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Marble Jar App Rewarding for Parents and Kids

“Please pick up your backpacks!” “Did you brush your hair?  Your teeth?” “Have you done your homework?” I know we aren’t the only household constantly asking our children these questions because I see parents kvetching about it on blogs, Twitter and Facebook and when we visit friends I see a variety of chore charts and reward systems on fridges and mud room walls.  I, too, have tried various charts and positive reinforcement systems so that I don’t have to feel like a constant nag and am often annoyed by the clutter they create.  We have had stickers, popsicle sticks in jars, marbles and so forth.

And along came Marble Jar, the app.  I was already considering it before I was asked to review it, so naturally I jumped at the chance!

Just like its physical counterpart, the idea is that you set up jars where your child earns a marble for accomplishing a task.  You determine which task and you can set up different categories of jars if you like (i.e. Morning Routine) or put everything into one jar.  You also determine what goal your child is working toward once they fill up the jar.  There is a shelf for all the jars.  Once a jar is completed, it becomes a “golden jar” and you may simply copy that jar to start over again.  This allows you to have short-term goal jars and long-term goal jars.  For example, completing daily routine jars may simply allow the child to then have free play time, whereas long-term goals may be a reward of a coveted toy or a slumber party.

There are many different colored marbles to choose from and a satisfying “plink” when the child drops the marble in the jar.  Also, there are jars for the parents too, such as a “Calm” jar (using a calm voice, etc.)  Anyone in the family can use the jar system!

I love the fact that this is highly customizable (it comes with some default jars and tasks, but you may change them, add/delete jars and tasks, say how many marbles it takes to fill a jar).  However, in its current state, the app is not without its problems — all of which Marble Jar creator Anna Roseblum Palmer assured me are about to be fixed, when I spoke to her at the Blogalicious ’11 conference.

Originally she designed the program to be partially hosted on a server so it could be on multiple devices (i.e. Mom and Dad could have it on both of their phones and you could update the jars from either device) but this meant it required a login every time you wanted to go into the marble jar and also led to a lag time every time you performed some sort of a transaction.  Palmer plans to redesign the app so it resides completely on your phone, eliminating the need for a login and no phone-to-server lag time.  This change, however, means that  it can only live on a single device, but I think that compromise will be worth the sacrifice. Knowing that these changes are coming along makes me even more willing to stick with the Marble Jar app. Talking to Palmer gave me some good insights as to how to use the system — initially I was setting up separate jars for each kid, but she said she lumps her kids together and that way they egg each other on by saying, “Hey, you haven’t brushed your teeth and that’s keeping me from getting my free play time!”

The JavaKids love any opportunity to get their hands on my iPhone and they enjoy the array of colors of marbles and the sound of the marble drop and watching the jars fill up.  So far we are only using short-term goals, but I can see that this would work for long-term goals.  And my favorite part — no clutter on the counter tops!

Interested?  Download Marble Jar from the App Store.

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Disclosure: This post is part of a compensated post series sponsored by Marble Jar.  Screen shots provided by Marble Jar.

Giving Up the Pacifier? Pray for Strength!

I had to laugh when I realized what the topic at JuiceBox Jungle was this week — giving up the pacifier.

More parenting videos on JuiceBoxJungle

It was almost exactly a year ago that we went through this very battle in our own household and wrote a post on our private family site. I honestly didn’t think we were going to get through this part of childhood, so for your amusement, I’m sharing my angst-ridden post of a year ago to our family:

Pray for us all. Last night we threw away every last pacifier we could find (“foo-foo” in JavaGirl-speak). It’s going to be a hard week. The devil-voice already came out of our sweet girl, demanding, “I WANT FOO-FOO NOW!” while we were at the 4H Fair. It was not a pretty sight. Heads turned as people looked for the growly voice and couldn’t believe it came from the cute pony-tailed girl dressed in pink.

After trying the “only for naps and bedtime” technique and the “snip a little bit off the end each day” technique it became apparent that our daughter is a foo-foo addict. And despite the fact I have straight teeth even thought I was a hard-core thumbsucker, our little girl is not so genetically lucky. So the foo-foos have to go. It’s a hard parenting decision to make. Last night I had a nightmare that we came home from a friend’s house only to find our daughter had stolen all of their younger daughter’s pacifiers. Are we sentencing our daughter to a life of pacifier crime in the name of straight teeth? I’m half afraid that in a few days she’ll start snatching them out of the mouths of poor, unsuspecting infants when we go out in public, like some crazed detoxing drug addict looking for a fix.

