Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tough Christmases

I received this from a friend who has lived abroad as a missionary, and thought it was such a great perspective-check.  May it encourage you to prayer and passionate living!

"To me after living in countries where Christianity is often overtly and officially persecuted, Christmas has some meanings that had not been as clear to me before.  Christmas, being the only Christian holiday that many Muslims and Communists can locate on a calendar, becomes a lightening rod for many terrible crimes against Christians.  You see, the leaders of nearly every large pulic organization that puts up a "Merry Christmas" sign in their place of business will get threats from Muslim and Atheist groups.  The wimps will cave in.  Here in the US we're just starting to get a tiny taste of what many Christians in the rest of the world live with on a regular basis.

Christmas, for them, is the time when...
--many house church pastors in China, Vietnam and other places will be put in prison.
-- large numbers of active Christians in Muslim countries will be martyred.
-- churches will be burned in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries that are moderate or chaotic enough to allow them to be built in the first place.
-- Christians throughout the world will be falsely accused on trumped-up charges.
-- North Koreans who won't bow down to the "Great Leader" will be exiled to prison camps.
-- Christian women will be taken from their husbands and forced to marry Muslim men.

Christmas is also the only day of the year when Mainland Chinese Christians have any true freedom to openly evangelize.  Believers throughout the Chinese world, including Taiwan, do not spend much time celebrating Christmas themselves, but use the day for Gospel rallies and other outreach.

Almost all these things happen somewhere in the world every Christmas.  Rather than waiting for it to be reported by Voice of the Martyrs  or one of the other few organizations brave enough to publish the facts, let's go ahead and pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in repressive country. The first century Roman Empire was certainly not friendly to him.  Like Communist leaders who fear any loyalty directed to anybody but themselves, King Herod feared the birth of this one prophesied to be king.  Herod tried to deceive the wise men into showing him the place of the birth. "And when ye have found him," said Herod, "bring me word again that I may come and worship him also" (Matt. 2:8).  Had they not been warned in a dream, they could have fallen for the deception.  Joseph's young family even became refugees in Egypt to escape this cruel, jealous, and unstable king.

Taiwan, like the US, is a free country, but fear of spiritual opposition plays a big part in the lives of people there.  Pray for courage for God's people around the world this Christmas.  Opposition will happen in one form or another."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So What About that Burning Bush?

A few years ago I wrote a post on teaching kids about God's holiness.  It came to mind as I explored this topic of "what do we let kids read?" so I've dusted it off and tweaked it a bit, and voila. Here it is. :) As always, your comments are welcome!

One more thing many parents struggle with is perhaps the most frightening, and definitely the most important area of possible "restriction." I'm not talking about monsters, nor bad examples. I'm talking about the terrifying reality of God's pure holiness. Our kids, like us, know deep down just how sinful they are. Until God saves them, they automatically feel guilt when they disobey, steal, lie, or sin in other ways. Before my daughter was one, I saw it in her big blue eyes-- as she looked at me in the rear-view mirror immediately after pulling off her hairbow as she was instructed not to do. Mention "sin" in a preschool classroom and you immediately get blame-shifting; stories of how bad their brothers and sisters are... so Garden of Eden. Our kids know that they are guilty sinners.

When you start talking about God hating and punishing sin... that has the potential to cause huge fear in a child. Have you ever had to think about this? The plain ol' fact is that "holy God + sinful us" equals our doom! To some, this seems too harsh or frightening to teach to children. Being a preschool teacher and curriculum developer, it's something I DO think about... a lot. It's hard to know what kids can understand, what is beyond them but good to start teaching anyway, and what is unbalanced. The holiness of God, and how that interacts with us is one especially touchy issue in our culture these days. But, if it's in the Bible and if it's necessary to salvation, it must not be kept from a child! is frightening. But if we do not first know our own damnation, we will never be desperate for salvation. And it is only the self-admitted "sick" who get the Doctor. (Mark 2:17)

