My 9-Year-Old Architect

I love drawing floor plans–even though I failed to become an architect–so I looked forward to illustrating my article about how we rearranged our home to make space for our new baby Lydia.  I thought this also would be a great opportunity to learn to use TouchDraw, a drafting app I’d bought for my iPad months ago but had barely gotten to play with.

Unfortunately, a mere 15 minutes of attempting to make those drawings taught me that TouchDraw sucks.  As best I can find, it can’t draw an arc–so how could I draw a door?  Its lines seem to be looking for every opportunity to jump just slightly away from being perpendicular when you lift your finger after drawing.  Its help files are laughably incomplete, set up by someone with good intentions of writing the help files someday.

Rather than spend time seeking a better drafting app, I decided to do the drawings by hand and then photograph them and post the photos.  Of course, I already have a hand-drawn scale drawing of every room in our house (doesn’t everyone?) that I made as soon as we bought the house so that we could use the scale model paper cutouts of all our furniture to decide how to arrange the rooms.  (We used it again to figure out this current arrangement.)  I would simply tape that drawing to the table, roll out some of the proper architect’s trace-paper that I still have, trace the room, draw in the furniture, and make handwritten notes around the perimeter as necessary to explain details.  I looked forward to doing this some night when Lydia went to sleep before I was totally exhausted and after I’d finished all my crucial chores.

Well, that didn’t happen any night last week!  When I got up on Saturday morning, I explained the situation to my nine-year-old son Nicholas and noted that I would need to spend a couple of hours during the day working on my drawings.

“But Mama,” he said, “What about Room Planner?” Read more…

5 Tips for Green Lunch Packing

It’s back-to-school season!  If your child brings a lunch to school, now is the time to think about how to pack that lunch.  If you bring your lunch to work, this is a great time of year to rethink what you’re packing, too.

Choosing the right lunch-packing habits can make a big difference in how much garbage you create.  Reducing waste often saves money, too. If you shift from eating out of plastic wrappers to eating out of washable containers made of glass, metal, or other safe materials, you’ll be taking in fewer harmful chemicals.  So it’s a win all around, not just for the environment!

Here are a few main ways my family makes our school and workplace lunches more environmentally friendly.  This is not a sponsored post.  All of the specific products mentioned here were chosen by my family and purchased at full price, and all opinions are our own.  These tips are written as if you, the reader, are the lunch eater, but they all apply to packing kids’ lunches, too!

1. Use what you have.

The greenest type of reusable item is one that you don’t buy new, because even the most ecologically-produced objects take resources and energy to make.  Here are some things I’ve repurposed for packing my lunch: Read more…

Centerpiece

Our nine-year-old Nicholas has been interested in home decorating since he was about four years old. I often get frustrated with his desire to set up things that are merely decorative, have no useful purpose, and just get in my way! I am even more irritated when he wants to buy things just for decorating. I like our home to look clean and pleasant, but I feel we have enough stuff around without cluttering up the place with decorations.

However, I have learned that sometimes decorations help to motivate the family–myself included–to keep a space cleaner and neater, so that we can appreciate the decorations instead of losing them in the clutter or letting them be obscured by dust. The dining table centerpiece is a good example.

Read more…

Recycling Used-Up Pens and Markers

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran, nine-year-old son of ‘Becca and Daniel. He wrote this article for the June 2014 issue of the Colfax Communicator, his school‘s newsletter. (Mr. Sikorski is the principal.) We hope it inspires other kids to start recycling things that are getting thrown away in their schools!

Three third-graders started a recycling program for used-up markers, pens, and highlighters at Colfax. Nicholas Efran, Sadie Rothaus, and Emma Reints got enthusiastic support from Mr. Sikorski in setting up bins around the school, next to the staircase entrances. Anyone may bring their used-up pens, markers, and highlighters from home, as well as those used in school. Read more…

Vegetarianism and Animal Rights: Explaining to Children

Welcome to the June 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids and Animals

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 shared stories and wisdom about kids and animals.

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When my cousin Samantha was three years old and I was in college, I was visiting her family and we were eating chicken for dinner when Samantha asked, “What is chicken made of?’”

Her mother took a deep breath and said, “Well, chicken is made of a chicken.

