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Monday Musings on a Wednesday: Onward and upward

20 Jun

She’s off and running

Well, we made it. We made it to and through our first child’s high school graduation week. It’s taken me a while to be able to sit and think about what I wanted to write, as I definitely wanted to mark this life event (for all of us) in writing.

It’s the craziest roller coaster of emotions–happy, proud, sad, thrilled. When our kids were babies, I was constantly feeling this need for life to slow down. They grew fast, they conquered milestones one after another. They rolled over, crawled, walked, ran, rode bikes, drove a car.

I kept wishing that the merry-go-round would slow down a little bit so we could stop, bottle up what we were seeing and doing, and then restart, but we couldn’t. It just kept going.

And going.

And here we are.

High school was hard. Lots of things were hard, but hard prepares you for real life. Life is hard. Throughout these past four years and the years leading up to it, we often said, “In the end you’ll be better off for having worked hard. Do you best, try hard, and most of all, be a good person, because that is what matters most in the end.”

In the end.

That’s the weird thing. As we drove to pick up the graduation cake and flowers on the morning of graduation, my husband said, “It’s weird, for us this feels like the end, but for her, this is just the beginning.”

If that didn’t make me cry, nothing would. (Or so I thought.)

But it’s true, what he said. We were finally finishing high school. There were days of high school that not only did I think we’d never get through the year, I questioned how we’d get through high school three times, but we did. This was the end. She had finished, made it, seen the success and reward of all her hard work and stress, and yes, she’d come out better for the grit and perseverance.

I have reflected in these recent months that you work so hard to get to a point that you see as a major goal or milestone. A benchmark: their first birthday, their 10th, 13th, 16th, 18th birthdays, and you think to yourself, “Whew…we did it. We made it. We survived.” And you think you get a break. We’re done. It’s done. She made it.

But, you don’t. That merry-go-round doesn’t actually stop. You don’t get off and take a break, a rest, a breather. You wake up the very next day and keep moving forward. I think I equated it to a wedding, all the anticipation and the build-up and then you’re done. It’s over. But you’re not, and I think that’s a good thing because there’s so much yet to come.

On graduation day I found myself to be more happy than sad. Proud, thrilled. On the next day afterwards, I found myself to have a bit of a delayed reaction, crying unexpectedly during a song at my youngest’s dance recital (In My Daughter’s Eyes) that I hadn’t expected to hear that day, or to be crying through in the audience as I saw my oldest at three in my mind’s eye, dancing on the stage for the first time and graduating high school in what seemed like the next instant. (In my defense, the mom next to me was teary too, and her daughter hadn’t graduated the day before.) I find that weird things get me emotional, and yet my biggest emotion is happiness and the events where I thought I’d be sad, I’ve been the most happy.

I am so happy for our daughter and what she achieved when she thought she couldn’t, what goals she set and then met, and most of all, what a good person she’s turned out to be at 18. As we read through her yearbook and read through various poster boards from culminating events for various year-end activities, over and over the most common theme was thankfulness for her goodness, her leadership, her help, her time, her kindness.

In the end, that will get her furthest.

There is a graduation speaker I hear at our city graduations each year, and he uses the same line, year after year no matter what else he writes in his speech, and I was so glad to hear him say it again this year. Each year, he tells the students that it is their talents, their grades, their GPA that has gotten them through high school and to graduation day, but that it is their character, their values and their morals that will get them through life, and I truly believe he’s right.

The merry-go-round does not stop now.

As we embark on this summer in between the end of high school and the beginning of the rest of her life, I am reminded of many things, as I have been all year long, and for the past 18 years. My own high school graduation quote in my yearbook was from a song from the campfires at summer camp, “The Circle Game.” The song has stayed with me since my days at camp and through my years as a young mother, through to today-and I know through to the days beyond today. It has run through my head day after day and week after week as I imagined this merry-go-round of our lives.

I think that ultimately, it’ll stay with me for the next forever and a day.

It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning.

The Circle Game
Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like, when you’re older, must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town
And they tell him,
Take your time, it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Songwriters: Joni Mitchell
The Circle Game lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

Monday Musings: It’s not always about winning

30 Apr

This recipe took at least five tries and a lot of perseverance to perfect.

Early this winter, I saw a cooking contest pass by in my newsfeed on social media. A local New England applesauce brand, Simply Wholesome–recently re-branded with a new name: Our Family Garden– was sponsoring a cooking contest. The participants would receive a six jars of their applesauce (two each of three different varieties) and they could submit as many recipes as they wished, as long as they utilized the applesauce in their recipes, which had to be previously unpublished, original recipes.

We love cooking contests here, we have won several of them between us, and I decided to enter the contest. The winter months are a little bit slower for me work-wise than the spring and there was enough time allotted for some trial and error as I went about figuring out how to create an original-never-been-published-before recipe.

My box of applesauce arrived within a few days of letting them know I’d be entering the contest. I was shocked to find six, full-sized samples of applesauce in the box, along with a jar of their blueberry jam as a gift for entering.

I had already decided that I wanted to try to create an apple pie type of muffin with a streusel topping. I just had to come up with a recipe and incorporate the applesauce. I began researching basic muffin recipes so that I could see what ingredients I needed and approximately how much of each  it takes to make a muffin, a muffin. Then, I added in their cinnamon applesauce, at first adding it in just to the actual muffin mix, to give them the apple pie flavor I was hoping for. As I created my streusel topping, my youngest daughter, who was home and doing a lot of cooking at the time, suggested that I add the applesauce to the topping as well. I thought that was a brilliant idea. I was creating a topping that included brown sugar, butter, quick oats, and now the applesauce too. My entire recipe was gluten free, using gluten free flour and gluten free oatmeal as well.

