On Terrible No Good Very Bad Days

Ok, we’ve all had them. When from the start of it, the day is trashed. If it started with a plan, that plan has either sailed or crashed. Nothing you do is good enough and little attitudes aren’t cooperating. For these days you need a list of core values. These are the things you value most and when all else come splashing down (you know the ones, mess after mess getting the best of you) they still stand. Once you figure these out it will also help to take the pressure off of you when days are less than ideal.

My core values are Quality Time * Minimal Stress * Good Food. Quality time means many things to me. First and most importantly it means everyone is heard. If someone is having a particularly hard day, everything else will shift so we can listen and talk for as long as needed. This may be at the grocery store, it may be at home, but where ever I want my kids and husband to always know they are more important than ticking off boxes or fulfilling tasks. A successful day is one where everyone knows and feels deeply that they are loved unconditionally. This isn’t always easy, I am a list maker and checker by nature. I enjoy a nice productive day like any other list freak out there. But I try to live my life by my beliefs more than my natural tendencies. This means stopping in the middle of doing dishes to listen, not finishing the laundry to redirect emotions, and canceling school sometimes for family time.

Minimizing stress sounds a little strange to be on a core value list so let me explain. Stress is not good for us, even in small amounts. Pressure is good and challenges equally so, but stress should not be confused with these potentially character building moments. Stress tends to alter my choices and certainly alters the tone of my voice if you know what I mean. I don’t like it. So if something is becoming stressful, even for instance the school day, I will look at it and see if I can refocus to change it. It may mean we stop circle time mid way and hit the park.  We may just decide to destroy the bedroom and build the most magical tent ever while munching throughout the day instead of having well balanced and planned meals. Hey who doesn’t feel loved in a towering cushy tent with bowls of tzatziki, carrots and soaked biscuits all around!?

By good food I mean good for you. Real food, not processed, not an out of a box meal. It isn’t hard to eat well if planning is happening. However it is even easier when there are clear boundaries in the family. For instance we don’t keep snack-y packaged foods and unhealthy drinks around. So the sneaky and hungry kids can only resort to the likes of blueberries and celery for munch-y schemes. We also don’t do fast food. We just don’t. It is not an option. So in the event we are out and about longer than expected and we all need refueling there is always a grocery store nearby. Cheese and fruit does well in a pinch. Some nights dinner just isn’t happening the way I planned or envisioned. In these desperate moments look no further than the old stand by of rice and beans. I swear, the simpler my meals get the more the kids love them! What is up with that? I really enjoy cooking and trying new recipes so simple isn’t always on the menu but it is nice to know that if its beans and rice tonight no one is going to complain.

Once these types of values are etched in your mind they become second nature and when the grumbles roll in you know just what you are willing to let slide and just what you aren’t. Believe me this is more freeing than it is restricting.

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Gardening as school

Most people now days would agree with the general idea that gardening is good for children of all ages. But I wonder if most would agree that gardening is necessary for children. I really believe it is necessary if you want a well rounded child that has a foundational understanding of our world. I also believe that it is necessary for every job or life event that will be experienced once they leave the nest. And by the way that’s an expression borrowed from observation of our natural world…just saying. I’ll start with some of the ways I use gardening in our homeschooling experience and then try to get into some of the reasons why.

First we have a garden! Now that may seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. You can simply start with a 4×4 raised bed with a few seeds thrown in and watered regularly. You can read more about the specifics of setting up a raised be garden here. Whatever the size the idea is to get your children outside among growing things. I’ve had the privilege of working with children other than my own in school gardens and seen first hand how being a part of the growing process changes how the kids feel about vegetables. If they grew it they will probably eat it…raw!! Its that kinesthetic experience, the working with their own hands that excites them and keeps them engaged. As my children have grown with our gardens I’ve seen their interests shift. Currently my newly 4yr old loves to help with the harvest. My 6yr old loves saving seeds and continues to enjoy planting. When they were very young they loved digging in the dirt and munching of whatever greens their chubby hands could grab.

This spring we built a bamboo teepee and planted beans and native coral honeysuckle around it. It was the sole job of my 3yr old to plant and make sure it was watered as the seedlings grew. Now as fall approaches she loves to play around the teepee with glee and she sees how well her plants are doing. She takes great ownership and pride in it because she was given the responsibility and trust to take care of it. This instills confidence in little ones and encourages them to dream. I can’t keep track of how many ideas come to us from the children about building this or that. I only wish we could complete each brilliant and creative idea they had but count it as a win that they have the mind and vision to have the ideas in the first place.

