A+ Marriage By Remembering the Three C’s.



After all these years and children my husband and I are still in love, deeply so.  Over the years I have had more than one friend ask us what it is that has kept us not only together but happily so.  I had one such conversation recently during which he insisted that my marriage doesn’t count because it seems so unrealistic.  I couldn’t help but feel great sadness as we talked about how unhappy so many couples are and I began trying to figure out exactly what was so different in my relationship.  After some time I arrived at the conclusion that too many marriages forget the three C’s.

Conversation

 I am constantly amazed by how little most couples actually talk with each other.  I’m not just talking about “Hi honey, how was your day?” sort of conversations, though those are important as well, but real conversations.  The type most of us make time for with our friends but for some reason not our spouse. The type you had when you were still dating and didn’t care what he was talking about you just loved to hear his voice.  Some days are just so full it is easy to forget that you both still have very real thoughts and opinions on things outside the house.  My favorite time in the world has always been at night as we are going to bed.  We lay there in the darkness whispering to each other about all those dreams and ideas that have been kicking around in our heads all day.  Things so deep and personal that we would not dare speak about them to anyone else.  If we go too long without this time we quickly start to lose touch with each other.  I have no desire to live with a stranger and we have always worked hard to make sure we have regular conversation.   

Companionship

 When was the last time you hung out with your spouse?  It can not all be about taking care of the house and kids.  Marriage is supposed to be fun, not just someone to help get all the work done.  After a stressful week it can be a great relief to just sit back and do something entertaining.  Regular play time has helped build our marriage just about more than anything else.  Sometimes it is cards with friends, sometimes we play video games together and occasionally we have been known to take turns reading aloud to each other.  We have visited parks and swung on the equipment under the moonlight.  We have taken long walks on hot summer days to pick up an ice cream only to have it melt down our hands on the way home.  The activity does not count, it is the togetherness that matters.  One day our children will be grown and it will just be the two of us bopping around this house together.  It is now that we need to build on our mutual interest not after the children are gone and we would find we no longer had anything in common.

Copulation

You had to see this one coming, right?  We can go back and forth on it as much as needed but in the end sex does matter.  I’m not talking about some strange arrangement like so many women of days gone by had where they did their weekly “duty” to keep their man.  I’m talking about the profound connection two individuals feel once their bodies are as entwined as completely as their hearts.  That is why I put this one last, without the first two this one would be no different than something you could get from anyone.  Married sex does not have to be boring.  There is something rather wonderful that happens after two people have earned each others complete trust and know each others bodies as they know their own.  To me this is the ultimate expression of everything I spoke of above.  I suppose when it comes down to it my opinion is that any marriage can be great, we just have to remind ourselves, why we loved each other in the first place.

Friends, companions and lovers for life. 

Are Big Families Really the “New Green”?

Welcome to April edition of the Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival, hosted by Authentic Parenting and Mudpiemama. This month’s topic is “Celebrating Our Earth – Green Living”. Please scroll down to the end of this post to find a list of links to the entries of the other participants. Enjoy!
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So…ARE big families the “New Green”???  I like to think so!  So many people scoff at large families and try to argue that they are hard on the earth when actually, large families often tread even more lightly on the earth than many average-sized families — by necessity!

Below are my thoughts in response to this article.

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“Cars Count”

I have often thought about how “efficient” it is that we cram 7 people into one vehicle on a regular basis. Sure, our 10-year-old minivan gets a measly 15mpg on average (city), but that’s actually better per capita than a family of four driving a 45mpg hybrid (if my mental pseudo-math is correct). We do go places often, unlike the author of the article suggests. I try to get out of the house every day, even if only to the grocery store (and that, preferably with just one or two children in tow). We go to parks, homeschool events, the library, and playdates at friends’ houses. And these things are located all over the metropolis, which isn’t very green, perhaps, but at least our metropolis is relatively small compared to most — the furthest we ever go is 25 minutes or less away from home, most being 5-15 minutes.


“Economy Size”

Yes, it takes the same amount of electricity to light and cool (or heat, for a very brief part of the year) our home, no matter how many people inhabit it. We definitely use more water than most families, at least for laundry. I estimate that we have 10-15 loads of laundry to wash per week. We do, however, have a “super capacity” washing machine, and I am a stickler to “run only full loads” rule.

When the children were younger, we would combine their baths, to the point that the water consumption probably equaled an average-sized family’s bathing habits. Nowadays, we still combine baths, but are now transitioning to showers often, which, with our low-flow shower heads, I’m hoping use even less water than their “up to your belly-button” baths.

“Cozy Quarters”

There are 7 of us living in a 3 bedroom house (well, 4 bedrooms of you count that tiny room in the addition that I use as a studio…but I don’t).  Yup, that’s the same size as an average  house for a family of four.  But our children don’t each have their own rooms, obviously.  Right now there is a kids’ bedroom, and a playroom, and it works great for our current needs.  When they are older (like, when the older ones hit puberty), there will be a boys’ room and a girls’ room.  I like to think that having one’s own room is overrated.  😉  I have heard many people who grew up in large families talk about how much they loved it, and how close they are to their siblings.  I imagine being crammed together like sardines contributed to that!

