Monday, February 21, 2011

what cookies have taught me

This weekend I chaperoned my 2 oldest girls selling cookies.  This is our second year going through this process.  Well, last year #2 was the only one selling and the process has changed a bit.  This year, we hoard cookies in our garage and sell from our independent inventory.  Last year we "pre-sold" and delivered later....but I digress...

What I noticed or learned from this weekend has been varied.  I learned that #3 is a go getter.  She was hawking her wares at school, handing me sticky notes after school for the orders she took.  These were orders we filled and were paid in full within 24 hours.  She also is good at taking feedback.  After she tried to sell to her friends at taekwondo, I let her know that she has to start with the cost or sell to the parents.  Her friends thought she was giving them something.  Oops.  But, she did not make that mistake again.  She also honed her opening speech.  And she walked and sold and walked and sold.  She cautiously opened gates, checking for dogs.  She knew I was at the sidewalk waiting to help if needed.  Some gate latches were too high, but for the most part she persevered.

I have learned that #2 is consistent, yet not always predictable.  #2 is apprehensive, but confident at the same time.  She will not look adults, strangers or not, in the eye when she speaks to/or is spoken to.  This is without regard for what she is doing.  Last year, when she set out solo to sell, she let #3 come with her for moral support.  This year she took #4 with her for support.   She even let her brother help.  She is competitive, but is sharing with her sister.  They never share.  She is also willing to let #3 go to the more challenging houses.  The girls have worked out a deal to share prizes.  Reminder, they never share.  This is letting her good side shine and lessening her competitiveness.

I have learned that there are a lot of cookie sellers in our neighborhood.  We don't want to encroach on other girls' business.  #1 felt we should still "double knock".  What I mean is even though every other house said someone else had been by, he thought we were quitting when we acquiesced.  We rolled home due to darkness.  The next day, the group gave up a trip to the city to sell again.  #2 chose to do a quick sell and head to a play date knowing #3 would pick up the slack.  That is pretty trusting when the combined sales will dictate both of their prizes.  Smart girl.  #1 rolled with us for over an hour.  He went home when we were short on inventory to bring back more cases.  Way more motivated than I ever expected.  Especially when he has nothing to gain.  It also seemed to be an opportunity for my group to see that following rules and etiquette has a place.  They would be the first to complain if they had been wronged.  Maybe they will remember this when they have a choice and I am not there to be the voice of reason.

This is also a lesson in not making assumptions.  I learned that in college business and fashion merchandising classes.  You never know who will buy what and how many.  This is a great way for my kids to see this rule.  The vendor at the farmers market may be our best customer.  Even though these cookies are as far from local and organic as you can get.  Ya' never know...

I have learned that our neighborhood is way bigger than I thought.  Many more people have gated properties than I ever expected to see on our journey.  Some properties are huge and there are even a few mansions among tiny cottages.  There are a lot of dogs, many off leash.  People are generous.  Some donate change, others buy cookies to support the cute freckly girls at their door.  People ask about the girls' favorites and let them do the math and bring them change.  They are patient and kind, even if saying "no thank you".  It is almost like trick or treating, but in the daylight.  We see so much more.  Their support is priceless.  This is what makes us go out again.  And grow.

Yes, my girls are doing this because they get stuff.  But, this has been a great opportunity to hang out with all of them and see so many parts of their personalities and our neighborhood.  I don't think they realize that they get more than "things" and I get stuff too.  Our family is brought together by something I can't even eat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

St. Valentine's Day Massacre

Let's just start this by saying that I know a lot of you will not agree with my point of view here.  It doesn't mean either one of us are right or wrong.  We will have differences in opinion and that's all this is or will potentially be....

I am not a fan of Valentine's day.  the Zero Waste Home blog says it better than I have been able to articulate.  In addition to all of her points, it's a hassle.  It's a hassle for my house to produce 90+ valentines to pass out to "friends".  It's a hassle to receive 90+ valentines and have kids who hoard cards from "friends".  It's a hassle to implement my eat it as you get it candy policy when each child is getting 20+ pieces of candy to bring home.  Why don't they have the kids eat the candy at school, since that is where it is coming from?

Years ago, I asked a couple of our teachers, a bit too close to the actual celebration date, to consider alternatives to the individual valentines.  In pre-school and even kindergarten, the kids really aren't writing each friend's name.  And, if they are, it's excruciatingly slow going.  My alternative suggestion was for each child to bring in an 8.5x11" paper as a homemade valentine.  Then, each "friend" could sign the valentine.  They could be displayed in the class and then everyone could take theirs home and be done with it.  No candy, no valentines mailbox or bag or anything else needed.  I was told that people like the process of the individual cards and that they would encourage homemade, but that was about it.

