Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Simplifying: Rhythm and Predictability

This week's simplification efforts are in the rhythm and predictability department (for more about my project to implement Kim John Payne's Simplicity Parenting in my life, see here). I have to admit that this is the third book I have read that addresses the concept of “rhythm” in daily life, but I still do not entirely get the concept. For instance, what is the difference between rhythm, routine and schedule? Apparently, it's somewhat analogous to musical rhythm, with highs, lows, pauses and repetition? Maybe? I'm not very musical, so maybe that's why I don't immediately connect with the metaphor; I'm also not good at applying abstract concepts to real life. Please feel free to chime in in the comments with your interpretation of what rhythm means for you.

We do have some routines, or things we repeat daily, that may qualify as rhythm. We've eaten dinner at the table as a family ever since M was a tiny baby and his little diaper butt bounced up and down in time with the theme song of King of the Hill that C and I watched while eating dinner, and we realized that maybe it was time to move the evening meal from the couch to the table. Family dinner often involves kids whining about having to “do everything” (i.e., set the table), hopping up and running around, trying to read or play with toys and, usually, at least one person getting spoon-fed by their mother. But we're all there, and all together.

Payne suggests lighting a candle and having a moment of silence. We've had a candle on our table for some months now, but I usually forgot to light it. Now I light it every night (though sometimes don't remember until halfway through dinner) and we close our eyes and have a moment of silence to “Thank the farmer and the gardener and the cook and thank Mother Earth and Father Sun.” The first several days all three boys made as much noise as possible during the “moment of silence,” but now we're getting in a few seconds of quiet, and they've started a tradition of saying what they “took a picture of” (i.e., “pictured”) during their moment. I'd love to copy this idea for little blessing cards and a card holder, but for now our little thanks works for us.

Payne does say that if rhythm is not possible in your life, then at least insert predictability. He suggests talking to kids about changes in their schedules or upcoming events at bed time so that they can process the new ideas in their sleep. This is a totally new idea for me. I have always just made plans and then sprung them on my children as we're about to go out the door, “We're going to the beach, guys, c'mon!” I suppose I wanted to save myself the trauma if plans changed, or leave myself an out in case I changed my mind. Then it got to the point that they would complain and agitate so much about having to leave the house, that I would save our plans until the last minute, just so I could listen to the complaints for the shortest period of time possible.

However, I'm willing to give almost anything a try, so a few weeks ago, I announced at dinner on Friday, that we would be attending the local wool fair—The Fiber Frolic—on Sunday. I braced for the complaints, the “I don't want to go's,” but they were not forthcoming. Sunday morning, after I gave up on waiting for the rain to stop, I announced it was time to go, and everyone piled in the car, willingly and cheerfully. Amazing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to last Friday. It was E and Z's first day back at daycare after a year at Montessori school. C and I started our new routine of him dropping them off in the morning, me picking them up in the evening. We didn't mention this routine to the kids, though, and as soon as I got to daycare, both E and Z started crying and wailing, “I want Papa to pick us up!” E threw his hat at me and hit me in the eye. Even though I had both dropped them off and picked them up for the last ten months at school, they were still programmed to expect their dad to pick them up at daycare as he did a year ago (and to scream and cry if I dared try to pick them up). That night at bedtime we talked about how Papa would drop them off in the morning from now on, and I would pick them up. They moaned and complained a bit more. I reminded them again Sunday night and Monday, I braced for the worst, but arrived at daycare to find three reasonably cheerful children ready to hop in the car and go home with Mom, and every day after that all week.

How do you bring rhythm and predictability into your life?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Summer Solace

On Sunday, E and Z kept asking when the "Summer Solace" would be. I like that term--I get a great deal of solace from summer, don't you?
Despite the actual Summer Solstice being on Monday, we observed it all weekend and did lots of summering.

Saturday morning, C repaired the deck, which had a number of rotten boards, after Z's leg went through one of the larger holes Friday night. While replacing a board, he briefly exposed this nest of five baby phoebes. Their parents like to hang out on our clothesline, dip-dipping their tails.

We spent all afternoon at the lake (no photos--had so much fun didn't even think of taking pictures!) It was super windy, but the water was warm, with big waves. We came home and made pigs in the blanket with local, organic hot dogs I found at the farmer's market and homemade bread dough, along with a pasta salad with fresh peas from the garden. In keeping with my Picnicing summer resolution, we ate outside, the boys at the picnic table I just bought them with money their great grandmother sent for their birthdays.

