Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life: June 2012

Our Mindful Life

Our Mindful Life is about paying attention to what it is that we do on a day to day basis and how we impact each other and the planet. We will talk about all of the things that we do here at home to make ourselves and the world a better place.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Cultivating Imagination in Children

Having an imagination is a powerful thing.  The same forces that spark children to play house are the forces that spark new ideas in business, housekeeping, parenting, finances, science, art, and pretty much any endeavor which would require new ideas from time to time.  It is also one of the most overlooked, undervalued and discouraged traits in children.

Many people simply don't understand how important imagination is.  Some people don't know how to encourage it.  Some people don't realize that they are impeding it as parents.  Whatever the reason, many children are the victims of a lack of cultivation in their imaginations.  Don't worry!  As usual, I'm happy to help.  :)

Imagination is important because it is the basis for teaching the brain to think of things, not as they are, but as they could be, or as we would like for them to be.  It is the force that lets our brains reach beyond the constraints of circumstance and finds hope, dreams, and the path to achieving the things we desire in life.  Without our imaginations, we couldn't look at a corporate ladder and picture ourselves higher up, and figure out what steps we would need to get there.  Without our imaginations, we couldn't look at a budget and figure out a way to save money in one area to make another feasible.  Without our imaginations, we couldn't look at a problem in our home and conceive a way to fix it.  Imaginations are some of the most important tools that we have as humans!

So how do we encourage imaginations in our children?  Here are some great tips for you.

1.  Kids need private spaces to play, without adults directly watching them.  I can hear parents sucking in their breath, screwing up their faces, and calling me negligent already.  But, hear me out.  Playing without adults directly watching can be accomplished in very close quarters.  I am, by no means, suggesting that you should allow your children to play completely unsupervised - especially if they are very young.  But playing without adults watching is the only way that children can fully absorb into their own minds and wills and reach those new levels of imagination.  It is also the only way that they can play without their play being influenced by adults.  Play influenced by adults is a blow to the imagination..  When an adult is playing with a child, they almost always lead the play - even when they don't mean to.  The adult is limited to what they believe to be true, while children are completely unlimited by such trifles.  An adult may feel that elephant soup is silly, while a child may feel that it is just a part of his or her game.  The adult bringing the tone of silly to the game changes the child's perception of what they are imagining, and limits it to only being silly.

So, how does an adult give a child space to play, and still keep the child close enough to be safe?  Or how is this accomplished in quarters where there simply isn't much space for playing without being watched?  Any type of a perceived barrier will allow children to become involved in their play.  In our former house, we were blessed with a first floor bedroom, right off of our open kitchen and dining room.  This room was our playroom while both of our children were still very young.  The children were happy to play in there by themselves for extended periods of time, even while they were very young.  Since Elliott has been old enough to scoot himself about, he has made his way to this playroom to join the older children in their play, while I cook, clean, or tend to my other chores in the nearby rooms.  Fenced yards can be made safe enough for children who are old enough to be responsible enough to follow the rules outside.  Sofi has been playing outside, unsupervised, in fenced yards since she was about 2 years old.  We've always made certain that there was no equipment that she could be hurt on, no baby pools, and no way she could get out of the yard. And when there isn't that much space available, a set of playstands with a sheet over the top, behind a couch, or under a homemade tent is the perfect spot for children to disappear for a few hours.

Sheets over clotheslines to create a play tent at our camp site.

2.  Provide toys which encourage imagination.  Toys that are pigeon holed by being one thing and only one thing are the antithesis of imagination.  A doll that can only be a baby, or only an adult, or only a child, can only be what they are presented as.  A cloth doll with a less formed body can be whatever a child needs in the moment to aid in his or her play.  Even less flexible than a baby/child/adult doll is the character doll.  Children who have watched a character on television or in a movie and are then given the doll of that character are not as able to pretend that character into being something else.  There are always exceptions, but this is typically true.  My children, for example, have the Grinch and Max dolls from How the Grinch Stole Christmas!  They use them simply as a dog, and as one of Sofi's favorite babies.  I think this is largely due to the fact that they had the dolls for several years before they heard the story of the Grinch.  Toys which light up, make noise, talk, tell the child how to play, or attempt to teach the child while the child plays also greatly inhibit imagination.  To adults, these toys have value as they distract the child with lights and noise, or seem to aid in imagination if the toy phone really makes dial tones.  But to children, it is harder to imagine that they are calling the president if the phone only pretends to call mom and grandma, or only rings and no one ever answers.  And toys that are attempting to teach children while the children play actually keep a child from reaching their own inner mind to find their own creativity.  I have many things to say against this type of toy, but I will limit it to this:  If you are going to buy a toy to teach a child something, please do not disguise this toy as being a toy for imaginative play.  Have the expectation that there will be times devoted to playing with the educational toy and times that will be devoted to imagination based toys.