“Reduce & Reuse”

We definitely have a tight budget, especially since my husband got out of the Marine Corps and went back to college.  We are currently subsisting on a military housing allowance, grant money, and student loans, so our money must be stretched.  I am a big fan of thrift store shopping.  One of my favorite thrift stores runs daily specials, the best one (in my opinion) being the “Fill a bag for $5” days.  I am able to cram 10-15 pieces of clothing, often brand name, into one of those bags, and then pay less than the price of one new baby outfit from Walmart.  Now that’s thrifty!  I have gone out thrifting and spent $50 total for 2 garbage bags full of stuff.  So much cheaper than buying new!

As for reusing, we definitely do a lot of that around here!  We are almost entirely paperless; the only paper product we buy is toilet paper (well, and printer paper, but that is recycled!), and even that may be on the menu for (at least partial) extinction down the road, although we do use disposable storage bags as well (something that is on my list of things to remedy; I plan to make some reusable food storage bags eventually).  We use real dishes (our original supply is supplemented by thrift store replacements to compensate for children breaking them), and drink out of repurposed pickle jars.  Our babies’ bums don real (cloth) diapers, and cloth baby wipes are used for diaper changes as well as “field showers” for dirty/sticky little hands and faces.  I use cloth menstrual pads that are washed with the diapers.  Instead of paper towels, we use cheap washcloths, bought in bulk.  I think we must have 50 of them, and I go through at least 5 a day, or many more depending on the level of mess!  We use sturdy cotton napkins as napkins, and thin, soft, thrift store ($4/dozen!)  cotton napkins as handkerchiefs!   So that just leaves us with toilet paper, and I have been known to use a dry flannel baby wipe in an emergency, or a wet one from the warmer in place of those flushable wipes.  I love cloth!

Other ways we “reduce” is by me breastfeeding the babies (I finally made it without using a drop of formula with baby #5!), and eating leftovers.  I don’t understand why some people won’t eat leftovers; so many things taste better the next day!  I am a big fan of one-dish meals, so that is especially true for us!  And food that doesn’t get eaten in a timely manner often gets either composted or fed to the chickens; either way making its way back to our table, whether through eggs or garden harvest!

“Make Do”

Our house is almost entirely furnished with hand-me-down furniture.  Seriously.  It boggles my mind when I think about it.  The only things we have bought new (over the course of several years) are our king sized mattress, one twin mattress, one crib mattress, our entryway table, 3 cheap book cases, 6 folding chairs for our dining table, the folding tables in my craft room, and some patio/camping chairs.  EVERYTHING else is donations from family and friends.  Everything.  And I would venture a guess that at least half of our other possessions are either hand-me-downs, gifts, or bought second-hand.  Yes, we are terrible consumers, but it is mighty friendly to both the earth and our pocketbook!

“Pass it on”

We are happily involved in the hand-me-down loop.  We don’t have as many sources for receiving hand-me-downs as we really need, because most of my children are older than most of my friends’ children.  But, when they outgrow things, I enjoy giving things away to friends who can use them.  As I have said, though, most of my childrens’ clothing is secondhand or gifts.  Within our family, however, it’s pass-down central!  I have 3 boys and 2 girls, so technically (though not completely in practice), I should be able to get away with only buying/acquiring clothing for the oldest boy and the oldest girl.  Things are then passed down from sibling to sibling.

I love it when I put something on one of my younger children and mentally count how many children have worn that particular piece of clothing.  There is, for example, a pair of size 2T Old Navy denim overalls that I purchased used when my oldest was a baby, and every single one of my children has worn them since (it helps having twins who are different sizes because then some clothes can be handed down between them!) — so those overalls have been worn by at least 6 children!  To keep the system organized, I use dots, marked on clothing tags with a black Sharpie.  The oldest boy gets one dot, the middle boy gets 2 dots, the youngest boy gets 3 dots.  (I don’t do that for the girls [yet] because they are 6 years apart, so it is pretty easy to tell which clothes belong to whom at this point.)  This dot system helps avoid confusion come laundry time.

All of that said, clothes do wear out, so we do need to acquire “new” clothing (and shoes) for the younger children as well.  That is where thrift store shopping comes in handy.  For example, I have found high quality shoes in excellent condition for $1-3 many times!

“What the Future Holds”

I like to think that the lifestyle we live will make an impression on my children that they will carry into adulthood.  Urban homesteading, something that we aspire to but I haven’t mentioned yet here, is another “green” practice we have.  We are not there yet, but we have chickens and a decent-sized vegetable garden, and there are many many things planned for the future as far as our urban homestead goes.  That, combined with all of our other earth-friendly (and frugal) practices, are a way of life for us.  When my children are grown and gone, they will have these practices ingrained in their minds and hearts, and will carry on the legacy of protecting our earth and saving money at the same time, no matter how many children they end up having.  I, for example, learned a lot from my grandmothers, who were teenagers during The Great Depression and carried many of the penny- and resource-pinching ways of their childhoods into the next few generations.  The things I learned from them made an impression, and I hope to do the same for my own children.

