Monday, October 31, 2011

Hoping for Winter

I saw my first snow of the season this weekend, which prompted me to re-post this bit of prose that I wrote in college. It's rather stream-of-consciousness in style, so I apologize if the lack of punctuation frustrates you.

Snowy day at SUNY Geneseo

I think winter is magic -- all sparkles and snowflakes and wind chasing itself without even noticing you're there, it just runs right through you! and sunshine so bright it brings tears to your eyes and a feeling that you're living in the best place in the world and just as your ice palace begins to disappear, it is spring! 

Springtime is excitement -- waking up in the mist and the fog and your ice palace is really made of stone and moss and you realize that real life is somehow even better than what you were dreaming, it's my favorite season when we wear shorts in 50 degree weather and play in the icy mud but then it keeps getting warmer and springtime turns into rain and sunshine and sometimes both at once and people get their first sunburns and sometimes it is bitterly cold for a few days and then so warm again, as if nature can't quite decide what to do but through everything the grass is growing again and the trash from the winter is no longer covered by snow and it says "wake up! you're alive!" and there is a frantic rush of aliveness and suddenly it ends, and it's summer...

Summer is sunshine -- playing until it's so hot you don't want to move then swimming and being cold so you lie down in the sun and just soak up all the warmth you can because you have the time to do so and everything is slower and nights start early and last forever with your friends so close to you and even when you're busy planning and doing you know it's all just sunshine, effervescent and transient and suddenly eternity is over and it's fall.

Fall is a sigh -- sometimes a happy sigh, remembering something else and sometimes a sigh of slipping into the space between the lines of notes you're taking and wondering why most lines are blue but one is red and which line would you be if you were on that page? and all around you are the colors of death and the rain is cold and the wind sees you and coldly stares before rushing off to something else that must be done, this wind doesn't know the games that winter winds play, and you echo the sigh of the wind and the weak imitation of sunlight cannot even penetrate water so the puddles are black but you sit and you watch them until the edges start to turn white and then -- and then you KNOW that winter is coming and soon, very soon, it will all be a poem again!

 And so, I saw a snowflake today... and I laughed!

Friday, October 28, 2011

I Drink Juice

A trending topic in the natural parenting community is the vilifying of fruit juice. Fruit juice, even 100% juice, leads to obesity, fights between parents and children, and tooth decay. Any self-respecting parent should refuse to bring such a substance into their home or only do so under duress.


I understand that over-consumption of juice is unhealthy. I know that a piece of fruit is better for you than strained, processed fruit juice. But avoiding juice at all costs? That seems to be taking things a bit too far.

Back when I was a kid, I had orange juice with breakfast every morning, as did my brothers and my dad. Often, I had juice with lunch also. I never remember wanting to fill up on juice, nor was my juice consumption limited by my parents. It was available and we drank it sensibly, just like milk.

My juice-drinking brothers (and their friend in the middle)

None of us have ever struggled with obesity. We all were very active as children and maintain a healthy level of exercise as adults. We learned healthy eating habits that we continue to this day.

I'm not condemning parents who don't want their kids to drink juice. That's fine by me. I'm not disputing the science out there linking juice to health problems. But correlation does not prove causation.

If we're going to cast stones at others' decisions, can't we at least pick more important issues?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Best Toys

Peter has some very educational toys and absolutely adorable stuffed animals that he loves. I'm not writing about those. I want to tell you about the cheap, re-purposed toys that he loves (in addition to his kitchen toys).

1. Large sherbet container. Someone brought this to a party, filled with sherbet. It now holds a place of honor as Peter's drum. The drumsticks are a gift from a friend of ours who hopes to inspire Peter to be a drummer like his daddy and her.

Rocking out is exhausting.

2. Pampers box. When a friend gifted us with a complete set of cloth diapers, she delivered them in this box. Peter loves it. It is smooth on the bottom and very sturdy, making it an ideal dog stroller. Peter loves to put his stuffed animals in the box and push it in circles around the house.

3. Basket with handle. Purchased for $.75 at a garage sale (including blocks), this has recently become a favorite toy because you can put things in it AND take them back out! Wow! Shoe boxes are fun for the same reason.

4. Old yarn. While I was crocheting, Peter wanted his own yarn. I gave him a ball that had been rewound too many times and is completely stretched out. The joy! It's a ball, it makes a satisfying mess, and he can wind it around his fingers.

5. Wooden spoon. I honestly can't tell you why he loves this one so much, but it is almost guaranteed to bring a smile to his face, even if he's actively upset. It's a game for me, too, as I have to search the house any time I need to use it. :-)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

7 Ways to Stay Warm

Our thermostat is set to 66 during the day and 55 at night. Keeping the house cool saves us money and reduces the amount of carbon we use. It also gives our friends and relatives a reason to tease us. :-) We're comfortable with our decision, though, and confident that turning down the heat is good for us. We've also developed a number of ways to stay warm.

Wear socks. Although most of our house is carpeted, I've still found socks to be invaluable for keeping warm. Unfortunately, Peter is strongly opposed to wearing anything on his feet, so his toes get a little chilly. He doesn't appear to care.

Wash the dishes. OK, my husband has yet to find the appeal of this, but I've found a tub of hot, soapy dishwater can feel fantastic when I'm cold!

Peter agrees.

