Thursday, September 29, 2011

Simplicity Parenting

Disclaimer: This is my first attempt at a book review since... uh, college?  It's a little long.  I'm really curious to hear other moms' (and dads'!) thoughts about this book and about simplifying your child's life.  Even if you're not a parent, you probably have thoughts about good toys, TV shows, and the super kids of the 21st century.  I'd love feedback as I embark on this mommy thing!


It’s raining again.  Lena is sleeping in the next room; Elliott’s at a reception on base.  I’m sitting cross-legged in bed, a cup of coffee on the windowsill and my journal open beside me. 

There’s also a book with me: Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.  I read a review of this book a few months ago on a friend of a friend’s wonderful blog and immediately ordered it for myself on Amazon.  I think it’s my favorite secular book so far on parenting… and from the mom of a 6-month-old that’s a killer recommendation!  Hah.

[S]implification is not just about taking things away.  It is about making room, creating space in your life, your intentions, and your heart.  (p.34)

Payne recommends simplifying your child’s life in four ways:
  • Environment
  • Rhythm
  • Schedules
  • Filtering out the adult world

    To begin simplifying your child’s environment, Payne recommends you first tackle their toys.  He suggests you get rid of any toy that is:
    • broken
    • developmentally inappropriate
    • conceptually “fixed” (ie. products based on TV shows or movies)
    • easily breakable
    • very high-stimulation
    • annoying or offensive
    • claims to give your child a developmental edge
    • something you were pressured to buy
    • inspires corrosive play
    • a multiple
    Honestly if I were to use those criteria to go through Lena’s [very few] toys that we brought with us to Texas, I would probably throw out several of them.  A rattle that lights up?  Clear plastic balls from a yard sale? But then imagine if Lena was three years old and had lived through three Christmases and three birthdays!  I can see how toys get out of hand.

    At the end of the chapter on environment, Payne gives us this vision of a decluttered room.  May this be something to work towards for Lena’s whole life instead of something to create out of chaos later down the road:

    Imagine your child’s room
    • uncluttered and restful to the senses
    • with soft light and colors and a sense of order and space
    • with room to move and play, draw and build
    • without toys that are broken, forgotten, heaped in  piles
    • with a few of her most beloved toys in sight and the rest in one or two baskets on the floor, covered with a cloth.
    • watching your child create new worlds and new ways to play with her toys, instead of requiring new toys to play with
    • opening your child’s bureau or closet and seeing space around a few clothes that fit her and the current season
    • your child’s own real tools and their happy sense of purpose as she works and plays at cooking, cleaning, and gardening
    • your child being able to live deeply and repeatedly in the “now” of a story and her play, rather than always eying what’s next
    Payne goes on to recommend simplifying through rhythm, ie. setting a predictable pattern to your days, even if it seems “boring.”  He maintains that children like routine, and it’s 21st century parents that feel the pressure to make life be one high point after another until both parents and children collapse with exhaustion.  In the same vein Payne recommends simplifying schedules: avoiding the pressure of cello lessons on top of ballet on top of soccer on top of basketball on top of swim team.  Here’s a one-sentence summary:

    The verbal expression of simplifying is, “No, thanks.” (p. 167)

    After I greedily acquired for free all Lena's baby things I needed (and much more) through a neighborhood mom’s group, I know how hard it is to just say, “No, thanks.”  When it’s offered, when it’s available, and when it’s for your child (and therefore also for your self-image), it’s so much easier to just let your guard down and acquire.

    My favorite chapter of all, though, was about filtering out the adult world.  Elliott and I already struggle with this for Lena when it comes to technology.  Should we let her be near computers, or see us on our cell phones, or sit in front of a TV screen?  We’ve tried to be fairly cautious, and at the very least a TV is not a babysitter in our house.  But let’s be honest… we have iPhones.  Laptop computers.  YouTube.  Blogs.  Lena is going to be around Steve Jobs’ inventions nonstop unless we set some serious boundaries. 

    Some serious boundaries with ourselves, I mean.  And boundaries often start with awareness. 

    TV runs on commercials, the siren song of “stuff.”  An altar of commercialism, it is your home’s most efficient conduit of clutter.  And TV can easily suck up any free, unstructured time you’ve gained by simplifying schedules.  Between 1965 and 1995 Americans gained an average of 6 hours a week in leisure time; we then devoted all but a few minutes of it to watching TV. (p. 168)

    My parents never had cable in our home and movies were something we watched together as a family only on Friday nights.  Elliott's parents didn't have cable either, kept their TV in the basement, and only allowed movies on special occasions.  Our parents are excellent examples to us.  But this is also a new age.  Everyone is plugged into technology these days, and I worry that if we really do crack down on the use of technology then Lena might be “behind.”

