books and resources

Finding Mental Space in the Morning When You Are a Co-Sleeping, Breastfeeding Mama

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    Perusing the Internet, particularly in the wellness community, you will bump into oodles of declarations about the importance of getting enough sleep. You'll also find a wealth of articles shouting out the amazing benefits of getting up early, particularly for mothers: Set your alarm, they say, for well before your children wake. Enjoy the gentle music of the birds as you sip on your cup of tea. Center your thoughts and fortify your emotional response with 20 minutes of seated meditation. Then take time for your intellectual and creative pursuits – write, draw, sew, or get some much-needed work done. Once the children wake, you will be ready to greet them with the renewed energy and satisfaction of a mother whose own cup has been lovingly and luxuriously filled!

    Then, suddenly, the chorus of soaring violins gives way to the scratching of the record, punctuated by a yearning call, “Mamaaaaa!” from down the hall. It's 5:30 AM, and the hot water you put on for your tea hasn't even started boiling yet. The resentment builds as your internal record player cues U2's “Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.” Self-care thwarted. Again.

     I remember happening upon a month-long program to encourage mothers commit to getting up early, helping them design a nourishing morning routine. I'm soooo in, I thought. This is what I need! Surely there will be tips in this program to find that much-coveted mental renewal! As I got to the bottom of the page describing the benefits of the program, and just as I was ready to type in my email address to sign up, I saw a disclaimer. **This program is not for mothers who are still breastfeeding. ** Oh. Duh. But please do tell, how am I supposed to survive and thrive as a mother if I have to put off self-care for the next, say, eight years?

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    I have always had early-to-rise children; children who either start nursing in their sleep at 5:30 a.m., or who, after weaning, leap out of bed at 6 a.m. and sprint to wherever I may be (if I had managed to wiggle out of my nursing toddler's super-glued morning latch.) Despite my nearly eight-year reality of co-sleeping with nursing babies and early risers, I have managed to come up with a few ways to fulfill my morning requirement for mental space. And yes, this is a morning requirement. I just can't put off my self-care until after my kids go to bed. (Most nights I fall asleep when they do, if I'm being honest.) As a highly sensitive introvert, I am left with few emotional resources for the day if I don't fill my cup properly in the morning. If you're like me, and need some alone time to be your most refreshed, present mama-self, here are a few tips:

    If you're nursing a little one or co-sleeping with a child who has a built-in body heat detector that sets off an alarm as soon as you (oh so gingerly) disentangle yourself from child limbs and creep out of bed, embrace your spot in that bed. Who says you have to get out of bed to have some quality time with yourself? I sleep within arm's reach of my charged phone, already attached to a pair of ear buds, and as soon as I begin to stir, I reach for it. Here's the catch – if end up checking my email or looking at social media, I don't feel refreshed. I feel like I've wasted my time. I might even end up feeling like my life is a dull gray facsimile of the vibrant, trouble-free images I see there.

    So here's what I do – the night before, I make sure I've downloaded a guided meditation or inspirational podcast (I love Squam's Morning on the Dock. I also really enjoy The Homeschool Sisters or listening to anything from Julie, my homeschooling guru.

    My morning go-to is a lovingkindness meditation that I recorded for mothers, which I've made available in my side bar. I think of it like breakfast in bed. Sure, breakfast at a table is swell, but it feels downright luxurious in bed. Same goes with meditation or alone time. Who says you have to sit with your spine perfectly aligned to experience the calming benefits of a meditation  practice? Don't let the perfect get in the way of the good. I'm going to meditate while lying down as long as I can!

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Make a small play space near where you would like to have your self-care time. I work out in my bedroom (which is minimally decorated and tends to stay cleaner than the rest of the house.) We have a small house, but our bedroom had an uncharacteristically large walk-in closet (um, I've owned the same two pairs of boots for the past 15 years …). I didn't need a walk-in closet. But I did need an area where my little ones could play while I worked out in my bedroom upstairs! So I took out the IKEA shelving, attached it to a free wall in my bedroom, and set up a small play area near the dormer window. 31626922206_c3d03d3d54_z
This is where we keep all of the kids' toys. Downstairs, where we spend most of our time during the day, they have access to books, musical instruments, and all the art/tinkering supplies their little hearts could desire. So this time spent upstairs keeps their toys “fresh.” 31547900041_ff3eca7478_z

