Thursday, August 27, 2015

My Plea to Grocery Stores: Please Bring Back Bagger Training

I really don't mean to complain.

Okay, maybe I do.  I do mean to complain because, honestly, I don't think grocery store baggers have any idea what they're doing.

Not to mention I'm feeling a little snarky.

So I can vent here, right?  This is my blog, after all.

Plus I'm currently on vacation, and silly, mindless sorts of posts are the easiest to write at times like this.  ;)

Granted, a lot of bagging issues stem from the fact most grocery store baggers I see are of the teenage-boy type and have likely never grocery shopped in their lives beyond maybe bringing home a jug of milk or a loaf of bread at the request of their moms.  That, or they're cashiers who are also ringing up items as well as trying to bag them in a way that makes sense, which I will admit may be a lot to do at one time.

But I have to think there's just not much attention being given to proper bagging of groceries. Sometimes I want to tell so-called grocery baggers to just step aside -- let me do it myself -- and of course more and more places are providing that option!  For grocery bagging perfectionists like myself, that's actually pretty wonderful.

I even try arranging my groceries on the belt in a particular order in hopes my organization will somehow help the poor bagger who I know has no idea what he's doing while he carries on a loud conversation with another teenage employee about the upcoming UK game or the latest soap operas going on at the local high school.  But if I can't work fast enough and if my cashier is a good one and rings up my items too quickly, my system falls apart and I know my groceries will be bagged in a random, senseless way designed to make me crazy.

So did you know there was once a day when grocery store employees went through training to learn how to bag groceries properly?

Really.  They did that.

Granted, that was in the old days of bottle returns, hand-punched cash registers, and paper bags, but it's not been so long ago that I don't remember it.  In fact, my own brother went to school with a Kroger employee who was in a grocery bagging competition.

Seriously.  They did stuff like that.  Because good bagging mattered.

Paper bags have gone mostly by the wayside, though places like Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have brought them back. (Yet another reason why I love both stores.)  I derive a certain pleasure from the puzzle that paper bags provide.  It's fun to watch a cashier carefully and thoughtfully arrange and rearrange and re-rearrange boxes and cans and bottles in a paper bag in order to both use the space efficiently and not destroy any foods in the process.

Sometimes they get it right.  Paper bags make it a little easier I think.

So is it the advent of the plastic bag that has turned grocery store baggers, (or maybe their supervisors/trainers,) into lazy, mindless dump-it-all-in-a-bag-so-we-can-get-rid-of-this-customer kind of people?

Hmm.  I'm not sure.

Now I'm not anti-plastic bag. I actually find them quite useful, but I really, REALLY want grocery stores, ALL of them, to bring back proper "Bagger Training".

And here are just a few things I think this training would need to emphasize.

  • Fresh tomatoes do not go in a bag with canned foods.  Touch a tomato.  Pick it up, feel it in your hand, press it with your finger, and you'll understand why we don't do this.  
  • One-pound boxes of butter and 32-oz. containers of spaghetti sauce should not be tossed in a bag with fresh green leaf lettuce or spinach.  Most people don't want to find their lettuce partially pureed when they get home.
  • Cans should never be bagged with fresh meats.  Nobody likes finding they had exposed meat rolling around in the trunk of their car and nobody wants to have to disinfect 7 bloody cans before putting them away in the cupboard.  
  • Bread and heavy items should not be bagged together.  Bread is soft and springy to the touch.  Most customers want it to still have some form when they get it home.  Bread can be bagged with eggs, by the way, but only with the eggs on the bottom, not the other way around.
  • Frozen items should not be bagged with hot, fresh-from-the-deli foods.  Nothing like getting your chicken home for a hot dinner only to find it was sitting on ice packs the entire drive.
  • Sometimes a bag is pretty pointless, like in this case...

  • Every individual avocado, apple, cheese block, or package of safety pins does not need it's own bag.  Some customers may be thankful for the 137 bags you sent home with them, but it is not our job to individually wrap everything our customers purchase.  
  • At the same time, every avocado, apple, cheese block, beet, cereal box, banana bunch, salad dressing, box of tea bags, and container of sour cream does not have to be put in the same bag.  Twenty-three items per bag is probably a bit much.  Unless we're talking 23 jalapeno peppers, in which case it's probably fine.  
  • Spring Breeze-scented dryer sheets should not be bagged with fresh breads.  Love the way those baked goods absorb artificial floral scents!
  • Half-gallon containers of buttermilk and bags of potato chips do not mix.  Do I really need to explain this??
  • Boxes go with boxes.  
  • Cans go with cans.
  • Bottles go with bottles and sometimes with boxes.
  • Meats go with meats.  Are you seeing a pattern here?
  • Fruits and vegetables like being bagged with their own kind.  They're snobby that way.  Though beware of trying to pack a bag of potatoes with fresh bok choy.  
  • If a bag feels heavy to you, double-bag it.  It often makes customers unhappy when they go to load their groceries in their car and four cans fall out on their foot and a jar of pickles breaks on the asphalt right in line with their rear tire.  
  • If somebody buys a gift card, don't throw it on top of the 4-lb. chuck roast.  That was supposed to be a GIFT. 
So what did I leave out?  No doubt there's some important grocery bagging infraction I've forgotten. 

