With kids returning to school the last couple of weeks I'm seeing a bunch of postsonhomeschooling blogs about how to keep toddlers busy. It makes sense - the big kid and the parent need to do lessons, but what is the little kid supposed to do?
There are no big kids being homeschooled in our home, but this parent still needs chunks of time during the day to do other things. Sometimes just time to make dinner! I noticed recently that I have been turning more and more to iPhone and iApp games to distract The Bean when I needed a few minutes, but I have mixed feelings about doing that. The science on the subject is unclear but what I see happening is that she gets hyper-focused on the screen. She doesn’t respond to my voice or other things going on in the room. The more she uses the device the more she wants it, but the more time she spends playing games the more quickly she loses interest in them. Not that she wants to put the device away, she just wants it to do more, something else, something more interesting. And when it doesn’t she gets very frustrated. This all looks like addictive behavior to me and I don’t want to feed that. It is one thing when I'm sitting right next to her and interacting with her, but when I'm trying to get my hand free this just doesn't feel like the best way to do it.
So I’ve been reading up on toddler busy bags (check out my Pinterest board where I’ve been collecting ideas) and various activities appropriate for a smart and curious 19 month old. I’ve been specifically looking for things that I can make with stuff I already have around the house. I few weeks ago I made an I-spy bottle out of an old water bottle, some rice and some plastic farm animals, which was only semi-successful. She carries it around the house sometimes but hasn’t quite figured out how to manipulate it to see the different animals.
Last night, after she was done with dinner but not ready for bed yet (but mama was!) I pulled a plastic tub out of the recycling and cut a hole in the lid. I got a handful of various-sized puff-balls and showed her how to fit one of them through the hole. That was all she needed!
This simple toy entertained her for more than half an hour - ages longer than any iDevice has kept her attention!
First she put all the little balls into the tub. Then I showed her that the lid came off and she dumped the puffs out and fed them back through the hole again. Then she spent some time figuring out how the lid worked. Then she started sorting the puffs into different parts of her highchair tray. Then she put them all back in the tub by the handful and pouring them out again. Then we talked about what colors the balls were and how some were bigger than others. She selected her favorite - a large purple one - and put the rest back in the tub.
At that point she was finally ready get in pajamas so I put the toy away, but she carried that little purple puff ball all the way to the bedroom and still had it clutched in her fist when I moved her, sound asleep, from my lap to her bed.
Have you found simple ativities like this that your toddlers love? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!
I’ve been reading the blog More With Less and thinking about freedom. The kind of freedom that comes with simplicity, with letting go of things. Physical things, like belongings; financial things, like debt and credit cards; and emotional things, like relationships that are toxic or limiting.
Simplicity, for some people, is relatively easy. I used to work with a guy who sold or gave away nearly everything he owned and moved across the country with only what fit in the back of his pickup truck. After that experience, he just didn't have a desire to collect stuff the way he used to. I have read about people who practice extreme simplicity, such as only owning 100 things, or only what will fit in a backpack.
I admire people who do things like that but I am not one of them. I'm far closer to the other extreme. Not a hoarder, but a collector of stuff. Far more stuff than I knew was useful or than I believed was beautiful (to quote William Morris). I lived alone for several years in a three-bedroom house and every room had stuff in it. The excess of it disgusted me - how could one person need so much stuff? But at that time I just didn't know where to start with it. So many of the things I owned had emotional weight to them. They were given to me by people no longer in my life, or represented a life I wished that I was living or that I had lived before and hadn't quite let go of yet.
I knew letting go would feel freeing, so why did I hold on so tight? My stuff felt like a weight that was leashing me to my past. I was being dragged down by things I no longer wanted. By possessions that carried stories about who I was that were no longer relevant. I was holding on to straggling pieces of lives I was no longer living. Even though I wanted to be free of all that I was also scared to sever the tether. Letting go of who I was without knowing who I was becoming was terrifying.
Having a child was a powerful catalyst in my life. Since The Bean entered the world it has become so much easier to release my old lives. There is now a dividing line between who I was and who I now am. It is easier to visualize what I might find time for in my life, now or in the future, and easier to identify what simply does not fit.
