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    How Does Your Garden Grow?


    One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.  ~William Shakespeare

    (Columbine, out back)  

    I've tended a garden – of some kind – for as long as I can recall. As a child, we had a great big garden – surrounded by a picket fence, filled with treasures we’d tend all summer long: potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, broccoli, strawberries. I remember tilling the soil, planting, watering, pulling weeds (ugh), and finally harvesting our bounty! The garden was always a marvelous place for discovery: we had bugs in our veggies, rats digging tunnels through our rows, and one year, even turned over a nest of baby bunnies! Gardening was a part of every day life – a lot of work, but fun too, and even better – we ended up with Stuff To Eat at the end of it all.

    (Our strawberries ripened this weekend & they were delicious!)

    When Adam and I were apartment living, I kept pots of flowers and tomatoes on our deck, and when we moved to Maine, we tried our hand at a full-fledged vegetable garden a couple of years, along with many perennial beds.  Though we never got much of a veggie harvest, there was always something that felt so right – and even necessary – about tending a garden. Without it, there’s a piece missing from Spring and Summer. A piece missing from the soul.

    (Our backyard garden as of last week) 

    We’ve been back in New Jersey now a few years, and don’t have much space. But every year with the kids I’ve made the effort to get something in the soil with them. Our perennial beds are thriving, but with limited space and sun, we don’t have the most impressive veggie garden. Yet, even without ending up with baskets full of edibles in the fall, it’s still so important to get your hands dirty. Through gardening, my children have come to understand the sequence of planting a seed, watching it sprout, grow, bear fruit, and die… the cycle of life. A garden is life.  I’m grateful for the time with my kids – planting seeds, digging in the dirt, feeling the sun on our shoulders, the breeze in our hair, smelling the rich soil, and watching our plants move through the cycle of life and seasons.

    (Kiddos, planting)

    We are all a part of this earth – no matter how far away from it we tend to get, through technology – we come from the earth, we return to it, we need it. The garden reminds me of how interconnected we all are with each other and our earth, and I am grateful for it.

    (Foxglove, out front) 

    So… how does YOUR garden grow? Do you have rows and rows of veggies or a couple tomatoes in pots? How do you connect with the earth with your children?

    Posted: May 31 2011, 19:19 by kelly | Comments (5) RSS comment feed |
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    If Not Spanking, Then What?

    I love my children, and I know that the world can be a hard and angry place. I want to be a haven for them. A gentle place. I want to reflect love and tolerance back to them so they can carry that gift into the world.
    ~ Alex Iwashyna


    I recently read a post over at LateEnough.com on why mom-of-two Alex chooses not to spank her children. I agree with her wholeheartedly, and believe there is no room in parenting for violence (of any kind – physical or verbal/emotional). We should all be aware of crossing the sometimes fuzzy line of punitive discipline in our homes – not just because it can lead to escalating violence – but because parenting through fear, intimidation, anger, or violent outbursts is no way to raise a child, nor to live as a parent (you know it just stinks to be a constant rule-barking angry disciplinarian – parents end up missing out on a lot of the joy & so do kids!).  If we want our children to grow up to be empathetic, caring, and peaceful with others, we have to treat them with empathy, caring, and peace.


    Of course that’s easier said then done, right? The word peaceful doesn’t always seem congruous with life with children. Children are perpetually in motion, breaking rules, testing boundaries, and outbursting. And as adults, I believe most of us have moments where we really feel like we could or want to spank or scream at our kids (or anyone). And, I believe that we ALL have moments where we actually do react less-than-peacefully, in spite of our best intentions. There are times in parenting where our children can be frustrating. Days that are long after nights where sleep was elusive. Sometimes our patience is short and our creativity lacking. And when all of these things come together, it feels much easier to fall back into modes of parenting that were used on us, or methods that work for others, or just what comes out of frustration – even if those methods aren’t how we would ideally want to parent.

    But even if yelling or spanking seems easier, it certainly isn’t better.  Violence towards our children – in words or deed – isn’t okay. It escalates our stress, it makes our children afraid or worried, and it clouds whatever messages we were trying to send to our kids – because all they’re focusing on is our anger or avoiding being hit or yelled at. I think that most parents understand this and don’t want to resort to violence – whether as a planned out form of discipline, a knee-jerk reaction, or even a last-resort method. But it's not always easy, and it takes awareness, and practice. And more practice.


    So, how can we reconcile the desire of “needing to discipline” our children with an innate feeling of wanting to maintain a peaceful home and raise open, empathetic, and loving children? What CAN we do instead of spank to get our message across? And what options are there instead of yelling to get your frustration out and be heard?  How do we get beyond the feeling of wanting to act angrily, and into actually acting peacefully?


