Thursday, December 26, 2013

Post-Christmas Exhaustion!

It's the day after Christmas. We had a really, really good day. According to most of my friend's Facebook posts, a lot of people had a really good day. What I'm not hearing a lot of people admit on Facebook is how freaking exhausted they are and how much they are enjoying these less-busy days after Christmas. For me, I'm taking a few days to recuperate. By recuperate I mean writing and watching grandkids while Alisha uploads new clothing for sale to her online thrift store and takes a much-needed long bath after dealing with a post-Christmas-still-wound-up toddler and teething baby all day. And I'll do laundry and make a quick run to the store and tomorrow I'll drive an hour and a half to ASL class and go to Chocolate World again and I only have 20 more pages to go in this current round of editing. But no cooking at least, because we have enough leftovers to last us a few weeks. Busy still, but not Christmas whirlwind busy.

I know I'm not alone. Admit it: if you pulled together a picture-perfect, family-filled, present-filled, food-filled, memory-filled Christmas day, you're tired.

We did the usual picture-perfect day: presents under the tree and enough food to keep us eating leftovers for a week, visits from grandparents, playing with toys and board games.

Of course in addition to this picture-perfect day is the picture-perfect season that starts at Thanksgiving and just doesn't stop. Because in addition to cooking and buying and wrapping, there is the "help" you get from little kids cooking and buying and wrapping which makes the whole process take twice as long. There is also the visiting of light displays and Santa, playing in snow, Christmas parties, and special church services. We visited Hershey's Chocolate World and saw their beautiful house made out of candy, a Christmas display they do every year. We did a photo session at home and got some cute Christmas pictures and didn't just make cookies for ourselves (both regular and gluten-free/vegan varieties, but special Christmas dog biscuits.

We went to a Christmas tree farm to pick out our tree, came home with the wrong tree, went back and got the wrong one again, but kept it. While at the tree farm, the toddler was so fascinated by the gift shop that we stayed over an hour. They were playing Polar Express, giving free cookies and hot chocolate, and had fascinating decorations to browse. Then we went to my parents' house to put their tree up since my mom's rotator cuff is bothering her and my dad recently had knee surgery.

I worked on organizing the attic so I could find the toddler and baby toys previously used by other children. (They didn't care that they got previously loved toys at all!) My husband and teens carried a train table from the garage (that he had made for them years ago) and set up track for a special Christmas morning surprise for the toddler.

Through it all, all laundry and dishes have been kept up with, people were fed every day (mostly meals made from scratch), and every Friday in December we went to a baby ASL class that my daughter is enjoying doing with her baby. I've kept up with blogging (not as much as I would have liked, but still kept at it) and editing the books I've written in every spare minute, of which there weren't many. The kitchen floor and dining room floor got scrubbed and the bathroom got cleaned. And two kids had a cold (or maybe the flu)for several days.

Now it's over. We have warm, fuzzy memories.

And I'm exhausted.

Yes, I have my daughter who shares "mom duties" with me. But she was up half the night Christmas eve with super-excited boys who couldn't get to sleep. She has been keeping those boys busy (and they are such a handful I can't even tell you) and keeping up with her business.

As I think of memories of family gatherings, it was often people in my current age range...the grandparents still young enough to do all the running around...that created the big, special family gatherings. It's the age where many of us see most clearly the value in pouring ourselves into things to create memories. I used to get stressed out and complain too much when relatives were coming for dinner. It was a lot of WORK, and I was TIRED. I wanted to just play all day. You know, like I did when I was a kid. But I don't mind any more. I can't tell you exactly at what point that happened. But at some point I no longer focused so much on the actual work I was doing but on the memories I was creating.

I think that many years from now, my kids and grandkids will remember grandparents sitting around our dining room table. They'll remember the magical feeling of coming down the steps to a room full of gifts and Christmas music. Maybe they'll still wear their same Christmas hats with their names drawn on with glue and glitter that they've worn every year since they were little. They'll remember carrying Grandma and Grandpa's tree through their yard and laughing about the funky 1960's Christmas star tree topper that resembled a seizure-inducing disco ball. My parents pointed out icicles on their tree that had been my dad's great-grandfather's. Maybe someday, at the end of the 21st century, my grandkids will tell their grandkids, "These icicles have been in our family since the early 20th century".

Those memories are worth the late nights and early mornings and "I'm never going to get this book edited!" frustrations.