And there’s the toe-sucking thing to worry about. JavaGirl is still capable of sticking her big toe in her mouth. Not something to brag about on the playground, let me tell you. Just a couple of weeks ago I found her sitting on the family room sofa, just sucking on her big toe. Oy. Please tell me this is not what she’ll start doing with no foo-foos around.

I’m wracked with parenting guilt. It’s worse than the usual parenting guilt b/c it was such a big thing GETTING her to suck on her pacifier b/c of her suck/swallow and failure to thrive issue — it was actually part of her feeding therapy. So whereas JavaBoy wasn’t really overly dependent on his pacifier and just sort of dropped it on his own so easily that I’m not exactly sure when he did it — I just know he did it somewhere between ages 9 months and 10 months b/c that’s when they disappeared in photos, it was a HUGE thing when JavaGirl could manage to keep hers in her mouth and it provided her great relief from her acid reflux and still provides her a lot of sensory relief so I feel like a horrible mother taking it from her, but then when I look at her gappy smile, I feel like a horrible mother not taking it from her.

I may have to become a thumb-sucker again until this whole pacifier weaning thing is over. I can’t take the stress.

A year later, I can assure you that JavaGirl neither sucks on a foo-foo nor her big toe and she does not lead a life of crime. Her dentist is thrilled with her teeth and I have found many other reasons for feeling like a horrible mother, but do not regret throwing out her pacifiers last year. It was so worth it. The week was hard, yes, but I had forgotten about it until JBJ reminded me! So if you are going through this now, all I can say is — pray for strength! You can — and will — get through it!

I’m Fat

They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They?  was the title of a 1989 episode of a TV show called Designing Women. In the episode the character played by Delta Burke, Suzanne Sugarbaker, always proud of her beauty queen looks, realized that she was now seen as “the fat girl” by her friends at a high school reunion.  She was awarded the “Most Changed” trophy at her fifteen year reunion, as  a snark at her physical appearance, and she accepted the award with a lovely speech letting everyone know that she was going to take it as a testimony of how she has changed from shallow beauty to a woman of intellectual and emotional substance rather than the hurtful comment on her weight gain it was originally intended.

I remember reading an article about this particular episode a long time ago, because the episode was written specifically to address Burke’s real-life weight gain.  She was a gorgeous, sexy slender woman when hired, and her weight gain became a problem on set between Burke and the show’s producers/writers.  Burke’s weight gain was due to a combination of physical and psychological issues and the more she felt pressured about it, the worse it got.  Since then, her weight has see-sawed and she has launched a line of plus-sized clothing.  At some point she shifted from running from her weight to trying to help others who were heavy feel better about it.

I’m outing myself as a fat woman.  I have been terrified of old friends seeing photos of me online in the shape I am in currently and I have decided to end the terror now.  I’m not happy with my current appearance, but it is what it is.  I continue to struggle and work on it and I’m proud of myself for the things I don’t let it affect and pissed at myself for the things I do let it affect.  I’ve really enjoyed reconnecting with old friends online over the past year and I’ve decided if I’m going to be genuine, I’m going to have to have to stop hiding.  Yes, some are going to say/think unkind things.  There is a certain ex-boyfriend out there who will certainly do so and probably thank God he didn’t marry me after all.  There’s a reason why he’s an ex.

But as I’ve come to learn over the past year, most of us really don’t give a damn how any of us look these days, we’re just glad to reconnect about the common experiences we had growing up together and then the experiences we’ve had apart in geography but yet in common in experience as we’ve moved through those milestones in our careers and personal lives.   I am so much more than my outer shell, I always have been, and I always will be.  We all are.  No matter how thin I get again, I will never look at anyone’s physical appearance the same way again. 

The Journey

All my life I have struggled with body image.  Growing up in Miami surrounded by half-clothed people, how could I not?  When I was 105 pounds in high school, I was always self-conscious of my not-perfectly-flat stomach.  Heck, I guess it started even before that, it started when I was in ballet class at Martha Mahr studio, where we were required to wear a thin, black elastic around our waist so she could see if our stomach bulged at all beyond the elastic.  I did not win the genetic lottery when it came to stomach muscles, even at my thinnest, I never had that perfectly taut stomach.  I stopped wearing bikinis for the most part at age 11.  I wanted to go wind surfing with friends in high school on Hobie Beach, but I was constantly terrified of how I would look to others in my swimsuit.  Do you have any idea of how much I would kill to have that figure and weight again these days?  That weight would not be realistic for me as a grown woman now, but I wish I could shake that insecure girl by the shoulders and say “get out there and enjoy life!  Put on that bathing suit and have fun!” I still hate wearing a bathing suit now and have many more reasons to be self-conscious, but I refuse to let my insecurity get in the way of my kids having fun at the pool and the beach, so I boldly go forth in my swimdress in public where I would not have taken my 105-pound-self before 20 years ago.

