31 January 2011


Things We Live Without(as much as possible)

1.  Ziploc Bags
2.  Paper Towels
3.  Store Bought Cleaners
4.  "Unitaskers"  (for a definition and a good laugh, see one of my favorite blogs, http://unclutterer.com, for their weekly post entitled Unitasker Wednesday)

Things My Husband Says When I've Purged Too Much
(as politely as possible)

1.  What do we use instead of ziplocs these days?
2.  Where is the giveaway pile?  I can't find the ______.
3.  Have you been using Borax again? (or vinegar, or baking soda and lemon)
4.  What do I put the dishes on after I've washed them? (meaning, what in the world do I use in place of a drying rack?)

27 January 2011

The Big Breakup with Consumerism

I grew up in the generation of kids that knew about farms but secretly believed most veggies grew in cans at the grocery store and most chicken came in the form of nuggets.  Potatoes were fried and ketchup was an adequate serving of vegetables (gotta have some lycopene).

I entered adulthood with the millions of other adults who lived with a low grade fear that I would forget to buy more kitchen sink cleaner and have NOTHING to clean the sink with.  I mean, what would I do?  How would I survive?

I became a mother who should have bought stock in a paper towel company, so I could at least recoup some of the money I poured down the drain going through a roll every couple of days.  Or maybe I should have invested in the lumber company cutting down the trees to make all those paper towels, or the garbage collector picking up the trash I generated from using so many of those paper towels.

I'm trying to change all that. 

For my children.

For my husband.

For myself.

For my responsibility as a steward of all that God has entrusted me with.

We're learning, day by day, what we can do without.  What we can make ourselves.  What we can use as a more sustainable substitute.  We're simplifying by bringing less into our home.  It's a journey for our whole family.

We didn't stop buying stuff.  We just stopped being mindless consumers.  We stopped listening to all the media telling us that the world will come to an end if we don't push the button, or if we run out of paper towels.  We use our brains now.

Well, we're trying anyway.  It helps that we don't watch television.  Advertisements can be very effective.  But baby step by baby step, we're making an effort.  And guess what?  We're slowly succeeding.  And we didn't have to quit our jobs and move to the mountains to make it happen.  We live in a row house with a small back garden.  We still own one car, and we still eat out occasionally. We still travel by airplane, and  we still buy our eggs and cheese.

The point is, we're regular people.  We didn't give up our regular life, we just are trying to make our regular life even better.  Extraordinary.  It can be done, one tiny change at a time.

23 January 2011


Food Wars

I went to an organic cheese making workshop the other day.  I went because I thought that a cheese making workshop in the Netherlands is like a pasta making workshop in Italy or a wine tasting in France.  Gotta do it.  Plus, it would be good material for the other blog I write, the personal one about our family's adventures in living abroad.

As part of the workshop, we toured the organic farm that actually makes and sells cheese.  It is a working, for profit farm that is located in the middle of a huge park in the middle of the city.  Strange, but it somehow works.

As we toured the small farm, I got to thinking about the books I've read about sustainable farming, whole foods, and corporate organic.  I was reminded that there are people in the world who still feed their cows grass, not corn.  I was reminded that there are still farmers who allow their chickens to roam in and out of the henhouses at their leisure, and that these chickens produce more and higher quality eggs in exchange for their "freedom".  Grass feed cows are the standard here in the Netherlands, and yes, the meat tastes different than we are used to.  It tastes how beef should taste, because cows were meant to eat grass.  And if they eat grass, then they don't get sick and have to take antibiotics.  And if they don't have to take antibiotics, then there is nothing to debate about what those antibiotics do to the cows and to us when we eat that meat.  

And the milk.  I'm not much of a milk drinker, but the milk here tastes unlike anything I've ever had.  Fresh.  My family can't get enough of it.  I don't know for sure, but I am guessing it has to do with the happy grass fed cows, and the fact that they don't process their milk as much here.  Doesn't last as long, but that has not been an issue for this family.

And then I started thinking about how we want our kids to know where food comes from.  To know that food is grown or raised, not just packaged in a grocery store.  To know that we can grow or raise food too.  And I made up my mind right then to visit this farm with them, and to return often.

In short, ever since I started reading these kinds of books, and making an effort to eat less meat, more whole foods, etc, food is tasting like food.  Not like manufactured, engineered food product, but like food.  And it is delicious.

