Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wednesday Photo Essay One Day Late!

Last Wednesday evening, tragedy rocked one of my favorite and most frequented cities - Historic Charleston, SC. 

It's been a long, emotional week for most of us here. Hearts are heavy.

It's also been exceedingly hot. Each day my phone has buzzed several times with special weather statements basically warning everyone not to spend more than a few minutes outdoors during peak hours when heat is the highest. I have coffee and study on the patio each morning then I'm basically indoors until late evening.There's plenty to do inside, but I'm a bit jealous of my Northern friends who are making the most of warm summer temperatures and spending pleasant days outside enjoying the sun. And I'm jealous of anyone who needs a sweater in the evenings in June. That's my kind of climate, warm in afternoons but sweaters needed in morning and evenings!

However, I've managed a bit of time outdoors, working in the garden, long evening walks, visiting the pool, and enjoying our beloved woods, which are always shady and cool! Here are a few images from the week!

A neighborhood kitty! Love this guy and how he strolls around like a boss!
On Father's Day, I prepared all the sides and two desserts, including a Kentucky Butter cake, which is hardly vegan but becoming a much-requested item from my family members! You can find the recipe here. Isn't it lovely? I love about anything I can make in my bundt pan!

My contributions to the Father's Day family feast, loaded up and ready to go!

And I apologize in advance to all of my feminist sisters, but on these long, miserably hot days, I'm quite content being barefoot in the kitchen! This berry pie is a fan favorite here in my household, though I'm still mastering the art of the perfect homemade pie crust! I learned to make this five years ago when I spent the summer with friends in Finland. Every time I get homesick for Scandinavia, which is pretty often, I whip up one of these! I await the day I can buy frozen Ligonberries in the US...until then, it's blueberries, strawberries, and/or raspberries, or in the case of this particular pie, all of the above!

And while we're in the kitchen, I'll end this post with a simple pleasure - I was thrilled to find these lovely white eggplants imported from Holland at a local market. I'd never seen a white eggplant before and I can't wait to make chips out of this guy later tonight!

I hope you can forgive the not-so-nature-centered photos in this post. Now, I think I need to go downstairs, where there are four children playing hide-and-seek and being a bit too quiet! See you Sunday!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Please Don't Tell Me Happy Father's Day...

I am a Mother. I am also the sole homemaker and sole breadwinner, roles shared by married/cohabiting parents. In addition, I am not only my son's primary caregiver, I am his only caregiver.

I am not, however, his father. 

While I understand the logic and sentiment behind images like this one, I don't agree with them. My son has a father. His father is who and how he is, and my son understands this. And while his father is not involved enough in his life to show him how to be an amazing dad one day, he certainly serves to show my son how one totally bungles up the special privilege of being a dad. He accepts his father as he is and the minor role that he plays in our lives. He knows that two parents are the ideal and he knows that that I am not both his mother and father. I am only his mother, a role that is sacred and special. I don't consider myself performing the job of two parents because I simply do what I do, as I have done it every day since he's been born.

Does this make me somehow more impressive or worthy of acclaim than married moms or moms who share custody and parental responsibilities? I don't think so. This is simply my experience, an experience I chose in many ways. My son's father never really hid who he was; in other words, he didn't exactly shout out 'good father material' when we were dating. I knew early into my pregnancy that I was in it on my own, and I accepted that.

Ten and half years later, it is all I know. My only parenting experience is doing it solo, and while I have made mistakes along the way, as we all do, my son is an amazing young man who has a deep love for others, compassion for the less fortunate and a strong sense of fairness and social justice. He willingly gives his time to help others and loves service, something very important to me as both a mother and a person. He overcame a severe speech disorder and the accompanying reading challenges that it presented and is now thriving. Other children ring my doorbell almost incessantly to play with him during weekends and school breaks, so I think socially, he's also doing pretty well. Recently he became a vegetarian, a choice he made on his own and has held strong to because he believes it's a kinder lifestyle and better for the environment. I'm able to provide him the things that he needs and some of the things that he wants, for which I am so grateful. He's growing up to be confident, independent and strong.

Does any aspect of this make me a bad-a**? I don't know about that, but I do know none of the things I've done for my son over the past ten and a half years have made me a father. So please don't tell me Happy Father's Day, because  I'm a mother. Maybe a bad-a** mother - that's a matter of opinion - but a mother all the same. So today is not my day. Don't focus attention on me; show some love to all the wonderful fathers out there who are making a difference in the lives of their children, step-children, and grandchildren every day, just by doing what they do. 

Because they are out there. They matter.

And they're pretty bad a**, too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wednesday Photo Essay + A Visit to Sans Souci Community Garden

Most of my mornings start like this...

Which is perfectly okay! Only a few more weeks and I'm least until September! Rising early to it all done before the day begins works for me, and also allows for a bit of time outside before the extreme heat of Southern summer kicks in. I call it the eight-to-six rule, meaning from about eight in the morning until six in the evening, it's not very pleasant to be outdoors.

This doesn't mean we don't make the effort, though! Here are a few images from this week's explorations!

"Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder." 
- E.B. White

And a walk about the garden earlier this week proved to be delightful! Tiny tomatoes, bell peppers and spaghetti squash. I am never without the belief that it's all utterly amazing, a miracle.

And lastly, a wonderful visit to the Sans Souci Community Garden in Greenville. This garden has been a tremendous source of inspiration to me for many years, and I was thrilled to be able to finally see it in person.

I was also thrilled to visit the Haywood Mall while in Greenville, but we won't discuss that!

I hope you are enjoying these photo essay mini-posts! You can follow Sans Souci Community Garden on Facebook, and I recommend dropping by if you live in or near the area. Lots of awesome stuff happening there!

Now we're heading off for some skating fun! See you Sunday!


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Children and Minimalism - Yes, You Can!

I've followed the blog ZenHabits for quite a while now, and am always inspired by the simple, concise message of Leo Baubata's posts (crossing fingers to interview him here on the blog eventually; we had a plan back in fall but could never get it coordinated.) One of my favorite topics are his posts on minimalism. Children and minimalism, keeping a simple home with kids, raising minimalist teenagers in an age of consumerism, and so much more. And before I proceed, I'm gonna take a moment and explore that word, minimalism. Many people believe a minimalist lifestyle means making a monk-like commitment to shucking off all material things and living like a pauper.

And that's not true. Minimalism as a lifestyle is simply about living more while spending and acquiring less.

Less stuff means less money spent on stuff. Which can mean less time working. More time to have experiences. Enjoy moments. I'm personally all for working less, but that's just me. Taking the summer off  (with the exception of freelancing) has been a good reminder to me about how important simple living is to us. One week off, and I feel like a new person.

Minimalism works for us because makes our lives easier, bottom line. We have a small space. We live on one income - mine. Too much needless stuff would lead to clutter and frustration, and the pressure to buy a lot of needless stuff would lead to debt and possible financial crisis. No thanks. In order to teach this as a core value, however, I needed to be the lesson. I would have to embody the practice of minimalism in my own life, which isn't always easy, because I like stuff. We all do. But like so many things in life, acquiring stuff is a habit, and habits can be changed.

Books like the one below, which talks about minimalism from a spiritual perspective, were very helpful to me. I totally recommend this one, Almost Amish by Nancy Sleeth. 

Minimalism is good for the wallet, the home, the soul and the environment, but it can be tricky to some families. Often people say their children are the reason they can't lead a simpler life. Here are some things I do and have taught my son to do that work very well to keep us in balance.

1. Have a place for everything, or it has no place in your space. If we have nowhere to put something, it can not come home with us. Bottom line. This also works for duplicate or almost-just-like-something-we-already-have things. If there is a plan to purchase something, then something needs to be relinquished to make room for the new thing. We do this for clothes, books and toys, too. If something new comes in, something old goes out. No excuses.

2. Teach financial smarts from an early age.Though it isn't the most exciting way to spend a Saturday morning, I often have my son sit with me while I do our monthly budget. How much money I make is no secret, nor is the amount of monthly expenses we have. I divide the remaining balance by the number of weeks left until the next payday so there is a clear understanding as to how much money can be spent in a week. For older children like my son, this really helps put into perspective why it's important not to be too in-the-moment when it comes to spending, and it also teaches valuable money management skills.

3. Turn off the television. Many children ask for things they would never know existed if it weren't for the constant barrage of commercial advertising. There are numerous reasons to limit a child's exposure to television; this is just one.

4. Keep birthday and holiday gift-giving simple and encourage family members to respect this. My son's Christmas wish list is limited to 10 items. We especially honor the rule about new things coming in and old things going out during these times. With small rooms and small spaces, it would be very easy for our home to become jumbled and cluttered if we didn't restrict what can come in. I also stress consumables at Christmas - gift cards to restaurants we enjoy, the movie theatre, etc. These save us money and make for very enjoyable outings. This year we received 4 nice gift cards and it was wonderful!

5. Teach your child to enjoy space in the home by streamlining as much as you can. A bookshelf with just a few items. A wall with space to rest the eyes. Clean lines in decor. White on white. Simple. While this may not be your decorating tastes, it makes the chores of tending house a lot less time consuming if there is less to be picked up, sorted, and arranged to begin with. Children's spaces should not be busy, but peaceful. My son has a couple of toy buckets that slide under the bed, making cleaning up a cinch for him. When the bookshelves get too filled, and they often do around here, we purge and donate to the library or trade them in at a local used book store. He has one 'working' table where he can leave out Legos and projects he's in the middle of.

6. Teach gratitude for what you already have through service to others. My son and I volunteer at our local soup kitchen, and I can't think of a better lesson against over-consumerism than serving those less fortunate. It's humbling beyond measure. If your child/children is old enough, please reach out and volunteer somewhere with them. It's truly a life-changing experience.

