mama scout lab e-course

Friday, November 30, 2012

{prompt} unique family

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

choosing & reacting during times of chaos

My husband had a big chunk of time off recently and we have been much busier than we expected.

Thanksgiving came, my brother moved out of state, my old dog had surgery (and has cancer), I ran two e-Labs and started writing a new one, I was interviewed on the radio (you can listen here - I am episode 60), and we got chickens. 

One day we actually had 9 separate errands/appointments. 

That is typically not how we do things. 

We love the slow and deliberate. 

But amazingly, our family did not become stressed or spin out of control in a frenzy trying to keep up. 

Maybe we are learning the lessons we keep close to our hearts and scribble late at nights into our journals. Maybe.

We took deep breaths and plodded through what had to be done and sloughed off what suddenly became less important. 

A saving grace (always) was to schedule long afternoons in the woods (between all those appointments). The kind of afternoons where you lay in the grass napping and then get up and try doing circus tricks, or quietly make little museums from the debris you find scattered around. 

We also straightened up the nature table which is full of items that reflect our current interest in birds. Florida is a wonderful place to be a bird watcher and we are learning about new waterfowl as they arrive on holiday at our nearby lake. 

This month was a wonderful reminder to me, especially as I was leading the first session of the holiday e-Lab (all about creating your life and experiences with intention). 

We can not always anticpate what is around the corner. 

All the best, most orchestrated plans can blow away in an instant. And frequently, they do.

What I can control is my breath, the steadiness of my step, my ability to choose my reaction along with a big dose of humor and grace. 

How do you find calm in the midst of sudden chaos?

I am offering one more session of the Holiday e-Lab. You can sign up here

We will share ideas of simplifying, setting intentions, dealing with negative people, traditions, decorations, food and more. 

This lab is meant to help you find the answers to create the holiday that you want. It is not too late!

Oh, and the Facebook group is full of ideas and support too!

Monday, November 26, 2012

a quiet hello

I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful and filling. The season is here and I want to be present. I am being called to the forest and the waterways of Florida. While in other parts of the country, people are cozy-ing in and trying to stay warm, we are outside as much as possible, just looking at the light and the migratory bird that visit us each winter. We see and learn about a new one each day. 

It is actually overwhelming how beautiful it is now. 

So, this space will reflect my slight and temporary departure from here as I venture out. I will check in with the photos that I am making and a few words. I also have a few reviews to post this month. 

I am linking up lots of good gift ideas on Facebook. Make sure you "like" Mama Scout and then choose to follow my feed, otherwise you will miss the majority of what I post over there. 

And!! I am offering another session of the Holiday e-Lab starting December 1st. Please think about joining. If you do nothing but read the daily emails, I know you will dig it and I am certain it will give you many ideas to think about this season. You will also get to join the secret Facebook group where lots of good discussion and ideas are happening. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

10 alternative gift ideas

Gift giving season is upon us! Given that we are in a tight economy and many homes are over run with clutter, I wanted to offer a few ideas for the sort of gifts that you can feel good giving and that put your hard earned money to work for a better world.

For the last few years, we have scaled back our gifting and now give a big bag of goodies to each family on our list. The bag is decorated by our children in a theme they think the recipient family will like and then it is filled with a variety of the following:

Our favorite food finds from the year - We love food and always have new finds we want to share, like a certain chocolate bar or mustard or cool pop, and the best part is these items will not add clutter to a house.

Handmade goodies - We make bath salts, felted soaps, picture frames, dog biscuits, embroidered pillowcases, food items, homemade candy and more. Click here to print out my laundry soup and pit paste recipes. Also, buying homemade gifts from Etsy or local artisans directs money into the pockets of creatives (which is where I like it to go!)

Local artisan items - The local farmer's market is filled with awesome gifts. I try to load up on local honey, specialty spaghetti sauces, homemade jerky, knitted items, cutting boards, and handmade soaps. These not only make great gifts for the recipients but pump money right back into our local economy.

Books - For the readers in my family, I love searching for just the right book that I think they will love. 

Gift certificates to local businesses - I am not always a fan of giving out generic gift certificates, but love giving them out to local restaurants or shops. A GC to an independent comic shop or book store would be great for any young teen. We give out gift certificates to the historic movie theatre each year. 

Gift certificates for events - I love making up gift certificates for events. I recently gave my Dad a day trip to a photography museum and craft brewery. Not only did he like both, we have a great memory of a day spent together. 

Board games - A new board game (with lots of fun treats) will offer many evenings of fun to the recipient family, and maybe they will invite you over to play.

DVD of the year in pictures - My husband makes a DVD with music and photos from the year and we give it to grandparents and relatives who are far away. This is always well received.

KIVA loan gift certificate - This is such a great gift for the business man who is so hard to buy for. I gave one of these to my dad a few years ago and it was fun to hear the updates on his borrower. 

