mama scout lab e-course

Saturday, August 31, 2013

{Wellness Challenge} :: Learn Something New Everyday

I really loved last month's gratitude challenge! I think the group participants did too. We not only benefited from feeling and sharing the things we were thankful each day BUT we also got to reap joy from the other shares. It was a month full of noticing the littlest things and celebrating some really big things (death, cancer, near misses). We will do this again as a group, I am certain.

But, this month, we will change gears a bit. We will still being looking close at our lives and environment. This time for what we learn each day. As an un/homeschooling mama, I am very aware that we are all learning all the time. I journal these things, take photos, discuss nonstop, and pose and answer questions all day. Even on days when it seems like not much is happening, if I stop and think for just a bit, I am usually blown away at what we have learned. It ranges from academic knowledge to how to do something to peeks into our own self knowledge.

I challenge you to post with us each day at least one thing you have learned. It can be quirky or poignant. Frivolous or frightening.

Anything goes!

Learned a new word? a hack? a bit of history? Share it with us!

And encourage your kids to participate too. This could be the dinner topic each night or a journalling prompt. Keep the juices flowing and and be attentive to all that you are learning.

And please do post, it is so much more fun that way.

You can join the free Facebook group here. (That is where everything happens).

Sunday, August 18, 2013

{make} :: your own merit badges

My daughter recently ran her own fashion camp for her friends. Kids came over for a few hours for three days and she led them through a variety of activities. They drew, did bleach art on t-shirts, painted jeans, decorated sunglasses, turned old t-shirts into bags and my favorite project : they made merit badges to decorate their clothes. They made badges for things they loved to do, family members and just for the joy of design. They were simple and can be adapted in so many ways. 

This is the most simple method I came up with. I have seen some beautiful, more elaborate badges, but for a group of kids with limited time, this worked really well.

First, we traced and cut out circles of a heavy cotton/canvas material. I used Fray Block on the edges to keep the little strings under control. We then cut out slightly larger circles in rainbow colors of felt.

Kids decorated the cotton with Sharpie Markers (you could also sew or use fabric paint) and then we used fabric glue to adhere them to the felt.

Lastly, we hot glued a pin to the back. You can also sew these onto bags or clothes.

These would make cute or funny gifts or better yet, what about assembling a little kit of all the supplies and cut out circles and giving that as a gift?


It is almost the end of sign up for the amazing 
A Book About Me e-lab.

 Click HERE to read more about it and join us for a transformative journey back to yourself. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

at the carwash

We are at the carwash. It is the awesome kind where you pay $3 for a robo-automatic scrubbing complete with colored bubbles and end up in a bay of vacuum cleaners. The prize is that you can vacuum your car as long as you like. You just keep pushing the button and get another cycle.

This is brilliant for my kids who love to vacuum and for my wallet that cringes while feeding the machine $1 for every four minutes. 

So, we are busy tossing garbage, vacuuming, wiping, and navigating the chores. Together. My kids are singing and bubbling over with excitement about how fun this is. They love straightening their areas and spend a half an hour cleaning. 

Then I look over at the minivan next to me and see the complete opposite. A mom in sweatpants is working up a sweat while cleaning her car. Her two boys stay seated, ignore her and play on IPads with headphones. They lift their legs to allow her to vacuum under their sneakered feet and reluctantly move for her to pull out boosters to clean around. They are not engaged or interested in this meaningless task. 

Please do not think I am judging this mom. She could very well be me on any day when I feel the crunch of time and am trying to hurry to accomplish tasks. No. There is no judgement. Just recognition. I am her as much as I am the carefree, happy mom I am at this moment. 

But what a reminder. A reminder of all the things I profess to believe and fall short on many times. 

Kids want to do real work. 

Kids love to be engaged in family tasks. 

Kids will help when given the opportunity. 

Kids are capable of much more than one might think, given the chance. 

Chores are fun when shared. 

I have a better time when I am not trying to do things quickly and on my own. 

As she finished, she put all the magnets back on her car that she had removed for the car wash. Little circles announced which soccer league her kids played on, which private school they attended and how many miles she had run in a half marathon. All symbols of giving kids opportunities and privileges that will supposedly help them achieve more in life. To many, these are proof of good parenting. 

