Friday, December 27, 2013

Results of Electricity Fast

As you've probably already heard, we decided to try something new this year and spent December 22nd-24th with limited electricity. No lights, tv, computers, phones, electronic games, etc for 3 days (we did use the heater, stove, and oven). Here's how it went.

The night of the 21st we put the tv in the living room away, partly to prepare for the fast but also because we planned to put the tree where the tv was. Bug (2y) had a total breakdown. "Where are you taking Justin?!?" (his favorite show is Justin Time). It was ugly. I realized that although we'd been talking about this for a month, we hadn't explicitly let him know what was about to happen. 

We set candles and lighters up in each room, and just before bed Papa and I locked our phones away in a toy safe Josh (9y) has so we would all hear the loud beeping if anyone tried to sneak a peak. I didn't think it would be hard to do that, but it was! I suddenly got really nervous about the whole idea.

The morning of the 22nd Papa got up before everyone else, as usual, and didn't know what to do with himself at first. Our normal routine is to check emails and newsfeeds before the kids get up. He ended up reading a book. When I first woke up I accidentally turned on the light in the bathroom, and Josh was there, instantaneously knocking to remind me to turn it off. That earned him the title of "Old Timey Holiday Sheriff".

At dinner we realized you can't cook or clean very well by candlelight. No wonder there were sanitation issues back in the day. Dinner the next two nights would need to be earlier. We occupied our day making snowflakes, playing board games, making up games, and having conversations. The realization that we couldn't look up recipes online hit us, so we read through some recipe books. By 8pm (2.5 hours of darkness) Papa and I were tired and ready for bed. The boys' sleep habits were not at all affected, and they charged on playing with their toys until 10:30pm or so. Bug had a hard time getting to sleep that night. 

The 23rd we jumped into cookie making mode to try and finish before dark. We made three kinds of cookies, barely finishing before dusk, and delivered a set to each of our neighbors. I found it strangely satisfying to cream butter and sugar by hand instead of using a mixer. We also acted out movies, sang songs, chased each other around the house, pretended the chairs were cars and drove on dates, and played more games. I also read Ender's Game aloud, and we got through 1/3 of the book in one day.

The 24th my in-laws came over to visit, so we spent the morning making treats and cleaning up the house a bit. We threw our yule log in the fire place and had a fun time visiting. They got the boys puppies for Christmas, so things were lively. They stayed over until almost 11pm, and by the time we got the kids to bed it was midnight. Papa and I excitedly got our phones to see what we had missed. Nothing. It was really quite a let down. We checked all our emails, notifications, feeds, etc for the past 3 days and it hardly took 15 minutes. 

Some things we realized- We commit less to memory when we know we can look things up anytime. I ate less, though I'm not sure if that was due to not using electronics, lower stress levels, or something else entirely. We were surprised none of us slept better. I've seen tons of studies about melatonin productions disrupted by artificial lights, but we all stayed up and slept as long as usual. I enjoyed the rhythm of working hard and rushing during daylight, then relaxing in the dim light all evening. We all connected and strengthened our bonds, which was the goal, and that was awesome. The kids were largely unaffected. Josh said he missed playing his Wii once the first day. Bug asked once to watch Justin Time the first day as well. After that they didn't seem to miss or even notice the lack of screen time.

After dinner the 25th Papa and I wanted to watch a movie, so we pulled the tv back out. It ended up being really stressful. The boys didn't want to watch with us and kept playing between us and the tv. The puppies needed to go out. Bug needed to potty. Josh wanted to show us something. We were putting way too much effort into trying to sit and watch the movie, and it caused way too much stress for everyone, so we decided to get rid of it for good. We are now a tv free home, and we love it so far.

Overall it was a wonderful experience. We learned a lot about ourselves, I think we made some positive changes, and most importantly we had three fun filled days focused on family. I look forward to doing it again next year.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bedtime with Bug

You've all heard me talk about the book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. Great book full of practical advice. I'm still a little taken back when it works with Bug (2y), because the conventional wisdom I'm working to unlearn says young kids don't understand us as well as they actually do.

Last night bedtime was rough. I asked Bug if he needed to potty and he said no. Not listening (shame on me), I picked him up and told him to try anyway. He rightly became very upset with me, crying and yelling and all that for a few minutes. After several failed attempts to calm him down I finally got my head straight and said, "Are you upset with me because I picked you up when you didn't want to go to the potty?"

He instantly stopped crying and looked me right in the eye.

"You're right to be angry with me. I should not have done that. I should have had your permission. I'm sorry.

He took a deep breath, clearly relieved.

"Can you forgive me?"

He shook his head 'no'.


Then he hopped down from my lap and happily crawled into bed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmases Past

Papa and I have been watching the non-violent communication videos. In them Marshall Rosenberg speaks of natural giving. I know he's not referring to the giving of holiday gifts, but nevertheless this next story reminds me of it.

Last night Papa I were sharing stories of our childhood Christmases, and Papa told of a year he and his brothers got cans in their stockings.

Me- cans like canned food?

Papa- no, empty cans.

Me- decorated or made into toys?

Papa- nope.

Me- so, trash then.

Papa- pretty much. We didn't have any money that year. They said they'd make it up to us.

Me- that's messed up. Christmas doesn't creep up on people. They could have saved ahead of time or gotten creative and made things.

Papa- yeah, well, you know my parents...

Me- I'm so sorry you had a Christmas like that. Remember the year josh was 5 and we didn't have anything? We still made it special for him.

Josh- how did you get me things if you didn't have any money?

Papa- mama and I did without. We didn't get anything for ourselves and used money we were gifted to get things for you.

Josh- aww, so you guys didn't get anything? I should have gotten you gifts.

Me- no honey, parents are supposed to make sacrifices for their kids, not the kids for their parents.

Josh- but still, I want to get you gifts.

Me- that's nice of you. You've still got time. Let me know if you need me to take you to the store or anything.

Josh- alright.

He's currently crafting away on something for us. It's so special to see him choosing to make and give a gift on his own motivated by nothing but his own heart.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Giving Josh Credit

Sometimes we still struggle with giving our kids the credit the deserve and thinking of them as the capable people they are.

Papa is cutting down a dead tree in the yard. The chain of the chainsaw keeps coming off and he is really frustrated about it. I suggested yesterday he let Josh (9y) look at it, but Papa was determined to do it himself.

This morning Papa's latest fix still didn't work. I suggested again he let Josh check it out, and this time he did. Not 5 minutes later Papa comes inside and says, "I'm a jerk. He fixed it. I need to give him more credit."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our Focus in Home Education

Getting started with home education can be overwhelming. There are mind-boggling amounts of opinions on what to teach, and even more resources to help you teach them. How do you choose?

When we started, after being overwhelmed at the opinions and options out there, we sat down and made a list. This list details what we feel are the skills most needed for our children to have happy, successful, fulfilling lives.

1. Critical thinking skills-skepticism, knowing how to ask questions and how to find answers for themselves.
2. Sound moral character- acting in accordance with their values, ability to communicate effectively, interpersonal skills, etc.
3. The ability to feed themselves- growing their own food, knowing where their food comes from, knowing how different foods affect their health, cooking skills.
4. The ability to read.
5. Basic math skills (algebra, geometry, finance), and the ability to use them in practical applications.

