Discomfort-Zen Habits

Zen Habits is one of my favorite blogs. It was, in fact, the very first blog that I ever followed. I really like his earliest stuff. It’s very inspiring. Leo, the author, totally turned his life around. He quit smoking, lost a bunch of weight, got out of debt, became a runner, and so on. 

His advice is so straightforward, so simple, yet incredibly insightful. Today he wrote a post about discomfort that is bound to make anyone feel uncomfortable. 

A taste:

Unfortunately, most people avoid discomfort. I mean, they really avoid it — at the first sign of discomfort, they’ll run as fast as possible in the other direction. This is perhaps the biggest limiting factor for most people, and it’s why you can’t change your habits.

Think about this: many people don’t eat vegetables because they don’t like the taste. We’re not talking about soul-wrenching pain here, not Guantanamo torture, but a taste that’s just not something you’re used to. And so they eat what they already like, which is sweets and fried stuff and meats and cheeses and salty things and lots of processed flour.”

Ouch. Here’s the link. You gotta check it out. And check out his archives too. Great stuff.

In other news, did I mention that my scroll saw was in the shop again. It broke down right before Christmas, so I left it at the shop while I was away over the holidays, and they shipped it back to me when I got back. 

Unfortunately, it arrived broken. I was devastated. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I was quite upset. Well, I shipped it back, and now they are going to give me another one from the factory. So I guess that’s a good thing. Of course it means I’m not getting my saw back until maybe next week, maybe the following week if I’m not lucky. 

It’s uncomfortable. 


Doing What You Love

I’ve mentioned before that I majored in journalism in college, but to be perfectly honest, I majored in basketball. Generally I took about 15 hours of classes a week, but I spent at least that much time at the gym. I didn’t play for the university’s team, so this major was definitely off the record.

I would go to the gym between my morning classes to shoot around for an hour or so, and then in the afternoon, I’d come back and play pick-up games for a few hours since there were usually guys around to play then. I was never the best player (I am a girl, after all), but I was rarely the worst.

I’ve never been a runner, or very disciplined about working out, but I’ve always LOVED playing basketball. To me, running, working out, they’re BORING. This past year I’ve been trying to enjoy running, because I really need the exercise, but I’ve only been somewhat successful.

Since I got pregnant right after leaving college, I’ve barely played basketball since then. And as a consequence, I’m almost twenty pounds heavier than I was in college. Or maybe that’s the consequence of not doing much substitute exercise.

Yesterday, I went to the gym while my babysitter was here, meaning to just shoot around for a little while without Caleb stealing the ball and running away with it after every shot. I also went, because it was about 10 degrees out and the basement was painfully cold. Even upstairs it was cold. My furnace can’t keep up with the cold. Let me tell you-I’ll never move to Minnesota or something.

When I got to the gym, there were a bunch of guys there, and I got to play full court basketball!

I only had time for 2 games, but when I came home, I felt like I was glowing. The world looked brighter. I felt GOOD. Some of that is definitely from a good workout-I was sucking wind badly by the end. But most of it was just because I had FUN. I did something that’s really fun for ME.

I don’t know about you, maybe it’s different if you have a regular sitter or another parent for your kids, but I haven’t had that much fun in ages. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my life, we have fun for sure, but I missed this.

Have you given up something you love since having kids? Something that really lights you up? Something FUN?

Here’s your mission, try to find some time to do it this week or this month or this year even!

Then come back and post what you did and how it made you feel. Was it as much fun as you remembered? Can you do it more often?


My favorite parenting/homemaking blogs

I thought I’d just do a quick post today to share some of my favorite blogs. I love blogs. Maybe it’s the journalist in me (though some of them can drive that journalist crazy with typos!), but I just love a good article. So it’s not surprising that my favorite blog is an informative, article-style blog:

The Parenting Passageway

This blog is stuffed full of insightful posts about parenting and homeschooling and child development. Yes, it’s a Waldorf-homeschooling blog, but it’s good no matter what your kids are doing for school.