How many valentines are actually homemade?  We color on an 8.5x11" paper and write our message.  It is the same for all friends.  I then scan the artwork and print it on post cards.  The older kids personalize them with each friend's name.  The younger ones say "to my friend".  I guess it's half-way homemade?  Before the Halloween candy went into the garbage for mis-behavior (see previous post for details) the kids decided to give each friend a piece of candy with their valentine.  In all of the swapping of cards and candy, I doubt their friends would know that the candy they received was purposely given to them.  Larger ones for certain people and so on.  It solved part of my "we have too much candy in the house" problem (before I threw it away).  I recognize that shifting my issue onto others isn't fair either.

Does this mean that when the kids and I clean out their hoards of stuff and I put the trinkets in the Halloween bucket that I'm transferring my problems to others?  I like to see it as reusing and preventing more candy or trinkets from being purchased and put into the mix of things we (or none of us) really don't need.  To be more like Zero Waste, we'd need to refuse and then have nothing to reuse.  I'm afraid we've been too long on the current path and I'd have a revolt or mutiny in my house.  But then again, I did eliminate the Halloween candy hoarding situation and shift gears there.  I guess I'll just keep trying to make mini-modifications and hope my kids outgrow some of the wasteful habits and holidays.

I feel like a Valentine's Day Scrooge.  Yes, I know it's a holiday about love.  Shouldn't love be every day?

Friday, February 11, 2011

I'm your mother

A few weeks ago we witnessed a boy speaking out in taekwondo class.  Sensei's response was that he was not the boy's friend or father and that he needed to show respect.  Last night, my son said to me, while imitating Sensei's tone, "I'm not your friend or father, I'm your mother."  He was joking at the time, but I know the mother he was referring to.  The one he has that bursts out yelling commands and demands.  If I don't want my kids to yell at each other, why do I yell at them?  When I don't yell, I talk and am accused of talking too much on subjects the kids want to go away.

I write about this because it makes me think.  We are not our kids' friends, but are their parents.  There is a difference.  I once read in a book (right now I can't remember which one) that you are not doing a good job if your kids aren't mad at you.  At the same time, I follow a lovely blog by an awesome pediatric doctor, Essential Parenting.  He encourages a wise and loving heart for parenting.  To be honest, I think both are right.  I have a hard time balancing between the two.

This past week, I was tired and cranky.  Hubby was out of town for 2 nights.  The kids were on a roll with not listening.  I had to ask several times for the mundane tasks of getting ready for bed or shoes on in the morning.  I had already lectured the kids in the car about how they needed to help mommy at home.  Everyone said okay.  Well, I'm sure you can guess, they weren't doing any better when we got home with their listening.  I managed to make dinner and the kids all got their homework done.  A few more reminders at dinner and during work time with promises of compliance going forward.  Ha ha ha.  Post dinner they needed to go potty and brush their teeth.  That's it.  I was clearing the kitchen and heard a ruckus.  All four of them were messing around in the girls' room.  Fighting, playing and plain not listening to my requests or demands.  "That's it!"  I screamed.  "All of your Halloween candy is going in the garbage!"  Their screams and cries of "Noooo!  Noooo!" followed.  #1 finally hopped into the long awaiting shower.  The rest sobbed in their beds and blamed others for their behavior.  "It's not fair," they complained.  I told them they were right since they had promised me something they couldn't deliver.  That wasn't fair.  I also ask them to show me with actions, not words.  I appreciate an apology, but only when the behavior is changed to I relish it.

Truth be told, I was looking for a way to reverse the hoarding of Halloween candy.  I had been threatening it's demise for weeks and finally had followed through.  With this, I stated that we would no longer save any candy.  If you got candy from school or a party, you were to eat it all in that day.  For Halloween, they will be allowed to eat themselves sick and have one night of gluttony during a movie night closely following Halloween.  Pfew, got that out of the way.  They seemed kind of excited in the challenge of eating everything when they got it.  But, I digress.....

The day after the great purge, I took a shower.  Upon getting out of the shower I noticed some words written in the mirror (another peeve of mine).  "I hate you."  Well, I guess I accomplished my kids not liking me by the looks of that statement.  #1 is 10 and I have a diary as proof that I felt the same way towards my mother for various reasons at about the exact same age.  Maybe I should buy him a diary so he doesn't mess up my mirrors.

So, which comes first?  A tired, cranky mom or kids who don't listen.  Chris has a point in Essential Parenting that we lead with our energy.  I guess my goal should be to get more sleep to be less cranky.  Then maybe my kids would listen without reminders?!

Monday, February 7, 2011

what's for dinner?!

