Coming Back Into Focus

A conversation with my daughter two nights ago is causing me to take a pause and come back into focus. It went a little something like this:

Mom, let’s make play dough. We make play dough at school. We should make some. 

I’m so glad you get to have play dough at school. Right now, it’s harder for us to do that kind of stuff so I’m glad you get to have fun with it at school.

(As I sat on my bed folding piles of laundry she looked at me, paused, and then started to walk out of the room. Then she stopped. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes.)

Mom…why…you…you never play with me anymore. 


After some big tears on my part and admission that what she was saying is true we came up with some ideas for how to spend more time together. We’ve since had a challenging game of hide-and-seek, put on a few puppet shows, and spent more time reading together. These are all small things that make a huge impact in not just her life, but mine. I am more full when I take the time time enjoy my children. The piles of papers are still on my desk and boxes sit in the living room.

I think when any parent hears words such as these it causes them to take a pause and think about what’s important. My daughter’s genuine heartfelt feelings stopped me in my tracks and I’m thankful for it. It’s been three months since we started moving and this move didn’t seem much out of the ordinary compared to any other person out there. But it’s been hard. Very hard.

For now I’m taking a pause to say yes to my family and practicing the art of saying no to others. No to lunch out on Saturday, no to volunteering at the kids’ school, no to making a meal for the new mom who just had a baby. Normally, I love giving of myself to others but, right now, my family wins.


Snakes and Baby Bottles

We are almost in our new house. I hope we don’t have to move again for a long time. While we wait for our new home to be finished we have gone from sleeping at our old house in beds to sleeping at our old house in sleeping bags to staying in an apartment (back in comfortable beds, thank you). We hope to be in our new home in two days. However, the bed situation there may not be much better than sleeping bags again. At least for a few days.

Through out all of these changes, which is so much more than uncomfortable sleeping, I’ve been impressed with the children’s ability to adapt to our situation. One detail that stands out more than others is their imagination when toys became lacking.

The evening of moving day I was exhausted and feeling ready for bed. As I sat down on the floor with my son to a dinner of salami, crackers, and grapes he brought his “snake” to join us. Snake was a measuring tape he had discovered in the tools earlier in the day. Pull out a little of the end and voila, a snake. He even shared his dinner with Snake.

My daughter became interested in some scraps of bubble wrap she found lying around and came up with numerous ways to have fun. Amongst them, she made a baby bottle out of a rolled up piece held together with a rubber band.

I think this is a shining example of how children create play no matter what we provide to them. Toys have their place and children learn and grow from them. But I also think that when all we provide is the world around them, children come up with ideas far greater reaching than any toy with a particular purpose.

Replacing “Too Busy”


When with my children, I have always made an effort to sparingly use the words we’re too busy or we don’t have time for that. A hurry, we’re late never helps when waiting for them to put their jacket and shoes on while we’re late getting out the door. There are always more activities to do and places to rush and it’s easy to get lost in the mundane. Why does my brain constantly look forward to the next task while trying to accomplish what’s at hand?

So instead of rushing through everything we make an effort every day to try to find beauty in the small and listen to what each other has to say.

I’m struggling with this as of late. While buying a house, selling a house, being pregnant, and starting both my kids in preschool for the year, the words we don’t have time for that and we can’t do that until we move are unfortunately a frequent outlet. And now my almost 5 year old daughter has been saying we never have time for anything anymore! She’s understandably frustrated. I’m not saying these words can’t ever be said but I think it’s important they be used only rarely. In doing so I find that we then make time for what’s really important. This might be a particular art project or taking time out to go to the park or even simply making time to read.

At moments like these I find it helpful to go back to a story Joshua Becker told in one of his books. He tells of an old saying that keeps you in the moment. No matter what you are doing, do it and only that task before moving on to the next. You do this by stating what you are doing. For example, When I am making dinner, I am making dinner. When I am reading with my children, I am reading with my children. When I am talking on the phone, I am talking on the phone. At first this sounds silly to say but it helped me realize how often my brain was thinking of other things while my body was doing something else.

