Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Blank Canvas

My creative flows come in waves.  For months, I will delve myself into painting and then just nothing at all.  For years even, things will sit.  I may sew quilts and dresses and other things for everyone and their mother.  Then a lull.  A huge one.  I'll spend a full year writing over 12 100+ page books and then struggle to even update my blog on a weekly basis.

Besides the fact that I am sure I have some form of ADHD, I'm not really sure why this happens.  I guess there are just so many things I love to do and there is no way to do them all at once. And, to be honest, just daily life is so overwhelming for me at times.  I could spend hours each day cleaning our house.  It's consuming.  And boring and not fulfilling.

And lately, as I've been going through the motions of life and many things internally, I realize that so much of what I enjoy doing has been put on the side for way too long.  My passions, my dreams and my creative time is almost always pushed aside to make room for other things or other people.  They are very important other things and many very important people (many not!)... but I'm losing who I am in the process and in order to feel whole again, I need to get it back.

So, I'm trying - slowly - to get back into the things I love to do.  Much like writer's block, starting again with any creative activity isn't easy for me.  I look at my sewing machine or my paints and feel panic, not knowing where to begin.  And it would be so easy to just turn around and walk out of the room and do some mindless laundry instead (and my husband would be thrilled), but I am determined.  :)

Brianna and Maia have been asking for me to sew them something.  We decided that I would make them each a dress (in the same pattern and size to keep me sane).  So, last week we went and picked out the pattern and the fabric they wanted.

They were so excited helping me look and pick out everything.  I know from experience that these years with them go so fast and soon they will care less about having their mom make them something.  There is a small window of time I have with them in this way and I don't want to lose it because I have too much laundry to do.

But even with such good intentions, the materials sat and sat in my sewing room.  They were getting pulled into the creative abyss that seems to be lingering around me these last few years, but last night (partially out of guilt), I pulled it out and began cutting the pattern.

And I realized how much I really like sewing and how much I miss it.  It's just a matter of finding the will and the time to begin again.

Then there is my artwork, I miss spending hours on a piece and pouring my feelings and colors into a blank canvas.  I bought five canvases a year or so ago and they have been sitting in my art area just collecting dust.  The same art area that I envisioned being this booming art studio in my house.  There was a time that I even sold a few paintings - it was exciting and something I wanted to pursue.  Oh but life, it seems to get in the way.

So after my sewing epiphany last night, I decided that even though it felt hard to begin again, I would.  I sketched out some strange people who will soon get filled up with my feelings, emotions and some colors and God, it felt awesome.

So, I'm excited to navigate my way once again through being a mother and a wife but also a writer, an artist and the creative person that I am.

There just may be no clean clothes or dishes in my house for awhile.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nature as the Classroom

It's back-to-school time and at Little Acorn Learning, we like to see our community teaching their children outdoors!

Show us photos of your children learning in nature to inspire others to move their classrooms outside this year!  Here's the info:

This Month's  Facebook Photo Contest theme is...

*Nature as the Classroom* 
It's time for the August Facebook Photo Contest from Little Acorn Learning!!!!

This month's theme for back-to-school time is 
**Nature as the Classroom**

Our winners will receive a free e-book of their choice from Little Acorn Learning http://www.littleacornlearning.com/

How to enter to win:

-Send no more than 3 photos per family or school correlating to our theme(s) to info@littleacornlearning.com

-Include your name and written permission for Little Acorn Learning to use your photo in future publications or marketing.

-Once your photo is posted on our Facebook Page, ask family and friends to LIKE it by sharing the link.

-The photos with the most LIKES win a FREE ebook of their choice from Little Acorn Learning - we will end our contest on August 20th, 2014

Good luck!!!!
Please do not post photos on our Facebook Group Page as they get lost and do not get put in the correct album for voting. of luck!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Abundance and Letting Go : Slow Summer Series

This is one of those posts where I have so many different things to share and will struggle a bit to make it flow together ok.  Our summer has been sweet and slow.  We've enjoyed watching our garden grow and surprise us.  Different fruits and vegetables popping up each day and some traveling on vines to grow in unintended spaces.  The girls have been very good minus some sibling arguments that are to be expected.

This past week we also had two special birthdays to celebrate.  My grandmother would have been 100 years old.
She's been gone since 1995 but it was one of the most heartbreaking goodbyes of my life.  It is rare to find another soul that you connect with in the way that my grandmother and I did.  It was so easy flowing and full of so much love and kindness.  I miss her every day and crave that type of relationship in my life again. I have to admit they come few and far between, those magical connections.  I wish she were able to meet my daughters and watched my life unfold.