For a nominal fee I would gladly offer classes to employees for this very important life skill.  But if grocery stores don't want to take me up on my offer, I hope they'll see the need presented here.

Please, grocery stores, for customer sanity and the good of fresh vegetables everywhere.  I plead with you:  Bring back real grocery bagger training.

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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The BEST Tip for Taming the Laundry Beast

The Best Tip for Taming the Laundry Beast

It never ends.  Never.

I like those jobs that when they're done, they're done.  Like when the toilet is clean or when the dishes are washed.  They don't stay clean for very long, but at least for a few blessed moments I can bask in the pleasure of knowing that job is actually complete.

With laundry, that moment never, EVER comes.

If you have a very large family at all, and sometimes even when you don't, the laundry can very easily become an out-of-control monster that seems impossible to tame.  But this summer I've learned something that is proving to be a tremendous help with the dreaded chore of laundry!  While it hasn't turned it into a quick and seamless task I thoroughly enjoy, (insert ridiculous laughter here,) it HAS helped me learn to manage it.  And that's a big deal!

Yes, I delegate as much of the work to my children as I can and, no, I don't always stay on top of the folding as well as I do the washing, but here's the simple tip I learned that is helping me MOST in my laundry-doing.

I follow a laundry schedule.

Yep.  That's it.

See, I'm a sucker for printables.  I'm a list person, one of those everything-in-my-life-stays-more-organized-when-I-write-it-down kind of people and some of the beautiful, ready-made printables I find online help me do that and do it in a pretty way.

So I was searching for a new printable grocery list when I stumbled across a printable laundry schedule.  (Check the end of this post for links to some of these!)

A laundry schedule?  I'd never heard anybody talk about that.  Is it really necessary?  I mean, you have dirty clothes, you wash them.  It's not that complicated.  

But I figured, why not give it a try?  I printed a schedule, slipped it in a plastic sheet protector, pulled out a dry erase marker and went to work planning out what days I would wash what clothes.

And though it took 5-6 weeks for me to perfect my schedule, now when I stick to what I have written down, I do not fall behind on the laundry.  And just having it laid out for me so clearly helps me stay focused every morning and be more determined to get my laundry done for that day.

Just to give you an idea how to go about it, I'll show you my schedule, though mine will not work for you:  I may have a larger capacity washing machine than you have.  Your family may be larger or smaller than mine.  You may have a baby or a houseful of messy boys or a husband who works a dirty job.  All of those things will affect the volume and type of laundry you're doing every day.  That's why it can take a little tweaking to get your schedule just right for your family.  But once you get it, if you'll stick with it, it will definitely help you stay on top of the laundry in your house.

But here's my schedule.  Keep in mind I'm talking about washing these clothes, not necessarily having them folded and put away, too.  (Still working on that one!)  But getting them clean is the most important thing, and I do try to fold some clothes every day and my daughters are responsible for folding their own and more.  And when I say that I wash towels on a particular day, I try to wash every single dirty towel in the house.

Tanya's Laundry Schedule

Sundays -- I don't generally do laundry at all.

Mondays -- Towels and work clothes  (Usually 2 loads.  My husband can never wear his work clothes more than once without washing.  We also tend to go through a lot of towels on weekends.)

Tuesdays -- The kids' colors  (Usually about 2 loads)

Wednesdays -- Whites  (Usually 1 load.)

Thursdays -- Towels, work clothes, and bedding  (2-3 loads)

Fridays -- Mine and my husband's colors  (1 load)

Saturday -- Sometimes I'll wash something on Saturdays, but I try not to!  Saturdays are usually pretty busy for us.

A few extra notes:

  • Some people may prefer scheduling a day for each individual member of the family.  If your kids do their own laundry, that may be fine, but otherwise, I don't think it's the most efficient way to go about it.  Just my two cents there...
  • For our family of six, I have to average about two loads per weekday to keep up.  Your family will be different.  Like I said, I had to toy around with this schedule for a few weeks to get it just right, but now, so long as I stick with the schedule, I do not fall behind on my laundry at all.  I have it memorized now, too, so I know first thing in the morning what I'm washing and I get that first load in before we start school in the mornings.  Often at our first break I can transfer it to the dryer and put in a second load, then do a third if necessary after lunch.  The schedule helps me have a plan for tackling the laundry, which is really the key to keeping it under control.
  • When I do bedding, I usually try to wash ours and ours daughters' on the same Thursday, then my sons' the next Thursday.  (My daughters can put their own beds together, but my boys have bunk beds and often need more help, so I try not to wash theirs when I'm washing mine, just to make it a little easier on me.)
  • Think out a laundry schedule that works with your life schedule.  I'm usually putting together the finishing touches on a blog post, plus we go to church on Wednesday nights, so I try to limit the laundry I do on Wednesdays.
  • Saturdays are more or less a catch-up day.  I never plan to wash then, but sometimes I'll wash a few random items if we're home and if there's something in particular we might need for church on Sunday.

