Saturday, April 30, 2011

Parenting class night five: anger

This past week in parenting class we thoroughly discussed the issue of anger. Not only anger in our children, but also (or especially) anger in us as parents.

There are definitely times for me where my anger has absolutely gotten the better of me. I've screamed at my girls in a way that scared me and scared them. I've grabbed them in a manner that was far too rough and made them hurt or scared. I have felt absolutely enraged by my girls' behavior more times than I can easily recall.

Thankfully these instances have gotten fewer and further between as time moves on. A couple of weeks ago in class we were all given anger logs to fill in. I took one, thinking it might help me, but when I looked at it something clicked in my head. I realized I was really stubborn and that I didn't want to fill out an anger log. What that meant for me was that I wasn't going to get angry with my girls so that I didn't have anything to write down.

Or rather, let me clarify: I wasn't going to get angry with my girls in a way that wasn't healthy or safe. I could get angry and walk away, but I couldn't get angry and scream so loudly that my voice became hoarse. I could get angry and count to ten, but I couldn't grab their arms and force them to do something. I could get angry and send us all in to a "time out" but I couldn't belittle or shame anyone for their behavior.

My stubbornness paid off. I didn't have anything to write that week. Or the following week. I am making it through. Last time in class our teacher relayed some stories about things that have occurred in her parenting journey. She told stories of things she had done in anger and then shared with us a rule she subsequently made: she vowed to herself she would never again touch her children while she was angry. I mean, it sounds so simple and obvious, right? However, the beauty of making these kinds of agreements with yourself is that you make the decision far before you ever find yourself in the situation. Therefor, harming your children in anger is no longer on the table, no longer one of your tools, whether you ever intended for it to be or not.

My brain tends to operate this way: something is either right or wrong. You either do it or you don't. Therefor this idea spoke volumes to me.

We talked quite a bit about anger in the family, including taming our family's "dragon" (in Iris's therapy they call the dragon the "angry monster"), learning calming techniques and setting ground rules for arguments.

I felt like that what the class boiled down to for me is that I wanted my children to always feel safe. That they never had to be afraid that I was going to do something or say something that was going to scare them or make them question that I loved them and I cared for them. I want to be able to model for them that I can be mad as hell and handle it in the same way I would expect them to. There were several times where I used my strong, serious voice to let them know I was getting really frustrated, or downright angry, but it wasn't scary. At least, I didn't read from their reactions that it was scary. It was serious, it was direct, it let them know I meant business, but it wasn't scary.

There is quite a lot of freedom in knowing that you don't have to be a victim of your emotions, especially when it comes to people you love more than anything in the world.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sticker charts and "punishing" by rewards

So I mentioned in a few other posts that we were implementing a sticker chart for the girls. I thought it might be fun to let you know what we set up and how it's working.

The issue my husband and I are working on is the girls hurting each other's bodies. We decided that for each half hour increment when they are together that they don't hurt each other they will earn one sticker. They can earn up to two before school and ten after. The girls either both earn a sticker for a given time frame or neither of them does, regardless of who is doing the hurting.

When they earn 25 stickers they get to pick a "small" prize from a bag of things I already selected. The bag contains small toys and some candy, mostly in the $1-$2 range. I ended up getting almost all of it at the after-Easter sale at Target. So, every 25 stickers=a treat from the bag.

Once they earn 200 stickers they earn a "medium" prize, something in a specific price range that they decide on themselves. I think Iris already has her sights set on a Barbie Glam Vacation House. I intended to take some of their ideas for the medium prize and print pictures of them to post as incentive, but so far they haven't forgotten.

Then, once they earn a HUGE amount of stickers, we thought maybe 2,000 or so (basically I need to figure out a number that they can hit around mid to late summer) they get their "big" prize, also of their choosing. So far I think Eloise has decided on a Barbie Dream House.

We haven't thought past that point, but I fully assume the sticker charts will end after that. If for no other reason, we will be broke! Ha.

The girls are so far doing really well. I honestly thought making it half hour time increments would be really hard for them, but so far it isn't. We have now been through three full days and they have only lost two stickers (one because I got mad that Iris hit ME and one Iris hit her sister). I would call that a success, but three days doesn't make a pattern, so we'll see.

At our family meetings on Fridays we are going to talk about how the sticker chart is working and see if anything needs to be tweaked. If it was too unattainable for the first week we would gear it down. If it was a bit too attainable in the first couple of weeks we are going to make it a bit more challenging to hit their goals.

Matt and I were talking about Alfie Kohn the other day and his idea of punishing kids by rewards. His idea being that children who are motivated extrinsically get hooked on the rewards and lose their own sense of finding intrinsic value in doing whatever the thing is. I find this idea to be amazing, and a wonderful ideal. But in my opinion, that's just it. An ideal. As adults so many of us run on some kind of reward system. "If I count calories all week I can have dessert this weekend!" or "If I study really hard now I can go to the movies tomorrow night!" or, really, any number of things. I would venture to say all adults I know utilize both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to get through life. Well, kids are no different.

The fact of the matter is, with kids (or just A kid) who are difficult, who doesn't respond to the ideal ways of teaching right and wrong, need different solutions to problems. I am not saying sticker charts or other rewards and punishments are the right answer, but that Alfie Kohn's ideal of eliminating punishment and rewards isn't the right answer for every kid, or for every family.

I used to get sucked in to traps when reading parenting books (or my previous parenting class), and think that "OMG THIS is the way I need to parent!" and then I would try it and it either wouldn't work whatsoever, or it only one piece of it worked, or it only worked if I did it a little differently. And then I would think I somehow failed because the book (or class) didn't fix my kid. Or worse yet, that my kid didn't really fit in to the confines of the kids the book was trying to help.

It's different now.

