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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Giving Tree : A Best Book

I think gratitude should be a part of every day living.
Being grateful inspires hope and creativity.
Feeling gratitude, deeply, and in the moment makes me feel more alive.
The practice of intentionally finding gratitude for the simplest things can transform my entire day.

Expressing gratitude can be simply saying "thank you."
It can be a tender hug or touch, just because.
It can be a quiet and deep breath to soak in the graciousness and beauty of what surrounds you.
Sometimes and maybe more of the time, as a Mom, it can be sincerely giving when there may be little to give.  Most of the time it requires shifting my perspective so that I can experience the wonder and magic of everyday-ness.

Gratitude is a kind of transcendence, a way of being moved beyond the ordinary by being truly thankful for it. So often having gratitude means an even deeper look at the very purest love that makes my life so worth living.

Our best book for this month is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

It's a classic. A must read (if you haven't read it already).
And it feels like the perfect story as we embark on this year's holiday season.

It's about a little boy and a tree.
The little boy loves the tree and takes and takes from the tree to fulfill his own desires.
The tree loves the boy and gives and gives and gives to fulfill the boys desires in hopes that he will always return to her.
It's about giving and taking, growing older, friendship, love... you know, all the juiciness of life.

Babe-O has loved this book for over a year now. He asks for it at night on and off but it makes consistent appearances. His favorite part is when the tree calls herself an old stump. This phrase has even made it into our daily lexicon, as in "I just feel like an old stump" or I am too tired to move.

To bring this book to life, we gathered some branches and brought them inside. We arranged them in our wooden vase - the old stump - and decorated them with paper leaves and apples. I helped each child in our family write an apple or leaf card to each of their family members. Diet Coke Papa and I wrote ours too.  Each card contains responses to some of these starter phrases: something I love about you, something I want to do with you, something I thank you for, and/or something I hope you will always give me. We dedicated a night for the next five nights to each family member. On their night, I made a food that they really love and we read them their cards. After their cards were read they got to put them up in their rooms. When all the cards were off the branches, we used them for kindling in our fireplace (along with an awesome egg carton fire starter that I made and will share here soon), as we drank some apple cider and read The Giving Tree. Because, nothing lasts forever, except for the gratitude we pass on to those we have loved so much.

This project took a bit more prep and work than what I generally do for book projects. But it was so worth it and such a great start to the gift giving season. What better gift is there than love and thanks?

A little extra bonus resource: If you click on this link you will find a 50th Anniversary Giving Tree Event Kit to download for free. Inside it is a Giving Tree Maze! Oh, my! Babe-O is going to go berserk for this one.. he is in a maze phase! If you have a maze lover check it out!

Thank YOU for reading and supporting The Best Things.
I feel gratitude daily for having this space to write from my heart. Thank You for meeting me here from time to time. I feel gratitude for the comments, encouragement, and warmth I have received from you. It an amazing feeling to create something that may be useful to others. I hope you will find things here that spark true to you, that offer comfort, connection, and/or something meaningful to you. I wish for continued and strengthened connections between us.

Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!

What are you planning on giving this holiday season?
What is your favorite gift to get? 
Please share your thoughts in the comments below.  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Happy Birthday Me!

photo by: Babe-O 
On the eve of my birthday...

I love these on the eve posts. It's way more dramatic than just writing on my birthday.

Anyway, on the eve of my birthday, my mind is on so many things (when I should have my 23 weeks 3 days pregnant self in bed! (I only know my week and day because I saw my midwife yesterday and she had to look it up for me on her spin-y calender thing-y)).

I am remembering where I have been and the path I have journeyed on to get to this life - my life.
[Add in the crazy story about alcoholism and recovery, love and loss, personal discovery etc. etc. blah blah blah... Maybe another time, or maybe not.You can just read about me here and be spared a few gory details.]

Maybe most important is my tiny, growing baby, whom I never have any time to think about but lately have been preoccupied with. Partly because I can feel her move around a lot more often and partly because as March nears, I am more and more excited about the sacred space she will assume and reveal to us as she comes to be with us.  