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 They don't have many toys, and our house doesn't have any storage space for toy rotation, but here's what keeps my 2, 5, and 7 year-olds happily engaged in play: Magnatiles (Best. Purchase. Ever.), a handy swoop bag filled with Lego, dolls and dollhouse, little figures, trains, cars, blocks and a marble run. **

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  • Use the morning activity trick, if you don't have the space for a small play area. If I feel on top of my game the night before (never a guarantee!) I will set up a parent-free activity on the art table. This is what they call a “provocation” in the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. Think loose parts, open-ended art invitations, and natural materials. I compiled a bunch of ideas on my Pinterest board. Some of these kinds of activities have kept my kids busy for a loooong time. Others fall short. But it's worth a try, knowing that you might be gifted a few un-needed morning moments in which to gather your thoughts. Alternatively, you could keep most of the toys in a closet and just bring out one or two at a time, again, to keep it interesting and fresh.

  • Lean on your partner. I'm pretty lucky in this respect. Patrick starts work at 9 AM and has a zero minute commute. I know. Decadent. I cringe when I hear about significant others who have to leave for work before the kids even get up. I just … gosh. Let me give you a hug. (( )) OK. For those of you who are lucky like me, PLEASE, don't assume you need to be available whenever the kids are awake. Even though things may be a smidge chaotic with Mama out of commission, don't let the quest for the perfect morning experience for your kids get in the way of a better morning routine for Mama. At least in my house, if I'm not on top of my game, things fall apart pretty much instantly. So let them falter. Your partner needs alone time with the kids, too. I tell myself that I can't meddle in their relationship. It's theirs to grow.

     For a good long time now, I have been saying good morning to my little loves, chatting with them while doing the laundry for about ten minutes or until Daddy wakes, then changing into my workout clothes and doing a workout video (I love Barre3). It only takes me 30-40 minutes, and sometimes I end up breastfeeding a toddler while doing core work or having three short-lived workout buddies, but most of the time they either play quietly in their upstairs play space or forget I'm upstairs and go about their morning with Daddy. When I fit in a workout first thing, I'm doing three things:

•    I'm modeling healthy living and self-love to my children.

•    I'm getting some healthy momentum going first thing – not surprisingly, when I work out, I'm much more likely to drink a big glass of water and fix myself a nutritious smoothie for breakfast than eat something heavy like pancakes or french toast. I feel better about my choices and choices I make give me more energy. Win-win.

•    I'm releasing stress and increasing oxygenation which will leave my body energized and my mind clear. I'm much more emotionally and physically equipped to handles the everyday rigors of parenting.

Do you have any other tips for carving out mental space for yourself in the morning? Please leave a comment so others can find strategies that work best for their families!

**This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for supporting my writing and our family! Also, the photos are from a lovely family photo session with my friend Jessi!

 


poetry and the class picnic blouse

 

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Sadie took me for a walk the other day.  Fortunately, we didn't have a disagreement about the destination - a newly-opened donut shop. Before we left, we picked out poetry books for our weekly Poetry Tea Donut Time and packed them in the stroller. I must have a good excuse to head to a donut shop. This one was mildly homeschoolish. The smaller crew gathered up all of the Shel Silverstein they could find, while I brought my favorite

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I didn't need to provide directions. Sadie and her brothers knew just how to get there. They have hound's noses for donuts, my kids. Which is good, because it freed me up to take pictures of this dang cute blouse. 

It's the Class Picnic Blouse from Oliver and S that I made for Sadie about six months ago. I loved this one so much that I cut out three more. I should know myself better. Whenever I cut out several garments at once, the first one is a delight to sew. The subsequent projects start to feel like an obligation, which drains the joy out of sewing for me. I granted myself permission to relegate the un-sewn pieces to the scrap collection, a decision helped along by a growing toddler, who was quickly sizing out of the original cuts.  Ahhhh. Creative freedom! 

You've seen the fabric before, both on the Clara Dress pattern front, me, and - if you have visited my home - on a handful of curtains. I purchased an entire bolt of this Nani Iro double gauze a handful of years ago. (The crazy things you get to do when you're a sewing pattern designer!)

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Sadie is pushing along her galimoto. The galimoto is imbued with a kind of magic that can make a toddler walk for miles without complaint.  Twelve dollars well-spent, plus it's lasted through all three of my kids. 

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Destination reached. Poetry was read, and pages were made sticky with donut detritus. Bodies were moved, urban wildlife was noticed, and real-life math discussions were had. I'd call that a successful day of homeschooling.

Below is what happens when you ask her to smile! Spunky, this one. Super spunky. 