Our list gives us a clear goal and focus in our home education journey. Do you have a list like this? What is on it?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tough Conversations

I'm going to get a bit heavy here folks. I'm writing what I'm about to share more to heal my heart than anything else, but hopefully it can help heal someone else out there too.

Growing up, my father was emotionally, physically, and psychologically abusive toward me. I have had very heartfelt talks with my mother (they have long been divorced) and learned that he was also abusive to her. For years each of us didn't realize we were victims of abuse, because he is very good at making you feel as if YOU are the crazy one.

Three months ago my father was arrested for domestic violence against his current wife, with whom he has a 6 year old daughter. Somehow, again, he convinced all his friends and his wife that SHE had gone crazy and started "hurting herself". She reached out to me. She felt scared and alone. I kept telling her, That is not what love is. That is not what marriage is. She deserves respect. No one has the right to touch her, in any way, without permission. Should she continue to stay in such a situation, her daughter will grow up thinking this is what love looks like; this is what marriage looks like; this is what she should seek in a partner. Unfortunately at the time, she was not ready to hear what I was saying.

I am glad to say today she called me to let me know she is packing and leaving. She is getting assistance to find a job, find a home, and care for her daughter.

Of course, my father is quite upset with me that I would "take her side". My grandmother and great-grandmother are also quite upset with me. They invoke the term "family" as if my genetics are more important than my values. They say things like, "after all we've done for you."

On the subject of "family"- I have learned over the last few years that family has much less to do with your genealogy and much more to do with finding people with whom you share values, support, and love. There are people I've known for less than three years who are more family to me than some of my relatives ever have been. Furthermore, anything my father has ever done for me has been a fulfillment of his parental responsibility. I owe him nothing for that, nor does any child owe their parent anything. No child chooses to be born or to be raised by which family. Parents make the choice to be parents, and in so owe their children the very best they can give. In order for me to fulfill my parental responsibility of giving my children the best I can, I choose to stand by my values and not associate with people who clearly go against them.

And so there is the basis of the tough conversation I had to have, which I'd mentioned a few days go. It was hard. It was emotional. But it was also liberating and strengthening.

Bug Loves Me!

We never ask the kids to say "I love you". Never. We tell them we love them all the time. Bug (2y) almost never says anything back, and that's just fine. We don't ask "do you love me too?" or pout or put any other pressure on him to say it back.

And so this morning when I said, "I love you, Bug" and he said, "No, I love YOU!" it was extra special. You better believe my heart exploded.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Holiday Tradition

This year to celebrate the holidays we're trying out a new tradition (trying something we'd like to become a tradition I suppose) and I thought I'd share it with you. Maybe you'd like to try it too.

We will be putting out our holiday decorations on the 21st (solstice). Then for the next three days (22nd, 23rd, and 24th) we will be going on an electricity fast. No lights, no computers, no television, no smart phones. We will be making some exceptions- we will still use the stove to cook. Sadly we have an electric stove, but this wouldn't be a problem if we had gas. And we will answer our phones if family or friends CALL to wish us happy holidays.

The hope is that we will rid ourselves of all distractions and really REALLY experience what the holidays are supposed to be about- connection, family, love, joy, growth, and appreciation.

We've got a list of holiday crafts to make, foods to cook, games to play, books to read. We're stocked up on firewood and candles. We've made and tested out that tea light flower pot heater (link in comments) (although if it is too chilly I have no qualms about turning the heat up, which runs on gas). Then on the 25th we'll open gifts and host an extended family dinner party.

I'm excited about it. If you do something similar, please share your experiences!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Bug Thinks Aloud

Bug (2y) isn't usually very talkative, but every now and then he gives us a peak into his inner workings.

Last night he was looking at the fan in the bedroom and started thinking aloud.

"Can it spin around? Can I make it spin? Maybe. I can try! I need the switch. I need to get on the table. I can get a chair." 

"Would you like me to help you reach the switch?"

"Yeah! If you wa-ant."

Saturday, December 7, 2013

I See London...

It would seem my relaxed policy on nudity is paying off. The boys spent the evening with a dear friend while Papa and I went out. Josh joked with her, "I see London, I see France, I see Melissa's underpants."

Melissa said, "Eek, can you really?"

"No, I was just kidding." -J

"Okay, that would have been embarrassing." -M

"Maybe for you, but not for me. I see my mom's underwear all the time."- J

Friday, December 6, 2013

Telling the Truth

The hardest things about parenting, in my experience, are getting over my own childhood and being a living example of the characteristics I hope for my children to have.

Both of these things have decided to merge into the ultimate parenting showdown. My dad is coming to town from across the country and my grandmother wants us all together for Christmas. For several reasons I won't get into now, I don't want to spend time with my dad, nor do I want the kids around him. I also don't want to hurt my grandmother's feelings by telling her we won't be coming to her dream Christmas get together.

I've been talking about it with Papa, and the kids over hear our conversations. Josh (9y) said to me, "You should just tell them the truth". I found myself saying, "Yes I know, but sometimes it's really hard to tell the truth, especially when so many feelings are involved."

So here I am, preparing myself for a conversation I really don't want to have but I must have. I must. Because what kind of example do I set if I can't be honest when it's hard? How can I want or expect more from my children than I am willing to do myself? How else do I teach what real values are?

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Learning How to Ask for Help

We've been unschooling and learning to live a NAP life with our kids for about 18 months now. Something to consider though is that while I stay home with the boys (ages 9 and 2) Papa is traveling for work 6 days a week. I have had considerably more practice at this than he has.

And so it came to pass that I learned something about myself this week in regard to how I ask for help. For whatever reason I let myself get to a point with the kids when I just can't be patient anymore, and I ask Papa to step in and "just get him to do xyz" or whatever it is I can't work through in the moment. I don't want to be the one to "make" the kids do anything, but subconsciously I want Papa to step in and be that person. That's a very conflicting message to send my partner in parenting.

The situation which opened my eyes occurred last weekend. Bug (2y) had a sit-and-push scooter in the house. Josh (9y) kept playing with it without permission. Meltdowns and arguments were happening often. I had talked with Josh, I had talked with Bug, they would work it out just to have it happen again. My patience was worn thin and I called out to Papa to come help me. He responded by taking the scooter outside. Logical enough, right? Now no one can fight over it. Problem solved.

I asked Papa, "So Josh can't take Bug's scooter without permission, but you can?" to which he said, "Well, no, but what did you want me to do?" and that's when it hit me. I've been putting him in a tough position, wanting him to parent respectfully and lovingly (something he did not experience in his childhood and is having to learn all new just as I am) while simultaneously wanting him to swoop in and just fix situations I can no longer handle.

Recognizing this is the first step to fixing it. Seriously, this is a never ending path of learning and improvement. I'm reminded almost daily. But totally worth it. I'm reminded daily of that as well. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Cosleeping

When Josh was born I was 19. A friend of my mother's, who was mother to 6 children at the time, gave me the book Babywise. Not knowing any better and having no support otherwise, I made Josh to sleep alone. It was awful. Hearing him cry broke my heart. I should have listened to my heart and coslept, but I kept thinking "THIS is the wisdom past generations have handed down to me."

