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When my daughter was born people warned me with a little laugh, “oh just wait til she’s 17! Then you’re in for it.”

Well, she’s 17 and I really am in for it. I’m in for all of it. I’m in for discussing colleges and options and cities and futures as yet unknown. I’m in for staying up late at night watching heart-wrenching movies and discussing bad scripts. I’m in for great conversations about life, liberty and the constant pursuit of happiness. I’m in for long lingering hugs just because. And soulful apologies after we have a fight. I’m in for laughing until we cry and crying until we laugh. I’m in for dancing to loud pop music to shake off the blues or sitting quietly side by side at the kitchen counter eating cereal at midnight. And I’m in for the constant reminder that while we might be alike in some ways, in many ways we are different and isn’t that a beautiful realization.

I want her and  all my kids to know that I have complete and utter faith in them. Sometimes I forget this and I get in their faces with a string of you-shoulds, but really, when I step back and watch, it is mind-blowing how well they navigate this world. I remember when she was little and I reminded her for the gazillionth time to say thank-you to someone, and one time she turned to me and said rather annoyed, “I know!!! You just have to give me a second!” She had been there for the lesson all the times before, and now, all I really needed to do was to let her be. This I will try to remember  now and for their whole life long. I will try to let them be them. I will try to give them a second. And when I don’t, I will try not to take their reminders personally.

I want my kids to view life like a fresh notebook at the beginning of a semester, or a three-day weekend with no plans. I want them to know they can make it whatever they want, that they can fill it big ideas and people they love and the things that make them feel good. They can fill it with projects and plans and adventures and they can allow a little space for dreaming too. Because it is those quiet moments of dreaming that take us all to our next big ideas.

I want all my kids to know always that I am so glad they were born. And while my daily focus might sometimes be too much on the tasks, overall my heart explodes with the realization that we are fellow humans, walking through this life together. And while that takes a little while to sink in when you’re tending to the physical needs of babies and tiny children, that becomes so clear when your child turns seventeen.

So yes, if you have little kids now, just wait until they’re seventeen! I guarantee you, it will blow your mind.

 

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We are about to move. From one part of Austin to another. While I’m not thrilled about the move itself, I am thrilled that our world is about to shrink. Significantly.

Between the 5 of us currently we are commuting a collective 8 hours of drive time. Some of that is on the city bus. Some of that is in the car. Some on foot. While we live central, and I work from home, our schools are north and south and so we travel to all of it. That’s a lot of time spent getting to and from where we need to be. And that’s on a normal day. That’s not a day when there’s a back to school night or booster meeting or any such thing. That’s just daily drive time. And in growing Austin, daily drive time seems to compound monthly.

So, as I said, we’re moving. And where we’re going we’ll all be walking or biking to where we need to be. In fact, the youngest’s commute from our back gate will be shorter than it currently is to walk from where we park to his classroom. The older 3 will bike just over a mile to their respective schools. And I’ll be standing in the yard waving goodbye.

Here’s what I think I’m going to gain…

  1. More sleep each morning
  2. Less road angst
  3. Less arguing about who gets shot-gun
  4. Less chance of car accident
  5. More time in general
  6. More ease
  7. Less crankiness

What’s funny is this schedule we’re on now was fine for us. Until it wasn’t. Which leads me back to one of the basic tenets of Slow Family Living, the question, “Is this working for us?” It was. Then it wasn’t. And when it wasn’t? We made a change.

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This is an old post. A verbal #TBT from a few years back. Eleven to be exact. When I had 3 kids not 4. Before anyone was in school, let alone a junior in high school. When I wrote this I thought it would always be like this. Like time would somehow freeze. But when I look back? I see that every single year of parenting has been different than the last. Every child has brought something new to the table. (pun not intended but appreciated!) Every age has taught us new things about ourselves, our family and life in general. Here’s to the ever present changes. Here’s to family dinners. And here’s to the realization that right now is ALWAYS right now. Every single minute is the beginning of time – to be noticed and appreciated too.

The Table Dance (c. 2003)

In the beginning, it was just us, at our little table in our little shack of a rental house. Side by side we would make our feasts: chopping, slicing, sautéing. The two of us at the table sipping wine, eating our curries or fiery salsas and fantasizing about what the rest of our lives together would be. We’d linger for hours over more red wine and a few cigarettes and maybe a coffee at the end. We would eat late and long and imagine living in a big building with a big room and a big table – where we would eat late and long all the days of our lives.

In this same house with our first baby and still we ate late into the evening and not much changed in our ritual. Not much changed while we cooked and she snoozed in her sling. While we ate, she’d nurse, then collapse on my chest, neither of us always noticing or ever minding the salsa in her hair. In those early days of babe many things remained the same and we thought that’s how it would always be, with our little carry-on-bag of a smiling, contented, only baby.

