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

Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I CU = Intensive Care for the Christian Unschooler. 

I've been ignoring this weekly meme for awhile now, mainly because at the time I first read about it, it felt like another thing to add to my to-do list.  I know me, and I know that if I did it even once, I'd feel the need to do it again and again (not unlike the weekly Plank Pullin' posts, which I finally did just to "try it" and somehow continued, week after week, through some kind of force akin to compulsion.)  But I digress.  It's still a fun idea, and this week I decided to participate because 1)  I've been feeling more than a little uninspired, and could use a writing prompt, and 2) I'm in desperate need of some intensive care.  So without further ado, my first I CU...

“This week we want to…” get healthy!!  Although, that's using the word "we" loosely.  I.  I want to get healthy.  But I'm sure the kids would like it too, because it's a whole lot more fun having a mom that's up and about and running around, than one that's sitting on the couch feeling miserable about the fact that she feels miserable.

“The kids are…” discovering new passions, and re-discovering old ones.  They have been making boffer swords, and have recently gotten out their guitars again.  Spencer's still researching small engine repair, and our kitchen counters are once again taken over by disassembled Nerf gun parts.  Everett is looking forward to scouts and basketball in a couple of weeks, and the girl is excited about gymnastics.

“I am learning….”  that I'm still learning.  And that just when I think I have things figured out, I get a giant, metaphorical, "Ha ha, fooled ya," and I realize that not only do I NOT have it figured out.. but I that I don't even know what it was that I was supposed to be figuring out in the first place.  I'm also learning that the times when I'm experiencing the most growing pains are the times when I'm doing the most growing.

“I am struggling with…”  balance.

“This week is the first time….”  I've shown the movie Gremlins to the kids.  I love that they loved it. 

“I am grateful…” that my caffeine withdrawal headache has finally gone away, after 3 days.  I'm grateful that my coffee beans, grinder, filters, and maker are still there - waiting - for when I'm ready to embrace them once again.

“I’m looking forward to…..”  the Good Vibrations unschooling conference, a week from tomorrow!!  It'll be the first time we've been around a whole group of unschoolers in 5 years, and I cannot wait.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Kind People in Red Shirts

We recently started going back to church, after many many logical, sensible, well-thought-out reasons excuses kept us away for many months. I really love this church. And I've realized that it's not because of the great music or the pretty campus or even the inspiring messages. It's not because I leave feeling all warm and fuzzy every Sunday. All that is nice and everything, but it's really of little importance how it makes me feel. The reason I love it is that it's full of people who, by and large, are committed to going out and BEING the church... people who are kind and giving and have servant hearts. Not just on Sundays, not just because they feel like they have to, but because they want to.

This past Saturday, we joined a group of other members from our neighborhood for a service project. Our assignment was to clean out a large planter at the local elementary school, to get it ready for a future sustainable work of art. The kids were very excited to be able to do their part to help, and all six of us were warmly welcomed by the group (none of whom we'd met before) when we got started.

Ironically, shortly into our morning of service, we were the ones getting served. We'd only been there for around half and hour when Spencer misjudged a step, lost his footing and fell from the side of the planter, scraping his legs in the process. At first he answered with a quick affirmative to all the concerned "Are you okay?"s, but eventually accepted an offer to at least sit and get some cool water on his scrapes. As the adrenaline - and the 100+ degree heat - started catching up with him, he grew paler and paler.

"Are you sure you're okay?" I asked, which garnered the attention of another kind samaritan from the group. He took one look at Spencer's face, which was still losing color, and said we needed to get him inside under some air conditioning. He helped us inside the school, holding cold bottled water against his neck. (He explained as we went that holding it on the carotid artery would cool the body. Later on, Spencer told me that he enjoyed that bit of information, as he is very familiar with the term from watching all his medical shows)

He stood and chatted with us inside the school's office, while Spencer sipped cold water and tried to cool off. He was starting to look a little green, and finally admitted he was feeling nauseous and light-headed. Our rescuer disappeared then, and returned about 30 seconds later with a big dripping wet something that he draped around Spencer's head and neck (which helped almost instantly.) The man had literally taken the shirt off his back and soaked it in cold water to come to the aid of an overheated kid he'd just met. And all I could do was say thank you.

Thank you kind man for making sure my son did not pass out. Thank you half a dozen people who asked, more than once, if he was feeling better.

Thank you for the friendly conversation, and for treating our kids like the interesting, unique people that they are.

Thank you stranger who let my 3 and 7 year old help paint the Arizona map, and made them feel special and important, and didn't once complain about drips or unevenness.

Thank you red shirted people, for welcoming us into your fold, helping us serve the community, and helping each other serve US. Thank you for your unexpected ability, in the short span of two hours, to completely restore my faith in humanity.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plank Pullin': I'm sick. And I'm bad at it.

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.

I'm not sick very often (weird, random ER visits aside), and when I feel myself getting sick, I can generally fight it off with a little extra Vitamin C and a few more hours of extra sleep. I don't like to let things slow me down, and I sort of pride myself on plowing through. When the kids are sick - also not very often, but it happens - I immediately go into ultra nurturing Supermom mode. When husband is sick, I lovingly take his temperature and bring him Tylenol and tea and remote control.

But when it's me? I have been fighting something off for an entire month now. First it was a sore throat, then the fatigue, then the cough. Oh the cough!!! It goes away for a few days, then comes back with a vengeance. Today came a migraine that left me nauseous and shaky. And it makes me.... mad almost. I don't like being sick. It makes me grumpy. And frustrated. And scattered. And I'm well aware of the fact that if I perhaps gave myself the same patience and care that I give my kids when they are sick, that I'd get well a whole lot sooner (a realization that makes me even more grumpy and frustrated and scattered.)