On her birthday, Bree asked me to go buy a balloon in my grandmother's favorite color.  Her favorite color was gold.  I always found that to be so interesting and I remember her house decorated with gold accents as a little girl.  I figured Bree wanted something to connect with so she could relate to my sadness.  But, when we got home, off she went and came back with this beautiful card and a flower.  She asked me if we could send it up to heaven.  So we did.  And, with Brianna holding my hand the entire time, we watched it for at least 30 minutes as it went higher and higher.  I swear it seemed like it really was going to her and it made me happy.  And I realized how blessed I am to have children in my life who are so gentle and connected to me, just the way my grandmother was.

My mother, my aunt and I named our new beach home after my grandma.  This week we put the sign up.

It was also Maia's 10th birthday this week.  Two days before my grandmother's.  I imagine them celebrating together in my mind sometimes.  In spirit, I did feel her presence as we celebrated Maia and all that she is.  And Maia *is* so much....

Lastly, Keira and Maia went off to sleepaway camp for the first time this year.  I felt Maia was too young but she insisted on it and knowing that her sister would be with her, I reluctantly agreed.  Life is a series of letting gos and this one wasn't any easier than the others I have experienced.  I remember sending Dee off to camp for the first time too.  

So, here I wait for them anxiously to come home and tell me all about their new experiences and found independence.  A part of me cries inside as I watch them grow up and away and a part of me rejoices for the strong, beautiful and capable young ladies they are becoming.  

And I will hold my breath until the next bittersweet moment.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reclaiming the Village

"It takes a village to raise a child."

But what happens if there is no village?
Photographer - Amy Figley
In our car-dependent world, it can be much harder to know your neighbors than I'm sure it was back when walking to school, to the store and to work were the daily modes of transportation.  

Even in urban areas now, people walk by one another but they are tuned out.  Their ears are plugged up with IPods, their eyes are fixed on IPhones and their minds are occupied with IWants.  No longer are we focused on the common "we"... just a whole bunch of "I"s.

Then throw in a heavy dose of fear to keep children locked up inside houses playing video games instead of exploring and you have us all living together, in isolation.

When is the last time you were able to borrow eggs from your neighbor when you ran out?

Speaking of neighbors, do you know yours?  Do you know their names?  Their children?  Their lives?

Do they know you?

Photographer - Janie Mote
Are you alone in "the village"?  Most of us are.

I am not posting this to make any of us feel guilty.  And, I know I'm using a hard tone but I want your attention:

Times are different now, yes... but *not* because crime is higher or people work harder.  Times are different because we have allowed it to become that way.  There is nobody to blame for the fall and crumble of our villages but ourselves and I am here asking you to help rebuild them.

I'm not trying to pretend that we can create little utopias across the planet free of crime and filled with beautiful people holding hands and singing "Kumbaya".  I know, firsthand, the challenges of people living in inner-cities and other places that are far from the Sesame Street we grew up watching on TV.

However, I am trying to tell you that any attempt at joining forces to make your neighborhood a better place will do just that.... make it a better place.  I'm not saying it will fix it... or make it perfect... just better.  And we could all use a little better.  It's better than nothing.

I also know there will be neighbors who are not the types of individuals that you want to be neighborly with or want your families around.  Some may even be a true concern.  But, isn't this even MORE of a reason to create a network of other like-minded people who live in close proximity to you?  Isn't there safety in numbers?  Isolation does nothing to solve these issues.  Let's join forces to take back our streets.

I am asking you do to something for me.  But, first, I want you to imagine....

Imagine a place to live where you know everybody's name (sound like Cheers?  stick with me...).  Where your children are watched over not only by you but by others who care about them and know who they are.  What could that do to the choices some children make?  Could it create change?

Imagine a place where you and your family know you have plenty of people to call in case of an emergency; a place where you look out for one another and call upon each other, rather than a number in the yellow pages, when you need help.

Imagine sharing skills and friendship with others right outside your front door. Imagine a place where you know people's struggles and you help ease their burden.  Where you get the same in return.

Imagine a place filled with neighborhood friends of all ages on porches, back decks, apartment terraces and playgrounds.  Imagine your children cared for by others that you know and trust when you are not home.

Imagine not being alone anymore.

Imagine this place and then look outside your home.

It's there.  It only needs you to rebuild it.

I am asking for your support in helping me Reclaim, Rebuild and Renew our villages, one family at a time.

The first family is you.

This will require you to get out of your comfort zone, as all change begins with us first being uncomfortable but I promise you it will play a huge part in helping to change our world.

