Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Our Relationship with Screens


When I was little, I watched a lot of TV. I mean, a lot of TV. When I was in 5th and 6th grade, I distinctly remember having a TV in my room, and I remember turning it on right when I got home from school (hello, Gem!) and watching it through the night (Silver Spoons, anyone?). When I was in 7th grade, I recall taking a survey at school that asked us how much TV we watched. I remember thinking: "Ha! I watch a lot of TV and still get good grades! I'm the opposite of what this survey expects." Even now, my family has a TV in every room: One in each of the three bedrooms, one in the living room, and one in the family room (which can be seen from the kitchen). 

Now that I'm thinking about it, I can't remember when the shift occurred in my life. I can't remember when I stopped keeping the TV on for background noise and got more intentional about only having it on when I wanted to watch something. And when did Matt and I make the shift all together about not having a TV in our house? I suppose it started when we moved to Colorado. We had a tiny house, so we kept the TV in our bedroom. We kept up that trend when we moved to Houston. However, we started watching more and more things on our computer. We finally got rid of our TV at that point. Then we started saving up money for a projector and eventually realized they weren't as expensive as we anticipated. Now we keep a projector in a basket and set it up if we want to watch TV on Friday and Saturday nights after the boys go to bed. We also got a great deal from Woot on a giant screen that we can set up when we have friends over to watch something. 

Watching shows is such a peripheral part of our lives, and I really like it that way. I like how it creates more of a slow, intentional, open kind of childhood for Henry and Tate. We fill up our time with so many other things. Henry collects rocks in the front yard. We turn on the hose and spray him. He creates mud pits to play in. He rides his bike on the deck. We go for walks in the neighborhood. He builds pretend airplanes and tents with all the blankets stored in the ottoman. He cooks scrambled eggs and peels hardboiled eggs. He fills up the bird feeder.

We've got so much wide-open space in our free time. We aren't rushing around to different music/soccer/art classes. Henry has time to figure things out, ask questions, notice things. 

The one exception is when we're sick. Parenting is already hard, but the difficulty triples when we're sick. In those rare cases, we break out episodes of Caillou on Netflix. I worked really hard to find something that was based on reality (since Henry is still trying to understand the world: "If that man on the motorcycle isn't wearing a helmet and he falls off will the doctors be able to put his head back on?"). I also didn't want something that showcased conflict/difficulty/bad behavior for the majority of the time and then resolved it in 1-2 minutes at the end. I want Henry to see good behavior modeled if he's going to watch something. We tried watching animal documentaries, but he really needs our support to stay engaged for a longer period of time. When we're sick, we really don't have the energy for that. 

Caillou fits the bill almost perfectly. I love how focused it is on helping children cultivate a growth mindset. Caillou struggles with things, but he doesn't give up. Instead, he works harder and then accomplishes it. 

I recently went to a workshop at Henry's Montessori school about reducing screen time and the amazing benefits it can have on child development. The speaker showcased various examples of how children who grow up in screen-free/reduced homes develop the most creative and elaborate types of play, and they tend to be particularly observant and curious. 

Although we will not be fully screen-free (I'm looking forward to Friday night movies as a family once Henry is about six, and Henry already does "research" on YouTube about things that he sees in real life like blimps and motorized paragliders), I'm happy with the limited exposure our children get. Henry doesn't beg for screen time or try to negotiate with us because he gets so little. It's working for us now. I'll let you know how it goes! 



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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Montessori Moments


These "Montessori Moments" posts are meant to highlight some of the ways we implement the Montessori method in our home. Many of the activities that are featured--cooking, cleaning together, going out into nature, etc.--overlap with other parenting philosophies or might seem like things that parents just do with their children intuitively. I've still chosen to highlight them here because they are integral to the Montessori approach to parenting and education and fit within a comprehensive continuum of activities that support children as they undergo the important work of forming themselves. For more information about incorporating Montessori into the home, I recommend How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way for a basic overview. For more insight into Montessori as an educational philosophy, I recommend Montessori Today. When trying to implement Montessori with infants and toddlers, I recommend Montessori from the Start and Joyful Child, as well as my favorite resource, which is a DVD documentary of Montessori at home with a 20 month old called Edison's Day.


Creating an environment of yes's: There are some people who love rearranging their furniture constantly. I am not one of those people. I prefer to set it and forget it. But that isn't possible when you try to create an environment of yes's. Once Tate started pulling up on shelves around six months, I took some time to remove all the fragile items off the small bookshelf on the end of our kitchen island and instead store them inside a drawer. This drawer is low to the ground, so Henry can easily access it.

