The Little People and Furry Friends

Snap: Ten Things I Tell My Kids

I’ve previously shared the wisdom and gifts I receive from my children; here are a few things I say to them.

  1. I’m sorry you don’t like it. Write your congressman.
  2. Is it broken forever or just for a minute?
  3. Dude, hands out of the pants. (mostly to my son, although my husband has been busted a few times)
  4. Is this really how you want this to go down?
  5. Stop!
  6. Holy cow, really?
  7. Stop micromanaging your brother. (to my daughter)
  8. When [doggie, kitty, bird, etc] goes in it’s house, it wants a time out. Respect it’s wishes.
  9. What is that?
  10. I love you so much, no one else will ever be good enough for you.

Have a wonderful weekend!



Categories: Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Cowboys and Elephants

Today marks the publication of the sixth and final post on Literary Cowboys for Ploughshares . I talk Star Wars, Firefly, Cowboy Bebop, and much more.

“The Myth of the Literary Cowboy, Part 6: Save a Horse, Write a (Space) Cowboy”

In the coming months I’ll continue to write for Ploughshares on all things lovely and literary.



Also out this week is the summer 2013 issue of Brain, Child featuring my essay, “The Elephant Maker.” It’s available on some news stands and online here.




Categories: Get Smart, Objects de Art, The Little People and Furry Friends, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Snap: Ten Things My Son Gives Me

Mommy and AlexLast week, I gave you ten sound bites from my six-year-old daughter, Liliana. While I would love to provide the same for my two-year-old son, his would consist of mostly growling (as he is part dinosaur) or saying his cheek is “broken” in order to get a kiss. He is a giver though, and here are some of his favorite things to pass on to me:

  1. Boogers (either handed to me or wiped on my face)
  2. Poop (animal)
  3. His favorite toys (which he wants me to kiss and hug, but then when I do, he gets mad, pushes them aside, and takes the hugging/kissing for himself)
  4. Poop (his)
  5. Pants (his)
  6. Pats on my back when I hold him
  7. Gravel (or any other rock, including chunks of sidewalk)
  8. Dead mice (regifted from our cat)
  9. Food (half-eaten)
  10. Kisses (pretty much anywhere, although my face and hands are his target zones)
Categories: Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Snap: Ten Things My Daughter Says

Photo by Amy Cerka

Photo by Amy Cerka

At age six, my daughter Liliana already has a mouth on her. This is probably not a surprise to people who know us, but sometimes the things she comes up with leave me battling to keep a straight face.

  1. “It came from my own imagination.”
  2. “Awkward.”
  3. “Do we really need this drama?”
  4. “If [blank] happens, I will cry to death.”
  5. “Just let me be who I am!”
  6. “That was 100 awesome!”
  7. “Oh, you’re tricksing.”
  8. “Winner, winner. Tofu dinner.”
  9. “You are repressing me!” (usually coupled with number 5)
  10. “I am a delight.”
Categories: Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , | 2 Comments


is for 10 things that rocked this week. See how I did that? It’s X day, but I’m twisting it for my own meaning. Perhaps I should got into politics. This week was pretty stellar, I have to say, so coming up with 10 instead of 5 was an easy task.

  1. Buzzfeed article are regulars on my list because they are so darn funny. My favorite from this week? “26 Reasons Kids Are Pretty Much Just Tiny Drunk Adults.”
  2. Kendragarden talks about her love of Horror movies. She likes what she likes and that’s okay.
  3. Artist Jhenai Mootz gave a fantastic Wild Women interview.
  4. We’ve been watching House of  Cards on Netflix. It’s shaping up to be really intriguing, although I have mixed feelings about Kate Mara being the Mistress–again.
  5. Loving the new season of Mad Men? Over on Ploughshares, A.J. Kandathil (my new pen pal bestie) discusses the “hidden narrator” who drives the series. A thought provoking take on a show that often defies explanation.
  6. Caitlin O’Neil’s “Riding in Cars with Words” reminisces about how her childhood road trips have shaped her as a writer. Plus it has a Muppet video, which is always a good decision.
  7. Part Four of my look at Cowboys debuted this week. I hope people are enjoying reading these posts as much as I’m enjoying writing them.
  8. It was a big week in general for writing on my end: both Cinefilles and The Baraza featured my posts, on Shakespeare and Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers, respectively.
  9. Peggy Orenstein’s look at the sexualization of Candyland is insightful and thought provoking.
  10. Speaking of Orenstain, I finished reading Schoolgirls and wrote this post on it. The reaction has been fantastic. Thanks to all of you who have Tweeted, Shared, Commented, Emailed, and Texted me about this post and how much you can relate. My only regret is that I only have one copy to lend out and the line is getting longer every day.