Now I can recognize pieces that are going to work. I can do things that are out of my initial comfort zone (ie sticker charts!) and I can be absolutely thrilled when I find something that helps, no matter what it is (well, I do have some boundaries, of course). I feel like allowing myself to disagree with the "experts" was a really tough thing to do, but of course now I laugh that I ever felt that way. I will chalk it up to naivete No one knows my girls in the way I do, and even then they surprise me every day.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Parenting class recap: up to now

Tonight I was trying to go over everything in my head that we are working on implementing in our family in terms of what Matt and I are learning in our parenting class. It feels extremely overwhelming-- which it actually is, not just my perception. It's all being dumped on us all in a very short amount of time because that is the nature of the class.

Here is where we are at:

  • One-on-one playtime. Ideally I would do this most, if not all, days of the week with each girl for 15-30 minutes. How am I doing? Well the first three weeks I had to actually turn in a record of our playtime. How long we played, who I played with, what we played, how I felt about it and how the girl felt. I am seriously chart motivated, so once I no longer had to fill all that empty space in, I basically stopped doing it. Well, it's not as awful as it sounds, I LOVE the playtime, but every day seems to go flying by before I realize that, yet again, we didn't get to it. Our instructor reminds us that if nothing else, keep going back to the "play and praise" which means this part and the next part . . .

  • Lots of praising every day. Recognize what I see that I like and appreciate in my children. I have better and worse days remembering it, but overall am doing better. Again, we started out logging praise, but no longer do. Logging works well for me.

  • Praising and appreciating myself and my husband every day. I do terrible at this. I never, ever remember. Praising myself and my partner is fantastic modelling and an overall fantastic feel-good thing to do.

  • Eliminate negative generalizations. 100% spot on have done this. I am really proud of this one. I can't say I did it a ton before the class, but it was something I was able to cut out completely.

  • Focus on steps towards improvement. I haven't done a great job recognizing this. It is hard for me to tell the girls they did a great job not hitting when they screamed at their sister, instead. Yes, the screaming is a step in the right direction, but still upsetting all the same.

  • Create positive stories about my children. I haven't done this at all. It basically means I need to find ways the girls have improved their behavior and then use it to tell stories later about what amazing things they have done. I can barely think in the present let alone look back to the past or ahead to the future.

  • Ignoring. This may seem like it's easy, but it isn't, at least for me. We have learned the technique of ignoring certain undesirable behaviors in our children in the expectation (or at least hope) that the child will stop doing it if it doesn't get attention. I have let Iris know I will be ignoring her when she starts on her tirade of name calling. It has worked the two times I had cause to use it.

  • Use tangible rewards/sticker charts. It took me about a week to really wrap my head around how to use this with the girls and I think that Matt and I came up with a good way to attempt it. At the family meeting tonight Matt and I told the girls about it and they reacted quite positively. Of course, we dangled some monster carrots in front of them, so that probably didn't hurt. Now we need to put it in to action, which I am seriously dreading. We are working on a behavior that needs attention every moment the girls are together (hurting each other's bodies) not just something like morning routines or bedtime routines or mealtimes so it's going to be a lot of work.

  • Take better care of myself. This part I started doing before the class, thank goodness, because I never would have found the energy after! I am still doing a workout 5-6 days per week and am using (surprise surprise) a log to help keep my eating on track.

  • Keep an anger log for myself. You know the number one way to get me to cool my anger? By telling me I have to write about it each time I lose my temper. I swear, every time I started getting heated up I pictured my anger log. I didn't want to have write about the stupid thing I freaked out at the girls over. (Crumbs on the couch again?!?! ARGHHH!FREAK OUT!)

  • Keep an anger log for the girls. This is brand new to add for this week. I can't even picture myself finding the energy to do this.

  • Work on good listening and speaking skills with all members of my family. Um, some people take whole classes about this topic. I should know, I have taken several. In college. Wish I could say I was an olympic level communicator but I am so NOT.

  • Express feelings in words to model for the girls. The only feeling I seem to be awesome at expressing is "I AM FRUSTRATED!" But hey, it keeps me from freaking out, right? Working on expanding my repertoire.

  • Talk about identifying feelings with the girls. Last night I posted a picture at home of feeling words and corresponding cartoony pictures. So far today we have identified in the girls feelings of jealousy, frustration, and happiness. Not too shabby.

So that is most of it. I am sure I leaving out something, but this is what I remember. Keep in mind we have only done five of eight classes. Oh, how this list will grow! Sometimes it feels like I pretty much just have to change everything and it gets overwhelming.

Matt and I, however, have both noticed things are really starting to change. It is far from perfect, but perfection isn't our goal. Iris is screaming less, overall. Hurting her sister less, overall. Using her words so much more. Working out problems more easily. Giving everyone in the family compliments and appreciations and apologies, when necessary. We are definitely still working on controlling angry impulses, but we're getting there.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Parenting class night four

I attended night four of my parenting class without Matt. We decided, after the stress of the issues with the ipods that I would go alone and Matt and the girls would relax at home.

The class was okay, though the most frustrating one thus far. As I learned, the hard way, with the other parenting class I attended, the material won't 100% fit you or your family. This week the instructor brought up the idea of using sticker charts for improving behaviors and it definitely made me uneasy. I am seeing a definite improvement in Iris through the use of what we term "praise" (but, in action, looks more like noticing and appreciating), so I am comfortable with that kind of positive reinforcement. Not so much on basically what will amount to bribery.

In addition to the sticker chart we did discuss what things are children are given freely that are more privileges than rights and how kids can work to earn those instead. For instance, something I started with the girls already is that they have to have teeth brushed, hair brushed, gone potty and gotten dressed before they can play with toys or watch tv in the morning. Tv and toys in the morning are privileges they work for by doing X,Y and Z first. We also do this at night with the girls cleaning their playroom, so I feel like we are pretty much on track with that.

