Fried Okra

Far too late, I realized today, that I was not the best example to my children. They are all adults and between my three eldest sons there are twelve grandchildren. I have a second opportunity with the next generation. Since I only see any of them occasionally I will have to be quite intentional.

I don’t really know exactly how I started on this path. It was not a New Year’s resolution, but sometime in January I decided this was the year to try new things.  This morning I wrote a note in a birthday card to a great niece wishing her fun and encouraging her to try new things. As I did this, the thought of my own failure hit me.  I always encouraged my children to be brave and try new foods. But they did not see me trying new foods.  I ate a far greater variety of foods than any of them did, but I was always asking them to not let appearances or even scent make a decision for them. As chief cook, I prepared food that I liked.  Well, I recently dared to eat cottage cheese and blue cheese.  In my mind they are both quite scary looking. I was a hypocrite. I asked them to do what I was not willing to do.

H and S in the garden

My husband with our youngest son in our garden pruning “suckers” off the tomato plants. 

I have been trying new things, mostly new foods.  In addition to the above mentioned cheeses, so far this year, I have tried Belgium endive, leeks, spaghetti squash, collard greens, fried okra, kombucha tea, and coffee.  I liked the coffee, squash, endive, and fried okra.  I plan to give the cottage cheese a second chance as I discovered my container was far past its expiration date. With food tasting, one only has to be brave very briefly.   Water washes away most tastes.

A willingness to try new things has extended to other areas.  I am trying yoga in the privacy of my home thanks to you tube.  This would be far too embarrassing to do in a pubic setting.  I think children might also benefit from trying something new in a private setting and not before an audience, even an audience of friends or family.

I have also been experimenting with new hairstyles.  I have long hair and I think I can learn to do much more with it than I do.  Here, too, I have gone to you tube for instructions.   Doing something new takes practice.  The first time is often messy.  First attempts at learning new skills can turn out badly and that is okay.  A friend who taught me how to knit gave me instructions for “easy” bootie slippers.   When completed, one slipper was at least 3 inches longer than the other.  Oops.  I have had much greater success with crocheting, but even that takes practice.

Sometimes we forget how long it took us

This “new things” quest has got me thinking about other areas to explore. Perhaps I should try a new genre of music, movies, or books.   I might make a very enjoyable discovery. This summer I hope to try zip lining.

I have always considered myself a brave and adventurous type, but my spirit of adventure was limited.  This is my year to expand my horizons.   What new foods or things are you willing to try?   How do you help your children be brave and adventurous?

976 Elephants

976 elephants.  That is how many Great Aunt Doris had in her collection.  She had all sizes and shapes. They were made of a variety of materials.  Some came from exotic locations around the globe.  She had elephant everything from earrings to end tables.  But isn’t 976 too much of anything?   Many were simply packed away in a trunk (pun intended).  What’s in your collection?  What does your child collect?

shakers

some of my salt and pepper shakers

Step one in having a collection is discovering what we are interested in or what we prefer.  It is a valid discovery.  I recall as a child being challenged to find things I uniquely enjoyed and not just parroting my older sister.   Having an identified interest makes gift giving easier and more fun for others as they shop for us.

Step two is managing that collection.  How do I use it? How do I incorporate it into my life and my space?  Is it usable or is it just something to display and admire?  What is required of me to take care of my collection?

Step three is to not broadcast your interest too loudly or loosely lest you be inundated with too much of what you love.  This may cause one to reconsider their chosen item.   It is okay to let family and friends know that you have enough of ______________.

Dear Great Aunt Doris lived to be 105 years old.  That is a very, very, long time to collect elephant-bowlanything.  I believe she never tired of elephants.  I am thankful to have inherited a single elephant bowl from her.  I keep it filled with fruit on my counter and it reminds me of her.

As children grow and mature, naturally their interests will change.  The Polly Pockets which were completely thrilling at age six may have no meaning to a twelve year old.   The toddler who adored penguins later as a teen may find them rather boring and even smelly.    Allow your child to cast off old interests and embrace new ones.  You might encourage your child to find ways to share their old collectibles with others.    There is a time and a season for everything.   One of my sons assured me baseball cards are timeless.

I have seen adults try to start collections for children.  This rarely works well as each person needs to discover for themselves where their interests lie.   We also need to allow our children to decide for themselves when they are ready to move on to something new.

