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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: What’s the objective?

9 Mar
Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it's just me?

Sometimes I assume everyone has a mental check list, but maybe it’s just me?

I had lunch with a friend a month or so ago, and we were talking about things in life, big and little, that we wanted to be sure we taught our kids while we had them here with us, life skills to impart on them before they venture out into the world as independent citizens.

The conversation reminded me of a blog post I’d read somewhere along the way where a mother was writing to her daughter at the “halfway point” of being about 10 years old. The writer talked about how so far, many of the things on her list of things to teach her daughter had been developmental, like how to tie her shoes, how to ride a bike, things like that, and how now that she was turning ten and beginning a new phase in her life, it was time to shift the list and be sure to teach her other important things.

It got me thinking of how I’m semi-obsessed with that concept myself. And, I say “semi,” but I might actually mean “totally and completely,” but take it as you will.

As a student teacher, we learned to write our lesson plans so that they always had an objective. As time went on, it became common practice to even post the student learning objectives in the classroom for each lesson, so that the students (and anyone visiting the room) knew what they should have learned by the end of the lesson: at the end of the lesson, all students will…..be able to write their first and last name…..be able to identify and sort the odd and even numbers…be able to understand and analyze the reasons for the American Revolution….. and so on and so forth. The student learning objectives change and get more difficult as the students move through their education. What they need to know gets harder and what they need to do with that learning in terms of studying and applying what they’ve learned to real life, gets harder too. Sometimes lessons are on-going and build on skills previously learned. They don’t learn it and leave it behind, they take what they’ve learned with them and use it for the next thing.

I think that life as a parent is just like that. Having objectives for your lessons gave you clarity in why you were doing what you were doing in the classroom, and I think that raising kids is the same way. I just naturally assume that everyone drives around and walks around thinking constantly about their objectives and whether or not they’ve been met, just as I do: at the end of 18 years, my children will know how to and understand the importance of:   choosing a healthy snack, utilizing appropriate portion sizes, making pancakes from scratch, creating a meal plan and grocery list, looking at unit prices to get the best deal, using coupons to extend their savings even further, sorting their own laundry and having a good system for how to put it away, doing dishes, budgeting their spending, having financial goals, making a hard decision (and having to say no to things they really want, at times, but feeling extra good when they’ve worked hard for something and can say yes), sacrificing something for the good of someone else, choosing a good fit for their spiritual community, volunteering their time for the good of the whole community…..and so on and so forth.

Sometimes our objectives are something minor and physical, like tying shoes, or making pancakes, and other times they’re really big, like some of the deep dinner table discussions we’ve had to have with our kids, the examples we try to set for them as role models, emphasizing for them our morals and values, but at the end, I always make a check mark on my mental list, as if to say, “Okay, she’s got that down. I’ve done my job, as parents we’ve done what we’re supposed to do by teaching this really hard lesson, by modeling this life skill. She’ll be okay when she’s on her own.”

And then I move on to the next thing. My list is ever-growing as life is ever-changing.

I’m constantly retrieving memories from the back of my brain as to things I had to know when I was on my own. I remember being the only one who knew how to make a ham and cheese omelet (thank you Grandpa Grello) and I remember not knowing that I had a flat tire, and driving all the way from home to work and getting that really angry phone call when I arrived there (sorry Dad), and I think in my head of all the wisdom both literal, practical, and the more big-picture, that we need to impart on our kids: Don’t be afraid to try something new, have good manners, love and respect the elderly, it’s okay to lose, always try again, you can do anything…and can they tell time on an analog clock, can they count back change, do they know to use different measuring cups for liquids and solids??

See what I mean? I’m constantly, constantly thinking and checking.

(And I still recently drove on a flat tire, having no idea it was flat, so I’m not sure how good a job I’m doing in teaching that skill to my kids.)

Recently our first-ever female governor announced an essay contest she was running, and only my middle daughter is eligible to enter it. She’s someone who’s always willing to put herself out there and take a risk. She enters things, tries for things, but doesn’t always see the success at the end that her other sisters who’ve entered and won various big deal things, have seen. At bedtime one night she said to me, “In the contest rules the governor wrote that she often tells her daughters that they can do anything, and that’s just like you always tell us.”

As I leaned over and kissed my middle girl goodnight, I made a mental check mark on my list.

Objective met.

 

 

Monday Musings: Where’s the page in the books for *that*??

13 Oct
Don't bother looking it up, it's not going to be in there. Skip the Google search.

Don’t bother looking it up, it’s not going to be in there. Skip the Google search.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1:  How to decide whether or not to send your children to school during a targeted terror threat to their school……….. Page ????

Chapter 2: How to handle the fear and anxiety that has now consumed your household……Page ?????

*******************************************************************************************************

Did you ever just have one of those really bad days? The kind of day where nothing seems to go right, the kind of day that’s taking place in an already bad week?

I think we all have.

Last Tuesday was that day for me. I’ve been sick, we’ve all been fighting something as the season changes. I was tired, and it just seemed like it was one little thing after the next, all little inconveniences and annoyances all day long on my deadline day, exhausting me. I had a long night ahead too, as it was going to be a late night for my husband as well, due to a night time event at school.

