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3/20/2013

I brought my kids to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, on Sunday. There was music, dancing and mounds and mounds of candy. We left with our pockets and stroller pouch overflowing with candy! Although I don’t want to deprive my children of the fun experience of collecting candy, I don’t want them to eat a large quantity of artificial colors, dyes and sweeteners.

making homemade art from candy  making homemade art from candy
Photos By Sarah Lozanova

At Halloween, a fairy came along and traded dates and raisins for the candy stash. Thankfully my kids were asleep before the trick-or-treating ended, so we were able to pass the candy along to other children. For St. Patrick’s Day, we decided to make artwork from the candy collection.

We started out by making homemade glue, which contains water, cornstarch, corn syrup and vinegar. My children, ages 2 and 4, then glued the candy on thick pieces of paper. They really enjoyed the project and didn’t once ask for a taste. The candy is still edible if anyone wants it, as the glue is food grade.

I enjoy celebrating holidays with my children, but I keep the emphasis on spending quality time together and enjoying ourselves, and away from heaps of candy. My daughter’s Easter basket last year was filled with carrots and blueberries, and we used polished rocks for our dreidel games (instead of chocolate coins). It keeps me on my toes too, finding creative and fun ways to celebrate the holidays.


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development. View her natural parenting blog at RawMama.org. 



3/7/2013

When I was a child, I would often spend time with a group of Italian neighbors in their 80s. We would stroll around the neighborhood together, pick grapes and visit their friends. They were warm, active and social women who were enjoying life, setting a great example of how rich the golden years can be. Aside from grandparents however, my two young children have very limited contact with older adults.

My family will soon be moving to Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage (BCE), a 36-unit community on 42 shared acres in mid-coast Maine. The homes feature a passive solar design, and a common house with shared space will be constructed soon.

little girl and senior carving pumpkins
Photo Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

“I think we have an amazing mix, from people in their 20s who are just having babies to people in their 70s,” says Judith Grace, a member of BCE and a grandmother of three. “We couldn’t have planned it better.”

I’m really excited for my children to live in a multi-generational community and form relationships with people of a variety of ages, as it can only enrich their lives. When speaking with other parents of young children living at BCE, they were attracted to the community partially for this reason.

“Many kids know their parents, perhaps their grandparents and 50 or 100 other kids their age,” says Dan Capwell, a member of BCE and a new father. “Kids from cohousing know many older adults, middle-aged people and older kids. It gives them a more well-rounded life experience to draw from.”

By design, BCE members have frequent contact with neighbors. Automobile access is limited and homes are clustered to preserve open space and encourage spontaneous interactions. Voluntary shared meals will be offered a few times a week once the common house is completed and all are encouraged to participate in the community gardens.

“Because kids in cohousing have access to all different ages of people, they tend to have a better relational skill set,” says Allison Piper, an expectant mother and member of BCE. “They are more confident in dealing with people of all ages. They can envision being friends with adults as easily as someone their own age.”

quilting with seniors
Photo Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

Many older adults are retired and have more time and energy to invest in relationships. Jeffrey Mabee, Judith’s husband, often goes to the sporting events to watch BCE children play and says he feels almost like an uncle or grandfather to them.

“I’m going to have a room in our house that I call my project room, and I think a lot about having children there, sharing in what I’m doing,” says Jeffrey. “I think of the things I can teach children, and it’s part of what attracts me to the cohousing project.”

As much as my children can benefit from living in a multi-generational community, I believe I will too. My mother is deceased and I don’t currently have many relationships with older adults. Many of the BCE seniors have grown children and a wealth of life experiences and wisdom to share.

“I think with age, we can bring a certain calm perspective and ability to look at the bigger picture,” says Jeffrey. “It is less important for me now to get the things that I thought I wanted. What is most important to me is to create love and connection in our community.” 

These are lessons that I’m still learning. I often prioritize completing a load of laundry above playing with my kids, or cleaning the bathroom above bathtub play.

Certainly we don’t need to move to a cohousing community to have relationships with older adults. Many churches and religious organizations, neighborhoods, extended families and non-profit organizations have members of all ages. Our local botanic garden has many friendly senior volunteers who go out of their way to converse with my children when we visit and seem to really enjoy the interactions with visitors.

