"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How to Have a Memorable Camping Trip

This past weekend, we decided to join some friends (and some of their friends, and some of their friends) on a big group camping trip.  We picked a beautiful spot in the mountains - not a campground - and were looking forward to a weekend of family, friends, food, and re-connecting with nature.   It was everything we'd hoped it be... and more.  The following little primer is for those who're interested in camping and want to learn how to do it McGrail style.

1. Pick the windiest weekend of the year.

2. Dress for the occasion.

3. Forget to turn your camera off after taking picture of your little nudist, ensuring that you arrive at your destination with a dead battery and can't take any more pictures.

4. Choose a vehicle with low horse power and add more weight by pulling a trailer packed with camping gear. You'll only be able to go 30 mph (in a 65 mph zone) up the winding mountain freeway, and you'll have a line of no less than a dozen other holiday weekend adventure seekers queued up behind you.

5. Pick a location that has no cell service, leave your phone in the car all weekend, and relish in the break.

6. Enjoy watching your kids be kids... covered in dirt, playing in the woods, running around with new friends, and gathering kindling for the fire.

7. Make the most of using the forest as a bathroom by pretending you're Bear Grylls or a contestant on Survivor instead of what you really are - a regular old person squatting behind a tree.

7. Pause every few minutes to appreciate the sounds of nature.... your crackling fire, the crickets, the wind in the trees, and the crunching of pine cones under your feet.  

8. Take your family on what is described to you as a "short but steep" hike down in to a canyon. Don't turn back when you realize that it's both less short and more steep than you envisioned. Take a painstakingly long time getting your three year old down safely, while your older kids all blaze ahead with the rest of the people in your party. Admit it was absolutely worth the hike when you get to the cool water, and the beautiful view, at the bottom. Wish you had a camera.

9. Burst with pride for said three year old who climbs almost the entire way back up herself, with just a guiding hand behind her.  And for your fourteen year old too, who made the hike just a few days after dislocating his shoulder, and never complained.  Compare scrapes, bumps, and bruises when you get back to camp.

10. Park your car right next to your tent on the second night so that your husband can get up in the middle of the night and tie another anchor from the tent to the side view mirror to help prevent your humble little abode from blowing away during the gale-force winds.

11. Lay awake all night listening to the wind rip through the trees, your tent, and everything else in its path, and wonder if the next gust is going to be another one that bends the walls down onto your face. 

12. Decide unanimously to cut the trip by an entire day, and try to ignore the fact that you're really not feeling well, and have a two hour drive ahead of you.

13.  Lose your transmission halfway home, and be very, very thankful that 1) you took a major highway home instead of the route you took on your way there, 2) that you had cell service to call AAA, and 3) that you  were very close to your parents' house (and that they were home and able to come rescue you)

14.  Get back on the road a windy 60 minutes later... family, gear, and dog all split up between your parents' two vehicles.  Watch as the tow truck carrying your Land Cruiser weaves and blows all over the place in the wind on the highway, and envision your truck just falling off completely.

15.  Admit to yourself that you caught a touch of the stomach bug from the person of questionable judgment very nice gentleman and his family who came camping with you even though he was sick, and will yourself to make it home as soon as possible.

16.  Thoroughly enjoy a real bed, a real shower, and a real toilet when you get home.   Try not to think about the pricey car repair.  Or the unpacking.  Or the washing of all the smoke-filled blankets and clothes.

17.  Make plans to do it all over again as soon as possible.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

The Girl

I tell a lot of stories about my youngest, but you just can't truly appreciate her unless you see her in action. Now, I know that kid videos are never as cute to anyone else as they are to the child's parents, but if you need a quick break from life, take a look at this original Tegan song and dance. She was inspired by watching the American Idol finale, so we paused it to give her our full attention.   She makes me smile, and last night I needed it.

You have to watch the whole thing though, because the very end is my favorite part. :)

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Plank Pullin': The one where I don't like Oprah

It’s Plank Pullin’ time! The one day a week that we strongly resolve to ignore the multitude of specks and sawdust around us and pull one bona fide plank from our own eye. Matthew 7:3-5, style.

Yesterday, Oprah Winfrey aired her final show after 25 years on the air. I share that just in case you've, well, been living under a rock... or maybe heard the weeping in the streets and wondered what it was all about.

Yes, the era of Oprah is over. And I feel.... sad. Not because I'll miss the show (I hardly ever watched it) and not because I was a fan of Oprah (I pretty much spent the past 25 years disliking her intensely) No, I'm sad because I've been doing the same thing to Oprah that so hurts me when it's done to me: I was judging her without knowing her. I found her arrogant and self-serving, using her show as a platform for HER. Using her jillions of dollars to help other people, yes, but also to show the world how wonderful and giving SHE is.

And then this morning I watched her finale, for no other reason than to scoff and roll my eyes and be glad that it was all over. And I don't know if it was because I went to bed - and subsequently woke up - feeling sad, or if it was because I've been humbled by my own "hate mail" I've received of late, but for what was literally the first time I felt like I truly "got" her. I realized that Oprah and I are not that different (billions of dollars and worldwide fame aside)

And the fact is,
I don't know what kind of person she's like behind closed doors.
I don't know how much giving she does that she *doesn't* share with her audience.
I don't know what insecurities she has, or what she's not proud of, or what kind of mistakes she's made.
I'm not privy to her relationships with her friends, her family, and her loved ones.

