Sunday, May 1, 2016

Around Here Seventeen: 4/22-4/28

A quick glimpse into what it is like to live in our home right this second.

Intentional Hours Outdoors:  (110 hours of 1000)
It was a great week outdoors and I so much appreciated the warm days of sunshine and I picked up another 21 hours towards my outdoor time goal.  We picked up Grey at the bus stop on afternoon and headed straight out to our favorite summer spot - the Quemahoming Dam one evening to take advantage of the beautiful weather.  The kids played for two and a half hours straight; digging in the sand, playing on the playground, hiking, and building sand mounds.  It was honest to goodness wonderful.

Reading The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and Name All the Animals by Allison Smith

BUYING a minivan!  Her name is Sheila and we all love her big time.  After a few weeks of research, Brandon and Pappy headed out early Saturday morning to check out our top favorite three minivan options and at stop number two, they had found our Sheila.  By Greyson's afternoon baseball game, we had her at home!

Tending to some sick little baby girls.  Gemma woke up with a fever on Monday morning and laid around all day on the couch eating popsicles.  By Tuesday evening, the bug had reached Violet and she threw up twice (on herself and me both times) before bed.  She was also sporting a little fever and so the two of us slept on the couch for half the night.  They both bounced back entirely by late Wednesday - so no complaining when the illnesses have such a short shelf life.

Giggling about our Violet girl who is growing so quick and so silly.  She slid into Gemma's bath fully clothed this week, showed off some hilarious dance moves, and was chatting up a storm this week.  She's still all our little baby girl, but she is undoubtedly morphing into a toddler biggie girl and it has been so much fun to watch her grow.

Chatting with high school seniors at our alma mater on Wednesday with a group of Alumni about meaningful experiences we had after graduation.  It was great to also sit in on the AlumTalks myself and be inspired by the experiences of others.  It has been an idea that has been floating around in my head for some time, I even added it to my 100 small things list this year (task #45).  After watching this TED Talk on multipotentialites by Emilie Wapnick, I almost immediately contacted the guidance counselor to start making the plans for the talks.  It went well and we are hoping to expand the event next year!

Spending time with our sweet cousins Bennie and Brookie while their mumma and older sisters headed out to a spring concert one night.  Ben and Violet are only three weeks apart in age and they were hysterical together and so sweet.  They just chased each other around and gave each other a million high fives while giddily shouting "YES!!!" And Brookie,  goodness, that baby is made of total sweetness.  We all just love her!

Baffled at how grown up Grey has seemed in the past few weeks.  He looks older, speaks more grown up, he is being more independent in all things, and even his reading fluency has seemed markedly better in just the last few days.  My boy!  It is both terrifying and exciting to feel like it's a small peek into our future of growing up with our kids with Booboo as our leader into this next phase of parenting!

Making these Earth Day cookies for Greyson's opening day of baseball bake sale.  Then jumping our meal plan to whip up one of our favorite comfort foods:  chicken and stuffing casserole when we all needed a warm little pick-me-up after two days of sick girls and a long evening at the baseball field.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Screen Free Week for first timers

National Screen Free Week is next week:  Monday, May 2 - Sunday, May 8, 2016!  

If you've never participated, imagining an entire week without the tv, tablets, and handhelds can seem incredibly overwhelming.  Believe me, I've been there when we participated for the first time in 2013.  It's not like we didn't do things other than screens, but like most mums, screens were my go-to when I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet - when I needed to not be interrupted every thirty seconds.  Three years ago, I was legitimately nervous about committing to screen free week.

I've compiled a list of five tips for getting through your first screen free week based off our previous experiences.  I hope you'll find it helpful and expand on the ideas (share them with me too!) to create a week long batch of fun, screen free memories!

