Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy, Happy Halloween!

Phew! Henry's first Halloween ended up being fun after all.

For a while there, I was a bit depressed that I went out of my way to dress him up as his favorite thing (his bloodhound brother, Hoss) and he wasn't cooperating. Every time I put his bloodhound hat on (thank you, Lilly!) he would pull it right off, even when the chin strap was secured.

Even at the beginning of the day I figured it was futile to try and dress him up at all. I didn't make him a collar or a tail, and I didn't bother finding a brown outfit to perfectly match his hat.

Plus, we didn't have any plans at all, which gave me little to no motivation to come up with Plan B.

And then, at about 3pm, we suddenly had not one but two parties to go to. I was inspired to make caramel popcorn in cute bags and to make Henry's costume work. In a brief moment of inspiration, I decided to throw Hoss's collar into the wash. When Henry woke up from his nap, I put the collar around his neck, which was a h-u-g-e distraction and fun form of entertainment. I was then able to slip the hat on without the slightest hint of agitation!

I dug into our costume box and dressed like Rainbow Brite for the first party and a picnic for the second party.

And just like that, we had a fantastic Halloween.

I hope you and yours had a great time, too!

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Eight Months: Happy Birthday, Henry!

Henry! You are growing and changing so much.

This month as been all about crawling. You army crawled from 5-7 months, and from 7-8 months you figured out it was faster to get up on all fours. You go especially fast when you're headed toward something you aren't supposed to reach, like the toilet or Hoss's bowls. You've also figured out how to pull open doors, so you love letting yourself out of your room when you wake up.

You're still pulling up on everything. Luckily, you've figured out how to get down really easily (although you still bonk your head occasionally). You move from crawling to sitting and back to crawling really easily. You just started pivoting from one piece of furniture to another (like turning from the couch to the coffee table). I love when you pull up on the sill and look out the front window. You love to climb in the refrigerator. You even reached in the drawer and pulled out a carrot for yourself.

Speaking of eating, you are obsessed with everything. Today we ate vegetarian chili together for lunch. You always want more, more, more.

We have more and more fun together with each passing month. You play with me by crawling toward me with an open mouth and collapsing on my face. We laugh and laugh.

Halloween is right around the corner. You have a lovely knitted Hoss hat, but you hate wearing it. Sigh. I hope to teach you how fun it is to leave the hat on and suck on the ears before Halloween gets here.

This month, your Montessori guide said that you were "such a Montessori baby." She explained that you are confident, observant, and comfortable moving all around to get what you want. And the people at Whole Foods love you. You smile at everyone and anyone. You especially love when they have apple samples at the front entrance.

Oh, Henry Jones, we feel such immense gratitude for the fact that you have come to us safely and that you continue to thrive. We are doing our very best to be the kind of parents you deserve. We love you with our whole hearts.

Until next month...

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Montessori Movement: Crawling to Walking

Reading Carrie's posts the past two days makes me marvel at the magic of infancy to toddlerhood. I know I sound cheesy, but I mean it! It's simply amazing to watch a being go from a supine, completely-dependent position to an independent being who can walk. In the past eight months, Henry has gone from lying on his back watching mobiles to pulling himself up on anything and everything (including pumpkins!).

For me, nurturing his movement is not about helping him advance faster than the other babies or reach the important milestones early so I can brag on Facebook (although I do, from time to time). It's about creating the most optimal space for the development of his self.

At the end of this post, Carrie explains that the child who progresses from crawling to walking "will be filled with self-confidence and a new eagerness to explore [the] world!" That's exactly what I want for Henry. I want him to feel competent, confident, and excited to constantly explore, learn, and grow. As a mother, I feel incredibly empowered when I learn as much as I can about how to nurture his natural development by paying close attention to how he's changing and what he needs, preparing the environment to meet his needs, and then stepping back to provide the right balance between challenge and support.

Enough yammering from me! Thank your for this thought-provoking and informative post, Carrie!

Crawling is such an important step in both the physical and emotional development of children: as the baby crawls around, her self-confidence grows as she deepens her understanding that she is a capable human being. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get there. She delights in discovering her world, building knowledge as she touches and manipulates new objects. We delight in watching her.

To aid in the development of movement it is important to provide stimulus for movement, clothing that does not impede movement, and time for repetition and concentration. Saying this, we must also become aware of the importance of the internal development that is occurring. The development of the nervous system and the process of myelination greatly impact the child's development of coordinated movement. Myelin is the fatty substance that allows information to be transmitted through the axons of the neurons. Without sufficient myelin, the message from the brain instructing the limbs to move does not get properly transmitted. The rate of myelination depends on an individual child's development, which we are unable to influence other than to ensure she is receiving proper nutrition, with specific attention being paid to fats and protein.

