Friday, March 25, 2011

Hi, my name is Chuck...

and I'm a DUMP truck! Anyone who has a toddler son probably has a good idea of who Chuck is. Kevin adores Chuck the dump truck and his dirty little crew of friends.

Now, I know it is unusual for me to write two blogs in one week, let alone one day! But I realized something tonight that amazes me, and I wanted to share.

In my journey of discovery in all things Waldorf, I've made some real interesting connections between toys and the way children play. Now, I've always been a big fan of anything educational...shapes, letters, numbers, etc. And I haven't really cared too awful much about the rest. But I've always wondered why Kevin doesn't like to play with most of his toys.

When I say "most of his toys" I really mean, like...90% of them. He likes them, on occasion, but he only enjoys playing with certain things and the rest just clutters the room, waiting for my bare foot to come down unexpectedly on it (why can't there ever be a stuffed animal under that stinkin blanket? Why does it always have to be blocks, trucks, or some otherwise jagged object?). Lately, I've been really examining which toys he chooses to play with and trying to wrap my mind around why he chose them.

A basic principle in Waldorf philosophy for child's play is well, to keep it simple stupid. Warm, inviting open ended toys are highly encouraged. Say...dolls without clothes or faces, or small wooden vehicles with wheels. Then it is up to the imagination of the child to decide what the toy is on any given day. When I first heard of this, I thought..."oh, that's neat. But not really. I mean, seriously? Do kids really do that? Yeah...right." This was a few years ago before Kevin could even play with anything. Leap Frog has the best, innovative teaching toys out there, right? Bright lights, cool sounds, all kids would adore those. And don't get me wrong, Kevin has truly enjoyed his fair share of hard plastic. At the rate of 10 minutes at a time.

Ever watched a child tear into a birthday present only to seem more interested in the packaging than the toy itself? We all think, "aw, how cute, why even spend the money on the toy, yada yada yada." Well, it finally dawned on me that maybe the kids don't want the toy because all it can be is what it is. But the that can be anything. Seems more fun already, doesn't it?

In much frustration, I have walked into our living room on more than one occasion to find Kevin dipping his hot wheels into my large hospital water cup (taking them to the car wash) or bringing several boxes out of the recycling at once (to build a garage for these cars). Then on any other given day, he is at Publix (his words, I swear!) buying groceries...rather...those same recycled boxes...when I'm not looking.

So tonight, he took a book to my mom to read to him. I have not read this particular book to him and I really have no idea from where he retrieved it, actually. But it was a Chuck book. It came with his Chuck stunt park playset his adoring GiGi and PaPa got him for Christmas this year. In true PaPa form, one of the sets just wouldn't do, the boy NEEDS them all! Each set came with its own book and has some special feature, a fire truck stunt, garbage truck stunt, etc. if the track isn't explanatory enough, the books literally spell out the story behind the playset, step by step. Like an instruction guide with pretty pictures for how to use this toy. Really...? Does my son need to know that Chuck wasn't being safe and that's how he ended up upside down on the bridge and only Rowdy (maybe?) can save him? What about the other friends? Why can't they save him? Why does he have to be stuck? Why can't he just fly down? Oh...because dump trucks can't fly? Who says?

Isn't that the point of imaginative play?

And what does it say for us when we take that role away from the child? Should we be surprised when they seem bored among a sea of definitive toys? Maybe new toys are not the answer, but different ones alltogether...

A breath of fresh air

To celebrate our 7th anniversary as a couple and our 2nd anniversary as a married union, the hubs and I decided to finally "do something" for a change. We never make a fuss of celebrating our anniversary, but a few weeks ago, The Captain (a new name awarded to Daddy this weekend by Kevin...which we have decided is his official alter-ego/trail name/online alias) had a scary panic attack and we decided a little break would be a welcomed thing.

As coincidence would be, Fall Creek Falls (a highly popular state park) was also celebrating something fun on the weekend we wanted to do a little getting away. An annual event spotlighting one of the most spectacular instances in nature was taking place just a few hours away from home. And the price was just right, so we didn't hesitate to book a room and pack a bag.