I still get upset when I think about it. When did people start leaving infants alone at night? Who's idea was that? From an evolutionary perspective it makes no sense whatsoever for an infant or small child to be alone at night. To be alone would mean certain death- vulnerable to predators, exposed to the elements, without food or protection. Certainly babies would be biologically wired to cry For Their Lives if they found themselves alone.

So why isn't it more common to cosleep? Why do some parents cause others to doubt their choice to cosleep, telling them what a disservice they're doing their children? At the end of the day, take everyone's advice with a grain of salt (yes, even mine) and follow your heart. Only you and your baby know what is best for you and your baby.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Paleo Freezer Meals

I've written about food before. Eating healthy is important to us. We tried a Whole30 Challenge a while back and loved the way we felt. Our goal is to eat a Paleo diet, but there are some real challenges. One, the kids don't like eating what we would like to eat, so I'm faced with making separate meals, eating sandwiches myself as well, or having hangry children. Typically I end up eating sandwiches with the kids. Secondly, Papa travels for work which makes it difficult and expensive for him to eat well. We got him a mini-crock pot so he can pack freezer meals which works wonderfully. However, most freezer meal menu plans I've come across make large servings and take an entire day to prepare. I don't love anything enough to eat leftovers for a week and I don't have the time or energy to devote an entire day to cooking each month.

So I came up with my own system. This system makes 24 two-ish serving meals in about two hours (including breaks for attending the kids). This is the first time I've shared something like this, so bare with me. We can get through this together!

First, the meals. I have six beef recipes we have tried and loved. All are Paleo. Five can be Whole30 compliant. Each recipe will be split into four freezer meals. Each meal makes one large serving or, more often for me, a dinner serving with enough for lunch leftovers the next day. If Papa and I both happen to be home we can throw two meals into the crock pot instead of one to have plenty.

I'm going to walk you through my process. This might get jumbled, but it will help you if you'd like to use different recipes. I write each recipe on a sticky note to have handy while assembling meals. Do whatever is most convenient for you. I have six recipes because that makes plenty of food, and I don't want to commit more than a couple of hours to the food assembly process. I tediously make a grocery list of everything which will be needed for all six recipes. If you choose to make the same recipes I have, it's your lucky day because here is the grocery list!

5 lbs beef roast
7 lbs cubed stew meat
2 lbs ground beef
6 onions
18 cloves garlic
2 red bell peppers
1 green bell pepper
2 limes
2 large sweet potatoes
1 cup green beans
1 cup spinach
1 cup carrots
1 cup celery
1 cup mushrooms
1 cup parsley
1 cup cilantro
4- 8oz cans tomato sauce*
28 oz can crushed tomatos*
14 oz can diced tomatos*
1 chipotle pepper
22 oz beef broth*
1/4 cup red curry paste
2 cans coconut milk*
2 cups burgundy wine
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 tsp and 1/4 cup coconut or olive oil
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 Tbsp applesauce
1/2 cup arrowroot powder
quart sized freezer bags

herbs and spices-
chili powder
onion powder
garlic powder
4 bay leaves

*obviously if you'd like to avoid canned products you can use fresh tomatoes, home canned tomatoes, home made broth, and home made coconut milk.

I come home and dump all this stuff on the kitchen table, then set up my work station on the counter. I start by labeling four quart sized freezer bags for each recipe. You could get fancy here with labels. Fancy is not my MO, and scribbling "Curry" on the bag doesn't take too long.

Here is the first recipe I'll be assembling.

Red Curry Beef and Veggies-
3 tsp olive or coconut oil
2.5 lbs stew beef cubed
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 onion diced
4 cloves garlic minced
1 red bell pepper diced
1 large sweet potato diced
1/4 cp red curry paste
2 cans coconut milk
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 lime juiced
2 Tbsp honey (omit if you want to be Whole30 compliant)
1/2 cup cilantro minced

 I have all my things ready to go. I've put them on the cutting board here for you to see, but really everything is piled on the table to my right. 

 I open the freezer bags and start putting 1/4 of each ingredient listed into each bag.

I find that if I put the beef in first they stand up nicely. Having a handy bottle of something at the end is nice to hold them up too.

If dividing each ingredient by four is not something you want to deal with, just eye-ball it. Seriously, it's not rocket science. It's a crock-pot meal. Get the food in the bag. You can do it!  

Seal it up, press all the air out, lay flat, stack and put them in the freezer. Then move on to the next recipe.  I love this process because at any time I can stop without having committed to chopping all 6 onions at once and not yet assembled anything. One recipe at a time, one ingredient at a time. It really goes quickly.

Here's what your freezer will look like when you're done. Twenty four meals ready to go!

Here are the other five recipes. All cook times are 4-6 hours on low, 2-3 hours on high in the crock pot.

Beef Burgundy (not Whole30 compliant)
1/2 cup arrowroot powder
4 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
4 pounds cubed beef
1/4 cup olive or coconut oil
2 onions sliced
1 cup mushrooms sliced
1 cup parsley minced
4 bay leaves
2 cups burgundy wine
1 cup beef broth

2 lbs ground beef
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 red bell pepper chopped
1 green bell pepper chopped
1 cup carrots chopped
1 cup celery chopped
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
14 oz can diced tomatoes
2- 8oz cans tomato sauce
3 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp basil
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cayenne

Beef Stir Fry
1/2 lb beef cubed
1 1/2 Tbsp applesauce
pinch cinnamon
pinch cloves
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 cloves garlic
1/2 Tbsp ginger
1 large sweet potato diced
1 cup green beans
1 onion sliced
1 cup spinach
1 tsp coconut or olive oil
*season to taste after cooked. Papa likes to add coconut aminos for a soy sauce flavor.

Taco Roast
2.5 pounds chuck roast
14 oz beef broth
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
juice of 1 lime
*this will need some veggies to make it a full meal. Goes great over kale salad, in cauliflower tortillas, Romain leaf tacos, etc.

Beef Burritos
2 lb roast
1 onion diced
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp pepper
2- 8oz cans tomato sauce
1 chipotle pepper
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
*shred meat and mix with sauce once tender. Goes great over kale salad, in cauliflower tortillas, Romain leaf tacos, etc.

Cost analysis-

I bought everything on the grocery list at my local Super Target. All the beef was grass fed organic and all the produce was organic if available. I had some items and most of the spices already on hand. My grocery total ended up being $161.39. That makes each meal $6.72, and if we consider each meal to have 2 servings, that's $3.36 per serving. Not bad for using organic meat and produce, and no grains.

My goal in sharing this is to hopefully provide other parents some support in eating healthy on a budget and under time constraints. Best wishes to you all! Please let me know if this works out well for you or if I need to clarify anything.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Knock, Knock

Bug (2y)- I needa go in Joshy's room. (Opens door)

Josh (9y)- Bug, you need to knock first.

Bug- (closes door) Okay, I'll knock first. (Knock knock) 

Josh- Who is it?

Bug- It's you.

Josh- I'm me.

Bug- Oh. It's me. I'm Bug.

Josh- Come in.

Bug- Sanks Joshy!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Thoughts on Dinovember

Dinovember. I'm seeing it everywhere. I'm not quite a fan.