She’s religious, but not preachy. She’s a gentle parenting advocate, and she insists upon the importance of boundaries (advice that you can take whether you are a more democratic family or have a more traditional top-down family structure).

Her posts are good, solid parenting advice, that you can use whether you agree with her on all points or not. Her blog is like a good friend, that you can disagree with, but still like and appreciate.

I mentioned my latest favorite yesterday:

I Heart Organizing

This blog is not just fresh-looking, but she has so many great ideas. I happen to think she’s a little too crazy about redecorating, but to each her own. I get good ideas from her after pictures AND her before pictures.

Another blog I found recently is:

Raising Miro

Raising Miro is written by a forty-something single mother who is traveling the world with her 13 year old son. She has interesting posts, but I probably like it most just because she’s doing what I have dreamed about doing. I found out that a permanent traveling lifestyle wasn’t my thing, but I still have the wander-lust. She has some good posts about unschooling, traveling, and just living life in general.

Well, I’ve gotta get to work, so that’s all the blogs I have for you today. I’m hoping that you’ll all respond with your favorites, and give me more stuff to read!



Pep Talk: Prepare Now

This time of year, I really need to give myself weekly pep talks. Now that my orders have slowed down, I get to feeling that I can take it easy. Spend more time with my son, read more books, watch videos, cook elaborate meals (last night we had pupusas with beans and guacamole and sauteed veggies and a chocolate honey cake for dessert)…

And I can do more of those things, but my trouble is that I do it too much. I take the going easy too far. And so I have to give myself a bit of advice-in a kind and loving manner of course. You should never speak to yourself more harshly than you would to a friend or child.

Do you think that you are doing Caleb a favor by not working? Because, let me tell you, you aren’t. One of your goals this year was to get organized in your business, and that means having every item you sell in stock and ready to ship.

How does that benefit Caleb? Well, for one thing it means, no all day work marathons trying to catch up when you get a big order or a rush of orders. But more importantly, it means no RUSHING. 

If there is one thing kids hate, it’s being rushed. Grown-ups are always so nasty when they are in a hurry, and you are no exception. If there is one time you yell, it’s when you are frantic to get out of the door, because you have let the day slip away from you.

So you see, when you are relaxing all day this time of year, you are robbing yourself and your son of friendly, relaxing afternoons during your busy season. Play, yes, go to the pool, yes, play in the gym, yes, but don’t neglect your work.

When you are reluctant to go down into the cold, dusty basement, visualize rows of buses ready to ship, drawers filled with story sets-already in their drawstring bags (!), and bags full of boats and bathtub animals. 

Imagine walking into your (clean, well organized office) every morning and calmly printing out your postage labels. Filling up a mail crate with packages for the mailman to pick up, rather than you frantically yelling at your STUPID printer to print the @#$%#! labels already!!!! And then yelling at Caleb to just grab the shoes and get into the car, so we don’t miss the mailman!

Reflect upon the difference between the 2 scenarios. The difference is that in the first one, you did the hard work now. So if you printer refuses to spit out the labels, you have plenty of time to stop at the library and print them there. 

If you put in the time now, you’ll save time later. Especially for things like cars and buses, where you really reap the dividends for making them in batches. It’s boring as anything to make 30 family cars, but it’s much worse than boring realizing (at 4:15pm) you have to get this one car to add to the order that HAS to go out today. 

So make a date with yourself every day. Use the time that your babysitter comes once a week as a guideline. Between the hours of 10am-1pm every day, you should be working on work-related projects whether upstairs while you are playing with your son or downstairs in the basement.

And don’t forget your morning date. You can get a lot of work done in the morning before Caleb wakes up if you don’t get sidetracked by the computer. 

And remember that a good day starts with a good nights sleep. Never stay up past your son, or you will stay up too late every time. You say just a half an hour, and the next thing you know, it’s midnight or even 1am, and the next day, you start of groggy eyed and grumpy and late. So go to bed.


Even though you may not have a home business, we all have work we need to get done. Have you been slacking on laundry duty? Baking and freezer meals? Or how about grocery shopping? Is your fridge stocked or are you forever running to the store for one little thing for dinner?

