At Issue: Kids, Parents and The Great Outdoors

Ruth Lera could be any mom.  She describes herself in her 2012 article “Learning To Love The Natural World” for Today’s Parent as a “hodgepodge” and says that finding a place to pat herself on the back can be difficult.

Being a parent is wrought with not-so-proud moments, so when you recognize something you’ve done well it’s nothing short of inspiring.

Lera has made connecting with nature a priority and because of that her children have developed a love for it.  A respect for it.

Author Richard Louv is worried that not enough children are making connections with nature and fears that many children are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder.  This is very concerning to the man who authored Last Child in the Woods and who believes that when childhood passes without any connection being made to nature during the formative years, the resulting deficit is a serious detriment to society’s wellbeing.

Louv has spent years researching, collecting anecdotal evidence and inspiring policy makers because he believes a connection with nature can boost mental acuity and creativity, promote health and wellness, and build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities and economies.

This week we will be discussing parenting and nature.  Catherine Ross, a mother of two and of the blog Learning is Fun will be our guest this week.

As always we welcome your comments and insights.  Join the conversation by leaving a comment or follow us and share via Facebook and Twitter!

Here are a few videos on the subject to get you inspired:

Encouraging Unplanned Learning by guest author, Catherine Ross

One of the biggest defining factors of a school education is that the learning that happens there is almost always planned. Teachers begin with a curriculum, from which they formulate lesson plans. During the lesson, all learning is directed to fit into the structure advised by the lesson plan. Teachers have a clear goal when they begin, and then test the students to see whether the goal has been achieved. At the end of the year, there is a clear record of what the students have learnt, and to what extent they have learnt it.

However, the learning does not stop when kids leave the classroom. It continues in the playground and after school hours, perhaps with more interest and involvement than ever expressed in the classroom! When kids capture and observe a worm that they dug out of the backyard, or experiment with various structures to figure out how to make their wooden blocks building sturdier, they are learning very important lessons in science and math without even realizing it. This alternate, unplanned way of learning comes naturally to kids and requires no formal structure or process at all. This is unplanned learning, and based on my experiences I have come to believe that it is the more effective and enjoyable form of learning for all involved.

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Photo by James Emery

Unplanned learning can happen anywhere, and at any time of the day. It can happen with kids who go to school, as well as those who are homeschooled. It can happen on a lazy summer day or while you’re vacationing in Hawaii. It can happen between any two individuals. It is inexpensive, exciting and stays with the learner for much longer. However, it does require a few basic conditions in order to be effective.

Imagine a classroom setting, where the teacher is discussing insectivorous plants. A student, excited by the topic, asks the teacher more about how the insects are tricked into landing on the plants. However, the teacher, equipped with a lesson plan and limited by time constraints, tells the student that the question is not related to what they are supposed to be learning. While this began as a perfect opportunity for unplanned learning, it progressed in a way that was demoralizing to the learner and may even dampen the student’s natural desire to learn. While unstructured learning does come naturally to kids, certain experiences may reduce the frequency of their occurrence and sap the joy of learning and discovery from their lives.

However, as a parent, you are in the perfect position to encourage unplanned learning right at home. Here are a few things that you can do to get your child learning by leaps and bounds, and enjoying every minute of it.

1. Take every interest of your child’s very seriously. If your daughter is fascinated by horses, take her to the library to pick out books on horses. Better still, take her to a stable where she can pet, feed and interact with them and get her questions answered by the caretaker. Apart from learning more about horses, your daughter will be practicing her reading and social skills and learning lots about animal behaviour in general!

2. Look out for learning opportunities. When you are at the grocery store, allow your first grader to pay for your things and collect the change. When your child asks you a question, encourage him to do research instead of answering it directly. While waiting at a doctor’s office, give your child reading practice (and a few lessons in life science) by helping her sound out the posters on the wall.

3. Create a healthy learning environment.Instead of waiting for learning opportunities to come your way, create them on your own. Buy your children educational toys such as tangrams and let them play learning games online. Plan trips to a zoo, a nature center or/and a museum. Make regular trips to the library. Do fun science experiments at home. Supplement these learning opportunities with interesting discussions and additional reading material, especially if they show an interest in the subject.