What rocked your week?



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, Life and Other Nonsense, Objects de Art, The Little People and Furry Friends, Write On | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

P is for Pet Peeves

For someone who considers myself an open-minded liberal, I am ripe with pet peeves. There is a fantastically long list of human behaviors that drive me to distraction. These are not things that are dangerous or prejudice, but instead acts that are ridiculously annoying. Just whittling down the list was an epic undertaking, but I have managed to do so, presenting my Top Pet Peeves (two of which I already blogged about–that’s how much they bug me):

  1. People who say “eXspecially” or “eXscape.” Those words do not have Xes in them. There is not an implied X. Stop. Freaking. Saying. It.
  2. Small dog owners who insist on bringing their dogs everywhere with them. Dog park or pet store? Fine. But your teacup lhasapoodoodle does not need to go any of the following places: The Grocery Store, The Movie Theater, The Mall, Disney World, Church, Any Store or Eating Establishment that is Not Specifically for Dogs. Just because the dogs fits in a bag does not make it a roll of breath mints that can go everywhere. My pit bull mix fits in a rolling duffel bag. How would you react if I brought her to Target with me to pick up the latest mass market designer fashions? (She does have excellent taste.)
  3. People who use the phrases “I deserve” or “It’s not fair.” It may not be fair, but very few things are. And very few people deserve anything. Those that do, don’t need to say it. They earn it.
  4. People who claim they like to write but don’t like to read. You can’t do one without the other. The same thing goes for actors who don’t watch television/movies, etc.
  5. People who take things out of the microwave early and don’t clear the time. The microwave then remains suspended at :15. Just push clear. Really. Your food is too hot to eat right this second anyway.
  6. Gum chewing. I was scarred as a child by Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in so many ways (that boat scene is just plain messed up). One of those was the fear that gum chewing would turn me into a blueberry or some other amorphous blob. Now I just find gum chewing gross. Particularly if you are going to speak to people or be interviewed, it’s just nasty to watch that wad bob around inside your jaw.
  7. Slip on shower shoes and socks. Maybe it’s because I teach a number of athletes that this bothers me so much. It’s not even the aesthetic of it–fine, you can’t be bothered with real shoes, I get it. But pick up your feet when you walk so I do not have to listen to that infernal sliding and slapping on the floor.
  8. People who talk on cell phones in public bathrooms. Is this really what society is coming to?
  9. Women who elect to start photography businesses after they have kids even though they have no photography training or experience aside from taking a billion ‘artsy’ snapshots of their kids with the only setting they know how to use on their overpriced automatic camera (and then forcing me to Like their businesses on Facebook). To be clear, not all photographers are this way–I know a number of talented, trained, and experienced photographers who happen to be moms. But charging $175 an hour to take 50 shots of a baby in butterfly wings looking off camera and getting 2 that are in focus does not a photographer make. Neither does the sole skill of turning eyes blue in a black and white picture. As my real photographer friends will tell you, it takes a great deal more than that. Take some classes, work with a real photographer. Stop ordering cutesy props on Etsy until you have a better grasp of composition and lighting.
  10. Blogs, emails, essays, Tweets, Status Updates, Basically Any Form of Writing that does not use capitalization. In professional correspondence, it’s rude (you aren’t important enough for me to hit shift). In academic writing it’s inappropriate. As a stylistic choice, unless you are e.e. cummings, it’s trite. We are gifted with an alphabet and grammatical rules for the purpose of making communication easier. Let’s not give those things, or our readers, the middle finger.

I know there are probably things I do that drive other people out of their minds as well. That’s part of the fun of sharing pet peeves is realizing what irritants we share, as well as those of which we are guilty. What little things make you crazy?



Categories: Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

M is for Morality

There is a quote by Oscar Wilde that I am particularly fond of in which he states, “Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.” While I don’t agree that this represents the depth of morality, it does reflect an unfortunate abuse. Oftentimes I think people mistake morality for personal opinion. For example, there are is an organization in my town that does a great deal of charity fundraising through gun related events. I elect not to participate because I don’t want to be involved with guns in any way and it doesn’t make sense to me personally to connect charity with violence. However, that is my personal opinion and certainly doesn’t make the organization immoral.