I do know that she seems to genuinely want to help people, and is genuinely interested in living an authentic, meaningful life and paving the way for others to do the same. I do know that she seemed humbled, and grateful, and sincere as she thanked her viewers, her staff, and God.

And all that mushy-gushy rainbows and unicorn and lets-all-love-one-another stuff she was always talking about? I honestly want that, too. Her platform just happened to be a deeply loved, national talk show... and mine is a little blog. But we're on the same side.

And so, Oprah, it's taken me 25 years, but I am truly sorry for judging you. You have done a great thing with your show, and have touched many people. I am sure that outside of the lights and the cameras and the hoopla, that you are a beautiful person - inside and out - and one who is deeply loved by those who really know you.

Oh, and if you run into Dr Phil, tell him I'm working up to an apology for him too.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

They're Just LAZY

Lazy: (adjective) averse or disinclined to work, activity, or exertion; indolent.

In the past couple of days, I have heard no less than half a dozen people use the word "lazy" in regards to their children, usually in the context of:

Oh my kids could never homeschool, they're too lazy. Or, unschooling wouldn't work for us, because my kids are too lazy. Or, I tried giving my kids more freedom, but they are just. too. lazy.

When I was in school, I was one of those students who did the absolute bare minimum I needed to do in order to maintain my honor roll GPA. I rarely did homework, crammed for tests the night before (or not at all) and essentially coasted through four years of high school. When I got home from school, I took a nap nearly daily. When I was done with my nap, I sat. When I was done sitting, I got a snack and I sat some more. Was I lazy? No, what I was was tired. I was mentally and physically spent from eight hours of tedious boredom, of being forced to sit through classes that did not interest me nor match my learning style.

A friend of mine, a very kind hearted and intelligent soul, had a terrible time in school. He was always failing one class or another, believed himself to be stupid, and had parents who continually chided him for being LAZY. "I know you could do better in school, if only you weren't so lazy." He wasn't stupid, and he wasn't lazy. He simply wasn't in the right learning environment for his needs. Today, this friend works 50+ hours in an upper-management position, and takes exquisitely good care of his house, his wife and his three young children. Does that sound like someone who is lazy?

Calling a child - any child - who is in traditional school lazy is categorically unfair. Maybe the child is bored. Maybe the child is unchallenged. Maybe the child is interested in something else. Maybe the child learns best in a different fashion than the "norm." Maybe the child is simply a round peg trying to fit into a square hole, and maybe the child is flat-out exhausted from any or all of the above.

As for children who are unschooled? Equally unfair, for a multitude of reasons. When given the freedom to live and learn, all of us... children and adults alike... will vacillate between periods of work, and periods of play. Times for physical activity, and times for quiet reflection. Moments of labor, and moments of rest. These activities may lead from one to another in the course of a day, or a week, or a month, as a person's needs and seasons change.

Not fitting into someone else's current idea of "productive" is not laziness.

We can't open people up and see what's going on inside of them. Those quiet moments, those "lazy" moments, may very well be huge times of growth and learning for the individual going through them... whether that person is watching TV, playing a computer game, reading a book, or sitting in a chair and staring at a wall. When my children are choosing to engage in a period of "downtime," no matter how long it may last, I don't deem them lazy any more than I deem myself lazy if I spend an hour catching up on Facebook, or watch The Biggest Loser instead of cleaning the kitchen counters, or get so involved with other projects that I let the laundry sit in the dryer (or sometimes the washer) for three days straight.

I don't doubt for a second that when a person is truly given the freedom to choose that 1) a period of what may look like laziness is in fact a normal, and healthy!, part of the learning experience, and 2) that it will be followed by an equally normal and healthy period of what society deems as productive work... whether it's physical labor, problem solving, reading, writing, researching, or creating.

Unschoolers work hard and play hard. They recognize that learning and living are not two separate things, and that there is knowledge to be gained from all situations (even the ones that may look to an outsider like they are doing "nothing.") And at the end of the day, being able to embrace that realization is very much the opposite of laziness.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The (Wo)man in the Mirror

I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and make a change. ~Michael Jackson

I like to be able to fix things.  I think most of us, especially as parents, just want to be able to fix anything that may be amiss.  I feel fortunate right now in that my own life, and family, is currently in its groove (and that of course, is not always the case) But as I look around me - at the friend that's going through a difficult time with a child, another with a spouse, countless more with their families, their jobs, their lives - that instinct is still there, even from the outside:   Okay, how do I fix this?  What can I do?

And the answer, of course, is that I can't fix everything.  And more often than not, there is nothing that really can be done, at least not externally. 

I can't change other people.  Not my husband, not my kids, not my friends, not the people I meet on the street.  But I can change myself.

I can't change what others say, how they feel, or what they do.   But I can decide how I respond.  I can choose how it does or does not affect me.

I can't change the fact that sometimes there will be bad days, and that sometimes there will be very bad days.  But I can control how I handle it.  I can control whether it breaks me or makes me stronger. 

I can't change all the injustices in the world.  I can't change the hate, the prejudice, the mean people.  But I can change my heart.  I can examine my attitudes.  I can choose how I treat others. I can choose to be kind, to be loving, to be generous.

I can't change the necessity of things like laundry, or dishes, or car repairs.  But I can change the spirit with which I deal with them.  I can choose to do them joyfully, or begrudgingly.

