Sunday, October 30, 2011

Join us on a Magical Quest


The kids and I went on a magical journey this week. It took us through deserts, forests, mountains and enchanted lands. We were on a quest to reach the top of the highest mountain, where we found some amazing water that gives magical powers to all who drink it. And all we needed to take us there was an old rope and a few other found objects. We would like to invite you on this journey.

The rope was our guide and we laid it out across the yard, over chairs, around trees, zigzagging and spiraling back on itself. At the beginning of the rope, we collected a small metal bucket into which we placed all of the magical objects we found that would help us on our journey. Inside of this bucket, we found a feather that would give us superhuman strength as long as we held onto it. 

Once we had these objects, we followed the rope over some furniture until it led us to the enchanted desert (aka pile of dirt in our yard where grass never grows), of which it is said that the sand has the power to protect travelers from danger. We collected a scoop of sand into our bucket and continued through the desert, following the rope to find our way to the mystical forests (got to use the one lone tree in our yard to full advantage). Stuck in the trunk of a tree, we found a leaf that would give us courage, for the next thing we had to face on our quest was something that all travelers in this land fear most. We placed the leaf in our bucket and safely under its spell, we followed the rope into the Land of the Great Belle Doggie (our dog particularly likes this sunny spot in our yard). Many travelers never make it past the Great Belle Doggie, for she has a tight rule over her territory and almost never lets outsiders pass through. With the powers given to us by the feather, the sand, and the leaf, we were ready to face her. We gathered a magical stick laying by the rope and we threw it to the Great Belle Doggie as an offering, hoping that she would accept our gift and allow us to pass. She did so, and we continued on our journey, finally reaching the magnificent mountains in which our journey would end. 

Lacking any hills or even slight inclines in our West Texas yard, we imagined a mountain with a series of difficult switchbacks and curves of the rope. At the top of the mountain, we finally reached our destination and we each enjoyed a sip of the enchanted water for which this journey was begun.

Friday, October 28, 2011

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. Inspired by SouleMama.

If you are inspired to do the same, leave a link to your moment at SouleMama for all to find and see.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Little Helpers in the Kitchen

My three-year-old Evan loves to help in the kitchen. He helps prepare food just about every day, whether it be pouring in ingredients for bread dough, grating cheese in the food processor or cutting soft fruits and veggies with "his knife" (really just a pastry spatula). Evan has been helping us cook since he was old enough to stand on a chair without launching himself head first off of it. Even before that, he had already mastered turning on the food processor and grinding the coffee. My one-year-old Clayton is now starting to show an interest in the kitchen as well and often races in when he hear appliances running or the kitchen timer beeping in the hopes that we will pick him up and show him what we are doing.

Evan at 15 months shelling black eyed peas

and last month making yogurt
Naturally, I hope that my kids' involvement in the kitchen will help them to be adventurous at the table now and to make healthy food choices as adults. Sometimes, however, having them at counter-level with a "very important job" to do is simply the best way to keep them from whining and fighting on the kitchen floor while I am trying to get dinner on the table. In these moments before dinner, I usually do not have time to slow down and lead them through the cooking process like I do earlier in the day. Since Clayton is still in the stage where climbing on and off chairs is more interesting that the events on the counter, I put him in his high chair with a small snack while Evan is at the counter with me.

So, here are some tips to keep even the youngest children busy in the kitchen when you are not able to give them your undivided attention.

1. Give your child a few tools of his or her own. These do not need to be child-sized, but should definitely be child-safe. This will give your child a home in the kitchen, keeping it from being just grown-up space. As I said above, Evan calls our pastry spatula "his knife" and it works surprisingly well to cut softer foods, such as bananas, avocados, or cheese.

2. Let your little one work on the side and the toppings. These parts of the meal are often more flexible in terms of timing and you can simply let your child at it for as long as it holds his or her interest. Evan is amazing with the salad spinner - really, better than I am. He can shred cheese in the food processor by himself once I get the blade set up. Other ideas - pulling parsley or other herbs from the stems, cutting avocado, breaking up walnuts, stirring a sauce.

3. If it holds your child's interest, do not interrupt. As long as you give them a task that is not immediately essential, your child can really work at it as long as they want. We have definitely experienced moments where Evan kept at the salad spinner the entire time I was cooking. That was some seriously crisp lettuce!

4. If you run out of ideas, even unrelated tasks can keep your child involved. The important thing is to make your child feel that he or she is contributing to the meal. However, sometimes there just are not enough child-safe tasks to keep them busy. Instead of letting them pull apart the silverware drawer or go back to whining at your ankles, give them a task that appears related without being so. Are you cooking with rice? Give them a bowl of uncooked rice and a few measuring cups. Finished with the carrots? Ask them to wash those remaining instead of putting them right back in the fridge.

5. Keep things interesting. Explain to them what you are doing and why you are doing it while you are cooking. Tell them a story about another time you cooked this meal. Teach them about the foods you are cooking - where they come from, how they grow, how they get to our tables, what they do once they are inside our bodies.