1. Reflect on the fun things you did when you were a kid
Pretty much guaranteed, the things you remember being the most fun when you were a kid didn't have anything do with a screen.  In the book The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, this passage from the introduction has both shocked me and stayed with me since reading it;
"One evening when my boys were younger, Matthew, then ten looked at me from across the restaurant table and said quite seriously, 'Dad how come it was more fun when you were a kid?"
 My sisters and I were recently chatting about all the things we loved to do when we were young.  We roller bladed in the basement, played barbies for literally, we used an overturned tree stump and it's roots as our 'kitchen' and pretended to serve food with mud, sticks, and rocks, we blasted the radio and made up trampoline routines and gave each other scores. What did you do when you were a kid that makes us your most fun ordinary memories?

summer 1986

2. Make a list of 'back up' plans
Sit with your kids and talk about things that you all like to do that have nothing to do with screens.  Include indoor and outdoor activities, things you've been meaning to try, and even consider visiting some local spots that you can check out together - like the library, playgrounds, or be a local 'tourist' for a day!

3. Make 'Outside' the Screen replacement.
This our family's personal mantra and it has proven successful 100% of the time.  The benefits of kids being outside (of grown ups being outside!) are numerous - but some of our most favorite benefits include:
a) kids who play independently for longer time periods
b) fresh air does a body, brain, and soul good
c) noise levels are more easily tolerated
d) no messes in the house!
e) imagination and experiements help minds grow
f) kids who get tired faster

4. Stand your ground
Probably the most difficult part of Screen Free Week is sticking to your guns about the rules, because kids are so talented at asking and whining for as long as it takes to get us to crack, right?  Remember, it's only a week and you can do it!  Make it a little easier on yourself by unplugging televisions, letting the batteries run out on the tablets and hiding the chargers.  In my three years of experience in participating, they stop asking for the screens by day three - so hang in there, friend, you can do it!

5. Know that the no-screen rule will most likely be most difficult for YOU!
We, as adults, are so accustomed now to mindless scrolling, you will probably be shocked (as I am every.single.year) how strong the urge to click and scroll is when you don't have the option.

My best advice is to view the week as a vacation.  A break from the notification pings and the useless information overload, and the stress of having to constantly be 'in the know.'  If you aren't worried about missing texts/calls, you can even set your phone to Airplane mode to keep yourself in check.  Or use the Unicef Tap Project app and use your 'untouched phone' minutes to double for a good cause!

Think of it as a week to be free to Look Up! To notice the small beautiful things that happen around you in actual real life.  Maybe someday when our kids are grown up, they'll tell their children and grandchildren about the annual week when everyone in their family unplugged and lived 'like the good old days.'

Best of luck; I know you can do it!
Our family is looking forward to our fourth year participation because it is always the reboot we need each year to recheck and adjust our screen time.  I hope you and your family will enjoy a whole week of electronic freedom!  xxox

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

1000 hours outside goal reflections: April

I was inspired by Ginny of 1000 Hours Outside blog and instagram account last year in early spring and I have not been able to get the idea out of my head.  So this year, as part of my 100 small things list, I included attempting to log 1000 hours outside as a goal. 

I made this a personal goal after going back and forth and trying to figure out if it was going to be a goal for the kids or our family as a whole - but I started questioning myself about then how would I determine if time counted?  What if one kid wasn't with us because they had school, or practice?  So I settled on the goal being my own personal goal - most times the kids are with me anyway, but if I take the dogs for a walk alone, or a I steal away some morning sipping coffee on the front porch while everyone sleeps in - those are my counted hours.

In logistical terms, I try my best to start my cellphone timer when I go outside and then pause it and start again during the day as needed.  At the end of each day, the timer shows how many hours/minutes I spent outside.  Because I'm tracking it and it's such a huge numerical goal, I haven't had trouble forgetting to set the timer because I want that time to count and be accurate!  I keep track of my daily time on a notepad entry on my cellphone and then at the end of each week, I total it all up and update in my Around Here blog posts on Friday.  

The morale behind 1000 hours (as you'll see on 1000 hours outside blog), comes from the research that an average American kid spends about 1,200+ hours on a screen yearly - so a goal of 1000 hours outdoors to match the screen time seems like a reasonable idea.  There should be some balance to life, so it makes sense. 