We spent Sunday at home, basking in the summery-ness of it all. The boys played wiffle ball and had a huge water fight. I refreshed my kitchen window sill for summer (previously it held several vases filled with wilted and gone-to-seed flowers sitting in foul-smelling water):

(the blown glass vase was my Mother's Day present from M)

and the nature table, which had gotten dusty and cluttery:

(Snail from Syrendell; beaver by Grandpoppy).

I finally started a flower garden, having "meant to" for the last nine years. I have a small, extremely weedy shade garden, and some Siberian iris and daylillies just stuck in along the edges of the "yard" along the woods, but I just never have been able to get around to planting a whole garden (I'll blame babies). My neighbor gave me a grocery sack full of iris on Friday and forced the issue.

Once when C and I were camping in the Pawnee National Grasslands in north-eastern Colorado, we saw this interpretive sign that said, "Grass don't grow upside down," which apparently was the Native American commentary on the settlers' attempts to plow the shortgrass prairie to grow crops. I made this garden on the same principle, just turning the clumps of sod over, rather than trying to shake all the dirt out of the roots. I'm hoping "grass don't grow upside down" in Maine, either.

I didn't take a "before" picture, but this is the area one "terrace" below; which is about what my garden looked like. Eventually this will be full of flowers (another neighbor and a co-worker have both offered me all the perennials I can cart away, so I better get busy).

C and M biked to the General Store in the afternoon to load up on junk food, and I spent some time in the hammock, listening to a thunderstorm roll in. For dinner we enjoyed (OK, some of us enjoyed) a Mexican feast cooked in the solar oven, that I'll tell you about later this week.

How did you celebrate the Summer Solace?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Simplifying Week 1: The Mudroom

I decided to start my Simplifying project in the mudroom--the first place we see when we come into the house, and the last place we see when we leave, it seemed like a good place to start.

Reducing the clutter in this room will not only make it a more pleasant space to come home to, it should make it easier to find and choose shoes, jackets, etc. and thus make the morning rush a little easier (of course what will simplify my mornings the most is the fact that C offered to take the boys to daycare in the mornings all summer, which saved me the trouble of trying to trick him into taking them).
Here's what our mudroom usually looks like:

Everyone just kicks of their shoes upon entering the house, and drops whatever they brought in with them (including, ahem, a box of junk and garbage I cleaned out of my car a week earlier).
But other, systemic problems involve too many choices: four or five jackets per child and an entire bin full of shoes. Although I had cleaned and put away most of the winter gear some time ago, C and I still had our winter coats out here, and there were a number of stray stocking caps, gloves and snow pants that needed to be washed and either stored somewhere else or put in the Coats for Kids box.
I eliminated the shoe bin, in favor of lining up the kids' shoes (one pair of sneakers, one pair of sandals and on of Crocs for each child) where they can see them, and put most of the spare shoes that either don't fit or don't get worn down in the basement (I did leave out two pairs of hiking boots that E and Z may or may not wear all summer...we'll see...).
The result? Fewer choices, in a more pleasing arrangement. Elimination of stuff that doesn't belong.

(The little baskets hold our binoculars, notebooks and magnifying glasses for easy access when heading out the door. The "tennis rackets" are C and M's bug zappers--I was truly horrified when C's brother gave them for Christmas, but I guess if it reduces their chances of EEE exposure, I can live with it).

Now, I don't really expect it to STAY clean, all by itself--it is the MUD room after all. However, a whole week has gone by since the clear-out and it doesn't look much worse. Though we still all just kick off our shoes when we walk in the door, I was able to vacuum out there without having to pick up much first, and I even put my own hammock away when it started to rain yesterday, rather than heaping it on the chair.

What have you simplified this week?

Friday, June 18, 2010


I just finished reading Kim John Payne's Simplicity Parenting. It's one of the best parenting books I've read (the other being Alfie Kohn's Unconditional Parenting, which I truly credit with saving me when I was drowning with infant twins and a very unhappy four-year-old). Simplicity Parenting is not about tweaking or responding to or trying to modify individual behaviors from your child, but rather, it's about modifying your child's environment and days to reduce the low-level stress that exacerbates natural quirks into outright behavior issues.

The four areas Payne focuses on for simplifying a child's world are:
  1. Environment (reducing the number of toys, books, clothes, drastically, to reduce choices and visual clutter).
  2. Rhythm (establishing rhythms and inserting predictability in a child's day).
  3. Schedules (reducing the amount of time spent in scheduled activities to allow for lots of free time for unstructured play).
  4. Media (reducing or eliminating exposure to media and adult conversations in order to preserve childhood, and not cause children stress about things going on in the world that they have no control over).

