a chat with Grey and Gem

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I had a chat with Grey and Gem this weekend and started with 'remember a long time ago when white people thought black people should be slaves' and followed with a chat about the civil war and Martin Luther King Jr, and how that was all so crazy and such a long time ago and Grey said, "Mum! We know about this already, why are we talking about it, it makes me feel mad?!" and I said, we're talking about it because something bad happened in Virginia and it's about people who think that having white skin is the best skin.

They asked questions, like "you mean this wasn't a long time ago, but now?" and I told them about the statue being removed and the Confederate flags and how the marchers were upset that they were being removed even though what they stood for was a disgraceful and hurtful part of our history.  They asked lots of "but why?" to which I offered that maybe they didn't read enough, or travel enough, or have enough friends that help them see that the world is big and beautiful and different and has room enough for all of us.

And then because they asked about the other flag, we got into a discussion about WWII and Nazis and how lots of people during that time didn't say 'this is wrong' because they weren't the ones being hurt. And we talked about the brave people that did find ways to help and assist those being persecuted even though it meant putting themselves in danger because it was the right and decent and human thing to do. And I told them about Heather Heyer and how she was there to say 'this is wrong' even though she had white skin and wasn't the one they were marching about.

Gemma cried because she got worried about her godfather Uncle Juice and sobbed 'he has brown skin, do they not like him too?' And Grey tried to rationalize that it wasn't happening in our town, so all the people we love that are brown and black are fine and that we don't really have to talk about it.

And I told him, "honey, we do have to talk about it because not talking about it is like pretending it's not happening or pretending its okay because it's not happening to us or to the people we love. What's wrong is wrong regardless if it's happening to us or not."

and I showed them the pictures of the group of people with the torches and said, "it's especially important that we talk about this because these people who stand for something so terrible look just like us."

Resources for opening up a discussion with your kids:

Team Studer: How we talk to our kids about privilege

Cup of Jo: Raising race conscious children

Washington Post: How silence can breed prejudice

All Parenting: How to talk to your kids about white privilege 

Medium: It's time for white parents of white kids to bring the resistance home. 

Raising race conscious kids  

HuffPost: Preserving my children's innocence is an act of preserving white supremacy 

Around Here Week Thirty-Two: 08/04-08/10

Friday, August 11, 2017

A glimpse into what it is like to live in our home just this minute.

Intentional Hours Outdoors: 407+ hours (of 1000)
I totally geeked out this week on my dog walks and how beautiful the corn field looked in the golden hour light...you may have seen on my insta stories totally dedicated to Mother Earth, hah. We had a perfect day at the 'beach' at Quemahoming with the Stiffler crew and Grey naturally wanted to fish the entire time while the rest of us waded in the water and the kids went to town on a mountain of a new sand pile! B and the kids had a couple trips into the woods to check trail cams while I logged some yard laps jogging and listening to the Showtime Spanish podcast (so fun!)

Reading Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld and starting Emma by Jane Austen for my local book club group!

Getting in a ton of cousin time with playdates and special outings.  The smallest two Garretsons and Caleb spent Saturday morning at our house.  It felt so much like autumn outside that Grey secretly snatched the spray paint out of the garage and painted a kid-sized football field in our yard for all the cousins. Then Grey was invited with Caleb (thank you Heather and Albert!) to watch the Pittsburgh Steelers practice and have a sleepover! And later this week, cousin Ariel came over to babysit for an afternoon!

Snuggling up and loving on sweet baby Tessa who had a sleepover with Uncle Jonny at our house last weekend.  Gemma was in her full on momma-glory mode and wanted to do every single thing to care for Tessa.  The two of them even got cozy enough and took a little snooze together on the couch for awhile. Rusty loved petting Tessa's head while saying "ooooooh" and Tess had a ton of visitors and got royally spoiled with hugs and kisses.  Thank you Ninna for letting her sleep over! She was well (over?) loved for sure!