An item we already have that the recipient has been eying - My mom and husband have been gifting each other records from their collections on birthdays and "just becauses". Family heirlooms and special items make awesome gifts, especially if it is something the recipient has expressed an interest in.

Please leave your alternative gift ideas in the comments. I would love to hear them!

I am taking off the rest of the week to play with my chickens, eat, rub my belly and write. I will see you next week. 

You can follow me on twitter here.

I am on Facebook here.

I love Pinterest! You can follow me here

And as always, please feel free to email me any questions at amybarbo at gmail dot com.


Friday, November 16, 2012

{geography lab} salt dough land forms

Are you good at geography? I never understood geography until I was an adult. I think for many kids, geography is too abstract and seems meaningless.

I discovered that I learn places on a map from experience, either traveling or through really amazing stories. The notion of memorizing capitals and countries without a tether to something real is about as alluring to me as cleaning the bathroom. Learning metro and train systems, driving through states, or pouring over maps of the places I read about is how I have come to understand the world and its physicality. 

To that end, my kids recently did a project that would be amazing for anyone learning about a specific place. We made salt dough maps of our state. You can see examples of this project all over Pinterest, so I guess it is a classic that was just under the radar for me. It is so simple. 

1. Make salt dough (recipe at bottom)
2. Print out or draw a map of your geographical area
3. We put our map in a plastic page protector. This meant that we could not cook it in the oven, but had to let it air dry. 
4. Put a ball of dough on the map and shape. We used toothpicks to pull the dough into the perfect coastline. 
5. Add specific features (mountains, prominent water features, bays etc.)
6. Let dry. (During this time, we pulled out the map and watercolored the ocean)
7. Paint landform.

You can make these and store them in pizza boxes if you want.

The physical connection to the the land form makes understanding our state so much easier. My kids completely get that there is a high ridge that runs down Florida. (And how that affected the early animals who lived here and why we can find shark teeth in the middle of the state). 

Have you done this with your kids?

What would be the defining feature for your state?

Make salt dough

1 cup salt
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup warm water

mix and knead for 5 minutes.

air dry or bake at 200 (the time depends on the thickness, so check every 20 minutes)

we paint ours with acrylic craft paint and then seal with a spray varnish

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

how we pick a winner around here

The winner to the giveaway of artists postcards from Christina Rosalie from last week is....Kirsten!

Her comment on what she could hear right now was: 

I can hear the Avett Brothers, playing through my laptop & making me smile. It is my one hour in the week when I explore new music, loved music, music to feed my heart. In 20 minutes I will collect 2 giggling preschoolers and listen to their imagination create carriages, rockets and lunch for the babies.


{review + giveaway + project} Fed Up with Frenzy by Susan Sachs Lipman

"Life's textures, and ultimately memories, are woven from the many small acts and micro rituals that come together, moment by moment, to add up to our days, weeks, and ultimately lifetimes."
Susan Sachs Lipman

I was so happy to be given the opportunity to review Susan Lipman's book, Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World. Just the title speaks to something deep with in many of us; a desire to slow down, appreciate the moment and feel present in our family life. 

Slowing down the pace of your life is simple but not easy. I loved this book because it is filled with concrete ways to engage as a family. 

The book begins and ends with chapters outlining the problems and many practical solutions. The bulk of the book is filled with an encyclopedic collection of ideas for slow activities, slow games, slow crafts, slow cooking, slow travel, slow celebrations and more. There are no photographs or image tutorials, so you can imagine how much is packed into over 350 pages.

Lipman has extensive scouting experience and that is reflected in many of the activities and songs. I particularly liked the catalog of  call and response songs and childhood hand clapping chants that I have long forgotten. Also, many of the playground games will be introduced to my children because of this book. 

This would be a great gift to yourself for your parenting bookshelf. You can browse through it when you need an idea for something simple and slow to do with your children. Most of the projects and activities are classic and use things you already have around your house. If you would like to win a copy, click down to the bottom for more information. 


One of the micro rituals she suggests is to have interesting conversations at dinner, not just the logistical ones (who is driving who to soccer, who is picking up dinner...). We actually did something similar in my Mama Scout Family e-Lab, so I thought I would share that here. We made conversation starter jars. 

You can print out 25 conversation starters here and just cut them up, put them in a jar (or an old gum container like we used) and pull one out at dinner (or in the car or at bedtime). 

It might seem silly or weird, but you might be amazed. My kids love this and are always up for the question of the night. When we "do a question," the mood of the table instantly changes from whiny complaining or bathroom talk to thoughtful, engaged, real conversation. 


Would you like to win a copy of this book? If so, leave a comment with a conversation prompt that you would add to your jar. I will pick a winner November 21st.
Good Luck!

The luck winner is:
Toni at This Simple Life!

