Monday Musings

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I have trouble with Mondays.

You’d think that as a stay-at-home parent, Mondays wouldn’t be as difficult.  I mean, it’s not like I have to get up and get out the door for another work week.  But they’re still…. hard.  Having to get back to the real world after having had a partner home all weekend, having to get back to adulting after what was (ideally anyway) a weekend of fun, having to get the housework back under control, and having to finally deal with all the emails and appointments and grownup things I’ve put off as long as I can.  The to-do list looms large, and the energy with which to tackle it is low.

So, I decided to try something new, and purge all the random Monday thoughts that are distracting me into a nice, tidy little blog post.  (And maybe some of you would like to Monday Muse with me??)

Here then are five random things that are cluttering my brain this Monday morning*, and keeping me from Doing All The Things.

1.  I’m even more sleep-deprived than normal, because I was up multiple times with the dog with diarrhea.  (To be clear, the dog has diarrhea, not me)  It might have been five times, but it could have been seven or eight.  I sort of stopped counting after the third or fourth time.

2.  I almost pulled down my Facebook page four separate times this weekend.  I’m working hard to not be so quick with my trigger finger, and instead take a step back for some perspective before I react.  Because ironically, this is a season that I was all set to spend more time on my blog, not less.  And taking out the whole Facebook piece would not have been very helpful in that regard.

3.  I’ve been on an elimination diet for a month now, both as a last ditch effort before I see another doctor who tells me, “I don’t know what the heck is wrong with you, but I’d be happy to refer you to a specialist”, and in response to all the friends and family who keep telling me that I just need to eat better.  For over four weeks now, I’ve had no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no soy, no nuts, no citrus, no caffeine, no alcohol, no red meat…  Basically, I’ve purposely been avoiding some of my very favorite things.  The impact it’s had on my symptoms?  Zero. No change whatsoever.  Does that sound grumpy?  It’s because I’m grumpy.  I blame it on the lack of caffeine.  And frustration.  But mostly the caffeine.

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4.  I’ve been walking.  I can’t do anything more strenuous than walking at the moment, and actually, there are for sure days where even walking is too much. But if I can do it, I do it.  I like walking, especially if I can do it in the desert.  A half an hour alone in the desert with my headphones, and I’m like a new person.  I like to walk with Mike too, but since walking’s my therapy, I tend to vent slash complain slash verbally spew on him when we’re walking so it might not be as fun for him as it is for me.

5.  20160314_174904I had a problem.  I was running out of space for my books.  I cull them as often as I can, but you know, some books you just NEED to keep.  I told Mike my problem, and last weekend we went to Ikea for a new bookshelf.  I obviously still have a lot of books to transfer over, but I am taking my time, dusting everything off, getting it all organized.  The project has made me sublimely happy.

How nice if all problems were so easy to solve!

*  I started this post at about 7:00 in the morning, and it’s now after 6:00 in the evening.  Because… Mondays.  But tomorrow is Tuesday and I’m home all day.

I have big plans to play Minecraft with my girl, and eventually I’ll start looking at that to-do list.

After a good night’s sleep with hopefully a whole lot less diarrhea.

 


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An Open Letter to Candace Cameron Bure

Fun fact: I write letters to people in my head. A lot. I’ve done it for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid (back in the dark ages before email and internet), the ones that absolutely needed to get out of my brain and onto paper were carefully written on a piece of loose leaf that I took from my Trapper Keeper, folded up, and stored in a little pencil box whose only purpose in life was to house all the Important Letters That Aren’t Actually Meant To Be Sent.

These days, those letters might be written in a journal or, in some cases, become a blog post.

The following has been rattling around my head since Candace Cameron Bure’s new show, Fuller House, debuted on Netflix. Or, to be more accurate, since her armchair critics started raising their collective voices. It’s been screaming at me, and keeping me up at night. So, in an effort to quiet my own voices (and hopefully to spare my poor husband yet another “You know what the Christians are doing now??” diatribe), here it is in its entirety. Hopefully in a more coherent format than that the exists in my head.

Dear Candace,

I grew up watching Full House on TV. To be fair, I grew up watching a LOT of shows on TV, but Full House was one I distinctly remember, and remember fondly. I remember your changing hairstyles – and all the hairspray that kept them that way. I remember Kimmy Gibbler. I remember Uncle Joey and his voices, Danny and his obsessive cleaning tendencies, and Uncle Jesse and that song he would sing to Rebecca. I remember Stephanie’s “How rude!” and Michelle’s “You got it, dude!” I remember an episode that hinted at your character developing an eating disorder. I remember your sweet relationship with Steve. I remember the episode with your cousin Steve too, because for some reason I always get a little bit excited when real-life family members guest star on each other’s shows.

It was silly, and light, and I enjoyed it. Good family fun.

I watched it with my own kids too, particular my daughter, so she was very excited when Fuller House was announced. We both followed you (and your lovely daughter) on social media, so we felt like we knew you by the time it aired.

We blitzed through all the available episodes in just a couple of days. My review – greatly summed up because it really isn’t the point of this letter:

It was fun and goofy. I liked that it relied heavily on nostalgia, that it didn’t take itself too seriously, and that it wasn’t afraid to break the fourth wall. My daughter and I both enjoyed it.

And then I started to see the comments. Oh my word, the comments. Not aimed at the show, but aimed at YOU specifically, for daring to be part of it. The skimpy outfits! The sexual innuendos! The drinking! The cursing! The dancing with Kimmy! And the worst part: the personal judgments. The “I’m so disappointed in you”; the “How can you call yourself a Christian?”; the “You need to repent for this”; the “You’ve sold out to the world”; the “You’re nothing but a hypocrite.” That kind of self-righteous stuff makes me crazy, and is exactly the reason I’ve distanced myself from mainstream Christianity. And I can’t really understand it either. I mean, if you don’t like the show…. don’t watch it. Easy peasy, right? Why make it personal? Why attack someone?