    Well.  Don’t worry.  This quote changed that for me:

    In Failure to Connect, psychologist Jane Healy notes that kids who don’t start using computers until adolescence gain competency within months equal to that of children who’ve used them since they were toddlers. (p. 178)

    Lastly, Payne addresses discipline, another topic that stops me cold.  Of course I envision everyone—fellow passengers on international plane flights, her Sunday school teacher, my dad—fawning over my perfect child, awed by how well behaved she is.  But discipline takes so much work, so much love, to get right. 

    To help us get started, Payne had a very simple piece of advice:

    Why did Laura and Mary do what Pa said?  The short answer is this: Pa didn’t say too much. (p. 185)

    This is, of course, from Little House on the Prairie, and [besides casting all your cares on Jesus, which Payne does not address] is a good place for me to start in the art of discipline. 

    Keep it simple.  When I do speak, mean it.  And love that little girl!

    Wednesday, September 28, 2011

    for Seth & Tracy

    This post is so you know...

    ... how very very much...

    ... I love the awesome onesie you gave me!  It's my fav.



    P.S. I can't wait to meet Sasha!

    game night!

    Elliott is a die-hard Settlers of Catan fan.  Such a big fan, in fact, that he gave the game to his closest friends as a groomsmen's gift for our wedding.  Since our wedding, his groomsmen Lewis has been very busy falling in love, getting married, renovating a beautiful home, and adopting an amazing Rottweiler named Wiley.  Needless to say, he and his wife Bekah haven't had time to take the plastic off their Settlers of Catan.

    We remedied that this weekend.

    An explanation of the rules was required.  They are confusing.

    But Lewis and Bekah caught on amazingly quickly.  We were soon embroiled in a very evenly matched game.

    With lots of laughter over wine and memories.  And puns.

    The game went on and I built towers with my game pieces.  (Meanwhile, Lewis and Bekah ran out of pieces in their battle for the longest road.  Their roads were each 10-11 segments long!)

    And then I won!  Do you hear that, Garber family?  I won for the second time in my life!  A surprise ending to a fantastic night.  Planning for our next Settlers game night is already in the works.

    Monday, September 26, 2011

    farmers market, saturday morning

    Lena gets us up early these days.  "Early" being 7am.  I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek because of course this isn't really that early, most days.  And most days it's motivating to get up and get the day started with the sunrise.

    But on a Saturday morning--any Saturday morning, anywhere--7am is early.  This past Saturday we dragged ourselves out of bed, made a pot of coffee, and looked at each other.  What do early birds do on Saturday mornings?

    Maybe go to the farmers market?  And then reward yourself with a really yummy brunch?

    We set off down the River Walk and covered about 2.5 miles before we found the market at Pearl Brewery.  It's as big as the C'ville Farmers Market and definitely has more local produce than Eastern Market on a Saturday.

    I was psyched to discover a Slow Food presentation.  The Slow Food movement originated in Italy and is inspiring to us on several levels.  We listened to part of the presentation and ate the free tacos (made from local grass-fed beef) that the chef served on little compost-able plates.  (But why is there never a compost bag or bucket when compost-able ware is used??)

    We bought some of this "farm fresh goat cheese."  Mmmm.

    Then we saw this sign asking us to "please play on the grass".

    So we did.  Games of "this is the way the lady trots" to begin with...

    ... and then down in the grass.  Elliott is diligently exposing Lena to as many potentially allergy-inducing substances (such as cats, dogs, and grass) as he can before she is 6 months old.  Research says exposure before 6 months can prevent allergies, and of course we want our baby allergy free.  Play in the dirt, Lena!  Play in the grass!

    Later we wandered behind the Farmers Market into Pearl Brewery, where we made a beautiful discovery: the Twig Book Shop.  And this very enthusiastic lady leading a story hour.  

    Elliott found more books to read to Lena while the other children started a craft project.

    I, meanwhile, found this knitting book with a fabulous afghan pattern.  I must knit this!

    Finally, sated emotionally but starving physically, we began our walk back to our neighborhood.  The River Walk truly is fabulous, with art displays like this under highway overpasses.  (The San Antonio Museum of Art is in the background.)

    And there are peaceful stretches like this, where tree limbs interlace overhead.

