Monday, February 10, 2014

The Family that _______s Together

It's Family Meeting Time, It's Family Meeting Time...Family Meeting?  Why should we have a Family Meeting, you say?  We thought the same thing not so long ago.  But now that we've started, we're never stopping and here are our reasons.

We actually tried to start holding family meetings in the fall.  But they were met with so much kickback from the children that I decided to wait (and do some research on family meetings which led to more research). We talked about the idea of family meetings over the last few months, so they were still on our radars and everyone in the family knew they would come back at some point.  So, I resolved to make them happen in the New Year (anyone who has read my previous post might see a pattern here, but I am not usually a "New Years resolver").

My mistake in starting our last meetings was that I foolishly thought that they would just come together nicely and neatly and we would have wonderful family problem solving and feeling sharing opportunities (sugar plum and gumdrop fantasy, I know).  I was more focused on the product than the process.
Now I realize that these meetings with my husband and (almost) 6 and 4 year old are merely laying the groundwork to create a family atmosphere in which we all feel secure enough to talk things out and share problems and feelings in the future.  Because I think if I don't create that now, then my future 14 year old sure won't feel comfortable to come to me on her own.

So our first meeting was really brief, about 10 minutes, to get together to sing a fun song and set out some guidelines with the family. We needed to decide when and where to have the meetings, how we should start them and who would be in charge of what tasks.
I knew that to make these meetings work I would have to get the kids invested in the idea by having fun and giving them some responsibilities:

1.  After modeling what a typical agenda might look like, my daughter took the job of creating one for each week and posting it on the refrigerator.  Throughout the week we jot down any agenda items that might come to mind, like sharing an idea with the whole family or how to solve a problem that the siblings are having.  At the beginning of each meeting, Bean grabs the agenda and brings it over.

Bean's Agenda
2.  Doodle's job is to grab the Family Meeting Notebook and a pen.  In the notebook we write any important notes from the meeting or things we need to remember for the next meeting.

 Family Meeting Notebook

3.  We decided that a song to open every meeting would be a good idea (we picked the hokey pokey and everyone gets to pick a body part to "shake all about", you probably can guess what my 4 year old son chooses!). It's like an ice breaker and gets everyone on the same page.

4. Sharing Time or Announcements is when we share ideas, things that happened over the week, or items that the children created.  Everyone gets a turn and there are no rules except to be respectful to the speaker.
This is also when we might play Roses and Thorns; each family member gets to share a "rose" (good thing that has happened) and/or a "thorn" (not so good thing).  We've found that everyone enjoys knowing that they will be heard and their feelings validated at this time.  Not that it doesn't happen at other times during the week, but having a dedicated time has been so valuable.

5.  Business is the down and dirty problem solving time.  Honestly, we haven't had much of this so far and it is okay.  I know that we are setting the framework now for when we need to have the big "business" discussions.  For now I have been using this time for games and activities that are team building and fun.

6.  Treats!! The closing of the Family Meeting is always a treat, whether it is a cookie or fruit with whipped cream or a bit of ice cream, it is something the children look forward to.  And I'd be hard pressed to find a better way to continue great family bonding than over a glass of milk and a cookie!

Our Family Meetings are a work in progress, as they should be.  They help give us time to bond and really enjoy one another in the middle of our busy schedules.  I'm so glad we started them and I hope you might think about it too.

Health and Happiness,

My Early Childhood Education background helped me make these meetings work for my young children.  It can be challenging finding ways to involve children this young (and younger!) but I encourage you to try. 
Just setting the precedent for these meetings to happen in your life will help your child understand that you are making family a priority in your life.  While I'm not an expert, I do feel strongly about how strong families make for strong children.  

If you have any questions, I'd love to help if I can.  