The process of myelination starts in the brain and the centre of the body, and works its way to the toes and finger tips. If we look at a child's development of coordinated movement, we can observe the process of myelination in action. We see she is able to control her forearms by batting her arms, and then using her wrists by transferring objects between hands, and finally her fingers as she refines her pincer grip. We see she is able to control her thighs and knees to crawl, then her ankles to pull up and stand, and finally she is able to control her toes to be able to walk. If we follow the process of myelination and observe where the baby is at developmentally, we will know when to offer different objects to stimulate movement.

While the baby greatly enjoys crawling, she will also enjoy her newfound ability to sit independently and observe life from this upright position. At this stage, it is important to offer objects so she can use her two hands working together, such as connecting a wooden egg with a cup. It is around this time that she will begin to go through a period of establishing object permanence. Toys such as the box and tray, box and drawer, box with push balls, and box and drawer with knitted ball will not only help her build hand-eye coordination, but will also aid her intellectually as she learns that when something is not in sight, it still exists. It is during this time that it is also important to offer opportunities to refine wrist and finger coordination such as using rings and a peg. By starting with a set of wide rings she will become successful with limited wrist rotation. Once she has mastered these wide rings, we recommend offering smaller rings such as napkin rings to challenge her fingers to grasp in various ways. After this you can offer her traditional ring stackers with coloured discs according to a gradation with a smaller centre to further refine hand-eye coordination.

Soon the baby will want to explore more things than those at sitting and crawling level. She will begin reaching up and pulling herself up. Having low, heavy furniture such as a coffee table with rounded corners, an ottoman, sofa, armchair, window sill, cabinet door, or a secured shelf will provide opportunities for her to pull herself up. A low bar, similar to a ballet bar, provides the perfect opportunity for her to pull herself up, and is even more interesting if there are lovely pictures to look at or a window to look out.

From here, she will then begin cruising around the ottoman, along the bar or sofa, and taking a step back as she opens the cabinet door. During this time she is strengthening different muscles in her feet which will enable her to be able to walk forwards, backwards, and sideways, depending on the type of furniture onto which she is holding. It is important to try to give her as much time as possible without any shoes or socks so she can develop the muscles in her feet and gain a sense of balance without interference of shoes or socks. When necessary to provide coverings for her feet, such as when outdoors in the cold, we recommend soft-soled shoes so her feet can develop naturally.

While we are tempted to offer her our hands, we want her to gain a deep sense of self-satisfaction by carrying out these movements herself. She deepens her spatial awareness as she propels herself along these different furnishings and she will further develop her spatial awareness as we offer a walker wagon or other push walker. The walker wagon offers the baby the ability to pull up on the box and gain security with her ability to stand before she pushes off with her walker. Weighing down the box of the wagon or using it on grass will also slow down the movement of the walker before she is ready to take off with it.

As she becomes more confident and more coordinated with her movements, she will begin holding on with one hand. She will begin testing her balance and standing unaided. Before you know it, she will be taking her first steps and that gorgeous smile of delight will appear. She will be filled with self-confidence and a new eagerness to explore her world!

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Montessori Movement: Birth to Crawling

Even though I'm a certified Montessori teacher for grades 1st through 3rd, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around how to implement Montessori principles for an infant. I read this book and this book, as well as several different blogs. But still, the sequence of which materials to use and when wasn't very clear to me.

That's why I'm so excited to share this guest post by Carrie of Beginning Montessori. She's a certified Montessori teacher and owns a Montessori school. Today's post is about how to nurture children's movement from birth to crawling, and tomorrow's post will be about crawling to walking. Although I prefer to use plural pronouns to avoid the she/he dilemma, Carrie prefers the singular pronoun. Today's post will use "he" and tomorrow's will use "she."

Without further ado, here's Carrie!

As a parent of a newborn, your mind races as you think about what the next year will bring. Often thinking about the present moment is more than enough! As adults we have so much impact on a child's development and it is for this reason that we must become active participants in this role. While there is so much to consider when it comes to the development of a child (sleeping, eating, attachment, and much, much more), today’s focus will be on nurturing the development of voluntary movement from birth to crawling from a Montessori perspective.

When we look at children's physical ability at birth, his movement is involuntary and guided by reflexes. The neck muscles are not yet developed and we are careful to support his head as we hold him. Much of this early time is spent in the arms of the adults who love him. This helps him develop trust in the world as the sounds and smells are familiar to him from his experiences in the womb.

