Friday, November 13, 2015

Sex Talks with Four-Year Olds

When I was fifteen, I was at a girls' church camp with hundreds of other girls. It was fun, wonderful, spiritual and all the things that church camp should probably be. But one of my main memories of that camp was this:
A girl who was visiting from out of state had come to camp, and whispered a secret question to another girl.  Both girls were embarrassed and curious, and for some reason they came to me. 
"Becky," one of them whispered, "What is an erection?"
I felt mortified that for some reason they felt that I would have answers to their sex questions when I was a pretty self-righteous little goodie-two-shoes- but I felt equally horrified that a fifteen year old didn't know this basic piece of anatomical information. 
"An erection is when a blood goes to a man's penis and it gets hard, so that he can have sex," I said. 
And from basically, that moment on I knew that someday when I was a mother- my kids would know that they could ask me questions and get honest information from me. 
Because if they didn't get it from me, they could get it from media, the internet, girls at camp- or places much worse and much more offensive. 
Other memories of my childhood helped me to make this vow. I remember learning about rape from boys in second grade. After hearing the word porn used by adults (without being given any clear idea of what it was) I typed into my best friends' computer at 10 years old (and was scarred for life). And I learned nearly everything else a growing girl (doesn't) need to know on the back of the school bus. 
(Another resolution of my youth: my kids will never ride a school bus. Besides being indoctrinated with sexual information and curse words, I was also bullied and teased and miserable.)

That is not to say that my parents didn't do a good job teaching about sex: they did! But regardless of how much a parent shares and teaches, it will almost always be tempered with information from the rest of the world. 

Well, I didn't expect that teaching my children honestly would come up so early. 
But when the boys were two, they learned the word penis, and a few months later- after questions on their part- they learned the word vagina. 
Yes. That meant that they often would casually ask people questions like, "Do you have a vagina because you're a woman?" or nonchalantly declare, "My dad has a very big penis and my baby brother has a tiny penis like a cute little acorn."
Yep. Great. 
Isn't that fun?

But I also felt proud. It was awkward, but it wasn't a big deal. They weren't embarrassed, they understood some differences between the sexes, and they weren't using fake words like "peepee."

Here's the thing. We live in a very religious place and have a very religious family, BUT I do not want my kids to think that sex is bad or a sin, that it should be secretive or taboo. Curiosity and arousal are not sinful. Penises, vaginas, breasts are not shameful. Menstruation is not gross or embarrassing. 
I want to talk about all the things. 

And so, at four: my kids are learning about menstruation and sex. 

I didn't really want to teach them about it yet. It felt way too soon. I can just imagine them saying "Excuse me, did you know that blood comes out of my mom's vagina?" 

But they started asking questions. And I made a promise to answer questions honestly. 
For a while, I did skirt around it, trying to figure out how to answer questions. But my children are tiny expert interrogators. 
On multiple occasions, the boys would find a tampon buried at the bottom of my purse, and we would have a conversation exactly like this:

Boy: What is this?
Mom: That is... a cotton stick.
Boy: What do you use it for?
Mom: Nothing. But it's mine. Please put it back.
Boy: If you don't use it, can I have it?
Mom: No. Please put it back.
Boy: In case you need it?
Mom: Yep.
Boy: What would you need it for?
Mom: Um. I use it sometimes when I have... an owie?
Boy: How does this help you when you have an owie? (this is a real question they asked!)

And then, I transferred to a DivaCup, which -by the way, I love and highly, HIGHLY recommend-
and we had this conversation:

Boy: Can I have this tiny cup?
Me: Ugh, no. Please give me that and don't touch it.
Boy: Why? What is it for?
Me: It's mine, and I need it...
Boy: What do you use it for?
Mom: ARGH!

So. I started thinking about it a lot, trying to figure out how to teach my kids.
But the truth is, it happened on it's own, really organically. 

About a month ago, our neighbors brought us half a dozen fresh eggs from their chickens. 
We were excited, and pulled them out to make a delicious omelet. But when I raised the first egg over the counter, about to crack it, Grey screamed, "STOP! Don't do it!"
"Why? You don't want an omelet?" I asked. 
"I'm afraid there's a tiny baby bird in there," Grey said. 
So, in a simplified way, I was able to explain to him that our neighbors only have hens and no roosters, so these particular eggs are unfertilized. 
"Just like a mother can't make a baby without a dad, hens can't make chicks without a rooster. They lay their eggs anyway, almost every day, but these eggs just have egg in them- no little baby chicks."

And because the boys are twins, they already know that human mothers have eggs in their body, because we've talked about how the baby egg in my belly split itself and grew into two boys instead of one. 
So about a week after the "egg conversation," we were driving in the car when Micah burst out, "Oh Mom! I want a baby sister so bad!"
"Me too," I said. "Maybe someday you'll have a little sister."
"Is the egg for a sister already inside of you?" Micah asked.
"Um. Yes. There are lots of eggs inside my body, there could be one in there that will grow into a sister."
"Are your eggs very tiny?" Grey asked. 
"Yes! They're so tiny that you can't even see them until they start to grow into a baby."
"Do your eggs come out of you, like a chicken?" Grey asked.
"Does it hurt for eggs to come out?" Micah asked.
"Well, because the eggs inside my body are so tiny, it doesn't hurt when they come out," I said. "Although, sometimes it comes out with a little blood, and I don't like that very much."
 My children both made noises like, "Hmm."
And then they moved on. 

(A note: I do try really hard to remember not to "over answer" their questions. I am not going into details they don't ask for, but I am answering all of their questions if I can.)

