Archive for October, 2010

Even though my son is only in pre-school, we are already dealing with peer pressure. When I took him to the movie “The Princess and the Frog” in the theater, he loved it. When he went to school some of the boys in his class told him “Princesses are for girls.” All of a sudden he did not like it any more.

With both of our sons being so young it made me start to wonder, are there things that we could be doing now to help limit the influence of peer pressure as they grow older?

Mary O’Donohue has a thirteen year old son and an eight year old daughter and is also the author of “When You Say ‘Thank You’ Mean It… and 11 Other Lessons for Instilling Lifelong Values in Your Children”, which was just released this week. It is a month-by-month guide that helps parents teach their children values in a way that will stick with them.

Peer pressure is something Mary addresses specifically in her book because it seems to affect every child, and knowing how to deal with it can make all the difference in a child’s life.

Here are the questions about peer pressure that I asked Mary and her answers:

Karla: How can you let your child know that they can really come to you about anything and that you will not judge them?
Mary: The answer for me is consistency. If a child comes to Mom or Dad with something small that they have done, like accidentally breaking a glass, and their parent overreacted and gets upset, that sets a stage for them to be afraid to tell next time. But if we as parents give that consistent acceptance and love, I believe, and have seen with my own children, that it builds a trust between parent and child.

Karla: How can you nurture your child’s self-esteem and build a strong relationship with them?
Mary: It starts with self-respect, which I believe is different from self-esteem. There are so many things in our society that are meant to promote self-esteem in children – like all children who participate in a sport get some kind of trophy so no one will feel bad about themselves. This does not make a lot of sense to me because the kids know who won or lost the game, so does the trophy for last place mean anything to them? Self-respect on the other hand is about having a deep and abiding sense of who you are as a person, and accepting and honoring yourself. It does not matter if you bring home a trophy – it does not matter if you lose the game – what matters is that you love yourself and you show the same respect to yourself that you would show to another person. As parents, I think we often fall into the trap (I know I did) of telling our kids they are the best soccer player in the world, or the most talented artist, etc… But I have learned that it only puts pressure on kids – to think that they have to be the best or it is not good enough. So praise is important, but honest and supportive praise means more to a child than constantly telling them they are the “greatest, prettiest, or smartest.” I think this kind of loving encouragement really helps to build a strong relationship between parents and children.

Karla: What can you do if you think the friends your child has chosen will influence them negatively? How can you encourage friendships that you think are positive?
Mary:  I think as parents we have to prepare for situations like this by letting our kids know that influence can go in both directions – in other words, though the other child may do things like lying to the teacher in school, or stealing a classmate’s book, your child can be the positive influence on his friend by living his values in his everyday life. Values are powerful and you can let your child know that if he holds onto his values – like self-respect and integrity – he can show his friend that lying and stealing are things he is not comfortable with and will not be a part of. This will show the other child that in order to share a true friendship with your child, he might be the one to change his behavior. So peer pressure can work in a positive way too.

Karla: Should you talk to your kids about what peer pressure is? If so, what do you say and how young is okay to talk to them about it?
Mary: I talk to my kids about anything and everything I think they might encounter in their day-to-day lives. I have found with my own kids that five seemed to be the age when they started to understand situations like this. I think concepts like peer pressure can be very abstract to a child, especially a preschooler. I always try to find ways to make things like this more concrete for my children. I would suggest that you bring up situations where they might experience peer pressure. Maybe at recess, when the teacher is not looking, they might be encouraged to participate in taunting another child, or other children might suggest to your child that he write in a library book just “to be funny.” Then act out these situations so they get a chance to think about how they would feel and what they would do – in the same way an adult might rehearse for a presentation at work, trying to anticipate what questions might be asked, etc… Give the child a chance to “rehearse” what they would do so they will not be caught by surprise and give in to the peer pressure. I have a very effective exercise in my book in the Inner Strength chapter called “Three Reasons” where parents are encouraged to bring up specific situations where peer pressure is a factor – like being encouraged by a classmate to make fun of someone – and the child is asked to come up with three reasons why he or she would not want to participate.  A child might say “Number 1, that child being bullied is my friend. Number 2, I do not want to hurt that child’s feelings. And number 3, Bullying is just plain mean and I am not a mean person!” Doing this in advance of actually being in the situation gives the child power. They are prepared – so they are not as vulnerable to peer pressure.

Karla: How can you teach your child to stand up for what they believe in, especially when you are not particularly assertive yourself?
Mary: The antidotes to peer pressure are self-respect and inner strength. Kids (and adults) may be affected by what others think of them but they do not have to be influenced by the opinions of others. What matters most is what a child thinks of himself or herself. Also, having a source of inner strength to draw from – like knowing they have a loving family, can make all the difference.

