Thursday, December 18, 2014

Expectations and holiday cheer

My only criteria for having a successful holiday is that I remain a sane and likeable person throughout. I start holiday preparations early. I keep them simple. I set the expectation for myself that holidays are not about the gifts, the decorations, or the food. They are about creating connection and good feeling. I keep in mind that my family is going to be exactly who they are on that day, just as they are every other day. Maybe the best self will show up, maybe not, we cannot know. But there is not any reason to believe that all will be perfect: the decorations, the food, the gifts, the people. It will be what it is and I will enjoy whatever it is, because.....why not?

So, this season, I thoroughly enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday. All four days. I did not begin any Christmas preparations in the middle of Thanksgiving. I just fully enjoyed the first before even thinking about the next.

At the beginning of December, we got out the advent calendar, the stockings, the nativity set. We read Christmas books at bedtime. The kids played with their nativity set. We made plans about what goodies to bake for Santa. We began crafting, making gifts for our friends and family. We spent a week or so in blissful creative mode together, loving every moment. It felt really good, like a little taste of holiday cheer.

Then there was a week that it seemed every morning when I woke up to check in with the world via email or facebook, I would be in tears. A mama friend received a cancer diagnosis. A friend's infant son who had been ill his whole life, passed away. A friend, a single mother, lost her job two weeks before Christmas. A friend going through divorce, facing Christmas as a single parent for the first time. Reading the news, which I can just barely stand to read even on good days, became entirely unbearable that week. I became overwhelmed with sadness and found myself saying, "No fair! And seriously, at Christmas time?".

Which reminded me that it isn't just in my little corner of the world that small things may not be perfect for the holidays. It's everyone, it's everywhere, and sometimes it's really big things. Holiday is real, of course, but there is so much more.

This year, this season, I am feeling this complicated jumble of grief and sadness and "no fair"ness and hopelessness and hopefulness and gratitude and compassion and love. It's a lot all at once. It really is. But if I can hold it all at once, all of it, it is a full and rich experience. True to life. True to every season, holiday or otherwise.

Sending love and warmest holiday wishes to all! See you next year!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

No poo update

I have had so much fun learning about no shampoo hair care! Considering that I am learning how to do almost nothing to my hair, I have to laugh at how much I read about this. And truly, there is quite a bit to learn, play with and figure out in order to be successful at it. It's just fascinating to me that this works!

I started my no-poo journey using baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I did experience a transition phase where my roots were greasy. It wasn't bad enough that anyone but me noticed it and it only lasted a couple weeks. I wear my hair back most of the time anyway, so it was really no big deal. I also noticed some flakiness. I have never had dandruff or flakes, so I had to read about this. This is how I understand it now. If you notice large flakes and a dry scalp, that is dandruff. Small powdery white stuff is from a buildup of sebum or perhaps even the buildup from your shampoo/conditioner sloughing off slowly. So because my roots were oily, I was having a buildup of sebum. I know it sounds kind of gross. Maybe you are wishing I hadn't mentioned it. But I don't want people to freak out and give up if they notice this sort of thing. It's no cause for a freak-out. It really will pass.

I used to have a slight wave to my hair, very slight. I wish I could show you a before picture, but I am the one taking the pictures usually and I can't find a picture with me in it! My hair also had a tendency to be dry and maybe a bit frizzy. I almost never wore it down because it would get in my face and annoy me.

When I began no-poo, I started having lovely waves. It is darn near curly! Without residue from my haircare products, my hair feels much lighter, dries faster, feels softer, and looks noticeably better. I no longer need any products to keep it from frizzing because my hair is now coated in natural oils (and don't say "Eeeewwww!" because I promise it is not at all gross). It lays nicely and stays out of my face. And I LOVE that it smells like nothing! No flowery scents in my face all the time. Just nothing.

I found my curls picture-worthy, so I can share them with you!

Is that not exciting???

Since curly/wavy hair is a new thing for me, I started learning about how to care for curls. I bought some micro-fiber hair turbans and tried plopping. I'm not sure how I got so far in life without knowing this nifty trick.

So, it has been a couple months since I ditched my shampoo. Several weeks ago I decided to also ditch the baking soda. I read a lot about water only hair care and I figure if water is all that's necessary, why not do the easiest, simplest thing? I experienced another transition period, much shorter and easier than the first. My roots got heavy again. I panicked a little. It just seems reasonable that it can only get worse. How on earth could it get better without using something to strip the oils? Like magic, it does get better. Everything I read said it would, and it did. My body just figured it out. Amazing.

I am still getting to know my hair in its natural state. It is completely different. It feels soft. It looks shiny. When I brush through it at night, it doesn't get all frizzed out like it once did. It just gets soft and shiny. It even separates back out into nice looking waves on the second day. When my hair is wet, I can feel the oil in my hair and I can see it bead up on my shower comb. That is definitely a new thing to get used to. I feared that it might be tangly and difficult to comb, but it has not been. I worried that it might smell bad, but it doesn't smell like anything.

The routine I have settled into is to do a distilled water/apple cider vinegar rinse about once a week or so. Otherwise, I just do water only rinses about every 2-3 days. Not because my hair is dirty, but because I like to refresh the curls and wear my hair down more often now that it is so lovely. After my shower, I do my plopping. Ten minutes later I take it out of the towel and I'm done. Each night before I go to bed, I do my scritching and preening with my boar bristle brush. My oldest daughter and I brush each others' hair. It has been a sweet time with her each evening.

