Peeling carrots in Zambia

It is in the moments of lack that I am the most creative.

Don’t have baby wipes to clean up muddy feet? Strip baby, wet dirty clothes with water bottle, wipe away mud. Brilliant!

Don’t have a book or toy for the restaurant wait? Build salt shaker towers, play guessing games with the menu, and tell stories together. Genius!

But, I live in upper-middle class America. We have plenty of wipes, books, and toys; I just forgot to pack them. We are rarely lacking in anything. Not only do we have everything we could possibly need, but almost everything we want.

What a sad state we are in. Without lack, there is no need for creativity. Without need for creativity, we forget we have the capacity to be creative.

If you’ve ever seen or used a gift registry you know that there is so. much. stuff. we. think. we. NEED. How could you get married and not receive a panini press? And it would be impossible to raise a child without at least 2 SwaddleMe blankets?  Right?

The consumeristic American lifestyle has brainwashed us. Looking over the baby and wedding registry checklists online I realize just how many of these things I have and just how many of these things I use and just how many of these things I am convinced truly are essential. But they’re not! Barely any possession is truly essential.

I will never forget being handed a carrot while in Zambia and (as a full grown, married woman) having no idea how to peel it. My host didn’t have a vegetable peeler! I hesitated awkwardly, carrot in one hand and paring knife in the other. Maybe Zambians didn’t peel their carrots…Without my kitchen drawer full of registry items, I was at a loss. Thankfully, my wonderful, patient, Zambian host showed me how a simple angling of the paring knife could turn it into the perfect peeling tool, scraping off just the carrot’s exterior layer without losing large slices of the carrot. One tool for two jobs?! Astounding!

So, I have a challenge for my fellow Americans. Let’s recapture the meaning of “need.” Go through those registry lists again or simply look around your house. Not with your “American brain” but with your “creative brain.” Look at each item and ask yourself- “Do we really need that? What could be a creative alternative?”

Then (after you retrain your brain) ask yourself these questions at the store BEFORE you buy something. Think of the money you’ll save, the junk you’ll avoid, and the creative genius you’ll turn into!

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Frugal use of paper towels

We strive to be a frugal, resourceful, and environmentally responsible family.  Sometimes we do this remarkably well. Other times I find myself lapsing into lazier patterns of spending, waste, and over consumption. I think I finally figured out why.

Let me tell you a story about paper products.

2013_02_25-papertowelsDuring the Summer months, we host Friday night cookouts in our backyard for friends and neighbors. Some nights it’s a small group and some nights we get quite a crowd. Over the summer, we dole out a lot of burgers and hot dogs, so we have made the decision to use paper products for these meals.  And I’m totally okay with the Friday night consumption of paper products. But, I have noticed something lately…

First, the tray of paper plates, cups, plasticware, and paper towels from Friday night will often remain on the kitchen island until Sunday. (Or Monday. Clearly, I’m not a neat freak.)

Second, because the paper products are there, I continue to use them. And use them. And use them.

The weekend goes something like this…You know what? Let’s just throw those Saturday morning waffles on paper plates.  We can keep the sink free of dishes! Baby dropped some food? The paper towels are right here, I’ll just scoop it up and throw it away. Need to wipe a face? Paper towel. Need to clean up a spill? Paper towel. Need to make a list? Paper plate….Just like that the excuses come and the resources are wasted.

Turns out, if it’s there, I will cave.

Conversely, in moments of lack I find I am quite resourceful. If my drier was broken I’d use that wash line every time. If I was out of paper towels, I’d go for the washcloth, dish towel, or cleaning rag instead. When I don’t have baby wipes or disposable diapers, I go back to the cloth diapering supplies. So, why don’t I make the wiser choice every time???

Before I get distracted by every single area we could save money or be more environmentally conscious, let me focus on the one that I started with. Paper products. I buy these things for the exception (like Friday night cookouts and special occasions and puke. Because who wants to wash vomit out of more fabric than is absolutely necessary? Not me. Pass the paper towels.) but once they are in the house, paper products too easily become the norm.