Many of the things that used to feel so heavy with memories have suddenly become just objects with no particular emotional weight. I have given away long lists of things through my local Freecycle list and dropped of several car trunk loads at Goodwill. There are still a few items that I'd really like to let go of but I haven't yet found homes for, but this weekend I said goodbye to something that felt huge.
I sold my motorcycle.
I loved that bike at one time, but I have not ridden it in probably 10 years. It has been sitting in the middle of my garage, taking up a considerable amount of space and slowly leaking fluids and dropping pieces of disintegrating plastic on the floor. I cannot see myself ever wanting to ride a motorcycle again. But it took me years to be willing to let go of the physical proof that once I was someone who rode a motorcycle. Recently I realized that just didn't matter to me any more.
I sold it for a laughably low price to someone who intends to replace the high mileage engine (if I'm calculating the mileage right, I put over 20K miles on that bike!), fix up the body and resell it. I hope he does. It was a really fun ride and it makes me very happy to know that someone else might get a chance to ride it and love it again.
The mid-day counter collection. Snack bowl, sippy cup and the cat-deterrent device. The lens that got left in the car and finally migrated in. Drawing paper. Bean's iPhone. A quiet monitor. A moment of stillness to observe this moment of my life.
Last week we went to an open house at a Waldorf-style preschool. The main room was filled with wooden toys - trains and treehouses and a rocking horse with a woolen mane. The walls were draped with naturally-dyed silks and hung with art projects made of dried leaves, sticks and seed pods. There was a toy kitchen with little aprons, a full set of miniature mixing bowls and spoons and a basket of wooden eggs and colorful vegetables. The nap room smelled of lavender floating in dim filtered blue light from the lacy curtains. The Bean dove right in to play, clambored all over the kid-sized furniture, and cried hard when it was time to go.
When we arrived back home I gazed balefully around my living room, noting all the ways it didn't live up to the serene environment at the school.
I was the kind of mother who would use cloth diapers, follow attachment parenting principles, only buy wooden toys, and breastfeed on demand until sometime in toddler hood. I was the kind of mother who would journal daily about the experience of motherhood, have a detailed, heirloom quality baby book, and dress my child in hand-knitted and hand-sewn clothing. My child would be clean, never have a snotty nose, and I would not tolerate tantrums in the grocery store. My daughter would not wear pink or play with princesses or Barbies, and my son would have a baby doll and a shopping cart. No guns or other violent toys would be allowed for either gender.
Oh, the naiveté of the uninitiated.
Do you know how much work cloth diapers are? How expensive wooden toys are? How annoying it can be to nurse a squirmy toddler when she only wants to snack? Do you know how cute pink hats with big flowers are? When did I think I would have the time to hand-make my child's clothes?
It is good to make parenting choices thoughtfully. But I have found a balance of realism helps my sanity.
I do consider carefully what foods I feed my daughter and usually choose organic and fresh. But Goldfish really are the perfect toddler snack-on-the-go.
I'm still nursing at 15 months and have no plans to wean soon, but I re-direct to her sippy cup when I need my personal space or it is the third or fifth time she's asked to nurse in an hour. We co-slept until her squirming and grabbing was making me lose too much sleep. I am really grateful for my less-interrupted sleep and I really relish our early morning cuddles when she moves from the crib back to our bed.
I am thoughtful about the toys that come into this house, but they are not all made of wood and some of them have batteries. I don't allow any that don't have off switches and the ones that have volume controls are all set to "low." There are very few character products, but Pooh and a couple of Blues Clues softies can be found in evidence. I'm still holding firm on Barbie and the princesses. But if the Bean really really wants a tiara and a tutu when she's bigger, I'd probably let her have them. Countered, of course, with copies of books like Cinder Edna, The Princess Knight, and the Paper Bag Princess. And a sturdy pair of OshKosh overalls.
I'm glad my daughter likes to dig in the dirt and explore her surroundings, but that means she gets dirty. She wears mostly cotton and I just do a bit more laundry. I'm pretty zealous about keeping her face and her nose clean, but sometimes a little crustiness can't be helped.