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for imaginative play. If you and your kids want to make your dinos go on adventures or jam out to itunes, cool. What bothers me are the pictures I see of parents making messes and wasting food.

We live on one income. We aren't rolling in cash by any means. Far from it. Yet we do our best to buy high quality food because it is important to us. No way am I going to set an example that it's funny or even okay to break eggs or tear apart fruit or bread or spill something or whatever on purpose. Same goes for the mess making. If I don't want my toddler unrolling an entire roll of toilet paper all over the bathroom, how am I supposed to justify doing it myself? All in the name of Dinovember and fun? No thanks. I do my best to teach the kids the value of everything we have. Not only does it cost us money, but someone somewhere spent their time and energy creating it and getting it to us.

And I imagine the conversation might get awkward when the kids point that out. "Mommy, those dinosaurs made a huge mess! That's not very nice." "Yeah! And although I wouldn't approve of you or me, or a guest in our house doing the same thing any other time, after you go to bed tonight I'm going to make another mess and blame it on the dinosaurs!" Just a bit of a conflicting message in my opinion.

Maybe you think I'm a no-fun Scrooge. I'm not. I love having fun and being silly with my kids. However, Dinovember and Elf on the Shelf (although I dislike that much more, don't even get me started on a Santa spy being in the house) seem to be just another example of wastefulness and disrespect of property in an already wasteful, overly consumerist time of year.

Just my quick thoughts. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Unschooling While Sick

I apologize for the lack of morning quotes lately. Sometimes life happens, you know.

And when life happens I'm reminded how well this unschooled life style works for us. Bug (2y) and I are feeling under the weather. We all were hanging out in the bedroom tonight, me sitting in bed with a heating pad reading to Josh (9y), Bug playing around doing summer saults. Josh and I talked about sums, products, the nine finger multiplication trick, spelling, homophones, Latin word origins, there their and they're. Bug crawled in bed when he was ready and asked to turn the light off. Josh and I continued chatting in the dark.

Everything happened so naturally. It was wonderful. Even though we did a lot of sitting around grumpy earlier today, we still learned plenty without any added stress to anyone. I am so thankful for those who turned me into this path and for all the struggles our family went through to turn ourselves around and get to this place.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Positive Parenting Peer Pressure

I totally experienced this a couple days ago. We were out at a museum night with some friends. The boys were playing around the lobby while we all got coats on to leave when, WHAM! Josh (9y) knocked Bug (2y) over and Bug hit his head on the stone floor. Hard.

Of course my first inclination was to pick Bug up and make sure he was alright, but sadly my very close second inclination was to berate Josh for knocking his brother down. A few distasteful comments passed my lips, but for the most part I kept my teeth clamped shut. I only had such restraint because our friends were there witnessing my reaction. I kept thinking, "They know me. They know all the preaching I do about parenting. I cannot lose it in front of them. Losing it right now is NOT the type of parenting I'm going for."

Why am I sharing this? To show we're all works in progress. Maybe to encourage everyone to find some peaceful parenting buddies to help you keep calm in tough moments. Mostly to thank my friend for something she probably doesn't even realize she did for me and Josh. Thanks, you twirling hippie. You know who you are. 

Papa's POV

A day late, my apologies. Here is Papa's write up about getting dads on board with peacefully parenting.

When Mama told me we were going to start peacefully parenting I said, “Sure! Whatever that means…” It means no more spanking, no more yelling, no more punishing? Oh boy…… Mama was very patient with me, always advising and never pushing me to conform to this new idea. My advice would be to not criticize and be supportive, talking certain scenarios through, leading by example, and to present the research and information without forcing it.
Men hate nagging. I’m not saying to stop talking and just give up, I’m just saying take it slow and set some time aside to have a talk about certain issues you would like to discuss. Take one issue at a time and ask for his input. Support his good actions or advice, like “I saw how you were teaching Johnny how to hammer a nail into that 2x4. That looked like a great bonding experience”. Bring up some facts, like “studies show that verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse” and ask him what he thinks about that.

Try to seek out learning experiences with your kids and husband and talk through the situations as they happen. If Johnny loves to run in the street, take the time to talk to him and explain why running in the street is not a good idea. When he learns, point out that he learned that from the little talk you had with him the week before. Or if your husband talks to Johnny in a similar fashion try to bring up statistics on the effect that may have on him, be it good or bad. “Johnny really seemed to listen to you just then. Statistics show that ….” When you get these chances to show the NAP really does work, take full advantage of it and let him know how much better Johnny’s self-confidence is or how his mood has improved since implementing a non-authoritarian parenting style.
Never force the issue. I know Mama has handed me a book and said, “Here read this”. Automatically I just have to grumble for a minute. But I will read it eventually. Lay out whatever information you have available and just let him know that it is available for reading if he’s interested. Maybe suggest reading it to him, or paraphrasing some interesting sections of the book.

We’re guys, and we’re going to screw it up. But just be patient and have the information handy at all times. You’ll have to be on point and constantly be attentive to everything that goes on in your household. Be supportive and encouraging, and most of all stand your ground and don’t give up.

On a side note, you will probably here the response “I was spanked and I turned out okay”. Are we really okay?? I work around children every day, and the second I hear a cry from a punishment being issued, physical pain, emotional pain, or whatever the case, the words will follow each and every time. “You’re ok!” So of course we are trained in that mindset, “We’re ok”.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Intro to Latin

A lot of our learning takes place in the car. The perfect time for questions and conversations.

Today I was explaining that I was frustrated when Josh asked, "Why is it called frustrated?" So I hand him my phone and told him to Google 'etymology of frustrated'.

Intro to Latin, here we come.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On Teeth-brushing...Again

I get asked often enough about how we get the kids to do things like brushing their teeth or picking up without rewards or bribes. I've written about it before from other viewpoints. Today I want to distill the idea down to pleasure.

Whatever it is you'd like the kids to do, you have to do all you can to make it a pleasurable experience. No one wants to do things they associate with being unpleasant. The act itself has to be the pleasure, not a reward afterward, because a reward shifts the focus to the wrong place. Unless, of course the reward is the direct result of the act, like picking up so you can roll around on the floor or something.

Some things which work well for us- Adding songs or dance. Making a game or race of it. Doing chores in pairs so we can play, talk, and laugh while the chores get done in half the time. Using Magic Mud to brush our teeth.

If you've punished, rewarded, or otherwise forced issues in the past, it will take some patience and baby steps to get past those feelings of unpleasantness associated with things. I've been there. It's not fun. There were many nights teeth just didn't get brushed, but we stuck with this idea and it paid off. No more battles.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Parenting for the Long Haul

I spend a lot of time thinking about parenting. Maybe too much time. I think of it like a job I really enjoy. I watch other parents with their children. I over analyze every interaction I have with my own kids, and I talk about it endlessly with the friends who lovingly tolerate me.

Recently I've been thinking about and talking with friends and family about seasons of life, phases of childhood, and the inefficacy of punishments and rewards. Just yesterday I had a conversation with my dear sister-in-law about my nephew repeatedly throwing food on the floor. She was frustrated, understandably. We all have those times. I know I have those moments. But then I started wondering, in those moments am I frustrated with my kids, or frustrated with myself?