Kids of all ages can enjoy imagination based toys together.
3.  Limit media.  Kids today spend a record amount of time in front of screens.  The latest reports show that 2-5 year old children spend an average of nearly 25 hours per week in front of a television.  For those of you who are bad at math, that is over three and a half hours per day!  There are a lot of factors involved in making judgments on television, including the type of programming watched, adult participation in the viewing experience, and conversation surrounding the viewing.  But one thing is certain - the more time in a day that a child is sitting in front of a box watching something happen and having no choices about what is happening in front of them, the less time they are spending creating their own story lines and agendas.

4.  Provide fodder for imagination.  Reading to children, telling them stories, providing colorful environments, and exposing them to thoughts of new things that they are not in daily contact with will spur children to think about things in new ways, and to play them out.  This does also include images taken from media, like outer space, animals or environments not native to the child's native locale, and story lines that the children aren't familiar with (like Little House on the Prairie!  I had to work it in somehow).  However, imagination is spurred just as easily, if not even more easily, by watching the adults present and imitating their actions.  If children only see adults sitting in front of screens, it will be much more difficult for the children to imagine other scenarios involving adults.  Watching me hang out laundry makes it easier to imagine what Ma might have done out there on the prairie without a dryer.

5.  Schedule time for practice each day.  Plan free play time into your day each day.  Start doing this as young as possible!  Free play means that your child decides what to play and plays it without the aid of an adult.  It does not mean that the adult puts on a princess crown and plays tea party as the child directs.  Free play is better and more effective when more children of varying ages are added to the mix.  The more time children spend in free play, the less time they spend expecting to be entertained and the better their imaginations become!  Just like playing the piano, practice makes the performance better.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A (Mostly) Plastic Free Life

Welcome to the June 2012 Simplicity Parenting Carnival: Green Living
This post was written as part of the monthly Simplicity Parenting Carnival hosted by The Lone Home Ranger and S.A.H.M. i AM. This month we are discussing how we find ways to be more natural parents and stewards of the environment. Be sure to read to the end to see a list of the rest of the excellent carnival contributors.
Many years ago, before my husband and I had kids, we agreed that we didn't want the standard house full of plastic that seems to be delivered with the baby.  It was simply an aesthetic that did not appeal to us.  Both of us, even before succumbing to our environmentalist roots, were more naturally minded, and didn't feel that the house full of plastic was necessary for healthy, happy babies.

And then, we actually had a baby!  And you know how it goes when you have a baby and things start changing...  We never did buy any large plastic equipment for Sofi.  I found a wooden high chair that needed a little work (which I promptly volunteered Papa for), at a sale for $10.  The price was right and the chair was truly beautiful.  So, Papa sanded, varnished and glued and that wooden high chair has served 3 kids so far.  We were gifted a giant plastic swing when Sofi was a tiny baby and we still lived with Papa's parents, but when we moved out, we left it with them and invested in a small travel swing that folds flat.  The legs are metal and the seat is cloth.  It fit better with our vision, and it fit better in our teensy apartment.  But, the toys were, of course, almost all plastic.  The shape sorters, pop beads, balls, blocks, stackers, gyms and teethers - all plastic.  And, we kind of hated it.  We drew the line at logos and characters, batteries, lights and noises, and we generally preferred classic toys.  But, every new stage and toy brought a growing sense of discontent.

And as we grew as parents, we grew more in touch with our natural, environmentalist roots.  We stopped using Johnson & Johnson's Baby shampoos after the news of their containing carcinogens broke, and we began using natural body care products instead.  We stopped using disposable diapers after 6 months and switched to cloth.  We didn't use chemical cleaners at our little apartment, and used soap, water, baking soda, and maybe some vinegar or tea tree oil if it was a tough job.  We got rid of any disposable products, with the exception of writing paper and toilet paper, and the rare piece of foil or zip top bag.  We replaced those products with things that could be washed and reused.  We recycled obsessively.  And we watched our baby chew on those plastic toys.

We learned about BPA and phthalates and how bad they are for people.  We learned about the plastic island in the ocean.  We learned about plastic sitting in dumps, not breaking down completely for hundreds of years.  We learned about off-gassing.  We learned more about the world's obsession with petroleum products and how much this raises our carbon footprint.  We learned about all of these things, and there sat our precious little baby, with a plastic ring in her mouth, happily gnawing away.  We looked at the amount of plastic in our home.  And we looked at each other and our level of discomfort with the situation.

