Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our Christmas Miracle

Let me qualify this post by saying my family doesn't celebrate Christmas for religious reasons. We enjoy spending time with our family, exchanging gifts, abiding by decades-old traditions, and watching the children's eyes light up when they see that Santa has eaten his cookies and finished his milk.

This year, my three and a half year old son had three things on his wish list for Santa: a tower crane, a truck full of tools (you know, the one we saw at that one store, Mama!), and a candy cane.

With some intense internet searching, one cancelled order, and more desperate searching, we found the tower crane. A little detective work helped me figure out which store we were at when he saw the truck full of tools. I knew this was a very specific item and a substitute would not do. We were all set for Christmas. Just a 30 hour train ride up to Grandma and Grandpa's house (a whole other blog post...), and we'd be good to go. Of course there would be candy canes in Chicago. It's Christmas, there are candy canes everywhere. They practically jump into your pockets this time of year.

Or so I thought. We survived the 30 hour train ride. We survived the 2 hour drive to my parents' house in Christmas traffic in a Volvo that broke down twice on the way home. No problem. My mom informs me she hasn't found any candy canes in the stores, but I blow it off and figure she wasn't looking hard enough. I wrap presents like a woman possessed. Two days before Christmas, I realize no one has bought a candy cane yet, and we NEED a candy cane or Christmas will be ruined. So, my dad and I run out to the local grocery store for supplies and a candy cane. Except, get this, they're SOLD OUT of candy canes! I mean, really?!

We leave the grocery store with a cart full of food and no candy canes. This was one of those freezing cold nights. I think wind chill was something like -18. (Side note: I don't think that's even a real temperature. I think that's just what they tell you when it's too cold for the thermometers to work anymore.) As we were loading the groceries into the car, I noticed a Hallmark store next to the grocery store. I ran across the parking lot and ducked inside. Christmas paraphernalia abounded. Three clerks stood bored behind the register and looked up expectantly at me as I walked in. I asked if they had any candy canes. They informed me they were sold out and pointed to the grocery store next door. My face fell and I told them the grocery store was sold out too and that this stupid candy cane was the only thing on my son's wish list that we hadn't been able to get. I told them how proud I was of him for working up the courage to ask Santa for the things on his wish list all by himself. I thanked them and started to walk out. One of the ladies stopped me and told me to wait. She ducked behind the counter and pulled out a gift bag. Apparently there had been a gift exchange amongst the employees and her gift bag had two candy canes in it. She handed them to me and said, "Merry Christmas". Yup, I cried. I walked out into the -18 degree weather and the tears immediately froze on my cheeks (WHY DO PEOPLE LIVE IN THIS CLIMATE?!).

This random woman in a Hallmark store saved our Christmas and she will never know how much it meant to all of us. The holiday season can bring out the best and the worst in all of us. I was lucky enough to encounter the best this year.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bad days happen

It's happens to all of us. You wake up on the wrong side of the bed and you just can't shake the grumpiness. This was me, yesterday. After not nearly enough sleep, I woke up to hear the Eskimo shouting "MAMA!!!!!!!" at the top of his little lungs. And for some reason it just made me cringe. Maybe it was a premonition of what was to come. So, grumbling, I dragged myself out of bed to start the day. And what a day it was.

The Eskimo could sense my negativity from the get go. He asked why I was angry and I said I wasn't angry, just cranky and reminded him that he is usually cranky when he wakes up, too. I tried to shake it off and smile, but couldn't. The day continued in a downward spiral from there. We had planned to go on a family hike, but from that moment forward, the Eskimo decided he was going to do his very best to cause trouble. He's three. He's very good at causing trouble. By this time my husband, who had graciously made us all pancakes, was also starting to feed off my negative energy. More crankiness all around.

