Pull Up A Chair

February 5, 2016

Jared Erondu photo from UnSplash

What’s going on, friends?

I’m finding it hard to believe that the first month of 2016 has already come and gone. It certainly ended with a bang around here — a giant snowstorm with a one week clean up. Rumor has it we may see more flakes next week, which would make my little ones super happy.

I never did set any specific goals for this year — which is weird for me — but I’m excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. B and I are beginning to work on a couple of exciting projects and when there is more concrete info to share about that, I will. My prayer these days is that my time somehow finds a way to multiply itself as it’s hard to make time for additional things when my schedule is already so full. But lots of people are in the same boat, and you just move forward the best you can — sometimes it just takes a little longer, but you get there if you keep on trucking.

I spotted this grapefruit cocktail at Food 52 yesterday (one of my favorite food sites) and it’s exactly what I’d love to sip on today. I introduced my daughters to grapefruit recently and it was a mixed reaction… they didn’t like the fruit too much, but they liked the juice. Go figure. Grapefruit really needs the proper grapefruit spoons, though, don’t you think?

I hope you have a lovely weekend ahead and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Jared Erondu at Unsplash via Crew




Children Learning Computer Games

My kids are only 7 1/2, but I find myself thinking a lot about what and when digital devices are appropriate for children. I know if my kids attended conventional schools, many of their peers would already have smart phones, iPads, iPods, etc. already, so I’m grateful we don’t have to contend with that at this point, but it’s a topic parents need deals with today no matter what kind of schooling their children do.

Recently a little girl — who’s the same age as my girls — came to play. It had been a while, but she’s been here before and she and my girls have always played really well together. This time, however, she kept getting bored of whatever they were doing and repeatedly asked to play computer games, saying that’s what she does in her spare time at home on her own devices. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that in the past she’s always been happily occupied in creative play and now, not so much.

We are far from a tech-free household, not only because of our work, but B is a bit of a tech-geek. The girls have old iPads they occasionally play educational games on. There’s also an older iMac in our living room where they have a playlist of music on iTunes and can listen at various times of the day, as well as watch some favorite shows, documentaries, and play Minecraft from time to time. There are educational videos we watch together as part of our homeschooling and we also use that computer to stream films for family movie night.

So our kids do get screen time, but it’s highly regulated and not a big part of their everyday life. One thing we’ve noticed is that if they have more than 90 minutes of any kind of screen time at once, they become dysregulated and cranky. There are many studies showing that screen time is bad for children’s brains and development. There are benefits, too, however, like skills they can learn, especially from interactive games and programs. The fact is, children today are growing up in a digital world and they need to be comfortable and conversant with it. The problem is, I’m not sure we adults know how to manage them ourselves, and we didn’t have them when we were young, so it’s hard to know what to do with our kids.

I keep hearing stories of kids spending hours upon hours on devices, neglecting exercise, creative play, and social interactions. I hear far worse stories about predators preying on middle school and high school kids who live on apps and social media that their parents don’t even know they’re on. It’s scary. But what to do if your kid is the only one at school without a smart phone or an iPad? And in a lot of schools now, iPads and laptops are how classes are done so kids need them for homework and communication with teachers. It’s tough.

I think so much depends on your kids, their environment, the circumstances. I’d love to hear what you think and how you’re handling these issues. What parameters do you set? Do you let you kids have smart phones, iPads?

Image: Pixabay


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Fawn from Crew

Before I became a parent, I always assumed I’d use “time-outs” if and when I had children. It seemed the enlightened alternative to spanking and it made sense: A child experiences a little isolation in order to feel the consequences of his actions and have some time alone to reflect on what he’s done.

Of course, toddlers and preschoolers really aren’t capable of the reasoning required for this to have the desired consequences, but it turns out there’s even more to consider when it comes to using time-outs.

Studies in neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to adapt — show that repeated experiences actually change the physical structure of the brain. Since many of the interactions between children and caregivers relate to discipline in some way, it’s important that parents consider how they respond to their kids’ misbehavior because it affects their development.