I can't change the bumps, the growing pains, or the inevitable detours that come my or my family's way.  But I can take responsibility for my feelings, for my actions, for my words.   I can decide that instead of blaming everything and everyone around me, I can practice grace, humility, and patience.  I can decide to be thankful, even in the midst of chaos, and I can decide to accept what is.... to have "the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Inspired Occasions Giveaway WINNERS

Thanks to all who participated in the Inspired Occasions Giveaway, and a special thanks to Bonnie for donating her time and talents!

The winning comment of the local, one dozen cupcakes is:

Brandie · 5 days ago
I'd love to enter both!! Beautiful work :)

And the winner of the dozen cupcake toppers is:

Jenny · 5 days ago
She really is amazing and talented women. I would enter both but I live in NH. Cupcakes always cheer me up.

Congratulations Brandie and Jenny! Send me a message with your contact info so you and Bonnie can start planning what you'd like. 

Thanks all, for another awesome giveaway!  I'd love to start doing one every month, so if you have a mom (or dad!) owned business, and would like to talk about the possibility of a giveaway, I would love to hear from you.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Story of a Cupcake

This is the pretty cupcake picture I shared on Facebook
We wanted to bake yesterday.  We found a yummy-sounding recipe we hadn't tried before, and Everett, Tegan and I went to the store to pick up a couple of things we were missing.  We made the cupcakes, and they cooled while the kids rode around outside on their scooters.  We had a nice dinner, frosted the cupcakes, and snapped the above picture just before we dug in. 

About four and a half minutes later, I followed up with this shot, taken seconds after Spencer dropped the cupcake carrier out of the fridge (although in his defense, Everett hadn't put the top on properly)

This is the picture I didn't share

And that's the reason I don't cry over spilled milk.  It just. happens. too. often.  Life is messy.  But the cupcakes were still good.  And the dog thoroughly enjoyed licking the floor afterwards.

The end.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Plank Pullin': Cuz everything little thing's gonna be alright

It’s Plank Pullin’ time! The one day a week that we strongly resolve to ignore the multitude of specks and sawdust around us and pull one bona fide plank from our own eye. Matthew 7:3-5, style.

Two of my four kids have a tendency to worry.  They get caught up in "what ifs", stress out about what's coming the next day, and sometimes forget to live in - and enjoy - the moment.  I often find myself reassuring them... reminding them to take each day as it comes, to not worry, to let each moment take care of itself, to just breathe, to know in their hearts that everything really IS going to be all right. 

And dangit, I'm good at it.  I am.  I'm honest.  I'm convincing.  I'm reassuring.  It's all I can do to keep from patting myself on the back as they tell me, "Thanks Mommy, I feel better now," and happily go off to play. 

But alas, it's nothing more than a sparkling example of my own hypocrisy, because I am a huge worrier.   I hate that I am, and I so very badly wish that I wasn't... but there it is.   And the worst part is not the fact that I have the tendency to worry - which, honestly, is bad enough in and of itself - but the fact that I worry over such undeniably stupid things.  It's not like worrying about, say, walking down a dark deserted alley alone at night.  That would be productive worry that might make one think twice about a possibly dangerous decision. 

No, I worry about very important things like not having time to get the house cleaned before we have somebody over. 

Last Saturday we had a busy day at the end of what was a very stressful (and as a result, a very unproductive) week.  We were out all day off-roading, came home very briefly around dinner time, and then went to a friends house to swim and hang out for the rest of the evening.   It was a great day, and a fun diversion, but that night I came home exhausted and stressed out.   I had to babysit the following morning, and the house was a disaster (and not at all safe for a crawling baby)  We also had someone coming to meet us and talk with us about caring for our chickens while we're away this summer.  Meeting new people in general tends to stress me out anyway, and coupled with the neglected house and babysitting as well, I was nearly rife with anxiety. 

My husband, who never fails to be the voice of reason, basically said "Relax please.  It'll all be fine."

And it was.  We got the house picked up just fine the following morning.  It was not perfect, but neither the chicken sitter nor my ten month old cousin pointed out our flaws.  The day unfolded without a hitch, and I realized - as I often realize - that I'd stressed out for nothing.  I actually wasted entire minutes of my life worrying about... what, exactly?  My house being too dirty?  What on earth is wrong with me? 

It's hard not to stress out and worry when I'm not sleeping, and this particular bout of insomnia has been a long one.  It's a vicious circle too, because the more I stress the less I sleep... and the less I sleep the more I stress.  And the solution is, of course, exactly the same one I so easily dole out to the kids:

Breathe.  Relax.  Appreciate the moment.  Let tomorrow take care of itself.  It's all going to work out.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"
Matthew 6:25-27

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Things That Make Me Go Hmm

The news stories that have been popping up on the internet lately have been coming from a veritable pool of craziness. Just when I think our world can't get any more absurd, I read things like this that prove me wrong.

Isn't this offensive?  Shield your kids!


This is not even about extended nursing (or as I like to call it, "regular length" nursing) In fact, I'd love for it be a non-issue altogether. This is just how we were designed. No matter how you personally feel about it, nursing a two year old is normal. The worldwide weaning average is still 4 years, so in many houses, nursing a five or six year old is normal too.

This is about an utterly ridiculous, and illogical, law whose goal it is to exert more control over the masses.  It's not about nudity (as it claims) because if it were, short shorts would have to be outlawed too.  They show far more skin than a breastfeeding mother.  Tube tops, tank tops, anything cleavage-baring: a million times more revealing than a nursing mom.

