Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Birthday Parties WithOUT Presents

A few months ago my son got an invitation to go to a birthday party for a boy in his school class. I didn't have a lot of notice, so we weren't able to make a gift or go shopping anywhere special, let alone find something on sale. Neither of us knew the boy well enough to know what his favorite things were, so we could not choose something very personalized. I also didn't have a lot of cash on hand at the time. We ended up going down to a local store and picking out an inexpensive, generic toy.
Over the years, I have observed that that is common for birthday parties--the gifts may be numerous, but they are often cheap , impersonal, or even things that our family doesn't want (for example toys or games that we consider too violent, things the child isn't really interested in, or even exact duplicates of things we already have). In short, it can be hard to give a good birthday party gift, but it's also frustrating (and wasteful) to receive those gifts that aren't so good.

So a simple solution? Skip the presents, just have a party!

This is not to say that our kids don't get birthday presents--they get presents from both sets of grandparents and from us parents too (we who have their wish list!). Occasionally someone else gives a gift too, but for the most part the party is about playing with friends, not about getting stuff. We still have cake and those other traditional birthday things, just no presents (we open the family gifts at a separate time).

I had suggested this idea to Wolf a couple of years ago, but gave him the choice. I thought it was a great idea, but didn't want to force him into it. He liked the idea though, and two of the last three years he has done variations on it, and has enjoyed the parties very much. One year we gathered at the park and had cupcakes and enjoyed the playground. This year we had a movie party. Last year we didn't go giftless, but we went to a skating rink and asked people to please keep gifts small (since we were staying with family for the summer and had limited space).

In a culture where most people are used to giving SOMEthing at a birthday party, you might find that guests will insist on bringing gifts anyway. One thing that helps avoid this is if you invite them to bring something else. Here are a few ideas we've heard (have you seen/done any others?)
  • Have a movie party, and invite each guest to bring a snack to share (that's what we did this year)
  • For a slumber party, invite each person to bring a snack or a game
  • Have an animal-themed party--invite each guest to bring a package of dog or cat food, then donate the packages to a local shelter
  • Have a book exchange--invite each guest to bring a favorite book, then everyone trades books at the party and each person goes home with a new book
  • Choose a cause and invite people to make donations to it rather than bringing material gifts (for example, one mother I know invited $1 donations to the save the tigers fund because her toddler loved tigers).
  • Have a water party outdoors, and invite each guest to bring water balloons, water bombs, water guns, etc
  • Invite each person to bring some art supplies, and make a big collaborative piece of art
  • Invite each guest to bring food or clothing items that can be donated to a food bank, women's shelter, homeless shelter, or secondhand store.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Baby Eating part 2: what to feed the kiddo

If you missed part 1, when to start solids, go check it out.

Eagle enjoying a peach in his baby-safe feeder

The advice is varied on what (and how) babies should eat for their first solid foods.

Some people insist that sweet things (like fruits) should not be first, otherwise the baby will develop a sweet tooth and refuse non-sweet foods. This is silliness. Have you ever tasted breastmilk? It's a lot sweeter than cow's milk. It's a lot sweeter than applesauce. Trust me, it doesn't matter what food you give your baby first, anything shy of actual candy is probably going to be less sweet than the breastmilk. And fruits are soft and juicy and make excellent early foods.

Another common idea is that babies need to begin their exploration with bland foods because they cannot tolerate intense flavors or spices. Um, maybe somebody should tell the Thai mommies? Or the Cuban mommies? Because last I heard they are feeding their babies the same foods that they eat, and I'm pretty sure it's not bland. I'm also pretty sure that none of the little Thai or Cuban babies have suffered from simply eating the foods that their family normally eats. After all, they're going to eat it later, why wouldn't they just eat it now?

The third myth is that babies need to start out with pureed foods. Many people buy these foods, many more make their own... Personally, I don't bother with the expense and trouble. I currently get some free baby food via WIC, so I am using it a bit this time because it is easy, but it is not at all necessary, (I didn't get it with Bear) and I don't bother hauling it with me when I'm away from home.