Drs. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, in this Time article, write that even when presented in a patient and loving manner, time-outs typically offer children isolation, which teaches them that “when they make a mistake, or when are having a hard time, they will be forced to be by themselves—a lesson that is often experienced, particularly by young children, as rejection. Further, it communicates to kids, “I’m only interested in being with you and being there for you when you’ve got it all together.”

Siegel and Bryson write:

When children are overtaxed emotionally, they sometimes misbehave; their intense emotions and the demands of the situation trump their internal resources. The expression of a need or a big feeling therefore results in aggressive, disrespectful, or uncooperative behavior—which is simply proof that children haven’t built certain self-regulation skills yet. Misbehavior is often a cry for help calming down, and a bid for connection.

I’m not sure if I would have bought that hook, line, and sinker, unless I’d done the research about — and had the experience of — parenting adopted children. From the very beginning, I forced myself to do “time-ins” with my kids. I say forced because there were times when I wanted time-outs, when everything in me felt like both parties needed a big fat break from each other and a separation might help the kids “get” it. But because of what I knew about attachment and connection, I intentionally moved closer to them, and stayed close, during a meltdown or poor behavior. Even when they didn’t want to be touched — and who does when they’re really angry? — I stayed close by. As soon as there was an opening to come even closer, I moved in. What I have seen time and time again, is that this approach calms things down more quickly, shortens the duration of the episodes, and improves behavior in the longer-term. (I understand that if kids are really violent or there are other extenuating circumstances, additional interventions may be needed.)

The article makes the point that parents often think that time-outs help children calm down and gain insight, but  instead, they frequently “make children angrier and more dysregulated, leaving them even less able to control themselves or think about what they’ve done, and more focused on how mean their parents are to have punished them.” When children are thinking about how horrible their parents are, they miss opportunities “to build insight, empathy, and problem-solving skills.”

This makes sense if we really believe that discipline is ultimately about teaching and formation, rather than punishment. One of my biggest lessons in parenting so far is how much of what I do and don’t do is about me, and not my kids. Discipline is often an area where this comes out the most in parents, and it’s a tough lesson.

Does this mean you should stop giving time-outs if you use them? Not necessarily. I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all parenting philosophy. It depends on so many factors, including age and background of a child, and the exact details of how time-outs are handled.  But I think the studies about what makes for healthy brain development in children — which leads to healthier behavior in the long run — are worth any parent’s attention.

Have you or do you use time-outs? If so, have they been effective? What is your approach to discipline?


Image: E+N Photographies/Unsplash

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The Gift of Snow

January 27, 2016

S & H in storm

Just a quick hello from snow land! It’s three days after the biggest winter storm in a long while finished up around here and our street has still not been plowed. It’s quite possible attempts were made because Monday night I noticed a plow stuck in the snow up the street. (One of the smaller ones — I don’t think the bigger ones can even fit). The driver dug himself out and went home, I’m sure. Thanks to a couple of hard-working neighbors, things are beginning to improve, but if you could get your car out tomorrow morning, good luck getting back and finding a place to park.

The good thing about working from home and homeschooling is, you don’t need to worry about driving anywhere. The bad thing is, it’s been business as usual here since Monday — no days off. That’s okay. Last weekend was one of my best in a long time. That wouldn’t have been the case if had we lost power and had no heat, to be sure, but I loved the down time, getting outside in the blizzard, fires in the hearth, the whole thing. Snowstorms remind me of my childhood and that’s a big part of it, I’m sure. I like the quiet and beauty a big snow brings, the sense of togetherness among family and neighbors, the excitement of my children.

But then the eggs and fruit start running out so hopefully in the next couple of days we’ll be able to make a trip to the grocery store!

Have you been affected by winter weather, or are you one of my readers in a sunny, warm place?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Child in Ethiopia

Much of the world remembers the 1983-1985 famine in Ethiopia. It was horrific and shocking, the worst to hit the country in a century. About a half a million people starved to death by conservative estimates, many of them children. While I didn’t grow up hearing a lot about Africa in general, Ethiopia was imprinted on my consciousness. The famine was due to drought, but happened in the context of more than two decades of insurgency and civil war, which contributed to the magnitude of the tragedy. 

