Life on Florida’s West Coast

Personalized Books for Kids

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I had this book when I was a kid called The Friendly Alligator. It was one of those personalized books where my parents sent in the order form along with my name, address, birth date, names of my friends, some of my hobbies the name of my school, etc. and the book was printed to include all of this personal information about me written right into the storyline.

I loved that book. I still love that book. Despite the fact that I grew up with hundreds and hundreds of children’s books, this may be the only book I kept from my childhood.

When my daughter was born, I was anxious to get her at least one personalized book, too. I actually ordered her a version of the Little Mermaid from the Kids Personally website, based more on the original Hans Christian Andersen version of the story than the glittery Disney version. She adores the fact her anme is in the book, as are the names of her cousin and her best friend. The book names our hometown and all sorts of other personal details. She is as thrilled with the book I ordered her as I was with mine. Of course, I still read her MY Friendly Alligator book, too. She loves to see her mom’s name in a story.

Best China Quake Story Yet

I have tears in my eyes. I have had tears in my eyes several times since the earthquakes in China hit. The world has been watching this tragedy and mourned along with the people of China.

The tears I am shedding now are from happiness, pride, and soft-heartedness, though. The story of policewoman Jiang Xiaojuan is just amazing.

She is the mother of a 6-month-old son, who she breastfeeds. After the quake, she took it upon herself to breastfeed some of the orphaned infants. At one point she was feeding nine babies.

She modestly chalks it up to a mother’s instinct and her duty as a police officer. She is actually embarrassed by all of the worldwide attention she is getting and says, “This was a small thing, not worth mentioning.”

I love this woman. I nursed my own daughter for an extended amount of time and I understand the emotional side of the process. I can see how it felt very natural for her to step and in and help the motherless babies. Her body also probably stepped up to the task, naturally producing enough supply. Still, she does deserve recognition. She is selfless and loving and it our modern world this is rare.

Illusion vs. Witchcraft

Educate your children! Please, I’m begging you. In a society overly obsessed with Harry Potter and magic, can’t people find the time to help teach their children the difference between people who are illusionists and those who are working in witchcraft and “wizardry”?

Seriously. I am ranting about a completely serious topic.

In Pasco County, Florida, substitute teacher Jim Piculas received a letter from the Pasco County School District telling him they would “no longer be using your services.”

Several issues were outlined in the letter, most of which are understandable to a point. You have to understand that a substitute teacher, no matter how skilled, cannot pick up a lesson plan the same way the regular teacher can, but that is beside the point. The letter cited not following the lesson plans, allowing students on computers when another teacher said not to, and telling a fifth-period student peer that she was in charge.

But, let’s not dwell on those issues right now. I am sure they are typical complaints.

What I want to talk about is the parent who called the school saying his son was traumatized by an illusion Piculas briefly performed for the students in class. Piculas showed the kids a disappearing-toothpick trick using a toothpick and transparent tape. The trick uses sleight-of-hand to make the toothpick look like it disappears and reappears. In actuality, it is only hiding behind the performer’s thumb and held in place by the tape.

Piculas showed the students the trick, they liked it, and he went on to explain to them how they could perform it themselves.

According to Piculas, he was told by an administrator, “You’ve been accused of wizardry.”

Unfortunately, this could have a dire impact on Piculas’ career. He has worked as a substitute for about nine months, but has also been working toward his teacher certification.

I cannot help but roll my eyes. I can see the other infractions as possible valid to be addressed, but witchcraft, black magic, wizardry and the like? Seriously? Perhaps Florida needs to revamp the Sunshine State Standards to include a section on being able to discern reality from fantasy.

And in light of the fact that the districts all around the Bay Area have been inundated with teachers who are sexually abusing students, crying out for drug rehab, and generally making a mockery out of the profession – this just seems like such a ridiculous accusation.

She Wants to Be Like Mommy

My daughter is only five, but she already tries to emulate everything I do – the good and the bad. It keeps me honest! I want to be the very best role model for my precious little girl.

Gigi is enamored of my clothes, my shoes, and my make-up. She can spend an hour sitting quietly on her bed with my jewelry box, going through all of the jewelry I have collected over the years. Her eyes sparkle when she asks if one day all of that jewelry will one day belong to her.