Volunteering at vacation bible school all week and smiling about how much fun Gemma and Violet are having attending.  The tweens and teens who are also volunteering inspire me and make me proud of the decent and patient young people that are growing up right now.  Miss Hannah and Miss Becca (hi!) are the total best and have been so willing and enthusiastic about following Violet (and even Rusty last night!) around to keep them happy and safe each night (thank you girls!! xxox)

Doing something 'small but productive' towards our life that currently feels in total shambles #endofsummerprobs It's been summer loving so full tilt that everything, everywhere is out of sorts. Instead of letting the overwhelming sense of panic wash over me, I've been repeating to myself, "Do something small but productive" when I look around and get that terrible feeling of defeat (and also when I feel like I'm scrolling too much). So I deep-cleaned one whole side of the kitchen (yep, just half was all I could get in a day!) and I moved a bunch of 'donation pile' stuff to the garage, and I finally ordered an external hard drive for the laptop so it would stop warning me about storage, and I uploaded four months worth of phone pictures to Shutterfly.  Such a random assortment of tasks, but all of which were weighing on me.

Getting the official call that I was hired as the new Spanish teacher at a local school and feeling so excited, inspired, and energized about starting the new school year.  There are still a lot of adjustments that we need to figure out for our whole family (some we don't even know exist yet, no doubt) but Brandon has been so supportive and excited about the new changes too that I can't help but push those worries to the back of my mind and dive full in with his support.  Thank you so so much to all of you who have sent your congratulations and good lucks my way! I had a chance to visit my classroom and meet my across the hall neighbor (hi Allison!) and start to envision my days back in the classroom.  My brain is whizzing and swirling about a million miles an hour (on top of my already constant brainstorming..it's a wild place inside this head these days!) and it is exhilarating and only a teeny bit overwhelming (the good kind).  Our school business manager asked me out to lunch while I was on campus this week (LOL.  I fear co-worker jokes will never get old..in case you're confused, Brandon is the school business manager, hah!). Bring on the new school year!

Digging in as Rusty goes full blown toddler-boy-destruction-mode.  It is near impossible to do anything of value while he's awake because left to his own devices for thirty seconds he can flip a room upside down and shake the contents out.  His favorite activity is to pull himself up onto a kitchen chair then pull himself up on the kitchen table and then march and laugh a mere three feet off the tile floor...that's not a panic attack every.single.time. His least favorite activity is being restrained in anyway...like car seats, or his dinner chair, or being held too long.  #sendhelp

Convinced that Brandon and I are so sleep deprived now after parenting for seven years that we won't ever make it up.  We have said four nights in a row that we were going to stay up (and by sta up I mean past 9:30p)  and watch (the DVR'ed) Unabomber series on Discovery Channel and have been completely unsuccessful every night.  I even fell asleep while showing Brandon a video clip on my phone and dropped my phone down between the bed and the wall (how?) when I dozed off for that split second. We are just so hilariously lame.

Making grilled honey garlic pork chops, and slow cooker French Dip Beef Au Jus sandwiches (so, so yum).  We also had slow cooker potato soup; a double batch because I forgot we had a whole 5lb bag of potatoes that needed to be used or trashed - so yay for a frozen meal ready for back to school time.  For breakfast I made the ever-favorite banana, blueberry muffins. Big thanks to Heather for providing me with the bananas for the muffins and dinner one night this week - Pierogie & Kielbasa casserole!  We've been blessed with an abundance of zucchini and summer squash this season from one of Brandon's co-workers (hi Cecelia, thank you!) and so I spent awhile on Saturday morning whipping up some Lemon Poppyseed Summer Squash quick bread and these summer squash muffins.  Then I polished off the rest we had by shredding and freezing some for the long winter months.

Parenting hack: behavior zones

Thursday, August 10, 2017

We take our whole family to lots of places because that's naturally the kind of family we are, none of us are huge homebodies and we all love visiting new and familiar places together and with people we love.  One of our parenting tools up our sleeves to keep our kids in check while we are out in the world is to remind the kids constantly about appropriate behavior in various zones.  Our technique is heavy on the front loading and takes a lot of practice and vigilance.  The kids get all the glory in the end ("your kids are so well behaved") with nearly no nod to all the behind-the-scenes work it took to get to that point...but that's parenting in a nutshell, amirite?