One more challenge with collections is the trap of discontentment.  If we always think we need more of something, then we must ask if our collection is controlling us.   Try a reverse collection.  I love banks, but I don’t need banks.  I have a few. It is enough.  I routinely give banks as a new baby gift.  It is sort of my signature gift. I give what I enjoy and hope they will enjoy it too.     Do you have any ideas for signature gifts or reverse collecting?12509089_1210792845603492_6949928042686141160_n

 

Road Trip or Insanity by Car

Road Trip. Do those words fill you with excitement or dread? The answer may depend on the ages of your children.  It may be dependent on the length of the trip or the destination.

For many years we lived in Chicagoland and my husband’s family lived mostly in  central Nebraska.  That is a 10-12 hour trip depending on weather, road conditions, number and length of stops, and speed limits.  Thankfully the speed limits have increased.  Since the oil embargo in the 1970’s forced everyone to economize fuel usage, the federal government reduced all interstates to 55 mph.  Little by little states have boosted those limits.  Higher speed limits make a big difference on a long road trip.

1979-plymouth-horizon-08I clearly recall one particular trip to Nebraska in our sea-green four-door Plymouth Horizon (I think this model has been discontinued).  We had two sons, ages four and one. I must have been wearier than theywere because I was convinced the car was shrinking as we drove.  That particular trip was so difficult for me that when we bought our next car I literally used a tape to measure its interior.  I was convinced it had to be bigger than the Horizon for my survival.

Some families choose to travel long distances at night.  They hope the children will peacefully sleep.  We did try this a few times.  Once was in the unescapable Horizon.  It really did not work for us, primarily because my husband is a morning person and not at his best when driving late.

We recently took this same long trip for a family funeral.  My husband and I were good travelers, but we did not have any children with us.  On the other hand, one of our sons made the same trip with his pregnant wife and their five children, of whom the oldest is 10.   They arrived safely and in good spirits.  This latest road trip reminded me of some of the tips we gathered for friendlier travel with children.

1ed9365229f4702ecd369783e97f315d

  1. Children’s movies on DVD players. (we did not have this one for our children, but it would have been wonderful)
  2. Audio books
  3. Favorite music
  4. Picnics at rest areas are better and cheaper than eating at restaurants because of the freedom to move and run. Some areas also have playgrounds.   Yes, this takes some planning.   Seasonal weather can be a challenge or make picnics impractical.
  5. Snacks and drinks that are not too messy, but also not the typical ones at home.
  6. Change up the typical seating order/arrangement. Might even change seats at the half-way mark unless moving car-seats is too cumbersome.
  7. New coloring/activity books and markers, crayons or colored pencils.
  8. New toy without too many small parts to be lost.
  9. Travel Games. i.e. I spy something (name a color), Guess what animal I am thinking, Counting (flags, barns . . .  .) on your side of the road,   and Travel Bingo.
  10. Individual  back packs in which the child has chosen the contents.  Back packs provide a place for belongings and an opportunity to practice being responsible for one’s stuff.
  11. Whatever activities you plan, be willing to be flexible and be observant of how well each one is coping with the confinement. Making an unscheduled stop may make the rest of the trip more pleasant for everyone.
  12. Also carry a first aid kit, facial tissues, wet wipes, and a plastic bag for trash.

One more tip: Do your best to obtain a full night’s sleep the night before the trip.  This will help everyone have a better attitude and sunnier dispositions.   The driver/s will also be more alert.

Travel Prayer:  Lord, watch over us as we travel.  Help us to have good attitudes.  May we not get lost or sick.  Keep our vehicle in running order.  Please keep all crazy drivers away from us.  Amen.

 

 

Overflowing

I recently discovered a huge mess in my bedroom which happened while no one was at home. The top shelf and pole in our closet had broken away from the wall and crashed onto the floor inside and outside of the closet.  My husband blamed the two heavy boxes of journals, which I kept on that shelf.  It was quite a mess.  We emptied 2/3 of the closet so that he could work in it.  I realized that my closet was over stuffed.  Since most of it was already all over the bedroom, I sorted through it all. I made a garbage pile, a donate pile and a store in the attic pile.  He also went through his hanging clothes and when we were finished we had over 50 empty hangers.   Plus I parted with 8 purses and 10 pairs of shoes. That is almost embarrassing to admit.

