The Mommy Rush

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Archive for the category “Work Life Balance”

Minds in the Making: 6 Tips to Engage Your Kids This Summer

Last week, I had an idea, one that I think has the potential to be a great idea. Since October of last year, I’ve been self-employed which doesn’t really tell you much except that I have an awesome boss. In my case, I’ve spent the last several months splitting my time between consulting work (emails, phone calls, and reports) and research for a book project on how to improve the American education system (emails, phone calls, and writing). So, really I could be considered a ‘professional communicator’. If it weren’t for the fact that I am generally talking to some pretty amazing teachers and school leaders, who are at the helm of some extremely innovative education initiatives, I might just lose my mind. In truth,the last several years of my unusual career have given me the opportunity to work with and learn from programs from around the world that are having an amazing impact on kids.

So, what is this idea? Since this year is all about balance, and it is the first summer that I will have the luxury of sharing a good portion of it with my littlest kiddos (Little Son-8 and Baby Girl-4), I decided I wanted to try out some of what my research is telling me about how best to engage kids through informal learning experiences. I imagined sort of “home-brewed” summer camp. As I began to think about how I might be able to engage Little Son in a project, I immediately had a vision of him throwing a fit because he would much rather hang out with his friends! LIGHTBULB… Why not create a camp for Little Son AND his friends to engage the group in some informal learning experiences? And the spark was lit…

It took me less than an hour to put together an email that clearly articulated the idea and I sent it out to the parents of the friends of the Little Son. Within 3 days I heard from 13 families who were interested! The responses were pretty consistent, with an approximate 2:1 “brilliant to crazy” ratio, which made me think I may be onto something. So, I set to work coordinating calendars and came up with about 4 weeks where there were enough kids interested and available to plan a local DIY summer camp!

If you’re looking for ways to engage your own children this summer vacation, here are some tips to help nurture their curiosity through informal learning experiences. These techniques are all derived from educators around the US who are using interest-based learning, place-based learning, project-based learning, and service-based learning to ignite students’ natural curiosity about the world around them, to empower them to take control of their own learning, and ultimately to build the skills necessary to be successful in the global economy.

  1. Assess their interests and learning styles. What are they naturally interested in and how do they learn best? Research tells us that when a child is engaged in an activity that falls into their “interest domain”, they are more motivated to learn. It is this intrinsic motivation that has the greatest impact on a child’s abilities and achievements. Find out what interests them – it is the key to their motivation! (I’ve developed an Interest Assessment for use with K-5 grade level, feel free to access and use to help identify interests and learning preferences for your own kids)
  2. Get outside and explore! I recently posted on my own experience recognizing my disconnection with nature. My experiences with Nature University as well as conversations with teachers have convinced me that Nature has a unique power to fully engage your senses and to inspire creativity. I recently interviewed a teacher in Massachusetts who manages the Eco-Explorer program for elementary teachers. One of their techniques for teaching with the outdoors is a “10-minute field trip”, which is just enough time to sketch a flower, test some soil, or clear your head for that next great idea.
  3. Play lots of games (yes, including video games) and create new games! I am not a huge fan of video games, but I will admit my kids do enjoy playing them. And I tend to agree with the research that tells us that Games are NOT the enemy, despite the fact that so much of the world’s problems are blamed on video games. It’s hard to imagine there could be anything good about having our children spend hours staring at a screen and plotting and strategizing about how to reach the next level of Super Mario Brothers. But research tells us that process of learning how to play a new game actually develops the very skills we hope kids will hone by the time they reach adulthood. I am of the philosophy that if playing video games has some benefit, then designing video games must build useful skills as well. The fact is that there are few activities that will provide more training to solve real-world problems than designing a video game. Give kids a chance to play games and use the experience to create something new!
  4. Explore your community. A couple months ago, I spent some time talking with an amazing teacher in San Diego who took this approach with her science students; they spent one day a week out of the school building. And the results were astounding, kids made discoveries about the world just from observations in their own backyard. But even more important,this helps kids to understand what it means to be a part of a community. How are we all connected and how can we contribute to our community to solve a problem or serve a purpose? No matter where you live, there are rich experiences available to introduce your kids to different perspectives.
  5. Ask questions, research, and learn. Do people ever read a newspaper anymore? Well, in our community they do, though information overload is a very real problem and one that our children need to know how to manage. Access to information is no longer a luxury. For kids growing up today, digital natives, the critical issue has become how to cut through the overwhelming amounts of information to determine what is important, relevant, and accurate. Spend time reading and looking for information through available resources and build experiences around what you find. These experiences are building a foundation for lifelong learning, a skill that is necessary in the fast-moving economy we live in.
  6. Learn about another culture. Last summer , our family took an extended vacation to a small-town in Mexico. Instead of staying in a big resort, where we would have met lots of people from places just like our hometown, we rented a home in a small fishing town and attempted to integrate our selves in the local community. I can’t put into words how powerful it was to watch my children adapt to a new environment with a different language, different foods, and different challenges. Although the stay was only 2 weeks, it was long enough for all of us to appreciate that we are just one piece of the global puzzle, and it sparked a desire in the kids to learn about cultures different from our own. Travel is a wonderful way to do this, but it is not the only way, there are organizations and institutions everywhere that are dedicated to sharing their culture with the public. Take advantage of these opportunities for you and your children!