Here's how:

  • Get to know people on your road, in your apartment building or extended community.  Stop to say hello or ask a question. Be prepared at first for some people to think you are odd or annoying. Sadly, it is not commonplace to start small talk at the mailbox anymore. Do not be discouraged. Remember that is what we are trying to change. Keep on.
  • Create a neighborhood watch program. Gather a group of adults to walk the streets together, taking back what is rightfully yours and your children's. Coordinate keeping outdoor lights on at the same times each night to create a safer environment. Take turns keeping an eye on things in groups outside.
  • Build a community garden. It can be in your own yard... but ask neighborhood children and adults to help and take home vegetables. Leave a 'Free for Neighbors' box of veggies outside your home whenever you have extra.
  • Coordinate a parent group in your neighborhood and organize safe outings for children so they can get to know one another.
  • Organize a garbage clean up to make your area a cleaner place to live. 
  • Focus on the elderly in your community.  Visit them, bring them meals, mow their lawn, take them to appointments and learn from their experiences.  
Photographer - Sarah Teo
  • Barter. Tutor a child in return for landscaping help. Teach computer skills in return for car rides. What can you give?  What could you use in return? Money is not always necessary when people are willing to work together to lift each other up.  
  • Offer to teach a skill at your home or on your porch - knitting, cooking, language.
  • Start a book club with neighborhood people only.
  • If you live in an area where there is a large population that could benefit from English as a second language classes, offer them.  Create a group of people that can help one another learn to write, read and speak in a new language.  Then, in return, ask to learn their first language so you can expand your knowledge as well.
  • Schedule weekly nature walks around your home.  Invite neighbors to come along.  Get to know your outdoor landscape and space together.  Invite special visitors to speak or share insight.  
  • Start a walking club. 
  • Help new parents find relief.  Offer advice, supplies, breast feeding support and friendship.  Offer to sit in the living room and hold the baby when a new mom needs a nap.  
  • Host a small backyard music concert!  You can find others in your neighborhood who play instruments and invite them to perform or just play the radio together.
  • Think about the seasons and holidays.  Organize an Easter Egg Hunt, a Summer Party, a Bike Parade or a Trunk or Treat event in your driveways.  
  • Start a monthly mom and dads night out for neighborhood parents to get to know one another.  
  • Host movie nights indoors or on a screen outside.  
  • Consider opening up fences, creating paths to one another's homes and taking down some mental walls while still maintaining your privacy.  
  • Beautify your neighborhood together.  Plant flowers, clean up trash and debris and restore old spaces.
  • Make a neighborhood playground or take turns having children rotate backyards each day of the week after school where one parent supervises.  
  • Make a community newsletter.  Ask for contributors - writers, classifieds, events.  
  • If you own a pool, consider hosting swimming once in awhile to those who do not have the same. 
  • Put benches, picnic tables and chairs in your front yard and encourage others to do the same.  Talk to people when they walk by.  Say hello.  Move your fire pit to the front yard and invite anyone who walks by to join you! 
  • If you live in a more isolated environment, expand this community by doing the same with people from church, school or work.
  • Start an annual neighborhood block party. Take back your streets and play games, eat together and bond. 
  • Create emergency plans together.  Write it down.  Make sure everyone knows where they can go for help and who has what to offer.  Talk about fires, natural disasters and other occurrences that you can help each other with.  Consider a phone chain for emergencies.  Remember people who need extra assistance.  Be the ones they can count on.  
  • Post your neighbors phone numbers and emails on your wall and have them do the same.  When trust has been built, consider sharing house keys in case you are away or there is an emergency. 
  • Take care of your neighbors pets, plants and yard when they go away.  Be a presence in an otherwise empty home.
  • Have a community tag sale. 

I would love to add to this list and maybe eventually offer a Free EBook on this topic.  If you would like to submit an idea, please leave it in the comments section or email it to info (at) littleacornlearning.com

Love breeds peace.  Create an amazing world right where you live.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Slow Summer Photo Contest Winners!

Slow down, grab a cool drink and be inspired by these beautiful WINNERS of our Little Acorn Learning *Slow Summer* Photo Contest!
ALL of the entries were absolutely breathtaking and we are filled with joy to see our community slowing down enough to breathe in every precious moment of summer with their families.

We hope you are inspired to do the same.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Show Me Your Slow...

Today is the last day to submit your photos in our Slow Summer Facebook Photo Contest!  Show us your slow, unhurried and carefree summer photos of you and your children enjoying childhood as it should be.  

