Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"No" Protects My Family

Apparently I did something very strange today. Strange, at least, by many family's standards if the looks of disbelief that I got from several other mothers around me were any indication. But really, I know that I am different in this regard because I get these looks with some frequency, from strangers and friends alike.

So what did I do? I turned down a free yoga class for my kids. Yes, it was completely free, and yet I said that I didn't want it. Yes, it was a terribly trendy yoga class offered by a certified instructor that would probably have been lots of fun, but I chose to politely decline. I know- strange.

You see while waiting for my kids to finish their lessons today, and chatting with other moms while I waited, the program director at the Y approached us with a small perdicament. It turned out that the yoga class in question was new, with a new instructor, and enrollment hadn't been great. She was hoping to encourage other families to give it a try, and so was offering the open spots- for free- to any family that wanted them in hopes that word of mouth would encourage better enrollment rates in the next session.

Literally all the other moms jumped at the chance immediately. One was going to pick up her daughter early from daycare to make it work, and another was going to pick her child up from an after school program and drive from four towns away to make sure that her child could attend. When the director turned to me, the last of the bunch, she was already writing my children's names down on the list when I politley told her that we'd have to pass. "But why?" She wanted to know, polite but incredulous. I simply told her that we didn't come to town on the day the class was offered (which is true). But there is much more to my reasoning than a simple schedule conflict.

The truth is, I don't want my kids enrolled in another activity. I don't want to have another place to go, another bag to pack, another dinner on the run. Even for an awesome activity like kids yoga. I want to preserve the sanctity of their childhoods by providing- and protecting when necessary- opportunities for my children to play freely, unhindered by structured learning. Don't get me wrong here- I think they should learn, and I am grateful for the chance to enroll them in the lessons they take. But it's my fundamental belief that there can be too much of a good thing, and frankly, three lessons per week for my family is too much of a good thing.

What my kids need most in their young years is simple play, with plenty of time for imagination, creativity, and wonder. Those things slip so quickly through our fingers when we begin to rush the schedule, and we all, parents included, loose touch with the reasons why we wanted to participate in the lessons in the first place. We get moody. We get short with one another. We begin to overlook the fact that we are trying to raise people, not ballerinas, basketball stars or yogis.

So I said no, unpopular though that choice may be. And I will continue to say no to all kinds of great opportunities and events. In these years when my children are young, what could be more important than giving them the gift of time spent devoted to an interest, unpressed and unstructured? So next Thursday, when lots of other moms are taking their kids to yoga, my family and I will be sitting down at the table to eat, reading stories and having baths, and savoring the rhythm of family life.

Strange? Maybe, maybe not.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Simple Little Christmas Giving

We keep gift-giving simple around here. Mostly, anyway.

We believe that homemade is best, second-hand is great, and ethically made store bought is good, too. We consider the carbon footprint of a product, the labor standards and materials used in its production, the long-term impact the product is likely to have on the planet and people on it, and the message the product sends to its recipient. Of course we also try to support local businesses to the extent we can, and socially conscious, eco-friendly larger businesses when we can't.

It's kind of a lot to think about sometimes, this simplicity. 

For those who are curious about what products meet these standards, today I'm sharing what our kiddos will be receiving for Christmas this year. (This is from Mom and Dad, Santa and grandparents, by the way. We try very hard to avoid over-giving.)

Our seven year old will get:
Some audiobooks (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Mr. Popper's Penguins, etc.)
The American Boys Handy Book
A crossbow (I know- I'm not entirely convinced that this is the greatest idea yet, either)
Beeswax modeling set with wax cutters
College fund cash

Our four year old will get:
A lunchbox
Waldorf doll
Clothes for the doll
Homemade step blocks (similar to these)
College fund cash

Our two year old will get:
A lunchbox
A homemade doll swing (like this one shared on Rhythm of the Home)
Waldorf baby doll
A homemade diapering kit (like this one)
College fund cash

Our two month old will get:
An amber teething necklace
A playsilk
(Mostly) college fund cash

Our stockings will be filled with:
A bit of natural candy from here
Toothbrushes from Preserve
Mason jar tops from Cuppow
Small Lego sets (disclaimer: Lego is not a socially conscious company per se, so we buy with moderation since we do have three kids who are big fans of the traditional building blocks)

Siblings will give:
Next year we may start a "secret Santa" tradition among the kids because this is becoming quite a thing to manage, this gift-giving between six family members. For the past few years, and this year too, we've given each child a dollar amount to spend at our church Christmas Fair fundraiser to purchase gifts for their siblings. It's worked out very well in the past- kids have purchased gently used items or fun little crafted items for their sibs, and have learned the value of budgeting in the process. This year my oldest was helped by a teen at church to even purchase something for me, and I confess that I can't wait to see what his little heart spied for his mama.

