Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Helping the Homeless

Over the past couple months, Henry really started to notice and talk about all the homeless people we pass on the street. Although we try to keep his world mostly positive during the first plane of development (during which he is developing his love for the world), we also want to be honest with him about what he sees. 

It was very clear to us that he was feeling sympathy for the homeless people we pass by each day, so we wanted to enable him to do something to help the situation. We decided that what made the most sense for our family (given that we live in Central Texas where the sun and heat are relentless for most of the year) was to pass out water bottles. 

We keep a shoebox filled with bottled water next to Henry's carseat and Henry passes it out his window when we stop at a stoplight next to a homeless person. We've been doing it for a couple months and it's been working out really well for our family.

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teaching Children to Save Money

Henry has been really interested in money lately. He really, really wants quarters for candy machines around town. We choose not to give him quarters on the spot and instead tell him that he can remember to bring quarters from his piggy bank (he solves this problem by turning the knobs anyway--it works more often than you think it would!--and finding stray candy on the ground and putting it in his mouth before we can stop him--it builds his immune system, right?). 

His interest in money inspired my idea for his Christmas present this year: a modified piggy bank system that encourages him to save his money for various purposes. It contains five jars:
  1. Small Change: to spend on small, quick things (candy, cheap toys, etc.)
  2. Saving Up: to put aside for a larger purchase that takes a little time to save for
  3. Sharing: to give away
  4. Car: to save up for a car when he turns 16 (we will pay for his insurance and maintenance, but he will have to buy the car and pay for gas)
  5. College: to go toward his college savings account (we are saving for this, too, but we want him to have the awareness that it takes money)
Whenever Henry gets money, we will divide it into 10 parts. These 10 parts will be divided up into the jars according to the following fraction:
  • Small Change = 1 part
  • Saving Up = 3 parts
  • Sharing = 1 part
  • Car = 3 parts
  • College = 2 parts
I'm not sure how Henry will actually get money. In a Montessori home, chores are just something that everyone does--it's part of how everyone contributes to the family. But I also see the value in him getting his own money so he can begin to learn really valuable lessons related to spending and saving. 

Perhaps we'll just give him money each week equal to his age. We would refrain from buying him things when we're out and about and instead give him a couple dollars each week so we can sit down and divide it up into the jars. 

We definitely wouldn't be starting this if he wasn't already noticing money and generating an interest in it. It's hard to know what approach to take. On the one hand, I really want to give him authentic practice with delaying gratification by saving for a larger item. Research shows that the ability to delay gratification is a huge indicator of success later in life. On the other hand, I don't want him to generate a scarcity mindset that makes him feel like he needs to hoard his money or I don't want him to feel like he doesn't get new things unless he pays for them himself. It feels like a tricky balance for sure. 

What are your plans for teaching your children about money?

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Monday, December 16, 2013

Making a Clearing

When I started thinking about my New Year's Intentions last week, I stumbled upon the idea of needing to make a big clearing to accommodate all the work that is coming up in my life. I've been friends with lots of folks who have started schools (and worked part-time to help open a school in 2012-13), and the consensus is that it's overwhelmingly crazy. 

The problem is that I don't want the craziness to box out the other parts of my life that need attention, such as my family and my health/wellness. For me, it's all a connected system and all the parts have to be functioning well (even if the different parts don't necessarily get equal attention all the time). 