So are you ready for a laundry schedule of your own?  Let me give you some links to a few of my favorite printables

This one from Forever Organised has a cute, clean look.

Passion for Savings offers a cute printable, as well as even more advice for creating a laundry schedule.

This one from My Three Monsters is my personal favorite because of its vintage look.  It's the one I use.

Print one of these or create your own.  Like I said, I slipped mine inside a sheet protector so I could write on it with a dry erase marker.  Hang it in your laundry room or on the side of your washer or dryer and begin developing your schedule!

It helps.  I promise.  Now to develop a system where clothes sort, wash, dry, fold, and put away themselves...

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

7 Lifesavers For Those Days When You Don't Want to Homeschool

Seven 7 Lifesavers for those days when you don't want to homeschool

I know several people homeschooling this year for the first time ever.

How awesome, right?  The homeschooling movement continues to grow, which can only mean good things for the future of our nation and its families.  I talk to these homeschooling beginners and I feel their excitement and understand their apprehension, and I try very hard to give them every ounce of encouragement and inspiration I have to offer.

Because I love homeschooling.  Truly.  It's my passion.  It's something I believe in.

But I also believe in being REAL.  And being real means confessing there are times when I really don't love homeschooling so much.  Being real means sometimes homeschooling is tough and sometimes I get discouraged and sometimes I wake up in the morning thinking oh-my-word-please-tell-me-I-don't-really-have-to-help-with-algebra-again!  

Homeschooling is amazing and worth it in every way.  But it's not easy.  And no matter how long you've been doing it, there will be those days when you wake up and you look at your day and you just don't want to spend it homeschooling.  

It happens to all of us.  Really.

But I've learned a few things that can offer some help on those days when the thought of homeschooling is just overwhelming.  Call them lifesavers, if you will.  Whether you're a homeschooling newbie, or you've been doing this for years, some of these little lifesavers might be good to keep in mind.

On those days when you just don't feel up to homeschooling...

1.  Pray

Explaining my early homeschooling experience gets a little complicated, but it basically consisted of two disastrous years followed by a send-the-kids-to-Christian-school year, followed by the happy and successful years we're enjoying now.

So the biggest difference between the "Disaster Years" and my current homeschooling experience?  PRAYER!  Yes, attitude has played a big role, approach has been important, but prayer has been essential.  

I've been doing this homeschooling thing for a while now, so I do feel more capable than in the beginning, but that doesn't mean there aren't still days when I have to fall on my face before a wise and wonderful Savior and desperately seek His grace to overcome all my inadequacies and my selfishness and my impatience.

And I have found He always provides grace enough.  Always.

2.  Take a day off.  Just because.  

Sometimes school, coupled with all the other stresses and responsibilities of life, becomes overwhelming enough to call for a day off.  Or even two or three.

It's okay.  Really.  You can do that in homeschooling!

Yes, you'll have to make up the work elsewhere, but if your house has gotten out of control and taking a day off to clean will set your mind at ease a little, then do it!  If fractions, spelling tests, or your 3-year-old's uncanny ability to interrupt school always at the worst possible moments is reducing you to tears, maybe a day off would help.  Trust me, your kids' brains won't shrivel up overnight and some time away from the books and the routine may help you feel better mentally and emotionally, so you can be ready to tackle school again tomorrow.

3.  Get outside!

Every once in a while you need to change things up.  That may mean an impromptu field trip.  It may mean doing school at picnic tables in the park or on a blanket in Grandma's backyard.  We've even taken books along with us and schooled in our minivan, just for a change of pace.

The same school routine and environment day after day can become very stifling very quickly.  Winter, February in particular for me, can be especially long and hard, and breaking out for some fresh air and exercise, even in cold weather, can be a real help when you're not feeling much like homeschooling.

4.  Make contact with a homeschooling friend

Not everyone has an amazing network of friends and family who homeschool.  Some of you may be the only homeschooling mom you know or you may live far from the nearest homeschool group or co-op.  That isolation can be tough.

But things like social media and the marvels of modern technology make it easier to contact other homeschoolers than ever before.  Facebook and other social media sites offer multiple "virtual homeschool groups", and while I realize that's not the same thing as having a best friend who homeschools, it can still provide an outlet for the occasional "I'm so stressed and I just need an encouraging word" post to draw some encouragement from others.