Here's where my thought process led me-

When I decided to be a parent (I use the word 'decided' because, although my pregnancy with Josh was unplanned, I made the choice to raise this child. Adoption is always an option.) I made a lifetime commitment. I understood, in the limited capacity I could not having been a parent before, that I would be a mother for the rest of my life. I didn't want to just cuddle him as an infant and then send him away to boarding school. I don't want to get him to 18 years and then kick him out into the world. I want to have a relationship with him his entire life. I want to watch him achieve his dreams. I want to witness him fall in love. I want to be there for him when his heart breaks. I want to dance with him at his wedding. I want to be close with his children.

This want of a lifetime relationship of love and respect is the driving force behind all my good parenting decisions. Keeping my eyes on the big picture makes it easier to get through the tough phases- the times when the kids wake up throughout the night, the times when it takes us 30 minutes to get in the car, the times when I'm picking the same toys up 40 times a day, the times everyone wants something different for dinner. I'm able to parent from a place of love and respect in those times because I've read the research which shows that punishments, rewards, and coercion in attempts to control our children do not work and deteriorate relationships.

But sometimes, oh sometimes I get so frustrated. Just today, I took the boys to a park meet-up. Getting from the playground back to the car took Bug FOR-E-VER. He wanted to ride his tricycle, stop to look at everything, get off and back on, pedal backwards a little, stop and stare into the distance, and when he was moving forward it was painstakingly slowly. I tried every trick I had to get him to go faster, but no luck. I lost patience, announced I was going to carry him and the tricycle to the car, picked him up and started jogging along. He was livid, and rightfully so. I was in the wrong. I did not have his permission to carry him or his tricycle.

Why was I in such a hurry? Absolutely no reason. We had no where to go. I wasn't hungry. I didn't need to pee. I was just done being at the park, while he wasn't. I know Bug; I've watched him be himself every day of his life and he never gets in a hurry for anything. It did not come as a surprise to me that he would want to take an hour getting down the sidewalk today. I was not frustrated with Bug, though I was directing my frustration at him; I was frustrated with myself.

I cannot control my children. I can only control myself. If I want to avoid frustration, I need to take what I know about my children and what I know about myself and prepare our environment so it is the most conducive to  everyone's happiness as it can be. I cannot expect my children to do this for me. I am the parent, and so it is my responsibility.

It is my responsibility to bring something to keep myself entertained while they are at the park. I could easily have been reading a book or knitting. It is my responsibility to pack water when I know the kids are always thirsty. It is my responsibility to keep the house safe and eyes on impulsive youngsters. Most importantly, it is my responsibility to nurture the kids' growing skills as they become more independent with love, respect, and patience.

Even realizing this, I know no matter how responsible I am, our family will not avoid all conflict and frustration. Realizing this might even mean I get a little more peeved when I'm being irresponsible because I know whatever is causing my frustration may have been avoided had I taken the necessary steps. But at least I am able to acknowledge the issue is with me and my expectations, not the kids. Then I can choose to either let it go, or take action.

We all know children are messy. They need to be held. They need a lot of attention. They don't come equipped with great communication skills. They aren't born knowing how to deal with all their big feelings. They don't always sleep well. When we decide to be parents, we need to understand the lifetime commitment we're making. We need to prepare ourselves and our environment as best we can. The fewer moments we spend frustrated about things we could have avoided, the more moments we can spend enjoying the amazing people each of children are.

When we keep our eyes on the big picture, the lifelong relationship, the tough phases are relatively short.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Grammar with Boys

Unschool grammar with boys-

Me: A verb is an action word, like thinking, running, being...

Josh (9y): And pooping or peeing? 

Me: Yeah, those are verbs. An adverb describes the verb. So thinking deeply, or running quickly.

Josh: Or tooting loudly? Pooping messily?

Me: Yeah, I think you've got it.

Josh: What about pooping very messily? Is very an adverb too?

Me: In that case, yes.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Review of My Magic Mud Natural Teeth Whitener

Last month I received a product called "Magic Mud" as a thank you gift for a donation. You can check out their website here.

I received this small container, which claims to be a three month supply and retails for $25, but honestly we haven't yet made a noticeable dent. There are seriously a bajillion uses in here.

The Magic Mud is made of all natural ingredients- activated coconut shell charcoal, bentonite clay, and mint extract- and has a very fine powdered texture. It reminds me of black powdered sugar.

The instructions tell you to wet your toothbrush, dip it in the Magic Mud, and brush for at least 2 minutes. Here we go!

My first surprise is that Magic Mud literally has no taste. They claim on the website that is has no taste, but there's always a taste, right? Not this time. I can feel the powder in my mouth, but taste absolutely nothing. The website also claims kids love this stuff. And they're right! Magic Mud blacks out your teeth; the boys and I have a blast making monster faces at each other every time we use it.

After brushing with Magic Mud for 2 minutes, we rinse our mouths, floss, and then brush with our regular toothpaste for 1 minute. Josh's teeth were noticeably whiter after the first use.

 The light fixtures in the bathroom are golden, so the pictures don't show as well as I'd like. And it's impossible to go back to re-take a "before" picture under better light.

My whole mouth feels clean. Really clean. Much cleaner than using toothpaste alone. To say I live off of coffee and tea wouldn't be much of an exaggeration. Magic Mud has made my teeth whiter in spite of my caffeine addiction. I've never used other teeth whitening products because I wasn't comfortable ingesting the questionable ingredients. I love that Magic Mud is all natural, easy to use, safe, and a fun way for the whole family to strengthen and whiten our teeth. 

Sometimes I'm Still Such a Jerk

Sometimes I'm still such a jerk.

We traveled with Papa last week and met some great new friends. We went trick-or-treating with them, the kids are having a great time together, and one of the dads stopped to talk to me.

Dad- Josh is great!
Me- Is he?

What the hell?! Why did I say that? I made a quick recovery.

Me- I mean, he is! Thanks!
Dad- It's nice for our boys to have an older friend, to have a "big brother" type friend.

And here's where things got really bad.

Me- Oh, yeah, I think maybe he likes to play with younger kids because they're easier to boss around.

Seriously, who is talking out of my mouth? Why can't I just accept the compliment? Why do I have to go and insult my own kid, while simultaneously insulting this guy's kids?! I could blame it on poor sleep, or being distracted in a new place, but really the fact is that sometimes that jerk parent in me still comes out.

Sadly, I spent so much time being a jerk parent that the above is still my default reaction when talking with new people. To say, "No, no, my kid isn't great. He can't be enjoying your children simply because they're also great. He obviously has ulterior motives."

I'm really embarrassed about the whole ordeal. I'll apologize and move forward. Being a better parent, not being the parent I used to be, is a moment to moment battle. It gets easier, but I'm afraid it is one that will never truly end.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Let Them Have Fun

We went to a pumpkin patch over the weekend. Bounce houses, wagons, hay mazes, wooden cut outs of characters, hay rides, barrel trains, all sorts of fun.

Sadly, there were many kids not having fun; crying as their parents pulled them away from what they wanted to be doing in order to get them to do something else "really fun".

I think it's something we all have been caught up in before. We want
to make sure our kids get to do everything at whatever fun place we've taken them, and we lose sight of how much fun they already ARE having.