Send no more than 3 photos to info (at) littleacornlearning.com to enter to win a FREE ebook of your choice! Photos should show us what a "slow summer" means to you and your family! Hashtag the photos you post on Instagram and Facebook with #slowsummerseries to inspire others to slow down and do the same.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Free Range Summer : Slow Summer Series

As I sit here to write this, I have just returned from a fun evening on our boat with the girls.  This year we bought a tube for them to enjoy.  The tube is fun.  I enjoy it myself.  But, it can go fast.  I can’t deny that each time one of my daughters gets on that tube, my insides curl up just a tiny bit, especially when it is my youngest daughter’s turn.

And, of course, as soon as they sit inside of it they already start sending my husband the “thumbs up” to go faster and faster and faster.  All the while, I’m telling him to go slower and slower and slower *OR* biting my lip in order to let them enjoy a little “Free Range” excitement. 
I don’t claim to be an expert on the things that I write about.  If I am very honest, I struggle with most of these things just as much as I am sure you do….

But, somewhere inside of me, I know that in order to grow at all as a human being we have to allow ourselves to be a little bit uncomfortable.

I also truly believe we need to learn to trust our instincts more as parents so this can get complicated and it becomes a VERY careful balancing act. 

It takes bravery to be a parent and let go enough to allow your children to have a childhood full of fun, risks, experiences, challenges and accomplishments.  It takes guts to bite your lip a little while your insides curl up and figure out when to say “enough” and when to let the uncomfortableness set in enough to let go just a little bit more. 

And we are all different. 
Truth be told, I was not a Free Range Kid like many of my peers and I’m sure, many of you were.  My family was VERY cautious of my whereabouts when I was young and living in New York, near the Bronx, there were plenty of real things to worry about to try to protect me from.  All concerns about my safety were filled with pure love.

Yet, I can’t help but feel I did miss out.   

I remember friends near my apartment being allowed to ride their bikes down to the local park.  It was within a mile or two and they went in groups.  One day, I was asked to go for the first time.  I was SO excited. 

Calling up to my apartment window, my friend asked me if I could ride down, play a game on the field and get an ice cream from the ice cream truck before coming back home. 

This was a regular summer day for him.  But for me, this proposal seemed like the most wonderful opportunity of my lifetime!  I begged and pleaded with my mother but it was NOT going to happen.  I remember being so upset that I secretly broke my piggy bank into pieces and gave my friend the money to get me an ice cream to bring back anyway. 

Somehow he did manage to make it back alive with my melted ice cream in hand.  The ice cream was good but the ride to the park seemed, in my eyes, to be much sweeter… and I would have traded them in a blink.

As a matter of fact, Tony made it back alive at least 20 times that summer and each and every summer after that. 

Could he have gotten abducted, hit by a car or injured?  Yes of course.

But, the truth is, that there was MORE of a chance that I’d get into a car accident with my family on a “safe” ride to my grandmother’s house the next morning or any of the workday mornings that year or years after.

But I didn’t. 

Some may argue that “times have changed”.  That somehow, back then, streets were safer – crime was lower and bad things didn’t happen as much as they do now. 

But the research and facts tell us otherwise.

Why, then, are we so afraid? 

I’m not sure. 

I assume it must have something to do with our access to news, social media and crime stories.  What would happen if the news was 75% positive?  Would our perception change? 

I think it would.

What I am trying to say is that it is not easy to be a Free Range Parent - not now and probably not back then either.

It takes courage.  Things can happen… things will happen:  scraped knees, broken bones and neighborhood drama. 

But, other things can happen too: tree climbing, neighborhood games, confidence building, learning one’s own boundaries, practicing balance, learning from mistakes, fresh air, sunshine, building forts, navigating disagreements and so much more.

My middle school daughter opened my eyes, once again, to this very concept.  She said “Mom, I know you love us but you should try not to always ask for the best teachers for us each year.” 

I knew where she was going with this… and, often, I do write a letter or meet with the Principal to ask for a “good fit” for my children with regard to placement.  I feel it will help their educational experience if they are in an environment that nourishes who they are.  And, it will…

But maybe… maybe there needs to be more balance and “letting go” on my end too.

She continues, “I know having one of my hardest teachers, Mr. X, really made that class difficult for me last year… but because of that, I learned how to deal with people who are not always easy.  And I got through it and did well.”

She did more than well.  She did excellent.  And the world is filled with people who are not always easy.

We absolutely need to be our children’s advocates…. But we do not need to create a perfect and safe childhood for them covered in helmets, bumper pads, plastic wrap and rainbows.  We need to find a way to let them learn the hard lessons in life yet lead them the right way when they may be going astray.  We need to know when certain things are age appropriate for them to try and when we should protect a bit more. 