Choosing an heirloom to pass down for generations can be as simple as a perfect string of pearls. I got my princess length, white freshwater pearls from Pearl Paradise. I was stunned by the quality and the luminous, simple elegance of the strands. Plus, their prices are surprisingly low.

Keeping It Together With Five Kids

Back when I lived in Gainesville, one of my very best friends, K, was right across the street. She was a home-schooling mother of five. Count ‘em – FIVE. Her oldest was a girl, and all the rest were boys. And this woman, she puts most other stay-at-home-moms to shame. She grinds her own wheat and bakes bread every other day. K keeps her house so spotless that even her own children don’t know how she does it, and she has time to be a great friend on top of it all.

As the mother of one daughter, I am fascinated by the lives of people with lots of children. I even knew one family back in Gainesville who I believe are up to baby number 11. *Gulp*

Anyway, I’ve been reading Tina’s MummifiedTimesFive blog for some time now. As the title of her blog explains, she is mom to five children. Tina is the mirror of my friend up in Gainesville, as she has four girls and one boy (the only boy being the oldest, just as K’s oldest is the only girl). She’s also a Mum from Down Under, that is to say – Australia. So, not only do I get a little peek into the life of a mom with lots of kids, I also get to see the day-to-day musings of someone halfway around the world.

Cutting My Daughter’s Hair Short

Gigi is 5 now. Every summer up until now, I have cut her hair short.

I actually like long hair on little girls, but it gets very hot in Florida and her hair has been so fine that I cannot keep it up in a ponytail or braids. So, it would sit on her neck and she would sweat and her eczema would get inflamed. It was something that broke my heart even more than getting her hair cut.

By Christmas, her hair was always longer and looked OK in Christmas pictures. Nonetheless, she wants long hair as much as I want her to have long hair, so I looked hard for a solution.

I found that I can keep her fine hair up in ponytails if I use something like the Goody Stay-Put twin elastics with beads on the ends. I actually bought some with little flower-shaped beads, rather than the round one. Either way, I am able to pull her hair tight and still keep my hands on the bands. It is comfortable for her and now that her hair is off her neck, I don’t have to cut it this summer.

Or, do I?

Last week she came to me and asked if I would cut her bangs. She said they were getting in her eyes. I was more than happy to oblige. When I looked closer at her hair, though, I noticed she had already taken two huge chunks out of her bangs and one from the top of her ahead. She looked like a half bald baby bird!

I did my best to even out her bangs. They are now way too short and it looks like the poor kid has a mommy who screws up her hair. And, I have been working hard to get her bang-line to start closer to the front of her head. In order to try and hide the bald path on her crown I had to move her bang-line back a little. That looks a little odd, too. Poor kid.

I might be able to rectify this with a pixie haircut, but I just don’t think it would look right with her face. I am at a crossroads and debating this little pickle.

Copy Cat of YouTube Beating

I want to think that after what happened to Victoria Lindsay here in Florida, that kids all over the United States would open their minds and learn a lesson. There are eight teens here that are now facing jail time. And, if the public has their way they will indeed see some time behind bars.

All of that could have been avoided if the kids involved had used some self control and not been lusting after dubious fame on the internet.

Some parents are still raising idiot children, I see. Out in Clarksville, Indiana on April 12, a mob of middle school girls lured a 12-year-old girl into a parking lot, beat her up, filmed the entire thing, and posted it on the Internet – PhotoBucket to be exact. The mob was made up of 12- to 14-year-old Clarksville Middle School students.

Police say they believe the debacle was inspired by the Florida YouTube beating.

If you think it is asinine to emulate the Florida beating after the world has seen the potential consequences; then get ready to hold onto your proverbial hat. It gets even more stupid. The victim is the daughter of a police officer. Way to pick your target, girls.

While I’m at it, I want to tell the girl you can see doing most of the hitting in the video that wearing hot pink satin jackets was not a good idea in the 1970s, and it only looks more idiotic now.

GPS Tracking for Your Teen?

Not too many things go missing for very long in this day and age. Or, if they do it is because someone has made considerable efforts to side-step technology.

