outdoors

beautiful fall foliage

An Attitude of Gratitude

I love this time of year.  I’ve always had a hard time answering the question, “Which is your favorite season?”, because there is something that I love about each one of them!  The first snowfall of winter with big, puffy, marshmallow-like snowflakes falling slowly to land on our noses and hands before melting against our body heat…the first colorful spring flowers popping up out of the ground to remind us that we (and the earth) are so alive…the warmth of the summer sunshine and trees bursting with leaves and the feeling of cool water when you get the chance to swim…   But now that we have just witnessed that amazing transition of leaves from green to brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows, I am feeling especially connected to nature and I think if someone asked me the question today, I would probably say that fall is my new favorite.  (Of course, as more and more leaves fall to the ground and the bare trees are a foreshadowing of the winter months to come, I’m starting to feel a little different… )

 

But over the past month where leaves were changing where we live, I have taken countless moments to stop and take a deep breath and look up at the colorful leaves contrasted against the bluest of blue skies and just feel so incredibly thankful.  Thankful for this beautiful earth that we live on.  Thankful for the warm fall temperature and opportunities to spend time outdoors.  Thankful for the sound of my kids screaming and giggling with glee as they run, jump, and bury themselves in a leaf pile that they created together.  Just plain thankful for life.  Can it get any better? 

 

boys raking leaves into a huge pile

working hard as a team…

boys jumping into their huge leaf pile

…and enjoying the fruits of their labors! What fun!

 

So while I am on this thankfulness high, I wanted to share a few ways that cultivating an attitude of gratitude has shifted my mood and ultimately changed my life.  Here are some examples that came to mind about how we are using gratitude in our family and our home:

 

  • Setting a good example and teaching our kids to be thankful for all of the blessings in their life – Throughout the day, find ways to weave it into the conversation with little comments like, “Thank goodness our electricity is working today so that we can stay warm on such a cold day!” or “Wow, I have so many clothes to choose from this morning that I’m having a hard time deciding what to wear!” These might sound silly to say out loud but it helps to train your child’s brain to think in this way.

 

  • Being thankful as a family – Whatever your religious affiliation or feelings of spirituality, there is a way to weave gratitude into your family mealtime tradition. Last fall, we started reading a passage from “A Grateful Heart: 365 Ways to Give Thanks at Mealtime”, by M. J. Ryan, at dinner together every night.  We then take a chance to reflect on the prayer that we just read and share what we are each thankful for that day.  You would be surprised with what a four or six year old can come up with.  Some nights it is pretty profound!

 

A Grateful Heart, edited by M. J. Ryan

 

  • Creating a “love list” – When I am having a hard time with someone in my life – a child, my husband, a parent, a friend – I sit down with a piece of paper and write down three things that I am grateful for or that I love about that person. For example, when one of my kids is really getting on my nerves for some reason and I just can’t seem to cut them a break, I sit down and make a list of the things that I love about them as a person.  Not the way that they might be acting that day but who they really are at the core of their being.  Such as…

 

1. I love the “It looks like you need one of these” hugs that I get from my son.

2. I am grateful for the days that I get to spend with my youngest son because they will be gone soon.

3. I love how my oldest son is constantly asking what he can do to help.

 

You get the idea.  This reminds me that we are just in a transient phase and that I can’t take them – or our time together – for granted. 

 

  • Shifting gears from worry to wonder – When I start to worry if/when something might go wrong – “the school bus is 5 minutes late…What if they had an accident? What if my son missed the bus?…Where are they?!” – I try to shift gears in my brain and think about what I am grateful for in my life.  For example, while waiting for the school bus at the end of the driveway, I might look around and notice something in nature that I hadn’t noticed before.  This helps me to see the goodness in life instead of worrying about the bad things that could happen.

 

  • Changing my perspective – I recently read a parenting post that challenged me to stop and write down 10 things that I am grateful for as an experiment to see how it made me feel and if my mood changed at all. At first, I ignored that bit of homework and just kept on skimming the post without stopping but then it went on to say “no wait, actually stop for a moment and do this”.    So I put down the iPad and got out a pen and paper and came up with my list.  I was amazed at how easy it was and how quickly I could write down 10 things that I was grateful for in my life.  And the result was that I immediately felt better about life and was in a happy mood!  Here is my list:

 

1. My husband

2. Our kids

3. Electricity

4. Local or homegrown food

5. Trees

6. Grandparents

7. Clean water

8. Our house

9. Sunshine

10. Wool socks

 

So, while this is a wonderful and magical time of year (and shouldn’t be skipped over to start decorating for Christmas the day after Halloween, in my opinion!), instead of making Thanksgiving a once-a-year holiday, why not make it a daily practice! 

 

What are you grateful for today?

Free-Range Boys

Free-Range Boys

Over the past two summers, our boys have been at an age where all three of them were mobile and active and had a lot of energy to burn on those long summer days. Even the youngest one at age two was ripping around the yard on a balance bike or climbing up into the “fort” at the top of our reclaimed swing set in an effort to keep up with his older brothers. Since Joe and I are trying our best to be good little homesteaders, our summer days are very busy with taking care of the animals, tending to the garden, preparing fresh food, putting up food for the winter, and everything else that comes along with running a household. In the interest of letting the kids get out their energy while we still have a chance at getting something done, we decided to institute the “free-range” policy for our children. Maybe you’ve heard of free-range chickens or guinea hens? This allows the birds to get some exercise and have access to fresh greens and bugs all day long. Why not for boys? They need fresh greens and bugs too, right? Just kidding, sort of 🙂 Now, please don’t judge. Or, at least, before you do, sit down and ask your grandparents or great-grandparents what their children did on those long summer days when they were growing up? And the simple reality is that you can’t be with all three of them at all times. So when one of the boys says to me, “Can I play outside?”, my response is usually, “Sure!”