Family and friends will receive:
Baskets of our homemade items. That includes honey, candles, lotions and lip balm or breads, jams, pickles... whatever we think the recipient will prefer. We have tons of fun making the products contained in these baskets, and each family member gets to weigh in about what they believe a basket's recipient would enjoy (is this friend a creamed honey sort of person, or a lilac infused, we wonder?).

Mommy and Daddy will receive:
Nothing from one another, actually. Years ago we released ourselves from the expectation of gifts under the tree for each other. For us, Garrett's birthday and Valentine's Day are right around the corner, and we've felt pressured to come up with so many gifts that the pleasure has been stripped away. Instead, once the new year has arrived, we go out to a fancy dinner together and reconnect after the business of December. It's lovely.

What about you? What are you giving your family members this Christmas?

Friday, December 6, 2013

Perfect Isn't Always Good Enough

It's no secret that perfectionism isn't good for us. Aside from the occasional positive motivation to get a task completed to the best of our ability, perfectionism exists to pressure us into always doing better, and breeds discontent with the way things are.

I have struggled with perfectionism from my earliest days. I can remember barring my parents from track meets as a child, so fearful was I that I wouldn't place well and be embarrassed. (My parents couldn't have cared less how I placed, and were likely quite hurt by the fact that I didn't seem to want them at my races.) I remember feigning illness during a scholastic competition at school because I was going to win in all likelihood, but there was a chance that I wouldn't... can remember saying "no" to opportunities for schooling and jobs in my young adulthood because I was fearful of being a small fish in a big pond. I remember being limited by my attitude.  Perhaps it's because I'm the first born of my family, or perhaps it's because I come from a long line of perfectionists. The cause really doesn't matter, I suppose. The fact is, I have been given the characteristic of perfectionism in this life, and I need to figure out how to cope with the less than desirable aspects of that trait.

This is what I've been thinking about a lot of late. How this perfectionism- so often the unwitting source of pride for me- as not been serving me well. As the mother of young children (four of them no less) I often have to accept a "good enough" standard for their benefit, so I know I have the capacity to extend grace when necessary, and to overlook the less-than-perfect attempts that children make while on the path to achievement.

I'd like to go on record here by saying that this is extremely, exorbitantly, terrifically difficult for me to do. But I persist because it's the right thing to do as a parent. When I watch little hands wipe down the counters only to push the crumbs to the floor, I praise the job well done. When I come across clothes stuffed into drawers and toys mashed into toy bins, I sing praises and give accolades because the intent is spot-on even if the execution needs work. When I find toothpaste smears all over the sink because some little person tried to clean up their own mess, I forgive and give space because I know a small hand has been hard at work to keep our home clean. (OK, I secretly cringe at the last one but come on- toothpaste all over the sink is SO gross!)

So, why give the credit to my children when I know they've been working hard, but deny myself that same kindness? Why? Because my perfectionism allows me to believe that it's OK to overlook the faults of others- but not my own- as if I'm some superhuman being sent here from Planet Perfect to mingle with the natives and understand their ways...

I rob myself of joy, holding onto this impossible standard. I really do. When I'm in "that place" where nothing seems good enough I take away my ability to enjoy the moment- the process- and the fact that I am human. The best lessons I have learned in my life have come from mistakes, but a perfectionist attidude leaves no room for those same valuable mistakes (it must have been someone else's fault, after all) and therefore no room for growth.

So I am reminding myself to be kind. Not just to my husband, my kids, the people at the store who ran out of the last ingredient to make my grammie's pecan sandies... no, kind to myself. Permissive of my human condition. And grateful for the many, many, many opportunities I have in this life to learn.

How do you tame the perfectionism beast? Do you treat yourself with as much kindness as you treat others?