A lot of what Payne recommends makes common sense--for example, a lot of visual clutter causes me anxiety, so why wouldn't the same be true for kids? And, whenever we do a major clean-up (and clean-out) of toys, they all seem to settle down and play in the new open area; rediscovering toys they forgot existed because they were just part of the "pile." I also have to admit, I love any child care advice that runs counter to prevailing notions--like choice. Every magazine or book you pick up on parenting says give your toddlers and small children lots of choices so they feel in control. Payne says, giving them too many choices makes them feel overwhelmed.

However, what Payne makes sound so easy (pile up all your kids toys, then take away half, then half again), like an afternoon project, could take weeks or months (how do you even find all of your kids' toys?). I did do (another) major clean-out of the boys' room, filled up a box for Goodwill, took some big toys that they don't really play with but that I don't want to part with (my old doll house, the wooden barn) down to the basement, filled up three boxes of books for the library book sale. But still, there's a long way to go, and it will be the work of more than one afternoon. So, I'm going to take simplifying area by area, room by room, moment by moment over the next few months.

I'll be back Monday with my first Simplification project: The Mudroom. I'd love it if you joined me. Please chime in in the Comments and link to any posts you have about simplifying (whether Kim John Payne style or not).

Thursday, June 17, 2010


E and Z "graduate" from preschool today. I've been counting down the days to this moment for a LOOONG time. Not that I want their childhoods to gallop by at breakneck speed (it already seems they are), but I have been really looking forward to life returning to "normal"--to not having two co-pilots on my daily commute, to having getting to work on time, working eight hours and being able to run errands without an entourage, to having all three of my kids in one place.
I knew what the trade-offs would be when I signed them up last year, and I don't regret my decision in the least; they needed to be in a place where they could learn and explore, where creativity is supported, not squelched. But still, I'm going to breathe a huge sigh of relief when I pull out of that tiny, crowded parking lot one last time today. Of course I will probably shed a tear or two, too, when they stand up to get their diplomas. This year, despite all the inconvenience of it, has gone by remarkably fast (don't they all?).
Here's a picture of the boys on their first day of school. They look so little, so very toddler-ish. It's amazing that in nine months, they've become such big boys!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer To-Do List

I had a moment of panic the other day when I realized that the lilacs had already gone by (they were super early this year--normally they peak at Memorial Day, and then rot in a week of rain; this year they were done by the middle of May!). Then it occurred to me that the Summer Solstice is coming up, and you know what that means, don't you? The days will start getting shorter again!! I always feel like summer slips by me like a river, and I just stand in its flow, trying to scoop up at handfuls of water that trickle out of my grasp. To make matters worse, I now only have two free days a week on which to appreciate and enjoy summer (where ever since M was small I had four).

I'm determined to make the best of it, though. Monday night, since I heated up leftover macaroni and cheese for dinner, we had a bit of extra time, so we had an impromptu picnic on the deck.

I want to have a lot more picnics this summer. Here's the short list of what else I want to get done this season:

Go to the beach (a lot!)

Stay home (and not tell anyone we're here)

Make cardboard looms and weave with the boys

Read in my hammock

Go camping at least one more time

Outfit a picnic basket

Make a picnic blanket (I'm halfway there)

Establish a dinner schedule and routine

Establish a food shopping schedule

Eat only local foods in July and August

Make jam (good jam, for once)

Go berry picking

Make a summer blouse

Finish my Inside Out journal

Make parachute guys with clothespins and napkins with the boys

Exercise every day

Eat no refined sugar (I started this last Tuesday and plan to go until my birthday--August 20, FYI)

Make a meringue with whipped cream, chocolate and berries for my birthday (maybe a bit of sugar)

Get some hikes in for Capital Walks (long-term goal: finish all the hikes in the area and write a book, already)

What are your summer plans?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


This year for teacher gifts I decided I was NOT going to make something by hand--E and Z have three teachers now, in addition to M's one main teacher (and six specials teachers and bus driver--last year I made banana bread for all the auxilliary teachers; I was going to make cookies this year but am running out of time and energy!). I was going to get them (the four classroom teachers) something useful and eco-friendly (though probably not nearly as nice as the spa gift certificates my friend BM gives, but then again I'm not a doctor).

My plan was some reusable coffee mugs (those teachers go through a lot of Dunkin' Donuts cups) and Chico Bag reusable shopping bags.

