Contributor Archive

Flying 101: Giving Them Wings

Friday, May 6th, 2011

To say that I’m having a hard time letting my kids go is probably the understatement of the year. At 13 and 16, they both tower over me, and you’d think now that we are knee deep in ‘The Teenage Years’ I’d be getting better at this, but I’m not. The first time I realized I should loosen my near death grip on my growing young boys-to-men was when my 13-year-old’s voice coach asked, oh so gently, if I would consider letting Ben walk to her door by himself. Apparently other kids are dropped off at the curb and walk into her house on their own. Well, to say this was a huge eye-opener is no exaggeration. To my credit, I didn’t even realize I was being perhaps a teeny weeny bit overprotective! Now that I think about it, it is both hilarious and absolutely mortifying to me that I accompanied my son to her door, week after week, waving at her each time. It brings back memories of walking him to his classroom in kindergarten.

The second incident, and the one that really got my attention, happened at a soccer game. While I’ve seen my share of jaw-dropping, heart-lurching injuries, amazingly my boys have remained fairly injury-free. So when my 16-year-old motioned to his coach that he needed out of the game, I sat up and paid attention. As I watched Daniel slightly limp off the field, it was as if he were transformed into a little boy all over again. Almost without realizing it, I found myself getting up and walking over to the bench to check on him. His kind coach caught my eye, probably wondering what the heck I was doing! That was enough to stop me in my tracks, literally. I blinked and in that moment I saw that my son was not 6 years old anymore! If I walked over to see how he was, he would never live it down! Yes, I have a loooong way to go!

We all have times in our kids’ lives when we struggle to accept that they’re older and ready for more responsibility. I’ve had the good fortune to be around kind souls who took a chance and either with their words or a simple glance helped me acknowledge these young men as the mature guys they really are. If you find yourself in a similar situation — one that could potentially blow up in your face and humiliate both you and your child — take a moment to make sure you aren’t holding your children back by trying to protect them too much. To all the like-minded mothers who may need a course in Flying 101, know that you are not alone and there are other mothers (and fathers, I’m sure!) who are standing on the precipice themselves, slowing peeling back one finger at a time to let our dear children go.

In the Blink of an Eye

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

It happens to the best of us. While we’re busy living, life just about passes us by. Never is this more apparent than with our children. We have our babies, and then in that veritable blink of an eye, they’re crawling, walking, and talking. Our little ones amaze us with each new milestone that seemed impossible just a month ago. Before we know it, they’re in kindergarten, with circle time, ABCs, and even reading. Another blink of an eye, and they’ve finished elementary school and are well into middle school, learning more facts, making new friends, playing sports, having fun. In short, living their lives.

I bring this up because the latest hurdle we’re facing is high school. My voice still quavers a bit when I tell people my oldest son is now in high school. Gone are the days when I could sit in the back of the classroom and help staple some construction paper together, read with a group of kids, or help others with their multiplication tables, while keeping half an eye on my son. Sure, if there’s a clean-up day or a call for some kind of assistance at the high school, I help when I can. But those days of hanging out in the classroom are gone.

While a part of me grieves this loss, another part is starting to accept the inevitable change. Not too long ago, I was reminded of our true role as parents by some gentle neighbors whose kids are now adults. John said it so eloquently and it rings true for me during these days that seem to be just flying by: Our job is to set our kids free, like a mother bird nudges her young from the nest, ready to fly. Whether we are ready for it or not, they are ready.

So these days, when I’m thinking about which college might be the best fit rather than which art project students could make for a teacher present, I remember these wise words. Hugging my now-towering sons and saying ‘I love you’ more often also seems to help me appreciate the time we have. Like it or not, they will be on their way sooner than I may want, but for now I will try to savor each day we have together. As summer unfolds, I hope you enjoy some special times with your children, knowing that soon enough they will be on their way.

Where Will Armchair Travels Take You?

Friday, September 18th, 2009

For a recent birthday, my boys gave me a great book about entertaining. Beautiful pictures with ornate silver, hors d’oeuvres, garden parties — you know, just what I do every weekend in my spare time! And yet, I just love to read through these books —  and cookbooks too, even though I’m not much of a cook. In fact, for years, I’d go to bed with a cookbook and absolutely devour them. Even though I don’t entertain too often, I absolutely love to read books about fabulous meals set with gorgeous dishes and freshly ironed tablecloths and just drink in the luscious photographs.

Am I dreaming? Perhaps, but I think that’s what these stunning books do – they transport us to the south of France, or a beautifully set table, or an extraordinary garden. Although my travels have not taken me too far from home, I’ve always counted on my books to take me places in my mind. And perhaps when I step outside on my deck, or pull another weed (or twenty!), I’ll take some bit of inspiration from these books.

As the summer comes to an end, consider doing some armchair traveling of your own with a book filled with stunning photos that inspire you. Cuddle up with your children and turn the pages – you may be surprised to find they are ooing and aahing right along with you!

Incredible Earth, Eye-Opening Photos of Our Powerful Planet (pictured above), can be found here:
http://www.chinaberry.com/prod.cfm/pgc/11200/sbc/11202/inv/15369

Cherishing Our Kids’ Faithful Companions

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Last week, my husband and I were clearing out Ben’s room to get ready to put in a new floor. Out came clothes, toys, games, furniture, and lots of other stuff. This all got piled into our room, and we wondered how in the world all this stuff ever fit into his room in the first place! The old, icky carpet and pad came out practically in a jiffy, really, compared to how long it took to take everything else out!

One of the things we dragged out while muttering under our breath was a black chest that had been in Ben’s room for ages without being opened. The reason we hadn’t opened it for so long was because of the pretty intricate Lego creations sitting on top of it. Once we carefully moved these, we were ready to open it.

And voila, inside were many of the stuffed animals from years past! Coco, