Welcome to my blog —

Upbeats and Downbeats: Hints and strategies to help readers survive the ups and downs of parenting, including special references for foster, kinship, adoptive and special needs situations.

Sometime this summer I will be switching over from my old/current site and combining  for “one-stop shopping.”  For now if you will please click on Upbeats and Downbeats you will be redirected to Upbeats and Downbeats.

I hope you will explore it, sign up to follow it, and share it with your friends!

For those of you new to my blog… I almost always post daily and I follow this schedule:

Schedule of Post Topics

  • Monday: School Bell
  • Tuesday: Focus on Fostering
  • Wednesday: Soapbox Derby [opinions and guests]
  • Thursday: Parenting Tips
  • Friday: Anything Can Happen Day
  • Saturday: Quick Takes [books, recipes, and more]
  • Sunday: The Caring Heart [faith and meditations]


Anything Can Happen: Face in the Sand

Posted by on Apr 22, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Anything Can Happen: Face in the Sand

Do you see the face?  It appears to be a profile [head and shoulders] of a man in some form of native-looking headdress. Actually the appearance is formed by eroded clay in a valley in Alberta, Canada seen from the air.  People who have see this aerial shot have nicknamed what you see the “Badlands Guardian.” Far clearer than those ‘hidden picture’ designs or the faces in pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches, even I can spot this one!  Pretty cool I think!

PS  If you think the guardian is wearing earphones, he is not.  The ear bud is actually an oil well, and the cord is a road. But wouldn’t it make a great new commercial for iPods!

Image credit:, zmescience

Parenting Tips: Kids’ Garden Boxes

Posted by on Apr 21, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Parenting Tips: Kids’ Garden Boxes

I know that some of you are well into spring and beyond already, but here in Maine it is still too early to plant outdoors.  So this is a good time for us to start kids with planting seeds for future outdoor gardens.  If you don’t have room for a garden, how about a container garden or a window box or deck container garden?  Kids often are more excited by planting this that they can harvest to eat, rather than cut for flower arrangements.  So… with a little help from some friends… below is a list of a few kid-friendly possibilities with their time frames, pros, and cons.  Try it!  Even the responsibility for a single window box with some lettuce or radishes is a great way to start kids and give them some ownership in the process of daily watering, weeding, tending etc. The pride of harvest is huge!

Germinate in 3-10 days, and have a very short growing season of 20-30 days.

Another fast crop that gives kids fast results, and it’s also a good way to interest kids in salads.
Snow peas
They take about 10 days to germinate and mature in about 60 days. They are also fun for kids to eat right off the vine.

Cherry tomatoes These may be the most fun crop for kids, aside from strawberries. Great for nibbling and for salads.

These flowers are easy to grow and they bloom about 50 days after the seeds are planted, with orange, yellow and red flowers. The flowers are also edible, and can be used to add color to a fresh garden salad. Kids sometimes think it is a fun kind of wild and crazy that certain flowers are edible.  
Bush beans
Fast, easy, high yield and, because they do not grow tall, they are easy for kids to harvest. Bush beans germinate in 4-8 days, and mature in 40-65 days.

Image credits:,,

Soapbox: Not our usual vacation

Posted by on Apr 20, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Soapbox: Not our usual vacation

This week is school vacation for my gremlins.  Some of their friends are going to Disney World.  Some of their friends went to Washington D.C., or New York City.  Clearly all of their friends have parents who are way – way – cooler than me!  It would be easier to compete if the weather were warm and cooperative so that I could wow them with outdoor adventures close to home.  But it is cold and dank. The most exciting thing [to them!] that I have done for the week is to cancel their counseling appointments this week, even though we are going to be home. Our usual routine during vacation is to pick a home or yard project and jump into it full throttle, working to get it finished by the end of the week. The kids sleep in a bit, but only an hour or so to avoid getting their bodies out of the hard-won routine.


This week we are not.  Not what you may ask?  Just not.  Not making a to do list.  Not making a rise and shine deadline.  Not observing usual bedtimes.  Not following usual routines.  My three remaining gremlins are now 13,15, and 19 and hopefully more able to manage the lack of a routine than when they were younger.  [We will see.] One thing is sure…. they are tired of routines. Tired of patterns. Tired of lists. Truth be told, so am I.


Here is our experiment. We are just going to BE this vacation.  Our only goal is to get along without fighting and to do things that will give us joy without causing anyone else misery or pain. We are giving our selves a “time-out” in the sports sense, not the discipline sense. We are “vacating” the rules, routines, and lists. We are on vacation.             [except for the blog of course]

Wish us luck!

