November 30, 2009

Winter Wonderland at in the Conservatory at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens

I know I have mentioned the botanical gardens in several posts, however as a parent it's still an amazing thing to expose your children to when the weather is less than optimal outside. So why not plan your winter escape to the Matthaei Botanical Gardens conservatory (1800 N. Dixboro Rd., Ann Arbor) to see a beautiful winter interactive exhibit that takes visitors on a journey through the beauty of the winter season. Take your children along to answer questions like: Why do we have winter here in Michigan? What does the winter solstice mean? Why is winter so wild sometimes? And what’s happening weather-wise on the other side of the world?

By way of the conservatory visitors can travel to the southern hemisphere with a “passport to summer” for discovering all the plants of the world; take a winter hike to look for signs of animal life outdoors; and learn how snowflakes form — And even create your own snowflake to take home. During the exhibit, the conservatory will be transformed into a winter wonderland with a variety of white flowers and a tree decorated with pressed Queen’s Anne Lace and other natural ornaments. Many drop-in activities during the exhibit are also included with admission to conservatory.

The Wild Wonderful Winter exhibit: A Season’s Tale runs Thursday Dec. 3, 2009 through
Sun., Jan. 17, 2010. The exhibit is open Tuesdays and Thursday-Sunday 10:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and Wednesdays 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. Cost: Adults 18 and over: $5; children 5-17: $2; under 5 free.

For more information call(734)647-7600, email or visit the Wild Wonderful Winter UMGNA webpage.

November 27, 2009

Children Make Wool Felted Critters at The Library

I heard on the radio the other day that the holidays are about a celebration of excess... Whoa, wait a minute here, they're a celebration of EXCESS?! I don't think so, and I certainly hope I'm not teaching my children that. In fact as an attempt to scale things back again I have asked family to cut back what they are sending to the kids in the way of toys and have suggested that bonds or college savings be employed again this year. Everyone is simply getting too carried away with the only grandchildren in either family! It is with that though, that I have begun to re-evaluate my own spending habits and what I am teaching the children. So this year I've begun thinking of more meaningful gifts for my children to give, or receive...

I found this free event and thought it might be a way for my son to "make" a gift for his younger sister. Of course the kids could keep the project themselves, but I was trying to think ahead to the holidays. This Sunday at the AADL Pittsfield Branch (2359 Oak Valley Dr. between Scio Church and Ann Arbor-Saline Roads) from 1-3:00 p.m., youth from Kindergarten through 5th grade are invited to make a small, hand-held, wool bunny or bear from wool rovings - The process of making "felt" is actually fun, educational and very appropriate for this age too!

For more information, please call 734-327-4200.

November 23, 2009

Toy Safety Press Conference at Beaumonth Hospital, Royal Oak

Tomorrow morning at 10:30 a.m. at William Beaumonth Hospital the Public Interest Research Group in Michigan (PIRGIM) will host the 24TH Annual Trouble in Toyland report on dangerous holiday toys. PIRGIM will release its annual toy safety report, which has led to corrective action on more than 130 toys over the last two decades.

Participants at the event will demonstrate toy hazards and alert parents to hazards that are still on store shelves, such as toys with small parts, toys that are excessively loud, and toys containing toxic chemicals.

PIRGIM will also launch a new interactive tool, accessible via smart phone, that will help parents and other toy-buyers avoid some common toyhazards.

The event will be help at Beaumont Hospital (3601 W. Thirteen Mile Road - west of Woodward Avenue - Royal Oak) South Tower on the fifth floor in the Pediatric Garden. Complimentary parking will be available in the South Parking Deck.

The AnnArborMom site will also publish a follow-up to this event for parents unable to make it.

Children Can Create A Thanksgiving Centerpiece This Wednesday

If you are one of the many folk who likes to take a hostess gift to celebrations, and are starting to think, "Oh geeze, what should I do about Thanksgiving?" fear not - Let your pre-school through 5th grade child take care of things for you...

This Wednesday from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library Pittsfield Branch (2359 Oak Valley Dr. between Scio Church Rd. and Ann Arbor-Saline Rd.), children can make their very own Thanksgiving centerpeice (or napkin rings) to grace the Thanksgiving table. What hostess or parent, would not appreciate such a wonderful hand-crafted present?

The event is free to all participants, for more information call 734-327-4200.