Monday, November 12, 2012

{tub fun} build with pool noodles

Do you kids bring building toys in the tub? My boys always want to bring Legos in and I cringe thinking of them going down the drain. 

We figured out the funnest, tub building toy: chopped up pool noodles. You might have some hanging around from the summer, or we can still find them at the store around here. There is also a insulating tubing that is sold at the hardware store that might work.

We used a serated knife to cut the noodles into different lengths and angled pieces. The best pieces though were the ones that were cut half way through (think hot dog bun). These were the pieces that were the most useful in the building. Throw in a few dolls or plastic animals and you will be amazed and the stories and adventures that unfold.

I would show you more pictures of what my kids did, but you know - they were in the bathtub! 

What else could be used in the tub to build with?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

{review + giveaway} A Field Guide to Now

I have a new favorite book this season! It is a field guide to NOW: notes on mindfulness and life in the present tense by Christina Rosalie. 

Christina offers meditations on cultivating attention and mindfulness through essays, beautiful art, and prompts. Her writing is sublime - the kind that is so sweet and clear you can not rush through. It demands to be savored, slowly. I found myself unable to read more than one short chapter at a time because when I was done, I had to just sit there and think. It is that powerful.

My copy is so worn and underlined, it is beyond lending out. Which is okay with me. This is not the kind of book you lend, it is the kind you gift. To everyone of your friends; the ones who have felt the pain and the beauty of life as a creative mother. 

I was so honored and nervous when Christina told me I could interview her for this review. Below are the three questions I limited myself to, and her thoughtful and poignant responses. 

Read through to the end to learn how you can win a really great bit of art!

Amy : Early in the book, you write about writing yourself a raft and oars to keep afloat, sane and maybe even to use for escape. How important is it for mothers to have a practice that not only allows creative expression, but a way out too?

ChristinaWriting is both a means of survival, and a way to find grace. It’s a means for paying attention: to what’s around me, and also to what’s within me. And though it can carry me beyond the moment, into beautiful or heart-wrenching or truthful fiction, I don’t think of writing as an escape, so much as I see it as a way to move forwards with intention. When I write, I’m forced to listen to myself, and to take notice of the patterns and choices and inklings and dreams that make up the undercurrent of my life, and beyond my life, the cultural undercurrents of human life at large.

I think all women, but particularly mothers who literally give their bodies and their lives over to the process of birthing and nourishing and sustaining their children, benefit from having a creative practice that forces them to listen to their own wise voice. It’s easy, in the thick of things, to stop paying attention to that voice. It’s easy to move from one day to the next, just responding, and so much of what I explore in A Field Guide To Now is how to lean into those moments.

Amy : Slowing down, looking and taking note are central tenets in the creative lifestyle I lead with my children. Whether we are looking under a leaf for a golden Monarch egg or watching water spread from paint brushes to the cement, we are always hyper focusing. 

You write, "This is what noticing always does: It fills me with wonder, and forces me beyond the ease of being unaffected by the world." 

You have recorded in such detail, the small and ordinary moments of your life; the way a bird's song transports you or the light of afternoon. I am wondering, how important is it to record the evidence of our days? Is it enough to just notice? Or must we write, paint, photograph, sing...?

Christina This is such an interesting question! I think it is really important to record these moments of noticing in some way—because it’s in the act of recording, choosing words or images, and bringing your own creative attention to bear, that one is transformed by what one observes. To see, and listen, and taste, and smell, and touch are all incredibly important. But to transform these impressions into meaning, that is the work that really alters us—and it’s that work that I live for. To take note, and to be altered by the wonder.

Amy : I especially loved the chapter "Listing" where you write about changing expectations and settling - and your changing notion that settling does not necessarily mean settling for less

I was moved by the line "Regret is not my inheritance; choice is." It reminds me how frequently I compare my life to the women who came before me. You suggest that one way to choose is by list making. Writing a list is a way to move forward out of the "listless" state and manifest desires. What things are you personally listing now?

Christina : Right now I’m listing for a more holistic work-life integration; more time to focus on my creative work, and less driving in between. This is the first time I’ve shared this inkling in an outward facing way: but I think we’re ready to move away from our home at the end of a long dirt road, and into town where we can be close to our community and friends and our son’s school. So right now I’m listing for a new home sometime next spring, with an arbor and a beautiful fenced back yard within walking distance to town and to the lake.

I know that seems like a rather detailed thing to be listing for, but I take this process very earnestly actually. It’s like summoning the muses. The universe listens when we listen to ourselves.  

Thank you Christina for your time, your thoughtful answers and your amazing book. So much of what you write about is similar to what I feel, but have a hard time naming and clearly writing about. You have offered a powerful gift to women who are looking for ways to connect back to who they are and who they dream to be. 

You can win a gift of 12 gorgeous postcards featuring original artwork from Christina Rosalie’s book, A Field Guide To Now, delivered to you with a handwritten note from the author.  Postcards are printed with archival inks on premium paper by!