    Here are some ideas that I’ve used to help calm down when I’m angry, and help me move towards creatively disciplining, without resorting to spanking or outbursts. It doesn’t always work – I’m not perfect – but I’m trying every day to be a better parent.


    When you know better, you can do better! And our children (and ourselves) will all be better for our efforts.



    Calming techniques & alternatives to spanking for parents AND kids:


    Count to Ten. Or Twenty. Or One Hundred if need be. Whatever number you need to reach in order to gain some distance between anger and action. You can do this out loud in order to better focus your anger on counting instead of what you were about to scream instead – or – do it in your mind as a metal exercise in patience.  Sometimes the sudden Silence Of Mom will get kids’ attention, too. They might ask you what you’re doing. And even participate. End tantrum. Begin teaching.


    Walk Away. If mental distance (a la counting) doesn’t work, try actually separating yourself from the situation. Tell your children – as calmly as possible – what you are doing, so that they can understand (and hopefully model in the future!), “I am feeling REALLY frustrated. I’m going to take a break.” Try NOT to put any blame on this statement – as in, “I’m going away because you guys are acting like maniacs!!!!” Of course, this may in fact be true, but screaming it as you’re separating defeats the purpose of calmly removing yourself from the frustrating situation in order to calm down and at the same time, puts bad, and potentially damaging feelings out there. You can scream it in your head whilst walking away. Or… see the next idea:


    Scream into a pillow. Seriously, this works. Just make sure you didn’t slam the door on the way into your bedroom towards the pillow into which you’re about to scream. :) Once screaming is done, tell yourself you’ve released all that negative energy, take a deep breath filled with positivity, splash some water on your face, and re-greet the situation refreshed. Chances are in the meantime, everyone else has cooled down a bit too.


    Relocate. If your child is old enough (and calm enough), ask her to remove herself from the situation to calm down. Not in a punitive way, as in “go to your room!”, but in a suggestive, empowering way like, “I see you’re feeling frustrated.  Maybe you’d like to take some time away to get calm”. Once the storm has passed, you might try building a “calming down” area with your child that she designs with things that are comforting – maybe a photograph of kittens or flowers, an iPod with soothing music, a favorite book or puzzle, a soft blanket.


    Distract. Sometimes the only thing that works to break everyone out of a potentially volatile situation is simply changing the scene. Start telling a joke. Start juggling or singing or dancing or doing jumping jacks. Open the back door & walk outside. Turn on the shower or turn on the TV. Break out the bubble gum (sweetened with xylitol of course). Dump out a bucket of legos on the floor (didn’t that feel good?). Just changing it up – allowing everyone to move out of their current frame of mind, then revisiting the issue once all is calmer – often does the trick.


    Offer a choice. A choice moves the control into your children’s hands, and gives you a moment to cool off while they think about the choice presented. Even if the choice is: do you want to stop running wildly right now or do you want to leave (fill-in-the-blank-place-where-wild-running-isn’t-acceptable) right now? Of course, if said place isn’t actually fun for the child, this may backfire… but still, it gives everyone a moment to think, and if you do end up leaving, you can also offer the option of returning.


    Realize YOU have a choice.  Every moment you have a choice. You may feel like you don’t. You might feel like you HAVE to discipline in this moment. That you HAVE to “teach a lesson”. Believe me, I’ve felt that. But you *always* have a choice… and often the best choice is simply to wait it out. Get everyone calmed down by whatever method works best, and THEN talk about the behavior you didn’t like. If it’s a situation that requires immediate intervention (say running into the street or a child hurting another child), intervene swiftly and firmly (a scared voice & face really does work to alert a child to danger – better than a spanking), and separate the child from scene. Then, choose to talk about it later. You never have to spank or yell. You can always choose to do something else.


    Pretend someone is watching. If what you are about to say or do isn’t something you’d want your spouse, neighbor, best friend, mom from playgroup, (someone whose parenting opinion you *value*) to hear or see you say or do to your child… don’t do it. Instead, say or do what you’d want someone to think, “Wow, that Mom has her act together!”. I’m not saying we have to live for anyone else’s expectations, but *sometimes* feeling like someone is watching over my shoulder helps me be more measured in my response.


    Assess your (and your child’s) current state. Are you hungry or thirsty? Are you trying out a new diet or routine? Did your plans for the day not work out? Are your jeans too tight? Did your child skip his usual nap? Are your hormones out of the norm (because of pregnancy or menstruation for example)? Did you get in an argument with your spouse?  Sometimes these smallest things that seem unrelated to parenting can cause big upsets in our ability to react well to situations. Sometimes just realizing, “Hey, I didn’t get my coffee yet this morning!” and sitting down for five minutes with a hot mug of joe puts things into perspective again. The same goes for children. Potty learning, a new sleeping arrangement, starting or ending school, a new sibling, a growth spurt... all of these "little things" can have big effects on little people.