Just a few days...a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday return, but it was something to look forward to. I'll admit, in my research on the park, I found many a disgruntled visitor complaining about the lack of cell phone service...and I was so intrigued. A weekend in the woods, without calls, without texting, without interuption? And no, we don't even have teenagers living in our house (yet!). But both The Captain and I are extremely attached to our technology (a piece of me really wants another smart phone...a luxery I gave up in my decision to become a SAHM); and I am guilty of feeling the urge to update my Facebook status a thousand times a day. So a full weekend without the technology was going to be interesting, but very welcomed.

I couldn't sleep on Thursday night, it was like Christmas Eve. I was so excited to go and be with my boys. On Friday morning I woke up early to start packing the car and when we were all ready to hit the road, as I shut the door and stepped out on our porch, I took a deep breath. Fresh Air. I needed it.

This particular moment, a breath of air in the early morning of what will likely be a warm day, when it is still a little chilly out, ignites my senses and a rush of memories flash through my mind. It is all those mornings, walking out the door of my Gma's house on the way to a neighborhood yardsale. It is the morning that my Kevin was born, stepping out of the car at the hospital. It is so many of my favorite moments rolled into that one, single breath. When I take that first breath of fresh air and this particular scene occurs, I know it's going to be a great day.

As we drove along, The Captain and I talked about everything under the sun. As anyone who is in a long-term committed relationship knows, this can be difficult sometimes. Silence isn't always a bad thing, sometimes you just don't have anything to discuss. But, it's always much better (for me, anyway) to have a conversation about anyrandomthing. On our way, MapQuest (yeah, we still don't have a GPS. If a 3" box knows more about where you are than you do, you probably shouldn't be driving. Just sayin') decided the quickest route would be to enjoy the interstate for a short bit and then wind our way through several rural counties, not unlike the one in which we reside.

Near the end of our journey, both boys had given in to sleep and I was trying to spot another one of the most beautiful trees I had ever seen to point out to The Captain. In my attempt to see the trees, I had indeed missed the forrest. When I finally looked straight ahead again, there they were: the Cumberland Mountains. While relatively small in comparsion to the Appalachian counterparts just a few miles to the east, they are still grand upon first impression. The Mountains. We're here!

The fleeting little feeling that came over me was akin to the feeling I had night after night a mere 7 years ago when I would catch that first glimpse of The Captain walking into the grocery store where I worked. Ah, true love. :) And a breath of fresh air.

The weekend was full of moments of peace in nature, with the first colors of spring all around and the warm sun peeping through the green tunnel of the trails. I am still quite amazed to see Fall Creek, a mere trickle in the ground in some places, come to head at the tallest falls in the Eastern US with such a powerful force that it caused a rain-like atmosphere on the trail to the bottom, even a few hundred feet away. We were lucky enough to witness the Falls when they were full of life, in an abundance of water. Summer visitors are often not as fortunate (the park actually shuts down flow to the Falls to water the golf course during a drought).

Each overlook we came to provided its own unique view of the Plateau's natural delights, and pictures that are not done justice by the lens of a camera. It's a "see it to believe it" kind of image. Even on Sunday morning, when we all were tired and slightly grumpy to be going home, we hiked a short distance to see Piney Creek Falls before we ventured home. The lookout was on a large rock stone and standing there, I believe it would be possible for someone to convince themselves that if they leapt, they could fly.

It occured to me that if I was having this thought as a rational adult, we should probably get the toddler back away from the edge of the rock. The Captain agreed, and we departed for home. Our last breath of fresh air of the weekend.

Just as I poured over each detail of our first dates, I have sat many days this week recapturing moments from our trip. We have discovered since coming home that there are a few hidden trails of nature exploration within short drives of our house, and we would love to have some friends and family come enjoy them with us!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2011 Mark + Robin

A good friend recently mailed me a picture of my hubby and myself at my high school senior prom. I took some time to look at it closely the other day, reflecting on the past 7 years we have spent together. Our two-year wedding anniversary is this Saturday and as I sat, staring at that picture, I began to count the ways we have changed. Would 2004 Mark and Robin even recognize us as we are today? I doubt it.