The part of me that wishes to be a perfect mom wishes my house echoed that lovely preschool. But I also realize that is unrealistic for my real life. It is good to have something to strive toward, but the space I have created is good. Very good, in fact. I am glad that there are preschools like the one we visited where she could go and be nurtered differently, but in concert, with the way we live at home.
In motherhood, as in my life before, I am always in search of balance. When my daughter was new the piece of advice I heard most often was, "Become comfortable with change." Seeking balance in an environment that is constantly changing can be infuriating. Or it can become a dance.
Has the spring cleaning bug got you? But you are feeling overwhelmed and don't know where to start? Here are 10 cleaning and clearing tips that are designed to help your home and your head feel clear, fresh, and oh, so springy.
Clean Your Fridge
How many times a day do you look in the refrigerator? A lot, right? Make it a happy place. Throw out the expired condiments, questionable vegetables and bread bags containing only heels. Wipe down the shelves and pull out the drawers and wash them. If this project feels daunting, tackle it one shelf, one drawer at at time. Open a fresh box of baking soda and put it in the back to keep it smelling fresh.
Clear Off The Counter
While you are in the kitchen, give your counters a once over. What appliances have taken up residence but aren't being used? Can you store them in a cabinet or a closet instead? Are your spices fresh? Replace the sponge in your sink and wash the counter under the dish drainer. Tidy up the papers around the phone and answering machine (if you still have those), and clear out the take out menus, receipts and random pieces of mail that have collected.
Get With the Season
Clear out any seasonal decor that is still hanging around the house (is that Santa still on the mantle?). Bring in some fresh flowers or other spring decorations. Fertilize your house plants or bring some in if you don't have any. Leafy plants clean the air which makes them great for bedroom and offices.
Clear Your Calendar
Take a look at your calendar for the next month, or through the summer. What activities make you feels like "Yes!"? Keep those. Review what's left and see what you can cancel, decline, or otherwise get out of. Now sit down with your family and make a "Want To Do" list for the summer together. Mark those things in on your newly spacious calendar.
Give your Closet a Once-Over
Get rid of winter clothes you didn't wear all season and summer clothes that don't fit or you don't feel great in. Mend the items with missing buttons and take anything that needs to be altered to the tailor. Review your bags and shoes and get rid of or repair anything that isn't in functional contidion.
Dump Your To-Do List
After a few months my running to-do list gets a bit long in the, well, length. Sit down with your list and a red pen. Is there stuff on there you are not really going to get around to? Delete it. Stuff you need to do but can’t get going on? Make sure you know the real next action is or just eat that frog and get it done.
Clean Out the Medicine Cabinet
Get rid of expired medications, completed prescriptions, and outdated makeup. Toss or give away lotions, unopened bars of soap, or hair products that you aren't going to use. Replace your toothbrush and clean your hairbrush. Repair or get rid of broken or mismatched jewelry.
Make a List of House Projects
Homeowners quickly learn that the joy of owning a house is the never-ending list of repairs and improvements. But do you know the next five things you want to tackle? They might be big like getting the roof replaced, or small like weeding the side yard. Review the list with your spouse, write it down and post it where you will see it regularly. Be sure to cross them off as you tackle them!
Clean off Your Desk
Or wherever your important (and not so important) papers gather. File what you need to keep, recycle or shred what you can get rid of. Now that tax season is over, review your financial papers and get rid of what you don't need to retain. Recycle the magazines and newspapers that may be accumulating and give the nice clear surface a wipe down. If dealing with papers is a weak area for you, check out this great workshop by Aby Garvey of Simplify 101.
Make a Vision Board or Inspiration Wall
Collect images, words, or symbols that represent the qualities you want in your life, your goals, or things that make you happy. (Hint: pull some pages out of those magazines you had collected before you recycle them!) Hang it somewhere you will see it often. Visualizing the life you want to live is a powerful way to create change and bring what you want into your life.
If you can do all, or even just a few of these things, you will have created space in your home, your head, and your heart for new, good stuff to flow in.