If you’re looking for ideas to keep your kids busy this summer, with worthwhile activities that will allow them to continue to grow, this should get you started. And stay tuned for more information about how to develop your own DIY Summer Camp with your kids!

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2012: My Year of Balance and Knowing the Fish

Yesterday morning I visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland and was truly inspired. I decided to finally visit this landmark in my hometown for 2 reasons, 1) the rain had let up and the weather was somewhat conducive to a walk in a garden, and 2) it was FREE! As a way to generate local interest in the Chinese culture and to prepare for the Chinese New Year celebration later this month, they have opened their doors for the Great Eight Free Days, because, as you may know, eight is a very lucky number in Chinese culture.

In anticipation of the visit, I expected to see some beautiful plants, architecture and design and to learn a thing or two about the garden. But what I left with was so much more. I was fortunate enough to arrive just as a tour was beginning, and there was just one other person in the tour so I pretty much had a personal tour from a very knowledgeable ‘Chino-phile’ (his word, not mine) and come to find out he is a published author of two books about Taoist principles, The Tao of Now, and the philosophy of tea, The Hut Beneath the Pine: Tea Poems.

What struck me most about the experience was how much the Taoist principles on which the garden design is based would resonate so strongly with me and where I am in my life.  The first pavilion we stopped in is known as the Knowing the Fish Pavilion and as we stepped into the square pavilion that overlooked the fish pond that spans the garden, Dan, our tour guide told the story of the two ancient philosophers, that the pavilion is named for.

One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river.

“Look at the fish swimming about,” said Chuang Tzu, “They are really enjoying themselves.”

“You are not a fish,” replied the friend, “So you can’t truly know that they are enjoying themselves.”

“You are not me,” said Chuang Tzu. “So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?”  

The moral of the story is that the fish are in their element, so they must be at peace. And when one is at peace, they are happy.  Then it follows that if one is in their element, they must be happy.  Chuang Tzu saw the fish in their element and knew that they were happy. 

This year, I’ve committed to live with intention, to stay within my element, and to ensure every moment that passes is spent in alignment with my values and within my element,  and more specifically to capture these moments here on The Mommy Rush.  But what are those values and where is my element?  These questions have been on my mind over the last 3 month ever since I left my full-time, very demanding position as a product manager for educational publisher, Learning.com

It’s funny the way life works, isn’t it? I think back to my life at the beginning of last Summer, and I remember feeling like my stress level was at its max and that if I were given one more thing to deal with, life would fall apart.  And then the news, the surgery, and my view of life shifted dramatically.  I recieved my wake-up call and I decided to re-evaluate what I was put here to do.

