Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Summer Slow 2015

I'm enjoying the slow rhythm of summer, with Noah out of school. Oh, how I have missed him! Wide open days lend themselves to leisurely play and unfolding projects, uninterrupted by scheduled activities. The boys become each other's best playmates again and we gain so many damn hours to our days. It's not that we don't go anywhere but there is a looseness to the going out - we tell friends we'll be at the park around 10 and maybe don't actually show up until 10:30 because the kids were so engrossed in fashioning weapons out of broomsticks and sand rakes I didn't want to move them along before they were through.

A balanced life, for me, means I have space in my days to connect with others in an impromptu way: I can invite people over for dinner cuz I get to thinking about them that morning, I can say yes to caring for a friend's animals because it's low-key entertainment to have a young puppy in our midst. It means not scheduling every hour. As summer begins, the days are blanketed in heat and humidity, and my energy takes a ding, I want to rip any 'To-Do" or "Bucket" lists into shreds!
All-star dog walking team

Noah and I are taking piano lessons together on Thursday mornings. I am as much a beginner as he is, which is a wonderful shared experience. I don't seize many opportunities to be a true beginner, which is at least as much about not having lots of time to explore new areas of interest, as it is wanting to save face and appear competent in all things like a "good" adult should. Yeah, that's lame.

Don't believe everything you think!

In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few. - Shunryu Suzuki

I am feeling energized by the concepts of unschooling, roughly, the idea that learning can (should?) happen outside the confines of formal education. If you're like most adults, you can go a long time without learning something new if you're no longer in a formal student role. It's stifling.

With a lot more time together, there are more opportunities for one family member's interests to influence another. Noah and I have been diligent in our daily piano practice, and that has little brother requesting his turns at the piano, too. "Show me piano lessons, " he requests. And he shows keen interest in understanding how the instrument works.

Papa Matthew has long been the only piano player in the family and now he's almost having to beg for turns as it becomes a more popular place to be! Maybe we'll form family band, yet...


Thursday, June 11, 2015


My kids have a superpower and it's detecting the most minute molecule of sugar present anywhere in the house. We don't have a lot of treats and that may be why they explode with happiness when it's discovered. I want to treat popsicles and birthday party candy and muffins and granola bars and such as treats - something we enjoy as an occasional pleasure. When these items are in the house, however, the kids have a hard time not consuming them, asking over and over when they can have one.

 My reaction so far, to their sugar-seeking has been to enact strong limitations and I'm beginning to rethink that. For one, I find the limit-setting to be draining. For two, it's not possible to control their access to food outside the house, in the case of my 6 year old who regularly receives junk food snacks as part of his public school kindergarten day, and who goes on playdates and attend birthday parties without a parent. When he brings home a piƱata booty of 40 pieces of candy, doling it out to him (and younger brother, cuz fairness is paramount when you have more than one kid) takes 3 weeks at one per day. I have such better things to do with my time than rationing Pop Rings!

I have excellent self-control around food, now. A dark chocolate bar often lasts me more than a week (if it remains undetected in my underwear drawer hiding place, that is. There is an adult sugar-seeker in my house, too, and his initials are MY). I would love to eat an excellent pastry every day and down at least 2 glasses of wine in the evening but I've learned I wouldn't actually enjoy the experience so I don't. Having unlimited access to desserts makes me want it less and more than 1 drink of alcohol a night makes me feel like a dessicating rat, ruins my sleep and makes me feel dull the next day.

I came by my excellent self-discipline the hard way, by spending most of my Times Record (Troy, NY) newspaper route earnings on BlowPops and Tootsie Rolls and other corn syrup/food coloring concoctions when I was 10, 11, and 12. Do you remember Teeni drinks (see below)? -I could drink one of each "color" in one sitting!

There's a part of me that wishes I can simply impart good self-discipline to my children without them having to go through the learning part. Well, that's kinda ridiculous, isn't it? Does exposure to crappy food warp their palette in some irrevocable way or might my restrictions actually increase the psychological value of the restricted food?

I've been reconsidering the food restrictions, the idea that I have to set limits in order to encourage healthy eating. If popsicles are made of healthy foods like yogurt and fruit, do I really need to limit them to 1 each if they ask for more, for example? Why? Well, one reason is that it requires time on my part to prepare them and I'd like for the popsicles to last to save me the work of making more. If they eat pounds of expensive grocery store strawberries in one sitting, for example, there won't be strawberries for the rest of the week and Papa and I might not get any; that seems ungenerous. If they are allowed cereal before dinner, than they won't want to eat the meals I make and their diets won't be balanced. True?

I'm gathering information to better understand the dynamics. For instance, I notice Ezra tends to eat lots of one thing one day: he'd happily have dates and strawberries and an apple for his morning meal, but he also consumed 6 filets of flounder for dinner one night. Maybe his diet is balanced but over the week and not the day or meal. Noah will scarf ice cream and follow it with a salad chaser. My boys are very healthy, energetic, and (mostly) happy (except when I'm rationing their birthday party pinata booty!).

This is a timely topic as school ends today and the kids will be home and hungry much more during the summer months. I'll have more to share in time.