Long story short, yesterday involved a lot of yelling (I hate yelling), a lot of foot stomping, and many tears. All because I was cranky when I woke up. I am fully convinced that my energy dragged the rest of the house down. The worst part is, I knew I was doing it, but I couldn't pull myself out of my funk. Finally, by the time the Eskimo got up from his nap, I had managed to turn my attitude around. I did my best to maintain a smile for the rest of the day, and it almost worked. Almost. We had a disastrous bedtime routine followed by two hours of crying and bargaining before the Eskimo finally fell asleep. The last time I went in to talk to him, I asked him if he thought we could all do better tomorrow and have a better day. He thought we could. So did I.

Here's what's important. It's ok to have a bad day. It's ok for your kids to see you having a bad day. It shows them that we aren't perfect, no one is, and that's ok, too. It's how you recover from it that counts. We didn't let yesterday's misery bleed over into today. We tackled today head on and forgave ourselves and each other for everything that happened yesterday. I was a terrible mother yesterday; I will be a better mother today. Forgive yourself, forgive the ones you love, and move on.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Care packages for the homeless

Sometimes you need a three-year-old to remind you of how to interact with others. We live in Austin and there is a large homeless population here. At almost every corner, there is someone holding a sign, hoping for spare change. After having lived in LA for 5 years, I am accustomed to ignoring the man or woman on the corner, occasionally offering a polite smile, but nothing more. It took my three-year-old to remind me that these folks aren't just shadows on the corner, they're real people with lives and needs. Today, at a stoplight, I looked up. There was a man on the corner with a sign and suddenly his face lit up and he started waving and smiling at our car. That's when I realized that the Eskimo was smiling and waving from his carseat. He saw the man on the corner, really saw him, and recognized that he was another person who was JUST as worthy of his smile and wave as any other human being. Three-year-olds dole out smiles to everyone, equally. I love it.

This turned into a teachable moment for us. The questions started coming immediately. "Mama, what does his sign say? Who is he? Why doesn't he have a home? What happened to his home? Can he build a new one?" Oh gosh, how to answer all of this? There are no easy answers. His sign said, "Anything helps. God bless. (sleeping bag)". That was the only question I could fully answer. Next round of questions, "Why does he need a sleeping bag? Where does he go when the lightening strikes and thunder come?"

The only way I could think to answer all these queries was to tell my son how lucky we are. Things have been very difficult for us financially lately, but we are SO lucky. We have a home, my husband has a job, we have two happy, healthy children. The Eskimo and I decided to put a care package together for this man. I asked him what he thought we should put in it. He suggested a painting and a drawing and a tool box so the guy could make a new house. Gotta love three-year-olds. The Eskimo loves to share his artwork with others and I think we will include a painting. However, I don't think my husband would be delighted if we were to raid his tools. ;)

So far I think we will include:

Disposable razors
Hand-knit hat
Homemade cookies
An original painting by the Eskimo
Sleeping bag (We have spares that haven't been used years. Without a doubt, this man needs one more than we do.)

I also saw a suggestion to include a stamped postcard that says, "let someone know you're ok". I love this idea and if I can manage to get my hands on some postcards and stamps in the next couple days, I'll include this, too.

I am so glad to have been reminded that no matter how difficult things are for us, it could be so much worse, and we really are very lucky. We don't have much extra right now, but we have enough that we can share.

What would you include in a care package? Have you done this with your kids? What did they think? I'll post updates and pictures of our care package on my facebook page. Follow along there!

Monday, September 16, 2013


We had dinner with friends the other night and inevitably we started talking about the balance between spending time with our kids and keeping our houses looking somewhat civilized. For my friend, it seemed to be an either/or approach. Either you're playing with your kids, or you're cleaning your house. I take a slightly different approach.While I think it's very important to take the time to sit on the floor and play with your children, I also think it's important to involve them in the day-to-day tasks of keeping the home in order. I want my children to be contributing members of society, and that starts in the home. Also, I want them to know how to clean and keep things orderly. It's a learned skill. :)

As often as possible, I find something that my three-year-old can do to help and contribute. He puts his dishes in the sink, throws his trash away in the garbage can, and has to pick up his own toys. Those are the basics. But, when I'm doing daily household chores, I involve him. When I empty the dishwasher, he sorts and puts away the silverware. When I do dishes, I fill up one of the sinks with his plastic cups and plates to "wash". Admittedly, this is messy. But it's a good excuse for me to mop the floor when he's done! When I'm wiping down the counters, I give him a spray bottle with vinegar and water in it and he wipes the cabinets for me. Again, this can get messy, but it's not as if he's getting the cabinets any dirtier than they were when he started. At age three, my goal is not for him to be a tiny slave who does all my cleaning for me. My goal is for him to understand that cleaning is necessary and for him to experience the sense of satisfaction you get from doing a job well. This is also a great way for us to spend time together while being productive.