And very importantly, never ridicule a question of any type. If you don’t know the answer yourself, find out together. Show your child that learning does not just happen with textbooks and worksheets. You will plant the seed for a lifelong love for learning in your kids, and they will be ever grateful for it.

 

Author Bio: Catherine Ross is a full-time stay-at-home-mum who believes learning should be enjoyable for young minds. An erstwhile elementary school teacher, Catherine loves coming up with creative ways through which kids can grasp the seemingly difficult concepts of learning easily. She believes that a ‘fun factor’ can go a long way inenhancing kids’ understanding and blogs at http://kidslearninggames.weebly.com/

Summer Curiosities

IMG_4999I used to love the Fall: the reddening of the leaves, the crisp air, the blue bird skies but now it’s the summer that tugs at my heart.  I love the slow-down, the indulgence, and the warm weather but more than anything I love the break from routine.  Most people look at me like I am clueless, an amateur, when I say that my kids take a break from all organized activity in the summer and yes, that includes camp.

It’s a conscious choice- a more mindful one.  Before we became parents we would dream about our future family.  We never discussed what to name our babies (that could explain why we found it so stressful), how cute they’d be (given!), or what we thought about attachment parenting, but we did talk about the big picture.  And by big picture, I mean huge.  What sort of foundation would we lay?  What are the most important values we want to instil?  What memories of our own childhood do we hope to transfer to our own children?

A seed that grew from those early conversations was meaningful together time.  Admittedly, in the early years of parenting survival was key, and escaping for alone time topped my list of priorities.   Now, just like everyone said that it would, things have changed again – in what seems a blink of an eye.

No more diapers or strollers or sleepless nights.  No naps or a constant stream of illnesses.

We’ve crossed a bridge and I find myself on the other side, somewhat weary, a little bruised; simply amazed we made it through.  Now it’s time to put into action our plan for our family.

There are downsides to being a stay-at-home mom but there are a lot of incredible perks too.  It’s taken a long time for me not to feel guilty about enjoying them.

And so this summer, I did just that.  I made a dream become a reality.  I crossed off two weeks this summer, packed-up the boys and rented a house far, far, away from our everyday life.

These two weeks have been void of anything overly familiar (except whining and bickering), very limited screen time, and heavy on the family time.  What I have learned is without the constraints or pressures of our lives, our family unit grows stronger.  We challenge each other to try new things and spend time really talking and listening.  Most of all we each feel more vulnerable without the trappings of home and we only have each other to lean on.

I see my boys’ personalities developing.  I see their strengths and admit to myself their weaknesses.  I see them become more pack-like: defensive and protective while playfully mauling each other like lion cubs.

I have slowed down and allowed myself to indulge their curiosities.  How do seashells get their colouring?  Where does sea-glass come from?  Why do some fish swim in schools while others glide along the reef independently?

I hope to increase the time we spend on summer retreat over the years to the full two months.  I may be unrealistic.  It may be a harebrained plan.

But I have made it across one bridge and I see another on the horizon and experience has taught me that objects are closer than they appear.

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Theme Week: Home-learning

As kids we used to do a lot of driving vacations.  I have new-found respect for my parents, who travelled for days in a car with two kids and not much for them to do but look out the window.  There weren’t iPads or mini-DVD players to keep us occupied.  We’d listen to our tapes (!) with our Walkman until the batteries ran out and my poor parents would have to listen to us singing-along (more like screeching) to George Michael and Tiffany.

My dad is a history buff and would often plan our driving routes to include stopovers at particular sites of interest.

My brother was never a fan of these history lessons.  One time when at a plantation house in Virginia, my brother refused to leave the air-conditioned gift shop and tour the grounds, adamant that it was his summer vacation and he didn’t have to learn during July and August.

Contrary to my tween-aged brother’s stance on learning and summertime, I am a believer that the best learning occurs organically (with a little manipulation from the “teachers” or in this case parents), without a textbook and when kids aren’t even aware they are learning.