I hope the older adults at BCE also find the relationships with families of young children enriching. “I think seniors aren’t getting the feedback that they are still a really valuable part of the whole fabric of society,” says Judith. “I think there are lots of seniors who have low self-esteem about being old. Our culture promotes that, but I think it is good for seniors to be in a place where their voice is just as important as anyone else’s voice in the community.”


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development. View her natural parenting blog at RawMama.org. 



2/7/2013

How did Silver Surfer get trapped in a bag on our window sill? And why is he so desperate to escape?

Silver Surfer toy

It's a convoluted tale that began at the Northwest Denver Toy Library. We're fortunate that the toy library is in the basement of our closest Denver Public Library branch. We make it there a few times a month, and the kids each choose two or three toys to check out. Sam usually chooses something that complements his own toys, like the police station below. Isabel always chooses the noisiest toys, with our blessing, since we'll be able to return them in three weeks.

Sam playing with toy police station 

toy piano 

The concept of a toy library exemplifies the idea of playing well with others. Our toy library has been a free resource for Denver families since 1980, and it’s always run and stocked by volunteers. We're usually there on Saturdays, and inevitably run into someone we know. Kids and parents end up playing, talking and building community.

Sam has recently decided to let go of a few of his toys, in order to make room for more Legos, Trashies and Nanospeeds. The toys that he's willing to donate are small, and generally plastic, but for him it's a great start in the process of letting go. You can see that SpongeBob isn't sold on the idea of leaving his happy home.

SpongeBob toy 

The problem is that SpongeBob can't move to the toy library. Donated toys that aren't brand-new, must include proof that they meet federal safety standards. SpongeBob and all of his friends don't have papers, so we've come up with another option. In the tradition of The Toy Society, we're going to start leaving the toys at playgrounds, parks and other spots where a toy might come in handy. We decided to wrap the toys in bags marked "Free Toys" so the finders won’t hesitate to take possession. We’ve been making the bags from old t-shirts, and writing on them with permanent marker, in the hope that they’ll survive all types of weather conditions. We’re looking forward to hiding and sharing many toys during the next few weeks.

Do you have any creative locations, where Silver Surfer and SpongeBob might find appreciative new owners? 


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff, and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband, and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play



1/29/2013

The weather here is unseasonably warm, so we’ve got seeds and planting on our minds. We didn’t grow very much last year, so this feels like the year to really go big. It helps that I’ve been reading Grow Great Grub by Gayla Trail, again. It’s one of those books that makes the idea of planting a lot of food seem possible, even though we don’t have a huge garden space.  Here are some of the steps we’re taking right now, to get on track to grow more of our own food this year:

gardening in purple boots
Making a garden plan while wearing purple boots. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

• Mapping our entire yard space, so we can make better use of the light and shade. I really like this simple mapping tool from Gardener’s Supply Company. We’ll need to make a more detailed map of the small areas that we plan to use in our side and front yards.

• Deciding what we can realistically fit in our space.

• Gathering seeds! Seed Savers Exchange is a great resource.

• Finding and preparing alternative planters, inside and outside.

• Making a space to start some seeds inside; Gayla Trail has devoted a entire section of her You Grow Girl website to seed starting.

Isabel
Isabel, growing in the sunshine. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

In addition to working with the garden spaces in and around our home, I’m also hoping to buy a plot in our school’s community garden. When school began in August, Sam was very interested in the plum trees in the garden, so he’ll be motivated to help care for the trees and help with the fall harvest. We’re also figuring out our CSA (or NSA) budget, and which farm we’ll support this year. We’ve been very happy with Monroe Farms during past years, but we’ve recently heard about some options that are even closer to our home.

Beyond the details and logistics of learning to grow more of our food, we’re simply enjoying our time outside, absorbing the fresh air, the light, and of course the dirt.

What are you thinking of growing this year?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff, and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband, and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play



1/14/2013

I thought our intention for this coming week would be centered on meal planning or cooking with healthier ingredients. Those types of goals are important, but through our intention to celebrate during our family meals, it became clear that presence is at the heart of the party. Showing up, staying engaged and being real.

dinner table
Photo By Stijn Nieuwendijk/Courtesy Flickr

Maybe you've been at a party, and even though the celebration part is happening, you don't feel a sense of engagement or truthfulness, from yourself or the people around you. I have to confess that I've been both disengaged and disingenuous way too often, particularly during the past year. Instead of facing uncomfortable realities or situations, I tend toward denial and avoidance.

Everything is fine. Where's my iPhone?