I made the muffins, following the recipe I’d come up with. We waited with great anticipation for them to come out of the oven. It was very exciting as we watched them cook through the window of the oven.

This wasn’t quite the result I’d been anticipating.

As we looked inside though, we saw a big mess. The muffin topping was oozing all over the place. They tasted delicious, but they were a mess. The topping was oozing and the centers were sinking.

Hmmm…not really contest-worthy.

I hadn’t thought about the fact that this really might take more than one try.

My family said the muffins were good enough to try again, so I did.

Again, and again, and again, and again.

Now I’d gone too far in the other direction.

I was determined to get this recipe right. Although the first time I made them they were too wet, by the fourth time I’d added in flour to the topping and now they were too dry, and my kids were beginning to dread coming home to the latest “after school snack” or waking up to a Saturday breakfast “surprise”  of apple pie muffins—again.

“What did you do to them,” one of the kids asked in distress this particular time. “Go back to the way they were, at least they tasted good.”

I was starting to run out of time and out of willing tasters.

I talked with my mom multiple times to get her opinion, and I thought and thought about my recipe ingredients and what seemed to be working and what didn’t.

What was I doing wrong??

Over and over in my mind I thought about all of the times I’d learned about scientists and how their hypotheses weren’t always right and how their experiments didn’t always work the first time around and how the learning takes place in the trial and error process, not necessarily in getting it right the first time around.

I was feeling like a kitchen scientist, albeit a weary one. How long did these scientists take to perfect their experiments??

The contest deadline was coming up. I’d had about two months to get this recipe right and I was not going to give up. I wasn’t even in it for the win any longer, I was in it for the personal satisfaction of accomplishing this task of creating my own recipe for the first (and possibly only) time ever. I wanted it to be good, I wanted my husband and kids to like it and be proud of me, and I wanted to get it right. I like to get things right. I like to give 110 percent all the time.

I gave it one final try. I adjusted my ingredients one last time. I begged my family to give them one last taste.

“I hope you get them right this time, they’re good, but I don’t think I can eat another one any time soon,” my oldest daughter said.

If I didn’t get the topping right this time, I really thought I might give up.

I put what I hoped would be the final batch in the oven, and I held my breath, literally. I’d added in raisins to one of the trays on the advice of my mother and two of my kids who like them, and left one without, for the one who doesn’t.

I watched them cooking in the oven. The topping seemed to be doing what it was supposed to be doing, spreading out without oozing over, and didn’t seem overly dry.

Could it be that I’d finally gotten the right balance of every ingredient down??

It seems that it could. I’d figured it out. I think I cheered out loud.

I pulled them out of the oven, and everyone took a bite. Again, I held my breath and waited for their responses.

Five thumbs up from my family.

Perfection.

Apple Pie Muffins with a Sweet Streusel topping for the win.

Except I didn’t win.

Not exactly.

I didn’t win one of the top three cash prizes that seemed attractive at the time I started out in this process.

But, I won a lot more than that. I can proudly say that I have created a recipe, my very own recipe, that was delicious, and most importantly I did not give up. I never anticipated this would take this long. I generally don’t have the patience to stick with something this long and see it through, but I could not let this one go, and I’m glad I didn’t.

Additionally, I have to say, we fell in love with this applesauce. I submitted a second recipe to the contest for Zesty BBQ pork chops which also utilized one of the varieties of applesauce, and my kids were going through the six jars like crazy, each variety was just as good as the last. I always have been a homemade applesauce kind of girl, and I have never purchased an applesauce my family has loved this much. I’m glad that we don’t live far from the Big Y markets in Massachusetts where it is going to be on the shelves under the new branding. It’ll be worth the ride just over the state line to get more. Not to mention, I recently ordered a case of their jams, as my youngest daughter finished the entire jar of blueberry jam on her own. When I heard that there were two other varieties, I decided to place an order for them.

In the end, I gained much more from this experience than I ever imagined I would have, and I have no regrets about entering, or about not winning.

Sometimes it just not about the win, it’s about the journey.

Apple Pie Muffins with Sweet Streusel Topping
by Jennifer L. Cowart

Apple pie muffins
*to make gluten free, use 1:1 gluten free all-purpose baking flour

2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ tsp salt

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
1/3 cup Touch of Honey Applesauce With Cinnamon

2 apples peeled, cored and diced
Optional: use only one apple and add in 2/3 cups raisins.

Sweet Streusel Topping
*to make gluten free, use gluten free oats and gluten free flour.

¼ cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup quick oats (not instant) uncooked
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup Touch of Honey Applesauce with Cinnamon

Directions

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray 24 muffin tins with nonstick cooking spray.

2) In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

3) Add in eggs, milk and applesauce. Mix until well combined.

4) Add diced apples (and raisins, if desired) and mix well.

5) Put approximately two tablespoons of batter into each muffin tin, until ¾ of the way full. Set aside. **If there are empty muffin tins, fill with water, ¾ of the way full.**

6) In a separate bowl, mix together streusel ingredients.

