27 April 2012

Earth Day Reading Fun

In a post for this past Sunday's Earth Day Carnival I shared a few things we do around here to encourage our children to respect the earth. Today I'm writing about one more way we foster this interest: reading books. (Because we love a good book party around here.)

Following are three children's books about caring for the planet we have truly enjoyed:

La Nostra Amica Terra by the Walt Disney Company, Italia
Our Friend the Earth (I couldn't find a link to an English version) is one of our Italian storybooks. Topolino and company, including the quirky Professore De Paperis (Professor Von Drake) discuss various ways they help to conserve water, energy, and resources. Clarabelle Cow carries reusable shopping bags. Minnie makes sure the water is turned off when she brushes her teeth. Daisy Duck takes her bicycle instead of riding in the car. A cute story with relatable characters that reinforces some basic environmental principles.

Agent A loves book time, too
Charlie and Lola: We Are Extremely Very Good Recyclers by Lauren Child 
We love Charlie and Lola around here; this is one of our new library finds. (Confession: I find it really difficult to hold back a fake British accent when reading this book aloud.) Lola doesn't understand why she can't just throw away the things she doesn't need until big brother steps in with a recycling lesson, which in turn they share with their whole school.

Where Does the Garbage Go? by Paul Showers 
This was one of the many books gifted to us last month by our downstairs neighbor. It's part of the Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science series for ages 5-9. I must admit it surprised me when this became one of our new favorites . . . Agent E even "saved" it from the bookshelf in her room before the packers got to it on moving day. It covers how things "used to be," what is currently in our landfills, how new materials are made from what we recycle, and how we can avoid creating so much waste to begin with.

What earth-friendly books have you and your children found?

23 April 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: The Co-Sleeping Edition

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little BlessingsJoining up once again with Many Little Blessings for Top Ten {Tuesday}. Be sure to stop by and check out Angie's post and some of the other writers linked up.

Today I'm writing about sleep. Specifically, co-sleeping with children and the many misconceptions that surround this idea. I've included some additional resources at the bottom of this post.

1. Co-sleeping and bedsharing are not the same thing. Co-sleeping simply means sleeping in the same area/room. This could be bedsharing (i.e., on the same sleeping surface, in the same bed), but it could also be a mattress on the floor, a bassinet nearby, a co-sleeper attached to the side of the bed, or even a completely separate bed in the same room.

All three Agents sick with the flu (February 2011)
2. But it's dangerous! Um, not really. As with just about every other aspect of parenting, there's a safe way and and not-so-safe way.

3. What about sex? Yes, what about it? Sex after children is always a matter of logistics: they pretty much need to be out of the house or sound asleep. Even if your children sleep in a separate room, they would still need to be asleep. And they still might wake up and interrupt you. If you are worried about them hearing you, move somewhere else. (I don't know about yours, but our house is really super cool in that it has more than one room.)

4. Children need to sleep alone. Why? Do you like sleeping alone? Do you see many other mammals sleeping alone? Exactly what "skill" does sleeping by yourself foster?

5. But they'll never be independent. Are you really concerned about your newborn being dependent on you for comfort and security? or your toddler? or your five-year-old? Because if so, you have way bigger issues than co-sleeping vs. separate sleeping.

Sleepy Agents J and A
6. They will never want to leave your bed or your room. Never? Do you personally know many parents of co-sleeping teenagers? I didn't think so.

7. Children should not "bother" you at night. It makes my heart sad when I read articles (or friends' status updates) where folks say they are "done" parenting at the end of the day. I understand the need for everyone to rest. I understand the need to have balance and time to yourself. But, parenting is a 24-hour-a-day gig. Period. You can't put your children away in the evening and take them back out the next morning. (This is true even if you're not co-sleeping, but I thought I'd throw it out there.)

8. If baby sleeps next to mom he/she will want to nurse all night long. This one may be true. Or not. Breastfed babies who sleep right next to the "source" may nurse more at night. Or, they might feel so comfy and secure next to mom that they may sleep longer stretches without nursing. All babies are different!