I know I don't need a doctor... my gut tells me it's nothing more than a lingering virus. But yuck. Have I mentioned that I'm grumpy and frustrated and scattered? Tonight I'm going to bed early, and tomorrow I'm going to start taking care of myself as well as I'd take care of the kids.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

No thank you, we'll stay plugged...

Addiction -  noun -  the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.  (From dictionary.com)

The CBS show, The Doctors says:  "Studies show that one in 10 kids is seriously addicted to videogames and media, and those who watch more than four hours of TV per day are at greater risk of heart disease as they grow older."

I heard this on their show yesterday (it's also printed on the synopsis on their website) and aside from an initial feeling of annoyance that television is being vilified again... you know what?  Not annoyance.  Boredom.  I'm bored from repeatedly hearing about this kind of study, and frustrated that they don't have something more worthwhile to share with us.  Aside from that, what  immediately comes to mind is questions.  Lots and lots of questions.  Exactly what kind of "studies" did they do?  Over what period of time?  And on whom?  Are these all school children who spend most of their day behind desks before they come home and play videogames or watch TV?  Did they include homeschooled kids?  Are they otherwise active?  Do they have other hobbies?  What is their diet like?  What is their relationship with their family like?  How are they defining "addicted?"  

Quite simply, there's not nearly enough information there for me to take it seriously.   But what's really disheartening to me-  about this as well as similar anti-media messages - is that it is based in fear.  So much of what we hear about television, video games, and media in general is so very steeped in fear.  They are evil.  They rot your brain.   They make you violent.  They make you hyper.  They make you lazy.  They cause blood clots and heart disease and obesity.  Not long ago, I left an unschooling group after being told that because I did not limit screen time, I was "encouraging slothfulness, which is the worst kind of sin."  Fear.

I never want to make any decision for my children based on fear.  I never want to place limits on tools and resources (yes - televisions, computers, and video games are resources) that are as valuable as any other, simply because of some vague - albeit widely held - misconceptions about how 'bad' they are.

I don't need to know about facts, figures and studies to be able to learn from what I see and experience in my own home.  In my house, my kids are as free to use the computer, play video games, or watch television as they are to do anything else.  And the truth is, they are not intelligent and creative in spite of it;  they are intelligent and creative in part because of it.  Computer skills in general are an invaluable, and in most cases necessary, facet of our adult lives. We use computers for everything from gathering information to communicating with others to paying our mortgage. Video games are great for practicing cooperative play, critical thinking, math, science, and problem solving. 

And television?  I could write an entire series of posts about what we've learned from television, and still barely scratch the surface.  Television brings an entire world into our living room.  We don't have the means to travel to obscure and beautiful countries... but we can watch Bear Grylls do it.  We don't have the experience or the facilities to scientifically test the validity of widely-held myths... but we can watch the Mythbusters do it.  It can show us how to cook, take us inside an operating room, and let us feel like we're a part of a police investigation.  Or a commercial fishing trip.  Or a journey to the bottom of the ocean.  As for those 'other' shows... the sitcoms, the dramas, the next top model bachelorette housewife idols of America... The great thing about modern day television, and the advent of DVRs, is that we get to choose what we do and do not want to watch.  And aside from entertaining us and making us laugh (which, if you ask me, is no small thing in and of itself), even shows like this are often a catalyst for great conversations with the kids:  about people, about life, about the difference between reality and scripted television.   Learning is truly everywhere.  Television is not an exception.

One of the reasons that a lot of people give for not allowing television is that they want their kids to use their imaginations;  they want them to be more focused on creative play.  But the two are not mutually exclusive!  By all accounts, my kids are some of the most creative kids I know.  My 3 year old can (and does) spend an entire afternoon playing with a leaf, or a baby doll, or her play kitchen.  My 7 year old has never met a science experiment or a magic trick that he did not like.  My 11 year old just took it upon himself to start fashioning swords out of pvc pipe and foam.  My 14 year old likes to take apart and rebuild nerf guns and lawn mowers and engines just for fun.   These aren't mindless zombies who are slaves to electronics... but smart, well-rounded kids who recognize media for what it is:  no more or less than a really cool and useful tool;  one that we're lucky to have. 

Could we live an unplugged life?  Sure.  We do it every time we go camping (and it should be noted, not one of us suffers "severe trauma" because of our cessation) We could live without electronic media. We could live without books too. And music. And poetry.  And running water.  But just because we can, doesn't mean it's somehow preferable.

We live in a world that allows us to surround ourselves with all kinds of things from which to learn:   from people and places and experiences, to books and art and music, to computers and video games and televisions.   It wouldn't make sense to me, living in 2011,  not to avail ourselves ... to learn from, to grow from - and to enjoy - all of the above.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Sewing, My Daughter, and Breakthroughs

I sewed diapers for Tegan's Baby Alive doll yesterday. Prior to yesterday, the last time I sewed anything on a sewing machine was around ten years ago. I didn't own a sewing machine then, so I had to borrow one when I wanted to make some curtains. A couple of years later, my mom gave me a brand-new sewing machine because she'd somehow wound up with an extra.... and it has sat, untouched, in my garage until yesterday. Partly because that's just the way I do things, and partly because I had a bad association with sewing.

When I made the curtains on that borrowed machine, there was an... incident. There was an incident, I got my feelings hurt, and I haven't sewed since then.

Is that not the stupidest reason not to do something? But there it was.

I've wanted to conquer my sewing machine for awhile now, and when my daughter needed baby diapers, I knew it was time. So I sewed. And it was fun.