7) Add one teaspoon of topping to the top of each portion of batter, spreading across top of batter.

8) Bake for 15-18 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean.

Best served warm.
Makes 18-24 muffins.

Finally!

 

Monday Musings: The story of our Little Free Library

2 Oct

It took us a couple of years, but we were finally able to open our Little Free Library yesterday!

Yesterday, October 1, 2017, we officially opened our very own Little Free Library. It was a project two years in the making and it means a great deal to us. Inside our library I have placed a binder which tells the history of our library along with some photos of the process from 2015 to now. I thought I’d share it here as well, for those who are not local and can’t just take a drive by to check it out in person.

In 2013, a friend gave us an article about a local Little Free Library from the Providence Journal. You can read that article here.

“If anyone would want to do this, it would be you and your family,” they said.

That following winter, we were in Providence with my brother for brunch, and we went looking for the Little Free Library we’d read about in the article, and found it.

We went exploring and found the Little Free Library from the article.

We decided that we too, wanted to have a Little Free Library. We began considering what sort of material to use for ours, but it seemed a bit beyond us, and buying a ready-made one was cost prohibitive for us.

 

 

 

 

 

In the summer of 2015, Chloe Rigg contacted me to do a story for the Cranston Herald about the Little Free Library she and her husband Jim had opened at their home in Cranston. You can read that story here.

I loved visiting with Jim and Chloe Rigg and learning about their Little Free Library. I even found a cookbook inside, that I still have today.

When I told Jim and Chloe Rigg that our family had really wanted to do a Little Free Library too, he offered to help us. He’d use his leftover scraps to create a kit for us. The girls and I could come to their house one Sunday and make it with him, step by step. He had the girls send him some design ideas for our library. A treehouse design, incorporating a fairy garden was soon in the works.

On September 20, 2015, we spent the day at the Rigg house, creating our library together with Jim.

Jim Rigg spent the entire day with us in his garage, walking us through every step of building our library and explaining what we were doing and why.

It was our intention to put it up the following spring, but it was that spring that we ended up unexpectedly having to start our kitchen renovations, and it delayed our ability to get the library up and finished. This summer, we finished up the bulk of the kitchen work and in September we were able to change our focus back to finishing up the Little Free Library project.

Now, exactly two years later, almost to the day, we are ready to open our Little Free Library.

Sadly, Jim Rigg passed away unexpectedly, just four months after we spent the day with him. We were devastated to receive that news, and we attended his memorial service that January of 2016.

We have dedicated our Little Free Library to Jim and his memory. Without him, it would not be possible and we know he would be so proud to see it open for business now.

We were incredibly sad to hear that Jim Rigg had passed away soon after our day spent together. We will think of him every day as we run our own Little Free Library. We made a plaque for ours, to honor him and the dedication he showed us out of the goodness of his heart.

We are forever grateful for Jim’s time and dedication and for the impact he has had on us and our memories from the making of our own Little Free Library and we can’t wait to see what stories we will have to share from this new endeavor.

    20150920_133840

Monday Musings: Working from home: the good, the bad and the crazy

27 Mar

When I saw this, from perceptionvsfact.com, I thought it was a perfect comedic addition to today’s post, as I am a work-at-home-mom.

Recently a video went viral. It was a hilarious video of a professor being interviewed by the BBC. Although the professor looked to be dressed very professionally and in a professional setting, with maps and books and other workplace-type items, he was actually working from home and as you’ll see in the video, right before the eyes of the public, all hell breaks loose as his young children realize the door to his home office is actually unlocked, and they proceed to steal the show. His wife quickly realizes the error and saves the day, rescuing him from the situation as best she can, and leaving him to try to recover. You can watch that video here.

As soon as the video went viral, the world began to respond in all sorts of ways. Some people were supportive, some critical. As with anything, there are always a variety of responses. My favorite response however, was the parody video which came soon afterwards where Professor Kelly is replaced with a work-at-home mother, and she deals with similar issues, and then some, as she tries to conduct her interview from home. You can watch that video here.

I appreciated both videos very much. I have worked primarily from home for the past 16 years. I started with a home-based, direct sales business in 2000. I began that business while I was still teaching part-time, with a one year-old toddler in tow, and as the years went on, I gave up the teaching, two more children followed, for a total of three (now 17, 14 and 12). Through the 11 years of running the business, a new job opportunity landed in my lap in 2008, and I took on freelance writing in addition to the home-based business. In 2011 I closed down the business and the writing became my sole career, 50% of which is done from home. I blog, often for profit, although not always, and I am an award-winning journalist, writing for several newspapers across our state.

I appreciated the videos because I could sympathize with Professor Kelly. Working from home while raising children at the same time is unpredictable. You never know what will take place in the time that you’re on the phone, teaching a class, taking a class, running a meeting, or when trying to conduct a live video interview for the BBC. I am lucky too, that just like Professor Kelly, I have a partner in crime as well, and he was often there to help me in those early days when I was working from home, keeping the kids corralled downstairs while I taught a class or ran a meeting, dealing with some of the fallout that often takes place, despite the best-laid plans.

I also could appreciate the parody. Although it was clearly a spoof, it definitely brought back memories for me of the days of having a newborn, a preschooler and a toddler, in the time that I was managing it all on my own, taking orders over the phone while feeding a newborn baby just home from the hospital, or of cooking dinner while nursing, closing the oven door with my foot while on the phone with one hand, holding the feeding baby with the other, and conducting business at the same time. I can remember my class participants or team members holding my newborn while I taught or ran a meeting at home, I can remember working through dealing with stomach bugs, running kids to doctors appointments during the work day, and the like.