7. Buy quality, not quantity. How many pairs of shoes does my child actually need? No matter how many he has, he will choose one favorite and never touch the others. I learned this early on! So now, he has one nice pair of sneakers, a nice pair of non-sneakers for dressier occasions, and Crocs/flip flops for summer play and leisure. That's it. Three pair of quality shoes that will last a few seasons (or until his foot grows) and not require a ton of space. I also use this approach with coats and jackets, or anything that, really, my son doesn't really need 5 of. Buying quality also teaches him to take care of what he has. I invested in a really nice jacket for him this fall in a mall shop, and he took special pains to ensure it was hung up properly and always changed out of it before playing because he understood it was a nicer garment than the hoodie he wears for outside play.

7. Utilize the movie rental services and your local library. We love Netflix, the RedBox, and our library! Why? Because we can enjoy them and they don't take up space! RedBox movie rentals and library books go back, and Netflix of course is streamlined through the computer so we don't need to purchase an actual film. Probably not very good for the book/movie consumer market, no, but it works for our home and budget!

8. Lead by example. While shopping one Saturday a few years back, I came across a pair of blue wedges on sale that, oh my, were just too cute. However, as I was trying them on, my son reminded me that I already had a pair of blue shoes. Although these were deeply discounted and not really that similar to the pair I had at home, I recognized that this was a teaching moment and I needed to walk the walk if I were going to talk the talk. As much as I wanted the shoes (and I admit, clothes and shoes can be my weakness. And yarn.) I put them back on the shelf and thanked my son for the reminder.

9. Explain to children the subtle reasoning that often lurks behind desiring more and more stuff. "Kids just want a lot of stuff sometime so they can impress other kids and make them like them or they think they need it to be happy." Those were my son's words this morning when I told him the subject of this post. While this may be a more difficult concept to instill, the idea that having a lot of material possessions will impress others or make them like you or make you happier doesn't begin in adulthood, it starts in childhood. One of the most important lessons I feel that we can teach our children is that this is a hollow pursuit; we should never equated our personal worth or success in life with how much stuff we have. As he has matured, this makes more sense and he can also understand better why, when he goes to the home of a child who has a gazillion things, he should not feel that he is missing out or deprived of anything. Everyone is different and families have different priorities; ours just isn't material things. I've also let him watch the short video, The Story of Stuff. Priceless.

9. Give children experiences with money and earning money. On vacations, my son has a set amount of budget for souvenirs. When it is gone, it's gone. He understands this and is very careful with his spending - often he doesn't even spend it at all! In addition, he get opportunities to earn money by doing small jobs like weeding a neighbor's walk, helping my parents with things around their home, etc. For big ticket items, like the $110 Hobbit Lego set he's currently working towards, I generally tell him I'll meet him halfway, meaning if he can earn half, I'll put in the other. Currently, he has about $35 saved up towards the Lego set. This keeps me from having heart failure every time I open my credit cards statements, too. It's natural to want to give your children the things they desire, but it's so important to teach them to work for what they want, not simply to ask and expect.

10. Don't forget the spiritual aspect of it all. Whatever your faith, most do not preach that the acquisition of possessions is a path to happiness; it's just the opposite. A simpler life is not at all about doing without; that's the mindset many people have which turns them against the idea of minimalism. It's about having more quality to life and less quantity of things. The spiritual aspect can help reinforce that this is a lifestyle choice that's important to you and your family for deeper reasons than the budget or space in the home.

I also find a lot of inspiration from books and websites showcasing Scandinavian homes and design. My love of that region makes me a bit biased, but man, when it comes to beautiful minimalist homes, they've just got it nailed across the pond! Check out this blog by a London Designer living in Sweden to see how beautiful minimalism can be!

Now, I'm off to enjoy this beautiful Sunday morning by interviewing a race car driver for a freelance magazine assignment. Not too shabby!

Happy Sunday!


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesday Photo Essays - a mini post plan

After last week's unintended blog break, I promised to return with a post on raising happy minimalists - in other words, a child or children who find more joy in moments and experiences than things. And that post is coming over the weekend; it's a subject near and dear to my heart. In the meantime, I'm sharing a few photos from yesterday's post-summer-storm-deluge stroll with a friend around the grounds where I live. It's no secret what I'm in search of on these walks....


I don't know why or when or how I became so obsessed with fungi, but my phone is filled with images like this. I think they are so magical! This little mushroom village in the above picture was almost too much for me to stand......then I found this wee red-capped one. Oh my golly gosh!

Then we came across the twins here...

And this little guy at the base of the big oak tree...

Nature is so fascinating and amazing, and I love photographing it. I feel so grateful that there is no need to drive to another area, town, or state to do this; there is breathtaking beauty right outside my front door. Each Wednesday this summer, I plan to do a mini-post showcasing some of the natural beauty that we are surrounded by, including wild beauty, which I believe sometimes is the best of all.

My friend and I rounded out our mushroom-hunting stroll yesterday evening with a stop by the garden to pick a fresh spring bouquet for the kitchen table (the produce is from our local farmer's market; it will be a few more weeks before we can harvest our eggplant and sweet potatoes!)

Even though this is an indoor shot, I'm counting it as a nature photo and throwing it into the mix! I'll be back next Wednesday with more nature photos, and I'll try and keep the mushrooms to a minimum! Look for my post on children and minimalism Sunday!

Happy Wednesday all, and thanks for stopping by!