I sewed four diapers in all, and will be making some more today. They're not pretty... they're uneven and messy and quite clearly shout "A novice made me." But my daughter is thrilled, and that makes me happy. It felt good too, to do something I hadn't done in a long time; to do something that I'd been avoiding.

When I'd finished for the night last night, still on a post-project high, I told Mike how glad I was that I'd finally gotten out the sewing machine. And that part of the reason I hadn't done it sooner was because of old feelings from the last time.

"I know."

And then I said, as if it wasn't the millionth time I'd realized it, "I do that a LOT."

Again he said, "I know."

I have spent way too much time letting pride, old wounds, and fear stop me from doing things I want to do. As my friend Jessica says, That's stupid, so I'm not going to do it anymore. That's not an example I want to set for my kids.

Am I going to become a master seamstress? I doubt it, only because there are lots of other things I want to do too. But I'm not afraid of my sewing machine anymore. And the next time Tegan - or any of my children - ask me to sew something, the answer will be a confident, joyful and resounding,

YES. Yes I can.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Words on the Back of a Chair

I had a teacher in Junior High - I'll call her Mrs. Smith - who, looking back, was a great teacher.   She was very passionate, she loved her students, and she sincerely wanted everyone to do well.   She was also very no-nonsense, and ran a very tight ship.   She was not popular with the students.

I remember coming into her classroom one day, and immediately seeing on the chalkboard, in big bold letters:

"Mrs.  Smith is a douche bag.

And it was written in the teacher's handwriting.

One by one, everyone noticed it.  There was giggling, and whispering, and pointing, until someone finally asked her why she'd written it.   She matter-of-factly told us that she'd found it written on the back of one of the chairs, so she wanted to share it with the whole class.  (Then someone asked, "What's a dutch bag?"  And everyone laughed at his expense, and the class got started.  But I couldn't stop thinking about it.)

At the time, I didn't really understand why she did it, except maybe to embarrass or shame the person who'd written it on the chair.  I was amazed that she didn't seem upset about it, and in awe that she shared it with a bunch of 6th grade students.

As an adult though, I get it.  She was just taking back her own power.  She was owning who she was, and who she was not.   She was reducing the words to what they really were:  just words.  Words that said far more about the person who wrote them than about her.  She wasn't defined by those words.  She was the same person before and after she'd ever found those unfortunate words on the back of that chair. 

As a blogger who's made myself a little more public, I've encountered my fair share of "Mrs. Smith is a douche bag" chairs.  And they don't change who I am either.   So following her awesome example,  consider this my virtual chalkboard..... just a few of the comments about (or to) me that I've gotten over the past couple of months:

She's a total fruiter. I think she might just be a terrible writer who is not fabulous at expressing well rounded ideas. You know the airy fairy, wants-to-pretend the world is sunshine & rainbows type. Sorry I'm not buying it.

That blog is an excellent illustration of why I don't read 'mummy' blogs. It's nauseating. 

What a self centered and ultimately destructive way to parent

What a load of crap

I see some very harsh lesson ahead for her poor kids

I could barely gag it down, and in the end I just wanted to smack the author

This chica is waaaay off her rocker

She says she values the relationship she has with her kids.  Pity she's not thinking a little further ahead at the relationships other children WON'T be having with her kids due to their obnoxious behaviour

Absolutely negligent parenting

Oh stop being so sensible. Let us get all hysterical and speculate on her kids growing up to be selfish juvenile delinquents who beat the elderly in their own homes. 

you are a pretty lousy parent if you never show your kids that there are consequences to their actions. Isn't that a life lesson? 

So basically, she's saying that she cares more about having her children like her 100% of the time than she cares about them learning how to treat others.

You are an idiot - and when your child grows up to be a murderer, or beats his wife, or drives drunk into a school, he can just say, "it's only a life" or it's "only a woman", because you'll have taught them that they can do whatever they like & there will be no consequences. 

I understand you don't know what 'grown up' means, you don't know what 'child' means either in your "unparenting" skills. I feel you are just lazy and attached to your computer. Can't make any friends, so you will keep your kids at your side to support you.  As some have said, you are my dear, off your (expletive)ing rocker!

I feel for your kids and your hubby.

Just words on the back of a chair.  I know who I am, and my friends know who I am.  My family knows who I am.  Unkind words on a computer screen don't change that.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Plank Pullin': It's not you, it's 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. Matthew 7:3-5, style. 

I have a smart phone. I don't have an iPhone (I tend to be anti-Apple in general). I have an Android, and I love it. I don't actually need a smart phone, but it's one of my very few splurges, and I do like to be able to read my emails, check my Facebook, have access to my Googlemaps, etc etc when I'm on the go.

The one condition - which I put on myself - was that when I got a smart phone, I wouldn't become one of "those" people. The people who choose their phone over actual interactions with the people around them. The people who get so wrapped up in their phones that they are being rude to the waitress who's just trying to give them the daily specials, that they are ignoring their kids who only want a minute of their time, that they are missing out on being present for anything because their relationship with their phone comes first.

I vowed I would never become one of those people, and I haven't. I use my phone, I enjoy my phone... but never at the expense of real-life interactions. I use it, and put it away, sometimes not to look at it again for several hours. And it's oh so easy for me to look down my nose at those attached-at-the-hip smart phone users. Pssssh, I'm not so glad I'm not like that with my phone.

But. Um. I also have a laptop.

My laptop is open all day.  Every day. I am on it - off and on - all day.  Every day.  And it doesn't matter what I logged on to do, whether it's respond to an email or look something up or work on a blog post..... I always end up at the same darn place........