One of my favorite stories that I can now laugh at, was of having been up all night with  two suddenly-sick kids after a family birthday party which had taken place here the night before. I was desperately drinking coffee after coffee, and later realized that my coffee was laced with candle wax which had melted and dripped down into the pot, the white and confetti “number 6” birthday candle having sat on top of the coffee pot once removed from the cake during cleanup the previous night. I’m not sure which was worse: dealing with two kids who had come down with the stomach bug simultaneously at 2 am, realizing we now needed a new coffee pot, or realizing I’d been drinking the melted number six candle in my coffee all day, trying to survive the hours until my husband came home again.

I think I might’ve taken that day “off” from work, although I can’t remember now. Some of it might be permanently blocked from my memory. Either way, I had the flexibility to do what I needed to do, no matter what it was at the time, thanks to my work-from-home career.

Some of those sorts of things like illnesses and doctor appointments happen still to this day, this week and last, next week and the week after, although thankfully the candle incident was a one-time thing.

It’s life as a working parent and when you work from home, you’re in the thick of it 24/7.

Working from home is not for the faint of heart and I am sure that it is not for everyone. However, for our family, and for me as a professional, it has saved us. It has allowed me to pursue careers that I love, to put my family first and foremost, and to be able to contribute financially to our family, providing my children not just with many opportunities to try out new things by financially supporting them with my income, but also with the physical means to try them out because my schedule is one that is self-designed and I can get them to and from many, many things that take place during the Monday through Friday 2-6pm time-frame.

Working in Arizona during our five week Cross Country Adventure in 2015

When I speak at Career Day fairs and events, as I did just last week, I always speak to the opportunities that we have now to work from home, much of which is possible thanks to technology. It brings the world closer to us without us having to leave the comfort of our homes much of the time. I have had the chance to work both with and for people around the world and around the country, and I have worked from all over the country, supporting my family and building quite a resume at the same time. It’s something that if you can be disciplined enough, can be very profitable and can allow you to self-design a schedule that works best for you and your family. You can work as much or as little as works for your family situation.

Oftentimes people will ask about tips for working from home. If I had to think off the top of my head, I’d say this:

1) Treat your job as you would an out-of-the-home job. I get all my kids out the door each morning, and once they’re on the buses and the coast is clear, if I am working at home I sit down as I would in an office and I work. Most of the time I shower and dress first-thing, unless I have to have a very early start time for some reason, and then I have to just work in my pajamas, but that is not my norm.

2) I work without distractions unless I have sick kids at home. On a typical day working from home, the TV isn’t on, the radio isn’t on, and I don’t take social phone calls. I take breaks to eat my breakfast and my lunch throughout the day, sometimes working and eating at the same time, just as I would if I were in an office setting, but they’re not hours-long breaks. The dishes everyone has left for me (or for our non-existent maid, I can’t figure out who they think is taking care of them during the day) which are on the kitchen counter and in the sink sit there all day, untouched. The dishwasher we ran before bed the night before, and now needing to be emptied, stays full until after 4 o’clock. Sometimes, it stays full until 6 o’clock if I have work that needs to be done first. The laundry sits until the weekend or after hours. Otherwise, work would not get done during my working hours if dishes and laundry and house-cleaning did. I look at it this way: if my husband is not sitting at work folding our laundry and doing our family’s dishes, then neither am I. If I worked from the newspaper offices, I would not bring my laundry and dishes along with me to work. If I have to stop working at 2pm to get someone somewhere after school, and not sit down to work again until after they’re in bed, I need to capitalize on the uninterrupted hours I have during the day when I have them.

2) No one with you at home to tell you to do your work. Be self-motivated. Set your deadlines and get your work in on time. I have a very difficult time staying focused, which is why I work in total silence, but I do know that it’s my sole responsibility to make sure the work I am being paid to do is done, and I know that I am paid by the assignments I am submitting, so I am driven to do it, to do it on time, and to do it well.

There are always pros and cons to every situation, and working from home is no different. I am lucky in that I have health insurance coverage from my husband’s job, or that would be a consideration. Financially, we have been sure to make the appropriate preparations for savings and retirement because I do not have a traditional opportunity for a 401K or a pension. I do not get paid sick days ever, or paid vacation days, but yet I can set my own schedule and I work from home, and I can essentially work from anywhere that I have an internet connection, so although it means I generally work when we are on vacation, and I don’t ever really get a true vacation, it means I can work without interruption and not lose my income if we are away. It also means that I can set my own hours and when my kids are home in the summer or if we have family visiting and staying with us, I can wake up very early and work before they are up, and I can work late at night after they are in bed, if I want to, so that I can enjoy the daytime hours with them while I have them. I also can just work when they’re all here and awake, if I want to. I can decide and I can do what works best for us. If anyone is sick, myself included, I can work from home if possible. If not possible, if I am too sick or they are too sick, then I can work around it in off-hours and still be paid, or not work at all, and therefore, not get paid.

When we first started our family and made our decisions for our jobs, we decided as a couple that we wanted our family to come first, we wanted to raise them ourselves, and we never wanted to say our kids could not do something because of our jobs, or that we could not be there for important events or appointments because of our jobs. My working from home has allowed us to keep to to our goals, and to allow our kids to try out new and different things thanks to our dual income, and thanks to my self-designed, flexible schedule.