No limits to strawberry eating when we just picked 50 lbs ourselves!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Joys of Camping, Part 2

Did my last post on the joys of camping make you groan? I know that feeling. Camping prep used to be so onerous I decided the camping experience needed to be 2 nights minimum in order to balance the the 2 days of work involved in the getting there. Like many challenges, it gets easier the more you do it. The key is a standard supplies list that you pull out each and every time. All the better would be to have everything you need in one physical spot but I'm not there yet.

The magical word for me when it comes to camping is E-A-S-Y. We eat simple meals with prepared foods we would not usually eat at home, we camp with our car nearby, and we usually choose locations within an hour of home. I'm even using the same meals menu for all our trips lately. We headed home a day early from our latest trip (and skipped our first night on the one before that) because of rain. I used to be more of a purist on these matters ("Only BACKPACKING in which you haul your barebones gear up a mountain side is 'real' camping") but purity, like perfection, is the enemy of progress.

I promised to share my standard supplies list and here it is. I even include the dog poop bags, though I forgot the eating dishes on our last trip so user error is inevitable.

Oh, and also-I interrupt this very serious post to let you in on a truly useful secret: toaster oven s'mores are only about 100% superior to campfire ones and it's all about the melting of the chocolate. I have never enjoyed campfire s'mores b/c the textures felt incompatible: hard chocolate, overly sweet, gooey marshmallow, crisp graham cracker that isn't any good on it's own, even.  But, as a consolation prize to the boys for aborting our most recent trip to Kerr Lake after only 1 night, we discovered toaster oven marshmallows. Now THAT'S a dessert I can get behind. Don't tell anybody I told you; I fear fanatics bearing flaming marshmallows on sticks!

Little Paul Bunyan learning to split wood

Kerr Lake from our tent

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What it's all about: fire and companionship
The only way I consume s'mores!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Kinda Fun - Group Camping

Spring has sprung in our lovely Durham and that means lots of outdoor time for our family. We've already had our first camping trip of the year, with 2 more on the horizon for April and May. We've stumbled across a really lovely way to spend time as a family and also connect with others: group camping.
Photo by Sandrine Pilaz

I love what happens to our family when we camp. There's something so relaxing and heart-opening about time outdoors with no strong agenda. We wake up when the sun shines (or the kids begin stirring), we eat when hungry (or when the kids complain in critical numbers), we collect wood and stoke the fire when cold, and step into the chilly water when we get too hot. The weirdest thing of all is that, over several trips now, our kids request to go to bed.

I don't want to wax too romantic over the notion of "being at one with the earth" since we're talking about 48 hours outdoors, maximum, and we have a car parked 100 paces away. Little House on the Prairie, this is not.

My most favorite element of group camping is that caring for children becomes easy and fun. Our children become comfortable asking other adults for help, and there is something about the free-forms of outdoor play that help their little nervous systems become calm and in sync with one another.  Our kids do not squabble in this environment (and immediately resume squabbling on the car ride home).

Hey, nature works magic on big people, too! We adults get lots of time to connect without constant interruption and being able to relax so deeply in an intentional way is heavenly. It fills our cups in a big way.
Photo by Sandrine Pilaz
Of course, I'm playing detective and gathering clues as to what works so well in camping and how we might replicate those elements in our home life. Here's what I've come up with so far:
  • the elements of work are tangible and allow kids to participate 
  • there's very little structure or transitions to navigate. The kids move from activity to activity with freedom
  • there is enough supervision and open time for kids to learn challenging skills with adult oversight like using an axe, rowing a canoe, using blazes to stay on trail, building a fire, cooking over an open fire.

    For a long time, I found the prepwork for camping to be so onerous as to question whether it was worth it. If that's where you are in your journey, dear reader, the next post is for you. I break it down and I'll even share my packing list.

Monday, March 2, 2015

I Love Snow Days?

Today is the return of my children to school/childcare after 8.5 of closed schools due to snow, or the distant threat of snow. It's common for parents to gripe when school is closed for extended stretches of time - for some families it's the financial burden and mounting workplace pressure as parents figure out how to meet work obligations without childcare. For others, it's simply a struggle dealing with the kids when you have gotten used to offshoring their care and recreation for several hours of each day. I admit, I've fallen into the latter category many a times, which is why I was shocked to enjoy most of the last two weeks.

NOT  a Snow Day, (Note no jackets and NO SNOW) And Yet...No School
Having nowhere to be at a set time meant lazy wake ups (and extended snuggling sessions in bed for the parents, thanks to generous cartoon-watching sessions every morning). I was fortunate to have work cancelled most of the days the kids were home and Matthew was able to stay home from work a few days as well. Noah especially enjoyed the snow play, outside from 8 am- 1pm and mightily resisting all invitations to come in for lunch and rest. Coolest of all, a pair of neighbor kids from up the way became daily playmates for long stretches of each day and I suspect that's a relationship that will remain even when the snow is gone. We even lost power for half of one day and neighbors became friends while cooking our family sausages on their gas-powered stove.