Heck, let's pass laws about flip-flops and hem lines and sheer fabrics.

Is it about someone feeding or comforting their child?  Maybe the-powers-that-be feel that becomes inappropriate once the child is two?  Then outlaw pacifiers in public too.  Outlaw sippy cups.  Outlaw those little round snack containers packed with Cheerios.   You probably ought to outlaw hugs too, and holding your child all together, lest anyone get the wrong idea.  And for pete's sake, have your child's birth certificate readily available, because they reserve the right to verify their age at any time. 

Such a bold and productive new step for our country.  Way to go, Georgia.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Food: Balance, Choice & Freedom

A few things you will never hear in this house:
No dessert until you finish your vegetables.
Just a few more bites.
You'll sit at the table until dinner time is over.
No, you can't have that.

Things you very well might hear in this house:
Can we make cookies for breakfast? (Sure)
Can I finish this whipped cream? (Why not)
Can I have some beans for a snack (Of course)
Aw man, who ate all the asparagus? (It was me)

We talk a lot about food around here.. partly because I've studied it for most of my adult life, and just can't help it; and partly because it's fun! Shopping for it, growing it, experimenting with it, making it, eating it. I'm very much of the opinion that if nothing else, food is to be enjoyed.

We've never battled over mealtimes, and never limited what our kids could or could not eat. They are the only ones who know when they are hungry and full, and they should be the ones who make the decisions about what goes into their bodies. It makes me sad to see families continually fighting their kids over food, and turning something that's supposed to be pleasurable into a power struggle between all involved.

I want to tell people to relax. To take a big deep breath and a giant step back. Battling, cajoling, and bribing with food is not only not a great thing for your relationship, but also completely counterproductive. I don't know anyone who learned to have a healthy relationship with food through force, but I do know a lot of people who have unhealthy relationships with food due to force (and who ended up resenting their parents to boot)

I've read a lot of philosophies regarding food, particularly among unschoolers, that state that food isn't good or bad; it just IS. I completely agree with that on general principle (and yes, absolutely: Hate and war are bad, but a cookie is just a cookie) But it's a simple fact of science that different foods do different things in our bodies... some negative, some positive. Certain foods make us feel better than others. Most adults have realized this - whether they pay attention to it or not - and children realize it too when they're given the freedom to do so.

Our refrigerator and cupboards are stocked with real, whole foods, and the kids are free to eat (or not eat) any of it at any time. They're also free to request cookies, ice cream, candy, or any other "extras" any time someone's going to the store. They all like to bring their own money for treats at the dollar store, they like helping me bake, and it's definitely not uncommon for them to flag down the ice cream truck. They've inherited their mother's sweet tooth to be sure, as well as their father's love of burgers and hot dogs.

But their day to day chosen diet? They snack on fruit, nuts, raw vegetables, and yogurt. They eat whole grains, lots of greens, and a variety of proteins. When I go out to the store I always ask them if they'd like anything special, and two of the four usually have no request at all. Spencer always makes sure we don't forget orange juice, and Everett usually has a certain fruit in mind. They eat, and enjoy, food, of all types and all varieties. And if we happen to have cookies and they want cookies before dinner? They have them. If they want cookies FOR dinner? They have them (and will most likely follow up with a "traditional" dinner sometime before bed.) They trust their brains, and their bodies, to know what they need... and they are healthy, happy, and strong.

When I started writing this post several hours ago, the kids were laughing as they finished off the last drop of whipped cream we'd bought a few weeks ago when we'd made fancy drinks in the blender. Right now, two of the boys are eating oranges. And about thirty seconds ago, Tegan came up to me, eyes wide, cradling something in her hands.

"Mommy. Can I have this??"

I had to look twice to see what it was. "Sure, if you want to."

Her chosen snack? A huge ripe tomato. And she happily sat down and ate the entire thing.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Inspired Occasions Giveaway

I am so excited to introduce you to another mom-owned business, and bring you an awesome giveaway! Bonnie is a talented fellow homeschooling mom who owns Inspired Occasions. She makes beautiful cakes, cookies, and other custom treats here in the valley.
My business started in 2003 when my oldest daughter was about to turn one. I had been searching for something I could do from home and thought about event planning. I took a cake decorating class at Michael’s just to see what they do and fell in love. I have been baking since I was about 8 but never thought of decorating. I went home from that first class knowing that is what I was meant to do. I made my daughters 1st birthday cake that year and never looked back. I found that at that time I did have to use a kitchen for my baking so I found one and my business took off. Now I have three children and I homeschool them. Being a self-employed cake artist allows me to be flexible with my schedule so that I can be home with my kids. I love what I do and being able to create so many pretty and great tasting sweets!

These are a just a couple of Bonnie's recent cakes. Be sure to visit her website, and Facebook page to see more!

For today's giveaway, Bonnie is actually giving away two different items (which means two different winners!).

1. For local readers only - If you're local (anywhere in the Phoenix valley) enter to win one dozen cupcakes, flavor of your choice. In addition to all the flavors listed on the website, you can also choose from newly introduced flavors of Vegan Red Velvet, Margarita, Key Lime, and S’more. The winner can also request to have their cupcakes decorated in the theme of their choosing.  Bonnie's even willing to work with the winner in case of dietary restrictions, etc, so you cannot go wrong!