If you are interested in giving this a try, follow my links! These are some of the best resources I found on the subject. Also know that this takes some persistence, patience and tweaking. Tweaking because every person is different, so you will need to get to know your own body and do what works best for you. Patience and persistence because your body will take some time to adjust to your new routine.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how the stories we tell about ourselves shape who we are, shape our experience. As I listen to people talk, I often can hear "their story", the same theme over and over again.

"I was left out".

"It wasn't fair!"

"Someone took advantage of my kindness".

"It didn't live up to my expectations".

There are as many stories as there are people, of course.

If I can hear others' stories, I know I must have my own too. I sit and listen to the stories that run through my own mind so I can find where I am stuck, where I need to let go or open up.

I found a couple of lovely quotes in my reading lately that relate to these ideas:

It’s a hard thing, sometimes, to accept that other people feel as strongly about their stories as we feel about ours. A hard thing, but also an essential one. Every so often, it helps to remind myself that a world with only one story might be peaceful. But it’d also be pretty damn boring. (From Ben Hewitt's blog post Pretty Damn Boring)
What makes us miserable, what causes us to be in conflict with one another, is our insistence on our particular view of things: our view of what we deserve or want, our view of right and wrong, our view of self, our view of other, our view of life, our view of death. But views are just views. They are not ultimate truth. There is no way to eliminate views, nor would we want to. As long as we are alive and aware there will be views. Views are colorful and interesting and life-enhancing—as long as we know they are views. (From Norman Fischer, on tricycle)
And of course, Byron Katie is an author to check out if you want to read and think more about stories.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

On pits and poo (SHAMpoo, that is)

I have been running a little experiment this summer. I have always used clinical strength anti-perspirant and STILL been a stinky person. In the shower, just out of the shower, all day long. And I decided if I am stinky anyway, why not try something more natural. What have I got to lose, really?

I interviewed my dear friend, who is very chemically sensitive, on her favorite natural deodorants. She recommended Lafe's and Desert Essence. So I got both! And I also grabbed some Crystal Deodorant Spray. I figured I would have to hit this hard if I had any hope of succeeding. I tried each alone and then I tried applying the Crystal Spray before applying the Lafe's or Desert Essence.

When I started the experiment, I thought I was going to have to settle for being stinky, maybe even stinkier than before. I never, ever expected this would work BETTER. It works better. Any of them alone works better, but what works the best for me is using the Crystal Spray and one of the others, either one. I am really completely shocked.

So, with that success under my belt, I am thinking about shampoo.

My kids' hair has been flaky. I have been finding that none of my expensive and fancy shampoos are working all that great for me lately. Plus, I am someone who needs moisture on my skin, so I find it strange that my hair gets greasy. I am not oily anywhere else. So, just not feeling much love for shampoo anyway right now. Maybe it could go.

I'm only a few days into this experiment. Even after 2+ days of not washing, grease has not been a problem. I have read repeatedly it could be a funky few weeks of transition. No funkiness yet, but I am prepared to ride it out if it happens. Anyway, not much personal experience to offer, but I'll share some no poo resources for the curious:

And along the same lines of "What else could go?", it seems baking soda and vinegar could replace not only my shampoo, but ALL my cleaning solutions. Much less expensive than all the natural cleaning products, eh? I like the idea.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An extraordinary life

Time is flying by and we have been in our new home for about eight months already. In some ways it feels like it has been much longer. In other ways we still feel very new here. The navigation feature on my phone hardly ever gets used these days, so that has to be a sign that I am less of a newcomer.

When we left our hometown, we left because it was clear that it was time for my husband to leave his job. Big changes were being made that would mean an end to the work he enjoys and an end to the place he had helped build and felt love for. It was time to GO. So he opened his heart and mind to going somewhere else, leaving his hometown and even his state if he had to. Once he got his opportunity to go, we left.

As a family, we have been so amazed and thankful that somehow we accidentally landed in a city that is really a very good fit for us all. It has been easy for us to find community and make friends. We love all the opportunities for enjoying the outdoors and that it is possible to enjoy the outdoors so much of the year! We are definitely loving this place!

And yet....something we had so recently felt, we were feeling again: this job is not the right fit. Ug. I don't think either of us felt ready for that one yet. However, the fact remained that on every single point, it was not the right job. So my husband started watching. And applying. And interviewing. I was ironing pants. And shirts. And ties. And listening, listening, listening.

As I listened, I got to watch my husband come to a place of clarity about what he was looking for. Over and over, I watched him ignore the advice of the recruiters he was dealing with so that he could get the information he needed to find a job that is truly a good fit for him. And that good fit was very dependent on family life, which some employers did not care about. I saw him turn down offers when I knew how anxious he was to leave his current job, but he was not so anxious to go that he was willing to compromise. He said, "I watch you and the kids live an extraordinary life and I have this idea that maybe I can too". That brought a few tears to my eyes, and I settled in to practice patience.

In a very funny last minute twist to this story, as he was waiting on the offer he had decided to accept, the perfect thing just fell in his lap: the job he was looking for, with people he would enjoy working with, with the flexibility he was looking for and the work/life balance.  It seems to be his opportunity for an extraordinary life.

For us, this part of the story isn't necessarily a happy ending. Who can know? But it is a place where we get to let out a big sigh and feel hopeful about the next chapter of our lives.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Encouraging movement for tweens

For my younger kids, it has always been pretty effortless to encourage movement. With no video games in the house and no TV in the living room, and lots of encouragement to be outdoors, they played hard all day.