One word picture is that of a fire. God is holy and perfect, and anything less than holy and perfect is incinerated in His presence. I know many people immediately assume "hellfire and brimstone!" with this word picture, but that's not primarily what I mean. Feel free to tell me what you think of the following:

YHWH (Biblical name for God in Hebrew-- usually pronounced "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" in the King James Version) is a consuming fire, as Hebrews (12:29) emphasizes, and those who have sin inherent in their being will be consumed by that Glory, by that holiness. Adam & Eve were sent away from the Garden as punishment (Gen 3:22) and because now they faced the possibility of eternal corruption, but later we see that it was in mercy, too. Had they stayed in God's presence in their sinful state, they would have been utterly consumed. They passed on this inability to face God uncovered to all humans (Ex. 33:20). That's a crucial part of why why Moses had to function as a mediator for the people of Israel (Dt. 5:24-25), why the sacrificial system was instituted-- the sacrifices were literally "burnt up" so that the people didn't have to be.

Knowing all this about Who God Is really prepares us to marvel at the Incarnation; that God would put on flesh SO THAT we could see His glory without being consumed (2 Cor 4:6). I'm not advocating trying to push Hellish images on our little ones, but rather to give them the same word pictures that the Bible uses for God; including that of a fire. Only when we are in Jesus are we like the Burning Bush: on fire but not consumed. Certainly I don't want to over-emphasize any one attribute of God (His holiness) at the expense of another (for example, His mercy...which interestingly enough is the attribute He called out as He covered Moses with His Hand)... but we also want to give a real enough picture, according to Scripture, to instill in our children a "holy fear of God." Then calling Him "Abba," and knowing that HE made promises to US to make a way for us to be NEAR Him again is so much more marvelous and incredible!! That's the message I start teaching in week 3 with the promise God made to Eve (Gen. 3:16), and which we keep teaching until the last day of school, with the possibility of being like Jesus.

To make it a little more personal, it was fear of my own sinfulness in the face of God's holiness which first awakened my three-year-old soul to my need for a Mediator, and which finally led me to Christ. It wasn't until I was 9 or so and God opened my eyes more fully to my main sin of pride that I actually ran to Him for Grace, but all along that holy fear kept me from a lot of sin, and kept me knowing I needed Jesus.

The truth is that children CAN come to Jesus. Likely, they know deep down inside that they do need salvation; a sense of guilt seems quite natural, a merciful product of our Image-bearing. They still need to be taught, to be given the knowledge that will lead them to Jesus. We are commanded not to hinder them-- oh let us urge them to run!!

I hope this is good for thought-fodder... it has helped me better love my Savior!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So What About that Grouchy Ladybug?

Yesterday we talked about whether it is truly wise to restrict children's "interaction" with scary situations via story (ghosts, goblins, monsters, dragons, bad guys, etc.) I've interacted with other children who were similarly restricted, not so much about scary things, but about  "getting the wrong idea" from reading about disobedient, or disrespectful children.  I was one of those kids, actually.  There were several movies we weren't allowed to see, because the characters "were rebellious," or "had bad attitudes."  One of these was Disney's The Little Mermaid.  Looking back, I have to kind of laugh at that restriction, because Ariel's sinful rebellion against her father is very clearly portrayed as wrong-- disastrously so.  Her actions put her father's very kingdom in jeopardy, and in the end it's his loving self-sacrifice for his disobedient daughter that saves her life, and everyone's.  Talk about a missed opportunity to discuss the consequences of rebellion, the wisdom of following Scripture's command to obey parents, and even to find an allegory of the Gospel!

One friend recently mentioned a book I have recommended as a favorite on my book blog and aStore; Eric Carle's The Grouchy Ladybug.  It's a gorgeous book with splendid illustrations, that very cleverly portray the passage of time.  The story of the very grouchy ladybug, who tries to pick a fight with every creature kind enough to say "good morning," to her is one with which kids readily identify (ok, I admit.  I identify with that feeling!!), and they love the justice that puts her in her place, ready to sweetly say "good morning!" to those she meets instead.  As a teacher, I appreciate the text's repetition as well as the collage illustrations for which Eric Carle is so well-loved.