And as a side note, I still haven’t figured out what people mean when they complain about cursing. Unless they mean Jesse in the first episode when he said, “Damn, we still look good.” And c’mon. Let’s be honest. Damn, John Stamos DOES still look good (as do all the rest of you). And since I’m being real… if I had Jodie Sweetin’s breasts, I’d want to show them off too.

But I digress.

In the grand tradition of promoting what you love instead of bashing what you hate, I don’t want this to be about “those” people at all. I really don’t. I want it to be about you. As I said earlier, I have followed you on social media for a long time, and have read your books. You are one of the few people in the public eye that I think of when I think of someone “walking the walk.” The way you live out your faith is admirable, and the amount of grace with which you deal with the backlash is amazing. I so respect the way you handle yourself in such an unforgiving industry, and have learned so much from you in following your journey.

Interestingly, we seem to have very little in common… our parenting philosophies, our political views, our theological beliefs are all markedly different. The thing we share though? The only thing that really matters? Our love for Jesus. Our desire to live our lives in a Christ-like way. There are so few prominently Christian people that I follow online, particularly conservative Christians (sorry), mainly because of so many people’s overzealous need to preach. And often, to judge. But you don’t preach. You don’t judge. You just… you just live it. You love people. You practice kindness. You practice grace. You’re real, and honest, and are exactly the kind of Christ-follower that I aspire to be.

And that’s all I really wanted to say. In the midst of the judgment and the nasty comments and the hatred veiled in Christian love: keep doing what you’re doing.

You’re wonderful. And a little cleavage and a scene with tequila shots doesn’t change that.


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The Best Sites For Taking Surveys And Making Money Online

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Once upon a time, I had a blog where I talked about paying off our debt.  The blog still exists, but it’s largely neglected now.  Partly because we’ve been credit card debt-free for awhile now, but also just because my attention’s been elsewhere.  One of the things that I liked to post about was ways I found to either save a little money, or make a little money…. without having to actually put on real clothes or leave the house.   One of my favorite things to do was sign up at those (free) survey sites, where you can take surveys, sample products, read emails, etc, and get paid for it.  I had it down to a real science, and was actually making a bit of consistent money from it.  But then, you know…. life interfered.  Well, lately I’ve been working on a big project, and when I work on big projects I need lots of breaks. I (sadly) usually aimlessly wander around Facebook when I need to rest my brain. But Facebook, despite all its benefits and social engagement is a HUGE time-suck, and it’s not always the most productive use of my time – especially during election season, amiright? So I recently decided to go back to my survey sites, and actually get paid for twiddling around the internet.  It’s great for when I’m watching TV and/or just need a few minutes to decompress.

I am constantly adding new ones, but these are some of my favorites.  It works best if you sign up to a whole bunch, because then you can pick and choose what you want to do, and there is literally money to be made daily.  You do get a lot of emails, so it’s nice to either use a different email than your primary one, or set up a folder just for survey mail.  I use gmail, so I set a filter that allows them to skip my inbox – so they don’t clutter it up – and go straight into their own dedicated folder.  Then, when I have some time to work on them, I can open the folder and have them all in one place.

There are two types of sites on this list….. the first are sites that have surveys, but also pay you for a bunch of other internet activities, such as searching, watching videos, playing games, reading emails, viewing ads, signing up for newsletters, etc.  There is always something to do to make money, which means that those sites are generally a little busier and flashier, with more going on.  If that’s not your thing, the second list contains straight survey sites, that just send out emails when there’s a new survey available.

By the way, all of these are 100% free to join.  (Never sign up for one that isn’t)

Here’s the list!

 

Swagbucks  – I looooove Swagbucks!  I cash in my points for a $5 Amazon gift card every few days.  You can cash out with even less if you want.  You can get points for surveys, searching, viewing ads, viewing videos, playing games, signing up for offers, shopping… and they also give you daily codes for extra points just because!  And if you meet your daily goal, you get bonus points.  Plus, the more days in a row you meet your goal, the more bonus points you get.  Love, love, love it.

Inbox Dollars  –  Like Swagbucks, Inbox Dollars rewards you for a whole bunch of different things.  They give you a few cents (which sounds silly, but adds up quickly) just for confirming that you opened their emails.   And you get $5.00 just for signing up!  With Inbox Dollars, you can cash out once you’ve reached $30.

Send Earnings  – Send Earnings is set up exactly like Inbox Dollars, including the $5.00 bonus for signing up, and the $30 minimum for cashing out.

Cash Crate  – When you go to the Cash Crate site, you can go through nice organized lists of everything they currently have to offer, from surveys, to offers, to shopping, to bonuses.   You can request a check once you’ve reached $20.

Treasure Trooper  – Like the others, Treasure Troopers pays for a whole bunch of different activities like surveys, games, completing offers, etc.  They give you $1 free just to sign up, and you can cash out at $20.  The whole site is built around a treasure/pirate theme, which you may find fun or you may find totally annoying, but it’s easy to rack up money quickly if you visit them daily.

Quick Rewards  – Another favorite, Quick Rewards does what its name promises, and allows you to earn money quickly in a variety of ways.  One of the cool things about them is that there is no minimum to cash out.  If you’ve earned $2, and you want it… you can get it. One caveat to Quick Rewards is that they send a LOT of emails, so definitely make sure you’ve set something up so they don’t clutter your inbox.

Earning Station – I am still new to Earning Station, but they’ve been great so far.  You earn points called Station Dollars, and you are able to redeem them (for a variety of gift cards) once you reach 1000 SD ($10)

———-

These are the more straight-survey sites:

 

Toluna – I’m still pretty new to Toluna too, but it looks to be a great site, and I’ve already earned several hundred points.  You can cash in your points for either gift cards (to a variety of places), or use them to enter drawings and sweepstakes.