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he means business

the bossy shepherd

Don't let those cheeks fool you. This shepherd means business. 

"CHICKIES! COME! NOWWW!!!"

And don't think, for one moment, that his husky (big) voice and hands-on-hips insistence stays outside in the field. Oh, no. It goes wherever he goes, as he begins the monumental work of finding out who he is and how he can bring his best self to the world. A lifelong process, really, but one that begins with a deliberate intention at age two. Yesterday, I found myself yearning to be a spiritual mentor for someone a tad more rational than a two year old. I think I screamed silently in my head at least five times before I finally managed to get both boys strapped into the car and off to the pool. Whew. And do you know what I did in the car? I put on some of the boys' favorite music while I put in my earphones and listened to one of Dr. Laura Markham's audios about toddlers. (This one is great, too.) 

Ah, sanity. Clarity of purpose. Those feelings that can get lost when your adorable little boy is insisting that, although he requested almond milk in his granola, he DOES NOT WANT ALMOND MILK now. It can be hard to visualize the goal of raising an emotionally aware child through the fog of a two year-old's irrationality, and that's why it's nice to have your own support system to keep you motivated as you do this hard work.  Dr. Laura Markham is, without a doubt, my go-to parenting mentor. 

Who are your parenting mentors? What books/websites/podcasts have you found lately that are helping to keep you grounded as you move through your days? 

May you have a weekend filled with laughter, but beware the scantily-clad shepherd.


creative play with cards

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I've mentioned before that we've become a game playing family. It's bordering on an obsession, and cards have found their way into our EVERY day. I have one deck or another in my purse at all times, and the most commonly heard question from Finn is, "Do you want to play a game?" 

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Finn has learned a surprising amount of math from playing cards alone - both with math-specific games like Rat-A-Tat-Cat and with the standard Go Fish, War, and Uno fare. Of course, any game play is an exercise in memory and executive function, as he needs to control his impulses in order to play in turn and within the rules. 

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What I didn't expect from Finn's card-playing obsession was a form that he's become familiar with (rules, powers of different cards, etc.) that he now uses as a springboard for his own creative play - making up his own games, as well as using cards as characters in other play. 

That's where our two decks of alphabet cards from Marie-Claire, mom of two boys, come in VERY handy. Marie-Claire sent them along to help her promote her newest kickstarter campaign, and I'm a huge fan. They went into immediate action with both boys.

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The cards are sturdy, aesthetically pleasing, and promote lots of creative play besides reinforcing phonics. I'm quite pleased that she's putting together more sets, which will really help to encourage Finn's game-creation interest. Check out the Kickstarter video below, and make a donation if you can to help support the project. Best of all, when you donate, you'll receive a card deck (or more.)

the evolution of a space

trying it on

our new studio

Here's our studio, as we call it, just after we moved in. It was one of the first spaces that I put together, knowing that Finn needed a space for independent play amidst the chaos of moving boxes and complete disaster in the rest of the house.

our new studio

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It's an odd room, this studio of ours, as it also serves as our primary entry/exit door. The room is essentially cut in two by an invisible hallway leading from our exterior door to the kitchen, the area with the bookshelves having a tile floor and the rest of the room being painted plywood (until we can afford the hardwood floor.)

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It has always housed books and art supplies (both the boys and mine), as well as the occasional basket of blocks and random stuff that seems to settle in this room we use so much.

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writing letters

writing center times two

This little table that I originally brought in to house my own art supplies was quickly comandeered by Finn, and I made it into his letter writing station.

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We've tried our cozy reading spot in various locations - looking for the best light, the best use of space.

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And here it is today. I moved in the big table from my sewing room to better serve my two artists (as well as myself.) Added the shelves, which house many art supplies that are now freely accessible to Finn. These include acrylic paints, scissors, oil pastels, various crayons, sequins, beads, saved bottle caps and juice tops, googly eyes, glitter glue, watercolor, papers of various sizes, paint brushes and containers, a low-heat hot glue gun, as well as a bunch of recycled materials that I keep in the wire basket under the table. All of his letter writing materials are accessible, too. Lachlan can access the paper, crayons and some washable markers - the rest are (intentionally) too high for him to reach just yet.

Yes, we do have a computer in the space - Finn, at almost four, does 30 minutes of Reading Eggs a day, does the occasional yoga video, and occasionally watches Mathtacular or a science video. If you're conflicted about screen time, I found this post written by Jaime Martin of Steady Mom very helpful in providing me the necessary prospective. Allowing Finn a bit of time on the computer during the weekdays allows me to spend some precious moments focused on Lachlan exclusively - something that's so rare! 