As is my habit, this topic has been stewing in my brain for the past few days... As parents, is it wise to let our children see, hear, or read about those who act foolishly?  What about "scary" things?  What does Scripture say about this?  While it doesn't directly speak to children's books, it is itself meant to be a tool used to teach children (Dt. 6:6-7).  Even if we take that verse in the narrowest sense, and say it only means we are to teach our children the Law of God (what was given on Mount Sinai), that law includes plenty of graphic details which most would hesitate to teach their youngest children.  Ok.  Say we say we'll teach the principles of the law, and use discretion in introducing our children to the more difficult-to-deal-with portions. Next, my mind went to the book of Proverbs-- written specifically for children.  Immediately two examples of kids-with-bad-attitudes came to mind "the Leech has two daughters, Give, Give! they cry." (Prov. 15:30), and "the sluggard says "there is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!" (Prov. 22:13, 26:13).  The Proverbs are chock-full of descriptions of different types of fools; we taught through them last summer in Sunday School, and they were such potent tools in helping kids see both the consequences of folly, and to judge their own hearts.  The more I've thought about it, the more convinced I am that it isn't a bad thing to let kids experience foolishness (including rebellion and disrespect) vicariously through stories, so long as the account shows a true-to-life ending.  I mean this:  if the kid in the story is always rude to Mom and that's never addressed, you need a discussion with your child and possibly a chucking of the book, but if the kid is rude to Mom, gets a big talking-to, apologizes humbly and makes her cupcakes at the end, cheer!

Trust me, your child does not need a book to teach them how to be selfish or mean.  They've got that down pat all on their own.  They may use a book's language to convey their frustration and sin, but that just makes it even easier for you, the parent, to point the sin out and deal with it in a Biblical way as you point them to Christ.  "You're acting just like the Grouchy Ladybug, aren't you?  Do you remember how she got smacked by a whale when she tried to pick a fight?  What did she learn?  How does God's Word teach us to treat others?  Now, you can either learn the hard way (like the Grouchy Ladybug did), by me disciplining you, or you can pray in your heart right now for God to help you to act in kindness instead of selfish grumpiness.  Go sit in your room for one minute while you think about it."  Hug, sent to room, and hopefully comes out with a better outlook on life.

I think I need to hear that myself sometimes.   :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

So What About that Scary Ghost?

I especially remember my first preschool class. Precious, sweet kids... lots of them, full of energy!  One day we were sitting and reading a familiar fairy tale, and one of the little girls flipped out at the word "witch."  This was a "good witch," mind you, not a scary or evil one.  She wasn't scared, just concerned because she "wasn't allowed to say witch, or to talk about them."  Hmmm... ok.  This was my first encounter with this particular family's standards on what their kids were allowed to hear, see or say. Ghosts, witch, fat, stupid... all were on the "taboo" list.  Wolf in the Three Little Pigs? Nope. "Mommy doesn't want me to see anything scary."  As a teacher, of course you never want to undermine the parent, but it was also getting pretty impossible to read any fairy tale or even describe "same and different" without an alarm bell going off in this little girl's mind (saying "this crayon is fat, and that one is skinny" was what got me into trouble over saying "fat.").  She was a real sweetheart, and it got to the point where she knew if she felt that her mom wouldn't want her hearing something-- say an audio-book kids were listening to in center time-- that she'd just go do something else.  And we made it through the year both unscathed.

I've since thought a lot about her. Don't get me wrong- she was from an amazing, supportive, fun family whose parents were some of my greatest encourager and cheerleaders.  I know her mom had reasons to be so protective of her little eyes and ears, one being her tendency towards bad nightmares.  I wonder, though, if she'd been allowed to experience "frightening" things as frightening instead of as forbidden, and then freely discuss them, if she'd have been better able to deal with her fears.

