Monday, May 28, 2012

The Summer Bucket List

I suppose the season doesn't technically start until the solstice, but Memorial Day Weekend is the kick off to summer around here.

Every season has it's list of things we'd like to do, but summer seems to have the most free time for the most people, so dreams and ideas run a little larger. Well, you know how you often really want to do something, and before you know it it's too late? 

Enter the Summer Bucket List Challenge. It's based on the idea of really making an effort to do those things- you know- make the things you want to happen actually happen.

As a lover of lists, plans, goals and challenges (self induced ones that is... I find outside challenges frustrating, and would just as soon do without) I was super excited to come across this idea and jumped on board.

The folks at the Happy Family Movement even organized this community effort where you can sign up for free and they'll send you ideas, inspiration and nice little reminders and inspirations along the way.

So, I sat down with my family for a little brain storming session of what makes summer special to us.

We came up with all sorts of good stuff! I steered away from spendy things that might be harder to make happen, and towards things that fit my fun frugalista theme- things like sleeping under the stars, making smores, taking the dogs hiking, and making home made ice cream. (Interestingly, ice cream made an appearance in 4 different places on our list, which I consider a sign that it is something I must need in my life this summer.)

If you're anything like me and lose lists all the time, you can follow the inspiration of the Happy Family folks and string up cards with your goals. We put ours in a spot where we can see them all the time and be reminded daily of what we want to enjoy. We even found a real bucket in the garage to drop the items in as we finish them.

We're more excited than ever for summer now. How about you? What's on your summer bucket list?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

More Art For Me

In my attempts at being Homeschooling Madre Extraordinaire, I have a tendency to get my kids involved in all sorts of fun and artsy things. Looking around, I see I'm not the only one who makes sure their kid is well rounded, but slowly lets their own cool stuff fall by the wayside.

Aside from the outside activities, I make sure to get my kids groovy art supplies and kits for gifts, which is awesome because I at least get to partake in making projects at home. As an added bonus, I get to do all sorts of things I wished I could have done more of as a kid. (Like Shrinky Dinks- but more about those later..)

In any case, it's not that often that I start a creative project just for myself.

Bur, when I found the Art House Co Op, I began a mini revolution. They're a group out of Brooklyn- a world away from me on my petting zoo in Northern California- and they host all kinds of art projects that people all over the world can take part in. Some are free, some aren't, but they're all a chance to be a part of some big group effort in far away places.

I started with the traveling sketchbook project. It took me forever to start and was a big last minute mania to finish it, but I had a blast.

Next was the meal. It seemed like a simple idea, but was harder to execute than I imagined.

Still, I had so much fun with those that I signed myself up for what amounts to about a project a month all spring. There was a hand written note exchange, a mini artwork exchange, a map project and a photo response.

Making art just for me made me really, really happy. Of course, I could always take a few minutes to do art on my own, but signing up for a project actually makes me accountable, which increases the chances of me actually doing something. It's also more exciting to send your stuff off somewhere than to have it live in your closet.

Sometimes, I'll look at the work of the other artists and think "Oh shoot...they're really good" which is followed by negative self talk about me not being good enough or real enough. Does everyone have that annoying inner critic? Well, to heck with that. I'm just going to enjoy the process of making the art and if it doesn't look like the other artists, it's because I did it. With purple velvet and rainbows and glitter (except the Art House folks discourage glitter as it falls off and infects the non- sparkly work)

I'd encourage everyone to find their own little piece of creativity wherever they can- in the kitchen, with your camera, wherever. It's great when it includes the people you love, but it's OK to have your own thing too. What ways do you find to keep your creative spirit alive? I'd love other ideas...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Just What I Needed- The $100 Start Up

I pulled into the driveway after a long and hard day. Waiting for my Boy Child to open the gate, I just hoped he'd hurry. I was exhausted- both physically and mentally.

It had been one of those days when all the little things that cost money started adding up into a big ugly pile in my lap. I may be a master frugalista, but life still requires cash, and sometimes you need a little more than others. This summer had a lineup of things-from fun stuff like camping trips to the necessary and big stuff like a newer reliable car to get my family around- all of which would require more cash.

Being an industrious kind of gal, I perused the local job boards. Ugh. It was awful. Have you looked at employment sites lately? In the area I live, the lack of suitable jobs for me was totally discouraging, but not as much as the micro salary range of the jobs I did see.

While lamenting my dismal prospects, Boy Child came up and showed me the hole he had worn in his shoes, and Girl Child let me know that she had outgrown her swimsuit. It continued like this with things raining down- dental visits, vet visits, some wonderful opportunities that were great deals- some just things we'd just need to deal with whether we liked it or not- but all requiring me to think about how to round up money.