November 22, 2009

Little House On The Prairie at the Fox Theatre - Get a $10 Discount

Growing up, one of my favorite stories was the "Little House On The Prairie" series. I fondly remember snuggling up with mom or dad to have a chapter of one of the books read aloud to my brother and I before bed - The television series was one we enjoyed together as well. Now the story is being brought to a new generation as Little House On the Prairie is being brought to stage.

Little House on The Prairie, a new musical based on the beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder series of classic American books, will make its debut in Detroit at the Fox Theatre Dec. 1-5, 2009. Bring the whole family, and save with a special $10 per person discount* for the Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday evening performances through Dec. 4. Just mention the password HOMELAND when purchasing tickets online, by phone or at the box office!

Little House on The Prairie is the uplifting story of an American family forging a new life amidst the might challenges, heartbreaks, joys and triumphs that face them in the newly-settled heartland. It is also the story of young Laura Ingalls, as she begins her life as a young woman, finding purpose, and finding love. Above all, it is the celebration of the pioneering spirit and the core values on which this country was founded, a spirit that still resonates today.

As a bonus to the Detroit area audience, Melissa Gilbert, who rose to fame as a child playing 'Laura' in the hugely successful NBC television series "Little House on the Prairie" during the 1970's, now continues her legacy 'on the prairie' by taking on the role of Ma!

*Discount is only available on certain price levels, and not valid on previously purchased tickets.

November 20, 2009

Youth With a Mission: Teaching My Children a Valuable Life Lesson

This week something amazing happened, granting me the opportunity to teach a life lesson to my children. Let me explain:

Last Sunday, three college-aged youth stopped by our church offering their services to anyone in the congregation needing “help”. Most of the congregation didn’t know what to ask for, in fact many members simply chatted with the three newcomers. In my brief talk with one of them however, I realized that they had slept in their car and had a jar of peanut butter to eat for the week – the mother in me immediately jumped forth as I invited them to dinner and someplace to stay the next night.

Several friends and family members worried that I had invited strangers into our home, however it just felt right. The three “kids” (as my son called them) were with the youth group Youth With A Mission in Dayton, Ohio and were planning a mission to India at the end of December to help – orphans, prostitutes, teens, families - Whomever they could. The reason for their visit here was in preparation for their trip; They were given a car with a full tank of gas and $20, half of which they had to give away. They were then told to go wherever they could within a 600 mile radius to “help” people and spread God’s word. I presume this is to prepare them for what they might experience in a different country with different cultures - This group of three luckily ended up in Belleville.

Tony, Sean and Becca showed up at our doorstep around 5:00 Monday night and immediately asked what they could “do” for me, to which I replied “Nothing”. I did give in and say they could help my son learn a song to which they readily agreed and grabbed a guitar from the car. For the next few hours they talked with played with my children, and then ate dinner with us all. I could tell though that they were expecting to “do” something, as Sean asked multiple times, so at dinner I told them why I didn’t need help; I told them that be being here I was able to teach a lesson to my children about helping others when you expect nothing in return. I wasn’t sure it would sink in for Zach, my son is certainly learning to be a gracious host and all, but I just didn’t know if he would get the entire concept. Someday possibly he would be able to reflect on it though...
The next morning, without any other projects lined up, I invited them to my mother’s house. She had just had knee surgery and needed her one garden cut down and the yard waste bagged. Mom had a breakfast feast of bagels and cream cheese, sausages and OJ set out for them too – I shouldn't have worried about them going hungry! They helped her and visited for a while, then went off to help at the next place – Actually I was able to send them to a friend who is in the process of opening a non-profit maternity house for pregnant women without housing. They happily accepted that project as well.

On the way home from my moms though, is when the amazing happened. My son Zach said, “Mom I miss the kids? Will I see them again?” I told him that I didn’t know but said they were off helping people who needed help. “But mom, they didn’t help us.” Bing, bing, bing, he’d won the prize… “Well son, sometimes you help others even if you don’t get anything in return, you just help them because it is the right thing to do.” I couldn’t believe the opportunity had presented itself to discuss the events, with HIM opening the dialogue!