Following our curiosity: While walking down by the creek behind our house one day, Henry and Matt found an animal's jawbone. Matt set it on top of our fence, and we didn't do much else with it. This past Saturday, Henry saw it out our bedroom window and asked about it again. He wondered what kind of animal it was from. I got my notebook and we brainstormed a list of guess. I guessed possum, raccoon, coyote, or dog; Henry guessed hawk, deer, or bear. We looked closely at the jaw and realized that we could actually pull one of the teeth out and put it back in. So amazing! We could also see some teeth that had not broken through the gum.

We searched for images on Google, but the jaw didn't seem to align with any of our guesses. I'm thinking we might need to visit a professor at the University of Texas to figure out the mystery once and for all. 


Adding to our nature bowl: While we try and figure out the mystery, we are storing the jawbone in our nature bowl. It also houses a feather, rocks, seed pods, etc.



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Monday, April 21, 2014

Finished: Front Yard!


I don't tend to write about a lot of "afters" in my life; I'm much more motivated to use this blog as a planning space. But I figured I should share our finished front yard!

We asked three different landscapers to come up with designs and estimates. We mainly got recommendations from neighbors whose yards we like. The first landscaper charged us to create the design; the second and third did not. The estimates varied widely, and we ended up liking a design in the lower-middle range of the three estimates.

Matt and I wanted a low-maintenance, drought-resistant front yard. I also wanted space to garden. I love, love, love how there's automatic watering for the plants around the yard (drip) and the vegetables/fruits in the garden beds (spray). Maintenance should be incredibly easy. It should only involve cutting a couple things down to the ground each winter (no mowing!).

In the end, we are very happy with the final product. Henry loves running on the straight line that cuts across the yard. I love how organized and calm everything feels now that it no longer looks like a construction zone.



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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Stitch Fix Experiment



One of my board members was wearing a lovely shirt, and when I asked her where it was from, she introduced me to Stitch Fix. The idea is pretty simple. First you create an account and answer some questions about your style preferences (with a fun little quiz that include pictures of outfits). You pay $20 to have a box of clothes shipped to you based on your general preferences. You only purchase what you like and send the rest back via free postage. If you purchase at least one thing, the $20 fee is waived. 

One of the things I inherited from my mother is an intense dislike of shopping. I really get little to no pleasure out of trekking to stores, trying things on, and always feeling like I'm settling for things I don't really like just because I'm eager to get back home. 

But at the same time, I need professional clothing. I don't need a lot; I'd be content to have five professional work outfits for summer, five for spring/fall, and five for winter). In my year of "making a clearing," I'm excited to try out one more strategy that helps free up some time. 




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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gratitude


As I start this post, I'm sitting on our front porch. Henry is making mud in our in-progress garden. What a simple formula: water + dirt + bare feet = pure joy. He dug up a grub and moved it over to the grass. Then he stopped by the porch to tell me there was "something with teeth" in the grass. Apparently it's either "a grasshopper" or a "Japanese spider crab."

This morning was the groundbreaking ceremony for the school. What an amazing feeling to simultaneously be a staff member and a parent. 

It took a lot of years to get to this place. There were times when I had to take jobs that weren't exactly what I wanted to be doing but were very aligned with helping me build the skills I needed to pursue my dream of opening a school. There were financial sacrifices (for example, I worked full-time for nearly two years before starting on the payroll). There was a lot of delayed gratification and waiting. 

There are times when life feels so full that you can't help but worry about it tipping over and spilling out. I don't want to lose anything. 

But instead of going to a place of fear or worry, I simply hug my boys a little tighter and enjoy the breeze on the front porch. And then when Henry asks, "Will you come make mud castles with me?" I respond with yes. 



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Monday, April 14, 2014

Party Time

I am so eager to host a party for some of our new staff members this Friday! When we were choosing the design of our house, we intentionally tried to create a casual, comfortable hang-out space. The kitchen has a giant island that connects to the dining area with a large table which connects to the living area with a large sectional which connects to the deck. Now that we finally have furniture, the deck is also a fun place to hang out. 

The truth is that we don’t use our house as a hang-out space nearly enough. Mustering up the patience needed to calmly and cheerfully parent an infant and a three year-old pretty much takes all our energy these days. For the most part, we’re good about staying calm, patient, and cheerful, but it’s definitely draining—especially because Tate is still not sleeping through the night (at 9 months) and we are often awake for up to 1.5 hours in the middle of the night. Oy! 