Because of this last conversation, I was totally ready! When my kids asked about my DivaCup next time, I could easily explain that I needed this cup to catch  my blood when my egg comes out. 
Except that they followed their own route, and not mine. 

The next conversation that we had was this:
"Mom, why aren't you pregnant?"
"Your daddy and I aren't quite ready to have another baby, yet." I said. "We'll probably get pregnant with another baby pretty soon though."
"But Mom," asked Grey, "How do you get pregnant?"
"The egg inside my body has to start to grow- and when it starts to grow, it gets bigger and stronger until theres a baby inside me."
"No," Grey clarified, "I mean, what makes the egg start to grow into a baby- instead of coming out."
[Gulp. Okay.]
"Well, just like a chicken egg needs a rooster and hen to make it grow, an egg in my body needs help from a mom and dad. So the daddy has a seed that he puts with the egg, and it helps the egg start to grow."

I seriously held my breath in panic, waiting for those terrifying words, "But how does the daddy's seed get to the egg?" But they didn't come. Instead, Grey nodded and Micah shrugged, and they went back to their business. 

But I'm sure this isn't over. I have very smart, curious boys and they are extremely good at asking questions that make me nervous. 
I once found myself reading The Little House on the Prairie books and thinking, "I wonder how Ma taught Laura about the birds and the bees?"
But then I remembered- they had cows and horses that had calves and colts, they all slept in the same room- often the same bed! Laura knew about sex and menstruation because it was part of life. Maybe they didn't talk about it in mixed company or write about it in children's books: but sex and periods and sperm and eggs and chickens have been a part of life as long as there has been life. 
It shouldn't be embarrassing or terrifying to talk about!

But talking to other mothers about teaching their kids has been really helpful- and I thought this might be helpful to some of you other moms struggling over questions that your kids ask.

And, as always, I would love your tips, insights, or conversations with your children. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Wild Nights Are My Glory!

(Can anyone name that book quote?)

The weather outside is frightful! There isn't snow yet, but it has been so blustery! Our new house is at the mouth of a canyon and the wind really rips and howls here, rushing through the canyon and out at us. There are leaves and water swirling in the air today and the trees in our yard are shaking like there's an earthquake.
And, of course, we LOVE it! Its a good excuse to light candles and play Christmas music- living in the semi-dark. And obviously we run around outside and come in shivering and exhilarated- ready for cookies and snuggling!
And I always seem to get the best pictures in weather like this. There's a little more drama in the photos with no harsh light but beautiful shadows and cloud-bounced sunlight.
I love these sweet boys.

(He wants to carry an umbrella, but when it's open- it blows him away. So he keeps it closed.)

Psst: It's from A Wrinkle in Time.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Teaching Kids to Clean [Part Two: Actual Tips]

Part one, posted last week, is all about changing YOUR mindset to one that expects a helpful child and accepts your child's imperfect ability to clean things. (You can read that HERE)

Ready for Part Two?

Six tips for turning your child into a tiny servant:
(Many of these tips were taken from the book House of Order, which I didn't actually find useful except this section.)

1. For every year of their age, your child should have one daily job. A two-year old should have two jobs, a five year old should have five jobs, etc.
These jobs don't have to be something big, not even something that you think of as "a job" -- just something they're in charge of doing themselves to help them be capable and independent.
For example, my four year olds four jobs are these:
1. Get dressed.
2. Make your bed.
3. Brush your teeth.
4. Comb your hair.
(As evidenced by their crazy hair, they don't always remember every job. It is helpful to post a picture-chart with their daily jobs somewhere they'll see often, like on their bedroom door.)

2. Assign additional household jobs and explain that they are "kid jobs" that Moms aren't even supposed to do! Grey and Micah have a handful of "household jobs" that they participate in as needed. (Starting the laundry, loading/unloading the dishwasher, mopping the kitchen floor, folding towels/washcloths, and cleaning the bathroom.) They also have to clean up after themselves by wiping up spills, putting away shoes, cleaning up toys, etc. August is 18 months and even he puts his shoes away and wipes up his own spills. Your three year old can definitely do it and your ten year old is super capable.
Sometimes (often) this is a fight, but I try to give them the "Everyone in this family works together" talk, and the "Your dad goes to work and that's HIS job, but MY job is to teach you how to take care of yourself and YOUR job is to help our family and take care of your mom" speech.
Both of those speeches are semi-effective.

3. Train your child. I read once that you should show a young child how to do something five times- narrating what you're doing and why every time you teach them. Then you should help your child do something five times (continue with the narrating), until you feel satisfied that they can do it themselves. Then you supervise them doing it five times. So you basically have to do something fifteen times with your kids before they'll be able to do it themselves.
So, with the bathroom cleaning example- I have to clean the bathroom with my kids thirty times before I'm done with bathrooms forever. It is a huge pain to do this, and is literally A YEAR of bathroom training. But then, in one year when I don't have to clean my bathroom ever again, it's worth it. Right?

4. Narrate everything. This goes along with the above, but I constantly explain everything I'm doing.
"When I make a sandwich, I use two pieces of bread that are next to each other in the bag, because then they're the same size. I do the peanut butter first on this piece. Want to help me spread the peanut butter all the way to the edges? Good job, but keep your knife flatter. Yes, just like that!"
And you guys. I do it always. It's second nature to me because I love talking so much. But my kids learn the right way to do things and WHY it's right.