So, our behavior zones parenting hack looks something like this -

Every single time we are in the car traveling anywhere (literally, every single time and no matter where we are going) - before we arrive, we turn the radio down and one of us will say, "does everyone remember how we behave at ______."

some examples:
Church:  absolutely quiet, praying, respectful, do what everyone else is doing (sit, stand, kneel)
Daddy's work: respectful, quiet, no running or jumping, saying please and thank you to everyone
The grocery store: no running, no jumping, being helpful, no wandering off
At a restaurant: not disturbing anyone else trying to enjoy their meal, no screaming, no running, no jumping, no wasting food, no knives
Friends' houses for solo playdates/sleepovers: please & thank you, respectful, sharing, cleaning up after your own messes
At playgrounds: sharing, no climbing up slides (if any other kids are there), no leaving anywhere without asking mum/dad first (even with someone we know), if someone cries or looks sad STOP what you're doing and ask if they're okay, help a kid if they need it (monkey bars, ladders) or get a grown up

(I'm laughing right now imagining my teenage kids making fun of us behind our backs in the future doing this to each other when they go somewhere without us.  Grey driving to a football party or something and turning down the radio when they're almost there and saying to Gemma, 'do you remember how we behave at party?' LOL)

So right before we arrive, the kids get a quick refresher on our behavior expectations for them.  If they have any questions, they can also ask us those too - like will certain people be there, how long we will be there, etc.  Everyone gets a front end summary of what to expect.

If we start to have a meltdown while we are out somewhere (nearly inevitable) the quickest way to bring a kid (works with Violet's age too, about two and half) back to sanity is to bring awareness to everyone else around us.  I pick the kid up (or lean down to them) and say something like, "Look around us, everyone here is also trying to get through their day.  Everyone is trying to enjoy/work/pray/have fun and they can't because they're worried about you. Get yourself under control." I offer to hold hands, have a hug, give them space/a break and sometimes I'll say, "You can still be sad/mad, but you must stop screaming and crying because it's not fair to everyone else."

Our behavior zone reminders work mostly because of this important part that goes along with it: "Kids who can behave well get to go to fun places."  If you can't behave in the waiting room at the doctor's office, you don't deserve to go fun places.  Mum is not taking kids that don't listen or try their best to places that are fun.  When we are on our way back home from wherever, we have a debrief on how our expectations were met.  "We are so proud of our well behaved kids! When you behave so respectfully I feel like we can take you anywhere and have fun!"  or "We had a really difficult time today, and how am I supposed to feel like I can take you guys places if we can't try our best and listen?"

We also give behavior scores (these hold no actual value besides temporary pride, but it seems to work).  Five is the best score you can get and Zero is the worst (we give halves too, hah).  We get scores too which makes them laugh because sometimes Daddy gets bad scores because Momma is always the score giver.  It's clear to the kids that our scores should reflect our age and abilities too. everyone laughs when Rusty gets a two at church because he's only a baby - but everyone cheers if Violet gets a four or above at church because she's still little. It's funny if Daddy gets a three because he's a grown up and should always get a five; Grey and Gem know less than a four for them is unacceptable. (It's also a quick check in when they are with their grandparents when they take them somewhere, although everyone knows grandparents have a more generous scale than Mom!).

We do something similar before a birthday party, because that is some tough narcissistic kid territory.  While we are on the way to a birthday party we say something like, "It's our friend's birthday today which means it's their special day and we are lucky to celebrate with them.  So they get to choose what games we play and what they want to do for their day.  And when it's our birthday, it gets to be your special day and you get to choose."  If they need a reminder while we are there (they start getting frustrated with not being in charge, or they try to butt in on present opening), it's an easy reminder whisper, "Not your special day," and they can usually get themselves back under control.

The important thing to note and a huge part of the balance of how this can work - is that there are places that have much less strict behavior limits.  Our house, especially our house in the yard is one of those (nearly) anything can go zones.  We're actually pretty loose in the house too (we don't have couch/bed jumping rules and balls are thrown in our house 24/7...because Greyson). They have pretty lax behavior rules at grandparents' houses too (some rules and behavior expectations obviously along with being respectful but it's fairly relaxed). So the kids do have a place where they can let loose, get out that energy, and be their own wild, insane selves.

By no means (ZERO) does this make for perfectly behaved kids.

Have I given a 'break' (read: timeout) to a kid in a public space? YEP.
Have I abruptly left a public space because kids were melting down too much? YEP.
Have I thanked strangers and employees for their patience with our children when they've had a difficult time? YEP.
Have I straight up turned the car around and gone home instead, on our way to the playground? YEP.
Have I 'grounded' our kids to their rooms for the afternoon when we get home from somewhere that they'd had a difficult time? YEP.
Have our kids said to us, "I know! I'm just going to my room right now!" because they already know they didn't mean expectations? YEP (lol)

We have to talk, talk, lecture, talk all the time about appropriate behavior and trying our best and keeping it together when we go places. But more often than not, Brandon and I are complimented on how well our children behave in public and we smile and say (loud enough for the kids to hear) 'Thank you' and in our best kindergarten teacher voices, "They are trying their best today, huh?"