    Imagine you are your child. This is a really powerful tool. Getting in the shoes of the person with whom you’re angry is never easy… but it’s so worthwhile. If your child was looking at you, would they like what they are seeing? Would they want to be covering their ears? Are they actually able to hear what you are trying to teach, or is your message so wrapped up in being angry about behavior that they can’t hear anything other than, “you’re doing it wrong”? Imagine what you would want to hear your mother say or do at that moment – and then do it. Maybe it’s a hug, maybe an offer for a snack, a walk outside, a do-over. I can guarantee it isn’t a verbal lashing or spanking.




    Please remember that using these ideas instead of spanking or yelling doesn’t mean you don’t discipline. It just means that you are demonstrating to your children that in the face of irritation, you can be calm, measured, and in control. A tantrum isn’t enough to faze you – and kids need to feel that and see that! When they know that it’s possible not to go crazy when they are angry, they’ll begin to do it themselves (let me tell you, it is positively heavenly to hear my child yell, “I’m taking a break” than to hear other, angrier or hurtful things yelled). Once everyone is calm, THEN you can talk about whatever rules were broken or whatever misbehavior occurred, and begin to discuss logical consequences to the action if necessary. Chances are you will be able to be more fair in your assessment of the situation and children will be more open to hearing you out and wanting to fix the problem than in the midst of an angry outburst or while trying to avoid a spanking.



    Online resources on the effects of spanking; plus, gentle discipline techniques:


    Spanking: Facts and Fiction http://www.stophitting.com/index.php?page=factsnfiction


    Gentle Parenting During Toddler Tantrums  http://typical-ramblings.blogspot.com/2010/04/gentle-parenting-during-toddler.html


    101 Things to Do Instead of Yelling or Spanking http://codenamemama.com/2010/08/31/100-things-to-do-instead-of-yelling-or-spanking/



    Books to read on non-punitive discipline & keeping cool while parenting:


    ScreamFree Parenting by Edward Runkel


    Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort


    Adventures in Gentle Discipline by Hilary Flower


    Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen

    Posted: May 18 2011, 15:11 by kelly | Comments (22) RSS comment feed |
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    Wordless Wednesday: Liberty

    We on this continent should never forget that men first crossed the Atlantic not to find soil for their ploughs but to secure liberty for their souls.  ~Robert J. McCracken

    For Mother's Day, we took a daytrip to Liberty State Park in New Jersey. From there, we hopped the ferry to Ellis Island, and then on to the Statue of Liberty. It had been years and years since I saw the statue up close - some long-since-filed memory from a forgettable middle school trip, I'm sure.  This time, combined with the wonder of Ellis Island and the exuberance of my children it was much more meaningful and exciting.  Our 6 year old really got into the trip - as she was able to read all the signs and descriptions in the museum on Ellis Island. Our nearly 4 year old wasn't nearly as jazzed about the museum as he was about the ferry rides and climbing all the stairs inside the statue.  There are a few things available to younger guests - phones to pick up & listen to people talk about their experiences arriving on Ellis Island, and a gift shop with wooden whirly birds for sale, as an example. But on the whole, I'd say being reading age makes this trip much more interesting for children. We also got to see, relatively close, the new Freedom Tower under construction.  While the skyline looked a bit strange, as it always does, without the World Trade Center towers standing, seeing new construction was inspiring. In all, we had a fabulous time. It was amazing to me to see all the old photographs and artifacts, and with taking a ferry to & fro, I really could imagine what it would have been like arriving in America for the very first time. Amazing. For a history of Ellis Island & the mass immigration that took place there from 1892 - 1924, visit the EllisIsland.org Some photos from our trip:

    Sign on the way to the ferries.

    My son's favorite part of the trip.

    Lady liberty from afar.

    Walking around Ellis Island - checking out some of the names inscribed on the "Immigrant Wall of Honor".

    Luggage (amazing).

    Babywearing - nearly 100 years ago! :)

    The restored great hall where immigrants were first greeted & divided into groups for health, intelligence, legal processing, and other screenings. Here's a "then & now"
    photo gallery.

    Looking out over Ellis Island - the statue is off in the background.

    A list of the food available for purchase by immigrants. CANDY! :)

    A wall of postcards illustrating the various ships that brought passengers to the USA.

    Walking outside the main building, on the way to the ferry.

    The Manhattan skyline from the ferry. Missing the World Trade Towers.

    The statue from the ferry... getting closer!

    Preservation of the old torch.

    Odd art from the museum.

    Yes, there are elevators, but we walked!