Every job has its challenges, no matter what the setting, and working from home is no different. I am glad it’s something that we have pursued and that it has worked so well for us. Any of the challenges or bumps in the road that come with working from home have been far outweighed by the successes and rewards we have seen with its benefits.

Hats off to Professor Kelly and to all the working parents out there, whether moms or dads, because it’s definitely not easy, and it’s always an adventure!

 

 

 

Monday Musings: Marching Every Day

23 Jan

This past Saturday was one of the largest peaceful protests in US history. Men, women and children showed up all across the globe, in every state and on every continent by the thousands, by the millions, to demonstrate their desire for women’s rights for equal treatment, for equal pay, for equal opportunity for jobs, for their reproductive and healthcare rights, and for so much more.  They marched against the election of a president who speaks sexually in on-camera interviews about his own daughter, who speaks out about sexually assaulting women and being proud of it, and who in my own personal opinion, has many more issues than I could possibly ever list here.

We couldn’t march Saturday. We were five people split in about eight directions that day, and when I originally saw the date and saw the conflicts, I knew we couldn’t be there. At the time of the actual demonstrations, I couldn’t even really watch because we were in and out all day, although I caught snip-its of the marches that were taking places all over the world, and I was so pleased, so proud of what I saw.

However, I didn’t really think twice about the fact that we couldn’t march with the others on this one day, because I know for a fact, that we in our house, march every day. Every single day we as adults and our children are marching for equal treatment, equal rights and equal opportunity for girls and for women.

“Hey sweetheart….are you a good girl? If you are, you’ll go get me a coffee. I like it black.”

“I really wish you were a boy. Things would be so much less complicated.”

“You can’t use that logo on your project. Most girls won’t know a sports logo when they see it.”

We’re marching every single day against treatment like that, happening right now to our kids, statements like that, requests like that that they’ve all heard spoken directly to them.

We’re marching to make sure our daughters know that it’s unacceptable to be treated like that and to make sure that they know that we could never cast a vote for someone who condones such treatment either; we could never do that to our daughters or to anyone else’s daughters either. We march every day to protect them all.

Every. Single. Day.

We are marching for other people’s daughters that haven’t heard those things yet, and our daughters are standing up to those requests and statements, advocating for themselves and for others who will come after them.

“You can’t speak that way to our daughter. Ever. It’s not okay.”

“I marched up there and I told him that I can too use that logo, that girls understand sports just as much as boys do.”

Our girls are taking risks others are afraid to take, or will only take if they are surrounded by other girls. They want to excel in a world that contains both women and men.

“There are only two other girls in my computer science class. I’m trying to get some more to take the class next year.”

“There’s only one girl in my friend’s engineering class. I’m so proud of her for sticking with it, she really loves it.”

“I’m the only girl in this robotics class. I don’t care, I love it.”

“Only one girl took the six week technology class, all of the other students were boys.”

Marching day in and day out.

“Why do you want to do that kind of class? That’s for girls.”

“The girls will have to choose between the dance and the sporting event. We’ll give them a shirt from the game though, if they choose to go to the dance.”

Each day we, all five of us, get up, we show up, we fight the fights some people know about, and we fight fights no one knows about. We make a difference for those who don’t think a difference needs to be made, because we know better. We live the life. We march and every battle we fight and win is a battle that hopefully no one else will have to fight.

We do it for our girls.

We do it for yours.

We do it for the ones who are coming after ours, paving the way for them, even though they don’t realize it.

We march for those who can’t.

We march for those who won’t.

We march for those who think they don’t have to.

We march for those who came before us.

And, we march so that some day those girls who come after us, won’t have to.

It's a long road ahead, and there will be bumps for sure, but we will keep marching, day in and day out.

It’s a long road ahead, and there will be bumps for sure, but we will keep marching, day in and day out.

Monday Musings: What exactly did we create?

17 Oct
Did we dream it or did we do it?

Did we dream it or did we do it?

Recently we had a conversation in our family that has really stuck with me. At the time, it left me a tiny bit unsettled, sad yet happy, longing yet not, and questioning a few things. I had been thinking on it and thinking on it, mulling it over in my mind for quite some time, and hesitating whether or not to publish a blog post about it or not. Last week I watched a video which confirmed that yes, I did want to publish this post. I encourage you to watch this video from beginning to end. It is well worth your time. Thank you to the Attleboro High School students who spent many hours of time on such an important topic.

In the meantime, here is my post.

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It was summertime.

We were all together and we had the occasion to find ourselves in a warehouse. There was an event there and we were attending, but the event only used a small part of the available space. It was a big, open warehouse, a different experience than warehouse shopping, like at BJ’s or Costco or Sam’s Club. The walls were black, the floors were black, it was an exciting open space, big and empty: seemingly like a giant blank canvas.

As we walked through the space, we marveled at the vast openness of it; it almost encouraged you to run wild, to yell out loud to hear your voice echo in the space, but we didn’t do that. We walked and we talked.

“What if?” Some one of us said it. I truly don’t remember who.

But I do remember what followed next.

“What if we lived here?! What if this was our house?!”

“I’d want a big space to dance!”

“A huge kitchen for cooking!”

“An art studio!”

“A stage!”

