Archive for the 'Education' Category

The Tails of Abbygail, Episode 1: Dreams Come True

amoc1hcc8o3ijyamcbf3What little kids don’t daydream their favorite toys will come to life? Movies have been built around  such youthful fantasies (“Toy Story,” anyone?). Abbygail, a spunky little Jack Russell terrier, is no exception.

In the newly released live-action DVD, “Tails of Abbygail: Dreams Come True,”  the protagonist pup Abbygail watches her ultimate dream come true as her toy dogs and horses – including a cotton candy pink poodle, two giant draft horses and a Bernese mountain dog adorably named “Girlfriend” – magically come to life and embark upon an exciting journey with her. Along they way, they meet new furry faces and learn important, relevant lessons relatable to children ages 2-10.

My four-and-a-half year old son went on this 34-minute adventure with Abbygail and her canine and equine companions, completely enchanted with the storyline. When asked who his favorite character is, he naturally said “Abbygail,” and that his favorite parts were when the gang found treasure and threw a party.

The fun continues with four more episodes from the award-winning “Tails of Abbygail” series. For more, visit weloveabby.com and be sure to like facebook.com/thetailsofabbygail on Facebook!

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Learning to Hate Our Bodies, Part One: The Media

girlreadingmagazineThis is the first part in a series of personal stories about how I learned to hate my body, little by little, from as far back as I can remember. I’m seriously now just beginning to not pick on myself throughout the day. I am 35. Thirty five!

It’s not just me. I have friends of all shapes and sizes and ages who are still dealing with this, too. What we have in common is that we are all women who essentially came of age in the ’80s and ’90s in suburban America with its white girl mall culture and expectation of flawlessness. Ads, the media, peers, relatives, teachers, boys – their message has always been clear to us: You are imperfect and you need to be fixed.

How does this relate to my blog? Well, if I do nothing else as a person, I want to raise children with positive body images who respect their own bodies and other peoples’. I want confident kids. And that starts with being comfortable in your own body despite the mixed messages that are sent all day long. And that starts at home. So yeah. Totally relevant stuff here.

So here goes.

The media and its advertisers are EVER SO EAGER to help you be the image of feminine perfection. It’s a business model. There is money to be made off of your intrinsic desire to not be disgusting. I have been a member of the media since senior year in high school when I got my first newspaper clip. Despite my passion for journalism and fierce support for the First Amendment, pop media largely grosses me out. It editorializes stories like Angelina Jolie’s mastectomies, the “chunky” cheerleader and that pathetic Abercrombie & Fitch CEO who hates fat girls. At the same time, I’m so guilty of watching, reading and reposting.

The relentlessness of the media when it comes to telling you about your crappy body is alarming. You think it’s going to get better when you get older, wiser, get married, get a job, have kids. But, oh no. IT NEVER GOES AWAY. It just changes a little. When you become a mom, for example, suddenly you’re being marketed to as a new demographic: the ideal mother. Wholesome, nurturing and impossibly SKINNY with flawless skin. This same illusion of a mother always does the right thing when it comes to child-rearing, but that’s another post.

When exactly does the media begin digging in? For me, who knows, maybe it was the first time I saw a Barbie commercial. The first time I remember it really resonating was when I was a teenager pouring over Delia’s catalogs and YM and Seventeen magazines. Trust me, I hold all those teen glossies near and dear to my heart because they are synonymous with the best parts of adolescence: Sitting around in my friend’s bedroom, gossiping and prank calling randoms while listening to Weezer, Green Day, Mazzy Star and Milla Jovovich CDs on repeat. Outside of that otherwise joyful context, though, teen magazines are toxic.

They were and continue to be a huge contributor to our very specific self loathing be it our faces, hair, bodies,  odor, biology, clothes, friendships, boyfriends – pretty much EVERY aspect of our lives and specifically those that make us uniquely women. You know, stuff we should embrace, but were taught to HATE till they go away or are fixed. That’s why we starve. That’s why we cover up our bodies. They’re why we are still chasing some ghost of an ideal woman. At 30, 40, 50 …

Through being bombarded by self-help, diet, exercise, dating, beauty and fashion advice in teen mags, we’re basically led to think we are physically inferior, un-dateable and need improvement. And we by no means can do ANY of this by ourselves. We need help.

Teen mags are chock-full of pictures of pretty, skinny girls with good clothes and TONS of advice on how to fix your ugly self.