The secret? Having them available does not mean they need to be easily accessible

Two simple adjustments can make a world of difference:

1.) Put the paper products away and out of reach

2.) Create visible homes for reusable alternatives. Bonus points if they are on display in a cute Pinterest-y way.

Simple, huh?

We’ll deal with saving water and electricity another day. Today, we save trees and money.

Creative discipline

Sometimes I feel like a creative genius, but most of the time I feel like my children have sucked every last drop of creativity from me. They absorbed it into their tiny little bodies and now they are using it to destroy our house one mud pie at a time.

P1080995Their abundant and oft-misguided creativity combined with my lack thereof leaves me with a dilemma. I want to meet my children’s creative disobedience with equally creative discipline. I want the punishment to not just fit the crime in size and severity, but somehow be related to it! I’m talking Mrs. Piggle Wiggle caliber lessons here.

So I come to you seeking advice because, more often than I’d like, my brain turns to a puddle of mush and I turn to the old faithfuls. Time out, spanking, we’ll never ever ever do anything fun ever again. You know, those things parents say. all. the. time.

Here’s a list of some the recurring issues in this household. (In no particular order.) Fix them, please.

1. Wasting hand soap.  5 pumps for two tiny hands… Are you kidding me?! And I was SO not thrilled when I found soap in the bottom of my bathroom cup after I rinsed my mouth with it.

2. Making mud. My boys love water. They also love dirt. They also love to mix them.

3. Playing in mud. Sometimes it rains and the mud is pre-made already!!!

4. Harvesting vegetables without permission. We have a garden and I love that my kids love the garden. I do NOT love that they pick things before they are ready. That broccoli would have grown big enough to feed our whole family. Instead it was popped into a four year old’s mouth for an afternoon snack. I gave birth to giant groundhogs!

5. Wrestling/fighting/sharing the same square inch of space all the time. I have 4 year old twin boys. I have no idea how to stop this.

6. Coming out of their room 100,000,000x before bed. It’s an issue.

7. Creative use of sharp objects. We have had our couch cut with scissors, a crocheted doily and a coaster cut with a letter opener, and a fork tine poked into the couch. Our poor couch.

We have tried preventative measures (i.e. no scissors for K after the couch cutting incident) but I know my kids are bound to be in situations where temptation exists (i.e. a week later, while avoiding all scissors, K picked up my parents’ letter opener and sliced their doily apart) and I want them to know how to resist temptation and make good choices.

SO, if you are brilliant and creative and you have an idea. PLEASE SHARE IT! Comment below and share it with the world.

If you need an idea of what I mean by a creative punishment that is related to and fits the crime, here are two “success stories” pulled from the pile of my many failures.

1. Nose picking. For a few days, I wrapped tape or band-aids around the tips of K & J’s fingers so they couldn’t fit comfortably inside the nostrils anymore. J seemed to be cured after 3 days of tape. K discovered he could pick his nose just as well with his pinkie. Unfortunately, I stopped taping and a few weeks later they got stuffy noses. Boogies built up and those fingers gravitated back to the nose. So, if anyone has any ideas I guess I should add that one to the list as well.

2. Making the rest of the family wait for you. Sometimes my kids act like their body has rigor mortis, their brain is on another planet, and their seat belt (they buckle themselves) is a 60 foot long wild snake. Usually, this sort of melt down happens when they are tired and/or hungry. In the past, I have approached this issue with preventative measures (always pack food. always.), but today I decided that a four year old is allowed to feel hunger and is fully capable of waiting. I was not going to cater and excuse this type of behavior any longer. So, on the way home from the library, while everyone was waiting in the car and K was having an “I’m going to die of starvation” tantrum, I told him that we were trying to get home for lunch and because he was making everyone else wait for lunch he would have to wait for lunch: 5 minutes for the tantrum and one minute added for any addition hunger complaints on the way home. Immediate attitude change.

10 lbs heavier

I have this mirror.

I saw it on the curb across the street one day. I couldn’t figure out why my neighbors had put it out for trash. It looked like a perfectly good mirror to me. I had been wishing for a full length mirror for the bedroom so I could actually see how my lower half looked without standing on the bed. This mirror even had a “hook on the door” feature that would make installation a breeze. So I trash picked it.