Use blankets. We have quite a few fleece blankets around, all of which are meant to be used. They also add a bit of color to a room and were very inexpensive. "Blanket" might be overstating it; they are simply large pieces of fleece I bought on sale. I didn't even bind the edges.

Be active. It's amazing how warm 66 can feel after dancing with Peter or carrying laundry upstairs. And any chore keeps you warmer if you are baby-wearing!

Drink hot beverages. I prefer tea, my husband drinks hot chocolate. Peter likes breastmilk. Whatever suits your fancy, heat it up and enjoy holding a cup of warmth.

Keep a robe handy. Getting out of bed when the house is cold can be awful. My husband keeps his robe a few feet from the end of the bed. I do too, but I usually use a baggy sweatshirt instead, especially when traipsing the halls at night for another nursing session.

Go to bed on time. Our thermostat is set to drop at 10:30PM, which discourages dawdling. It is currently 10:44. Good night!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Music for My Toddler

My in-laws, like all good grandparents, dote on their grandson. This past weekend, they wanted to play some music for him to keep him happy, so they pulled out some Disney cds. He was not impressed. He whined a little and got very clingy until they turned it off.

My husband suggested jazz, which amused his parents, but they were willing to humor him. As we listened to a compilation of 1920s jazz, Peter smiled, climbed off my lap, and began to dance. He loves Louis Armstrong, in particular.

He also likes to play drums.

We've had similar experiences at home. He is ambivalent about most children's music and adamantly opposed to some of it, but generally enjoys anything we like. He and I dance around to reggae, Irish folk, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. He loves his African party cd from Putumayo. Since early infancy, Mahler's 8th symphony has soothed him, until the soprano starts her part. He doesn't like her.

Shaping his music tastes has been at least somewhat intentional. There is so much good music available that it seemed a waste of time to help him acquire a taste for music that includes sound effects. We do have a few cds meant for children, all of which were gifts. I think I like them more than he does.

The notable exceptions are our four Rockabye Baby cds (Queen, U2, The Beatles, and Radiohead). All three of us really enjoy these. We frequently play them during long car trips to persuade Peter to take a nap. My husband is also hoping that repeated exposure to the Radiohead cd will increase my appreciation of their regular music. We'll see.

What music do your children enjoy? Is it music you also enjoy?

I have received no compensation from Rockabye Baby. My opinions are my own.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

504 Plans and IEPs

This is the last of three posts about communicating with school professionals when your child is not successful in school. If your child needs extra assistance, s/he may qualify for a 504 Plan (general education) or an Individualized Education Plan (special education). I admit this post is rather dry, but I want to make the information available to those who need it.

To appease you, one of my favorite pictures, taken 10/19/10.

504 Plans

Question: What is a 504 plan?

Answer: The "504" in "504 plan" refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1973, which specifies that no one with a disability can be excluded from participating in federally funded programs or activities, including elementary, secondary or postsecondary schooling. "Disability" in this context refers to a "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities." This can include physical impairments; illnesses or injuries; communicable diseases; chronic conditions like asthma, allergies and diabetes; and learning problems. A 504 plan is a legal document that spells out the modifications and accommodations that will be needed for these students to have an opportunity perform at the same level as their peers, and might include such things as wheelchair ramps, blood sugar monitoring, an extra set of textbooks, a peanut-free lunch environment, home instruction, or a tape recorder or keyboard for taking notes.

Question: How is a student considered for a 504 plan?

Answer: A student with a physical or emotional disability, who is recovering from a chemical dependency, or who has an impairment (i.e. Attention Deficit Disorder) that restricts one or more major life activities, such as caring for one's self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, and learning. 

Question: Who is involved in placing a student on a 504 plan and what is the process?

Answer: The student, parent/legal guardian, teachers, principals, Pupil Services administrators, support staff (i.e. nurse, counselor, psychologist, language/speech pathologist) as well as the student's physician or therapist may be involved in the placement process including the 504 meeting. The process is generally as follows:
  1. Student is referred by teacher, support staff, parent/legal guardian, physician, or
    therapist. On occasion, a student may initiate a self-referral.
  2. A 504 plan meeting is held.
  3. A plan for the student is developed.
  4. A review date is set. 
Question: When a teacher signs off on a 504 plan, what are his/her responsibilities?

Answer: The teacher is legally responsible to implement your designated accommodation/ strategies on the plan. He or she is advised to maintain regular and consistent documentation to display attempts to implement the plan. For example: The teacher may keep a file of student work, write special notations in a grade book, or maintain personal notes. Keep copies of any adjusted tests, assignments, behavior plans, and all notes to and from parents/legal guardians. 

Special Education Evaluations

Initial Evaluations
A formal special education evaluation can be initiated by school professionals or parent request. Upon receiving a referral, districts have the responsibility to promptly obtain informed consent from parents for testing. Once consent is received, districts have 60 calendar days to complete an evaluation. Depending on the nature of the concern, the following evaluations may be completed:

Possible Evaluation
Administered By
School Psychologist
Special Education Teacher / Reading Specialist
Speech/Language Therapist
Occupational Therapy
Occupational Therapist
Physical Therapy
Physical Therapist
Social History
School Psychologist / Nurse / Social Worker
Medical History
Completed by Family Physician

Following the evaluations, school professionals meet to share results and discuss possible ideas and strategies to serve the student. If special education services are considered appropriate, the process moves to district-level CSE. If they are not recommended, school professionals meet with parents, discuss results, and ask parents to sign a withdrawal form. In order to be eligible, a student must meet one of the fourteen IDEA categories. Once eligibility is declared, an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) will be developed. Like a 504 Plan, this is a legal document.