Samantha’s eyes widened. To make certain she really understood what her mom was saying, she asked, “Chicken, buk-buk?” making a pecking motion with her hand. Her mom confirmed that the meat on our plates was indeed parts of a chicken who once pecked and said buk-buk. Samantha didn’t freak out, but she was surprised and sad and didn’t eat any more chicken at that meal.

The idea that people can eat animals startles many children when they first hear about it. Some parents want to prevent children from knowing that meat is animal flesh until they’re much older, to prevent objections that might complicate family mealtimes. I don’t like the idea of hiding such a basic truth about food from the people to whom it’s served, so I’m glad I witnessed Samantha’s response to this fact a decade before I became a mother; it gave me plenty of time to think about how I would handle my children’s questions about meat-eating. Read more…

Saving Money on Sports Fan Gear

We aren’t sports fans in our family.  Exercise is good, but we’re not much interested in playing sports and even less interested in watching sports.

But we live in Pittsburgh, a city with three professional sports teams that are a major focus of the local culture.  We can’t help noticing when one of the teams is doing well: We see people wearing black and gold even more often than normal, all the city buses have some slogan like “Beat ‘em Bucs!” flashing across their foreheads in between route announcements, and we know when a game has been won because we hear people hollering, “Woo!!” as they drive down the main street behind our house.  Sometimes even we feel caught up in rooting for the home team–after all, it’s in our best interest for our fellow citizens to be happy instead of dejected.

When our son Nicholas was four years old, the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl.  Attending preschool that fall and winter, he could not help noticing that all the other kids had Steelers shirts and the teachers were constantly talking about Steelers.  This was not the first time he’d asked for a Steelers shirt, or a Penguins shirt, or a Pirates shirt–these garments are popular even among the youngest children and typically are pretty sharp-looking compared to standard little kids’ clothes–but this was the point at which Daniel and I began to think it might really make sense to get him one.  We believe that resisting peer pressure is a valuable skill and have modeled questioning what “everybody” does, but we also remember the feeling of wanting to fit in with our classmates.  While we aren’t really into sports, we don’t think they’re a terrible evil to be avoided on principle.

The trouble is that official licensed sports team logo gear is expensive.  We didn’t want to pay $20 for a tiny shirt our kid would outgrow in a year!  But the cheap knock-off gear is not only less attractive and poorly made, it’s technically illegal.  Luckily, we learned two handy ways around this dilemma:

  1. When the team is winning successive rounds of championships, the merchandise commemorating the previous win will go on sale.  Nicholas didn’t mind at all that his first Steelers shirt said something about divisional champs.  We picked it up for $6 in the supermarket the week after the Steelers’ next victory.
  2. Kids outgrow their team shirts, and these tend to be sturdy garments that are re-sold in good condition.  There’s nothing illegal about this, as the team received the licensing fee at the first purchase.  We’ve picked up half a dozen Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates shirts for $2 or $3 at Goodwill or yard sales.

It works for me!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Fabulously Frugal Thursday and Thrifty Thursday for more money-saving ideas!

How to use long-frozen cookie dough

When my parents visited us the Christmas before last, my mother made her grandmother’s traditional animal cookies: a buttery dough that you roll out and cut with cookie cutters (they don’t have to be animal shapes, of course) and bake and frost.  The recipe makes a huge batch, so she divided it and froze two portions, and we made cookies from the rest.

My son Nicholas and I defrosted one blob of cookie dough last spring and baked cookies for church coffee hour.  But the other blob was still sitting in our freezer, 15 months later.  I was beginning to wonder if it was still good and how we might get around to baking some cookies, because I’m seven months pregnant and would like to be filling that freezer space with leftovers to eat postpartum, but I’m so tired so much of the time that rolling out cookies does not seem to be within my capabilities.

One evening last week, nine-year-old Nicholas ate a healthy dinner and then asked for a bowl of berries (we have a big bag of frozen organic mixed berries from Costco, which we’ve been defrosting in the microwave one serving at a time) with yogurt.  I had to tell him I had finished off the yogurt at breakfast.  He was upset.  Berries with milk would not be as good.  We did not have ice cream.  After a while he started asking for “a bready topping”.  No, NOT oatmeal!  Finally I thought of the cookie dough.

We removed the blob of dough from its plastic bag and put it on a plate in the microwave on “defrost” setting.  After 5 minutes the dough was workable.  We defrosted about 2 cups of berries, warming them just to the point where they weren’t stuck together or too icy to handle.  Nicholas formed the dough into 7 pancake-like circles and wrapped each one around a handful of berries.  We put the blobs in a baking pan, poked the tops with a fork, and baked at 350F until they were crusty on the outside, about 15 minutes.  They got larger and stuck together, but they were easy to separate with a spatula.