And forget about when we graduated to Cosmo (basically within the same year – we could not wait to check out this scandalous women’s magazine! It was our version of Playboy!).

Cosmo had fashion spreads of unachievable womanliness, Victoria’s Secret ads and hordes of graphic information about how to do sex right FOR YOUR MAN. I will never forget the how-to B.J. story that had us giggling for an hour. My friend read it out loud in a haughty professor voice. It was hilarious. But you know what? It essentially informed us how to be an object of pleasure for someone else.

My older sister had Sassy around the house – for skinny, alternative girls of all colors. It was a start. I didn’t see BUST till I flipped through it at a comic store in Chicago. It wasn’t love at first sight. BUST was so boldly sex-positive it scared me off at first. Not because I’m a prude, but because it went against everything I thought I knew about being a woman. The beauty tips featured normal-looking people. Normal people can’t be pretty! The sex guides were for, um, the reader (What? What a concept). It was only really when I bought my first issue of BUST that things began changing for me. Christ, I was in my 20s. Riot Grrrl and women’s studies classes were another big part of the change. I guess that sounds like a cliché feminist coming-of-age story, but it’s true, and studying women’s sociology, reading women’s lit and listening to angry lyrics about social injustices still happening IN OUR COUNTRY, IN 1998 certainly improved upon how I looked at myself and other women.

Then in my 30s, I began discovering intelligent and funny bloggers like Emily McCombs who writes through her body and addiction issues. The Internet has allowed me to totally hone in on writing that I care about by smart writers who are not interested in cashing in on making people feel bad all the time. Pretty sure Rookie, an incredible e-zine by Chicago teenager Tavi Gevinson, would have been my jam if we had the Internet as we know it in 1995.

I still subscribe to BUST – now in its 20th year and still writing intelligently for women (I even had the pleasure of interviewing its owners for a story and freelancing for them for a while). BUST is still helping all of us women like our bodies, right now, not in some fake future when we lose all the weight and buy all of the designer cosmetics. They’re still publishing awesome DIY guides and sharing information that actually matters.

Still, not a day goes by that most of TV, magazines, the Internet and all those ads in-between slam us with images of skinny, pretty, clean, smart, nice-smelling, unachievable womanhood.

I LOVE Pinterest, but between pictures of unreachable beauty standards, and “inspirational” quotes about what you’re doing wrong and how to do it right, plus endless tips and tricks to “live your best life,” sometimes I feel like I’m flipping through the absolute worst of those teen magazines.

True, I should really get off the Internet.

So tell me, did you grow up with teen magazines? Do you think they impacted how you feel about yourself today or were they just a girl’s rite-of-passage/get over it? 

If you’ve ever felt like the media’s influence has harmed your body image, do you still feel that way or are you moving past it? What’s helped? 

How are you ensuring your kids aren’t being beat over the head with the media’s seemingly never-ending Perfect Body Image Campaign? 

Illustration: pamf.org

Bye, Bye Baby Weight

When I first started this blog, I hadn’t zeroed in on children’s music quite yet. I was a longtime writer and new mom just looking for an outlet to discuss, well, everything under the sun (and “son,” hehe). I posted here and there about meal planning, baby food and family nutrition. Oh yeah, and a little lamenting about my struggle to lose my baby weight.

It wasn’t until last August that my husband and I initiated a lifestyle that matched the values I discussed so much back then. I’m happy to say six months to almost the day, I am 40 pounds lighter. The time breezed by, but I learned so much (and am excited about what I have yet to discover). The loss was slow and steady, so I’ve cherished every pound that’s vanished, every new notch on my belt and every minute I can run on the treadmill. Running. I know. Crazy!

We’re cooking a lot of really amazing dishes. The fridge is full of fresh produce to the point that I broke my vegetable drawer the other day (oops!). Cocoa roast almonds take up the cupboard space where boxes of Raisinettes used to reside (though they never lasted very long). I have something called flaxseed meal in my baking supplies now and it rocks my world. The highlight of my weekend was using it to make a “muffin in a minute” and it’s a top breakfast request from Ollie.

I’m sure it’s suspicious – annoying, even – when people ask me how hard it was and about all the sacrifices I’ve had to make, when I tell them with honesty that after the initial week of junk food detox, it’s been incredibly easy and actually very exciting to cook with new foods and recipes. I have not had a sugar crash in forever. I don’t get headaches. I am not winded walking up stairs. I can run with (and after) my child with ease. I have not been either ravenously hungry or sickeningly full in six months. I’ve found healthy ways to cope with the bad days and there are WAY fewer bad days now. I’d be lying if I said it was difficult.