Panel Place – Panel Place is a nice, clean-looking, easy to understand site.  They reward you in points, which you can then cash in for a Paypal payment.

Clear Voice Surveys – I love Clear Voice.  I seem to qualify for surveys with them more often than some of the others, and even when you don’t qualify, they still give you a little bit of money just for trying.   You can cash out once you’ve hit $10 (which you can do pretty quickly), and you can choose between a pre-paid Mastercard debit card, an Amazon gift card, or a restaurant gift card.

Ipsos I-Say – I-Say is a nice site that rewards you with points that you can redeem for things like Starbucks cards, Amazon cards, and restaurant cards.  One cool thing about them is that you can also choose to have your points go towards a charity!

Survey Savvy – Super clean and simple site.  They will email you an invitation when they have a survey available.  They pay by check, and you can request a check for as little as $1.

My Survey – The cool thing about My Survey, which rewards with you with both points and sweepstakes entries, is that it gives you a TON of options on how you’d like to redeem your earnings.  You can cash them in for products, gift cards, e-certificates, vouchers, and cash.

Opinion World – Like My Survey, you can redeem the points you’ve earned by taking surveys for a whole bunch of different things, from gift cards, to vouchers, to cash paid through Paypal.  Another nice feature is that you can adjust the frequency of which you get their emails.

Say Bucks – Say Bucks pays between $2 and $10 per survey, and you can cash out through Paypal.  One nice thing about Say Bucks is that if you don’t qualify for a particular survey, it lets you keep trying until it finds you one that’s a match.

Paid Viewpoint – Paid Viewpoint is another nice, simple site that will email you when they have surveys available.  They give you $1.00 just for signing up.  One huge plus is that with Paid Viewpoint, you never get “screened out” of a survey.  Once you’ve started a survey, you’ll be able to complete it, and get paid.

Vindale Research – I love Vindale.  It’s just a nice, classy site, and as soon as you sign up you have an opportunity to earn $4 just by filling out your profile and taking the welcome survey.

Opinion-Central – Opinion Central rewards you points that you can then cash in for a variety of different items… from flash drives to calculators to cappucino machines and iPods.

Mindfield Online – Mindfield is another nice, simple site that emails you when it has surveys available, and then pays through cash.  You can cash out once you’ve reached a minimum of $5, and you can receive your money either by check or through Paypal.

And finally, these are a few that I only recently signed up with, so I don’t know much about them yet.  But they look promising, so I wanted to include them too!  :)

 

One Opinion

Zoom Panel

My View

 

Happy earning!!!

*Some of these included affiliate links*


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8 Awesome Things About Tegan

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Today this little princess turns eight.

I think in every family, whether you have one kid or twelve, everyone brings their own unique “je ne sais quoi” to the mix.   I’ve said it a hundred times (and will no doubt say it a hundred more), but what Tegan did was complete us.  She filled the Tegan-sized hole that we didn’t even know existed until we realized someone was missing.  Life with the three boys was so wonderful.  So fun.  So colorful.  But Tegan…. she brought the TECHNI-color.  She brought the glitter.  She brought the fireworks.  She brought the puffy hearts and rainbows.  And I thank God for every day she’s been a part of our lives.

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Here are just eight awesome things I love about her:

1. She’s confident.  She is so confidently, and unabashedly Tegan.  From the clothes she wears, to the things she does with her hair, to the selfies she takes, to the new adventures she tries every day… she jumps in with both feet, looks the world in the eye, and says, “Here I come.”   When people tell her her new haircut makes her look like a boy – which just happened again yesterday – she shrugs and tells them she loves it short.

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2. She never met a stranger.  By far the most extroverted of the four kids, Tegan makes friends with everyone she meets.  Not just superficial friends either, but best friends.  Older kids, younger kids, teens, adults; it doesn’t matter to her.  She spent a day at work with Mike last month, and when she got home, she was so excited to tell me about Viktoriya, his beautiful coworker with the fancy clothes and fun office, who gave her candy and became her new best friend and was “the sweetest person she ever met.”  She meets you, she finds the best and most lovable and most beautiful things about you.  Every time.

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3. She faces her fears. I originally wrote this as, “She’s fearless”, but then I realized that that wasn’t really the case.  Of course she has fears.  We all have fears.  What’s awesome about Tegan is that I’ve yet to see her fears or nervousness or uncertainty hold her back from anything she’s wanted to do.  She danced in front of 20,000 people, twice (and LOVED it);  she rode the loop coaster that terrified her (and LOVED it);  she’s started acting in plays (and LOVES it).   She’s brave and bold and doesn’t let anything stop her.

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4. She’s compassionate. She often makes me get well cards when I’m not feeling well (yesterday’s was complete with a drawing of her bringing me a cup of tea :)) She’s always thinking of her friends.  She wants the people around her to be happy.  She has such a huge heart for the people, and the animals – including the stuffed variety – that she loves,  and deeply cares about others’ feelings, comfort, and happiness.

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5. She’s affectionate.  She gives rogue hugs, she’s free with her kisses, and when she comes in bed with us, it’s always with an arm (or a leg, or a whole body) thrown with abandon over my back.

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6. She asks big questions. Oh boy, this girl.  She ponders the big things in life.  A car ride with Tegan often means conversations about heaven, life and death, prejudice, what makes a good friend, love, heartache, and everything in between.  She’s also the first of the four kids who insisted she not get a sugar-coated answer to where babies come from.