Sorting silverware. This has been his job since he was 2.
Here's a quick list of chores that kids can do. Keep in mind that you will probably have to do at least some of these over again, but the idea here isn't perfection. The idea is to help your little one be an involved, contributing member of the household and provide learning opportunities.

Dishes: Give them a sponge, a sink full of water and dish soap, and some dishes they can't break. Also, grab a huge stack of towels, because you will need them. Side note, I always make the Eskimo help me with cleanup at the end.

Dishwasher: Let them help you load and unload things that are not breakable. Sorting silverware is a great activity.

Dusting: Give them a duster and set them loose! The Eskimo loves this!

Laundry: Put the clothes in the washer, throw them into the drier, add the soap. The Eskimo also likes to "help" fold. I also let him put his own clothes in his drawers.

Wiping baseboards: Give them a damp rag and let them get to work. This can keep the Eskimo occupied while I'm trying to do something like cook dinner.

Wiping cabinets: Give them a spray bottle with a vinegar/water mixture and a rag. I provide some guidance with this; ie, there are spots on that cabinet, can you get them off? Look at all those spots on the dishwasher! Anytime there is a spray bottle involved, there's the potential that your child may end up having a little too much fun, so I recommend supervision.

Sweeping: Will he get all of the dirt off the floor? No. Will he get some of it? Maybe. But if he's learning, it's a win. We have a child sized broom that we picked up for about $10 at a toy store. You can also make your own by cutting down the handle on an adult size one.

General cleanup: We have a rule at our house: any toys left out overnight are going to Goodwill. So, whenever the Eskimo protests picking up his toys at the end of the day, I tell him, that's his choice, but anything left out will be gone the next day. Works like a charm.

Wiping the baseboards.
A final note: this should be FUN. At age three, the Eskimo wants to help. He loves it. I'm encouraging it as much as possible because I figure it will only get worse as he gets older. But, if he is busy playing a game and doesn't want to do the dishes, that's fine. At some point, I will likely introduce a proper chore chart and allowance, but we're not there yet. My goal is for him to gain life skills and to look back and remember having fun cleaning with Mama. :)

Do your kids help out around the house? At what age did you start paying them for their work? What are their jobs?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shampoo free

I spent a couple months visiting family with my kids this summer while my husband held down the fort here in Texas. We spent a month staying with my parents near Chicago, and a month staying with my 87-year-old grandmother up in Wisconsin. It was a lot of fun, but it was also shockingly difficult. A full month alone with a 3-year-old, a 5-month-old and and 87-year-old was challenging. I was basically a single mom for that period of time in a house that had no child-proofing what so ever. Yeah. My husband did join us for about a week at the end, so we managed to sneak in a little family vacation, which was wonderful.
Meeting Mimi-Mama for the first time

The Eskimo, watching golf with Mimi-Mama

Anyway, the point of this prelude is that I didn't have a lot of time to do basic stuff like showering. The only time I could shower was when both kids were asleep. And the shower was in my grandma's room, so I had to shower in that tiny sliver of time after the kids are asleep and before she's asleep. So, I ended up showering every other day, at best. Vacation me doesn't mind not showering. Vacation me also stopped washing her hair. I've been wanting to go no-poo for a while now and this was the perfect opportunity. All the chemicals in shampoos and conditioners scare me and a lot of the "safe" stuff is super expensive. I should also note that since we shaved our heads for St. Baldrick's Day back in March, I still have pretty short hair. This has helped make the transition a bit easier.