Somewhere around 9 or 10, things changed. They became very project driven. My son became very passionate about building models of military machinery and learning about the related history. My daughter has became passionate about sewing and duct tape crafts. I love this age! It's all so very awesome to watch them completely on fire about whatever it is they are into! AND they sit a lot. When the little kids ask them to come play, it's like overnight they forgot how to do it. They don't want to run around in the yard or play pretend. That almost blows my mind because I remember not so long ago when they could spend hours doing those things. But no longer.

And my 12 year old seems to have made yet another shift. He lives so much in his head that it is sometimes tricky to even get his attention. He's listening to stories, writing his own stories, and drawing. No movement there.

Now that I am enjoying the benefits of daily exercise, I am looking at my older kids and thinking, "Hmmm.....these two need some movement in their lives!"

I have had all the same thoughts about this dilemma as I had when I tried to find a good way to exercise myself. I looked into sports and other organized forms of exercise. Swim teams are meeting every morning at 6am for practice and on Saturdays at 6am for meets. We lived baseball season for three kids one summer. Literally lived it. It's all we had time for. Dance or gymnastic tuition x4 kids--yikes! A gym membership for the family--expensive. Really we'd rather be outdoors as much as we possibly can, so we aren't even likely to use a gym membership for much of the year. With all the information I gathered, I decided that surely we can get started on this without a huge commitment of time or money.

So my husband and I are inviting the big kids to join us in our exercise. My son is taking bike rides with my husband. My son and daughter both are joining me for yoga in the evenings. I'm showing them how to use the hand weights safely and how to do sit ups, push ups, squats, etc. My husband is working with my son on learning to do yard work and including him in building projects.

I continue to look for ways to encourage movement. I want to make some changes in the playroom. My little girls are not really into toys. They are more into BIG movement, like climbing, jumping, running, swinging, biking, skating, etc. So I am looking into gym equipment that we could use in our playroom when outdoor play is not possible. Maybe a climbing rope? A balance beam? Gym mats? Maybe the big kids would also enjoy some of these things too.

I'm still working on this! Any thoughts on how to encourage movement and active play for tweens?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday shares

Can't call this Reading Goodies because it's not all reading. I do want to share some of the fun we've been having lately:
  • My oldest daughter has been having a blast with duct tape crafts. You can find a couple of her favorite projects here and here.
  • And she is still sewing up a storm. If you're looking for me, you'll find me in line for more fabric. I love how each of my kids challenges me in new ways. This one not only likes to sew, she likes to sew without patterns. Kind of freaking me out. But I worked on this with her yesterday and it actually turned out pretty good. Meesha has many sewing tutorials on youtube and is one of my girl's favorites to follow. So if you enjoy this project, there is a lot more where that came from!
  • I have been making water kefir. I used to be a yogurt maker, but I can't have dairy so it was kind of a bummer to do all that work and not get to enjoy the end result. The water kefir it not difficult to make, does not require special equipment, and it is tasty!
  • If I were more tech savvy, I would make a recording of what my home sounds like these days. My son always has his beat box going. Always. I've taken to dancing every time I hear it. Then he tells me to stop dancing because it's annoying. Ahem. Anyway. He shared this video with me, something he finds inspirational.
And now for some true Reading Goodies:
  • You may notice health and body image are on my mind. I enjoyed this funny and true blog post about mama bodies.
  • I am currently reading Health at Every Size, by Linda Bacon. Feeling like it could have saved me a lot of trouble if I had read it years ago.
  • Just finished Little Britches. It was a first time for all of us. Easy to see why this is a classic. What a sweet story!
  • Percy Jackson is making a comeback at our house. Around here, some books are like old friends, and this is one of those.
  • Reading this collection of stories with my littles, which led to an interest in Helen Keller's life story. We have been taking in everything we can about Helen Keller and her teacher, Anne Sullivan. This is a great little history for kids with some pictures to go along with the text. Helen Keller was one of my very favorite people to learn about when I was growing up too, so it was fun to revisit this topic. I even watched The Miracle Worker again the other day. I am now loving Anne Bancroft and may have to watch more of her movies.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Healthy habits

Lately I am feeling very excited for myself because I am feeling GOOD! I am always looking for THE BEST way to do things, whether it's homeschooling or diet and exercise. I am finally learning that while it is wonderful to get some good ideas from out there in the world, ultimately I need to just get to know my own dear self and figure out what works best for ME. It has been quite a journey for me, and I am still learning all the time. These are some of my more recent discoveries:

I am not particularly motivated by a goal of weight loss. If I start out on a mission to develop healthier habits telling myself I am trying to lose weight, I will not succeed. It is the surest way for me to fail. Maybe I'm not all that worried about getting back into a bikini, not particularly concerned about appearance, or maybe I have just gotten a little too good at living in the moment to be motivated by such a long-term goal. I don't know! But what I notice is that I do far better if I pay attention to what is going on this very day. How do I feel today if I eat this food? How do I feel today if I get some exercise? How do these actions affect my body now? What can I do for myself today to feel my very best? Committing to doing my very best for a day sounds completely doable and I reap the rewards immediately.

If I find exercise I truly love to do, I will do it. And if I am told to do something that is good for me, but I do not love it, it isn't going to happen. I am a quiet, peaceful girl. I don't like noisy, crowded gyms. I definitely do not want to part with my money in order to exercise. Surely exercise can be free. I don't want to own a whole lot of special equipment either. I don't have room for it! So, with all of that in mind, I set out to find exercise that I can love. I have discovered that I love to hike. I love to be in nature with my family. I get excited about exploring new places in this way. I also love to take a morning walk in my neighborhood before the rest of my family is awake. I love to walk around and look at all the flowers, listen to the birds and be alone with my thoughts for a little while. And I love, love, love yoga and pilates. I'm not a big fan of exercise videos typically because I enjoy quiet while I exercise, but I found a book that is truly perfect for me. Yes, I had to spend $.37 to get this book used at Amazon, but I have decided it was worth every penny and then some. So exercise is now fun for me and something I look forward to. I am so excited about this! And I am just beginning to feel more fit and strong, which is exciting too.