~ Michelle

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Visit The Positive Parenting Connection and Authentic Parenting to find out how you can participate in the next Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival!

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

Five Times and Back Again: A Journal of a Sixth Pregnancy (Vol. 4)

Last week I promised I’d write something about nursing while pregnant… I’m in this moment really floundering at coming up with anything positive about it!! It’s been one of those days where I’m tapped out, touched out, and done.. Logically I know there are MANY benefits to nursing while pregnant. It keeps your little one connected and tandem nursing is an AMAZING bonding experience. With as young as my Marah is still she really needs that and so do I as a parenting tool. What starts to happen, though, is your milk dries up inevitably (though not for every woman) and you go through a spurt of dry nursing. That’s the uncomfortable part. It doesn’t hurt necessarily (at least for me) but it sure makes my skin crawl at times. I’m sure that’s a biological thing as your body and brain make way for the new baby/life you will be sustaining.

Sage tuckered out from her 3rd birthday festivities.

When I nursed Sage through Marah’s pregnancy it was a pretty rough ride, her latch was ALWAYS horrid and while it normally didn’t bother me much at all while pregnant I had to set limits. She was old enough (just over 2) to understand that Mama needed some boundaries. She’s the only baby that I nightweaned, she’s the only one that I told that Mama’s boobies were tired like the sun and could only give her milkies when the sun was up (which actually led to waking at the crack of dawn for a few weeks), she’s also the only one (thus far) that nursed right up to her 4th birthday! (that’s when I gently said… okay, I think we’re done..)

Tandem nursing 3 year old Sage and newborn Marah

This time around I was really quite worried about going through the same hell I went through last time but was pleasantly surprised when I made it through the first trimester and I still had abundant milk. If Marah had anything going for her it was her MOST beautiful latch, it really kept things flowing… sadly though eventually hormones take over and there’s not much you can do about it. There’s no herb, supplement, food in the world that will keep an abundant supply while pregnant. Eventually it will dry up and then comes the dry nursing. EEK!

Sleepy baby

I’ve been trying to capture more pictures of nursing Marah because when I look at them, it makes me feel/see the good parts and removes the negative emotions I have associated with the dry nursing. She looks like a beautifully contented, sweet baby girl and I truly can’t wait to nurse her and another sweet little one.  I’ve been so grateful that I’ve had other women in my life to share my experiences with who have shared the good and not so good of nursing while pregnant and tandem nursing. It’s not an easy ride but it is TOTALLY worth it in the end… I remind myself to take it one day at a time and try not to think too far ahead with it. It’s easier mentally that way.

Sweet little nursling, 24 weeks pregnant nursing 17 mos old

Five Senses Friday: Unschooling, etc.

[originally posted on my personal blog on 1/28/12]

Watching

~ My twins learn to read and write. I believe in delayed academics, and we unschool, so this sudden interest and progression was a delightful surprise. Coincidentally, this is occurring right after their 7th birthday (which was December 30th), and 7 is the age that is supposedly most appropriate for introducing academics; when the brain is finally, really ready for it.
~ Once Upon a Time, that new show on ABC. Like I needed another show to get hooked on. Thank goodness for TiVo, so I can feed my addictions at my own convenience. 😀

Hearing

~ Children: Playing outside. Fighting. Being silly and loud in the early mornings while I am trying to either catch a few more winks, or sneak out from under a still-sleeping baby. Joy. Innocence (well, sort of…).
~ Audiobooks. The twins love them. I love that they love them. I love that they are being exposed (repeatedly) to classic children’s literature before they are able to read it themselves, and without me having to read it to them (I am lazy…ahem, busy, and reading aloud makes my voice hurt).
~ Soothing music. I have had my “birth music” playing on repeat 24/7 in my bedroom. It helps the baby sleep, and whenever I walk into my bedroom, whether to change a diaper or haul some laundry, I step into a magical, tranquil world, even if just for a moment.

Smelling

Lavender, eucalyptus, and tea tree oils coming from the vaporizers in both bedrooms. Someone has inevitably had some kind of illness requiring such treatment for over a month now. It is a comforting smell. Dropping those oils into the water as I fill the vaporizers each evening is one of those times I feel like I’m “giving from the heart” (NVC reference there ;))…it’s one of those things that I lovingly do to care for my family. I am the healer in this house, which is both a duty and an honor.