Our theme for this week is summertime “homeschooling”.  We’ll be sharing with you some of our favourite learning opportunities for kids and invited guest blogger, homeschooler, mother of two, Catherine Ross of Learning is Fun will join us this week.

Cathy is a passionate teacher, writer and lover of cupcakes.  Her blog features inspiring activities for kids and shows us that teaching math and science isn’t as tough as you’d think.

Let us know what you think of our at-home summertime activities by leaving a comment and joining in the conversation.

Best of the Blogosphere

The Internet is chock-full of information and entertainment and everything in between.  We like to share with you some of our favourite posts –sometimes whimsical, sometimes wonderful and always worth the second or so it takes to read.

From Beth-Anne

When my boys were infants I could sit and watch them sleep for hours.  Most of the time, I was marveling at the fact that I. Made. Them. When they were toddlers and would fall asleep, I would steal quick wistful glances at their sleeping pudgy faces but mostly, I prayed they wouldn’t wake up.  Now every night before I can go to sleep, I have to peek at them deep in slumber.  There is something so peaceful about watching them sleep.  On more than one occasion I have been brought to tears; overcome by emotion.  When this video of Theo (The Dog) and Beau (The Toddler) Star In A Naptime Love Story, I found it adorable (as did the hundreds of thousands of other people) but I also longed for those toddler days when I didn’t really appreciate their boundless energy and blissful sleep.

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Do you know anyone who is pregnant?  Or has just recently had a baby?  No Airbrushing Allowed: This Is What a Mother’s Body Really Looks Like by photographer Jade Beall is mandatory viewing.  Similar to 4th Trimester Bodies photographed by Ashlee Wells Jackson that I told you about in the last Best of The Blogosphere, this collection of images is an intimate reveal of what a woman’s body is capable of and how beautiful it can be – even post-baby.

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Very few people know this about me but I have strong views on baby names and this article by Drew Magary for GQ sums up all of my points quite nicely from Do Not Invent A Name to Don’t Abuse The Letter y.

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If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know by now that I have a renewed interest in all things green and the environment.  While I am not about to ditch my deodorant or make my own shampoo, just yet, I have taken to subscribing to takepart an Eco blog.  Way back in January they featured this incredible story about recycled cans being morphed into furniture.  Check it out – you won’t believe it!

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I am not a single parent, but I enjoyed reading 10 Things I Love About Single Parenting by Maria Mora.  Single parents: Did this one resonate with you?

From Nathalie

Snark.  Good snark.  Clever snark.  The internet is great for providing it.

I recently discovered a great blog called Manfeels Park, a wonderfully snarky mash-up of Jane Austen and feminism, in which Austen’s men try to mansplain gender politics.  Not to be missed!

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And in a similar vein, check out this great series of annotations of painting of women listening to men.  Priceless.

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So do you see what I mean

yeah i definitely understand 

because its kind of complicated

no I’m with you 

ill explain it again

 

Decidedly not snarky, but ever so cute: birthday cakes inspired by classic kids’ books.  Via Cake Wrecks, a great (usually snarky) place to go when your baking goes wrong.

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Do you know of something that has to make the Best of The Blogosphere list?  Send it to us!  Our next list will be published in October.

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TMN-logo_Square1A reminder that voting is open for the best mom blog of 2014, for which we are thrilled to have been nominated.

Please head over to Toronto Mom Now and check out the other nominees.  You can vote for your favourite three.  Voting closes on Monday, July 14.

Explore: Evergreen Brick Works

IMG_4844Years ago my weekends were peppered with city-dweller activities: markets, neighbour explorations, festivals and art appreciation but then a string of pregnancies and little babies kept me nestled (chained) in my neighbourhood bubble venturing only outside to visit the zoo.  My youngest is now almost 4 (I still can’t believe it!) and for the past year, we’ve really been able to enjoy the city and all that it has to offer without the stress of strollers, naps and diapers.

It’s a whole new world!

Recently we explored an urban oasis: Evergreen Brick Works.