Taking care of myself cannot be optional. I cannot put it off until everything else is done. It has to be a priority or it will not happen. Eating healthy and exercise are now my #1 priority. I do both everyday. Not after I have taken care of everyone else first. I can take better care of everyone else if I take care of myself and feel good. In fact, I consider this part of taking care of everyone else. The best way for my kids to understand that healthy habits are important is for me to show them that I consider them to be important by doing it. So, I'm doing it.

Finding balance will help me maintain my good habits. I know how to follow a plan perfectly and I know how to have fun. I would like to bring all that together and learn how to both take good care of myself and have some fun all at the same time. Not too much perfection, not too much fun. Then I will both enjoy the benefits of my good habits and also not get burned out and give up.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014


As so often happens for me, something has crept into my awareness due to repeated exposure over a short period of time. This something is poking at me and begging me to pay attention, to give it some time and thought.

Lately, over and over I hear the beloved and beautiful people in my life expressing dissatisfaction with their bodies. This dissatisfaction is nearly always about weight. I am most surprised that even women I consider to be quite thin wish they were thinner. The painful piece of this for me is learning that the people I love and KNOW to be beautiful are not feeling beautiful.

And then I found myself in those shoes, saying the very thing that had been driving me wild. I expressed frustration that despite my best efforts at developing good habits, my body is curvier than I would like it to be. My friend was surprised. She didn't know I felt that way.

I think there is something really sweet there in all of that. I see all the people I love as beautiful. And the people who love me, see me as beautiful too. I suspect that very little of that has anything to do with appearance, and nothing to do with weight. It is really about who we are and how we treat people. It is really love that makes us beautiful.

I think if we can all feel as beautiful as our loved ones know we are, it will be life-changing.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reading goodies

  • I am tempted to take a quote from this article from Teacher Tom and put it great big on my wall. These words are beautiful: 
We are, in fact, at our best when we manage to successfully override those urges to help, instruct, or otherwise guide a young person and instead give him the space and time to struggle, to practice, to come to his own conclusions. This, not our superior experience or intellect, is the great gift we have to give to children: to stop, to really see who they are right now, and be with them in appreciation and joy, loving them just as they are.
  • I also like to learn about nutrition and have spent a lot of time reading The Paleo Mom the past couple weeks. A lot of good stuff there! 
  • Very long, but worth reading, this article gives parents a lot to think about.
  • Been having fun sewing with my oldest daughter and we got our latest project idea here. We've made four of them so far!
  • I am still dreaming of full-time RVing with my family. A nice little summary of the pros and cons of such a life.

Monday, June 2, 2014


In my life before the move, which I now refer to as "homeschooling in a vacuum", I was the only one I knew that was homeschooling the way I homeschool. I felt lonely about being the odd one on many occasions. That was the BIG and only downside to that situation. Now I am seeing that there are some benefits to that situation too. I knew our journey was going to be different from everyone we knew, so there was no reason to compare our lives to others. Because I was not living among other Waldorf homeschoolers or other Unschoolers, I was not trying to follow any particular philosophy perfectly. I was just doing what felt right for my family.

Now that we have landed in a city just full of homeschoolers, a very diverse group (by accident, if you can believe it), I get some first-hand experience with other homeschooling families. When I first got here, I envisioned that this would be HEAVENLY. I am always happier when I keep my expectations much more reasonable than that. Heavenly was reaching a bit high. I have been experiencing overwhelm instead so I have been thinking a lot about that. WHAT is overwhelming about this?

I think comparison is a big piece of it. A new friend and I were sitting in my living room and she was asking me some questions about how I work with my kids and ultimately shared some worry that what she was doing wasn't as good as what I was doing. And I had to laugh AT MYSELF because I knew that was just what I have been doing. When I look around I only see what other people are doing that I am NOT. I never see that I am doing so many cool things that all those other people are not doing because they are busy doing whatever cool things they are doing.

It is beautiful that we are all doing different cool things, hopefully the exact cool things that our very own precious children need. None of us can be doing ALL the cool things. Moving forward, I want to be inspired by the cool things I see other parents doing and add those ideas to my bag of tricks in case I should ever need those ideas in the future without feeling pressure to do all the cool things all the time. Again, I am always happier when I keep reasonable expectations.

In case you are someone who also has an occasional freak-out and wonders whether you should change everything about the way you homeschool, read Sheila's article about homeschool doubts and perhaps bookmark it for future freak-outs.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Reading goodies

  • I know I said I wanted to read A Thomas Jefferson Education, and now I can say that I did read it. I love how simple this model is! Early in the book, the author describes different phases of education. I found the description of each of the phases to be completely in line with my experience with my own kids so far. The book gave me some good ideas about working with my 12 year old, as it is clear to me that he is entering a new phase of learning. I am excited about the long list of recommended classics for different age groups! There is also a "Getting Started" section at the very end which recommends that the grown up pick a classic, read it, take notes, write about it, etc. And so.......
  • I am currently reading Wuthering Heights. I got out my notebook to take notes as I went along. I found it completely distracting to try to take notes and read. I guess my mind needs a single focus. The experience reminds me once again that I can get a lot of great ideas from books, but I have to always take into account that we are all individuals and different things work for different people. So I will take what works for me and leave the rest!
  • Enjoyed this excerpt from another book I would like to read. More on learning--of course!
  • I am really lovin' Zen Pencils! Check this one out!
  • And, wow, THIS! I have had very similar thoughts.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

A vacation

Everyone knows there are no vacation days for the stay-at-home-mom. But every now and then I take some time off anyway. I don't actually go anywhere. I don't send my family away. I'm not off duty. However, I just put aside anything that can be put aside. I let the house go more than usual. I let the laundry pile up more than usual. I serve simpler meals. I pick up a good book and step into a different life for a little while.