Finally, they say to only introduce one food at a time. In my understanding this mostly has to do with allergies--if you just introduce one thing at a time then it's easier to identify an allergic reaction. I think this definitely applies to potential allergens, but otherwise I don't stress over this too much.

Some foods, such as common allergens, should definitely be avoided in the early months. Advise varies on how long to avoid these foods--usually they say wait until the baby is a year old. It is my understanding though that the earlier a child is exposed to an allergen, the more likely he is to develop a severe reaction to it. Just as many people outgrow allergies, many allergic reactions are milder in older children than they are in infants. Therefore, particularly if anyone else in the family has food allergies, it is advisable to avoid these things for longer. The foods to avoid are honey (because of botulism) and the top 8 allergens of peanuts, tree nuts, soy, eggs, wheat, shellfish, fish, and cow's milk in all forms. You should also avoid any specific foods that family members are allergic to.

So what DO I feed my babies? Well, after waiting for their readiness signs (rather than for a calendar date), I just feed them off my plate--occasionally with a baby spoon, but usually just with my finger or my spoon/fork. Some foods are very easy to feed--applesauce, grains of rice, mashed up banana or avocado. Some babies dislike the texture of potato but mine seem to like it fine.
When feeding "big people food" rather than pureed baby foods, it is important to be aware of choking hazards of course, and for that I often utilize a baby safe feeder (as in the photo above). For non-mooshy non-juicy foods, I break them into tiny pieces--I figure my food is not pureed when I swallow it, it is just chewed into very small I give my baby "post-chewing" sized pieces of beans, breads, and meats.
And yes, I feed my babies things like meat, and I often don't feed them things like carrots or corn... I make these decisions based on two things: 1--how long does it take before baby seems hungry again? If he's starving within an hour, then I think he needs some 'heavier' foods to keep him filled for a little longer (by 6 months old a child should be good for several hours before needing another meal). 2--look in the diapers and notice which things are going through undigested. If the chunks of carrot or bean look the same coming out as they did when they went in, then obviously he's not getting any benefit from ingesting them. For the record, the meat has never come through that way.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Baby-Led Eating part 1: when to start solids

The standard advice I've heard is that babies can start eating solid foods (or, anything aside from breastmilk) at around 4-6 months.
In my experience, babies all learn to crawl on their own schedule. They all get teeth on their own schedule. They all start talking on their own schedule. Therefore, I think it's more than a little silly to presume that they are all ready to start eating solid foods at the same time.
So I throw any and all age recommendations out the window, and watch for readiness signs instead. What do I watch for?
  • Grabbing at other people's food--seriously, why would you force a baby to eat food if he wasn't interested in it yet? (Watching other people eat--as in watching the fork go back and forth from plate to mouth and back--is a prequel to grabbing, and certainly shows interest, but I wait for the actual grabbing)
  • Eruption of teeth (or obvious signs that teeth are very close to coming in)
  • Sitting up independently (or fairly independently--the ability to support his own weight and balance himself is the point, so that he doesn't collapse on himself and choke)
  • Picking things up and putting them in his own mouth (it doesn't have to be the "pincer grasp" per se, just the eye-hand-coordination of picking something up and getting it where he wants it)
If a baby is doing these things, then he's physically ready to eat solid foods. Bear first grabbed something from my hand at 5 1/2 months, but then after a couple of (summertime) months of nibbling on fruits, he went back to almost exclusively breastfeeding until he was 8 or 9 months. Even then, he typically consumed just a few bites a day of solids until after his first birthday. He loved nursing, and wasn't fond of solids. I frequently finger-fed him, but almost never spoon-fed him because by the time he was interested in foods he was old enough that he fed himself quite efficiently. Eagle, on the other hand, was showing all the signs (even the eye-hand coordination) before 5 months, so I started giving him little nibbles, and by the time he reached the 6 month mark he was eating lots of food. By 7 months he is snarfing down several ounces of baby food at a sitting. He only has two teeth and so I am relying on a lot of the mashed foods--meaning that I'm spoon-feeding as well as finger-feeding him. I'm just following his lead (if I stop spooning the food in--to get a bite of my own for example--he will grab the bowl if he can reach it and pull it to his face and start gnawing on it!) he really loves his solids.
Eagle, with remnants of dinner on his face...mmmmm

I stand by my feeling that "food is for fun until they are one," meaning that they can eat as little (or as much) solid food as they want, but this is an age for exploration of solids, rather than seeking full nourishment from them. I will continue to breastfeed on demand and rely on that as the primary source of nutrition.