Time spent in the kitchen with my kids is easily one of my favorite moments of any day. I hope these ideas help you to make these moments special in your home too. And I'd love to hear about your ideas for getting kids involved in cooking. What kinds of food do you and your kids make together?

Friday, October 21, 2011

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. Inspired by SouleMama.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your moment at SouleMama for all to find and see.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I Recommend: Ergo Baby Carrier

My one-year-old, Clayton, was born in September, at the end of another long Texas summer. The pregnancy was mostly without complications, but it was exhausting in a way that my first pregnancy was not. I am sure that part of this was simply that it was my second pregnancy. And carrying late-term through the summer is no fun no matter where you live. Add to that the fact that my husband was working in Albuquerque, NM for the summer and I was by myself in Lubbock pregnant with a two-year-old. You can imagine that Evan got to be very good at "taking a rest with Mommy." I remember literally panting after a minute or two outside and needing to sit down after even a few minutes of more strenuous activity - vacuuming one room took half the day and I had people knocking on the door at least once a week to ask if I wanted my lawn mowed.

This second baby just felt heavy and I started to believe that Clayton would be a bigger baby than Evan had been, which is not hard really, since Evan weighed only six pounds and four ounces at birth. Still, I was not exactly prepared for my second child to be almost two pounds heavier. Even my doctor, when the nurse read out Clayton's weight, gasped in surprise. Now, I am sure that many of you who have had truly large babies will laugh at the idea that 8,1 at birth is something to cause such a reaction. However, I am a small person, both in height and in frame, and after Evan was so tiny, it was easy to assume that the rest of my babies would be like he and I.

Tiny little Evan had been so easy to carry around. I had a wrap-style baby carrier, but unless I really needed my hands, I often just carried him, even sometimes on walks or while shopping. By the time he was starting to get uncomfortable to carry, he was old enough to walk on his own. Clayton, on the other hand, started giving me backaches when he was just a few months old. Even with my wrap, I kept ending up with headaches and neck cramps from the strain on my shoulders. (I had back surgery years ago and still fatigue more easily when I carry with my upper body for too long.) After a month or so of this, I went back on the market for a new baby carrier, one that would help to distribute the baby's weight more effectively onto my hips.

Based on the reviews I read, I decided on the Ergo Baby Carrier and am continually pleased with this choice. This carrier successfully brings Clayton's weight down to my lower body and keeps me entirely free of any shoulder and neck pain. In fact, I even sometimes carry Evan around in it, especially when his brother was first born and he wanted to be babied a little bit more than normal. I would definitely highly recommend this carrier, especially for anyone with back problems.

It is so easy to use, simply clipping at the waist and chest just like a hiking backpack, without any additional ties or snaps. It is very comfortable for the parent, with good padding on the waistband and shoulder straps. It is also cozy for baby - unlike some other carriers, the cloth of the Ergo forms a pouch when the baby is positioned correctly, so that his body is actually in a sitting position rather than having his entire weight dangling from his crotch. The carrier is unique in that it can be used not only in front and rear positions, but can also be adjusted for a hip carry. Adjustments are very simple and my husband and I can pass the carrier back and forth between us without more than a moment's pause.  Finally, it even has a hood that can be snapped over the baby's head when he is sleeping or as a sunshade. We do not use this so much anymore, but when Clayton was young and still fell asleep anywhere, it really did help block out the sounds and sights to keep him asleep for longer.

The only downside to this carrier is the cost. At $115 for the cheapest model, it is one of the most expensive baby carriers out there. For me, the cost was definitely worth it - I use this carrier constantly and will continue to do so for as long as Clayton is willing. A less comfortable and convenient carrier, though easier on the wallet, would have ended up sitting in the closet unused.

To summarize then, these are my personal favorite features of the Ergo Baby Carrier:

-Baby's weight is carried on parent's hips
-On and off in a matter of seconds with two simple clips
-Easily adjustable and able to be used by multiple caregivers
-Hood can be snapped closed when baby is sleeping

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Yes, I know, I just need to be flexible...

It was my birthday a few weeks ago and my husband planned a camping trip for the family. I used to camp a lot before kids, but somehow never seem to succeed these days. I talk about going all the time, so it was really thoughtful of my husband to try to make it work. Well, it is the thought that counts, right?

It was inevitable that this trip would not go perfectly. Maybe I just was not quite expecting this much disaster.  Here is what went wrong.

1. We did not get packed in time and left the house an hour late. (Of course.)

2. We forgot to buy camping fuel ahead of time and the store at which we stopped on the way out of town did not carry the right kind for our stove.

3. These two things had eaten up our window of opportunity and it was already lunch time. (It never ceases to amaze me how incredibly short these windows are.) I stayed at home to feed the kids and my husband ran to Walmart to find the fuel.

4. An hour later, we set out, but apparently too close to Clayton's nap time. He screamed almost the whole  drive to the park. (How did I manage to have two kids who do not sleep in the car?)