Harry Potter had been calling my name for some time. I don't typically read a book more than once. I had read this series twice already. However, I was seriously feeling a PULL to read those books again. I tried for a while to fight it, and then I decided to read the first book. When I set out, I didn't really intend to completely check out for a week and read the whole series, but I'll have to say, I have never been able to put those books down once I get started.

It was a perfectly delicious week for me. Absolute indulgence. To devour those books, to NOT put the book down when I just couldn't put the book down, to stay up too late, to wake up too early, to live and breathe an incredible story for a week.......even though I didn't physically go anywhere, it was a true escape, a real vacation.

Stepping into Harry Potter's life for a week was a really intense experience. What real human life could compete with Harry's? I am raising four kids and he is saving the world. It's all important stuff, just very different. After my little reading vacation, I experienced a real re-entry (complete with turbulence) back to my life when it was over, just like the few times I have been physically away from my family for a few days. Re-entries are difficult partly because the house is messier than usual and the laundry pile is a bit higher than usual and partly because my mind is still a little bit on vacation, still processing the experience.

Now I am mostly back from my vacation. I have caught up with the laundry and chores. I've called my mother and reconnected with friends. I once again feel fully present when I am spending time with the people I love. Re-entry is now complete.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothering: an important job

I am a homemaker, a housewife, a stay-at-home mother. Sometimes I forget that my job is important. Sometimes I even neglect to think of it as a job. Certainly there are many messages out in the world that it isn't really a job if you're working in your home or your work doesn't result in monetary gain. But even though I know that I work, that my work ain't easy, sometimes I just forget that my job is important, that what I do really matters.

I usually remember that my job is important when the quality of my work suffers for whatever reason: when I am spread too thin because of some big life event, when I have had to be away for appointments, when I have been sick or injured, when I just feel like checking out for a day. These are all times when I have been made aware of my contribution to family life and how it all just breaks down when I'm not doing my job. None of us feel good, the kids are whiny, the house is cluttered, our brains are one is their best self.

Though my house could always stand to be cleaner, if I am not available to do the work of cleaning it, then it becomes obvious how much cleaning I really do. Even if I have talked with everyone before I leave about what needs to be done during the time I am gone, whether it be chores, learning or breakfast, if I am not there to set the rhythm of the day, those things often don't happen. If I don't feel like thinking about meal preparation, we don't eat well and we all suffer for it. And let's not forget cuddles. If I am not around to provide cuddles, just good ol' mama love, I have some seriously fragile children.

It's not JUST when things fall apart that I am reminded my job is important. There are sweet reminders too. Seeing their faces light up when they see me, getting tackled with hugs and kisses after I've been on an errand, and knowing that NO ONE on earth can comfort my kids the way I can, these are all the most touching reminders that my work is important.

Most of my job, the things on my to-do list, look so ordinary, nothing I would put on a resume, nothing that would be impressive to most people. It often feels to me, when I look at the details, like it is just doing dishes or just reading a bedtime story or just picking up dirty socks off the bathroom floor. Or sometimes it's even just being there, holding someone's hand through a difficult time or just being available to answer all the hundreds of questions a little person has in a day. I can tell you that I do not feel the least bit important or glamorous as I am doing my life's work. It is a beautiful surprise every time I get a glimpse of how my job touches the lives of the people I live with. Those are the moments that push me to do my best work. They help me to remember that what I do is a real job and the quality of my work does matter. My work is everything to the people I live with.

On Mother's Day and everyday, I am thankful for my own mother who has always seen me and appreciated me just as I am, who has been there with me through the fun and difficult times.

I am also thankful for my grandmothers, for all the "other mothers" I have learned from over the years, and for my mama friends who inspire me.

Love to all the mothers!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What we've been up to AND Reading goodies

We spent last week visiting family and friends in our home town. We enjoyed lots of good grandparent time and friend time. We arrived just in time to see everything in bloom. We got to experience true KS weather (dramatic temperature changes, 50 mph wind gusts). We got to celebrate my big kids' birthdays (12 and 10 now--wow!). These weeks home are jam packed full of fun and love.

And this week we have been sick. Maybe no surprise there. We were anxious to catch up with our new friends, but instead we get a quiet week at home. I remember I wrote about a sick week last year. Such good memories! This week looked similar, though unfortunately no fort building. This week, from my couch, I coached my big kids on some household chores so that the household could continue running while I was down. A big advantage to having some big kid helpers! I read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Peter and the Shadow Thieves for as long as my voice held out. I snuggled and helped kids with math practice. We watched documentaries on Netflix. I helped one of my littles write a book. I played games with my littles. And I coached my bigs through making homemade chocolate pudding. Sewing, drawing, sculpture, outdoor play, puzzles, extreme dot-to-dot, and other activities happened without my assistance. Again, a wonderful benefit of having kids who are growing up and no longer completely dependent on me!