Karla: Any other helpful tips you would like to share with us?
Mary: The thing I tell my children every day is that values are powerful and if you live your values, you can make a difference in the world.

Mary’s book is available on Amazon.com, in Borders stores and at Barnes and Nobles (online and in stores.)


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We prefer to not have too many store bought decorations because we do not like to store them until the next year.  Partly because it is clutter and partly because once anything goes down the stairs to the basement I will never be able to find it again, but that is something to tackle for another post.

Decoration Ideas

  • Put pumpkins out that were grown at a local farm or grow your own
  • Use different sizes (tall and skinny, round, mini) and colors (white pumpkins, not just orange)
  • Carve jack-o-lanterns or paint them
  • Fresh apples from a local orchard in a bowl on the table
  • Use different colored leaves, pine needles, pine cones, acorns, branches, rocks, or seeds from your yard in a basket as a centerpiece
  • Branches of bittersweet in a vase
  • Use lots of candles – put tea lights in hollowed out gourds
  • Put different Halloween candies like sugar pumpkins, candy corn, or orange and black jelly beans in different size glass jars
  • Blow up orange balloons and use a black permanent marker to draw jack-o-lantern faces on them

No Sew Costumes

Just because you do not sew does not mean you cannot make your child’s costume. Find a picture of the character you want to create online and use it as inspiration. Be creative.

Last year my son and I put together his Handy Manny costume. It consisted of his work boots, jeans, a green t-shirt, a brown belt, yellow rubber dishwashing gloves (size XS), a red baseball hat, and he carried a toy tool box with tools in it.

This year he is going to be Bob the Builder. His costume consists of overalls, a red checkered flannel shirt, a tool belt, a toy construction hat we found at a consignment store and his work boots again.

Thirteen Ideas for a Green Halloween that is EEK-cologically Friendly

Laura M. Brown is the owner of P’lovers of Texas (www.plovers.us). P’lovers, originally established in Canada, stands for both ‘Planet Lovers’ and ‘Piping Plovers’, which are small Nova Scotia shore birds which were declared an endangered species in 1985. P’lovers eco-friendly items are available in store and online and can be shipped anywhere.

Laura provided the following green tips for Halloween for parents and families that are fun, hip and sensitive to Mother Earth:

1.       Decorate your pumpkin with vegetables. Use a carrot for the nose, green peppers or small cauliflower halves for ears…corn silk or other vegetables for hair. Afterwards, compost the vegetables along with your unused pumpkin parts.

2.       Serving cold beverages? Tickle your guests by using On the Rocks – Granite Ice Cube Drink Chillers (available at Uncommongoods.com) instead of ice cubes. They won’t dilute your drinks, make for great conversation and come in sets of six.

3.       Treat bags can be anything.  P’lover’s bamboo shopping bags are great…and so are pillowcases (great for big trick or treaters!)

4.       Use white pillow cases for making small ghost decorations.  Place a balloon or ball on lamp base, (unplugged please.) Then drape a white pillow case over it. You might use twine or rope to give your ghost a belt. Make a scary face if you wish with fabric scraps.

5.       Serve those Halloween and harvest treats in recycled glass or bamboo servers. You can create a wonderful “eye ball salad” using one of P’lovers olive servers. Just alternate large pitted black or green olives with small mozzarella balls that you have given eyeballs using slices of pimento stuffed olives.  Spooktacular!

6.       Give fun, useful and hip treats instead of candy. Stickers, recycled erasers, bamboo pencils and our chubby “tree” crayons make great surprises. Beautiful shells, polished rocks and other natural surprises are loved by children!

7.       Decorate oranges with food coloring markers to make tiny jack o ‘lanterns.

8.       Stay in the neighborhood. Rather than driving the kids, walk to your destination and celebrate with your neighbors.

9.       Light your barbeque, fireplace or outdoor fire pit with Holy Smokes™ fire starters made from recycled church candles.

10.   Give golfers on your trick or treat list golf tees made from corn. It’s a hole in one for Mother Earth!

11.   If you are hosting a party, avoid disposable items such as napkins, drink stirrers, plates, etc. Better yet-have guests bring a glass or goblet from home and supply items to decorate the glass with for a personalized holiday party favor. Check out our eco-friendly line of hemp napkins, plates and serve ware.

12.   Planning ahead can cut down on the number of trips you make to the store.  Make a list before you go and shopping on-line saves time and gas!