I am also thinking a lot about my very hard to ignore, even if just to get the dishes done, babies - whose tenderness and independence have been surprising and a source of pride for me this week.

Babe-O has been saying Happy Birthday all week because well, he loves me and he knows there will be a big chocolate cake when the day finally arrives.  And when I tell him that it's not my birthday yet, he says, "well that's okay because I will say it anyway. Happy Birthday Mama." He's just so loving and tender hearted and full of anticipation and excitement.

And Babe-ala, she'll enjoy the chocolate cake too - hopefully she will put some clothes on for our little party, but that's asking for too much, I know. She has a little fire about her that has more recently developed. And the truth is that as much as it drives me absolutely insane that at 19 months she has an opinion about EVERYTHING (particularly the necessity of wearing a diaper when we travel outside of our house or the ongoing debate of safety as it relates to sitting down in ones highchair as opposed to doing acrobatics while eating yogurt) I totally LOVE the vigor with which she seems to feel and do everything she wants to do and the way she so completely and absolutely LOVES her brother. And I simply could not live with out the way she says Mama, Mama, Mama, MAMA! or radish.  

I am thinking about the women who birthed and mothered before me and travelled this worn path that seems so brand new to me at times. I am gathering some strength from the silken web that is woven between us, through time and the collective, as I prepare for my new baby and nurture all of my children daily. I am reminded of the growth that I have experienced as a mother of two and the growing that I have yet to do.

I am 36 tomorrow (not to be confused with 37 - which is what I have been saying every time someone asks me how old I will be- it's a good trick. I'll teach it to you. First you have to forget how old you are, which comes naturally to me. Second, don't do the math, also natural for me. Third, ask your husband/partner how old you really are and when the answer is younger than what you thought it's either a really good feeling or a really tired feeling. Either way I am not 37, I am 36 and I am super tired!) Seriously, I don't keep track of how old I am. I am just terrible with numbers or math or anything to have to do with numbers, like counting, or math. Maybe that's why I can't remember my age or maybe it's because I have finally gotten to the part of my life where as as much as the every day-ness of it all can get to me sometimes, I really do love my life. I don't spend time counting the days. It's not that I don't have days that I am just dying to get done with - it's that I spend my time living even those days, as fully as I can, with my family, with the love of my life, with our children.

Tomorrow will be a simple day. I will give myself the gift of protected time with my loves. No computer, no iphone, no distractions. We will go to the greenhouse for a few birthday plants. We will play at the indoor gym with our homeschooling friends. I will make an easy dinner from a new recipe. Diet Coke Papa and the Babes will make me a crazy fabulous chocolate cake. My Mom will come. We will play a few games together... and party like I am 37 (only I am really 36, I think).

It will be filled with the smiles, laughter, and even the complaints of people that I love and when it's nearing the end of the day, I will wish that it could go on for just a bit longer. And I will revel in the fact that the day after my birthday, I get to wake up and do it all again- under a different title.

If I get it right, I get to celebrate our lives, our life together every day.
I am so lucky and grateful for that.
Happy Birthday Me!

Creating new memories is The Best! What are some of your favorite birthday memories? 

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

6 Ideas for Sibling Fun Indoors

Welcome to the November 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Indoor Play This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared ideas and inspiration to keep families happy and healthy while cooped up indoors. ***

****This post contains affiliate links.****

I want them to love each other. 
I want them to understand each other.
I want them to learn from each other. 
I want them to solve their interpersonal problems. 
I want them to reach out to each other and be there when needed. 
I want them to be important to one another.
I want them to get along, forever. 

For now, I want them to play together for twelve minutes, peacefully. That's a good start. Right? 

Here are our favorite indoor activities. With winter knocking on our door, these activities help us make the transition from being outside all day long to being inside for most of the day (we still try to get outside for at least a few hours). Some of these activities are kid initiated and some of them have been drawn up by me. All of these activities are ones that engage both Babe-O (4) and Babe-ala (19 mo) mostly at the same time! 

The following activities are completely kid initiated. 