Monday, February 3, 2014

Library Log #1- The Adult Shelf

My all time favorite simple pleasure is reading.  Fiction, non-fiction, young adult, mystery, I'm pretty much open to it all.  I see nothing wrong with sitting for hours and getting lost in a book (not that I get to do it very often with two little ones running around), in fact if I could take a week off from everything and just live in a library or book store I would be one happy woman.  But since that isn't going to happen, I do the best that I can and quickly scan and grab a book or two from the library shelf while my kids are playing in the children's section.
Sometimes I can get through two books in two weeks, more often I end up renewing and renewing again until I can finish.
I have found the GoodReads app (for iPhone) to be most helpful lately as I can quickly scan books at the bookstore or library to add to my "to-read" list and then access it when I need to remember what that book was that I wanted to read.
My library system has a digital media catalog that I can use to download available titles to my Kindle or iPad.  I sometimes find that books I cannot find physically at the library are available digitally.  One benefit is that you can request a title and when it is available you receive an email and link to download.  Unfortunately the titles are non-renewable and only able to be "taken out" for 14 days.  Although more often than not I have found this to be a huge motivator to finish the book!

And so, similar to my original Library Log post I will share here with you my good library finds (and maybe some not so good ones), but for adults.

My reads this week:

VB6 by Mark Bittman:  My husband and I just finished a 4 day cleanse.  We felt great afterwards.  We know that we can't eat like that all the time but we also know that our regular eating habits could be changed for the better.  This book couldn't have come to me at a better time.  It was an eye opening read because it led me to understand how my eating doesn't have to be "eat this-not that (ever)" and that I don't have to feel guilty when I do indulge a bit.  Essentially, author Mark Bittman visits his doctor and is told that he is overweight and pre-diabetic and is given a mandate to begin a vegan diet.  Being a food writer, his life literally revolved around eating, yet he didn't want to be resigned to a lifelong pill regimen.  So he created a flexible"flexitarian" vegan diet plan to fit his own needs.  Six years later he has lost 40 or so pounds (and kept them off) and he is no longer pre-diabetic.  The plan essentially prescribes that you eat Vegan Before 6:00 (at night, or dinner time) and for dinner and later you are welcome to eat anything.  No rules, calorie counting or restrictions.
Bittman spends the first few chapters of the book describing in very simple to understand language how the body processes what we put into it and how that translates into health (or lack thereof).  The last chapter is full of recipes that are fairly simple and broken into categories of breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner.  While I don't intend to follow the plan exactly, it has helped inform how I make my own dietary choices.
There is also a great interview of Mark Bittman and his book on WBUR's On Point.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson:  Interesting story set in Nazi occupied Poland and current day Chicago.  A young German boy, Otto, is generously taken in by a Jewish family prior to the Nazi occupation.  Through the years the boy becomes part of his new family, bonded with his new siblings, Ben and Rebecca.  When the Nazi's come to invade their town, Otto is visited by his biological parents and faces the decision to stay with his Jewish family and face many challenges or to listen to his parents and go to work for the Germans.  In current day Chicago, Ben has enlisted a lawyer to persecute a well-loved philanthropist who he accuses of actually being Otto, who as a Nazi had committed terrible crimes against Ben's family.
The author uses Ben's voice to retell a beautiful and tragic story that I didn't want to put down.

I hope you might pick up one of these great books and enjoy for yourself!

Health and Happiness,

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Library Log #1

As we settle back into routine after the holidays (and recent snow days), I find that the children and I have also settled back into a favorite activity: enjoying books together.  I'm a reader and always have been and so I have the expectation that my children will be, too.  After all, they are great imitators of our best and worst habits.
I was discouraged recently when we went through a few months of not reading much at all.  Perhaps it was holiday and pre-holiday craziness or just a bad, bad phase but our regular story reading at bedtime wasn't happening so regularly.  The kids and I were having challenges with bedtime and in the interest of getting them to sleep before 8:30 each night, story time was cut short.  Sad, I know.  Unfortunately this was also paired with us not reading during the day either (crazy schedules again).  Battling guilt (I was that mom who never read to her children!) and sadness (why can't we just enjoy reading together?), I knew that in the New Year we would need to remedy the situation.  My solution?  Planned weekly trips to the library and the creation of a family reading spot.

Our family reading spot now centers around a cozy chair in our living room (complete with fuzzy pillow and blanket) and two book holders.  One holds books from our personal library that I try to rotate according to season and/or theme.  The other holds books borrowed from the library so I know where to find them.  I have also found that this makes it easier for the kids to find the books they are looking for.
Doodle enjoying a new book.