 

The end result is usually some ridiculously dirty clothes (or naked boys and missing clothes), a lot of messes to clean up around the yard and the house, equal parts yelling at each other and working together as a team, a few narrow misses where we almost went to the ER, and some of the most creative ideas that the boys have ever come up with – for better or for worse. I love to peek out of the windows when they think I am not watching and see what they are up to. It is easy to imagine them all grown up as a team of engineers working together on a construction project, or an environmental research team out on an expedition to collect nature samples, or a group of scientists conducting an experiment. Here are some examples of what these crazy boys have come up with during their adventures together:

 

  • After harvesting ripe, round tomatoes from the garden, bringing them inside and creating a game of “tomato bowling” across the new wooden floors. They liked the way that the tomatoes went “splat” at the end of their quick trip across the room.

 

  • Borrowing Daddy’s bungee cords from the garage tool bench (you know, the ones that you would use to secure something in the bed of a truck or on top of the car roof, perhaps?) and stringing them up from a tree branch above the wood pile and attempting to go bungee jumping off the top of the wobbly pile of rotting logs. (Luckily, I intercepted this extreme sport adventure before anyone actually became airborne. And it’s a good thing because the tree branch they had selected wasn’t big enough to hold the weight of a squirrel, let alone a small child! However, I must give them some credit because they were all wearing bike helmets…safety first!)

 

  • Digging a hole together and filling it with water from the garden hose to see what would happen. When the dirt inevitably turned to mud, they called it “mud soup” and proceeded to add other ingredients, such as sand, leaves, and grass, to see what would happen next. In the end, they decided that they had created a “mucky mess” and this is still one of their favorite games to play outside. And why not? One mucky mess is never the same as the last one! My favorite part of this operation was how they worked together to decide what to do next and everyone had a role to play in the creation of their recipe.

 

  • Finding bits of unused rope around the property and tying them together and then somehow stringing it up and around the swing set to fashion their very own homemade rope swing. Along these same lines, I have to say that I don’t remember spending much time teaching either of the older two boys how to tie a knot. They learned it out of necessity while working on projects such as this one where they didn’t want Mom and Dad to know what was happening so they couldn’t ask us for help. It’s amazing what they can do when they know that no one else is going to help them figure it out!

 

  • Eating a pokeweed berry. Yikes! That was a scary one. One cool thing about having so many edible plants on our property is that the boys can harvest their own food while playing outside without bothering us about “what can I eat?” or “when is it going to be snack time?” or “I’m so hungry!” Mostly, this means various berries, herbs, veggies from the garden, and handfuls of mint or basil to freshen their breath and flavor their drinks of water. But one day, our youngest, who was two at the time, saw clumps of ripe, round, bluish-purple berries growing on a bush right next to the chicken coop and decided to try them out. As far as we can tell, he only had one or two of them before coming inside and complaining about his belly hurting. Thank goodness! And then he was able to take me out and show me where he got the berry and I quickly used the wonderful internet to google my way to an identification of the berry and a decision about whether or not he needed emergency treatment. Luckily, you would need to ingest a much larger quantity before it becomes dangerous but the pokeweed berry is indeed toxic to humans. So this year we were able to cut down all of the purplish-green stalks of the pokeweed bush as soon as they started to appear. And every time we see a pokeweed bush on the edge of a trail or elsewhere in nature, the boys are quick to point out “that’s the poisonous one that Matt ate and got sick!” Lesson learned, I hope!

 

  • Setting up a “worm farming” operation. This involved, among other things, setting up a pulley system with a rope and a 5-gallon bucket. Our 7-yr old, Ben, would stand up in the fort at the top of the swing set and let down the bucket for the other two boys to fill with worms that they had dug up and extracted from the dirt around the swing set. Ben would then add the worms to another bucket up in the fort that was already filled with dirt. Then he would send the empty bucket back down to be filled up again.  The boys keep reminding us that they are ready to go fishing whenever we are ready to take them!

 

  • Opening a farm stand at their grandparents’ house in town. The boys harvested, cleaned, and bagged kale from the garden. Then they created signs to advertise their farm stand and the prices of the different sizes of bags of kale that they were selling. In the end, I think the older two boys made about $10 from kale sales and our youngest made another $10 in sales of homemade cookies. Who doesn’t love a cookie and a bag of fresh kale on a summer morning?

 

Homegrown and Homemade Farm Stand

 

 

As you can see, when left to their own devices, the boys can be both a creative and dangerous team. My hope is that all of this unstructured and partially unsupervised play time in nature will allow them to explore new ideas, learn things that I cannot teach them and they will not learn in a book, and form a bond between brothers that can never be broken.

 

(I wish that I had more pictures to share of these magical moments but I am still learning to take a deep breath (and grab the camera!) when I come upon these brotherly creations instead of shouting something that I will later regret!)