The result was a sort of dumpling that could be hand-held while eating.  They tasted great!  The cookie dough was sweet enough that the berries didn’t need additional sugar to taste like dessert.  The dough wasn’t stale or freezer-flavored at all.  (I’m impressed, given that our refrigerator+freezer malfunctioned for several months last year before we decided to replace it, so everything from the freezer got semi-thawed and refrozen at least once.)  A little bit of berry juice had leaked through the crust, but the dumplings weren’t soggy, probably because Nicholas ate the last layer of berries at the bottom of the bowl and most of the juice from thawing was down there.

Using the old cookie dough to make fruit dumplings worked for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop for more food-related articles!  Visit Fabulously Frugal Thursday for more ways to make the most of what you’ve got!

Four Weeks of Mostly Meatless Dinners (February)

I’m not using the term “pesco-vegetarian” in the title like I have for many of my other multi-week meal plans because I think “meatless” is the more common word people are searching for in Lent.  My family eats no meat at home except occasional fish–which does not count as “meat” in many fasting plans, for some reason–so our menus are ideal for Lenten fasting or any time you want to avoid eating red meat and poultry.  Recently, I have been eating meat in restaurants a bit more often than usual because I’m seven months pregnant and have developed anemia, and the iron from turkey and beef is supposed to be the most absorbable…but in general, I still prefer a low-meat diet.

This menu features two new gadgets we got for Christmas: a slow cooker and a Vidalia Chop Wizard.  We’re finding both of them to be pretty useful.

Here’s what we ate for dinners in February.  Our weekday lunches are leftovers and occasional restaurant meals for the adults and a lunchbox meal (using leftovers where feasible) for third-grader Nicholas.  Weekend lunches tend to be leftovers, too; the ones that weren’t, or that made some notable use of the leftovers, are listed here.  I plan the menu, but my partner Daniel cooks our weeknight dinners so they’re ready when I get home from work, while I cook on the weekends and sometimes prepare ingredients during the week.

Week One:

  • Sunday:
    • Lunch: Pizza and salad left over from the previous night, when we had friends over for dinner.  They brought a “salad bar” (greens, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes, avocado, and beets in separate containers) and we bought the pizza at Mineo’s.  I made Italian salad dressing–I don’t really have a recipe, but my method goes something like this: In a glass jar, put 2 parts olive oil and 1 part apple cider vinegar; sprinkle in plenty of sea salt, black pepper, dried minced onion, and granulated garlic and smaller amounts of dried red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast flakes, dried basil, dried oregano, and dried parsley; close jar tightly and shake it; taste it and adjust as needed; set jar inside a shallow dish to protect the tablecloth from oily drips.  This dressing can be stored at room temperature for a couple weeks.
    • Dinner: Lemon Creamy Salmon with Tangy Greens.  I used frozen kale for the greens and heated up leftover rice for my carbohydrate and leftover whole-wheat couscous for the guys.  Now we had a second jar of homemade salad dressing, a different flavor; I put them side by side in a small oval dish. Read more…

My kid doesn’t have to wear a coat.

I’m an easily chilled sort of person. I like to feel warm and cozy, and being cold upsets me. In any given weather conditions, I’m usually wearing at least as many garments as the average person, often more.

My son Nicholas seems to feel warm most of the time. He’s often quite calm and comfortable in very cold temperatures. He has a decent sense of modesty and won’t run around undressed in public–he doesn’t even like to go shirtless–but he’ll happily wear a light jacket or no jacket, bare feet or flip-flops, one layer of short-sleeved shirt, in conditions where I think that isn’t nearly enough.

I decided a long time ago not to fight about this. I do advise him when the weather has gotten colder since the last time he was outside, or when the forecast calls for a 20-degree drop during the day. I occasionally insist that he bring along appropriate garments in case he wants them later. But I don’t force him to wear a coat, or zip it up, or keep the hood on.