2. To another reader: one dozen custom, edible, cupcake toppers... also in a design of your choosing. These are perfect for a child's birthday party , and can be made to match whatever theme you'd like.   These adorable puppy toppers are just an example of what she can do:

Want to win?!  Here's what you need to know:

1.  Comment on this post with which giveaway you'd like to enter:  1, 2, or both.  *Note* if you're local, you're welcome to enter both giveaways, but you can only win one.

For more entries:

2.  Share the link to this giveaway on Facebook 

3.  Share the link on Twitter

4.  "Like" Inspired Occasions on Facebook.

A total of four chances to win.  Make sure to come back to comment and let me know which ones you've done.  Winners will be drawn and announced next Monday, May 22nd. 

Big thanks to Bonnie, and good luck! :-)

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Desert Therapy

I had a week. I was feeling tired and run-down, sick from the medication I was taking, and grumpy from the heat. I was sleeping even less than normal (which is minimal to begin with), and badly in need of an outing and some good old-fashioned head clearing.

We had an off-roading trip scheduled yesterday, and I was so feeling so badly that we were wondering if we'd have to cancel. In the end though, staying home was just not an option. I HAD to get out, and the desert was the perfect place to be. Breathing in the wide, open, desert air is far and away my preferred therapy (better even than Alanis Morissette) It's one place I can always relax. One place I can always be me. It was exactly what I needed, and it restored me in both body and soul.

This video is under two minutes, and is just something I quickly shot as we were driving through a little canyon. What I love about it is Tegan squealing happily in the back seat... the sound of which is of course better for the soul than the desert and Alanis combined.

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Little Girls in Pretty Dresses

A couple of weeks ago, during the Spilled Milk debacle, I got a curious comment that said something to the effect of, “I'm just wondering why you have such an aversion to anger, which is a normal human emotion?” The comment quite honestly left me a little confused, because I didn't understand how my desire to stay calm during what was a typical 3 year old exploration equated to having an aversion to the emotion in general. As I said at the time, I do get mad occasionally (because I'm human), but I just feel that it has to be something really worthy of an emotion as strong as anger.

Well let me be perfectly and painstakingly clear when I say: Today, I am angry.

Interestingly, the internet – which is also filled with light and inspiration to be sure – supplied me with more than a few nuggets of frustration today. This led me to do some serious head shaking. This got my feathers all kinds of ruffled. But this, this made me flat out mad.

In what kind of world is injecting your 8 year old child's face with a toxin, in a quest for perfection, okay? Or subjecting her to painful body waxes to ward off unwanted, and inevitable, hair growth in puberty? Or saying that you'd “rather she be perfect and have a little frozen face?” In what kind of reality should an 8 year old ever have to feel that she needs to check nightly for wrinkles, or that it takes these kinds of procedures for her to “look way better...beautiful...pretty....all those kinds of nice words?” In what kind of society should a child this age even be aware of the existence of a rhinoplasty or a breast augmentation, let alone desire to have either one?

My heart is broken for this girl. This beautiful little girl whose innocence is lost. This girl who will never measure up, who will spend her whole life lost in chasing the unattainable. This girl who is being taught by the person that she is supposed to trust the most that she is not good enough. This girl without a mother holding her sticky hand, playing with her tangled hair, telling her, “You are perfect, JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.”

I'm angry. I am. What in the world is this beauty pageant, Toddlers In Tiaras, bikini-waxing, hair bleaching culture doing to these little girls? Spray tans, eyebrow threading, false eyelashes, hair extensions, hair straighteners, hair curlers, face makeup, body makeup, push up bras! And now Botox? POISON, painfully injected into their faces? These are little girls. Girls who should be running through the playground, playing tag with their friends, and building forts in their backyard.... not worrying about being prettier, or sexier, or more of a superstar than their preschool counterpart standing next to them.

Please, please, can we let our children be children? But more than that, can we please let them know that they are unconditionally loved? That they are beautifully, and uniquely, and perfectly created exactly as they are? No matter what size they are, or how tall or short, or how straight or how curly. Whether they have freckles, or birthmarks, or thick eyebrows, or no eyebrows. Whether they walk differently, or talk differently, or think differently. Is it too much to ask that we recognize and appreciate the inherent beauty in all children when they are allowed to be children ... not when they're falsely plucked, polished, and pressured into being somebody else's distorted version of perfect?

I want to know when someone's going to stand up and say, “Enough.” I want to know when someone is going to be the voice of reason, and compassion, and what's right. These girls are being damaged and abused. Not just in ways we can see right now, but in ways we can only imagine for the rest of their lives.

They are beautiful the way they are.

And Moms? You're beautiful the way you are too. But you're adults. If you want bigger breasts, or a smaller nose, or a smoother face, it's your body. Have at it.

But I beg you, please, leave your little girls alone.

Be the mom.
Be the one who protects her.
Be the one person in her life she can count on for unconditional love, acceptance, and devotion.

Be the person you want her to see reflected in your eyes every time she looks at you.... someone who is beautiful not because of what she does or does not look like, but because of who she is.

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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Plank Pullin': The guy who puts up with me

It’s Plank Pullin’ time! The one day a week that we strongly resolve to ignore the multitude of specks and sawdust around us and pull one bona fide plank from our own eye.

I have a husband.  I don't know if you knew that, but I do.