A word about Facebook, if I may:

I think it's invaluable.  I do.  Especially for someone like me, who (partly by design and partly by circumstance) has very, very few "real life" friends who really GET me.   Someone like me, whose default mode of operation is to withdraw from everyone when I'm feeling off.  Someone like me who  - thanks in large part to sites like Facebook - has found the importance of a tribe, and the importance of meaningful interactions with other people.   Through mediums like Facebook, I have been supported, uplifted, and challenged.  I am continually meeting interesting people and reading thought-provoking things.   Especially now that I've brought my blog to Facebook, I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for all the amazing people that it's allowing me to come in contact with. 

But (and seriously, grab this plank with me.  It's a big one)  It is a huge distraction for me.  Huge.  I spend a lot of time - not long periods of time, but three minute here and ten minutes there, that ADD UP - that could be much better spent.  And it's not all sunlight and roses either.  Much of it is, if I'm being honest, time-wasting drivel.  For every good article, interesting blog post, and enlightening video is an inane and off-color Obama joke.  Or another person re-posting the same, "99% of you won't repost this" status update.  Or a request for boards to build your barn, or money to fund your mafia, or coins to unlock your secret wonders of the universe. (Disclaimer:  I have nothing against games, or the people who play them)  It's all just a reminder that, despite my best intentions, I have become one of those people.  It just wasn't with my phone. 

I know a lot of people leave Facebook for those very reasons.  I have done it myself for brief periods of time.  I don't think that's the answer (for me) though, because it would be like the proverbial "throwing the baby out with the bath water."  I do think that there's a lot of good to be had from Facebook, to be sure.  But there's a negative too.  I need to tip the scale back to the positive, cut back - waay back - on letting myself get sucked into the drivel, and let the negative fall off the other side. 

And so Facebook, I'm not breaking up with you. But I do think it's time we start seeing other people.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Breastfeeding in Public: Can we stop being stupid?

Fact: Breastfeeding in public is legal in all 50 states.

Fact: 45 states (including Texas) have specifically expressed, written laws further clarifying that a breastfeeding mother has the right to breastfeed her child anywhere and everywhere that she, the mother, has a legal right to be. (Check this link if you're interested in state-by-state laws)

Fact: When employees at the Pure Fitness for Women club in Spring, Texas, asked a breastfeeding mother to move to a more "private" area, they were in fact breaking the law.

Those are facts. This is my opinion: I think it is completely and utterly ridiculous that breastfeeding moms are still, in 2011, having to deal with such ignorance and discrimination. Mothers have only been feeding their babies in this way since THE BEGINNING OF TIME. Long before the modern advent of formula and bottles, long before uptight misguided fitness club employees declared it inappropriate (while fellow patrons looked on in their barely-there lycra and spandex), long before we as a society lost sight of what was good and healthy and normal and right.

We are mammals, and that is how mammals feed their young. That's a fact too. Your personal feelings of disagreement or discomfort can't and don't change biology. It bothers me - literally almost pains me - that people fail to recognize it for what it is: a mother feeding her baby in the way that her body was intended to feed a baby.

In an official statement following the incident, Pure Fitness made the following remarks:

"We have thousands of members' children that do not understand," the club stated. "At that age it is the discretion of the parent to determine if at a kids club age the child should learn about the benefits and reasons for breast feeding. We feel that children should not be exposed to these events without every parent being ok with their child being exposed to the action."

I don't mean to be disrespectful, but am I the only one who recognizes how ignorant - even stupid - these comments sound?

"We have thousands of members' children that do not understand".
Such a tough thing to understand... A mom feeding a child. It's a wonder my non-college educated brain could wrap itself around the concept soon enough to feed my own children. If a child asks, the answer is: "That's how she feeds her baby. It's how I fed you (or if you didn't breastfeed, how Aunt Suzy or Grandma or the neighbor or someone else your child knows fed their baby)" It's not rocket science, folks.

"At that age it is the discretion of the parent to determine if at a kids club age the child should learn about the benefits and reasons for breast feeding."
Benefits and reasons? Sure, a 5 year old doesn't necessarily need a detailed list of the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and child, nor would he even understand it all. But the act of eating and getting nourishment is something even a baby can understand. It is, again, a biological necessity, and one that is appropriate for discussion with any and ALL ages. Is there honestly a mother out there who would not want her child to know about the "benefits and reasons" for breastfeeding?

"We feel that children should not be exposed to these events without every parent being ok with their child being exposed to the action." I feel like I'm just repeating myself now, but "these events", this "action" in question was a MOM FEEDING HER BABY. Can I say that again?

This was a mom feeding her baby.

She was exercising her right - both her human right and the right given to her by law - to feed her hungry child.

She wasn't doing anything wrong.
She wasn't doing anything indecent.
She wasn't doing anything inappropriate.
She wasn't doing anything illegal.

She was feeding a child. And she was asked to leave.

It's 2011. I'd like to think I live in the real world, most of the time, but I'm having a very hard time understanding why we haven't come further than this. We should be informed by now. We should be enlightened by now. Can we please, please, stop being so stupid?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Does anyone remember reading this book as a kid? I remember the book well, and I remember a 6th grade creative writing assignment (I remember a LOT of creative writing assignments in eery detail) where we had to write our own version. Mine involved throwing an alarm clock in frustration and accidentally hitting my dad, pouring milk on my cereal only to find out it was spoiled, and falling out an open window at school.

I always think of that book on days like yesterday... days marred by not one big lousy thing, but a succession of many many little lousy things. The kind of day that when, at 4:00 in the afternoon, you finally get your first chance to sit down for a tenth of a second (on the bathroom floor no less, because taking a bath is the absolute only thing that the three year old wants to do), your seven year old promptly kicks over your entire cup of coffee in his haste to join his sister in the tub. The kind of day when you spend a good two minutes with a wet pair of shorts, just staring at the tan puddle spreading across the tile from said cup of coffee, because you're literally too tired to do anything about it. The kind of day when you actually dread leaving your post on the cold bathroom floor - as uncomfortable as it is - because you don't want to face the mess that awaits in the rest of the house.