Reflection

Even before our family medical crisis, my inner voice was very quietly whispering that I needed a change, but it wasn’t until I had to face such a difficult challenge, that I realized what this meant.  I was off-track.  I was spending my very precious time on earth, on work and things that were out of alignment with my true purpose, my true spirit.  So, at the end of September, when my company began evaluating budget reduction options, I made it known that I was open to a change.  And on September 30, I parted ways with my full-time employer and since then I’ve been reflecting on what it is I was meant to do with my time on earth.  After several weeks of reflection there was at least one thing that I knew for sure, that, until now, I was not living life with any intention and I was not really living.

Living Fully

What does this really mean? Living Fully?  This was a big question that I knew would take a while to answer and so instead of jumping to my next project, I began to take note of moments when I felt like I was ‘in my element’; when I was enjoying what I was doing, learning a lesson, or creating a memory.  These moments were my clues to developing a list of values that define how I want to spend 2012.  In order to live in my element, like the fish in the pond, I’ve decided I will only spend my time and energy on activities that fall within my list of values.  As a means of simplifying the list, I’ve summarized each in one word and have described below what each means to me and what it will mean in 2012. 

  1. Purpose: In 2012, I will live with intention and accept my obligation to serve my purpose.  As recently as 6 months ago, if you were to ask me to describe my purpose, I would have had no problem.  This year, I would like to be less rigid about what this purpose is and to live each day within my present purpose.  Each day, I’ll ask myself, ‘what can I do today to live my life with intention, within the framework of my list of values?’  I imagine this year, I’ll continue to reflect on this concept and with any luck by next year, my purpose will be clear to me and all those around me.
  2. WisdomWhen I began to reflect on what types of activities make me feel most alive, one activity rose to the top of the list as very important to me: lifelong learning.  Not from an educator perspective, even though my career is focused on encouraging students to embrace lifelong learning, but rather a desire to learn for learning’s sake.  As a voracious reader, I want to be more purposeful about applying the lessons I learn from reading and from life itself.
  3. Connection:  It’s no secret that I value my family to no end.  Though my offspring are often the source of my craziness, they are also the source of the majority of my joy – capturing this joy was the original intent of this blog!  I also heavily value my relationships, with my husband, my immediate and extended family, and longtime and recent friendships.  This year I will dedicate my efforts to developing these connections and allowing them to enrich my life.
  4. Spirit:  It is hard to put into words how critical inspiration is for me; when I am inspired there is no stopping me.  However, when I’ve lost my inspiration, or have allowed my spirit to be depleted, I find myself trying to dig my way out of a deep ditch – which often involves a day at the spa or a solitary retreat.  This year, I will make a conscious effort to feed my spirit, to avoid the need to retreat from life to recharge.  I’ve heard the term “Sharpen the Saw”, and that is my goal, this year.
  5. Journey:  I have a deep and significant desire to travel the world, to experience life in different parts of the world.  This year, I will design my life to include opportunities to make regular journeys that enrich my life, whether they are international adventures or local field trips to expand my horizons and to continue my quest for wisdom.  Yesterday’s visit to the Lan Su Chinese Garden is a perfect example of a local journey that has impacted me through inspiration and exploration.  More and more of these journeys, this year!
  6. Energy When I began to think about when I feel most alive, I most certainly know that eating healthy and being fit are important not only for my physical health, but for my mental health as well.  When I look back at 2011, I’m pleased that I managed to accomplish at least one goal I had for the year – to lose much of the weight I’d hung onto since my last 2 pregnancies.  I accomplished this through a simple routine of adding 2-3 easy runs to my week.  As a lifelong runner, this baby step in improving my health and fitness did wonders for my mental fitness as well.  This year, I will continue with this routine and consciously care for my energy levels through the health and fitness of my body.
  7. Simplicity:  This concept of simplification has been calling to me for some time.  2011 found me taking some steps to purge our home from unnecessary clutter.  However, there is so much more to do, and I’ve learned that the effort towards simplicity requires a wholehearted dedication to a simple living mindset.  This year, I am committed to living simply, mainly to make room, literally and figuratively, for the many new experiences and joys I plan to focus on, in the near future. 
  8. Nourishment This value comes from my love of good food and the process of preparing good food from whole foods, something I love, but with a busy household and demanding career, rarely have had the time to incorporate into our lives.  This year, I will pay close attention to how we nourish our bodies with food, and will focus and reflect on the meals and foods our whole family puts into our bodies.  In addition, I will allow myself to explore, enjoy, and learn about the foods and drinks that I absolutely  love: wine, tea, chocolate, and cheese.