All you have to do is:

like A Field Guide to Now on Facebook here and Mama Scout here 

and leave me a comment with what sounds you can hear around you right now. 

I can not wait to see who wins. I will choose a winner on November 14th. Good luck!

Monday, November 5, 2012

{idea} real creative family living

As soon as my children were born and I started really watching how they interacted with the world, I knew I could not force my limited ways of thinking upon them. From early on when they made toys from acorns and fluff, experimented with language and at times seemed to connect with an invisible world that I could not see, I wanted to offer them a home that encouraged free thought, possibilities and hands on experiences. Whether telling stories, making up songs, or going on day long wanderings, I want them to feel that they are creating their experiences, their education, and their life. 

The ideal of this vision sounds so much more saccharine than the messy reality (and by messy, I do not mean the way people use the word now to mean kind of sexy. I really mean messy).

For us, the creative life is not a swirly, gentle lifestyle where we are all happily singing as we transition from task to task.  It takes immense personal responsibility and dedication to truly create a life and resist what I call "default living". 

Our family life is painfully beautiful and sublime at times. Sometimes we can even enter flow as a family while we create.  But many other times we are sloppy with our intentions and become frustrated and so angry at each other, ourselves and our emerging talents. We fail spectacularly, we get it all wrong and sometimes we do not how to rebuild what we have broken.  A creative family is not always a peaceful family. The sweat and tears that pour while we individually dig into the meat of life and the essence of who we are is worth bearing and offers a deeper sense of well-being than just the causal ease of everyone getting along. We realize that being uncomfortable often opens a space where things start to get interesting.

Allowing for and encouraging creativity makes the family culture so much richer. It offers our family a shared culture and language based on our experiences together. We have jokes and memories that are so specific they barely make sense to us. We become a team of dreamers, a club of doers and a battalion of warriors, all together. 

From those first days, I could see that my kids had so much to offer me. They had new ways of looking at things, different methods of solving problems and more complex ways of experiencing life. 

What would I have missed out on if I only supported my own myopic ideas on how a family should work? 

I never would have tromped through a rainforest looking for stick bugs. 

I never would have danced around in a roomful of strangers in my socks. 

I never would have protested the circus or slept in my backyard.

Encouraging creativity in your home is so much more than making sure you have markers and glue available to your children. And while I think a creative, "open-source" lifestyle looks different for each family, here are three fundamentals that I think we all share: 

embracing a "yes" philosophy. 
Automatic "no's" shut down the any conversation and connection we might build with the asker. Strive for a "yes" always, even if it needs qualifiers. And you can turn the responsibility over to the requester. "Yes, we can go to the Galapagos Islands, if we can figure out how to save $15,000. How can we do that?" (That is an actual conversation going on in my house now. When I was growing up, I hated the automatic "no" and the way it pushed me out of the process of problem solving).

teaching our kids how to look closely
By allowing ourselves to slow down, to avoid automatically heading to electronic devices when there is a lull in the day, and to experience boredom, we also encourage deeper looking and noticing. I think that being able to "look" closely and notice the minute is a skill that is not always valued in the shotgun approach to many of our day's activities. The subtle and small can become the infinite and profound, offering answers or at least some direction to the biggest problems facing us. I will always remember when my 8 year old son called me over to hear the sound of a snail eating or how we used to wait and watch our chickens lay their eggs. The mystery of the universe revealed itself and bound us together in new ways.

talking and reading a lot
When people ask me what curriculum we use, my answer for the longest time was, "The one where you talk all day." Through conversation; real, meaningful conversation, we as a family ask big questions, make proclamations about what we believe, change long held tenets, and begin to connect the threads from all the facets of our lives into a more cohesive structure. Reading out loud as a family encourages exploration, discovery and even more conversation. 

This is what a creative life looks like to our family. I would love to have your thoughts on what your creative family looks like in the comments. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

{make} mailing tube rain stick

My son had to make a musical instrument for his music class and decided to make a rain stick. We had done this several years ago, and I was anxious to try out my newer (and easier) method.  

This is actually ridiculously easy, it hardly needs a tutorial. 

We used a very strong mailing tube, sharp drywall nails that were short enough to not poke all the way through the tube, and a variety of dry goods to make the rain sound (rice, beans, salt).

We started hammering around the seam and eventually just nailed everywhere. After we had as many nails as we thought the tube needed, we added the dry goods and adjusted them as we tested the sound. We just put the stoppers back in the ends of the mail tube, but you might want to duct tape or glue them, especially if you have a very young child who might open them up. 

And of course you might want to decorate your rain stick when you are done! My son decided he really liked the white and silver and did not want to add anything else. 

The sound this makes is lovely and makes a great addition to our musical instrument collection.

Have you made a rain stick before?


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