I can promise 2004 Mark would never believe he had one child, let alone 2. 2004 Robin would never buy into the fact that she would be a stay-at-home-mommy. To be perfectly honest, neither 2004 Mark or Robin would probably believe that they were still together in 2011. Because, 2004 Robin was moving to Alabama in the fall and that would be the end of the relationship. 2004 Mark supposedly understood this fact and was okay with it. Or so the story goes...

Anyhow, here we are, 7 glorious years later. We've gone from a high school kid and a $10/hr delivery truck driver to what we are today. The big question for me while having a moment of reflection in that picture, however, was...who, in fact, are we today?

And then, through a series of revelations, I realized it...we are hippies. Yeah, us. We don't smoke weed, and we don't vote for we probably wouldn't be whole-heartily accepted by the hippie congregation, but I've discovered we meet quite a bit of the criteria.

The culminating event occured this past Saturday, while we were on a trip out to REI (yeah, as if that's not a big enough sign). We were driving along when we passed what looked like a dead animal on the road. But then, its head moved. And its feet. So it was not dead. I knew without looking at Mark that we would be turning the car around. And so it was true. When we returned to the point of impact on the animal, it looked like it had regained most of its surroundings and would probably be ok., we (Mark) decided to pull the car over on the shoulder and at least make sure it got out of the road. A large dump truck was coming down the road and the concern in my husband's eye was real and eerily worrisome. I did not want to see my husband get squished by a dump truck to save a little groundhog.

Actually, Mark corrected me, it was a fox squirrel, and "you don't see many of them around here anymore". Mark popped the trunk to see if he could find a box to put it in. Yes...he by all means necessary was going to rescue this animal. Luckily for all involved, the squirrel jumped up and scattered off to the side of the road. His tail looked broken, but he was hobbling away at a quick enough speed, we both agreed it was ok. That, or he had rabies and it was probably best that Mark didn't get that close.

But then, we stalked it. In our car. We drove 1 mile per hour, moving as it moved from tree to tree, both silently watching this rare gift of nature. It was then, that it hit me. We are such hippies.

So, are you a closet-hippie too? I decided to compose this Jeff Foxworthy type list of things that, by themselves don't signify anything important. But, when combined, certainly endanger someone of being labeled. Here we might be a hippie if (give yourself 1 pt for each yes)...

*You use cloth diapers
*You have a degree, or are pursuing a degree, in any type of wildlife biology
*You have more hiking shoes than any other type of shoe in your closet
*You are, or have considered becoming, a locavore
*You have or are planning to build a greenhouse on your property
*You (and your kids) see a non-traditional doctor and take herbal supplements as opposed to prescription meds
*You and your spouse are saving money and counting days until you can go on the perfect anniversary trip: a trip to Springer Mountain
*If you know why anyone would want to visit Springer Mountain
*You have googled any of the following, ever: recipes for sourdough leaven, slow food movement, raw foods diet, or any other freaky-sounding terminology related to food
*You have a stroller for your small children, but it's only been used a select few times and is more trouble than it's worth. Instead, you wear your little ones everywhere.
*You grow your own food
*You know what a bobbin is, and how to change it
*Your kids have lifetime hunting/fishing licenses
*You know what the abbreviation "AT" stands for
*Your kids are getting a Waldorf inspired education

Go ahead and label yourself right now if you own or would like to own a pair of FiveFingers, it doesn't matter how many other characteristics you have, only hippies could pull those off.

If you have less than 5 - probably safe from being labeled. 5-10 and maybe you are leaning, people might raise eyebrows about some of the things you do. More than 10 and you are a bonafide hippie, for sure.

It's not so bad, in fact, we rather enjoy it! Just for giggles, here's that picture I mentioned earlier:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A chance to win some AH-MAZING goodies!

I am so excited about this giveaway promotion from The Magic Onions. I have recently become addicted to searching old postings for ideas for projects to do with Kevin and I am mesmerized by the blog owner's etsy shop. Today, she introduced a new sponsor to her blog, Stubby Pencil Studio, which has given her $100 for one lucky blog reader.

Here's hoping that's me!!