Balance

To sum up my focus for 2012, I’ve decided to focus on BALANCE, which was a key principle used in the design of the Lan Su Chinese Garden.  Balance, depicted through the concepts of Yin and Yang are infused throughout the garden, as well as the philosophy of the Tao.  I will maintain Balance; of work and life, energy and spirit, wisdom and simplicity.   I will maintain Balance and through Balance I will Know the Fish.

Pest control, traffic laws, and toilet paper: things I am grateful to have in my life…

So we’ve made it back home after our whirlwind adventure to San Pancho, Mexico and I have been dying to get this post out of me.  The two weeks we spent on this vacation have been some of the most challenging, but also the most rewarding.  Certainly, one of the most rewarding vacations I can remember, and I’m pretty sure I speak for the entire family when I say that we were all very happy to make it home to our familiar and comfortable lives.  But, no sooner had we arrived to our house, that I began to recognize how much we take for granted in our everyday lives. 

Living in a very small village in Mexico was perhaps the first time all of us were tested with so many challenges to going about our everyday life.  I can only sum it up as being, well, tiring.  But rather than go on about how difficult the trip was, I would much rather reflect on the many things that we have in our lives that we just take for granted.  I spent much of my first day back reflecting on this thought and though this list only takes into account our recent experience in San Pancho, much of this applies to living in any underdeveloped area or region.  This trip gave me a broader perspective of the world and the ability to truly appreciate how lucky we are to live such comfortable lives. And so, here are the 10 things I was grateful to return to at home, that I will no longer take for granted.  I count them as blessings after spending some time without them.

1) Clean drinking water:  If I had a peso for every time I heard, “Don’t drink the water!” from someone after I shared our plan to visit San Pancho, I’d be able to pay for… well… dinner!  Fortunately, I can say that only 2 of us had a mild case (if at all) of the dreaded Montezuma’s Revenge during this trip, though we all had at least one bout of loose stools (sorry if this is TMI, but it is the reality of travel in Mexico).  But since it was all short lived, I have a feeling it was simply the side effect of the malaria pills we were taking daily. 

But the fact that the risk of drinking the water was a serious concern (I’ve had Montezuma’s Revenge and it is no picnic), something we had to pay close attention to, made a big difference in how we went about an ordinary day; brushing our teeth (remember.. 3 kids) became a family project, to be sure nobody inadvertently rinsed under the faucet.  We did everything with bottled water, though when we could we avoided water (and ice) altogether.  The kids don’t normally get to drink soda at home, so this was a welcome change for them.  In fact, the first Spanish words Little Son E used on his own were to order his drinks from a waiter, “Me gusteria Sprite!”  We all bust out laughing the first time we heard this…

2) Choices for food:  If I never see another quesadilla, it might be too soon.  Ok, maybe that’s an exxaggeration.  But, the downside to staying in a small fishing village is that there are a limited number of dining establishments. And after two weeks of dining in local restaurants and taco stands, we realized, pretty quickly, that the menus at most places included pretty much the same food.  The only difference was in the preparation – some tostadas had just ceviche (cold cooked shrimp salad), while others were covered with lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, beans.  But, every restaurant served tostadas.  And tacos, burritos, quesadillas.  So, if it were possible, I believe we literally got tired of Mexican food.  I came to this realization the day before we left when I actually turned down a side of guacamole (what?!) and ordered a plate of good ole fashioned french fries.  (Unfortunately, the restaurant was out of french fries, that day…) 

3) Salad!  Or more specifically, any fruit or vegetable that requires rinsing before eating.  The nice thing was that we didn’t have to take out a loan to buy a mango, in fact they were literally free on every corner, but to order anything at a restaurant that did not require peeling – i.e. lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. – meant risking ingesting water from rinsing in tap water.  So we just avoided them unless we rinsed/prepared it ourselves.  Thankfully, because of the peel, mangoes, avocadoes, and pineapples were fair game, which has resulted in my minor overdose of avocadoes.