13.   Buy local. Purchase locally produced pumpkins, gourds, cornstalks and other natural decorations from local farmers markets. Host a neighborhood contest for the most “naturally” decorated home!

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What would you give up to follow your passion?

Leigh Slingluff and her husband, Jonathan, live in a 250 square foot apartment in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. They live there because they have a gallery (Slingluff Gallery, www.slingluffgallery.com) and they are living behind the gallery to make it affordable.

They started their gallery with no start up money and are doing what they need to do to make their dreams come true. Before now they had always lived in large homes big enough for four people. This is their first experience with living smaller. 

Leigh let me ask her a few questions. Here are her answers:

Karla: What features does your home have – a closet, windows, kitchen, bathroom?  
Leigh: We basically have two rooms. One is our living room, pretty “spacious” with two windows and a door to the shared backyard. The other room houses our kitchen, bathroom, and loft. We have a small table in the kitchen for eating. We are still redesigning for storage. Our loft will eventually have a short closet, maybe three feet tall, so that we can hang up clothes.

Karla: What are some tips about designing a small space? Did you keep it simple with clean lines? Use one color palatte?
Leigh: Jonathan, my husband, had a lot to do with the layout, but so did the existing water pipes. Trying to make the layout efficient is the most important part of a small living space, if you have that option like we did. As far as a color palette, use the colors you love and do not be afraid of going for something bold. We play up the small of our space by giving it a cabin feel. Behind our sink, fridge, and stove we have wallpaper that looks like a fall scene in the woods. Jonathan also painted his signature diamond pattern on two walls in our small bathroom, I think the ceiling is only slightly over six feet. Most would not go for that in a large space let alone a tiny bathroom, but it works great.

Karla: As gallery owners, you must really appreciate great artwork. Are you able to fit artwork in your small space and if so, how?
Leigh: We both collected artwork before we were married and have our own paintings too. After we opened the gallery, we have even more. Luckily we have tall ceilings in the kitchen and cluster our collected artwork all the way up. It does make it feel a bit closed in, but the ceilings seem taller and we can actually enjoy the artwork too. 

Karla: What items do you love that are not necessarily practical, but you made room for them in your new space anyway?
Leigh: We have a basement so all of the non-practical items are down there. We are still sorting through and getting rid of duplicate pots and pans. Our main guilty pleasure is artwork and art books. Wall space is king in our house. We also have an old cigarette machine. We initially wanted to use it in the gallery for the pottery we sell, but now it is in our living room. Somehow it fits.
Karla: What is the hardest stuff to keep control of? Is there some clutter you have to work harder to contain on an on-going basis?
Leigh: Everything is clutter. Even food we can not fit in the one cabinet seems like clutter. Making sure everything has its place is the most challenging part.  

Karla: What pieces of furniture are you able to fit in your space? A bed, a couch, a small tv, a small fridge?
Leigh: We actually have a pretty big couch, ottoman, and love seat in our living room. One of our friends could not fit it into their spot, so we tried it and it fit. Philadelphia has a lot of old houses, with tiny doors and hallways. We are lucky we are on the first floor. We have a dorm sized fridge, but also have another one in the basement for our openings since we supply beer. We do not have a TV, but we could definitely fit one somewhere on the walls. We have a mattress that is in the loft. I do not know if it qualifies as a bed for most people, but it works for us.

Karla: With owning less, do you find yourself focusing more on good-quality things?
Leigh: Yes, definitely. I think everyone should live smaller…we do not need as much space as we think we do and we do not need as many material things either (other than art of course.) 

Karla: How have others like your friends and family reacted to your new living space?
Leigh: We have had a few of our featured artists say “Wow, you two must really love each other to live in this small space.” We also get a lot of “Where do you keep your clothes?” From others, I have definitely picked up on shock of the size but everyone agrees that it is a cool space. I am kind of shocked too.

Karla: How were you and your husband able to compromise on what was important to move into your small space?
Leigh: We did some purging before the move. We did not really talk about what we were moving to our living space, I think we both just knew to bring only what was necessary. The basement helps a lot with the gallery’s storage.

Karla: Do you have any tips to offer on space saving storage?
Leigh: Storage can be found in the most amazing places. Keep an open mind, and look around for ideas for that corner that is being wasted. We found a boxed out window when we exposed a brick wall in the gallery. So, Jonathan made a “floating” wall with enough room to fit behind it. We keep our bags for purchases, and other small items like tape and register paper in the discovered nook. Also, we love the website www.apartmenttherapy.com, they always have ideas on storage. Our favorite is making a drawer in the stairs, and storage in the hardwood floor. We will be trying one of those ideas soon. 