We've come a long way baby.  Long ago, pre kids, we enjoyed cooking.  We cooked elaborate meals, shopped on the fly, entertained on a whim.  I envisioned cooking every day I was on maternity leave.  Hmmm, reality set in.  I could manage to bake a batch of cookies, because that was what I was craving, but  complex meals went by the wayside.

Kids happened and we cooked for them.  When they hit the solid food stage, I would make a weeks' worth of baby food, using every pan and surface in the kitchen.  Hubby would clean up the war zone.  This was our teamwork to get this accomplished.  With this, our kids ate the best, most local and homemade food.  Hubby would come home post work when I was on leave and would cook the 2 of us a nice meal.  We would shop at the farmers' market on Saturdays and make whatever looked good, with no real plan.  Once I went back to work, I still let hubby do the dinner cooking.  We'd peruse cookbooks, but with little ones abound, cooking together was a thing of the past.  We'd eat when the kids went to bed after 7.

Then I stopped working and had to prepare meals for 3 (and then 4) kids 3 meals a day.  There was no way with dad working and not home until 7 that the kids could get to bed by 7 without feeding them at 5.  I had basic, staple meals I'd feed them.  Sausage, gnocchi and broccoli was an example of this.  When #4 developed chronic fluid in her ears, she had to go on baby solid food and I started to make her formula from scratch.  The recipe was from the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon.  I'd separate the whey from the yogurt, purchased lactose and a zillion other things whipping this formula up 2 times a week.  You see, the doctor wanted #4 on food and not formula.  She needed to gain weight.  But my life, the life of a mom with 3 other kids 5 and under could not sustain a baby that couldn't eat on the run.  Hence the formula.  She outgrew her ear issue and the formula.  Now I had 4 kids eating the same meals.

Sounds simple, but we were still shopping for kids' food and parent meals as separate menus.  We were not paying attention to cost.  Most especially since we paid a lot by cash at the farmers' market, and charged our way everywhere else.  Then one year, I recapped our spending and saw what we had spent at our local Whole Foods Market.  Yes we are a family of 6, but ignorance is no excuse.  We also were buying prepared foods from Three Stone Hearth.  It was cooked food that just needed heating up, made the way we'd make dinner so long ago.  Saving time had a price and we had to cut back.  We also had to cut back eating out.  When I was pregnant, we'd do takeout a couple of times a week.  We replaced it with the Three Stone Hearth, but it was starting to add up.  When the 6 of us eat in a restaurant, it was totaling close to $100.  Yikes.

At about that time, I came across a 13 week meal planning cookbook Supper's on the Table, Come Home by Rachel Masters.  13 weeks of home cooked meals including shopping lists.  The food was simple and quick including vegetables, entree and a starch.  There was a bit too much condensed soup, velveeta and religion interspersed in the recipes and book for my taste, but I managed to substitute and ignore what I didn't want.  We cooked through the entire 13 weeks along with a friend who did the same week by week.  We'd compare notes and laugh at our mis-steps.  I often missed the parts that said something needed to cook in the crock-pot all day or should be started at 4, not 5:30 to marinade or some silly other little detail.  The beauty of this process was that every week I knew what I needed to purchase to make 5 good meals.  We'd end up with left overs and an impromptu dinner out here or there.  The other great thing was that I started eating with the kids.  Due to extra curricular activities, the kids were staying up a tad later, so they were eating at a more normal adult time.  Hubby would make it home eventually and join us in progress or reheat.  The kids started to have some favorite meals.

I'd never been able to figure out how my mom had made family dinners every night with all of us eating together.  This is probably partially because I don't necessarily remember when I was little, like my kids' ages.  She cooked awesome meals for us with variety and love.  I was on the verge.

Once the 13 weeks were up my friend and I decided to make our own 13 weeks.  We called it our cookbook adventure.  We sifted through years and years of collected recipes torn out of papers and magazines.  We threw out all of the ones that took longer than an hour to prepare and sorted the keepers into meat types, side dishes, vegetables and soups.  We planned 13 weeks of variety with 5 meals a week.  We varied the meats and types of meals, trying to include a crock-pot dish per week.  There was less usage of condensed soup and no velveeta.  We copied and spiral bound the collection.  Since these recipes were untested, it was an adventure for sure.

This led my friend and I to create our own 3-ring binders of recipes that worked for our families.  Armed with a box of sheet protectors, I pulled all of our family favorites into this binder.  It is now separated by meat, rice, pasta, soups, breakfasts, snacks and desserts.  I've been known to let the kids peruse the book and pick a recipe for the coming week.  This gave at least one kid per meal ownership of what we were having.