The Brick Works, as locals affectionately call it, was the Don Valley Brick Works from 1889 to 1984 and many of Canada’s preeminent buildings are constructed of bricks made from this site.  From 1984 until the early 2000s, the Brick Works deteriorated.  Piles of rubble and crumbling buildings are what most people saw when they drove past along Bayview Avenue, with the exception of a group of creative innovators who saw the potential to transform the site into a not-for-profit destination celebrating nature, culture and community.

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The old buildings mesmerized the boys.  They imagined themselves heating clay in the giant kilns to make bricks.  They saw the old tracks used to transport the tons of coal from the various buildings.  We talked about the working conditions: how loud it must have been and oppressively hot from the steam, the kilns (and the humid Toronto summers) and how it probably wasn’t that safe in the early years.

Exploring the kiln building was a favourite but not only because of its historical significance.  The walls are lined with an evocative gallery displaying artistic photography and, perhaps the highlight for me; it is where The Sustainable City installation is currently on display. City school teams have imagined and created a future Toronto that encompasses the core values of Evergreen: nature, community and culture.  Not only are the projects incredible but also they are inspiring!  To think that our city is home to such innovators . . . lucky for us!

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There is a lot to see and do at the Brick Works.  Every day people explore the extensive trails where local wildlife abounds!

The weekdays are quieter but the weekends are chock-full of activities including an impressive farmer’s market, pottery demonstrations, bike rentals, a flea market and the children’s garden.  The Brick Works hosts seminars on the weekends that appeal to bikers, gardeners, wild life enthusiasts and artists.

Wednesday evenings (from July 2- August 6) enjoy pizza from Pizzeria Libretto from the outdoor wood-fired oven (to.die.for.) and a small seasonal salad for $3.

It’s summer and there is no shortage of activities in Toronto.  There is a reason it’s called The Living City, so get out there and live!

 

 

World Cup Fever: At-home activities

World Cup fever has made an appearance at our house.  The boys (eldest and middlest) have immersed themselves entirely in all things “football”.  I was surprised how much they actually know about the sport.  Sure, they play soccer every Sunday morning, but as far as I understood that was the extent of it.

The symptoms of World Cup fever are evident in their clothing choices (football jerseys gifted from travels afar by generous relatives), their outdoor playtime (baseball has taken a backseat) and even their Sunday morning friends are joining in the antics of swooping arms, praying hands and bent knees while chanting that now familiar word: Ole!

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Because I have an unnecessary compulsion to turn the everyday into teachable moments, my unsuspecting boys have been the recipients of an on-going geography lesson.

Here’s what we’ve been up to:

Flag Match

We searched the official FIFA website for all of the teams playing in the 2014 World Cup.  We wrote out each country on half an index card and glued a print out of the corresponding flag on the other half.

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We then cut the cards in half to make our own “World Cup Match Game”.  If you want to make it easier on yourself, a printable version (along with other World Cup activities suitable for kids) is available here.

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Flag Tally

Our neighbourhood is ripe with flags.  They are visible everywhere from car windows, to front porches and store windows.  We counted the flags while making the walk to and from school each day, but after that grew tiresome and school finished-up for the summer, we made a tally sheet to document the most popular teams in our neighbourhood (and on a few very long car rides).

We created our tally book by printing a simple three-column table (flag, country name, tally).  We printed the 2014 World Cup country flags, cut them out and glued them into our tally book.  This is an easy way to involve younger siblings.  Cutting and pasting are great ways to build fine motor skills.

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We used our World Flag sticker book as a resource to correctly identify the flags.  This task could have easily been accomplished by using a website, but I wanted the boys to look up the flags using the geographical index and matching each flag with the correct country.  Real books, people.  Remember those?

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There were some snags.  Many flags have similar colours.  Belgium and Germany can be easily confused, but after taking a few minutes to identify the direction of the stripes, the boys learned to be more careful in both their gluing and their matching.  Remember to stretch the sounds while spelling out the country name and look for phonetic patterns.  For example, the “y” at the end of Italy, Ivory Coast and Germany all make the same sound.  Colombia, Algeria, Nigeria, and Australia all end in “ia” and together those vowels sound like “ee-ah”.