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7.  She loves performing. Singing, dancing, acting, improv, story telling.  Give her a stage (or a living room, or a closet, or a soapbox, or….) and she’s on it.  When she was younger, she was riding in the cart at Target, and suddenly started smiling, and waving, and blowing kisses all around us as I pushed her down the aisle.  I asked her what she was doing and she looked at me like I’d asked a really silly question and said, “I’m in a parade.  I’m waving to all my fans.”  This is a girl who does not mind if she’s the center of attention. When I was kid, I once hid under the table at my roller rink birthday party because I was so embarrassed that my party guests were singing to me.  Tegan would love it if the whole room was singing to her.

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8.  She’s a nut.  In a nutshell (see what I did there?), she is a goofy, crazy, ball of energy and one-liners, who loves to laugh and to make the people around her laugh as well.

She’s also a loyal friend, a doting daughter, and I couldn’t possibly love her more.

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Happy, happy birthday Tegan!  Thank you for choosing me to be your mom. I love you a million, billion, zillion.

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19 Awesome Things About Spencer

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Every year on my kids’ birthdays, I like to do a whole post just honoring them, and the awesomely weird and quirky and beautiful and wonderfully unique beings that they are. Last year, I made videos. In past years, I’ve written letters.

I’ve done lists like this before – one point for each year they’ve been earth-side – but I liked it so much I’m bringing it back.

Today our oldest, the one who made us parents, the one who overnight transformed our relationship from a couple to a family, turns nineteen. NINETEEN! While my mind reels at the fact that that can even by possible, my heart rejoices. My heart remembers… every story, every wound. Every joy, every heartache. All nineteen years – from hairy 5 1/2 pound newborn to (still hairy) young man – have woven together, their tapestry making up the very foundation of who I am as a mom, and by extension as a woman.

Like most moms, on most days of the year, the list of things I individually love about my kids is infinite. Today, on Spencer’s birthday, here are just nineteen:

1. He’s kind.  How could I not start the list here?  He has a huge, huge heart.

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2.  He’s loyal.  I aspire to be the kind of friend that Spencer is to everyone he meets.  Once you’re friends with Spencer, you not only have a friend who’d give you the shirt off his back… you have a friend for life.

3.  He’s enthusiastic about learning. It doesn’t matter if the subject at hand is politics or playing the drums or the engines he loves to diagnose and fix… he loves learning, and he does it eagerly.

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4.  He’s enthusiastic about LIFE.  An often uttered Spencer phrase is, “I’m so excited.”  It could be about any number of things, but it’s always genuine.  He’s a lover of life, and doesn’t shy away from showing it.

5. He feels things deeply. We joke in this house that Mike has no feelings, and I have ALL the feelings. The four kids all fall somewhere in between, with Spencer landing solidly in my camp.  Whether happy or sad, worried or excited, he wears his heart on sleeve, and I love that about him.

6.  He’s goofy.  He’s got the same corny, cheesy, goof-ball sense of humor he’s had since he was a kid.

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7.  He’s not afraid to love.  And I don’t just mean when he’s in a relationship kind of way.  I mean just overall, as a general rule, he puts his whole heart out there.   As someone who spent a good portion of her life putting up walls so I wouldn’t get hurt, I find his willingness awesome and admirable.

8.  He’s a good sport.  Living in our household means putting up with a whole lot of joking, craziness, and a mom who bursts into song multiple times a day.  He handles it all with aplomb.  It’s fair to say we sometimes drive each other crazy, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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9.  He works hard.  Whether it’s his online courses, yard work, or helping us run the conference, he works hard, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.

10.  He knows what he likes.  Not one to be influenced by fads or brands or what the masses say is “cool”, he has his own unique tastes and wonderfully quirky preferences, from the music he listens to, to the clothes he wears, to the things he watches on TV.  He couldn’t care less what anyone else thought about it.

11.  He’s interesting.  Here’s the thing about living with Spencer:  When he walks into the room, you don’t know what you’re going to get.  A fascinating tidbit he just read online?  An excited monologue about a new game that’s coming out?  A passionate rant about people who use “u r” instead of “You are”?  It’s always new, it’s often crazy, and it’s one of the most endearing things about him.  He’s like a walking party.

12.  He’s strong.  He’s had oral surgery, eye surgery, shoulder surgery (along with many many many dislocations) and he handles it all like a rock star, and he keeps on going.

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13.  He has a big personality.  Small in stature, and a hundred pounds soaking wet, his personality is just the opposite… unabashedly big and bold. When Spencer’s nearby, you know Spencer’s nearby.  He talks loudly, laughs freely, and generally buzzes with energy.

14.  He’s random.  He takes a lot of good-natured ribbing for this, but I don’t know anyone who can take a dinner conversation from music to snow mobiles to the UK (to everything in between) with as much skill as Spencer.   No need for segues.  If it crosses his mind, it comes out of his mouth.  :)

15.  He’s smart.  Ah, the humbling mom moment when you first realize your kids are smarter than you.  I think it’s so cool to see my kids surpass my knowledge in all sorts of different areas… for Spencer it’s everything from computers to problem solving to how things work.   And his MEMORY!  I’ve been in awe of his memory since he was very little.

16. He’s all in.  Just in case you haven’t gotten it by now, he is someone who is living life at 100%.  All the time.

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17.  He appreciates good food.  It is fun to have a kid to drink coffee with in the morning!  Beyond that, he has always, even from the time he was very little, has loved trying new and exotic foods, with a strong preference for seafood.  If there’s shrimp or crab legs or lobster anything on the menu… that’s where’s his eyes are going.

18.  He’s full of happy energy.  I’ve gotten so used to it that I tend not to notice it anymore until someone points out, but he is almost always in motion. Even when he’s standing still, he’s not still.  His legs are wiggling, he’s bouncing in place, his hands are going as he talks.    Almost like nervous energy, but it’s not. It’s HAPPY energy.  It just buzzes off him, and I wish it could be bottled and shared.

19.  He’s HIMSELF.  Is there anything better than this?  He’s awesome because he’s Spencer.

And I love him.  So, so much.  I’m so very thankful that I get to be his mom.