So what are my strategies for mitigating the craziness? 
  • Get my organization system into a rock solid place. In order to maximize my time, I'm going to have to always focus on the most important priority. I need to have a clear sense of what needs to get done between now and the start of school, and I need to generate a timeline for getting it done.
  • Plan ahead as much as possible. Working in schools is largely a game of execution; you're always responding to situations that pop up. But the more time you have for planning upfront (and the more time you allocate for planning while executing), the more you can anticipate and prevent certain things. This means I can't get into the habit of going to bed early or watching TV on weekdays. I know it sounds draconian to say, but it's true. There is so much work to get done between now and the start of school in August. If I choose to relax now, then I will pay the price later. It's a delicate balance for sure. I recently had a baby and I deserve rest. And without adequate rest, I won't be able to work effectively. But if I don't get my work done now, then it will pile up and have to get done later (while I'm also trying to respond to things that are happening in the moment). 
  • Make exercise more efficient. Right now, we're heading to the lake so I can run on Saturday and Sunday. I love being outside in nature (which is why I'm trying to exercise outside), but I think there are more efficient ways to meet all my needs. If I run on the treadmill at the local YMCA, then I'll have more time for other things. When we have lots of free time as a family, that's when we can head into nature. 
  • Get a robot vacuum. With a bloodhound and two children, our house needs constant vacuuming. I actually hardly ever vacuum, but asking for one of those robot things for Christmas would free up some of Matt's time.
  • Hire a cleaning person. This is the hardest one for me. I've always had a problem with outsourcing basic human things. I think it's incredibly important for me to slow down and take care of my physical environment. I also think it's incredibly important to model for my children (and invite them to join in). Matt and I intentionally choose to live in a smaller house so that there is less to clean. But we're getting to a place where we feel stretched thin all the time. If we hired a cleaning person every other week (and paid him/her a good wage to honor their time/energy), I think we would still have plenty to clean on a weekly basis, but we wouldn't have to worry about bigger things: bathrooms, dusting, windows, baseboards. 
  • Give myself permission to drop down to two blog posts a week. I try to be pretty consistent with three postings a week, and I'm hesitant to reduce that number because I enjoy writing in this space so much. But it might take some pressure off to aim for 2-3 times a week versus a solid three. 
I know how this sounds! Some of you might be wondering, "Why would you want to live like that?" It's a question I asked myself many times before choosing to go down this path. I believe in giving more children access to free, public Montessori, and now is my time to pursue this passion. 

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New Year's Resolutions

Yes, it's that time of year already. It takes me a while to come up with my intentions for the year, so I need to start thinking about it early. I also need to figure out what my process will be for reflecting on the year. 

I might want to use my template or maybe Andrea's form instead. Or perhaps I need to create something new. I'm wondering if I should start with what I need in my life on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis and use that as the base for how I reflect on my life for the past year and set intentions for the new year. 

Or perhaps I think about it in terms of all the roles I play in my life and what I want to accomplish or how I want to be within those roles. Or maybe I create more of a wheel of the different categories of my life with the center representing 0 and the outer edge representing 10. Then I can connect the dots and see where I'm a little off. 

I definitely want to have a mantra for the year. Two years ago it was "Make Dreams Happen," and this year it is "Put Down Roots." I imagine that the process of reflection will clarify what makes the most sense for 2014, but I'm thinking about something like "Appreciate" or "Be the Change." I also want to keep the calendar feature of my template that pushes me to think back about everything that has happened this year. And it would be awesome to dig up all my old forms and see how my life has changed over the years. I want to have specific yearly goals that I can drive toward on a monthly basis and monthly goals that I can drive toward on a weekly basis. I imagine tons of these goals will be work-related, since opening a school is going to be huge. I wonder if I simply need to make a big, gigantic clearing for that work and then figure out what the other things are that I can fit in around that. 

Here are some thoughts about how to reflect this year: 

Looking Back 
  • Flip through my electronic calendar to complete the calendar template from this year: What kind of year did I have? What do I want to celebrate from the year? What do I hope to do differently next time? What did I accomplish? What did I let fall by the wayside? Is there anything I need to do before declaring this year complete? 
  • Review my past forms to remind myself about my trajectory: How was this year similar to and different from years past? 
 Looking Ahead 
  • What kind of year do I want to have this year? What do I want to make more time for? In what areas do I want to grow? What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to maintain? 
  • What are my specific intentions for the year? 

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Magic of Montessori Movement

There are aspects of the Montessori philosophy that make parenting more difficult. For example, I think it would be much easier to plop Tate into one of those baby exersaucers. 

Instead, I always try to put him on the ground during his awake time. I try not to put him into positions that he couldn't get into himself (e.g., no bumbo seats to support him in a seated position before he is actually sitting). His first activity was lying on his back watching visual mobiles, like the whales and butterflies, or going on his stomach to look at black-and-white books.

Once he started reaching for the mobiles hanging above him, I switched to things he could bat at: a puzzle ball, a bell, etc. hung under an arch toy hanger

Once he started grabbing at the objects dangling in front of him, I switched to a wooden ring and other toys that he can grab and interact with. 

At three months, he started rolling over onto his stomach, so then I started putting out objects that he could reach for, and scoot toward, like the bell and ball cylinders. Once he touches them, they roll slightly and encourage him to scoot toward them again. 