It was our anniversary to boot, 19 years.

Earlier that week, I’d turned down an invitation to a home party at a friend’s for that night, stating at the time that I couldn’t attend because we have a rule here, given the fact that we both have night time obligations for our jobs: whenever one of us is out for work at night, the other of us is in, unless there’s an unusual exception, like a wake. One of us is always here to be “the one” running homework, dinner, showers, drop off and pick up at after school activities, sports and events. So since he’d be out on this night, I’d be in.

I’m incredibly glad we have that rule.

3:00 pm

That afternoon, I picked up my younger kids at school, and just before they exited the building, I received some very sad news. Another parent, the parent of one of my kids’ classmates, had passed away unexpectedly and tragically in an accident, just the day before. I was stunned, and I had a pit in my stomach knowing I’d have to tell my middle daughter, to tell all of them, when we got home before it got out on social media and she heard it from someone other than me.

I cried as I told her, but I was thankful that it was me telling her, thankful I was there after school to be “the one.”

“That was awful,” I thought to myself, as I drove her to her after school activity later on. My mind was overrun with thoughts of her friend’s mom, a mother of three boys, similar in ages to my three girls, and what she must be going through right then, reeling from the unexpected death of her husband. I was devastated for her.

I dropped my daughter off and ran to the store to pick up a couple of quick things: yogurt, some rice pudding cups (my guilty ‘processed food treat’ for those late nights of typing on a deadline) and juice. I’d only be gone from home about 30 minutes total and my oldest was there doing homework with my youngest at the dining room table, more than capable of holding down the fort while I ran out.

In line at the register, my phone rang. “Home” it said, as I was swiping my card. I picked up. “Let me call you right back, I’m paying,” I said quickly. “Um….okay,” I heard her say.

I wondered what was up. Homework issue, I figured.

I walked out of the store, my bag under my arm as I dialed again, calling her back.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Something’s going on,” she said. “We got a call. I didn’t pick up but it played out loud on the machine. The superintendent of schools was on the line. I tried to cover Alex’s ears once I realized what they were saying, but it was too late.”

I was confused. This wasn’t what I’d been expecting her to say and I wasn’t processing all of of it. I heard her say things like threat, and danger and elementary schools, and name our city and the other two cities nearby, which are coincidentally two out of three cities in which I cover all of the school news for the city newspapers. I was trying not to panic as I tried to figure out what was going on.

For a split second, I felt that same fear I’d felt on 9/11 when I was far away from my daughter while at work, as the towers were hit, and I couldn’t get to her. I had that moment of panic come right back to me, a feeling I’d never wanted to feel again, and yet here it was, bubbling up inside of me. Luckily I was minutes away. I could be there almost instantly to see what was going on.

I quickly used my phone to get on the internet to see if I could make heads or tails of what had happened. Everyone was posting on social media that they’d gotten the same robo call. Panic was setting in everywhere, everyone was reacting to the news.

Essentially the news was this:

Someone had sent a letter to the police department of one of our neighboring cities threatening danger and harm at the elementary schools in that city, our city, and our other neighboring city sometime over the next three days. (That’s more than 25 elementary schools. There’s 17 in our city alone.) The police department had shared the letter with the authorities in the other two cities and the authorities had let the schools know, the school department was letting us know. We weren’t told exactly what the threat of harm was specifically, but it was enough of a “physical threat” that they were reacting big time and taking the threat quite seriously. Police would be dispatched to all of our schools in all three cities for the next three days. School would remain in session. You can click here to see the news.

4:30 pm

This was turning into a really, incredibly, very bad day.

I got home, my rice pudding had now exploded in my bag. Seeing that, I truly wanted to cry. I listened to the message on our answering machine myself, hearing all the things my daughter had told me, all the things I’d read online. Threat, physical harm, danger, police, security. Three days. The words all jumped out at me.

Social media was on over-drive. My oldest daughter, brand new this year to her open campus, five building high school, was getting messages, as was I.
“What do we do? Do we go to school tomorrow?” she asked me, panicked. “If something happens there, I don’t know what to do, where to go. We’ve only had one lock down drill in one class. I’d be all alone, while they would be together,” she said. By “they,” she meant her two sisters, together on the same hallway at their school.

“I don’t know,” I said.

There are no rules for situations like this. You're making them up as you go along.

There are no rules for situations like this. You’re making them up as you go along.

I messaged my husband, an elementary principal at a nearby school district not one of the three on the target list. “Please call me,” I said.

I gave him the low-down when he called. He had no idea yet that this was going on, but soon it’d be affecting his job in his school district as well, as fear began to set in across the state.

We spoke briefly, agreeing to wait to see how things transpired through the evening before deciding what to do about school the next day. By the time he was due home later on, we might know more.

I ran to get my daughter where I’d dropped her two hours earlier, shortly after giving her the terrible news about her classmate’s dad at 3pm. I knew I’d now have to tell her this news as well. Her sisters knew, it was all over social media, she’d get a message or text, I was sure of it.