Phew! Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. Maybe it will mean another lost pound! 🙂

OK, back to rockin’ out!

Rockin’ Gift Guide Part 3: Books That Rock

These great new and classic books explore music while promoting literacy and art appreciation – they’re great gift ideas for children and music lovers of all ages. Always shop at your local independent book stores!

Forever Young – Imprints.simonandschuster.biz/atheneum

Alternative ABCc – Ammobooks.com

One Love – Chroniclebooks.com

Awesome Books – Veryawesomeworld.com

Woody's 20 Grow Big Songs – Harpercollinschildrens.com

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop – Scholastic.com

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Book and Ray Charles narration CD) – Amazon.com

Hush, Baby, Hush: Lullabies from Around the World – Franceslincoln.com

Man Gave Names to all the Animals – Sterlingpublishing.com

Blowin’ in the Wind – Sterlingpublishing.com

On Making the World Worthy of its Children

Pablo Picasso. Girl with a Boat (Maya Picasso). 1938. Oil on canvas. Galerie Rosengart, Lucerne, Switzerland.

This:

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.” –Pablo Picasso

April Charity of the Month: Girls Rock! Chicago

Girls rock. Just stating a fact. But here’s an unfortunate reality: young girls are rarely encouraged to explore self-expressive creative outlets and are less likely to be given access to musical and technical instruction or equipment. That ain’t cool. Girls rock camps, which started popping up in Portland and New York about a decade ago, have thankfully spread like wildfire – finally bucking that trend.

Girls Rock! Chicago (GRC) is one such camp in the Midwest – not merely a place girls can mess around with gear, but a real deal learning environment. Through this non-profit program, girls ages 8 through 16 are educated about the musical, technical and creative aspects involved in musicianship.

“Our week-long summer camp program is organized around motivating girls  through instrument instruction, music composition coaching, recording workshops, song-writing workshops, hands-on activities, technical equipment workshops, guest speakers, team-building activities and band performances,” the organization explains. “We seek to provide positive and supportive role models for campers though interaction and participation by volunteers who will share their experiences as women involved in some form of making music.”

Ensure this important self-esteem building (and future rock star-generating) organization rolls along into the future by donating here.

And, calling all ladies! Ladies Rock Camp is a fundraiser for GRC that also benefits us big girls. “At this intensive weekend-long workshop, women ages 19-99 will follow a program similar to what the girls do at our summer camp: learn an instrument, form a band, write a song and perform it – in just three days,” according to GRC. Oh man. My dream band The Lavender Wigs could finally come true! Who’s ready to jam?

Did you know …

  • Chicago rock journalist, musician and all-around awesome sauce Jessica Hopper published Girls’ Guide to Rocking? Consider it a book companion to girl rock camps.
  • In Sweden, the government funds its girls-only music school dubbed Ella Rock?
  • The greatest female musicians (and other lady artists) of our time have been chronicled in Venus Zine for the past 16 years?

From the Archives: “Lead Belly Sings for Children”

For the debut “From the Archives” post, we’re spotlighting an artist who has inspired countless others over the past century, including popular artists such as The White Stripes, Bob Dylan, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin. Lead Belly (Huddie William Ledbetter)  is unarguably one of the greatest folk and blues musicians in American history, recognized for his distinct vocals and mastery of the 12-string guitar. His often-turbulent life is well documented, but today, he’s largely remembered for his prized contributions to the American music landscape. Among them, his children’s music recordings, packaged in a compilation CD by Smithsonian Folkways.

Lead Belly Sings For Children (1999) includes the 1960 Folkways album “Negro Folk Songs for Young People” in its entirety, and five of the six tracks from the 1941 album “Play Parties in Song and Dance as Sung by Lead Belly,” recorded for Moses Asch (Folkways Records), as well as other songs recorded for Asch from 1941 to 1948, and one previously unreleased track, a radio broadcast of “Take this Hammer.”

Fans will be familiar with the work songs, blues and spirituals sung here to children (Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Good Morning Blues,” “Pick a Bale of Cotton”), plus a few classic children’s sing-alongs like “Skip to My Lou,” and “Grey Goose.”

Whether you’re a big blues fan looking for a suitable intro to this genre for your children or if you need a serious break from The Fresh Beat Band, share with your family this little-known treasure by an American icon.


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