But that exhaustion and frustration is real, and it's okay to honor it. To honor ourselves for experiencing it and plowing full steam ahead anyway, because our devotion to our families and our traditions is worth it.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Adding More Community to our Lives

I love the book Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, which I've mentioned before and will mention again many more times, I'm sure.

One of the more well-known principles of radical homemaking is to produce more than you consume. We're getting there, as a household, but still have a ways to go. We don't raise chickens and goats (although the idea intrigues us, it's not legal in our town) and our gardening skills leave a lot to be desired. But we garden a little, forage a little, cook most things from scratch and limit what we buy. We use cloth diapers, hang our laundry, homeschool, and invest a lot of time in nurturing a strong family.

But what it's really about, at a deeper level than making your own chicken stock, is living mindfully and authentically. Community is also an important aspect of radical homemaking. Strong community can keep life vibrant, interesting, and diverse. It keeps you from feeling life is monotonous. Being isolated and spending every day doing housework by yourself can cause anyone to burn out, even an introvert like me, and it's not the way humans were meant to live. Community is another opportunity to invest our time and resources mindfully. And community is one area that has never come easy to me.

At different times in our lives, we've had different communities. When we were active in church, when my kids were little, there was definitely community. But when we wrestled with our spiritual beliefs and realized we no longer believed the same as our church did, we left the church and in doing so, also left its community. We were friends with different homeschool families at different points in our lives. We have great memories of piling two families into our minivan and having adventures on road trips. We've hiked, explored creeks and playgrounds, taken tours, spent the day at the zoo, camped and played at the beach. We've spent days at each others' houses, adults chatting while kids played, or all sprawled out on the floor together playing board games. But kids grew up and went to college, some families ended up choosing public school or developed different interests and we grew apart.

And there we were, without much community happening in our lives.

There isn't much mainstream about our lives. From the way we learn to the way we approach healthcare to the way we raise our children to the way we shop and eat to our spiritual and political beliefs, we are different. People sometimes don't know what to make of us. So sometimes we're left with the conundrum of deciding whether to hide some of Who We Are so that we're accepted a little bit more. But being accepted under those conditions isn't the kind of authentic community we're longing for.

Perhaps I'm romanticizing the idea of community too much. A friend talked about someone being part of her community recently, and it struck me that she was talking about someone she only sees physically about once a month. Is that community? Maybe I have it already and don't recognize it. I have plenty of see-them-once-in-awhile friends, and plenty of people I interact with daily on Facebook. But while it's important to recognize the importance of such relationships, I do yearn for something more, and I choose to honor that yearning.

Another interesting aspect of our family's community-seeking is that the men in our family aren't looking for more community while the women and small children are. My husband works all day, comes home to help take care of the house and be an excellent father and grandfather, and has a community of gamers that he spends a lot of time with. That's enough for him. I suspect that when he retires, that may change. When he's not mentally drained from a day at work, it's possible he may enjoy immersing himself in something that more resembles my idea of community.

My teenage boys have each other and are at a stage where their interests and personalities are very compatible. They enjoy all things to do with the home and family as well as computer and video gaming. Luke used to be active in Scouts, but now says that he has *so much to do at home* that he doesn't have time for outside activities. Their lives are full and rich enough that they aren't longing for more community right now. Like my husband, that may or may not change at different stages in their lives. I honor the fact that their level of yearning is different than mine.

My daughter and I are definitely yearning for more community, though. I read an article once that suggested that maybe what you yearn for is what you're being called to create for others. I can't find that article anymore, but the thought has stuck with me.

If it's true that I'm being called to nurture more community, that's an odd idea to me because "community" hasn't ever come easily to me. Different things come more easily to different people. I sometimes hear people talk about how *hard* you have to work to have a good marriage relationship, and I don't get it. I've been blessed with a marriage relationship that is really quite easy, even after 23 years. But as I reflect on it, we probably do work on our relationship just as much as any of those other couples. It's just that the work comes naturally to us. Same thing with frugality. After Thanksgiving when we had leftover sweet potatoes and we also had some leftover butternut squash, I bought a bag of marshmallows and made a sweet potato/squash casserole. My daughter commented, "You know, not everyone knows how to do this--taking whatever leftovers you have and turning it into a new meal". I do it all the time. I don't know where I learned it--it just comes naturally.