Be prepared.

A Clean Office!

I have been moving around boxes and cabinets and work stuff in my office for months. I’ve been tripping on things, losing things, and generally just going crazy with the chaos. So finally now that things have quieted down, and I have some time and energy to devote to the project, I decided to do some organizing.

Thanks to my new favorite blog: iheartorganizing- I remembered to take some before photos.

office before picture 100_6873

As you can see, it was extremely bad. The biggest problem was obviously that there was too much stuff in there. Every time I had something that I didn’t want in the living room or the kitchen, it got stuck in the office.

Plus there’s a lot going on in this room. This is where I handle all my shipping, my sewing, I keep all my wood people in here, plus my inventory, and all the thinner wood that will warp if it’s in the basement. Plus my regular office stuff like files and paper stuff. Plus tons of fabric and wool.

You see 2 kitchen cabinets in there that I thought would be useful after I redid my kitchen. Not to mention a variety of cardboard boxes for shipping. Plus a filing cabinet that doesn’t get much use besides collecting junk on top of it.

So my first job was moving things OUT. I put the cabinets in the basement for possible toy parts storage. The metal filing cabinet is on the porch at the moment. I’m trying to decide if it would be useful for storing bats, balls, and gloves and gardening equipment in. The top lifts open, so it might work.

If not, it will go to the curb. The boxes that I could use for shipping went upstairs into the box closet. The wood was organized by type and thickness on the bookshelf. The bubble mailers I use every day for shipping, so they were stacked book-style on the shelf as well-that fix alone was worth the time (I actually made that fix before I took the before pictures).

Most things were simple, no-brainer fixes, but things that I just didn’t make time for when I was busy.

It took me about 2 hours while my babysitter/assistant was there. And now I can see the floor!



It’s not going to win any awards, and the floor and walls need to be redone, not to mention the ceiling, but that was how I spent my day Tuesday.

A Day in the Life…

Well, it’s back to real life now. We got back to West Virginia last week. I spent Thursday emptying the car, and putting away our Christmas decorations. I dragged our massive tree outside to the curb littering pine needles everywhere since it was so dry. Friday and Saturday were spent playing catch-up with work. And today it’s back to normal.

I set my alarm for 6:30 so I’d wake up before Caleb. I generally don’t use an alarm, but I’ve gotten out of the habit of waking early over the holidays, so I’m trying to train myself again. I got up after a few minutes and went through my morning routine, checked my email, and got to work.

I started by smooth sanding (the final sanding with 220 grit sandpaper) some toys that I sanded by hand yesterday at the park. Then I drew out 15 sea monsters and cut them, and then bevelled the edges with my dremel.

I’m trying a new system for preparing stock. I took the totals for each toy sold last year, and I’m going to take them one at a time to finish them. Like today: last year I sold 15 sea serpents, so I cut out 15 today, so I should be set for the year. Hopefully of course I will sell more this year than I did last year, but it’s somewhere to start anyway.

For the things I sell multitudes of like keys, bathtub toy sets, airplanes, etc. I couldn’t possibly do them in one day, so I have broken them down into sets to be done each week and completed by such-and-such a date.

We’ll see how it goes. Anyway, after dremeling (it’s not a word, but I have “verbed” the proper noun and I use it every day) the sea monsters and cutting some keys, Caleb had awakened, so I went upstairs for breakfast. We had a leisurely breakfast over a cutthroat game of chess. After the dishes were cleaned up, we played with legos. I put the beeswax polish onto some toys for some of the time we were playing.

After a while I went down to drill holes in the keys, then I came back upstairs to dremel the keys outside since it was a balmy 60 degrees out. After I finished that, I packed up my keys, sea monsters, and Caleb monsters and took them all to the park.

We spent over 2 hours at the park. Caleb found some friends, so I only had to play some of the time, and I sanded some toys. I finished all the sea monsters and made a good start on the keys before the rain came. Caleb’s now washing away the mud and playing with his bathtub toys (some wood, some plastic). I may smooth sand the sea monsters and oil them this afternoon or evening. But that will be the extent of my work for today.

