Posted in ebb & flow, motivation, parenting

The relentless forward movement of life

Overwhelm is everywhere. At least among people I know, more people than not have more to do than time or energy to do it.

The solution largely seems to be: pare down. (I sometimes follow my own advice in this realm.)

If you have less stuff, there’s less to put away, to maintain, to clean. The lack of clutter is mentally and emotionally freeing. (This is something I have been working on for years. Still not where I’d like to be, but not nearly as pack rat as I used to be.)

Our outgoing books go to the used book store for hopefully a bit of store credit. Clothes go in a pile of “outgoing” and then get donated to The Kid’s preschool’s clothing donation drop. The Kid’s old clothes get handed down.

We have a Goodwill box for anything else. When the box is full, it sits in the car for a few days (are there people who just take it right away?), then gets dropped off at Goodwill.

If you buy less stuff, besides the above benefits, you save money. Because even if you get all your crap at the dollar store, you’re still spending dollars. They might not add up to make you a millionaire, but they easily could add up to something more rewarding than impulse buys, especially if you’re accumulating things that don’t hold up well or don’t keep your interest for long.

(Shop with a list. When you go grocery shopping or to Target or to wherever your impulse purchase weakness is, take a list and stick to it! And if you’re going in to pick up two or three things, don’t get a cart. Or a basket.)

Do less stuff. Clear as much of the calendar as you can, and be mindful about adding things back in. Make things do double duty if you can. For example, when The Kid was doing track, he had practice for 90 minutes three times a week, plus meets. I used his practice time to get exercise in for that day, and sometimes brought something else to do when I was done instead of wasting an hour and a half on games and social media. Even if the “something else” was just a book to read, not having (or making) time to read has been a point of contention between me and life, so using that time to read made life better.

Farm out household tasks. I know too many women with husbands and bigger or big kids who are still doing most of the work themselves. There are some things that we do because we live in a house, and that applies to all members of the house (except the youngest of the young; even kids who are two or three can put away their own toys).

How to get there if you’re not there? One suggestion: make a list of all of the housework, then sit down all together and decide who is going to do what and how often. It doesn’t need to be rigid, but it does need to be followed. What’s the payoff for them? A happier you. A more engaged you. A more energetic you. A less nagging you. They’ll need some reminders at first (as would you, if it was the other way around). While you’re working on the schedule, ask what words you can use to remind them to do stuff without it feeling like a nag. If there aren’t any, then they just need to remember to do it. Calendars, chore charts, white boards or chalk boards, sticky notes—whatever works for you.

Make meal plans. Do this one as time goes on, and it slowly accumulates without a huge time commitment. Just keep a list of meals you have and what ingredients you need to make them. Spreadsheet, index cards, whatever. As it comes time to plan meals for the coming week (which is much more efficient than trying to decide after work what to make), you have a bank of meals to choose from and a list of what you need to make them. Make your shopping list from the meals you’ve chosen from the meal bank.

I’ve seen many posts with crockpot freezer meals, sometimes taking a few hours on a weekend to prep a week or more’s worth of meals. (They’re always for people with omnivorous diets, so I haven’t tried them.) Take a meal out of the freezer in the evening (make it part of the dinner clean up routine), put it in the crockpot in the morning, and dinner is ready (or the main portion of it is) when you get home.

I’m a little off topic of paring down, but really, given our lack of community any more, it’s all about simplifying.

If you have neighbors or nearby friends who would share dinner responsibilities (which would require similar enough diets and schedules), you could cook for both families once a week, they could cook for both families once a week. You both just got one night a week that you have home-cooked food without having to cook it, and you’ve worked in some social time. Don’t worry about your house being tidy enough (as long as you have space for everyone to eat).

Pare down. Simplify. It’s very much easier said than done, but like nearly everything else, doing it in steps makes it doable.

Once you’ve taken a little more control, you’ll have more energy for some of the things you want to do now and can’t because there’s just too much.

Posted in food, know better do better, mindset, parenting, physical health

Simple starting points to clean up your kid’s eating habits

Won’t hurt yours, either!

When I made the ice cream restriction, it wasn’t my whole diet I was worried about. No major health issues—that happened later. No guilt. I just realized that eating ice cream in large servings multiple times on most days of the week year round was not a good habit and I needed to change it.

That one step led to one more step (stop keeping chips in the house) which led to one more… By about 10 years later, I was mostly where I am now: vegetarian, few processed foods, very few sweets, a list of ingredients I avoid (high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), most soy, natural flavors, artificial flavors, dyes, and on and on).

If, at the beginning of my journey, you had told me to change ALL of the things I’ve changed in the intervening time (remember: 10 years!), there is no way I would have agreed to it. Even if I did agree to it, it wouldn’t have all stuck. It was too much, and my mindset wasn’t an overhaul, it was “something has to change.”

I recommend you make changes to your kid’s diet (and your diet) the same way: one small, sustainable change at a time. In a society of immediate gratification, this is a hard sell, but for most people, most habits, most of the time, it is the path of least resistance that most likely leads to success.