A challenge for everyone, myself included- next time we take the kids somewhere, don't focus on seeing/doing everything. Instead focus on enjoying the present moment with them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

I Don't Believe in "Bad Choices"

Children don't make "bad choices". They make choices we may not understand or with which we disagree. The best approach to these choices is curiosity and compassion.

"Why did you make that choice?"

"Can you tell me more about that?"
"Had you considered xyz?"

Use these opportunities to encourage connection and learning.

"I would have made this choice for these reasons."
"In the past when I have made this choice it led to this consequence."

Getting Myself Under Control

One of the hardest lessons I've learned as a parent- Having a happy house is not about controlling what the kids do, it is about controlling what I do; my thoughts and actions.

Last night we were driving and Bug (2y) was being LOUD. Screaming everything he said, singing at the top of his lungs, etc. In the past I might have yelled back "Be quiet!" or something like that. Honestly, I still fought 
the urge to do just that, but I've been there and seen the outcome of that action. Bug would get upset and start crying, or possibly think we were having a fun game of yelling and increase the volume. So instead I said, "Bug, your voice is loud. It is hurting my head." He said, "It's not hurting your head, Mama." and I replied, "Yes it is. It's going in my ears and hurting my head." He thought for a second and then said, "I don't want to hurt your head." "Thank you. If you stop being loud my head will stop hurting." and that was that.

Later, at home, Josh (9y) and I had finished reading in the living room and I was ready for bed. Josh was not, so I asked him to please respect that Bug and I were sleeping by being quiet, and off I went. Not 10 minutes later I heard a crash come from the living room. In the past I would have stormed out and gone ape-shit. I am an angry lady when I'm tired. I've been there, done that, and it never turns out well. Josh is very sensitive, and my outbursts have set our family progress toward peace back on more than one occasion. So instead I paused at the living room door, took a deep breath, and managed to just ask, "What happened?"

"I was cleaning up the living room and dropped Bug's trains. You worked hard all day cleaning up, and now its messy again, so I wanted to pick up for you."

Cue heartbreak. I was SO thankful I didn't come out yelling at him for trying to be helpful.

Now, is this what every moment looks like in our house? No.
Did we have to go through some seriously dark times to get to this point? Yes, oh yes.

The common theme in my experiences is that when I assign negative motives to the kids in my thoughts or react to them from a place of judgment or control, the outcome is almost always negative.

When I assume the kids have the best intentions in my thoughts and react to them from a place of respect and love, these are the times we're more likely to experience the types of outcomes shared above.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Anarchy Cleans the Table

Most people I talk with about our parenting style think that a household without parents who are "clear authority figures" who "lay down the law and keep the kids in line" would surely descend into anarchy.

Well, earlier Josh (9y) was in full-on experiment mode at the kitchen table. Modeling clay, glue, lighters, candles, melted wax, burned toast, balloons and other such mess all scattered about.
He finished, got up, and started walking down the hall.

Me-Are you done?

Josh- Yeah, I'm going to my room.

Me- Ummm, your mess is still all over the table.

He huffs back into the kitchen, muttering under his breath, then comes back up to me.

Josh- You know, you telling me to clean up my mess, you can't do that. You can't tell me what to do.

Me- I didn't tell you to clean your mess. I simply stated that it was still on the table, providing you with the opportunity to make the decision to be responsible for yourself.

Josh- Oh... *thoughtful sigh*

...and off he went to clean up the mess.

Josh- This wax is not coming off easily.

Me- Okay.

Josh- Do I have to clean it all?

Me- What would be the responsible thing to do?

Josh- I'm going to need something to scrape it with.

Me- Alright.

Josh- I'll use a butter knife.

Me- Okay.

A table cleaned by sweet, beautiful anarchy.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Boys Work It Out Themselves

I want to share an experience from yesterday. One of Josh's neighbor friends was over and they were in his room. Friend came out looking upset, paused at the door to leave, but then came to talk to me.

Friend- Josh has been playing his Wii all week and isn't playing with me.
Me- It looks like that upsets you.
Friend- Yeah......
Me- Did you come tell me because you want me to help you talk to him?
Friend- Yes.

So we went into Josh's room to get a conversation going.

Me- Friend, how about you tell Josh how you're feeling.
Friend- You've been playing Wii for a week now and not playing with your friends.
Me- Well, that sounds more like what Josh is doing. Can you tell him how you're feeling? Try starting your sentence with "I".
Friend- I want to play with you but I don't want to play Wii. I've been inside for 7 hours and I want to go outside. It makes me feel sad that you don't want to play with me.
Me- Josh did you hear what he said?
Josh- Yes.
Me- So how about you tell him how you're feeling.
Josh- Well, I want to play with you too, but I didn't get much sleep last night so I want to stay inside.
Me- Okay. Friend, if you got to pick what to do, what would you choose?
Friend- Going outside to play football.
Me- And Josh, if you got to pick what to do, what would you choose?
Josh- Staying inside. Maybe we could play legos.
Me- Alright, you both chose different things. You'll need to come to a compromise. Friend, what is your first counter-offer?

This went back and forth for a while, with many creative ideas thrown out there, but Friend insisted on being outside while Josh insisted on being inside. I had a feeling my being in the room was hindering their discussion.

Me- Well guys, you may just be at an impasse. You may want to consider playing separately today and trying again tomorrow. Either way, I think you've got the hang of this, so I'll leave you to finish up.

I went into the kitchen and 10 minutes later they came running out to tell me they came to an agreement. They were SO proud of themselves.

Josh- Mom! We're going outside!
Friend- Yeah! Josh wanted to play video games, and I wanted to play outside, so we came up with playing tag as video game characters.
Josh- Yeah, and we'll have powers.
Me- Alright! You two have fun!

Josh didn't grow up with a good example from us. He's only had one for the last year or so, and we're still learning ourselves. Friend comes from a family much like ours used to be. I am so incredibly proud of them for taking the format of respectful dialogue and resolving their issue themselves.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Date Night with Josh

Last night's time with Josh (9y) was wonderful. We sat out on the porch snuggled under blankets watching the rain. As we talked I told him I never really knew much about my parents' childhoods and asked if he had any questions about mine. We talked about all sorts of things; when my parents divorced, the things I got in trouble for, my first marriage to Josh's biological father at age 19, our divorce, his being adopted by Papa. We talked about how I didn't even start learning who I was or what my passions were until my mid twenties. We talked about what it is to know yourself. Big topics, deep thoughts. It was a really great night. I'm so glad I made the extra effort to make that connection with him. It is something I never experienced with my parents, and I think my young adult life would have been very different if I had.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Parents, It Is All On Us

I was listening to a podcast on Freedomain Radio earlier today, in which Stefan Molyneux said something to the effect of, "If there is a problem in the parent/child relationship it is always the parent's fault." and went on to defend that statement (I'll link the specific podcast in the comments).

Over the last three days Josh (9y) has been holed away in his room playing video games and watching 
tv. He doesn't have a limit on his screen time, and usually he doesn't spend much time each day watching tv or playing games. These last few days have been different though. He's turned down my invitations to do other activities with Bug and I; he's even declined coming out to eat meals with us.