    La Liberté éclairant le monde

    Family pic! (6 year old is making faces & 3 year old is bored)

    Posted: May 12 2011, 08:28 by kelly | Comments (2) RSS comment feed |
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    Striving for Peace Amidst the Celebration of War

    I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, "Mother, what was war?" 

    ~Eve Merriam


    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    I slept uneasily the night I learned Bin Laden was killed.


    The next morning, on the way to work, and throughout the day, NPR was in “breaking news” mode: all the regular programming had been usurped by this news of Osama’s death. I heard our President’s statement. I heard of Americans cheering and honking horns, saw photographs of celebrations in the streets. Juxtaposed with images of the towers falling and the sounds of people screaming, crying, and dying.

    Throughout the day on Twitter and news sites I read words of congratulations, celebration, even joy. I listened to President Obama use words and phrases to describe the mission like, “justice has been done” and “satisfaction” and “true to our values” and “achievement” and “greatness of our country”.


    Those very positive words and sentiments and images – from our President, my fellow Americans and fellow humans, from people I follow on Twitter and Facebook – used in the depiction of a hunt and kill operation of one man we believe was in charge of a terrible terrorist act which directly caused the death of thousands of people on September 11th 2001, leading to more thousands of deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last nearly ten years, and a generally heightened sense of fear and hatred and unease worldwide of people “different than us” and of Americans in general by the rest of the world – such  overt congratulations and joviality in a discussion of war, death, tragedy… while I can understand a sense of relief and maybe even hope, that Bin Laden’s death might somehow signal an end to an era; perhaps usher in a new era of peace… all the celebrations and congratulations seemed the very antithesis of what I was feeling. So, I tweeted:



    Here was our media presenting our nation as cheering death; yet death and war and killing continues. The ending of life of one tyrant doesn’t signal the end of terrorism. What kind of message are we sending the world when others see photographs of celebrations on what is essentially the grave site of thousands of people of all races, religions, nationalities? We laud the death of Bin Laden as “justice”, but does it really justify dancing in the streets? Do the parents and spouses and children of those lost on 9-11 and in the wars since feel justice has been done? Their loved ones are still not with them. I fear these images the media is broadcasting serves only to add fuel to an already viciously burning fire of hate and anger in our world.


    It all makes me feel so very uneasy.


    Over the last few days I’ve been repeatedly transported back to the day that the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. Our world has changed so dramatically in the last ten years. Every year as 9-11 approaches, I think about how to discuss it with our children. I can’t help but wonder how an innocent child would process these recent images of partying on the site of the worst terrorist attack on the US in celebration of the death of the apparent mastermind of said attack. It boggles my mind how to explain the dichotomy of feelings between craving peace and understanding for all people, of experiencing relief or hope that the death of Bin Laden might signal some sort of end to war and terrorism expressed in celebration, and of the dark realization that there still is so much anger, hatred, fear, and violence alive in our world. I can’t hardly explain it myself.


    I realize I can't choose or change the way others react to situations. But I can and will choose for myself to practice and strive for peace in my home and in my everyday life; and hope that my children will learn peace is a way of life, and a goal worth reaching for. I will choose to carry the light and energy of hope with me, so that my children will take it with them through their lives, touching others with the light of peace.  Because I believe it is only from a place of peace and understanding and empathy that the world will heal.


    I came across this eloquently written and touching blog post; a mother's reaction to Bin Laden's death & the subsequent celebration: Why I'm Not Celebrating Osama bin Laden's Death by Josette at Haushki.com and wanted to share it with you, as it moved me.

    Posted: May 06 2011, 00:05 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Wordless Wednesday: Don't Mess With Texas

    We travelled to Texas over Spring break. The wildflowers were abundant; my iPhone camera was so happy! Family time was also in abundance; and for that, I am grateful. For Wordless Wednesday, here's our trip, in pictures. Enjoy!

    Texas Bluebonnet



    Blanketflower like I can never get to grow in my garden


    Sitting on rocks. Not the best photo, but necessary for the dramatic next photograh...

    This fellow crawled out right next to where we were sitting, above.

    Obviously, we didn't see this sign before sitting there.

    Creek bed


    An awesome mural

    Geocaching (we did A LOT of cahching while in TX!)


    Walking with her hand on his back. My heart.


    More wildflowers. And bugs.

    Tiger at the In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Sanctuary. Each big cat here was rescued (some really heartbreaking stories of abuse & neglect) & are cared for by this amazing place, run completely on donations. If you're ever near Wylie, Texas, you must visit. (just a note, I'm not affiliated with In-Sync, we just happened upon it on our trip & I was really moved by the place).

    Big tiger sleeping like a little housecat


    Hot & dry y'all

    Walking along the reservoir in the sunset

    Waiting to head home

    Posted: May 03 2011, 23:49 by kelly | Comments (6) RSS comment feed |
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