In other words, fewer meltdowns, tantrums, or eye rolls, depending on your child’s age when you start to subtly shift their eating habits. If your child is young enough (or not born yet!), it will be even easier—healthy eating habits will just be “normal.”

Here are seven different first steps. (They are not sequential.) Choose the one that resonates with you and run with it!*

1- Choose one unhealthy food and reduce or eliminate it. As you already know, for me, this was ice cream not more than once per day. Start wherever works for you.

2- Put less healthy foods out of easy reach. Cookie jars and candy dishes keep junk food within sight and reach at all times. Remove them from both your line of sight and easy reach to help you consume less. Even better if you can reduce them until they’re out of the house.

3- Have more produce on hand. You can’t eat it if it’s not there. Maybe add one serving of veggies to each day. Or include a piece of fruit with your breakfast. Or have a green smoothie for breakfast or afternoon snack. Make it a game and see how many colors of the rainbow you can eat each day (or each week). In fruits and veggies, not dyed stuff!

4- Prepare one meal per week from scratch. The typical advice is to eat out less. While that is good advice and, depending on where you are, might be a good starting point, it overlooks that eating in is often composed of pre-made foods that aren’t healthy at all. (Note: not all pre-made foods are unhealthy, but you have to do some solid searching to find healthy ones…and they tend not to be cheap.) Cooking a meal starting with ingredients instead of a mix, a box, or a bag can help your palate begin to recognize the significant difference in taste and texture between “real” food and pre-made convenience food. (Using a slow cooker or prepping and eating together with a friend can make this step easier.)

5- Eliminate reward foods. We reward ourselves and our kids with food so often that most of us don’t even notice that we’re doing it. Making food the primary reward connects food with emotion and leads to “I deserve sweet food” every time you’ve done something well. Use something else as a reward instead. For kids, it might be a small toy. Or just spending time with them doing what they want to do. (Young kids want nothing more than to be together with their safe people.) Stick a coin or a dollar in a reward jar. Do something you like to do. Find another way to pat yourself on the back the majority of the time.

6- Add flavors yourself. Buy plain yogurt and add fruit and sweetener (if necessary). Pop plain popcorn and add your own condiments. If kids have never had the “dressed up” versions of these things, they’ll often eat them plain without complaint. Once they’ve had sweetened colored yogurt from a tube, it’s hard to work back to plain.

7- Eliminate or reduce sugary drinks. In addition to soda, this includes fruit juice, which has all of the sugar but none of the fiber found in the whole fruit. Smoothies not made at home, slushies, milkshakes, coffee/tea drinks that are anything more than beans/leaves and water would also be on this list.

Just pick one and go with it. When you have a handle on that one, when you feel like it is a habit and not something that you still need to think about or work on, then go on to the next one.

None of these is one-size-fits-all. Some will work for you and your family. Others won’t. Take what works. Leave what doesn’t.

Also, if your kid is very young or still theoretical—they won’t have a diet of only mac and cheese and chicken nuggets if you never feed them mac and cheese or chicken nuggets…

Your health is in your hands. Your child’s health is in your hands. Every step counts!

*My disclaimer on this post is simply that I understand there are kids with texture issues and other variables that make feeding much more complicated than typical. I don’t have experience—directly or indirectly—with those types of struggles, so I can’t speak to which of the above, if any, work for that population. As with pretty much anything, it all depends on your kid…

Posted in audience participation, connections, ebb & flow, know better do better, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health, thoughtfulness

Know better, do better: your dollars

The short version: my goal is to help people be educated so they can make decisions in an informed way.

I am not trying to scare people or to be a downer, though I acknowledge that these days, most of the news is bad news.

The fact is that in a capitalistic society, the main goal is to make money. The people who produce food, who create processed foods, who make cosmetics, soaps, detergents, toys, furniture, clothes are all in it to make money.

Making money is not inherently bad. We need to make money to function in society as it exists. 

But making money has become The Most Important Thing. More important than families. More important than our own or others’ health. More important than honesty or integrity.

As a result, it’s all gone to hell.

Problems in the food supply are real. Problems with the water supply are real. Problems with the chemicals in our personal care products are real. Problems with the chemicals in toys are real. Problems with the chemicals in our household goods are real.

Most of the time, the exposures are low. (Corn, soy, sweeteners including but not limited to sugar are exceptions—exposures to these are off the charts.) But when you put them all together, they’re not low at all.

Is this reality scary? Yes. Does it mean you need to live in constant paranoia? No. Does it mean you need to throw away everything and start over right now? No.

But if we all keep on living as if nothing was wrong, they’re going to keep manufacturing as if it’s OK. We pay the price with our health, our children’s health, and all aspects of the environment.

One step back from that—we can’t decide if we want to make changes or take a stand if we don’t know what’s going on.

So we need to be educated. (That’s my job! To help educate.)

Then we need to speak out with our voices. (If nothing else, online petitions take almost no time to sign.)

But even more than that, we need to speak with our dollars. Because in America, dollars speak louder than anything else.

