Saturday, September 30, 2006

Why Write?

I've been struggling with this question for months now, with regards to writing articles for StuntMom. Why would my humdrum existence matter to others? What could others gain from my daily struggles and yes, delights? A true writers block, black cloud, had taken hold of me. I'm still feeling it, but last Monday, the cloud started to pass.

On Monday, I started teaching a college prep reading and writing course. And one of the topics of discussion for this first class was "why write?" So we brainstormed ideas on the board. What we came up with was amazing. We write to make meaning out of experiences. To think more clearly. To persuade. To form new understandings. Writing about some of my day to day business does help me think more clearly. It's not just a frivolous waste of time (although let me tell you what I should be doing right now, instead of typing away: stripping windows, folding laundry, cleaning the cat box, etc...).

Last night, after supper, my husband and I sat at the table chatting. If we can get supper on the table by 5:30, then we finish the meal around six, giving us this somewhat peaceful half hour to chat. Teasing me, he praised me for my major work of the day: grocery shopping and making 3 stuffed snakes. He said it was too bad I didn't keep a journal, that would be one of the best, most exciting entries yet. Yup, that's all I did, all day. I spent almost $300 on groceries, half of my budget for the month. I then proceeded to make what I thought would be simple stuffed animals for my sons. It wasn't as quick as I had hoped.

After unpacking my groceries and putting everything away, it was time to go pick up Bea from kindergarten. And that was pretty much my day. Shocking how the day flies by. Seeing her brothers' snakes, she asked me if I would please please please make her a pink one. So up until dinner time (Daddy made supper last night), I was stuffing a pink snake.

A most unremarkable day. And I must say, writing about it has not given me new meaning or insights, this time around! Oh well.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Sense of Wonder in the Woods

A Sense of Wonder in the Woods, by Karen Marsh.

It all began with an unsigned document describing a labyrinth that had been assembled from natural materials in our neighborhood woods. I picked it up one day at a business on Ludlow Avenue, and a week later, my kids and I went in search of the labyrinth. (For those local to Cincinnati, go to the lake at Burnet Woods, then start up the road that will lead you to both the gazebo and the upper playground area. Just about 25 yards up the hill, there is a trailhead on your right. You'll know it's the right one if you see artistically arranged piles of rocks on either side of two trees that line the path -- I love that -- a clue...) My four-year-old was eager to lead the way. He had been there once already with my husband, who had seen the map lying on our kitchen counter and was actually the first one to take our kids there. So, my four-year-old was able to lead us right to it. The labyrinth begins with an arch of large branches from which point your feet are guided along a path edged by rocks of all sizes and carefully lined up branches. The path is a lovely meandering one and at points along the way, there are sculptures that are made of large rocks assembled in different formations. Many of the sculptures are bedecked with pretty rocks and shells. Some have a theme, like one that is decorated exclusively with conical shells, all of the same size and color. Visitors are encouraged to contribute to the assemblage, and my son seemed to fall naturally into this task with no prompting. I enjoyed watching him select shells that were in a scattered pile on the ground, clean them off, and arrange them with great precision on a sculpture that had consisted exclusively of bare rock up to that point. My kids also enjoyed leaving behind two sticks and a marble that we had found on our journey to the labyrinth, choosing just the right place for each item. The marble was carefully placed in an open shell, giving the appearance of a black pearl, the sticks joined others that line the path. While we were there, we saw a solo man enjoying the labyrinth, followed by a pair of women. The women and I shared our reactions to the place and agreed that it was special. I think that a lot of the best mothering is done when one follows the energy of one's children -- the labyrinth at Burnet Woods seems to give rise to just that type of energy. And let's remember that this is in Cincinnati, too. Running across something like this in the woods of California might be like going to a nice restaurant and being presented with a lovely, artistically presented entree. Running across something like this in Burnet Woods, in the neighorhood of Clifton, in Cincinnati, Ohio is more like walking into a McDonalds, bellying up to the counter and being informed by an elegant, smiling counter person, "Today, we are offering a selection of homemade soups prepared with ingredients from a local organic garden, and accompanied by wholegrain bread that is still warm from the oven."

To whomever is responsible for the labyrinth being in our woods, I'd like to say thanks for the wonderful afternoon experience. We'll be back.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Squeeze the Grocery Budget, Clean Naturally-ish

Here I am, at the end of the month, looking for ways to yet again squeeze the grocery budget. I'm trying to spend at most $600 a month on groceries. Now, with 3 days left in the month, I have 2 gallons of milk left in the fridge, but am running out of staples. To me, the word staples equals budget buster.