But community--that's something that comes easily to many people but not to me. You have to get yourself moving and doing things when it's easier to stay home playing on Facebook. You have to put pants on and do something to your hair to make yourself look presentable. You have to get to bed earlier if it requires getting up at an earlier time than you're used to. You have to contact people and make plans, prepare things, load them in the car, clean your house.

It's not uncommon for me to question whether it's worth it while I'm doing the preparing but then be so glad I made the effort. On Sunday, I drug myself outside on a cold morning to shovel my car out so I could get to the grocery store to buy ingredients for a potluck at the Unitarian Universalist church we're about to become members of. I bought the groceries, went to a short 15 minute meeting at 1:00, then got back home and prepared the food. We made eggnog and vegan egg nog and pizza hummus. The punch bowl had been in storage for awhile, so it needed to be run through the dishwasher. I ran the dishwasher and hung laundry. Alisha caught up on some dishes that had to be washed by hand. Dishes had been backed up since our sink had been out of commission for awhile waiting for the plumber. Alisha made the vegan egg nog and the hummus, taking breaks to change diapers, entertain the toddler, and nurse the baby. I made the regular egg nog. When my husband got home from work, he had mercy on me and cut the peppers we would take for dipping in hummus.

While we were working, the toddler dumped an entire container of nutmeg onto the dining room floor and opened a box of instant pudding and threw it all over the living room carpet. His diaper change required a bath.

While I was shoveling snow, I was thinking about everything I had to do that day and had that slight bit of temptation to just stay home. It's a lot of work to get up and shovel and shop and prepare food and figure out what the rest of the family will eat while you're gone. I think a lot of people for whom community comes easily just consider it normal...they don't think of it as work. Or if they consider it work, they don't consider the work to be a big deal.

We went to the potluck and had a fabulous time. We left saying, "We're so glad we did that!"

The same thing happens when we do things with our homeschool group. We spent the greater part of two days preparing for a Scarecrow making/jack-o-lantern carving day. Going to the farmer's market to buy the hay bales, going through clothes from Alisha's online thrift store to find jeans and flannel shirts, going to thrift stores to find straw hats, buying new staples for the staple gun, digging the jack-o-lantern carving tools out of the attic, bringing paper products and cookies for the potluck.

"I don't know about this," I said to Alisha the day before. "It's a lot of work for just one afternoon."

But in the car on the way home, we chattered away about how much fun we had and how glad we were that we did it.

Over and over again, the scenario plays itself out. The peanut butter and jelly making day we hosted for our homeschool group--making sure we had all the ingredients we needed, cleaning the house. And when it was over, "Wow, we should do stuff like this more often!"

We're being very careful and deliberate about where we spend our time. We've learned that when we do things just because we think we "should" or we could, we're consistently disappointed. When we do things because something about it feels right to us, we're consistently happy. We're committed to community building and aren't afraid of the work involved. It is a little more work for us than it is for some, whose community is built by default into their school and work and sports teams. We have to go into the world and thoughtfully consider what to invest our time in, who to interact with, how involved to get.

In other words, it requires mindfulness just like every other goal we have for our lives.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

How to Get Along with your Adult Children

"You'll probably get in a fight with her, and you'll kick her out," someone told me, talking about my adult daughter who lives with me.

"No, I won't," I said with certainty.

"I can't wait until mine grow up and move out," someone said.

"I would be happy if mine lived with me forever," I said. And I felt bad for her (and for her children) that her relationship with them was like that.

We have our moments when we drive each other crazy. But for the most part, things are pretty smooth sailing. Some people just don't get that.

From the time they were small, I made our relationship a priority. We spent hours reading books together, playing games, going on day trips. But we struggled, mostly because I was new at peaceful parenting. I was new at modeling patience and not taking challenges personally. So when my kids fought, I worried that I was doing something wrong. I wasn't doing anything wrong, at least not usually, but I was determined that I was capable of finding solutions. I dug my heels in and didn't give up every time we had a struggle. I promised my children that I would never punish or threaten them with punishment again, and I've kept that promise for over ten years. I asked questions on unschooling message boards a lot, tried the advice, panicked when it didn't work or when I had misunderstood the advice and applied it wrong. But I kept at it, and I got past all our challenges. The longer I kept at it, the more peaceful our home became.

