Friday, August 31, 2012

Parents: Make Time for Yourself

Today's post doesn't offer ideas for things to do with kids. Today's post is for parents.

What will you do to take care of yourself today? 

If you're a homeschooler or stay-at-home parent of pre-schoolers, you spend lots of time with your kids. Likely all day. How do you take care of yourself? How do you make sure your own needs are met? It's easy to focus all of your time and energy on your children. But don't forget about yourself and your adult relationships.

I experienced a glimpse of this when we returned from our vacation this summer. After three full weeks of being with my kids-literally 24/7- I felt my patience running low. I was short with my kids when I wouldn't normally be. I got the message. My husband and I asked one of the grandparents to babysit and we went to dinner together. Alone. Just the two of us. I also made plans for a playdate so my kids could play with other kids and I could talk with the other mom. My patience returned.

If you have young kids returning to school for the first time, perhaps you're feeling a little blue now that they're gone- the empty house issue. Especially if you're a stay at home parent, this transition can be challenging for some. Sure, you have more freedom in how you spend your days, but you may miss your kids. Even if you're excited to be back in a regular routine and able to get all of those things done that had to wait when the kids were around, you may find yourself feeling disoriented or off-balance somehow. My kids started school on Tuesday, but it didn't hit me until yesterday. On Tuesday I was totally driven- I had a list of writing tasks I wanted to do and I plowed through them. I ended the day feeling great. But then, come Thursday, I was in a bit of  a funk- wandering around the house, unfocused, missing them.

So what did I do? I packed up my laptop and headed to my favorite local coffee shop. I grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down and got to work on this post. This strategy works for me for two reasons. 1. I don't frequent the shop with my kids so I don't think about them. 2. It gets me out of my house away from my household "To Do" list and into a place where I know I can be productive. When I work toward my writing goals I feel better.

And what about working parents? The same applies. You should find ways to take care of yourself, too. It might be hard to do, but please find the time. For you, taking care of yourself might be the reverse of the sty-at-home parent. I know this is true for my husband. When he gets home from work he just wants to hang out with our kids- hear about their day, read to them, play outside. Whatever. But he also plays soccer several times a week, as well. That's what works for him. How about you?


Taking time for yourself doesn't mean you don't love your kids or want to be with them. Rather, taking care of yourself is also taking care of your kids. You can't be a good parent/partner/husband/wife if you don't take care of yourself and your adult relationships. Figure out what you need and make sure you get it. Take a walk. Soak in the tub. Read a book. Paint. Lay in the grass and watch the clouds go by. Figure out what you need and make time for it in your week.

 And, so, I return to my initial question. What will you do to take care of yourself today?

Related Posts:
Stress Therapy: Get Back to Nature 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

No Water? No Baths? Wrong!

Today features guest blogger Darcy Pattison.

The key feature of a desert is its lack of water. But how do animals stay clean? They still need to get rid of dirt, germs, bugs and parasites.

This story began for me on the Continental Divide, the line of ranges that divide the Rocky Mountains watersheds into those that flow toward the Mississippi River and those that flow toward the Pacific Ocean. Standing on the back porch of my childhood home, the Continental Divide was a mere half mile north and was our playground. Regina, New Mexico lays at about 6000 foot elevation, 100 miles north of Albuquerque. Scrub brush fills this high desert area.

My father ran cattle, but he leased national forest lands to fatten up the spring calves and rounded them up for the sale ring before winter storms hit. Our most important asset was water rights to the Hatch Lake, which allowed some irrigation of fields and planting of some grasses.

I remember playing with horny toads, building corrals for them from scrap bits of wood. They always escaped, of course. It was a dry climate, with dusty roads, rare days of rain, and harsh winters.

Fast forward to a couple years ago when I heard about birds who anoint themselves with ants to get rid of parasites. What? This is strange, but true. For over 100 years, naturalists have observed birds that stand on an ant nest and let ants swarm over them. Studies have revealed that birds are allowing ants to carry off parasites. Other birds will locate an ant nest, then pick up an ant in its beak, crush it and use it as a washrag to clean its feathers. Scientists believe the formic acid from the ant acts as an antiseptic to kill and discourage parasites.

When I learned of this anointing behavior, I remembered the dry landscape of my childhood. I wondered what were some other ways that animals stayed clean? After a lot of research and multiple drafts, the result was Desert Baths, a companion book to my first nature book, Prairie Storms.

