Winter Walks

There is something special about visiting the same nature spots repeatedly throughout each season, noticing their sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic changes at different times of the year. They are at once foreign and familiar, these city oases. The kids explore and imagine, the grown-ups point out and observe, marveling at how much enjoyment and learning occur with a simple stick, a pile of leaves, a random patch of ice.

On a cold December morning, a quiet, wooded walk with friends reminds me of how important it is to make these winter walks a priority, even when icy temperatures bid us to stay inside, even when the effort to dress three fidgety little ones in layers of winter gear seems insurmountable. These winter walks are worth it. Spotting crows swooping, winter berries growing, squirrels still at work collecting and burrowing--all of these things reveal nature's important work, even in the chill of winter. And they reveal our need to be a part of this important work, to watch it, to learn from it, to respect it.

In prior years, I over-scheduled our winters with activities and classes for the kids that were designed to get us through this long, gray season. But I realized over the past few winters that these activities too often came to dominate our days, consuming our time and distracting us from fully noticing, fully appreciating what this season teaches us. I am learning now to keep winter simple. I am learning to help us do less and learn more. I am learning to focus the added preparation and travel time of winter into outside endeavors that connect us, however briefly, with the natural world around us--even here in the city. I am learning to let this season lead us, spur us, rather than holding my breath until spring arrives. I am learning to cherish these frosty winter walks, making them the cornerstone of our winter days, the cornerstone of our winter learning.

New Toys for the New Year Giveaway!

The pick-up van for a local charity came this morning to take a dozen bags of unwanted toys and apparel for donation. Ahhh. It feels so nice to simplify our home's playspaces, create more room in our small city condo, remove low-quality toys, and focus on a more natural home environment that sparks childhood imagination.

I am so inspired by simple, natural, multi-purpose toys that I thought it would be a great time to offer a New Year's giveaway to help you replace your unwanted holiday toys with exceptional toys from Bella Luna Toys, a Maine-based, natural, top-quality, waldorf-inspired toy company! I am in love with this company and have bought many items from them that my children adore, so today I am offering a giveaway of two, 50-dollar gift certificates to Bella Luna Toys!

To enter the giveaway, simply become a fan of my blog's Facebook page or "like" this post on Facebook. Winners will be announced on New Year's Day!

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The one drawback of homebirth....

I will admit that there is one drawback to a homebirth: getting the Social Security card. Between spending time on the phone on hold with the government to find out what documents would be acceptable to prove my daughter's existence, and then wasting a morning in line at the Social Security office to present these documents, I actually spent more time dealing with the Social Security Administration than I did pushing out my baby.

I postponed the inevitably of the Social Security office for as long as possible, but as the end of the year nears and tax time approaches, it was time to get this nuisance out of the way. Still, even with the added steps of getting a Social Security Number for a homebirth baby compared to the seamlessness of one being issued by a hospital at birth, I would gladly deal with these administrative hassles to experience the safety, comfort, and exhilaration of a homebirth.

As my daughter's first birthday nears, I am reminded more vividly of her beautiful homebirth. Due on New Year's Day and born one week later, the anticipation of the holidays was joined by eagerness for her arrival. During this holiday season, I am reminded of the excitement that filled our home last year at this time, wondering when she would arrive. My first two children had their birthdays chosen for them in unnecessary labor inductions, but my littlest one enjoyed the increasingly fading privilege of choosing her own birthday, entering the world when and how she wanted.

In 2012, I am going to be organizing a series of local "birth circle" meetings to gather together past, present, and future clients of homebirth and midwife-assisted births to learn and share insights about the countless benefits of natural birth. If you are in the Boston area, and would like to be updated about upcoming "birth circle" meetings, click on my profile link in the sidebar and send me an email to be added to the mailing list!

Merry Days

This holiday weekend, I am feeling...