Ethiopia is experiencing another terrible famine as I write this, and the western media is finally beginning to report on it. The United Nations says it’s the worst drought in 30 years and the international aid organization, Save the Children, says 400,000 children alone are now suffering severe malnutrition, with 10 million more in major need of food aid. In fact, this is what the chief executive of Save the Children in the US, Carolyn Miles, says about the tragedy:

We only have two emergencies in the world that we have categorised as category one. Syria is one and Ethiopia is the second. And so we’ve said we need to raise $100m for this response.

The Ethiopian government put protocols and systems in place after the 1980s famine to make sure something so widespread and devastating never happened again, and they’ve been relatively successful (in the context of realities there — Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world), but this drought is so severe they’re requesting outside help.

It’s hard for me to read or see news reports about this and not think of my own children and the many children just like them who at this very moment are starving. About 50% of Ethiopia’s population are children under 18. Mothers can’t get enough food to produce milk to feed their babies and there’s no formula to be found in many places. Ethiopia’s economy is mainly agricultural and so many farmers’ crops have failed and their livestock are dying en masse.

I know there are many crises around the world, but Ethiopia is close to my heart so I want to draw your attention to what’s happening there. I know that readers here care very much about the well-being of children and families, including those in other parts of the world.

So, if you’re trying to decide in the next few months where to give some of your money, please consider an organization that’s working in Ethiopia. We support a number of Catholic ones because we know them and trust their work, but there are many others doing great work, too. Here’s a handful of suggestions, though I’m not familiar with some of them:

Image: Pixabay


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Pull Up A Chair

January 22, 2016

Snowfall in Pixabay

Yes, pull up a chair and stare out my window because the snow is really coming down here! I finally made it to the grocery store at 1:00 p.m. and it was nuts. No carts anywhere, lots of empty shelves, lines forever. I always get a kick out of how people in the mid-Atlantic act when a snow storm is forecast… But the truth is, while everyone is used to cold temperatures here, they are not used to snow — so no one has snow tires, or knows how to drive in it, the roads don’t get plowed and salted, and people are just generally ill-prepared for dealing with snow.

I’ve grown used to snow-less winters, myself. My kids didn’t even have snow boots until yesterday afternoon. I haven’t been able to stomach spending $60+ on boots that they might wear only once or twice and will grow out of before next winter. (S and H take the same shoe size so it’s not like I can pass a size down to the other.) Thankfully, I’m on a neighborhood list serve and managed to score a pair of boots for free and another for $15. Both were advertised as “boys’ boots,” but that just means they’re not pink and lavender. I’m glad the girls will at least be able to get out in the blizzard tomorrow, and maybe even get some sledding in on Sunday when it calms down. They are beyond excited about it all.

I get a kick out of how everyone keeps focusing on Washngton D.C. as the blizzard’s bullseye. Baltimore is forecast to get even more snow than D.C., but Baltimore… where’s that?

The major weather is supposed to hit tomorrow, but it’s not even dinner time yet and our street is already looking pretty bad. Last time we had more than two feet of snow, it took about five days to get our car out, mainly because they don’t plow our small neighborhood streets and even if you shovel your car out, where do you put the snow?

This week was a crazy one. So crazy that I thought I published a post here on Wednesday only to discover this morning that it never actually published. (Which means I hadn’t checked my own blog in two days.) Sigh.

As long as our power stays on this weekend, I’m looking forward to some quiet time at home to catch up on some work and personal projects and hang out as a family. We’ve got hot cocoa, popcorn, firewood — and I picked up some red wine — so we should be good to go! Please grab anything you enjoy drinking by a roaring fire on a snowy day and join me in wishing everyone out there in snow storm territory a very safe and cozy weekend.

Image: Pixabay






My Favorite MLK Jr. Quotes

January 18, 2016

MLK Jr at Pixabay

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the United States. Here are some of my favorite quotes by him:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.
I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.
Image: Pixabay


Be Slower: Wear a Watch

January 14, 2016

Watch from Pixabay

I remember years ago reading that in order to slow down and not be so rushed, we should stop wearing watches. It kind of made sense… a watch on your wrist can make you more aware of the passing minutes. Taking it off was guaranteed to restore a more balanced pace to the day, lessening the pressure to beat the clock.