4) Pest control:  In a previous post I mentioned the warm welcome we received from the mosquitoes, when we arrived.  They were very happy to have us visit their town because as it turns out, they were very hungry.  We quickly learned that the 40% DEET repellent that we brought with us to protect ourselves from the monsters is actually much like salad dressing to them.  I distinctly remember Josh covering himself in a layer of repellent, only to watch two of the monsters land directly on his wet arm.  By day 4, you would have thought I was suffering from the Chicken Pox, and by day 6, we threw out the DEET in exchange for the all-natural lemongrass – eucalyptus blend given to us by my mother-in-law.  Seemed to work, or perhaps the blood-suckers tired of us, but our second week was a bit better.

But beyond the bug bites, we had to get accustomed to all kinds of critters that crawled, flew, climbed, buzzed all around us, in and out of the house.  Again, with our facilities open to the elements, we never knew what we would find each morning when we visited the bathroom.  We found lizards, giant moths, crickets, army ants, and much more.  I will not miss having to worry about pests at all times, everywhere we go. 

5) Smooth roads:  This one surprised me a bit.  I mentioned to someone that if I were to return to San Pancho again, that I would not choose to drive anything less than a Jeep or off-road vehicle.  Most of the roads in San Pancho were quite literally, cobblestone roads.  The only vehicles that could travel faster than 5 MPH were ATVs, the dune-buggies, and Jeeps.  Everyone else was better off parking and walking, because the roads were so uneven!

There is one highway that runs through all of the towns in Nayarit – from Puerto Vallarta all the way to the capital, Tepic – but even that was an infrastructure nightmare – with enormous potholes that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Oh and the driving…

6) Traffic laws:  I will never again curse a speed limit sign.  Because at least I know that for the most part, in the US, we are expected to adhere to it.  During our day trip into a northern part of the state, I quickly came to realized that the traffic signs on the highways were either there for decoration or simply as suggestions.  As I followed the “suggested” speed limit, I was constantly passed by local drivers with angry or quizzical looks on their faces.  But I had a hard time driving 100 Kph when the sign posted said 40 kph.  I was happy to be the gringo out for a sunday drive, which annoyed the heck out of my speed demon husband willing to just ‘go with the flow’.

7) Temperate climate:  Here’s another surprise…Portland has nothing on the Mexican rainy season!  In the month of July alone, San Pancho recorded 19 inches of rain.  That’s about equal to the average rainfall in Portland from January to July!  And the rain in Nayarit does not come quietly.  We had nightly booming thunder and lightning storms that should be classified as tropical storms in my book.  One morning it rained for an hour straight, totalling 5 inches, and flooded the town’s main artery for several hours.  I’ll take Portland drizzle over that any day!

Oh and did I mention the hair situation?  Humidity and curly hair do not mix, so I pretty much had a bad hair vacation.  I am so grateful for the climate we returned to and every morning I thank heavens that I have at least some idea of what my hair will look like by the end of the day. 

 8 ) Clean, indoor bathrooms:  This should probably be higher on the list of things we take for granted.  Imagine exploring an open air market in a hot busy mexican village with a recently potty trained 3 year old who, when she has to go, really has to go.  And you can begin to appreciate how clean and accessible our public restrooms are.

9) Toilet paper (and for that matter, toilet seats):  Ladies?  Enough said!

10) Time:  At the end of the day, there was nothing that we encountered that threatened our survival.  But what we came to appreciate was all of the luxuries that we are accustomed to, that make it possible for us to focus on life.  The biggest challenge we faced during our trip was that we had to really think and plan everything we did; from brushing our teeth, to eating every meal, to just sitting and relaxing on the deck.  Having to spend our time with this thinking and planning meant we were not able to do other things… like relaxing by the pool with a book and a pina colada… well we did do that, but I could have read so much more….