The kind of day when you finally and gratefully go to bed after a warm meal, in your comfortable house in your safe neighborhood... after you kiss your four healthy kids goodnight and turn out the lights... and there's nothing you can do but thank God that even on the bad days, your life's pretty damn good.

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Monday, August 15, 2011

1,000 Giveaway WINNERS

Thanks to everyone who came out and made the giveaway such a fun one! I can't wait to do another :) Here is the list of winners. Please note that if your name has an asterick by it, it means that I don't have an email address for you. Please send me a message with your email, so that I can get you in touch with the person who has your item!  The rest of you should be receiving emails soon.  :)

Thanks everyone!

Scribblet - Katrina
Cookies - Nichole
Earrings - Dawn (jenzacry)
Necklace - Shannon
Headband - Cori*
Life Coaching - birthbee
Stool - Tara R
Lip Balm - jboring

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Friday, August 12, 2011

I peed on the potty, YAY!


Do you use a toilet?

I'm going to take a stab and say that if you're reading this that 1) you do in fact use a toilet and that 2) you generally make it to the toilet in time, without anyone's reminder or assistance (barring any illness or special circumstance).

Do you know when it was that you started using it? Do you know when your friends or coworkers or classmates started using it? Again, I'm going to take a stab and guess that you do not. Even if we *did* know, it's not something we really talk about. (Well, wait. I do know a few adults who talk about bodily functions more than is normally considered socially acceptable... but that's neither here nor there) It's just a normal, biological, every-day sort of thing that every man, woman and child takes time out of his or her day to attend to. It's of absolutely zero importance when you started doing it.

So here's what I'm wondering:

Why, when we know that it's something that everyone's going to eventually do anyway, do parents make themselves, their child, and oftentimes everyone around them crazy over the process of potty training? Why act as though it's some sort of contest? Why the pressure, the sticker charts, the rewards, the punishments, the rush? What on earth is the BIG RUSH?

I have four children. As of just a few days ago, all four of them use the toilet all day, every day. Like with anything else, it was an individual journey for each of them.

With #1, I think I got lucky... I didn't really do anything that I'd now consider "right", but I didn't really do anything I'd consider wrong either. He easily made the transition when he was around 2.5

With #2, I bungled it six ways to Sunday. He simply wasn't ready at the same age as my first. He passed three. He passed three and half. He adamantly refused to even try it. It stressed me out. I stressed HIM out. I tried many of the things I mentioned above (things I cringe to think about now): I cajoled, I bribed, I made sticker charts, I pressured. The more I pushed, the more he resisted. It wasn't until he turned four that I finally asked myself, "What am I doing?" Was his being potty trained by a certain age (which wasn't happening anyway) more important than our relationship, or more important than treating him with respect, or more important than allowing him his right to autonomy over something as personal as using the bathroom? I let go of the stress, released him of my pressure, and said what I should have said all along: He'll do it when he's ready. And very shortly after that, he did. I promised myself that if I was ever blessed with more kids, I wouldn't make the same mistakes again. And true to my word, when #3 and #4 became toddlers, I remembered what I'd learned.

Everett's been using the toilet for a good 4 or 5 years now, but since the girl is still new to whole pottying scene, I thought I'd share the intricate method that got her there while it was still fresh in my mind.


1. I waited until she was ready.

2. .... that's it. I waited until she was ready.

A few weeks ago, we forgot to buy diapers and we ran out (and when I say forgot, I mean we literally forgot, not a calculated, purposeful "forgot") I don't remember the exact circumstances, but they were such that we couldn't run out and get her more diapers at the moment, so we told her she'd need to use the toilet. And she did, all day, without a problem. After that, she still wanted her diapers, but she started to use the toilet more and more. She was proud of herself; she told me how easy it was. She started wearing underwear just as often as diapers. This past Tuesday, we all went out to an amusement park. She was all dressed, wearing underwear, and I asked her if she wanted to change before we left (she'd never left the house without a diaper before) She told me no, and I told her to let us know if she had to use the bathroom when we were there. She used their bathroom like she'd been doing it all her life, and that was that.

She's been in underwear ever since.

We bought her a new doll she's been wanting in celebration... not in a "if you keep your underwear dry, we'll buy you a baby" kind of way, but in the same way I'd bake cupcakes for my husband to celebrate a promotion, or any other life event that he's proud of. She is proud, as it's still a big deal to her. I'm celebrating that, and enjoying that, because I know it won't last long. I know that it'll just be a matter of time before she's as blasé as the rest of us. (When was the last time you heard an adult proclaim, "I peed on the potty! Yay!"?)

As much as parents can stress about it when it comes to their toddlers, and conversely take it for granted when it comes to adults, it's a milestone. One that she met easily and naturally in her own way in her own time, because she was given the space to do so.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Plank Pullin': I'm a Mess

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.

Sometimes people ask me for advice.

I like giving advice when I'm asked. There's just something... satisfying... something that feels *right* about being able to look at a situation from the outside, see it clearly, and be able to say, "This is what I see. This is what I think. This is what I've experienced." To believe even for a second that something you said HELPED someone, that something you said MATTERED to someone.

Now, keep in mind that I have no idea if I actually give good advice. Most of the time I don't hear back from the person asking, so for all I know they could be out there thinking, "This chica is waaay off her rocker." (That's a direct quote from my all-time favorite piece of "fan" mail, and the one that handed me the biggest laugh.) But I do get asked from time to time, and I do enjoy giving it.