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Countries are proper nouns.  Remind the writer that all proper nouns begin with uppercase letters.

Keep talking -while working together we discussed the various countries.  I asked them the following questions:

What language is spoken in that country?

Do you know anyone who has travelled to that country?

What continent is the country located on and what is the climate like?

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Want to take it a step further?  Consider making culinary connections by serving up a traditional dish from a winning country.

 

Happy Blogoversary!

9BeuK0uZSDAnexbwvP3ZdHXRKOoCdJ3ArjMKmFQdIcLY23OQ6G0UalNV7QS3R4TzHappy Blogoversary to us!  4Mothers turns 4 today and to mark the anniversary, we’ve updated our look.

A few weeks ago the three of us met on campus at the University of Toronto.  The lush greenery and historic buildings provided the perfect backdrop for our photo shoot by photographer Sara Beasley.

What did we learn?  That modeling is hard work!  That there is a knack to knowing how to hold your head just so, and position your body in just the right way to avoid triple chins and arm fat, but we sure did have a lot of laughs.  Our cheeks were aching by the end of the session!

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For almost a year now, we have been blogging as three mothers and inviting special guests to join in for our regular theme and at issue weeks.  We said a sad farewell to one of our founding members.  We’ve been fortunate to have made our writing foursome up with such talented guest writers.  We love how they have expanded the boundaries of our conversation and our community.

We are so grateful that you have made us part of your day and of your on-line community.  We are thankful for your comments, your social media shares and likes, your word of mouth sharing and your nominations for blogging awards.  We love to write, and hearing back from you makes that process come alive in ways that keep us energized and enthusiastic about this place we call home.

We started 4Mothers with the intention of creating a corner of the blogosphere for mothers to share their feelings about motherhood, relationships, and everything in between without judgment.  Through our personal reflections on motherhood, we wanted to show how women with different opinions and “ways of doing it” could still be supportive of each other, learn from each other and feel connected with each other regardless of any differences.

We are about to start our fifth year of blogging and during this time we have never received any financial compensation for any product or event we’ve featured on 4Mothers.  We get a lot of requests to promote products and causes, and we decline a large majority of those requests.  We only feature products and events that we like on our blog or think that our readers would like to know about.  When we do promote a product, we try to do so in the way we would tell our friends about a great new discovery; it’s something we genuinely like and can recommend.  There may be a time when we decide to accept advertising or financial compensation, but the right format for that has not appeared yet.

Thanks again to all of you for keeping us going and growing.  Please continue to leave comments, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest, and please do say a virtual “hello.”  We love to hear from you!

Sincerely,

Beth-Anne, Carol and Nathalie

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The Household Chores Debate: Don’t Keep Score

Having kids will automatically lower your standards for cleanliness.

Having kids will automatically lower your cleanliness standards.

In his op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Case for Filth, Stephen Marche suggests the solution to the division of household chores is to simply do less and be happier.  Jessica Grose responded with the argument that men shouldn’t get to “punk out” when it comes to housework.

Oh, the housework debate.  For me, this is filed alongside the breastfeeding debate in the “Who Gives a Shit?” folder.

What do I mean by that?  It’s simple.  Whenever these studies come out about what our neighbours are doing, whether it’s how much sex they are having or how the chores are divided, we start to question our normal.  Is it normal that I do the majority of the day-to-day housekeeping and my husband does more of the “labor” jobs around the house?  Does that make me: subservient, a fool or a doormat? Is he boorish, a stereotype or a misogynist?

Questioning what’s normal is not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s often the impetus for change – and in this case Grose wants us to challenge what’s normal and put a broom in the hands of more men – but a quick informal survey of my friends reveals that “normal” varies from household to household.  Anything goes from dads doing laundry to moms cleaning out the eaves troughs.  Even the idea of cleanliness differs from household to household and so long as everyone’s on board, who cares what other people think?