Now after a list like the above, it would seem that I would never want to return to a place like San Pancho, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  We had some amazing experiences that we will likely remember for years and there are a handful of things that I will truly miss about San Pancho, Nayarit and the Riviera.

1) Authentic guacamole – Although I’m taking a break for a while, I proved that I could pretty much survive on an all chips and guacamole diet.  With the right spices, peppers, onions, and fresh avocadoes, you can’t find that here.

2) Primo margaritas!! (this probably should be listed first) – Because I avoided drinking water, I decided to replace it with … margaritas.  And in doing so became quite the connoisseur.  The secret, I learned, is in the tequila..  And, well, the tequila is no better than in Mexico!!

3) Turtles – I’ve written a whole post about our experience with Project Tortuga on my STEM blog, Educate to Innovate with STEM.  Suffice it to say that this part of the trip was the most memorable; an experience that impacted me beyond words.

4) Fresh tortillas and shrimp tostadas:  nowhere fresher!

5) Warm ocean and pool water: coming from someone who very rarely sets foot in the ocean or pool, this was important.  And made it possible for me to truly enjoy laying out by the pool and on the beach, because I could very easily jump in to cool off.  I’ll miss that!

At the end of the day, we all had a wonderful time.  But it is nice to come home to the familiar and if I ever get to the point of forgetting all that we are lucky to have in our lives, I’ll at least have this list to remind myself of our blessings.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Boys racing from the beach to lunch!

Which sums up the reason I decided that our family needed an extended vacation in a country outside of the US.  After much research and planning, we just arrived at our home away from home, for the next two weeks, in San Pancho, Mexico.  San Pancho is a small town just north of Puerto Vallarta, with a population of just under 1,000. It is safe to say that the town moves at a pace much slower that our entire family is used to, which is precisely the reason I chose the destination.  We were lucky to find a lovely rental home, Casa Asoleada, located right on the outskirts of town.  The cost for the 2 weeks is extremely reasonable, equivalent to what we pay for a long weekend in Central Oregon, mostly because it is the off-season for travel to Mexico.

Baby girl N hanging out with her Daddy

Though I’ve not written much about the recent change in my view of life (inspired in part by reading The Art of Nonconformity, by Chris Guillebeau, and Vagabonding, by Rolf Potts), this blog in itself is one part of my resolution to live, and in this case, parent, with intention.  One of my biggest concerns with the way we are raising our children, is the fear that they will grow up with a sense of entitlement, or the expectation that life should come easy to them.  Given that we live in one of the more affluent parts of Portland, OR and that none of the kids have ever known what it is like to ‘need’ anything, the point of this summer trip is to spend an extended period of time ‘living’ in a different part of the world to 1) give the children a global perspective of a world that does not center around Lake Oswego, OR, and 2) to introduce them to opportunities available to them outside of the US.  If they come to appreciate all that they are lucky to have in their lives, then that is a bonus!

Big Son N will enBig Son and me at lunch under the Palapas on Playa San Panchoter 10th grade in the fall and before long will need to begin thinking about colleges.  What better way to demonstrate why 4 years of Spanish language is so valuable, than to live in a Spanish speaking country. We want to give him the chance to practice speaking Spanish, to build confidence in his ability to communicate with other cultures.

I must say that there were many reasons we chose the sleepy town of San Pancho, not the least of which was the ability to tie in some volunteer work with the Project Tortuga conservation project. This amazing program recruits volunteers from around the world, to monitor the Mexican beaches for Olive Ridley sea turtles, who come to shore to lay eggs, and move the eggs to a hatchery to maximize the number of surviving turtles that make it to sea.  The hatchling season is from June – August, so our timing was perfect for this opportunity.

Tomorrow I will post on the adventures we’ve had since we’ve arrived in San Pancho, there have been many, so stay tuned…

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