If you have homeschooling friends, keep in touch with them.  It can be such a blessing on those tough days to shoot out a text and receive a bit of sympathy and/or encouragement in return.  Sometimes there is amazing comfort just in knowing you're not alone in your homeschooling struggles.

5.  Eat chocolate

And I'm not kidding.

For one thing, dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants and may even improve blood flow and lower your risk of heart disease.

But even if it doesn't do any of that stuff, it tastes awfully good!  And yummy treats can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered in those I-don't-think-I-can-do-this moments .  Trader Joe's Speculous Cookie Spread Dark Chocolate bars are my favorite, but purchase your own favorite guilty pleasures and keep an emergency supply somewhere.  Go with healthy foods if you prefer:  Dried fruit.  Almonds. Good protein bars.  Just make sure they are treats you really enjoy.

But I highly recommend the chocolate.  There are few things more delightful when eaten in secret.

6.  Spend all day learning about something you love

It can be really fun and refreshing to teach something you love.  And it still involves learning!  If you love to cook, spend a day cooking with your kids.  If you love trees, spend a day teaching your kids how to identify them.  If you love and miss the state where you were born and raised, spend an entire day learning about it!  Wish your kids knew more about their family history?  Pull out old photo albums and letters and mementos and teach them about their ancestry.

You can do that as a homeschooler and go back to all the other stuff tomorrow.  Isn't homeschooling awesome?

7.  Make time for something YOU enjoy

And I'm talking about something in no way related to school.

Now I know what you're thinking... "Yeah, Tanya.  That's easier said than done"... but I also know that most things we set our minds to -- those things that we make priorities -- we'll find a way to accomplish.  Finding spare time or a babysitter if one is needed can be difficult, but I often think overcoming mommy guilt is the greater challenge.  We're chronic caregivers and multitaskers, so letting go of some of that to focus on ourselves, just for a little while, is almost against our nature, especially as homeschooling moms who pride ourselves in being there for our kids.

But there is nothing wrong with temporarily setting aside that pile of laundry so you can work on the craft you so enjoy doing.  It's okay to let the mess in the kitchen go if you find yourself needing the reprieve of a book and a bubble bath.  Naturally your season of life, (whether you have littles or older, more independent children,) can greatly affect your liberties here, but whatever the stage, you can probably think of something you enjoy doing that is possible if you're determined to make it happen.

Implement #2 here if necessary, but sometimes all you need is an hour or two to relax and clear your head.  For me, there are few things I find more restorative than a drive in the country.  Alone.  But your "restoration" may come from somewhere else:  Walking.  Gardening.  Even shopping!  Never underestimate the ability of your mind and body to rest and recharge as you do something you truly enjoy.

It's not shucking responsibility.  It's not neglecting your family: It's decompression time.  And it can help you in your homeschool.


School just started for us, so I haven't had to pull out the lifesavers yet.  And hopefully I won't have to for a long time.  I hope to wake up every single morning feeling refreshed and ready and eager to start my homeschooling day!

But I know that isn't likely to happen.  And that's okay!  I have my lifesavers in place.  And I'm not afraid to use them...

Do you have any "lifesavers" you pull out on those days when you don't want to homeschool?

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

First Day of Homeschool Scavenger Hunts

Started homeschool yet?

It's that time of year!  The back-to-school sales are in full-swing and we homeschoolers are stocking up on school supplies and organizing our books and making final plans. I never cease to be amazed that, no matter how brain-strained and school-weary I am at the end of one school year, summer has a way of slowly making me anxious for the next year to begin.  I call it the Ready-to-Get-Back-to-Homeschooling Phenomenon.

I really believe the first day of school can go a long way toward setting the tone for the entire school year.  That's why I try so hard to make it a fun, relaxed homeschool day.  As I've said before, I try to begin and end each school year with a field trip.  It's just been a great way for our family to ease back into school.  It's one homeschooling tradition I aim to continue.

We never spend a lot of money on our field trips to begin with, but we have a family trip coming up soon, one that might as well be a week-long field trip, so I wanted to be especially conservative.  A day at our favorite park is both FREE and FUN for our First Day of Homeschool Field Trip.  And adding a SCAVENGER HUNT to the day's activities makes it all the better!

If a field trip is in your plans for your first day of school, (or at any point throughout the school year!) maybe you should consider adding to the fun with a scavenger hunt.  There are scores of ready-made hunts to coincide with almost any field trip you can imagine.

There's no way I can possibly link to all of them here, but I can certainly share a few of my favorites!  Check them out and print off the one that works best for you and your family.

And, remember, all of these printables are FREE!

For a trip to the park, nature reserve, or arboretum:

I love this Hiking Scavenger Hunt Printable from Make and Takes.  It includes pictures for kids who may not be reading well yet and can be printed in black and white or color.

Montessori Nature offers this Nature Scavenger Hunt, which also includes pictures.  It's a shorter hunt, perfect for little ones!