We also talked about the idea of ignoring certain undesirable behaviors in our children to help them go away. One of the big ones in our family is Iris calls names. I am already seeing the ignoring work in that if Iris starts to call me names or say she hates me or I am mean, I tell her I am going to ignore her if she is going to talk to me that way and then I do. I stop engaging her and move on with what I am doing. It seems to have already made the times she spews her mean words all over me shorter in duration. Iris is a kid who just can't stop herself from saying every mean thing she can when she gets even the least bit annoyed, so I find this tactic not only teaching her a lesson, but protecting my sanity, as well. It's definitely working better than the hundreds of times I've gotten down and said "why are you calling me names? are you angry? what is going on?" etc etc ad nauseum. Ignore, done, move on.

I have found that the class, like life, is not populated solely with "AP" parents. I was an outsider of a discussion on putting kids to bed, the group was chatting about how they "wouldn't stand for" laying in bed with their kid to help them go to sleep. I kept wanting to offer another view on the situation, but kept my mouth shut.

The instructor passed out Anger Logs for everyone in the class, as well. It is a way for us to write down times that our anger has gotten the better of us and allows us to look more in to it. You know what the Anger Log has done for me? Made my be perfectly conscious of my anger so that I do NOT have to fill the log in. Ha! Hey, at least it is working, right? Along that note I just got an ebook from the library called Love and Anger that I am quite eager to read.

After class I sat with the instructor for half an hour and we discussed the whole sticker chart thing more in depth. I explained how uneasy it made me to bribe my kids to do what I wanted them to. She had some great ideas for me on how to make that particular idea work for us. It started with using it for something that was a really serious deal in our family that needed to stop. For my girls it's the hitting/pushing/kicking/pulling, mostly from Iris's end. I decided that due to the fact nothing else we've tried has eliminated it, that good old fashioned bribery wouldn't be the worst idea ever. Especially since something like that just has got to stop. We are still trying to figure out how that would look in our family, the sticker chart and the carrying out of the stickers and all of that, so we haven't made a decision either way yet.

I am looking forward to next week when start talking about helping children regulate their emotions and effective communication skills (at least, those were the two chapters we had to read in our book).

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Break, baby!

The girls are officially on Spring Break. I am SO glad to have this week "off". It feels weird to think that it's a week off when, really, I will have the girls home 24/7 where I usually get a few hours of time to myself every week when they are both in school. I think it's just the idea of not going, going, going. I am not taking Eloise to any of her gym classes this week and we haven't set any plans except for a couple. We plan to check out the new rollerskating rink nearby and our friends are coming over so we can all watch Star Wars together. Fun, no?

On today's agenda? Go to the library. That is IT.

So far my girls haven't been fighting, but you know, give it a few seconds, that may change.

It's been, at least for me, a really exhausting last few days. Nothing different is going on, I just feel drained. Most of it is from the stress of the stolen ipods. I don't have much to report on that front. A detective called me on Thursday morning and I was all excited that he was going to kick some butt, but now it's Monday and I still haven't heard back from him. I'm guessing stolen ipods aren't high on the list of priorities of a Seattle police department detective.

Matt and I aren't sure whether we should replace Iris's ipod. I have noticed that since Eloise's ipod has come back Eloise has played with it a little bit but Iris hasn't touched it. In fact, Iris seems to act as if she is a bit afraid of it. There is still some "bad music" on it, we left it on in case the detective wanted to see it for some reason. Iris is TERRIFIED of the music and reminds us all not to turn it on. I think we just need to take it off and be done with it.

The girls used to take tons and tons of pictures and videos with the ipods. They haven't taken any since we got Eloise's back. It makes me really sad. I keep telling Iris we can back up that stuff on our computer so it can't be lost again, but I don't think she cares. She wants her memories back.

In addition to all of that crap, I've also been trying to work hard on the skills I am learning in my parenting class. I have lots of thoughts on that whole situation that I will try to blog about later. Mostly my thoughts revolve around two main ideas: changing my own behavior is crazy difficult and changing my daughters' behavior feels next to impossible. But you know what? Slowly but surely, things are on the move. It's exciting and exhausting.

ETA: literally one minute after I posted this the detective called me back. He had gone to our neighbor's house and talked to the girl and her mom (which was difficult as the mom speaks very little English) and the girl stuck to her story that didn't add up. The mom apparently said she had seen no other ipods in the house, though we have information that says otherwise. Oh, well. Case closed. The detective said we were lucky to have one back, that rarely happens. It is hard to feel "lucky" but I am ready to move on.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Getting crazy up in here

Something pretty crazy is shaking down in our lives right now. I had written a very factual timeline about it that I decided not to post (at least not yet) because while it tells the details of what happened it doesn't explain anything about how our family is reeling from it.

So, in lieu of a lengthy blog post, here is the one sentence version: A 13 year old neighbor girl who we have known and trusted since the day we moved in to our house stole at least one, most likely both, of my daughters' ipods from our home. It is a long, involved story with layers, as these things seem to often have, but that is the gist of it. At this point we have only Eloise's ipod back.

Although Matt and I wanted to keep the drama of this away from the girls, it quickly became obvious it would be impossible to deal with the situation without them knowing. We have since decided to keep them in the loop on every update, hopefully in this case honesty will prove to be the best policy.

The girls know that this neighbor girl, a girl they looked up to and adored, took their ipods (we believe she did take both). They know she has been to our house since she took them and pretended she didn't know where they were. They know she lied about it to all of us several times. They know, since getting Eloise's ipod back, that she erased all of their photos and videos and put a ton of seriously inappropriate music on it.

They know this girl, their friend, is no longer allowed in our house. It is painful and confusing and sad for them, often all at once. They still want to play with her, of course. They are trying to negotiate ways to see her without her coming to our house or them going to hers (as a side note, I never allowed them to go to the neighbor girl's house). They constantly ask me "why would she do that?!" with a mix of anger and tears.

Matt and I answer, "sometimes people make bad choices. She isn't a bad person, she just made a really bad choice." The girls nod, they appear to be trying to understand. Iris has related it to a time in her life she made a bad choice.