Nicholas started teaching me about this a few days after he was born. Everything I had read about baby care said that your baby should wear as many layers as you are wearing yourself, plus a hat. He was born in December, so on our first day home from the hospital, I was wearing a flannel shirt over a long-sleeved thermal top over a nursing bra, jeans over cotton leggings, and three pairs of socks. It was a bit confusing to extrapolate the equivalent from his wardrobe, but I swaddled him in a flannel blanket over a long-sleeved knit jumpsuit over a T-shirt and diaper, knitted booties over socks, plus a knitted hat.

His face seemed very pink. He was grouchy.

“I think he’s hot,” said his grandmother.

Read more…

GAME SHOW!! with math practice

My third-grade son and I came up with a game that was a lot of fun and valuable math practice and physical exercise for him, while being very easy for me and using only a few basic supplies that were easy to set up and clean up.  This is a perfect activity for families in which all available parents are still recovering from viral bronchitis (or similar debilitating illness) while one or more kids are fully recovered and going stir crazy, but it’s too cold to play outside.  It could easily be adapted for multiple players.

Materials:

  • large supply of fake money, such as from a Monopoly or Life board game.  If you don’t have this, you can keep the kid busy with a preliminary activity of making fake money!  You want at least 20 bills in each of several denominations.
  • stopwatch.
  • area of clean floor.  Have the child sweep the floor before playing.  If possible, use an area at the foot of a staircase or outside one end of a hallway, near a couch or bed where the parent can be comfortable.
  • two receptacles of some sort, which can hold a handful of fake money or a small trinket.  I grabbed some Christmas stockings that are still waiting to be put away.  (We got sick right after Christmas….)
  • a few small trinkets.  These do not have to be anything actually exciting–you’re just going to pretend they are.  Another option is to cut some photos of desirable items out of an advertising flyer.

Prerequisite: Child should have at least one experience of watching a typical television game show, such as “The Price Is Right”, to learn the appropriate ridiculously enthusiastic behavior and when to deploy it vs. when to listen carefully to the game show host’s instructions.

Set Up: Scatter the fake money in a big, festive pile on the clean floor.  If desired, decorate the staircase/hallway/approach to the pile with some of the money along the edges of the path and/or with whatever tinsel garlands or anything you happen to have lying around.

How to Play:

  • Contestant [child] runs down the stairs/hallway while game show host [parent] enthusiastically announces, “Come on doowwwwnn, Nicholas!!!”  Contestant bounces next to the money for a moment of imagined applause.
  • Host announces, “Your challenge is to pick up . . . exactly . . . ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX DOLLARS!!  Go!!” and starts the stopwatch.  (Choose a number you’ll easily remember, like the last 4 digits of a familiar phone number.  You don’t want any confusion over what the number was.  If this is difficult for you, use a phone book or other printed source of numbers, and check off each one after use.)
  • Contestant scrambles to pick up the correct amount of money as quickly as possible.
  • Host stops the stopwatch and announces the time: “He did that in just twenty-eight seconds!  But . . . is it the correct amount?”
  • Contestant shudders in suspense while host counts the money.
    • If amount is correct, host announces, “Congratulations!!  You are the winner of one thousand two hundred forty-six dollars!!  YAAAAYYY!!” and tosses the money over the contestant’s head while the contestant does a victory dance.
    • If amount is too large, host is very shocked: “One thousand two hundred sixty-six dollars?  How greedy!”  Contestant shrivels in shame and pays a penalty equivalent to the difference ($20 in this example) from his previous winnings.
    • If amount is too small, host is sympathetic: “Aww!  One thousand one hundred forty-six dollars!  You are not a winner.  Better luck next time.”  Money goes back to the pile while contestant walks away sighing.
  • Repeat over and over and over again for as long as contestant and host can stand it.  (Of course, each round uses a different amount of money.)
  • About every tenth win, host announces, “You’ve unlocked the Special Bonus!!!  Which of these hidden prizes will you choose?”  Host holds up the two receptacles in which she has hidden the prizes.  Contestant chooses.  Host reveals the prize, for instance a card depicting Mickey Mouse: “You’ve won . . . free admission to Disney World!!  YAAAAYYY!!”  Contestant hyperactively celebrates.  Host then reveals the other prize: “But look at what you could have won!  This fine bottle of hand lotion!”  (You might want to make one prize really exciting and the other something of a dud.)
  • If anybody needs to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., host announces, “We’ll be back after these messages!”  (Set up the next Special Bonus when child is out of the room.)