Too much stuff is a burden.  How much is too much?  Are your dresser drawers barely closeable?  Do you struggle to find your stuff?  Do you keep a car, or stuff, in your garage? Are you paying a monthly fee for extra storage?   If so,iIt may be time to declutter.

Most Americans could learn a few lessons from the minimalist movement and living in tiny houses trend.  Both of these lifestyles require radical simplifying.   One does not have to live in only 200 square feet of space to benefit from decluttering.   I did not ask myself if any specific piece of clothing brought me joy before parting with it either.  I just knew it would be easier to find what I wanted in a less full closet and there were many items I did not need or use at all.14263971_1368114123222506_5363390220919011006_n

I once mentioned to my daughter-in-law that in earlier times big families lived in tiny houses.  My mom was from a family of seven and lived in a three bedroom house and so did my dad, who was from a family of nine.  There are two very big differences between now and then.  Then there was much less focus on personal space (actually there was none) and today every individual has lots and lots of stuff overflowing our homes and bulging out of drawers and closets.

I want to share with you one thing I did well with my children in this area and one I wish I had handled better.

I did expect my children to be responsible for their rooms.  When they were little I did most of the routine cleaning, but as they aged they were expected to do more and me to do less.  Sometimes I would ask them to focus on a certain area.  I might announce that tomorrow after lunch I would be doing a drawer inspection.  Each child had time to organize their few drawers keeping only what was designated in each drawer and attempting to make it neat.  The children actually enjoyed this challenge because it came with rewards.  My inspections were really just a cursory glance.  I would leave a note such as, “Impressive!” or “Great Job” in some drawers or might give a stick of gum in another.  Obviously these rewards are more exciting for a 6 or 8 year old than a 12 or older child.  Use them when possible.

There were several times when we did major house-wide decluttering.  Then we held garage sales to part with our unwanted/ no longer loved items.  The problem was, when they sold their old stuff, they then had money to buy new stuff.   This created the “stuff cycle”.  I think it would have been better if we had collectively agreed upon pooling our garage sale proceeds to make a donation to a community service or a ministry or even an individual in need.   Or we could have skipped the entire garage sale and just donated our stuff to a resale store that was the fund for a non-profit.  I think I missed a great character building opportunity.

How do you manage stuff in your home?

Free Entertainment

Are you constantly trying to figure out what to do with your children?  Are you searching for good ideas of things to do with them?  Do they have too much time on their hands?  Is summer dragging on?  Are they begging you to take them somewhere or do something with them?

You do not need or have to be a cruise director or a free entertainment committee for your children.   One of your parenting hats is not concierge.  Your job is not to keep them constantly engaged in activities.

Yes, please plan some fun activities to do with your children.  But do not do so all day or every day.  Playing is important work for children. They need some down time too.  Down time does not need to equal screen time. They need to use their creativity to make their own entertainment.  Their imaginations may surprise them.13528782_1068874339865950_646158366432066594_n

“I’m bored.  I have nothing to do.  What can I do?”  My children rarely said these words to me because I always had many ideas for them.  Most of my ideas for conquering boredom involved doing household chores.  Instead, I told them to use their imaginations and find someone (a sibling, a neighbor, or a friend) with whom they could play.  I also encouraged lots of outdoor play except in extreme or dangerous weather conditions.  Yes, my children got quite dirty most days and often had minor injuries from play.  We all survived.

in a treeToday’s child generally has a plethora of toys with which to play.  Help them have a balance of indoor and outdoor toys.  Legos seem to be an inside only toy because of the easily lost tiny pieces, but many other toys are suitable for outside play.  I suggest a  supply of bikes, roller blades, skate boards, all kinds of balls, golf clubs, cones, bats, a swing set, a tree rope, and even, guns (see My battle Against Guns:   https://dianesergeant.wordpress.com/2016/06/24/my-battle-against-guns/) with which to play.

 

There was one area in which I failed to follow my own advice.  I often (perhaps too often) found myself driving one of more of my children to the home of a friend or a cousin or picking up a playmate for playtime.  I may not have planned their specific activities but I was involved in helping them reach their destinations.   When they were old enough and the distance could be reached safely, I encouraged bicycling.