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Deschooling, And Being Okay With “Screen Time”

Photo credit: espensorvik

Photo credit: espensorvik

From an emailed question:

I am very new to unschooling- yesterday was my first day, and all the kids did is play our Wii. I have been homeschooling them their entire lives following a Charlotte MAson approach, and I found them fighting learning. But after living my whole life believing that too much screen time will rot your brain, this is a hard thing to accept. Could you help reassure me (and my husband) that things will be ok?

First, good for you for recognizing that something wasn’t working, and seeking out alternatives! That is a huge step that many don’t take, due to fear or uncertainty.

Second, I cannot stress enough how normal it is for a child (or for anyone) to temporarily binge on something that’s been previously limited.  If the Wii was something that they were only able to play at certain times or on certain days, it would be much more strange if they didn’t rush to play it as much as they could once that restriction was lifted!  Wiis are fun.  One thing that I see happen a lot is that parents will begin unschooling, panic about their kids’ electronic use, and then reinstate old rules and restrictions.  Then, when they try again, and their kids again spend huge amounts of time on said electronics, the parents throw up their hands and say, “See? This doesn’t work for us!  This happens every time!”  Well yes, of course it happens every time. When you limit or take away something – anything, whether it’s book or a skateboard or a video game – it becomes more desirable.  If a child has to worry about the next time that you’re going to take it away, of course they’re going to use it as much as they possibly can in the meantime. It’s human nature.

What’s happening right now – for you and your children both – is “deschooling.”  Stated simply, deschooling just means the period of adjustment needed to rid yourself of schoolish thoughts, of the misconception that learning is something that only happens at certain times in certain ways, of the belief that some things (ie:  books) hold more educational value than other things (ie: video games).  It’s a time to break out of old patterns, and to learn to trust yourself, trust your kids, and trust the process.   It’s a time to relax, and play, and read, and practice just being with your kids.  It’s a chance for your kids to learn that they can play the Wii if they want… or play outside or watch TV or read or draw or build something or bake… and that it’s all equally available.  The longer you and your children were involved in school, or traditional school-at-home, the longer the deschooling process will take.  Sandra Dodd has a large collection of deschooling links that will help.

As for the screen time:  “Screen time”, as overwhelmingly often as it is used, is a really odd and unhelpful term when you think about it.  It takes dozens… hundreds, an infinite amount… of different activities, and deduces them into one, often maligned and misunderstood, thing. Sure, screen time can mean video games.  It can mean entertainment.  It can mean work. It can mean play. It can mean communication. It can mean writing, creating, reading, researching.  None is better or worse than the other, and all have their own intrinsic value.  I’ve been out of bed for about two hours.  I watched a TV show on Netflix while I answered some emails.  I texted a friend.  I did some editing on my website.  I uploaded a picture.  I checked something on my bank account.  I read a chapter of a book on my Kindle.  I did a little writing (I’m still doing a little writing :)) I researched something I was talking about with one of my boys.  All “screen time.” My husband, who works as a budget and payroll director, is on his computer pretty much the entire time he’s at work.  9+ hours of screen time a day.

When it comes specifically to the Wii, or to video games in general, a lot of people would advise that you let them play as much as they want, and that they’ll eventually self-regulate.  There was a time I would have said the same thing.  But while I certainly agree with the first part (Yes! Absolutely, let them play as much as they want, especially right now while they’re deschooling) I’ve come to realize that when parents say, “self-regulate”, what they really mean is that they’re waiting for their children to play at a level that they, as the parents, are comfortable with. But it doesn’t work that way.  Or at least it shouldn’t.  Everybody is different, and every season is different, even for the same person.  Kids have different interests, different passions, different ways of learning, different ways of interacting with the world around them. Different from you, and different from each other.  They may go through seasons where they play a LOT of Wii, or watch a lot of TV, or read a lot of books, or play a lot of sports.   If unschooling, and unschooling well, is the ultimate goal, then the parent’s job is to support the children in all their pursuits… to help them, to encourage them, to ride the ebbs and flows of their interests with them… whether they’re interested in chemistry or makeup or history or art or beating the next level of their favorite video game.  When you stop looking at life through a schoolish lens, you see that there is no separation between “educational” and “non-educational” pursuits.  No distinguishing between learning and living.  It’s all life.  It’s all intertwined.  It’s all learning.

And finally, a little bit of testimony about what “screen time” looks like in an unschooling house, in a house that treats it the same as any other activity, with no more or no less value:

At the time of this writing, my kids are (soon to be) 8, 11, 15, and (soon to be) 19.   My 8 year old, and only girl, is the most extroverted of my kids by far, so the internet – and Skype in particular – has been a wonderfully helpful way for her to keep up with friends and family in between visits.  She recently got her own email account (www.tocomail.com – a great starter email for kids!) and she likes to email as well.  She has her own Kindle, and she loves taking pictures of herself and her family and her pets, and making little videos.  She goes in phases with video games.  Right now, she’s really enjoying an online game called Star Stable, that she plays with her cousin, and at various times with myself, my parents, and her aunt and uncle. Super fun.  She can take or leave movies most of the time, but she does like TV.  Some past favorites have been Good Luck Charlie, iCarly, and My Little Pony.  She’s also super physically active.  She loves dancing, jumping on the trampoline, and playing with the pets.  She just recently started rehearsing for a local homeschool theater company’s spring production.

My 11 year old loves cooperative games online, and he also enjoys keeping up with his long distance friends through messengers.  He likes YouTube, and has some favorites he watches regular.  He watches some TV and movies on Netflix, but the amount ebbs and flows.  He plays the bass guitar almost every day.  He also loves sports, spent several years doing karate, and is enjoying his second season of flag football.  He’s a huge animal lover, and talks about maybe being a vet one day.