What didn't make sense to me at first is how difficult it feels to actually log that many outdoor hours!  How quickly time seems to pass when I'm writing a blog post or stuck in a Law&Order SVU marathon during naptime while multitasking some household chore.  But when I started this year, I'd find myself outside and glancing at my timer and be shocked that no more than twenty minutes had passed.  I mean, I considered our family a fairly outdoor-kind of a family, but this goal has proven that to reach the equivalent to what is the national standard for screen time, take some serious dedication and focus. 

It has taken me all the way until now to FINALLY, in late April!, surpass my first 100 hours (of 1000) outside for the year.  (Please know I am doing a happy little dance over here about that).  I'm hopeful that my next 900 hours will go by easier as the days are warming up and lasting longer, but only time will tell. 

I have been reflective on my goal so far and if these increased outdoor hours have done anything to me in terms of productivity, energy levels, my mind, body, and spirit well-being.  As I'm only four months into the year and still have a long (900 hours long) way to go to reaching my goal, there surely is a lot more to be discovered about the effects of significantly increasing my time outdoors - but for now, here are some of my initial thoughts.  

Being outside makes me feel more calm.  When we're inside, the clutter, the noise, the messes (!), the chores piled up, the pings of notifications from my phone - even (unrecognized until I take it away) the constant hum of electronics working in our home gives me this tense shouldered feeling that is released after only a few minutes outside.  It's astonishing honestly.

A few weeks ago, I was just at the end of my sanity rope with the kids and chores and I just shouted, "get on your coats! Outside!" and I just dropped whatever I was doing and we all went outside.  The kids found things to do and I sat there listening to the wind and the birds and after a few minutes could feel this literal calmness wash through me.  Like, yes, THAT was what I needed; I needed to get out and be a speck in the vastness of the world with the endless sky above us and the winds circling me from who knows where they just were, and my kids tiring themselves out in the fresh air and realize that all my silly little stresses are nothing to be upset about.   That fresh air can do something to a person's soul that is for sure.

Lately, I've used my goal as a motivator for when I'm doing things that can be done anywhere - so why not outside?  If I'm going to read, I head outside with kids in tow.  We've been enjoying long, slow mornings eating breakfast, reading, and playing in the front yard as the weather has been beautiful.

Sometimes I literally just go outside and do nothing.  I just watch the kids play and rest - I'm using the third trimester as an excuse - but then I also just read from The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, this statement that made me realize it's not so bad to be an example for our kids of just doing nothing every once and a while: "most parents have an acutely tuned sense of responsibility - to the point where they consider relaxation and leisure, for themselves or their children, a self-indulgent luxury."  He goes on to talk about the real danger of 'supermoms' (and dads) who are running on impossible schedules only to crash and burn - and their kids who feel the pressure to jump on that same incredibly fast moving treadmill to do everything possible, and all of it perfectly.

Being outside gets me to move my body.  It's just a natural tendency to both want and have to move more when you're outside.  I've been wearing my fitbit for the past few weeks and I can usually guess just by looking at the steps for any given day how much time I spent outside.  With three young kids and two big dogs, I am lucky to have a lot of body moving motivators - even when in my state of 34 weeks pregnant, I generally would rather lie on the couch and blaming it on being too tired.  This is the least amount of weight I've put on for any of my pregnancies (granted, I am chasing after three living kids this time- but even still) and probably the most amount of energy I've still had towards the end too. 

It feels good to move my body, especially when I'm outside.  I've been noticing that my tired feeling after a day of busting my butt doing chores feels a lot worse than my tired feeling after a day spent outside moving naturally with the kids. It's a very unscientific note, but one that I think warrants some kind of recognition.  

Another completely random and surprising vanity-type payoff of my increased outdoor hours - you would not believe how many people have been commenting on my 'tan' in late April.  Literally, just this morning three people said something about how tan I look - to which my only reply is, 'thanks, I've just been outside a lot with the kids.'