            Students receiving special education services must be reevaluated at least every three years. At this time, parents will be asked to provide updated medical information and share any information of the past three years that is relevant to their child’s education (i.e. academic progress, self-esteem, significant life changes). Academic testing is updated, although it is generally not as comprehensive as assessments given at an initial evaluation. Your child’s special education teacher may choose to test only those areas in which your child is struggling. Other school professionals, such as psychologists or speech/language therapists, may not administer any new assessments but simply review files to write a reaction statement. Results from reevaluations should be used to guide the student’s program.

 *Psychological evaluations may include measures of cognitive abilities (IQ), social-emotional functioning, fine motor abilities, and school behavior.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Parents vs. Teachers

Sometimes the issue is not miscommunication, but a true disagreement. Below are six topics where parents and teachers frequent disagree along with suggestions of what you ask to best help your child. It is important to get an accurate idea of how the teacher perceives a situation in order to advocate effectively.

Note: Peter will be home-schooled at least through the early elementary years. I am confident I can meet his needs better at home than a teacher can at school. Teachers must cope with a wide spectrum of behaviors, high turn-over among staff, various top-down decisions that do not work well in real life, and a barrage of testing. If you are considering home-school, check out these posts for answers to common barriers.

Peer Interactions
            Students often behave differently at home and at school. If teachers are concerned about your child’s social interactions, listen. These teachers work with many different children every year and have a good idea of when behavior is not age-appropriate. Although it is tempting to rush to your child’s defense, consider asking the following questions instead. This will give you a better idea of what exactly is going on and how you can help.
  • How often does this happen and where?
  • Are other children upset by it? How do they react?
  • Is this behavior triggered by any particular person, event, or setting?
  • Is this behavior disrupting class?
  • How does this affect my child’s and other children’s learning?

Academic Expectations
If you know your child is capable of more than he is achieving, it is frustrating when teachers appear unconcerned. In some cases, the teacher may be overwhelmed by other students with greater needs. In other cases, the teacher may feel you have unrealistic expectations for your child. Remember, Cs are considered average. While you may not be able to get special services for your child, the following questions may elicit some useful information. This will help you work with your child in bringing up his grades.
  • What types of questions does she usually miss on tests? (If tests are not sent home.)
  • Has he been turning in all of his homework on time?
  • Is she participating in class discussions and lessons?
  • Do you use study guides or other study strategies?
  • How can I find out when tests and quizzes are approaching?
  • Do you know if his notes are well-done? Are teacher notes posted anywhere?

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder
            ADHD is an increasingly common diagnosis. Teachers and parents often disagree about whether a student’s irresponsibility, impulsivity, and inattention are due to a medical problem or a motivational problem. Parents and teachers are on both sides of this argument. A thorough evaluation of a child with ADHD symptoms should include the following components. Without convergent data from multiple sources, a diagnosis of ADHD* is unwarranted.
  • Parent and child interviews
  • Parent and teacher-completed behavior rating scales
  • Student self-report measures
  • Cognitive and academic measures
  • Review of school and medical records
  • Pediatric examination to rule out any unusual medical conditions
  • Possibly vision, hearing, and/or speech and language screening
*If a child does have ADHD, the disorder is an explanation, not an excuse!

Homework Responsibility
            Teachers see their role in homework to be assigning and correcting it. Getting homework home, completed, and turned in should be the responsibility of the student and possibly parent(s), depending on grade level. By middle school, most teachers are unwilling to check students’ agendas. Also, very few teachers at any grade level are willing to call or email you on a regular basis. If you want to know what homework is assigned, consider asking the following.
  • Is homework posted online?
  • What peers in class reliably complete their homework? (Get their phone numbers!)
  • Can work be turned in late for partial credit?
  • Do you have an outline of when major projects will be due this year?

Substance Use
            No parent wants to hear that their child may be using drugs or alcohol. Likewise, no school professional wants to be the one to tell you. While your first reaction may be anger or denial, try to listen objectively. If there is a problem, you are the person most likely to be able to help your child. The following questions may help you clearly understand the situation.
  • What behaviors make you think my child is involved in substance use?
  • Has my child been heard talking about substance use? Who heard him?
  • Are any of her peers suspected of substance use?
  • If there is a problem, what resources can the school provide to help?

Home-School Communication
            Parents of students who struggle want to know as much as possible about their child’s performance and behavior in school. This makes sense. Teachers, particularly at the secondary levels, may have more than 100 students in a day. They do not have time to email or call parents on a regular basis. If you want improved home-school communication, ask about the following.
  • What is the best way to contact teachers about my concerns?
  • Are weekly progress reports available?
  • Are grades available to be viewed online? Do I need to sign up for an account?
  • Do teachers have individual websites? How frequently are they updated?
  • Is there a course schedule of major tests and projects?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Parent-Teacher Conferences

In my previous life, I was a school psychologist. After completing my internship, I compiled a parent handbook for navigating the system and advocating for children. I got so frustrated when parents' concerns were dismissed because they didn't know how to speak in a way that would make educators listen.

Photo credit: evmaiden on Flickr

Here is a list of phrases that can sour your meetings with school professionals.