My 15 year old researched and saved up for a year to build his own dream gaming computer. He spends a lot of his time playing computer games (mostly bought through Steam), and Skyping with his friends.  He watches TV the same way I do:  when he finds a show he likes, he binge-watches in little marathon sessions until he’s watched the whole series.  He’s recently taken an interest in movies as well, and is currently working his way through a list of “must-sees”. He’s also a musician, and spends several hours every day practicing his guitar, writing music, and conferring with his band mates.  His band, The Cringes, recently had its first paying gig, has begun recording, and plans to have music available for purchase by the end of the year.

And finally my 19 year old.  He has one of the most impressive gaming computer setups I’ve ever seen.

He bought all of this with his own money.

He bought all of this with his own money.

He loves the truck simulator games.   He also runs a Minecraft server, is active on Facebook, and regularly chats with friends on Skype.  He’s not much of a movie guy, but he loves watching TV shows on Netflix, particularly medical shows and real life crime series.  He’s taken some courses online, most recently a small engine repair certification course. He has always loved engines – and fixing anything and everything – and working outdoors. He’s thought about a career in both.  In his spare time, he’s teaching himself how to play the drums.  Right now, he’s applying to jobs (everywhere from grocery stores to movie theaters) while he decides what he wants to do next.

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What I ultimately want for my children – and for myself, too – is that when it comes to technology, they’re able to enjoy it for everything it has to offer; to use it confidently without guilt or shame in whatever way or amount makes sense for them at that time in their lives; and that they recognize it for what it is:  just another tool for learning, for communication, for entertainment, in a vast arsenal of possibilities.

And truly letting go and trusting unschooling – trusting that YES, it is okay when they play Wii all day, or all week, or for a month until they solve that game – has allowed them to do exactly that.

 

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New Years and Fresh Starts

Snow is so romantic when you haven't seen it for awhile!

Snow is so romantic when you haven’t seen it for awhile!

2015 wasn’t my most favorite year.

There were some big stressors. There was physical pain. There were chronic medical issues. There were dozens of appointments and tests and procedures that accompanied said medical issues. There was depression, its good friend anxiety, and their frequent cohort insomnia.

And of course – absolutely – 2015 had its lovely moments too. It did. But overall, it kind of… well, it bit.

So it was with huge amounts of relief and gratefulness that I welcomed in the new year.

And I realize that it’s kind of silly: The number on the calendar doesn’t change anything. Every day is a new start, if you choose to look at it that way. But the same part of me that will forever be inspired by the mere thought of brand new Trapper Keepers and the smell of freshly sharpened pencils in the fall, will also always be school-girl excited at the official start of another trip around the sun… especially when it comes on the heels of a less-than-stellar year.

So far, 2016 has been good to me!

Last week, I returned from a little five day mini-vacation visiting friends in Michigan. I almost didn’t go. Not because I didn’t want to go (I did, desperately), but because it just felt like it all might be too much, and that the timing might be all wrong. See above about pain and anxiety, et al.

I am so glad I went!  It turns out the timing couldn’t have been more perfect, and it was a lovely way to usher in the new year.

For five days, I got to hit the “reset” button, and focus on nothing but visiting and playing and chatting and being, all with a good friend by my side.

I went to a henna party.

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I like this dream catcher so much, I think I may need to get one as an actual tattoo someday…

I got a new piercing.

I saw my favorite alt rock band on the planet.

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That guitarist in the hat? I gave birth to him.

I drank a lot of Captain and Cokes.

I took a gorgeous walk through the Michigan snow (on my birthday, no less!).


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A word about snow and cold, if I may. I don’t miss it, but I miss the IDEA of it. I miss how beautiful it makes everything look, I miss the crispness, I miss its energy, I miss how alive it makes you feel. It was lovely to visit (especially on my birthday; how cool is that??) and it was lovely to ditch the heavy layers once I landed back in Phoenix.

And now, back home, real life beckons.  Yesterday, I took the 11 year old to the doctor for a sports injury.  Today I go to the dentist for what I’m positive will result in a root canal.  Nothing has changed and yet…. everything has changed, because I got a much-needed break, and with it a new perspective.  I’m genuinely excited for the rest of 2016, whatever it may bring.

TL:DR When your life has gone offline, sometimes stepping away for a few days helps.  A lot. Snowstorms and rock bands optional.

P.S.  My website is going to be down for a few days while I give it a face lift.  Thanks for being awesome and patient.


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5 Phrases To Use When Your Child Is Having a Hard Time

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There’s an article getting passed around on social media right now titled, “5 Phrases That Will Make Your Kids Stop Crying and Begging.”  The author sets the stage of a child who’s upset because she wasn’t allowed to get the candy she wanted at the grocery store.  Using phrases such as “Asked and answered,”  “This conversation is over,” and “The decision has been made. If you ask again there will be a consequence”  will halt such tantrums on the spot, she tells us, and remind the child who’s boss.  By the way – and I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler alert – when she says, “consequence”, what she really means is “punishment”.

Now I tend to be a parent who says, “yes” as much as possible.  An occasional cookie or two before dinner, or an inexpensive impulse buy at the checkout lane don’t really rank on my list of things on which to draw a hard line.  But even if they did?  Even during those moments when I do absolutely have to say “no” to something?  (And yes, to be sure, there are moments when I need to say no)  That is a time to help them learn to work through their disappointment in a healthy way.  It’s a time to hear them, and to empathize with them.  It is NOT a time to ignore their feelings and shut them down.  It is not a time for punishing them for being human.  Being sad or disappointed sometimes is normal and okay!

Approaches like the one outlined in this article not only teach a child to squash their emotions. They are also extremely adversarial, and set up an “us vs them” mentality between parent and child.  While some parents would advise that it’s simply a matter of learning to pick your battles, I never want to view any interaction with my child as a battle.  We’re on the same team!