Someday we won't have to do this.  Someday parenting won't be so front loaded and exhausting and demand constant vigilance.  But our hope is that if we do it now, the expectation will stick when they become people who go places without us and our constant reminders.  We want to raise respectful, aware, and kind humans and so for now - we dig in, we stay ever vigilant and on our toes while we are in the thick of this raising little human phase.

Around Here Thirty & Thirty-One 07/21-08/03

Friday, August 4, 2017

A glimpse into what it is like to live in our home just this minute.



Intentional Outdoor Hours: 392+ hours (of 1000)
Up 44 hours in the last two weeks which is pretty good, but I still need to push myself to grab as many hours as possible in these last few weeks of summer vacation. I got in outdoor time with dog walks, eating dinner outside (my summer fav!), and fires on the patio.  We got to have a long chat at our picnic table with cousin Heather while our kids went bonkers on the trampoline (which had been out of commission for the last month because I ordered the wrong size replacement mat!)

Reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and taking it so slow because every time I pick it up it is so thought provoking about the writing process that I need a few days to digest it and think about my own writing. So I also started Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld which I snagged off of my sweet friend Shelly and I'm enjoying it.  I continually am shocked each time the writer really shows 'warts and all' for her characters and doesn't hold back when it comes to the judgments or prejudices that run through their minds.  It really expands the characters narrative just by showing how many layers there are to people (in books and in life). I had our first book club meeting with our local group and it was incredible to grab an iced coffee and spend an hour chatting about The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.  How refreshing to talk like a grown up and think critically and share favorite quotes and characters and scenes.  Honestly, it was heavenly.

Visiting our dearest friends Ninna and baby Tessa!  It had been almost two months since we squeezed that baby and we all could barely contain ourselves with how precious she is.  It was so nice to catch up with Nin (hi!) and we took the kids and pup Bo on a long walk on the Westmoreland Heritage trail.  Grey and Gem had a total blast riding bikes and sliding down/climbing up steel mud hills.  Meanwhile the three littlest enjoyed the ride and looked adorable and squishy.

Finishing our co-ed volleyball season after being knocked out in the second round of playoffs. It seems at times selfish to play in the league - to rush around on Tuesday nights for three months trying to figure out what all four kids will be doing while B and I play volleyball for fun...but its' our one thing that we do weekly for just us, and we can feel how important it is to keep that protected.  Plus, it feels amazing to use our bodies and compete on the same team, and we love our teammates who make us laugh and cheer us on.

Grateful for working appliances!  Our dishwasher was broken for a few days and our dryer hasn't really been up to safety code for a few months.  We were on the brink of just throwing our hands up in the air and slapping a credit card down for some brand new ones.  But, instead we ordered the busted piece to the dishwasher from amazon and washed by hand for a few days until it arrived.  And my Dad the Craigslist master scoped out a dryer that was like new and was available for nothing if willing to pick up (!!!) So now we have a working again dishwasher (she ain't pretty, but she works) and a brand new (to me) dryer that is fully up to safety standards and works that permanent press like a pro.

Praying for our friends who went to heaven.  My parents' sweet neighbor, Cliff, passed away at the age of 93.  He lived on our street for his whole life and in the last ten or so years, my mom and another dear neighbor, Cindy, stepped up to the plate to care of him - visiting multiple times a day to check on him, bring him every meal, and help with his medicines.  Our kids would visit him with my mum nearly every time they were at my parents' house - helping to carry his meals and chatting with him.  Both of our big kids cried upon hearing of his passing and Gemma came with me to his viewing.  What a wonderfully long life Cliff had -and how much he was loved by family but also by his two guardian angel neighbors.  We lost another dear, sweet friend in the past two weeks.  Our daughter's friend and soccer teammate, Inez who was 4 years old.  Her momma, Katie, went to high school with us and our whole family (along with our entire community) has spend the last two weeks praying so hard for Inez and her family. With heavy hearts, our family visited Inez at her viewing to say our last goodbyes and leave Gemma's soccer team pic with her momma. The kids had lots of questions and we've had to navigate how we talk to them about death and grief, but I know that talking it out and letting them work through their questions while they have us to create a safe space for them and answer their questions is the best case scenario.