For both books, I wanted to do more than just talk about a species. Instead, I wanted to add an extra layer of information, while still keeping the story fun to read. For Prairie Storms, the extra layer was the variety of storms throughout a year. For Desert Baths, the extra layer is animal hygiene.

 Take a peek at Desert Baths:
And Prairie Storms


Here are some possible discussion questions to share with your children after reading Desert Baths

  1. Is regular hygiene easy or hard for you? 
  2. Do you need to be reminded to brush your teeth? 
  3. Do you resist baths? 
  4. How would it affect your health if you didn't bathe and clean yourself regularly? 

Published in eight languages, children’s book author and writing teacher Darcy Pattison is the author of picture books and novels. Her three nature books include Prairie Storms (Sylvan Dell), Desert Baths (Sylvan Dell) and Wisdom, the Midway Albatross: Surviving the Japanese Tsunami and Other Disasters for over 60 Years (Mims House). For more, see her website.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Family Roots, Part 2

In July, I blogged about finding documentation of my kids' great-grandparents' marriage (in 1895) when we were on Salina, Italy.

On Saturday, we enjoyed the next stage of all of the family research: we hosted a Cusolito family reunion. Everyone who attended the party was a descendant (or a spouse) of my husband's grandparents (with 2 exceptions I'll describe later). The total number invited was 111, though roughly 85 attended. Many of us have never met each other or have seen each other so infrequently that we don't remember each others' names. Spending time together under the same tent, looking at photos, sharing stories, and debating who really was "Gram's Favorite" was wonderful, despite the pouring rain.

My daughter w/ Carolyn's Family Tree
My Father-In-Law created a 13 foot family tree that listed every family member from his parents on down. It's quite impressive! What really blew us away, however, was when Carolyn Cusolito Tavares and her husband arrived with the tree she created. This huge tree was made possible when we secured the records from Salina and thereby confirmed that she is related to us. Without making this too complicated by using a bunch of names, her great, great-grandfather was the brother of my Father-in-law's, great-grandfather. Can you imagine? Now that Carolyn combined our family trees, we have names and dates going back to 1811.

None of this would have happened without lots of hard work and research by Carolyn, my Father-In-law, and others. But one detail I also hold onto is that the final puzzle pieces were put together after we visited the family's homeland. Travel opens up whole new worlds no matter where you go, but this particular trip to Salina opened up our family.

One aside, especially for my readers whose families were formed through adoption: The Cusolito family tree includes families created through adoption. Each of these family members are listed among the families created through birth. Our tree is not only a "biological" tree. The way I look at it is this.... if not for the marriage of Lorenzo and Maria Guiseppa back on Salina in 1895, none of these families would exist. Our family grew from the love of those two people and so on down the line. I've talked about it often with my friend Alison (of They're All My Own). She feels the same way- she feels 100 percent a part of her parent's family tree even though they are not related by biology. That said, family tree assignments in schools can be hurtful and each family needs to find their own way when it comes to family trees and adoption. One metaphor you might consider is a family tree created through "grafting." Grafting is a process by which the branch of one fruit tree is attached to the branch of a different variety of fruit. My parents have a Bosc pear tree that grows Asian pears on the one grafted branch. I love this image.

Related Posts:
Family Roots
Adoption Intensity

Friday, August 17, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I served Federal Jury duty in Boston. Each afternoon, on my way back to the commuter rail, I'd walk through the new Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. It's a lovely patch of green running where an ugly, elevated highway used to be. At the end of the Greenway, nearest South Station, I was pleasantly surprised to find an organic vegetable garden, pollinator garden, and demonstration area- all focused on "providing an educational playground for sustainable, urban, gardening practices." There's also an area for urban composting and a large table for running demonstrations. I encourage everyone to try their hand at gardening in some form, so I think this built in education space for urban farmers is fantastic. (Read my suggestions for Gardening Without a Yard). One other great aspect- the food grown is donated to a local non-profit- Lovin' Spoonfuls- to be distributed to people in need.


The area also features a lively farmer's market each Tuesday afternoon along with a variety of food trucks offering everything from chickpea fritters to Vietnamese noodles. During the lunch hour, people gather on the lawn, at the variety of tables placed throughout, or around the large demonstration table to eat their lunch. I had a lovely, spontaneous conversation with a fellow diner and noticed others doing the same later on. Much of our conversation was about the veggies growing nearby and the composting demonstration being offered later in the week. Gardens provide natural gathering places. The addition of food trucks only facilitates the process.