As she started to crawl, we wriggled away from that hovel of a house that held such sweet emotion. We left that house of first meeting, first marrying, first baby and were off into our own first home. Our first own home that was not the enormity of our fantasies but rather the smallness of our bankbook – that made us choose between a living room and our dreamed of big table, and of course we chose the latter. At this big table our meals were a little earlier and our menu a bit altered and our sentences unfinished as we split chores in different rooms and we split kids, as now there were two. You change the baby and I’ll cook the dinner, you read a story and I’ll set the table, you run after them and I’ll run into the bathroom and take a deep breath. And then we’ll all sit down together at our big table, not late or long, as the attention spans are shorter and the bedtimes never early enough.

There are no more cigarettes but still there is red wine or a cold beer. Still we fantasize about the future, even more so now, as we imagine not only our own lives but our children’s too. These fantasies though are often interrupted by spills and crying and questions and directives: Eat your supper, get back on your chair, keep your hands to yourself, don’t forget to chew, and with this last command they are requesting (for the 100th time) the retelling of the caveat of the time as a kid I forgot to chew and I threw up whole orange slices all over the floor.

Three kids now and we fully surrender to the meals at 5:30 instead of 9:00 and they are in bed an hour or more before we ever would have even entertained the notion of cooking. Detailed conversations are rarely attempted, as no thought is too great to be left uninterrupted and only a rare sentence sees completion. We have ritual in the setting and the lighting of the candle and I have my own private, mindful, sanity-retaining moment of deep breathing, in through my nose and out the mouth, like childbirth and then salud, and I gulp my beer.

Dinnertime is chaotic and messy and we must remember not to sweep until the rice dries. The commands are many and seemingly more all the time, and the reminders to behave and to be nice and to listen, but so too increases the conversations and the sharing and the stories of our youth or theirs – those one or two or thirty long years ago. We exhale when all is said and done, or not (next time can we have macaroni and cheese?). With that exhale or with a lengthy discussion as to whose turn it is to blow out the flame, our dinner candle is extinguished.

Though we sometimes question our sanity at the concept of dining regularly with such ritual and with three small sometimes frantic and frenetic children, and though we sometimes start at their getting too close to the candle or their knocking over of their cup or their falling nonsensically from their chair or their singing during our moment of silence (read: moment not minute), it is our hope that what they will take away is the desire to one day sit and linger long and late and enjoy a meal shared with each other, with us, with friends or with mates.

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This time of year seems to sneak up on me and every year it causes both excitement and dread.

School? Lunches? 6am alarm?? NOOOO!!!

Regular schedule? 8 hours of working at home alone? Earlier bedtimes? HOORAY!!!

For the past 7 years we’ve had our elementary school Back to School Clothes Swap. In the past 3 years we’ve added a book swap too. Both have been hugely successful.  This year I just don’t have it in me* so this post is to help those that want to organize their own. (or take on the Zilker Elementary swap??) You can do a big community wide swap or just do a smaller one with friends. It’s a great way to both purge your own closets and get your family the things they need to get back to school. Goodness knows summer sees a lot of growth and those pants from kinder just aren’t gonna cut it for 1st grade. Unless of course you’re into clam-diggers. Which you might be! In addition to saving money and consuming less, the swap is a super fun way to encourage kids to take style into their own hands, create their own get-ups and not fall victim to the marketing machine which really preys on families during back to school time.

Our school swaps have had as many as 500 people attend. Our motto being, BRING WHAT YOU CAN. TAKE WHAT YOU NEED. There are no limits, no tracking of who brought what, no money exchanged. Just bring it if you can. Take it if you need. And here are my simple steps for…

  1. What we’ve learned about how to throw a successful community swap.
  2. How to throw your own swap on a smaller scale.
  3. The option to take on the task of running the Zilker Swap. (well for this just email me and I’ll hook you up!)

10 STEPS FOR ORGANIZING A COMMUNITY WIDE CLOTHES SWAP

These are a lot of work for 2 days with a HUGE return. There are no committee meetings required and really can be created with not that many committed folks. More is better of course but not mandatory.