I'll give myself a little credit: I believe that I'm getting better at being present. I'm getting better at it because I have the chance to practice every day, particularly when I'm with my family. I'm learning that presence doesn't mean presenting a perfect facade. And I'm learning to give myself a break when I fall short.

At dinner tonight, we were all present. We brought silliness, impatience, laughter, spilled water glasses, complaints about beef ravioli, fights over seating arrangements, scatological humor, and a lot of love. Everything wasn't fine, but I didn't retreat to my iPhone. We all showed up to the party, and it was a come-as-you-are event.

What does being present mean to you? How does being present affect your family meals?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play.



1/9/2013

At our house, Sundays will be about setting an intention or focus for the week to come. Last year we focused on more of the practical matters of family meals. We still want to think about meal planning and healthy ingredients, but our most important mission is to celebrate the time we have together. For our family, for the coming week and beyond, our focus will be bringing joy and celebration to our everyday family meals.

floral centerpiece
Our Kings Day celebration centerpiece. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

We're rolling back into a normal routine with all of us spending long days at work and school. Our time together each morning and evening rushes by and is often diminished by stress, frustration, complaints and exhaustion. We've just had two weeks of beautifully slow mornings and evenings, and I'm hopeful that we can carry our vacation ways back to real life.

Kings Day felt crowns
Our Kings Day celebration felt crowns. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

Celebrating Kings Day last Sunday was a foundation for our intention. Our pseudo-party was low key, not too fancy, and didn't require hours of sweating in the kitchen. The celebratory atmosphere was stoked by four kids running around the house with flashlights, a few felt crowns and one delicious, crumby cake.

Kings Day cake
Our alternative Kings Day cake. Photo By Elise Roth Edwards.

We started our own tradition by using a coffee cake recipe from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion. Sam and I also chose some non-traditional "trinkets" to bake into the cake. They included:

■ A nickel: you will have 5 years of good luck!
■ A mini-pretzel: you will have a flexible year
■ Chocolate chips: you will have a sweet year, OR you'll eat a lot of candy in the coming year
■ A dried cranberry: you will eat a lot of fruit in the coming year
■ A goldfish cracker: you will eat a lot of fish in the coming year

I'm glad that Sam's friend Max found the nickel—his expression was pure joy, and he beamed as we all hooted and hollered and celebrated his good luck. We then went on to hoot and holler every time someone found a chocolate chip, and there were a lot of chocolate chips mixed in, to guarantee a sweet year for everyone present. The goldfish cracker still hasn't been found, so we have a few more anticipatory dessert sessions to look forward to.

But the question remains: How can we come back to joy and celebration, when we're tired and burnt out?

To try to answer that question, we had a party brainstorm. Here are our top nine party moves that we'll try to bring to our meals. The caveat is that we'll only use the ideas if they lower our stress levels. If any idea results in even a hint of extra household stress, the idea will be abandoned mid-use and may or may not be entertained again.

1. Great parties have great music—girl, put your records on!
2. Mood lighting: flashlights, candlelight, Christmas lights, or all of these
3. Appetizers that could pan out to be the entire meal
4. Fancy drinks in fancy glasses
5. The “nice” dishes
6. Minimal dishes: napkins make great plates, and who needs forks if you've got toothpicks and skewers?
7. Electronic devices stowed away
8. Be a party person, or better yet, be the witty, charming, funny person that you are when you're at your best. Smile and look other people in the eye, because you want to connect. Ask your fellow party-goers questions, because you genuinely want to know the answers. Relax and enjoy the moment, because that's what you do at parties, right?
9. End the party with dancing, always.

What party tips would you suggest, to bring more celebration to everyday meals?


Elise Roth EdwardsElise Roth Edwards writes, paints, makes stuff and asks a lot of questions in Denver, with the help of her two kids, her husband and a growing crowd of friends and neighbors. You can read more about their experiments and adventures at her ever-evolving parenting blog, The Family Lab for Inquiry and Play.


12/26/2012

Throughout my life, I have lived in communities where I knew only a handful of my neighbors. I didn’t ever ask to borrow a cup of sugar or flour like they did in the communities depicted in 1950s sitcoms. My mother, however, grew up in such a neighborhood, where there were 42 children living on one block. When kids played outside, all the neighbors looked out for them, not only the parents. In many ways, my husband and I have been seeking out such a community for our two young children.