I've talked about Michael Pollan's Food Rules, but may I also suggest The Omnivore's Dilemma.  It is a good starting point to learn about how far we have come from growing and cooking real food.  There are other books too, but this is one of the most well known.

I'm not yet to the point of making my own organic cheese at home, but for until then I know where I can get it.

19 January 2011


The Art of Travel

I am currently reading this book by Alain de Botton.  It is well written and beautifully descriptive, and I enjoy being taken from my world of toddler messes to the worlds of those who made a lifetime of traveling and writing about it.

But I do have my own art form when it comes to travel.  It is a bit more practical and involves keeping 3 kids moving through the airport smoothly or keeping them happy and quiet in the car.

Ready for my fantabulous bit of insider knowledge?  Are you sure you can handle it?





In situations where I have to keep track of the belongings of 3 kids and myself, I would lose my head if I didn't have a place to keep it all the time.  Attached to me.  As for everything else, the only way I survive is with lists.

I have master stuff to bring lists, specific items lists for each kid and myself, schemes of where things go in the car (in the back, under their seats, up front with me), and schemes of where things go for an airline trip.  I keep my lists on my computer and my iphone, and I refer to them without fail whenever we have an upcoming trip.  I never skip looking at the list, even if I think I know what's on it.  I update my lists every few months, since with a toddler our needs change often.

I do this for almost every aspect of my life:  I keep a running grocery list, I keep a list of addresses to change when we move and services to cancel.  I keep a list of goals I want to accomplish, and I keep a list of thank you notes I need to write.

Sometimes, on my basic to-do list, I add something to it just so I can cross it off.  Not only does it keep me motivated by seeing my accomplishments, it keeps my brain on top of what I have already done so I can know what I need to do.  Although I usually use high tech means of list keeping (especially for the permanent lists), I am also known to affix post-its to counters, mirrors, computers, walls, etc.

Keeping these permanent lists (and daily to-do lists) is what allows us to travel as often as we do.  Our adventures are fun, not stressful.  It just works.

Never underestimate the power of the list.

16 January 2011


The Brain Body Connection

I wrote the following article for a moms and toddlers group newsletter.  Over my years in the professional world, I have gotten scores of referrals for kids with motor delays only to discover that the skills they are lacking are simply ones they haven't been exposed to.  If a child is never allowed to color, how will he ever be able to hold a crayon?  Read on:

The Brain Body Connection

By Tracey L. Davis, MOT, OTR/L
Pediatric Occupational Therapist
Abilities Developmental Consulting Services

In this information age, we as parents are better equipped than ever to engage out children in activities that stimulate their mental development.  What books should we be reading?  What music should we play?  When should we start teaching alphabet letters?  Any of these questions can be answered with a quick search on the internet.  Schools are introducing academic tasks earlier and earlier, and children are starting school younger and younger.  And yet we keep asking the question:  what more can I do?

Many times, in our quest to help our children develop their brains, we forget about their bodies.  We let play time be play time, and learning time be learning time.  But motor development is not only important, it is essential.  Research shows a direct link between motor skills and cognitive development.  Vestibular stimulation (movement) increases expressive language (speech).  Typical development begins with gross motor, then fine motor, and finally speech and language development.  This is because the connections that need to be made in the brain to develop mental skills are activated through motor and sensory play.

We know this to be true, and yet we choose one in favor of the other.  We overstimulate their brains and overprotect their bodies.  We push information into their heads and hold back their legs.  

How can we encourage development of both the body and mind?  We must let them do.  We must let them be.  We must let them try.  Climbing, jumping, sliding, and yes, even falling.  They all provide information.  Information that makes neuron connections in the brain.  Coordinating arms and legs to climb a ladder provides instant feedback to joints, muscles, and nerves.  What a child does with this information is called a motor response.  Motor responses originate in the brain.  Motor play time is learning time, and it starts in infancy.  But it doesn't end there.  School aged children need this same kind of motor feedback just as much as toddlers, for knowing how gently to place a block on a tower without toppling it over is the same skill that keeps a child safe when climbing the monkey bars or navigating through a crowded classroom.

Obviously, we must keep our children safe.  But there is a difference between helping them be safe and keeping them from trying a new skill.   Our small children might not yet be ready to do, but they are always ready to try.  