The big, braided rug (an ebay find) really improved the space - now they have a large area for play. I gathered baskets for housing dress up clothes, blocks, car tracks, and puppets. Those small bolga baskets that are hanging from tree branch hooks are homes for our legos, story stones, finger puppets, and felt animal masks. Smaller baskets on the shelf include various toob animals (these are great if you can't afford the more expensive wooden animals - they inspire play just as much!) and a basket for small cars. We also have a bigger basket on the floor for larger cars, as well as a piece of wood that they use to race the smaller cars.

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Finally, our snuggly reading nook is just where it needs to be - right by the bookshelves and the cozy bird watching window seat. 

This room is how I keep my two boys, now 2 and nearly 4, busily playing, both independently and together. I'm sure it won't stay this way forever, but it feels like a very sustainable set-up, able to accommodate children of various ages and interests. Right now it feels perfect for us.

I hope you enjoyed the tour!


secret love totes

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Valentines Day 2013

Cookies were baked, heart totes were made, first letters of friends' names were painstakingly written (and glittered over, of course), and two stealthy little boys delivered them to their unknowing companions. The totes just say "You are loved," and are unsigned. Such an exciting mystery to solve.

Just one of many little traditions that I've gleaned from our Sparkle Stories - this one from the Martin and Sylvia Valentine's audio book.

I hope they remember these little things. It certainly generated many a giggle today.


imagine childhood book review + giveaway

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That book up there? It's amazing. Of course, I knew it would be - I've been a loyal visitor the Imagine Childhood blog and a supporter of their store for many years now.

What author Sarah Olmsted has crafted is a deep, relaxing breath in the form of a book . It's an invitation to experience the wonder of nature in a creative way. An invitation to notice. An invitation to experience a forest, a creek, a pond - through the eyes of a child and alongside your child.

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The activities in Imagine Childhood, I would say, are geared toward families with young children or older children who are able to read and craft on their own. None require a developed skill set - the sewing projects are very simple, the woodworking projects extremely basic - so anyone can jump right in. Everything can be made with little and big hands working side by side.

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The boys eagerly chose to work on the mud house project, and it was a delight to work alongside them. I cut the wood forms and they did most everything else - from oiling down the sides of the wood (even the oustide of the form - unneccesary for the house, but somehow perfect work for Finn, as you can see above.) Finn made design decisions (such as choosing to hammer a door frame together rather than using a bigger block. I just followed their lead. Come to think of it, Imagine Childhood and my other favorite, Project-Based Homeschooling, are perfect companion books.

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Lachlan really got into the mud part after his nap. (Do you see him nearly falling over in one of the above pictures, unable to give in to sleep with the excitement of the mud house construction?) Hold on - I have to go give him a smooch this minute - ok, I'm back!

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And here is our mud house thus far, still drying. Come to think of it, it had a very generous watering in the last few days, first by eager boys who love to go around watering this and that, then by nature herself, in the form of a rainy day. I'm not sure if it will ever dry properly without splitting, but the experience itself was quite worthwhile regardless. There is a town of mud houses being planned, as well as many other projects from Imagine Childhood.

Building this with the boys made me remember one of my first blog posts, back when I was living in rural Mexico and building a cob wall to protect our garden. It wasn't surprising that building with mud attracted the neighborhood children; there's something so simple, functional, and rewarding about it.

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Cob wall

Roost Books has generously offered to give away two copies of Imagine Childhood to my readers, and Sarah has chipped in a $25 gift certificate to the Imagine Childhood Shop. Three opportunities to win! Leave a comment to enter. I'll pick a winner on Saturday, December 1st.

Good luck!


Comments are now closed - congratulations to Gwenn, Joy and Milena!


wrapping finn's book of words + ruby star wrapping

Ruby Star Wrapping

Though I don't think I've purchased a roll of wrapping paper (ever) in my adult life, it's not like I've made up for that by presenting gifts in beautifully-made, recycled wrapping. Until this very day, I have not been motivated (or had the time, last-minute gift-crafter that I am) to put any creative energy into gift presentation. Wrap gifts in the boys' silks? Yes. Use a old gift bag? Sure.

But I have had the intention to make my own set of fabric gift bags for a long time. Me + fabric + sewing are a good combo! Ruby Star Wrapping, by fabric-design maven Melody Miller and Allison Tannery and my friend April from Sew to Speak came together to make that happen. Sew to Speak is hosting a book tour for Ruby Star Wrapping, so be sure to enter the book/fabric/notions giveaway by leaving a comment on the Sew to Speak blog!