Additionally, I did a bunch of reading, and I will share some of it with you:
  • This is a wonderful short article about parenting through connection rather than control. If you are interested in a whole book on this topic, this is a great one.
  • We always enjoy learning about artists and cartoonists at our house. Check out Mo Willems' story here and consider this quote:
"You've said that part of the reason that you write these books is that there's no such thing as a good childhood -- what did you mean by that?" Braver asked.
"It's a terrible time, a terrible time" Willems said. "We're born into a world where none of the furniture matches you. You walk into a room and the room is saying, 'You, you're nobody,' right?
"Let's say we're having a good time, right? Imagine if a giant hand came down, plucked you out of the room and said, 'No, now we're doing something else.' And if you complained it was your fault for getting fussy, for being angry about the hand dragging you out of the room."
  •  I spent some time cruising around Roger Schank's blog, a blog about education reform. Lots here to think about, including this and this, but much, much more. I don't know that I agree with him all the time, but he does make me think. I also suspect he does not worry about offending people or feel concerned about what people think of him (ahem, and I do ALL THE TIME). That in itself is a bit inspiring to me.
  • The book I am reading now is Quiet, by Susan Cain. I have wanted to read it since it came out. An important book for introverts, you will certainly walk away feeling validated and perhaps you will come to understand yourself better. Even if you are not an introvert, you are certainly either married to one, raising one, working with one.....something! For you, it will help you see the balance that introverts provide and help you learn how best to interact with the important people in your life.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How doing less can be the hard thing

City living has given me an exposure to the hustle of family life. In the process of making new friends, I keep running into this: many families are so busy with activities, they do not have time to get together with friends. It is not at all uncommon for families to have to schedule a play date out several weeks because their schedules are so packed.

I get a little panicky at that point. So many questions come up for me: When is there time for an ordinary family life? What about family dinners, board games, walks around the neighborhood? Is there ever time to experience the joy of putting the kettle on for an unexpected visitor? What about time to be alone? To read a good book? To get bored and then come up with a fantastic idea for some creative project? What about time to just relax, to NOT be hurried? To just be present with one another? To enjoy slowness? To snuggle and laugh together?

I'm sure people wonder about me too and worry about all the things my kids are missing out on because I don't make them play one sport and one instrument and take an art class besides. I have my moments when I worry about the same thing. Maybe I've got it all wrong. I know I probably have something wrong. But I'm not worried about right or wrong here. There is a different right for every family.

What has struck me about all this is that it probably looks like I am doing the easy thing. It might even look like I'm lazy, like I just don't want to bother with taking my kids all over the place. In fact, I often feel like it is the hard thing. It is going against the crowd. It would be easy to be swept up and do what most people are doing. It would be all too easy to give away our family time, our friend time, our leisure time one little piece at a time. There are so many really cool opportunities for kids these days! For me, the hard thing is to be careful and intentional about what I say "yes" and "no" to, to protect the family life I have created and value so much.

How do you decide what to say "yes" and "no" to? How do you know when your family is doing too much?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Down the rabbit hole

My very dear friend and I often sit together over a cup of tea and process the tough moments of our lives. I remember many occasions when she has told me of something big going on for her, usually a situation that gave her a sense of impending doom that she did not yet have all the facts about. And as she was waiting on facts, she would say every time, "I'm just not going to go down the rabbit hole yet". Not YET. Because she knew she was still waiting for facts and she didn't want to drag herself through a big emotional mess without really knowing all the facts.

I understand that idea of the rabbit hole. I have spent some time down there. It is quite a ride to the bottom. It can be a swirling and whirling ride that starts with a statement like, "I think your child may have a serious illness. We'll run some tests today and I'll call you by the end of the week." The brain starts asking "What if?" and "Then what?" and "How will I ever survive that?". Or perhaps someone says something and I find myself hurt and angry. Then the swirling thoughts look something like "She must think...", "If she loved me, she wouldn't...", "I don't see a way to move beyond....". And then there's the arrival of "bad news", a situation that I think at the time could be nothing but bad. That ride is just like an elevator ride to the bottom floor, a quick descent to a very dark place.

I think my friend is brilliant to choose not to go down the rabbit hole before it's time, and yet I find that I am usually at least half way down before I even realize where I'm headed or I wake up in the night to find myself already at the bottom. At this point, I feel like it's a win that I can recognize where I am and find my way back out, that I can have a sense of humor about the time I spend down there.

This weekend I read Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. This part in particular really stood out for me: "Fear to a great extent is born of a story we tell ourselves." All of my observations from the rabbit hole lead to this. Most of the pain I experience in the rabbit hole is a result of my mind jumping many steps beyond where I am at the moment. Just nearly always I am imagining horrible outcomes that never even come to pass. In fact some of the "bad news" I receive, turns out to bring many blessings I never saw coming. If fear is only a story, it seems possible to tell a different story, or to at least pull out of the story and recognize what is real right now.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Reading goodies

A good article about why kids should not sit still.

A lengthy, but well worth reading article full of thought-provoking ideas about playgrounds and why trying to keep kids safe all the time might actually be hurting them.

This book about leadership education has been on my "to read" list for some time, and this article gave me the push I needed to pick it up.

Because my son and I loved it so much several years ago, my girls and I are now enjoying the Peter and the Starcatchers series.

If you need a motivational book or a true kick in the pants, I just finished The War of Art. It was good enough that I am going to read it again. My favorite quote from the book: "Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it."

Friday, March 28, 2014

One year of blogging--I am a writer!

