Thursday, December 28, 2017

Creating Habits

When I first read Ms Mason’s philosophy on early childhood education, I was simultaneously relieved and overwhelmed. In short, she believed education in the structured academic form should be delayed until age 6, and the teacher’s time was best spent developing habits that would “lay the tracks” for an easy learning experience when the time came.

I was so happy because it so aligned with what I believed- that small children shouldn’t be overburdened with academics, but gently guiding in the basic foundations of being a human in society. It just seemed like a perfect solution for teacher and child.

But as I looked through Laying Down the Rails book of habits, I soon realized that while Ms Mason was indeed revolutionary in her education beliefs, she was a Victorian nonetheless! There are at least 50 different habits that she believed should be strived for- AAAAAGHH! How was I going to do them all??

I of course didn’t. But I took this approach, and it’s been working well so far in the 3 years I’ve been using the CM approach.

I looked at all the habits, and I identified both the ones we valued as a family and the ones the Prince family could really benefit from. 

But...I ran into a problem…

We weren’t in Victorian was I to graft these crucial habits into my modern world?? So the List Maker in me piped up and got to listing…

We don’t do this list every day- that would be much too overwhelming. Instead, I keep it posted in my homeschool-ish room, and when I realize that say, my son is having a difficult time sitting still, refer to the list and fit it into our routines.

Everybody’s list will be different. But here are some things I learned along the way, and hopefully you won’t repeat the mistakes I made!

1. Identify and pursue the habits that fit into YOUR family’s core values.

2. Don’t begin to execute until you have thought it out. Be realistic about the season that you are in, and where your children are at developmentally. Is this a realistic time for that habit? Will there be a shift in life in 2 months that will make it difficult to continue? Map these things out- its better to not start a habit than to start and be inconsistent because you couldn’t keep it up. Children are quick learners to what we aren’t serious about, and you may find yourself in a Boy who Cried Wolf situation later.

3. Hold yourself to these standards FIRST before you teach them to your children. “More is caught than taught”. Not only will it be easier to teach them, you will avoid embittering them by being hypocritical. This doesn’t mean you need to be perfect, just pave the road a bit before you ask the kids to.

4. Don’t nag. Don’t nag. Don’t nag. Don’t nag. Like dripping water is the person who nags. Soon it will fade into the background and won’t even be heard. Instead of saying “TURN OFF THE LIGHTS!!!” Every time your child leaves them on, say “What did you forget in your room?” This will literally retrain their brain into recalling what they are supposed to do. It is SO LIBERATING!!!!!!

5. Hold their hand until they begin to remember on their own. How are you will habits? Going to the gym? Flossing your teeth? Putting your keys away? I think if we were honest, we would say that even as adults it is REALLY hard to engrain a new habit. How much more for the child? Too many times I would find myself frustrated and nagging about something, and then I would remember that learning something takes time, and it wasn’t really realistic to expect a 5 year old to remember the habit. I needed to hold his hand and ask “what are you supposed to do next?”
6. When you let go of their hand, use natural consequences. Something that is important to me as a mom of 4 young kids is teaching my kids to take initiative where they are able. I set my oldest up with a list of things she can and needs to do before she can go play. If she asks me, “can I go play”, I respond “Have you done what you need to do to play?” Now, what if it's the end of the day, and she wants to play, but her list isn’t done? Use the natural consequence- she did not finish her work, therefore she doesn’t get to go play. This will work it’s magic.

7. Encourage them. Tell them what an awesome job they are doing, even if you had a crappy day. So many times I have forgotten to do this, even though encouragement is a strong need for myself! Don’t let the journey of habits overshadow the light of enjoying your children during the day.

We are still on our journey of creating habits, and we are NEVER perfect at them! Isn’t it funny how homeschooling your children has a curious way of working out the perfectionist in you?? 

How about you? What habits have you gone after? Any tips you would like to add in the comments? 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Capturing the Sights and Sounds of Your Children: Living Room Study

     It was one of those rare mornings, the ones where I got up way before the kids, and was super productive. Being industrious is my natural bent, but with a nursing baby, I am flexible with my sleep schedule.

     It was actually an accident- I woke up at 4am, my 6 year old curled up at the edge of our queen sized bed like a cat. Ironically, everybody else was soundly sleeping, and I would have liked to be also, but apparently my body was extremely grateful for 6 whole hours of uninterrupted sleep and decided it was high time I get up. I lay back down, hoping to drift back to sleep, but knew all was lost by ten minutes. I decided to make something of it, and head down to the garage for a spin workout.