Feeling

~ The warm (yes, warm) “Winter” weather. 75-80 degrees almost every day. Only a handful of rainy days or freezing nights so far. Cold fronts few and far between, lasting only a few days. Azaleas are blooming in January!! A winter wardrobe seems like such a waste of space this year! I love it. It’s as if my wish came true: “I wish it was 75 and breezy every day!” — said when discussing my hatred for both cold winter weather and stifling hot and humid summer weather…I prefer Spring and Fall only, thank you very much.
~ Overwhelmed. So many projects, commitments, activities, responsibilities. Every now and then I get to this point where I have to step back and start saying “No.” We don’t have to go to every playdate. We don’t have to go somewhere every day. Need-to-do vs. Want-to-do. Priorities. Must maintain sanity. Must take care of myself. And if that means spending a few days home-bound, puttering on the computer (and spending WAY too much time with the blog…ahem…), well, that’s okay. I deserve it, dammit! #oxygenmasktheory 🙂

Tasting

~ A lot of pasta. I prefer mine with olive oil, salt & pepper, and a healthy dose of fresh, grated Parmesan. (That is, of course, if there is no fresh Alfredo sauce available.)
~ I have also been eating a lot of avocados; sometimes scooped right out of the skin with a spoon, sometimes carefully diced and drowning in red wine vinegar and seasoned salt.
~ Oh yeah, and these super-thin organic corn chips with a dip i make out of sour cream with some “Condimento Completo” in it (whose first ingredient is MSG…a fact I did not discover until I had tasted it, fallen in love with it, and then bought a jar of my own. *sigh*).
~ I also discovered these nifty “steam in the bag” sides at Target that are useful as entire single-serving meals. I really like the Thai veggies & rice one. Too bad Target is such a trek for me. :/

I could go on, but I’ll stop…have I mentioned that I’m a foodie?

Thanks for reading!

~ Michelle

Q&A: How Do You Find Time For Yourself?

This is a very common question!  Here’s what the GMoMs have to say about it…

~ Sasha ~

For many years I didn’t.  As the years have worn on I started to feel a very real sense of “losing myself”.  When I was younger, I was very involved in the arts and drama community, and slowly over the course of parenthood I started to lose that part of myself.  I also had always read a great deal, and I think it was when our 3rd child was around 4 years old I realized it had been years since I had last read a book that was not child or homeschool related or painted/sculpt anything, let alone do anything outside of puppet shows for my children that resembled acting.  I think that was the first time I started carving time out for myself.  I started giving myself permission to “waste” time and read a book again just for the pleasure of it or watch a play and occasionally paint/sculpt again.  The past couple of years I really started working at carving in a little me time again.  I had a long talk with my husband and explained how I was feeling and we both agreed that a changes needed to be made.  Now I get out at least once a week while my husband watches the children, but even at home I have made lifestyle changes that allow me to be alone more.  Although I find parenting greatly rewarding, I now will either wake early or go to bed late to make sure I find time for other things in my life that I also find rewarding.  I find that with a little time here and there to pursue the things that interest me outside of homemaking and parenting makes me appreciate and enjoy my time with my family more, and makes me over all not only a happier parent, but a more interesting one.

~ Nic ~

Time to myself? What’s that? LOL Just kidding… I suppose I do find time for myself but with so many children and such varying ages, I typically always have at least one child with me. When the littles are in bed, I like to sit and chat with my hubby ALONE for an hour or so before I lay down for the night. I tend to get out more when I don’t have a nursling, which has been rather infrequent the past 5 years, but generally I’m okay with that. I’ve always thought little ones are really only little once, it goes by so quickly, so I’d rather enjoy it when they are and find that extra me time when they are bigger, all while realizing I definitely have needs, too.  I know my answer isn’t for everybody, and there are many women out there that crave more me time, and that’s fine too! Whatever works, stick with it and find a balance. 🙂

~ Michelle ~

I have had to make this a top priority, because my sanity suffers otherwise.  I homeschool my children so I don’t have a ton of breaks.  At the moment, my regular me-time routine includes a weekly visit to grandma.  We are fortunate to live just a few miles from my in-laws.  They take the children for 3 hours every Thursday.  During that time, I allow myself to do whatever I want, but only if it’s not something I could easily do with children around, or that my husband would normally assist with (e.g. I do not use this time to go grocery shopping ;)).  I usually end up sewing or writing, but I could potentially take a nap (although naps usually leave me discombobulated and I try to avoid them unless I am just severely pooped), and I have even used alone time to clean in the past!  By adhering to these rules I have made for myself, I am able to enjoy a short but sweet window of time just for me, and since it’s weekly, I look forward to it; it keeps me going!

Something that I believe is extremely important for mothers to do is to keep self-care at the top of the priority list.  Remember the oxygen mask theory, and the saying “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  It is too true!  And it is vital that the partner (and/or other family or friends) is on board and willing to facilitate breaks.  Other little things I am able to do for myself (with my husband’s support) is shower alone, lock myself in the rec room with snacks, knitting, and TV some evenings (leaving bedtime to Daddy), and sometimes lock myself in my bathroom and paint my nails or so some kind of spa-ish treatment.  I always feel much better afterward.

I also have a few outside commitments that are just for me.  I am part of a NonViolent Communication (a.k.a. compassionate communication) study group that meets every other Monday, where I go and sit and talk with some other mamas about what is going on in our lives and how we can use NVC to work through it (I have repeatedly referred to is as group therapy!  hahaha).  And I sing in our church’s choir, so I have rehearsal every Thursday evening.  After choir practice, a friend (and fellow choir member) of mine and I almost always go out for coffee and sit and talk for a few hours.  I guess you could say that Thursday is my recharge day!  This kind of thing is relatively new, as my nurslings typically won’t go with a sitter (even grandma) until well after their first birthdays.  But I find that before that age, the babies aren’t into mischief enough for me to need too much time away; a break from the older children is sufficient (especially because I can nap with the baby when they are not around!), other than having Daddy do some baby care when he’s home.