As the newborn adjust to life outside the womb and we observe that he begins to show interest in people and objects apart from his parents, we begin to offer opportunities for movement. We lay him on his movement mat or blanket in order to provide a safe place where he can look around while gaining a sense of comfort within his surroundings. When laid on his back, we offer mobiles to look at such as the Munari and Gobbi. As his eyes become focused and his coordination increases, we then offer grasping mobiles such as the Bell or Ring or Primary Colours. With these, his hand-eye coordination develops so that he is able to intentionally grasp at the mobiles. When laid on his stomach, we offer interesting things to look at such as himself in the mirror, an accordion book stretched out, and ourselves as we talk and sing to him. This helps strengthen his neck and back muscles, and as a result he will gain the ability to hold up his head, as he strains to look at the interesting world that you have safely set up for him. To ensure that his world on this vertical plain remains interesting, we lay down beside him and experience it ourselves.

The neck and back muscles will not be strengthened if these opportunities are not given by an adult. By using infant seats or dressing him in clothing that impedes his ability to fully stretch out his body or use his hands, he will not be able to learn to bring his movements under his own control. In fact, Dr. Silvana Montanaro cautions that "any obstruction to free movement, especially in the first year of life, can have serious psychological consequences that may compromise the harmonious development of the personality" (Understanding the Human Being). It is important that we place infant in situations where he will have the opportunity to move freely and be successful in his self-motivated movements. It is also important that we provide the infant with uninterrupted time to do so. We need to become aware of his ability to concentrate and not interrupt his deep interest in an object or repetition of movement as he masters it.

When the infant is about two months, we utilize the grasping reflex by placing small grasping toys in his tiny hand, ensuring he can easily hold it. As the infant loses this reflex and instead begins to reach out, we begin offering toys in which he is interested and chooses to take. When the movement is self-motivated and the object is the correct size he will feel great self-confidence, “I did it!” As he begins to be able to have intentional grasping of objects, we place them just out of his reach to encourage him to begin rolling or creeping to obtain them. These toys have a variety of natural textures to impart real knowledge of the world such as soft woolen balls, silver rings, dried gourds, bamboo rattles, cotton cloths, or wooden toys. He loves to bring items such as these to his mouth to explore them. Once these objects become familiar to him, place a few of them in a basket with a low edge. He loves to explore with this basket of treasures and gains a sense of order that toys need to be replaced where they are found.

We carefully choose toys that will only roll away slightly when nudged so the infant will be successful at moving to reach them. Balls made of fabric such as puzzle balls and the Montessori interlocking discs are perfect for the infant who is creeping further away but not yet crawling. He will begin creeping faster and lifting himself to semi-sitting positions. Over the course of a few months, you will notice that he will be able to get up on his knees, rocking back and forth and before you know it, he will be crawling! Begin offering balls and cylinders that roll further away and spinning tops that twirl around to encourage the movement. Be sure to double-check all that you thought was safety proofed for your child as his world has now expanded well beyond his movement mat.

Be sure to check back tomorrow as Sara has invited me to continue with Part II: Crawling to Walking.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Creating an Environment of Yes's

I am not a perpetual furniture re-arranger. I am not someone who takes pleasure in trying out new positions and arrangements "just for a change." Sometimes I wish I were, but I'm not.

Yes, I move these around from time to time to get them just right, but once things are in a position that feels tuned to my aesthetic preferences, I am perfectly happy to leave them alone and occupy myself with other pursuits.

However, to authentically implement Montessori in the home, I absolutely have to rearrange things to keep up with Henry's developmental needs.