“He’s not being challenged.”                        This is frustrating for teachers. If your child is not performing well on current assignments, teachers are unlikely to consider a more challenging curriculum. If he is performing well, teachers are already aware of his potential.

“This is a special case.”                                We know. Every child with whom we work is a special case, that’s why we are involved in special education! Please don’t insult our experience.

“You can’t support her adequately.”            Again, this is insulting. Also, if you already know we can’t support your child, why are you at this meeting? This sets a negative tone and is likely to make the staff defensive and uncooperative.

“I can put him in public/private school.”       Is that a threat or a promise? If a situation has escalated to the point that you are seriously considering this option, the staff may secretly be hoping you follow through!

“No one understands/cares about her.”       No one working in schools is there for the money. It is certainly possible that some school professional dislikes your child, but in general, we are doing the best we can. We like children!

 “He would never do that.”                            Whatever “that” is, your child may well have done it.  Ask for more details rather than refusing to consider the possibility.

Try some of these phrases instead.

“I’d like to hear what you’re doing with her already to help.”
“What can we do at home to make this work?”
“What other information can I provide?”
“What opportunities are available for him?”
“She’s feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Truly? Today is only Tuesday?

Sunday was a soft bed, a sleeping baby, and a blank page to journal. It was the sacred beauty of Mass and the vibrancy of worship music. It was pizza, laughter, and games with my family. Sunday was beautiful.

Monday was two loads of clean laundry and a sink with no dishes. It was a long morning nap and a happy transition to wakefulness. It was an unexpected trip to Letchworth State Park. It was a two hour dinner that was only funny because we had good company with whom to commiserate about the atrocious service.

Monday night was the professional in me mobilizing the emergency response resources while I stood in shock. It was countless telephone calls and providing brief but immediate grief counseling to her roommate. Monday night was heartache and desperate prayers.

Today is Tuesday. I napped twice with Peter. The house is clean, youth group went very well (love those kids!), and Peter fell asleep easily. I am still in search of peace. I want to change the world and have difficulty accepting that I can only do so much. "In all things I do my best and then to God I leave the rest." 

Monday, October 17, 2011

Prayer Request

I just had a very harrowing hour, culminating in the information that a dear friend and former camper of mine tried to end her life by overdosing and was taken to the hospital. She will be encouraged to stay overnight, but as a legal adult can check out whenever she chooses to do so.

Please pray for her, that God will comfort her and give her strength, that she will know the love and support of friends is genuine, and that she will have peace.

Please pray for her roommate, that she too will be comforted and know this was not her fault.

Please pray for the medical professionals, that they will have wisdom and understanding.

Finally, praise God with me for the excellent response time shown by the university police and first responders at University of Pittsburgh.

Thank you.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Let's Talk About Socks & A Giveaway

As of September, we were 12% of the way to our goal of 306 pairs of socks for people in need in Rochester, NY. I am thrilled to announce that a recent cash donation and very generous sock donation have put us at 89 pairs of socks. We're at 29% now! Many thanks to Laura, who mailed in 49 pairs!

Are you able to help?

To donate, please mail new socks or a check (made out to Matthew's Closet) to

Liana's Mom
207 Elmcroft Rd.
Rochester, NY 14609

If you include a SASE, a tax receipt will be mailed back to you. If you send a check, please write "socks" in the memo line, or even specify men's, women's, or children's if you prefer more control over how your money is spent. ($2.50 will count as a pair of socks.)

The Giveaway

It's pretty simple. If you donate $5 or more OR 2 pairs or more of socks, you will be entered to win a 60 watt CFL from SpringLight. To enter, leave a comment with the state from which your donation was shipped along with the date of shipment, so we know who you are. :-) [I put comments for the donations received so far, so if you donated already, don't worry about entering.]

There is no predetermined close date for this giveaway. I will close the giveaway when the goal is met. If we do not meet the goal by the end of 2011, I get to keep the prize! :-)

SpringLight is not sponsoring or associated with this blog, giveaway, or Matthew's Closet in any way. The winner will receive the prize directly from me.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Weekly Grocery Budget

We feed our family of three with $230/month (a slight increase since I last wrote about our budget, now that Peter is eating more). This includes vitamins, toiletries, and cleaners as well as food, but these are minimal purchases. Here's how we do it (organic food is italicized):

Breakfast ($12.72) 
V8 Fusion juice, orange juice, toasted cheese sandwiches, granola raisin cereal, soy milk

Lunch ($15.73) 
peanut butter sandwiches, 7 apples, 8 bananas, 7 oranges, 1 lb carrots, yogurt

Peter's Breakfast/Lunch/Snack ($7.96) 
eggs, yogurt, hard cheese, canned pears, applesauce, bananas, oranges, raisin bread, corn cereal

Dinner ($14.75) 
Sunday ($0): dinner with my parents!
Monday ($2.98): baked mac'n'cheese (cottage cheese, cheddar, half&half, butter, flour, spices), salad
Tuesday ($1.30): ziti with pasta sauce
Wednesday ($3.69): quesadillas (just cheese) with sour cream and salsa, salad
Thursday ($2.66): chili (tomato paste, canned beans, beef)
Friday ($1.30): ziti with pasta sauce
Saturday ($2.82): leftover chili or mac'n'cheese

Weekly Budget: $51.16

We also go to Taco Bell now and then. Shh!