Stay tuned for part 2, what to feed the kiddo!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Things My Father Taught Me

After devoting Mother's Day to things my mother taught me, I wanted to devote Father's Day to my daddy.

(playing the piano with Wolf, 2004)

It's ok to be "weird." Conformity is for those who don't have enough imagination or self-esteem to be themselves.

Hair is overrated.

Take the long way home--don't go the same route twice if you go on a different route and see something new.

Stop to smell the flowers and look at the waterfalls.

If you can't find any flowers, then plant some.

Wear whatever makes you comfortable.

Do what makes you happy. Work can be enjoyable and fulfilling if you do the job right and choose a field you love.

Learn language. Use the words that express exactly what you mean. Learn to put them together well. Nobody will take you seriously if you can't write decently.

If there is not an English word that means what you want, try another language. Who says you can only use one language in the house? (Because there is no simple translation for failluto, and it is such a useful word.)


Make music.

Notice what needs to be done, then do it. Don't wait to be asked.

Work before play. Work hard.

If you say you'll do it, you'd better follow through.

Help other people, even when you feel like you don't really have the time. If you can make time for yourself, you can make time for others.

It's ok to like things that are different from anybody else.

It's ok to live far away from your parents or other family, but you have to call or visit. (It's great if you live somewhere interesting and worth visiting.)

Never pass up an opportunity to learn something new.

Never pass up an opportunity to travel someplace you've never been.

Experience is the ultimate teacher.

Travel is the ultimate experience.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wolf's Cake

Happy 10th kiddo

(I painted out his name for the blog here of course...but it was written in grey 'barbed wire' as you can see from the W)

We had an "army guy" party--we watched "The Pacifier" and ate a camo cake...oh yeah.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Frugal Friday: Fabrics

I love sewing, but with fabrics frequently costing $6-12/yard, making clothing (or anything else) can easily cost more than just buying it ready made. Of course handmade items can have a more perfect fit, and there are some things that cannot be purchased (be they clothing or custom curtains or quilts), but all in all buying fabric can break the bank.
Of course it depends what you plan to do with the fabric--if you need something very specific, or in a hurry, then you may be at the mercy of the market...but if you have a little time to spare, or can be flexible, then here are a few ideas for acquiring fabric on a more budget-friendly basis:
  • Get on mailing lists for fabric stores to get coupons--For example JoAnn's Fabrics has a mailer every month or so, and each one shows the current sale items AND also includes a 40% off coupon that can be used on any one item--including one cut of fabric of any length.
  • Look for sale items. I know this is obvious, but it's worth repeating. ☺ Some stores have bargain racks or $2 fabric tables. (Walmart is famous for having cheap fabrics but even when I used to shop there I found that of them were low quality...)
  • Look for discontinued fabrics--they are often on sale (but you won't be able to get more later, so get plenty!)
  • Check out the remnant shelves at fabric shops--they usually take any pieces under 1 yard and put them in the remnant bin for as much as half off. Sometimes the pieces are larger but have a flaw. If you are going to be cutting smallish pieces anyway (such as a quilt, or small clothing), then you can use small cuts of fabric. I have often been able to find multiple remnants of the same fabric--for example yellow flannel, or red fleece--and then I can make something larger by buying three remnants of the same fabric. Alternately, you can buy part of your fabric as a remnant and only have to pay full price for part of your yardage.
  • Be friends with other people who sew--or who plan to sew but never do. I've acquired quite a bit of fabric from people who "bought this but never got around to using it..."
  • Visit thrift stores or yard sales and look for old sheets or curtains or tablecloths. These are large pieces of fabric, and often come in pretty prints. Sheets can make good linings, petticoats, or aprons. They are also good for mock-ups (which is when you make a practice run of the pattern in order to make sure that the alterations fit correctly--I have a funny story about this which I'll share at the end of this post!) Curtains and tablecloths can make good curtains (shockingly!), or capes, skirts, jackets...anything that calls for a heavier weight fabric.
  • If you have the time, and need a lot of fabric, there are many online fabric co-ops (I mostly frequent the ones that cater to diaper-making fabrics, but there are others--search in yahoo groups). They make bulk orders and are able to get the fabric at wholesale prices rather than retail. There is often a wait of 2+ months between ordering and getting your fabric, and there are often cutting fees, so if you just getting a few yards then it probably won't save you any money. But if you buy in bulk (more than 5 yards of something) then this can save you a lot.
  • Recycle/upcycle things that you have already (or find them secondhand). Old jeans make great quilts, as many people know. Old corduroy pants make great quilts too (and they are a lot softer than jeans!). Skirts on the longer/fuller side have a lot of fabric. Old formal gowns have a lot of fabric (and are great for making kid's costumes!) Any type of clothing in larger sizes has (wait for it...) a lot of fabric!
  • Do you have any other suggestions?
Just a note--When using secondhand fabric, be sure to inspect it before using it. Sometimes the fabric itself is very old and wearing out--if the fabric is going, then anything you make with it will be short lived. Thinner fabrics are notorious for this, but thicker fabrics can split and fray if they have been washed/worn enough times. So always inspect a fabric for signs of wear!