    40 minutes later I decided I was on a roll, so I figured I'd drive to the local coffee shop to grab a couple coffees for my husband and I. Then I made breakfast. All before 7am!

The kids decided they didn't want what I made, but I was feeling too good to let it bother me, so I said...OK, and off they went with empty bellies to play. This was working out really well! I grabbed my daughter's nature study book and found on the first page a tutorial on "how to observe nature". As a lover of nature, studying it is really something that I do without thinking about it. But I really appreciated how the tutorial brought me back to the simplicity of just using our senses and writing down short, descriptive blurbs of what is happening.

So I grabbed a chair, and sat in front of our garden.

I had not been sitting for 30 seconds when I heard a muffled high voice and saw smudgy hands trying to push open the glass door. Okay, I can do this with one child out here...

Sit. Listen. A bird calling. The tall grass bobbing in the morning breeze. The sun peeking out over the neighbor's house. The scraping of manufactured plastic on the bricks, accompanied with bubbly spitting noises. Clammy hands gripping my more squishy than I realized thighs. Play with me! Be  this, be this!

I sighed deep, knowing that I would not be able to ease into the sensations of nature. It would have to wait for another time. I felt slightly discouraged since capitalizing on these moments of inspiration didn't come often, but quickly realized the blessing in disguise.

Nature would always be here, but my children would not.

My days are filled with constant interruptions, messes, squabbling, and many other unpleasantries that mothers are all too familiar with. There are days where I wish that my home looked like the Real Simple magazine I scanned through at a midwife appointment one time. But, it will not last forever. In fact, if the old ladies at the grocery store are right, it will go by faster than I realize.

The thought occurred to me- what if I forget what it feels like to have a little baby look into my eyes while I'm feeding her? Will I remember the disgusting feeling of vomit sliding down my shirt or stepping on food that was declared unfit for eating? Will I remember the satisfaction that my husband and I feel after a night of tag teaming and putting our 4 kids to sleep, and hearing no noise from their bedrooms? Will I have answers and funny stories to give to my children, when they are in the throes  of child rearing and need encouragement or wisdom? When I am old and wrinkly, and need perspective on my life, will I struggle to draw upon those memories? And if I can muster them up, will I remember them accurately?  Will I remember what it was like?

So I put down my notebook and picked up a plastic bear, satisfying the 2 year old beckoning me to play at my thighs, thankful that God had showed me the gems sparkling in the sand.

It took only 2 minutes for her to exhaust the excitement of her game, and then bumbled up the stairs to find her brother and sister. I grabbed my sketch book and sat down at the table and began my observations in my own living room.

What did I see, hear, feel, smell or taste? My living room was a mess; toys scattered on my cabinet, my decorations out of place. I fought the urge to fix it. There was nothing complicated about it, but satisfying knowing that I was beginning a new habit of capturing the fleeting moments of my children's short stay in my home.

I still stop to watch a centipede scurry across the sidewalk, or to listen to a quail in the distance. But I am going to start paying more attention to the wild "animals" in my own home, because they won't be here for long.

Monday, September 4, 2017

You Have Permission...

Our house was filled with the usual sounds of the late morning as I did my morning routine in my bathroom- several feet pitter pattering throughout the halls, the sounds of wild animals squawking. 

My daughter and her entourage of 2 younger siblings filed into my room, showing me her latest costume.

"Look! I'm a SCUBA diver!" She had put together a backpack as her oxygen tank, and her doctor's stethoscope as her breathing tube.

My kids can almost always be found pretending to be this or that, creating some of the most creative get ups with just about any kind of scrap toy. This is completely normal in my house.

But this morning, I was impressed with her creativity. It reminded me of children's ability to take seemingly normal things and transform them into new creations. To have the perspective that something has life beyond what society prescribes to it. To give the world permission to see things differently.

This is why children are a gift. Somehow through the storms of life, we adults come out limping, creating beliefs to help us cope with the pain. We want to be safe from ever experiencing whatever we came out of. And as time marches on, the cement of those beliefs set, and we experience life with 
this new normal. We don't feel the heaviness on our feet, until a childlike mind shows us that we can run again.

When I saw my daughter, I thought Sometimes we just need permission...

A backpack is for putting school things in.
A stethoscope is for checking patient's hearts.
Goggles are for swimming.

Until somebody has eyes to see beyond.

What cement has set around you? What cement has set around you?

Perhaps you believe you are too old for school. Perhaps you have given up on finding a spouse. Perhaps you've been told you can't wear this or that. Perhaps you've been told your dreams are silly.

No, you probably didn't hear anybody say these actual words. But perhaps you heard it through a friend's facial expression. Somebody laughing. A facebook post. Or perhaps it was only you who stopped you.