* delighted that Harvard Yard is once again open just in time for Christmas walks

* lucky that last-minute shopping is only steps away

* grateful for aunts, grandmothers, friends--and our neighborhood deli--for helping with food and party preparations

* glad that my endeavor to serve healthy party snacks, save for some essential homemade holiday cookies, satisfied the partygoers

* delighted by snow flurries on Christmas Day

* in awe that my littlest one wasn't even here last Christmas

* relieved that we were not completely overwhelmed with gifts and toys and wrappings

* pleased that an empty cardboard box remains the best gift of all

* thankful for celebrating this special season with dear friends and family

* captivated by childhood wonder and imagination

* fortunate to spend a peaceful, quiet evening with Daddy after a very full, very merry weekend

Wishing you merry days throughout the New Year!

Celebrating Winter Solstice

Warm winter wishes to you at the start of this new season, a season of home, and comfort, and nose-nipping play. A year ago at this time, I started learning more about celebrating seasonal changes with children and using these natural markers of time to create meaningful family traditions and celebrations. The result for our family has been a much deeper understanding and appreciation of seasonal rhythms and the abundant learning opportunities inherent in each new tilt of the earth.

Celebrating the winter solstice this year has been particularly enjoyable, as we marked the time toward the shortest day and welcomed the returning light with a festive winter meal, holiday lights, winter bedtime stories by candlelight, and "solstice" muffins for breakfast.

As we sang, "Happy Solstice to you, Happy Solstice to you," I realized how much more gladly I welcome this cold and desolate season now than before. It used to fill me with dread, these long, dark, dreary indoor days of a New England winter. When my oldest was a toddler, winter felt endless. But I learned as our family grew to embrace these days more fully, to recognize them as a special time when we can gather together at home as a family to dig through piles of library books, bake yummy winter treats, and fully welcome the gifts of the season as we skate, and stomp, and snowflake-catch. I learned that the extra time and hassle of donning winter gear and apparel is just part of our daily winter life, as we move from warmth to cold to warmth again throughout each day. Mostly, I learned to see winter's magic through the eyes of my children, who welcome this season with fervor and anticipation, who greet snowstorms with glee and icicles with delight, who savor the chance to spend more time snuggled in at home rather than darting off to this place or that.

So as this new season dawns and the frosty days settle in, I will focus on the light of this season, the joy that it brings to my children, the warmth of home that welcomes us, and the promise that lies ahead.

What To Do With Plastic Toys?

I am sure many of us are bracing for the onslaught of plastic, low-quality, single-purpose, overly-commercialized toys that these holidays inevitably bring. Despite our gentle urgings, it is often challenging to prevent such toys from entering our homes from well-meaning family members and friends.

In my early mothering days, I didn't pay much attention to which toys and clothing entered my home. But then I started to see how overly commercialized toys, gifts, and apparel, often linked to popular kids' television shows, began to infiltrate my children's play. Instead of allowing them to imagine their own play scenes with certain characters, they relied upon scripted actions influenced by media outlets and large toy manufacturers. I also noticed that plastic, single-purpose toys limited their imagination compared with simple, multi-purpose toys, like wooden blocks and generic figurines. I began donating bags and bags of lower-quality toys, thus simplifying our playspace, and noticed large gains in the quality of imaginative, child-conjured play my children exhibited. (I recommend the books Taking Back Childhood, by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Born to Buy, by Juliet Schor, and Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne, to read more about simplifying childhood play and rejecting commercialized children's products.)

I now try to provide guidance and suggestions on gift-giving and then bite my tongue act graciously when these gifts still seem to arrive. Some of them we play with for awhile and then giveaway to our city playgrounds that are filled with toys for common use. Others we giveaway to local charities. But the key word here is *giveaway*!

Check back here next week for a generous *giveaway* to Bella Luna Toys, a Maine-based, natural, waldorf-inspired toy company, and replace those unwanted holiday toys with top-quality toys from Bella Luna!

cheznous hososs

cheznous hososs

Making A List, Checking It Twice

Oh, the elving that occurs this week, in these final days before Christmas! The list grows, the to-dos mount. Baking, shopping, wrapping, preparing. You know.