As our vacuums whirred for the 5th cycle, I wonder, where are the car magnets for just being (seriously - that is much harder for most than participating in an organized activity)? For looking at clouds? For throwing your own trash away and cleaning out your own seat?

When we will we realize that kids who are fully integrated in daily life thrive. That the magnets are a diversion and a weak substitute for the real stuff? That our identities are much more nuanced and complex than logos on a shirt or the back of the car?

I feel like I am making a choice. 


Connection or efficiency? Deep, individualized success or societal membership and accolades?

What about you?

(Please know that I am not against soccer or school, marathons or IPads. I question myself as much as I throw the question out to you.)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

{life lab} saving moolah

As an educated, full time mom it is very difficult to not bring in a paycheck for my work. Maybe you feel the same?

I love talking money with people and do not find the subject too taboo. It is interesting all the different ways people can make their money work for them. In my mind, money is only good as an agent to help you lead the life you want to lead.

Now, I would not call us thrifty or frugal. We waste a lot of money (books and cheese come to mind). But, here are some of the things we do to free up money so we can use the rest to create the life we want..

I REALLY want to hear your ideas in the comments. I know you have some great thoughts to share.

1. Drop the cable bill. We watch TV on a combination of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, PBS, and Redbox.

2. Own a rental home. If you are selling your home and moving to another, consider keeping the old one as a rental. You get a break on your taxes, have a little extra monthly income and have someone else building equity for you. It can be stressful (my last year certainly was - death, evictions, police) but if you are up for it a rental home can help build your nest egg.

3. Start a small business. Same as above, a small business can not only make money but help you on your taxes. Plus, if you are a stay at home mom, your small business might help pave the way back in to the workplace if and when you want to return.

4. Swap and trade. If you have a small business, or if not, you can trade with others. When I ran a produce subscription service, I routinely swapped veggies for haircuts, fabric, BBQ and more local goods. With my online business I swap my goods and services for educational e courses, knitted socks, books, jewelry, ad space, and more. It is amazing and I am really jazzed about this "micro economy" that works outside of the system and has huge possibilities.

5. Stay healthy. Well, of course everyone wants to stay healthy! You can save a ton of money by not having constant colds and allergy infections. Doctor bills and over the counter medications add up! The path the wellness is different for everyone. In our family, my husband completely cured his decades long allergy suffering with one simple change. He now has a better quality of life and has saved money.  My doctor had me going to physical therapy for my hand arthritis that cost $50 a pop. By trying to naturally ease the discomfort, I saved money! If you are taking any life long lifestyle related drugs - see if you can work on getting off of them.

6. Shop used. Pretty obvious. We have so much fun buying clothes at the Salvation Army on 1/2 off day. My kids can buy pretty much anything they want. My daughter often finds the most awesome stuff that she combines in really unique ways.

7. Buy experiences not things . Having and remembering experiences and adventures make us happier than buying more things. It is scientifically proven! So, consider giving gifts of dinners, shows or canoe paddles over another mass produced trinket. Experience giving also lends itself to a DIY sensibility. How about inviting someone over to make pasta together, or go on a photo safari with friends. The possibilities are endless.

8. Have one car. If you can. If not, go for relability not status. Is it worth driving a brand new car if you could instead use that money to take a life changing trip with your kids? Figure out how much you pay in car payments a year and plug in all the other things you might do with a big portion of that money. Is it worth the exchange?

9. Homeschool. If you do not love the schools in your area, before you spend thousands of dollars on tuition and uniforms for a private school- think about homeschooling. Homeschoolers get loads of breaks. We get to volunteer at air shows and attend for free, we get to see entire seasons of plays for really reasonable prices, we co op and field trip everything, we make most of our own food and can travel off peak season.

10. Volunteer to get into free shows. You can often volunteer at historic movie houses, community theatres and even big commercial venues in exchange for admittance to the show. Look into it!

11. Make your own deodorant, toothpaste, laundry detergent,  household cleaners. I make all of these and am amazed at the high prices for similar products at the store.