Iris, who is riddled with anxiety in general, is really struggling. She now believes (with even more fear than before) that people will break in to our house. She needs constant reassurance that all of our windows and doors are locked. That her mom and dad will keep her safe. That when she leaves the house she isn't in danger.

Iris cries because all of the special videos and pictures that she and her sister took with the ipod are now gone. She remembers the special times she documented, all lost.

Eloise cries because she wants to stay friends with the neighbor girl. To say Eloise adored her is a vast understatement. Eloise adored her.

And here is the tricky part: as far as we can/could tell, the neighbor girl adored our girls, too. As far as we can tell, the neighbor girl is extremely remorseful, though still not completely forthcoming with the facts of the story.

The neighbor girl is stuck in a bad situation at home. Her family emigrated to the US from Somalia when she was young. She has a single, absentee mother and appears to be surrounded by family members who are headed down a bad path.

My husband, who is demonstrating an enviable capacity for compassion, believes that our family could be instrumental in helping this neighbor girl, giving her some guidance that she may not be getting anywhere else. That we can help her learn her lesson from this offense, but also do more to be a positive influence (or continue to be the positive influence) and not just write her off.

My husband believes in second chances. This neighbor girl is lucky because I, on the other hand, as a general rule do not, especially when my "Mama Bear" comes out. I am not saying this is bad or good, it just is what it is. As I said, my husband has an enviable level of compassion.

As for now, as of this writing, we're still in the middle of an investigation. The police are involved, there is still more to the story that has yet to be unravelled. We are still waiting for an honest explanation from the neighbor girl. We are still crossing our fingers (but also realistic) that Iris's ipod is returned.

We have no idea how to be a positive influence in this girl's life from this day forward, though I know my husband will figure it out.

We are working with the girls, and probably will be for a very long time (especially with Iris), to right their sense of security and trust. To help them come to a place of being at peace with what has happened.

Workout DVDs

If you know me at all, you know how alternate-universe it is that I am writing a blog post to say that I LOVE workout videos.

Ever since I realized that I HAD to workout the next thing to figure out was, how? Gym memberships are pricey and difficult to work in to the schedule. Swimming laps was great, but also difficult to work in to the schedule, plus they were a huge time commitment every time I went (driving+swimming+showering+driving). I liked some other outdoor exercise, but mostly walking, which wasn't really aerobic enough for me and not something I could do a daily basis.

I decided to try Jillian Michael's 30 Day Shred, thinking that it would be the fastest way towards the elusive bikini bod. The workout was good, but TOUGH. Really, really tough for someone as out of shape as I was.

After the 30 Day Shred I then started branching out in to other videos. I loved Jackie Warner's show Workout on Bravo so I got her DVD with the trainers from the show. That one is good, but a little long. There are three 20-minute segments, one arms, one legs and one abs. I tend to pick two, like arms and abs or legs and abs. She very much isolates exercises in this video. You aren't doing arms AND legs at the same time, just bicep curls and that's it, so it's not as strenuos.

The day I bought the above DVD I bought this Biggest Loser one. I have to confess, I have never seen The Biggest Loser, but I liked Jillian, so I thought this one would be good. Unfortunately, Bob Harper is so unbelievably obnoxious, it was hard to get through. Jillian's portion was really tough. I was sore the next day and I hadn't been sore in a while up until then! I have to say it was nice to see all of the "real people" on the tv doing the exercises, too. I wasn't the only one struggling!
The Xtreme Timesaver Training video with Jackie Warner is my favorite video so far. It is TOUGH, really tough, and 30 minutes long.I usually feel like I will die when I'm done, but, you know, in a good way. I find Jackie a teensy bit easier to swallow than Jillian, too.

My friend Stephanie suggested looking on Netflix for workout DVDs, which I recently did. I have only tried one so far and it was Self magazine's Bikini Ready Fast. It reminded me of more of the "old school" workout DVDs in that the instructor did a lot of "and one, and two, and bend, and twist . . . ." and did some really complicated moves that I had to keep stopping to watch and then still not getting right. It was a very easy workout and I ended up popping in another DVD and doing twenty minutes of something else right after.

After that one I got a mountain of DVDs from the library to try. So far I have done the following three:

Jillian Michaels' Six Week Six Pack is pretty tough, not suprisingly. It's not really ALL about the abs, but that is the focus. There are two levels and I did the first. I always wonder who Jillian's upper levels are made for-- not for mere mortals!

Jackie Warner's Power Circuit was a great workout. I enjoyed the intensity level and it was a little long, but okay. I did the 40-minute full circuit. You can also do 4 separate 15 minute circuits. Each circuit consisted of (I think) three exercises and then the "power burn" where you sped through each previous exercise. It was sort of fun and different.

Today I tried Jillian Michaels' No More Trouble Zones. Oh, I do love Jillian, but this video was WAY too long. It is a 5 minute warm up, a 40 minute workout and a 5 minute stretch. It is pretty hard, but not as bad as the 30 Day Shred, it's just too long. I kept thinking "is this over soon?" It runs on circuits and you do each circuit twice, which is a nice change.

So, that's it so far! I am sitting on another Biggest Loser DVD from the library and I'm not sure I even want to try it. Maybe if I put it on mute? Ha!

Any at-home workouts you've done lately that you love?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Always working on it

My theme right now is just working on improving, well, everything, it seems. Since January I started making changes to my diet and exercising more (or rather, exercising at all), getting to the bottom of my health issues (aside from diet and exercise) by visiting not one, not two, but three doctors, reading more, attending parenting classes and working every single day with the girls on things to improve, bringing Iris to therapy and, most recently, landing my own butt (back) in therapy. And folks, this isn't even the half of what I wish I was working on (like remember that novel I started a year ago?).