“A room filled with books on all the walls!”

“A sewing room with tons of space for fabrics!”

“A place for a 3D printer and doing science experiments!”

“A music room for playing piano and instruments!”

“A photography studio!”

And on, and on and on.

We laughed and talked and called out ideas to each other as we designed our new home. In real life, we live in a regular-sized house, like regular people do, and sometimes (okay, many times) it seems too small for all of us, but we always pride ourselves in being creative with our space, always finding ways to make it fit our needs at the time of our lives that we’re in. We’re comfortable with making changes as our needs change, and that’s just what we’ve always done. We make it work for us.

But this, this imaginary blank canvas of a home, it was exciting to think about for a few minutes as we walked through it and out, out into the bright sunshine of the outdoors and towards our car.

Once we got in the car, the conversation was over and we moved on to the next thing, back to real life and back to summer and then eventually back to school and work.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. As two educators, we’d always imagined starting our own school. Hands-on, experiential learning is our thing. As parents we have fostered that passion in our kids too.

In my mind I pondered the conversation. What did we really imagine? Was it our imaginary house in a huge open space, or had we created the school of our dreams?

And really, the school of our kids’ dreams?

It made me a little bit sad. Sad at first, because most likely we won’t ever get to open up our own school in that warehouse with all of the hands-on learning experiences. Sad second, because in reality, so much of what our kids called out as the things they’d love to be surrounded by on a daily basis, is so much of what’s been removed from traditional public schools as the years go by. I am very thankful that our school district offers a stellar option for high school students through a regional career and technical school which is located on one of our city’s high school campuses, but I know that not everyone has that option everywhere, and that the guaranteed hands-on, engaging education that’s found in a career and tech program is only for high school students, at least in our neck of the woods. I’m also happy to see instrumental music education returning to our elementary schools here, after having been gone for so long thanks to budget woes which are not unique to just our area.

That said, so much of what I used to see in schools as I covered story after story, is no longer done as teachers have said that they have run out of time to do the types of things they used to do. As more testing and seat-work move in, more hands-on experiences and creativity move out. Sometimes, if schools specialize in the arts, they leave out the sciences. As they specialize in science and technology, they lose focus on the arts-things like theater, music, visual and performing arts. That makes me sad. Home economics, cooking, sewing and fashion, wood and textile design…don’t even get me started. In so many places, although not everywhere, these areas of study, these life and career skills that students need the minute they are out in the world on their own, are gone. It is so much so that on a recent college tour, we were even told of basic cooking classes that are offered to college students getting ready to live on their own who don’t possess those types of basic independent living skills.

But yet despite my sadness, I soon had an awesome realization, and ultimately it made me happy and it made me proud.

No, we didn’t open our school (at least not yet), we don’t have a giant home and we definitely don’t have a school-sized budget. But that said, all of those things that our kids dreamed of having in their space, they dream of because they have experienced them. As they’ve grown we’ve designed our open spaces in our home to be spaces that foster creative play, learning and hands-on experiences. Whether it was dress-up and school, arts and crafts, or library and kitchen imaginary play spaces in our basement when they were little, or lessons in things like sewing, dance, music, theater and art as they got older, they’ve been able to be exposed to so many things and have had the time and the opportunity to explore and experience them all. Books have always lived on shelves in every bedroom, under pillows with flashlights and book lights. Play-doh, paint, glue and glitter have always been regular staples in our craft supplies. We have had a garden in our backyard almost every summer since our kids were young. As they grew, the books, spaces and activities grew and changed with them, and the play kitchen space became cooking with us in the real kitchen space, a passion of ours that they all share.

When learning experiences were offered in our city or nearby cities and towns for free, we exposed them to them, while enrolling them in regular lessons for some of the things they loved whenever we were able to. They’ve always been exposed to things that interest them and spark their creativity: free workshops on 3D printing or stop-motion animation at the library, free reading events and encounters with famous authors at the State House, science experiments in our kitchen, lots of opportunities for great experiences through the Girl Scouts like photography lessons and outdoor camping trips, for example.

As teens and tweens they now have a sewing machine in every bedroom. We have paint and canvases, fabric, easels and musical instruments in our home, and so many books. We cook together and they cook independently. As I look around in this instant, there are sketch books sitting out right now, out in the open here in our living room, awaiting the next burst of inspiration, and there’s a draft of someone’s book on my laptop, a dress form with an almost-finished dress on it in a bedroom down the hall.

So as sad as I was that I know we probably won’t ever have our school, and sad for what many students won’t ever have because it’s lost from so many schools and out of reach for many family budgets, after much thought, I was ultimately happy and proud. I felt that if these were the things our kids wanted in their imaginary home, or maybe in their vision of the ultimate perfect school, and if we’d somehow managed to dedicate ourselves to being able to provide them all for them over the years in our own home, in their own real lives, then we’d done a good job of teaching in a hands-on, experiential way. We have succeeded in fostering a love of hands-on learning, of reading and of writing, a passion for the arts and for the sciences, and we’ve given them life-long skills they need to be successful when they are living independently. As we now tour colleges and see the hands-on experiential learning that is taking place there, we see too, that it is the desired outcome for secondary education over any standardized test, and we know we have prepared our kids well for this type of learning which will later transcend into the jobs of the future. Colleges look for students who have experienced true learning, not the one-sided delivery of a curriculum or the passing of a test or of dozens of tests. Employers look for a well-rounded problem solver and critical thinker with a wide variety of skills in their repertoire, not just someone who can ace a test.