5. Make them charts with stickers. Kids LOVE stickers! (or whatever kind of chart. But charts are good.)
We have had lots of different charts. The most effective ones for the boys are charts where they earn a certain number of stickers or checks and then get a prize, like picking out our family movie or getting a snow cone or a date with dad. Sometimes I say, "Wow! You only have three more jobs left until you get a prize! Let's think of two jobs you could do right now while you're waiting for lunch to be done!" and my kids are like "YES! I WILL WASH THE DISHES AND MOP THE FLOOR."
And I am like, "Perfect, when you mop you can use all the water that you dumped on to the floor accidentally during dishes."

6.  Praise them like bananas. 
And not just, "Wow! You're doing a great job wiping that mirror!" (lie)
But lay it on SUPER thick, "I'm so grateful that you are so helpful to me, it makes me so happy to have a clean home and you're giving that to me."
"Its so wonderful that you can help me so much now that you're bigger, it's hard to clean the house alone, but now we are a team!"
My kids EAT THAT UP. They love knowing that I need them. They aren't just cleaning up because I'm mean and forcing them to clean, they are cleaning up because they are helpful and important members of the family.
Oh, and every time that you correct, throw in a compliment. "Good job wiping the sink, I see you're wiping up ALL the bubbles, but make sure you remember to actually wipe up the hair and toothpaste too! Just like that! Perfect! You're SO GREAT at cleaning sinks!"
Overkill? Yes. But when they say, "I'll clean the bathroom, Mom. I'm the best at it," you will realize that I am a genius and you're welcome.

So, my house IS messy, but I'm training up my kids, and that's a messy business.

And here is a conversation from last week:

Grey: Mom, do you like cleaning up and working?
Me: I don't. But I like having a clean house, that's why it's so nice that you guys are getting bigger and can help me more.
Micah: But someday, we will move out. Then we will have our own house.
Me: And your house will be so clean!
Micah: Probably not, because we will have our own kids too, and kids are messy!

Yes. Yes they are.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Teaching Kids to Clean [Part One: Changing Your Mindset]

Holy Moly! I wrote this post and it was so long. Travis was reading over my shoulder and said, "What is that giant monster novel you're writing?"
So I turned this into a two-part post. First part, change your mindset. Second part, get your kid working.

Now, this seems like a silly post for me to be writing because
1. My house is always quite messy.
2. My kids are often whiney and useless.
3. My kids are also still little, so I don't know how this method of mine will work when they are older.

BUT, a few different people on Instagram have asked me about making my kids into tiny slaves and I wanted to share what I've gone through to make them such.

So, here are some tips for YOU, anal mom. (Is that an offensive thing to call someone?)

- Stop assuming your kids can't do things. Remember when farmers had a dozen kids to help around the farm? If kids couldn't help until they were 17, that would be a terrible investment. Your kids are capable. Kids all over the entire world do awesome stuff (like babysit and stoke fires and wield knives) at four years old. If you aren't quite ready for that, start slightly smaller.

- Stop being particular about cleanliness. Yup. That's real. If your kids help you clean the bathroom, it won't be as sparkling as it would be if just YOU cleaned it. And it will take twice as long and be more work for you. But it's probably worth it.
Because I have a goal to never do dishes again or clean my bathroom after I turn thirty. And that goal is surprisingly close to fruition, because my four year olds already do those things most of the time. By the time they're 8, they will always do it.

- Start making your child wait for things. One of my favorite ways to teach a child to help is by making them wait. They say, "I want a sandwich." You say: "I can get you a sandwich in five minutes. If you can't wait that long, you'll need to make it yourself."
(They almost always make it themselves.)
If your child says, "I want to go to the park," YOU say, "I need to finish three jobs, sweeping the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher, and wiping off the counters. Which job would you like to do? That can help us get going faster."
(They will almost always choose a job to do.)

- Stop entertaining your child. This is a bizarre parenting phenomenon that I have never understood. And luckily, I have twins, so I never had to understand it. They play together. But I do not play with my kids.
Okay, sometimes I play with them. But that's rare. I don't dress up. I don't play with action figures. I don't teach them to build with Legos. When we are home I give them toys or I send them outside and then Mama has crap to do, thanksverymuch. Sometimes I'm reading, sometimes I'm sewing, sometimes I'm baking a cake or cleaning my toilet.
And when my child wanders into the room, feeling bored or wondering what I'm doing- I don't stop what I'm doing. I just start teaching. I read out loud, I hand them a measuring cup, toilet brush, or a pair of scissors. If they want to be entertained or play with me, they do what I do. Not the other way around.

- Never say no to a child that wants to help. Never ever. Ever. Ever. 
If your two year old wants to put the soap in the washing machine, and twist the dial and push the button- you let them. Because when they are three, they will strip off their own sheets and put them into the washing machine and correctly start it. And you will do a joyful jig. (The first time Grey did this, I might have cried.) If your three year old wants to help chop veggies, you stand behind them and help them wield a knife. If your four year old wants to clean the toilet, you hand them a toilet brush and a bottle of non-toxic cleaner.

This is surprisingly hard, because your imagination can do a lot of crazy things and your brain reminds you that if YOU clean the bathroom, there will not be toilet water accidentally flung against the walls. If you chop the vegetables- no fingers will end up in your dinner. And if you start the laundry, it will take half the time.
So here is my mantra, "What's the worst that can happen? What's the best that can happen? and how likely is each?"

If your son wants to clean the bathroom, the worst that can happen is that he gets poop on his hands and sticks it in his mouth, right? The best that can happen is: YOU DON'T HAVE TO CLEAN YOUR BATHROOM. AND HE LOVES IT. AND HE WANTS TO DO IT EVERYDAY.
It's more likely that something in the middle happens. And if you WATCH him, he probably won't stick his hand in his mouth with poop on it.
I'm not suggesting that you hand him his toilet brush and then leave the bathroom. We can all agree, that isn't gonna work.
So your worst case scenario isn't even real, but the best case scenario could still happen.
Worth it. 