Karla: What is your best tip for moving into and living in a small space comfortably?
Leigh: Be prepared that most of your things will not fit. Cutting down and simplifying life before moving helps a lot. Realizing that you can survive with four mugs and four plates is a must. Do not buy in bulk, we can not even do that with food. Learn to can soups and pickles. It cuts down on cost, leaves fridge space for the necessities and it is fun too.

Are you ready to move into 250 square feet like Leigh and Jonathan? If not, I do not blame you. While inspirational, our family will not be moving into a home that small any time soon either. So if the size of the home you are living in starts feeling small, before you buy that larger house, what can you do to make your home feel larger? Try some do-it-yourself storage projects, finish the basement, or buy smaller furniture from stores like Habitat or Ikea.

Was Jonathan and Leigh’s sacrifice worth it? Most definitely. Their place, Slingluff Gallery, was just voted “Best Art Gallery in Philadelphia”. If you are ever in the area, you should check it out at 11 West Girard Avenue.


Any other tips on how to make a small home more comfortable? If so, please post in the comments.

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Week 3 and Week 8

Image by anotherkindofdrew via Flickr

In case you have not heard, Frito Lay has scraped some of their loud Sun Chips bags.

The bags were made of one hundred percent compostable packaging. They are going to go back to their original packaging for five of their six flavors, leaving only the Original flavored chips in the more eco-friendly packaging. They say the reason for the switch is because people have been complaining that the packaging is too loud.

Is this really what sort of society we have become? We would rather harm the environment than inconvenience ourselves with a little noise? We actually started buying Sun Chips more often because we were excited by the new bags. I am sure there are others like us as well, but we did not send Frito Lay letters and emails. I wish they had taken the time to get some feedback from people like us before they made their decision.

We normally buy the Harvest Cheddar flavor. I guess we will need to switch to original, even though we do not like that flavor as much.

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Shel Horowitz has been advocating living simply for decades. His family is a member of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, have an organic garden of their own, have taken many steps to reduce their waste, and have solarized their 247-year-old New England farmhouse.

With it turning colder, Shel granted me permission to quote from his e-book, Painless Green: 11 Tips to Help the Environment, Lower Your Carbon Footprint, Cut Your Budget, & Improve Your Quality of Life – With No Negative Impact on Your Lifestyle (www.painlessgreenbook.com).

Here are the first ten tips from Shel’s book on how to save money and energy on heating, cooling, and lighting:

1. Get an energy audit from your local electric company. Power companies are under instructions to encourage conservation, so they typically do energy audits for free or for a $10 or $20 fee.

2. Often, energy auditors will supply you with all sorts of goodies that you’d otherwise have to buy: pipe wrap, outlet insulators, hot water heater blankets, and so forth.

3. If you have to mix cold water in to make your hot water usable, turn down the temperature setting until it comes out just right.

4. Put your hand over an electrical outlet on an outside wall on a cold night and you’ll feel the rush of frigid air! Insulate your electrical outlets and phone jacks on outside walls. If your energy auditor didn’t give them to you, most hardware stores sell inexpensive foam outlet and phone jack insulation pads; just unscrew the face plate, slip the foam pad on, and put the face plate back.

5. If you’re not using exterior-wall outlets, slip in outlet protectors. You’ll find these in the child safety section of your hardware store, and they block a lot of heat loss.

6. Put a Y-jack (line splitter plug) into phone jacks on outside walls; these will block most of the heat loss.

7. Caulk your windows. A $3 to $5 box of Mortite or similar rope caulk will probably last two or three years—even longer if, come spring when you remove the caulk, you store it in an airtight plastic bag for reuse. Any place you feel a draft, fill the crack with rope caulk.

8. If a window is still really drafty after caulking, cover it from the inside with a single sheet of clear plastic, taped into place with clear tape.

9. Insulate your hot water pipes. You’ll save both water and energy costs, as you won’t need to run the water a long time to get it hot.

10. Insulate metal heating/air conditioning ducts.

Shel’s book contains twenty-one more tips on how to save money and energy on heating, cooling, and lighting, plus tips on topics like lowering your carbon footprint for cooking, slashing your water consumption, and having a greener yard and garden.

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Papaya Head

I recently learned about the website Papaya Head (www.papayahead.com). It won an Apps for Healthy Kids award from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation.

On the site you can register to create healthy meal plans for your family. I did not register, but used the free tools – the Calorie Calculator and the BMI Calculator. I also searched for healthy recipes. What I really liked about their search is you can do it by categories like low-fat, dairy free, and gluten-free recipes.

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