the new outdoor kitchenette

After painting the table we originally intended to be the outdoor kitchenette, we declared it was too nice for water and dirt. It is now residing in Elliott’s room, to hold his stereo and books. So we needed a new table, but one that looked just as spiffy. We spent most of the afternoon constructing and painting, while watching over the boys. Sadly, Elliott was in such a funk, we had to ban him from any participation. Lately, he totally disregards instructions and suggestions, yells back at us, and breaks things when angry. Sensing how that could impact a quick construction project or a tidy paint job to get to the actual play, we sent him off to play elsewhere (a few times to his room too).

Mike cut and built, I painted. Oliver created mischief. But by 3:00, we had an outdoor kitchenette.

I decided since we have no intention of introducing dirt to it, at least while we are residing here for the next two months, I cannot really call it a mud kitchen. So with sand, water, and vegetation, it is our outdoor kitchenette. The boys needed no instruction!  Oliver had a cup he filled with water, which he repeatedly had me ‘drink’ from. Elliott set to work on muffins, a cake, and soup. While I missed a photo of it, the boys collecting leaves in their baskets was so sweet. This short time playing refreshed everyone’s attitude. Amazing what a little sand and water in pans can do.

                                    

        

Advertisements

consequences of the storm

After Hurricane Elliott (and his playdate friend) rolled through the house, they left in their paths three rooms covered with stuff – kitchenette items here, silkies there, baskets of toys dumped, more mess than I have ever seen. While playing, I had suggested a few times that clean up after said friend left would be hard but his responsibility. But on the storm rolled.

Once his friend left, he was suddenly too tired to clean up and the tears started up. I offered music to aid the clean up process and to help some after I finished my work. But the picking up did not start. Calmly (but pulling out all the tactics), I stated that if he was too tired to clean up, he was too tired for gymnastics with friends tonight, too tired to stay up tonight, and he would no longer have friends over if he could not follow up a playdate with clean up. Then, I see Oliver with beads in mouth as he slipped on a kitchen baking pan. At that point, I lost it and yelled, well, a lot. As I rattled off all the consequences to him again in my loud mama voice, I realized it would not work. Elliott is strong-willed and will drag out something until I go nuts. But I wanted the house picked up NOW. So I decided I could still enforce consequences, but I would keep Oliver safe by picking the items up into boxes. So now four boxes sit in the laundry room and Elliott is starting to realize that not being able to play with any other toys until the mess is cleaned up stinks. He can be stubborn, but at least I have the house picked up and I am not going to go (as) nuts.

In the midst of situations like this, all ideas of how to act or suggestions I have heard seem to go out the window. I am left not knowing if my reaction was the best reaction. If I had not made so many of the toys or liked some of these gifts from friends, I would be inclined to box them up and say good-bye at Goodwill. Not sure that would be an appropriate reaction either.  But at least if I can find a plan that stops me from yelling, it has to be a decent one. I think. Any thoughts?

(To give you an idea of what this near five-year old is like: Just before I cleaned up into the boxes, I said in anger, “You’re not doing ANYTHING else until this mess is cleaned up.” He followed up with “Can I turn on a light? Can I sit down?” … Now, as I write this, he is asking me to pack up more of his stuff and asking if he can just touch his toys… I just might go nuts! Daily, I miss the window for clear calm communications and it is all downhill from there…. But, after posting, I asked him (calmly) to tell me what has happened and why. It is clear he understands and he can detail it out. And the internal screaming starts.)

how to avoid destroying the world

So I have tried hard to strike a good balance between teaching Elliott about recycling, conserving, reusing, and human’s effects on the environment. Because I see him dig through the recycling bin to find items that can be reused in his crafting and he enjoys dumping scraps in the compost, I assumed we were handling these issues in a very effective, age-appropriate way. Awareness with action.

Then today he raised this question while carrying his (pretend) duck – “Why are humans destroying the world? I am saving this duck because the world is being destroyed.” I guess it is time to dial it down a notch.  

I would love to hear other people’s ideas on teaching children to cherish and respect our earth, ways you have found to avoid the scary, doomsday approaches (which I really thought we were not doing!).

money, money, money, money!

When you say a word so many times, it seems to become meaningless. Money feels that way sometimes. And really, the value I want Elliott to see in money is that we don’t need more to feel better and there is so much to value outside of what money can buy. But, that said, I still want him to have a clear understanding of saving money, spending wisely, and caring for others (in a financial sense; other volunteering to care for others is another area we are addressing). So after talking with a friend about an idea from The Simple Dollar I realized that this was what might work better than our current system.