Moments like those are what being a mother is all about. Knowing that what I am teaching my children, often through example, is something they can hopefully understand and implement throughout their lives makes watching them grow and develop the most beautiful life experience for me!

photo 1: Tony Allen and Sean Powell watching a movie with Gabby & Zach
photo 2: Becca Heller helping Zach & Gabby with a project

Barnes and Noble host a fundraiser for the Ann Arbor Recreation and Education scholarship fund

This Sunday, November 22 from 11:00 a.m - 5:00 p.m. the Barnes & Nobel (3235 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor) is teaming up to host a fundaiser to raise funds for the Ann Arbor Recreation and Education scholarship fund. For all purchases made that day, a portion of the sales will be donated to the special fund providing Ann Arbor area youth who may not otherwise be able to afford a summer camp experience.

Last summer in Ann Arbor, Harry Potter Camp, Star Wars Camp and Writing Camp were in full effect with many local campers creating memories to last a lifetime. Some of these same excited campers will be attending the event, volunteering their day, to share the fruits of their camp experiences on stage for the enjoyment of the entire community.

The Star Wars kids will host a "Force Tournament" sharing popular songs with their all original Star Wars lyrics and Azkabanian Idol songs will also (Harry Potter, American Idol!) be performed. Excited young wizards will also be hosting a Spell Casting Tournament during the event. To bring the family-fun to a close, Writing Camp Authors will read their original/illustrated, “Award Winning” books and poem during a special “open mic” event.

Please bring your family to this special area event. As it is our aim to connect creative Ann Arbor young people to an aesthetic and appreciative audience, all of Ann Arbor is encouraged to come out and show their support for our young writers and performers and to the special kids who will benefit from the Rec. & Ed. Scholarship Fund!

November 16, 2009

Local Seminar: How to Encourage Gratitude in Our Children

I have been thinking a lot about teaching my children to be more gracious in their lives, and as they are 3 and 5 it's the perfect age. That's why an announcement of this seminar came at the perfect timing; I thought my readers might be interested.

Thanks Alot - How to Encourage Gratitude in Our Children
Thursday, November 19, 6:30-8:30pm
Pattengill Media Center, Ann Arbor

How big of a deal is gratitude? Gratitude is a critical component in raising children who will have a balanced perspective, handle disappointment, be less likely to have a depression or an entitlement complex, be more able to have meaningful relationships, have more respect for themselves and others, grow up to be more responsible adults, and be more likely to actually be happy! This workshop delves into this vital parenting topic and offers insight, stories and ideas on how to help your child become and stay grateful throughout their lives. That's a pretty big deal!

This class is for adults only, please do not bring children.

Annie Zirkel, Parenting Consultant & Author. 1 class. $25* for Ann Arbor residents/ $30* non-residents. The cost of the class also includes a copy of the $11.95 book:
You'll Thank Me Later: A Guide To Nurturing Gratitude In Our Children (And Why That Matters)

To register call (734) 994-2300 ext. 0 M-F 8am-5pm, e-mail the program at or click here to visit the Seminar's page on the Ann Arbor Parks & Recreation Registration page.

November 15, 2009

What To Do With The Kids When They're On School Break - High Velocity Sports

Next week is Thanksgiving break, and soon-thereafter the kids will be off for the holiday's. Some families will be looking for a place for their kids to go, and others may just want a few hours of quiet without restless kids whining and meandering through the household. But what's a parent to do???

I found this idea on-line and thought to pass it along. High Velocity Sports in Canton has "Fun Days" at their facility (46245 Michigan Ave., Canton, MI 48188)for kids ages 5 - 12 costing parents $5/hour. The days run from 7:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Kids will play a multitude of sports including soccer, flag football, basketball, volleyball, dodge ball, kickball, and much more... Hot lunches are also available for purchase on site! it's an active kids dream for when they're not in school and all activities are done in a heated indoor arena when the snow may be blowing outside!

November - 3, 25, 27
December - 21-23, 28-30

January 18-29
February 15-19
March 9
April 2, 5-9
May 18

Soccer and Basketball Camps are also available Feb. 15-19 and Apr. 5-9 from 9 am-12 pm. The cost is $95/child. For more information on any of their programs, please call High Velocity Sports 734) HV-SPORT.

November 13, 2009

Kids Will Be Kids: They'll Repeat Everything

As a parent with little ears that now repeat EVERYTHING I say, I’m starting to think about my communication style, especially what I say and how I say it. OK it’s a dream of mine really, to actually THINK before I speak, has elluded me much of my life. I get so I excited, or fear I'll forget, that I just spit it out - It's like my thoughts simply bubbly over into and out of my mouth. Now however, I have really tried hard not to say the things I don’t want my children to repeat. Certain phrases, slang or catch-words are off-limits in our household, and I have certainly tried to stop my children from saying them after hearing their friends or other family member’s utterances of them. But that is really hard to do.