9. Parents (mom especially) won't get enough sleep if the baby is in the room all night. Personally, I've found the opposite to be true. I can respond to baby's needs quickly and quietly before anyone is even fully awake. The few nights I've had to haul myself out of bed with a sick baby/toddler, who wanted to nurse sitting up or just be held upright, I thought I would about perish from exhaustion the next day.

E and J snuggled up
10. What about SIDS? The fact is, most SIDS cases occur in cribs, not in co-sleeping (or bedsharing) situations. You may also want to note that most of those "kids are safest in cribs" and "co-sleeping is dangerous" campaigns are sponsored by the Juvenile Products Manufacturer Association (JPMA) . . . as in the folks who make cribs.

Have you co-slept with your children? What has your experience been like? What would you add to this list?

22 April 2012

5 Ways We Teach Our Children To Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Welcome to the Earth Day Blog Carnival This post is part of the 2012 Earth Day Blog Carnival hosted by Child of the Nature Isle and Monkey Butt Junction. Each participant has shared their practices and insights of earth friendly, environmentally conscious, eco-living. This carnival is our way to share positive information and inspiration that can create healing for our planet. Please read to the end of this post to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. Happy Earth Day!

In honor of earth day, following are a few specific things we do around our house to reduce, reuse, and recycle the resources we use. Our children see us taking these simple steps every day. It's not anything special; it's just what we do. We also make sure to take the opportunity to talk to the Agents about why these actions are important. Even Agent A knows that certain items get put into certain bins. It's never to early to learn!

I can help with this
1. We reduce the amount of plastic bottles coming into our home. We live in an area (southern Italy) where the water quality is, um, less than stellar. Technically the water on the military base where we live has been deemed "safe" but it is still very hard water with a high mineral content and we choose to use bottled water for drinking and cooking. This, of course, is not ideal, and I wish it were not an issue at all, but alas, this is where we are. At first we were buying water in two-liter bottles. Now we have switched over to refilling containers with water from a reverse osmosis machine. It is much less expensive and we reuse the same three one-gallon jugs instead of buying new plastic bottles of water every week.

2. We shop with reusable grocery bags. We started doing this about four or five years ago, and it was such an easy switch I don't know why we didn't do it sooner. The initial cost per bag was maybe 50 cents? We lost one bag along the way, but the others have held up remarkably well. The biggest issue here is actually remembering to take them to the store! (Hint: If that's a problem, just put them back in the car after you unload groceries.) Now we also use them for transporting our giant stack of library books each week.

3. We reuse at art time. Agents E and J go through a lot of paper with the amount of coloring we do around here. Of course we always print on both sides, but beyond that we find creative ways of using materials from other sources. The round cardboard that comes out of the pizza box is great for painting. Old shoe boxes hold myriad supplies. Leftover paper the movers left lying around did not go to waste. We cut up old boxes no longer sturdy enough for reuse into small "palettes" for them to use while they paint. Toilet paper rolls become mini-telescopes or cute animal characters.

A little after dinner reading
4. We repurpose when we can. When we no longer needed the infant car seat we used for all three Agents, we figured we would take the harness out, remove the cover, and recycle the plastic base. But when we brought it inside to take care of that, Agent J immediately grabbed a book and plopped down in it. Soon she and Agent A were "fighting" over who got to sit in this new, cool lounge chair. So instead of getting rid of it we fashioned it as a little reading nook seat. Perfect for a book party.

5. We recycle paper, glass, metal, and plastic. Even with the best laid plans for reducing what comes into our home, we end up with a lot of paper products, glass bottles, and metal/plastic food containers. We are fortunate to be in an area that recycles just about everything. It saddens me when I go past trash dumpsters on base and see them overflowing with obvious recyclables. The little extra effort to bag up materials to be recycled and take them to the drop off spot is well worth it.

What do at your house to teach your children about caring for the environment?