Sunday, October 27, 2013


... Meredith Alice Keniston, born October 15th, 2013 at 3:32 a.m. She weighed 6 lbs., 7.5 oz and measured in at 19 inches. We are all quite well and reveling in our new status as a family of six (SIX!). We are so appreciative of the well-wishes and lovely messages we've received from those of you who spotted a new baby in my Instagram feed. More details to come, but for now we're enjoying some quiet family time as we all get to know one another earthside.

Our new little family member:
 Sibling love, from the very first moments:
 And even some Mama rest every once in a while...
Precious moments in these first days and weeks, I tell you. Precious moments.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

BFIAR row: Blueberries for Sal

I have been wanting to row Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey, a staple of my childhood library, for over a year. But it had to be the right season: I live in Maine, so it had to be during blueberry season. Last year I had a running injury that prevented me from doing much blueberry picking, so I was patient and decided to wait for a whole year to try it out again.

But now it's time!

We are beginning school this week, and we're doing so slowly, with only a Five in A Row book and no other work right off the bat. Read on to find out what we're up to!

We used our classroom bulletin board to display the crafts of our unit.

 Language Arts

1+1+1=1's B is for Bear printable worked well for our younger learners as we worked the fine motor skills needed to cut out the bears and glue them onto the provided B's. It also reinforced the name of the letter and the sound it makes. (It was such a beautiful day we did school on the deck, too!)

We made our own upper- and lowercase B's and practiced "B is for blueberry" by painting the B's with blue paint and a simple homemade stamp (from furniture pads to keep chair legs from scraping the floor- what are those really called??).

My older child practiced retelling the story and writing about it using the Homeschool Creations template (link in the resources below), while my younger learners used a felt story set I made to recall and re-tell main events in the story.

Upside down, yes. But you get the idea. The kids made the blueberries at the top of the board while I made the rest.

We were also able to practice our prepositions (inspired by the notebook Homeschool Creations included in her printable set) with the felt pieces by changing the positions of each character and verbalizing the change in relation to other pieces ("Sal is next to the rock..."). My younger kids also made the preposition practice book, with more fine motor practice with cutting and gluing.

 The Homeschool Creations printable also included practice three-part cards to help emergent readers identify important vocabulary words in the story, and we used those with great success.

Practical Life
Transferring blueberries with tweezers between pails is a variation on a classic Montessori activity that our kids really enjoy.

The cooking that we did qualifies as practical life skill building too, but I've described that below. We love to eat our way through FIAR rows, I tell you.


We were inspired to try Growing Kinders' blueberry counting math center, (above).

For my older child I created a quick estimation game about how many blueberries were in different sized containers. Once he made his estimate, we counted out what five blueberries looked like and I asked him if he wanted to change is estimate. Then we counted out what ten looked like and I asked the same question. We continued until we found how many blueberries were in the container. The unexpected bonus was that to count them all he practiced counting by fives and tens! Eating them was the best part, of course.

I also bought some cultivated blueberries (which are much larger than the wild, native blueberries that grow here) and asked the younger kids to compare the sizes. We did a simple big, bigger, biggest activity with a few sets of blueberries, and then promptly devoured our materials. Math can be so delicious. 

We made these fun little blueberry basket crafts using potato stamps from Little Page Turners, which I somehow failed to take pictures of. Huh. 

Since we are fortunate to live in Maine, where lots and lots of real bears live, we thought we had better pay those bears a visit! So, off we went to the Maine Wildlife Park to learn about bears, and feed them too!

At the beginning of the week I presented the kids with a simple KWL activity on my chalkboard door. (For those who don't know about KWL, the idea is to get kids to brainstorm 1) what they already Know, 2) what they Want to know, and 3) what they Learned as they completed the lesson. There's a great downloadable KWL chart here if you don't have a chalkboard door to use.) So we were able to update our KWL chart after our trip, and we went to the park with clipboards that listed our questions and gave us space to record our answers.

Once we had done our KWL, I made up a simple worksheet for the kids to complete during (and after) our visit to the bears so they could share the information they learned. If you'd like to download it, click here

Again, since we live in Maine, I took the opportunity to do a bit more "in-depth" geography exploration than I otherwise might. It was so fun, and I was so pleased to find that the kids really responded with interest when learning about their home state.