Ruby Star Wrapping

I am doing my very, very best to get a head start on the gift crafting this time around. I made this little book out of a recycled cracker box and some paper and crafted this right under Finn's nose - he has no idea that this little apple book is destined for his little hands (it's tiny - about four inches tall and 3 inches wide.) It will be his Book of Words - a place for me to write down random words that he'd like to know how to read.

Ruby Star Wrapping

Ruby Star Wrapping

Ruby Star Wrapping

The book was the perfect gift for the Little Snack Sack tutorial in Ruby Star Wrapping. Simple to sew up, and totally reusable as a sandwich or snack sack. I did make sure all my edges were properly finished so that this little sack will withstand the transition from gift wrapping to lunch basket gear, with all the washing cycles that go along with that.

Ruby Star Wrapping

Enter to win your own copy of Ruby Star Wrapping over at the Sew to Speak blog, and follow along with other tour participants below:

Monday, Nov. 26 - Sew To Speak blog. 
Tues, Nov. 27 - Mary Dugan of Molly Flanders
Wed. Nov. 28 - Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated
Thurs. Nov. 29 - Kara of Me and Elna
Fri. Nov. 30 - We will announce the first winner on the Sew To Speak blog
Sat. Dec. 1st - Amanda of Sasikirana Handmade
Sunday Dec. 2nd - April Rhodes 
Monday Dec. 3rd - Sew To Speak 
Tues. Dec. 4th - Made by Rae
Wed. Dec 5 - Ericka of Low Beam Studios

Thurs. Dec. 6 - Emily of The Boy Trifecta

Friday  Dec. 7 - and finally the second winner announced on Sew To Speak blog!

projects in progress

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:: Second Milo on the needles :: Snow Pixie hats on the cutting table ::

:: Other project-themed books ::

These handful of days have been off-kilter. Following an unprecedented string of good days, in which everything seemed to flow, the boys (and myself, no doubt) trudged through the last two days with low energy, sapped patience, and a general grumpy malaise. 

This time, though, I have a peace about it. I've come to expect these days, just as I expect the perfect ones. It even feels, dare I say ... comforting. I feel grateful to pass through very human situations together as a family; grateful to learn about each other and let each other experience a full spectrum of feelings. 

It also feels good to hop into a project in the creative space that opens up after a patch of ho-humness. There's plenty to do in the studio between now and Christmas, and the gift-making is kicking into gear. I'm also really liking my circular saw, and have my eyes on some of the projects in this book once the chicken coop is done.

And - I can't recommend highly enough Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert. It speaks to me right where I am as parent just starting off on the homeshooling journey, which can be totally daunting if you see all the ideas that can be done out there on the internet and all of the facts that can be passed on to a child. Here's an exceprt:

"Try to avoid pulling attention away from your child's project (his deepest interest) with random, one-off activities. Save casual field trips and similar activities for times between projects. The less you distract your child with random activities and interruptions, the more engaged and focused he'll be. You're giving him the opportunity to stay longer with what he cares about most; you're giving him the chance to build something really meaningful." 

Love.

Back to my projects. Have a wonderful weekend!


Art Co-Op

Guest blogger Charlotte, here again!  I'm constantly inspired by Meg's beautiful art ideas for children, so today I thought I'd show you what my kids have been working on with their friends.

This girl isn't mine! It's our friend, Neela.

Two or three times a month, my kids plus three other families get together and do art projects.  There are thirteen children altogether and they begin participating around age 3.  Our oldest is 10.  They are all engaged with the work, though the younger kids skip the more formal lesson portion and join in during the messy parts. This week we did print making while studying the Impressionists, as shown above.  It was also a Gallery Day, where we display their work from the month.

The materials for this week's project weren't cheap, but since there were four families and not any more ink or brayers needed than for just one child, it ended up being fairly reasonable.  We typically trade off teaching and bringing materials, and it all seems to even out in the end.  We are using the Joyce Raimondo series of books, which have great projects that are grouped by type of art, such as Impressionism, Pop Art, and Surrealism.  Each week we do just one artist and two or three projects.  We typically supplement with a few library books about the artist as well, but the planning itself is not difficult.  

Although we use these books in a group setting, they are great for family projects at home too.  Some of them only require paper and crayons or materials from the recycle bin.  

What art books for children do you enjoy most?