Driving home, I was thinking about how miserable I would be in some of the jobs that were available, and wondered how I'd live on one. It was a scary and overwhelming thought, and wasn't helping me with my dilemma at all.

So, when Boy Child found a box at the gate, I perked up and ripped it open before we even got to the house.

Don't you just love when things show up in life exactly when you need them?

It was a brand new copy of Chris Guillebeau's new book- The $100 Startup. The subtitle was like a message just for me- "Reinvent the way you make a living, do what you love, and create a new future." 

I'm only a few pages into it so far, and a full review will come later, but I can already see that this is just the inspirational kind of thinking I needed. Rather than resorting to soul sucking and poorly paying work, I'm brainstorming ways to use my creative talents to come up with something else. Whoohooo!

I have no problem crediting a higher power here- Thank God I got this book right now, before my mind spiraled into gloomy and dark visions of minimum wage and crummy apartments in the hood. (Yes...I know...that's a bit dramatic, but that's how I tend to be.)

If you're not familiar with Guillebeau, you simply must check out his Art of Non-Conformity. He's a go getter with a fabulous outlook on life, who actually inspired my kids and I to tackle our plan to explore all 50 states before the oldest is 18. I can't wait to see what ideas come out of this book.

I'd also love to hear what creative and fun ways other people are coming up with to fund their life adventures. Inspiration is contagious and I certainly would love to catch and spread more of it. So....any ideas to share?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Less Screen Time and More Conversations

My family sort of participated in the recent Screen Free Week. For us, it wasn't exactly screen free, but more of a consciously reduced screen week. We use the computer for school and work, and it wasn't a time we could opt out of those, but we were able to cut back on our time we spent staring at screens significantly.

We don't even really watch TV, with the exception of movies on Netflix once in a while- mostly educational stuff, with a good dose of Phinneas and Ferb thrown in because laughter makes the world a better place to live in. It wasn't terribly hard, but we took the week off of any Netflix of any sort.

OK...fine... I'll admit it... I do watch Desperate Housewives on TV, but it's one stinkin' show, one night a week and it's not even year round. I certainly don't let my kids watch it. They're thrilled that the show is coming to an end because it's the one night a week when I shoo them off to their rooms so I can have some grown up entertainment. I didn't skip it because it was in it's final episodes ever (and yes, I realize I sound rather defensive here, but a gal's gotta have something- at least this gal does.)

We did skip using the Wii all week and no DS games for Boy Child either. Facebook was generally not opened until the end of the day when all work had been completed and kids were off to bed. I did cheat a smidgen on that one, but for the most part I made huge progress in weaning myself from it for the week.

Before we started this little experiment, I imagined that we would spend all of our extra screenless time playing games, reading books and being a productive, creative and crafty family. Due to a crazy schedule full of lots of driving and state tests and working late nights, we actually didn't do a whole lot of those things that week. What we did do however, was talk...a lot, and it was awesome.

We talked while we made dinner and cleaned the kitchen, and while we got ready and folded laundry. A few times, we ended up talking for over an hour and getting so deep into the discussions that we completely ignored the baskets of clean clothes or sink full of dirty dishes we were next to.

In short, we connected as a family, which was exactly what we needed. The week has past, and I am still making an effort to stay off Facebook and be more focused in my screen time, so I can have those moments with my family. After the week was over, we've had a chance to pull out some board games, got some new books and just this morning, Girl Child and I made Shrinky Dink jewelry while Boy Child carved a bar of soap into the shape of a person. All the while, we chatted, and it was very, very good for my soul.

Next time you get a chance to turn away from all the screens in your life, don't worry if you don't have time to play a game or bake a cake or make a craft though. If you feel like you're too tired to do anything and are tempted to turn on a screen out of boredom, wait.... Just talk with your kids. It's totally worth it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Tidepools, Bridges and Locks

Seattle is a city where we could have easily spent a lot more time than we had, and it's definitely worth a second blog post. There is so much to see and do- and much of it is free or cheap which is exactly the way we like to roll whenever possible. (parking was an exception- it's quite pricey.) We decided to spend our last day checking out things just outside the city itself.

I'm a tropics kind of gal, and it was way too chilly for me to head out on any boats, which would be fun in some other, warmer season. Still, there was plenty of other fun to be had near the water.

Tidepooling was high on the list for us. (Girl Child has a strong interest in Marine Biology, and the rest of us just love the ocean and it's critters.)

We found an isolated beach with the tide about halfway down, and bundled up to see what we could see. The fact that it was painfully cold may have cut our explorations a little short, but we were able to see many sea stars, some anemones, and lots of crabs and birds.