I started writing here in March of last year. I didn't really have much of a plan or a goal other than to show up and write. For me, there were a lot of obstacles to making this happen.
  1. FEAR--What if no one likes my writing?
  2. Not sure what I want to write about
  3. Not sure what is mine to share
  4. FEAR--What are the potential consequences of sharing my family life on the internet?
  5. Not sure what my strengths are when it comes to writing
  6. I am a bit technologically challenged and don't really know anything about how to blog
  7. FEAR--What if all the things I think are really cool and smart are actually things everyone else already knows?
I would have liked to start my blogging journey with a lot of confidence, knowledge, and a well thought out plan, but I could have been stuck there for the rest of my life. I just decided to start and figure it out along the way.

Writing gives me a window into my own thoughts, into how my thinking has evolved over the years. I remember writing poetry and short stories as I was growing up. I still have some of that writing today. I like to reread it sometimes. It is both fun and difficult to have a permanent record of who I was at a particular time in my history. I feel an affection for the girl I used to be and also cringe occasionally, thinking, "Oh, honey, you just didn't have a clue back then!" This written record of my development challenges me to let go of the idea that I ever did or ever will have anything all figured out. It allows me to see that everything is a process and gives me some assurance that progress is happening.

Over the course of this year, I became aware that I actually have a feeling that comes up inside me when I need to write something down. And I know now that I had better stop and write or those ideas will either pass me by or else pile up inside me until I feel like they have just got to GET OUT. This year I have rediscovered that I am a writer. I am a writer because I WRITE. Not because anyone reads what I write, or likes what I write, or thinks my ideas are cool and smart. I am a writer just because I show up and write.

Tiny rubberbands and yarn and fabric

The Rainbow Loom made its way to our home this holiday season. My house has been a sea of tiny rubber bands ever since. I thought it was just for bracelet making, but my kids have figured out how to make little dolls, charms, coin purses and other things with it as well. They have been inspired by other kids' how-to videos and they have made their own how-to videos.

As my oldest daughter began to feel that she had done everything that could be done with the Rainbow Loom, she started researching crochet and found that she could make little hearts or bows much like she could with the rubber bands. And the next thing I know she comes out of her room and has crocheted half a hat. I had a good laugh about that.

For me, this has been the winter of crocheting hats. Most nights this winter I have come out of my room in the evening to model a new hat for the family. Then once or twice a week, my husband takes hats off to the post office to mail to a family member or friend who requested a winter hat. Though I always enjoy yarn work, in the winter especially, I have been a regular hat factory this winter. It has bordered on outrageous.

So my girl could have asked me to show her how to crochet a hat, but instead, she figured it out on her own. What an awesome thing for her that she knew she could figure this out by herself! And she did not stop there.

Next, she started watching videos on how to sew clothing. She asked for the materials, we got them for her, and a couple hours later she comes out with most of a skirt and needs some help with threading the elastic through the waistband. Then she made a shirt for herself and each of her younger sisters. From the time we walk in the house with the materials, it is only a matter of an hour or so before she has her projects completed. I cannot buy materials fast enough to keep up with her creative energy!

It has been incredible to me to watch my girls go from knowing nothing of this Rainbow Loom, to figuring out how to make anything they can imagine, and then to see my daughter's love of creating with the loom move into a love of creating with yarn and then fabric. But the best part for me has been to watch her develop a confidence that she can figure out how to do the things she wants to do on her own.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Finding a new rhythm and giving up on our usual

When we first started talking about moving, I can tell you now that I had very unrealistic ideas about how that would actually unfold. Every step along the way has taken a lot longer than I ever dreamed. Once all the boxes were unpacked, I thought we'd get back to our usual. But I tell you what....moving is a lot of work and I think it took something out of us. We needed some time to rest and recover and then really had to begin at the beginning to establish a new healthy rhythm.

Good sleep Our whole day has shifted about two hours later. I have certainly heard much about the virtues of starting the day early, but surprisingly, the world has kept on turning. I think it started because we were all just tired from the move, but it has continued because it works for us now that my husband is working on Pacific time. We get more family time with him in the evening if we all sleep later, eat later, and stay up later.

Good food I knew we needed to transition back to home cooked healthy meals. Of course, it is all too easy during busy times to eat out or buy something at the store that requires little preparation. I, in particular, feel so much better when I eat at home and stick to whole foods. So I started putting more time and energy toward meal planning and preparation. My two big kids became interested in this and now they are preparing dinner most nights. They search for recipes, make a grocery list, and then do the evening meal preparation with very little assistance.

Exercise We started getting out every morning for exercise. In the past, that had so often not made the list because there were books to read, projects to work on, chores to do, etc. But we put it at the top of the list and we are all so happy with this change! I alternate walking and jogging while the kids ride their bikes. If I tried to run without them while they are still in bed, I would enjoy some time alone, but some of the kids may not get exercise. I would also miss out on their motivating remarks, such as their excited exclamation "OH LOOK! Mom is RUNNING!" and "Mom, your butt jiggles when you run."

Chores Our approach to chores had always been pretty informal. The kids were asked to pick up after themselves and then I would do the cleaning. Since I injured my shoulder during the move, I wasn't able to do some of my usual chores. The big kids were very willing to help me out during that time. Now that they have been trained to do certain household chores, they have continued to help out daily. And really, we have hit a point that this makes a lot of sense. The little two still leave a lot of toys out, so it is enough for them to pick up after themselves. But the big two do a lot of projects at their desks, so they have more time, energy and ability to pitch in on general household chores.