Focus on Fostering: Half Empty or Hall Full Life?

Posted by on Apr 19, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Focus on Fostering: Half Empty or Hall Full Life?

Children who have lost their birth families through tragedy, abuse, neglect or other circumstance have a lot that is negative in their lives.  I’ve talked about strategies for this before [1/18/11 and 3/22/11] but here is a mini-activity for even young kids that only takes a few minutes and can help them learn a key life lesson.  Choose a time when they are in the mood to listen and tell them you have a 5 minute challenge for them.

Tell them you are all going for a special walk.

Give them each 1 or 2  pebbles to put inside one or both of their shoes while they walk.

Give each a long lasting lollypop, hotball, or hard candy to suck on while they walk. [I’ve also used an ice cream cone.]

Walk for 5-10 minutes. Walk with them… outside, at a picnic area, or even around the inside of the house several times.  Judge the length of time, sweet treat, and pebble size based on the child or teen’s age.

Sit down together after the walk and ask them to tell you about the walk. Talk about how they felt.  Talk about what they remember?  What did they see?  How did they like it?  What were they thinking while they were walking.   Chances are they will talk more about the stones in their shoes than the sweet candy taste in their mouth.

Talk to them about how this can show the choices we make about our lives. Everyone has hard things. Every has sweet things.  How do we choose to look at the events of our lives each day.   Do we focus on the bad things or the good things, the tough or the sweet.  Which do we spend more time thinking about? talking about? Remembering?    

Continue to remind them every once in a while about this walk experience when they hit some challenge, or get stuck on their past.  Let me know what tricks you have tried with success!

Image credits:,

School Bell: Travel Tips

Posted by on Apr 18, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on School Bell: Travel Tips

This time of year many families are on the move… whether gathering for family occasions like Passover or Easter or vacation trips.  If you are on the move you can work in some fun activities to help keep the kids from being bored during travel and still reinforce skills. These work best for the kids who are too old to sleep through the trip and too young to be satisfied with sitting back with their mp3 player or ipod.

Driving by car?…. Give them a map.  Have them track your route with a highlighter.  Have them estimate the time to the next major city and then track to see how close they were. This helps them with number skills, time skills, rounding off, and subtracting time. For younger kids give them a list of towns they will see on signs and have them check them off as you pass each.  This will help them focus and see progress toward the destination.

Going by Train?… You can do any of the car ideas.  PLUS: you can have them do some math. Subtract how many passengers in your car from how many seats in the car.  Find out how many cars are in the train, count the people in their car, multiply to estimate how many passengers are on the train.  Older kids can use maps to compare the train route and speed with the route and time if you had chosen to go by car.

Flying?… Almost all airlines have amazing catalogs in the seat pockets.  For kids who can read, have them choose what they would get if the had a $200 coupon from the company.  Or make it a different total and require that they find something for each member of the family. The airlines also have magazines with route maps.  They can alphabetize 10 cities the airline flies into or the states the airline services.

These are just a few ways to challenge kids’ brains while “stuck” traveling. And don’t forget all the traditional [I-Spy, 20 questions, and others] travel games!

Image credits:,,

Caring Heart: Independent Play

Posted by on Apr 17, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Caring Heart: Independent Play

As many schools head into their April vacations, I wish for all of you readers the celebration of this foster parent.

Playing Alone

She did it! This afternoon she played for an hour in her room, all be herself. She didn’t say, “I’m bored,” even once.  She didn’t come and ask me to play with her.  She didn’t whine or ask for something to do.  She played by herself.  She entertained herself.  She controlled herself.  She stayed focused.  AND she didn’t mess up anything or destroy anything.  She simply played by herself.  What a wonderful thing for her finally to discover.  What an important life lesson.  To learn that she can amuse herself.  That she is okay all by herself.  That her happiness doesn’t depend on others making her happy.  Help her absorb these lessons unconsciously and help me bit by bit label these triumphs for her. She played by herself.  She was happy. She wasn’t bored.  She had fun. She did it!

Excerpted from “The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents” by Gail Underwood Parker     Artwork by Anna Parker David from the book cover. 