15 January 2011

Simply Living

I often write about our physical space at home, and how we are making it simpler and more peaceful.  But we are also intentionally structuring our schedules around this same idea.  It is getting more difficult as the kids get older, especially since they leave for school at 8am and don't return until 4pm.  But family experiences are sacred to us, so we have a few unwritten rules that help guide us:

1.  Severely limited screen time:  since we moved overseas, we do not have television.  It started accidentally with our TV not being able to accept the kind of cable connection used in the Netherlands.  We still have the TV, so we hooked a hard drive to it and have a few shows and movies we are able to watch.  But because of the move and the inability to get television, we basically broke the kids of the TV habit.  They now watch TV maybe once per week (sometimes more in bad weather or during holidays), and they are able to play simple games on iphones for up to 20 minutes.  But now that it takes more effort to watch something, we usually just don't.  And the kids somehow always find a way to entertain themselves.

2.  One extracurricular during the week:  with school taking up the majority of their waking hours, the last thing I want is to rush the boys from place to place every afternoon.  After school time should be down time, unstructured time.  One boy takes gymnastics, which he actually needs to address some sensory issues, and the other boy is patiently waiting to turn old enough to join the same class.  He wanted to play soccer, but we aren't yet willing to commit to a practice during the week and a game every Saturday.  And he's ok with that.   He's still so young that his interests shift weekly.  Saturdays are for family time.  For now.

3.  Daily outside time.  One thing I love about the kids' school is the 3 recesses they get every day, with one of them lasting 45 minutes.  It's the Dutch way.  And it's awesome.  During our brief stint in the states, my kindergartener only saw the playground a couple times a week.  This is one thing I do not compromise on:  KIDS NEED TO MOVE.  It makes them think clearer (works for adults too!), it makes them sleep better, and it develops critical motor and neurological skills that will last for a lifetime.  Obviously, weather sometimes dictates what we can do outside, but we also allow our share of couch jumping, wrestling, and pillow fights.  Hopefully they know not to do all that crazy stuff at other people's houses.

4.  Downtime after school:  when the kids get home, I want them to get their homework out of the way.  But if I insist on that, it usually turns into a huge battle that takes three times as long as it should.  When I am smart and let them chill or have a snack first, the homework is done in a breeze.  Just no screen time before homework, which is rarely an issue since we don't really watch TV or play video games.

5.  Lots of unstructured play:  Yes, we make a lot of forts.  So many that i created a semi-permanent one with a table and a wall in the play/guest room.  I have also been known to let them borrow my spatulas so they can open up their own diner and take lunch orders.  We are not lacking in the creativity department, but a lot of that comes from me stepping out and letting them play in unconventional ways.  Which is also why we don't have a ton of toys.  Most of our house is theirs to play with.  We do, however, make them ask before they use something that doesn't belong to them.

6.  Flexible schedules:  Since we live overseas, we try to explore something every Saturday.  But we have learned from experience that filling our schedules to the brim just leads to frustration.  So, unless it's a big trip (an entire day or more), we usually just plan one thing and wing it from there.  Sometimes we don't leave the house for more than an hour; other times we're gone an entire afternoon.  Sometimes we see all kinds of unique things; other times we see a playground and the clouds.  Often we change the schedule to accommodate the happiness of the children, but if they aren't happy, who is?  The point is that we spend the time together as a family.

There are many more things that govern our philosophy of life, and many more details for daily living, but these are fairly steadfast.  It keeps us happy,  peaceful, and functioning smoothly together.

11 January 2011

Going Paperless

We're in the middle of an experiment.  A week or two ago, I finally got up the gumption to suggest to my husband that we switch from paper towels to reusable rags.  His response?  "Thank you.  I've been wanting to do that forever but don't know where the rags are."  I ignored that last part since they've always been located in the same place in the closet under the stairs and just focused on how easy it was to get him on my side.

I figured that if this was going to work, the rags need to be just as convenient to grab as paper towels.  So, I neatly folded a stack and placed them in a small plastic bin right under our paper towel holder.  Next, we needed a convenient place to toss the dirty rags.  Our laundry is on the third floor of our house, so no just tossing them down to the laundry room.  I installed a hook under a low eating counter near the rags and hung a small cloth bucket.

Voila!  We haven't yet gotten rid of the paper towels, but so far, we've not really used any since the switch.  We have plenty of rags - I always cut old t-shirts or flannel sheets into rags when their first life is over.  I wish we had done this eons ago.  Talk about ecological and economical.  I'm probably years behind the times, but step by step we're simplifying.