I don't post about him nearly as often as the kids, and if you're my friend on Facebook, you won't find me doing a lot of gushing about him, OR complaining about him in my status updates .... mainly because I think the former is a little weird (I tell him I love him; why would I feel the need to announce it to everyone else?), and I think the latter is just inappropriate, and well... mean... whether the poster is doing it about a spouse, a child, or a friend. 

But I do have one.  And [prepare yourself for some unprecedented gushing] I think he's pretty darn terrific.  Terrific partner, terrific father, terrific friend.  So what I'm wondering, as I pull this enormous plank from my eye, is:

Why don't I appreciate him the way that I should?

Mike and I very rarely fight.  Very. Rarely. But when we do (in our typical, get all grumbly and huffy and pouty with each other fashion, until one of us decides to be a grownup and actually talk about it) it's essentially the same fight dressed in different clothes, over and over.  I feel like you don't appreciate me.  I take care of the kids all day and the house and the laundry and the bathrooms and the floors and the animals and the errands and the appointments and I'm TIRED.... and blah, blah, blah.  I just want to be appreciated. 

But you know what?  He gets up at 5:30 every morning, while we're all still in bed.  He commutes an hour and a half, twice a day, on public transportation.  To a job that he sometimes likes, but one that leaves him sitting behind a desk all day when he would much rather be outside.   He comes home tired, and knowing that I'm tired too, often makes dinner and does the dishes.   He gets the girl into her pajamas.  He takes care of the yard, and our cars, and takes out the trash.   He deals with the complicated phone calls involving things like insurance claims and interest rates and repairmen because he knows I don't like to do it.

And he does it all because he appreciates us. 

The other morning, I was picking up and wiping down the kitchen.  Mike had made dinner the night before, and he'd run the dishwasher.  But the counters were still covered with... stuff.  They were dirty and cluttered, and there were gooey, un-rinsed black bean cans by the sink.  I instantly went into sighing, huffy, why can't he appreciate me and my time mode and started to rinse out the cans.  And in the span of the 30 seconds it took me to walk them from the kitchen to the pantry to put them in the recycle bin, it hit me.  It hit me in a shame-filled, plank-pullin' epiphany. 

It was not about him, it was about me.  Me and my stubborn, non-appreciative, self-centered stinking thinking.  I was stressing out about a few bean cans that took me all of 18 seconds to rinse out?  When he'd cooked us all a nice dinner, after a long day at work?  What was wrong with me?  Why on earth wouldn't I just rinse them out happily, in appreciation for what he did do - and continues to do - for us, that night and every night.   Maybe, just maybe, the problem isn't that he doesn't appreciate me.... but rather that I could do a whole lot better at appreciating him

And now I will. 

Because I really do kind of love him.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011


"You just have to let go and trust it."

I read that on Facebook yesterday. It was simply a comment about - of all things - a keyboard application for an Android phone. One person was endorsing a particular type of keyboard, a friend said he'd tried it but couldn't get used to it, and the first responded with those words:

You just have to let go and trust it.

I realize this was just about a keyboard. It wasn't about life, but it might as well have been. Pure trust may well be the answer to a more peaceful life with our kids, with our spouses, and with ourselves.

I think of the issue of trust often when I'm answering common questions and fears about unschooling and mindful parenting especially.

What if they just want to play video games all day?
How will I know they're learning?
Won't they be lazy?
How will they get into college?
How will they learn right from wrong if I don't punish them?
How will they learn responsibility if I don't require them to do chores?

My answer to all of the above is this: Equip yourself with information, tools, and the support of people who have walked this walk ahead of you. And then let go and trust.... trust your children, trust yourself, and trust your instinct! When I first started this journey fourteen years ago, I read all the books... read all the Dr Sears and Alfie Kohn and John Holt and John Taylor Gatto. But I never would have accepted any of it, never would have taken any of it to heart if it didn't agree with my own instinct, my own inner voice, my own inner logic... that part of you that says, "Wow, this just makes sense to me!" I found that part of me, and I learned to trust it.

John Holt says,

Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.

And it's true. It starts with letting go and learning to TRUST. Whether it's unschooling, parenting, or Android keyboards.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sick Kids, and Being a Mom

Last night, I went to bed at midnight.  I was still awake an hour later, when Tegan (who'd been sleeping fitfully) suddenly threw up all over me, herself, and the bed.  Mike and I were instantly put into that familiar parental hyper-drive, wordlessly teaming up to comfort, clean, and soothe the girl... gather towels and a trash can and new pajamas... strip and wash the bedding, and my clothes, and her clothes...

For the next few hours, we laid awake, doting on the girl while she got sick again and again.  She felt undeniably lousy, but handled and understood it so much better than she did a year ago at age two.  And in typical Tegan fashion, she still managed to keep things upbeat and interesting with her questions about farts, ceiling fans, and venetian blinds.   I do so love that girl.

It's an interesting juxtaposition..... There are few things that make me sadder than seeing my kids feel miserably sick (especially when it's of the tummy bug variety), but there's something... sweet... about it too.  Such a chance to really reconnect, to love on them 150%, to strip away the distractions of the day, to get back down to the core of what we're supposed to be doing here, and to be a parent.  I don't love it when my babies are sick.  But I do love an opportunity to take care of them in what's somehow both a more basic and profound way than normal.  I love knowing that I'm able to help them feel better, if even a little bit, simply by my being there.  I love being their mom.