I allowed my children the freedom to choose whether they wanted to go to school, and I was glad that none of my children chose school. I embraced radical unschooling, which is based on the concept that children are inherently learning machines, capable of learning what they need, when they need it, and that my role was a facilitator rather than a teacher.

My role wasn't to mold them into who I thought they should be, but to observe and pay close attention to who these people are. I made sure to provide more of what fascinated them, whether it be a book, toy, a video game, or meaningful conversation.

I never made my kids do chores. I did the dishes, laundry, and housework with as much joy as I could muster. That was a growth process for me, too. I came into this mothering gig with the idea that housework was a drudgery and had a victim mentality about having to do it. When I needed help, I let them know. Sometimes they would help, but they always had the freedom to say no. I took care of the pets when they didn't. I never threatened that I would take their pets away if they because they didn't care for them. Our pets were welcomed into our family and didn't deserve to be discarded simply because of a misguided attempt to teach my kids a lesson about responsibility.

Because our relationship was consensual rather than authoritarian, we had lots of practice learning to talk things through with each other. When one child wanted me to take him somewhere and another wanted me to stay home with him, we spent time hashing out what the best solution might be. It wasn't always easy, and sometimes I messed up, but I persevered, because relationship is important. There's always a solution, even when it isn't obvious and you have to dig for it.

They're not kids anymore. They are 20, 16, and 14, with my daughter's 2 year old and a baby thrown into the mix.

I bought a 50 pound bag of dog food today. There was never a doubt in my mind that my teen boys would carry it in when I asked. The dog also threw up in her crate today, and my 16-year-old took the garbage out because it was too full to put the paper towels in once he cleaned the vomit up. No one told him to clean it up. It was time to feed them, and he didn't want to put her food in her crate without cleaning it up. He feeds the animals every night now. It's not a chore I made him do, but something that he's taken on because he loves his dogs. He's so reliable that I don't even need to think about it. Our relationship has evolved into that naturally, without demands or threats from me, without sticker charts or other forms of bribery. Just, "We do what needs to be done, and whoever is most able and willing to do a task does it. No biggie."

My daughter got pregnant at 17. Then again at 19, right before she and her boyfriend broke up. She messed up. I've messed up before in my life, too. Not in the same way, but who among us can throw the first stone? It never even occurred to me to not help her. It never occurred to me to kick her out just because she's reached the arbitrary age of 18 or to somehow punish her for getting pregnant. It never occurred to me to not watch her babies for her while she worked on her new business or took a shower. It never occurred to me to not wash her diapers for her when the laundry was backed up.

She's always been interested in sign language, but until recently, never really found a means to learning it that felt right to her. Recently, she found a mom and baby sign language class that she really wanted to take. It never occurred to me not to help her do that. I watch her active toddler while she and the baby do the class. It is a part of her learning, and just because she's over the age of 18 and would have "graduated" had she gone to regular school, why should learning count less now? What's the difference if she learns it now at age 20 instead of at age 14? Does she benefit any less learning it now than if she had chosen to do it when she was still "school aged?" Does it somehow "count" more before she's "graduated?"

I was talking to a friend not long after her 18th birthday, and I said something about homeschooling three kids. She said, "Three? She's 18 now. You mean two."

But no, I meant three. Legally, only two. But I encourage my kids to be life long learners. That means that they don't really ever graduate. How can you graduate from being a self-directed learner? Can you graduate from being curious about the world? Do you graduate from asking your mom a question she might know?

From the time they were little, my kids and I were partners rather than adversaries. It was never me against them, putting my foot down and making them do something they didn't want to do. When they wanted to do something that didn't seem to be easy to make happen, I figured out a way to do it. When one of my kids said they really wanted to throw a pie in someone's face, I made whipped cream pies and invited friends over for pie throwing followed by swimming on a hot summer day. When they wanted a game but we didn't have the money in the budget, we analyzed all our spending plans for the week and found that if we ate peanut butter sandwiches on Friday instead of ordering pizza, we could afford it. My daughter and I are even more of a team since she's had children. When she was little, our common goal might be how we can get the house ready for her friend to sleep over. And by common goal I mean that she wanted the friend to come over and I did most of the work. But now we talk about what everyone would like to eat, and we work together to make that happen. Now we talk about what her children's needs are, and we work together to give them the best life that we can. We talk about what our goals are for our businesses. I help her get pictures of clothing taken for her online thrift store and she makes dinner when I leave the house to take a writing day.