With a less glib and more reflective version of Wilde’s thoughts, Socrates argues that “A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” Both men raise the question of how emotional and personal bias can pollute morality; I ask then, if those elements are not part of morality (or at least shouldn’t be), what components should be used in constructing a moral code?

One of the many things I didn’t think about in great detail when my husband and I elected to become parents was how we would implement a moral code for our children. Certainly I considered it in an abstract way, but it wasn’t something that we made a clear plan for as we did for things like college funds. So now we (and I would guess a number of other parents) find ourselves trying to teach our children morality on the fly through modeling and real life events. Case in point:

A few weeks ago I was on my way home from a work function when I received a message from my mother (who had picked my 6-year-old daughter up at school) telling me that Liliana was in trouble for stealing. The basic story I got out of my mother (and later from Lili) was that my daughter found a bracelet on the playground. Lili was holding the bracelet and told one of the teachers that it was hers instead of turning it in. Another teacher asked her again if it was hers and she lied, which was quickly revealed because the actual owner of the bracelet had already told the teacher it was missing. On the phone, my mother was livid and had a list of things she wanted to implement as consequences. I told her just to wait as I needed to talk to my husband and Lili before we did anything (my husband was away helping the family of a friend of ours who had just had a stroke). I knew that this was an important moment that had to be handled carefully. (Side note: my husband and I talk about any consequences in big moments in advance so that we are both on the same page.)

I arrived at my mother’s house to find Liliana in time out in her room, pitiful and sulky. We talked about why she lied about the bracelet and tried to keep something that wasn’t hers (she liked it and thought it was pretty). We talked about how the other little girl, who did have the bracelet, must have felt losing it. We talked about consequences and consideration. We talked about right and wrong. It was a hard conversation because I didn’t want to lose my temper but instead wanted to make a point. Liliana did know that what she did was wrong; she knew it at the time. Yet she acted against her better judgment for short term satisfaction.

As a parent, it’s easy to say we teach our children morality, especially when we are there to help them make the right choice. It’s when we aren’t there that they are truly tested. I can’t say, even now, that I know exactly why she did what she did. Piecing it together from her story, I think that when the bracelet had no owner, in her mind it was up for grabs. By the time she was questioned about it, she panicked and lied. From what I hear from friends, lying to avoid trouble is common at this age. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. In the end, Lili lost her favorite toy for a set period of time and was made to write individual apology letters to the two teachers she lied to and the little girl she stole from. She spent several hours during her weekend playtime writing the letters (and rewriting until they were error free).  As she wrote them, we talked about how the other person must have felt when she was committing the act for which she was apologizing.

Did we tackle this in the correct way? I don’t know. Like I said, events like this lead to parenting on the fly. I’m sure there was a better way to deal with it, better consequences to levy. Being responsible as the moral architect for another person is a heavy burden–I just hope I’m up to the job.



Categories: Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

J is for Judgment

I originally wrote this post last summer. Although some of the circumstances have changed, I still deal with judgment of a destructive nature often when it comes to my kids. And it still makes me just as mad.

Yesterday was a tough Mom day for me. Whatever shortcomings Pixar’s Brave might have, it nails one image perfectly–mothers are bears who protect their young.

This Mama Bear is in a fighting mood.

It started during pick up time at my childrens’ Christian Mother’s Day Out program. Standing outside my almost two-year-old son’s classroom, I waited just a moment before getting his attention to watch him dance and play with his friends. Another mother standing next to me complimented me on his plaid deck shoes (which are super cute). I told her he had picked them out himself and that he loves shoes. Her response? She looked at his shoes, looked at him dancing, and then looked at me and said:

“Uh oh. Better be careful or he might end up . . .”

When she didn’t finish, I started to ask, “Might end up what? Working in a shoe store? Doing the Safety Dance? In the Navy?”

But I didn’t. Because I knew what she meant. However, something in me wanted to force her to say it out loud, to make her actually say that  judgmental thing she was thinking about a toddler dancing in the bubbles. So I just raised my eyebrows and waited.

Instead of saying it, she went with something worse: she did a hand gesture. A stupid, early 80s making fun of Billy Crystal’s character on Soap hand gesture.

I actually felt the acid in the back of my throat to the extent that I truly believe I could have spit like that dinosaur in Jurassic Park. In some ways, I guess I did.