Window Cleaner. I'm almost out of it. I know, it's only about $2.50 a bottle, but it all adds up. We use a lot of this product, as we have many French doors and mirrors, at just the perfect fingerprint height. So, rather than buy a new bottle of the stuff (at our grocery store, they don't stock the big refill bottles), I decided to start making my own:

Glass Cleaner
Mix together the following:
1/8 cup vinegar
1/2 cup ammonia
one quart water.
And don't dry your windows and mirrors with paper towels, use crinkled up newspaper.
Add 3 drops blue foodcoloring if you must have the Windex tint.
Just kidding about that last part.

Drain Cleaner
Pour 1/4 cup baking soda and 1/2 cup vinegar into the drain, cover the drain until the fizzing stops, then flush with boiling water.

As a part of the fall changes in our household, I'm trying to use less and less chemicals. Better for the family, the environment, and less expensive. Motivator for this change: We flea bombed the house about a month ago (I kept picking fleas off the head of my youngest, which totally freaked me out), and after airing out the house, for the next week, our two older kids complained of headaches. This is worrisome to me. So if anyone has any "safer" suggestions for dealing with fleas, please let me know. I've been sweeping salt into the cracks of our wood floors, which is supposed to kill them, but alas, I'm still finding the little critters now and then.

So, anyone have any other recipes, post away!

Friday, September 22, 2006

Bedtime at Our House

Sometimes I think my kids might be smarter than me. The one time of day that I always seem to think this is bedtime. We go through good times and bad at getting the kids to sleep. But most of the time it is painfully bad. Getting the kids in p.j's and reading stories is fairly simple, assuming they have clean p.j's and we can all agree to the number of books to read. Once the books are read, and the lights go out, it is a cry fest. Monsters, thirst, needing the potty, tummy aches, hunger and the list goes on, plague our evenings. I've tried altering the hour that we put them to bed, thinking maybe they aren't tired yet, or they are too tired, but still the drama continues night after night. I'm at wits end. I feel like screaming my head off since I just don't know what to do to get them to bed. To make matters worse, my husband has been working many nights during the week, so often I'm the sole bedtime sergeant.

Things I've tried:

"Go to bed without giving me the business, and we'll walk into town for donuts for breakfast in the morning"

Giving the girls a long bath before stories to ensure they are relaxed and in the mood for bed

"You can each pick out 4 stories tonight if you go straight to bed without crying and fussing"

"Mommy is so tired tonight, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE go straight to bed"

"I will spank you both" (I know, it is child abuse to spank, so the threat is just as bad, right?)

I just don't know what to do.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Craigs List

I love I love it a little too much. I'm constantly on the site looking for something free, something cheap, or looking to see what I can get rid of for a little bit of cash. Our first experience of it was getting rid of our dishwasher from our last house. It was working just fine, but we were doing a major kitchen remodel, so we felt it was time to buy a new one that would match everything else. (I know, not an environmentally smart thing to do, but it sure beats having a new house built- right?) So rather than putting the dishwasher out for the trash, we put a free ad on to have someone pick it up and put it to use. We had our choice of people that quickly responded to the ad. Some wanted photos- which we found annoying since it was free, so we gave it to some young kids that moved here from the west coast (where is so much more popular) and they picked it up with a grateful attitude one Saturday morning.

So this article isn't really about Craigslist at all, as the title would lead you to believe. It is about my trip up to pick up a Thomas the Tank engine train table that I found on Craigslist. The table was advertised for $40, so being the person that I am, I bargained it down to $35. What a deal. So I was driving the 45 minutes to pick it up, when I realized that I shouldn't show up with two twenty dollar bills, since I talked her down to $35 (really, how could I ask for change at this point?) With the kids sleeping in the car, I thought, hey, I could hit a Starbucks Drive through, get some coffee, and the kids can stay in their car seats. Brilliant! I pulled up and suddenly felt so lazy. Drive thru windows have always annoyed me since I think most people using them really should get some exercise in effort to consume their fast food. I know, here I go off on another tangent of self righteousness. But I'll stop here. Since having kids, I now think every business should have a drive up window for mom's with kids.

Anyway, here I was at the drive thru window of Starbucks and the woman in the Suburban on the cellphone in the vehicle in front of me was sporting not one- but two "JEB '08" bumper stickers. Needless to say, I was so deflated at this point, I wanted to get out of the Starbucks line and leave this conservative land of Cincinnati. I didn't realize (well, yes I did- don't forget where I live) that Bush still had fans, let alone wanted his brother to run our recently destroyed country. Just the thought of another member of the Bush family for 4 more years made me sick to my stomach. I was feeling a little sluggish about getting politically involved for the next election, but now I'm feeling motivated again. So really, I guess I should be thanking the Suburban driving, Starbucks drinking, cell phone talking republican for waking me up.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Coffee Can Cash Stash

We don't do allowances in our family yet. We have an alternative: the coffee can. First of all, a brief history: back when we lived in Portland, our washer and dryer were in the basement. It seemed I was always finding change in the washer or dryer, and a decent pile accumulated on top of the dryer. On a shelf behind my washer was a pyramid of Maxwell House coffee cans, compliments of my dad. The pack rat in me thought they could come in handy some day. (And yes, I moved them up to Rockland with me.) So one day I decided to put the pile of change into a coffee can, and see how much I could collect over time. Then we moved to Rockland, where my laundry is on the first floor. Now the can is more accessible. I then decided to take all of our recycling money (in Maine, we pay a deposit of 5 cents on every can of juice or soda or beer), and add that to the can.