And we decided to make a change.

We decided that we would get as far away from plastic in our home as possible.  We decided that we would stop buying plastic toys.  We decided that we would slowly replace the plastic in our home.  At first, the goal was simply to get rid of as much plastic as possible.  Soon, we narrowed our definition and aimed for a 90% plastic free home.  And at that time, in that place, it seemed next to impossible.

No longer in our tiny apartment and still able to reach our goal of 90% plastic free home!

We had a lot of roadblocks in our newly idealized journey; things that may have caused the faint of heart to turn tail and bury their heads in the sand.  But Papa and I are nothing if not adventurous.  So we plunged bravely ahead!

Wooden swing, wooden play house, wooden wheel barrow, and metal truck.

One major road block was that we didn't want to cause a further strain on the environment by dumping our plastic things in a landfill and buying new plastic things.  So, we made the decision that we would only replace items as needed with non-plastics, except for a few key items.  So, when something broke, or had reached the end of its useful life, we would replace it with an item that was non-plastic.  We got reusable grocery bags, and stopped bringing plastic home.  We examined everything we bought and truly thought about it, for the first time.

Wooden ladder and wooden "climbing structure" next to our clothesline full of cotton.

The key exceptions being that we began replacing dishes and toys as soon as we could.  We did not want things that touched our food, or went into our baby's mouth to be made of plastic.  She was still young enough at that point that replacing the toys happened easily, albeit slowly.  Babies naturally go through stages with toys very quickly.  The six month old can't use the shape sorter yet, but the one year old can.  So, when new toys were bought, we bought non-plastic.

Wooden play kitchen and wooden bookshelves made by Papa - filled with wooden, cloth, metal and cardboard toys and baskets.
Another road block was that we were completely, flat broke.  We lived every month down to the penny.  There was nothing extra to go around buying expensive wooden toys with.  So, we made the choice to buy less toys that were better quality.  This meant that I couldn't go to a garage sale, spend $3 and come home with a room full of toys anymore.  But it meant that if I was careful, I could find the Melissa and Doug stacking train at a garage sale for 75 cents.  It meant that we began making more of our own toys to be able to afford them.  And it meant getting creative about what qualified as toys.

Wooden table and chairs made by Grandpa, and other assorted wooden, cloth and cardboard toys.
Our project took a lot of time...  A lot of time.  It took a lifestyle change - much like a diet, if you will.  It took a lot of initial conscious thought.  And then, one day, we looked around and realized...  We had reached our goal!  Without thinking about it anymore, without agonizing over every decision, without spending a fortune, we had created a home that is 90% plastic free (or maybe more - exact measurements are hard)!

Our dining room, complete with two wooden high chairs.  The plastic in the front corner is our birth kit and pool, as this picture was taken when we were getting VERY close to having our second baby at home.
We think our home is an aesthetic joy.  It is warm and inviting.  It doesn't have a lingering plastic smell.  We don't worry, even subconsciously, about what our kids are putting in their mouths when they play.  We have learned to be even more careful with our money and the amount of things we accumulate.  We are better stewards to our environment.  And we are happier because of it.

Our living room, full of wood framed furniture covered in cotton fabrics.

***As a side note, the pictures here are of our house in Missouri.  We moved in to our camper (even tinier than our tiny apartment) in April and we are working to bring our non-plastic aesthetic to our home there.***

Thanks for reading the Simplicity Parenting Blog Carnival! We hope you’ll take time to read these other great contributors’ posts: SimParCarButton150x150
  • Almost Crunchy - Molly at Molly Makes Do writes about her life as "Almost Crunchy" and the baby steps she's taken to get from "Not at All" to "Almost."
  • A (Mostly) Plastic Free Life - Kellie at Our Mindful Life reflects on the recent intrusion of plastic into her usual plastic free home.
  • Slowly Greening Our Home - Dana at Urban Hippie Momma has slowly reduced the amount of paper waste in her home with a few simple practices.
  • Being Green - Anne at Raising Sweet Grace shares her tips on being a green parent.
  • Back to Basics - Justine at The Lone Home Ranger channels her greatgrandmother’s cleaning tips to make her household healthier, more frugal, and more earth-friendly.
  • It's Not (Always) Easy Being Green - Emily at S.A.H.M. i AM discusses the little things her family does to be more eco-friendly but admits it's not always as easy as it sounds.
Thanks to all the fabulous writers and readers for being a part of our simplicity parenting community! Stop by The Lone Home Ranger and S.A.H.M. i AM to see how to join us for a future carnival.