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How do YOU find time for yourself?

The Motherhood Question

Today I would like to stray somewhat from our blog’s usual focus on parenting topics, and discuss something that has been bothering me the past several days.  Unless you have been, as the saying goes, living under a rock, you have of course heard about the whole debacle over Hilary Rosen’s comments about how Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life”.  I am going to spare you the details and trust that if you do not know what I am talking about, you are quite capable of doing a Google search.   I have watched as the news media has once again started mashing on about “The Mommy Wars”.  They always seem to fall back to that, don’t they?  But you want to know what I think?  I don’t think it is really a working mom vs. stay at home issue.  It is not even a feminist issue.  Instead, I believe it is a societal issue.  What is the real question they are debating, what hidden thought goes through your mind when examining the topic?  In the end what is really being asked is what is a person’s, especially a woman’s, worth.

It seems like nearly everyone has a formula stashed away in their minds of what makes a woman’s life valuable.  Does she work, if so does she earn a good income or is she merely “playing” at it?  Does she stay at home, if so does she do a “good” job and “really” work?   Somehow after all this time we still seem to value women only in what they have to offer us or their family.  The idea of a woman’s value being based on the simple concept that all life has value or that the pursuit of happiness is to be protected, and even treasured, has been lost to the idea that one must earn their value in life.  Especially if that someone happens to be a woman.

Is this the face of a successful woman?

I happen to be a stay at home mother to 7 children.  Now let’s examine that for a moment.  In my life, when people have been confronted with the details of my household, they tend to draw a conclusion based on what they personally view as making me worthy of my place.  To some that must mean that I am a start-up Michelle Duggar, and thus thrust upon me all the religious expectations that concept brings to mind.  To others, they wonder if perhaps I am one of those “welfare moms”, and I can see them squinting at my children, trying to decided which children might share the same father and which ones they suspect do not.  I have run into some that assume I am some sort of hippie commune in the making, while others assume the opposite and bring in thoughts of a house run with The Sound of Music precision.   Why?  It is my experience that no one fits those molds we have so carefully constructed for them, no matter how hard we keep trying to get them to fit.  But what is saddest is that for many, if you do not fit the ideal they want you to be in, then you just don’t measure up.  Your value is lost to them.

How about now? Do I still have your approval?

One of my sisters happened to go a different route.  She is the mother of 2 children and has a successful career in computers.  So what does that bring to mind?  To some it brings up ideas of a dragon lady that sacrificed knowing her children for the promise of more money.  To others it is the image of the perfection of motherhood blending together the modern goal of both career and family.  To me she is just another person, woman, that has made decisions that she feels is best for her.

Me and my sister on my wedding day. Two very different people, and moms, both living the life of our choosing. No judgment wanted or needed thank you very much.

It is not just working mom vs. stay at home mom, even if you lean to one ideal or the other it rarely stops there.  It is not enough to just work, you have to be successful or you didn’t do it right.  It is not enough to just be a stay at home mom, you also have to do all the work yourself and keep a good house.  So what is the measure of success?  At what point do we get to have that magic moment when everyone stops and pats us on the back and says “good job”!  Answer in short, there is none, and, never.  Why?  Because if you are trying to live up to the world’s expectations of you, motherhood or not, you are going to fail.  Not because you were not good enough, or you didn’t work hard enough, but just because this is a great big world we live in, and pretty much no one agrees on what exactly makes the ideal mom.

I have zero desire in this post to end with a ringing call to arms of my fellow women and mothers to stand side by side as equals.  Sadly, I think our world is far too judgmental for that to ever work on any grand level.  What I do desire is to call out to anyone that will listen, and ask them to look inside themselves and find peace with the life choices they have made.  If you desire a different life, first ask why.  I thought for several years that I was depressed, until one day I realized I had somehow surrounded myself with jerks that talked me down no matter what choices I made.  I removed my emotional debt to those people, moved on and suddenly, look who wasn’t depressed anymore.  Do you feel unsuccessful as a stay at home mom because someone told you to?  Feeling guilty for working because “good moms” stay at home?  At the end of the day, it is yourself, and not them, that you have to face in the mirror, and your own mind that gets to clatter around in your head before falling to sleep.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have enough room in my bed for everyone else.

~ Sasha

Five Senses Friday: Dirt, etc.

~ Watching ~

 My Garden grow.  We have 3 raised garden beds, 4’x8’ each, and we use the Square Foot Gardening method.  Last week, I did the big marathon of springtime garden chores, as the only things that survived the winter garden are several red potato plants, one broccoli plant , and one cabbage plant (both of which are going to yield us something very soon!).  I amended the soil with some composted cow manure and organic garden soil (both gotten on sale – woot!), and compost from our own composter (by the way, did you know that avocado seeds will sprout inside a composter?  That was a lovely surprise, as I have given up trying to sprout them with toothpicks and water).  The next day I purchased seeds and seedlings.  The day after that, I planted.  We have 18 tomato plants in 3 different varieties (regular, roma, and grape); 6 each of crook-neck squash, watermelon, zucchini, cucumber, eggplant, bell peppers, and probably something else I’m forgetting.  I also planted some strawberry plants in a strawberry pot (something I have been wanting to own for years and finally treated myself to).  I do not have particularly high hopes for the strawberries, because this is Florida, and strawberry season is already in full swing, so it’s kind of late to be planting new strawberries.  The kind I bought are June-bearing, though, so they might(?) actually make it, but still, I fully expect them to fail.  So if they don’t, gravy!