OK, so the funny story...
When I was engaged, I looked around for a while and finally concluded that I would make my own wedding dress because nobody had anything I really liked, or that flattered my figure. I hunted for patterns and ended up finding three different ones that I planned to combine and alter to create the dress I wanted. Because I was doing a "frankenpattern" I needed to do a mock-up to make sure that I had my alterations right before I cut into the expensive dress fabric. So I got a couple of sheets from the thrift store. I had been through two mock-ups on the bodice and had gotten it all right, and I excitedly showed my fiance what I had created...the sheet I'd used happened to be white though, and when he saw it he said "um, honey, I know we're on a budget, but maybe you should just buy a dress?" He thought I was making my actual wedding dress out of a secondhand sheet! ☺ Nope, I explained mock-ups and then made the dress of velvet and satin.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Going Without Gluten

I have recently begun seeing a doctor for some issues I've been having. I suspected hormonal imbalances, but he tested several other things to make sure we didn't miss anything (thyroid, adrenal function, neurotransmitters, vitamin D levels, the list was not short). One thing that came up--something we had not anticipated--is that I have a mild intolerance for gluten. (A test result of 13-14 is "borderline intolerance" and 15+ is intolerance, with 30+ being severe intolerance. My result was 16.) I got these results the day before we left on our trip, so I haven't been able to do much about them yet. My doctor recommends going completely gluten-free immediately. The information pages he gave me suggest that if I stick to a strict gluten-free diet for 3-4 months, then after that (because I have a milder intolerance) I can have something with gluten once every week or so.
I am thoroughly overwhelmed.
Going gluten-free would require some MAJOR changes in how I cook (starting with no more homemade whole wheat bread...) and honestly I am feeling very lost in how to start. I know there are lots of GF families out there, and I'm hoping that perhaps you can help me in three ways:
  1. Can you recommend specific websites and/or books that will be helpful for me in understanding better what gluten-intolerance is, how it works, and for goodness sake which foods have gluten and which don't (for example oatmeal--I'm finding conflicting information on whether it's ok or not).
  2. Can you recommend specific websites/cookbooks where I can get good GF recipes?!
  3. Are there ways to prepare gluten-containing foods so that the gluten is already broken down and therefore not a problem? For example, if I sprout my wheat before grinding it into flour, then can I eat it? What about soaking? This is actually something I'm very hopeful about, especially since my intolerance is on the very mild end of the spectrum. I would vastly prefer to find a way I can just cook for my whole family, rather than having to cook separately for myself...and trust me this family is not giving up carbs.
I really appreciate any help you can offer. ☺

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Tender Mercies and Little Joys