Apparently it has worked, because lo and behold, just the other day I caught my 4 year old just "lookin' at books" in the chair.  I have high hopes for daily independent book looking.

And now to the real purpose of this post, to share some of our great library finds with you.  I hope to make this a bit of a series, posting occasionally as we find great library books (honestly, some weeks we don't find that many "winners").

Here are my kids favorite (and Mom approved) books this week:

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers: a very silly story by one of our favorite authors/illustrators about a boy who gets a lot of things stuck in a tree while trying to retrieve his kite.
Actual Size by Steve Jenkins:  a picture book including a variety of animals represented in their actual size, which is great because what 4 year old can grasp that a Goliath frog is 3 feet long without seeing it?
Families of the Deep Blue Sea by Kenneth Mallory:  a non-fiction book which details the life of a variety of animals that live in and around the water.  It shares some interesting facts that I haven't seen in other books of its type.
The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc:  the story behind the movie starring Ben Stiller.  My kids haven't seen the movie, but continue to enjoy the tale of the night shift guard who loses the dinosaur bones and finds lots of adventure on his first night of work.

I would love to hear some of your favorite books!

Health and Happiness,

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Making It Look Easy

That's what someone said about me.  This morning.
There I was, standing with my 3 year old outside the preschool door waiting for school to open.  With my coffee mug in my hand.  Not the travel mug that I should have brought in the car with me but the real mug that I ran out of the kitchen with as I shuffled my kids out the door because we were going to be late for Kindergarten drop off.  I should mention that we were running out the door because we had already missed the bus.
Never the less, there I stood, waiting and another mom said to me "Wow, you make it look so easy, with your coffee cup and everything".

And I was reminded of how perceptions can be so deceiving.  To me, my morning was anything but easy.  Running late, packing snacks, trying to get my kids to eat breakfast.  On my drive to do the errands (of course there were errands) I couldn't stop thinking about what had changed in my demeanor that would demonstrate to others that this all is easy.  And all I could come up with was how my priorities have changed and my life simplified over the last few months.  I felt proud of myself.  Because in the craziness of that morning, I was still able to talk about the leaves falling with my 3 year old.  I watched my 5 year old as she walked herself into school, finally confident enough to take care of herself.  And a lot of those changes have to do with my decision to focus on them, on being present, on making parenting them thoughtfully a priority.

This morning couldn't have happened if I was tied up on my smartphone.  It couldn't have happened if I had prioritized my kids looking perfect, and sacrificed them working independently to get dressed and ready.

I'm so glad it did happen, because it is little victories like this day that make me feel like I'm doing something right.

Have you changed your priorities?  How has it made a difference in your days?

Health and Happiness,


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Simply Bedtime

We have been blessed with a dawdler.  The bedtime routine itself is enough to drive me to drink (okay, maybe just pull my hair out).  Never mind attempting to have her (the dawdler) clean up the playroom; that makes my blood rise and my heart hurt, and I'm a pretty patient woman.  And in the middle of all this, in my first weeks as a Stay-At-Home-Mom, I'm continuing to try to live the Simple Life. 

 Is life simple when you feel like screaming because your children have no sense of urgency?  No.  Is life simple when you just want to read stories to the kids before bed but someone hasn't even gotten their jammies on yet?  No. Is life simple when you have worked so hard to put routines and reward systems in place and some days they Just Don't Work?  No.   Life is complicated and messy and FULL of emotion.  Of course it is, it's meant to be.  

When does life get simple again?  When you can stop. Simply stop your body and mind.              
Breathe.  And breathe again.  One more time...
and remind yourself:

Because she's only 5 and a half. 
Because her brother doesn't help (especially when he decides to be an alligator). 
Because despite all of it, none of it really matters. 
Because before I know it, she's going to be 12(or 8) and not need my help anymore. 

I'm stuck in one of those "cherish every moment" moments.  You know, the ones when people with kids 12 years older than yours say "cherish it now because it'll be over before you know it" and you go "what, the whining and messy eating and negotiating and I'm-just-so-exhaustedness of it all?"  Yup.