And we talk. We really, really listen to each other. I don't just assume that because my kids are a certain age that they need a certain thing. We are all unique individuals with individual needs. We should meet those needs for each other accordingly. But you can't know what a person needs unless you know the person. Unless you care more about who that person is instead of who you think they should be.

So my daughter and I are the moms of the house. I don't think that partnership would flow so easily now if we hadn't worked to make it happen when she was little and she and her brother both wanted the last piece of pie, or she wanted to get her first piercing when she was 13 or when she was 16 and became a vegan, making meal times more challenging.

We both learned how to live consensually with someone of another generation during her growing-up years, and since we had so much continual practice, we've got it down pretty well now. We're usually able to hash out our differences pretty quickly just by effective communication. "I feel this way when you say that in that tone of voice" is usually followed by a "I'm really sorry. I was frustrated but shouldn't have said that" kind of response. It helps that we constantly talk about parenting philosophy, dynamics of different types of relationships, and all types of philosophical things.

My kids may choose to move out for a whole big variety of reasons. But when and if they choose to move out, it won't be because we can't get along.

You don't get from mainstream, authoritarian parenting to peaceful, consensual parenting overnight. It takes years of dedication and practice, and it gets better bit by bit, sometimes so slowly that you don't realize it's happening until one day your child does something that would have made you lose your cool, and you realize that you didn't. It's better to start when they're little, because then the transition to an adult-adult relationship is much smoother. But I don't think it's ever too late to be a more involved and more peaceful parent.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I'm no June Cleaver

In my recent post discussing attitudes about not having much money, one of the commenters said that while it's great for some moms to stay home and be June Cleaver, she's happier working.

I'm no June Cleaver.

Here's the thing. I don't think any woman wants to be June Cleaver.

Our society has this thing going where we're expected to work (to be a good feminist) AND be a good June Cleaver. It's exhausting and unhealthy. What I think has happened is that we all, women AND men, are happier and healthier when home is the center of our lives rather than just the place where we sleep, store our stuff, and eat an evening meal. Before the Industrial Revolution, both men's and women's work was centered around the home. Then men went off to work and all of a sudden women were left to do it all. Alone. All freaking day long. No brain stimulation, no creativity beyond maybe trying a new recipe now and then. Clean the house, do the laundry, tend to the children, if you're lucky watch soap operas and eat bon bons, and meet your husband at the door with a fresh outfit, hair-do, and a smile.

Instead of a living, breathing, constantly creatively flowing center of productivity, the home becamee a center for consumerism, buying what was necessary to keep up with the Jones's and look all picture perfect Stepford Wifey.


Blech, blech, blech, blech, BLECH!

I highly recommend this book:

It talks about why feminism isn't at odds with Radical Homemaking and about the importance of building community and making the home the center of social life and creativity. It even touches on the idea of multigenerational living.

One of the things I like about this lifestyle is that it affords us time to work on creative pursuits other than homemaking. Like writing for me and buying and reselling clothes for my adult daughter. It will hopefully allow my husband to retire a bit earlier but still be comfortable. It lets us take lots of interesting day trips with our kids and grandkids.

In fact, I spent all of yesterday writing, editing, and going to a workshop. Today, I'm playing catch-up on housework and blogging.

Here's how my very un-June Cleaver-ish three-ring-circus of a day went.

My teens asked me what's for dinner and I threw my hands in the sir. "Leftovers?"

"But we just had that yesterday," one of them said.

"Hmmm... How about fried egg sandwiches?"

"Fine." Said in a voice where I wasn't sure it really was fine, but at least it's better than day two of leftovers.

We got our Christmas tree two days ago. They give it to you all wrapped in string for easy transportation. We unwrapped it and discovered it is not the tree we picked out. We decided to go back to the Christmas tree farm to exchange it.

I scrubbed the fresh new crayon drawing off the tv screen while my husband vacuumed up the popcorn that the toddler had littered the floor with. The guys loaded the old tree back into the truck.

"Wait, before we go," I said, "there's been laundry in the washer since last night. If I wait to hang it, it will smell."

So I took the dry laundry off the drying rack and Alisha dressed her kids but couldn't find her phone and Tripp was getting rambunctious and I was aware that it was getting later and my husband has to go to work tomorrow and we hadn't eaten dinner yet. So we left without the laundry being hung.