Being outside causes a natural runoff into quality family time.  It has been such a joy this year so far to watch them learn and explore and play independently and actually get to watch it all as we've spent more hours outside.  I've been recognizing that being inside makes us all bored and whiny.  I can only read Dinosaurs Love Underpants or play Memory so many times before becoming officially unhinged.  They want me to watch all the things they're doing but also the chores and all of our life are staring me in the face and I find myself tending to other stuff.  But outside, I watch - and what's more, I can just sit back and watch - they aren't begging for my attention because they're invested in whatever imaginative, weird, inventive little game they've concocted at the moment.

I also find it so much easier to say 'yes' outside.  They're not wrecking the house with toys or spilling stuff on furniture or carpets - usually outside, they're only messing themselves up and a quick bath or shower can remedy that problem.  I say yes to mud and rocks and dirt and water- all of my kids favorite things to play with.  When I say 'yes,' their eyes light up and it's as if I can see their wheels turning in their minds about all the ways they're going to experiment and create new stuff.  They are freaking happy, and I'm happy because I just get to watch their joy unfold.

I already mentioned our slow mornings on the porch, so we've been adding quality family time during the early hours of the day - but with the longer days, our quality time (and outdoor time) has extended into the night.  We've already enjoyed dinner outside a few times and then at the request of the kids stayed outside until bedtime watching the stars and moon take their place in the sky.  

As soon as Greyson gets off the bus, his first question is, "Can we play outside?" and Violet now knows how to open the front door herself and plenty of times while I'm making breakfast for Greyson before school I see her little white-blonde head outside on the patio with the dogs.  Gemmi has been cracking me up with how she has been pretending to be on a cooking show and will mix up all sorts of weird stuff into buckets of water while talking aloud about what she's doing, "and then two spoonfuls of this water mix and then you have to flatten the top or the juice pie just won't turn out right..." 

Yesterday, we picked Grey up from the bus stop and headed out to our favorite summer spot at the swim beach at Quemahoming Dam.  It's not officially summer yet, and actually the Que isn't even officially opened yet for the season, and we were the only people there - but can I just tell you that our three kids - ages 6, 4, and 19 months - played for two and half hours.  They built moats in the sand, dipped their toes in the water, Gemmi made her juice pies (like 20 of them), they played on the playground, Grey tried to catch minnows, Violet spoke to the geese in what I think is actual Geese language, we took a hike on a path that led back to a great fishing hole that Grey lost his mind over, we helped a fallen tree stand up again, we threw rocks into the water, and we talked and laughed and LIVED out there under the great blue sky.

I'm so glad I made this goal for the year, because if I'm being totally honest, I really don't know that if I didn't have it, I would be so willing to LOOK UP and notice this great, big, beautiful world that swirls around me every single day.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Modern Parenting and Screen Awareness

It has been mostly agreed upon that parenting today is more difficult than it was twenty or thirty years ago; than it was for our parents to raise us.  There's a whole list of reasons on why it is more difficult to be a parent nowadays, including parenting guidelines and tips, societal standards, and fear sensationalized by media. I mean, last night I spent forty-five minutes alone researching about whether or not our infant carseat has been recalled or if we could pass it on down to Studerbaby4.  I'm fairly certain my mother never once had to look into that sort of information.

Besides a whole lot of bombardment on incredibly varying ideas of what 'good parenting' looks like (much of which is contradictory to each other), we also have one giant bonus of something that our parents didn't have to deal with:  Screens.

Screentime though, is 'a thing' now; a part of parenting that wasn't even on the radar of our parents.  Did you know that today, the average American kid (ages 6-11) spend about thirty hours a week looking at a TV or computer monitor!  What does it mean for the development of children (of adults!) when our experiences happen with the barrier of a screen?  Richard Louv, author of  The Last Child in the Woods, included this terrifying reflections:
"Primary experience is being the secondary, vicarious, often distorted dual sensory (vision and sound only), one-way experience of television and other electronic media...many of us can go through an average day and not have more than a handshake.. Diminishing touch is only one by-product of the culture of technical contributes to violence in an ever more tightly wired society." 
With today's horrifying headlines, this connection between technology and limited sensory experience is downright chilling.