What's left of the winter garden. One bolting broccoli, one heading cabbage.

The 3 garden beds. Not quite full yet! The string grid on Bed 1 needs replacing.

I also planted seeds for a ton of green bean plants, corn, cantaloupe, pumpkin, and sunflowers, and even some carrots, turnps, and beets (about as late in the season as I could have possibly waited!).  Yes, I am mighty ambitious this year!  Now if only I could figure out how to keep those damn squirrels away.  We do have a plastic owl, and the other day I walked around the garden sprinkling cayenne pepper and spritzing everything with very diluted Murphy’s Oil Soap as a half-assed, spur of the moment solution based on some recipes that Google supplied me with.  I intend to make up a proper batch of it eventually.  Well, maybe.  If it works as it is then I won’t change a thing!  I only have so many spray bottles, and one is already devoted to a Murphy’s solution for cleaning my heirloom dining table.  So if I can avoid having to buy and store yet another spray bottle, that would be nice.  It’s the little things.

Another thing I am trying is growing potatoes in a 55 gallon garbage can.  It seems so ridiculously easy!  I found an old garbage can that’s been sitting on the side of our house for who knows how long, and punched some holes in the bottom for drainage.  I scattered some river rocks over the holes to keep the dirt in, added about 6” of bagged garden soil, then dumped several pounds of seed potatoes in (in this case, seed potatoes = a bag of organic Idaho potatoes that I let go to eye).  Then I dumped another 4-6” of garden soil on top of them, and watered.  The idea is to add more and more soil as the plants grow, since the tubers grow out of the stems if they are under dirt.  When the dirt gets to the top of the can, I will let the plants die off and then (theoretically) the can will be full of potatoes.  I tried to find a link for this, but according to all of the ones I looked at, I am not following the complicated instructions they give, so if you want more info, Google “grow potatoes in a garbage can” or something.  I’m just blazing trails with my laziness here, apparently.  We shall see if it pays off!  I also found out that this method works for sweet potatoes, so I need another garbage can and some organic sweet potatoes to let go to eye!

Young potato plants at the bottom of a garbage can.

Part of a more mature potato plant in one of the raised beds.

 

~ Listening ~

 To the radio.  The kids love to listen to the pop station, and have pretty much all of the latest songs memorized, even if their lyrics aren’t correct (and try as I do to correct them, they keep making up whatever they think is being said).  One thing I discovered recently as a great peace-keeping tool, especially in the van, is the Now That’s What I Call Music CDs.  It’s their favorite songs on demand!  You may be thinking that this would be easy to accomplish with certain other modern technologies, but we don’t have an MP3 player or XM radio, so good old fashioned CDs work for our purposes (except when the 10 year old minivan’s CD player overheats . . . ).  So whenever the kids are getting obnoxious or start fighting while I’m driving, I pop in a CD and they stop what they are doing and start singing.  Magic!


~ Feeling ~

 This strange spring weather.  (What, like I haven’t lived in Florida my entire life?  I should be used to strange weather!)  It’s warm enough during the day (90°!) that I feel a little claustrophobic in my yoga pants, but cool enough at night (60°) that my sleeveless nightgowns require a robe if I want to go out onto the porch.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  All of you northern people are laughing at me for thinking 60° is cold.  And really, as a Floridian, I know that 85° is not that warm.  In a few months, the heat index will soar at 105°, with stifling humidity.  So I should enjoy the mere 85-90° while I can!  I am dreading those oppressive days where I can’t even bear the thought of going out to water the garden, let alone weed or replant something.  (I’m a little obsessed with weather, as I am sure you will all figure out eventually.  Just wait until hurricane season!  My husband is very glad that we no longer get The Weather Channel.)

 

 ~ Smelling ~

 Rain!  So thankful for rain.  We have had such drought here over the last year that even hay is scarce.  I ended up paying extra for straw for my chicken coop last week because hay is so hard to find, due to last summer’s drought.  And there is nothing the garden likes better than a good soaking rain.  There is something magic in that rainwater that makes plants shoot up noticeably after it rains.  So I am looking forward to going out there to check on all of my “babies” tomorrow.  Now, if only I had a working rain barrel to capture some of this precious liquid.  Our previous rain barrel (the kind they sell out of the back of a truck for $45 in the Home Depot parking lot) held up for just over a year.  I think the kids using it for play has something to do with that, since there was more than one occasion that I caught them rolling each other around the yard in it (I KNOW!).  And I could not keep them from turning on the spigot at the bottom of the barrel to use the water to make mud.  I’m all for dirty outside play and all, but I was kind of looking forward to having a barrel full of rain water to use to water the garden during those droughty days!  Honestly, the fancy design of that barrel proved to be detrimental for our case.  The kids thought the spigot itself was so cool that they removed it from the barrel to play with, and then lost it!  Now the thing wouldn’t hold water at all, even if there wasn’t a giant crack down the side of it.  I may just end up using that old rain barrel to grow sweet potatoes in.  I think we would be better off with a garbage can with a screen over the top under our gutters, dipping a watering can in it as needed.  The fancy ones are just too attractive for my curious kiddos.