We put up the much bigger tree.

Much, much bigger tree.

This was the first tree. Cute, but not the one we had picked:

The tree farm thought this was the one we had picked out. It wasn't. Much laughter ensued as the teens pulled the strings off and revealed the full size of the tree. We're keeping it since it humors us so much to have such a behemoth of a tree in our living room. It goes against Radical Homemaking perhaps, since we'll probably have to buy more lights to fit around it, but it will be an awesome memory.

My daughter and I fried the eggs for their sandwiches. More laughter as the guys gave her a hard time about remembering who wanted runny, who wanted unrunny, and who didn't care. Then she made herself some vegan, gluten free pancakes while my husband played Call of Duty by hiding behind the behemoth tree with the baby.

Finally, I hung the laundry that had been in the washing machine not quite 24 hours. I smelled it and decided it was good enough.

Alisha found her phone under my manuscript.

June Cleaver I am not.

Maybe a bit closer to the Waltons except I assure you the Waltons' kitchen never looked like it exploded like mine did today. Maybe because Olivia Walton never spent an entire day working on her manuscript instead of doing housework. And her kids went to school. At least the dishwasher is running (I have no idea who did that...but I am grateful to whoever did). I get to clean the kitchen tonight when I'm finished this blog post. Oh, and try to organize the attic steps so we can carry down the tree decorations, since practically all year everything that had to go to the attic got set on the stairs instead of carried up and put away properly.

If I worked, we probably would have ordered pizza or went out to eat on the way home from the Christmas tree farm. We probably would have not had fried egg sandwiches, which we had just enough bread for everyone to have as many as they wanted as long as we used all the crust. We might have, in another few days, ended up throwing the leftover baked beans away. Instead, the teenagers will finish them for other meals, since they eat all their meals at home instead of at a school.

Yes, we cloth diaper and make soups out of homemade chicken stock and grow stuff and forage for wild ediblesand upcycle stuff we already have so we don't have to buy new. It's never the same old boring thing, though. I want to try making sassafras tea. I've never done it before. We're talking about taking more camping trips. We read really good books together. We watch really good movies. My son and I have written a book together. We get together with friends to make peanut butter and jelly. We work hard, but we also play hard. Life is full of laughter. I don't think our life is the typical housewife-bored-at-home some people imagine when they think about adults staying home and living frugal lifestyles.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My Response to "This Is Why Poor People's Bad Decisions Make Perfect Sense"

Several of my friends have posted this article on Facebook about why poor people make bad decisions.

There is so much backwards thinking in that article, but most of it boils down to this: Her premise is wrong. It's not being "poor" that causes people to make bad decisions.

You know that lie that people buy into that if they could just earn more money to buy more things, that *THEN* they'd be happy? She's bought into the same lie. Except that she's also bought into the lie that she can't ever earn enough or save enough to buy more things. Lie A + Lie B = one depressed, hopeless, bad decision-making person. She thinks that money buys happiness, and that because she doesn't have money, she can't ever be happy. So why not go out and blow some of the money you do have on cigarettes?

Except money doesn't buy happiness. And lack of money doesn't mean you can't be happy. And yes, you can change your situation.

For a genealogy project, my son interviewed an elderly relative, in her 80's, about what life was like when she was a child. She was poor. No hot water and her teenage brother picked coal from the mountain in order to heat the house poor. What struck me about that interview was that she kept saying, "We had it good." She talked about homemade candy distributed to neighbors on Christmas eve, community bonfires, running out to see her brother every day when he came home from work. She had a happy childhood.

I know a lot of people in the homeschool community who are living on single incomes, probably incomes comparable to what the author of this article is talking about, so that one parent can stay home with the children full time.

And they're living full, joyful lives.

They cook from scratch, they do their own home repairs, they buy Christmas presents, clothing, and toys used.

And they are happy.

They might not be able to afford vacations, but they take long hikes with their kids, learning about wild edibles, hunt for fossils, and bring along guidebooks in case they run into a plant or insect they don't recognize. They pack lunches and go on bike rides. They lay out under the stars with their kids and talk way into the night. They make their own playdough and spend hours making playdough train tracks and snakes and tunnels out of cardboard boxes that they push their cars and trains through.