With 100 items to look for, this Ultimate Nature Scavenger Hunt is great for kids of all ages.  The objects are simple, but there are a lot of them, which adds to the challenge!

But I especially love the Botany Scavenger Hunt from Ellen McHenry's Basement Workshop.  It focuses on leaves, stems, and other plant structures.  This hunt could be perfect for middle and high schoolers who might need something a little more in-depth.

For a trip to the zoo:

Here's a basic Zoo Scavenger Hunt for smaller children, complete with animal pictures from I Can Teach My Child.

And this Animals of the Alphabet hunt from Blue Skies Ahead takes a different approach, asking kids to find one animal whose name begins with each letter of the alphabet.

This Zoo Scavenger Hunt Game from Moms and Munchkins prompts kids to look not just for particular animals, but for certain animal behaviors and characteristics.  (Plus one zoo worker!)

*Keep in mind, too, that many zoos offer printable educational worksheets and scavenger hunts on their websites, many of them created to coincide perfectly with their particular layout or with their own unique exhibits.  Many of these are even designed to be age/grade appropriate, so before you head off to your local zoo, be sure to check out their online resources.

For a trip to the farm:

A trip to the farm is always one of our favorite field trips!  These tend to be for much younger children though, as with zoos, check the websites of large commercial farms for available printables.

Blue Skies Ahead offers an adorable Farm Fun scavenger hunt for toddlers.

This simple Farm Scavenger Hunt is available from Scholastic as part of an entire lesson plan on farms.

For the local library:

If it's a rainy day, a scavenger hunt at the local library might be a better option.

Check out the American Library Association for a list of Scavenger Hunts and a Library Treasure Hunt for kids of various ages.

This Library Scavenger Hunt from My Kids' Adventures is a great way to help your kids learn their way around their library.

A simple Library Scavenger Hunt from Layers of Learning includes pictures for smaller ones and challenges kids to search for both items and certain types of books.

This scavenger hunt, part of What Do We Do All Day? and No Twiddle Twaddle's Great Summer Library Challenge also looks like a lot of fun.

For around the house and yard:

Can't venture far from home on your first day of homeschool?  No problem!

Try this Neighborhood Scavenger Hunt from The Taylor House right in your own yard.

And though this one from Today's Mama is called an Outdoor Scavenger Hunt, it could just as easily be called an "Around the House" scavenger hunt!

This lovely color Backyard Scavenger Hunt from About Parenting involves many senses, requiring kids to search out smells, sounds, and textures as well as things they see.


Do you have plans for your first day of homeschool?  Maybe you've already started school.  What activities did you use to make your first day a fun one?

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

When Your Kid is the Bad Kid at Church

It had been another one of those nightmarish services when I wondered why on earth I had even bothered to come to church.  Not that the service itself was bad.  It was probably very good, though I honestly couldn't have told you either way because I had spent 90% of it trekking back and forth between my pew and the church nursery with a toddler I could not control to save my life.

My second-born daughter had been an angelic baby, sleeping through the night from the time she was a few days old and always easily entertained by her older sister and brightly colored toys and ceiling fans.  She was sweet and serene and easy to amuse.  God had blessed me with one of those contented, compliant children.

Or so I thought.  At about 10 or 12 months old, things began to change.  With greater mobility came a greater sense of adventure and, it seemed to me, discontent.  Though she was still a happy child, mostly, she was a poor communicator, barely talking at all before her third birthday and using only a few basic signs.  For the better part of the three years that would follow it was as if she had all the energy of five toddlers bottled up in this tiny body, and no way to express her feelings and emotions but through wild activity and loud, unexpected outbursts.  And those she expressed all the time. 

Eating out was miserable for us, to the point we just stopped trying.  Quiet small group meetings or assemblies were out of the question.  Church was particularly awful for me because my husband is both a minister and a musician, so it seemed he was always taking part in one aspect of the service or another, which meant he was almost never free to help me.  I had no family in the church and up to that point my daughter had refused to take up with anyone else in the congregation, though a few brave souls seemed to feel sorry enough for me they were trying to win her over.  The rest were scared of her.  And with good reason.

Years later, after dealing with learning struggles, we would find out my daughter was both dyslexic and struggled with an LPD, (language processing disorder,) which suddenly put all those toddler battles in a whole new light.  Her comprehension of language and instructions was poor, very poor, especially in those toddler years, and particularly in the distracting environment of a church service where there were so many other people and sights and sounds.  No wonder she struggled!  And no wonder I was so exhausted all the time in dealing with her.

But back to that particularly nightmarish church service.  Relief poured over me as I heard the dismissal prayer and I started easing back into the sanctuary, anxious to hand my darling little tornado to her daddy so I could go sit somewhere, nurse my wounds, and maybe indulge in a minute or two of adult conversation.