  1. Secure a large space like a school cafeteria or gym or the like.
  2. Alert an area thrift store that you’ll need a pick up at the end. Here we use Goodwill because they come in with a truck and bins at the end and take EVERYTHING. If you haven’t planned this in advance, it’s a big task but you can have everyone take a carful to their local favorite thrift or charity.  There will be A LOT left over.
  3. Get a cohort who can help you steer the ship. (this is crucial because it not only makes it easier but makes it more fun)
  4. Put the call out for volunteers to help set up and help the day of the event. You don’t need many but you will need some. The final clean up at the end you can just wrangle anyone who is still there picking through items.
  5. Pick a day and allow drop-offs the day before and the day of ONLY!! Do not try to take things days or weeks in advance unless you can have them dropped off in the space you will be using.
  6. Try to get a screen printer who can organize the screen printing portion of things. A screen printer is total value added. By having a screen printer you can make some clothing that might be unwearable because of a stain wearable. Plus, it makes the clothing options more fun and makes kids get excited about their expanded style options. If you can’t get a screen printer, continue without it.
  7. Get some sewists who can come with their own sewing machine. Set up an area for sewists where people can come and help mend, embellish or repurpose. You can also have a sewist making T-shirt bags. A GREAT and simple project which serves as a great swapping bag.
  8. Make BIG SIGNAGE for each sorting station. We tend to make different groupings each year but basic divisions like ADULT DRESSES. ADULT PANTS. ADULT BLOUSES. ADULT T-SHIRTS. For the kids item divide by size such as INFANT. TODDLER. 6x-12. You can also break this down further into bottoms and tops but it’s not imperative. Especially for the infant items, just toss them all in together.  SHOES can all go together as can COATS. Perhaps in a cold climate you’d want to break that down by size but here in Austin we just threw them all in together.
  9. On the day of the swap, as people come in with their bags, have them sort their own items. In the past we’ve had people drop off their bags and then have volunteer sorters put them out on tables but we’ve learned that it’s easier to have each person sort their own stuff. They know best what’s in there so it’s faster and more efficient. Have a couple of sorters at the front to both direct people and also to help those that might need assistance such as mamas with younguns.
  10. If you feel like having a mic, that can be fun to build excitement and also to alert people to specialty items such as a cool pair of boots or some such item. It might not be necessary but I am rather fond of microphones so there’s that. Also good at the end to let people know you need help filling the bins and sweeping the floor.
5  STEPS TO CREATING YOUR OWN FRIEND CLOTHING SWAP.
These are easy and require way less work.
  1. Pick a date and a location. You can do it in a house or even in a neighborhood park.
  2. Alert your friends and especially those with kids in various sizes. If all are the same the pickings will be slimmer. Expand your options by including families with different age/size kids.
  3. Sort your items as they come in: kids/adults/t-shirts/dresses/miscellaneous/etc.
  4. If you have a really small group you can just sit in a circle and do it show style. Pick an emcee (that’s usually my role!) and go through each bag item by item. Takes a while but is super fun!
  5. At the end each take a few bags to your favorite thrift or drop off bin. The bins are great because it doesn’t matter what time it is. Open all night!
*It must be noted that not only do I feel relieved not to be taking on this task but my children all thanked me.

 

 

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Go in the water

I was  on the river last week. A few of us middle aged women were sitting along the water’s edge as the kids swam, jumped off the rope swing time after time after time, and floated by on various inflatables. I had already been in the water so I knew how good it felt. The air was hot but not unbearable so the swimming was by choice for all the adults in the crowd. One of the women debated whether to bother getting in. And I recalled the words of my mom, now 89…

“Go in the water,” she always says.

Go in the ocean. The lake. The river. The pool. Wherever you are, even if you’re comfortable sitting on the side, go in the water when you can.

Because at some point in life the going in gets harder and so now, while you can, go in the water.  Go in the water before your aging limbs see the rocks become too treacherous or the surf become too rough. Go in before the water we at one point ran, jumped, and dove into becomes just out of our reach. Go in before the movement from sitting to standing to swimming becomes just too much to muster unless you have assistance. Go in before the going in feels impossible.

So now, while you still physically can run, dive and jump in? Do it. Go in the water. Every chance you get.

Thank you Mom!

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Recently I did a 30 minute radio segment with Bonnie Compton of WholeHearted Parenting. The subject of our segment was Creating Family Connection Through Creativity. It’s a subject that has come up for me quite a bit lately – a topic that I originally hit upon in my Future Craft Collective Days working alongside the fun and talented Kathie Sever (now of Ft Lonesome fame which you should totally check out!) Kathie and I created a lot of really fun projects during those years encouraging families to sit down and Make Stuff Together, encouraging kids to find ways to re-use and upcycle and create their own unique style. Heck we even wrote a book about it!

I’m happy to be on this topic again for it is one that is near and dear to my heart – this idea of creating, making, crafting, upcycling, and finding connection through the entire process. If you have 30 minutes to listen in, I encourage you to do so. Bonnie and I hit on some really good points and, perhaps most importantly, we had a really fun time with the process. Which is, really, what it’s all about. No matter what we’re working on.

So, check out our past Future Craft Collective Projects now on Craftzine. Peruse Make Stuff Together for some creative ideas for your family. (FYI, It’s REALLY cheap now used!) Check out Kathie’s current line of artistry at Ft. Lonesome. And have a listen in on my conversation with Bonnie. I guarantee that by the time you’re through, you’ll be MORE than ready to work on some creativity of your own.