This morning's post was pretty dismal, I know. I was definitely in a depressed state both yesterday and this morning when I wrote it. However a good shower, a comfortable night's sleep, and just writing out all my story has been cathartic and I'm feeling better now. Not 100%, but better.
Our trip did have good parts, and that's what this post is about.
Tender Mercies
  • The new transmission for the van was under warranty--no monetary cost to us. They also fixed the back seat which has been stuck (it's supposed to be easily removable but we haven't been able to get it to pop loose in the last year or so).
  • When the van went kapoot (or, rather, when the transmission went kapoot) we were 1--in a decent sized city (Alaska only has a couple of those, and it's literally hundreds of miles between them) 2--that city had a Kia dealership (Our hometown does not, so if it had died at home we would have been worse off...)
  • All the kids are pretty good travelers
  • The audiobook "The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians" (thank you public library!) which got us through many hours in the car...and led to some amusing discussions of Greek Mythology as well.
  • Bear's bright orange pants (his favorites) which made it very easy to find him even on a crowded playground.
Little Joys
  • Seeing Bear's grins when we said that yes he could go on "the horses" (carousel) and when he picked out "the stripy horse" (zebra) and as he came around and around on his first carousel ride. (Daddy went next to him, because Mommy gets nauseous on merry-go-rounds.)
  • The fact that every time the carousel came around, Wolf was in a different position on the horse...

  • Wolf's getting up before anyone else and go out to chop wood...because he was so excited about being allowed to do the work. (OK, I think maybe we can get a wood stove now ☺)
  • Watching Bear run around everywhere barefoot--yes, including outside in campgrounds, over gravel, etc. He just likes being barefoot apparently. He took off his shoes at every opportunity.
  • Watching as Wolf grows into a great babysitter
  • I came home to four packages--three etsy trades plus a box from my secret sister.
  • A beautiful sunset over the ocean (at 11:15pm) and Mt Illiamna on the way home

Our Trip

I will just warn now that this is on at your own risk.

In 2008 we made the lengthy drive down the AlCan (Alaska-Canada Highway) by way of a few national parks (both Canadian and US) to visit family in the lower 48. We were gone for 6 weeks and spent a small fortune.
In 2009 we used airmiles to fly to Utah and stayed with family for 9 weeks, but took a couple of shorter camping/canoeing trips, and spent a small fortune on those things plus fixing up our house down there.
This year we decided that--in spite of two grandmas who really want to meet our newest family member--we should choose the modest option and just take a short in-state trip. With our job (or lack thereof) in mind, we really wanted to keep costs down, but still wanted to have a good trip (we needed to get our minds off things). We thought we could take the budget route on most things (short trip, camping, lots of PB&J for lunches) and thereby make a couple of splurges (such as the bus in Denali). In spite of living in Alaska for 3 years, we had not yet seen the interior of the state, so we sat down with maps and destination wish lists and planned a 12 day road trip.

Things we had planned:
  • 12 days
  • Visit Denali National Park
  • (in Denali) Hubby and Wolf take the spendy all-day bus into the interior of the park (with the good views of the mountain)
  • (in Denali) The little ones and I go see the sled doggies (they do winter patrols via dogsled, and in the summer you can see/meet/play with the dogs)
  • Visit Dawson City (center of the Alaskan gold rush)
  • Spend a day or so seeing what there is to see in Fairbanks
  • Visit North Pole (which, incidentally, is south of Fairbanks...)
  • Drive north of Fairbanks and cross the Arctic Circle
  • See the midnight sun
  • In Coldfoot (the city north of the circle) visit the visitor's center for Gates of the Arctic National Park (the park itself is a massive wild place, accessible by plane or for backcountry hiking/cross-country skiing, but not a great place to go with kids)
As we prepared for our trip, I remembered that Dawson City is in Canada. We have our passports and the kids' birth certificates, so the border crossing isn't a problem...except that I knew we would have our dog with us, and to take a dog across the border one has to have a health certificate for the dog (they are only good for 60 days and cost $60!). We decided that for one day across the border, the paperwork wasn't worth it, (deep breath) and concluded that we would add Dawson to the itinerary some other year when we drive the AlCan again.
OK, so now our trip was at 10 days, no Dawson City...but we still had a lot of exciting things planned.
We had planned to leave in the middle of the month, but for assorted reasons decided to move the trip up a bit, so it ended up being the last minute when we got online to make our camping/bus reservations in Denali. The website was down, and the phones were busy, so we wrote down the number and figured to call from the road. Therefore we were a day into our trip (one day out from our intended arrival at Denali) when we learned that the bus we intended to take would not be running for another week. OK, deep breath, we can handle this. We just flipped our itinerary around backwards and moved Denali to the end of our trip rather than the beginning. Reservations made, and we took the other road and headed out of Anchorage the other direction. So far so good.