We need balance. 

If we make life so easy for them that they do not struggle, they will not be able to cope as adults. 

A few winters ago, one of my best friends and I decided to give our children the gift of more freedom.  She lives under a mile away… well maybe it is a bit more than a mile, but it’s in walking distance from our home. 

While I am often very annoyed by how fast people drive in my neighborhood, the truth is that we live on pretty safe residential roads.  There really is no reason that, in a group, our children should not be ok walking to one another’s homes.   

But our streets are not filled with children at all.

So, once a week or so we took turns sending our children, with sleds in hand (and I will admit, a cell phone “just in case”), to each other’s homes to sleigh ride. 

This seems like such a simple thing that so many adults now did daily in their youth… but living in this day and age we felt like REBELS.  Not many of our friends would have allowed the same.  Even living in suburban CT, most moms we know would worry too much to let their children walk that far and be out of sight for half the day in the freezing cold. 

Guess what?  Each and every time they came back ok.  More than OK.  They came back filled with stories and cold fingers, asking for hot cocoa by the fire as they relived the exciting moments they spent discovering and flying down hills on their sleds together.  They talked about ways that they helped and protected one another down the “steep slopes” and how they looked out for their little sisters and brothers. 

They came back with memories and they came back with the confidence knowing that they are more than capable of being safe and responsible and trusted. 

And they came back. 

Each time.

This led to Free Range Bike Riding in the spring and summer.  Our children now enjoy meeting one another midway between our homes for a few hours of riding around the neighborhood unsupervised. 

Here are some Free Range things we have done THIS summer:

Walking barefoot through a rocky creek without watershoes or hand holding.

Riding bikes to the beach without me (I admit, this was out of my comfort zone as this is our first summer at the shore house but I did it)

Using a sharp knife to cut veggies while helping me cook.

Watching (while biting my lip) as my monkey child explored vines and trees to hang on at a local state park.

Swimming (where we really weren’t supposed to) in the waterfall among sharp rocks and edges. 

Sending my second oldest into the grocery store, without me, to get a few items while I wait in the car.  Be careful with this.  She’s 13.  Nowadays parents can get arrested if children under 12 are out and about!!!!

Letting the girls hike through the woods in our backyard without screaming “watch out for ticks – don’t walk in the tall grass” like I usually do every five minutes (we do check our bodies pretty thoroughly after though – we live in tickville!)

Saying YES when my little one wants to try swimming to the dock with her sisters for the first time at the beach. 

Were these hard for me?  Yes… many times they were.  Letting go is always hard and does not come without risk.  But, I would like to argue that it comes with more benefits than risk.  I would like to hope that my letting go will give my children the tools they need to be independent and confident adults one day who can cook a meal, drive a car, swim a few laps and explore their world without me. 

Here’s a thought:

What if we took back our streets, our playgrounds, our beaches, our parks, our schools and our world – what if we stomped out FEAR in masses, taking back our rights and our children’s rights to live in this world freely.  Imagine how safe we’d feel if there were 20 free range kids biking to the local store – not just two.  POWER IN NUMBERS BABY!

Some exceptions (or maybe the better word is confessions):

A good friend of ours sadly and tragically lost his child in an ATV accident very recently.  It was so heartbreaking and I was shattered walking out of that innocent child’s funeral.  We have ATV’s and if I am honest, they have always made me very nervous even though my husband is very safe and careful while the girls ride.

Since the funeral, I will not allow the ATV’s any more.  In my opinion, right now, the risk of injury to a young child on a motorized vehicle like that is more than I am willing to take in the name of Free Range.  Somehow letting my girls walk to the corner store seems much more reasonable.  Is my fear rational?  Maybe or maybe not.  It hit us personally and I think I’m not ready for this one yet – or maybe ever.  Although, Sandy Hook was near also and while it took everything within me, I sent my girls back to school.

After hearing about a dangerous person in your area such as a pedophile, irresponsible gun owner or drunk driver – be smart and teach your children the same.  There is no reason to be ignorant in support of giving our children a Free Range Childhood.  When we are presented with knowledge that is RATIONAL and real, we should of course be more careful.  The problem is that the news, media, Facebook, twitter and other tools we have in our life right now are making it feel to us that there is more bad than good in this world.  And I refuse to believe that.  As we know, the facts dispute that.

So, I ask you – what Free Range Summer activities have your children enjoyed?  

Please share with us here on the blog in comments or by Linking Up your blog post below.  Be sure to also use our hashtag #slowsummerseries to inspire others to slow down and give their children the gift of a slow and free summer this year.    


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