- Lastly, clean it again when they leave. If you can't handle the fact that your "clean" dishes still have food on them- praise and thank your kids, and then wait until they're out of sight- and rewash them. Don't let your child see you. Just do it secretly. (Note: DON'T do this if they are older kids. Make them do it properly. Younger kids shouldn't be harassed to perform perfectly however, they just need to be encouraged to continue helping.)

That's it, Moms. Change your mindset to one that expects your kids to clean. And they probably might.

(I'm obviously not willing to make you any guarantees.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Family Conversations

Sometimes they are unintentionally dressed the same. So I try to take their picture. And they're like, "How handsome do we look like THIS?"

Micah got a new firefighter costume. He spent the next half hour, pacing around the basement, talking to himself.
"These are the firefighters rules: Rule One, I'm a Firefighter. Rule two, look at my clothes. Rule three, that's how you know I'm a firefighter. Rule four, I do fires. Rule five, don't take your helmet off in a fire, or you'll die. Rule six, you CAN watch tv in a fire. Rule seven, only if you're a firefighter. Rule eight, I AM a firefighter, so I can watch tv in a fire without dying. Other-rule eight, I do fires.

To my grief, August has decided that he loves to watch tv. And in a twist that is both good and bad, he only wants to watch Little Bear. This is good, because Little Bear is the best television show for small people ever made. But it is also bad, because I love it so much that I don't feel that guilty letting him watch it and it never annoys me enough that I'm forced to turn it off. (The same cannot be said of Jake and the Neverland Pirates.)
August asks for Little Bear by saying, "Little Bear, Mama? Little Bear?"
"No, not right now. We aren't going to watch Little Bear," I may say. Then, he puts his hands on my cheeks and opens his eyes wide and says very slowly, "Show. Duck-show. Please."
Because obviously Little Bear's friend Duck is the best character on television (or Youtube, as it were.)

Micah: I feel feelings bumping in me. And it's my heart!

Me: Please be kinder to my baby!
Grey: He's not your baby, he's our baby!
Micah: We grew him underground!

Micah: Grey! You woke me up and it's still dark!
Grey: But I'm so hungry! I want to wake up!
Micah: If you wake me up when it's still night, I will PUSH you out of the house and make you stay outside.

Me: I don't want you guys running in here.
Micah: But other kids are running!
Me: They aren't supposed to. It's important to make good choices, even if the kids around you are ...
Grey: Being disobedient?
Me: Yes. Exactly.
Micah: I wish being disobedient WAS a good choice.

Micah: Arggh! I'm SO ANGRY!
Me: I actually think you mean that you're so HUNGRY.
Micah: Yes! That's right! I'm angry because I'm hungry!

Micah: The Moon is the face of the clouds.

Micah: I want to get out of the tub.
Me: You don't like being in here alone, do you?
Micah: No. Plus, I get the feeling I'm not really alone.

Grey: Those shoes just break my heart, they're so beautiful!

Grey: Wow! These eggs taste even more good than brown sugar!

Grey: How much do you love us?
Me: I love you the most.
Grey: More than you love Katie?
Me: Even more than I love Katie.
Grey: I love Katie more than Micah.
Micah: *nods solemnly*

**Singing a song about God**
Micah: I know that zombies aren't real, but I know they ARE real in a different plan of Heavenly Father's where everyone is not alive!

Micah: What does "make fun" mean?
Me: It's when you tease or make jokes about someone to make them feel bad.
Grey: Like saying, "You haven't been camping, but I have? Haha?"

Grey: Are you off gluten?
Me: Yes, I am.
Grey: Am I still of the gluten side?
Me: The gluten side of what?
Grey: Um. The Food... Process?

Grey: Mom, you look like a boy.
Me: Is that a kind thing to say, that helps me feel good? Or an unkind thing that makes me feel sad?
Grey: But wait, Mom. I wasn't finished. You look like a REALLY HANDSOME boy.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mountain Men Visit Sundance

If you knew me seven years ago, when I moved to Utah- I probably told you that hated it here. 
Don't get me wrong, I loved BYU, but I was homesick for my flat, green land o' lakes. The mountains that surrounded Utah Valley (where I lived then) were ugly, huge, brown and I despised them. The only time that I liked them was when they were covered with a fresh blanket of white snow. The rest of the time, I actually tried to avoid looking at them. They made me feel closed in and claustrophobic.  The only hike that I attempted (the Y, for anyone interested) was basically torture. 
Besides being all dirt and switchbacks, it was also literally ten times higher in elevation than I was used to. By the time that I was carried to the top of that damn hike (yep. Someone carried me. A boy, obviously.) I was miserable and had vowed to never, ever go hiking again. 
Over the years, I started to appreciate Utah a bit more, but only a bit. 
There were still no lakes here, very few strawberry patches, a sad lack of glorious sunrises (thanks to those mountains), too many fences between too many small yards, too many cities crammed in along the highways, and too few streets with beautiful names.  Of course, years worth of good memories and the friendship and love of many people from (or in) Utah helped its status rise in my opinion, but I still thought it was pretty atrociously ugly here. (Not as bad as Arizona or Nevada, but what could be?)

Then, a year and a half ago- we went back to Minnesota. I was kind of expecting it to not quite live up to my expectations. 
But Minnesota wouldn't dare. 
It was perfect there. It was glorious and beautiful. It was like visiting the Garden of Eden. I bawled my head off as much as possible, and took an indecent number of outstanding photos, and woke up at sunrise to listen to loons calling and it. was. perfect.