Of course Matt and I could make this difficult period a little easier on ourselves if one of us didn’t work full-time, but we both want to be fully engaged in the outside world. I honestly wouldn’t want another 14-month maternity leave at this point. I missed work too much. 

So for now we basically just tuck our chins and walk straight into what feels like a wind storm at times. 

I don’t mean to sound whiny. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the little family we have grown. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am so, so glad we made the decision to grow our family. There was a while there when we thought we would stop at one. 

But it’s a hard period in our lives right now. The boys’ needs are very different, so we are constantly tag-teaming. Matt gives the boys a bath while I clean up from dinner. I read Henry a story while Matt gets Tate dressed and ready for bed. I feed Tate while Matt talks with Henry. I take Henry to the childcare room at the YMCA so I can run on the treadmill; meanwhile Matt pushes Tate in the stroller on trails. 

I’m just tired all. the. time. 

So those are all the reasons we are not inviting people over all the time. But this Friday we are! And I am immensely happy about it. My questions are: What do we want to serve for a meal? How do we build conversation and connection among people who are meeting each other for the first time? 

My mind immediately jumps to the name tags we made for our wedding. We had everyone complete this prompt with three things: “Ask me about _____.” Everyone was really creative and interesting. It’s a small thing, but it might be fun. 

And what about food? We are going to have upwards of 20 people! My top contender is Tex-Mex. I could buy some stuff from Chuy’s (tortillas, chips, queso, and rice) and then make the rest myself: guacamole, black beans, shredded cheese, and roasted vegetables). For dessert we could have chocolate fondue with cake, pretzels, bananas, and strawberries. We could also set up a S’mores making area with sterno cans by the sectional on the deck. 

And maybe frozen margaritas? 

And we definitely need to hang up the white lights around the deck. 

I’m so excited to be planning a party! I really need to list out my daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly needs again. I’m realizing that I’m missing some things in my life. I love planning get-togethers! 

To-Do:
  • Send out e-mail (with embedded form to have people complete their name tag info in advance)
  • Make name tags
  • Set up sign on the front door that welcomes people
  • Set up name tags right by the front door when you enter
  • Purchase the following from Chuy’s: flour tortillas, corn tortillas, rice, queso, creamy jalapeƱo sauce, chips 
  • Purchase the following from the grocery store: peppers, onions, mushrooms, avocados, cilantro, lemon, tomato, cream cheese, sour cream, pepper jack cheese, butter, pretzels, bananas, strawberries, sterno cans, graham crackers, chocolate bars, marshmallows, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, condensed milk
  • Borrow fondue forks
  • Cook guacamole, beans, roasted vegetables, cake
  • Hang white lights
So excited! 



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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Meal Ingredients Delivered


While I was writing this post about batch cooking, I did an internet search and realized that I could use Greenling to get organic/local/sustainable products delivered to my door and that I could actually order all the ingredients (already chopped/prepped) to cook five Engine 2 meals (for two people). 

What!?!

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Engine 2 diet, it was developed by a firefighter in Austin (I'm actually friends with his awesome wife!). It's a plant-based diet that focuses on whole, healthy foods. 

The total cost for 10 meals (5 separate meals for two people each) was $89.99. 

And just when I was about to feel guilty about the carbon footprint associated with having groceries delivered to my home (so indulgent!), I read that it actually uses less carbon to deliver 100 orders in one van than to have all those people drive to the grocery store separately. 

Don't get me wrong; I don't want to be the kind of person who gets groceries delivered. In fact, I want to be like Barbara Kingsolver who grows all her own food and cooks homemade pizza with her family! But I'm okay with it for this year (if it actually works out well). I'm trying to make a clearing so that I can balance everything. Parenting is so, so hard. Parenting two children is even harder. Trying to do it without getting very much sleep is even more overwhelming. And then throw in two parents who are working full-time+. It's a lot!

But when we start to get overwhelmed, Matt and I remind each other: "Let's be grateful."

Even if this system works out for us, we'll still go to the grocery store every week so that our children learn the very practical skill of shopping for food; it's just that we'll only shop for breakfast and lunch stuff instead of every ingredient needed for every meal. (I guess we won't be reducing our carbon footprint...). I'm eager to see if we can buy breakfast and lunch things and pay $90 for our meals and still stay within our weekly budget for groceries. 



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