Gardening teaches patience, independence and builds the imagination. Oh the wonder it births as the single seed is pushed into the soft earth as sprinkles of water remind it to grow each morning, eyes eagerly searching for the first burst of green push through the soil into shared air. And wonder my friends is just what we want for our young minds. Every part of the growing process invokes wonder. The first true leaves, the winding and growing plant, the flowers and fruit, even the dying and giving of seed as its children is all magical. We love thumbing through seed catalogs and picking out strange and unusual seeds to grow. This alone I feel does great steps in instilling a great independence and imagination in us all. To know you don’t have to settle for nearly white tomatoes, or tasteless squash found at the grocery store, but to know you can have purple tomatoes, spiraling squash, rainbow corn and every herb known to man growing steps from your kitchen is freeing at its purest. After all what else do we do but breath more than the three or more times of eating each day.

Gardening teaches politics and responsibility. A few years ago when we discussed pollination with my 4yr old, my chalkboard diagram of the sexual parts of a plant made immediate sense. She had seen the hibiscus up close for years as she loved to pick and wear them pushed over her ear. She recognized the dramatic stigma instantly. She had years under her belt of marveling as bees disappeared deep into the trumpet of a great white flower and ate. She had watched butterflies be hatched, scoot around and munch leaves as caterpillars and unzip into their chrysalis only to be reborn into butterflies again and again in our garden. She knew pollination before she had a word for it. Colony collapse disorder, GMO foods, the dangers of ignorant eating. All these are already beginning to have a foundation in which to inform opinions on for the young gardener.

Gardening teaches shapes and early concepts. For the very young, the every changing garden is a wonderful place to begin to discover to repetitive but never dull every day shapes of our lives. The round dahlia and zinnias next to the square boxes they grown in. Counting seeds 1,2,3 as they fall into the straight lined row. The skipping of a rock 1,2,3 across a pond. If only our creative mind remains open and active we can find in nature all the tools for the young child. Here are some great resources from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. http://www.wildflower.org/learn/teacher-resources

I will leave you with a quote from the great John Muir one of our histories greatest naturalist. “Climb the mountain’s and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”


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Changing every day with presence

It was a day like any other…frustration mingled with really good moments. Cute grins thrown at me and witty 3yr old phrases…but I was done. I was tired of the roller coaster. I was tired of getting so easily frustrated at the kids. I was tired of loving my life at home while also dreaming it had turned out differently. I didn’t know what to do, so I stopped and closed my eyes asking for guidance. Almost immediately I saw the cause…it was me.

I could see how every encounter that ended in frustration was due to me trying to do two things at once. We were playing in the pool together but really I was trying to clean the fallen leaves out at the same time. We were crafting with scissors and glue but I was also replying to an email. I was cooking but also catching up on a favorite podcast. So naturally in the middle of any of those tasks as my shirt is pulled, or I hear “Mom” repeated 3 times without even giving me a chance to respond I wanted out. I wanted away. I  wanted peace for goodness sake. However, after a little bit of listening I was fully aware it was my lack of being present in the moment with one focus that caused my stress. It was not the children, it was me.

Once the “aha” moment occurred I began seeing this mulit-tasker everywhere. And sure she got things done, but she was also allowing unneeded stress in my life. If instead I allowed for a complete immersion in the task at hand, whether it be playing ponies, finger knitting or working with chalk, stress no longer called to me. I was free. Free to gallop, spin yarn, and blend to my hearts content. A simple paradigm shift in thinking now allowed me the freedom to simply enjoy whatever we were doing for the allotted time. I need not agree to the pressure that I must accomplish this and that simultaneously. It simply wasn’t true.  This could be enjoyed now, and that would be taken care of later.

I realize this may seem too simple or perhaps even impractical for real world application but it has rocked my world. For some reason before this aha moment I felt I had to be doing multiple things at once and I didn’t even realize it. The secret is out, I still get everything done that needs to be done! And I do it without heavy sighs and bleary eyes. So take my advice if you find yourself frustrated in your every day and see if mulit-tasking is the cause. It might just be time for you to enjoy the moment you are in and leave the dishes in the sink.

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