Marches writes about the intimate drudgery that is housekeeping and marriage.  So true.  On my worst days, I will always make the bed.  Everything is right with the world when I can pull back the covers and get inside.  My husband has made the bed about the same number of times he has ironed a shirt – less than 10.  But don’t ask me to change the furnace filter.

Marche recalls that steamy scene in Mad Men when Meghan and Don pull off to the side of the road to have sex after leaving a dinner party gone awry where Don stripped off his shirt to fix a leaky sink.

I am reminded of the time we visited friends at their rental cottage.  While toasting another picture-perfect summer evening and waiting for dinner to be served, it was discovered that there was no longer running water indoors.  A small group of us stood around puzzled, not sure how to solve this problem, but my husband disappeared only to return wearing his bathing suit and with some tools he’d rummaged up.  Within minutes he was submerged in the lake affixing some thing-a-ma-jiggy pipe to some sort of doohickey.

While there was no Meghan Draper moment on the way home, I admit to feeling turned on and not because it was all macho-like, “Me man.  Me fix water pipe.  You woman.  You do the dishes.”

It was more a feeling of gratitude, or phew! someone on my team can fix water pipes!

The same way that I hope he feels about being married to someone who gets her thrills from organizing the mudroom.

Housekeeping can be a metaphor for marriage.  It’s messy, hard work, and everyone has their own way of doing it.

I beg to differ with both Marche and Grose.  It’s not about doing less or doing more, it’s about not keeping score.

 

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You could WIN!

This week, 4Mothers will discuss gender and housework and how things look to us.  We love it when you join in, whether to offer your own perspective or to simply say that you enjoyed a read.  Don’t be shy; drop us a line.  Leave a comment on one or more posts this week and you could WIN a home detox kit from Seventh Generation valued at $50!  (Canadian residents only)

What’s In My Car? A Whole Lot.

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I drive a mini-van.  I love it!  For real.  Like an evangelical preacher, I praise the mini-van – I have got the converts to prove it!

For starters, it’s roomy.  My three boys can spread out and there is no touching.  None.  Secondly, I can make a Costco run or make out at IKEA like a bandit and never worry how I am going to get everything home.  Open the hatch and pile it in.  No finessing required. Thirdly, I never feel cramped when we are driving all together and I always feel cramped.  No one can touch me when they are belted into their seats.  No one can encroach on my space.

Unlike Nathalie, I spend a lot of timing driving the boys around to activities, school, their grandparents, the grocery store . . . pretty much everywhere.  I gave up feeling guilty about this in the throes of the polar vortex.

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Like Nathalie, we’re never far from sporting equipment.  Spring marked the transition from skis and toboggans to baseball gloves and balls.  My boys will toss the ball around any chance they get; when they are waiting for their brother to finish an activity, waiting for a school bell, waiting for me to finish yapping with my friends.

Before children we used to switch out the winter mats of our car.  After children, we NEVER switch out the winter mats of our van.  Why?  If you are asking, then you clearly don’t have children.

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I always have juice boxes.  You’d think my kids are in a constant state of dehydration based on how often they ask for something to drink.  Since we pepper our day with outdoor play at any opportunity, I usually have a sweaty crew of boys.  Juice boxes store nicely in the side compartment because the million cup holders that come with the van are always in use, holding anything and everything but cups. (See above picture)

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This CD saved my sanity more times than I care to admit.   Even though my boys have long outgrown listening to the story, I can’t bring myself to remove it from the van because for so many years I needed to have it at arm’s length.  There may or may not have been times when I drove around the city childless with this playing in the background.

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I will never be without the following essentials:

-       Ziploc baggies (the uses are too numerous to list, but barf bag tops the list)

-       Kleenex

-       Wet wipes (every parent knows why)

-       Umbrella

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Here is what I like to call The Abyss of Crap.  It’s a bit like Mary Poppins’ carpetbag: a complete mash-up of random things.  Math flashcards, sunscreen, CDs, hand sanitizer, earpieces, sunglasses, more Kleenex, crumbled crackers, stale Goldfish . . .