But the trip did something I had not expected. It awoke in me a desire to love Utah. 
I wanted to love it here, maybe not the same way that I loved Minnesota (those lakes, you guys.), but in a real way. A homey-sort of way. I didn't want to cringe when I accidentally saw the mountains out of the corner of my eye. I wanted my boys to return home to Utah when they were adults, and feel the same way that I felt when I returned to Minnesota. Like it was the most perfect and beautiful place that they had ever been, and they'd be crazy to leave it again. 

I had, since that fateful hike my first week of college, gone up in to the mountains a few other times. But very few. 
Travis had managed to take me on half a dozen or so very short, easy, and pretty hikes that I didn't hate, although I still didn't love them.  And they were often paved. So does that even count as a hike?
But when we came back to Utah last August, I had a real goal. TO LOVE UTAH. 

So I got to work. We started hiking. 
I started requesting that we go hiking. I started googling family friendly hikes and not shying away from ones that were over a mile. 
I learned the names of the canyons. (Yes, I lived in the valley, surrounded by canyons for five and a half years without learning the names of a single canyon. Including, Provo Canyon. Which I thought was called "Sundance.")

And something happened. I fell in love. It happened faster than I expected. In fact, it happened almost immediately. Now, only a bit over a year later- I start getting heartachy and anxious if we don't get up into the mountains every few days. I find myself catching my breath in surprise and pleasure when we round a corner and the mountains suddenly loom huge and beautiful in the distance. I am worried and sad to realize that soon the boys and I won't be able to go on any hikes as the weather gets colder and starts making promises of snow. 

But I guess it's probably time for me to fall in love with snowboarding or something. 
In the meantime, we took the skilift with the boys to the top of Sundance (which is a resort name, not a canyon) and I was all heart-eyes and hymn-singing. Utah may not be Minnesota, but goodness I love it here, and I would miss these mountains if we left- as hard as that is to believe. 
(But I'm still not interested in hiking the Y again, thanks.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Portraits of My Boys 39 + a Poem

My palm is flat against his chest,
his quick heart punching into my hand
-a feeling of pumping I imagine I miss. 
A heart removed from the body that grew it.
He arches his back and I feel
his ribs, his body
thin, quivering, light- more like holding 
a rabbit or a bird than a boy. 
Quick-limbed and breakable, sinews 
and strength. He rolls,
pulling my arm with him. 
I am a blanket to cover him
and he nestles down, into the curve of my body.
The room grows rosy, his 
cheeks flushing pink. 
I slow my breathing, 
making a deep melody, hoping
his breath will follow. 
But he doesn't. His body has 
forgotten the rhythm of my lungs. 
He moves, twisting and arching away
-giggling and wriggling-
a fish slipping out of my grasp
across the ocean of tangled blankets and arms.
"Mom," he whispers, in a boy voice 
that is hardly a whisper at all. 
His eyes are wet, wide marbles,
becoming paler and bluer as he stares over me.
"Look at the beautiful sunrise,"
and I can't look away. 


Grey is a jolly giant.


 This picture is kind of terrible, but Micah LOVES it. He was so proud of his dirty feet!

First I made a baby. Then I made that baby a hat. 

A few months ago, when I was organizing, packing, moving, rearranging- I came upon a folder of poetry that I had written as a teenager.
I had hauled it around with me for ten years, never reading it or letting others read it, and I felt embarrassed by it.
(In case you've never read a 16 year-old's poetry, it's pretty shallow and angsty.) And so, in a moment of decision (to pack or to toss?), I threw it away.

I am almost immediately regretted it.
But not immediately enough that it was rescuable.
And thus, the poems that I wrote about boys, sisters, acne, learning to drive stick shift: they're all gone.
And it's true, they were poorly written.
Even just today, I found a poem that I wrote when Travis and I were newly married. There are some good parts- "your long nose, long fingers, long legs and long hair- and there's nothing I can love longer than you"
But mostly, it's kind of poorly written.
Robert Frost published his first book of poetry when he was nearly forty.
And maybe he was busy with children, farming, teaching, and all the things that Mr. Frost did. (He certainly was busy). But maybe, it also takes some time and work to grow into your skills.

I don't think I'm Robert Frost. But I often think it will take me a while to be a writer.
It will take years of writing, and sometimes, years of holding babies in between poems. Because I'm not that great at writing AND because I'm pretty busy living life.

But lately I've been on a poem-writing kick. And I am trying not to write on scraps of paper that disappear over the years (as most of the poems I've written have).
And it's extremely weird and uncomfortable sharing poetry here, but I recently received some pretty sweet words of encouragement from a friend that I've been texting poems to.
(Don't you text poems to your besties?)

And the gist of this is, today I shared a poem on my blog that I wrote. And someday when I'm fifty, I'll probably roll my eyes at this poem, the way I roll my eyes that the poems I wrote when I was in highschool.
But that doesn't make them invalid.
I shouldn't have thrown my old poems away. They should have been tucked away somewhere secret, with the highly inappropriate journal entries of my youth.
I can share poems on this blog that aren't joke poems, right?
Okay. I will.
And also, some pictures of my tiny muses.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Gluten-Free Honey Oat Sandwich Bread

So almost immediately after learning I had celiacs disease, I decided to tackle bread.
It was ambitious, but I needed to know that on a cold rainy day, or after a tough day at the office (for Travis) or a sad sick day (for children), I could provide myself and my family with that ultimate comfort food: warm homemade bread. The kind that makes your house smell like the completely celestial afterlife. The kind that is thick and soft, flavorful, doesn't "taste healthy" (you know what I mean) and is downright delicious.
And Yammie's Gluten Freedom Bread NAILED IT. I made {this} bread and it was killer. It didn't taste gluten free, it tasted like it would make bad things happen to my bowels.
Which, believe it or not, is a bizarre compliment.