12. Make your own gifts. Even if you are not crafty, you can make things that people will love. What about coupons for skills you have? Or a book of memories and photos? Maybe something of yours the recipient has a hankering for?

13. Get rid of your lawn. Gradually let your flower beds turn into vegetable and herb patches and spread until you have no more lawn to maintain.

14. Skip the gym and organized sports and start living an active life. Do real things that engage your mind and body and save big. Hiking,  gardening, home repairs, biking as a family - all these things can keep you healthy together and save money.

15. Make your own movie night. I am not sure how anyone can afford to go to the movies anymore. For our family of 5, if we get a popcorn and drink, it easily inches up towards $100! We rent new releases from Amazon streaming or Redbox for just a few bucks. And have way better snacks too!

16. Buy bulk vegetables. Check to see if there is a wholesale produce market near you. We live about an hour away from one and see people who drive from all over the state to buy there. In season, we can get 25# boxes of tomatoes for $8, huge bunches of collards for a few bucks and watermelons for $1 each. It is worth the trip!

17. Use the library. Pretty obvious. Not only can you check out book, music and movies, usually you can order books from other libraries for free or very reasonable. Talk to a librarian to find out all the library has to offer. Ours has an American Girl Club, music concerts and wonderful study rooms that I use frequently for writing. Make sure to find out when your library sells its decommissioned books and magazines. This week we were able to buy 15 children's chapter books for one dollar! And you can use the library as a place to relax and have fun. Here is a popular post I wrote about just that topic. 

18. Talk to people. This will not directly save you money, but you would be surprised at what you can find out just by talking to strangers. I am not overly extraverted but have no problem talking to people and have found that most are very nice and want to share any knowledge they have with you. Do not be afraid to ask people questions. I have been given advice about how, when and where to buy things like season tickets

19. Get some chickens or bees. While not exactly cheap in the beginning, the eggs and honey you can produce in your own yard will blow anything available conventionally away. You can use these items to swap and your children will learn a powerful lesson about responsibility and sustainability. I have not met a child who is not fascinated with chickens.

20. Donate all your stuff. Tax write off PLUS less to maintain. Double win!

21. Max out your retirement. Seems counter intuitive. But if your employer offers a retirement program of any type - max it out. You will hardly notice the difference in your paycheck (esp if it is before taxes) and the compounding will help you build a next egg before you know it. Earlier is better on this one, so don't put it off.

22. Make your own coffee .You can save big bucks by making your own coffee, even if you buy premium organic. We bought a really great, sorta expensive machine 14 years ago. Guess what? It still works and has paid for itself many times over. Good investment for the coffee lovers!

23. Shop at the Scratch and Dent. Locate a scratch and dent in your town and check it out. Our is amazing right now. We buy organic, gourmet food for a quarter of the price.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

{book review} Grasper + simple prompt

Grasper by Paul Owen Lewis might be my favorite kids' book ever. A picture book about a little crab who is curious about the world outside his little tidal pool, adults will cheer his adventure as much as kids. Despite warnings that the world is a scary place and you must stay in your small but safe area, Grasper yearns to explore. He is told that when he is molting he is so vulnerable that he must stay put. After a wave washes him out to sea, he realizes that he can only grow so big in his home. The crabs in the open sea are huge and full of life and color. He returns to tell his friends and family, but they can not believe him or his new ideas.

When I briefly taught elementary school, I remember having similar discussions with my kids. The majority of them came from severely disadvantaged homes and literally had no idea of the possibilities of the world. Their goals were very low and adjusted based on what their parents (if they had them) or other kids had taught them. 

I so badly wanted to wash them sea for a peek at their potential.

Prompt: We talked about what the world would seem like if we never left our house or neighborhood. We have been scared and vulnerable in our travels, but always appreciate the bigger world view - just like Grasper, and the risk is worth it. 

Each kid used a large piece of drawing paper divided into two. On one side they drew a creature in a small habitat and on the other side illustrated a big, wide world. Simple. 

As they drew, they talked about examples of constriction and freedom in their own life. And I internally  thought of my own examples, both cultural and self imposed. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

{family lab} portrait

Today, we are thinking about family portraits. In your past and present, what do they mean to you? I grew up having lots of kid portraits made, but very few family portraits. That tradition is one that I sadly carry forth. We are not fans of studio portraits, and I am always the one behind the camera snapping away pictures of my kids (never my husband or me).