Although my mulling over of this conversation was initially one tinged with sadness for what wasn’t or what will never be, it is ultimately one that makes me smile. We had a dream, we had a goal, and in essence we did it and we did it for those students who matter to us most of all: our own. We did it in a small space and on a tiny budget and we continue to do it each and every day. We have always sacrificed a lot, often, and in so many other areas, but we are our children’s first teachers, they are our ultimate legacy, and hopefully when they leave our nest, they’ll be able to continue to live a life filled with a passion for hands-on learning and experiencing life to its fullest.

 

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Monday Musings: Allowance…do we or don’t we?

8 Sep
Do your kids earn an allowance?

Do your kids earn an allowance?

I’m sure that’s a question every parent asks themselves at some point during their parenting journey.

“Do we give our kids allowance? If so, how much? If not, why not?”

I also know for sure that there are many schools of thought on the issue. Some people believe that a family works together as a team, and no one person on the team gets paid for pitching in to get the household jobs done. Other people believe that hard work earns rewards, whether it’s house work, yard work or school work. Yet other people don’t believe their kids should have chores at all, that their school work is work enough, and their focus should be on that and that alone.

It’s all good, I’m sure, and whatever works for one family may not work for another.

As parents, we too asked ourselves those same questions as our kids were young. We definitely knew we didn’t pay them for grades on their report cards or school work. When our kids were very small, they didn’t do much in the way of chores, but as they grew older, they were more capable of helping out around the house and cleaning up after themselves. We began to question the idea of allowance in order to encourage them to consistently get certain jobs around the house done. Early on, we went with the philosophy that we were all a team and pitched in together and everything just gets done. We mostly subscribed to that philosophy because we were not financially in a position to pay anyone anything extra, and when you have a large family, you don’t want to institute something you can’t afford. Three kids times four or five weeks of allowance a month adds up quickly and there wasn’t enough to spare, for quite a few years in a row.

But as our financial situation changed over time, so did our philosophy. We had some money to spare and our kids were all big enough to manage household chores. More importantly, we had always stayed true to the “We buy you what you need, you need to save your money for the things you want,” philosophy. It was tough though, because our kids were willing to save their money, they just had no way to earn it. A once-a-year birthday gift might garner them $25 or $50 from a family member or two, but other than that, they wanted to save for things that were “wants” and yet they had no flow of income. They were too young to go out and get a real job.

We also felt strongly that a large part of life lessons and experiences revolve around saving money, setting goals, having money, not having money because you spent it on something previously that you now wish you hadn’t, or better yet, the sense of pride of having set a goal, saved for a period of time, sacrificed not purchasing smaller items, and then walking away with a big-ticket item you bought yourself. Without a flow of income, our kids couldn’t learn any of those types of life lessons.

And so, a couple of years back, we instituted a set of weekly chores and each month I’d cash my paycheck, dole out the next month’s worth of allowance and place it in four weekly piles in an envelope. At the end of the week, if the kids had done their chores they could take their allowance. If they hadn’t, it stayed in the envelope. It was a little bit hard to track though. I couldn’t easily keep track of who had done what, who hadn’t done what, and it was hard to “dock their pay” for not doing jobs. Yet, some kids went over and above helping out with extra-big jobs, and I had no way to compensate them when I really wanted to, just as I would an employee that worked overtime. I also had extra jobs I’d love to see them take the initiative on, but I knew that wouldn’t just happen on their own. Additionally, on many occasions, I’d see a random $5.00-one week’s pay for one child- still sitting in the envelope when I opened it to fill it the next month, and yet no one knew whose it was or who didn’t remember to take their allowance during the month prior. I’d put it back in the envelope for the next month, but I always felt badly that someone lost out on their weekly allowance.

I can't take credit for this, as it was passed along to me and the rest of the Facebook nation this past summer.

I can’t take credit for this, as it was passed along to me and the rest of the Facebook nation this past summer.

This past summer, I saw an allowance idea pass me by on Facebook, and it stopped me in my tracks. I have posted it here on the left, and if it’s yours, please feel free to credit yourself in the comments. When I got it and saved it, I had no idea where it had originated.

I shared it as well, and my husband saw it and commented on it. We loved the idea of taking the money and splitting it up by jobs, and I loved some of the jobs I saw on there. The photo got my wheels turning, as I began to think of how I could change our own allowance system in order to make it more efficient and more exciting. It was summertime, my downtime, and if I was going to start a new system, now was the time to do it.

I knew I needed something that was easy to manage, something that would allow me to see who had done what and when, and who had taken their money and who hadn’t, and I also needed a way to encourage some extra work, as well as a way to reward those who go over and above when helping out. Additionally, I wanted to throw a couple of things in there that would help to remind the kids of things one of them might struggle with on a daily basis. They’re all too old for a sticker chart, but no one is ever too old to earn a dollar if they remember to do a particular thing before school in the morning or before bed at night, and it is worth more than a dollar to me if it makes the morning rush less of a rush.