At the same time, I began budgeting our groceries for the first time ever.  I tracked for years our spending, but never recapped it.  I looked back on all of our spending and picked a weekly average number.  This amount included eating out and everything but cash spending that had been recorded in our tracking.  Each week, on Sunday, we'd pick out 5 nights of meals from the book.  Well, it wasn't just from the book.  I follow several food blogs (smitten kitchenlynns kitchen adventures and dinner a love story) and print out recipes I see that look like they'd fit for us.  I swing those into our weeks and the ones we like move to the binder.  I've even taken to printing on 3-hole punched paper to bypass the sheet protector step.

Things I've learned are that planning one meal as a family is infinitely easier and less expensive than separate kid meals.  It also provides less wasted food.  Shopping farmers' markets gives us the freshest food possible and enables us to carry meals over to the next week if we don't eat 5 meals.  It has simplified our shopping, making it more efficient.  I've also learned that we can do more with less.  I've cut our budget by 20% and am now trying to squeeze it down another 5-10%.  This is without sacrificing quantity or quality. be continued with further conversation about kids eating habits.....

Friday, February 4, 2011

When I grow up

The title of todays post could also have been "hurry up, slow down".  I should remind you that I am not a very patient person.  I hear my kids projecting their future and it makes me think, hope and wish.  As a parent, my greatest wish is for my kids to be happy and secure.  Some days I question how we'll get there.  I wonder what paths they will choose and what will inspire them.  I feel the need to expose them to as many choices and opportunities as possible without making us all poor and crazy.  How and when do you find the inspiration if you don't try things?  When will the the great opportunity happen?  How does this work?  I'm past 40 and am still figuring it out.

#1 wants to work in or own a donut shop among other things.  Prior to that job, he thinks he'll work in one of the local frozen yogurt shops.  He's also wanted to sing the "national anthem" at a Cubs' game and play football.  His most significant wish is to be a University of Michigan Wolverine.  We have no ties to Michigan or its schools.  I'm supportive of all of his wishes and aspirations, except the football one (to be discussed later).  He wants to go to Michigan and play football and wonders how he will do that if I won't let him play football.  Go Blue and hopefully it will keep motivating #1 who hates school to trudge along.  Dad thinks he'd make a good Lawyer.  Don't tell #1 that that means law school and lots more tests.  He's the one questioning why there's school and why if his days are spent at school do they make you take more work home (aka homework)?  Life is unfair, but I hope he can find peace with the process because he's not even 1/2 way done with the school part.  To be honest, I'd envisioned him going to Davis since he has always loved animals.  Even longer than frozen yogurt and donuts.  Maybe because it is closer to home than Michigan, but I'd be fine with either.  He has amazing potential.  What will inspire him?  I can't wait to see.

#2 is hoping to play Major League Baseball.  She'd like to be the first girl, but I think it might be easier if someone else paved the way before her.  She's also expressed interest in being an artist and a teacher.  She is inspirational in every sport she does.  Part of it is because she's playing the boys' versions of the sports.  Boys are usually just wigglier creatures than girls at that age.  She's one of those girls who has very very good focus and memory.  She does not get those traits from her mother.  I've seen glimpses of entrepreneurialism  in her.  She's tried to think of businesses that can have a charitable component to them with a product that appeals to her peers.  I hope she can find balance in the boys world and still fit in with the girls and be happy.  I envisioned she'd go to Cal Poly.  I think it's a good school and it's close to where we like to camp.  Selfish and an unrealistic way to pick my kids' schools, I know.  Remember, this was just conjecture a few years ago.  I think maybe I'll keep her closer so her amazing memory can help me to remember all the stuff I tend to forget.

I see #3 going somewhere like Santa Cruz.  She has such a gift for connecting with people and doing things that suit her outgoing spirit.  I feel like Santa Cruz is a place with lots of personality, but not stuck up.  That describes #3 too.  She's already joined up with a friend and friend of that friend in a jewelry making business.  Crafts always hold her attention, especially when she should be doing homework.

#4 is capable of anything.  In her mind, she already knows how to do everything.  She can fly helicopters, knows directions to everywhere and is willing to use her money to buy anything we need.  She's been to college and can drive a car too.  She's been doing homework for years, even though she is not in kindergarten yet.  Her confidence is amazing.  She, like #3 has a way of story telling and connecting with people.  She's in charge of the house and her life and has been raising herself, her way all along.  I'm just here for opening her back and tickling it and refilling her tea.  She aspires to be a mom and have lots of babies.  I just ask her to wait until she is done with college.  I'd better be careful since in her imagination, she's been there and done that with respect to college.

I look to my future and wonder if there will be something momentous or inspirational to set an example for my kids.  For now, I guess trying to be the best parent I can will have to be it.