Are you and urban gardener? How's it going? Do you know of resources for urban gardeners in your area? Please share them so others might benefit.

You might also like:
Gardening Without a Yard
Three (or Four) Season Harvests
A Passion for Pesto
Confessions of a Passive Gardener

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: Suburban Life vs Adventure

When we were in Italy, I met an American college student at the emigration museum on Salina. Among many other things, we talked about his plans once his internship at the museum ended. He planned to return to the states to complete his college education, but then what? He expressed concern that his mother wanted him to get a "real" job- like in a bank. He feared this meant a path would be laid out for him that he didn't want- a wife, kids, white picket fence, responsibilities- in essence a suburban life with no adventure.

Of course, I can't know if a job in a bank is right for him but I CAN comment on the part of him that fears a path he didn't want would be predetermined. Certainly, the path he described happens to many people- some because they choose it, some because they move along through life without really thinking and then they suddenly realize that's what happened.

I told him he could have that life if that's what he wanted, or he could choose to have a different life. I understand his need for adventure. My husband and I both wanted to travel, so this is one reason we were married for 11 years before deciding to have children. We had plenty of adventure in those first 11 years. We went on a camel trek in the Sahara. We hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We rode bush taxis in Niger. And we flew over the vast open spaces of Alaska in a bush plane.

And, here's the exciting thing: we continue to travel with our kids. Sure, the kinds of trips we take have evolved, but we still have fun adventures. We visited Stonehenge, rode bikes on the carriage paths in Acadia National Park, attended a wedding in India, and, most recently, walked among ancient ruins at Agrigento, Sicily. We've "mucked about" plenty with our kids both here and abroad.

My  main point to this college student was that he gets to choose the life he wants. Sure, there will be bumps and adversity along the way- such is life- but he doesn't have to follow some predetermined path. Even if he takes that job in the bank, nothing else about his life is determined. He can get married or not. He can buy a house or not. He can live in a city or in the 'burbs. And he can choose to travel if that's what he really wants to do. And, most importantly, if he chooses one path and later realizes he doesn't like the path he chose, he can change directions- find a new job, move to a new place, find some new adventure. Unlike previous generations, there is no expectation that we'll work in the same job at the same factory until we retire with a company pension. Sure, that comes with new challenges, but it also means we can choose the life we really want.

This is the part we can model for our children. Do you have the suburban lifestyle and hate it? Maybe a change is in order. On the other hand, do you love it? If so really embrace it and don't worry or complain about the small stuff. Do you have kids and want to travel? Figure out how to make it happen. Make it a priority. And don't feel pressured to take the trips everyone else is taking. If you love Disney World, great! Go to Disney. But don't feel like you have to take your kids to Disney because everyone else is doing it. I've heard this as a reason for not taking a trip to the Grand Canyon- "We had to take the kids to Disney so the Grand canyon had to wait."

Decide what you really want so you can make the life you want.

Do you have the life you want for you and your kids? What's holding you back? What can you change to get the life you want?

You might also like:
Travel Tuesdays: Affording to Travel
Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Tips or traveling With Children
Travel Tuesdays: Top 10 Items to Pack When Traveling With Children

Friday, August 10, 2012

Community Mosaic Project: Tree of Learning

Back in June, I blogged about cultural enrichment programs in schools. In that post, I described a project that had just been started at my kids' school- a large mosaic mural dedicated to the school's retiring Principal, Jay Ryan. I was excited about the project at that early stage, but that was nothing compared to how I felt once we began the installation.

Joanne Smith, the art teacher, had asked for parent volunteers to help install the leaves and trunk of the tree. Jim Bowen, mosaic artist, would guide the whole process. I signed up immediately!

(Students, parents, staff, etc. had been invited to provide small items for the mosaic. Small leaves and the larger trunk pieces were created in the art room in the weeks leading up to the installation. Everyone had an opportunity to help glue the items-plus various pieces of pottery- onto leaf shaped pieces of mesh.
We would then install those mesh pieces on the wall in the school's entryway. To learn more, please read Jim's blogpost about this project).

Jim and I started by roughing up the paint finish with fine sand paper.


Then, another parent named Ilana (sadly, no photo of her working!) covered the back of each piece with thin set, handed it to us, and we mounted them on the wall. 