And yet, among all of the checklists and pending tasks and daily demands of life with three young children, I am enjoying the merriment of this special week: the wide-eyed faces of my little ones as I tell them bedtime stories of my childhood Christmases; the warmth of having Daddy home with us away from work for several days; the after-dinner walks on our city sidewalks admiring the festive lights of our neighbors; the anticipation of the "shortest day" and the returning light of the Winter Solstice; the skating and the singing and the Santa sighting--the magic, pure magic, of this time of the year.

During these busy and full days, it takes extra effort, it seems, to be mindful of the joys of the season, to not get so bogged-down with holiday obligations that I forget to see this time through the eyes of my children, a time filled with togetherness and possibility.

Watching my little ones, I wonder how much longer the allure of Santa will endure, how much longer the Christmas stories we read will be more fact than fiction. Surely this time of year will always be special, but oh how magical it is right now.

So as the to-do list lengthens and the preparations continue, I am holding on to the right now: this cherished season that is merry, magical, momentary. Just like childhood.

Somehow It Happens...

* that I get longer stretches of quiet in the evenings until the baby wakes for more mama's milk.

* that I can leave the playroom for a bit and return to see my five-year-old lovingly reading a book to an attentive little brother.

* that a baby sister squeals with delight watching her big brother and big sister plunge down the slide at the park, itching to join in the fun.

* that a toddler's imaginary friend who doesn't like our Christmas tree bulbs can change the entire decorating scheme of our holiday tree.

* that my five-year-old teaches me about the ancient volcanic eruption in Pompeii.

* that the third child realizes that if she wants to eat, she had better learn quickly how to feed herself at the dinner table.

* that the oldest watches out for the youngest.

* that onesies are outgrown, boots become too small, mittens don't fit.

* that as they grow, so do I.

Co-Sleeping with a Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler

Welcome to the Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival
This post was written for inclusion in the Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival hosted by Monkey Butt Junction. Our bloggers have written on so many different aspects of cosleeping. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

I stumbled upon co-sleeping out of desperation and exhaustion eight weeks after my oldest was born five years ago, and I have never looked back.

Aside from being passionate about breastfeeding, I am astonished at how grossly unprepared I was for motherhood in those early days and weeks with my first newborn. My ignorance led me to trust the advice of others rather than listen to my own inner maternal voice, the one that always knows what is best for my baby. If I had listened to that maternal voice, I would have enjoyed those savory early weeks of new motherhood, rather than remember them as fog-filled days of uncertainty, anxiety, fatigue, and frustration. I would have known that babies are designed to sleep peacefully next to their mothers, happily nursing all night long, both waking refreshed and ready to start a new day together.

When I abandoned the crib and brought my daughter to bed with me at eight weeks old, I wholeheartedly embraced Attachment Parenting and its focus on listening to our maternal wisdom and being responsive to our children's needs. Yet, even as I tried to trust the strong and time-tested mother-baby partnership, I was still filled with trepidation about how to safely co-sleep with both a baby and a toddler when I became pregnant for the second time. I remember asking other co-sleeping moms for advice and being told over and over that it would all come naturally.

It did. My newborn slept peacefully and safely on one side of me while my toddler slept peacefully and safely on the other side. My husband and I invested in a larger bed and put our mattress on the floor surrounded by pillows and blankets to protect our "nightcrawlers," and we purchased an additional mattress for extra comfort and space.  I continued to nurse our infant continuously, on-demand, throughout the night as he nestled in the crook of my arm, away from his big sister.

My third baby was born at home in our family bed. By then, I had finally, gratefully, learned to trust my maternal wisdom and let it naturally guide me in caring for my family's well-being. I know that co-sleeping is right for my children, for our family, and I know that the family bed is for now the safest, warmest, happiest spot for all of us.

Safe Cosleeping Blog Carnival

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Nature-Inspired Christmas Tree

Welcome to the December Mindful Mama Carnival: Staying Mindful During the Holiday Season

This post was written for inclusion in the Mindful Mama Carnival hosted by Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ. This month our participants have shared how they stay mindful during the holiday season. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


My Christmas tree was always plain. White lights, red, unbreakable bulbs, and a red ribbon on top described my Christmas tree for most of my adult life. And I liked it that way. I liked its simple elegance.