5. The incessant heat wave that had ended a week earlier turned out not to be over after all. When we got to the park it was already in the upper 90s with lots more time in the day for the sun to keep heating things up.

6. There was no shade anywhere in which we could set up camp. (This was not really an unexpected event. If you have been to West Texas, you will know that there is very little - natural or man-made - to break the sun's heat. The trees, when there are any, are sparse and very small, the land is perfectly flat and the clouds are often absent altogether.)

7. The campsite was far from child-proof. We spent the first twenty minutes when we arrived just picking up all the trash others had left strewn about the campsite despite the two very large and prominently displayed trash cans not ten feet from there - that and chasing down Clayton before he could run off with and eat said trash.

8. Once again, 100 degrees and no shade. The kids were starting to get punchy from being too hot and too tired. It was now well past their nap time.

This in when my husband and I decided to abandon hope and go back home. We put our bathing suits on and headed down to the lake to enjoy at least a few minutes at the park before leaving. And though I am not sure I would say that it made the rest of the day worth it, it was a very nice moment. I am sorry that we did not have the mental capacity to think to bring our camera down to the water with us, but I suspect the memory of this swim will stay with me for a while, even without photographic evidence.

9. In case you thought my disaster of a day had ended, there is in fact a number nine. When we got back to the car and started to pack up, my husband realized that he had lost our car keys somewhere between the lake and the car. Just when we thought we could get out of the heat and move on with our lives, we had to spend the next half hour retracing our steps and searching under rocks. Turns out he had thrown them on Clayton's car seat and then put a pile of stuff on top of them.

And so, my birthday ended at home with a bowl of Annie's macaroni and cheese and a good night's sleep in my own bed.

We are frequently told that flexibility is an essential quality for any good parent. Sometimes I think that is another way of saying that we should gracefully accept disappointments. We make plans and hundreds of things get in the way - dirty diapers, temper tantrums, a longer-than-normal nap or no nap at all. I cannot even tell you how often it happens that our window of opportunity for an outing between naps passes us by simply because my three-year-old refuses to put his shoes on. So much for that, I say. Maybe next time...

Sometimes I just want to whine and pout about it and I can truthfully say that I did just that after my failed camping trip. It's my birthday and and I want to go camping. Hrrumph! Of course, it is so easy to laugh about it instead, so I thought I would share the story with you so that you could join me in my efforts gracefully to accept this disappointment.

So, when was the last time you found yourself wishing that this whole parental flexibility thing would go away?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How to Raise Grateful Kids

Being grateful is on the top of my list to things I most want my children to learn. It is so important to know how to appreciate what you have and to be thankful for those around you who make your life better. This goes way beyond knowing how to say please and thank you and writing thank-you notes after birthdays. I want my children to see the good in themselves and in others. I want them to recognize the influence that they have on the world and that the world has on them. And I want them to be humble and considerate in their interactions, not just toward people, but toward the Earth and all of its complexity.

Of course, parenting is always a great experiment, isn't it? I naturally have no idea how to make sure that my children learn this thing that I value so greatly. We all know that kids learn by example, so I can make sure that I am on my best behavior at all times and that I show them my gratitude. But I am not sure that modeling is enough on its own, especially because I am not the only influence on my children and I do not see a whole lot of grateful behavior in our culture at the moment.

Well, a few weeks ago, my parents came to visit and helped me to do some kitchen renovations. (Tons of gratitude from me!) One day, my three-year-old, Evan, came into the kitchen while they were painting the cabinets and exclaimed with such excitement, "Grandad, you are doing an awesome job! Isn't Grandad doing an awesome job? Thank you for painting the cabinets, Grandad!" I was so proud of the way in which he expressed himself in this moment with true appreciation and without the least bit of adult prompting. It made me feel that I am on the right track with my efforts.

So, here is a list of a few things that I have done to try to raise grateful kids.

1. Tell your children every night before they go to bed why you are proud of them and say thank you for these things. (This is the modeling part.) I give specific examples of things (even just one or two) they did that particular day. And yes, sometimes it is difficult not to launch into a lecture at these moments (e.g. I was really proud of you for sharing your toy with Susie, but it was not nice that you grabbed it out of her hands three minutes later). But I think it is important to let this moment be pure praise.

2. Ask your children frequently to tell you why they are proud of you and other family members. Okay, so maybe I am just fishing for compliments with this one. But practice makes perfect and I think this exercise teaches them to notice the positive things others do and to articulate these things clearly.

3. Ask your children to help you say thank you and to praise others around you, particularly those whom we do not generally remember to thank. This is so easy to do if you wait until your child shows an interest in something. For example, Evan recently noticed a park employee picking up trash near the playground with one of those poker things. He was fascinated by the man's tool and we watched him for a few minutes. So, I said to my son something along the lines of: "Look at what a good job he is doing picking up that trash. He has a very important job because we don't want the park filled with trash. We should say thank you to him for doing such a good job." And there you go, three-year-old appreciates and thanks a park sanitation worker!