Right now, Elliott has decorative piggies who gladly eat his money. And had they been like mine as a child, requiring ‘slaughter’ to get the reward, he might have been more inclined to save for longer.

My sister Michelle and I at age 5 1/2 dig into my piggy.

(No, I did not actually use the knife myself)

Unfortunately (not so in his opinion) the plugs are easily removed on his pigs. As birthday and holiday monetary gifts have been given, he is quick to turn around and want to spend, spend, spend. That money teases and taunts him to spend it, and fast. Nearly 4-5 times a week, I will be asked when we are going to the store and if he can buy something. Even the suggestion of only taking out a few dollars and saving the rest is not working. The very next day after making a purchase, he will ask to buy something again.

So, upon hearing this idea, I loved the idea of having separate areas for separate purposes and, being cheap right now, I really liked a comment suggesting merely using jars instead of a new piggy. So today, knowing he already had $17+ begging to be spent, we got four ball jars, discussed the categories and what they meant for him, and prepared the jars. We have 4 categories as suggested – Spending, Short Term Savings (for more special things), Long Term Savings/Investing (into his existing savings account we contribute to or bonds or something to be determined later), and Donation.

At first he seemed bothered with donating, but after explaining ways we have given to people previously and options he had, he seemed onboard with that part too. We then divided $3 into each jar, with the rest being put into his ‘Spending’ jar. In this case we allowed a heavier amount to be added to this jar since he just got Valentine’s Day monetary gifts and had been saving this money for a few weeks. From here on out, his allowance will be $4 a week ($1 for each year old) and $1 will go into each jar. Birthday gifts and other gifts will be his discretion since they are gifts. And I secretly hope he will decide to save some, not just lump it into the spending jar! A parent can hope, right?

It is not fancy, but hopefully he will clearly be able to understand the concepts and have a good foundation for managing the money he does have.

I want to be a Radical Homemaker right now!

I am currently reading the book Radical Homemakers. I am loving this book… really, really loving it. Generally, well, my interpretation, it is re-examining the way we live and saying we need to return back to the family and working as a family to care for ourselves for greater satisfaction in our lives. It covers what steps I have made towards a different way of living already and what I feel I want to change to get to how I want to live. But today I felt overwhelmed by my inability to change things right now. I tend to live this way in my spending, my work, my leisure even. If I cannot get something done at the very moment I want it done, I tend to want it done as soon as possible. But what if it is not possible? What if it takes months or years? Then I tend to get very down on myself or the goal and have often given up or settled for less. With such lofty goals and what I see as a modern-day of attitude of right now, I am struggling with how to plan for a future and continue to make the steps towards it.

You see as I read this book, I was working out at the Y and just this morning made a purchase on Etsy for something I could have made because I wanted it right then. And I justify why I am at the Y and why I get things I could make and why I do not make all my own food and why we have three cars in the driveway and so forth. But in these back steps, I need to start recognizing forward momentum towards the goal and start making plans for taking bigger steps to get where I actually want to be, even if they are years down the road.

savoring each bite

All parents have days like mine have been… wild, upset, or mischievous children changing the course of the day in a single moment, adding more work to the day, causing tempers to flare, bouncing between sweet and loving to rowdy and rude. Add that to the regular routine and it has felt like a juggling act for days around here – clean a dirty kitchen, answer demands or pleas for snacks, start the washer, change a diaper (3 poops or more a day!), mend a split lip (two different days this week!), switch clothing to the dryer, respond to important and unimportant emails, shovel snow so the mailman can walk to the door, mail packages, make phone calls, do a complicated craft, play a game, cook dinner, remove a child from a tabletop, remove a child from the cactus, remove a child from the toilet, and so on. Oh, and maybe squeak in a cup of tea and a dash to the bathroom for me, but only if there is time! Today, stuck home from exercising because of snow, the day went according to the same ‘plan’ as days passed – busy, with little actually getting accomplished.