It isn't quite canning season but I have all these jars so I was wondering what else I could do with them while I wait for the berries and stone fruits to ripen up. And lo, this post was born. 10 things you can do with Mason Jars:
1. Make Butter
Since my friend Veronica posted recently about making butter in Mason jars, I've been wanting to make some at home. When I was a kid we would do this with my mom. It is surprisingly easy, and makes really really good butter. I also found some flavored butter recipes that I'd like to try.
2. Candle holders for the garden
Here is a how-to for a straightforward hanging candle holder made from a Mason Jar. This version, all in a row, is lovely, but I can't figure out how it was assembed and there are no instructions.
I have been cooking dinner with Bean at my feet for a while now. She has a set of play food and play pans and access to the tupperware cabinet. But as she gets taller and more inquisitive, I've been getting more and more nervous about her roaming the kitchen below hot pans and near a hot oven. Her dad doesn't get home from work early enough to help distract her during this window of time, so I needed another solution.
I read about the Fun Pod on Liz Lamoreux's blog recently. Her daughter is just a little older than mine and at about the same developmental stage. A couple of local mom friends with slightly older toddlers have the Learning Tower, but I was worried about the open sides. Bean isn't quite walking yet, and I was afraid she'd slip and fall out. Or climb in when I didn't want her to have access to the counter. Also it has a huge footprint and I do not have a large kitchen.
The Fun Pod was exactly what I was looking for. It allows Bean to be up at counter height with me, safely, and only when I want her there because she can't climb in and out on her own. It is sturdy and stable, but small enough that I'm not tripping over it. It is short enough to fit under the counter when not in use. The Pod can be adjusted as she gets taller so it should be useful until she is several years old.
Our kitchen isn't arranged in a way that allows her to be very close while I'm actually cooking, though I have let her play in the sink behind me once and I imagine it will be great for her to help me clean up when she's a bit bigger. Usually I set her up on the opposite side of our penninsula, in the dining room, but facing me. She can color, play with blocks, or eat a snack while I cook. She's not underfoot, is safe from the hot stuff, and can see me. She also asks to get in throughout the day so she's in and out of the thing all day.
I'm cheap when it comes to baby stuff. With the exception of her car seat, I've managed to source almost all of her big items free (from friends or freecycle) or used and cheap. But I'm really glad I invested in this item brand new. We use it so often, and will be using it for years.
I had such good intentions of writing every single day this month. And I started strong. I was enjoying it, the quest to find a topic every day, practicing the muscle of finding the words to pin down my thoughts. It felt good. And the exercise was helping me to shake out new ideas, more each day than I could use so that I could string them forward into other projects, next month, set aside for when I had more time to dig deeper.
But then my grandfather died and I dropped everything and flew to Canada. And then I brought the flu home with me and the whole household has been staggering under it. And then the rains came and I feel my energy winding down. And here I sit in the middle of the last full week of the month and wonder what happened to November.
I love and hate you, November. This is the month that starts out warm and cozy and ends cold and wheezing. It always goes faster than I expect and then the holidays are upon me and I'm unprepared. My birthday is at the end but I'm always so worn out by the time it arrives that I just want it over and done with so I can sleep. And by the time I catch my breath again it is the middle of December and Christmas is looming and I haven't planned gifts and the ones that need to be mailed are already late and I decide yet again that I won't be doing cards this year and I swear that next year I will be more organized and more prepared and more rested and it will be better.
I don't think my skidding slide to the end of the year actually has anything to do with poor organization or lack of preparedness. My energy is low these months and it always will be. I plan too much and my expectation are too high and I cannot keep up with it all. Perhaps I have not fully adjusted my expectations to my energy level. Perhaps I still hold on to things I think I should be doing rather than things I want to do. Do I really want to make and send Christmas cards? Maybe a little. But more I would like to make cookies with my family and have an ornament-making craft night, and have quiet evenings with a fireplace and a movie and my knitting. I want to savor this season and not fight it so much every year.
I am hosting Thanksgiving this year and it will be potluck. I'm having to let go, over and over, of the idea of the perfect meal I *could* cook and keep myself to the two dishes I said I would make. Others can bring the rest. I could make amazing stuffing but it would take me all day to make and make me too tired to enjoy the meal. The part I want is the community around the table, a glass of wine in my hand, laughter flowing. Let the stuffing go. Let go. Let go. Let go.