I found these porcelain mugs with Silicone lids.

I read somewhere that Silicone was made with sand rather than petroleum (or maybe someone was confusing Silicone with silicon? Are they really related? I should research this.) If it is made from sand, I'm sure that uses a ton of energy, but still it's gotta be better than a new plastic cup every day, right?

Then, as I was thinking about going to the health food store to get the bags my conscience started in on me...the Chico bags are great (I have two that I bought so we'd have grocery bags with us when we flew to Colorado last summer) and I love them--I have one hooked to my purse and I hooked the other to C's man bag--but they are made of nylon, and nylon is a kind of plastic. And I have all these old sheets, leftover from another project (which I have not yet finished), and I could easily make something just as good...

So I turned my Chico bag inside out, traced the pattern and tried making my own. I ended up putting the wrong edge on the fold when I cut, so the long part is in the middle, and the short is under the handles, I had so much trouble with tension and my machine eating thread and leaving black greasy clumps of thread on the back side of the fabric, that I was forced to take the dang thing apart and clean it and fiddle with the bobbin tension (I did not, however, go to the extreme of oiling it!), and it took me a while to figure out how to make the handles work with a lining (I'm not good at going back and forth between the one-dimensional and three-dimensional worlds...I'm banking on my mental gymnastics in this realm to stave off early dementia).

Finally, though, I made a bag. It looks a bit more like an undershirt than a bag, though (which makes me think a tank top wouldn't be too hard to make)...maybe it's the low-cut sides where they should have been straight across, or maybe it's the dainty flowers of the bag. It doesn't stuff as small as a nylon bag, but it does stuff. If I get the pattern right and use less dainty flowers, hopefully the bags I make for the teachers won't look quite so underwearish. Or maybe the teachers will just think I'm weird.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Leapin' Llamas

The boys and I braved the drizzling-with-occasional-deluges weather Sunday and attended the Maine Fiber Frolic.

There are so many fairs and festivals in Maine that you could attend one every weekend from Memorial Day through Columbus Day, if you were so inclined. When M was small, I think tried to hit them all--he developed his terror of farm animals when a cow mooed at him at the Pittston Fair when he was one; he was traumatized by a man on stilts dressed like Elton John and carrying a honking goose puppet at the Gardiner Festival and Antique Car Parade when he was two (the next week, at the Whitefield Fourth of July Parade, he asked if there would be any "tall men," I assured him there wouldn't and then was proved a liar when two Uncle Sam's on stilts marched by. What are the chances?); I was traumatized by the gross commercialism, militarism (the National Guard always has a major presence), junk-food-ism, and religious proselytism at the Kids' Day in Augusta.

These days we avoid most of the other offerings, but make sure to hit the Fiber Frolic in June and the Windsor Fair in September (mostly for the maple cotton candy). The Frolic is my favorite Maine fair--no noisy midway, no crowds, lots of cute animals, good food and beautiful fiber. Due to the damp weather, we did not spend quite as much time frolicking this year as we did last year (and the sheep dogs, sadly, did not come), but we had a good time:

watching llamas leap

petting bunnies

eating falafel (and hot dogs)

and ice cream (and fried dough).

I came home with just a little bit of wool roving--some bright, fun colors.

Not sure what I'll do with it, but I think I'll try something different than the birds.
Also a set of five baskets and a little gnome whom I could not resist.

Hope you had a frolicking good weekend!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Office for a Day

On Friday morning, after dropping my mom off to catch the bus that would take her to South Station, I took myself to the Standard Baking Co. in Portland and then to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth (after a bit of driving around in circles--these east coast towns are sooo confusing! Give me a grid, people!!).

I had never been here, to the home of Portland Head Light before. In fact, I didn't even really know that this "most photographed place in Maine" was here, until my mom and I went on a harbor cruise the previous day.

I had the day off, courtesy of the State of Maine, and the boys had had so many "stay home days" over the previous two weeks I felt not at all guilty letting C take them to school. So I had this glorious day all to myself.

I had great expectations of all the writing I would accomplish--finish the book for my class, write my response, read the first lecture, do both the exercises, work on my column for The Motherhood Muse, do my assignment for writing group. It turned out I was not nearly as far along in the book as I thought I was, so I spent the entire day sitting by the ocean, reading. It's a rough life, I know.
Later I stopped in South Portland for a late sandwich and saw another lighthouse (Bug Light--'cause it's as cute as a bug, according to the harbor cruise captain).
Who knew there were all these lighthouses along the rocky coast of Maine?
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