I generally work every day of the week so that I can just take off any day, if say we feel like going to the lake in the summer or the city in the winter or spending the day with a friend or spending weeks visiting family and friends. But Sundays I usually take it easy and do more mother things-like cleaning…or more likely playing endless games of Rook.

Be Interested

As one reader pointed out, the corollary to being interesting, is being interested. Being interested in our kids first and foremost. Really listening to what they have to say, especially when we don’t agree with them. 

I’m sure we can all remember times that we felt slighted by our parents, because they dismissed our ideas as naive or stupid or not religiously correct (if your parents were religious). If we want our kids to be honest and open with us, then we have to be interested in what they think.

We also should try to be interested in what they like to do. Of course, just like our kids may not always like everything that we like, we may not like everything our kids like, but I think it’s nice to give it a try. 

Caleb fell in love with chess over the past couple of months, and we’ve been playing around 10 games a day when we are at home. I never really played chess much as a kid or a young adult, so although I knew the rules, I had to learn the strategy. And it’s been really fun playing. I’m glad he got me interested in it. 

Be Interesting

My friend said something to me yesterday that struck me today as a good example of unschooling. Her daughter had received a game for Christmas and had dismissed it as too hard or boring. And my friend said that if she and her husband started playing it, then the kids would get interested. 

I was thinking about learning Spanish and the Rosetta Stone program that I’m doing, and I realized that it’s the same thing. When we follow our interests and do things that we enjoy, our kids will want to join in the fun. 

My son has started sitting down with me almost every time I do the Spanish program and doing it with me. His favorite part is when you have to talk to the computer and it tells you whether or not your are repeating the words correctly.

I was not homeschooled, but there were many things that I became interested in, because my parents were. My dad in particular read great books. He got me interested in and even more so, my 2 youngest brothers passion about economics and political theory. 

Mostly it’s the things that my parents didn’t try to push on me that I remained interested in. Just yesterday I was thinking that I should ask my dad for investment advice since conservative investing is something that he has a lot of experience with. I’ve known about this for probably 15 years, but it’s only now that I will actually listen and act on what he has to say.

Sometimes you have to wait a long time for your kids to pick up on your interests, and obviously some things they won’t care a wit for their whole lives. So don’t pick up interests because you think they would be good for your children, because you probably won’t stick with them for one thing, and for another thing, it isn’t honest. Kids can tell (sometimes) when you are faking it or trying to push them into something. 

I thought Caleb might be interested in learning Spanish with me, but I shelled out the money because I want to be able to communicate if I spend winters in Latin America. 

Mothers are especially guilty, I think, of being boring. I know this past year I was bored with myself even. We spend so much of our time nurturing and taking care: of kids, of pets, of the house, of the cooking, etc, etc, etc. that we stop doing what we enjoy. Nurturing is vital (and certainly under-appreciated by kids after they get older), but it’s also important for us to keep growing and learning and doing new things while we are nurturing.

It’s so easy to just sit back at the end of the day (or the middle of the day) and watch TV or movies, and become complacent. This year I’m trying to shake myself up-get out of my comfort zone-Be Interesting.

Back to Work

Well, it was back to work yesterday. I’m still at my parent’s house, but I have a limited workshop here too. I have my brother’s miter saw, a belt and disc sander from craigslist that shakes and rattles, but works, a dewalt scroll saw that I found used in NJ on craigslist and my friend was gracious enough to pick it up for me (as I was in West Virginia at the time), and a drill press that I bought new last year and really comes in handy. The drill press is terrible though.

It’s a Ryobi. I paid about $120, maybe a little less. And even though it’s new (and I don’t have a nice fancy one at home-just a black and decker that must be 20-30 years old), the it’s much less powerful than the one I bought for $30 on craigslist 4 years ago. Speaking of new tools, I don’t think I mentioned that my dewalt scroll saw that I bought new last year broke down AGAIN, the week before Christmas. I was cutting, and it just quit mid-cut and wouldn’t turn on again. Soo, I haven’t had much luck buying new tools. It’s rather discouraging.