But I can't let good things keep, I gotta mess them up a little. So I tweaked the recipe. I'd like to explain every change I made in the recipe, so you can understand why I did it and decide which changes you want to keep yourself.

First, Yammie uses A LOT of oat flour, and oat flour is delicious and tastes similar to wheat flour, so it behaves well in this recipe. BUT, oat flour is way more expensive than rice flour- and I wanted more rice flour in my recipe to cut down on costs (and to make the bread a little less dense). I used brown rice flour instead of about half of the oat flour.

Second, I wanted to make several loaves at once so my family can sit down and gorge themselves on one loaf immediately, stick one in the cupboard for sandwiches and toast tomorrow, and stick one in the freezer.
So I made one and a half of the original recipe. Why not double or triple the recipe, if I wanted double or triple the loaves? Read on!

I also wanted to cook the bread in a smaller loaf pan. I've found, with gluten free bread, the smaller the pan- the better the turn out. The bread can rise more easily, cook more evenly, and stay a better texture. (Remember how infuriated you were when you first purchased a tiny 8$ loaf of GF bread? It's small for a reason. Gluten free baking likes tiny pans.)
I like to use these pretty-tiny Pyrex loaf pans. They're only 8.3 inches by 4.5 inches. And the pans are clear, so you can see when the entire loaf is actually cooked to perfection. This recipe makes three small loaves of bread (or two regular) loaves.

And lastly, I changed the recipe to weight measurements instead of volume measurements, because with gluten free recipes, the weights of flour differ so vastly that it's otherwise hard to make sure your recipe will turn out exactly the same every time.
So here you go.
Three loaves of white, delicious, house warming, honey oat bread. You can be eating this in two hours, so stop whatever else you are doing and start baking.

(The Best) Gluten-Free Honey Oat Sandwich Bread

2 1/4 cups warm water
1 tbls yeast
"Heaping" 1/2 cup honey (basically, a 1/2 cup + 1 tbls) 
300 g oat flour
260 g brown rice flour
150 g white rice flour
112 g corn starch / tapioca starch
3 tsp xanthum gum 
1.5 tsp salt
6 eggs
6 tbls oil (or 1/4 cup + 2 tbls) 

Combine the yeast, warm water, and honey and let sit while you sift the flours together. 
When the yeast is foamy, combine all the ingredients together and beat with an electric mixer until fluffy and creamy (like cake batter). 
Then separate the batter into three small loaf pans (or 2 regular loaf pans. I think my loaves hold together better when they're smaller, so I use the smaller ones that are about 8.5x4.5"). 
Smooth the tops and let rise for about 45 minutes or until doubled in size. 
Sprinkle with oats and bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes. Let cool completely before removing from the pan or it will collapse. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reading Poetry With Children

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.  -W.H. Auden

**You all know that I cannot help myself with the excessive typing in book roundups, so if you just want to skip ahead to the poetry suggestions, go right ahead. And if you even want to skip that, just go to Amazon and buy a bunch of books from the Poetry for Young People collection. Now, on to my post:**

I love words. I revere, respect, fear, glory in, and am blown away by the uses to which words can be put.
It's for this reason that I refuse to eat at Chick-Fil-A.  I do not think that they give words the respect that they deserve.  (Obviously there are many advertisements that upset me,  but Chick-Fil-A is seriously the worst. They treat their potential customers like idiots. I would like an establishment to assume that I am intelligent before I spend my money there. But now look, I've gone on a tangent. I'm afraid there may be many more of these to come throughout this post.)
I obviously am not an elegant writer. I do not always obey the rules of grammar or syntax. I use made-up words like thang, and sometimes I use curse words. But I use them as the occasion calls for, because different situations call for different words, that is why we have so many of them.
Now, before I start a new tangent, let me start in on my main topic!
I love poetry. Poetry is words being used the way they ought to be. 

I was raised in a home where poetry was read and cherished. I wrote poetry often, and from a young age. I studied English in college, which blissfully enabled me to take many courses that studied, dissected, and forced me to write poetry.
Just a few weeks ago, my dad and sister visited me. On a hike, my sister asked what the difference is between birch trees and aspens. My dad immediately said, "Birch trees are bent over from little boys swinging on them," a reference to Robert Frost's poem Birches. 
I think it was only natural then, for my children to be exposed often and early to poetry. Grey and Micah are four years old and have a love and familiarity with poetry already.
In the Charlotte Mason curriculum, educators are encouraged to read often from A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.
But here's the thing: A Child's Garden of Verses is only one small collection of one poet's work. And frankly, I don't even love Stevenson's poetry that much. When the boys and I first started reading poetry together, I very rarely pulled out that book.
Originally, I was going to call this post "Teaching your child to love poetry," but there's only one step in that process: Read [good] poetry to your child. 
So instead I wanted to share a collection of favorite poets for children.

First, some thoughts on poetry for children:

1. Funny is okay.
I don't know who first decided that in order for something to be important, valid, and good it needs to be serious- but it doesn't. Let your kids laugh at silly poems. Goofy rhymes and hilarious punch-lines will encourage your kids to enjoy and even write their own poems.