Well, as you can guess, the work is exhausting. Most days I am ready to throw in the towel, jam a big bowl of ice cream in to my mouth, turn on an afternoon's worth of tv for the girls and ignore them while I bury my attention in gossip websites. I march through it, though, every single day, because it's good work. It's important work. Most of the time I like it, but liking something doesn't necessarily make it easy.

Unfortunately there are two major downfalls to all of it:

1. There is SO MUCH MORE work to be done

2. Usually, when you are focusing on one thing, or several things, then something else has got to give. There simply aren't enough hours in the day to do everything.

Today when I met with my new therapist I sat and yammered on about this and that. And she said, like most good therapists do, "oh, I think we can definitely work on X,Y and Z" and then had the nerve to start expanding in to the bigger picture of how I could reach some of my goals. And you know what I said? "You mean I need to do MORE work?"

Okay, I didn't really say that. But I thought that. Silly me, of course I knew going to a therapist meant that she would help me fix things I was struggling with-- and fixing things doesn't happen by sitting back and willing them to be fixed, no sir. I decided I would take her suggestions for, you know, fixing certain things, and file it away for a later, as yet to be determined, date.

I do see quite a bit of improvement, overall, in the areas I am actively working on, however, so that is quite promising. Nothing changes over night, but it changes, little by little. These little changes keep me going. I am not a size two, yet (okay, my goal is NOT to be a size two. I will settle for a four. ((ha!)) ). And I can't really get through a day without counting all of my calories. My daughter isn't 100% fixed. My parenting is 100% better. My health is still an overall mystery. But it's all getting there.

Tonight I went to a writer's group meeting that I haven't been to in a few months. I have to confess, I had nothing new to submit. I can coast along submitting old material no one has seen yet, but I like having a foot in the door. This group is my last bastion of hope that I will someday, indeed, finish my first novel. It's always on the back burner for "when I get more time".

I think I have finally figured out a way to schedule that time back in to my life and I am hoping it will come when I start homeschooling Iris (because THAT won't keep me busy enough, right?). Actually, I decided Iris and I both will set aside time each day to write. Isn't that genius? I figured I can't spend all of our homeschooling days making her do the things *I* want to do, but that should be a good one to keep up with.

Any tips for making major life changes go more smoothly? Or have stories of major life changes you are working on for yourself?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Saving, or not saving, money

I love it when I go "blog hopping" and find something really interesting to read or even, when I strike gold, a new blog to follow in google reader. Tonight as I was blog hopping I came across the Zen Habits blog.

I have to admit while, overall, I dislike blogs that tell you how to live your life better, there were a few interesting points. I even subscribed to Zen Family Habits, so we'll see what they have to say over there.

Anyways, I read this post called How I Save Money and had to giggle. I always jump at the chance to read other people's ideas on ways to cut out expenses from our lives and this post was no exception. We very much live paycheck-to-paycheck in our house, though there is some chance in the future of this situation improving as some large expenses start shifting around.

Here is the list of money-saving points that I looked through to see if any would help us:

1) I cut my own hair. Obviously this was written by a man. I know very, very few women who do this. I spend a decent amount on haircuts ($50 plus tip) but that is it. I don't color, perm, straighten, nothin'.

2) No Cable TV. Check.

3) Became vegan. While we are no where near vegan, this kind of suggestion always baffles me. I have been vegetarian, and for a short while vegan, and every other dietary label under the sun. My grocery bill never changed. Though maybe if I ate lots of beans and rice it certainly would.

4) Don’t use the gym. Check.

5) Rarely go to the movies. I will say "check" for this, though I do go to the movies once in a while. I go to the local budget theatre and pay $5.50 for a ticket.

6) Quit smoking. Don't smoke.

7) Don’t drink much. I am the only drinker in our family and I consume, total, about one drink per month.

8) Never go out. Check.

9) Stay healthy. I wouldn't say we are the models of perfect health, but we have great insurance and have little out-of-pocket expenses for illness. I would say I pay WAY more for things to keep my family healthy than to treat illness.

10) Don’t go shopping. Okay, I do like to shop. But by "shop" I mean go to Target (darn them for being two blocks from my girls' school!). I am sure people could look at what I buy and think my family could do without some/most of it, but I would say by far my purchases are for things that are basic household necessities.

11) Have only one car. Check. And it has close to 120,000 miles on it, so there!

12) Bring my own lunch. As a SAHM I rarely have reason to buy lunch out, but I do on occasion. My husband buys lunches out of his "allowance" (yes, we call it that very tongue-in-cheek).

13) No magazine or newspaper subscriptions. I do get a few magazines but I order them at steep discounts, like for $5-$10 per year. So I spend maybe $75 per YEAR on magazines.

14) Rarely buy new clothes. I would have to say that, overall, we rarely buy new clothes, and when we do, it's the Old Navy clearance special. I would totally be a thrift-store gal but my husband and I are both quite tall and difficult to buy clothes for.

15) Never travel. This year we are going on our first real vacation. We do travel fairly regularily to see family, but I consider that an absolute necessity.

16) No more lattes. Any lattes in our family come from our allowance.

Anyone have any special things they have done to save money on their household expenses?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Parenting class (take two) night three

I want to start by saying I had emailed our teacher some questions before the class about her thoughts on Alfie Kohn's work on the harmful effects of praise. She responded to say she was thinking about it, basically, and would talk about it at class. I was so bummed she didn't, though. We may get to chat about it next week.

Our book does make mention of some of these tools being short-term ways to help improve pretty difficult behavior. I have to say the idea of praising my children for everything they do is getting a little exhausting-- but I HAVE seen overall improvement in many areas. The girls do seem to react to it and will often beam ear to ear when they hear we've noticed something lovely they have done. On the other hand, the next chapter of our book is all about creating "sticker charts" and oh my, it is making my skin crawl. I don't know if I can do it. I did try it, once, a while ago, with zero success. Of course, I didn't do it at all the way the book is suggesting (consistent, small, measurable goals is the key).