We should probably eat more vegetables, but with carrots and salad both being .99/lb and our love for tomato products, we're not inclined to look for much else. Our one luxury dinner (salmon, brown rice, and canned vegetable for $8.60) is a treat that we have a couple times a month. We also go out to dinner once a month (for our "monthaversary"date), for which we budget $18 in addition to our grocery line.

In the interest of honesty, our parents spoil us. As noted, my parents host Sunday dinners. They also treat us to breakfast or lunch regularly and share some groceries with us (i.e. 1/3 of a 20lb bag of potatoes last month). My in-laws frequently treat us to dinner when they visit and always feed us when we visit them. All told, our parents probably save us an extra $20/month. Thank you!

Real Monthly Budget: $250

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Being An Intentional Citizen

Today's guest post is written by my husband, Jeremy, and is the conclusion of a series on intentional living.

(Note: Terminology is going to be centered on the United States, since that's where I live, but feel free to substitute Parliment for Congress and whatnot as appropriate for your country.)

I alternatingly feel like the most and least patriotic person I know depending on my surroundings. I don't own an American flag, prefer not to say the Pledge of Alliegence, and will quite rarely defend U.S. policies compared to the rest of the industrialized world.

Don't even get me started on these jokers.

I do, however, take my obligation of citizenship very seriously. I may be a citizen by accident of birth, but it is not something I will ever take for granted or abdicate my responsibilities for as long as I live here, something I've observed far too often from so many people who have the traits I lack from the previous paragraph.

These duties are myriad, and I couldn't possibly hope to cover everything that goes with the territory of being a good citizen (nor do I do well all the time). At the risk of getting all JFK on ya, ask yourself if you do these things for your country...

Voting: Do I vote at all? Do I vote in odd-numbered years? Do I vote in school elections or primary elections as well as general elections? For all of the above, do I do my best to be informed about each candidate? Can I name my Congressman? What about my County Legislator? Do I understand what each elected official's role in government is? Do I think critically about each race, or do I vote strictly on party lines? If voting on party lines, is it for an appropriate cause, or do I apply my preferences on national issues to local races in positions where they would not have authority to effect that kind of change? Have I ever donated to or volunteered for a political campaign? Have I ever considered voting for a third party candidate? Have I ever considered running for office myself?

Being Informed: Do I stay abreast of the goings-on at all levels of government? Do I get my information from people I know or other sources? If it's from people I know, do I check their facts to ensure they haven't been misinformed themselves? If it's from other sources, are they reputable? Do my news sources all tend to be biased the same way? Do I try to understand alternate viewpoints? Have I ever changed my mind about any political issue? If the answer to that is "no" or "not recently", do I think it's because I really have it all figured out, or because I'm not actually listening to all sides?

Advocacy: Have I ever contacted my representative about something (click-to-sign Internet petitions do not count)? Have I ever attended a local board meeting? Do I raise concerns to the appropriate people to effect change, or do I just complain to anyone who will listen? If an issue is important to me, do I do anything constructive at all?

Respect: Do I demonize those who disagree with me politically? Do I assume that people with different philosophical viewpoints are intentionally trying to sabotage our way of life? Do I prefer anarchy to compromise? Have I ever yelled at anyone over a political policy that's beyond my control and theirs? When discussing issues, do I look for common ground or try to be divisive?

Accountability: Do I obey laws? If there are laws I break, why do I break them? Do I violate only the laws I find morally objectionable, or do I break laws out of convenience, self-benefit or apathy? If it's on moral grounds, is that honestly the real reason, or is that what I tell others and myself to justify it? Do I cheat on my taxes? If I get pulled over for breaking a traffic law, do I blame myself or the police officer?

Does the flag on my porch make me a patriot, or do my actions make the flag redundant?

 I bet none of these kids even voted.

Jeremy is proud to be an American, where at least he knows he's free, and he won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to him, and he'll proudly stand up next to you and defend her still today, cause there ain't no doubt he loves this land... 

Well, maybe not all of that. But if you enjoyed this post, or at least didn't hate it, you might enjoy his blog, which so far has 99% fewer pictures of Peter, but infinitely more posts about both Rick Perry and Hugh Jackman than Working to be Worthy does.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spending Intentionally

Welcome to the October Carnival of Natural Parenting: Money Matters
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how finances affect their parenting choices. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Budgeting is a hobby of mine. We have a spreadsheet with our monthly budget of $2500 (see how to make your own budget) and update it on a regular basis to keep track of how much we are putting away each month in savings. I like putting all the numbers in and tracking our spending in different categories.

We choose carefully how to spend our money. We spend more than we need to in gas money so we can see our families regularly. We have a bigger grocery budget than we need because buying organic is expensive, no matter what they say.

I also like not spending money. In some cases, I look for ways to save (buying in bulk, comparison shopping, etc.), but often I just look for ways to not spend. New shoes? Nope, these ones work. McDonalds? Eh, we'll be home in 20 minutes. Two cars? Ha, one is so much better. Another cloth diaper? Well, maybe, it's so cute... Wait, no! Have some self-control!

Babies in cloth diapers are just cute. I can't help it.

More important than choosing what to buy, though, is choosing where to buy.