Thank you for stopping by the 2012 Earth Day Blog Carnival! Please relax and take time to read these other great eco-living posts:
    Earth Day Blog Carnival - Child of the Nature Isle and Monkey Butt Junction
  • You are a Child of the Earth - Using the Earth as their classroom, Patti from Canadian Unschool teaches her 4 children their spiritual connection to the Earth and she accepts that loving the Earth can get really, really messy.
  • Cutting Out Paper - Jorje of Momma Jorje shares how she went from curiosity and concern to actually cutting out the use of paper towels in her household. She is proud to be "greener" as each Earth Day passes.
  • The World is Brown - Debra Ann Elliot of Words are Timeless believes in keeping the Earth green, but because so many people inhabit the Earth it is turning brown because people aren't doing their part by reducing, reusing, and recycling.
  • 7 Child And Eco Friendly Activities To Honor The Earth (Plus Some Environmental Books For Kids) - Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her favorite books that help children become more aware of the importance of respecting and caring for Mother Earth. In addition, she hosts a guest post outlining seven child and eco friendly activities to honor the earth.
  • 5 Ways We Teach Our Children To Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle - Valarie at Momma In Progress shares a few tips for encouraging young children to care for the earth.
  • Little Changes - Big Results - Meegs at A New Day talks about how sometimes it’s the little decisions and changes that can lead us to find big results, and how she's baby-stepping her way to a more environmentally conscious lifestyle.
  • Inspiring the Next Generation - aNonyMous at at Radical Ramblings hopes to inspire her daughter to live a green and sustainable lifestyle, in the same way she was inspired by her high-school science teacher, and talks about the changes her family are making towards this vision.
  • Eco-Friendly Cleansers: Safe For the Environment, Healthy For Every Body - Rebekah at Liberated Family writes about safe and natural alternatives to toxic, household cleaning products..
  • Lightening My Footprint with Cloth Nappies (Diapers) - Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares the biggest eco-choice she has made so far, and why she is so passionate about it.
  • Clutter Free for a Cause - At Living Peacefully with Children Mandy's penchant for decluttering and simple living cuts down on consumerism, taking less of a tole on the Earth.
  • Eco-Parenting: Homemade Bug Spray - Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares a homemade bug spray recipe that helps her family to enjoy the natural world while taking precautions against bug bites.
  • Let the Scales Fall From My Eyes...Just Not Too Quickly - Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about the discomfort of no longer being able to live in denial over how her choices affect the world around her.
  • Fostering Love of Earth - Justine at The Lone Home Ranger instills a love of nature in her daughters by embarking on their first backyard vegetable garden together.
  • Being in Nature - Carrie at Love Notes Mama knows that just being in nature is more than enough.
  • 5 Ways to Pass Down Environmental Values to Your Children - Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares how easy it can be to instill environmental values in your children.
  • Viva Portlandia - Amy at Anktangle writes about the place she lives and loves in: Portland. She describes the ways this green city makes it easy for her family to take care of our earth, and also the steps she's taking to further lessen her family's environmental impact.
  • Conspicuous Conservationism - Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction examines the phenomenon of eco-conscious behavior as a status symbol.
  • Time for Radical Sustainability - Terri at Child of the Nature Isle ponders how she can model a truly sustainable lifestyle for her children and raise them in a way that their environmental consciousness is as natural as breathing!
A big thank you to all of the 2012 Earth Day Blog Carnival participants!

19 April 2012

Not Perfect, and Not Trying To Be

In the past month or so, several posts have weaved in and out of my newsfeed with the same theme: the unrealistic expectations of motherhood. Variations have touched on why children need a mother who is truly present rather than a perfectionist, the oneupmanship of stay-at-home moms, and an attack on mommy bloggers for publishing idealistic portrayals of parenthood . . . as well as the typical tired mommy wars chatter.

If you believe what these writers (all women, all mothers) have to say, this generation of parents spends an awful lot of time comparing themselves to each other and coming up short.

But is it even true? Does it resonate with most women? Do moms see this kind of gibberish and honestly think I'm not good enough?

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around this. 

Let's start with the obvious: mothering is work (yes, true work), although sometimes what we do can be difficult to verbalize. However, I don't see it as a competition. Really.