Anyway, my workshop here is out in the barn, which is a good 100 yards away from the house, so I can’t really work and keep an eye or ear on what’s going on in the house. I have to try to work when other people are around when I can, but it makes it inconvenient.

When I lived here, I used to work mainly at night, but I’m spoiled by being able to work during the day and sleep at night now that my son is older. It took most of the day going in and out, stopping and starting, but the work was finally completed and mailed. 

Tomorrow I’ll need to spend some time working, and then we are going to hit up one of my favorite thrift stores. One work related item on the list is sheets or fabric curtains or anything else with a nice hem, that I can use for making drawstring bags. I love to re-use fabric when I can-much cheaper than buying new fabric. 

This year I plan on taking a day and sewing enough drawstring bags to last me the whole year. I’m always packing up story sets and realizing at the last moment that I forgot to sew a bag for them, and then I miss being able to ship them that day. This year will be different!



One of my favorite things to get for a gift is a book. It’s especially nice at Christmas to sit around by my parent’s wood stove reading and not worrying about what work I should be doing. 

This year my brother gave me a book called ten ways to destroy the imagination of your child by Anthony Esolen. I alternate between finding real gems that I had never considered before, and being so irritated by it, that I want to quit it altogether. But then I keep reading and I find another gem.

Right in the beginning of the book, he starts stressing the good points of memorization. If you have read anything of unschooling/nontraditonal education literature, you know one of the main things they criticize about school is that they encourage rote memorization, and what good is that when we have google, etc. 

Esolen answers: “That is because a developed memory is a wondrous and terrible storehouse of things seen and heard and done. It can do what no mere search engine on the internet can do. It can call up apparently unrelated things at once, molding them into a whole impression, or a new thought.”

“To have such a wealth of poetry in your mind–a wealth of knowledge about man, set to music–is to be armed against the salesman and the social controllers. It allows you the chance of independent thought and independence is by nature unpredictable.”

If you are memorizing poetry or multiplication tables, you are allowing that knowledge to really become part of you. So when you are writing something, a bit of Homer or Poe might jump out from your mind to beautiful illustrate a point you want to make. If you have a good grasp of grammar, it allows your writing to be easily read. If you know numbers backwards and forwards, “they are tools for your cleverness to fool about with, as a machinist learns the feel of the wrench or a drill press.”

As a life learner (unschooler or whatever word you want to use to describe not making your kids learn stuff), I am not going to sit my son down and force him to memorize anything, but before reading this book, I may have been guilty of falling into this sort of subtly discouraging attitude:

“‘We don’t teach by rote memorization,’ say our educators today, raising their chins in pride. ‘We prefer to teach critical thinking. We prefer to tap the imagination.'”

When we express, even subtly, a disdain for memorization, grammar, and other tools of traditional education, we are hamstringing our children–saying that these things school children used to do are not worthy of our time.

One memory pertaining to memorization sticks out in my mind from my junior high years. There were a number of us 12-13 year olds at an amusement park waiting in a long line. One boy there was homeschooled, and apparently, his schooling or perhaps just his interests included memorizing poetry. So in that long line for Free Fall, he kept us enthralled with animated recitations of The Bells and other long poems. 

When you have great works of art in your mind, you can never be bored.

Well, I’m sorry to end on such an abrupt note, but we’ve had a long day of partying with our relatives, and my son needs to get to bed. Even though he’s, “SO unready!!!” 

I’ve been working on memorizing Robert Brownings version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin for the past year and a half (obviously not very hard or often!). It’s a wonderfully musical poem with delightful phrases like, (speaking of the mayor), “looking little though wondrous fat.” And-“To think we buy gowns lined with ermine, for dolts that can’t or won’t determine, what’s best to rid us of our vermin.” So I would like to spend more time doing that this year, and memorizing other stories and poems, if for no other reason, then to entertain Caleb or myself when we are waiting in lines. 

Happy New Year!