Living in a mostly capitalistic society, we vote with our wallets. The only way good businesses will flourish is if consumers support them. When choosing a business to support, we look for

  • Local: Are products made in the area? If this is a chain, are corporate headquarters in this region?
  • Environmentally friendly: Does the company recycle? Do they sell organic goods? Is packaging streamlined to reduce waste? Do they sell quality goods or try to fill your home with their junk?
  • Community building: Does the company reinvest money in the community? Do they sponsor activities designed to bring people together? Do the employees know their customers?
  • Urban: Although we live in the suburbs, we are committed to supporting urban businesses. (My parents still live in the city, so we shop while we're in the area.) Urban sprawl makes me sad.
  • Positive work environment: Are employees paid a just wage with comprehensive health care? Do employees seem happy and recommend their workplace? Is the area clean and well-lit?

Most places we shop meet the majority of these criteria, although only the Public Market gets five stars. (America's Favorite Public Market in 2010!) How do your shopping choices reflect your values?

[This post is a 2-for-1 deal. In addition to being part of the Carnival of Natural Parenting, it's also post #5 in a series about intentional living. Last one coming on Thursday!]
Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon October 11 with all the carnival links.)
  • Money Matter$ — Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy shares her experiences on several ways to save money as a parent.
  • A different kind of life... — Mrs Green from Little Green Blog shares her utopian life and how it differs from her current one!
  • Show Me The Money! — Arpita of Up, Down & Natural shares her experience of planning for parenting costs while also balancing the financial aspect of infertility treatments.
  • Material v Spiritual Wealth - Living a Very Frugal Life with Kids — Amy at Peace 4 Parents shares her family's realizations about the differences between material and spiritual wealth.
  • If I Had a Money Tree — Sheila at A Gift Universe lists the things she would buy for her children if money were no object.
  • Financial Sacrifices, Budgets, and the Single Income Family — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama looks at the importance of living within your means, the basics of crafting a budget, and the "real cost" of working outside of the home.
  • Overcoming My Fear of All Things Financial — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares how she is currently overcoming her fear of money and trying to rectify her ignorance of all things financial.
  • Confessions of a Cheapskate — Adrienne at Mommying My Way admits that her cheapskate tendencies that were present pre-motherhood only compounded post-baby.
  • Money MattersWitch Mom hates money; here's why.
  • Money? What Money?! — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts describes how decisions she's made have resulted in little income, yet a green lifestyle for her and her family.
  • What matters. — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life might worry about spending too much money on the grocery budget, but she will not sacrifice quality to save a dollar.
  • Making Ends Meet — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares about being a working mom and natural parent.
  • Poor People, Wealthy Ways — Sylvia at MaMammalia discusses how existing on very little money allows her to set an example of how to live conscientiously and with love.
  • The Green Stuff — Amyables at Toddler In Tow shares how natural parenting has bettered her budget - and her perspective on creating and mothering.
  • Jemma's Money — Take a sneak peek at That Mama Gretchen's monthly budget and how Jemma fits into it.
  • 5 Tips for How to Save Time and Money by Eating Healthier — Family meal prep can be expensive and time-consuming without a plan! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares five easy tips for how to make your cooking life (and budget) easier.
  • Belonging in the Countryside — Lack of money led Phoebe at Little Tinker Tales towards natural parenting, but it also hinders her from realizing her dream.
  • Total Disclosure and Total Reform — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl gets down to the nitty gritty of her money problems with hopes that you all can help her get her budget under control.
  • Save Money by Using What You Have — Gaby at Tmuffin is only good with money because she's lazy, has trouble throwing things away, and is indecisive. Here are some money-saving tips that helped her manage to quit her job and save enough money to become a WAHM.
  • Two Hippos & Ten Euros: A Lesson in BudgetingMudpieMama shares all about how her boys managed a tight budget at a recent zoo outing.
  • ABBA said it — Laura from A Pug in the Kitchen ponders where her family has come from, where they are now and her hopes for her children's financial future.
  • Money vs. TimeMomma Jorje writes about cutting back on junk, bills, and then ultimately on income as well ~ to gain something of greater value: Time.
  • An Unexpected Cost of Parenting — Moorea at MamaLady shares how medical crises changed how she feels about planning for parenthood.
  • 5 Ways This Stay at Home Mom Saves Money — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares 5 self-imposed guidelines that help her spend as little money as possible.
  • Frugal Parenting — Lisa at My World Edenwild shares 8 ways she saves money and enriches her family's lives at the same time.
  • Conscious Cash Conscious — Zoie at TouchstoneZ shares her 5 money-conscious considerations that balance her family’s joy with their eco-friendly ideals.
  • Money, Sex and Having it All — Patti at Jazzy Mama explains how she's willing to give up one thing to get another. (And just for fun, she pretends to give advice on how to build capital in the bedroom.)
  • Money could buy me ... a clone? — With no local family to help out, Jessica Claire at Crunchy-Chewy Mama wants childcare so she can take care of her health.
  • Spending IntentionallyCatholicMommy loves to budget! Join her to learn what to buy, what not to buy, and, most importantly, where to buy.
  • New lessons from an allowance — Lauren at Hobo Mama welcomes a follow-up guest post from Sam about the latest lessons their four-year-old's learned from having his own spending money.
  • How to Homeschool without Spending a Fortune — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares tips and links to many resources for saving money while homeschooling from preschool through high school.
  • It's Not a Baby Crisis. It's Not Even a Professional Crisis. — Why paid maternity leave, you may ask? Rachael at The Variegated Life has some answers.
  • "Making" Money — Do you like to do-it-yourself? Amy at Anktangle uses her crafty skills to save her family money and live a little greener.
  • Money On My Mind — Luschka at Diary of a First Child has been thinking about money and her relationship with it, specifically how it impacts on her parenting, her parenting choices, and ultimately her lifestyle.
  • Spending, Saving, and Finding a Balance — Melissa at The New Mommy Files discusses the various choices she and her family have made that affect their finances, and finds it all to be worth it in the end.
  • Accounting for Taste — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life shares their budget and talks about how they decided food is the most important item to budget for.
  • Money Matters... But Not Too Much — Mamapoekie at Authentic Parenting shares how her family approaches money without putting too much of a focus onto it.
  • Parenting While Owning a Home Business — In a guest post at Natural Parents Network, Lauren at Hobo Mama lays out the pros and cons of balancing parenting with working from home.
  • Crunchy Living is SO Expensive...Or Is It? — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about her biggest objection to natural living - and her surprise at what she learned.
  • Mo' Money, Mo' Problems — Sarah at Parenting God's Children shares how a financial accountability partner changed her family's finances.
  • The Importance of Food Planning — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro discusses how food budgeting and planning has helped her, even if she doesn't always do it.
  • Kids & Money: Starting an Allowance for Preschoolers — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings discusses her family's approach and experiences with starting an allowance for preschoolers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Intentional Relationships