Posted in connections, know better do better, mindset, parenting, vulnerability

Dig around for underlying reasons

The Kid was in a bad mood this weekend. Easy to inadvertently poke without any discernible reason.

Sunday night, after another large incident over a benign thing, the three of us sat down and had a conversation to try to figure out what was actually going on.

Turns out, he had read something in one of his books a few days prior that really bothered him and he had been ruminating about it all weekend.

Once we talked through the stuff in the book, he felt much better and went back to being his usual self.

(Also, the stuff in the book was in no way something that he “should” have worried about, but we had a gentle conversation instead of just telling him he shouldn’t be worried, or “I’ll give you something to cry about,” or “man up,” and on and on. It’s important for kids—for people—to know that they’re safe and they’re not going to be dismissed if they are vulnerable with you. Talking about fears is vulnerable.)

A friend and I had a conversation about an incident with her kid. The kid came home from school cranky and withdrew. It took several hours before the kid talked about it; it was concealed simply by cranky and withdrawn behavior.

Cranky and withdrawn behavior is easy to see as “that person is being a jerk.” Especially if the person is an age where sulking is expected.

We build bridges in these situations when we meet the cranky (or angry, or withdrawn) person with love.

We sat down with The Kid, first with him on The Climbing Daddy’s lap and later on mine. We talked calmly, we expressed concern, we let him write things down when he wasn’t comfortable talking. And we were patient in both his grossly unfounded fears and the amount of time it took to work through it. (And we suggested, since he agreed that talking helped, that he volunteer next time to talk about things that worry him instead of steeping in them for days.)

My friend met her kid with love. Went and snuggled. At first she was rejected, but instead of leaving, she stayed. The walls came down and the tearful story came out.

Back in the day, the first really big argument between The Climbing Daddy and I wasn’t really about what we were arguing about. The incident had strong ties to underlying things, and those were the things we needed to have a conversation about, instead of an argument about the surface stuff.

I’m 100% certain that that wasn’t the only argument for which that was true. Does it sound familiar to you?

In that case, meeting the anger with affection would have both calmed the anger and gotten to the heart of the problem. (I don’t fault him for not doing that, in part because that’s not how most people react most of the time, and in part because I was pushing his buttons just as well as he was pushing mine. But we’re getting better at it. Especially as we have more practice with The Kid.)

Anger and withdrawal are defense mechanisms, fueled by anger in return. See if you can diffuse them with love.

Posted in ebb & flow, education, motivation, parenting

Allowance, housework, and The Kid

We recently implemented a three-part economic system with The Kid.

Part 1: Allowance

He gets a weekly allowance. It’s not as a reward or payment for anything done. In our thinking, it’s a means of teaching money management, and it gives him some autonomy in a world where most of his decisions are made for him.

Each week from his allowance, he has to save $1 in the bank. That’s long-term savings for the future and is not available for anything any time soon. I keep his weekly dollars in a marked envelope; we don’t go to the bank weekly to deposit $1.

Each week from his allowance, he has to donate $1. We talked about some of the places he could give money (also not typically in $1 increments, but those dollars can be saved and donated in larger pools). He has chosen to keep his dollar in the car to give to panhandlers. Maybe not what I would have chosen, but his dollar, his choice.

The remaining dollars are his to do with as he pleases. Right now, he’s saving for a LEGO kit. (Those savings don’t go in the bank—they stay separate from long-term savings.)

Part 2: Jobs to do because you live in a house

He has jobs (chores by a less negative title) he has to do regularly just because he is part of a household. All three of us have work around the house we have to do. Many of those tasks are specifically delegated; some are “whoever gets to it.”

Right now, he is responsible to clear his dishes from the table and, if the dishwasher is dirty, rinse and put his dishes in. He needs to sweep the area under his seat after each meal as needed. He sorts his dirty clothes and folds or hangs and puts away his clean laundry. He empties or helps empty the dishwasher if he’s around when it needs to be done, and for dinner, he needs to either help with preparation, set the table, or clear the table.

Part 3: Jobs for extra money

He also has the opportunity to do extra work around the house for pay. Most jobs pay $1, though a few pay more (and a few are broken into smaller $1 pieces).

Each of these jobs is written at the top of a notecard, and the rest of the card details how to do the job. This way he can make sure he’s done all of it before asking one of us to check it.

The cards are hung on a board with a clothespin and are divided in two piles: “available” and “not available right now.” So when a job is done—regardless who completed it—it gets moved to the not available side until it comes around again.

There are things that need to get done that aren’t on any of these lists. The rule is that he helps with other tasks as requested. We will tell him ahead of time if it’s a paid job or not. No need to ask—it will be laid out.

He also can’t complete paid jobs if his “because I live here” jobs aren’t done.

The whole thing hasn’t been in place for all that long, but it’s working well so far. He can do extra work when he wants to, choose work he’d rather do (or money he’d rather make—the best-paying are often the least desirable) and I don’t need to nag.

We’ll see how long it takes for him to earn what he needs to buy his Saturn V…