Sometimes we just need permission.

So here is my prompt to you:

Ask yourself what things you used to dream about. When did they get buried? By what did they get buried? What beliefs have "cemented" you in? What do you need to change in your life to breath life into these dreams again?

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Simple Foot Exercises

I had mentioned in my last blog post about tips on switching to minimalist shoes, that I would be making a video on some feet strengthening exercises. Here it is!

What exercises have you found helpful? Please leave a comment below, and share this video if you found it helpful.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Tips for Running in Vibrams

Yesterday was 4th of July. The day when hundreds of San Diegans flock to the beaches, lakes or parks with a carload of food, drinks and games to endure a long sweaty day with friends and family. And the cherry on top, an hour long firework display.

Me? Oh, no. I do not like crowds, long waits, traffic if I don't have to. And with 4 children under 7 years old, my husband and I have decided that we are okay with forfeiting the normal holiday bustle for now.

But anyways, I took the opportunity to do an outdoor workout while my husband was at home with the kids during nap. I've done about 2 easy post-partum runs, with my normal Asics tennis shoes. It's been going well, so I decided my body was ready for some  minimalist footwear integration. So I grabbed my Vibrams and headed to the lake...where I quickly had a SMH moment when I saw the traffic, crowded parking, and blaring music.... LOL.

 As I slipped on my old purple Vibrams, I realized it had been just over 5 years since I started running in them. I remembered the changes I had felt in my feet and body, and how I had learned that you really need to be prepared in order to avoid injury. So I decided I would write out a few things that I've learned along the way, just in case YOU are thinking about taking the toe shoe plunge. :)

1. Practice a mid/toe strike stride BEFORE you switch over.

 Most people strike the ground with their heel much heavier than they ought to. Your foot is (ideally) the first point of contact with the ground, and therefore is designed to absorb the shock and your weight. Your foot was designed to absorb shock and transfer weight through the middle of foot via the plantar fascia, to the toe, not the heel of the foot.

This is important even with "normal" running shoes. Many repetitive injuries can be avoided just by improving your stride. But it is IMPERATIVE that you run differently with minimalist shoes. Traditional running shoes have much more material, and this helps with some of the shock absorption, even if you are running incorrectly. Minimal shoes offer very little shock absorption, so it's really on your feet to do the job, and if you don't, you can end up with stress fractures, tendinitis, and other repetitive injuries (not fun! I know!).

So how does one "run correctly"? I am no expert in this area...but there are several different schools of thought. I'm not one for reinventing the wheel, so I will let you do the Googling. But essentially, in order to strike the ground with more of your mid foot, you need to have a shorter stride. Pay particular attention how it feels to push the ground away with your toes. You may need to run much slower to play around with this.

2. Consider your weight

As I mentioned above, switching over to minimalist shoes increases the chance of injury if not handled carefully. If you are just beginning  your weight loss journey, or are still significantly overweight, hold off on switching over. I actually don't think running is ideal for people who have a significant amount of weight to lose. But if you are at the point of running, focus more on losing the weight and improving your foot work before trying these shoes. Slow and steady wins the race, you won't be doing yourself any favors if you injure your feet/legs because they were not ready.

3. Strengthen your feet

Because your weight will be more evenly transferred to each of your toes, the little muscles will be used more. Your runs will be more enjoyable if you aren't constantly stopping because your feet get tired. Do foot exercises in between your minimal shoe runs. Also, increasing the soft tissue in your feet will assist in shock absorption. I will be posting a video soon what I do for strengthening my feet. ***UPDATE*** HERE is that video :)

4. Take stretching seriously

This tip naturally follows the above tip, because, anytime you are contracting your muscles, there is the chance they will lose elasticity and range of motion.  Can you say PLANTAR FASCIITIS??? A healthy muscle is strong, yet has the ability to release. If you do not take the time to stretch not only after your runs and other workouts, but also other days of the week, you may very well get plantar fasciitis. I have had this more than once (and have overcome it)- it sucks, and is preventable. I have my own method of stretching and dealing with plantar fasciitis, I will also be posting this soon.

5. Don't use minimal shoes exclusively

Keep running with your normal shoes also. As with any workout program, you want to keep things varied. Your body will appreciate a break from the extra work that minimal shoes require, and you will be using your body slightly different with normal shoes, which will assist in your overall strength and fitness. You may also find that some minimal shoes are not really suited for say, trail running or hiking. Or for running in the rain. Take those opportunities to wear your traditional shoes.