Children in ages past were expected to confront a lot more fears than ours are.  Have you ever read Grimm's original fairy tales?  Totally gory.  Yuck.  Kids back then usually saw death firsthand; they either lost a grandparent living with them to old age, or a relative to war, plague or an accident.  Certainly they watched animal death regularly as their parents butchered chickens & hogs and hunted fowl and deer.  They lived through natural disasters and actual dangers.  What would they think of our reluctance to let our preschoolers read about monsters?

I've thought about this on and off for the past several years. As parents, is it wise to let our children see, hear, or read about "scary" things?  What does Scripture say about this?  The Bible is plenty full of scary situations-- not from pretend creatures like ghosts and goblins, but from very real-life evil men and angels.  Fear in children is natural.  As G. K. Chesterton put it,
“Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” 
Some of you might be at this point shaking your heads, thinking "what the heck is she saying? Dragons do NOT exist, and the LAST thing I want is to fill my child's head with a new fear over something that doesn't even exist."  Think about it this way:  to a child, so many things are frightening, most of them involving potential physical harm.  They're scared of stuffed cows, of quick-moving dogs, of strangers, of the dark.  One day they'll outgrow all those fears by bullying or avoiding them;  they'll learn that they are bigger than those things, or that they're so improbable that they don't need to think about them.  But unless they've been taught not just to avoid or bully fears, but to face them, they'll "graduate" to fears of other things-- fear of failure, of rejection, of humiliation, of being alone, of being wrong.  Christ calls us to face those fears head on, and to fight them-- not in our own strength, but with His.  We are to stare them down and cry "you can do everything you threaten me and more, but you cannot take my Father's love!"  His love sets us free from fear. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 Jn. 4:18)

There are other things to fear in this world-- wicked men with evil thoughts, wild animals ruled by hunger, uncontrollable forces, the unpredictable sin of others, and even celestial enemies.  Those, too, need to be faced, wrestled, and put down, not merely by pulling out a bigger gun (literally) and playing by all the rules (seatbelts, speed limits, airplane security checks), but by putting our faith in a sovereign and ultimately just God.  We stare down those dragons and whisper "you can kill my body, but you cannot harm my soul, and one Day I will eat at the Table prepared for me in the presence of you, my enemies, and I will laugh with Joy in the Presence of my Lord."

Please don't misunderstand me-- I'm not about to park Eowyn in front of Star Wars 3 where Anakin murders children in their beds and talk about it with her.  Nor am I going to pull out Grimms fairy tales and read every frightening bit every night to her.  (Though at this point she wouldn't even know enough to be frightened; she's only 1)  We are always called to use discretion, and to help our children to think about "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil. 4:8)  All of our parenting speech should be "only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).  You know your child, what would be good for them, and what would be exasperating or tempting to your particular child.  That said, don't shy away from hard conversations!  Letting our children experience scary things vicariously through story is one way to talk them through "scary" things.

I was recently asked by some men working on our (hundred-year-old) house if I was ever afraid at night.  Thinking of the neighborhood in which I live, and the fact that my husband was out of town, I admitted that, sometimes, yes.  To my surprise, he then asked, "of ghosts, and all that, right?  Do you believe in ghosts in these old houses?"  I almost laughed, but caught myself, because you know, there really are scary supernatural forces at work, and my confidence isn't in just saying that "ghosts aren't real."  I answered instead, "well, even if they are real, I believe that my Jesus is stronger, so I don't need to be afraid."  One of the other workers immediately grinned and started nodding, and I wonder if one day we'll remember our conversation in Heaven.  As I said goodbye to the workers and shut the door, I realized that my fear regarding the all-too-real rapists and thieves who live in our city (as in all cities), was gone, too.  My Jesus is stronger, indeed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

For All those Last-Minute Gifts...

Maybe my new Amazon Store (Mama Szrama's Book Pics) will help you!  This is in tandem with my book review site, and has links to all the books referenced and recommended on that site.  I hope it helps you find just the perfect book for those precious children in your life, whether they're 18 months or 18 years old!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Using Veggies as Frugal Fillers

This post on one of my favorite sites (Keeper of the Home) is great, especially for those who are trying to lessen processed foods, and/or grains.  Since I don't like to cook separate gluten-full, and gluten-free meals for my family, and gluten-free baking is expensive and rather unwieldy, I'd rather do something else.  This post is all about using readily available, inexpensive fruits & veggies in our meals.