Fast forward to 2016 and I think it’s fair to say that one way to help yourself live a little slower is to start wearing a watch again. How did this watch wearing advice do such a 180? Blame it on the smart phone.

Everyone stares at their phones, anywhere and everywhere. One of the big reasons I would so often pull mine out in public was to check the time. But I wanted to stop that. Plus it’s awkward to be having lunch or dinner with someone and discreetly try to check the time on your phone.

Enter the old fashioned wrist watch. I received one from JORD early last year, and I’m still loving it. I wear it when I go out and it feels kind of special, like a piece of jewelry, but it also means that one quick glance at my wrist and I know what time it is. My phone can stay in my purse. Even though I can see the time whenever I want, I don’t tend to check my watch a lot — it doesn’t beckon the way a screen does.

Last week I found an ad in my Facebook feed for “slow” watches. I didn’t know such a thing existed. The company — Slow Swiss Made — was advertising a “quartz movement” that originally had 4 hands, plus the date, but this one has just one hand showing the 24 hour clock. The makers claim this creates a truly “slow” watch, allowing you to view the entire day in one view, providing a better sense of the day. The company doesn’t put a logo on their watches because, well, that doesn’t promote the whole slow thing. (It does appear on the back, though.)

I’m not clamoring for one of those, but they’re nice and the concept is interesting. I’m totally committed to wearing a watch when I go out now, though. It’s helped me be more present to people and to spend less time on my phone overall. A small thing, but the small things add up.

Do you wear a watch? Do you think it would help you use your phone less?

Image: Pixabay


Unplugged Crew

Just before Christmas I found out that Unplugged Nation, the television show we filmed about off-grid living — has been slated for a second season. Blast Films, the London-based film company we worked with, will be producing the show again and they’re looking for interested participants. Since we had such a good experience, I wanted to give a plug for the show, just in case you’re interested!

For the record, you don’t need to be a family per se. The episodes in season one featured numerous families from different places and backgrounds, but also couples, and even a small group of young adults looking to start an informal off-grid community of sorts.

If you do have a baby or young toddler, the shoot schedule may a little too taxing, but if your kids are over 4 and do well with new experiences, it could work very well. At 6 1/2, our girls were troopers and I was impressed with how respectful and considerate the film crew were of them and our needs as a family.

So if off-grid living interests you, and you’re up for adventure, and you’d like to work with a fun film crew who will take good care of you, be in touch with Blast Films. Email the lovely Stuart Hastie at: unpluggedtv@blastfilms.co.uk (and be sure to tell him I sent you). There’s a vetting process, of course, and paperwork, etc., but that’s par for the course. One thing’s for sure — I’d love to see you on an upcoming episode of Unplugged Nation!

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul





Pull Up A Chair

January 8, 2016

Boceh Tree Lights/Picography

Well, the first week of 2016 has come and gone. Is your Christmas tree still up? We usually get ours and decorate it pretty close to Christmas, and then keep it up until Epiphany (Three Kings), which is the day before Ethiopian Christmas (the day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas). In fact, tomorrow we’ll be joining other adoptive families with Ethiopian children at a local Ethiopian restaurant to mark the occasion, which we’ve done every year since S and H came home (and actually even before that, while we waited for them). After this, though, the tree usually goes. I always feel a little sad when it comes down and all the Christmas decorations are put away for another year. But I also enjoy having a bit more space again and moving forward into the year.

This Christmas was a good one, though some of it is a bit of a blur, probably because I was battling a virus for a good part of it. But I also think that’s just how it goes most of the time, especially when you’re a mom.

It was our first week back to a regular schedule. I was kind of dreading it, but we all made it through. If you did, too, that’s cause for a toast, so grab a cup of this bourbon spiked apple cider and join me!

So, how was your week? Are your holiday decorations put away, or are you holding on? Any fun plans for the weekend? Hope it’s a good one and I’ll see you back here early next week.

Image: Viktor Hanacek at Picography