To me, it doesn't matter what other mothers are cooking, knitting, tweeting, teaching, designing, or (gasp!) writing.

Tell me I'm not an anomaly for not caring to liken myself to others. I don't do wishful thinking. I don't do second-guessing. I don't do guilt.

Don't get me wrong . . . I love the dialogue. I love swapping stories. I even love commiserating at times. But I never feel inadequate reading about someone else's life. (And if I did, I would . . . wait for it . . . stop reading.)

Are there just not enough mommy bloggers who show the "real" side of parenting? And what exactly would that look like?

Anyone who pops by my blog for more than 30 seconds could not possibly have delusions that our life is perfect around here. Things I ponder in a typical post might include my woeful attempts at becoming organized, how I can prevent my toddler from falling off the couch and slamming his noggin into the tile floor, and potty training. Ooh . . . cleaning out closets, potential head injuries, and poop. 

Envious yet?

I stay home with my children because it's the best choice for our current family situation. (And in spite of the daily insanity it's actually kind of . . . fun.)

I homeschool Agent E because it works for her. (And it has all sorts of surprise benefits.)

I share our adventures on a blog because I like to write. (It's just kind of a bonus that others occasionally find what I have say relatable.)

But I certainly don't do any of those things to make someone I don't even know feel bad. I don't expect anyone to make the same choices we do, nor do I take issue with another parent's choices (assuming they are not verbally or physically abusive). 

How do you feel when you read "mommy blogs"? Amused or annoyed? Inspired or intimidated? 

This post was also shared at Connected Mom.

17 April 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Italian Vocabulary

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings Linking up again with Angie at Many Little Blessings. Stop by to check out her post and the other bloggers sharing there.

If you read Top Ten {Tuesday}: Moving On a few weeks ago, you know that we are preparing to make the move from Europe back to the United States after living in Italy for just over two years. Contrary to what I envisioned before we came here, I didn't learn much Italian during our time. However, some words and phrases will just stick with us (I think) because they are now just part of our everyday lexicon.

1. Andiamo. Let's go! Used a lot when traveling with the Agents and they start to walk at snail pace because they must investigate every. little. thing.

2. Basta. This means "enough" although depending on tone it can imply "yes, I've had enough to eat, thank you" or "alright, enough already, knock it off." I'll let you ponder how you think it might be used around here.

Senior Agents in Pisa (April 2011)
3. Bella/Bello. Beautiful, but also a standard greeting for babies and small children. Think "hey, sweetheart" or "hi there, sweetie."

4. Ciao/Ciao. Hello/goodbye. All the Italian lessons I read/completed always emphasized how casual this is, and that you should use the more formal salve/arrivederci with people you don't know, but that ended up being a bunch of hooey. Everyone uses ciao with everyone else.

5. Grazie/Prego. Thank you/you're welcome. It's just kind of automatic now. Prego is the verb for  "I pray" and it is also used to allow someone to go ahead of you in line or otherwise yield to someone else.

6. Numeri/Colori. We all know how to count. Even Julia knows some numbers in Italian, although she often gets confused and switches over to Spanish. (Thanks, Dora.) We also tend to refer to colors in Italian all the time now. They're easy and one of the first things we learned and taught the Agents.

7. Parti del Corpo. Parts of the body. Agent A is at the age that we're doing a lot of "where's your nose? where are your fingers? where are your feet?" kinds of games. He's learning both the English and Italian words. Grandpap (my dad) will have lots of fun with this when we visit this summer. (My dad's father was born in Italy, outside of Florence, and both of my grandparents knew Italian. My grandmother spoke to my dad in Italian when he was small, but stopped after he started school. He still remembers some, though, and has lots of fun hearing the Agents say what few Italian words they know.)

Momma and the Agents in Venice (August 2011)
(Note: Same matching outfits as the above photo)
8. Permesso. What you would say to someone if you were trying to get through (e.g., behind them on a crowded sidewalk) and you were being gracious. (There are other words for when you really need to get their attention and being polite is not a consideration, but this is a nice blog so we won't go there.)