As part of a series of posts about intentional living, I submit the following questions to ask yourself about relationships in your life.

Communication: Do I value honesty in myself and others? Am I able to express myself clearly without attacking those who disagree? Am I comfortable truly listening to others, or do I try to keep my distance through small talk, humor, or sarcasm? Do I try to replace "quality time" with "quantity time"?

Anger: Are there relationships that have been damaged because of anger? Am I able to forgive those who have hurt me? Have I asked for forgiveness from others, rather than assuming they know I am sorry? Do I acknowledge my own fault in a situation, even if both of us have caused injury? Do I encourage others to get revenge or counsel peacemaking? How do I understand the balance of mercy and justice?

The Internet: What percentage of my personal interactions happen via the internet? Do I take time to visit, call, or write a letter? Do I use the anonymity afforded by the internet to insult others or say hurtful things I would not say in person? Have I allowed the internet to reduce friendships to "liking" people's statuses and tagging them in photos? How do I use the internet constructively?

Affection: Do my loved ones know they are important to me? How do I show affection to my friends and family? How has my community supported me? Have I returned this support? Am I able to accept affection, praise, and gratitude from others? What is my comfort level for showing affection?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Being Intentional with Your Time

We all have free time. The question is, how do we choose to spend it? As part of this series on intentional living, I've collected some thoughts to ponder about how you manage your time.

Activities: Do I regularly take time for an activity or hobby I enjoy? Do I feel pressured to always have something to do? Am I able to say no to unhealthy demands on my time? Do I feel obligated to join committees, activities, or clubs that I don't actually enjoy?

Quiet Time: Do I take time for myself when I need it? Am I able to be silent, at least for a minute, every day? Do I appreciate moments of quiet as they happen (driving to pick up a child, folding laundry, taking a shower)? Is there anything I want to change in my daily routine to bring more peace into my life?

Sleep: Do I get enough sleep each night to feel well-rested? Do my family's sleep arrangements meet all of our needs? Do I have a night-time routine that helps me quiet my mind and fall asleep more easily?

Chores: Do I have realistic expectations of what I can accomplish in a day? Am I content with the division of labor in my home? How do I determine what needs to be done? Do I strive to meet others' standards or simply to make my home welcoming? Are there chores I can do less frequently?

Free Time: Am I happy with how I spend my free time? Can I prioritize my tasks so that I can enjoy my free time without feeling guilty? Are there changes I can make in my environment to make my free time more rewarding (making the computer, craft supplies, books, etc. more or less accessible)?

Much of our time is spent living with others. Stay tuned on Monday for questions about intentional relationship-building!

Friday, October 7, 2011

An Intentional Faith

Yesterday, I provided a brief intentional living checklist. Some areas of life, though, require more thoughtful reflection than can be provided in a few questions. Faith is one of those.

Morality in General 
What do I believe? How am I forming my moral compass? Do my actions reflect my values? How has my faith been shaped? Who are my role models? How do I view those whose faith does not match mine? What motivates me?

For all Christians
Do I keep my faith at the center of my life, or is it compartmentalized? How do I study Scripture? How does my life match my understanding of Jesus' mission? Am I living for the end times or do I simultaneously wish for the joy of Heaven while valuing my earthly ministry (Phil. 1:21-26)? Do I share my faith in a manner I believe will be effective? Do I look to others for recognition of my piety? Can the world tell I am a Christian by my love (John 13:35)? Do I have both faith and works (James 2:14-17)? Do I seek first to understand, or do I look for ways to justify my opinions? Do I pray at all times (Eph. 6:18)?