Because Nicholas was the only contestant, we weren’t keeping score; he was just enjoying the challenge.  He made only three mistakes in nearly two hours of play; usually, he was able to scoop up the correct amount, even though he completed every challenge in less than 40 seconds and some in as little as 7 seconds.  I’m impressed!

With multiple contestants, you could set aside the winnings–or add up a running total on a scoreboard so that you can return the money to the pile, as well as getting addition practice–and see who gets the most money.  You might incorporate the time in the scoring, too.  If contestants are at different ability levels, give the younger one simpler rather than smaller amounts of money, like $3,000 while the older one has to find $2,917.

This homemade game show worked for me!  Visit Mom’s Library for more activities to do with kids!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more low-cost do-it-yourself activities!

Help Save the Animals!

My eight-year-old Nicholas created this picture that he wants you to share everywhere and put in a place where you will see it often. He wants you to think, every time you see it, about what you can do to help animals of all kinds to be safe in this world we share.

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How can you help save the animals? Here are just a few ideas:

  • When you could choose instant garbage or wash a dish instead, think about animals whose trees were cut down to make paper plates, animals whose prairie burrows were destroyed to drill oil wells so people could make more plastic, animals whose air was ruined by smoke from factories. Every time you reuse something instead of choosing a throwaway thing, you are helping to slow down the process of turning animals’ habitats into garbage.
  • Buy things that are made near where you live, instead of things that travel from the other side of the world in big ships. Think of the animals who live in the ocean where the ships leak poisonous oil. Think of the whales who get lost or can’t find food because the noise of ships blocks their special singing.
  • Pick up trash outdoors. Never throw trash on the ground! Think of the animals who get hurt by trash that gets twisted around them, chokes them, or puts bad chemicals in their drinking water.
  • Walk, bike, or take public transit whenever you can. Think about the animals who drink water that runs off pavement with yucky car drips on it, the animals who breathe air filled with car exhaust, the animals who live in rubber trees that are cut down to make tires. Every time you leave the car at home makes those problems a little bit less.
  • Have a birthday party where everybody gives money to an organization that helps animals, instead of giving you a gift. Or sell your old stuff to make money that you donate–while also helping your stuff find new users so that they don’t have to buy newly-made stuff.
  • Eat less meat and other animal foods. When you do eat them, buy food from animals who lived healthy lives. Spend a moment thinking about the animal who died, or gave up its milk or eggs, so that you could eat.

Nicholas was inspired by a recent documentary which showed that leopards are living wild in the city of Nairobi because their habitats have been destroyed. I was just fascinated by the idea that the animal knocking over your garbage cans in the alley could be a leopard! But Nicholas got very sad and upset. He had trouble falling asleep that night because he was crying about the leopards who just need space to live and all the other animals who face this problem around the world. He sobbed, “What can I do, Mama? How can I help save the animals?”

I told him the things above. I reminded him that every little bit counts and that all the little bits add up. I encouraged him to think of the animals when he is tempted to make a harmful decision.

The next day, he decided he needed to do something to help other people remember to think of the animals. He drew the picture and asked me to make copies that he could hang on telephone poles. I reminded him that paper comes from trees and that posters on poles last only a few days and often become litter. But on the Internet, images and ideas can spread very quickly all around the world.

Please share this image everywhere! Please link to this article! Please help save the animals! You can share more ideas for helping animals in the comments.

My son’s taking action to help the animals works for me! Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more ideas to use resources wisely so more creatures can share them. Visit Mom’s Library for lots more educational ideas for kids.

Why my kid never believed in Santa Claus

He never believed in the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, either.  There are three important reasons why Daniel and I decided, before Nicholas was born, that we were not going to pretend that any of these characters were real.

The first is that we didn’t like the idea of lying to our child.  We felt that claiming these characters were real, when we know they aren’t, would kind of make us feel bad.  Our child should be able to trust us.  Now that we’ve met the individual child we got, we know he’s a very analytical type who easily figures out what’s going on and demands full explanations of processes.  He was hard to confuse with things like Piaget’s famous conservation experiments even when he was a toddler.  The first time he ever saw a stage magician, he immediately started trying to figure out how to do those tricks.  If we’d presented the fables as truth, we’d have been interrogated with years of questions about exactly how those reindeer fly to every house in one night, where the bunny gets the eggs, etc., etc.