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Mom Hacks Monday - Upcycling Fabric for my Camper Redecorating

Upcycling fabric is one of my favorite things!  Some people look at an item that no longer fits, has a tear, has a big stain, or no longer works for what it has been, and they see trash.  But not me!  No siree.  Take, for instance, this table cloth.  Or, perhaps it was a patio umbrella cover, I'm not really sure.

What I am sure of is that I got it at a yard sale for 25 cents.  It is a big chunk of fabric that is 100% cotton.  And it is the perfect colors for my camper redec!  So, it came home with me.  And I pulled down all of the roses, roses, roses that were all over my camper...

Roses are nice and all, but I'm just a daisy girl.  Roses are simply not my thing.  So, while there is nothing *wrong* with the roses, they just weren't right for me.  I am, however, into brighter colors.  So I knew that I wanted the camper to be brighter, and more cheery.  And I wanted that aqua velour couch to match whatever I did, because covering it would be a royal pain!

I found this rug and knew that it was my new door mat!  The colors were exactly what I was searching for.  And when I found the striped fabric, I knew the colors would be perfect.  So, now, my cabinets look like this.

Not a bad start on a makeover for 25 cents!!  And I pulled the roses off the bench to reveal...

More aqua velour!!!  Love it!!  Not.  I'm looking for fabric that coordinates with my stripes to cover the benches and the window valances.  You can see one of them in the picture above.  I have plenty of stripes left over to make appearances as hot pads or throw pillows.  I'll find some trim to put around the cabinets as well.

Keep watching for more camper redec pictures, coming your way!  And while you are at it, keep watching for interesting fabric, even if it is currently in a different shape than you were expecting.

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Friday, June 22, 2012

Foodie Friday - Basic Quina Skillet Meal

Quinoa is such an amazing food!  My family loves it, and we've been remembering to buy it enjoying it more often lately!  Since quinoa is a grain that many Americans aren't aware of, I'd like to share some information about it and an easy recipe for making a quinoa skillet meal.

From the World's Healthiest Foods,
Although not a common item in most kitchens today, quinoa is an amino acid-rich (protein) seed that has a fluffy, creamy, slightly crunchy texture and a somewhat nutty flavor when cooked. Quinoa is available in your local health food stores throughout the year.
Most commonly considered a grain, quinoa is actually a relative of leafy green vegetables like spinach and Swiss chard. It is a recently rediscovered ancient "grain" once considered "the gold of the Incas."
 A quarter cup of quinoa provides the following recommended daily allowance percentages:

58.5%   manganese
31.2%   tryptophan
29.6%  magnesium
28.1%  phosphorus
20.7%  fiber
19.4%  folate
18%  copper

And only 12% of your daily calories at 222 calories per 1/4 cup!

So, obviously, we should all be adding Quinoa to our grocery lists right now!  It is incredible stuff!  It can be prepared in a variety of ways.  One of my favorites is to prepare it like oatmeal, with honey and bananas, for breakfasts in the winter.  But this recipe is *mildly* more complicated than that.  Today's recipe is for a basic quinoa skillet meal.  I used ground beef, but you could really use any ground or shredded meat or beans instead of the beef.  This is a one dish meal that is so fast, easy,healthy, hearty and yummy that my family ate it up, begged for seconds, and then fought over the single serving that was leftover for lunch the following day.

Basic Quinoa Skillet Meal
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Small to Medium Onion, Chopped
1 Bell Pepper, Chopped  (And I'm going to say right here that I cheat on these two ingredients and buy the frozen bell pepper and onion blend from the grocery store, and use it whenever a recipe calls for peppers and onions.)
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
2 Celery Ribs, Sliced
1 lb ground beef
1 1/2 C Quinoa
Sage, cumin, salt, pepper and oregano to taste.  I used approximately 1/4 tsp each of the herbs, a dash of pepper and probably forgot the salt.
1 1/2 C Water, plus more if needed

Heat a 10 to 12 inch skillet on the stove top.  Add olive oil.  Wait a moment for the oil to heat, then add the onion and peppers.  Saute for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the garlic and celery.  Continue sauteing until all is fragrant, and slightly browned.  Add the ground beef, and cook until browned.  Drain fat if needed.  Add the dry quinoa and spices and toast for a minute or two.  Add water.  Simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, keeping an eye on your water level.  The quinoa will be acting like a whole grain, like rice or oatmeal if you have cooked these, and will be soaking up the water.  However, you do not want to run out of water before your quinoa goes from looking like a seed to looking like a fluffy puff of grain.  Likewise, you don't want your quinoa to be fluffy and puffy and ready to eat, but floating around in a pool of water, either.  So, if the water gets too low, add more slowly.  When you think it is ready, taste a quinoa and make sure that it is easy to chew. If so, serve it up!