We used these dot-to-dot puzzles to make Maine and we did some research about our state here,

We used the Maine resources and printables from Confessions of a Homeschooler's Road Map USA curriculum (which I highly recommend).  The "state report" was a good fit for my first grader, and introduced us to the use of an atlas to find out information about a particular geographic location.

My teaching certification happened to be up for renewal this year as well (I'm a certified teacher in Maine and maintain my certification now that I homeschool so that I can provide homeschool consulting services), and instead of mailing in my renewal form I tool the kids to the state capitol to drop off the paperwork. While we were there we visited the State Senate and State House, practiced making our own laws (about conservation of environmental resources, no less), and did a fossil hunt (you read that right) in the capitol building. It was such a fun way to learn more about our state and to get an errand done at the same time!

While we were at the capitol, we picked up a few tourism brochures about Maine, and came home to make a collage about our state using the pictures we felt accurately represented our life here. It was such fun! We included common animals we see, industries we know are common, and sights which represent Maine to us.
Of course we practiced our map skills by identifying Maine on our USA map and our world map.

Other Activities During Our Week
We picked blueberries! (Click here to find a spot to pick blueberries near you.)

Blueberry Zucchini Smoothies
We made a lot of blueberry recipes. Here is the our weekly menu plan, loaded with seasonal produce and a daily dose of blueberry. Blueberry pancakes... yum!

Other resources we've used during this unit:
Homeschool Creations' Blueberries for Sal printables

Great tie-in books:
Jamberry by Bruce Degan
Journey Around Maine From A to Z by Martha Zschock and Heather Zschock
Bear Wants More by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman
Peter in Blueberry Land by Elsa Beskow

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Blueberry-Zucchini Yogurt Served Three Ways

Since blueberries and zucchini are both in season right now, and farmer's markets all over the Northeast are teaming with both, we decided to take advantage this week and make a new breakfast smoothie that provides BOTH fruits and veggies, yet remains quite tasty. Since we made a whole bunch of it, we wound up trying our recipe three different ways, and really liked them all, so we're sharing all three!

 We made blueberry-zucchini smoothies, frozen yogurt drops, and squeeze yogurt pops. Before you judge- you can't even taste the zucchini and I didn't share with my kiddos that it was in there. They never suspected a thing...

You will need: (all amounts are approximate- use your taste to determine your preferences)

A small organic zucchini, peeled and chopped
A small organic apple, peeled and chopped (sweet varieties work best)
A pint or so of organic blueberries (frozen or fresh will work)
Organic Greek yogurt (I recommend raw)
Milk or coconut milk, to thin the mixture as necessary
Flax seed (optional)
Raw honey or maple syrup to sweeten, optional 

First, we combined our ingredients with an immersion blender. Here you see raw, organic yogurt, frozen blueberries (fresh are great too), chopped zucchini, chopped apple and flax seed.

Once blended, the mixture looked like this:

 Since I used frozen blueberries the mixture was quite thick, so I thinned it using some coconut milk.  (I added about half a cup, but you should add until you achieve the desired consistency.) Plain milk would also work quite well, I just had some coconut milk on hand and the combination of blueberry and coconut sounded so yummy. (It was- I recommend that you give it a try!) If you use fresh berries you may find no milk is needed.
I taste-tested the mixture to be sure all was well (if you like it on the sweeter side then just add some honey or maple syrup), then filled up my favorite freeze pop molds. (Check out my whole post on making homemade squeeze yogurt here.)
Once our yogurt pops were in the refrigerator, I remembered a great post from One Good Thing By Jillee about making frozen yogurt drops. Here's our two-year-old doing just that!

These were a big hit, by the way. Such a fun way to encourage even reluctant yogurt eaters to pop 'em in and give 'em a try!

Once our yogurt pops and yogurt drops were complete, it was time to make a smoothie. I added a touch more milk to thin the consistency of the original mixture some more, and voila! instant smoothie. Store this in a mason jar in the refrigerator for a couple of days so you don't have to make a new smoothie everyday. You just shake it up if the ingredients have begun to separate, and you're good to drink!

That wraps up my yummy blueberry-zucchini yogurt done three ways. What are you eating right now that's healthy and versatile?

By the way, we're making all this blueberry deliciousness because we're reading Blueberries for Sal this week in our Five in a Row homeschool.
Don't you just adore this book??

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