I was on the path to repeat this tree decorating scheme this year. Following tradition, the day after Thanksgiving the five of us left the city and traveled to a Christmas tree farm in the countryside to choose and cut our Christmas tree, and then we spent the afternoon decorating it simply and plainly.

A few days later, I grew weary of the piles of bulbs my five-year-old and two-year-old continuously removed from the tree for play, leaving it even more nondescript than before. Then it occurred to me that this is a perfect opportunity to make this year's Christmas tree more meaningful, more original, more child-centered, and more true to its winter solstice origins.

So the kids and I began exploring how to decorate a nature-inspired Christmas tree, a tree that would symbolize light and life, strength and stamina--qualities that led cultures dating back thousands of years to celebrate the returning light of the winter solstice by decorating their homes with evergreens and other hardy flora.

We launched our new decorating mission with a trip to our neighborhood florist for some baby's breath and floral wire. As we were leaving the shop, I mentioned to him that we were on our way to collect pine cones nearby for our nature-inspired tree. The florist, thankfully, informed us that we had to bake the pine cones on a foil-lined cookie sheet at 200-degrees for about an hour to avoid our home being infested with bugs! Excellent tip. After collecting piles of pine cones, we visited the local market for some fresh cranberries to string and cinnamon sticks to tie.

As the kids helped to organize the pine cones for baking, thread the cranberries, wrap the pine cones and cinnamon sticks, place the baby's breath--and add their own handmade "ornaments" to the collection--I realized what a gift it is to celebrate this special season with a nature-inspired, child-focused Christmas tree.

And you know what? It is simply elegant.


Mindful Mama Carnival -- Becoming Crunchy and TouchstoneZ Visit The Mindful Mama Homepage to find out how you can participate in the next Mindful Mama Carnival!

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One City, Three Rinks

Note to self: Do not assume that just because the temperature finally dipped into the 30s today, the city's two outdoor ice skating rinks are open for the season....

We walked to Harvard Square for the season opener of the outdoor rink only to realize that it's next Sunday. No problem, let's just hop on the subway to the Kendall Square outdoor rink, we thought. Again, not open yet.
At this point, two of my three little people were tired from walking and traveling, and hovered on the brink of a disappointment meltdown while my third little one squawked for some mama's milk. Fortunately, it occurred to me that we weren't too far from our city's third rink, an indoor one that as luck would have it was offering public skating at that exact moment. Our rink crisis was averted, some sweet little ones enjoyed ice time, and Daddy and I were very grateful for our city's bountiful back-up plans.

{this moment} City Reflections

{this moment} - A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Visit SouleMama for more "moments" and to share your own...

Community Art

One of the great things about city homeschooling is the wide availability of various arts programs for kids. City-sponsored art programs, art museum classes, and private art center offerings can lead to a robust and engaging art curriculum.

We have enrolled in various art classes around our city, but my current favorite spot is a popular local drop-in art studio for kids called Mucky Kids. The freedom and flexibility that drop-in, pay-as-you-go art sessions offer are invaluable to us as unschoolers. For city parents in particular, a dedicated community crafting spot offers the space and supplies that small city homes sometimes lack.

Today my five-year-old created ornaments and holiday accessories, while my two-year-old played with modeling clay, and my 11-month-old sat contentedly with some jingle bells and pipe cleaners.

The cost of kids creating, crafting, cultivating an appreciation for community art? $12 per kid.

Not having glitter in my kitchen? Priceless.

Gingerbread Days

One of my favorite things about this time of year are the wonderful winter stories that emerge from our back closet and from the library shelves. Two family favorites are the Gingerbread Boy, by Paul Galdone, and Jan Brett's version, Gingerbread Friends.

Gingerbread Friends is particularly engaging because of the gingerbread cookie recipe that lines the borders of its pages and invites us to follow along and create our own batch of gingerbread men each year around this time. We started our December gingerbread-making tradition when my oldest was three, and at the time I came up with a little song that we continue to sing each time we make these cookies, sung to the tune of "Jingle Bell Rock:"

Gingerbread, gingerbread, gingerbread man,
Gingerbread man, oh, gingerbread man,
We roll you, we pat you, we bake you today,
We hope you come and play!