This entire recipe took me half an hour or less to prepare.  I minced garlic and chopped celery while the frozen peppers and onions sauteed.  And that was the only prep work.  It also didn't hurt Papa's feelings that it used only one skillet, since he is the official dishwasher in the family.  And this recipe served 2 adults, two children, and a baby.  Perfect for a busy weeknight!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

So... We Live in a Camper Now...

I've talked a bit about our adventure in moving cross country, in preparation for buying a farm and becoming sustainable farmers.  Our house in Missouri has been on the market since Thanksgiving, and we are patiently waiting for the right buyers to come along.  In the mean time, Papa began looking for a job in Ohio, since that was the other big step to moving.  And, since the universe is generally on our side, he was able to get a great new job, which he started at on May 1.

Now, the big problem became that we are not allowed to set up a permanent residence anywhere except for our home in Missouri, because of our mortgage.  So, while the house remains on the market, we had a choice to make.  Let Papa come on ahead of us to Ohio and live at my mom's house while the kids and I remained behind with the house, or try to figure out a way for us all to stay together, without procuring another permanent residence.

Since we are kind of big on staying together, we set about figuring out how to do that.  Inspiration struck on the way home from a trip to do interviews and I said, "We could get a camper and camp until the house sells..."  Papa laughed and said, "No."  That is Papa's usual response.  Then, he did his Papa thing and thought about it for a while.  And then, we began to contemplate how it could work.  And then the craisglist search was on!

We were able to buy a 1991 Nomad that is 31 feet long and sleeps 8.  There is a queen bedroom in the front of the trailer, with plenty of built in cabinetry.  There is a living room area with a futon that folds down into a full size bed.  Then there is the galley kitchen and dinette.  The dinette bench folds down into a full size bed.  The kitchen has a double sink, a three burner gas range and an oven, room for our toaster oven, a small (but manageable) refrigerator and freezer, and a giant pantry.  There are tons of cabinets built into the living room, kitchen and dining area as well.  Past the dinette, there are  two built in bunks for the big kids.  And at the far back end is the bathroom with a vanity and bath tub.

We were also able to find a 99% perfect campground, as well.  We would love it if the campground were located a bit closer to the area we hope to eventually buy in, but we can't have it all, I suppose.  As it is, we are enjoying the free range chickens who have discovered that there are children sprinkling crumbs all over our lot.  We are right across the gravel path from the play ground.  I have my clotheslines to dry my clothes on (and anyone who knows me knows how excited I get about britches on the clothesline!).  We have the place almost entirely to ourselves during the week, and all the company we could ask for on the weekend!

Really, the situation is pretty ideal.  And, our family is getting to do so many things that we never have before!  

* I've been washing some laundry by hand to save money at the laundromat - and the kids think it is amazing to watch and help with the process.  
* Elliott can play outside more than he would get to at home, where I would have more inside work to do.
* We have regular access to a swimming pool, which we have never had before.  
* We are going for nightly walks with the dog - the dog who still wasn't leash trained after we had owned him for 2 years.  
* My kids are learning how to make friends, instead of having the built in group of friends that they have known as long as they can remember.  I saw my daughter walk up to a little girl at a garage sale and strike up a conversation for the first time ever, last week.
* I'm learning how to cook on a grill.  It's a work in progress, but progress is the key word, right?

Long story short, there is a lot of good, all around us.  We are having a great time.  And the growth and change that I see in my kids is huge, in just this short time here.  So, it's kind of funny that I feel a bit silly telling people that we live in a camper now.  All 5 of us.  And the dog.  And the cat.  And about every 3 weeks I wonder if the campground owner would let me get my own chickens to free range at the campground...  Because honestly, for right this minute, our situation is pretty perfect.  And that has made the transition so much easier.

Stay tuned for my progress redecorating my 1990's decor camper... 

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Uncommon Toys That Encourage Imagination

If you have kids, you have toys.  Toys, toys, toys!  The selection of toys available is dazzling, and bewildering.  What are the best toys for kids?  The answer to this question varies by family.  In our family, toys have to meet many specific criteria.  We have a goal of maintaining a 90% plastic free house.  This is most important in our toys, so we aim for toys made from wood, metal, natural fiber fabrics, paper or cardboard.  Non-plastic toys cost more money, generally speaking, than their plastic counterparts, so we can't be buying new toys constantly.  So, when we look for new toys, we look for toys that can grow with the kids without becoming obsolete.  Also, we look for toys that can be used in many ways.  Open ended toys are amazing sources of entertainment for children.  And, if at all possible, toys should be hand made and beautiful.  Tall order, no?  But, my kids play for HOURS without intervention, guidance, or needing to be entertained.  I thought that for today, I'd share some of our favorite toys!