With the emphasis on staying home (versus going out and doing), there was little in the way of plans, which can be blissful in small amounts.

And yet, you better believe there was a spring in my step this morning as I deposited the kids at preschool and returned to an amazingly quiet house. I've had an internal quandary ever since becoming a mother 6 years ago. I want to want to be with my children but I also relish (CHERISH!) the time I have without them. I'm an introvert, after all, and time alone in quiet is an important element of my well-being. Sending them off to school/preschool for at least a couple mornings each week has been supremely helpful for me in feeling centered and balanced.

I'm also noticing some shifts in my parenting experience: one is that my children are not so damn needy and can entertain themselves for long stretches of time now (however, they tend to need me in unpredictable patterns so it's not easy to designate time for self-care when they are at home). We are done with breastfeeding, diapers, naps, etc, so I don't feel so energetically drained after a full day together. Also, I've noticed the boys become more harmonious playmates the more open-ended time they spend together (vs. only after school, during a time of heavy transition for our family, as Papa arrives and I leave for work, and Ezra tends to be emotionally fragile now that he's dropped naps). Happy play begets happy play.

This has been a timely experience for me because I'm giving some thought to summer plans. Many of the week-long camps for kids have priority registrations, with steep discounts for registering now, so it's beneficial to figure out August plans in February, which I hate (I don't like locking in our family schedule 6 months ahead). The good times we've enjoyed the last two weeks are affirming for me a desire to keep our summer schedules loose and trust that long days together will be more happy than miserable. Remind me of this post in August!

Monday, February 9, 2015


That face!
6 is the ability to leap up from bed, half-run down the stairs and butter yourself some bread, turn on the cartoons and enjoy some alone time before the rest of the family wakes up. Except you can't tell time and it's only 4 in the morning.

6 is when you teach your little brother minorly naughty words like "booty," then become enraged when he lobs that same word at you repeatedly on the 2 hour car ride home from the zoo.

6 is the time when you know the birthday rituals down pat, and want to choose, wrap and then unwrap your 3 year old brother's gift, elbowing him out of the way if need be.

6 is the age when a sense of fairness and justice pervades, except it's so focused on the nonsense minutiae of daily life (whose birthday banner had the most exclamation points) that it makes you feel constantly aggrieved, because (you think) everyone's got it better than you.

In short, 6 (so far, for this one kid) is proving more than a little challenging for this 37-year old!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Another Year Ends

 I mostly view New Years stuff as a calendar concern but it does feel useful to look back at some of the more meaningful experiences of the year, to notice my growth points.
  • I have joined a regular deep listening group with a few other women and it's an excellent opportunity to listen and be heard on the issues that matter for each of us. Remember when I wrote about how I so desired this kind of opportunity but it didn't look feasible with family and work responsibilities? I'm proud that I pressed on and found a way. These three friends have become a trusted sounding board for life's challenges and successes.
  • I've sent my oldest child to kindergarten and I'm doing fine! Ha, ha. He's doing well, too. What I mean to say is we've adjusted as a family unit to the daily time away from one another, the more rigid schedule and what it means for our daily rhythms. For instance, we are a bicycling family these days, transporting Noah to kindergarten and Ezra to preschool on our bikes about 85% of the days (Noah rides alongside us and Ezra rides in a trailer). The kids see there is another way to get around than hopping in the steel box on wheels, we get our exercise and fresh air, and Noah is learning how to navigate the streets, understand traffic patterns  and safety concerns, work his bike's gears, race Mama up hills!, etc. It feels ridiculously good to get around on your own physical effort. On a bike, I find my world shrinks in geographic size but deepens in detail and connections. I look more curiously at the neighborhood goings-on and I am friendlier to people I wouldn't notice were I riding in a car. Two times now we've been startled by a majestic blue heron rising up from a dingy creek next to a major highway intersection. For sure, we would have missed that whizzing by at 30 mph in a car.
  • I'm feeling more confident in my knowledge of healing herbs, most especially for ordinary winter colds and viruses. I attended a great class with Lindsay at Full Flower Herbs in October and she gave me lots of good material for getting started. I used to feel dismayed and defeated when I saw the tell-tale signs of a runny nose on the kids, anticipating the misery of 4 people hacking and snorting in quick succession. Now I just open up my arsenal (elderberry, echinachea, eucalyptus, Vitamin C, garlic, mostly) and start dosing every few hours.
  • Matthew and I made a kid-free trip to Miami just after Christmas. Again, the hassle of it promised to override the fun in the hours before departure (because doing nothing is always easier than doing something, remember?). I'm grateful to Matthew for fighting to make it happen. We soaked up the sun and luxuriated in our own interests and whims. We saw art, ate in nice restaurants, did yoga on the beach, we rode bikes across miles of bridges over the ocean and checked out fun buildings and people. Oh, and we slept amazingly well without interruption, one of the finest pleasures I know. It was a great way to fill our energetic cup as a couple and remember who we are besides parents. Kudos to our mothers, who cared for our children and made it possible. Mind if we make this a tradition?
    Wynwood Walls

     I wonder what adventures lurk in the coming year?