Somewhere in mid-August (I neglected to note the date), I stopped using shampoo. I rinsed my hair thoroughly every time I showered, and was kind of surprised to discover that it was ok. My hair never looked gross. When we got back to Texas, I started using baking soda and apple cider vinegar a couple times a week to wash and condition my hair and the results are downright amazing. My hair is ridiculously soft and shiny. I'm kind of amazed.

Look, ma! No shampoo!

When I wash it, I mix about a tablespoon of baking soda with some water into a paste. I massage this into my scalp and then rinse. Then I pour a little bit of apple cider vinegar on my hair. I let it sit for a couple minutes and then rinse. One of these days I'm going to find a spray bottle for the ACV so I can spray it on my hair. I've found that pouring it onto my short hair inevitably gets it on my scalp and it can actually leave me feeling a bit greasy. The ACV serves as a conditioner and the results are shockingly good.

Shampoo free for a couple weeks here.

The best family shot we managed to get. :)

So, there you have it. No-poo is easy, super cheap, and I can't argue with the results. For some, the transition from daily washing can be a challenge. But keep in mind that the oil on your scalp is a supply-and-demand thing (like nursing!). If you strip the oil from your skin, your body will rush to replenish it. Some folks will likely experience a lot more oil than they're used to in the first couple of weeks, but your body should figure it out pretty quickly.

Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Making Soap

I've had this package of glycerin soap sitting in my craft cabinet for a long time and it's been bugging me. I don't like items to sit around; I think everything should be useful and have a purpose. So, I decided I'd make some colored soap for the Eskimo. He recently received a set of cookie cutters in the shapes of different vehicles and I knew there had to be a way to melt the soap and pour them into these shapes. Here's what I came up with:

You will need:
-Clear glycerin soap
-Food coloring
-Plastic wrap

First, get the mold ready. The only way I could get the soap to stay in the cookie cutter was to roll out some play-doh, put plastic wrap over it, and then press the cookie cutter down to create a seal around the bottom. This actually worked quite well, but if you don't have a perfect seal around the bottom, the soap runs everywhere. Do not despair, once it's cool enough to touch, you can peel it up, melt it, and try again. :) I also did this on a cookie sheet to spare myself the trouble of cleaning up the counter afterwards.

Next, grab your soap. I used either 3 or 4 cubes, depending on the size of the cookie cutter. Melt in the microwave for 30-40 seconds. Then, add 5-10 drops of food coloring. If you want really vibrant colors, go for 10. You could likely add a couple drops of fragrance at this point, but we tend to be a fragrance-free household.

Stir the food coloring in, and then very carefully pour the hot soap into the mold. I found it helpful to hold down the cookie cutter with one hand while I poured to keep it from leaking out the bottom. Then let it sit for about 30 minutes, until it's cooled, and there you have it!

These turned out really well and the Eskimo loves them. Definitely going to have to do something like this for a birthday gift for someone in the future.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Coffee Play Dough

So my efforts to keep the Eskimo occupied continue. And this recipe was a gem. I found it here through Pinterest. Play dough made with coffee grounds. It looks like mud, which my little construction worker LOVED. Here's the recipe:

2 Cups of Flour
1/2 Cup of Coffee Grounds
1 Tablespoon of Instant Coffee (when it wasn’t dark enough)
1 Cup of Salt
2 Teaspoons of Cream of Tartar
1 Cup of very hot water
2 Tablespoons of oil

I found it to be a bit dry, so I added some extra water until it was a better consistency. The Eskimo got to help me make it, which made the whole experience even more fun for him. Word to the wise: do NOT leave a huge bottle of veggie oil uncapped and unattended on the counter with a two year old present. Not even for a second. Oops.

This kept him occupied for over an hour in both the morning and the afternoon. I sat at his table and played with him part of the time, but he really wanted to be left alone in his imaginary construction zone. Note: since this play dough was a bit crumbly, this was a MESSY activity. There were play dough crumbs all over the floor. We have stained concrete floors, so it wasn't a big deal to clean up as it was dry enough to sweep up the crumbs. But, if you have carpeting, I would recommend putting something down to catch the crumbs. Have fun!