Top 10 Unconventional Toys at Our House

1. Peg People - Peg People are basic shapes that are reminiscent of people.  But they are clearly undefined people.  The reasoning for this is that then the children get to define what the people are THE MOMENT.  They are no supposed to be named, defined, and remembered as a certain person.

Peg people can be bought in several sizes, but I prefer the large ones because I tend to panic about the baby having small things in his mouth.  Our peg people have been used as characters in Little House on the Prairie, Heidi, farmers, dollhouse families, fire hoses (as the nozzle), phones, baby bottles, spices for play food, and a plethora of other things.

2.  The Play Silk - If you haven't heard of Playsilks, let me introduce you to the wide world of toys that can be used in about a million ways!

Play silks, also called playsilks, can be used to make so many pieces of a child's imagination, that they truly are indispensable.  My kids have used them as hats, scarves, capes, blankets, sleds, canopies, slings and baby carriers, covered wagons, sewing projects, dresses, dragon tails, grass for cows to eat, water for ducks to swim on, and many more things that I can't think of right off.  We have silks that were scavenged from closets, estate sales and thrift stores (read that as what some grandma's would refer to as head scarves).  We have some that were purchased white and dyed different colors.  We have giant ones that reach across the top of our play stands.  We have long narrow ones.  We have the standard 30 or so inch squares.  We have handkerchief sized silks.  And when it is time to clean them up, they all get heaped in a basket - easy peasy.  Actually, that clean up job usually belongs to the youngest member helping us to clean up.

3. Buckets - Buckets are a toy that we often think of in relation to sand boxes or beaches, but may forget in other contexts.  However, my kids play with buckets constantly.  They have a special place in their hearts for anything they can refer to as a "washtub".

4. Wooden Cut Outs - I love Dad's Wooden Toys on etsy.com!  My kids currently have the farm animals set from this site and have literally played with them every single day for the past 3 years.  I never spent a better penny in my life than I did on those animals!  The kids are hoping for a "zoo" and a "fairy tale" set for their birthdays this summer.

5.  Logs - We have logs in so many sizes, and they are used for so many things!  We have giant pieces of tree trunk outside that are used as climbers and seats.  We have firewood sized logs that are used for all manner of outside play, including pretending to build campfires.  We have Tree Blocks that are used as characters, to pretend to build fires inside, to build with, as play food, and, again, way more things than I can think up to name!

6.  Clothespins - Wood Clothespins are used so many ways at our house!  We have painted the ones that you see at the top of the page, as well as several others, just to make them pretty.  We have plain ones.  Occasionally they get to use my spring loaded ones when they need them to hold things up.  These are used to secure playsilks as part of outfits, to secure tents, as characters in imaginings, to build things (Walter's favorite is to build airplanes and drills), and on and on.

7.  Bowling Pins - Bowling Pins are another great accessory to our imagination games at home.  The kids use them for all of the above mentioned tasks.  It is amazing that sometimes they need more than one option for their game, and sometimes they need more than 6 different options!

8.  Baskets - My kids use baskets for so much of their play!  They have baskets in different shapes and sizes.  They use them as beds, for hauling, as boats, as cars, as covered wagons (we are big on Little House on the Prairie around here), for clean up, for organizing the toys.  Our playroom wouldn't be what it is without its awesome array of baskets!

9.  Tins - Walter especially is a collector of tins.  We have tins that used to hold tea, that used to hold mints, that used to hold gifts, tins that used to hold cookies, tins that used to hold spices - tins, tins, tins!  And the kids use every single one of them.  And then they ask for more!

10.  All of Outdoors! - As Papa likes to say, "What do you need toys for when you have all of outdoors?!"  My kids spend the majority of their day outside playing.  They move their bodies.  They run.  They jump.  They swing.  They ride their bikes.  They pretend.  And I watch them from the windows or the picnic table, without getting involved.  Actual outdoor play is sorely lacking in America these days.  Yet, it costs nothing, is one of the best ways that kids can spend their time, and is one of the healthiest things that kids can do!

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Mom Hacks Mondays - Suction Cup Hook in the Auto

I've really been enjoying Mom Hacks Mondays and sharing some of my ideas for using things in new ways. Today, I walked all around the house thinking of what would be a GREAT Mom Hack for this week and couldn't settle on anything. Then, on the way to the grocery store, I spied the suction cup hook and knew that I just had to share it!