I use a GPS system in my car for navigation purposes, but I am fascinated by the myriad of uses GPS tracking that are absolutely useful for everyday life. Until last year, I had a greyhound that, despite the reputation for greyhounds not being all that bright, used to find new ways almost every day to get out of our yard and go for runs around the neighborhood. Sometimes she found her way out of the neighborhood, though, because greyhounds are not known for their prowess of finding their own way home. If I could go back in time and set up a simple GPS tracking system for that dog, I could have saved myself countless frantic drives around town.

(The greyhound is now living with a family who has a huge farm and lots of room for her to run, so she rarely feels the need to wander anymore.)

A more likely use for GPS tracking in my own life will come the day my daughter is old enough to drive. I am a single mom of a child who pushes the envelope on a daily basis. The kid has a nose for trouble, despite her loving heart. A car tracking device is something that I know will be a great investment for my peace of mind. (RMT) has all manner of GPS tracking systems. They are commonly used for corporate felt vehicles, as a way to track expensive equipment in case of theft, and (lucky for me) an affordable and non-invasive way to track your teen. The tracking devices can be ordered to operate in real-time, or in a more passive way where you can just download and view the data at a later date.

I have not check into the Florida laws yet, but in some states you can even get a discount on your teen’s auto insurance when you install a tracking device. How cool is that?

I think that as long as you maintain open communication with your child, the use of a tracking device can still be part of a trusting relationship. In the end, it is in the best of interest of a teen when their car can be located in the event of an accident or theft.

All Teens in Florida YouTube Beating To Be Tried As Adults

The rumor has been bantered around for the past few days that the eight teens that were arrested Sunday in Polk County, Florida for their brutal attack on 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay might be tried as adults. And, even though only two of the teens are 18, it has been announced that all eight will indeed be tried as adults.

Finally, something in this case that makes sense!

All eight are charged with kidnapping and misdemeanor battery. The kidnapping charge alone could life in prison. There are those who feel kidnapping is a stretch, but even in the short video clip released by the Polk County Sheriff’s office I could see where Lindsay tried to leave through the front door and one of the girls blocked her way.

Three of the kids (Brittni Hardcastle, Brittany Mayes and Mercades Nichols, all 17) additionally face felony charges of witness tampering.

The other defendants are April Cooper, 14; Kayla Hassell, 15; Cara Murphy, 16; and Stephen Shumaker and Zachary Ashley, both 18.

Their first court appearance will be tomorrow in Bartow, Florida.

If all goes well, each of these little violence-laden jewels can kiss goodbye the rest of their teenage years, their college years, and at least their 20’s. Now, if only charged could be brought against the mother of one of these kids, who had the stones to claim that Lindsay had it coming.

Kids fight all of the time. The major difference here is the premeditated nature of the crime. They filmed it; they decided ahead of time (though some process of convoluted logic) that it would be OK as long as only one person hit Lindsay at a time or if she fought back.

Unfortunately, these kids already got some of what they wanted. Not only did their video of the beating go viral, as they had planned, they have made national headlines and become mini celebrities.

And, it does not look like remorse is even in the picture. When the kids were first arrested, reports say that they were upbeat, laughing, and joking. The MySpace profile for Mercades Nichols has finally been set to private, but she is online as I write this and has changed her tagline to read “FUCK YALL ID DO IT AGAIN!” (Please excuse the profanity. I am simply quoting Nichols.)

The local news websites are full of comments from people in the community. One person had what I feel might be the best solution for the whole YouTube / MySpace issue. Someone using the login name crumbsnatcher23 posted today, saying:

 “… Maybe if myspace and youtube charge a simple fee, something that you actually have to enter Name, Address, and Credit card info. You probably wouldn’t have half as much of the problem you have with them now, including predators.”

When Online Bullying Gets Real

If you have your ear to the pulse of the youth of today, you know that one of the issues they deal with on a daily basis that those of use who were in school in the 70s, 80s, or even most of the 90s did not have to deal with is cyber bullying.

It is a fact of daily life that kids today worry about what other people are saying about them online. Sometimes children become so distraught they resort to suicide, like in the case of Megan Meier. She was only 13 when a group of people, most likely spearheaded by Lori Drew, drove her to the brink via communication with a fake MySpace they had created.