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Midway through our last full week of school I came upon some photos from the beginning of the school year. Seriously? That much physical change has occurred in all four of my (not so) little people? Faces went from kid to teen. Bodies stretched out a few inches. Hair grew. Shapes shifted. And that’s just  their external selves. On every level, physical, mental, and emotional, the expansion, if laid out in graph form would be off the charts. From not knowing to knowing. From strangers to friends. From uncertain to certain and vice-versa too. As if I, their mother, connected to but outside of their being-ness, could even begin to fathom the changes brought on by these past 9 months. Like a gestation of a whole new being.

We are ready for summer on many levels, and for the break from the routine. We look forward to turning off our alarm clocks or at least setting them to a more humane time. We are ready for a pause from the onslaught of information and from the hustle and bustle that is the scene of the school year – socially, academically, mentally, physically.

In these last couple of weeks of school, I’m going to make an attempt to mark the here and now as a keepsake. Because even though I think I’ll always remember us as we are in this very moment, apparently, based on the shock I felt looking back to September, that’s not true.  Who we are keeps changing, morphing, growing, expanding and it’s hard to see where we were in the face of the present day.

I’m going to create a ritual that will capture this particular moment, knowing that we will never be right here right now ever again. And knowing too that it’s fun to reflect and collect our year’s souvenirs for posterity’s sake. My goal these next few weeks, whether one-on-one, or as a group, is to inquire with my children about their year. Because here’s what I want to know…

  • What were your highlights of this school year?
  • What do you know now that you didn’t know going in?
  • What was hard?
  • What was easy?
  • What are you appreciating about your own sweet life?
  • What do you love?
  • What were the highs?
  • And what were the lows? Knowing too, in retrospect, that even the lows have brought their own rewards.

Then I’ll tuck it away. And we’ll have ourselves a summer. Full of expansion in its own right and of a totally different variety. And maybe I’ll be reminded with a passing glimpse, to do this periodically, to look back on the recent past with the lens that only hindsight can provide. And years from now, when all are gone, we’ll have a snapshot of all of these successive particular moments in time.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, in parenthood, in personhood, is that no year, ever, is at all like the last. We just continuously expand into our own truest selves. And while I can’t stop time, I can capture a little piece of it as a small souvenir.

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Recently I did a post about these last few weeks of school. In it I had a list of things I was going to do to make them feel more sane, more productive, more connected and easier overall. One of the things on my list was to “schedule spaciousness” and someone wrote me to ask what that even meant.

In no particular order, here are 7 ways to schedule spaciousness…

  • Give your schedule more space. Whether it’s 2 minutes or 20, give yourself and the people in your home enough room to breathe between activities. Whether you’re picking up at school then getting to the dentist, or leaving the house for a party, or going from work to home,  factor in a few more minutes than you think you’ll need for seeing, connecting and enjoying the people you’re with. By planning in the ability not to rush, you will feel happier and easier too. And just think how much more pleasant you’ll be in traffic!
  • Do one less thing than you think you can do. Need to get everyone out the door in the morning? Need to get everyone to the table or to bed? Decide to schedule in a few minutes of just sitting. I’m talking 2-3 minutes if that’s all you have. Leave the last dishes or the email or whatever is the thing that you scurry to do before you move onto the next. And if 2-3 minutes feels like too much, take 1. Just 1 minute of standing, breathing, witnessing, or even drinking a big glass of water, can give you the pause you need to connect with yourself and a bigger connect with the people in your home.
  • Put Family Time on the calendar. Be it a few hours on a weekend, or an entire day, write it on the calendar so it doesn’t get taken up by other events. We schedule everything else, why not schedule that too!
  • Decide not to rush. Sometimes the feeling of rushing is more about the feeling than about the actual clock. When wrangling so many little people, it can feel like panicked rushing is the only option and if you don’t create a feeling of hurrying that nobody will get anywhere. Try some morning to just let go of the clock and simply move through the necessary steps of getting out the door. I speak from my own experience on this one. When I am rushing and rushing those around me, things spiral in a counter-productive direction. When I let go, and we just move through the steps, we actually seem to speed up.
  • Pause before you RSVP. Whether you are invited to a party or a committee. Before you respond, pause. And determine the cost vs. gain for you and for your family.
  • Examine your commitments. Look at your calendar. Assess what’s on there. Meetings, parties, events, etc. Then ask yourself, “Is this working for us?” Ask weekly. Or monthly at least. If it is, keep it going. If not, find a way to make a change.
  • Decide to be done. You will never really be done. So decide to be done. At various points throughout the day, simply decide to be done.

Like right now! I’m done!

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