On my way up the center aisle I was stopped by a very elderly woman with an always-sour expression.  I don't know that she had ever spoken to me before of her own volition, which is probably a good thing, but her tone was both stern and snide.  "I once knew some people who had a little girl like that and they had her prayed for," she told me.  "The preacher laid hands on her and prayed and she never acted like that again."


Okay, I believe in the power of prayer.  And maybe that woman meant well.  Maybe she didn't mean to be so cold and sound so condemning and maybe that was her way of offering help and showing compassion.

(I don't really believe that, but bear with me here as I try to sound objective.)

But as an exhausted, stressed-out, encouragement-starved young mother, what I heard was, "Your kid is a brat and she needs the devil cast out of her."

Thanks for that.  Thanks for making me feel like my two-year old is demon possessed and I am a miserable, miserable mother.


Now.  I was so hesitant to say some of the things I'm about to say because I know how easily they can be misconstrued. I never want to be perceived as condoning the bad behavior of a child during a church service.  And let me add, too, that I realize there's a world of difference between a two-year old behaving badly and an 8 or 10 or 12-year old doing so, especially when it's happening on a consistent basis.  *Except in the case of a special needs child, of course.

I will make no excuse for a mom who allows a child to cry and disrupt without any consideration for those around her.  Others have the right to come and sit and hear God's word without the distraction of my unruly child, no matter how exhausting it may be sometimes for me to intervene.

I also realize we live in a day and age when discipline is very lacking.  Sometimes even Christian parents are neglectful and lazy and hyper-sensitive about their children to the point they'll totally disregard others.

That's wrong.  And it's bad parenting.

But all of that said, I have tremendous compassion for the mom of the 'bad kid' at church, that little one with the reputation for fits and outbursts and mid-sermon meltdowns, because I was once there myself.  Until my daughter was at least five, she was so difficult to deal with so much of the time I probably left church in tears more often than I left encouraged.

So why didn't your church have a nursery program? you ask.  Wouldn't that have resolved the problem?

Now there's an issue I'm torn on.  It might have been easier for moms in the day when extended families all lived in the same area and all went to church together, so exhausted moms usually had some help from others very familiar to the children.  Those days are gone and now moms may be lucky to even live in the same community as extended family, let alone go to church with them!

I just know there were many times, probably with all of my children, I would have given anything to be able to go into a church service and listen and participate in worship without the distraction of my kids.  Sometimes I came to church feeling absolutely starved for spiritual help, so I can certainly see what a tremendous blessing a nursery program could be to a church's young mothers.

At the same time, I don't know how kids learn to behave in church if they're never in church.  The earlier you start them in regular church services, in the singing of hymns and the preaching of God's word and in prayer with other saints, the better!

But in my situation as it was, I was doing all I knew to do.  And my daughter was still awful in church.

That's why when I come across all these articles with titles like, "How I Taught My Children to Be Good in Church", (and there are a lot of them out there with similar names,) I find myself chuckling.  Or rolling my eyes.

Let me just say that some of these are very good articles meant to share practical advice for the mom struggling with littles in church.

Others I've read, however, are written in such a smug, even self-righteous tone that they might as well say something to the effect of, "If your kids are acting badly in church, it's because you're a bad parent.  Be an awesome parent like me and your kids will be angels, too."

Sorry, but that's not helpful.  Had I stumbled across some of these when my daughter was little, I would have found them so discouraging.  Because while the same basic methods offered in these articles worked just fine for 3/4 of my kids, they were practically futile with the other 1/4.

I don't care what anybody says, all kids are not the same.  Those of us who are homeschoolers probably tout that idea more than most.  I mean, it's part of why we celebrate homeschooling: We can offer our children an education tailored specifically to them with both their strengths and weaknesses in mind, because kids grow and mature and learn at different rates.

And yet we want to assume that with the proper methods and discipline, all kids will mature and grow and learn good behavior at the same rate.

Somebody tell me how that works.

Oh wait.  It doesn't!

If kids learn to read or do their multiplication tables at different rates, isn't it reasonable to assume they may learn to sit still and listen and "be good" in church at different rates as well?

If anything helped me during the chaos of those years, it was Dr. James Dobson's book, The Strong-Willed Child.  Though my daughter's struggles had more to do with her LPD than with a strong will, I didn't know any difference at the time, and that book helped me so much to understand that all kids are not created equal.  I found real comfort in that.

Because I would look at other moms with their tiny little children sitting calmly, angelically at their sides.  Never making a peep.  Never disturbing.  Content to flip through board books or sit contentedly like a miniature adult, all while my little monster was clawing all over me and the church pew and screeching and crying and continuously plotting her escape from me if I dared look away.

The best I could tell, I did all the things the other moms did!  And this is what I got.