Disclaimer: When my grandchildren come to visit me, I do plan many activities just for them. We stay extremely busy for the few days we have together without their parents.  I recently had four grandsons with me for four days.  We went to a beach, visited a waterfall in which we played, went canoeing, roasted marshmallows, went swimming, played games, watched some movies and played mini-golf.  We had a blast without spending much money.  But even with them, there was some time that they just entertained themselves.  One evening they played a game which they created; beanie baby freeze tag.  I really don’t know what the rules were even though I watched them playing.

How does your child keep occupied?  Do they play alone or with siblings or neighbors?

IMG_3378

Child Proofing

Is your home child-proofed?  Did you make lots of changes before your child was born or did you do it on an as needed basis?  Safety is not a big issue until baby becomes mobile.  Then it is a big issue.  The following are a few issues to consider.

Closets: In the ranch-style suburban home where we raised our children, we had ample closets.  One of the best closets was in the hall outside the main bathroom.  I called it the linen closet.  This closet reached from the floor to the ceiling.  It was only 10 inches deep, but was nearly five feet wide.   The top 2 shelves held 90% of all the household cleaners.  There were none under the bathroom sinks and only dish washer detergent under the kitchen sink.  There were some laundry products in the laundry room.

The third highest shelf, which was at my eye level, was where I stored the oral thermometer, medicines and all things first aid.  The lowest three shelves actually held linens such as bedsheets and towels.

The linen closet was the focus of my child proofing.  It was my hazard zone.  The linen closet was in the only hallway and could be seen from the main bathroom and two of the three bedrooms.  Posted on the back of the door of the linen closet were first aid articles, such as what to do for chocking, burns, cuts, or ingesting poison. 1024px-Poison_Help.svg

Poisons: I called poison control only once.  My daughter, at age two and a half, managed to open a child proof bottle and swallow about 20 children’s chewable Tylenol.  She survived without any lasting effects. My nerves were shot.  Many children do drink unsafe liquids.  Kids will swallow household cleaners, medicines, toiletries, and even air fresheners.  One of my grandchildren tried a couple of those.

When our youngest child was preschool age, we received a free package from a poison control center that included educational materials and lots of various size Mr. Yuk stickers.  He enjoyed helping me stick these in various places in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room and the linen closet.  He never caused me to need to call poison control.  Did the stickers prevent poisoning or was he just not that curious? I don’t know.

Electrical Outlets: We did use outlet covers.  We still do.  We have a grandchild and a nephew, who were fascinated we putting things in outlets.

Helmets: Our first four children all survived childhood, as did we, without wearing bicycle helmets.  Our bonus child wore a helmet, when he was little.  My husband and I wear helmets when we ride our motor scooter, too.

As a child I was a climber.  It seemed to be my nature. I was climbing out of my crib before I was a year old. Later I loved to climb trees outside and furniture inside.  I was probably on the kitchen counter every day of my childhood.  I could even climb hallway walls.  This proved disastrous for my cousin, who tried to do the same.  His foot went through the plaster.   Only one of my children was an extreme climber like myself.  I used a special harness to keep him sitting safely in shopping carts.12661886_1028021680604519_5512961061780225872_n

Don’t Touch: We taught our children that not everything in the house was theirs.  They learned to respect others’ property.  They learned not to touch everything when they were guests in others’ homes.   When they were very little we never left priceless or irreplaceable items where they might be accidently harmed.    There were items they were not allowed to touch but were within their reach.   This is not only a respect issue; it is a safety and a courtesy issue.  Even preschoolers can and should learn these things.

Safety is important.  Precautions can and should be taken.  However parents cannot protect their children from everything.  One day I was sitting three feet away from my daughter and watched her suddenly fall down and break her arm.  She was two years old and was not doing anything except standing when she suddenly fell.  It was not a long distance fall, but the arm was broken.

Deb broken arm

cast on her right arm

Yes, she was a challenging child, but she was no match for her rambunctious brothers.  They caused each other countless breaks and stitches.   It is impossible to prevent all accidents and some children need more protection than do others, but children cannot thrive in bubbles either.  Find a balance.

What do you consider critical child proofing in your home?

 

9 Things You Should Borrow

When did you last go to the library?  Why did you go there?  There are at least nine reasons to visit your library.