Take some time to look around the website, it is really wonderful. If I had $100 to spend with Stubby Pencil Studio, here's what I would buy:

A fingerprinting stamp kit to make all sorts of cuteness. It would be great for Kevin, but also, since Zane is so wittle, it would be nice to have some artwork from him too!

This pirate ship is TOO adorable. The boys would love it!

Yay for educational toys! Kevin loves to play with the clock at the pediatrician's office, and I know he's like one of his own.

Rock crayons! Perfect for my little guys!

And of course, something for mommy too! ;) I love the reusable bags on this site!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Couponing vs Shopping the Perimeter

Shortly after I decided to become a stay-at-home mommy, Mark and I decided that we needed to take a hard look at our budget and make some adjustments. I am a product of my father, for sure. If our savings account drops below a certain amount, it's like a red siren is going off in my head continually until that number is back to the "safety" minimum. I go crazy. I start eliminating the slightest purchases, say...the irresistable $1 large Dr. Pepper from McDonald's and move up from there, to say, not buying cold-weather maternity clothes when clearly, I needed them!

It became critically obvious that something had to change. So, I dug deep into the world of couponing and found a wonderful little hobby. It saved us tons and tons of money. Ok, not really. I thought it did. And theoretically, it did. I was getting a lot more for our weekly grocery allowance of $75, but I was still spending the full $75. But the extra stuff was not exactly stuff we needed or used on a regular basis.

And now, as our lives are evolving, we are challenging ourselves to find even more savings in our modest income. Grad school ain't cheap, people...and if I want to start in the fall, we need to be thinking this far ahead. Currently, our grocery budget is $300/month. I would love to see that reduced to $150 or less by the end of the summer. The big question, however,

So now, here I am, with a hardened resolve to live a simpler life, pondering my soon-to-be harvests of fresh produce and our larger bulk purchases of beef and pork, wondering now which is the better method for saving money at the grocery store: couponing or shopping the perimeter? If I can get myself back in the habit of cooking meals from scratch and from pure ingredients, would that in turn reduce our grocery cost more than couponing already does?

If you are unfamiliar with the term, shopping the perimeter is exactly as it sounds: going around the walls of the store and purchasing fresh items vs the packaged shelf stable ones usually found in the aisles of the store. When I first heard of this concept, I instantly thought, how could you go into the store and not need stuff from the aisles? But, when you examine the layout of a traditional grocery store, it really opens your eyes. For example, in my store (I work part-time in the bakery of my favorite grocery store) STP would include: Bakery, Deli, Produce, Seafood, Meat, and Dairy. In the simplest forms of groceries, what else do you need?

So, on to couponing. There is such a thrill that comes with getting $100 worth of stuff for say, $10. It's awesome knowing that I'm saving so much money. But, in reality, I'm still spending money on things I wouldn't ordinarily buy. Granted, some things, like free body wash and shampoo will always be welcome here. But, often, I'm left with a cart full of misc. stuff that I still need to purchase companion items for in order to make meals. Thus bringing in the rest of my budgeted money. So now, I'm able to buy more items, but those items may not make up desirable meals.

This finally clicked a few weeks ago when I opened the fridge to reveal 2 boxes of cream cheese, 2 containers of hummus, and as many condiments as you can imagine. In the freezer: 3 boxes of broccoli and cheese, some Gorton's fish fillets, and garlic texas toast. Yuck. On to the cabinet. 3 jars of peanut butter, 6 boxes of various dried pastas, and 4 packs of tuna fish (among other randomness). No bread. No meat. No milk. No eggs. I distinctly remember those aforementioned items costing around $10. I could have spent that $10 in a meal plan following STP and made a full meal, with leftovers for another meal or lunch.

So, a bunch of food that we don't eat or a little food that we do eat and can stretch?

If I get used to cooking with fresh ingredients now, will it be much easier (and much cheaper) to make meals out of what I harvest with little supplementing from the grocery store? Or will I still be buying convenience foods and ignoring my stockpile (like all the stuff I canned this past summer)?

Anyone else want to take on this challenge with me? Do you think STP/fresh cooking would work for your family? Why or why not?