But Dr. Dobson helped me understand that, for whatever reason, some families are blessed with all compliant children.  Others may be blessed with all strong-willed, more difficult to mold and train ones.  Why God doles kids out the way He does is a mystery to me, but it should make us cautious how we judge other moms and dads who may very well be doing the best they can with the child God has given them.

Every mom seems to think she has at least one strong-willed child, but it's not necessarily true.  So often I've seen parents who thought #1 was a problem-child, until they had #2 or #3, and suddenly they realized #1 was a saint!  Parenting is never easy, but with compliant children it may  be easier, at least in some senses.  However, strong-willed kids, if pointed in the right direction, often make amazing leaders and strong, determined Christians.

It's all in how you look at it.  Moms of the "bad kids" should never be envious of moms with compliant children.  Moms of compliant children shouldn't be so hard on moms of strong-willed or difficult ones.  And all of us should try to do more to help young moms we see struggling to manage children in church.  Thank God they're there!  They're trying!  And they should be commended for it.

And a final word of encouragement to you, the moms of the "bad kids" at church:  Keep your chin up, sweet Christian mama.  Don't be discouraged.  You're doing the right thing by trying to be faithful to God's house and taking those little ones with you.  God will bless your efforts, even in those times when you really wonder if all the work it takes to get to church and the wrestling and the crying and the 34 trips to the nursery are worth it.  Keep doing your best and know that God will honor it and will provide you the grace you need for every day.

Trust me.  I know this from experience.

And just in case you're wondering, that boisterous little girl who gave me such fits is now 11. Obviously I don't have her raised yet, and I can't take credit for any good I see in her.  That's God's doing.

But, truly, of all my kids, she is probably the most spiritually sensitive.  She literally grieves at times because she's a child, which she thinks limits her ability to do something for God.  She's forever going on personal "fasts" from videos or video games lest those things become more important to her than praying and reading her Bible.  She's so tender-hearted that, if I was to let her, the child would literally give away everything she owns to the less-fortunate.

I'm not saying she's perfect, but she's come a long way from those random outbursts and mid-sermon meltdowns.  A LONG way.  So long, in fact, that people who didn't know her back then don't want to believe what a difficult child she once was.

The "bad kid" wasn't really so bad after all.  And, thank heavens, maybe that means I wasn't the "bad mom" I thought myself to be either.  Or if I was, there was a merciful God always there filling in the gaps I was leaving behind.

That's how His grace works.  And I'm so thankful for it.  

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Guide to Nature Hiking with Kids

So what's the difference between a nature hike and a nature walk?  

Some will try to argue that a hike is more strenuous than a mere walk, but I'm curious where the threshold between the two really lies and at exactly what point a stroll crosses from one to the other.  I'm pretty sure nobody really knows.

And some will argue that a walk is on paved ground while a hike covers grass or dirt.  But nobody talks about going for a hike on the beach, but lots of people talk about hiking the Great Wall of China.

So I'm confused.

But it doesn't matter.  The two words mean pretty much the same thing, so whatever you choose to call it, a trek through the great outdoors is a wonderful thing for you and your kids!  

Why?  Here are a few quick reasons:

It's great exercise for the entire family.

This is one of those "duh-isms" you wouldn't think needs mentioning, but when I hear about the unbelievable amounts of money some people spend on gym memberships when there are thousands of miles' worth of FREE hiking trails in the U.S., I can't help but think some people need the reminder!

Kids, (and usually their parents, too!) spend too much time indoors.

Adults are great at griping about kids not spending enough time outside, even while they are as hooked to screens and cushions and air conditioning as the kids are.  Fresh air and sunlight are wonderful for both our bodies and our spirits and heading outside for a little hike is great for the overall health and happiness of both children and adults.

It makes for some great family time.

I think we would all agree families need to spend more time doing things together and less time running in different directions.  What better way to do that than in the quiet and solitude of a nature trail?

The entire family can learn about nature.

There's no end to the interesting terrain, plants, and wildlife you will encounter on a nature hike.  No matter how many hours my family has spent foraging through the woods, we still come across things we've never seen before.  There is incredible wonder in God's creation and the whole family can learn so much just by partaking in it.


But we live in the city!  How can we go on nature hikes?

While many metropolitan areas have remarkable inner-city parks systems, I realize that's not the case everywhere, and a day spent nature hiking may require some travel, but you likely won't have to go significantly far from home.  I'm fortunate enough to live 10 minutes from Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, so nature hikes are a couple-of-times-a-week activity for us, but no matter where you live, with some planning you may very well be able to go hiking at least once a month.

Click here for an amazing list of hiking trails, state-by-state.  More than likely, there are some near you!

But I have small kids!  

Believe me, I know hiking with small children isn't exactly ideal, but on our family excursions we often encounter determined hikers barreling on with their kids in tow, so it can be done.  Baby slings and backpack carriers are great for hiking with babies, (when we had littles, we picked up a backpack carrier at a yard sale,) but many trails are stroller-friendly, too.  Obviously the more all-terrain your stroller, the greater your options, but many parks and nature reserves have wheelchair, (and thus stroller,) accessible trails.