Quick Takes: Kids List #61-70

Posted by on Apr 16, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Quick Takes: Kids List #61-70

This is the seventh installment of “Kids List.” My “Kids List” is things I wish all kids could get to experience before they are grown up and independent.   
Kids List #61-70

61. Go through a car wash inside the car 
62. Write a poem 
63. Attend a Catholic mass 
64. Go “backstage” at a movie theater
65. Paint a picture with acrylic or oil paints  
66. See a live monkey in person 
67. Have or care for a fish for two weeks at least 
68. Hold a newborn animal 
69. See a meteor shower 
50. Write a fan letter and send it 

I try to do one Quick Takes entry each month with 10 more ideas from my Kids List. Hope you try some of these with your kiddos.  Search for “Kids List” to find #1-60 in earlier posts.

Photo Credit:

Anything Can Happen: Tax Day?… Naaaaaa

Posted by on Apr 15, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Anything Can Happen: Tax Day?… Naaaaaa

This year shows that anything can in fact happen.
For all of you who are frantically trying to finish your taxes for the April 15th midnight deadline….
Relax…. this year you have two extra days!!

This is because Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia falls on April 16th.  Since that is a Saturday, the district celebrates it on Friday, the day before. That means all the federal offices in Washington, D.C. are closed on April 15th…. including the IRS.  Woo hoooooooo!

For more details see the IRS site’s explanation.

[Important Note: Not all states go by this practice, so you might still be on the hook for your state tax returns!]

Image credit:

Parenting Tips: Setting the Table

Posted by on Apr 14, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Parenting Tips: Setting the Table

Helping to set and clear the table is often one of the first family responsibilities parents teach. [Notice I did not use the C word. If you call it a chore it implies something very different than if you call it a family responsibility.] Here are two tricks I have found helpful and that my children and grandchildren have actually enjoyed. 

Starter Placemat:  For the younger set, try this trick. Buy a cheap plain color plastic place mat. Use permanent markers trace the circle of a small size plate in the center.  Now put a dinner plate on that so the spacing is right.  Next place trace a knife and spoon to the right of the plate.  Trace a fork to the left of the plate.  If you regularly use napkins, trace a napkin to the left of the fork.  Trace a circle for a glass or cup above the knife and fork to the right of the plate.  PRESTO.  You have a pattern guide that a young child can use to perfectly set the table. You may not use a bread and butter plate, as this image does but you can leave it out easily.

If you have more than one child... Make a pattern placemat for each and put each child’s name inside the circle for the plate to mark their table place.  Perhaps the child can help.  It doesn’t have to be perfect to serve its purpose.

Which side?  For kids who have trouble remembering on which side the utensils go… one of many tricks is to use the number… LEFT has 4 letters, so does FORK, forks go on the left. KNIFE has 5 letters, so does RIGHT.  Knife goes on the right.  SPOON has 5 letters so spoon goes on the RIGHT.  It seems cumbersome, but by the time they go through the process several times, it helps the placement become automatic. If you call your drinking item a GLASS, that makes it also fit on the RIGHT, but if you call it a cup or mug you are stuck! :-)

Image credits:,

Soapbox: Comfort Food Revisited

Posted by on Apr 13, 2011 in Upbeats and Downbeats | Comments Off on Soapbox: Comfort Food Revisited

Is the comfort that food provides something that is hard-wired into our brains from earliest times, when a full stomach meant survival? Ask anyone what their family’s comfort food was and the only time they hesitate is if they’re trying to decide which family comfort food was the most used. What did mom fix when it was exam week? the first night home from college? when it had been a really rough week?  They even have whole cookbooks dedicated to comfort food recipes!

I’m overweight.  I’m working on it and I’m making progress, but I’m overweight. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that weight issues are exceedingly common among foster parents, and also among foster children.  Whether overweight or underweight, eating too much or eating the wrong stuff. It is sooo hard to treat food as fuel, not as the enemy, not as the friend, not as the feared, not as the comfort.  Fuel, just that, nothing more. They say that the nicotine in smoking is addictive.  I don’t smoke,  but I think for some of us, food is every bit as addictive, and every bit as hard a habit to control. After all.. You can’t quit eating. And you have years and years of being “trained” that eating x or y will make you “feel better.”

Even now, I feel that baking a batch of cookies or brownies is doing something nice for my kids. I make an amazing peanut butter/chocolate homemade fudge. People’s eyes light up when I bring it to the church fair, or to a sick friend, or mail it to a child at college.  My kiddos literally jump for joy when they see me gathering the ingredients for fudge. I know when I make fudge they will be excited and happy.  I admit sitting down to a family board game or going for a walk together doesn’t give me that same feeling. I don’t think it gives them the same feeling either. Maybe it does.  I hope it does.  It would be nice to break the cycle of using food for comfort. 

Image credits:,