I have to keep reminding myself that MOST children don't need such things. That the parents in this class are dealing with a group of kids who have more issues than the usual kid. We are working hard at bringing them to a more "neutral" place. We are pulling out all sorts of tools to get them to a place where we no longer have to give them such heavy reinforcements.

So, back to what we really discussed in class. We talked about creating narratives for our children. Not only saying things like "I noticed that you were able to share all of your Barbies with your sister" but also provide narrative along the lines of "Remember last week when you shared your Barbies, too?" in order to start painting a bigger picture and remind our children of the wonderful things they do and what they are capable of.

We discussed keeping our praise specific and also to notice our child's small steps towards changing negative behavior that we want to In addition we kept talking more about appreciating and praising ourselves and our partners and our children, with the goal being to create an atmosphere of appreciation in our family.

We read a bit about creating a healthy home life, as well, and it brought up various issues such as not over-scheduling our children's lives, providing enough touch for our children, paying attention to our children's sleep habits and, my personal favorite: model the emotional maturity you want from your child. This is going to be my new parenting motto.

Model the emotional maturity you want from your child. Talk about leading by example.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Follow up to week two parenting class

It was a MUCH more difficult week for me after the second parenting class. I was supposed to keep up with the 1-on-1 play time with both girls and let me tell you, it was crazy difficult to do with the way Iris and I felt about each other most of the week. She has just generally had a really negative attitude and has been calling names, being disrespectful, not listening, etc etc. Kind of makes me want to stay far far away from her.

But you know what is the real lesson for me in this? It's bringing Iris close even when I want nothing more than to push her away. That, my dears, is ten times harder than anything else I have been working on.

For the week two class we had to read a really disturbing article on the connection between violent video games and children killing other people. I know it sounds kind of crass to say, but the whole time as I was reading I just kept thinking "thank god we have daughters!". I bet there is probably some example, somewhere, of a girl playing these games like Doom (which is what the boys who committed the Columbine murders played) and went on to hurt or kill people, but I haven't heard of them. Which is not to say parents of daughters don't have their own sets of serious worries, because boy howdy, we certainly do. That just is one I can thankfully cross off the list.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Eating well, exercising, losing weight: part II

Picking up where I left off . . .

When I visited my new doctor last week she had several theories as to why it might be so hard for me to lose weight despite my best efforts.

The first theory is the birth control pills I am taking to control my monthly cycle which in turn will help increase my iron levels. Birth control pills are notorious (well, not to me, but a quick google search seemed to say otherwise) for causing weight gain (or difficulty losing weight) in its users. Why? Because of their levels of hormones, namely estrogen.

The second theory, though less likely for me personally, is taking anti-depressants. I have been messing around with different pills in different dosages for a while in hopes it will make me less crazy (to no avail! ha!) but they may be a contributor. Why? Anti-depressants can slow your metabolism, which is the amount of calories your body uses simply to function. People who have a "high metabolism" burn more calories simply sleeping, sitting or doing laundry than people who have lower metabolisms.

Another theory, which is one I am testing for, is that my adrenal glands are all skewampus. The adrenal glands sit atop each of your kidneys and are responsible for all sorts of cool things, including producing hormones that affect your metabolism and producing cortisol which can cause weight gain. Cortisol is necessary for your "fight or flight" functions. If you are constantly in "fight" mode your body and your body is over-stressed to the point that your adrenal glands stop functioning properly your cortisol levels can go crazy. If they can't keep up with the demands of your body then weight gain, or difficulty losing weight, can occur along with many other things.

If you interested in more info on this, there is TONS of it online and in books. It's worth a read to at least become familiar with what adrenal glands are good for so that you have that information should issues arise and you need to talk to your doctor.

So how do you test for adrenal gland imbalances? With a simple saliva test, which I am actually doing today. You collect saliva at four different times during the day and then send it on in to the lab and it will be analyzed. Easy peasy.

And this brings me to something that I am sure will smash any smidgen of credibility I might have about these issues: I recently read a shall not be named book by a shall not be named author mostly because I love said "author" so much and enjoy her workout DVD's. I got the ebook from the library on a whim and read it all in pretty much one night. But you know what? Despite a terrible title, this book actually talks quite a bit about hormone balance and what effect it has on weight loss! I was really surprised and it was good timing since I had just talked to my naturopath about it.

This book outlines some foods and supplements that you can use to help balance your hormone levels and detox and it is pretty decent advice, overall. It's not cutting out all food groups or anything crazy like that. It's more about focusing on specific foods within the food groups. I don't know anything about taking free-form amino acids or creatine but other than that her other supplement advice is fairly solid, as well. It's mostly just promoting good overall health.

Since I am a sucker for such things, I am going to follow the plan in the book to see what happens, even before I get these test results. Like I said, nothing about it is harmful or dangerous to my body, so it will be interesting to see if it helps. I am sure if/when I get a diagnosis my naturopath will have natural ways of helping the issue so maybe I can get a jumpstart on things now! It suggests a two week plan to ease in to the diet, which won't be TOO much of a stretch for me since I typically eat a decent amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains anyways. There are some ways I am going to have to adjust so this is still going to be a fun challenge. I made this chart as a way to easily track the things I need to include in my diet every day:

If you are interested, you can click on the photo to see it bigger.

Here is today's breakfast: Pretty decent, no? I am also drinking a lot more water, this plan recommends 3 liters per day which is about 50% more water than the standard "eight glasses a day" plan.

Friday, April 08, 2011

In pursuit of the bikini bod

A while back I mentioned here that my mom and I had started a challenge to get us bikini-ready for our vacation to Maui at the end of May. I've been working on the challenge since early January, counting calories and exercising religiously. My posts on the subject have been primarily contained on a blog my mom and I co-write but lately I've turned my posts in to rants on my lack of progress so I decided to post further thoughts on the subject over here, instead. I really wanted to keep the other blog light-hearted in addition to wanting some space to delve more in to the subject of my weight loss goals.