By the end of four months, he was able to army crawl his way toward anything. Now at five months, he is getting up on all fours and giving indication that he is eager to start pulling himself up on things. I look at this little being with utter and complete amazement. 

I've done my best to observe him and prepare the physical environment in a way that supports his development and then I've stepped aside to let him do his thing. What he's taught himself to do in four short months is nothing short of amazing. As I marvel at what he can do, I'm not excited that he's reaching "milestones" early. That's not it at all. Instead, I am excited about what he is learning. By being provided with freedom of movement from day one that allows the full development of his muscles and motion (no swings, no infant seats, etc.), he is learning that he can exert his will within the world toward a specific end. At five months, he is learning that he has control over his own body and he can direct it to accomplish his own ends. 

And that lesson, to me, is the foundation for the healthiest kind of self-esteem. It's a sense of self that doesn't come from others' praise or even their love. It is not dependent upon anything external. And the point of that kind of independence is not separation from those around him. After he moves from dependence to independence, then he can move toward interdependence. The separation then helps him form even healthier attachments.

This blog post over at Janet Lansbury talks about this same idea in a different way. A mother wrote in with her worry about the fact that her child wasn't learning how to sit as early as his friends. But then she realized:
But then as we watched the babies, my boy flipped onto his tummy and proceeded to circle around the floor, grabbing any toys that caught his fancy, exploring and discovering. The other two babies just sat there playing with the toys their mothers handed them. The striking thing was that they didn’t even reach for new toys. Maybe they had learned already that if they tried to reach something they would just fall over. Or perhaps the thought of reaching for something they wanted hadn’t even occurred to them, since their mothers always handed them toys.

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Monday, December 9, 2013

New Organization System

Every time there's a change in my life, I usually have to make some kind of change to my organization system. Here are some of its past iterations:

As I head into school leadership, I need to have a vastly more complex system than I'm using now. It needs to be computer-based (even though I'm a paper-and-pen kind of gal), and it needs to sync to my phone, so that I always have it with me. 

A couple months ago, Matt pointed out the most awesome system that was already on my computer: OneNote. I love it! It's basically a computerized version of how I would organize myself if I could still use a good ol' fashioned binder. It has tabs and pages; you can copy and paste from other Word documents; you can create tables. (It does fancier stuff, too, but I was content with being able to organize my information within tabs. For example, I had a general tab for "Management" and then separate pages for every person I manage. That way, I had a centralized place to keep track of our meeting notes and things to follow-up about.). 

And then my computer collapsed and I purchased a Mac. And now OneNote is gone. Oy! I have tried everything. I tried doing this weird installation thing to trick my Mac into running OneNote, and it worked! But not as well as the original. It's too clunky and it malfunctions right when I need it to work. 

There's a promising Mac version coming soon, but it's "read only" right now. 

There's other software that might do the trick for $49. But it doesn't seem to have a corresponding iPhone app. 

I know lots of people who swear by Evernote, but it just doesn't organize information in the way I need it to. 

Remember the Milk looked promising but, again, I'm looking for general categories (that I can name myself) that can be clicked on to reveal new categories that can be clicked on to reveal notes/lists. 

It seems like my best bet (until Notebook comes out) is Growly Notes. It's not ideal because it doesn't interface with my iPhone, but it seems like the best I can do for now. Or maybe I'll stick with my clunky, shady version of OneNote, since it syncs with my phone. 

Argh. I'm definitely not able to check off this item on my List of Ways to Organize My Life

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One In, One Out

Matt and I have lived in a variety of homes. Our first one in Denver was a tiny little thing. It was tiny to the point of uncomfortable. Our bed had to be pushed against the wall, which meant that one of us was always climbing over the other person.

The house we bought in Houston was approximately 1,000 square feet with an attic but no garage. We stored our lawn mower and chicken food in the laundry closet, and every space had to serve multiple functions. We had two bedrooms and one bathroom, a tiny dining room that could only accommodate a table for four, and a tiny living room.

When we moved to Austin, our rental house was a huge 1950s ranch. It had a two-car garage and closet after closet.

When it came time to design our long-term family home, we wanted something in between. We honestly couldn't afford to build a garage, which we were okay with, since our past garages seemed to attract junk. We put as much extra storage space as possible inside the house, in the form of linen closets and even some "attic" space above the bedroom closets. Although I'm nervous about how our house will feel as the boys grow and take up more space, I'm happy with our amount of storage space. I like that we have to be strategic with the items that we own.