Before I went to bed last night, I spent a long time reading a forum thread devoted to, well, attacking me as a parent.  While I can't pretend to understand what would make a person so angry inside that they need to call me - a complete stranger - an idiot, and call my kids future "murderers, drunk drivers, and wife-beaters" I do know without a doubt that it isn't about me. How can it be? They don't know me.   They don't know my kids.  Their words say something about them, not me. 

And at the end of the day, the only people I have to answer to in terms of my parenting are my children.  Not family, not friends, and certainly not random strangers on the internet.  My kids are the ones who get the vote, my kids are the ones who get heard.  

Do my kids feel loved?
Do my kids feel safe?
Do my kids feel respected?

If I can answer yes to those questions on any given day, I know I'm doing alright by them.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Note to Self: Maybe you don't like it for a reason.

I don't like shellfish. I'm really not a fan of seafood in general, but shellfish brings up the rear. I'm kind of the family weirdo in that regard, because Mike and all four kids LOVE it - all of it - and could eat it every day of their lives and never get sick of it. But as much as I'd like to like it (it seems like such a fun and fancy food) the texture grosses me out, the smell puts me off, and truth be told I'm not really keen on even looking at them.... all those little piles of shells and legs and eyeballs and bits on the plate when they're done. Ick.

I do still try it occasionally though. I know tastes change, and palettes mature. And like I said, I would love to be able to enjoy it.

You can imagine then, given my lifetime quest for irony, how thrilled I am to discover at 37 that

I am in fact allergic to shellfish.  My first-ever known allergy.

But I'm getting little ahead of myself. Yesterday was Mother's Day, and we had a really lovely day at home. Mike and the boys cooked me brunch, we had Luna for a few hours, and otherwise just enjoyed a lazy family day with nowhere to be.

My favorite:  chocolate chip pancakes with whipped cream
Towards the end of the day, Everett and I were feeling a little house-bound and stir-crazy.   I suggested Chinese food.  We wanted to find someplace new, so after a little bit of searching, we decided to try a local buffet that came recommended.  Ironically, we almost didn't go.  Tegan was having a rough afternoon (have I mentioned that she's three, and that  being three is hard?) and was having a difficult time transitioning from playing half naked at home to getting dressed and getting in the car.  We did eventually get everyone out of the house, and we headed off - excited - for our nice dinner out.

The food I normally go for was unfortunately very mediocre, but there was a ton of seafood options, so the boys were absolutely thrilled.  They went up to the bar again and again for clams, crab legs, crawdads, cold shrimp, fried shrimp, spicy shrimp, sushi.  They loved it, and seeing them enjoy it was more than enough of a Mother's Day gift for me.

Spencer got an S-shaped shrimp. :)

I tried my once-every-few-years token bite of shrimp, and a whole little clam.   Paxton gave me a small taste of his crab leg too,  so I added that to the mix.  Less than half an hour later, I started itching.  First around my face, then on my stomach, then ALL OVER.  And it was crazy itching... the kind of itching that makes you want to claw your skin off, and the kind of itching that is impolite to address in a public place.   

But the time we were heading out to the car, joking about making a return visit, my lips were tingling and my throat felt weird.  We briefly talked about the Emergency Room,  but decided to try some Benadryl first.  I wasn't having trouble breathing, and despite the insane itching, I barely had a single hive.  We stopped at CVS, Mike ran in for the pills, and we drove the rest of the few minutes home.    A half hour after the Benadryl, none of the symptoms were abating, and an hour later I was starting to feel sick to my stomach as well.    I called our insurance co's 24-hr nurse hot line and told her what was going on.  She was very upbeat and nonchalant as she told me, "Okay, I need you to hang up and call 911.  Since you're not getting any relief from your symptoms, and it's now affecting your stomach, it sounds like it's become systemic.  That could turn  serious very quickly."

Happy Mother's Day to me?

Five minutes later, we heard the siren.  Our little living room was suddenly filled with 4 fire fighters and all their equipment, 2 of our kids, Mike, and myself... pathetically sitting on the couch in my pajamas, uncontrollably shaking and heart beating wildly (later they'd tell me that in addition to the allergic symptoms, I'd probably also gotten "amped up" from the Benadryl.  Most people it makes sleepy, but in others it has the opposite effect.  I'm apparently one of the latter.)   And yes, I was also high on adrenaline, freaked out from the "Hang up and call 911" instruction.  Once they determined that my breathing wasn't compromised, and that my blood pressure wasn't too low - it was actually on the high side - things moved slowly.  They got me set up with an IV, kept reminding me to calm down and breathe, and called an ambulance to get me to the hospital to get checked out fully. 

All told, I spent 4 hours at the hospital.    They pumped me with more antihistamines, anti-nausea meds, steroids, and pepcid.  They hooked me up to the monitor to watch my blood pressure, respiration, and oxygen.  I watched the little screen as everything kicked in and returned to normal.   My throat still felt weird and swollen (and still does a little bit the next morning)  but I was no longer nauseated.  I'd stopped itching, stopped tingling, stopped shaking, and my freaked out heart rate had come back down.   I took an hour long nap, which did not go unappreciated.  I finally came home at 3:00 this morning, with 3 prescriptions in hand, including one for an epi-pen that I hope to never have to use.  I have to take some medication for 5 days just to be on the safe side, and to ward off any potential rebound effects.  After that, I should be as good as new.