“He might end up denied basic civil rights and judged by small-minded hypocrites?” I asked her. Then I smiled. “I would hope that wouldn’t happen to anyone’s child, no matter who they are.”

She started to say something, but I got my kids and left.

On the drive home I heard my daughter unzip her lunch bag. Still angry about the encounter outside Alex’s classroom, I asked her why she didn’t eat her lunch again. She gave me the same response she’s given me for the past two weeks: “I was full.”

Some back story–About three weeks ago Liliana asked me not to send her (vegan) meatballs in her lunch, even though they are her favorite. She said the boys in her class were making fun of her food by telling her it was gross and looked like poop. Her daddy and I talked to her about doing what she liked and ignoring people who make fun her. She and Daddy even practiced saying, “You don’t know, you’ve never tried it,” as a response to her lunchtime critics. She hadn’t mentioned it again, so we figured the situation had been resolved.

Sadly, it has not.

It turns out that Liliana has been telling me and her teacher that she is full each lunch hour and not even opening her lunch because she doesn’t want to listen to the boys tell her that her lunch is “gross’ and “looks like poop.” Now, I know that we have been a little hippie-dippy lately with our vegan ways, but it’s not like I’ve been sending her mung beans. Today, for example, she had a pretty normal looking sandwich: veggie turkey slices with rice cheese on wheat. If you aren’t familiar with vegan deli options, veggie turkey slices and rice cheese look like round lunch meat and Kraft cheese. There is no way these 5-year-old boys are the culinary experts to discern that her lunch is anything out of the ordinary. Other days I’ve sent her pasta, cream cheese pinwheels, and pita pockets. To go with it she usually has carrots, some sort of dried or fresh fruit, and, if we’ve been baking, a muffin or cookie. Yes, these things are vegan, but they look the same.

These boys are just being mean. Liliana, for those who don’t know her, isn’t a timid little girl. She stands up for herself and her friends. However, I think part of the issue is that the leader of the group is a little boy Liliana was best friends with from age two. They’ve played together, gone to each other’s birthday parties, and now, he has become her tormentor.

I’ve tried to explain that this sometimes happens with boys–they get silly and pretend they don’t like girls for a few years. She’s told them her taught line about not having tried it. She sits at a different table with little girls who are her friends. And yet, for two weeks she has been eating her lunch at 3:15 pm in the back of our car because she’s hungry and afraid to eat during lunch.

The compilation of these two events has spiraled me into a new realm of pissed off. In terms of Alex, what set me off about that mother is how easily she slipped into the role of judge. He’s a year old. He’s smart, funny, cute, and loving. He’s a great little guy. If my son is gay, my son is gay. If he’s not, he’s not. No lame stereotype she’s concocted is going to define him. The only reason I wouldn’t want him to be gay is because the world would be harder for him.

We live in a country where normal is defined in a way that strips people of their rights and identities. As his mother, I want Alex to love who he wants to love and not be made to feel ashamed of it nor denied civil rights simply because he is being honest about who he is. Mothers like that judgmental mother will raise sons and daughters who think like they do. Which means one day another child–maybe my kid, maybe not–could be mocked and bullied for being different. That, to me, is not acceptable.

Liliana is another matter. It breaks my heart to watch her learn about cruelty. We want her to fight her own battles, to be strong and proud of who she is, but in this case that has been deflected. I’m going to talk to teachers and possibly the ringleader’s mother because a little girl should not be going through the day hungry due to mean children. It’s ridiculous.

I have had several conversations about motherhood over the years and have named several things that at one time or another seem like the hardest part: the isolation from other adults, the frustration of trying to teach them when you want to strangle them . . . the list goes on and on.

Right now, this feels like the hardest part. Watching the world work its meanness on my cubs is hard enough; knowing that I can’t act on my impulses to protect them in the way I want to tears at my heart. Instead of of one swiping blow that knocks out judgmental mothers and bratty little boys, I have to settle for warning growls and hard lessons for my cubs about standing up for yourself and not letting anyone make you feel bad about who you are.

That being said, if my warning growls get ignored again, this Mama Bear is going to draw blood.

Categories: Feed the Belly, Get Smart, Let Me Entertain You, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

H is for Happy Cassarole

My fear of cooking is a strange animal. What some people find relaxing, I have always found stressful. Instincts? None. If I didn’t have what a recipe called for, I panicked. The weird glitch in this machine is Spanish cooking. That makes sense to me. But that is a story for another time (come back for V!).