And step by step it's working.

07 January 2011



Christmas is great and all, but I after a while when I look at the decorations all I see is clutter.  I can usually stand it until New Years', but even that week between the two holidays has me over my tipping point.  Which is probably why we haven't decorated for Christmas in several years, since we're never home to take it down until way past my last straw.

But, with the kids getting older and more into the actual set up, I'm trying to embrace my inner holiday spirit.

That's gone now.  It all came down as soon as we got back from our travels.  However, as I was taking everything off the tree and down from the shelves and windows, I noticed my current storage system no longer holds everything.  Since we had to buy new lights with European plugs, it put us over the one rubbermaid that held everything.  Time to move to a bigger rubbermaid!  Luckily, I had one "in stock."

As I was arranging the big items, I then noticed that the boxes that held our ornaments were pretty much useless.  Old cardboard rejects that could no longer make a trip through the postal system were hardly better suited to keep breakable ornaments safe.  So I searched for an alternative.

I found it in the form of Christmas tins.  We received several this year with goodies inside, and I decided to keep them for once since I now do some holiday baking.  I hated the thought of storing empty containers for a whole year, so I turned them into multitaskers.

They hold our ornaments perfectly.   Everything is safe in the garage, forgotten until next year.  I'm always looking for clever storage solutions, though, so leave a comment if you have a fantastic idea for storing seasonal items.  I'm looking for something super easy that I can get out of my life and forget about it taking up space in my house.

05 January 2011

It's the Middle of the Night

And I'm up with the baby.  We've been awake for 2 hours now.  I was coming to the blog to put up my next planned post, but it seems just silly and trivial right now.  I'm sure in the light of day I'll convince myself that someone wants to read it, but right now it's just not happening.

Controlling our chaos means keeping our lives simple.  So, tomorrow, God willing, we'll have time to catch up on this sleep we're losing.  That part is easy.  I'm somewhat introverted, so I enjoy solitude.  It drains me to fill every spare moment with social engagements.  We keep extracurriculars to a minimum.  Again, simpler schedules = less chaos and more peace.

The hard part for me is the rearranging of the plans.  It can be done, since I'm careful to protect our time.  But in my head I have a list of things I want to accomplish tomorrow, and now that list will probably remain unfinished.  Maybe it's not the rearranging; maybe it's the letting go.  Maybe it's the separation of the urgent from the important.  Because the urgent things aren't usually that important. But the urgent things are the tangible ones with immediate results.  And so I fill my time with the urgent, and I sacrifice the important.

Hmm.  I could probably keep analyzing in my half-awake state, but the girl just fell asleep.  And that's important for both of us.

02 January 2011

Back in the Saddle

I came back.  As much fun as it was to be away with no routine, no exercise, and to literally eat anything that came my way, it is time to move on.

The husband goes back to work tomorrow, but the kids still have a week to get back into the swing of having a schedule to follow.  Which is good, I keep telling myself.  Good for them.  I try not to dwell on the fact that it's not so good for me.  Because my instinct is to just jump right back into the routine.  Cold turkey.  Bedtimes, chores, food rules, etc.  I need the structure.  And so do they.

But they also need to wind down.  It's been 2 weeks of crazy overstimulation.  Too much sugar.  Too much screen time.  Too little sleep.  And now we're paying the price, because 2/3 are sick.  So they need time to heal.  Time to settle in.  Time to adapt once more to Our Routine.

And I keep telling myself this week will be good, even though I don't have much of a plan.  Because it will be.  We will find many things to keep us busy.  Tomorrow is market day - fresh fruits and veggies, hooray!  And then there are decorations to take down, floors to sweep, and new toys to play with.  My Lack of a Plan is what brings the fear and dread.

It's the same old story.  In a routine with structure, good.  Out of the routine, fun.  Getting back into the routine, scary.  But we've done it before, and we'll do it again.  Am I the only one with this lack of confidence?  I don't think so, but maybe I'm the only one to write about how inadequate I feel to Parent my children.  They are mine, after all.  And I love them to pieces.  Today we watched a cartoon movie and I was a blubbering fool when we watched the part where the kid grows up and goes to college.  A cartoon!  And yet I worry that we won't make it through this week together.

Silly Mommy. Time to quit blabbing and Just Do It.  The joy is in the journey, right?  Well, away we go.