The second reason is that we wanted him to appreciate, from the very beginning, that holiday magic is something we all make for one another.  Christmas gifts aren’t brought by a guy in a sleigh to whom money is no object; we spend hours choosing or making gifts for our loved ones, thinking about what each person would like, as a way of expressing our love and respect for each other.  Easter isn’t about a magic bunny who brings us candy for no apparent reason; Easter is about Jesus and the springtime renewal of the world, and Grandma likes to send us some candy.  Losing a tooth is an exciting step toward maturity that is honored with a little treat, and there is a traditional routine for collecting this treat from your parents overnight using a special marsupial (Tooth Beary) crocheted by Grandma.

The third reason is that I wanted to teach my child my religion.  (Daniel does not belong to an organized religion, so the deal was that I could take Nicholas to church and teach him my faith until such time as he might tell me he didn’t believe it and didn’t want to go.  By age 3 he had decided he definitely wanted to be an Episcopalian, and he was baptized.)  If I told him Santa Claus was real, and he then found out otherwise, he would then logically doubt what I’d been telling him about God being real.  After all, the invisibility and super-powers of God are not all that different from what people attribute to Santa.  As I mentioned last week, Nicholas has shown no signs of doubting the existence of God but has remarked on the oddity of people believing in these other entities while not believing in God.

So, without Santa or the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy, poor Nicholas has had a really dreary, cynical childhood, huh?  Read more…

Gradually Expanding Range for a Child Walking Alone

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Staying Safe

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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“It’s a different world than when we were kids.” I often hear parents say this when they are talking about how they don’t allow their children–or even teenagers–to go anywhere alone, to walk anywhere, even to play in their own front yard.

Yes, this is a different world, the America of 2013 compared with the America of 1981, when I was 8 years old like my son is now–AMERICA IS A SAFER PLACE THAN IT WAS WHEN I WAS A CHILD. Every type of violent crime is significantly less common now than it was then. The thing many parents are most afraid will happen to a child let out of their sight is kidnapping, although abductions of children by strangers are extremely rare.

I’ve been working in crime research for 15 years, and that’s really given me some perspective on risk: The vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not by a stranger who abruptly captures the victim in a public place–and this is especially true of child molestation. Yes, terrible things can happen to innocent people, and it is horrible when they do, but it is important not to get too freaked out about “risk”.  (I want you to see this cartoon that clearly illustrates the issue, but I can’t get it to display on my page!)

Of course, we do feel some concern about the safety of our beloved only child. Realistically, the highest risk he faces in walking around the neighborhood is being hit by a car. I’ve written before about how we taught him traffic safety skills and decided when he was ready to walk around the block alone. In second grade, he began walking home from school alone some days, and now in third grade he is doing it 4 days a week. This is a journey of 5 blocks, with a crossing guard posted at the only busy intersection. Nicholas always gets home safely and has had no problems.

This summer, he grew bored with his walks around the block and asked to walk farther, alone. We have not been letting him walk to his school alone when the crossing guard is not on duty, because of that busy street. But we thought we might allow him to walk as far as the nearest busy street in each direction from our house.  Read more…

A Week of Vegetarian Lunchbox Lunches

Daniel is the lunchbox-packing parent in our family. He was in charge of grinding up leftovers for baby Nicholas to eat at childcare, and he has packed a lunch for Nicholas to take to school every day for the past three grades and to day camp every day for the past two summers. We love the Planetbox lunch kit and just recently replaced the carrying bag after three years–the box itself is still going strong, along with the Little Dipper and Big Dipper containers for holding moist foods.

When Daniel went camping for a week, I took charge of packing Nick’s lunch. I had noticed in the preceding few weeks that Daniel was grumbling about having trouble thinking of things to put into the lunchbox that Nicholas would eat. For a long time, I’ve been irked at Daniel’s tendency to ignore the lunchbox when it comes home and not clean it until the next morning, just before repacking it–and then complain that any uneaten food in it is no longer edible and therefore wasted, and that it is hard to clean because food has dried onto it. I also knew it was crucial to allow time for packing the lunchbox, since it’s not part of my normal routine and the public transit schedule this summer is such that leaving the house just a few minutes late means Nicholas and I have a long wait for the bus and get to camp 15 minutes late!