Because of that, you can probably do these activities right now with items you already have. And you can probably back away from the fun that will ensue and let siblings have a fun, safe, loving time together without you (which can be oh, so lovely). These activities are all about letting them be together. They created them, so I try to get out of the way. I do some minimal refereeing because these games can involve some roughhousing (one of the best ways for them to bond). 

Paper Towel Towers

We buy our paper products from a warehouse. I hate it. But it's most economical for a family of 5 and counting. We store the paper towels under a bed and one day Babe-O pulled them all out into the hallway and started stacking them. Babe-ala (a.k.a. The Wrecking Ball) decided to do what she does best...knock ‘em down. Hilarity ensured. Now they build together. Babe-ala gathers and Babe-O stacks. Babe-ala will even wait to see how tall it will get before she inevitably gets first dibs on knocking it down. This has also recently involved using toilet paper that is packaged in 6 roll packs. We now also get to have Paper Towel Igloos and forts.  

Baby/ Ride-On Races

This is a super-fast paced game (forgive all the blurry pictures) and usually takes place early in the morning or very late at night. I have to hold my breath most all the time. It's rough. But I have never heard such loud, joyful, belly laughing coming from either of them alone. They strap the babies into Babe-ala's buggies and chase each other down the hallway. Sometimes Babe-O will use a ride-on. Sometimes they just run without the buggy or ride on. There is no competition here they just call it a race. It usually ends in crashes, occasionally bumps and bruises, or several rounds of Ring around the Rosie when Babe-ala decides she needs a break from all the running. 

Watch out for the Jellyfish - Jump Around the World Game!


For Christmas we acquired a large  Children's Map of the World. It has been hanging on the playroom wall for the better part of the year. It is treasured and well used. It has many little interesting pictures all over it, which inspire trips to the library and Internet searches for things we want to know more about (for example, we now know that if you get a jellyfish sting you should pour vinegar on the sting. Who knew?)

Since part of the appeal has been jumping on the bed while studying the map on the wall, it has come off the wall several times and suffered many little rips and tears. One day the map was lying on the living room floor so jumping on the map was the natural and next step in exploring the world! This is probably my favorite kid initiated activity because it is so darn educational. The possibilities for play are unlimited. (We have driven vehicles around the world and played jump around in the dark with flashlights). The adventure stories Babe-O puts together are rich and creative. Babe-ala is captivated by all the little pictures and is familiar with the difference between land and water on a map.  And whenever anyone gets stung by a jellyfish there is always pretend vinegar on hand! 


The following activities are Mom-O invented.

I have tried to put a new spin on some old favorites. When the days are short and the nights are long, "the witching hour" seems so much more pronounced to me. You know that time of day: when everyone is hungry but dinner is not ready, everyone is tired of being together all day long but no one wants to do their own thing, and it seems like all we are doing is waiting for Diet Coke Papa to get home and provide us with some relief and entertainment. If I have something planned for this time it seems to pass more smoothly. These activities make our old toys feel like new ones and I love that feeling!  

Glowing Magformers 

It is getting dark here around 5:30. So that gives us more time for glow in the dark fun. Babe-O and Babe-ala both love Magformers . Babe-ala has loved playing with these since she was 9 months old. They are magnetic building pieces. And we recently discovered, after having a few in the bath tub during a glow bath, that they glow in the blacklight.

Question: What could be better than a glowing house on wheels made of Magformers 
Answer: Glow In The Dark Dinosaurs that live in it! A double decker truck that the dinosaurs can ride in! Emergency vehicles with flashing lights arrive to the scene of a fire and help the dinosaurs escape the flames!
(Anything that is made of glow in the dark material will be super glowy in a black light.)

Play in the Dark! 
Dude! It's hard to take pictures in the dark! 

One day we were playing with a few of our many toys (construction and emergency vehicles) that have flashing lights on them, it occurred to me that we could turn off the lights! And then I thought, "So that's what all the flashing toys are good for!" Everyone seems to give us toys with lights on or in them. It never occurred to me to play in the dark. I spent some time gathering up everything that lights up and some flashlights. Some of our old toys became new again!  We actually had the most fun experimenting with shadows. Simple, easy, fun! 