In college, I had my highs and lows, but I had to get my high down quickly as I was there to be a broadcast journalist and we know fatties were not allowed on TV — in the age of Oprah we’re a little more forgiving now. 

I was so afraid of the Freshman Fifteen that I actually lost weight my first semester. But I gained a little my sophomore year.  All it took was a comment from my steady boyfriend about his “mother being concerned about (my) weight” for me to go into a tailspin about it.  I lost the weight thanks to a very stringent diet and doctor-prescribed pills.  By my senior year I was anchoring the morning news and reporting for the evening news.

In my early twenties, I realize now that I managed to date a series of guys who wanted me to be their trophy girlfriend and who terrorized me about any incremental weight gain — a 5-10 pound weight gain was enough to threaten our relationship.  And I’m ashamed to admit that I allowed myself to buy into that.  I’m much too smart and always have been much too smart to fall victim to that.  But I did.  And I regret it.  Fortunately I never married any of those men and I was wise enough to always have a certain threshold which I would not cross — you can only step so far until I cry foul. 

In 1995 I was in a terrible hit and run accident that knocked both my knee caps out of place, cracked my ribs, nearly dislocated my neck, gave me very bad whiplash, and a prominent bruise from the seat belt that was looked like a purple beauty sash – Miss Car Accident 1995.  My car caught on fire and I was fortunate that one of the witnesses to the accident was a nurse who ran over and helped me.  I was taken to the hospital by ambulance and for the first 20 minutes or so my brain was so scrambled that I wasn’t sure what year it was, I was off by 10 years.   This accident ultimately led to three knee surgeries over a two-year period and chronic neck and back pain and the beginning of a history of migraine headaches.  This accident, naturally, derailed my walking program and did lead to weight gain.  I still have residual effects from the accident and can be perfectly fine and then one false move and can have knee pain for weeks.

One very positive thing about this accident — it in a way, led to JavaDad (still at this point, just a childhood friend) and I getting together as a couple — although it took a while.  When the pain meds would wear off in the middle of the night, 3am to be exact, and my chest would spasm with pain, he would let me call him in Miami to help keep myself calm until the next set of pain meds kicked in.  He had, already, by this point, told me he loved me, but we couldn’t quite get our act together to be in the same state yet, so we didn’t end up dating until three years after the fact.  But the act of devotion of talking to me on the phone at 6am his time while I was in pain, meant a lot to me Our wedding, 2002After the car accident, my weight went up and down, more health issues have come and gone, including two very difficult pregnancies and my son stretching my stomach muscles 5 inches apart (I need to get that surgically repaired) and my trigeminal neuralgiaBut the biggest struggle has been with my mind. I still hate thinking of myself as a fat woman.
 I tried to hide from it.  But then I had to accept it.  And I had to stop letting  it stop me from doing things. 

Which I have, except when it comes to dealing with people from my past. I never thought a fat woman could rise to the top of the Junior League, but these wonderful women saw that I am more than my weight and the League is not about appearances despite all jokes about cardigans and pearls — we are about developing the potential of WOMEN, not judging body types.  I have made many wonderful friends here in Virginia who have never made me feel conscious of my weight (although yes, I have met some women who did discriminate against me due to my weight).  But I have always been afraid of “what will people back home think” if they saw me now? Well, I don’t know.  I’m a woman whose had a successful career (two, in fact), married a childhood friend who has loved me at 105 pounds and has loved me at significantly more than that, has two fantastic kids, is involved in her community, edited a book, lauched a blog, and tries to be good to her friends and family.  And struggles with her weight.  What do the people back home think?  I’ve decided to let go of the terror and let it be.  I will no longer hold back on posting photos and sharing videos.  If you are my friend, you’ll now know that I struggle, but you’ll already know that I’m so much more than what the camera sees.  I suspect you struggle with something, too.  And you know what, I wouldn’t be any less of a friend to you for it — whether you are balding, divorced, never married, fat, too skinny, never had kids, unemployed or whatever other thing you might fear being judged for in this society where we can judge each other for so many things by the time you reach our age, take a deep breath and let it go.  Whatever it is, accept it and then move on and make the best of your situation and your life.  I’m refusing to let terror hold me back any more — I hate to think of the opportunities and joys I’ve squandered already and I refuse to anymore. 