PS-- AND THE WINNER IS ....Jeannette!  A code for 50 free photo cards will be in your email inbox. :)  Check out her blog here.

(Each entry was given a random number, then I used a random number generator to pick an entry.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Photo Cards

There are still a few hours to enter my free photo card giveaway, where you could win 50 free photo cards from Studio Dayspring (potential Christmas cards, baby announcements, greeting cards, New Year cards, birthday cards... you name it!).

But for those who aren't going to win (sadly), I do have another way to point you: I got to know them as a photo-sharing and digital-picture-printing site years ago.  Since then, they've expanded to every type of photo-product that you can imagine:  calendars, photo-books, and other photo-gifts.  As a teacher I used it as an easy way to upload pictures of my class which any parent could choose to print out.  I also printed some (adorable!!) folded notecards featuring some cute pictures of Eowyn, using them for thank-you cards and notes to doting fans.  I like their site for two reasons:  the user interface is fairly simple and easy to use, and they're always offering some sort of promotion on various photo-products.

Ok, so some of you are thinking, "I don't have time to go around designing this kind of stuff," right?  I'll bet that if you added up the time to get to a store, walking around picking out a gift, bringing it home, wrapping it, and either wrap it or mail it, the time designing a personalized gift on a website like shutterfly (then you can mail it straight to your intended recipient) is well worth it.  Additionally, you could order multiple copies of, say, a calendar full of family pictures, and then give them to several family members-- still more personal than a store-bought gift, yet less time-intensive.

Shutterfly's run a promotion for us bloggers-- we get the word out about them to you, and we get some free cards.  Since I've already one my Christmas cards this year, I'll be using them to design and print Christmas cards for my parents & family.  I like the ones which have spots for than one photo, and have a sleek and simple design... like this one:

If you are interested, check out these special promotions:  50% off photo books & calendars, 20% off cards, among other things.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two Old Andrew Peterson Favorites

While you all should have Behold the Lamb of God on repeat this time of year, I've got two AP songs on my playlist that bring tears to my eyes pretty much every time.  These videos are great, too.

Holy is the Lord (using footage from the movie "The Life of Abraham," which is very well done.)

And his first official music video, for an amazingly poetic and powerful marriage song, "Dancing in the Minefields." For some reason right now, my favorite part is the backup line "Don't give up. Don't give up. Don't give up on me."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Free DaySpring Photo Cards

Wow, I am so excited to do this!  My first give-away!  

For anyone who read my post on our family Christmas cards this year, photo cards from Studio Dayspring, and was wishing they could do some... this is for you!

I have the opportunity to give one reader 50 free photo cards from Dayspring!  To enter, all you need to do is to leave a comment below saying you'd like to win. (I'm looking forward to seeing who reads this stuff!)

For an extra entry, go to Studio Dayspring's site, look around, then leave a comment below saying which style of card you liked best.  A winner will be randomly selected on Wednesday, December 15th.  This will leave you plenty of time to design and receive your cards for Christmas!  Even if you don't end up winning, Dayspring is offering 25% off your total order if you order by December 22nd.   Use the coupon code CHRISTMAS25.

That's it!  Happy Hunting, friends! :)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Turkey Enchiladas (gluten & soy free)

In the spirit of Thanksgiving leftovers, here is my newest favorite recipe. Ryan swears he can taste the turkey, but I sure can't.  My friend Sina originally engineered this recipe for shredded chicken, and I'm guessing you could even do it with beef or fish.  The key element is the homemade sauce.

This is the one time of year when the entire Szrama household enjoys poultry, since we shell out the bucks to buy me a soy-free, pastured gobbler from Tropical Traditions (believe me, I use EVERY BIT of that bird, even the neck, bones & organs!).