Mud play. This pic was taken the day the rain barrel died. :/

 

~ Tasting ~

Polenta.  I made it for the first time recently, and I’m hooked.  Now, like any good southerner, I have made (and eaten) grits many times.  And I have eaten polenta at restaurants.  I even like congealed leftover grits (which is, um, pretty much . . . polenta).  But I bought a package of yellow grits with polenta instructions on them and thought, hey, why not?  It was nifty to purposefully let some grits set in a bowl and then invert it onto a plate to make salty, peppery, cheesy “grits cake.”  The kids LOVED it, and so did I!  I just might have to post a recipe tutorial on one of these Yummy Mondays . . .

Oh!  And I made Tater Tot Casserole again the other night.  If you missed my post where I shared my personal version of the recipe this week (in all it’s photographic glory), you can find it here.   🙂

 

Thanks for reading!  Have an awesome day!  😀

~ Michelle

 

Watching Your Flowers Bloom: Unschooling & Child Development

[Disclaimer: these musings and theories are not one-size-fits-all, particularly when there are special needs involved!]

One significant thing that has evolved on my parenting journey is the way I view learning, in its broadest definition.  It occurred to me recently, as I have noticed a pattern in the advice that I dole out to other parents, that I incorporate unschooling philosophies into our lives more than I realized.  Now, we are not Radical Unschoolers.  Far from it, really.  I strictly limit screen time, screen content, and junk food, and I insist on personal hygiene, good manners, safety rules, and a decent night’s sleep.  (Wow, I sound really strict!  But really I’m not; in fact, my children are currently parked in front of PBS Kids so that I can write this!  And sometimes they go to bed without brushing their teeth!  And we like to eat at Sonic!  See, I’m human, too. ;))  So that pretty much disqualifies us from claiming the title of Radical Unschoolers.  But that is beside the point here!  So, what I realized is that among all the battles that I pick to fight as a mother, the ones that involve normal child development are not among them.  At least not anymore.

There is a philosophy that I love and identify with called Free-Range Parenting.  It involves (in a nutshell), teaching your children basic safety rules, having a lot of faith in humanity, and letting them figure out the world on their own as their age and abilities allow.  You do not have to be an unschooler to be a free-range parent, but I am thinking that unschooling and free-ranging kind of go hand in hand.  At least for us.  Being a Mom of Many has led me down this path, not only because of experience and continuous research, but because when you have a lot of children, you have no choice but to carefully pick your battles.  So, what has come of this is that I have let go of the preconceived notion that we actually have to teach our children to do certain things.  Unschooling is about having faith that, given the freedom and opportunity to do so, your children WILL LEARN what they need to learn.  Really, with academics, all they need to do is learn to read, and that opens up the entire world for them to learn from.  And boy, do they drink it up!

self-taught reader

So that brings me to the issue of child development and how it relates to unschooling.  I am talking about “teaching” children to walk.  To talk.  To eat with utensils.  To use the toilet.  To sleep through the night.   To wean from the breast, or a pacifier, or even from co-sleeping.  To swim.  To ride a bike.  To read.  All of these things will happen naturally if you allow it; if you are willing to wait, and have the patience.  All of them!  I have seen it with my own eyes, several times over!  For me, and other MoMs (I assume), the patience bit is a non-issue, because we are so busy doing endless laundry and getting food on the table that we just don’t have the opportunity to worry about every little thing.  Perhaps some would call it laziness. And please do not be confused by thinking that not actively teaching these things equates neglect.  It most certainly does not.  One part of unschooling is being a “facilitator” instead of a “teacher.”  Teaching implies direct instruction of something, while facilitating involves supporting and allowing learning.  I have found that being a facilitator is easier and, more importantly, happier for all involved, and even more successful (in my personal experience), than trying to teach things that don’t need to be taught.