The money added up pretty quickly. What to do with it?? Save for a new couch? No, that would take far too long. Why not make it a toy fund? (When I'm out and about with the kids, I do not buy them toys unless it's been planned in advance. I have taken much advice from the article I posted on StuntMom about kids and materialism, April 2006, completely to heart.) The kids could each take turns picking out a quality toy, youngest to oldest. So after saving over $30, we took the can to a toy store in town, and bought Henry some really nice blocks we'd been eying for quite some time. The older kids couldn't wait for their turns to come. So they decided to start contributing. Every once in a while, Bea's dad pays her a dollar to do some "work" for him, stamping drawings. It goes in the can, without a second thought. Grandma puts a dollar in every card that she sends, so they can "go buy something at the Dollar Store." Well, we don't shop the dollar store for an instant gratification buy-a-toy-that'll-break-in-an-hour just for the sake of spending. My husband and I are really trying to raise our kids to be thoughtful, not compulsive, consumers. So Grandma's dollars go into the can. My parents, knowing about the coffee can stash, send their bottles and cans to us. They really boost our numbers.

The kids enjoy contributing to the can. And they have come to terms with taking turns. The first round we made of spending was rough. When it was Jimmy's turn, Bea wanted to pick out a toy, too. And when it was Bea's turn, Jimmy (3 yrs old) really wanted to pick out a new train. But they worked it out. And now, no matter whose turn it is to pick out a toy, both Bea and Jimmy are excited. This sort of saving is good, in my mind, because it fosters cooperation. The kids are saving not just for themselves, but each other. They are working together. And it teaches them to think long and hard about what they really want, as their turn doesn't come up very often. Joy of joys - Jimmy was lifting the can's starting to get heavy!! Henry's up to bat this time around.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Lifestyle Changes

A few days ago, StuntMom asked me if I was finished with The question saddened me, but at the same time, it was a pretty legitimate one. I've been mostly quiet all summer, but for good reason. In Maine, at least if you live on the coast, it is non stop visitor time. Almost every week end, and some week days, we've had visitor after visitor. And if we don't have visitors, we're out and about visiting. Don't get me wrong - we LOVE it. But it makes the summer fly by in a crazy sort of way. And when we had any down time, I was spending any extra time at my parent's house, picking wild blueberries. It was a bumper crop this summer, and I now have 25# of the sweet tasty berries in my freezer. Thank goodness the blueberries are now finished!

So anyway, I don't think I'm done with writing, but I do need to make some big changes in my everyday schedule. I know, it wouldn't be a StuntBec posting without the word schedule in it. You see, my eldest, Beatrice, started kindergarten this past week. Oh, I miss her something fierce. But she's having a grand time. I really felt her absence yesterday, when I took the boys to storytime at the library. BK (before kindergarten), Bea and Jimmy and Henry always sat together on a bean bag chair, and quietly listened to the stories. Without our anchor, Henry just wants to play at the train table (why do libraries have toys, anyway?), and Jimmy doesn't want to sit by himself. We had to leave, just 15 minutes into stories. Sad.

About a week before school started, we began a new routine. All children need to be in bed, teeth brushed, bathed (if necessary), and stories read, by 8 PM. No easy task. So here are the changes we made: Dinner must be on the table by 6 PM. Toy clean-up is to be done before supper. If supper's a bit delayed, I've been putting jammies on/doing showers before supper. And amazingly enough, kids have been going to sleep on time, if not a little bit early!!

Another big change for us is that we're not driving to my parent's house at the drop of a hat during the week. We're saving the visits for the week end, and spending more time just walking around Rockland and doing local things. It's a good change, although I miss seeing my parents less often. By not running around so much, I'm finding that laundry doesn't pile up, and the housework is not being as neglected as it used to be. I'm trying to have supper ready, or at least prepped, before the boys and I walk to Bea's school to pick her up. If I do this, I tend to be much less cranky. When we get back from picking up Bea, we all sit down and have a snack and a cup of tea, and talk about our day. We hear what's been going on in Mrs. Conover's class, and Bea hears what's been happening at home. It's a really great way to reconnect. I have my friend Donna to thank for suggesting this ritual.