They might not be able to afford cable tv, but it hardly costs anything to pop their own popcorn (air popped, not microwave bags--they're too expensive and not very healthy, either) and watch movies together, read a book as a family, or play Monopoly.

Because giving their children an awesome life is a priority, they don't go to a bar when they get an extra ten bucks. Instead, they save for a zoo membership or a children's museum membership so they can take their kids somewhere cool as many times as they want.

Sure, they get tired. Because even if their family membership lets them go to the zoo for free, zoo food is expensive! So mom stays up late the night before baking homemade bread to make low-cost, healthy sandwiches. She fills bottles and canteens with water and catches up on laundry so they have enough clean laundry to pack extra clothes. Almost every time she sits down to watch a movie, she's peeling potatoes or apples while she watches. Dinner takes twice as long to make because she has little helpers, and she considers food prep time to be a valuable learning experience and bonding time for her and her children. She spends time preparing healthy snacks instead of buying processed junk food, not only because junk food is expensive, but because she knows it's not good for her children and knows that in the long run, in can mean more trips to the doctor's office, which are expensive and can be often avoided by a healthy lifestyle.

I feed 7 people in my home for $250 a month. I cook almost everything from scratch and shop at surplus stores. I know I'm not the only one. I also know there are some doing it for less than I am. Yet I have noticed when I go into the homes of some of those very low-income people, the food in the oven makes their homes smell like heaven. And their kids are laughing and playing and they've spent all day with their mom and they are *HAPPY*.

I have no idea what the side rant about the roaches in this article is all about. I am cooking and preparing food all the time. Dishes are constantly being washed, but very rarely are all dishes caught up, because as soon as one project stops another one starts. Yet we don't have bugs. Not even when dirty dishes sit in the sink overnight. Yes, you have to do your dishes. But if you're cooking as frugally as possible, you will have to do the dishes because you'll need them to be clean in order to start the next project. No, cooking does *NOT* attract roaches. If you really do have roaches, you need to find the source and get rid of it, then do some deep cleaning. No, it's not hopeless and yes, you can get rid of them. Sure, it will take a ton of hard work, but it can be done. Just like you can create an awesome life for yourself.

Yes, I know many of our poor are single mothers. I'm not saying it doesn't suck to be a low-income single mom trying to do it all yourself: Earn a living, make a home, be a mother. All by yourself. Even if you're not a single mom, what is up with parents saying, "Well, now you're 18, and you're on your own! We're not responsible for you anymore. Good luck! I struggled when my babies were little and now you will too! Ha ha!" (Please, when you find yourself a grandparent, think back to how hard it was to be a young parent. Every parent and their children can benefit from much attention and help from truly GRAND parents. Be grand.)

This is why we live in a multi-generational home. So that my daughter who is a single mother of two doesn't have to go to work and leave her kids with strangers and see them only an hour a day, just to barely afford to pay her bills and keep food on her roach-infested table. My daughter did one semester of college and even though she had straight A's, when she saw how high her student loans were going to be, she quit. She doesn't want to go to college and then be obligated to work in order to pay loans off. Because working means not spending all day with her kids, and that's not what she wants. It's not what I want for her. Or for my grand kids. She is instead working on developing her online thrift storeso she can stay home with them. Sure, she could go out and get a part time job. But she saves as much as she'd earn by staying home and breastfeeding, cloth diapering, shopping frugally, helping with food prep, and doing cool projects with her kids.

If you're going to college and working two jobs and only seeing your kids an hour a day, something needs to give. Consider whether that college debt is really worth it. Consider whether you could quit one of those jobs and save as much or more than you earn at that job. And for heaven's sake, you don't need to have taken Home Ec to know how to cook. You google what you need to know, you search pinterest, you go to the public library and you check out cookbooks, you go to sites like What I Didn't Buy Today. Because you're not helpless and your situation isn't hopeless.

The "helpless and hopeless" and "I'm poor so I can't buy crap so therefore I can't have a happy life" victim mentality is the problem. So is the "If someone doesn't take me by the hand and show me what to do, I won't figure it out for myself" mentality. Not how much money you have. Because you can take any situation and find joy in it. You can make the best of any situation.

Actually, she sums it up in the article herself. "You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It's more basic than food."