Learning Once all these other things had fallen into place, it was easier for all of us to get back to work. I started having weekly meetings on Sunday evening with my older children. During these meetings, I hear what they have been working on the previous week. I write down what I want us to work on for the coming week and what they should be working on on their own. They write down what they want to work on and get better at. All four kids get a main lesson time with me during the day. The big kids have time to work toward their own goals and all four have time for play. We set aside the evening for family time which includes dinner, chores, play, and a read aloud time before bed.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Settling in

Settling in after a move is no small thing. It has taken all our time and energy to live it, leaving nothing left for sharing. The move has also changed us and I have found myself feeling stuck about what to write in this space because it may not be my usual. That has kept me away from writing longer than I would like.

So, today I will start with an update since it has been a long absence.

Overwhelmingly, we are feeling happy to be where we are. Though we felt like adjusting to life in the big city would be hard for us small town folk, we actually really like it here. We feel like we accidentally ended up in the perfect city, neighborhood, and home for our family right now. We are having fun exploring this new city, eating at new-to-us restaurants, shopping at new-to-us shops, hiking on new-to-us trails, etc. We are having great success meeting friends. Friends really make a place feel more like home. Already we feel our horizons broadening in many ways.

I feel like I have a great many stories in my head that are ready to be written. We have been busy taking everything in and I haven't taken the time to write anything down, but it feels like we are at a point that I could begin doing that. We are in a pretty good groove now and I see an opportunity to make some time for my writing---regularly!

Thursday, January 9, 2014


We found a great book at our library: Geology of the Great Plains and Mountain West, by Cynthia Light Brown. It was an enjoyable read. The information in it was easy to understand and connect to. My son enjoyed reading it with me. It has little experiments at the end of each chapter using very common household items (Warning: Be careful not to spill Epsom salts in the bottom of your oven. That was a BIG mess!). We tried several of them and the rest we just read through.

The best part for us was that we were able to connect some of our experiences from our travels and our time outdoors with the information in the book. We went back through some of our pictures to help us remember.

Waterfall at Devil's Den State Park, AR
Palo Duro Canyon, TX
Mark Twain Cave, MO
Glacial grooves, Kelleys Island, OH
Visiting the Great Lakes of Erie, Michigan, and Superior.
Rock City at Minneapolis, KS
The plains at Laura Ingalls' childhood home site, De Smet, SD
The Rocky Mountains, CO 

Caves at Meramec State Park, MO
The kids have spent countless hours exploring the land and creek at their grandparents farm.

    Thursday, January 2, 2014

    On the other side of our move: a lengthy update after a lengthy absence

    Well, we pulled it off! We sold a house, we bought a house, we packed it all up, we made the drive, and it all went pretty smoothly!

    The kids had a blast in our mostly empty house for the few days we were waiting on our furniture to show up. We grown ups did too, just imagining the possibilities. Then the furniture and boxes arrived and the mood shifted noticeably. As we were placing furniture and unpacking boxes, the realities of downsizing by 500 sq ft were fully realized. So although we thinned our belongings before the move, we had more thinning to do once we got here. After enjoying the openness for several days, we knew we didn't want to be crammed in our home with too much stuff, so we were motivated. Several weeks later we are still unpacking and still figuring out what we can live without and where to put everything else, but we are gaining on it.

    I injured my shoulder the week we got here, and was in PAIN for nearly two weeks, so needed to find a doctor sooner than I'd hoped. My first experience was not a good one and I found myself experiencing my first round of homesickness, missing my awesome doctor from home, my friends, my family, etc. Thankfully the night following the day where my pain peaked and my mood bottomed out, my shoulder improved dramatically and I decided not to make a second attempt at finding a doctor for now. I also started taking many time-outs from unpacking and organizing to call home and connect with loved ones and have helped the kids do the same.

    The kids and I have been out to our local library and park. I may not have a new driver's license yet, but I have a library card! :) I'm getting lost sometimes and sometimes getting from one place to another without using navigation. We're going out to eat, trying new restaurants and sometimes enjoying old favorites. Though we missed our usual holiday traditions with our families, we also truly enjoyed deciding how we might like to celebrate together and just doing whatever we wanted to do.

    I have been feeling a bit disappointed about our lives getting derailed. All the plans I made about what the kids and I would do this fall, also completely derailed. I know I said I would be flexible about that, and I have been, but there is a bit of sadness about it. That sadness though has been almost completely overtaken by a sense of awe at what my children (and I) have learned instead over these past months.

    No matter how busy things get, I couldn't do without some daily connection with my kids. So I snuggle up with them and ask about what they did that day. I love to hear what they're excited about! My son has been making texture packs for Minecraft, learning to use Photoshop, and making videos/art tutorials. My girl who has had a rough time learning to read, found a novel that she fell in love with and became a bookworm. She also has been sewing on the sewing machine by herself and baking with her sisters. My girl who has had almost no patience or tolerance for frustration has made an amazing shift somehow. She is verbalizing her thoughts and feelings and communicating clarity about who she is and what she wants. And my baby is so clearly not a baby anymore. She is more independent in every way. The three girls have become closer friends. I have witnessed much snuggling and tenderness between them.

    All of it has made me think about learning. At the beginning of fall, I had ideas about what I wanted the kids to learn, and many of those ideas involved me sharing my knowledge and resources with my kids. But here is how I have grown these past months: I have a new respect for how much learning goes into these big life changes! All of us have had to do a lot of research to find out where to live, where to shop, how to deal with trash removal, what groups to connect with, what bugs are we finding in our shower, what plants are in the yard, and how do we get from one place to another. Besides searching for facts, we've had to emotionally and spiritually stretch to meet the challenges of leaving all that was familiar and reaching out to new people, places and situations. We have all had to step it up and be more independent and competent, more flexible and compassionate. During a time when I had very little time to read to them or even answer their questions as I usually would, it is both amazing and humbling to see what they have figured out on their own and how they have grown.