A more recent incident not only involved online bullying, but real life violence, and viral video. And, it happened right here in Florida, shamefully.

On the evening of March 30 six girls lured 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay to a Lakeland, FL house owned by the grandmother of one of the girls. They intended to confront her about “trash talking” about them online. This is where a case of cyber bullying resulted in real life violence. The six girls did not stop with simply verbally confronting her. One girl slammed Lindsay’s head into a bedroom wall and knocked her unconscious. When Lindsay woke up, another girl continued to hit her.

Lindsay ended up with a concussion, permanent hearing loss in her left ear, and blurred vision in her left eye. She also suffers from nightmares now. Local comments reveal Lindsay may also be 5-weeks pregnant. That is unsubstantiated, but if it is true it makes the case all the more disturbing.

The pack of out-of-control teenage girls had something sinister in mind when they lured Lindsay into the house. Not only had they planned on assaulting her, they also made plans to film the incident and post it on MySpace and YouTube.

They were counting on the video going viral to further humiliate Lindsay.

16-year-old Cara Murphy held the camera and you can hear her saying in the background, “Ooh, yeah, baby. Ooh, yeah!”

In the 3-minute portion of the video released by the sheriff’s office, you can see Lindsay trying to get up to leave the house. The girls stop her, block the door, and continue to hit her in the head.

Eight teens were charged in all (Zachary Ashley, April Cooper, Brittini Hardcastle, Kayla Hassell, Britney Mayes, Cara Murphy, Mercedes Nichols, and Stephen Schumaker). The Polk County Sherriff’s office charged three of the six girls who took turns beating Lindsay with felony battery. The three other girls were charged with both felony battery and felony kidnapping. The two boys who acted as lookouts during the attack were charged with felony false imprisonment.


One of the boys is 18 and was booked into the Polk County Jail. The others are being held at the juvenile assessment center, but prosecutors may charge all of them as adults.

Most of the parents of these out-of-control kids are coming out and making comments that deny that their children were involved. One even had the nerve to say that what their daughter told them is very different from what is on the police report and that “the truth will come out.”

Pretty bold statement considering there is video footage of the attack – a video that shows that Lindsay did not fight back, that one of the boys acting as lookout stuck his head in from outside and told the girls to be quiet because neighbors could hear the fight, and all of the girls can be either seen or heard.

Both Lindsay’s family and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd have called for legislation against “shock videos” or for social-networking sites to enact standards to prevent posting of such videos.

For the love of God, people, talk to your kids about bullying both online and in real life before something like this happens. I am astounded by the violence that teens are involved in these days. What happened in Polk County was like the village mob out for a witch hunt and it is deplorable.

And, let us all remember the age-old adage “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” So Lindsay apparently wrote some hurtful things online, but that is absolutely nothing compared to the physical assault the other teens committed. They should be duly ashamed. Their own parents should be horrifed to see what kind of little monsters they have raised.

Grandma’s Attic

I have always wished I had a relative with a massive Victorian house. A house that had been in the family for generations and had an attic filled to the rafters with boxes, trunks, wardrobes, and crates of books, papers, corsets, and shoes. Alas, the only home in my family that has been around for generations has been continuously occupied for the last 200 years by people who are decidedly NOT packrats. The attic is spotless and absolutely not filled with timeless treasures.

And, sadly, when my grandmother passed away last August, the house went to my uncle who promptly rented it out and stopped taking care of it. I assume he will eventually sell the house and the acreage around the house because he prefers to live in his mansion atop as hill in a tony neighborhood. That, despite the fact that I have numerous cousins with young families who would be more than thrilled to carry on the legacy of the Watson farmhouse.

We live in an age where families do not stay together in their hometowns and pass along ownership of ancestral homes. We have given over tradition to mobility and new money. Who among us rally feel like we have roots? I still struggle over what to call my home town. It seems ridiculous that I was more at home in Gainesville, Florida than if I were to go back to where I was born and raised in the DC suburbs, where I no longer know anyone.

I long for Grandma’s Attic.

Mom Review: Horton Hears a Who

Like the rest of my movie reviews, I will not focus on a synopsis of the film or even why I enjoyed it. You can probably read that kind of information on hundreds of other websites. I will focus on if the film is appropriate for children, with a special focus on the children the same age as my daughter – who happens to be five.