Here are some examples of elements of the environment that I've had to change for Henry:
  • When Henry was first born, he needed to spend time looking at mobiles. I had one hanging above the movement mat in his room and one hanging above our bed, since he spent a lot of time there, as well. I changed these mobiles every couple weeks to keep Henry interested (we bought the whales, the butterflies, the Gobbi, an abstract one, and I made one from black and white cards).
  • When Henry started accidentally batting at things, we hung a bell, so he could hit it and make the connection that his movements could impact the environment.
  • To encourage him to grasp at things, we started hanging a wooden ring and other beautiful toys.
  • To encourage crawling, I had to change out the low shelf in his room. Originally, it had storage baskets. I removed two of them to make space for Henry's toys to inspire him to reach and grasp for the objects.
  • Once he started army-crawling all over the house, I had to put plastic plugs in the outlets and completely de-clutter. We could no longer keep Hoss's basket of disgusting, hairy toys on the floor. We couldn't have any cords showing.
  • Then Henry started pulling up on things. I had to rearrange things on his shelf again to make sure he could find things when he pulled up.
  • Most recently, Henry started pulling up on our bookshelves and pulling out all the books. Argh! I was hoping that wouldn't happen until we moved. Oh well. I should be celebrating his development! In fact, I celebrated by spending an hour rearranging the environment some more. I had to move the plant off his weaning table, since he was starting to reach it and pull on it. I had to move another plant that he was also reaching for. Come to think of it, I had to move another plant he was reaching for. I moved some of the books off our bookshelf and replaced them with Henry's toys. I also turned a basket into a ball pit (but one that can be put away at a moment's notice, since we are trying to sell our house!).
I could have easily decided that I didn't want to keep changing the environment to meet Henry's needs. I could have left cords visible and instead tried to keep Henry away from them. As annoying as it is to change the environment, it would be more annoying for me to constantly have to chase Henry around to keep him away from things.

Instead, I try to create an environment of yes's.

Not only does an environment of yes's keep my stress level down, it also helps Henry develop one of the primary things he's working on in the first year of life: his movement. Even more significantly, the environment impacts Henry's sense of self. I imagine that he is developing more confidence, independence, and self-worth because he is learning that he can interact with the world in the way he wants to.

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Mini-Caramel Apples

Picture courtesy of Sunset Magazine

I'm checking things off my list of intentions for the Fall!

We ventured to a pumpkin patch to get a pumpkin for all six of us (Matt, Henry, Hoss, and our two chickens, Clem and Hop-Sing). Henry had a grand ol' time eating grass.

I also made some caramel apples for a potluck with friends. I found a recipe in Sunset Magazine for mini-caramel apples. So cute!

I tried to follow this easier recipe, and the whole thing was pretty much a failure. The caramel slid right off. After rereading the Sunset recipe, I'm wondering if it's because I turned the mini-apple balls upside-down, so that they were sitting on the skin (they looked more like mini-apples that way). Because I positioned them that way, the caramel didn't have any skin to adhere to.

Maybe? Maybe?

Regardless, it was very fun collecting sticks in the backyard with Henry and Hoss. I loved the ingenious (and inexpensive!) idea. And, in general, I find that food pretty much tastes the same no matter how messed up it looks.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Recommendations

I have been on a hiatus from fiction reading for too long! Like, um, two years? Is that right? I think so. Two years ago in October, I attended the Houston B.I.R.T.H fair and then picked up a bunch of free books about conception and pregnancy from the public library sale. Since then, I've pretty much been reading only non-fiction.

When I put out a request for recommendations, I really appreciated your responses! Now I'm looking for a more permanent solution to finding new books. I want to join a social networking site related to book sharing. So far, I've heard about Good Reads and Shelfari (from you all, of course).

Are there others I'm missing? If not, which of those two is better?

And if you're already on one of those sites, please leave me your name so I can connect with you!

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Resolution

My friend Jamie at my Random Acts of Kindness Birthday Party

Several years ago (like ten?) I used to be kind of a fanatic about telling people all the nice things I thought about them behind their backs. I would get bothered any time I was with a group of people and they would say something like, "Our server is so nice!" I would respond with, "So why not tell her?" I would follow up with a mini-lecture about how frustrating it is that we think all kinds of nice things about people behind their backs but then don't say it to their faces. (I know, I can be an annoying friend.)

But I loved being the kind of person who went out of my way to share my kind thoughts with other people, even if it was a little awkward at times (like telling the woman in the sandwich line at Whole Foods that she has beautiful skin). People appreciated it so much. It helped me connect with others. It challenged me to stretch out of my comfort zone.

But for some reason, this passion of mine has kind of dulled in recent years. I still tell people nice things randomly and unexpectedly from time to time, but I don't really go out of my way any more.

And then I got this e-mail:

You don’t know me, and I almost didn’t send this because you will probably think I’m crazy. I looked at your house a few weeks ago and thought it was completely adorable. It just felt so happy and creative, and I could tell from about 5 minutes in your baby’s room that you are super great parents and it just made me think “wow, what a lucky kid”. I’m sure you’re wondering why, if I loved the house so much, I did not buy it. Well… probably the only two reasons are that I’m a semi-hardcore veggie gardener and the backyard is just way too shady :(, and the kitchen is the same as mine now and one of the reasons I’m moving is that I really want a little more cooking space. I just wanted you to know that I loved it though, because I know if I were (will be soon) selling my house, I would be obsessing over what everyone thought and if your house is that cute and loved, it just seemed like you would be the same :). I am about to buy another house, but I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I loved your house, so I googled the address and found a website for it that you’d made…it gave your name and then I found your blog/email. Psycho! Ha. *I promise I’m not a psycho*. For some reason I just felt like I had to email you and tell you how much I love the house and kudos for being an awesome parent in this world of sadly not enough awesome parents. After I looked at your house, I showed my mom the pictures and we were talking about how all the baby furniture was low and accessible and the toys were educational, and my mom said “awww, it’s like Montessori school” and we just immediately loved your family for having "fiction" and "non-fiction" book baskets. Then I read you were a Montessori teacher and thought "of course!".

Okay, that’s it. Just wanted to let you know that your house is super cute and I’m sure you will sell it soon, you are an inspiring parent, and I’m sure your Montessori school will be amazing :).

That e-mail totally made my day. I e-mailed it to Matt and our parents and now I'm sharing it with you.

I'm reminded what can happen when we put ourselves out there, when we go the extra mile (excuse the cheesy metaphor) to make someone else feel good just by being honest.

And because of that e-mail, I am recommitting to going out of my way to tell people the nice things I think about them behind their backs (and to delivering mini-lectures about how the world would be a better place if we all started doing it).

[end of lecture]

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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Dress!

So it's finally finished! What a relief. I remembered that I'm not actually a big fan of following clothing patterns, and when they say "Beginner" they mean, "It's easier than other, super-complicated patterns, but it's still going to be almost impossible for you to figure out by yourself if you are truly a beginner."

Thankfully, I was able to schedule three craft dates with my friend who has a baby around Henry's age. It was fun to chat and sew (and watch our babies when they weren't napping).

I've been wearing the dress almost constantly, like to a little, free Blind Pilot concert at a local music store (and--get this: we stood outside their tour bus and listened to them practicing through the open windows!).

For those of you who are thinking about taking up sewing, I highly recommend it. But, in my opinion, the best way to start is to sign up for a little class. That way, you get good instruction, you can ask as many questions as you need to, and you walk away with a nifty finished product.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Recipe: Barley & Mushrooms

Henry "helping" in the kitchen

Whenever I write a post about Henry + food, I get several questions about why we're following the Montessori approach to weaning rather than "baby-led weaning," which--from what I can tell--is popular in the Attachment Parenting movement. I love this post by Kylie about the difference between the two approaches.

The truth is, we do primarily Montessori with a little baby-led weaning thrown in. Usually, I will feed Henry purees for breakfast and lunch at his weaning table. At dinner, he will sit in his high-chair pulled up to the table. We still feed him purees at this time, but we also feed him foods in their real form. Last night, for example, we went to a salad bar restaurant and let him chew on sticks of carrots and squash, cucumbers, pasta spirals, and sourdough bread.

We choose to follow the Montessori approach because we believe that eating at a child-sized table from real bowls with real utensils helps Henry develop his sense of self. Further, by introducing utensils so young, we hope to help Henry cultivate his independence sooner. I also personally believe that Henry needs the extra calories. He still drinks breast milk six times a day, but he honestly seems to sleep better at night if he's had a full day of pureed foods.

We choose to incorporate some baby-led weaning practices because we want Henry to feel like part of the family. We want him to join in our camaraderie and community and to explore the foods we are eating. We also want him to work on his pincer grip (thumb + forefinger).

The combination works well for us.

Just recently, I found a new cookbook on my shelf and realized that it recommended much more flavorful and diverse meals for babies (probably because it was written by a European). It inspired me to dig through another one of my baby cookbooks and skip ahead to the more complex meals.

I decided to make Barley and Mushrooms for the whole family. Yum! Here's how I did it:

  • Pearl barley
  • Butter
  • Garlic
  • Cremini mushrooms
  • Vegetable stock
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh Thyme
  • You first toast the barley in a dry saucepan for about 3 minutes and then transfer it to a bowl.
  • Then you melt some butter in the saucepan and cook the garlic for about one minute.
  • Next, you add the chopped mushrooms and cook for about 3 minutes.
  • Next, you add the stock, salt, pepper, and thyme and bring to a boil over high heat. You reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until barley is tender, about 30-35 minutes.
I made the baby stock by boiling a leek, asparagus, and sweet potatoes (all chopped up) in a big pot of water for an hour or so.