And the simple life lady in me says that those people are right.  So tomorrow night I will help Bean get her jammies on and I will listen to whatever she is telling me as she's making her way to start the bedtime routine.  Maybe we'll find a way to start the whole bedtime thing 30 minutes earlier.  And I'll have to be okay with that, because my kids are who they are.  And they, of course, deserve a Mom who simply loves them.  

Thanks for listening.  How do you remember to simply 'be' with your kids?

Health and Happiness,

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Toad Abode

So, needless to say, I spend a lot of time in the garden.  And therefore, so do my kids.  My oldest is very interested in doing what mommy does and has her own garden (which at times has grown better than mine!). She takes the time to water it, enjoys harvesting and especially likes to make 'plant food' (compost and water) to keep her vegetables and flowers happy.  Bean is pretty focused and has the patience to wait for things to grow.  My little guy, on the other hand, is more happy to play with the worms, frogs and occasional caterpillars that frequent our garden.  Although he has his own garden spot, he'd rather dig in it than wait for something to grow.  After all, mommy already has all the green beans he'll need, right?
The challenge is that while Bean and I are diligently working, it happens on more than one occasion that Doodle gets his shovel in one of OUR gardens.  You can imagine how this scenario ends.  
It's really easy to find ways to be with my daughter in the garden.  It's harder to do so with my son, so I've been trying to find more things to create and make for him to be interested in.  While visiting the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum we learned about creating a habitat for toads in the garden (charmingly named a Toad Abode) and I snapped a photo to remember the project.
When I got home and wanted to start the project with the kids, I found a handy website that gives the basics on creating a Toad Abode like why it is needed and the best places to put it in your yard.  Then I rounded up the materials and we got to work.  Here's what you'll need:
*4 inch clay pot
*brushes and paint (we used latex, you can use tempera or acrylic but you should seal it afterwards with a clear poly)
*small saucer (either one that is sold with the pot or a random extra you might have hanging around)

Let the kids get painting!  

Once the paint is dry (and you have sealed the pot, if necessary) start looking for a damp spot in the yard to put your abode.  You'll also need a rock to prop up the edge of the pot so the toads can get in.  The kids can find dry leaves, twigs and sticks to put under the abode, to give the toads a cozy home.  Set it out and see what happens.  My kids have been checking theirs every day to see if anyone has moved in, they also sing to the toads to let them know there is a place for them.  I'm not sure if that is hurting or helping, but at least we are all outside enjoying nature.

Health and Happiness,

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


There is a whole lot of romanticizing happening in my garden right now.  The 'birds and the bees' have got nothing on the cucumbers and tomatoes.  Every morning I walk out to check on the garden and witness nature doing her job.  It's beautiful, really; bees buzzing in the cucumber and eggplant flowers, wasp larvae slowly and silently killing hornworms, cucumbers stealthily weaving their tendrils around every other vegetable in their way.  Okay, so I'm not so sure how romantic it is for cucumber vines to be strangling tomato plants but I'll admit that every time I see it that cheezy getting-it-on theme music from the movies runs through my head.
I'm all about the experience of growing my own food right now and making my own mistakes is more valuable to me than anything.  At least I know that I tend to be a rogue gardener, doing a bit of planning and letting the rest just happen.  After all, I have more than a few rogue tomato plants (sprouted from the compost) growing where they shouldn't be.  I've let them go and have gotten quite a few unexpected heirloom grape/pear tomato looking things.  They are delicious.
Vining on an eggplant
Vining across tomatoes

Now, the fact that I've admitted to letting my vegetables carry on like this might make some gardeners cringe.  The more seasoned gardeners may say I've broken some cardinal rule of gardening.  The thing is, I'm not sure I have and moreover, I'm not sure I care. Learning all the rules (using that word loosely) of gardening is overwhelming and although I'm sure its all on handouts and dog-eared pages somewhere I'm just not at that part of the process yet.  I'm just glad I've gotten something (a lot of somethings) to grow this year.  I've out-defended the deer and small rodents and grown some food for my family.  And now, judging by how far flung those cucumber vines are, I've got to search out some new pickle recipes.

Health and Happiness,


What are some of your garden faux pas?  What 'rules' do you break?