Are you the same? Maybe you are completely the opposite (I have friends who have family portraits done every 6 months). 

I hope no matter which end of the spectrum you are on, you will join us in the creative challenge today. It would be so fun to see all of our family portraits on Facebook throughout the day. 

Family Portrait
Carlos Drummond de Andrade
Yes, this family portrait
is a little dusty.
The father's face doesn't show
how much money he earned.

The uncles' hands don't reveal
the voyages both of them made.
The grandmother's smoothed and yellowed;
she's forgotten the monarchy.

The children, how they've changed.
Peter's face is tranquil,
that wore the best dreams.
And John's no longer a liar.

The garden's become fantastic.
The flowers are gray badges.
And the sand, beneath dead feet,
is an ocean of fog.

In the semicircle of armchairs
a certain movement is noticed.
The children are changing places,
but noiselessly! it's a picture.

Twenty years is a long time.
It can form any image.
If one face starts to wither,
another presents itself, smiling.

All these seated strangers,
my relations? I don't believe it.
They're guests amusing themselves
in a rarely-opened parlor.

Family features remain
lost in the play of bodies.
But there's enough to suggest
that a body is full of surprises.

The frame of this family portrait
holds its personages in vain.
They're there voluntarily,
they'd know how — if need be — to fly.

They could refine themselves
in the room's chiaroscuro,
live inside the furniture
or the pockets of old waistcoats.

The house has many drawers,
papers, long staircases.
When matter becomes annoyed,
who knows the malice of things?

The portrait does not reply,
it stares; in my dusty eyes
it contemplates itself.
The living and dead relations

multiply in the glass.
I don't distinguish those
that went away from those
that stay. I only perceive
the strange idea of family

traveling through the flesh.

(trans Elizabeth Bishop)

What do family photos mean to you?

Do you remember looking at them on your walls or tucked in albums?

Today, I want us to all make a family portrait.

No matter what, lets get this done.

You can go to a walk-in photo studio wearing funny sweaters or use the timer on your camera while you all climb on the swing set.

If you co-sleep, maybe take a picture as you all wake up. 

Make a family portrait that captures a glimpse of what your family is like today, this moment.

Share your photo with the Mama Scout Facebook group or in the comments. 

Please watch this video Mongolia! about the power of photography.

I love this essay about making sure that you, the mom, are in the picture. 


Check out my Book About Me lab here

You seriously need to be a part of it. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

how to write yourself back

Good day! As summer comes to a close here (and I assume where you are), I wanted to check in and let you know that I am running my A Book About Me e-lab in just a few weeks. This lab is full of daily, personal essays, prompts, creative challenges and more. It is packed with content.

Perhaps, the best part is the group work we do in a secret little cozy FB nook (in my mind there are pillows, candles, tea and wine). When the stories are shared and HEARD, the most amazing connections and healing happen. I will not lie. The first two times I led this class I ended many days in tears. Not because of the sadness but just the enormity of the shared, common experience of being a woman and mama. It becomes so apparent quickly that you are me and I am you. We are the same. And we need to protect and nurture each other. Both classes spawned breakout groups and the community continues.

As many of you know, I really stepped back after I returned from Paris this summer. What was supposed to be a fact finding mission ended up being a deeply, provoking time. I returned with more questions than I ever had before! So, I got quiet and read. I read some Whitman, some Steinbeck, a book about a woman who fled to the sea, some beautiful children's novels and even delved into some math and physics. And I wrote. And wrote and wrote.

I am more convinced than ever that writing (not good writing, just writing) is the way to make a map. You can write yourself out of anything. You can connect with your deeper self and maybe even other guides through writing. Writing can become the dowsing rod to your core. You can remember and celebrate and mourn. All through writing.

If you are feeling lost, maybe like you have just opened your eyes after a long nap, and you are ready to get back to yourself, this is the lab for you. You will laugh, cry, connect and be reintroduced to someone you might have missed. And to be honest, we need you. We need to your story and your voice in this class. 

You can read more and sign up here.



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