6. Take care of your shoes

Like I mentioned above, my shoes have lasted me 5 years. There is some degradation of the glue, but hey, it's not that bad! Keep your shoes in room temp places (NOT IN YOUR BURNING HOT CAR). Air them out. Don't put them in the dryer.

7. Pay attention to (and address) your body

This is an all across rule to health and fitness. Have you been having painful heels? Does your back hurt the day after a run? Are you experiencing plantar fasciitis? In my experience, most people don't respect their bodies. And they pay for it. Don't make this mistake- you are better off stopping and addressing an issue than ignoring it so you can do that 5k you paid for. It may be the difference between being able to run when you're 60 or sitting it out.
Hopefully you are not neglecting the other areas of fitness such as strength, flexibility, good nutrition, and stress management. Treating your body with respect in these areas can help avoid injuries across the board, and you're more likely to have success with trying out minimalist shoes.

Well, that's all I've got! What about you?
Have you made the switch? What changes have you noticed?
Please leave a comment and share if you found this post helpful!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Easy Lunch: Iron Smoothie

It's Monday again, which means it Monday Food Prep day for me. Since I devote myself to prepping food for the other days of the week, I pick really fast and easy lunches to reduce my overall workload for the day. Smoothies are one of my favorite ways to do this. I also love smoothies because they are great for gradually adjusting kids' taste buds to new flavors without the visual and textural shock. I ultimately have the goal of seeing my kids shriek with excitement at the announcement that wilted spinach is for dinner...but let's start small, people, okay? ;)

So today, I decided I would make an "iron-focused" smoothie. What that means it that I choose foods that complement iron absorption. 

I'm not one for recipes and measuring. I almost never repeat the same recipe exactly how one is supposed to. I just throw in whatever I feel like. I would encourage you to experiment too! If you want to try more kefir to cocoa ratio, go for it! You may explore that your kids really like the flavor of spinach and can add more as you go!

So here's what I did today, and my kids LOVED it!

-Mango flavored smoothie (I got it at Sprouts) Protein, added vitamin D, Calcium
- Frozen Spinach: Iron, Fiber
- Cocoa powder: Iron, flavor AND it doesn't hurt to tell your kids there is healthy chocolate in there
- Peanut Butter: Iron, protein
- Banana: I mostly added this for flavor...banana has a great flavor next to chocolate.

So technically, Calcium and Iron are not friends; meaning, one inhibits the absorption of the other a little. Iron rich foods (like spinach) have something called oxalic acid in it, and it binds to Calcium. But before you say "What's the point then???" remember that your/kids' bodies will absorb some, and the goal of healthy food training is not simply for our bodies' health, but for overall health; to experience a wide array of textures, flavors, and smells, all while enjoying social interaction with others.

But back to the smoothie: here are a couple of things I've learned along the way:
 - If you have a toddler, a child who doesn't handle utensils well, or just a straight up messy child and want to minimize the mess, add a little flaxseed meal to the smoothie if it is runny. This adds Omega-3's, and absorbs much of the liquid. 

- blend on "liquefy" setting; the spinach can be rather fibrous, making it difficult for small kids to handle...and it freaks them out a bit...

- if you want to increase iron absorption even more, add a fruit that has vitamin C, such as strawberries 

Let me know if you try this recipe, or what changes you made to it! And please subscribe and share if you found this helpful! 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Finding Value in Your Writing

"I think this story-writing business is the foolishest yet, " scoffed Marilla. "You'll get a pack of nonsense into your heads and waste time that should be put on your lessons. Reading stories is bad enough but writing them is worse."- Marilla Cuthbert, Anne of Green Gables

This passage was written in 1908, yet it reveals the timeless challenge belonging to writers and artists of proving that the work they do is worth the time and energy invested into it. 

The latest fiction book I am reading is Anne of Green Gables. I grew up watching the movie during long car trips to Zion or The Redwoods, on which my dad would take my two sisters and I on. Between stopping for routine geological lectures about the sedimentary rocks, my dad would put in the movie into a small VHS player to keep us from fighting with each other. I must have watched that film at least 10 times, but had never read the book.

I picked the book up only a few days ago, but I've already reached the half way point This is to the credit of its author, L.M. Montgomery. Her writing is full of lively dialogue, her characters are full of personality and history, and her imagery indulges the senses. There is a real pleasure as a writer to fully be immersed in somebody else's book. 

When I came across this passage where Marilla expresses her scorn for storywriting,  I smiled at Montgomery's satire.  Anne has just revealed her newly created outlet for her insatiable imagination- a story club. Marilla, who is the embodiment of practical Edwardian values, shows not an ounce of frivolity, and quickly dismisses Anne's ventures as a "waste of time." No doubt Montgomery must have felt the same scrutiny in her era as Anne did. 