Bedroom Playground

Our house is very small (1200 sq. ft, 5  people, soon to be 7 people. Small is an understament). Our bedrooms are in the basement. So we don't spend a lot of time in them during the day. Mostly because we really enjoy the light of day! Also, it has been allegedly reported that some monsters may be using our basement as a hangout. But when the monster repellant is strong enough and Vitamin-D and courage is running thick we go down to the playground in Babe-O's bedroom.

Our swing is too big for this small space but it doesn't stop us from singing swing songs and pushing each other until we have the dizzies. Our bunk bed isn't quite a bunk bed yet, but the bars are perfect for monkeying around.

This swing is also really great snuggling up with a blanket and reading in or listening to audio books on chilly days! 

There you have it!
Our best indoor play activities for staying warm and beating cabin fever.  
Hope some of 'em are best for you and your little ones! 

Here's to playing well over the upcoming winter season! 

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting! Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be updated by afternoon November 11 with all the carnival links.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Mamas Club

Welcome To the The Mother magazine's Blog Carnival: "Friendship and Connection" The Mother magazine is a holistic, natural mothering publication. It is with great pleasure that we share this topic with such a talented group of bloggers. You will find links to the each of the other posts at the end of this one. We hope you enjoy them!

It has been a terrible morning. 
There have been multiple spills, siblings yelling and hitting.
Breakfast is still all over the table and floor, and the living room.
There is what feels like a vortex of chaos at the very start of my morning.
It is loud. Grating. And difficult to remain patient on so very little sleep.
The strongest black coffee that I can brew hasn't made it into my cup yet.

The internal battle between the nurturing unconditional Mama and the pregnant woman who watches pandemonium unfold from outside of her own body is already raging at this early morning hour. I can feel myself unraveling. I know I am going to yell. I know I have to contain myself.

Pull it together. Breathe. Get the Coffee in the Cup. Try to Connect. 
It's hard to hear my own pep talk in the midst of this maelstrom. 
My little boy suddenly appears, smacks me in the belly and runs away. 
The top pops off.
I yell.  
A few not very nice words.
Everyone is tearful now and loud. 
I just made my job that much harder. And I feel terrible about myself. 
My auto-script of negative self-talk is about to unfold: 
I don't know what I am doing. I will never get this right. I am ruining them. Why can't I just be better at this? Why can't I just be a different person: a different Mom? 

Instead I decide on a sincere apology. We sit down in the hallway.  
Cry, talk, reconnect. Forgive.
After some reading time, play time, and a few giggles, I open my email. 
An invite from new friends to play in their sandbox this afternoon. 
Although this invitation comes as a relief I debate whether today is the right day for this venture.

These things can be hit or miss:
refereeing conflict between yet another child,
not sure of the exact right words to use this time,
trying not to sound like I am begging my children to leave when we have worn out our welcome,
and that feeling of not measuring up as I sit in another Mama’s pristine house with perfectly organized toys and labeled shelves to place them on.

These are exclusive clubs, you know, the "We Are Mamas Clubs".
Membership requires similar parenting tactics and/or principles, similarly behaved children, children that actually like each other, mothers that feel the same.
And I am still trying to find my tribe.
But okay, we need to get out and maybe it’s worth the risk.

I time it perfectly. The baby catches a quick nap in her car seat while my boy plays with friends. I sit on the stoop with my new friend watching the kids play in the falling leaves. 

"How's your day going?" she asks. 

"Uhh, terrible." I can’t help but unload. 

I tell her about this morning. I confess to yelling. I tell her about my unrealistic expectations of my children - of myself. I complain about all the little inconveniences and big hormones of pregnancy.

She rubs my shoulder and that is enough to lift some of the heaviness of the morning.
How rare it is to be mothered when you are a mother. 

She says, “ I remember when I was pregnant with my second a friend reminded me about the Goddess Kali. The mother goddess who is at once nurturing and vicious.” 

Photo: Premnath Thirumalalsamy
I remember Kali. The Mother who is simultaneously feared and adored, the bringer of destruction and creation. She suckles her offspring while ripping off the heads of those that stand in the way of peace. She is an archetypal conundrum and I am reminded that
I am not alone.