Yes my sweet little blue-eyes baby girl has been heard to blurt under her breath "Dammit!"

Apparently this is an parenthood epidemic even worse than catching the flu in a room filled with snot-nosed, sneezing and slurping first-graders. I know my friends all tell me it's true. Why just the other day one of my mom-friends was telling me of her experience with her son.

She told me that their dog had recently gotten fixed, and she was trying to get her son to say that their “dog had gotten neutered”. Apparently she expressed one too many times that the dog had gotten his balls chopped off. Although, who knows, maybe she said it just once. After all that’s all it takes!

At any rate, the boy came over to spend the evening with me and my son. As they were playing together, the young man said to me matter-of-factly, “You know my dog got neutered.”

“I know.” I said.

And this is where it gets tricky, as my son then chimed in, “What’s neutered?”

I could have said that’s when they remove the dog's testicles – Nah, that sounds too technical for 5-year-olds. Besides I really didn’t want to explain the term when I wasn’t sure what the other parent would think. So taking a moment to pause, and taking a huge breath, I told him, “That’s when the animal doctor, the veterinarian, makes it so the dog can’t have babies.” Simple. Honest. To the point. And hopefully something that was not likely to get into the great ‘where do babies come from’ debate… Except then I heard from our young guest:

“No that’s when they chop his balls off.”

There was a moment of silence in the room, followed by gales of laughter ringing in my ears, my own laughter, as two young boys stared at me like a crazed lunatic. I couldn’t help but wonder, what my children are repeating to someone else…

Raising children sure makes life interesting!

November 12, 2009

FREE tickets to see Bill Harley at The Ark

On Sunday, November 22 at 1:00 pm bring your family to The Ark (316 S. Main Street, Ann Arbor, MI ) to catch a show performed by Bill Harley - This 2-time Grammy Award Winner, NPR commentator and acclaimed storyteller/musician, will perform a FREE family show!

Bill uses song and story to paint a vibrant picture of growing up, parenting and family life. Poignant and hilarious, his work spans the generation gap, reminds us of our common humanity and challenges us to be our very best selves. A prolific author and recording artist, Bill is also a regular commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and featured on PBS. He joined the National Storytelling Network's Circle of Excellence in 2001 and tours nationwide as an author and performing artist.

He also has a 7:30 PM (tickets available for $15) show that same night that is appropriate for teenagers and older - sounds like something worth getting a babysitter for!!!

This 1:00 p.m. free show is sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library. For more information visit The Arks website or call 734-327-8301.

November 9, 2009

Going Shopping at Great Lakes Crossing?

I just saw an ad about the current holiday promotion running at Bass Pro Shops - Kids can go into Santa's Workshop and design a handmade holiday ornament for FREE! Starting November 8 at 3:00 pm through December 24, kids can visit Santa's Workshop for free games and activities, crafts and photos with Santa. Sounds like a nice way to take a break from shopping while at Great Lakes Shopping!

Bass Pro Shops
Great Lakes Crossing
Auburn Hills, MI 48326
Phone: 248-209-4200
As a child dad often gave my brother and I scraps of wood and refurbished nails for us to build some type of fun project - We especially liked using sawdust and wood glue in making a woodworking creation too. He didn't give us "toy" tools or nails either, he gave us the real thing! I suppose it's much less PC now to do so, however I very much enjoy watching my children learn some of the same skills I did as a child and have begun teaching them how to properly use tools for general household chores. Sometimes though, it is better to learn the basics from someone else, there is just something about "better listening skills" when a teacher is speaking vs. ones parent. So I thought to bring to your attention upcoming kids building clinics at Lowes and Home Depot.

Lowes Build and Grow Clinics

Saturday, November 14 - Nascar #48 Garage 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.
Saturday, November 21 - Snowman 10:00 - 11:00 a.m.

To sign up for these and any other upcoming Build and Grow clinics, visit the Lowes website, new projects are released monthly, scheduled on the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month.

Home Depot Free Kids Building Workshops

Saturday, December 5 - Wooden wagon 9:00 a.m. - noon

Home Depot also offers many ready-to-assemble "kits" the entire family can enjoy building. You can enjoy the workshops or purchase the kits at any local Home Depot stores.

November 5, 2009

Walk in the woods and watch the birds!