I love free stuff.

I cleaned off the mirror, hooked it on the door, and stood back to admire my fabulous find. There was absolutely nothing trash-worthy about this mirror.

Except it turned out there was….While I enjoyed being able to see myself from head to toe, suddenly I felt like nothing looked good on me. Was I seeing a weight issue that my waist-up dresser mirror hadn’t revealed? For a few days, I thought this was  the case. That baby weight was even more stubborn than I had thought.

Then I noticed something strange. Every other mirror I looked in made me look normal. Even other full length ones.

This mirror was adding 10 pounds!

It was like a fun house mirror, but sneakier because it was such a subtle change.  My brain had to work really hard to convince myself that the image I was seeing was not an accurate reflection of me. Because, well, what you see in the mirror is what you look like, right? There are still days when I have to step over to my dresser mirror for a few seconds to prove to myself that my full length mirror image is slightly askew.

But there are many many many women (and men) who have the equivalent of my 10-pound-adding fun house mirror permanently in their heads. No matter how many times they are told by accurate “mirrors” that they are beautiful, wonderful, healthy, and just the right size or shape, their minds still tell them otherwise.

I have always had a relatively healthy body image even with a less than perfect body. But I, like every teenage girl, saw flaws in my appearance. And I, like every mom who has had pregnancies, c-sections, and years spent breastfeeding, see flaws in my appearance today.  Of course, now I look back and think my teenage self didn’t have anything to complain about. So, I’m sure when my skin is covered in wrinkles and my boobs sag down to my knees, I will say the same about my 30 year old self.  And that inability to see my own beauty in the moment saddens me. I want to always appreciate the beauty that is right here, right now. Because it is here.

And when the fun house mirror thoughts start to take over, I try to remind myself of some things.

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This is one of them. My husband stuck this little post-it on my mirror one day, just because. Because he really believes it. And knowing that he believes it, makes me believe it. I am thankful for that.

It also helps to know that my children love me no matter what. They have a way of noticing the beautiful things and loving the not so beautiful things (FYI: soft bellies make great pillows).

But at the core of who I am, what gives me the most peace and perspective, is knowing that I am a child of God and that fact is not contingent on my height or weight or skin or hair. God doesn’t even care about my outward appearance. I am “good,” created in his image, and loved. Always.

I am thankful for these “dresser mirror” reminders in my life. May your life be filled with dresser mirrors, so that you can know the fun house mirror tells lies.

Distractions along the way

My children are HIGHLY distractible.

Highly.

On every walk, they stop to smell the roses, eat some clover, find the perfect stick, catch a beetle, look in a hole…you get the drift.

They will even ignore a favorite TV show to watch the erratic flight of a rogue housefly in our living room. (This happened today.)

Their distractibility is really quite astounding.

Sometimes I find it frustrating. Like the times when they simply cannot pick up all their toys because they just discovered that a fishing net will fit perfectly on their sister’s head. Must. Net. Sister. Or the fact that we cannot get through a meal without someone darting off to “do something” or even just take a daydreamy walk.

But, sometimes…Sometimes I find it inspiring. Like the times when they stoop to pick a beautiful flower in the grass. Most people (including me) would only see a weed; my kids see a perfectly formed, peachy-salmon flower the size of a sesame seed that they absolutely must pick for Mommy. And my heart melts.

The other day, I decided to take the kids creeking (this is an official term in our household). So I put on their suits and packed up our towels, fishing nets, buckets, some snacks, drinks, the diaper bag, extra clothes, and a chair for me to sit on (you know, the normal stuff) and we headed to a creek nearby. I parked the van, loaded S into the stroller and everything else onto my body like a pack mule. The walk to the creek was not long, we could see the clearing from the parking lot, but it had just rained (hard.) and we had to pass several puddles on the way. I put my head down and started walking faster, knowing the puddles would distract. “Mommy, can we jump in that puddle?” See? I knew they wouldn’t make it to the creek. “Not now. We want to get to the creek.”  The creek would be perfect. We’d been there before. It has a little bank for my chair, some pebbles to throw in the water, crayfish to catch, and lots of shallow water to splash around in. Perfect.