After I finished the barley and mushroom dish, I put it in two bowls for Matt and me and then pureed the rest of it. I served Henry a small bowl and scooped the rest into ice-cube trays to freeze and transfer to plastic bags. I also froze the extra vegetable stock by pouring it into a muffin tin. Finally, I pureed the leek, asparagus, and sweet potatoes for many more Henry meals.

It was a great way to multi-task! I ended up with a delicious meal for everyone (plus lots of frozen food for Henry).

As a side note, I had to watch Henry and cook dinner, since Matt had a super-important work thing to do in the other room. For a second, I bemoaned the fact that we don't use trays on our high-chairs in Montessori environments. I wanted to just stick him in the seat and feed him some cheerios! But instead, I let him crawl around the floor and inspect some things out of the kitchen drawer. It kept him busy and honored his need to develop movement. Win-win!

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Dwelling in Possibility: One Risk at a Time

I'm moving full-speed ahead on my two big, audacious goals: to start a public Montessori charter school (professionally) and a pocket neighborhood (personally) in Austin.

I have no idea how either of these will turn out. Some days, I think, "Why on Earth did I publicly declare my goals? If I fail, I'm going to have to share my failure with the world." When I'm really tired, I'm convinced that these goals are too big and too impossible.

On good days, I just remind myself to take it one to-do item at a time. I keep a prioritized list of everything that needs to get done. If I break down my responsibilities into manageable little chunks, then it's easy to put my head down, pick something off the list, and do it.

One step at a time.

It feels weird to walk around and publicly declare my goals. For example, I just attended a conference and I wrote "Executive Director, Montessori For All" on my name tag. When I had to introduce myself to the rest of the group during a session, I explained that I am "in the process of starting a national network of high-performing, authentic Montessori charter schools." It's not a lie; I am in the process. It's just that I'm in the very beginning stages (which I explained if anyone probed further).

Declaring my intentions out loud has done so much to help me in this journey. When I say my goals out loud, people have advice or they ask clarifying questions that allow me to strengthen my plans.

I've identified two mentors that I talk with on a monthly basis. I also created a volunteer position for myself at a charter school that is going to open next year. I'm partnering with the school leader to work on compliance and operations (which will round out my resume, since my experience is more in teacher support and curriculum development).

I'm taking little risks--here and there--and it's really helping me move forward in this process.

When we're undertaking challenging goals, the best we can do is put ourselves out there. For example, my internet friend Kelly is also putting herself out there on her journey to reach her big goals, and she was recently asked to sell her scarves at a new boutique in Austin. So cool!

One small risk at a time. One to-do task at a time. One day at a time.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spring Break Planning

Spring Break 2010 (2011 was spent with a 3-week old in a complete daze)

Yes, I realize it's not even Halloween yet and spring break is a long, long time away. But here I am planning spring break for several reasons:
  1. Planning brings me an immense amount of enjoyment. The earlier I start planning a trip, the more I stretch out my enjoyment. Weird, I know.
  2. Some things book up quickly. Like cabins at National Parks and such.
  3. I needed something to write about today.

So, spring break. Thinking about it makes me a little anxious, since I was just fiddling with our dwindling finances. Our vacation fund has $2.63, and that is supposed to cover whatever we do for Thanksgiving and four plane tickets for Christmas. We have money saved up in our "Dream" savings account, but I hate to spend that on regular stuff. Making ends meet with basically one non-profit income isn't that fun. But I'm thankful I have this time with Henry, and I'm able to set my own agenda in terms of which projects I want to work on.

So, spring break on the cheap. And spring break with a baby. Hmm...perhaps I need to make a list of goals that should guide our planning:
  1. We want to have a relaxing vacation. It will have been a stressful year of new baby + Matt looking for a new job + moving to a new city.
  2. We need a kid-friendly vacation. Henry will be a little over one.
  3. We need to save money (in terms of transportation, as well as accommodations). Being able to bring Hoss would be a plus.

Based on that list, here are some ideas that come to mind:
  • Big Bend National Park: We love this place, and they have inexpensive cabins you can rent. It would be a two-day drive, with an overnight stay at a cheap motel on the way there and back. But hiking with Henry on our backs and then spending the rest of the time in a cabin doesn't sound too fun.
  • A Cabin in Arkansas? I've heard it's beautiful. Maybe on a lake? But I guess Arkansas would still be a little chilly around spring break time.
  • Something beachy and warm? It's fun to be at the beach with a one year-old, right? Maybe South Padre Island? Or Destin? Or Galveston? Or Gulf Shores Alabama?

It seems like the beach might be the way to go. We could spend time at the beach, time by the pool, time walking together as a family, time cooking, time inside watching movies, time playing games, time reading books.