The baby has woken. We follow the kids inside. 
Our conversation slows as we attend to our children. But even being inside her house feels like the perfect thing today. 
It feels familiar here. 
Toys are everywhere. Unfolded laundry has been thrown into baskets and into the corner. Dishes are piled high in and around the sink. Uneaten lunch is still lingering on the table. 
It’s not only my house that looks like the hub of destruction and creation. 
Kids are yelling, running, making messes. 
We are calm. 
We are attentive. 
We redirect, affirm, smile, snuggle.
We nurse our babies midst the chaos. 
We are Mamas of Kali’s not- so- exclusive club. 

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Thank you for visiting The Mother magazine blog carnival, read further and enjoy the other fantastic bloggers!


Hope in the Heartache, Light in the Darkness

"A child heats your lap with a fever that rages fire. Your chest heaves, holding an unimaginable weariness like a weight pinning you to the floor. Tears threaten at your lashes. In this moment you want to cry out; for help, for understanding..." Follow Starr and The Mother magazineFacebookTwitter

The Mama Club

"The internal battle between the nurturing unconditional Mama and the pregnant woman who watches pandemonium unfold from outside of her own body is already raging at this early morning hour. I can feel myself unraveling. I know I am going to yell. I know I have to contain myself. Pull it together. Breathe. Get the Coffee in the Cup. Try to Connect."
Follow Kati from THE BEST THINGSFacebookTwitter

The Dream Friendship

"For me a true friendship is built on honesty, love, trust and belief in each other. When you have a friend with this kind of connection life is so much easier, especially the journey of motherhood." Follow Vicky from MOTHERING A DREAM •••

Twins and Friendship

"After I had my twins and the weeks turned into months I began to feel afraid the words may ring true. I began to feel estranged from my old self, as if she had died but I had just then realized it. I felt as if I were imprisoned in my own home..." Follow Miranda from Twinning ItFacebookTwitter •••

The Red Thread

"I feel blessed by the integrity of those women who I call friends, and am deeply thankful for the bonds that knit our lives together, even when we’re separated by long distances and busy lives. We connect at a heart level." Follow Veronika Sophia RobinsonFacebookTwitter •••

On Kindred Spirits

"At times, I envy the ease with which my toddler makes friends. When we are at the park, now that we're (mostly) past the how-dare-you-play-on-MY-slide phase, making friends is generally as simple as "I'm small; you're small; let's play!" And off Bug goes with whatever other little kid happens to be there that day, while I look on wistfully."
Follow Holly from Leaves of Lavender

Where Moms Make Friends in the Digital Age

"Before the Internet, moms met each other at Mothers’ Centers, when they dropped off and picked up their kids from nursery school, at child birth classes, in their neighborhood where moms used to knock on each others’ doors for tea and a chat, and at work"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Voting Day!

So many questions today! 
"What is voting?" 
"What are we voting for?"
"What is voting?"  

After several attempts at explanation, we went to the polling place and Babe-O "helped" me vote. But was very disappointed that he could not vote himself. 

So we created our own polling place. 

We signed in to our registration booklet.

Marked our ballots with our very official "election pen"in our very private voting booth (in the front closet). What were we voting for you may be wondering? Very important issues like "Should kids have to get shots at the doctors? Should kids have to wear shoes and clothes when they go outside? Should kids have to wear their helmets when they ride their bikes and scooters?"

Ballots were dropped in our official ballot box. It was very busy. There was a line to enter your vote!

Votes were counted and the results are in. 
Should kids have to get shots at the doctors?  No. 
Should kids have to kids have to wear shoes and clothes when they go outside? No.
Should kids have to wear helmets when they ride their bikes or scooters? Yes. 
Also, it was determined that we would eat chicken and rice instead of hot dogs for dinner, and to read books before bed instead of playing Legos tonight.

That's it folks. The democratic process unfolds in our living room.
Hope you had a great voting day!

We are still looking for ways to talk about voting because there are oh, so many questions, or repeated questions. How do you help your kids learn about voting? How did you explain voting to your kids today? 

Friday, October 31, 2014

On Being Scared...