Showing unprecedented amounts of self control K & J stayed out of not just one, but all four of the giant, amazing, oh so enticing puddles on the way to the creek.

We made it to our destination! …And it was a raging river. I somehow didn’t think about how the torrential rains that had formed those giant puddle would also affect our little creek. Big time. The bank for my chair and those pebbles to throw in the water were completely submerged and that shallow water they were supposed to splash in was 2-4 feet deep and moving fast enough to push me under. My kids were NOT going in there.

Disappointing day. Failed expectations. Turn around. Go home.

Not my kids.

They live in the moment.
The journey is more important than the destination.
They see beauty everywhere.
And they deem every little thing worth exploring.

So we went back to those glorious puddles and spent almost two hours happily splashing, belly flopping, and fishing for flip flops.

k&jpuddle

K, J, and S, thank you for teaching me how to live.

love is… not easy.

We had an incident today.

Let me break it down for you…

Here was our morning:

After the boys’ speech therapy session, we ate some sandwiches in the car and drove straight to ShopRite for a marathon shopping trip. I needed both staple items (paper towels, canned goods, diapers, etc.) and food for vacation the following day. I found a whale-sized 3-seater cart that would accommodate my 100 pounds worth of children and after an hour of shopping, it was piled high with groceries. By the time we reached the checkout, a pack of 12 paper towel rolls was balanced precariously on the girl’s head because it didn’t fit anywhere else. (Helpful hint: when coupons print for “a valuable customer,” you have clearly bought too much.)

Plastic-grocery-bags-grocer

Then we got home:

We were all tired, so baby girl went straight to bed. But ice cream was melting, so I asked the boys to help me carry groceries inside. They agreed without much of a fuss. I was surprised and impressed.  The first load made it to the kitchen successfully.

And this was the incident:

I gave J two bags because he handled the first trip so well. Mistake #1. Then I loaded up my arms with as many bags as I could carry and followed him inside. Mistake #2.

J stalled out on the stairs, dropped his bags, and plopped facedown on the carpet. Now my bag handles were cutting into my fingers, my legs were holding up two additional bags of groceries, and my child was blocking my way. I started ordering J to stand up, get his bags and get out my way. He just lay there and looked at me like a sad little bloodhound. I yelled louder and with more anger and impatience. What was this kid’s problem?! Move!  How did he not see that he was causing me pain and bringing all of our efforts to a screeching halt? Move!! I yelled louder, anger bubbling up inside of me. Why did my children do this so often??

Finally, J conceded and grabbed one of his bags (an intentional rebellion) moaning and whining as he came. I furiously scooped up the final abandoned bag in my already overburdened left hand and plowed past J, knocking him on the head with a bag in the process.  (A total accident, I assure you. *ahem*)

And then that annoying whisper came. (Fair warning: if you memorize scripture, it will come back to haunt you at the worst possible times. The Holy Spirit’s tricky like that.)

“Love is patient…”

Okay, I was anything BUT patient with J, but he was being disobedient and lazy and selfish  and…

“Love is not self-seeking…”

Alright, I was being a little selfish too.

“Love is kind.”

Fail.

“Love is not easily angered”

TOTAL fail.

I think, sometimes as a parent, I tend to excuse and justify my impatience and irritability towards my kids because, well, they are making poor choices so they deserve it. Don’t they? I tell myself that my anger shows them just how disappointing and wrong their actions are…

But what about love?

If I am not acting in love (and I am clearly not in those moments), “I am nothing” and “I gain nothing.”

Crap.

So, I will do two things instead.

First, I will ask my kids for forgiveness when I am impatient and unkind. I will admit to them when I am too easily angered and find myself tallying up wrongs. My mom was always so good at doing that when I was a kid, and I will never forget the life-changing impact of a parent’s humble apology. It often ended up convicting and humbling me in process.

Second, I will pray for the strength to love my three little people more fully each day. I pray not for the emotional, ooey-gooey kind of love, but for the real, difficult, active, even-when-I-don’t-feel-like-it kind of love.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
                        -1 Corinthians 13:4-7, 13