The first couple of days were fine. The afternoon that we'd planned to camp near Fairbanks though turned out to be very rainy. We decided to stay that one night in a hotel, and (since we wouldn't have to strike camp) we'd head out early to go for the Circle. So much for budget...but it's just one night, and we all got showers... deep breath ok, it's ok.
In the morning we headed out (not nearly as early as we'd wanted too) and started north on the Dalton Highway.There are about 200 miles between Fairbanks and Coldfoot, and about 60 of it is dirt road. There are roadsigns and guidebook notations recommending carrying two spare tires, extra gasoline, etc because there is literally nothing out there. (The road continues past Coldfoot for another few hundred miles of dirt all the way to Prudoe Bay, but we had no desire to go that far.) We figured that with a full take of gas and our standard one spare tire we'd be ok because we were not driving the whole road, just the first little bit up to Coldfoot. Imagine then our concern when we stopped at an overlook for lunch (about 150 miles in, most of the way through the dirt part) and then as we pulled out the van made a funny noise. At first I wondered if a pebble had gotten thrown up into something under the car because sometimes it would clank and then sometimes it wouldn't, however it was a loud noise and as I slowly drove across the pullout (with Hubby outside looking at the car to see if he could see/hear anything more) we both had the feeling that we were not going to cross the Arctic Circle on this trip.
deep breath
We turned around and went back to Fairbanks; a whole day in the car, and we ended up right where we started, without having really seen anything. On the way back the "check engine" light came on, we checked under the hood (topped off the oil) and determined to take the van in to be looked at in Fairbanks. We guessed it was probably no big deal, but better safe than sorry, right?
Strike the Arctic Circle and Coldfoot and the Gates of the Arctic Visitor's Center. Sad, frustrating, disappointing, but at least we still had Denali to look forward to.
We found a campsite right in Fairbanks. The campsites were decent, there were flush toilets and free showers. The jets from the airport flew over us periodically, and the fighters (and who knows what all else) from the air force base flew over us often. The boys loved looking up at the planes and trying to identify them. I wished they were not quite so loud...but hey, it was entertainment, and it was looking like we'd be in town for a few days.
The next morning we took the van into a shop. They plugged it in and the computer told them that it was a transmission problem (our van is 4 years old with only 37,000 miles on it, so this was shocking). They didn't do transmissions though, so they sent us to a place that did. We went to that place and they noted the make of our car and said "you know there's a kia dealership in town?" We didn't know. It was a new dealership, and we'd never been to Fairbanks anyway, but our van is under warranty so we went over there. They told us that we needed a whole new transmission. (I guess they're faulty on this model?!) It was going to take two days to get the transmission in, and then another full day (12 hours of work) to install the thing.
So one day in Fairbanks became four. deep breath Wow, this trip just isn't what we planned at all. No Dawson. No Circle. But we still had Denali. And in the meantime, I was able to meet a couple of online friends who live in Fairbanks, and one invited me to come to her house to do our laundry so I didn't have to spend an afternoon in a laundromat. We visited LARS (University of Alaska Fairbanks' Large Animal Research Station) with musk oxen and caribou. We visited North Pole and the Santa Claus house, and saw the reindeer there. We spent a day at Pioneer Park playing on playgrounds, eating greek food, playing putt-putt golf, and sending Bear on his first carousel ride. We went to the local fudge shop and tried cranberry and blueberry fudge (YUM). The transmission was supposed to arrive on day 3 (with installation planned for day 4) but on the morning of day 3 as we tried to pull out of the campground the van didn't want to drop into gear, so we emptied out everything, left it all in the campsite, and drove straight to the dealership. We'd hoped they would give us a rental vehicle, but they didn't have any, so we had to find our own (though they did take us over to get it). More money. deep breath They said it was helpful to have the van a day early though because they could get everything dismantled that day, and it would be ready to start installing the transmission first thing on day 4. We hoped that might mean we would be able to leave town midday on day 4--and get right on down to Denali.
As you may have noticed, we fixated on Denali as a great equalizer. We'd had so many hopes dashed on this trip, but Denali was one of the things we'd been most excited about, and we still had our reservations, and we were still going to make it there. The van wasn't finished until 5pm on that 4th day, but we were so ready to leave Fairbanks that we packed up and left town anyway. Fortunately Denali's campground check-in is open until 11pm (it's still as light as 5 at that time) and we rolled in at 10:54. No joke. We checked in and set up camp and finally tucked in around midnight.
In the morning, we awoke to rain. Lots of rain. Not a downpour exactly, but enough to get ya pretty wet if you went out for more than a few minutes, enough to have the tent very wet, enough to chill us...and enough that the clouds were thick and low and we couldn't see the mountain at all. We checked weather reports and they indicated that the clouds and rain were to be expected for the entire coming week. Unfortunately we were at less than 24 hours from the bus departure time, so no refunds. We talked it over and decided to give up and leave. We didn't want to spend three days camping in the rain if we weren't even going to be able to see the mountain that we had come to see. So I inquired about getting a refund for our other nights of camping...check in/out time was 11am, since it was already 12:30, sorry, I was too late, we couldn't get a refund for that night. We also could not get a refund for the next night because of their 24hour notice policy. We spent one night there but between all the un-refunded things we paid more than that hotel in Fairbanks had cost, and we got rained on. We didn't even stick around an extra hour to see the sled dogs because it was a 10 hour drive home.
deep breath