And then it hit me, “WHERE in the parenting books is THIS page? Where does it tell you how to deal with THIS situation?”

I called my mother on the way to get my daughter.

“I’m having a really bad day,” I said, near tears.

6:00 pm

My daughter and I exited the building and got into the car. I thought of the best way to give her this news. At school that same day, she’d been stressed over the recent changes to the lunch and recess schedules which were new, due to incorporating hand washing and the dispensing of Purell before and after because of the recent deaths in our state and a nearby state due to the Enterovirus D68. They’d been hearing all about the Ebola outbreaks in the news. I’d just delivered some other tough news at 3:00 about her friend’s dad, I knew this could potentially put her over the edge.

When I told her, she gasped.

“Why? Why would someone do that? What kind of harm? What did they say they’re going to do? Where?” she said, grappling with the news.

“I don’t know,” was really all I could say.

For the next three hours, my head hurt as I tried to go about the normalcy of our day, making and serving dinner, answering homework questions, and cleaning up after dinner. I fielded questions to which I had no answers and tried to keep their panic at bay, all the while trying to think in my head what the best thing was to do for the next day as I waited for my husband to walk through the door so we could finally talk things through together.

Our phone rang. Had I heard the news? What was our family going to do? What did I think others should do?
“I don’t know,” I just kept saying, over and over.

I watched the hundreds of responses posting on Facebook as moms and dads were at their own houses struggling with the same issues: to tell their kids or not. How much to tell? Send them to school or not? If not, for how many days? This threat was spread over three days’ time. Do we keep them home for three days? How do you transition a kid back to school after an event like this has transpired? We heard from a mom in Newtown, CT., from Sandy Hook Elementary School, who passed along her compassion and empathy as a parent who knew exactly what we were going through, and then some.

And again I wondered, where is the instruction manual for things like this? What page in the dozens of parenting books I’d had as a new mom does this topic appear on?

It doesn’t.

We have a sign in our house over the front door. It’s the last thing you see as you step out, and it says, “Home is where your story begins.”  It’s a sign I’ve always loved because in my head, I picture all of the wonderful things we do as a family, the story we write as a family and all of the memories we make together before stepping out the door each day to write our own stories as individuals.

But today…today I think it has even more meaning than that. I think it’s more than just the happy, wonderful family memories that we create. I think our family’s story includes the pages we write together in our own rule book, our own parenting guide. It’s the things we encounter, conquer and the previously unwritten rules that we write as a family unit.

Last week, every family had to make their own decisions as to what was best for their kids, how to have these tough conversations and make these tough decisions. There was no right or wrong answer and no rule book or parenting manual to help us. We had to rely on what we knew for information and what we knew about our own children, in order to make the best decisions for them. We were told by our elementary principal that every decision made was the right one, and he was right.

We just had to come up with our decision.

9:00 pm

Finally, finally, finally, my husband arrived home. My middle daughter almost jumped out of her skin when our front door opened. I reassured her that it was okay, it was just her dad coming home. We talked it out and made our decision together.

Ultimately, we opted to keep them home for the day. Although statistically and logically we knew the chances of anything happening were probably slim, we didn’t have a ton of information or really any reassurances that all was safe and well, and at the time, we didn’t know what specifically had been threatened, although we do now. But, more than that, we looked at our kids and into their eyes. We saw the fear, the panic and the stress. We saw how they looked at us, begging and pleading not to make them go. We weighed out whether throwing them out there into an uncertain situation was worth the risk of traumatizing them further. It wasn’t. To have them be one of three kids in class that next day, or the only kids on the empty bus that next day, to make them struggle through a day of fear and anxiety while they watched movies and played games all day at school, just to prove a point (what point?) was not worth any added trauma and anxiety for them or for us. Instead, we opted to give them a day to take the edge off, to relax, to breathe a little easier knowing they were safe and secure at home with me.

I felt my middle daughter’s body shake as she cried herself to sleep that night as I lay next to her at her request, something I rarely have to do anymore, and I knew we’d made the right decision. On Friday, when I picked up my younger two girls at school, I saw the complete and utter exhaustion on the faces of the teachers, as the emotional strain of the week showed through, and even then, as I saw the effect of the past four  days on the adults, I again knew we had made the right decision for our children. My heart swelled with gratitude for those teachers who came to school for our kids every day last week, putting aside their own safety and the well-being of their own families in order to be there for our children because that’s what was best for our kids.

With no rule book to guide any of us, our family has written a new page in our family story. It wasn’t a page I ever wanted to write or a page I ever want to write again, but there it is.

I’ll be glad to be able to close the book on this chapter. I know our book will be full of good pages and bad, happy chapters and sad. This isn’t over, I know that, and these awful things are part of the world we live in, whether it’s a school, movie theater, mall, airport or restaurant. I get that too. I guess ultimately, as long as we’re all here writing our story together, I think that’s all that matters.

Our story, every page and every chapter, is written by us together.

Our story, every page and every chapter, is written by us as a family, together. It’s our own rule book and parenting guide.