For example, a friend of ours just gave us a new cutting board for a housewarming present. We currently have a giant one and a tiny one. With the addition of this new cutting board, we decided to donate the tiny one. We have a basket that we use as a dedicated donation basket where we collect things that we want to donate to Goodwill. Once it gets full, we set it by the front door and Matt usually takes it. Having this kind of system helps remind us to declutter. I think it can be really easy to let things accumulate over the years. Old things can get buried under new things to the point where you forget that the old things are even there.

I'm especially feeling frustrated by my inability to keep up with Henry and Tate's clothing and toys right now. Because our closets lack any organization, it's difficult to rotate out clothing that gets too small and rotate in new clothing. I want to hurry and get closet systems installed so it's easier to access bins of clothing and toys.

One project at a time! 

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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Five Months: Happiest Birthday, Tate!

Dearest Tate,

This has been the month of movement for you! You are such a little scoochie bug. At the beginning of the month, you were doing 360 degree turns. By the middle of the month, you were propelling your body anywhere you wanted to go (mainly by pushing off the ground with your legs, but also by pulling with your arms). By the end of the month, you were getting up on all fours. You are determined to join the action! 

You are still such a joy to be around. You are all smiles. You are always watching and laughing and wanting to be in the middle of things. 

This was also the month you became OBSESSED with food. Seriously, you are lightning-fast, and you make dinner time very difficult because you are always grabbing for our bowls or plates. You love, love, love sucking on apples and drinking water. You even got to suck on Henry's chocolate chip cookie when dad left you two alone for a minute. Your brother is such a good sharer. 

We could not have asked for a better little guy to round out our family. Thank you for blessing us with your presence every day. Thank you for being you. 

With gratitude,

Your mama

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Setting Up a Nanny Share

I've talked a lot about the things I did for Henry that I want to be sure to replicate with Tate and the things I'm willing to let go. So far, I've been really happy with how it's all played out. 

The one area where it's been a struggle, however, is the length of time I'm able to stay home with the baby after birth. With Henry, I stayed home for 14 months before enrolling him in daycare. I was still working during that time (e.g., I wrote a book and did some educational consulting), but I was his primary caregiver the entire time. 

With Tate, I wanted to be able to do the same thing, but I just can't. If my second pregnancy would have gone to term instead of ending in miscarriage, our baby would be turning 12 months in January, which would have coincided perfectly with when I start back to work full-time (My work load is actually more than full-time already, but I'm only on the payroll part-time for October, November, and December.) 

But instead (and gratefully!) we have Tater Tot who will only be turning six-months in January. I am itching to be able to focus on my work, but I still want him to have the benefit of being breastfed every three to four hours and to spend his days in the calm and quiet of his own home. A nanny seemed like the best option while he's so young, especially while we're waiting for the school's temporary facilities to be set up (P.S. We purchased on 9 acres of land!) and I'm working from home. 

However, nannies can be expensive, so we had to get creative. We decided to try and set up a nanny share with another family so we could split the cost. I posted a message on three local neighborhood list-servs and was able to find a family with a baby just three months younger than Tate. I was looking for a baby around the same age because I wanted them to have the same developmental needs. Birth to crawling, crawling to walking, and walking to running are all very different stages. 

I signed up for a month of and interviewed a couple candidates. We settled on one and she starts this week! The other family will bring over their daughter at 7:30am and the nanny will watch both of them from 7:30am-2:30pm, Monday through Friday. Then the nanny will bring their little girl to their house and continue watching her until 5pm while I take Tate to go pick up Henry from school. 

It's funny how easy this whole process seems as I write about it in hindsight. The truth is it was anything but easy! It was stressful trying to find another family with similar needs (many families wanted part-time care, wanted to pay daycare prices instead of nanny prices, wanted to start later in the year, wanted different hours, or had older children). Then it was stressful trying to identify, interview, and hire candidates. There was lots of back and forth among the other family, the nanny, and us. It was so hard to give up work time to focus on this process. The irony! I had to give up work time in order to create more work time for myself. Argh.

At many points throughout the process, I thought, "This isn't going to work. I should've just signed him up for daycare. But now he's not even on any waiting lists. What are we going to do?!?" However (knock on wood), I'm so thankful I persisted and pursued a more creative solution that works better for our family. I'm crossing all of my appendages that it goes well! 

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