I think Alabama and Florida would be too far to drive with Henry (and still maintain our sanity). Galveston might be too close to feel like a good use of our spring break. So maybe South Padre? It seems to be about 6.5 hours away from Houston and Austin.


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Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Divine boots by Naot

For some reason, I've gotten it in my head that I want to wear leggings and tunics through the fall and winter. And since Texas does get cold enough to require socks, I'm thinking that I need to get a pair of boots to complete the ensemble.

But, as some of you may know, I'm quite picky about shoes. If I'm going to invest money in a pair of boots, they need to be good for my feet, comfortable, durable, and cute. It's a tall order, for sure!

I went back to your recommendations for shoe brands. By the way, I appreciated your recommendations for sandals so much! I ended up wearing the ones Jessie recommended all summer long (and plan to wear them next summer, too).

I also think I'll need to get a pair of skinny jeans to wear with them (which I have been resisting since the start of the fad--I'm really not a trendy dresser). I'm also thinking about skirts and tights.

I have no idea why I'm thinking about clothes and shoes like this. Perhaps I've been reading too many blogs? I don't even have a category that this post fits into!

Bitsy by Born

Knowl by Born

Paige Tall by Frye

Melissa Trapunto by Frye

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Monday, October 10, 2011

Meals for a Year: Recipe Request

The meal planning club is officially on! I am very grateful to be connected to so many wonderful kindred spirits. We had more than 11 people express interest, so I looked at the submission time and the preference for a particular month to whittle it down. I also split my month with Paige, so that we could have one more person in the group and I would have a little more time for the coordination and administration of this process.

Our deadline is to have everything completed and organized in a user-friendly way by December 1. That way, we'll be ready to start cooking "fast and fresh" vegetarian meals once the new year roles around. I am genuinely excited about this little experiment. I love the idea of cooking from a list of recipes that was curated by like-minded folks. I'm eager to try new things and cook at home without having to put too much thought into it.

And we will be sharing our plans with anyone who's interested!

In the spirit of sharing, please leave us a link to your favorite recipe that matches the criteria below:
  1. Vegetarian
  2. Relatively healthy
  3. Quick and simple (approximately 30-45 minutes or less)
  4. A reasonable number of ingredients
  5. Ingredients are relatively easy to find at a regular grocery store

And I'm taking on July, so I would especially appreciate summer recipes!

Mille grazie!

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Sponsor Introduction & Celebration

Photo courtesy of Ben Becker

It's the first Friday of the month, which means I get to give major shout outs to some really awesome businesses. I personally recommend every single sponsor. For real.

First, there's Sebrina of Mismikado Creations. She designed the header for this blog, so I know from first-hand experience that she is super-fun and easy to work with, very accommodating, positive, responsive, and creative--just what you want in a graphic designer. Need a blog header? A logo? An invitation? Sebrina is your woman!

Then there's Carrie and Shane of Beginning Montessori. They are a husband and wife team that hand makes Montessori materials to support the development of infants and toddlers. How sweet is that? All their products are recommended by the AMI (Association Montessori Internationale), which is the most prestigious certifying body for Montessori teachers worldwide. All materials are as natural as possible to give children real knowledge about their world and to limit exposure to toxins. Need a baby shower gift? Check out their Newborn Pack of toys. Henry has the bell cylinder and the ball cylinder to encourage his crawling. They are beautiful toys that even I love looking at and touching (and I certainly don't mind setting them out on our shelves in the living room). And, lucky you! Carrie and Shane are offering a special gift of a free grasping beads (small or large) or a bell rattle with any order over $25 (before shipping). If you'd like to take advantage of this offer, please mention Feeding the Soil and indicate your choice of free item in the "Notes to Seller." This offer is valid until October 31st.

Next we have MontessoriHouse who offers curriculum binders for various ages about how to do Montessori in the home. They created the albums based on what they learned during their Montessori trainings. The infants and young toddlers binder includes 90 pages of teaching projects and instructions. I just wish I would have known about this shop before Henry was born. They have albums through kindergarten. For those of you who are interested in learning more about how to implement Montessori ideas in the home, you might have realized that it's very difficult to find accurate, concise, relevant information. These binders are very user-friendly and easy to read! People always ask me for resources about how to do Montessori at home. These binders are the answer!