So here's where I am at: Between counting calories every day, and keeping them to around 1600-1700 per day (of course a few days went a little over or under) and exercising 5-6 days per week (either with strenuous workout videos like the 30 Day Shred OR 1 1/2 to 2 hours of walking at a 3.5 MPH pace, including steep hills) I have lost maybe about four pounds. I don't know for sure because in my head I start at the weight I knew from the doctor's office, fully clothed, and take it down to my absolute lowest weigh-in-first-thing-in-the-morning-naked weight. If I go with those two weights I lost six pounds. In three months. With a pretty steep calorie drop from where I was at and going from pretty much no exercise to what I think could be considered a pretty rockin' amount of exercise.

But! you say, muscle weighs more than fat! I should be looking at inches lost! So what about my inches lost? A couple in my chest and hips but absolutely none in my waist. And my waist, my friends, is what needs help the most.

You can probably imagine the depths of my frustration. When one puts out that sort of effort, one expects to reap some amazing rewards. I got nothin'. My husband swears I look slimmer, but, to his credit, he ALWAYS tells me that (what a good little husband I have!).

A couple of weeks ago I decided I needed to do something even more drastic to lose the weight and I invested in some weight loss/nutrition supplements that you follow with a strict eating regimen. I ended up completely failing at it-- I don't think I prepared enough or was in the right frame of mind for it. In addition to that effort (or lack thereof) I also have been wavering on my eating and exercising. Some days I do amazing, some days it's downright pathetic. Some days a little of both.


Why am I spewing all of this here? Well, I've recently met with a new doctor who is a naturopath. I sat down with her and laid out all of my woes. When I paused for a breath she brought up several reasons I might be having a hard time losing weight that have nothing to do with my efforts in eating or exercising.

Before I launch all in to these ideas I want to say that at this exact time I have absolutely zero PROOF that this is what is going on with me, but I find the theories so incredibly fascinating that it's pretty much consumed me.

So what have I been learning about? Stay tuned for tomorrow's episode!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


When Eloise was small we nicknamed her "Baby Destructor" because she was pretty much always going around smashing and wrecking things in her path. I feel like I channeled that a bit today, wrecking things in my path.

Mostly it was a good day, could have been a great day, but these things can fall apart sometimes.

Last week Seattle Public Utilities mailed us a flyer with some dye attached to it so that we could test to see if our toilet tank leaks in to the bowl. And wouldn't you know it, of course it does (because pretty much everything about this house was/is ruined ((not our fault)) ). Today I decided I would channel my inner plumber and replace the flapper thingymajobber. Of course, the toilet still leaked even after the fix, so I reached in to my bottomless knowledge of toilets I decided to start messing with the float rod. And then promptly broke it in half. Did I mention we only have one bathroom in this house?

Today I was also supposed to collect samples for a test for my adrenals. It's pretty simple and all it takes is collecting four saliva samples throughout the day. My doctor made a point of telling me not to drink any caffeine like coffee, tea or soda on the day of my test, which I knew would be easy since I don't usually drink caffeine. I was half way through the day when I decided that a chai latte would be a delightful idea. Twenty minutes later, whoops! Darn it.

I have a whole other post (or two) about why I am doing this adrenal test. I went to see a naturopath who had a whoooooole bunch of new ideas for me to get a handle on my health, which is pretty thrilling to me. I am sort of exhausted because I felt like I had reached the end of the options with little to no change in how I was feeling.

Let's see. I ruined the toilet. Ruined my test. And then I drowned my sorrows in an entire bag of Brach's jelly beans (aka the best candy ever invented) thereby obliterating any semblance of healthy eating or weight loss attempts I had going, um, all week. What's funny about binging on junk like that is that it never feels good enough to counter how crappy you feel after eating it. I guess that's why they say sugar is a drug, huh?

Tomorrow is another day. Matt is working on the toilet (and currently on the family's third Home Depot run of the day), I am going to get a new test kit, and there will be no sweets in my (immediate) future.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The nerve!

Last night I was talking with my mom about schooling for next year and she said something about me homeschooling Eloise as well as Iris (I won't be). We chatted for a little bit and then hung up. Eloise overheard me and started asking what we were talking about.

I looked at Eloise and said: "do you want to homeschool next year?"
She looked at me with the most incredulous expression on her face and said: "why are you asking me that?!"
I said: "well, do you want to?"
She asked the same question again, so I said I was just wondering.
She replied, exasperated: "NO."

Okay then!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Television in our house

I don't remember if I ever wrote about it here, but several months ago we got rid of our cable television. Due to Comcast's weird pricing structure it was the same price to have basic cable and internet instead of just keeping internet, so we do have basic cable, which is all the NBC, CBS, etc channels plus a few more no one could possibly ever care about. We watch those television channels roughly 10 minutes per month.

What we have now is streaming Netflix and a Sony blu-ray player with Wi-Fi. With that player we can stream internet media like Hulu, Amazon video and Netflix, amongst other things that we don't use as much.

While I wouldn't say the girls watch any less television now than they used to before the big switch, they are definitely watching more select shows. Instead of turning on a channel, like Nickelodeon, and having it on half the day, the girls have to choose the shows from a menu on the tv. All of the shows I have put on there so the menu is only populated with shows I am okay with them watching. I would say the "worst" thing they watch these days is Spongebob, but lately they are fans of things like Oswald and Hurray for Huckle. Since Iris is almost seven, I'm pretty pleased she still loves stuff like that.

My number one favorite thing about the new television arrangement is NO COMMERCIALS! I forgot how invasive commercials are. When Iris saw an Easy Bake oven commercial at a friend's house before Christmas that one commercial cemented in her head that an Easy Bake oven was the only present she could possibly want for Christmas. I had (I mean, Santa had) no problem getting it, but it just goes to show how easily those messages really do stick. I no longer am begged for whatever toy or clothing item is being advertised on tv, which is pretty nice. They still beg for stuff, sure, but it's not as bad as when they saw a million commercials for it.