Holiday cookie-making is such a fun and delicious way to celebrate the season and involve our children in new family traditions. Happy baking!

Friday Nightlife

My Friday night ritual this fall has been to take the kids on the subway in the afternoon to meet Daddy at his downtown office building and then all go out for a yummy Italian dinner in the North End. The mildness of this New England autumn has made these excursions extra fun, but regardless of the weather, Friday night family dinners are anticipated all week long by both the kids and the grown-ups.

Throughout this fall, we have ventured to many North End restaurants, some recommended by local North End parents and others that we just happened upon in our wanderings. I have to say that of all the spots we've been to this year, Mother Anna's on Hanover Street is by far the most family-friendly. Good food, great service, spacious and accommodating of little ones, this place might now become our "regular" Friday night hang-out.

For grown-up-only nights, there are other great places in the North End, and of course elsewhere in the city; but with lots of kids in tow for an early weekend dinner, Mother Anna's has my vote.

Boston parents: Will you share your favorite spots in the city for dining-out with kids?

Join me at Rhythm of the Home....

I am truly honored and excited today to have an article included in the Winter issue of Rhythm of the Home, one of my favorite online magazines. My article, "From Mother's House to Mine," highlights the cycle of seasonal family traditions.

Please join me over at Rhythm of the Home to take a peek at my article and enjoy the many inspiring essays included in this magazine....

Getting There

So much of city homeschooling is about the journey, the people and places we learn from as we go about our days.

On our way to and from meeting homeschool friends for morning bowling, we took our time traveling by foot and bus and subway, making sure to notice all that was around us. Subway fiddlers, transit maps, mild autumn air and November flowers were just some of the things that captivated us during our travels.

A city is a big and beautiful classroom. Its museums, libraries, universities, and cultural events create boundless learning opportunities for children and their parents; but so too do the everyday sights and sounds of a city.

The journey to our destination can be circuitous, unpredictable, enchanting. Often that's just how we like it.

Infant Wisdom

It's been a busy holiday week. Our days have been filled with family gatherings, meals with friends, and city holiday events. I was beginning to sense that the week was catching up to all of us. The kids had more moments of crankiness, more short-fuses, more sugar-fueled outbursts. With a Sunday morning brunch and a busy afternoon planned today, holiday overload was kicking in.

As I was nursing my 10-month-old early this afternoon, knowing she was done, I grew impatient that she was still lingering, unwilling to let go so we could move along with packing snacks, donning jackets, and leaving for our next activity. Then I stopped and realized what she was telling me: "mama, slow down and stay."

So we did. After a week of go-go-go, today we slowed and stayed. We shortened our brunch, canceled our afternoon plans, and spent our afternoon together in the quiet comfort of home and family.

Our children teach us, show us, tell us. All we need to do is listen.

At The Tree Farm

There are certain days each year that help us to mark the passage of time, to notice the growing and changing of our family, to remind us to pause and remember. The day after Thanksgiving, the day we find our Christmas tree, is such a day for our family.

We began this tradition when my oldest was the age of my youngest, when she made the trek with us out of the city to a lovely Christmas tree farm and helped us to select our perfect tree while riding in the same baby carrier that my infant now sits in.

On today's walk through the woods at the tree farm, we passed the lot from which we selected that first family tree four years ago. The lot is now filled with baby trees that grow and change each year, waiting for the time when they will be old enough for picking. Like these baby trees, my little ones are ever-changing, still years away from adulthood and yet so quickly growing up.

At last we arrive at the mature tree lot and take our time finding this year's perfect tree. Each year we say that our tree is better than the last. And maybe it is. Maybe each year is even better than the last...

If your family is selecting a Christmas tree this year, I highly recommend two books that we enjoy in the days leading up to finding and cutting our tree: Christmas Tree Farm by Ann Purmell, and Christmas Farm by Mary Lyn Ray.

Cultivating Calm During the Holidays

The holiday season is full of merriment: lots of entertaining, a busy and prolific kitchen, gatherings with family and friends, nurturing new traditions within our little family, decorating, preparing, celebrating. Full of merriment, but full.