Although written over 100 years ago, I feel Anne and I are kindred spirits. And my hunch is that most artists feel the same criticism. We have at least all heard the familiar story artist or musician, who to the dismay of his parents, has not gotten a "real job". Have you ever experienced the same shame when people ask what your dreams are? 

Maybe it's in our American blood, but the artist story highlights our culture's desire for hard work and  productivity. When we come across a new thing, we poke at it, saying "but...what does it... DO?" The nature of art is nailing the abstract, the unspoken problems and social changes of our society. We often don't have statistics of lives saved, or mouths fed, or buildings built. It is difficult to measure the way a person's heart and soul are affected. 

And that is the question the world ask us- What is it that you really do? Or rather, How can we justify you spending your efforts making things that are simply pretty to look at? Are your paintings, films, or music worth investing in? Are you simply just taking up space in our lives?  If it is present in the world, it is unfortunately even more present in the Christian world. In fairness, the world has embraced the arts comparatively well. In certain pockets, the world has welcomed the eccentric artists with open arms, and, unfortunately, the mainstream church has pushed it away. The church wants to do things for the Lord, and artists often find themselves labeled rather...unspiritual. 

Just as there is a hierarchy of careers in the world, there also is an elevation of certain positions in the church. It is relatively easy to find a place in church community if you are an intercessor, children's church teacher, or pastor. If the church is musically inclined, musicians and song writers get by just by the skin of their teeth by joining the worship team. Meanwhile, the writers, dancers, painters and other artists often fill these positions out of duty, leaving something to be desired in their souls.  These former callings are crucial to a healthy church community and are due honor, but as people called to create things, we often feel marginalized and insecure about our position in the Kingdom. 

I remember hearing a message by Kris Vallotton one time. He said that one night, the Lord asked him "Do you know why I made flowers?"
And Kris responded, "No...but I bet you're going to tell me."
The Lord said, "Because I think they are pretty."

Why would God make things simply because they are "pretty"? If He does it, we know it must be of some purpose. So what purpose do pretty things serve?

Remember the story of the woman and Jesus with the alabaster jar?

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.
When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

The disciples were astonished at the "waste" of this expensive perfume. Judas was so offended by this display of waste that it propelled him into betraying Jesus. But Jesus said, "She has done a beautiful thing to me." Why was it beautiful? She was taking something extremely expensive and lavishing Jesus with it to show her love towards him. Just from looking, we can't measure what was happening in Jesus' heart. But he sees that the woman had put herself in a position of ridicule and scorn by doing such a "foolish" thing, all so she could express her love towards him. Jesus recognized this sacrifice and called it beautiful.   

The alabaster jar of an artist's life is his time and energy, or perhaps other people's invested money. As believers, we all recognize our sojourner status and our purchased lives. We desire to spend our time wisely, not where moth and rust destroy. Because we love God, we inspect our time investments to see if they measure up to eternal value. Canvases, books, and film reels will be burnt up, so are they eternally valuable? 

It goes back to the question above, Why would God make things because they are simply pretty? Is it valuable if it doesn't do anything? We know there is really know such thing as happenstance with God. In my experience, the purpose that beautiful things serve is the liaison between body, soul and spirit. The jar of perfume was physical, but the story above shows how its worth tapped into Jesus' heart. The flower is physical, but it awakens the spirit. Think about the most beautiful landscape you have ever seen. How did it make you feel? What about when you drive through a beautifully landscaped neighborhood? How have certain fictional characters influenced your experience of life? Perhaps they put you in "what if" situations you never had considered, and you confronted fears or hopes you never knew still existed. Maybe it is a piece of art or a song lyric that somehow says something to you that no preacher could have ever delivered. 

God wants to use your creations to speak! You are uniquely made, and nobody can translate what God wants to say to the world like you can. Your creations are vessels for communicating God's love to the world. As a believer, you have the mind of Christ. And as we hang out with God more, we become more and more like Him and His voice will be more clearly heard. In fact, people will be drawn to your work because they subconsciously are experiencing God. 

 So in the eyes of the practical Marillas of the world, we may be viewed as stewarding our time poorly. These differences of opinion will always exist, but don't let it stop you from flowing in what you have. Sometimes people need to be gently informed of this perspective. As we cultivate respect for ourselves and  our fellow creators, let's also give due honor to the practical positions in the Kingdom. We are all parts of one Body, and cannot thrive without each other.   

What about you? What have been your experiences as an artist?

Creating Habits

When I first read Ms Mason’s philosophy on early childhood education, I was simultaneously relieved and overwhelmed. In short, she believed ...