that it is about growth, and I would imagine that he might be referring to his own musical development as well. Build It Back Again manages to be at once deep and accessible, due in no large part to Jonas’ thoughtful lyrics and engaging melodies.

The title track and first song on the album “Build It Back Again,” in its unusual meter, is an inspirational song about how a city can rise from the depths of calamity and become strong again, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

The sweetly somber “It’s Good For You and Good For Me” explains how pruning a tree actually helps it grow, and teaches the message that what sometimes seems like a hardship can actually helps us learn and get stronger. “Maybe Maybe Not,” with its fun drums and percussion and soaring melodies, reminds us that life is full of surprises.

Jonas isn’t afraid to introduce young ears to more experimental sounds, showcased in edgier tracks like “Moment of Noise,” a lengthier tune about evolution, and the Big Bang. “Atmosphere” is a spacy song that takes listeners on a skywards trip to find out what’s up above us.

Presented in three parts throughout the album, some of my favorite tracks are the “Fruit Salad Serenades” – acapella tracks that use fruit names to make music; using the melodic sound of the word “tangerine,” the percussiveness of the word “apple,” or the bass quality of “prunes.” “Fruit Salad Serenade Pt. 2” provides a tropical version on things, with fruit like coconut, mango, and pomegranate creating a Caribbean beat.

One of the most endearing qualities about Billy Jonas is his witty, smart sense of fun and humor, strongest in songs like “Hairy Things” in which Jonas explains the four types of “Hairy’s” and is a pretty cute play on words. On “I Mean,” Jonas moves letters around on words and has his band decipher what he’s saying.

I was excited to see the title “What Kind of Bear Are You” on the album, as a follow-up to our family favorite. This track has the same melody as cat one, but adds a bit more funk. Other fun tunes on the album include the funky “L-M-N-O-P Break” and “I Want to Know.”

Billy Jonas’ Build It Back Again is available on Amazon.

 

If you’re looking to add some Christmas music to your library this season, Rachel Sumner has released her eighth studio album, and her latest, Jingle All The Way contains both original and traditional holiday songs to sing along to.

Sumner’s interactive CD comes with a PDF lyric sheet of all the songs on the album, as well as instrumental songs of three tracks to karaoke your heart out to, and includes a coloring sheet for little ones.

Rachel Sumner has a lively, bubbly voice that hits all the highlights of the holiday season, and is most infectious in tracks like her original polka-style “I Can’t Wait For Christmas” and the classic “Jingle Bells.”

Sumner’s strength lies in her ability to decorate holiday songs with some jazz-music garland, evident in tracks like “Here Comes Santa Claus” with its swinging piano, the great instrumental break on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and the jazzy versions of “Feliz Navidad” and “Up On The Housetop.”

My only critique of Jingle All The Way is that I wish she’d taken more risks with many of the traditional holiday songs the way she did with her slightly darker, sadder take on the Julie Andrews classic “My Favorite Things,” or the march version of “Deck the Halls.”

Also included on the album are Sumner’s renditions of “Must Be Santa” with children singing with her in call-and-response, and other holiday favorites “Sleigh Ride,” “Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Jingle Bell Rock”

Instrumental sing-a-long versions of “Up On the Housetop,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Deck the Halls” round out the album and provide families with a chance to belt out these holiday favorites on their own.

Rachel Sumner’s Jingle All the Way is available on iTunesCDBaby and Amazon. You can also follow Rachel Sumner on Facebook and Twitter.

 

BUT WAIT! Don’t go just yet! I got you a present this season!

I’m giving away a copy of The Perlious Tales of the S.S. Bungalow by Big World Audio Theatre, sure to make someone’s holiday an adventurous one! All you have to do to enter is fill out the Rafflecopter widget below by Friday, December 5th at 11:59pm EST. Open to contiguous U.S. residents only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
 

Disclosures: I was provided a copy of these products for review purposes. All opinions are 100% completely my own. Full Of It is a participant in the iTunes Affiliate Program. If you click on some of the product links above, I will receive a small commission which in turn helps run this site. Don’t fear, I only recommend tunes that I think you’ll love!

Homemade Vegetarian Stuffing

Let’s get one thing straight. I am a carbohydrate gal. Yes, I like roasted turkey. And I’ll pile on the green bean casserole. But give me mashed potatoes and stuffing, and I’m set for Thanksgiving.

So when one of my dearest friends introduced me to homemade vegetarian stuffing, I found a dish so delicious that I have to remind myself to slap a little poultry and potatoes on my Thanksgiving plate.

Prior to learning this recipe, the only experience I had making stuffing was by scooping it out of a red canister. But making stuffing from scratch was far more easier than I expected, and infinitely more scrumptious.

Plus, the little ones can get involved! I hand over the bowl of toasted bread to my kids and have them rip it to shreds. They get their holiday aggression out, and I get help in the kitchen. If that’s not winning, I don’t know what is.

I don’t normally do recipes on this blog, but I can’t resist letting you in on my favorite dish.

One piece of advice? I know this calls for an insane amount of butter. Just don’t even think about it and put it all in. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Homemade Vegetarian Stuffing

You’ll need:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 package of vegetarian sausage cut in to rounds (I prefer to use Gimme Lean! by Lightlife)

1 stick of butter (though, if you’re squeamish about this, you can reduce this)

1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine

1 large bunch of parsley, stems removed, chopped fine

1 bunch of celery tops, chopped fine

½ cup of celery, chopped fine

1 loaf of white bread, toasted

¾ teaspoon dried thyme

½ can of vegetable broth

Salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1) Pour enough olive in a large skillet to thinly coat bottom and heat on medium-low heat, then place sausage rounds in pan to brown, breaking the sausage down into smaller and smaller pieces with the end of a wooden spoon, about 5-10 minutes (depending on sausage used).

2) While sausage is cooking, melt butter and onions in another pan until onions are translucent. Then add parsley, celery tops, celery and thyme, and a little bit of salt and pepper, cooking another 5 minutes.

3) As the sausage and onion/celery mix is cooking, have your kids tear the toasted bread in to small pieces. Mine just use their (hopefully clean) hands, ripping off very small pieces and throwing them in to a very large bowl. You can use a food processor to do this job, or cut the toast with a knife if you want more uniform pieces, but I prefer the rustic look of the shredded pieces.

4) Once the sausage and onion mixtures are cooked, mix them both in with the toasted bread pieces. When it is all fully combined, gradually add the vegetable broth until the stuffing is to your desired moistness.

5) Pour stuffing mixture in a 9×12 brownie pan or casserole dish and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Yep, I’m pretty grateful for all this carby goodness. To all of you and yours, I hope you have a fantastic Thanksgiving!