Here then are five alternative things I might say when my child is crying or disappointed.

  1. I’m sorry.  

    When a dear friend is venting to you because he got passed over for a promotion, do you shut him down with a “This conversation is over”?  Of course not.  You tell him you’re sorry. To a toddler, that cookie is just as important as the promotion, and his feelings of sadness are real.  I think adults probably tend to forget that, because social media has made it so easy for parents to share and pass off children’s big feelings over seemingly small things as funny or cute.  But their feelings are genuine, and because they are young, they know no other way to express them other than through crying or yelling. As a parent you can either shut them down and essentially tell them to stop feeling what they’re feeling, or you can help them work through it, and by extension eventually learn more mature or sophisticated ways of expressing their emotions.  I always strive to go with the latter, and it all starts with empathy.

  2. I hear you.  

    Or I know, or it really stinks.  I’ve been in and out of doctors’ offices a lot this year, especially the last few months.  And while some of my symptoms are things that the doctor can see, or quantify on paper, some are completely subjective (like pain and fatigue.)  This past week, one of my doctors said the best thing I’d heard in months.  She said – and meant – “I believe you.”  Seriously, it was huge for me.  Anyone who’s ever suffered from a mystery ailment knows how incredibly frustrating it is to think that everyone around you is starting to believe that you’re just crazy.  I think that one of the biggest things we need and desire as humans sharing this world is just to be heard.   We want to know that someone is listening, that they are hearing what we are saying, and that they understand.  Children are no different.  Telling them that you’re sorry is a great place to start, but when you tell them that you hear them… that you understand… that YES, I know you wanted that cookie and it really sucks sometimes when we don’t get what we want… you’re taking it one step further, you’re validating their feelings, and you’re letting them know that you get it.   That is a hugely powerful and healing thing, to kids and adults alike.

  3. It’s okay to be sad.  

    Did you ever notice how often adults apologize for crying?  They’ll be engaged in a conversation, and be overcome with emotion.  They’ll well up, or a tear will escape, and they’ll shake their head and mutter, “I’m sorry,” while quickly brushing the tears away.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s because it’s such a common practice to tell kids to stop crying. Are we creating a whole society of emotionally stunted adults?  It’s okay to be sad.  It’s okay to cry.  Giving your child a safe space to feel what they feel, and letting them know – whether through words or actions – that what they’re feeling is okay goes a long way towards helping them work through their emotions.

  4. How can I help?  

    A couple of weeks ago, Tegan (7 at the time of this writing) was terribly disappointed about a cancelled play date and sleepover that she’d been so looking forward to for days.  It had been a long time since I’d seen her that disappointed about something. She didn’t want to play, didn’t want to use the computer (ordinarily one of her favorite things) and didn’t want to talk to any friends.  I hugged her, told her how sorry I was, and finally asked, “Do you want to do something with me to take your mind off it, or do you just need to be sad?”  She answered, “I just need to be sad.”  So she was.  I sat with her on the couch, and I gave her space to be sad.   I think our first response too often tends to err on the side of trying to cheer someone up, probably because we’re uncomfortable with expressions of big feelings (see number 3). But sometimes what a person needs is to just be sad.  And sometimes they do want to be cheered up!   The only way to know for sure is to ask, and in the case of a younger child, read and respect what they’re telling you non-verbally.

  5. Next time…. 

    In the case of the cancelled sleepover, there really wasn’t anything I could do to make it better, other than tell her I was sure we’d be able to reschedule for another time.  (We were, and we did, and she had a great time).  Sometimes though, depending on the child and the circumstance, it can be helpful to be specific about future plans:

    “Next time we come to the store, we’ll get a balloon.”

    “Payday is Friday, so we can get ice cream then.”

    “We don’t have time to stop at the playground today, but we can go this weekend.”  Etc.

    And then be sure to follow through!   The foundation of a good relationship with your children – of a good relationship with anyone – is trust, and letting them know 1) that you’re on their side, and 2) that your word is good goes a long way towards establishing that trust.

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Our interactions with our children should never be about manipulation and control.  They should be about connection, and about helping these little people entrusted in our care to navigate the world with kindness, compassion and respect.   Dealing with, and working through,  emotions is a big part of being human, so the last thing we want to do is deny our children that experience…. especially when they can do it with their most trusted adult at their side.

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2015 Top Ten Posts

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It’s somehow four days after Christmas, and nearly the new year.  Christmas was lovely and very low-key.  And now, as I look forward to 2016 (and this year, more than ever, I am REALLY looking forward to a new year) I’m taking the few minutes to put 2015 – at least the blog version of it – to bed, and revisiting my most-read posts of the year.  Once again, I gleefully broke the cardinal rule of blogging and didn’t stick to one specific niche.  In addition to parenting and unschooling, the following list contains posts pertaining to faith, food, and.. yoga pants.  And still you guys keep reading!

Here are my most read and shared posts from this year, from least to most amount of views:

10.  I love God.  I love my husband.  And I still wear yoga pants in public.  – No matter what we choose to wear in public, we have GOT to stop victim blaming.

9.  Instead of Punishment:  Where To Start – This is a question I get asked a lot, and while it’s not something that can be answered in one post, my hope was that this would at least be a jumping-off point.

8.  How I Learned To Read:  Four Unschooled Kids, Four Stories – Another question I get asked a lot!  If you don’t teach them, how will they learn to read??  The fact is, it is different for everyone, but yes, they’ll all learn!  These are my kids’ – very different – stories.

7.  I Won’t Throw Stones… Unless You’re LGBT – It kind of breaks my heart that I need to keep writing about this, but as long as it continues to be an issue (and so far, it is continuing to be an issue) I won’t keep quiet about it.

6.  12 Ways To Raise Children That Are Generous And Kind – Lists are my favorite.