The scary thing is:

I am the worst person EVER to be giving anyone advice. I'm sort of a mess.

I never sleep. I'm addicted to caffeine. I've had ongoing issues with both anxiety and depression. My husband is always on standby to talk me down from whatever my current freak-out may be, whether it's the anticipation of seeing people that I find stressful, or how we're going to be able to afford t-ball registration, or simply our current state of housekeeping. And inside my head? Have you ever seen a movie where someone is on some sort of drug trip and there are all these rapid-fire flashes of different thoughts and images and movement, one right after the other? That's what it's like to be inside my head (except I don't do drugs, aside from the aforementioned caffeine.) And the fact is, I'm not drawn to things like yoga and meditation and peaceful parenting because I'm a naturally calm person..... but because I'm not.

With the exception of unschooling and parenting (and by extension this blog, where I write about unschooling and parenting), I have no earthly clue what I want to do when I grow up. It's not that I have no ideas; it's that I have oh so many ideas. And because I have a tendency to both jump headlong into whatever interests me at the moment AND get bored quickly before I move on to something else, my house is a mess too. My desk is stacked with books I've yet to read, projects I've yet to finish, and the coursework I'm supposed to be studying to take my personal trainer certification test. My closets are filled with discarded lip balm and craft supplies. There is a huge box containing over 100 DVDs in my living room, because I suddenly decided I really needed to start buying and selling them on Ebay again. I'm still unsure if I'm going to participate in NanoWriMo again this November, or write an e-book (or three), or sign up for yoga teacher training, or enroll to finish my bachelors in Holistic Health. I Just. Don't. Know.

And the thing is, if it were any of my kids with this confusion, I'd answer them confidently and sincerely with reassurance:

You don't have to worry. It'll all work out. Take each day as it comes. The beauty isn't in the figuring it all out (and no one really figures it all out anyway) but in the journey.

I absolutely believe all of the above, and some days, I even think I have a handle on it. But most other days, well, I'm still a mess.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Passage of Time

Last night, we took the kids to a local amusement/sports park, because they've been wanting to ride the go-carts. All-you-can-ride wristbands are super reduced on Tuesdays, so we got one for each of them, and set them loose.

Tegan was tall enough for the mini go-carts this time, but couldn't quite get the hang of the gas pedal and steering at the same time, so she only took one lap. She did however love the bumper bumps and the miniature golf and the water balloon launching.

The big boys didn't want to play miniature golf, so they rode the go-carts again and again while we played with the two youngest. One loop of the track was close to the golf course, so every now and then I would look up and see them.... smiling, happy, red-faced blurs zipping around the corner. I realized as I watched them that the last time we went to this particular park (two years ago) Paxton wasn't even close to the height requirement to drive alone, and Spencer was still nervous to be anything but a passenger. But here they were, two brothers who are growing up, happy and confident to be off on their own and racing around the go-cart track.

And unbeknownst to me, Everett had graduated to playing mini golf the "right" way (instead of the "put the ball right near the hole and carefully push it in" method still employed by Tegan. :)) Then there was Tegan... who, when I had this realization, was off at the restroom with Mike, because she'd (successfully) worn underwear on at outing for the very first time.

We capped off the evening with Icees, then went to the store so Tegan could pick out the new baby we'd promised her in celebration of using the potty full-time.

Looking so much older than her 3.5 years...
She was so excited to get home and start playing with it.  Spencer was excited when we got home too, because FedEx had left the package of DVDs, books, and tools that he's been anxiously waiting for:

A little light reading
It all makes me feel sad, and happy, and wistful all at the same time. My kids are growing up.

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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Children Are Not Baked Goods

So you want to make a cake.

You consult your recipe, you lay out all your ingredients, and you preheat your oven. You meticulously follow each and every step... carefully measuring, pouring, and mixing. You dot your i's and cross your t's and lovingly place it in the oven.

With a little bit of luck, your cake will rise. It will be moist and springy, flavorful but not too sweet. You'll look at its beautiful exterior and lightly golden hue and you'll pronounce yourself a fabulous baker. So fabulous, in fact, that when you want to make the exact same cake again and don't have the same ingredients, you'll try to wing it. You'll leave out the eggs. You'll substitute oil for butter. You'll use flour made from almonds instead of wheat. You'll sweeten it with honey instead of sugar.

It won't work.

But I'm such a great baker! I had such a terrific recipe! I had such high hopes!

The fact is, you can't bend the will of a set of ingredients to make them into the cake that you envisioned. It doesn't work that way.

And parenting doesn't work that way either. Children are not baked goods. They don't come to us as a set of raw ingredients that we then fashion into something of our own choosing.

Children are fruit.

An apple growing on a tree knows what to do. It grows, all on its own. It does not exist to serve as a potential pie or cider or muffin, but rather as a perfect piece of growing fruit right. now. From the moment that it came into being, it already knew what it was going to be... how big or how small, how red or how green, how tangy or how sweet. It's not ever going to be exactly like the one next to it, and we wouldn't expect it to be. It is unique and beautiful and whole just as it is.

Our job then isn't to try to mix it and change it and create something with it... our job is to simply nurture it, and let it do its thing.

Our job is to give it warmth, shelter, and nourishment. Our job is to lovingly tend to its needs, protect it from harm, and ultimately give it space to grow. Sometimes.... well, sometimes we get to sit back and just... watch. Watch and enjoy how big and how strong and how amazing our little apple has become.

And an apple (or a child or a street sweeper or a brain surgeon) that's appreciated and valued and accepted for what it is - and not what we try to make it - will always be infinitely better, and happier, than anything we could have possibly created from the sum of its parts.