Halloween 2014

It's Halloween Eve. The anticipation has been building all week. We have engaged in Halloween related activities and projects all week long. It's almost here!

I promise, we are not really big Halloween junkies. Babe-O has had an interest in things that are a bit scary this year, like the idea of ghosts and haunted houses, spiders and bats, and ghouls (we call them dirty guys). And more than the tricks or treats, I really enjoy the feeling of Magic that can accompany Halloween. The magic of being anyone or anything that you want to be. The magic of autumn nights where the leaves crunch under your feet, toasty popcorn and warm apple cider fill your belly, the stars burn brighter in the clear night sky and bonfires spark and warm chilly noses in the cold air that will carry in Winter. As the leaves fall and the nights get longer, it seems like a time to celebrate the magic of growing older. Because we are all doing it and because that sweet and sour anguish of watching my kids get older lives in my bones and will always haunt my heart as I try my hardest to hold onto the little moments, knowing I will have to let go.

Today Babe-O and I had a scare. Different kinds, in different ways. For me, it was the kind of scare that reinforced the impossibility of keeping my children protected from fear or unpleasant experiences whether they be scary or painful.

We had a friend over and dressed up in our costumes for a day out at a Glow in The Dark Inflatable Playground. The kind where your kids get to jump up and down until they are ravenous and so very tired, yet totally pumped full of adrenaline. You know, kinda how it feels after a really hard workout (the kind that make you feel like you might pass out but you don't). It's fun (once in a while).
And it was a special event for Halloween. Jump around in your costumes! Glowing, bouncing, Halloween fun! Perfect!

Babe-O quickly got used to the Glow in the Dark area, after being very cautious at first. He and his friend were having a great time chasing each other around an enclosed obstacle course. Babe-ala and I watched from behind the net enclosure, cheering Babe-O on as he bounced by. Suddenly and undetected by myself, an older child in a scary wolf mask entered the dark glowing bouncy house. Babe-O turned around only to be head-on with a wolf. The scream was piercing as he tried to escape the enclosure only getting trapped in the net. I yelled for the older child to take off his mask, which only took a moment and Babe-O recovered with the comfort of his friend and myself.

It's hard to describe a Mom's (or Dad's) reaction in the instant when her child is faced with something terrifying, something so scary you know that in some way, measurable or immeasurable, it will change them. There are all different kinds of scary and all different ways of being changed. But in the instant the incident occurs you can at once empathize so deeply as to be equally and indelibly imprinted as your child and simultaneously realize that although you are now more present for your child than you may ever mundanely be you are absolutely and utterly unable to protect them from the impact.

The spectrum of scary is so broad: from childhood illness, disease, tragedies (which we also live with on a daily basis you can read about Deo here) to the frights of Halloween, fear of the dark, loud flushing toilets.  The effect may have it's definite course or be unknown and as a Mom it can be hard to decipher which is scarier.

As a Mom, the scariest thing is to embrace my own fears about my children growing up - to really let myself feel the fear, pain, even regret of not having seen the Wolf coming. Accepting that while they are young I can  do what "feels" like sustaining their lives every day and still not see the Wolf coming. Realizing that sometimes I may see the Wolf coming and have to let my children encounter it on their own and knowing that even if they turn to me in times of fear there will be increasingly less and less I will be able to do.

We will have different scares, in different ways. If I practice living with and love through my fears, which I believe is the magic of fully, deeply living I may have the privilege to be there to hold the space where their fear lives without letting mine get in the way.

It comforts me to know, on this Halloween Eve, that my children may know the feeling of being loved that is both connected to fear and more powerful than it. 

How's that for existential Halloween fodder?

Just to let you know:
As he was leaving the Glowing, Bouncing Halloween Party that nearly made him pee his pants, he had a conversation with the manager (totally unprovoked by me- i swear.) In which he informed him that he had run into a wolf in the bouncy house. He reassured him that. "the wolf was really a boy, so thank goodness for that". He continued by questioning the manager, "did you see the wolf come in? " And then castigating him, " You should not let wolves come in here. Next time no masks in the bouncy houses!" (Unannounced to Babe-O, I had already had this conversation with the manager).

Deep breath. He'll be okay this time.