I bought two pairs of these suction cup hooks last winter.  At the time, I used them to hang up coats that had to be taken off to get in the carseats safely.  But, now that we are in the coats off season, we've been using them to hold a backpack full of toys, sunglasses, and drawing supplies where the kids can reach them.

It is a simple little thing, but it has been a great tool for the van, especially when we are traveling.

So, what can you hang?

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Friday, June 15, 2012

Foodie Friday - Potato Pockets

Papa is the creative force around every day food at our house.  I sift through recipes, pore over new ideas, research allergens, and decide what I want to try - then proceed cautiously, armed with 2 recipes at a minimum.  Papa, on the other hand, looks in the fridge, the pantry, and the fruit basket and steps boldly ahead into some new flavor combination or ingenuity.

Last night's potato pockets were one of his more genius concepts.

We were serving baked potatoes (cooked in the campfire - yum!), and he split them in half the short way, and proceeded to scoop out and doctor the contents of the potato.

When he had it all smashed and seasoned to perfection, he looked at that empty potato skin sitting on his plate.  And that Papa light bulb flickered and came on.

 He loaded all that doctored up potato back into the skin and held it like a little pita pocket while he ate from the top.

The children were inspired also!

And the next thing we knew, there were potato pockets full of potatoes and steamed peas being scarfed down in record time.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Accommodating Others' Food Allergies

I've never remembered to link up, but you should check out my guest post at Code Name: Mama from the March Carnival of Natural Parenting about accommodating food allergens.

I don’t talk a lot about our special needs in my blog, because at the end of the day, they aren’t what our family is about. But special needs are definitely a common theme at our house. I have Graves disease and have for most of my life now. Auto-immune diseases run in my family. My daughter has a hearing aid and some other unidentified syndrome that may or may not be dwarfism. Both of my boys have numerous food allergies (oh wait, and so do I!). And food allergies are in the same family as my Graves disease and Celiac, which my mother in-law had. Oh, they are also related to tongue ties, which both boys and my husband had. And have I ever mentioned that the boys have to be clad in natural fibers or else they break out in rashes? Heck, even our first family pet had food allergies! Special needs are something that we just take for granted around here.

Check out the rest of the post at Code Name: Mama!

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Perfect Birth

Welcome to the June 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Embracing Your Birth Experience
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about at least one part of their birth experience that they can hold up and cherish.
In the natural parenting community, having a c-section is a nearly unforgivable offense - unless it is appropriately mourned, studied, used as fodder for berating the medical community, and held over the head of the recipient to show the mother's weakness and inability to procure the "perfect birth."  After all, a good mother would never allow herself to be cut open - right?

But the fact of the matter is that while the c-section rate in America is FAR too high, and while doctors are doing c-sections on women who don't need them, and while medical interventions DO cause higher than necessary c-section rates, a small percentage of births really do need a c-section to achieve the best possible outcome.  My daughter's birth was one of them.

My daughter is my oldest child.  When I was pregnant with her, I did as much research as I knew how to do.  I understood that an epidural would lead to loss of sensation, and would raise my risk of c-section (not that my needle phobia would have allowed that anyway).  I understood that induction would greatly raise my risk of a c-section.  I understood that a c-section happy doctor would raise my risk of a c-section and that finding out about a doctor's c-section rate was important when choosing a doctor.  I understood that birth position would greatly influence my risk of a c-section and that giving birth on my back was not a good idea.  I was prepared!

But I did not prepare for a slow leak of my amniotic fluid that was discovered at 28 weeks.  I did not anticipate preterm labor that started at 30 weeks, with a baby stuck in a breech position.  However, taking the knowledge that I did have, and the trust that I had in my high risk OB whose c-section rate was lower than the midwives I had started with, I was able to formulate a birth plan that worked for my family and my doctor, and most especially, my baby.

Sofiya was a tiny peanut with an overactive thyroid, due to my (believed to be) controlled grave's disease.  She had done gymnastics in my womb on a scale unrivaled by any baby I've ever encountered.  And she had tangled herself in her cord so severely that she was stuck tight in a breech position with the cord wrapped round and round her neck, unable to move.  When the slow leak in the amniotic fluid began, she also ran out of fluid to support her movements.  I was put on bedrest, then in the hospital on magnesium sulfate, to keep her in-utero as long as possible.

While I was in the hospital, the doctor visited me daily and stayed to answer extensive questions.  We discussed my birth options, and since he and I both knew that vaginal birth was optimal, we were both reluctant to do an unnecessary c-section.  But, as we sat together and discussed the risks, it became evident that the choice for a c-section was clear.