But I threw in something extra today… I discovered a great recipe for butter toffee. As I often do, I told myself to make it anther day. But after an hour that felt like a day, I was really ready to make toffee. Well, to be honest, just eat toffee. But I did all my other work and fun first while Oliver napped and then started the sugar and butter boiling about the moment Oliver was waking up. As the candy thermometer refused to climb at a satisfactory rate, I was forced to let Elliott get Oliver out of his room. “Release the hound!” From my kitchen post, I shouted commands like “Don’t knock him over. I cannot help him right now” or “Elliott, find something to distract him, quick!” And so well over a half hour went by. (Was it even this long? It felt like much, much longer,) I stirred and stirred and the temperature went up ever so slow. The whole time I imagined all the scenarios of awful things unfolding in other rooms, out of sight… and what would absolutely require me to leave the stove. The closer I got to the end and I could smell my toffee, I realized very little could force me to leave that stove! Broken toys and gashed lips would require that someone toddle to me for a hug.

As I neared the final golden 298 degrees, I was just delighted to learn that my candy thermometer was not accurate. Quickly, I changed to a digital thermometer, got it off the stove, and added vanilla. But, in desperation to get a second silicone mat that I really did need, I plopped the hot pan onto another one. It added a nice film to my pot and totally ruined the cutting mat. I finally got it all spread, left it to cool on the mats, left a mess in the kitchen, and checked on my two little ones, who just happened to be playing peacefully in the back. Phew!

Thinking I could move onto the next step, I started melting chocolate, chopping nuts, and grinding sea salt. Since I had far less quality chocolate than needed, I was doing my melting in three stages – great, good, and so-so chocolate. The first one, quality dark baking chocolate, was easy and done in a flash, spread and coated with nuts and sea salt. The second, quality white baking chips, scorched in the pot and then burnt in the microwave – a total waste. The third, cheap milk chocolate chips, never even melted, just globbed in the bowl – more waste. In just another half hour, I had stunk up the kitchen, dirtied a good dozen pots and utensils, and had to contend with burnt on goop on more than one pot. Oh, and I needed to pay what little attention I could spare to children as questions were asked, tears shed, and hands reached for the stove.

But (yes, there is a but), at this point, I could snap off little (or big) pieces of toffee to sustain me. And, Elliott left me alone for a whole five minutes once he negotiated “one, maybe two, uh, maybe three” pieces of toffee from me. And, AND, I feed Oliver leftover chocolate chips while I cleaned up. So while it was utter chaos and stressful, my boys could survive a few minutes without me and we all got some tasty toffee or treats to make the rest of the day go better.

Now, go make some toffee and make Friday super sweet!

* And you may wonder where all the wonderful pictures are of the lovely toffee and the lovely mess. But in the rush of it all, I could not even leave the stove for the camera. And once I remembered the camera when I got to my big toffee sheets, I realized Pioneer Woman’s images would be far lovelier and looked a lot like my sweet treat anyways. Although, I did not do double sides as she did since I was short of chocolate.

little helper

Lately, quite sadly I must say, tender feelings for Elliott have been far and few between due to his monstrous behavior. But seeing spoons in the fork drawer made me think fondly of my little sweety. Here is how I got spoons in the fork drawer.

Earlier tonight, ever tired of asking him to pick up before moving on to the next thing and sensing I would get the same lack of energy turned tantrumy nastiness as usual. And being fed up with load after load of my work, I offered a switch. I would pick up his toys (which were really quite few) and he would unload the dishes. He happily agreed. In a few minutes I finished and asked him what I should do now. I assumed he would say help him, but he happily replied “Go work at your desk or something.” What can I say to that but ‘Okay!’

He used his learning tower to climb to put pots away. He stacked things on the counter he was too short to put away. And he never asked for my help. I only finally intervened when the stack of items became a bit too precarious. Even then, I only did the counter dishes, not what was left in the dishwasher. Once finished, he was happy. I was happy. A crisis averted!

So tonight while I unloaded yet another load of dishes, grumpy and worn out, seeing that he had to climb up to the drawers and find the place for spoons made this little mistake so very sweet. He was working so hard tonight to do it all by himself.

******************************************************

I originally tried to post this last night but our internet was on the fritz.

Today, Elliott and I changed jobs again. I picked up his room and he made his school lunch. He did a great job, even selecting items from nearly all the food groups. He felt very proud that he cut his own pear (which I came to supervise), packed it all up, and cleaned up.

a new, but not so improved me

The way I see myself and the way I actually am has shifted over the years. I believe myself to be punctual, ordered – in home and body, and be somewhat calm. And I might sometimes slip up and say that I am some or all of these things. But since the mobility of Oliver, who I am has become plain to me. I am constantly late, I cannot keep thoughts in my head for more than a second, I feel chaos in everything I do, and I repeatedly lose my temper. Now I find myself making excuses to Elliott’s preschool about dirty diapers, clock not set right, and so forth to cover my inconsistencies. I find I forgot a thought while walking into another room. I yell over the smallest of issues. What had me thinking about this was a 45 minute visit to the pediatrician this morning:

After waiting a few minutes in the waiting room, Oliver needed to be undressed for the scale. While Elliott danced around with his magna doodle, I heaped our coats, Oliver’s clothing, and my bag on the chair. When it was time to migrate to the exam room, I was juggling Oliver, the heap of clothing and herding Elliott while he repeatedly blocked the nurse (who thankfully took our coats while she carried a laptop). After Oliver unpacked my bag, fell a few times and Elliott knocked him over to protect his magna doodle, we saw the doctor, got the lead test and shots we came for and repacked everything we brought. And there was some crying. After assigning Elliott the job of carrying his toy and my papers, and loading my arms with a toddler and our gear, we headed for check out. This is where it really got chaotic.

Apparently one nurse thought our insurance would allow for a certain pricing on shots, but the checkout nurse disagreed. I was asked to wait a few moments. I heaped our stuff up, Elliott sat in a chair, and Oliver toddled away, quite quickly, down the hall and into waiting rooms. He was lured back, only wanting to run again. Then he had to give their decorative snowman a few whacks. Next, Elliott declared he was hungry. Trying to be discreet, I pulled out pretzels for the boys. Oliver ate one and fussed to get down, while Elliott dug into the bag for a fistful. Then Oliver sneezed, blasting snot and pretzel all over his face and my white sweater (yeah, stupid choice). While I was getting him cleaned up, Elliott dug around in my purse for toys. Oliver toddled off yet again. While I was fetching Oliver, Elliott managed to spread out four or five items on the chairs and floor, some more embarrassing than others. And during all of this, I occasionally had to answer a question or two at the desk.

Finally, we haggled a bit more and they gave me the reduced fees. We gathered our stuff, lured Oliver to the elevator and trudged out. In one short hour, I was wiped out. I felt as if I had no control and I could not think straight. When an adult asked me a question, my mind was swimming with all my children’s issues. After that, I decided I wanted coffee and a cookie so off we went. I felt I needed that to continue the day.

I used to see parents juggling stuff and feel a bit of pity but also a bit of arrogance. Surely, that would not be me. I would have it all together. Today I felt I was the one being pitied by the other parents who watched this all unfold. And I really see now that until my children move out, I will not be as punctual, ordered or calm as I once was. Is this just one part of the price of raising children? I guess the positive of a morning like this – it could have been worse, much worse. No dirty diapers, no throwing up, no hurt children, no tantrums. Oh the list goes on of things I am thankful we did not have happen this morning!

oh, sanity

Oh, Sanity! Where have you been?

A weekend of peace and self-determined plans gave me an ounce if it back.

The weeks leading up to this trip had me thinking a great deal about a person’s need for breaks, regardless of gender or their job. I was rather bothered and, the more I thought about it, angry to realize some people (um, other husband’s) would be bothered by the idea of their spouse vacationing without them, even to the point of fighting or not allowing it. After a simple bit of logic with my spouse, he agreed that I should take a break. I pointed out that he had been a numerous trips lately for days at a time and I would appreciate the time to myself – to sleep without interruption, to eat a meal without getting up and down to serve anyone, to do a few activities of my choosing for as long as I like, to use the bathroom without having to worry about what a little toddler was exploring. And like that a promise was made for a whole week!

Sure there are lots of concerns. Can the family financially manage it? Can the other spouse take time to care for the children? And if those are issues, such as they were and are for us, the trip can be (and was) shorter. Or childcare can be found so it may not necessarily be the spouse watching over the children. But beyond these issues, I have tried to figure out why it would ‘not fly’ in other people’s homes, as one person said to this idea. Why? Because it money spent on one person and the other misses out? Because a spouse might cheat? Because a spouse thinks that the other one is not working that hard at their job? Would the feelings be the same if it was the husband wanting a mini-vacation or day away alone? Everyone working either a ‘real’ job or who is home with kids (or both!) works hard. And if someone wanted to cheat, they would find the time one way or another. Really, what real reasons can someone give for a flat-out refusal to a request for a break? Serious. Maybe I am overlooking something… Any reasons out there I am overlooking?

Sanity savers are important for everyone. Yes, everyone! Mike and I have found ways to exchange time with each other so we each feel we get time to ourselves or with friends. I have Sunday knit nights with the ladies after the kids are in bed. He goes golfing occasionally on Saturday mornings with a friend. If I want to run an errand alone, he will play with the boys. And this time, since he had business yet relaxing trips alone, I got a weekend to myself.