And here's where the community part of the mosaic got fun. We started grabbing people as they walked by and asking them if they wanted to hang one of the leaves. Of course they did! They had a chance to help create a permanent piece of art in our school. Before we knew it, the word was out and we had a line of people waiting to hang a leaf. It was so fun to see everyone participating in the process. As classes walked by, we'd hear things like, "Whoa! That's awesome!" or "You're doing a great job!" I had so much fun I ended up staying two hours longer than I was supposed to. I couldn't pull myself away. 

Here's the man of honor, Principal Ryan, hanging a leaf.



The tree after mounting all of the pieces. 


 Jim Bowen, Joanne Smith, and Jay Ryan.
All photos courtesy of Joanne Smith
I'm looking forward to seeing the final product- it wasn't grouted before school ended.  I'll be sure to take a photo and add it later.

This project brought together our entire school community to create something lasting and beautiful. Cultural enrichment indeed!

(For those wondering how this was funded... the PTO Cultural Committee covered the costs. Our school is fortunate to have very supportive parents and community members).

How might you bring a little cultural enrichment to your schools?

Related posts:




Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Mama Spider


And while I was photographing her, a lovely ladybug wandered by in the same shot...

photos taken 7 August 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Travel Tuesdays: When Things Don't Go as Planned

Many times during travel there are bumps along the road. Sometimes those bumps are dangerous or serious. Most of the time they're just annoying.

During our recent trip to Salina and Sicily, we had two annoying bumps.

My family was enjoying a quick dip in the Mediterranean when my daughter was "stung" by a jelly (fish). She had two angry slashes across each ankle and was screaming her head off. Here in Massachusetts, I know about local jellies. There, in the Mediterranean, I had no idea. We sought medical attention and learned we needn't worry. The doctor applied lidocaine and gave us a prescription for more. My daughter's crying stopped and we went about our vacation.  

Our second doctor's visit occurred about 5 days later. My daughter had some sort of rash or bug bites that were getting worse. Within a few days, all of us had symptoms. We were itchy as all get out. So off we went for more medical attention. We learned it was nothing dangerous or contagious and followed medical advice about treatment. (Quick aside... this visit was made easier when the owner of the apartment we were renting helped us see the doctor and translated our communications. We had been interacting with him daily and knew he was a kind man. The lesson: Don't be afraid to ask nice people for help. I'd help a stranger in my town who needed it. Wouldn't you?)

Now, I won't tell you I wasn't worried or concerned as these incident were happening. We've all heard about deadly jellies. And mysterious rashes while overseas are no small thing. But as soon as we realized there was no danger, I let it go.

The other owner of our apartment kept telling us how sorry she was that our holiday had been ruined by the rash. (We really were itching non-stop. I won't pretend it was fun). My response to her was this: "No one is in danger. It's an inconvenience. At least it's better than almost dying in West Africa." (This was an exaggeration, but only slightly. I was referencing the time my husband and I almost didn't get out of Niger. First, our car broke down in the bush. Then, there was a near crash in a taxi. That same driver then almost hit a military guy holding an huge gun- an AK47 maybe. That was followed by a heated discussion and much yelling on the part of the military official). Seriously, a rash? No big deal!

I say this jokingly, but I mean it. Unless you suffer a serious medical need or are in real danger, try to keep travel inconveniences in perspective. And, just think of the stories you'll have to tell when you get home!

What's your funniest/scariest/ hardest travel story? Please share it!

You Might Also Like
Travel Tuesdays: Pack Your Sense of Humor
Travel Tuesdays: Communicating When You Don't Speak the Local Language
Travel Tuesdays: Identifying Your Family's Travel Needs
Travel Tuesdays: Pushing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Friday, August 3, 2012

Photo Montage: Western Sicily

The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" is repeated so often because it's true. Today, rather than write about our trip to Sicily, I thought I'd share some of my favorite scenery photos. I like some for the quality of the shot, others because of the subject. I think they give a good overview of what the western side of Sicily has to offer. I hope you enjoy them.


Agrigento, Valley of the Temples







Scala dei Turchi


Locals told us Sicily is the "Wild West" of Italy. Indeed, we experienced the different interpretations of laws in Sicily than on the mainland. Sicily also has stunning natural beauty like the western part of the US. Sure the landscape is different, but it's breathtaking in places. 

Have you been to Sicily? What do you think? 

Related Posts:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Dragonfly Caught in Spiderweb



Photos taken 22 July 2012

If you like these photos, check out Rebecca in the Woods' post from Monday. She has a fantastic still photo and video of a spider wrapping up a nice dragonfly burrito!