    We finished with one of my all-time-favorite eateries in the world.  (I do not say this lightly.  It's right up there with Punjabi Dhaba in Cambridge and Jimmy T's on Capitol Hill and Take It Away in Charlottesville.)  It is MadHatter's Tea House and Cafe.  We met up with Lewis, one of Elliott's best friends from UVA.   They're the two goofy boys on the right getting ready to order.  And no, none of the shelves on the wall in front of them are nailed on straight.

    You serve yourself coffee and choose from their eclectic mug selection.    

    And then you feast.  For me: grilled artichoke eggs Benedict with spicy salsa and grilled potatoes.  Ahhh...

    Saturday, September 24, 2011

    a walk to La Tuna

    The air felt soft and mellow on Thursday night, perfect for a walk along the river.  Our house is a half a block from San Antonio's famous River Walk.  The restaurant and shopping section of the River Walk is hoppin' every night as tourists and locals relax over margaritas and fajitas.  However, that touristy section is tiny in comparison to the whole River Walk.  The walking path goes on for 10 miles!

    We explored part of the southern section on Thursday night.  We covered about three miles total and finished with a drink at La Tuna. 

    Lena was excited about the expedition...

    ... but not not so excited about the crazy guy pushing her stroller.

    Just kidding, they love each other.

    This part of the River Walk is brand new and perfect for joggers, dog walkers, and stroller pushers.  We'll be doing plenty of walking during our two months here in San Antonio.  Lena and I have already gone for several long walks (mostly to the library) during the day while Elliott's on base.

    This southern section passes by several old factories, none of which have been reclaimed [yet]. 

    Every mile of the River Walk is beautifully landscaped.

    We finished our walk next to the path at a great little outdoor spot called La Tuna.  It's a bicycle bar.  OK, I made that up, but it's similar to a biker bar; everyone parks their bikes outside and finds a table under the trees.  My favorite part?  The ground is covered with a couple inches of loose bottle caps.  Just pop your cap and add to the eccentricity!

    Friday, September 23, 2011

    Lena's first meal!

    When your baby starts doing this...

    ... it's time to start feeding her some real food!

    So we mixed up rice cereal and breastmilk and gave it a try.  Her expressions were sometimes hilarious, but she caught on to the idea pretty quickly.

    After a few bites we took this video:


    Next up, some yummy carrots or sweet potato!  (Rice cereal isn't exactly a great way to develop a baby's palate for all the fruits of this earth.)  Hopefully my diet will help her take on new flavors and tastes soon, since she's been getting plenty of varied flavors through my milk for the past 5.5 months. 

    If you're a mom or know about feeding babies, do you have any advice or humorous stories to share?  I'd love to hear them as we begin this new stage!

    Wednesday, September 21, 2011

    tickle monster

    Our giggly girl.  I love her deep, throaty chortle when we tickle her neck!

    at home in San Antone

    Lots of transition these days!  (These days.  These months.  These years!)  Yes, we "moved" to Sicily in July, but unfortunately Elliott had a mandatory training for the Army from mid-September to mid-November.  So away from Sicily we flew, and now we're making a temporary home for ourselves in San Antonio, Texas.

    When I pictured two months of life in San Antonio, I could only imagine a dismal apartment furnished with the drabbest and barest of necessities.  However, my husband has a little bit more of an imagination.  With a little bit of searching, he found a beautiful apartment on the upper story of a carriage house in the beautifully historic King William neighborhood of San Antonio.  The owner sent pictures and we were sold.  Elliott negotiated for a price within our budget and we sent in a deposit.

    Now for the past week we have been making a home for ourselves in this lovely little apartment.  Here's the view of the apartment from the top of the stairs.  You can see the door at the entrance to our apartment below.

    The kitchen, which is right in front of you when you walk up the stairs.  One fabulous thing you can't see: a KitchenAid mixer!  I've used it at least 4 times this past week.

    The living/dining room, and a peek into our bedroom in the back.

    The view from the other side of the living/dining room.  There's a daybed underneath that far window.

    Our bedroom.  So airy and filled with light!

    Lena's bedroom... or our guestroom.  Come visit!

    And the sleeping lady herself.

    I've been reading this wonderful book while nursing Lena before bed.  I would like to do a post on it later, so I'll save the details for then.

    The bathroom.  For me the clawfoot tub is the icing on the cake of this apartment.

    Such sweet vintage details everywhere.

    And a last glimpse, now with Lena "reading" after her nap!

    We're loving this little home away from home.  We'll be here until just before Thanksgiving, so plenty of time to explore the city and some other parts of Texas.  Soon I'll have photos to share from a walk Lena and I took around the neighborhood... you won't believe some of these incredible old houses around us!
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