5.  To My Fellow Christians, After The Supreme Court Ruling – See number 7.  This post ticked a lot of people off, and while that isn’t the most comfortable thing for me (I’m not someone who enjoys conflict.  At all), an angry response just makes it all the more likely that I’ll write about it again in the future.  This is a conversation that needs to be ongoing.

4.  Food Freedom, And Why I Stopped Using The Phrase, “Clean Eating” – Eat the cookie.  Enjoy your food.  Listen to your body.

3.  Dear Parents, Don’t Be Assholes – I’m kind of embarrassed that this is on the list.  Not because I don’t completely stand by it, but because while if you’re good friends with me in my 3D life, you’ve likely heard me say a word like “asshole”, I’ve mostly made it a point not to write it on my blog.  Let alone in a title.  In a post that’s been shared thousands of times.  :)  But sometimes it needs to be said, and the overall message – BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS! – stands.

2.  Silly Christians, Cups Are For Coffee – I’m kind of embarrassed that this is here too, just because it was no more than a really big rant.  Still, I’m honored that you read my rants.

1.  Six Things My Kids Are Allowed To Say To Adults – Another list, and one that really resonated.  This post actually became my second most-viewed post of all the time.  (The first is this one – also a list :) )  Thank you, for reading and sharing!!

 

And finally, these are the four posts that while written prior to this year, still grabbed people’s attention enough to put them back in the top ten for this year:

 

Why My Kids Will Never Be Socialized

I stole your stuff.  Now I’m holding it for ransom

My Promise To My Children

I Don’t Care Where Your Kids Go To School

 

Thanks as always for sticking around and reading and sharing and commenting on my posts!! Best wishes for a healthy and happy 2016.

xoxo


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The Biggest Thing I Wish People Understood About Depression

Photo by Lloyd Morgan

It’s 11 days before Christmas.  It’s 8:00 in the morning, raining outside, and cozy and dark where I sit in the living room.  The 18 year old is up, but the rest of the kids are still in bed where they’ll remain for the next several hours.   I have my coffee and my laptop, and the dogs – having already been let out, fed and watered – are snoozing peacefully on the carpet below me. I hear the occasional car outside, as neighbors head to work, and every now and then the rain picks up, beating hard against the tile of the back patio.  It is peaceful and idyllic and yet… there’s a sadness, just below the surface.

The holidays always make everything so heightened.  While I’m trying to keep things fun and say “yes” as often as I can to the kids, and “no” to as much as I need to in order to make the “yeses” possible;  While I do the shopping and the wrapping and the cleaning and the baking; While I tick items off a to-do list that no matter how carefully I cull and prioritize, always seems just a few items too long; While I try to stop, and breathe, and appreciate and sink into all the little moments in between the chaos…

I do it all through the immobilizing dark threads of depression that have once again gathered at the corners of my psyche.

It’s a tricky thing, depression.  And it’s by and large a secret thing, not exactly the stuff of light holiday party fare.  Society tells us not to talk about it too much (or at all) because it’s… dark. Uncomfortable. Too personal.  But while I of course can’t speak for anyone else, the biggest reason that I don’t talk about it more is simply one of straight-up frustration. It’s the same reason that I am so, so reluctant to share any medical issues (a whole other post for another day):

People invariably want to try to fix it.

And please don’t misunderstand me.  I absolutely understand and appreciate that the vast majority of people are well intentioned, and just want to help.   I do.  But the thing is,

You can’t fix someone else’s depression.  You just can’t.

If you think about it, even professionals don’t fix it.  They provide support, and they provide resources, and they provide tools, but they don’t fix it.  The actual fixing, or managing as it were, comes from the individual and no one else.  And to say that a journey to wellness is highly individualized and personal would be a gross understatement.  I know what’s worked – and not worked – for me in the past.  I know what I’m willing – and not willing – to try in the moment.  What I don’t know is what the answer is for someone else.

As much as you may want to, you can’t fix it for someone else.  And unless your friend specifically tells you, “I need advice”, I can all but promise you that advice is the last thing she wants.  She knows that therapy is an option.  She knows about essential oils and meditation and yoga and the importance of eating well and getting rest.  She knows about medications and natural supplements.  She’s heard all the quotes and the inspirational words and the over-used platitudes.  What your friend needs from you – ALL your friend needs from you – is for you to be there.

Some of the greatest, and most helpful, things that people have said to me when I’m having a hard time are also the most simple.  These are the things I so wish I could hear more of.  These are the things that help.

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m thinking of you.”

“I love you.”

“I understand.”*  (But only if you really do.)

Unchecked depression is a hard thing to explain to someone else who’s never been there.  It’s not the same thing as being bummed out, or sad, or disappointed.  It’s pervasive.  It hurts.  It’s an ever-present weight on your heart, and your mind, and your body.  Every second of every day.  It’s like viewing the world, and yourself, and others, through soldered-on glasses that are the wrong prescription.   It’s a prison, and as an observer, you don’t have the key.

And I get it.  Individual personalities plays a large role here.   Some people are just hard-wired to want to immediately offer solutions (my husband.) Others are hard-wired to completely shut down when they’re given unsolicited advice (me.) But the fact remains, no matter what side of the spectrum you may land on, depression isn’t something you can solve for someone else. The best you can do is offer unconditional love and support, even when – or especially when! – the person in question wants to push everyone away.

You cannot fix it.   But you can be there, and that’s enough.

A dear friend once sent me some well-timed gourmet loose teas in the mail, and it was one of the best gifts I’ve ever gotten.  And it wasn’t so much the tea itself (even though it was lovely, and very much enjoyed)  It was what the teas represented.  They represented, “I’m sorry.”  “I’m thinking of you.”  “I love you.”

Tea doesn’t cure depression, this much is true.  But the healing power of friendship?  That is immeasurable.

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(I also wrote about depression here.)

 

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