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Monday, August 08, 2011

Happy 1,000 Giveaway

Last weekend, I hit 1,000 fans on my Facebook page. I promised that when I reached 1,000, I would do a giveaway to celebrate. So here it is! I am humbled and thrilled to have so many of you reading along. I would write regardless, but having you all here makes it a whole lot more fun. :) Thank you all - all 1038 of you - so very much for being here, and for sharing my blog with others.

And without further ado, the giveaway! There's a lot of really cool stuff here, so make sure you read all the way to the bottom to see it all, and to see what you need to do to enter.

1. Jaimee, who runs the blog and etsy store, Craft Interrupted, says:

Hello Readers! My name is Jaimee and I am a stay-at-home mom to three boys. Much of my time is spent playing Batman, assisting with tree climbing, and helping defeat Bowser. More of my time is spent refilling juice cups, collecting muddy clothing, and reading piles of Curious George books. In the midst of the madness, I nurture my art degree and love of creativity by blogging craft projects and inspirational ideas at Craft, Interrupted. I also sells handmade baby toys and children's art wallets in my etsy store, By Craft, Interrupted. I'm so excited to participate in this awesome giveaway! You can visit Jaimee's Facebook page here.

Jaimee is giving away one Scribblet, a great (and adorable) take-along kids' wallet. It comes stuffed with crayons, notepad, and activity book, and is perfect for waiting rooms, travel, or any time your kids are bored :) Winner can choose a boy or girl themed print:

2.  Next is Bonnie, from Inspired Occasions. She makes delicious - and beautiful - cakes, cupcakes and other custom treats here in the Phoenix valley. You can visit her Facebook page for more.

Bonnie is a homeschooling mommy to three kiddos, ages 9, 4 and 2. She started her business 8 years ago to have a flexible schedule and stay home with her kids. The fact that she loves what she does is icing on the cake!

Bonnie is giving away one dozen dress or cake shaped cookies, (or mixed OR if you need another shape let me know). These are the yummiest sugar cookies! The icing is hand piped and made to match your theme or colors. Please allow at least 2 weeks for your order.

3.  Heather is a fellow unschooler who (when she's not busy encouraging people to be awesome over at her blog, Swiss Army Wife), is the creator of beautiful and unique chain maille jewelry which she sells on Etsy as Misty Island Armory.  In addition to her website, you can find her and her jewelry on Facebook as well.

She says:
I recently rekindled my love of making and designing jewelry. After discovering chain maille techniques I haven't been able to turn back. I love the pieces I create and I think you will too.
Heather is giving away one pair of these rainbow byzantine earrings:

Her write-up says "They are brightly colored and super light weight. Perfect for someone who doesn't like long heavy earrings or for a child who loves rainbows."  You can visit their listing in her store for more.

In addition, she's generously offered a 15% discount for my readers for the rest of the month of August!  Definitely take some time to check out all the great pieces in her store, then use the coupon code MCGRAIL when checking out.

4.  Next up, is an offering from Handmade by Tara

Tara says:
As a full time working Mom I found myself needing an outlet for myself, a way to calm myself and just be me. About a year ago I went to a jewelry workshop and found that exact thing. I have never considered myself creative, and still don't, but this tapped in to my creative side that I never knew was there. I enjoy doing the birthstone necklaces/bracelets because there is nothing more important to me than family and any way I can show them off I will! My pieces are not perfect but they are unique to you and your family. 
Tara is giving away one basic birthstone necklace.  The birthstones (of your choosing) hang on a 24 inch sterling silver chain.

I wear this necklace myself, and it is beautiful!

5.   Fellow unschooler Alice, who is a busy mom of 5 (including brand new twin baby girls) owns and operates Alice's Handmade Crafts.  She makes childrens' tutus, hats, and accessories, as well as custom embroidered products for adults.  Alice says:
I've always felt a need to create things, and this is the perfect outlet for me. My biggest seller is definitely the hat with flowers on top, with tutus as a close second. My newest items are the flower accessory and the elastic headband with flower, and I'm hoping they'll be popular as well. But my favorite projects, and the ones I'm most proud of, are my embroidered products. They are my most intricate items, and the ones I feel like I can really put myself into through design and color...
Today Alice is offering either one free custom flower headband, sized to fit whatever head you want, with your choice of color flower and either pearl or rhinestone center; OR a $10 gift certificate to put towards anything else in her shop, including custom items.  Here is what the headbands look like:

Cute baby girl not included :)
Visit Alice's Etsy Shop and Facebook page to see more.

6. Tara Mauger is an empowerment life coach who has generously offered to donate one free session to one of my readers.

Not sure what life coaching is all about? From her website:

I help people, like you, discover their true self empowerment. I guide you through the steps to take for you to lead a more empowered life in all areas of your life – usually working on one particular area at a time. I’m a firm believer in the ‘Laws of attraction’ and I work with you to be an empowered ‘attraction magnet’ for all your desires.


I help many people form different walks in life discover their true self empowerment in all areas of their life like: Financial (desired income etc), Relationships (with partners, children family and friends), Health & Wellness (weight loss, motivating fitness, healthy eating, dispelling sickness etc), Parenting, just to name a few.

Be sure to visit Tara's website and Facebook page to learn more.

7.  Jerry owns and operates Rural Toys, which creates and sells beautiful hand crafted wooden toys and doll furniture, as well as bowls, cutting boards and cutlery. He's been a toymaker since 1992, and "believes that toys need to "do" something, so most trucks, trains, animals, hop, waddle, etc. And they must be sturdy. Most furniture pieces get stood on to make sure that everything is ready for shipment."