Feeling proud of Brandon as he completed all of the Act 235 training in a four day program, including pepper spray to the face!

Camping at Hemlock Hills Farm with Abba, Chum, and some of the Tap Run Ski Club for a whole weekend.  The cabin was big and accommodating and the grounds were gorgeous and peaceful - including a huge pond stocked with blue gills, bass, and some catfish.  Grey was in complete bliss and spent nearly every waking moment on the dock fishing for three days.  I got the chance to take a gorgeous solo run on Saturday morning (4 miles! training for a 10k in September!) and it was so much of what I needed to just have space, quiet, and nature.  My parents and their friends had the grocery shopping ready for meals each day, put together a treasure hunt, and were totally patient with running, screaming, and excited kids all weekend (even those little boys named Greyson and Caleb who wake up at 6am and say, "Can we go fishing yet?" haha).

Celebrating!  We had a nice long shark week watching shark shows, eating shark shaped pancakes on a back drop of blueberry ocean (the sausage with the seal because my kids are ruthless, hah), and reading shark books.  We wished our sweet friend Maisy a happy first birthday at her party and then headed across town to our Plunkett family reunion to play with cousins, eat yummy food, and catch up with family that live far away.  We enjoyed more time with family when we babysat our cousins for two days in a row (seven kids in the house at once!) and giggled and played and shared.  The kids enjoyed a day at the Pittsburgh Zoo with Pappy and Gigi (including an awesome dinosaur exhibit!) And we celebrated our best friend Charlie's fifth birthday at Idlewild riding the big kid rides and eating pizza and cupcakes.

Creating a capsule wardrobe using Pinterest and ThredUp.  My closet is full of stuff I have been holding on to for years and not really loving or usually even wearing for that matter (that is NOT an exaggeration, it has been YEARS since I've been actual clothes shopping outside of 'I need a dress for a wedding' type of shopping).  Part of my decision to go capsule is that I don't want a ton of stuff, I just want efficient and practical stuff, and also decision fatigue is too much during the day already - I do not need it when I'm putting on clothes.  So I started pinsearching ideas for capsule closets and it felt so refreshing and very 'aha!'  I've used ThredUp in the past (hahha, literally because I needed a dress for a wedding!) and when I hopped on to build my capsule closet I found so many good options - also I love that it keeps your sizes in there so you don't have to keep filtering every time you search (efficiency!)  ThredUp is linked as a referral code in this post, so you get $10 to spend, and so do I - so thank you for a little kick back if you buy anything through that link! 

Imagining a different plan for our family than was in my mind just two weeks ago.  Brandon and I have been doing a lot of talking and reflection (which is my love language anyway so we're in a big beautiful 'up' in marriage, double win!) and we're open to changes and different versions for our family moving forward.  One of which is me going back to work full time again!  I had an interview to teach this week and our fingers are crossed that life will work out like it's supposed to (we'll have official news next week after the school board meeting). It's both exciting and scary to imagine what life might look like and how we will adjust to a totally different way to operate. I'm already feeling inspired about being back in the classroom (especially after reading this awesome article about Marigolds that my friend and brilliant teacher Jessie shared) and also trying to rearrange our days so that they will work for all of us (making afternoon snack 'my thing', choosing school clothes at night for the kids, etc). We will see, we've both been doing a lot of brainstorming, showing up as our best selves, and giving it over to the universe to see what happens next.  Huge thank you to everyone who agreed to be references for me and those of you who knew about my interview and overwhelmed me with wishes of luck on Thursday morning.  Honestly, I was so touched and felt stronger and braver because I knew you believed in me!

Making zucchini & chicken casserole, Chinese green beans with ground turkey over rice, taco Tuesday and using some of the taco meat to whip up some taco pizza for leftovers another night that week, grilled Salmon topped with onions and brown sugar with grilled Parmesan zucchini (and hot dogs for the kids), Creamy Italian Chicken in the crockpot over egg noodles, and Hawaiian meatballs in the crockpot. For snack we had these banana blueberry muffins that were polished off in less than 24 hours because our kids are obsessed. Violet and I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to celebrate Gigi & Pappy's 28th wedding anniversary at their house with an evening swim and dinner.