And for everyone who is thin or athletic, I hope the next time you see a fat person riding a bike, going for a walk, working out at the gym, you’ll silently think, “Good for you for being out there and doing it!”

And JavaDad, I love you.  Thanks for loving me through thick and thin (or thin and thick).

Top Chef – JavaFamily-style

green-bean-cookoffjavagirlAs a little girl, some of my favorite memories with my mother are of spending time with her in our big kitchen. We had a large center island with stools you could pull up to it and I would talk to her as she cooked, and sometimes she’d let me help out. I always felt so grown-up whenever she let me help.

So I’ve made a point of letting the JavaKids help me out with cooking from a very early age. There are actually studies that say that children who have access to the kitchen do better in school — they learn a lot of math, problem-solving, and social skills in the kitchen. They often tend to learn better nutritional habits as well.

JavaBoy used to call it our Cooking Show whenever we would cook something together and would narrate, as if we had an invisible audience. I don’t actually get many opportunities to watch cooking shows, so I am not sure where he picked up the concept, but perhaps he caught me watching Top Chef in the evenings.

The kids have a very elaborate wooden kitchen with quite a bit of cookware and wooden playfood — the kitchen was a real find at a consignment sale, having come from a Montessori school, and I’ve carefully acquired the playfood to avoid so many of the sets that contain fast food fare, instead buying the types of foods I would like the children to eat in real life.

I think because of all of this, JavaGirl has recently become more interested in my kitchen activity and every night, as dinner preparations begin, she’ll run over to her play kitchen, grab one of the aprons and tie it on, and sometimes even add the chef’s hat and proclaim, “Here I am!” and immediately want to join in!

greenbeans-javadadTonight, she saw her father preparing the green beans they picked at the farm this weekend and she asked if she could help. Seeing that he was cutting the ends off the beans, she said, “Mommy, get my knife!” I thought it was so adorable, that I went ahead and got her child-safe knife and a cutting board and set aside some beans for her and even got one of her little stainless steel pots for her to put some beans into just like Daddy. Although we ended up finding the scissors more effective than the knife for her, you could tell that she felt all grown-up helping out (although she ended up eating the beans raw!) and it was a priceless moment — for her but for me, as well.

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Here are some interesting links about the benefits of cooking with your kids:

Dinner Routines – Thankfuls

During a Tuesday morning women’s bible study group I attended a year ago, a wise mother of three shared with us that she has her children share what they are thankful for each day at the dinner table. About a week later, I had a particularly rough day with JavaBoy being whiny and ungrateful and I launched into him about all the things he SHOULD be thankful for rather than what he was complaining about. And thus, our “thankfuls” dinner routine was born.

After our blessing, JavaBoy immediately launches into his “thankfuls” and I have to say I’m impressed with what he has to say. They range from thanking me for driving him somewhere to thanking God for a beautiful day or even thanking his sister for playing so nicely with him. He’s included things friends have said or done, his teachers at school and Sunday school, objects found in nature, special moments with grandparents, and little things that are near to the heart of little boys.

Next comes JavaDad, with his carefully measured words, making sure that he acknowledges each of us every day. We usually were happy if we could just get JavaGirl to say “I’m thankful” and then I’d round out the discussion, summarizing all the terrific things we’d done that day and how grateful I was for each of them.

Recently, however, JavaGirl has decided to participate more fully in the routine. She’s comprehended the exercise and wants to let us know what she’s thankful for.

The first day she said, “I’m thankful for Mommy and Daddy. And WORMS!”

The second day she said, “I’m thankful for WORMS!”

The third day she said, “I’m thankful for WORMS! And Grams.”

The fourth day she said, “I’m thankful for Grams and Granddaddy and Gamoo. Oh, and WORMS!”

Last night she said, “I’m grateful for Daddy taking me on the bus and taking me to the circus and seeing CLOWNS! And Grams.” (This happened a year ago.)

At least she’s thankful!

Do you have a dinner routine with your kids?