I have loved the library since at least first grade.  I was an early reader and borrowed books from our little classroom library.  One day our entire class walked to the city public library to explore it and receive our first library cards.  Over the years I discovered the library had much, much more to offer than just books.  Even though, books alone are a motivating attraction for me.  Every genre of magazine can also be found and borrowed from the library.

Yes, I love books. They can be found in every room of my house.  In the living room the end tables are usually covered in stacks of books. I also have a small table, which I call the library table.  Presently, it is where I store all my durable cardboard books for the youngest grandchildren.   In the past it is where I stored all the books we brought home from the public library.  Keeping them in one place prevented losing them in random places.

library tableMost libraries are part of a network allowing them to borrow for you from other libraries.  Even if your town has a small library, it may have access to larger libraries.  The majority of libraries are also online making searches and reservations very easy.

My second favorite thing to borrow from the library is audio books.  These are especially wonderful for car trips. We recently took a long trip with my parents.  We all thoroughly enjoyed listening to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and I’ll Walk Alone by Mary Higgins Clark.   A favorite audio book that was listened to at least a dozen times by our youngest son was Who Was That Masked Man Anyway Audio books help even a reluctant reader to love books.

Some libraries have electronic books.  Games and learning manipulatives for young children are often available.  Computers, computer games and the internet are accessible which is very helpful when your home computer or internet is not functioning properly.  I have used library internet in other towns while traveling.

One year my daughter participated in a library program called Battle of the Books where she was on a school team that read and studied a huge list of books.  They competed against other teams with questions about details and comprehension of the books. 12509089_1210792845603492_6949928042686141160_n

My youngest son was not a strong reader but loved graphic novels (comics).  Even he learned to love the library.

There was a program in the grade school I attended called picture lady.  A mom brought into the class a large piece of framed art and led the class in a discussion of the piece.  Our library in Wheaton, IL had a large collection of framed art.  I was able to recreate that program with my children in our home.   My children enjoyed taking turns selecting the pieces which we hung over the fireplace mantle in the living room for four to eight weeks at a time.  We discussed the colors and mood of the piece even when we did not have knowledge of the artist or the style.

We have borrowed hundreds, maybe thousands, of movies from the library. We continue to do this.  These varied from Magic School Bus and other educational programs to black and white classics such as Fred MacMurray’s, Follow Me Boys, to current films.

Well, have I convinced you to go to your local library yet?

Cuddle time reading to your own babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and even independent readers is precious time.  It is a time for instilling security and love for stories.  It teaches pre-reading skills such as handling a book properly and progressing from left to right.  Reading expands the imagination, enlarges the vocabulary, develops the mind, and takes you to places all over the globe and beyond.  Read to your children.

One more thought: If you have a bookworm, encourage them to bicycle to the library for fresh air and exercise. My second son, a voracious reader, enjoyed doing both.

Conversing

At age six or seven I proudly and boldly informed my mom that I knew all about sex.  She was rather horrified, but I didn’t notice.  I was concentrating on correctly reciting what I had heard.  I continued with, “There is the boy sex, and the girl sex, and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . the insects.”  I don’t think she laughed as I expected her to do.  Instead there was a huge sigh of relief.   Actually I didn’t understand the joke myself. That event occurred many decades ago and she still tells the story.

Kids sometimes say shocking things.  It may simply be  to find out how you will react.   I once had a youth tell me on the first day we met, his two heroes were well known mass murderers.  One was fictional.  I believe my only reply was a calm, “oh.”  He never brought it up again.  Today he is a hard-working, husband and dad.

mouthsI have often told students in youth ministry that they could probably say anything to their parents, if they said it in a respectful way.   That may not be true in an abusive or dysfunctional home, but should be true in most homes.

We want our children to be comfortable sharing ideas, thoughts, problems, struggles, dreams, hopes, conflicts, worries, or fears.  Therefore we must be good listeners and value the things they say to us. Keep ridicule and sarcasm locked in the closet. Be encouraging.  If you respond negatively toward their ideas           and thoughts, they may think you feel negatively about them.

If you can nurture positive communication while they are in the grade school years, the teen years will be smoother.   Teach them what a respectful tone sounds and looks like. It needs to be calm and not loud.  It needs to be filled with “I” statements and not accusations.