Therefore, I set myself up for success: Each night after getting Nicholas to bed, I poured the remaining water in his water bottle onto the garden and put the bottle in the dish drainer, then opened the lunchbox, ate any remaining food, cleaned out the box and Dippers with a soapy cloth, and set them to dry. While I was doing this, I thought about what I might pack for the next day’s lunch and maybe made a few notes. I listed what I packed each day at the side of my dinner menu page for the 4-week period, to help me remember what I’d already packed that week, to have some ideas to pass to Daniel when he got back, and to be able to write this post! I set my alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than normal so I’d have time to pack the lunch in the morning.

Why didn’t I just pack the lunch the night before? I’ve often seen this advice. But we were having refrigerator problems that caused unpredictable puddles of water; I didn’t want the lunch to get soggy. I wanted to pack some foods that are stored and eaten at room temperature; if I refrigerated them overnight, they might get wet with condensation when they came out into the hot, humid weather. In my experience with packing my own lunch, some foods change texture or just seem “less fresh” if cut up the night before.

Here’s what I packed in the five lunches:

Read more…

Should Your Family Be Child-centered?

This is a controversial and confusing question.  Some people go on and on about how parenthood melted their selfish hearts and made them realize the importance of devoting themselves fully to making their children’s lives perfectly wonderful and completely safe.  Other people go on and on about how children are hedonistic little leeches whose spirits must be broken to show them who’s boss, and responsible parents must schedule their babies’ lives in 15-minute increments.  Then there are a lot of points of view in between.  It’s very easy, as a parent in this fast-paced society, to put a lot of energy into getting everything together for your kid and suddenly realize you’ve been neglecting yourself–or to rush around Getting Things Done and suddenly realize that you’ve been treating your child like a task on a checklist and haven’t focused on his sweet little face for days.  Where’s the balance?

Well, I can’t claim that Daniel and I have it all perfectly worked out, but in our 8 years 8 months as parents of Nicholas, we’ve done pretty well with this basic attitude: “We are all people together.  We are the same in some ways and different in other ways.  Experienced people help newer people learn how to do things.”  Nobody is the center.  This is the approach my parents seemed to be using when I was a child (I don’t know if they’d explain it in the same words) and I noticed from an early age that some other families had a different attitude.  Of course, every family is different, but I think all families could work from the basic principle that we’re all in this together and no one person is the most important.  It seems to me that whenever I wander away from this idea–either by getting dramatically self-sacrificing or by demanding that everybody take care of me–it works out badly.
Here are some of the issues parents often struggle with, and the ways they’ve worked out for our family.

Is it child-centered to allow your child to eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy?  Is it better to have a strict schedule?

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FREE Earth-friendly Party Decorations!

Want to decorate your home for a party?  You could buy a bunch of bright-colored paper streamers or rubber balloons that you inflate with air.  These things are inexpensive, but they’re typically made in China by exploited workers in polluting factories and then shipped halfway around the world to you, wasting a bunch of fossil fuel.  When the party’s over, you can compost these things–if you don’t mind having those strong dyes in your compost (do you put it on your food plants?) and you’re willing to wait a couple years for the balloons to break down.  Another option is to buy mylar balloons and shiny plastic decorations, made (usually in China) from irreplaceable petroleum, which aren’t recyclable and will never biodegrade.  You could inflate your balloons with some of the world’s dwindling supply of helium, which we need for so many other more important things.

Or you could save your money, reduce your environmental impact, lighten the load in your recycling bin, and keep your kid busy while you do other things to get ready for the party!  Simply convert some scrap paper into festive link chains to festoon your home, like this:
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What to Do When Your Child Witnesses Bad Discipline

If you have any opinions at all about the appropriate methods of disciplining children, and if you are ever anywhere near any families with different opinions, someday you will find yourself in this situation: Your child sees another parent respond to a child’s behavior in a way that your child recognizes as different, which may be shocking or upsetting to your child.  What can you say to help your child understand what’s going on?

My son Nicholas is eight years old now.  We’ve used a mostly gentle discipline approach that focuses on explaining, redirecting, and using these strategies:

We sometimes get fed up and start yelling or say things that aren’t so nice, but we do our best to avoid being really harsh and hurtful, and we don’t hit him.  That means that when he sees another parent using harsh or violent discipline, he expects an explanation. Read more…

How I told my child the Easter story

I am an Episcopalian, raising my son Nicholas (now eight years old) as an Episcopalian, but I was raised Unitarian myself, so I’ve had to figure out a lot of this Christian parenting stuff as we go along.  I’ve talked with some other parents in the same boat, as well as some who don’t belong to a church but want their kids to understand who this Jesus guy was and what it all means–and one issue that comes up a lot is, How do you explain about Easter?