Click here for a state-by-state list of wheelchair/stroller accessible trails.  Also don't hesitate to ask at your local park about gravel or crushed stone paths that may be very passable with a stroller or even a pull-wagon.  Our favorite hiking spot has many out-of-the-way trails that are actually old access roads now closed off to vehicle traffic.  These are great for an easy hike.

Of course, with small kids, (and with bigger ones!) you need to be prepared.  Insect repellent is a must.  (We keep a can of OFF in our van, though if you prefer a more natural repellent, here is a list of homemade bug spray recipes.  One of our sons was a mosquito-magnet when he was a toddler and he would have awful reactions to every. single. bite.  I think I tried every bug spray or lotion known to man, with no success.  Several reviews I found online suggested Avon's Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Lotion with Sunscreen for kids and I was finally able to get my son some relief.  It's also DEET-free.  (Many people complain about it's awful blue color, but it worked!  You may want to try it for a child with particularly sensitive skin.)

Light-colored clothing makes it easier to see any ticks that may find their way to you.  And good shoes are a must for the entire family.

Take plenty of water along.  My own kids are so well-trained they go to the fridge and grab bottles of water on their own before we leave the house.  Just make sure you have plenty to keep you and your kids hydrated, particularly if it's a very hot day.

Bring along snacks, especially for little ones, though the whole family may appreciate some cheese and crackers or fresh fruit after the good workout of a hike.

Keep a cell phone with you.  I love using the pedometer app on mine, but you never know when there might be an emergency and you find yourself in need of a phone.  Granted, a signal may be hard to come by in some rural areas, but we've been stunned before to be out in the middle of nowhere and still find ourselves with cell service!

*Incidentally, a few years ago I was out hiking alone with my four kids when the short "loop" I thought we were travelling seemed to be taking us further and further into the woods.  My sense of direction told me something wasn't right.  I finally sat down and between my GPS and the park's website, I discovered we had accidentally crossed onto a strenuous 8-mile trail!  Obviously we turned around and went back, but my kids were small and wearing out quickly and I can't imagine what I would have done if we had gone much further.  Especially if you don't have a good sense of direction, a smartphone could be a God-send while hiking!

But what about the weather?

Being able to exercise in a temperature-controlled environment is a big reason so many people opt for gym memberships rather than regular hiking.  In torrential rain, excessive heat, or snow, that exercise venue is still available, which can be of particular benefit to those living in areas of the country that get a lot of rain or have long winters.

But the weather doesn't have to be sunny and cloud-free with a perfect temperature of 77 degrees for you to get out and enjoy a great hike!  While I understand we have to be careful, particularly with smaller kids who may be more prone to heat exhaustion or illness, we also should never use less-than-ideal weather as an excuse for not getting out and enjoying nature.

In excessive heat, (something we've dealt with a lot this summer,) try to do your hiking early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler.  Go on shorter hikes if necessary, stop for breaks more often, and of course take plenty of water along.

While I don't recommend hiking in a downpour, a slight drizzle or a chance of showers doesn't mean your hiking trip should be cancelled, especially if it's a comfortably warm day!  Keep rain ponchos in your vehicle and stay tuned to weather reports if things are looking questionable.

I don't recommend hiking with children in ice and snow or extreme cold either, but cool or even cold weather shouldn't be a deterrent for an outdoor trek either.  Warm jackets and coats, clothes, and hats can keep the cold at bay for a brisk walk.  Just beware of over-heating!  As in hot weather, keep your hikes short and remember to keep kids well-hydrated, though they're not likely to feel as thirsty in cold weather as in hot.  Remember cold air alone doesn't make kids sick.  Also, the warm air inside our homes during the winter is often far more likely to make us sick than the cold air outside.


So need more suggestions for great hiking trails for you and your family?

Here's a list of the Top 10 Family-Friendly Hikes in the U.S. Parks.  Kentucky's own Mammoth Cave National Park made this list, and if you've never been there, it is amazing.  While there are plenty of hiking trails there above ground, the most fascinating ones are below it.  Mammoth Cave boasts the longest known cave system in the world, offering you the opportunity to explore nature underground, which can't be done just anywhere.

Fodor's Travel considers these the 10 Most Beautiful Hikes in the U.S..  Kentucky's Red River Gorge is among them.

Here you'll find 10 Great Hikes for Families in National Parks.  I would love to take EVERY. ONE.  And here are Great American Hikes: 20 Top Trails Across the USA.  There may be one close to you!


There are plenty of ways to get exercise and spend time with your family, but I don't know that many of them have all the benefits of hiking in the great outdoors!  If it's not a custom in your family, why not start hiking together today?

Do you take your children hiking?  If so, where do you go and 
what items do you consider essential for the trip?

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