I've had disappointments before, but this trip really does beat all. I don't think I've ever been so glad to get home from a trip, or wished so much that we'd just never gone at all.
I understand why Denali has their stringent refund policy--Alaskan weather is finicky and they would lose a lot of money if they gave refunds easily. In the future I will not make reservations in advance. I'll plan to arrive mid-week when they're not crowded, and I will watch the weather forecast and not even go if it doesn't look clear. The campground was actually pretty nice, I just was too worn out to be willing to camp there in the rain.

In spite of all the things we didn't do, there were memorable things that we did do, and some of them were good.
Things we actually did:
  • Visit Denali National Park (but not see the mountain)
  • Hubby and Wolf take the spendy all-day bus into the interior of the park
  • The little ones and I go see the sled doggies
  • Visit Dawson City (center of the Alaskan gold rush)
  • Spend a day or so seeing what there is to see in Fairbanks
  • Visit North Pole and the Santa Claus House and reindeer
  • Drive north of Fairbanks (lotta good that did us) and cross the Arctic Circle
  • See the midnight sun (In Fairbanks it didn't matter if I looked up at the tent ceiling at 8pm, 11pm, 2am, 5am, or 9am--it all looked about the same. This makes it very hard to get kids to sleep. It also gave me a remarkable (and sometimes frustrating) sense of timelessness.
  • Visitor's center for Gates of the Arctic National Park
  • Acquired two new national parks magnets for the fridge (Denali NP and Wrangell-St Elias NP)
  • Eagle cut his first two teeth
  • We met a French couple who camped next to us in Fairbanks--they had a tandem bicycle and had taken an entire year off work and were going to bike from the Arctic Circle all the say down the west coast to Chile and the Antarctic Circle. Whoa!!
  • Bear's first carousel ride
  • Wolf learned to split firewood and kindling and build/light a fire
By the way, it's sunny and gorgeous here at home.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gentle Discipline: Laying It Out

Recently I discovered Baby Dust Diaries by way of her gentle discipline carnival (she found one of my posts, and left me a comment to let me know that she had linked me). She has lots of links there, numerous posts of her own, plus she does the GD carnivals monthly now.
I especially liked her post Getting it Wrong: What Gentle Discipline is Not, and I hope she doesn't mind but I wanted to share a short excerpt of my favorite part (it's really worth going over to read the whole thing, but this chart is awesome!)