Sure, I grew up watching television as much as the next kid, but even tv was different when I was growing up. And, truly that was all there was in terms of screens for a large majority of my childhood.  We got a home computer sometime while I was in high school and didn't get dial-up internet until my junior year of high school.  I didn't get my first cellphone until I was a sophomore in college.  Screens were not a strong presence in my childhood because it wasn't even a possibility.

Fast forward twenty some years, and our four year old daughter recently told me that she truthfully believed that we are "being watched' and that 'we're on people's phones, right?  Like on videos?"  And by the time she's a tween - what will she believe then?  It's no wonder that kids today are stressed about maintaining their social persona, they really DO have people 'watching' them on their phones through their social media profiles.  It makes me wonder what it does to their sense of self and their level of stress to believe (to know!) that they are always being watched?

I read a fascinating article from the NY Times about how face-to-face conversation is becoming a thing of the past.  Since reading this, I can't stop myself from noticing how many young people that I speak with seem to be holding back in conversations and I know understand that as the hesitation to expose themselves without the chance to self-edit:  a thing they are used to in almost all other conversations through texting, status posting, and filters.

I'm an adult woman who is pretty confident in my sense of self, and even I feel stress if I think something I've posted or shared has unintentionally hurt someone's feelings or rubbed someone the wrong way.  To think of what my high school social media profiles would have looked like literally makes me cringe.  I often wonder what kind of  person I may have turned out to be if I grew up today, under the microscope of social media, the constant opportunity to self-edit or make perfect before sharing, and digesting so many other people's creativity instead of having to use my own imagination.

Our kids are still very young (six and under) and so it still feels relatively manageable.  Don't get me wrong, it is a battle (an exhausting, never ending struggle) to combat the constant pressure of screens in our kids lives.  But they don't have cell phones, or their own tablets, or screens in their bedrooms yet - and so we still are the gatekeepers (and timekeepers) for a little while.

Like most moms, I feel a lot of pressure to do this thing right - this thing being raising our kids.  And it's hard to know in this age of so much information (too much) what exactly is the right thing to do, ever.  So we go at most parenting challenges with a goal of moderation and awareness.

To preserve our own sanity, we have found that it's been much easier to (attempt) to manage our kids' screen times with a flat set of 'Screen Free Zones.' There's no discussion or negotiations that are required (and exhausting) because these are the rules.  Our Screen Free Zones have helped to naturally curb our kids' time spent 'zombie'ing out' on screens for hours that we lose track of in the busyness of life.

  • mealtimes:  this rule applies to our whole family.  we as parents put our phone away from the tables and ignore any notification pings or vibrates during all mealtimes.  We only have one television in the living room, so unless we all agree that it's a special dinner & a movie situation (like we ordered in pizza), then it's screen free meals around the kitchen table or outside 99% of the time for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • kids' bedtimes: our kids are still young enough that they request as in their rooms as their falling asleep.  we know that too soon these requests will not be placed, so parenting advice be damned, we read books and snuggle and rub backs as the kids fall asleep.  the kids have no screens in their rooms and we (the parents) leave our phones outside of their bedrooms during our nighttime routines.
  • car:  we go old school when it comes to car rides and refuse screens for the kids in car rides no matter how long.  our rationale is that they can look out the window and daydream (or manager their own boredom) just like we did when we were kids.  (hah).  And as parents, we try to be good role models for our kids by leaving our phones placed away while we drive because we know we have future drivers watching our every move (gulp).  So we never text or surf the web while in the car and keep phone calls to an absolute minimum while driving.    
  • practices/games:  when we attend practices or games, we are there for a reason - most often to watch someone we know and love.  out of respect for them, screens are a no.
  • family & friends events (parties, restaurants, holidays):  to be able to spend time with our friends and family is the gift - we don't need screens to distract or take away time that we are lucky to share with people we love.  Our policy is to 'be with the friends/family that are there.' 

Last year, we also put into place our family rule of no television on weekday mornings.  I didn't like the feeling of how letting the kids watch cartoons in the morning got our days started.  Now, instead of soaking in the creativity of others through television/movies - the kids start their day using their own imaginations to get started playing right away and it has naturally spread out through the rest of our days as the kids are less inclined to ask for screen when already involved in playing.