My family will soon be moving to Belfast Cohousing and Ecovillage (BC&E) on the midcoast of Maine. Cohousing is collaborative housing where residents actively and intentionally participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhood.

kids flying kites at the Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage
Photo By Jeffrey Mabee/Courtesy Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage

BC&E is a 36-unit community on 40-plus acres that will soon break ground on the approximately 4,000-square-foot common house with a large dining room, commercial kitchen, guest bedrooms, laundry room and playroom.

The community layout—including restricted access to automobiles with parking on the periphery, clustered homes, community vegetable and flower gardens, and preserved open space—makes it a safe and dynamic place for children to call home. There are currently 11 member households with children or little ones on the way, as well as numerous senior households that are eager to have a role in these children’s lives.

Before deciding to join a cohousing community, I spoke with other people about their experiences. “Living in cohousing is amazing for children,” says Forrest Espinoza, a mother of two, ages 8 and 11, who lives in Troy Gardens, a cohousing community in Madison, Wisconsin. “My kids enjoy playing with children of all ages. They play outside so much more. Before we moved here, I had a hard time getting them to go outside because there weren’t other kids outside. The first couple years we lived here, I had trouble getting them to come inside!”

Espinoza believes this experience has been an opportunity for personal growth. “I’ve been thinking about how my children have to share a yard,” says Espinoza. “If you were in a typical community, you would invite other children to come into your yard. If your children weren’t getting along, you wouldn’t invite those kids to come over and play. In a cohousing community, they have to work things out. It was frustrating in the beginning, but our whole family has experienced incredible growth.”

In addition to having other children on hand to play with, there are also numerous adults that can enrich the children’s lives. “My children know more adults who care for them and have relationships that go beyond me,” says Stacy Lewis, who lives in a Seattle cohousing community with her husband and two sons, ages 6 and 9. “While moving here didn’t instantly give us twenty new grandma and grandpas or aunts and uncles, cohousing provides many opportunities for shared experiences, and our connections deepen over time. It’s true that we are closer with some folks than others, yet by the time they are grown, my children will have known and been known by many warm-hearted folks.”

Restricted automobile access with centralized parking is a common feature of many cohousing communities. In addition to helping preserve open space, it also makes the community safer for children. “I know when my children go out the door, they’re not going to get hit by a car,” says Nessa Dertnig, a member of BC&E and a mother of two. “They can ride their bikes around and I can feel safe, even if they are not within eyesight. That certainly isn’t the case where we live now.”

The parents can also benefit considerably from a supportive cohousing community, particularly with childcare. “The kids can run back and forth to each other’s houses,” says Espinoza. “We don’t have to call or text to work out all the details [for childcare] and we don’t have to drive the kids back and forth.”

From media exposure to conflict resolution, different parenting styles can present challenges for communities. My family is currently living in a cooperative house where there is a shared kitchen, dining room and family room. When a new family moved in, they brought a plastic battery-operated machine gun toy for the family room that lit up and made sounds when fired. I was shocked when I saw my 4-year-old daughter pretending to kill people with it. Thankfully, the other mother was receptive to keeping such toys out of common areas of the house.

Peacefully resolving potentially contentious situations requires a commitment to communication and the community. “To really get this community to work, we’re all going to have to really work on growing as people and taking responsibility for our own issues, and learn to work with all different kinds of people,” says Dertnig. “It’s going to be important that we figure that out, support each other, and get training when we need it.” 

In addition to having other children on hand to play with, there are also numerous community traditions that kids can participate in. “I think we have richer spiritual lives,” says Lewis. “My kids have more rituals and traditions than they would living in a single-family home. Traditional celebrations include an Easter egg hunt, Passover Seder, and pumpkin carving, but we also have coming of age ceremonies for teens and a waking up the trees procession for winter solstice. These mark time and provide context for what it means to be a human being in relationship to others and the natural world.”

Uprooting ourselves and moving to BC&E is a big step for us and a leap of faith. My husband, Kiril Lozanova, grew up in a tight-knit Bulgarian village, where numerous families have lived as neighbors for generations.

“Humans are designed to live in communities, and it is much healthier to live that way,” says my husband. “It is a human desire to share.”


Sarah Lozanova is a mother of two, a holistic parenting coach, and a freelance environmental writer. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin, and has an MBA in sustainable development. View her natural parenting blog at RawMama.org. 


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