Among all of the excitement and enchantment of the season, I am trying to cultivate calm in my home. At this time of year, kids--and grown-ups--can get so easily over-stimulated and over-scheduled. I am working on finding the right balance between welcoming so much goodness, welcoming so many opportunities to gather together with family and friends, and helping us not get so over-booked that we miss those calm, peaceful moments to reflect on the magic of the season as a family.

Cultivating these calm moments over the coming weeks will take some effort and vigilance on my part. It will take being selective about our holiday happenings, balancing active and quiet times each day, setting limits and altering plans if necessary.

The holidays can become overwhelming for both children and parents. As I embrace the joy of the season, I am watching my little ones, noticing if the rhythm of our days becomes too strained, and cultivating moments of calm amidst the merriment.

Weekly Mothering Challenge: Try Batch Cooking

I have been endeavoring recently to perfect the art and skill of batch cooking, making lots of food at once to eat and then freeze for later. With Daddy taking some time off from work this week and Thanksgiving festivities happily drawing me closer to the kitchen, this is a good time to work on batch cooking. I am trying, as best I can, to *simply* double (or triple) everything I am making these days. We eat some now and save some for later to maximize time and effort.

Once I become more skilled at batch cooking, I am thinking we may purchase a separate freezer for our basement storage area for extra food that won't fit in our small pantry refrigerator. So far it's been helpful to have extra bowls of lentils, and lasagna, and pasta sauce waiting in the wings for days when I don't want to cook or know what to serve.

In this month's issue of Natural Life Magazine there is a great article about using batch cooking to promote community and convenience, suggesting strategies for forming small batch cooking groups that work together to make large meal portions to serve several families throughout a month. Such a fabulous idea!

In addition to preparing quarts of spiced squash and apple soup, mounds of biscuits, and many other goodies this week, I am also using farm-fresh cranberries to make several batches of this very yummy cranberry bread recipe that my aunt graciously passed along to me:

Auntie's Homemade Cranberry Bread

1 1/2 C chopped fresh cranberries
4 tsp grated orange peel
3 T sugar
(mix these three ingredients and set aside)

3 C sifted flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
3/4 C sifted sugar
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3/4 C orange juice
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1 C chopped nuts (optional)
3/4 C water
1/2 C melted butter

Pre-heat oven to 350-degrees. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, add eggs to orange juice, water, and melted butter and mix. Add to dry ingredients and stir enough to blend and moisten. Add cranberry mixture and optional nuts and mix, being careful not to over-mix.

Add to greased 9x5x3 loaf pan (or separate into two pans), bake for approximately 1 hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Eat immediately, or for best results, cool completely, wrap in tin foil, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Enjoy!

The Season of Celebrating

This has been a weekend of celebrating. A big five-year-old birthday, getting her OWN library card, and a big promotion for Daddy led to warm celebrations with loved ones and served as the perfect launch for the month-long holiday festivities ahead. I definitely love summertime, but now through New Year's is by far my favorite time of the year.

Holiday music is playing in my kitchen, winter stories are emerging, and plans are percolating for a delightful family Thanksgiving and a December full of seasonal celebrations. City holiday tree lightings, a visit to a Christmas tree farm to select the *perfect* family tree, Santa spottings, holiday brunches, open houses, winter solstice celebrations, and a trip to the Nutcracker ballet make this time of year magical for all of us.

I don't know if it's my age (34), my increasing focus on more mindful mothering, or my maturing little family--probably a bit of everything--but I am much more conscious and contemplative of our seasonal celebrations now than ever before. Among our everyday to-dos, I am trying to stop and think more carefully about how we celebrate this enchanting time of the year. I am conjuring new family traditions and enhancing old ones. For instance, celebrating the winter solstice will be a bigger event for us this year and our holiday party hosting continues to be altered and embellished.

What seasonal celebrations are you preparing for over the next few weeks, and what are some of your family's holiday traditions, old and new?

Friday Night Lights

Wishing you a bright start to your weekend!