Especially for Catholics (We Catholics are a funny breed. We need some of our own questions.)
Do I attend Mass every Sunday? Do I think about my prayers or simply recite them? Am I comfortable praying in my own words? Do I believe that my prayers are efficacious? Do I regularly take advantage of the grace offered through the Sacraments? Even Reconciliation? If I disagree with Church teachings, do I try to educate myself or just dismiss the teaching? Am I comfortable sharing my faith? Am I familiar with the Bible? Do I believe in the Real Presence? Am I able to gracefully accept a decision once it has been made, or do I continue complaining to anyone who will listen? *cough-New Roman Missal-cough* :-)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Intentional Living Checklist

As intentional parents, we look critically at our child-rearing practices to ensure we are making informed choices rather than simply following the crowd. We don't just want to do whatever is easiest, we want to do what is best. Are we being intentional in other areas of our lives?

Stop and think!

I know I am not good at policing myself. I need something like an examination of conscience to help me look critically at my life and evaluate where I should be more intentional.

Clothing: Do I wear what is comfortable? Do I choose to keep only things that make me feel good about myself? Do my clothes match my image of myself? Am I aware of the message sent by outfits I wear? Do I have clothes/jewelry/shoes that never see the light of day?

Do I share excess wealth (clothes, money, food) with those less fortunate? Can I easily find what I want, or does clutter cost me time? Can I name what is in each drawer/box/closet, or are items lost within my house? Do I keep items out of guilt or because others' will think it odd that I don't have X? Have I determined wants vs. needs for my life and that of my family?

Food: Do I eat enough fruits and vegetables during a week? Do I typically snack on healthy foods? How often do I eat out? How much meat do I eat in a week? Does the amount of food I eat match my activity level? Do I eat what I enjoy, what I should eat, or have I found recipes that accomplish both? Do I know where my food is produced and what is in it?

Green Living: Have I considered the costs vs. benefits of buying organic (food, clothes, toiletries, etc.)? Do I walk, bike, carpool or use public transit when available? Am I careful to conserve water? Do I use CFLs, a programmable thermostat, a clothesline, and other means to save electricity? Do I recycle everything I can? Do I sell or donate used items rather than throwing them away? Am I willing to be weird?

Money: Do I know how much money I spend? Can I pay off my credit card each month? Am I able to save money each month against a potential future emergency? Do I spend money to keep up appearances on things that do not bring my joy? Do I judge others whose financial priorities are not the same as mine? Do I demonstrate that I value people over things?

Self-image: Am I healthy? Do I exercise responsibly (neither too much nor too little)? If not, what barriers discourage me? Do I incorporate exercise into my daily routine? Am I maintaining my ideal body weight or striving for an unhealthy image promoted in the media? Do I wear make-up because I enjoy it or because I feel unattractive without it?

Coming up: Faith, Time, Relationships, Spending (which is related to Money, but distinct) and Civic Duty.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Feast of St. Francis as Never Before

Today is the feast of St. Francis, one of the most popular saints. I suspect this has more to do with people liking animals than being inspired by his spiritual life, but perhaps I am being overly cynical. At any rate, on the way out of Mass this morning, Peter said, "Doggy!" (Sort of. His enunciation isn't great.) In fact, he saw a cat, not a dog. A cat licking a license plate holder and about to be run over.

For the record, I am not an animal lover. I like some specific animals, but in general they just annoy me. They lick and shed and make a nuisance of themselves.

But I'm not so cruel that I will leave a cat to be run over in a rainy parking lot. Especially on the feast of St. Francis. At church. :-)

I ran over and picked up the cat (surprising the driver, who hadn't seen it). It's now raining lightly and I have a toddler in one arm and a strange cat in the other. I decided to put them both in our car and consider further action once we were dry.

The cat immediately started cleaning herself and showed every indication of sitting quietly on the floor. Since animal control wasn't open yet and I have a mirror set so I can see Peter in his car seat, I decided to drive home very slowly and put the cat in our bathroom.

I even gave her tuna and water.

She stayed there until 1PM when the humane society finally returned our calls and agreed to take her.

Not having pets, we don't have cages. So I figured we could keep her in a cardboard box with holes. She apparently disagreed.

With the cat on my lap, we finally got to the shelter and turned her over to her new home.

I hope her owners are able to pick her up soon, but if not I'm confident she'll get adopted quickly. She's friendly and well-mannered. Even if she did shed all over our car. Animals.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I am reading...The Urban Homestead. I got it from our local library and have enjoyed it. The authors provide a number of excellent resources and easy ways to get started. The writing style is engaging and practical. I'm not sure I'm any closer to taking the plunge, but I'm getting more confident that there are things I can actually do.

I am praying for... hope. A good friend of mine is struggling with issues of sexuality, depression, and too many commitments. A family I know is trying to keep faith despite tension being high at home. A young man came into church last week simply looking for answers. I pray for them and for all in need of hope.

My favorite seasonal food is... apple cider. A friend of mine bought a gallon for us at a local apple festival. It tastes even better knowing that we're supporting local agriculture!

Pies from the Hilton Apple Festival. Yum!

I am planning... Sunday school lessons. I love being a teacher and creating engaging ways to share my faith. I met my class yesterday; they are fantastic. This coming weekend we're talking about peace and justice and tying it in to Respect Life Month. Heavy topics for eight-year-old kids!

I was recently surprised by... how long it takes for clothes to air dry in the basement. My parents not infrequently hang jeans to dry in their basement over the winter and it never takes more than a day. I realized the problem is the current weather. It's too cold and wet to hang clothes outside, but not cold enough that the furnace is running regularly. Bummer.