Being born at 31 weeks, as Sofi was, the biggest risk she was facing was a brain bleed.  Premature infants get them often, and bleed out quickly.  She was so tiny that I could have easily born her breech - but it would have increased her risk of brain bleed.  The doctor could have attempted an external cephalic version (turning the baby in utero so that she was head down), but this would have also increased her risk of brain bleed.  So, looking at raising the risk of death for my infant, or raising the risks of complication for me, we jointly chose to raise my risks, not hers.

One of the things that made this decision easier was that we got to decide this while sitting and having a calm discussion.  Another thing that made this easier was that I had an amazing OB who I explicitly trusted to make the best decision for ME and MY BABY.  I was also lucky enough to have the time to sit with the decision before it was executed, to have room to make choices for myself within the decision, and to feel like I had some power and control in the situation, instead of having a c-section happen to me.

In the days between the decision and the action, I was able to read, to envision, to prepare, and to make choices.  I knew from day 1 that I would never be able to have an epidural during labor because my needle phobia is intense.  But, during a c-section, anesthesia is obviously necessary.  So, my doctor and I were able to agree on a general anesthesia, to get me through the birth in the calmest possible way.  We were able to talk to the neonatologists and find out what to expect with such a small baby.  We were able to make our wishes about interventions and vaccinations clear ahead of time.

And when the big day came, I was able to roll down the hallway to the OR, calmly knowing that I was making the best possible choice for myself and my baby.

I've since gone on to have 2 more babies, vaginally, at home.  Those two births were perfect.  Just as perfect as Sofi's birth was for her.

There are many things on my parenting journey that I look back on with less than fond memories, but Sofiya's birth is not one of them.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon June 12 with all the carnival links.)

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Mom Hacks Monday - Car Seat Cover

One of my favorite Mom Hacks is really a Papa Hack.  Or, at least, it started that way.  You see, Papa noticed that kids can be messy.  They can be especially messy in cars.  But messy cars are not so nice.  So, how to protect the car from some naturally messy littles?  Why, he covered the seats, of course!

But, seat covers can be costly, and don't always fit your seats well.  And they won't always protect your seats from all of the joys of childhood.  But it is easy to repurpose some thrift store (or in our case, freecycle) items into the perfect seat protectors.

I started with a cloth shower curtain, a seam ripper and a pair of sewing scissors.  I took all of the headrests off the back seat, and laid the shower curtain over the bench seat so that the bottom edge of it hung where I would want it to be permanently.  Using my seam ripper and scissors, I cut holes where the headrests would need to go.  Then, I replaced the headrests.  Then, using the same method, I cut holes where the seat belt buckles needed to come through.  I tucked the edges around the seat as neatly as possible and voila!  I had a beautiful rainbow seat cover for the back seat.  This looks super cheery, and it protects the seat.  I wish I had taken pictures as I did it, but this was 2 years ago, and I didn't think ahead to writing a blog about it at the time.

Now, the fabric shower curtain does an excellent job of catching dirt, leaves, crumbs. and drips and keeping them off of my seats.  When the curtain is lifted, my newly detailed van seat is right there looking at me!  But, we all know that children are prone to especially messy and WET times in life.  Every parent who hasn't had puke or pee in your car at least once, please come write a guest post for me on how you avoid them!

So, for extra wetness protection, we have added one felted wool sweater beneath each car seat.  Wool acts as a water barrier, for those of you who don't know.  Water will go through it eventually, but it gives you a significant amount of time to clean it up before it does.  Wool has magical (ok, ok, they are scientific) properties that cause it to wick moisture across it and allow it to quickly evaporate instead of just soaking it up like cotton does.  Also, the interior of the wool fiber allows it to hold the water to keep it from soaking through.  To create your own wool barrier for the base of the car seat, find a sweater that is a high percentage wool fiber.  Again, we got ours from the thrift store or freecycle.  Wash them in the washing machine in hot water, and dry them in the dryer.  Do this with a load of laundry that won't produce a bunch of lint or stick the sweater inside a pillow case and knot it up to keep the sweater from becoming linty.  Washing the sweater by itself will not help, as the sweater will not felt if you do.  When the sweater is done in the dryer, either fold the arms under and place it in the car seat (where the base of the carseat will go), or cut the arms off with a pair of scissors and lay the body of the sweater only in the seat.  Install the carseat right on top of it, according to manufacturer directions.

Now, you are good to go!  Let the messes come!  When the shower curtain or the sweaters get too dirty, simply toss them all in the washing machine together and put them back in the car.

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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Guess What!

Today is a special day at our house....

Minutes after birth, on the couch at home.

Camping, Denver, CO, 2 weeks old.

He was born with about 5 teeth, but they all receded with time.

First Halloween - Tree and Tree Hugger

Apples are his FAVORITE!


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