9. Topolino. In most parts of the world, Mickey Mouse is just Mickey Mouse. In Arabic and French, he's Mickey. In Polish and Turkish, he's Miki. Germans and Russians both refer to him as Mikki Maus. Yet, in Italy he is Topolino, which literally means "little mouse." No doubt, La Casa di Topolino (book and TV version) will continue to be a favorite at our home. (And at least one Senior Agent is bound to say, "Ciao, Topolino!" when we pose for photos on our trip to Disney this summer.)

10. Va bene. The Italian "it's all good!" Used in place of it's fine, that works, no problem, whatever.

13 April 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (28)

Time again for Quick Takes Friday. I skipped last week, and I can't for the life of me remember why, although it may have been sleeping-in related (I actually slept until 7:00 or later—gasp!—a few days last week. Since I usually do most of my writing prior to the Agents waking up, this didn't leave me a lot of time.)

Please remember to stop by and check out Jennifer's post and some of the other writers who participate.

1. I'm still kind of in awe at the amount of traveling we've done in the last two years with all those diapers.

Art time silliness
2. Somehow I managed to get on a subscription list for a certain lame mainstream magazine. I think it may have been a couple of years ago through an Amazon purchase; some super-special deal where it was either free or like $3.00 a year for three years, or something ridiculous like that. Many months I just recycle it as soon as it comes in the door, but occasionally I'll take a look just for "fun." Anyway, I have asked them not to send it to me anymore and I'm still getting them. Wow, I must be crunchier than I thought, because this publication, which supposedly offers tips, advice, and information to parents of young children, is a complete load of crap. Seriously, it sucks. In this issue, for instance, I "learned" that I should not be concerned about speech delays, but I should dress my Agents like celebrity children. (I won't even mention the embarrassing number of pages devoted to fashion.) Also, spacing my children further apart would have made them smarter, but it's okay because I can spend exorbitant amounts of cash outfitting them with the perfect bedrooms. Ooh . . . and did you know that watching your baby/child sleep (you know, when you gaze at their chest rising and falling peacefully) and picking out clothes for your four-year-old both qualify as helicopter parenting? Me neither. 

Julia "resting"
3. Okay, I admit it: I find the Old Testament kind of . . . boring. I have read Genesis, most of Psalms, Ecclesiastes, everything from Daniel on, plus a few others. Now I'm back in Matthew, starting yet another New Testament re-read. I'm using NLT, so I don't think the version is the problem, but I'm seriously glazing over here. Tell me I'm not the only one who feels this way.

4. My post from Tuesday of this week quickly became my most popular post ever. It's a little weird, because I wrote it in like ten minutes and it wasn't even super-interesting. Lesson learned: more writing, less internal editing. Do you struggle with this?

5. Agents are surviving quite well with most of their usual creature comforts gone. They haven't been sleeping great, but the borrowed beds are squishy in all the wrong places and not very cozy. But so far so good. Starting to think about what will get packed in the suitcases. Soon we'll be doing another shipment of our remaining stuff and be down to what we'll be taking on the plane with us.

Moving day craziness
6. Booked tickets this week to visit family shortly after we return to the states. The Senior Agents are very excited. I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the fact that my parents have never met Agent A. (We last saw them a few days after I took the pregnancy test, at about four weeks.)

7. On a related note, I'm never sure how the Agents will react to relatives we haven't seen in a long time. Even when we're not living on another continent we tend to only visit a few times a year at most. I never force them to interact or show affection if they are unsure or feeling uneasy. The older the girls get, however, the more quickly they come around. Not sure what Agent A will think of all of the attention. I'm guessing he'll be glued to me or Hubby to start. In general, they tend to warm up to my dad the best, because he will actually get down on the floor to play with them.

10 April 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Parenting Myths I Wish Would Go Away

Top Ten Tuesday at Many Little Blessings
Linking up again with Angie at Many Little Blessings.