Enchilada Sauce (makes ~3 cups)
2 T butter or cooking oil
2 T maseca (corn-flour), rice flour (or wheat flour)
2 T chili powder
1 t cumin
14 oz. chicken or turkey broth (just under 2 cups)
8 oz tomato sauce (I did 4 oz. tomato paste thinned with 4 oz water)
1 t sea salt
1/4-1/2 t garlic powder, to taste

Melt butter in med. saucepan.  Stir in flour & chili powder.  Cook for 1 min.  Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Cover until needed.

Turkey or Chicken Enchiladas
3 c. enchilada sauce
2 c. shredded, cooked turkey/chicken
1/2 c thinly sliced green onions (I omitted these)
1 c diced tomatoes (optional)
1 1/2 c. shredded cheese-- use combo Monterey Jack, mozzarella, cheddar
1/4 c plain yogurt or sour cream
1/2 c diced chili or bell pepper
1/4 c fresh cilantro (I omitted this)
12 6" corn tortillas
aprox. 1/2 c butter, for frying

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9x13 baking dish.
In med. bowl, mix turkey, veggies, sour cream, 1 c cheese and 1/2 c enchilada sauce.  Mix well.  
Heat 1/2" oil in pan. Fry tortillas one at a time until soft (aprox 10 sec. per side at med-high heat).  Stack in baking dish.
Spread small amount of enchilada sauce on bottom of baking dish.  Spread 2 heaping tablespoons of the chicken mixture in each tortilla and roll it up.  Place seam side down in baking dish. Once all tortillas are filled and rolled, pour remaining sauce over top.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.  Garnish with extra sour cream, green onions, cilantro as desired.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

14 Months Old

My darling Eowyn-

It seems like every day you are doing something new. amazing me with your propensity to learn, and your knack for being cute.  You're more fun than ever, and for the first time in my life I can see how some people could be content with only having one child.  (Don't worry, you will get brothers and sisters some day, just not quite yet!)  I have an urge to document everything so I don't forget it...but I also don't want to spend so much time chronicling that I neglect snuggling, so I've compromised by waiting three months to write this behemoth post.  Every smile, every antic, every shared laugh and cuddle is a gift, to be treasured up and counted in my heart and remembered yearly at Thanksgiving, and all the days in between.

I think one of my favorite Mommy moments had to be teaching you how to "clean out" the fondue pot.  I loved watching you get your spoon full of chocolate just like I did, giggling and enjoying it every bit as me (don't worry, it was high-quality dark chocolate).  I've loved getting your "help" in the kitchen; teaching you to dip one tiny finger in to taste the mashed potatoes, or letting you lick off the spoons or dump ingredients into the pan.  You're learning to really enjoy the preparing and eating of all the deliciousness God has made!  I love how snuggly you are.  You still want to be on my hip as much as possible, and when tired stand at the kitchen threshold and wail for me, but you're getting so much better at playing happily on your own!

You are trying to run, but still fall over at random times.  Just now I watched you strategize and attempt several times to retrieve a prized lotion bottle from under your high chair.  You held onto the low bar for a while, trying to reach it without going under, then finally took a deep breath, got on your belly and crawled.  Victory!  You slithered out with the prize clutched in your fingers, then clapped for yourself.  Do you know how cute you are?

At Thanksgiving (down in GA at Poppy & Gram's) you learned the art of ducking under and crawling over things, usually the legs and feet of aunts & uncles.  You have a love-hate relationship with their boxer, Sarah, calling "Hi, Rah-rah! Hi!" as you approach her with an eager smile... then at the first glance she gives you, you cry and run away, arms outstretched to any adult (especially Mommy).  How DARE she look at you!?