With my family and our recent busyness, I’ve translated this to Let’s finish what we are doing now and we’ll see if we have time for that later. This is my way around we’re too busy or we don’t have time for that. It’s a different way to approach the problem and rather than focusing on the loss of time, it allows for possibility. Who knows. Maybe we will find the time.


I’m saying no.

A few weeks ago I was in Banana Republic purchasing a shirt. I’m on my third rotation of using Project 333 and, I will admit, this time around it hasn’t been very fun. After the first two rotations I was feeling great. I loved my wardrobe and was really getting comfortable with using less clothing on a regular basis. My outfits ranged from basic to fun and colorful. This time around there are gaps and they have been challenging. Too many mixes of colors and not enough warm clothing that go together. Hence, I went shopping and found a long sleeve navy shirt that was perfect. I was at the counter ready to purchase my one item and the friendly salesman said, “Would you like to save $10 today? You just have to give us some information. Takes less than 5 minutes.” When I looked at him with pause in my eyes he added, “It’s not a credit card!”

I kindly said, “No thank you,” and he looked at me like I had just turned down free money. Wait. I had just turned down free money. They were going to give me $10 for signing up for a program which then, in turn, would send me all the latest promotions and deals and give me a discount every time I shopped. This in turn would fill up my inbox, my text messages, and my valuable time with enticements of all the latest fashions I’m missing out on. As a result, I will feel inadequate and thus, come crawling back for more clothing and in the end spend more money. Sound dramatic? Yes, it is but it happens. It happens all the time. And I am no exception.

At first glance, $10 is very appealing. Yes, I would like $10. But at what cost? I’ve spent a lot of time trying to clear my life of extraneous details that bog me down. One of the biggest areas I’ve found that has lead to more free time is clicking the unsubscribe button. Did you know it has a snowball effect? Once you start doing it not only do you receive less adds and coupons (that, by the way, I spent more time thinking about using than actually using) but your information doesn’t get sold off as frequently and uninvited guests tend to stay at bay. I estimate that I used to delete about 20 coupons and adds from my inbox in a day. Now it’s about 3 a day. Then add on the fact that if I don’t constantly see what I’m missing out on I feel more satisfied with my wardrobe.

This year I’m saying no to every promotion that requires me to sign on a line or give away my information. If I happen to hit a store that is having a great sale then I’ll call myself lucky. But no longer will I spend my time following sales, coupons, and promotions.

Instead, you can find me here or reading on my couch.

New Year’s Resolution

At a past book club meeting I was conversing with my fellow girlfriends about this-and-that and at one point someone said, “I don’t get why people take notes in their books. What are they writing? I never write in my books.” To which I replied, “I do.” All conversation ceased and eyes loomed over me. Less than gracefully I mumbled out something that was supposed to sound like this: “I like to keep track of characters or make a comment about my thoughts.” Apparently, I was the only one. The moment passed and we moved on to another topic; however,  I will admit, I walked away from that conversation feeling like a square peg.

I tend not to follow the trend, whether I like it or not. My recent books have included E. D. Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy, Punished By Rewards by Alfie Kohn, and The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. Sometimes I think I can pull it off and talk about the most recent episode of Mad Men or who won what at the Academy Awards but it is quickly revealed that I didn’t see the show and then I become a silent head nodder, never a duller moment.

But here’s the rub: all these things are what make me who I am. My problem is I have trouble owning my opinions. Mainstream or not, trending or not, hipster or not; I have difficulty claiming my opinions with confidence. There’s an unfounded and overriding fear within me that if I say my non-mainstream point-of-view out loud the person won’t like me. In truth, the majority of the time I’m pretty sure most people could care less about what I think, and even if they did, it’s still my opinion and I still need to claim it.

To ring in the New Year, I’m throwing caution to the wind, going out on a limb, taking the bull by the horns, and saying my opinions out loud. And there will be no fine print. No flimsy explanation for why I have this or that opinion. Just me, revealed.

2015 New Year’s Resolution

1. Being confident in my opinions and decisions. *no fine print

I love reading about history.

I strive to live a minimalist lifestyle. 

I want to be a writer.

I love being a stay-at-home mom. 

I’m considering becoming Montessori certified. 

I’m considering homeschooling my kids for a few years using a Classical Education model. 