Horton Hears a Who is engaging. My five-year-old was able to sit through the entire film without much wiggling. She followed the plot and only had to ask me questions a couple of times. I would say the pacing and vocabulary level of the movie are appropriate for pre-schoolers. Older children will still enjoy the film, and may even pick up on some of the more sophisticated jokes (like pop culture impersonations). Parents who brought much younger children (age two or younger) struggled with their children toward the end of the film, simply because a feature length film is hard for the little ones to sit through.

There was not any fowl language or overt violence. The kangaroo voiced by Carol Burnett was menacing and bullying, but she even had her redeeming moment at the end of the film. I did object with some of the names the city council called the mayor, simply because we do not use those words in our house. The mayor was repeatedly called a boob, an idiot and a moron. I know those are not “bad words” per se, but the use of the words does give the children license to add them to their own vocabulary. You might plan some time after the film to talk to your children why it is not proper or nice to call other people those names.

The animation is stunning and the movie mixes it up a little, giving variety to the process. This is part of what kept the kids so engaged. There were various scenes where the action was shown in classic Seuss style, as well as one sequence using anime style. The computer animation is sometimes so vivid as to look real. The very first shot of the movie is a close-up on a leaf with a drop of water falling from the end. It was so realistic is gave me pause and I wondered if I had been wrong and this movie was really live action.

Overall, this is a film I would not hesitate to recommend to other parents.

Follow Up to Raquel Ann Carreras Story

Last September, I wrote a story about the death of 14-year-old Raquel Ann Carreras. She was killed when the underage driver of the car she was riding in crashed. In the Tampa Bay area, this was a tragic story that gripped our community and made a lot of people think twice about how serious the issue of underage drivers really is.

Yesterday, six months after the fatal accident, the mother of the 15-year-old driver was arrested and released from the Pinellas County Jail after posting $10,000 bond. She was charged with manslaughter after allowing her son take her car before he wrecked it.

Lesa Ledesma, 42, of St. Petersburg, gave her sons the keys to her Saturn, according to witnesses, even though at the time he only had a Class E learner’s permit. That type of permit mandates that someone 21 years or older be in the passenger seat and that the driver cannot operate a car after 10 p.m. The wreck occurred at 10:45 p.m. on September 15, 2007.

Her son Shawn Ledesma was charged with vehicular homicide in December.

Mom Award: Creative, Assertive Discipline

I want to meet Adam Clark’s mom. She sounds like she has a real handle on what works when it comes to disciple and God knows I am struggling with finding the right angle with my 5-year-old. Maybe this woman should start offering consultations.

Listen to how the Merritt Island, Florida mom handled the fact that her son was caught driving over 100 mph in a 55 mph zone:

Sixteen-year-old Adam must carry a sign outside his high school each morning and afternoon that says: “I was stupid. I drove over 100 mph and got caught. Thank God! I could have killed me and my friends.”

We can all guess that plenty of the kids are snickering at him, but Adam says, “I’ve learned my lesson.” Looks like some public humiliation might just be doing the trick in this particular case.

Kudos for mom. To Adam I say, good for you to working WITH your mom to accept the disciple. It’s encouraging.

Protect Your Children

When you become a parent, your first responsibility is to protect your child in whatever way possible. This does not include leaving your kid with a known sex offender as a babysitter.

Here in the Tampa Bay area, 20-year-old Vanessa Marie Laster has been charged with felony child neglect. She is currently in jail and is accused of leaving a 1-year-old girl in the care of a convicted sex offender.

As early as October 2006, Laster started leaving her child with the man, despite the fact that police had warned her in 2005 that he was a convicted sex offender.

The child is two-years-old now and is currently in the hospital for the treatment of genital warts. An exam indicated she had been sexually molested.

Laster has yet to accuse the man of abuse.

I do not know the back story, but I am assuming this man was her boyfriend. She is more than likely a certifiable idiot to have been in his company in the first place. Now she has a daughter on her hands that has presumably been raped. She set her child up for a hard life, a life of emotional issues that are possibly beyond repair. I would do ANYTHING to protect my daughter, so I an have little understanding for a mother like Laster.

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