Your newest & cutest tricks are... bouncing on your new ladybug pillow pet while trying to sing "Ride a little pony, ride to town, ride a little pony, don't fall DOWN," at which point you fall off, or at least lean your head over very far; resting your head on the floor and look through your legs for long periods of time; declaring with appropriate amazement "oh, no!" when you fling your bow to the floor or your doll from your bed; greeting us with enormous smiles, happy 'hi!'s, and outstretched arms every morning; coming (usually fake crying) to me pointing to an injured spot explaining "boom, boom," then making kissing sounds so I know to kiss it and make it all better; blowing your nose (just not when you try it in your board books... random??); identifying your nose, belly, feet, fingers, hand, teeth & mouth when asked (in Spanish); supplying necessary animal sounds for dogs, cats, cows, owls, mice, dinosaurs, lions, elephants, hyenas, kukkaburras, fish, ducks, frogs & birds when asked in Spanish (or whenever you see them, live or in books); saying "po'vo?" (please) and "dah-yah" (gracias) appropriately, usually unprompted; trying to sit on anything at your knee-height (including my face if I'm lying down); sitting and "reading" to yourself quietly, always turning the pages right-to-left, and making appropriate sounds; make-believing cooking ("hot!" blowing sounds, eating & drinking sounds with play dishes); helping to clean up, one toy at a time; re-enacting of past injuries, involving hitting self or falling, saying "ow!"; adding in a new dance move of your fists pushing down; and lastly, your "surprised face," scrunching up your face and inhaling "oooohh!" as if looking at something amazingly cute.  People ask me if I sit and work with you on this stuff, and some of it, I have, but most of it is just you mimicking whatever you see.  You are always learning!  You are still obsessed with trash & trash cans, identyfying any trash can, dirty diaper, or plastic bag as "urk."  If I tell you it's clean, you respond by smelling deeply, then going "ahhh."  You say "awww" and cuddle when Daddy tells you to "give Daddy loves," or when Mama tells you to dale un beso.  You clasp your hands together to pray and say "Ahhh mah!!" as we Amen.  In long car trips you start straining at the car seat harness, while signing "down," then in frustration wag your finger at the harness shouting "no no no!!!"  You try to match pitch to everything-- car horns, swings, alarms-- and have a pretty good sense of beat.  My little musician!  You LOVE music and dance to everything.

Your favorite books are "No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed!" "Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You?" and "Good Night, Gorilla."  You act out every part of "No More Monkeys," and LOVE the picture of only the eyes in "Good Night, Gorilla."  This has led to your "surprised face."

Words... You call out "Poppy" and mimic everyone else's name, usually using exclusively Ps & Ts (Aunt Courtney= ToTee).  You say 'tante (elephant), doggy, gato (cat), d'n (down), up, all done, hi, bye, ta-ta (cup), ma (more), p'vo (please), 'che (milk), am-beh (hungry), da-ya (thank-you), bebe, yum, night-night, Ellie, & oh no very clearly.  You know a lot of people, and call them by name- Jay (Jane), y-y (Ryan), Eh-en (yourself), Abuh (Abby), Na-na (Nina), Bubub (GB), Poppy, and some version of Uncle Colin which I cannot recreate.  Daddy is still your favorite word.  Many of your words sound very similar; bee-bo (libro, book), bo-bo (blandito, blankie), or daddy, doggy & ducky.  Best are moo-moo (cow), ma-ma (mommy), mah! (your repitition of "si, mama," -yes, mommy,- which I have you say after each instruction), na-ma (no more, as in "No more monkeys jumpin on the bed!, said with furrowed brow and wagging finger), na-na (either means "knock knock," with accompanying gesture, or "nariz/nose"), and no no no (obvious).  Context clues are crucial!

I've been working with you on communicating instead of whining, and in the past 4 days have seen a huge difference!  You usually sign/say "ay-dah" (help), or "down," or "please," then what you want.  You've even started repeating combined signs like "down, please."  You obey very well for a toddler, requiring correction but mostly obeying.  When you disobey it is usually with a very mischevious smile...uh-oh.  Ocassionally you still randomly bite my leg or toe, which I do NOT appreciate.

Well, you're coming up to my leg and smacking it, grinning up at me "hi!" so I think my time is up.

I love you, munchkin.  You are a treasure-- Mommy is so thankful for you!!