My friend's children were much hardier when it comes to cold than mine and were able to romp barefoot and in shorts. My brood was bundled and shivering the whole time, but we were glad we made the stop nevertheless. When the fog rolled out, we could practically see to Canada.

The next stop was going to be Ballard Locks, which were kind of like a mini Panama Canal- a series of waterways to help boats navigate from the Puget Sound into Lake Washington.

On the way, we passed over a cool old drawbridge just in time to watch it raise up and let a boat under. Traffic stopped for dozens of cars and we watched a lone boat pass under, but the sun was momentarily shining and no one seemed to mind the pause in their day. My kids thought it was cool and we speculated on how the bridge operates. Several people seem to be working full time operating the bridge as well, so I'm sure it has a higher boat traffic at other times, or it would be a pretty inefficient operation. In any case, it was something we don't see every day so we enjoyed it.

The locks had a bunch of beautiful sculptures, and we arrived at the perfect time to see them do their thing and raise the water level to let a couple of boats through. You could cross a walking bridge to a visitors center in a beautiful botanical garden with flowers blooming everywhere.

This place had some special significance as far as Army Corps of Engineers Projects and also had a car drive into it at one time. We actually read all sorts of interesting tidbits about the history of the place, how it was built and the geology of the area, but I was so captivated by the gorgeous colors of flowers and contrasts of clouds in the sky and the public art that I remember that more than anything else. I suppose that's just how my brain works.

Fortunately, there will be no test for any of us, and I'm willing to accept that we all learned whatever we needed to about it.

From there, we said goodbye to our friends the fabulous hosts and hit the road south towards California. The kids loved the city of Seattle, and so did I. From what my friend says, the homeschooling scene is happening, and by the classes and activities her kids told me about, it sounded like a fabulous community to me.

Girl Child especially was glad to be near the Pacific and to see all the wonderful public art, and Boy Child was impressed with the numerous skateboard parks we came across. I hope we can visit again someday, and explore the Puget Sound and the many islands that fill it (hopefully on warmer days.) For this trip, it was as far as we could go, and we'd have plenty more to see on the way home.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Some People Hate Children

It's one of those things you know, but probably choose not to think about. Sometimes it seems obvious by the dirty looks you get when accompanied by a tired, whining child in public, but it's not often that someone comes out and says it.

I would hope that most people actually like children, especially those who choose to have them or be around them. I think often times, the disapproving glances are by people who either haven't been around kids in a while and don't remember theirs ever acting up, or by those who just aren't enjoying whatever loud child's behavior is interrupting their day. It's not kids in general they dislike- it's public tantrums.

But, there are a few people out there who for some reason other just hate children. I know because I came across one in Seattle in a mall. I was with a friend who has a large family and I had my own 2 kids along as well. We had been dragging 7 kids around the city for hours and hours, through miles and miles of attractions, all on little food and no rest. It was hard enough on the big kids and adults, but for the little ones, it was a mammoth day.

Normally, neither my friend or I would recommend such long and hard days for kids under 5, but we only had a couple of days to visit and a lot to see. The city is easier to get around in if you just park and use public transportation and your own feet. So, coffee for me and kind words for the little ones and we barreled on through the day.

As we climbed yet another set of stairs, and made our way through a massive crowd, one of the younger kids began to whine softly. This was far from a full blown kid fit. It was more of a whimper that he was tired. His mom was packing his two younger siblings- one on the front and one on the back- in a sling. I was about to tell him that I'd give him a lift on my back as soon as we got through the mass of people when a very unpleasant young woman in her early twenties- a large woman with a crew cut and hard features who looked like she could be a bouncer at a bar- moved right past and said plainly "UGG- I hate children."

For some reason, in the moment, this made me laugh out loud. I just looked at her, shook my head and laughed. I kept moving and keeping track of the little guy in the midst of the sea of bodies until we broke into a clearing.

When I told my friend, she was mortified and offended. I was too, but I was also semi- amused that this seemingly bitter and miserable woman seemed to think it was acceptable or even cool to state her opinion. I mean, who says that kind of thing? We wondered if the woman also hated puppies.

My two semesters of psychology classes kicked in and I came up with possible theories about her aversion to young people, but none of them were nice and I'm not qualified to make them anyway. Besides, unlike some people, I try to occasionally use my filter when it comes to saying what I think.

Maybe she was just having a really bad day and didn't mean to say it so loudly, although it seemed like an almost boastful voice she was using, like hating kids was going to make her popular or something. Maybe someday she'll grow up and look back, repentant at what a mean young thing she was. I know I have a few instances I look back on and cringe myself. If she doesn't change her mind, I just hope she never has kids and keeps her toxic attitudes away from them.

Has anyone else ever run into someone who blatantly expressed their dislike for something so personal as your kids? How would you handle such a thing?