Lessons learned:  1) I will hereby officially avoid shellfish (and likely Chinese food in general for awhile)  and I will be unapologetic about it.  2) Life really IS all about the detours, and 3) Sometimes, you just have to laugh. 

All things considered, it truly was a very nice Mother's Day.... and it's definitely not one I'll be forgetting any time soon.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

14 Things

I have been a mother for 14 years.  To celebrate my 14 years of motherhood, here are fourteen (of many) things I love about MY mother.  I wouldn't be the mother - or the person - that I am if it were not for her.

My Mom and my Spencer
1.  She is beautiful, inside and out.

2.  She's a klutz, just like me.  No really, that's a good thing.  It's important not to feel alone.

3.  She loves to learn new things, and try new things, and isn't afraid to jump in with both feet each and every time.

4.  She is the best cook I know.  Her apple pie is beyond compare.

5.  She drops everything and comes running when I have gall bladder problems.  And kidney problems.  And babies.

6.  She's supportive of my choice to homeschool... or at the very least, she keeps any negative opinions to herself

7.  She raised me to have deep appreciation for good chocolate, good wine, good coffee, and God (not necessarily in that order)

8.  Once when I had a really, really bad day in high school, she let me take the next day off as a "mental health" day.

9.  She came to every concert, every recital, every play, and every sporting event... even if I was sitting on the bench the whole game.

10.  She moved across an entire country to be nearer to her children and her grandchildren.

11.  She made me wine glasses with elephants etched on them.

12.  She left me with a lifetime supply of inside jokes, funny memories, and crazy family stories.

13.  She treats my husband like her own son, and has done so ever since the first day I brought him home 20 years ago.

14.  She treats my kids with patience, kindness, and respect.  She gets down on the floor and plays with them, which is far and away more important to me than any of the above.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  I love you more than you know.  And Happy Mother's Day to ALL the mothers out there, and especially to those mothers whose babies are no longer with them, and to those mothers who are still waiting for their babies to arrive.   I am thinking of all of you today.

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Saturday, May 07, 2011

It's Hard to be Three

Tegan had a rough day yesterday. Truth be told, we all had a rough day. It's been hot, and hot + Phoenix + no A/C does not a happy camper make. No one slept very well the night before, and there was no reprieve from the heat - or the fatigue - during the day.

At three, Tegan's right between that age of needing a daily nap and, well, not needing a daily nap. Most days lately, she neither wants nor needs one, and gets along just fine that way.

Yesterday was not one of those days.

It started, innocently enough, with a homemade smoothie. She didn't like the cup I chose for her. I got her the cup she wanted, but she still wasn't happy.

"Everett has more than me!"

Everett, selflessly wanting to help, poured some from his cup into hers.

She lost it. "Noooooo.... Mommy, he poured his smoothie into my cup!!"

Well, he was trying to share with you, honey.

"I don't WANT him to share with me!!!!!"

That was about that the time that I berated myself for not noticing the signs earlier. She was exhausted and in need of a nap. Not only was she exhausted and in need of a nap, but she'd passed that point... that point at which I could no longer simply offer to lay down with her and have her happily snuggle into me and drift off to sleep. She was overtired now, and mad, and I would have to slowly, slowly wait for her allow me back in. 

And I'll be honest... the next several minutes weren't pretty. She cried while she drank her smoothie, and she cried even harder when it was gone. She didn't want Everett to be in the same kitchen - or universe - and she was suddenly very offended by the placement of her chair, and the table, and her cup.

I asked if I could get her a snack.

"Yes, but I don't want Everett to look at me!"

What can I get you?

"I don't want a snack!"

Are you tired? Do you want to go snuggle up with me in bed?

"I'm. Not. Tired." At this point, she got distracted by something in the kitchen, and started crying again. "No, don't dump out the bubbles!!" Everett was washing out the blender and was just about to pour its soapy contents back into the sink.

Did you want to play with the suds?

A nod. A small one, but a nod nonetheless.

I set her up at the sink and got her a big bowl. For a few minutes she played happily and calmed herself down.

Sort of.

Not five minutes later, she was done playing in the sink, and I helped her dry off. She asked if she could watch one of her favorite TV shows, and I turned it on for her. She climbed onto the couch, and when I went to sit down in a chair across from her, she patted the seat next to her saying, "Why don't you sit here?" So I did. She smiled at me as she scootched closer and closer, finally coming to rest in my lap.

Ten minutes later she was asleep, and she slept for over two more hours after I carried her to bed.

Moments like those, I think more than any other, challenge me to be a better mother.  It's hard to maintain patience and composure when your child is overtired and emotional.  It's hard to speak calmly when you're met with nothing but loud dissent.  But you know what?  I think it's even harder to be three.  I really do.  You're a small person in a huge world.  There is so much to do and see and try and discover, and there are frustrations at every turn.  You're tired, but you don't want to miss anything.  You're then grumpy, and you don't know why.  You want to be the big kid, but you also still want to be the baby.   Your needs and your wants and your desires change at a moment's notice, and it's scary and it's confusing and it's exhausting. Your feelings are strong, and sometimes overwhelming.

It's hard to be three.  And I think it's my job as a parent to minimize that as much as possible.

When Tegan got up from her nap, she was rested, refreshed, and once again looked like this:

Ready to take on another day, and to continue navigating the ups and downs of the world.  Together.

Friday, May 06, 2011

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. For more moments, visit SouleMama


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