Anyway, I have much more to write about lifestyle changes...but I've talked your ears off enough for today. Time to change Henry's diaper and put him down for a nap. Sorry for being so absent. I'll be posting more often, now that the leaves are starting to drop and the weather gets cooler!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Potty Training Advice

I have a friend with a four year old that refuses to poop on the potty. She has to put a pull-up on him whenever he needs to poop. At daycare he is not allowed to wear diapers or pull ups, so he poops in his pants daily. Daycare is also thinking of kicking him out since it's been going on so long. Any suggestions? My friend is desperate for any advice.

She has tried the reward system, with no luck.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Thoughts on Allowance

While visiting a sister and her kids this summer, I was confronted with the idea of allowance. Her son carried around his Boston Red Sox wallet and generously bought himself and my daughter a plastic insect while in the gift shop at a butterfly exhibit. Until this moment, it never occurred to me to pay my kids to do work around the house. Give my girls a sponge, soapy water and a bucket, and they couldn't be happier, so why would I pay them? But then it hit me... My oldest daughter, at the age of 4.5 asked for me to buy her a magnifying glass that we saw in a shop window as we were walking to the grocery store. I hastily said, "no, but maybe you could by it yourself one day". "But Mom, how could I, I don't have any money?"

So it began right then and there, my daughter would be earning an allowance so she can have the freedom to purchase. Don't worry, I worked her hard that first day as all of my bushes needed trimming and I didn't have to bend down once to pick up a fallen branch. Are we entering into the material age way too soon by giving kids money? Surely they aren't going to buy groceries, clothes or something truly needed, so should they have money? I feel guilty handing her money, like I'm forgetting to teach her manners, or neglecting to teach her about stranger danger (which is next, I promise) Do other parents give their preschoolers money, and do they feel bad about it? Should I hope she forgets, and never mention it again or should I continue to help her reach her goal and purchase the magnifying glass before the first frost kills all of the insects she is dying to view closer? Did all of these thoughts run through our parents mind while they were opening up their wallets for our small allowances?

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Ballet, Gymnastics, Preschool, What's Next?

I've read and heard tales of the family that is constantly shuffling their kids from one event to the next and I've often wondered why do we have such a problem with "down time" in our society? After spending three weeks of doing a whole lot of nothing other than relaxing at the beach, I returned to Ohio with an abundance of energy. It's the first week of preschool for my oldest daughter, yet I enrolled her in a ballet class one day a week, since a friend of mine has a daughter in the class. I thought it would be fun to hang out with my friend, while my daughter learns something new. I also thought it would be a good chance to help her get over being shy in new situations, since she has a friend in the class.

So sure, one would think, not a big deal- right? Next up, my middle child is heart broken that she can't be in the ballet class since it's for 4-5 year old kids. I start to question if I'm playing favorites. It's sad that at 2, she can't be in preschool, and she can't take ballet, so what is a mom to do? I'm relaying the story of deprivation to a friend of mine, and she suggests signing my two year old up for a gymnastics class, since they have them for young kids. Before I know it, my two oldest girls are now in gymnastics on Monday mornings. (My eldest insisted that she is ready for gymnastics too, and is willing to take a class where she doesn't know anyone- which I think is a big commitment coming from her since she is so shy)

Wow, how did all of this happen in a week? I'm not sure, but I hope it's not a habit. I've read about the families that run from activity to activity, eating on the run for every meal- is this where we are heading? Hopefully the fact that I'm asking this question is a touch of self analysis that will prevent me from a overly booked life with kids. Who knows, this could be how it all starts. Does every Mom say, "oh I'll sign them up this once, if they don't like it, that will be it". I guess I will have to let you know in 8 weeks when ballet is over.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

We Are Back!

I need to apologize to my dedicated readers. I've been on vacation for three weeks, which I know is no excuse, but I wanted to promise to you all, that we are back and ready to continue writing. So what did I learn from a three week vacation? Even if you are staying at home with your kids, a vacation away from the daily chores and schedule, is still a vacation. One doesn't need to travel to exotic lands in effort to be on vacation, one just needs to be in a place where chores are different and less and one feels relaxed enough to truly sit around and play with the kids, and catch up on reading. I went so far as to be sheltered from the daily news, with the exception of the occasional headline update from my father. The kids and I were in Maine for three weeks visiting relatives, but I have returned to my house ready to tackle anything, including three weeks of dust, laundry and grime that still managed to accumulate while I was gone. Thanks to, I should be able to get a handle on it all once again.

Also, my one road-trip tip is to play endless kid's music. I went to the library the day before we left, and picked out a few CD's in the kids section. Let me tell you, they were worth a million. The girls spent hours listening to The Wiggles, Jim Gill and others. Believe it or not, these were hours without fighting, just listening and looking out the window.