Matt misses Sports Center, but that's about it. I don't miss anything. I would mindlessly watch tv all day long and enjoy myself just fine, but I don't miss it. I watch great programs through Hulu and Netflix now and I have to consciously think about what I will watch instead of plopping down in front of any old show.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

On being creative with candy

Today I was thinking that Iris might really enjoy making something to submit to the Seattle Times' annual Peep contest, where you have to create something out of Peeps candy and submit a photo and then it is judged and you can win prizes. I showed Iris a bunch of photos from previous years' entries and she was sufficiently intrigued. Turns out Eloise was, as well, so they both went to work coming up with ideas.

Iris decided to do "Hannah Peeptana" and Eloise waffled a bit between a few really great ideas and settled on "Katy Peepry" in the end. She didn't decide on Katy Peepry until we got home from the store and I was bummed that I hadn't bought tons of candy to re-create the "California Gurls" video.

Iris and I made a trip to Target for our Peeps and some other various craft supplies and the girls (with Matt and I as their helpers) got to work when we got home. It was really hard for me to step back and let Iris do whatever she wanted even when my ideas would have looked more pleasing in terms of what the contest might have wanted. Lessons for mama!

In the end they both ended up with something that they were really proud of, and Matt and I were proud of, too. They worked really hard and put thought in to it and had fun working on them.

Here are two views of Iris's scene. It includes Hannah on stage with a guitar player and a drum player and an audience watching them. Iris also got the idea that "peepcorn" would be sold at the Hannah show and so that is the view of the scene you are seeing here.

Here is a view of the project from the end of the "peepcorn" sign towards the audience. Since I could only submit one picture to the contest, this is the one I chose.

Here is Eloise's Katy Peepry. There was also an "I (heart) Katy Peepry" sign in the audience but it got lost before I could take the photo.

So much fun!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Oh grrrr!!!!

I have no idea why these posts recently aren't keeping the same formatting I am typing them in. The last post that did was the one I wrote on Friday March 25th. I wonder what happened? If you have dealt with this and found a solution, can you let me know? Off to go scour the help section . . .

Parenting class take two, night two

The second night of parenting class was more enjoyable for me because Matt was able to attend. He missed the first class because of travel but should be there for the rest of them.

It is really nice to be learning these along side of him instead of having to come home and relay the messages to him. We focused much more strongly on the idea of praising our children in the second class. The idea behind this is that bring attention to your child's positive behavior will increase their positive behavior and decrease their negative behavior.

What this DOESN'T look like is walking around blindly "good jobbing" your kid all day. What it DOES look like is providing specific praise and appreciation of things that your child does, such as "thank you for setting the table" or "you did a great job of picking up your toys when I asked you to".

The idea behind providing this kind of praise to your child is that it helps improve their self-esteem, improves positive behaviors and helps them feel confident enough to follow through with things that might be difficult for them.

One thing I realized about praising my daughters is that it improves my own perceptions of them, as well, because I am actively taking the time to notice more of their positive behaviors.

In class we also discussed the importance of modelling praise with your partner and with yourself. With young children self praise isn't so much about bragging as it is about increasing self-esteem.

In addition we talked about ways to praise progress in our children, when we see them choose a more positive behavior over a negative one that they typically use employ. For instance, if a child yells that they are angry instead of hitting their sibling, then the parent needs to recognize that progress by saying something like "I say that you were really angry and you wanted to hit but instead you used your words to express you anger."

The teacher did point out that isn't always about praise, per se, that it can be about just pointing out what you witnessed. Saying to your child "I noticed that you fed the cat tonight" can let him/her know that you are noticing them.

The other things we discussed is the importance of not tacking on a negative to the praise, such as "thank you for clearing the table tonight, it really upset me that the last three nights you just left everything there". Of course, we can find other time to discuss what needs to be worked on, but it doesn't need to be wrapped in to the praise, because then the praise is lost on the child.

One thing that struck me this week was thinking about decreasing my reaction to negative behaviors and increasing my reaction to positive ones. I would say that many times in the past I had BIG LOUD reactions to negatives and almost pretty much ignored positives and it's something I really need to focus on changing.

I look forward to having more 1-on-1 play time this week with each of the girls and finding ways to praise not only them, but my husband AND myself!

Friday, April 01, 2011

Follow-up to week one parenting class

I thought it might be beneficial to follow-up on the things I have learned each week in my parenting class and touch base on the homework I had to do as well as note any specific challenges or successes I/we have had.

So, in week one of parenting class our focus was strongly on incorporating one-on-one parent/kid play time in to our lives on a regular, if not daily, basis. I have to say I came home a little bit cocky about this, thinking "oh, I don't need to put it on the calendar, I will be super mama and do this EVERY DAY with EACH KID for THIRTY MINUTES!" Well, the reality was a little different. I would often find myself at the tail end of the day and realize I hadn't had any 1-on-1 play time with the girls and would scramble to do it right before bed. Since the evening time is tricky in our house, often things start falling apart then, it was a struggle a few nights to want to to playtime when Iris, specifically, was being really defiant and hurtful. One night it made it hard for me to enjoy playing with her and another night Matt sent her to bed early for her poor behavior so we didn't get a chance to play.

The few nights I did play with one of the girls it seemed to be difficult for the other girl to respect that sacred time, so I am going to be more aware of that in the future. I think, overall, I got three 1-on-1 times per girl with an average play time of about 20 minutes.

I did a great job being conscientious of not speaking negatively of my children when they were within earshot and I also did a great job of not applying general negative labels to them.

I also worked hard at applying praise to behavior I wanted to see increase. This praise piece becomes a stronger focus in week two, so I will discuss that more there.