After this year's Screen Free Week, I'm also hoping to add to our regular family routine: screen free Wednesdays that would apply to both parents and kids.  A day where we intentionally look up and enjoy the life that's around us!

We want to preserve and pass on the same kind of childhood that we enjoyed to our own kids.  One that was full of free time and boredom and wonder and imagination.  One that is highlighted by relationships and memories with the people in our lives.  With this hope in mind, we try to move through each day with intentional steps.

What is startling to me is that even though screens are a daily, constant part of all our lives, there isn't much research that has been done to understand what effects it has on any of us.  People are only starting to question, converse, and wonder about it.  If you're interested in reading/watching some thoughts that I've found helpful or inspiring, see the list below:

The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
The Winter of our Disconnect by Susan Maushart

TED Talks: 
Connected but Alone by Sherry Turkle
The Value of Boredom by Genevieve Bell

A quick, easy, and simple way to reduce screen time from 1000 hours outside
The Flight from Conversation from Sherry Turkle

Instagram accounts:
Childhood Unplugged
Let the Kids

Monday, April 25, 2016

Screen Free Week Prep: 2016

Screen Free Week 2016 is now only a week away:  May 2-8, 2016 officially and I am taking this week to do some themed blogging to get in the Screen Free Spirit.

This will be our fourth year of participation in Screen Free Week and it's now just an annual event in our home; like Shark Week or setting up the leprechaun trap on Saint Patrick's day.  The kids know what Screen Free Week means, it's presence is included in our family yearbook holiday pages, and just like most traditions - we look forward to its' arrival.

Screen Free Week is our official yearly reboot when it comes to reflecting on each of our own screen dependency and ways in which it has slowly, almost imperceptibly, inflated and distorted over the course of 12 months.  Those winter months are generally heavy in the laying on the couch and 'vegging out' and Screen Free Week usually falls right at the precipice of spring into summer which is the perfect time to reflect on how to get our bodies and minds moving again without the crutch of screens.

In terms of preparation, I'm penciling in a library visit for the girls and I while Greyson is at school on Monday to get us some new and exciting books to enjoy during the week.  I follow a few interesting kidlit accounts on instagram that always inspired my #libraryhaul wishlist - so I've been scribbling down some goodies before next week! (here are a few of my favorite kidlit accounts:  Olivia Buxton with thelittlebookcollector, Anthea Nacinelli with Smashingkidreads, and Janssen Bradshaw with everydayreading)

Grey has three baseball games during Screen Free Week, so that will keep us occupied during the evenings along with his Spring Concert one of the other nights (!)  I'm planning on using any other available evenings to head out to our favorite local playground, or even if weather cooperates making our first visit of the season to our favorite nearby lake for some toe-splashing one evening!

The 'big' event for the week will be a kid-created (from start to finish) meal:  Taco Tuesday with all the fixins' and Chips & Salsa!  They will be thrilled.  We also have dinner over the fire (hot dogs, mountain pies) scheduled in for the weekend meals (another kid-favorite).

The folks over at Campaign for a Commerical free Childhood (the people behind Screen Free Week) have lots of helpful tips, ideas, and suggestions for Screen-free play and activities at their website, among other resources and guides.

As part of my 100 small things this year, I included #97:  making Wednesdays our official 'screen free day' of the week - and to be honest, I haven't tackled it yet because I've been holding off until Screen Free Week to get the boost that I need to stick with it.  It's like my New Years day but with screens, a fresh jumpstart of setting higher expectations!

In case you are interested, here are our previous years'  reflections on our Screen Free Week experience (2013, 20142015).  I read through them today and smiled recalling especially that first Screen Free Week participation as it seemed as daunting as climbing a mountain.  (It's actually inspired me to write a 'first timers' post later this week!)

So stick around this week for hopefully some screen free (or at least screen aware) inspiration to get us in the spirit for looking up and participating in life (!) next week! Are you planning on participating?  Have you participated in the past or is it your first time? Any tips you want to share?