Teach them diplomacy, tact and timing.  Bringing up a conflict or presenting an out-of-the-box idea will be received better at some times than at others.   When there is a disagreement ask them to offer alternatives.  Perhaps consider a trial period to try an alternative solution.

Privacy is another area where children must be taught.  I recall my parents repeatedly telling us before a vacation that we did not, and should not, talk about our trip.  We were told that friends did not need to know where we were going or that we would be out of town.   When our neighbor’s house was robbed and vandalized while they were on vacation, the lesson was secured in my mind.  Help your children learn which topics are appropriate in which situations.  Of course, most of the time this learning process is awkward and maybe even embarrassing, but everyone will survive.

When people are hungry, angry or tired (H,A,T,) is not the best time to decide or resolve issues.  That is a good time to say, “I can’t discuss this now, can we do it later?”   Then be sure to choose another time and do it.  When screaming and yelling begins, most real communication ends.

When my children were little, I often told them I could not hear them when they were whining or begging.   Never accept demands, lies, foul language, or insults from your children.  These are counterproductive to meaningful conversation.   Yes, there are many appropriate times for parents to give orders and expect obedience.   Requests accompanied by please and thank you are suitable at other times.

Communication skills are priceless skills which will be a benefit to your family and to your children in school, in the work place, and in their future relationships.   Model them and teach them.

talkin in CZ

She was learning English and I knew almost no Czech, yet we had great discussions about religion and politics

Traditions

Traditions.  Are they confining rules or comforting structure?  Most families have many holiday traditions. Did my children love our traditions?  I don’t know.

I have many holiday traditions. One of my favorite Christmas traditions was the late night quiet hour on Christmas Eve when my husband and I stuffed the Christmas stockings.  The children were asleep – well, probably they weren’t, – but they were at least behind closed doors in their rooms and quiet.  We played Christmas music to cover any sounds for which little ears may have been listening.  I drank a cup of hot chocolate and we both ate candies as we sorted the bags full of loot making a pile for each child and dividing the candy equally.  Everyone received an orange flavored & shaped ball of chocolate in the toe of their stocking and everything else went in after that.  Often the sock was overflowing and sometimes items were placed on the mantle nearby.  Because I did 98% of the shopping it was not until this hour that my husband even saw the items I had purchased. H filling

D filling

On Christmas morning the children were required to stay in their rooms until 7 a.m.  Then we gathered in the living room and they each received their stocking.  Next came a breakfast including birthday cake for Jesus, eggs, bacon, hot chocolate and fruit salad. On the cake was a candle for each person at the table because Jesus came for each one.  Furthermore no one can fit over 2000 candles on one cake.  After breakfast we read the story of Jesus birth from the Bible and then we opened the presents under the Christmas tree.

mantle

Some people love dependable order and tradition.  They are comforted by knowing what to expect and their role in events. Others love variety and surprises. If you have more than one child, then you probably have one of each.  Husband and wife may even vary.   Each family has to figure it out for themselves.   Compromise is usually the way to peace.  There are also grandparents, adult siblings and extended family on both sides to consider.

As each new family is established they must navigate through the murky waters of instituting or initiating its traditions in view of the past traditions of two families.  Communication is the key to working through it all.    There is more than just Christmas to consider, what about the other holidays or birthdays and anniversaries?   How is gift buying handled?  Who does the shopping or gift wrapping?

Once you get it all figured out be willing to continue to make changes and adaptions.  That is what happens in life.  New normals are constantly being established.  DO NOT MAKE ASSUMPTIONS.   Talk about everything or holidays will become overwhelming and stressful.   This is especially important to revisit as your family grows and ages.  Teenagers have very different ideas about holiday fun than do ten or two year olds.

T & S

Brothers

A whole new realm is reached when your adult child gets married and brings another person’s expectations and traditions into the family.  They must be given freedom to create their own plans and traditions.  Doing this may disrupt your norm.  Let them know they are welcome and you would love to have them around, and then say, “Here is what we are doing.  Please let us know what you want to do.”   Truly be okay.  Don’t hold a grudge or be unhappy or shaming.

Have I done this perfectly?  No.   Sometimes I have not clearly expressed my desires or expectations.   Last Mother’s Day my daughter and I reviewed my expectations of that holiday.  It was shocking to me that she didn’t already know what I was thinking!