2. Your kids are smarter than you think.
Two year olds deserve more than The Cat in the Hat. Dr. Seuss is rubbish "poetry." E. B. White wisely said "Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly... Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net."
So don't just read them poetry "for children," instead, give them poetry for people. Kids are people too, and they can enjoy Robert Frost as well as you can.

3.  Find opportunities to share poetry together, a little at a time.
As with everything, start small and show that you're genuinely interested. When we first started reading poetry, it was because it was too late for stories before bedtime.
I would find myself saying, "We don't have time to read the Diggingest Dog. Can I just read you a poem?" Poems are short and poems are (often) silly. My kids would settle in, listen to a single poem and then go to sleep. Now I keep a book of poetry in our hiking backpack, so we can sit at the top of a mountain and read a few together, I keep one on the kitchen table so we can read some poems together while we eat breakfast, and I keep one on my bedside table so that I can read to myself, and share with my kids when they ask "What are you reading?"

Now if you love the idea of reading poetry with your kids, but don't know where to start- I included a poem from each of the ten authors I suggest. Read them, decide which ones you don't hate, and go check out 3-4 books from the library. Read a poem or two every morning over breakfast.
Suddenly, you're poetry people.

A. A. Milne:
“But it isn't easy,' said Pooh. 'Because Poetry and Hums aren't things which you get, they're things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh, also published multiple books of poetry for children. His books When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six are both widely accessible, and often come with the Winnie the Pooh books. I have a copy of The World of Christopher Robin that I've had since I was a little girl and is the first book of poetry I can remember sitting and reading by myself.


She wore her yellow sun-bonnet,
She wore her greenest gown;
She turned to the south wind
And curtsied up and down.
She turned to the sunlight 
and shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor,
"Winter is dead."

A.A. Milne

Roald Dahl:
Did you know that Roald Dahl wrote poetry in addition to his many books? He has published at least three books of poetry: Revolting Rhymes, Dirty Beasts, and Vile Verses. Another cherished book from my childhood is the Roald Dahl treasury, which contains dozens of poems, all so irreverent and hilarious that they hold my children's attention for an hour at a time. Most of his poems are long; short stories written in rhyme and rhythm. But here's a short one, written long ago to a child that wrote him a fan letter:

My teacher wasn't half as nice as yours seems to be.
His name was Mister Unsworth and he taught us history.
And when you didn't know a date he'd get you by the ear
And start to twist while you sat there quite paralysed with fear.
He'd twist and twist and twist your ear and twist it more and more.
Until at last the ear came off and landed on the floor.
Our class was full of one-eared boys. I'm certain there were eight.
Who'd had them twisted off because they didn't know a date.
So let us now praise teachers who today are all so fine
And yours in particular is totally divine.' 

Roald Dahl

Shel Silverstein:
You knew he was coming, right? Good ol' Shel. I think almost every child in America had a Shel Silverstein book on their shelf at one time, even if they weren't from poetry-loving families. Silverstein is so funny, and he uses words just the way that they should be used. In my experience, Silverstein is the author on this list that will convince your kids to write their own verse. Might as well buy them a rhyming dictionary now.


I made myself a snowball
As perfect as could be.
I thought I’d keep it as a pet
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for its head.
  Then last night it ran away,
  But first—it wet the bed.

Shel Silverstein

Lewis Carroll:
The Jabberwocky is the first poem that the boys memorized. Okay, fine. They didn't totally memorize it. But they were definitely only three when they were begging to have it read over and over, and they would often shout while playing, “And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” Again, another hilarious author- one who uses words beautifully- even inventing many of his own, something three-year-olds are really into.

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale! 

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws! 

Lewis Carroll

Ruyard Kipling:
The author of The Jungle Book also wrote many poems throughout his books, in Just So Stories, The Jungle Book and elsewhere. I recently snagged a copy of his poems for children at a thrift store and I've been excited to read these exciting adventure poems with my boys.

The White Seal 

      Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
        And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
      The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
        At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
      Where billow meets billow, then soft be thy pillow,
        Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
      The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
        Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas!

Ruyard Kipling

J.R.R. Tolkien:
Okay, you probably don't love Tolkien as much as I do, but if you happen to have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as many times as I have, you probably have a few good poems memorized! Tolkien told stories with his poems, and while there are many that focus around the mythical world he created, there are also dozens that are just plain funny or thoughtful and don't even have any elvish words in them!

The Road Goes Ever On

The Road goes ever on and on
   Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
   And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
   Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
   And whither then? I cannot say.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Robert Frost:
A poet that is easy to understand, Robert Frost delighted in images and stories of nature. His poems are always very thought-provoking and beautiful. He's one of the most famous of "recent" poets for a reason; Frost is a good poet for the average human being. Most of us can't get through Shakespeare, or even Walt Whitman - but almost everyone can read and enjoy Robert Frost. He is accessible, without sacrificing beauty of language.

Dust of Snow 

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part

Of a day I had rued.

Robert Frost

Carl Sandburg
My favorite poet, I love Sandburg and was very excited recently to find a collection of Sandburg poems for children. Often funny, sarcastic, beautiful without being flowery, Sandburg (like all other poets)  loved people and loved this beautiful world. If you are an adult with or without children, you should also pick up a book of his work. Get ready to be blown away. (I love him so much.)

Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars, 
So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars, 
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl, 
So near you are, summer stars, 
So near, strumming, strumming, 

                So lazy and hum-strumming.