Most of the day I'd been thinking to myself, "Well, I tried. I invited him out. If he wants to be alone all day that's his problem." Thankfully the podcast mentioned above got me looking at things from a different perspective. I called him out and asked him to talk for a minute. I told him I'd noticed he was spending a lot more time than usual in his room alone, that I was concerned and wanted to spend time with him each day.

Come to find out, he doesn't like spending time around Bug (2y). Understandable. Bug has a big personality and usually commands everyone's attention. Josh wants to spend time with JUST me, so that I won't be distracted by his brother. It isn't easy to get one-on-one time in a house with no bed-times and Papa traveling M-F. After Bug goes to sleep I usually talk to Papa on the phone, but tonight I chatted with him earlier instead so that after Bug falls asleep I can give Josh the undivided attention he deserves.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Reflections From Parents For Liberty Conference

Late Friday night we drove to Austin, TX. Unbeknown to us, Austin City Limits, a huge music festival, was going on this weekend so we didn't get any sleep at our hotel. People were coming in and out all night, slamming doors. Then we spent most of Saturday attempting to absorb all the amazing speakers at the Parents For Liberty conference, left Austin at 7pm, drove through torrential rain, picked ...up the kids from Grandma's, and got home around midnight. Yet still my body decided to wake up at 8am. I'm going to attempt to share some reflections from the show, but I am grossly overtired so please excuse any lapses in brain function.

The first reflection I want to share is inspired by John Bush (Rise Up Radio Show, The Center for Natural Living) who spoke, among other great points on parenting, about the value of modeling behavior for our children, particularly not settling arguments with your partner in an uncivil manner in front of the kids. He joked that if anyone in the crowd never fought with their partner to come see him and share their wisdom.

Coincidentally, Papa and I were talking on the drive down about how in 6 years together we've had only one fight we remember. I think one reason for this is that we spend so much time apart, as Papa travels so much for work. Obviously less time together lends itself to less opportunities for fighting in and of itself. But more than that, it places a higher value on our time together. When I only have 36 hours a week with my husband, I want to make the most of them, and so I drop petty arguments. I turn off my computer and put away my phone. I try to pack as much love and respect and closeness as I can into that time period.

I think we should also apply this value to the time we have with our children. The days, even the hours, seem long. I know. But any parent of grown children will tell you, the time flies and then they're out on their own. Too many parents never even get to see that. We're guaranteed nothing. Let's pack as much love, respect, and closeness as we can into every day we have with our children, and all those we love.
My next reflection from the Parents For Liberty conference is inspired by Antonio Buehler. I won't do his presentation the injustice of trying to summarize it. There will be a dvd release later so you can see his entire speech. I will simply share two questions he posed to the audience.

"What is education?"

Cue crickets. Eventually some answers were thrown out there.

"What is education to the government?"

"Control!" "Conformity!" "Homogenization!" among other things.

Which brings me to my thought. It is not enough to know what we DO NOT want for our children. We have to know what we DO want for them. It is easy to criticize that with which we disagree, but we have to be just as passionate, MORE passionate actually, about that with which we do agree.

It is not enough to reject a broken system. We must create something better. We need to have a clear vision about what that better thing is and be able to articulate it. And so I pose the question to you. What is education? What is it to be educated?
Part 3
I was so very fortunate to hear Dr. Lawrence Reed speak this weekend on the subject of courage. I'm not sure if it is a direct quote or paraphrased, but I wrote down in my program, "Courage gives boldness and consistency to other virtues." Again, I won't do his presentation the injustice of trying to summarize it here and encourage you to check out Parents For Liberty if you're interested in a dvd....

We had the opportunity for questions and I asked him, "How do we instill courage in our children?" He answered, in so many words, that we model courage for them. I asked an obvious question and received an obvious answer.

I wish I would have instead asked, "How do we keep from suppressing or extinguishing our children's innate courage?" I would really love to hear his thoughts.

I know I personally have mistaken courage for defiance in the past. I have punished Josh for standing up to me, for calling me out when I was being hypocritical. In the past I have belittled and discouraged him from being courageous. How do I fix that? Well, to start, I recognize my behavior as wrong. I work everyday to take him seriously and treat him respectfully. I admit to my mistakes and apologize. Modeling courage is important, yes, but I think we also have to recognize courage when it is directed at us.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review of Parents For Liberty Education Conference

My husband and I headed to the first Parents For Liberty conference after a late night drive to Austin from Dallas and a horrible night's sleep in our hotel room. Despite our excitement for the event, getting out of bed was difficult that morning. Thankfully the event location was easy to find, right off the highway, and had signs directing us to parking and the entrance. We were greeted at will-call by Justin, Jessica and their family with smiles and hugs. Their excitement was infectious; the atmosphere very welcoming. Coffee and breakfast were provided, which was infinitely superior to the free breakfast offered at the hotel. We entered the event room to find an intimate setting with round tables set just feet from the stage. At each setting was placed a copy of "Are We Good Enough for Liberty?" and "Great Myths of The Great Depression", graciously provided by FEE, as well as a program and pen for taking notes. We mingled with the other guests, perused the materials, and settled in to our seats, ready for the presentations to begin. I admit, I was a bit worried about my ability to focus through the entire day considering what little sleep I got the night before. That worry was quickly put to rest as Max Borders, author of Superwealth, began the series of invigorating and enlightening presentations.

The thought-provoking, mind-stretching presentations each ended with a question and answer session, and were balanced with timely breaks for meals and personal discussions. The speakers were seated in the audience as well, and very approachable during breaks. I was so pleased to talk more with John Bush about his presentation, as well as meet Dr. Mary Ruwart who signed my copy of Healing Our World. By the time featured speaker Michael Strong took the stage, I could hardly believe the day had passed so quickly and energies were still so high. Keynote speaker Dr. Larry Reed spoke on courage, leaving me with renewed conviction in how to conduct my life and also in how to raise my children. The event ended with heartfelt thanks from Justin and a song sung by Jessica which left the audience in tears.

We left having forged new friendships and with contacts and continuing conversations with the speakers. My only regret is that we couldn't stay longer. My sincerest thanks to the Arman family for creating Parents For Liberty and for putting together this event which brought an amazing line-up of speakers together with an audience of truly fabulous people. Each and every speaker was inspiring; the event provided us with an energy to go out and make great things happen.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Bug Learns the Alphabet Song

Bug (2y) knows the names of all the letters. Not because we've ever drilled him, or gone out of our way to teach him, simply from playing and being exposed.

We've almost never sang the alphabet song to him. It just doesn't come up. The very few times I have, I don't even sing it to the typical tune.

We were putting together an alphabet puzzle last week and he asked me to "count the letters" (wh
ich means name them). I decided to sing the song while I pointed to each letter. He enjoyed it, and asked for me to do it again. For about 30 minutes he wanted me to sing the song to him. Then he gave it a try for maybe another 30 minutes. Within the hour he had the song mastered and now sings it whenever the mood strikes him.

It goes to show, when kids are ready to learn something, when they WANT to learn something, they can pick it up very quickly. Much more quickly than if I had tried to get him to learn it on my timetable instead of his.

Monday, October 7, 2013

No Forced Sharing = Genuine Generosity

We do not ask the kids to share, and yet they are very generous. A couple examples from Josh just this past week.