The rest of the story of Jesus is easier: He was born, and he was so, so special!  He brought hope to the world and reminded us to love one another, and we give each other gifts to celebrate that.  Jesus grew up and traveled around teaching the people to love and forgive.  He helped sick people be well.  He taught about generosity and trusting God.

But then the story gets scary and gruesome, and then this complicated thing happened which is often explained as, “God sat back and allowed his own son to be brutally slaughtered two thousand years ago because YOU are bad!!!” which might not seem to make a lot of sense but sure can make you feel guilty in a helpless sort of way, and then this even more complicated thing happened which easily comes across as, “He was only temporarily dead, so rejoice!!  Never mind about those sins,” and somehow it all has to do with bunnies and jellybeans and tulips, and–well, it can be a bit confusing!  I’m still learning to understand it a little better every year, and I am 39 years old.  So how did I explain it to my kid?

I started a few weeks after he was born.  Read more…

Shovel snow with a broom!

This is a simple tip that I can see is familiar to a lot of the natives here in Pittsburgh, but it took me many years to catch on.  I grew up in Oklahoma, where winter precipitation tends to involve freezing rain, so a lot of what you have to clear from your sidewalk is ice.  Here in the land of picturesque, Christmas-card-like winter weather, however, the sidewalk is typically piled with fluffy snow.  It looks so pretty until you have to shovel it, right?

Wait!  There’s an earlier step that will make the shoveling so much easier, and you might not have to shovel at all!  You might be able to get your pavement completely clear and non-slippy without using hazardous sidewalk salt!

Simply sweep off the loose snow with an ordinary broom.  Keep the broom near the door so you can sweep the snow before anyone has stepped on it.  That way it’s not packed down, and it easily sweeps right off.  If you are going out while it’s still snowing, consider leaving your broom by the end of the walk so you can sweep your way back to the door when you get home.  You’ll want to use your “outdoor broom” or at least keep the broom outside until it dries, because it’s hard to get all the snow off of it, and if you bring it inside it will drip.

Depending on the depth and density of snow, you may still need the shovel to scrape the last of it off the pavement.  Alternatively, if the snow is more than a few inches deep, start by shoveling off most of it and throwing it to the side, then sweep the pavement before you walk on it to get that area completely clear before you move on to the next section.  (Ever walked on a sidewalk where the deep snow was shoveled off, but there’s a thin layer of ice across the whole thing?  That’s the result of leaving behind a little snow that was too hard to scrape up with the shovel–the sun melts it, and then it freezes.)

Sweeping is particularly useful for clearing outdoor steps, especially open-tread ones–just sweep the snow down between the steps!  My epiphany about the usefulness of brooms on snow came when I visited a friend’s hillside house during a snowstorm, and before I left I watched him completely clear his 30-some open-tread stairs of about 3 inches of snow in about 5 minutes.

This technique is so easy, a child can do it!  Nicholas proved this two days ago, when both parents were too sick to pick him up from school, so he walked himself home, responsibly using his new wristwatch and house key on a chain.  When he saw that we had not been able to clear the sidewalk, he swept it, then used the shovel to pry up the packed snow from his own footprints and others’ steps on the public sidewalk.  What a great kid!  (He is 8.)

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Martinopoly: What My Kid Did for Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King, Jr., has been one of my heroes as long as I can remember. Since my son Nicholas was 3 years old, I’ve made a point of doing something on Martin Luther King Day each year to remember Dr. King and his principles.  That first year, we discussed the basics of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s assassination and attended an interdenominational service where some of Dr. King’s speeches and essays were read.  Other years, we’ve read a children’s book about civil rights, volunteered at National Day of Service activities, or watched Dr. King’s speeches on YouTube.

This year, Nicholas is 8 years old and in second grade.  As in kindergarten and first grade, his school did some teaching about Dr. King in the week before the holiday.  We went into the holiday weekend with no set plans for commemorating the holiday, and then I wound up with a headache that came and went all weekend, interfering with the chores I needed to get done.

Nicholas announced on Monday morning that he had decided what we would do for the holiday: He would make a board game about Martin Luther King, Jr., and then we all would play it together.  He spent several hours making the game board while I washed dishes, packed up Christmas decorations, and did other chores.

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