As I drove around town in August, my idea began to formulate in my head. I knew I could very easily go to the local Lakeshore Learning Store and get library book pockets, the kind that used to be inside of library books to house the library card you’d sign your books out with. I also knew I could get a pack of alphabet letters. I had a nice, empty linen closet door right outside their bedrooms, right next to the main bathroom in our house, which is essentially theirs, and solely their job to clean each week. I began to think of my marketing and advertising hooks. I came up with the idea of “Help Wanted” as a title and I liked it a lot. I stopped at Laksehore one day and I was thrilled to see so many colorful options for alphabets and library card pockets. I love pretty things, and nothing helps to motivate kids more than a bright, colorful space (filled with money). I picked out a set of each and a set of adhesive squares to cut up for adhering my letters to the door without taking off any paint. The pockets were self-adhesive. I had some white labels at home that I could use to label the pockets. At the dollar store I grabbed a set of several hundred colored paperclips and I was happy to see that each of my kids’ favorite colors were represented in the pack. Ultra-convenient.

Just before I cashed my August paycheck, I set up our new allowance system, piquing everyone's interest here at home.

Just before I cashed my August paycheck, I set up our new allowance system, piquing everyone’s interest here at home.

One August day, just before school started, and just before I cashed my check, I began to set up my door. The kids helped me punch out letters, but they had no idea what they would be spelling out, at first. I put my “Help Wanted” sign at the top and started by putting my six pockets there for the kids’ weekly chores. Those pockets would be filled (and hopefully emptied) once per week. They were instantly excited.

Then, I added a new section. The alphabet set had an “#” sign, so I thought that was incredibly cute and I used it for my next section: “#Freemoney$” which I hoped would encourage some extra jobs to be done and would let the kids work extra hard if they were saving for something big. I included things that were only seasonal, things I knew wouldn’t take place every week, but I also included things I knew they could truly do at least one time each month. These pockets were filled once to start, but would only be re-filled once they were emptied. The snow shoveling job won’t be done for a long, long time, but yet the leaf raking job might get done next month.

The kids were really on board now, and the pockets weren’t even filled with money yet, nor would they be for another whole week until I got paid myself. This would let them really get pumped up before the money went in, and then they’d have another week until they could take money out; they’d have to complete their weekly jobs first. Looking at my door display however, they saw jobs that weren’t there that they thought I could add on as challenges. There was an “@” sign in the alphabet pack too, so we set up an “@Challenges” section and added in those jobs too. To me, they were similar to the Free money jobs, but I wanted the kids to be invested and involved so I let them create this extra section themselves.

3a

I had to admit, I was in love with my allowance system display and I couldn't wait to see if it worked or not. The kids thought for sure that they were about to be rich.

I had to admit, I was in love with my allowance system display and I couldn’t wait to see if it worked or not. The kids thought for sure that they were about to be rich.

The following week, I cashed my check, counted out $3 per pocket-one dollar per child per pocket- and figured out how much extra I needed to refill the Help Wanted section each week, and then I began to fill the pockets.

In order to address the issue I’d previously had with never knowing who had taken their allowance and whose was still left in the envelope at the end of the month, I used the paperclips. Each child had a color: pink, green or purple. Their color was on their dollar for every job. If they did their job that week consistently, at the end of the week they could take their dollar out of the pocket, remove their paperclip and leave it back on the pocket for me to use the following week when I refilled the jobs. If they did one of the free money or challenge jobs that month they could also remove those dollars and leave their clips. I had worked it so that if they did a particular job that week (like dusting, vacuuming or washing windows for example) they then had to do a different one the following week so that everyone had a turn to earn a dollar doing each job once a month. This would alleviate any arguing as to who had to dust last time or who got off easy by only having to wash the dog’s nose marks off the windows and door; everyone would easily be able to see who’s clip was on the pocket and who still had options to earn an extra dollar.

I'd call the first week a success! I hope that it continues on just as successfully!

I’d call the first week a success! I hope that it continues on just as successfully!

At the end of the first week, they couldn’t wait to take their earned money out of their pockets. Although one of the weekly jobs was putting away their baskets of laundry, only one child’s laundry had come through in the first week, so only she got her dollar, but the next two kids’ baskets will come through in the second week and they’ll get to take theirs, assuming they actually do put it away. If they don’t, the money will sit there until they do, and then they’re welcome to take it.

It’s only been a week, but I love this new system. Once it is set up, it’s easy to see who has earned what, and who can take what, who can’t take a portion of their money that week, and who forgot to pay themselves. It’s easy for someone to set an earning goal and then find ways to meet that goal by doing extra work around the house, and it’s a nice feeling to know that every so often someone will willingly wash a car, wash the floor or help out with raking leaves or shoveling snow. In teaching terms, it’s easy to give no credit, partial credit, full credit and extra credit. I even have one pocket left in case I think of an extra job. Last week we had little cousins in from out of town and I knew they’d be awestruck to see a closet door full of dollars, so I put their names on a post-it note on the extra pocket, and put in a dollar for each of them to take home, as a bonus from us.

As I said above, not everyone’s philosophy for allowance is the same, but for our family allowance is a vital part of learning financial literacy, and it works for us. I am hopeful that this new system will continue to motivate and reward our kids for a job well done, and I hope that it will alleviate some of the management issues we had previously. Our kids know too, if I don’t work for any reason, I don’t get paid, which means they don’t get paid either, since my job pays their allowance and all their extra-curricular activities. We talked about that at the start, and they know that if something should happen and I lose my income and they lose theirs, their weekly jobs still get done, because ultimately we are truly a team and we do all pitch in to get the jobs done. That’s what being a family is all about.