Changing our eating habits has changed the way I view cooking. Preparing food for my family is fun and easy. Vegan baking, especially, just makes sense to me. I use my growing collection of vegan cookbooks for inspiration but then adapt them to what I have in my kitchen.

The vegan experiment continues to be interesting. I find the more I cook with real ingredients, the less I want to use the fakes (soy cheese, soy burgers). My son’s perpetual runny nose as cleared up after over a year. Personally, my energy continues to escalate.

Monday afternoon my daughter and I were chatting about something or other (with a 5-year-old you never know) and she said, “Mommy, you should have a restaurant.” What should I call it, I asked her. She thought for a long minute and then said, “Mama’s Happy Gift of Food. And you could serve Happy Casserole every day.”

This made me feel so good about the changes we’ve made. Below you will find my “Happy Casserole,” a dish my daughter asks me to make every day. Mix it up, make it your own.

Happy Casserole (as named by my daughter)

Use whatever green vegetables you have on hand, fresh or frozen, if you prefer to peas and broccoli. I mix all the ingredients with my hands and let my kids help. Feel free to toss in a handful of your favorite savory seasonings. I used Italian Seasoning.


Two 15 oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 onion, chopped

2 cups carrots, chopped

1 1/2 cup broccoli florets, chopped

1 1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup whole wheat Panko (or breadcrumbs)

3 TBS olive oil

1 cup vegetable broth

1 tsp salt

Cheese or rice/soy cheese (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350.
  2. Mash up chickpeas with a fork or potato masher until they have the consistency of lumpy mashed potatoes (about 2 minutes).
  3. Mix vegetables into chickpea mash. Add panko and mix, the oil and mix, and the vegetable broth and salt. Mix one last time.
  4. Press the mixture into a 9 x 13 glass baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake another 15 minutes.
Categories: Feed the Belly, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , ,

B is for Balance

As a college instructor, my students teach me things on a daily basis (unfortunately, I worry, much more than I teach them). Some of it is fantastic, entertaining, and even inspiring. More often though, it is frustrating and sometimes downright shocking. In teaching dual credit (high school students who are taking college courses from me for credit), I find a recurring theme that unfortunately falls into the frustrating category: students and parents have forgotten what extracurricular means.

Several times a semester I receive an email from one of my students telling me that they are behind (and usually failing) in my class because they had extracurricular activities that required their attention. They say this as if I am a crazypants for even expecting them to do academic work when there were tournaments and festivals to attend. It takes every ounce of self-control for me not to point out the “extra” part of extracurricular. Part of the problem is that many of these kids participate in four or five activities, meaning that one week they are gone from my class for UIL, the next golf.

Let me say before I go any further that I am certainly not saying students shouldn’t have outside activities. They absolutely should. But when those activities overwhelm the education aspect of the school experience, I think it’s gone too far. And it’s not just in high school; when I hear other mothers discuss all the things their kids are involved in, I feel that wash of epic parenting fail. Should my six-year-old daughter be doing music, swimming, softball, art, gymnastics, and dance? Is it my job as her mother to enlist her in a buffet of activities so she will be well-rounded?

Maybe I should, but for now, I’m not going to. She takes dance once a week and with trying to acclimate to life as a Kindergartener, that seems like enough. This summer perhaps she can try some mini camps of various activities to get a feel for them; however, I’m not in any rush to fill up her schedule. Certainly kids should try things and discover their interests and talents, but like adults, they must learn to balance and prioritize.

I have to remind myself of this all the time–there are choices that must be made and those choices have consequences, for good or bad. There are certainly times when I feel out of balance with myself and the world, such as when I’ve let my work take over every last ounce of my brain or I pretend there aren’t emails to be answered and lessons to be planned. Even more often, I let the me who is not mother/wife/teacher fall through the cracks. Last night I came home from a beating of a day with sore muscles and a headache, feeling like I was drowning in obligations from both sides. In the back of mind I had a red light flashing “B IS FOR BLOG,” knowing that there was a good chance I’d space on this post and end up throwing up some last minute flake-out (B is for Boring). And then I remembered why I started Generation Cake almost three years ago–I wanted a place to find balance between all the roles, the curriculars and extracurriculars, the parts of myself that made me, well, me. Sometimes I just need a reminder.



Categories: Get Smart, Life and Other Nonsense, The Little People and Furry Friends | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

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