Yes, I am aware of a few conflicting ideas in there. Did I say they would all make sense? Nope, but that’s me.

The Carrot

From time to time, when I am grocery shopping I will drop my kids off at the PlayLand housed within the store. I used to be skeptical of these rooms but once I was familiar with the childcare providers I realized they genuinely care for children and are very careful about safety. I drop my 4-year-old and 2-year-old off and have one full hour of sanity during which I grocery shop in peace. It’s the small things sometimes.

When I first began taking my kids to the PlayLand they would leave with a sticker and coloring sheet in hand. A few months ago they started giving out a balloon to each kid as they left. When we got to the car-my groceries, two children, their stickers, coloring sheets, and helium balloons-I now had the pleasure of juggling not just the groceries and children into the car but also had to take care to make sure the balloons didn’t fly away. At one point I remember wrapping my son’s balloon around the head rest to get it to stay in place.

This is ridiculous, I thought. I’m not going to accept the balloons next time. But when it rolled around I felt guilty denying my kids the balloons. Every other kid was getting one and now they knew that this was part of the routine and I would have to deal with their disappointment in expecting this. Plus, in some sort of backwards upside down world it makes me appear ungrateful. You’re not going to let your kids take a balloon? 

This last time after I signed my kids out-stickers, coloring sheets, and balloons in hand- the attendant then handed me a coupon for a free movie rental. My initial thought was that’s nice and then I had an immediate sense of defensiveness. What do they think? They need to bribe me to get me to come back?

Ultimately, the meaning of our relationship is now undermined because it isn’t enough for me to just trust them. It isn’t enough for me to look her in the eyes and say thank you. It isn’t enough to pick up my kids and see that they were treated well. Now, it has become about a token, a reward, a carrot, rather than the graciousness of appreciation.


There is a time to admire the grace and persuasive power of an influential idea, and there is time to fear its hold over us. The time to worry is when the idea is so widely shared that we no longer even notice it, when it is so deeply rooted that it feels to us like plain common sense. At the point when objections are no longer even raised, we are not in control: we do not have the idea; it has us.                                                                                                                Alfie Kohn, Punished By Rewards

I’ve recently been paying more attention to the use of rewards in our society. This topic of using rewards is startlingly blatant and dangerously overused. My example above is about a situation in the community but I’m learning that token systems are a typical method implemented in our schools to ‘motivate’ kids to complete their work. I’m deeply disturbed by this as I believe it undermines the enjoyment of learning. I don’t have the answers to our education problems but I am at a loss as to how this is so pervasively acceptable.

This Business of Being Siblings

As I was walking out from a coffee shop with my brother, he commented on my children, He copies everything she is doing. A glance behind and I could see my daughter was twirling around, hiding behind a sign, and jumping through the bike racks. All with her younger brother right behind, a step-for-step shadow of each movement. My brother responded thoughtfully, It’s interesting to think, what would he be like without a big sister?

It is an interesting thought but the beauty of it is that there is no other way. He was a second born child and he will always have an older sibling to mimic, an older sibling to get mad at, an older sibling to be jealous of.

My brother, Peter, joined me at the Episcopal church I attend while he was visiting. He sat with us in the church and as we moved about heads turned and eyes discreetly yet noticeably followed him wherever he went. My brother is Catholic Dominican friar and dresses in white robes with a rosary dangling from his belt and a hood draped across his back. It is very medieval looking. He introduced himself to all who were bold enough to question his ensemble; those who were not will still remember him. He has this tendency. A tendency to be remembered. I have no doubt that people who never noticed me in church before will now remember who I am.

As a young child, many didn’t know it but my second name was “Pete’s sister.” When meeting my middle school history teacher, “You must be Peter’s sister,” she exclaimed, seeing our remarkable similarities within an instance. Meeting an upper-classman in high school, “You’re Pete’s sister, right?” Whether it was academic achievements, athletic accomplishments, or a visit to the headmaster, Peter somehow managed to burn an imprint of himself within others.

I am a second born child. My life knows nothing other than an older brother. Who would I be without him? Who knows. Who would my son be without his sister? Who knows. One thing I do know is that having a sibling makes jumping through bike racks more fun.