I finally settled on a weekend at a country B&B, Tryon Farm Guest House. I shopped at every antique shop I could find, visited Lake Michigan, and changed my plans on a whim if I wanted.

 

driving north through Indiana

Most of my highlights are my feelings of concern being let go. While shopping at my first antique shop, I kept feeling the ‘pull’ of children. Typically I cannot linger to take in all a shelf has to offer or I have to pass all the breakable nooks. I had to shake that feeling off and realize I could take as little or as much time as I wanted, looking wherever I was interested. Later on the trip, when I decided to pull off to a trail head, I just did it. I did not have to be concerned that it was 5:00 and the children would be hungry. Typically, on a family trip, we would have had to either plan the trip out better to have food with us or miss stopping right then. Because I could go on a whim, I felt such a rush making my way up the dune and saw a great sunset.

 

antique shop in Chesterton, Indiana

The trip was also time for me to reflect on my family, myself, and everyone else in the world. Oh, I know that sounds big, but when one can follow their ideas uninterrupted, you can get beyond the day-to-day picture and mull over bigger issues. Time to reflect is good. And again I will say it – it is good for everyone.

 

near the Tryon Farm Guest House, Michigan City, Indiana

My highlights of the trip:

  • lounging in a feather bed in the morning
  • having an utterly beautiful gourmet breakfast prepared for me and not having to worry over the prep or dishes
  • finding some sweet treasures – bead stringing beads for Elliott, a wool blanket to keep Oliver warm, an apron and bracelet for me, a lovely ornament to add to our unique holiday collection, and more interesting cloth napkins for everyday use
  • finding utterly smooth rocks at the lake to admire or make into rock houses, people and animals for the boys (uh, yes, rocks for Christmas!)
  • running up Mount Baldy at dusk at Indiana Dunes to catch the sunset shimmering on Chicago’s buildings
  • grabbing a late night chicken marsala dinner at a little Italian joint and watching it made from my table (I saw the mushrooms chopped, I saw them coat my chicken!) and savoring each bite
  • seeing alpacas up close and taking home a small bit of them (in the form of handspun yarn!)
  • trying and loving a small town café’s invented Honey Nut Latte

 

 beads for Elliott

rocks at Lake Michigan

Mount Baldy with Chicago in the distance

Here is hoping everyone gets the break they need and deserve.

(Oh, and on a totally separate note… my smart phone saved me so many times when I got lost, when I needed a place to eat, when I wanted to find coffee or antiques. Normally I curse my dependence, but my phone proved its worth this trip.)

my little ballet boy

Tonight I was quite torn on how to help Elliott. After his tap and ballet class (with a surprising healthy mix of boys and girls), we went to buy new dance slippers. His tap shoes fit well, but his dance slippers needed to be bigger. Since I just bought girl’s dance slippers at Meijers last time, off we went. Once we found them and figured out he was a size L, it seemed simple. There was pink and black. I grabbed black. But he stopped me, saying he wanted pink.

Before I go on, I will clarify my feelings on boys and pink. I actually have no real issues with little boys (or men) wearing pink, liking pink, and so forth. But I am very aware of other people’s feelings on little boys and pink and how they may have influenced their children’s feelings on pink.

So, I did not flat-out refuse, but I did not just toss the pink slippers in the cart either. We talked about it. I asked him why he wanted pink and he explained he saw others in class wear pink and he liked pink. I explained that often boy dancers wore black, but he could do what he wanted. Still he wanted pink. And then I got to the heart of my concern. I explained that other children might say something to him. Would he feel okay and want to keep wearing them? (See, my financial side kicked in too. I did not want to be back at Meijers after the next class buying black slippers.) He insisted he wanted them. Part of me wonders if he sensed the bit of rebellion in choosing them too, since he said it with such a big grin. But, regardless, now we own pink satiny slippers for dance class.

When he first said pink, I thought to my friend Jennifer who strongly supports her children’s decisions and think about how confident and in control it must make them, to make decisions for themselves and know they are supported regardless. I want to be that parent. But I also want to shield my child from nasty cruel remarks or even just snickers, mainly because I am worried it will destroy his confidence in his own decisions. I know – it is a lot wrapped up in dance shoes! And children overcome so much. But I guess that is part of being a parent. I just hope I found the best way to handle it tonight.

« Older entries