I'm also super-excited to introduce my internet friend, Kelly, who is working on an amazing project over at One Hundred Scarves. She says, "My One Hundred Scarves Project is part dare, part charity, part therapy, part financial goal, and part creative experiment. After my job as a school librarian was downsized and I suffered a miscarriage, I decided to create a big, audacious goal for myself: to make one hundred scarves." And, to top it off, 5% of the profits from every sale will be donated to an organization that help people coping with loss. I have to confess that I spend entirely too long eying each scarf, trying to decide which is my favorite. You can subscribe to her blog to read the back-story on each scarf (also very addictive) and see when new scarves get added to the shop. These scarves would make lovely gifts to your loved ones or your self!

And then there's April of goosedesigns. She offers Montessori materials for newborns and toddlers. I went straight to her shop when I needed a Gobbi mobile for Henry. I tried to make my own but quickly gave up after realizing just how difficult the process truly was. Check out her shop if you want a gift pack for a teething baby or want to promote reaching and grasping. Her gift packs are beautiful packaged and would make awesome baby shower gifts. She also sells interlocking discs, which are great for developing opposing wrist rotation, eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills--all of which indirectly prepare children to hold pencils and write!

And last, but certainly not least, there's At Home with Montessori. Meg's shop has things that I just haven't been able to find in the States, such as several of these Montessori Infant Mobiles. She also sells Materials for Hand Development, Materials for Cognitive Development, items for Your Child's Sleeping Environment, and Materials for Weaning. The site also includes an amazing blog full of very useful information about how to implement Montessori in the home. For example, she just did a series about five things to do in the home for each month of your child's first nine months. She also gives away great tutorials and downloadables.

If you run a business that you think would be a good fit for Feeding the Soil, please contact me for ad rates! I will also consider bartering. Happy Weekend!Link

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

RV Road Trip

Image courtesy Volume Twenty Five

As I work on the charter application to start a public Montessori school in the fall of 2014, I want to observe at excellent schools all across the United States.

Initially, I figured I would have to wait until Henry was completely weaned before starting my journey. Even then, however, I wasn't quite sure who would take care of Henry. The trip itself would be very expensive with flights and rental cars, plus we would have to pay for childcare.

Then I had the idea that we could take a road trip as a family to look at schools, since Matt will be keeping his current job and telecommuting.

But right after I had that thought, I thought about the importance of the "prepared environment" as we try to raise Henry in the Montessori way. Staying with friends, camping, crashing at hotels, etc. would provide a very unstable and inconsistent environment for our young son.

But right after that thought, I had the idea that we could rent an RV and bring the prepared environment with us! How fun would that be?

It's something I'm thinking about...

If we were to bring this idea to fruition, what would be my next steps?
  • Make a list of schools I want to visit (by e-mailing Dr. Coe, Dennis Shapiro, David Kahn, AMS people, AMI people, posting on the AMS list-serv)
  • Contact the schools to make sure they are open to visitors
  • Plan our route
  • Price RV rentals
  • Put out feelers to see if anyone has an RV we could rent (by posting on my neighborhood list-serv)
  • Price storage rental

If we timed it right, we might be able to go on a trip before we move to Austin. That way, we could find a good rental house (a month in advance), and then travel around. But I'm not so sure that the timing will work out. November and December are pretty bad months to observe at schools because of all the holiday interruptions. But who knows. It might take us a long time to sell our house.

It's fun dwelling in possibility!

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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seven Months: Happy Birthday, Henry!

My, oh, my, you're getting so big!

This month as been more of the same. You move around the house really fast, although now you've started getting up on all fours a lot more. You usually take 4-8 steps that way and then lower yourself back into the army crawl position to get where you're going faster. You also push up into "down dog" a lot.

You've moved from pulling up on low things independently to pulling up on virtually anything, like couches, bookshelves, etc. Currently, you're favorite thing to pull up on is me (I'm honored!). You still have trouble getting down from a standing position, but you've started falling into a seated position, which is a big improvement.

Your laugh is contagious. You are very ticklish on your neck, armpits, and abdomen. You love, love, love to blow raspberries on our skin, preferably my shoulder (or the side of the bathtub). You are still obsessed with Hoss, and we plan to dress you up like him for Halloween to honor your infatuation with him. You continue to love nature.

Your new hobby is screaming at the top of your lungs. You mainly scream for fun, but you also scream to let us know that you want us to feed you faster. You've eaten so many new things, and you love them all. You even ate a four-inch piece of seersucker fabric. Sorry about that one...

Another one of your new hobbies is crawling around the floor looking for crumbs and other sundry things to pick up with your three-finger pincer grasp. Even though we vacuum the house every day (since we're trying to sell it), you still manage to find stuff. You get lots of practice eating Cheerios.

I seemed to have stopped calling you "Piglet" and started calling you "Buddy."

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