This fall, the kids and I have spent plenty of time walking in a local Ypsilanti Township wooded area. Maybe it's because they're both old enough to handle a good hike, maybe I just got inspired by the outdoors, the slow pace and fresh air were rejuvenating though and our time together in the woods, whether looking for birds, looking at the pond or hunting for fall mushrooms was wonderful. I really can't express enough what a great time we had!

We live in a great area too, there are many local parks and natural areas and better yet, there are plenty of organized hikes and walks for the family. It is supposed to be near 60-degrees this weekend, so why not check out the Bird Hike at the Hudson Mills Metro Park.

On Saturday, November 7 from 8:00 a.m - 9:00 a.m. bring your family, binoculars and a field guide to observe bird species seen in the park. Families will record the dates, locations, and trends of many bird species from year to year, exploring a variety of habitats throughout Hudson Mills.

There is a small fee of $2.00 per person in addition to the cost of entry into the Metropark. For more information and to register for the program call (734) 426-8211.

Disinfect to protect!

A few weeks ago I posted a fun at-home activity to help families teach proper hand washing to prevent illness. I also ran across another fun "retro-style" video from the American Chemistry Council and the Water Quality and Health Council (WQHC) on disinfection for prevention. it's called "The Secret Life of Bleach" and features one of Ann Arbor's own, Dr. Ursula Jakob, LSA Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Michigan.

Did you know that the flu virus can live for hours - even days in some cases - on surfaces we touch all the time: counter tops, doorknobs, phone receivers, keyboards, desktop surfaces, remote controls, and more... Don't want to think about that really, I KNOW my munchkins were on my computer today, yet I'm unsure what ELSE they may have been up to... Research shows however, that cleaning these surfaces with products containing bleach is better in reducing viral infections, like the flu, than other antibacterial products!

So consider the one-two punch of proper hand-washing, immunization and cleaning hard surfaces with bleach - maybe your family can be one of the many lucky families to avoid major issues this winter! I want as few friends and family members getting ill, so I'll be sure to spread the word to let my voice be heard - Don't forget tp disinfect this season...

November 2, 2009

This week: Take your child to a local theatre performance!

As a trained freelance actress and singer, I know how important it is to include theatrical experiences to young children. It provides visual stimulation, and an experience unlike television and the internet because it gives kids a treat for their senses. From my perspective as a parent and as an entertainer, there is nothing like the evident joy on a child's face! I remember too well my mom taking me to performances as well - Annie was one of my first and favorites.
I think my children and the children of the past decade have been even luckier as theatre has seemed to come even further alive for the young audience. Our area and surrounding communities provide so much in the way of inexpensive quality children's theatre experiences, and this week several local children's products are running:
Beginning Thursday, November 5, check out three local venues for children's theatre productions:
The Wild Swan Theater presents "Hawk, I'm Your Brother" - November 5-7.
This award-winning local children's theater in Ann Arbor presents its adaptation of Byrd Baylor's children's book about a Native American boy who longs to fly like a hawk complete with live music by local singer-songwriter Joe Reilly. Performances are at 10 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. at the WCC Morris Lawrence Bldg., Towsley Auditorium, 4800 E. Huron River Dr.
Ticket prices: $12 (seniors age 60 & over), children $8; lap passes for children age 2 & under are $3 - Available in advance and at the door. For more information call 734-995-0530 or visit the Wild Swan Theatre website.
The Young People Theatre presents: "The Wizard of Oz" - November 5-8.

Lynn Lammers directs young local actors in Frank Gabrielson's musical adaptation of the classic L. Frank Baum's tale about Dorothy's journey to the Emerald City and back home to her family. Performances are at 7:00 p.m. at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 North University.

Ticket prices: $15 (students age 18 & under), and $10 (seniors age 65 and over) in advance at the Michigan Union Ticket Office, at, and at the door. For more information call 734-763-TKTS.

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Junior Theatre presents "The Little Prince" - November 5-8.

Claudia Wier directs young local actors in E.J. Westlake's adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's delightful tale of a jaded aviator stranded in the Sahara whose outlook on life is changed by a prince who visits our world from his own tiny planet. This production is appropriate for children age 4 & over. and is performed nightly at 7:30 p.m. at the WCC Liberal Arts Bldg. College Theatre, 4800 E. Huron River Dr.

Ticket prices: $5 in advance and at the door. For more information call 734-971-2228 or visit the The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre Junior Theatre website.