Below is one of my favorite charts showing parenting styles. I like it because, unlike most quadrant-based charts on parenting styles this skews it on its side so you can see the continuum of effectiveness down the left side and because it shows the shaded blending of the styles. What she is describing is called permissive parenting typified by low levels of expectation and high levels of nurturing responsivness. As you can see in the chart, permissive parenting rates quite low on the effectiveness scale (only slightly higher than being completely disengaged). Authoritarian parenting, where punishment falls, actually has high levels of expectation in common with gentle (nurturing in the chart) parenting.
Gentle parents, like authoritarian parents, care a great deal about the behavior and discipline4 of their children. And, as you can see from the chart authoritarian parenting actually has a high level of effectiveness (as measured by child behavior) as it scales with the level of responsiveness/nurturing.
Gentle parents are no more permissive than Authoritarian parents are uninvolved. To assume so ignores the intention and creates an inflammatory divide. I don’t assume you beat your kids. Don’t assume I let mine run wild.

I admit to having been guilty of exactly that last sentiment--I was raised in a household that was more on the authoritarian side. We were extremely well-behaved kids by most folks' standards, and since the end result was good I assumed that the method must be good as well.
Then I met my Wolf.
Nothing I had been raised with worked with him. He was his own kid and frequently could not be convinced or even coerced into things he didn't want to do--not by anything or anyone. Punishment had little or no effect on his behavior. Attempts at force were usually ineffective. I had to learn something new, and gentle discipline is where I have ended up.
In my younger years when I saw a kid who was out of control, I thought "well if only his mom would set boundaries, or give him a good lecture, or a swat on his naughty little behind..." Over time (due to living with Wolf, reading many books, and talking with other parents) my perspective has shifted.
I am not by any means a perfect "gentle parent." I've used spankings and time outs, I've yelled and threatened and completely lost my temper. Over a year ago I wrote a post on spanking and said I planned to never do it, strike. However I am trying. I think I am improving. For every time I fall down, I get up again--and in my opinion that's the real measure of a good parent (or a good person)--no matter how often they make mistakes, they keep trying again to be better next time. I continue to read and ponder and try to develop my sense of what I want my parenting to be like...and I continue to work on bringing myself closer to that idea.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May FOs & WIPs

Finished Objects & Works In Progress

For self/family


♥ 1 diaper for eagle (I am really loving stripes right now, and I worked up a new soaker design that dries faster and I'm loving that too!)
♥ 1 diaper cover for Eagle (newly designed pattern--with gussets cuz my kids have skinny legs) (Thanks B for the cute fabric!!)
♥ 1 pair fleece pants for Bear (his favorite pants are fleece, and he loves them so much he even fishes them out of the dirty laundry basket so that he can wear them I pulled out my fleece and let him pick a color and made him another pair of fleece pants. He picked neon orange--leftover from the hunting vest I made Hubby.)
♥ mending knees on 3 pairs of Wolf's pants

In Progress:

♥ second sleeve of Wolf's sweater (it's past the elbow...barely...)
♥ body of Wolf's sweater (I did do a few rows!)
<--- ♥ a pair of wool longies for Eagle
♥ a "vacation shirt" for Hubby ("Hawaiian shirt" style) with this sweet Alaskan fabric ---->

For shops/sale


♥ 1 diaper cover
♥ 4 wetbags

In Progress:

♥ 2 cloth pad value packs
♥ 1 more diaper cover (for trade)
♥ 2 diapers (for trade)


I also have four (yes FOUR!) trades going on right now.

1) Giving diapers and wetbags ---> from SweethavenArts getting several pairs of knitted socks (she has a sock knitting machine, which may be about the coolest thing I've ever seen!)

2) Giving nursing pads ---> from SevenAcreWoods getting handmade soap and alpaca fiber (from an appaloosa alpaca named Houdini!)

3) Giving a diaper ---> from BananaBottoms getting this diaper (because in a houseful of boys, obviously, I need all things camo!) --------->

4) Giving diapers, covers, and wetbags --->from Silverstarflower getting earrings and silver hair barrette (my earrings are this style but in silver and with a green stone)

See what can happen when you turn off the computer one day a week? ☺

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