Sunday Josh went to a friend's birthday party. Call me a meanie, but I don't buy the kids' friends birthday presents just because. I encourage them to make a card or something meaningful, or think of a gift their friend would like BEFORE we go to the store to be bombarded with options
.... Josh made his friend a card, and gave him $8 of his own money since he was turning 8. He also chose to get him a small Angry Bird plush toy, again with his own money.

Later in the week while we were shopping, Josh got a Hershey's bar. He was munching it on the way to the car, talking about how he loved the little rectangles. I was starting to think maybe I should have gotten a treat as well, when he said, "Hey Mom, you want one?" and popped off a little piece as smoothly as if he were on a Mentos commercial. "Yes, thank you! That's very sweet," I replied. "Double sweet," he said, "because I'm being sweet, and the candy is sweet. Want another?" And there he went with the Mentos move again. Little heart breaker.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Forgotten Thoughts at Jason's Deli

Our goal as parents is not to create good people of our children, but instead to recognize they are already good people and to treat them thusly.

Last night we went out to eat for dinner. It started something like this-

Me- I can't forgot, I mean REMEMBER, *blah blah blah* *more things which make no sense*

Josh (9y)- Mom, what are you even saying? You've been making no sense all night.

Me- Arg! I know. I'm losing my mind. Seriously, Honey, what is wrong with me?

Papa- You're being held mentally hostage by "raising a toddler". It's temporary.

Me- You sure? What if my mental capacities never come back?

Papa- They will, just give it time.

Dinner is served, and everyone starts eating.

Bug (2y)- Dad, how is yours?

Papa- Very good, how is yours?

Bug- Mine's tasty. Joshy, how is yours?

Josh- Deeelicious!

Bug- Mom, how is yours?

Mom- Very good, thank you. (to Papa) And that right there makes it all worth it.

Papa- Yep. The way we're raising them is a lot of work, I know, but it's paying off.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Becoming More Minimalist

One day we'd like to move into a bus and travel the country. Hopefully that day is coming soon. Living in an RV provides plenty of space for adventure, but not much space for material things. 
In order to make the transition from1600 sq ft house to 320 sq ft bus a little less painful, I'm starting to scale back on our things now, so we can learn to live with less. That includes the kids' things. I want to be especially mindful of how this eventual life change will effect them, and I don't think having to leave all their toys at once while also dealing with the idea of living on the road is going to be a positive thing. 
To make matters more interesting, you may remember that the kids have full authority over their things. So me sweeping in during the night and simply taking things is out of the question. I have to have their permission first. Also, you may remember that Josh's room looks something like this....
Actually this is an older, tamer picture. It had progressed to the point that you could hardly see any carpet. But like I said, they are his things and they stay in his space. It is his choice what he does with them. Side note- his bed is in the family bedroom, he doesn't sleep in his room.
So I want him to get rid of most of his things. I need to find a way to get him to agree to do this voluntarily. The whole thing needs to go down peacefully.
I started by offering to help him clean his room. "Hey Josh, honey. I see your room is really messy. Can I help you clean it up?" "Sure, I'll just be playing out in the living room," he replied. So I got started. I found some broken pieces to things and called him in to make sure I could go ahead and throw those things away, to which he agreed.  Once I'd made a sizable dent in the clutter he came in and joined me to help. I think he was really just overwhelmed by the amount of stuff to be cleaned and didn't know where to start. He'd also been playing in his room less and less often. 
I brought this up to him, the idea that maybe he had too many things and it was overwhelming. He thought about it. We found more and more broken toys, things that likely had been stepped on in the clutter. We talked about that as well, how perhaps having so much stuff had lessened the value of each item. That perhaps he wasn't careful not to break things because there was a replacement waiting right next to it. We talked about his upcoming birthday, and how he really wanted a Wii. I explained to him that I was not willing to buy him anything new, especially not something so expensive,  when it was very likely going to be broken soon after purchase. He thought about that. 
We got the whole room picked up, and he vacuumed. Afterward I asked if he would like me to help him go through his things, to reorganize, and to perhaps get rid of some things so his room would stay clean more easily. He agreed. And this is what we ended up with-
We re-purposed some drawer sets and a table top to create a lego organization and building center.

He especially likes that the drawers are clear, so he can see all his legos more easily.
Those buckets in the stand in the corner hold, from top to bottom, Lego instruction booklets, his electric Polar Express train set, Transformers, and random small toys (a couple stuffed animals, matchbox cars, etc.) The shelves hold books, his piggy bank, alarm clock, and tool set.
All these buckets are completely empty!
As you can see, he loved having his room clean so much that he decided to move his bed in and sleep there! When all was said and done, he kept his Legos, Transformers, electric train, and a couple little toys. We moved some items out to our "homeschool shelves" in the living room- magnifying glass, test tubes, art supplies, etc. Some things got passed down to Bug, like his Lincoln Log set. But mostly he got rid of stuff. A lot of STUFF. I couldn't even tell you what it was. Junk. Little things his grandparents bring him from the dollar stores every time they visit. Which brings me to a little tangent.
I hate cheaply made plastic toys. I hate that we can buy a set of cheap plastic toys for $1. I hate that it breaks within the first week of play. I hate that we don't feel badly at all for throwing it away, "because it was only $1". I hate that we can easily replace it, "because it is only $1." and then the cycle continues. What kind of example does that set for our kids? To sacrifice quality for price? Not to care for our things? To create needless waste? That things are disposable and easily replaced? To throw away hard earned money?
I'd much rather spend the money on quality, durable toys. Which brings me to Bug's room, which was much easier to minimize. It went something like- "Hey Bug, let's put all the plastic toys in trash bags and take them to the garage. What do you think?" "OKAY!" 
He ended up keeping wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs, some dress up hats, puppets/stuffed animals, wood and die-cast train sets, a set of instruments, wooden puzzles, an Aqua-doodle pad, fabric Easter eggs, one of those beads-on-wires things, and a few matchbox cars. Almost every single thing he kept had been Josh's first. Wood and metal. Durable. Long lasting. They have survived 8 years of hard play and are going strong. They still hold resale value should I choose to sell them. Well worth the initial investment.
Of course right after we cleaned up, he thought it would be awesome to dump out all the buckets.
 He still has a lot, but take a look at how much he got rid of-
Seriously, whoa.
They're obviously not down to an amount of stuff which will fit on the bus, but they're one big step closer. Especially Josh. And how are things working out now without so much stuff? Josh has been playing in his room more often, and having his friends over to play in there with him. He's been picking everything up before bed each night, and making his bed each morning. All on his own, without any mention of anything from me. He even re-purposed one of the empty buckets to be his dirty laundry basket and proudly brings it out on laundry day. I have honestly noticed a lightening in him, as if by removing the clutter we also removed some burden that had been weighing him down.
Bug is happier playing in his room also. I've noticed him playing with his blocks for hours, making patterns, building towers, and initiating more creative play with them whereas in the past he was largely uninterested in the blocks. Perhaps he was distracted by all the other toys. Clean up in there has been much easier too. 
Even if we never end up living on the road and needing to minimize further, I am happy we've taken the time to simplify our lives in this way. Having less things occupying the space around us, having less things to clean, having less distractions from each other, caring for the items we do have, appreciating the items we have more, and encouraging our creative play have all been very positive changes in our lives.