Except here's the flaw in that thinking: Worthwhile is not dependent on having money. You are worthwhile because you're alive. Go celebrate that fact by taking your child outside and going dandelion hunting. Did you know you can eat dandelions? They're highly nutritious. Coat them in pancake batter and fry them. Make dandelion chains. Put some in a small glass for a pretty centerpiece on the table. Make a salad from the greens. And if you must drink, make dandelion wine.

Life is good. With or without a lot of money.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Playing with the children is not optional

There was excitement in the air today.

Just as I was saying that something I sold on ebay was paid for and I needed to get it shipped before the post office closed, Alisha said, "I made my first sale!"

She has been trying so hard to make her online thrift store successful. Today, she made her first sale to a person she didn't know.

So we were both getting orders ready, and Tripp went crazy. Now, Tripp is an awesome kid. But sometimes I think she should have named him Wild and Crazy. Because as we were running around getting our orders ready, with this total "Woo Hoo! Success!" vibe in the air, Tripp decided to join in the excited atmosphere and whip board games off the shelf and THROW them in the air. Like they were confetti at a wild party. Within minutes, we had Dominos, 3 versions of Yahtzee, Battleship, Thomas the Tank Engine Tic Tac Toe, Scrabble and Mancala scattered throughout the living room. We kept saying, "Tripp! Stop! We have to do this!"

Until finally, I realized that I was the one who had to stop. I went to Tripp, carried him out to his blocks, and started building a road. And pushing cars through the road. And looking at the little Zebra in his Peek a Blocks with him. I said to Alisha, "You get yours done, I'll play with him. When you're finished, we'll switch." Deep breaths.

Sometimes, you just have to step back and trust that All Is Well and it will all work out. Which it did. We went to the post office, the boys fell asleep in the car, and I sat in the car while Alisha cleaned up the living room.

We have so many projects going on. Trips to take, food to prepare, homeschool activities to plan, businesses to run, writing projects to complete... It can get overwhelming if we don't step at a time. Once I started playing blocks with him, the crazy throwing of board games stopped. He needed attention. And taking care of the children isn't something that should get done after everything else, if and when you have time. It is at the top of the To Do list. It is a Must Do. I met his needs FIRST and THEN everything else fell in place. Not only because it's easier to get through the day when there aren't Scrabble tiles and Yahtzee tiles raining down on you, but because these little people are important and honoring their needs is the right thing to do.


I used to dream of being the kind of grandma who baked cookies with her grandchildren. Today, as I cut up pumpkin to make puree, my 2 year old grandson was right beside me, very excitedly yelling “pumpkin!” (Except it sounded like, “Gumpy!”) He watched me take the seeds out of the “gumpy” (but declined to get his fingers messy and do any himself).

Even Storm, only 5 months old, got in on the action.

And I thought, “Here I am, living that dream of being a hands-on Grandma.” In my imaginations, I didn’t bake and cook with them EVERY day. Frequently, but not every day. But I’m so glad I get to do it. I enjoy them more than I can say.

The flip side is that I intended to do all kinds of projects today, and what I actually accomplished was...making pumpkin puree and making dinner. I cleaned up messes, took them out to play in the snow, held them while Alisha took a shower, and did laundry.

I got frustrated that I didn’t get to tackle more of my many planned projects because slowing down and going at the kids’ pace so they can be involved in your life is, well, slower.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way, because going full circle back to my third paragraph, I enjoy them more than I can say. (And sometimes, in the moment, when I think I'm finally going to get caught up on the dishes and the toddler pushes the chair up to the sink and says, "Please" and takes over my dishwater with his matchbox cars, I have to remind myself of that).

Usually, I stay up later than Alisha and the kids, and sleep in later than them. That gives me time to spend with my teens, who also stay up late. It also gives me time to catch up on things that went a little slower during the day because of my delightful helpers.

So tonight, Alisha took the boys up to bed, and I sat back on the couch, feet up, getting into “Grand kids are in bed so now I can relax” mode, and Tripp came down the steps. Wearing his robe and nothing else. “Hi, Tripp,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Lunch,” he said.

“Lunch? You want to eat lunch?”

“Yes!” he said.

“Right now? You want lunch right now?”

“Yes!” he said.

“Do you want mashed potatoes and sauerkraut?”

“Yes!” he said.

And so I made him lunch. Even though I Did. Not. Want. To. Get. Off. That. Couch. Because I am blessed that he’s here, and that I get to be so involved in his life. And because how cool is it that a tiny little guy can go get his grandma for “lunch” any time he wants?