Carl Sandburg

Emily Dickinson
The first poem that I ever memorized was I'm Nobody by Emily Dickinson. I don't remember why I memorized it, if it was for a class at school or just because I loved it so much. Frankly, I think it's because I read all these books wherein the protagonist had poems memorized (Sam Gamgee, Anne Shirley,  even Robin Hood!) and I wanted to be included in this very diverse (but seemingly small) club of poem-memorizers.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you Nobody too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d banish us you know!

How dreary to be Somebody!
How public like a Frog –  
To tell one’s name the livelong day  
To an admiring Bog!

Emily Dickinson

Robert Louis Stevenson
Okay, I've already mentioned that I don't love Stevenson nearly as much as A. A. Milne or Lewis Carroll- but the truth is, his poems for children are sweet, well-written and easily accessible. We do read them regularly, we just try to brach out a bit, too. (Ironic, maybe, because I LOVE his novels.)

The Swing

How do you like to go up in a swing,
   Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
   Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
   Till I can see so wide,
Rivers and trees and cattle and all
   Over the countryside—

Till I look down on the garden green,
   Down on the roof so brown—
Up in the air I go flying again,
   Up in the air and down!

Robert Louis Stevenson

One last word on poetry: Buy your children some beautifully written picture books. Where the Wild Things Are, The Owl Who Became the Moon, and The Little Blue Truck are all really just illustrated poems. I even was given a copy of When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer illustrated as a children's book and it's one of my favorite books of the boys'. It's so beautiful, that I'll end with that poem and a call to action:

Please, please, please: read your kids some poetry. I recently discovered the collections of Poetry for Young People and I want to buy every single volume. If you don't know anything about poetry, that's okay. There's not a lot to know. Just find authors that speak to you and that you can understand and never, ever read a poem inside your head if you can read it out loud.
These words are aching to be spoken aloud, theres a rhythm and dance to them, even when they don't rhyme. (For example...)
We are growing into a world that doesn't care about words, *enter emoji of a shrugging smily face* and we are creating children who think that "Hotline Bling" has acceptable lyrics. I legitimately believe that it won't be long before our kids can't even read Shakespeare, because it will be a different language than the one they speak. And truly, I do not love Shakespeare. I don't. But man, I love words- and he was the wordsmith. Don't let your children grow up without a love of words- and if you don't love words yet- start by reading poems aloud, the way that they're meant to be read.

(And remember what I just said? Read this aloud!)

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman

Monday, October 5, 2015

Black and White

Now that we live in a new house with lots of wall-space, I've been aching to put up "new" pictures. Except that the pictures I want to put up aren't new. They're old! 

I've always felt a deep love and connection to my grandmother "Babalou," whose name sake I am (she was Louise, I am Rebeccah Louise). When her husband, my great Grandpa, celebrated his 90th birthday party a couple years ago- dozens of old photos were gathered together by my relatives and scanned into a slideshow. I loved all of the photos and wanted to hang them on all my walls (of which I had very few, at the time). 

In the past two years, Travis' grandparents have both had similar birthday celebrations that resulted in black and white photos being gathered and then distributed. 
I love feeling such a connection to the past of our family members. I am so excited to have wall-space to finally display some of these beautiful photographs, and I wanted to share some of my favorites here. 

Above, my great-grandpa Jim and great-Grandma Louise with my grandma Marcie (the toddler) and her little sister Linda. 

 Above, Travis' Grandpa Decon in the flat that he lived in during his church mission to the Philippines.

 Above, my Grandma Marcie with two of her siblings, all chubby cheeked and bundled up in the snow.

 Travis' grandma Bob and Grandma Mary Louise on their wedding day! How sweet is this picture? It looks like it's straight out of a magazine!

Travis' grandpa Decon again. I seriously wish I had a copy of every Steinbeck book with this picture as the cover. 

My cute great-grandparents again. I've always wanted my hair to look like this, but even when it was long, I could never, ever do it. Isn't she adorable? I love her!

 Travis' grandparents again at the beach. Travis' grandma was a serious looker. I love knowing my kids have such good genes coming in from both sides of the family.

Travis' great-grandpa lived (and lives still) up in Canada- he grew up poor and hardworking. And tall, and goofy. And I love him. 

 Another picture of Travis' grandparents that looks like its from an old movie or magazine- it's just so perfect and sweet!

Isn't this picture of my grandma Mary sweet? She and her big sister are wading in Minnesota, and yes- her sister is wearing lederhosen! I snagged this right off the wall from my grandma's house (Don't worry! I left the original!) after I saw it two summers ago. It's just been waiting to have a home on my wall. 

Travis' Grandma Mary Louise in the flowers. I think this might be Travis' favorite in the bunch, it's so artistic and sweet. 

 Check out my cool great-great grandma Bessie! She rode a motorcycle and my grandpa... rode in the side car!

How handsome is Travis' grandpa Decon? Seriously, what did I say about good genes!

I'm excited to print and frame the above two photos as Christmas decorations. The first is of my great-grandparents and their family and the second is of Travis' grandma having a Christmas tea party. How perfect! I love them. 

I love seeing these old photos so much. Sometimes I just need a reminder that human beings are all the same. I love seeing that my grandmothers did the same things that my children do- pull each other on sleds, wade in overflowing ditches, read stories, kiss babies, have tea parties. Any relatives of mine or Travis that are reading this? Email me more photos! I love them so, so much. They bring such a sense of comfort and peace to me when I look through them. 
I love knowing that families can be together forever, and I seriously can't wait to see some of these wonderful men and women again and in the prime of their lives (as it were). 
In the meantime, those grandparents of ours that are still around (okay, most of them! We are pretty lucky) should come and visit me in my new house. There are pictures of you going up on our walls and a mediocre guest bedroom waiting for you.