Following are Ten Parenting-Related Falsehoods I really wish I would stop seeing in the media and hearing about from friends.

1. Breastfeeding is best. It's normal.

2. Circumcision is necessary for all baby boys. No major medical association recommends routine circumcision.

3. Attention can spoil a newborn. Pick up that baby and snuggle away.

4. Infants cry to manipulate their parents. Babies cry because it's the only way they have to communicate.

Nursing A on moving day . . . "still" healthy and normal
5. Breastfeeding beyond a certain arbitrary age is unnecessary or dangerous or weird. The health benefits do not magically expire.

6. One year and twenty pounds means time to face the car seat forward. Current recommendations can be found here.

7. If your child is fed, dry, and not ill, they don't "need" you at night. Comfort is a totally acceptable reason for a baby (or an older child, or a teenager) to want his parent accessible.

8. Dad must give a bottle (expressed milk or formula) to bond with the new baby. Since when is providing food the only way to foster a relationship?

9. Spanking is a form of discipline. Actually, spanking is a form of hitting.

10. Parents must demand respect from their children. If you have to "demand" it, you ain't got it.

What would you add to this list?

03 April 2012

Top Ten {Tuesday}: Moving On

Joining once again with Many Little Blessings for Top Ten {Tuesday}. Check out Angie's post and the others linked there. Have a blog? Consider participating with us; it's great fun. (If you are like me and love a good list :-)

Tomorrow the movers are coming to start packing our household goods, which means by Thursday afternoon all of our furniture, the television, all of the Agent's "big" toys, and about 70-80% of everything else we own will be crated and ready to ship to the United States. (We will not see it all again until early June.) There will be one more smaller shipment closer to our move date, so we are able to keep some things, including a selection of clothes, toys, and kitchen items, but we will be using borrowed furniture for the next two-ish months. Today's list: Ten Items Not Getting Packed Just Yet (aka, what Momma and the Agents don't want to be without without long term).

Empty cabinets are so much fun (April 2010)
1. Laptop . . . kind of a no-brainer, I guess, but this little baby will be on the plane with me. Not only do I use it multiple times a day for writing, e-mail, Facebook (ahem), and organizing photos, Agent E also plays games on it, I'm lost without my iCal, and we can watch DVDs on it.

2. Coffeepot . . . three Agents + tired Momma + slight vanilla nut creamer obsession = necessary to keep the coffee flowing as long as I can.

3. Books (for Momma) . . . my Bible plus two other books I have started. (I'm always reading a minimum of two books, usually three.)

4. Books (for the Agents) . . . we're boxing up their bookshelf and keeping out our recent windfall of books instead.

5. Television  . . . okay, I know I said we were sending the TV, and we are; they won't ship anything that large/heavy with the second shipment. However, we recently "acquired" a completely functional 21-inch TV that someone had left at the dumpster. So we get to enjoy at least six more weeks of Dora, Mickey, and Super Why. Not to mention all those extra Friday Night Campouts with movies.

Julia helping to unpack (April 2010)
6. Waffle maker . . . we are sort of addicted to homemade chocolate chip waffles around here. It's been a regular Saturday morning thing for years now, and boy will we miss it for those few weeks it's in transit.

7. Cloth diapers . . . trying to hold off as long as possible before switching over to disposables, given that we'll likely be using them for at least a month while these are in transition.

8. Other toys . . . we're also keeping an array of Agent entertainment, including a bin of "critical" stuffed animals, blocks, tons of art supplies, some musical/noisy toys, and a few random puzzles.

9. Printer . . . we use it frequently enough for homeschooling printouts (and just-for-fun coloring pages) to make it worth keeping.

I don't take up much space
10. Roomba . . . oh, beautiful little cleaning robot, how I love you!

Now our closets are pared down, the kitchen is at bare minimum levels, and organizing is in full swing. The next two days should be interesting, particularly for the Agents. They've done pretty well with helping to decide what stays and goes, and I think they'll be okay seeing their things packed up. (It's not their first time, but it's been a while.) Wish us luck.