I started making toys in 1992 for a local Christmas giveaway. When I showed friends samples, I pretty much sold all the items to them – fortunately, the charity gladly accepted cash but they also appreciated the wooded items I did have left.
In 2006 I started making Noah’s ark animals for a local vacation Bible school craft project. We added a nativity plaque the following year.
In 2008 I started making beds and other furniture for the 18” doll as a sturdy, low cost alternative to the non-solid wood imports.
Due to the actions by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, I no longer add any finish to the items I create for children.
I also create bowls, cutting boards, and cutlery using exotic and domestic hardwoods and participate at four or five art and craft shows each fall

Today Jerry is giving away one hardwood (poplar) stool/bench for that extra height for toothbrushing. Sturdy (he stands on each of them before they are "approved") and NOT Imported Nor MDF! This is an older version of this stool/bench, and can be personalized up to 8 letters.

Bench Mode

The seat back rotates forward to the floor to convert it a step stool.

This measures approximately 13 inches by 11 inches by 12 inches tall. The seat is approximately 6 inches from the floor. The step is about 3 inches from the floor.  Shipped to continental US only.

In addition, he's also offering a one-time 10% off coupon for all my readers at his Etsy Store and website! Please go check out his wagons, Noah's Ark toy, and wooden doll beds. (Use coupon code Blessed4 on Etsy. If ordering from his website - which he describes as 'new and evolving' - he will provide a 10% rebate if you let him know you came from my site) 

8.  And finally, the last item is lip balm lovingly made by yours truly

Yours will be brand new and sealed with plastic :)

Before I spent all my free time blogging, I made homemade lip balms.  These are 100% vegan, and come in 1/3 oz metal tins so they are nice and slim and easy to slip in a pocket.  This is the only thing I use on my lips!  The winner gets three tins (I have several scents/flavors to choose from) so you can have one for purse, pocket, and bedroom.  Just don't leave them in the car if you live in a hot climate like me.


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

I will keep this open for one week, and announce the winners on Monday, August 14th... so send your friends!  I am going to work it like a raffle.  Everyone who enters will be entered to win any of the above offerings.  One person will be randomly chosen (using randomizer.org) to win each item.  To enter:

1) Leave a comment on this post, and be sure to leave your email address so we can easily reach you.

For additional, optional entries:

2) Check out the websites and Facebook pages listed above, and "like" at least one of them on Facebook.

3) Share the link to this post on Twitter.

4) Share the link to this post on Facebook.

5) And just for fun (and because I'm in a movie mood), tell me your all-time favorite movie for a final bonus entry.

You don't need to come back and leave separate comments for each method.... just leave me one comment and let me know which of the above that you've done.


Thank you to each and every one of you.  I appreciate you all more than you know.  And a huge thank you to all the beautiful people who've generously donated to the giveaway as well!

Good luck!!

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Conversations with a 7 year old


I just had the following conversation:

Everett: Mommy. Do you think I should go get the towel?

Me: What towel?

Everett: The towel I dried my butt on.

Me: You dried your butt on a towel?

Everett: Well I was taking a shower.

Me: Okay...

Everett: And I had to go to the bathroom. I didn't want to get the toilet seat all wet, so I got out and dried my butt on the towel.

Me: The hand towel?

Everett: No, a regular towel. Should I go get it? You know, since my butt was on it?

Me: Well, where did you leave it?

Everett: I put it back in the hall closet. (Pause) I should probably go get it and put it in the laundry.

Me: That'd be a good idea.

Everett ::::runs off to get the towel:::::

The end.

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Thursday, August 04, 2011

Plank Pullin': The one where I feel judged

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. 

Let me start with a general confession:

People bug me.

I mean, I'm as personable and easy to get along with as the next guy when everyone's being nice and reasonable and friendly... and I truly enjoy interacting with others who are happy and open-minded and interesting.  But.  I am an introvert through and through, and I get "peopled out" very easily.  Unfortunately, the internet (which is, of course, an invaluable source of those happy and open-minded and interesting people I do like talking to) also provides a veritable and unending stream of frustration in the form of the rude, the arrogant, and lately, the judgmental.

I have felt a lot of judgment lately.... not judgment aimed at me specifically, but aimed towards people like me:  those of the "more Jesus, less religion" ilk.  People like me who truly love God, but who, for one reason or another have rejected the traditional path of organized religion.  Those who have found freedom in the relationship, even (or especially) outside of church, and those who have eschewed a lifestyle built on rules.

It has been following me - and frustrating me - all week.  First was the conversation I happened on about unschooling.  Then it was parenting. Then it was what kind of statuses are inappropriate to post on Facebook. Then it was clothing.  Then it was television. Then it was the proper way to talk to God.  Then it was the proper way to talk ABOUT God.  Then it was the proper kind of church to go to.  "People who know and love God would not xyz.  The bible is clear that we're commanded to xyz.  You are not a good Christian woman if you xyz."  Is it any wonder that when, a few days ago, a non-Christian friend bemoaned how judgmental she found Christians, I could do nothing but commiserate?

I don't fit into a box, Christian or otherwise.

I don't go to church regularly.
I unschool.
I love tattoos.
I put weird colors in my hair.
I sometimes laugh at inappropriate things.
I sometimes SAY inappropriate things.


And I know that God loves me anyway.

I don't like feeling judged. But - and this is the part where I finally get around to pulling my plank - my feeling frustrated or angry towards the ones doing it is really no different than the judgment itself. If I'm all indignantly yelling, "How DARE she judge me?" aren't I judging as well? And how about that... it doesn't feel nice coming or going.

Whatever journey they are on is just that: theirs. And this one is mine. And I can ignore their existence love them and learn to sincerely wish them well, and rest assured in the peace that comes from knowing that nothing anyone else says can affect my own personal relationship with God.

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