The middle three children, here ages 6, 6, & 3, are all self-taught swimmers.
(as is my oldest child, not pictured here)

So, reviewing what I have already written, I am afraid that I paint a picture of myself as refusing to ever teach my children anything.  Again, not true.  But the way that I teach is not necessarily direct and assertive.  It is mostly opportunistic and random, and their natural curiosity and hunger for knowledge (and questions, oh, the questions!) fills in the gaps.  I lazily teach my babies sign language, and they pick up on some of it.  I allow that binky-addict to keep his binky at bedtime (because I think security items are security items for a reason, and I feel that forcibly removing them is damaging…and I speak from experience), and shortly before his fourth birthday, he seems to forget about it.  Eventually, sometime after their first birthday, I will think to hand them a spoon at the dinner table, and might be delighted to see that they have watched the rest of us use utensils enough that they already know what to do with it!  Same with a tooth brush.  And I don’t care if they don’t get it right.  They will watch.  They will learn.  They will try, and fail, and try again.  I will not put pressure on them, because I believe that kills the joy and wonder of discovery, and sets everyone up for failure and conflict.  I feel this way about many things, including using the toilet and getting dressed.  Eventually they will figure it out, through trial and error, but I do not want to lower the quality of our relationship by fighting about it, and I do so LOVE watching them figure things out!  There is no greater wonder in parenthood.  Those are the moments that make it all worth it, so why would I want to decrease the frequency of them?  I don’t want to be proud of myself for “teaching” my child something; I want to be proud of my child for learning something!  Instead of thinking, with pride, I taught him well! I think, with awe, I gave birth to that!  It’s what gets me through the darkest of times.

Brigit at 15 months, figuring out the fork.

Connor at 19 months, self-initiated tooth-brushing...with MY toothbrush.
(the original caption for this pic said "This is why we have doorknob covers")

So in the interest of clarifying my methodology, I will explain a little bit about how I facilitate, rather than teach, what I consider to be normal developmental milestones.  When it comes to potty “training” (a subject near and dear to my heart after learning the hard way), I prefer to offer the potty every once in a while from about the age of 1; before baths, mainly, or when it’s time for a diaper change and the diaper is dry.  My babies have all seen me use the potty.  The more family members, the more opportunity a child has to witness this necessary function and how the big people deal with it.  Around the age of 2, we might start having naked time a lot at home (the baby, not the rest of us! ;)), keeping a potty chair or two in the living areas.

Eventually the child will use the toilet.  No pressure.  No anger at “accidents.”  No shaming.  No punishments.  I just keep a spray bottle of all-purpose cleaner (around here, that’s water, white vinegar, and a squirt of liquid soap) and some rags on hand, and clean up a few puddles every day (it helps to NOT have carpet…if you do, then I don’t know what to tell you!).  The baby still wears diapers at night, during naps, and when we go out.  Just naked time at home.  In our experience, this no-fuss potty learning took about a year from the first self-initiated urge recognition (read: he ran to the potty to pee of his own accord) before the child could wear underwear out of the house.  So worth it!  And I’ll tell you why: with my first 3 children, I went a more traditional route with the potty training.  There were sticker charts, candy, countless changes of clothing, anger, blame, yelling.  It should not have to be like that!  And the kicker?  It took LONGER for them to train than the kid I did NOTHING for!  Lesson learned.  So much easier, so much happier, and really, so much faster!  All because I sat back and let nature take its course (no pun intended there!).

Connor at 2 1/2, figuring out the potty.

So, the bottom line is that I have come into my laissez faire style of parenting both out of necessity (having a lot of children being the main one, but struggles with depression and debilitating back pain are certainly a part of it) and because of my own trial and error.  It turns out that there are many things that parents are concerned about that I have found really don’t need to be worried over.  It’s a case of picking your battles.  But honestly, I think that modern society has trained us, the parents, to believe that we have to teach our children certain things or they will NEVER LEARN them.  That is so untrue that it makes me sad, because then, hands-off parents like me (and often MoMs in general) are perhaps viewed as lazy (in a bad way ;)) and neglectful, because folks cannot fathom how children can learn something without direct instruction (I’d like to invite those people to take a stopwatch to their nearest school, and time exactly how long a teacher actually spends directly instructing any particular child each day.  The results may very well astound you…and invalidate your argument.  MOST children do MOST of their learning on their own.).  AND, it denies children some of the pride and joy of figuring things out on their own.

In the modern commercial world, there are countless products available to help your children “learn” things that OH MY GOD they will never learn to do without said specialty items.  Like, how will my baby ever learn how to sit up if we don’t buy a certain baby chair that happens to rhyme with Dumbo?!  Not knocking all those products; many are really cool and some of them can certainly make life easier (and I own a lot of them!), but that’s not the point.  The point is, they are not NECESSARY.  Your child (under neurotypical circumstances) will still learn to talk without you sitting down to do speech exercises with fancy flash cards every day. If that’s your thing and you both enjoy it, then by all means, keep it up!  But don’t think that you have to (in fact, that example brings up another philosophy that I ascribe to: Delayed Academics.  Research shows that it can detrimental to the developing brain to force complex thinking before a child is ready…and in my experience, they will let you know when they are ready!).  So, relax; enjoy watching your little flowers blossom.  Give them sun and water and let nature do the rest (metaphor there; children really actually need more than just sun and water!! ;)). But, my children are happy and healthy and creative, and we all celebrate their discoveries and milestones together, with equal delight, because we know that it happened naturally.  That is SUCH a magical feeling.  AND, Mama keeps just a little bit more of her sanity intact in the process.  Win-win!

Self-taught bike riders, here ages 6, 9, & 6
(Never mind those training wheels; they came off not long after this pic was taken, and she got the hang of it within 5 minutes just like her brothers did.)

Happy watching!

~ Michelle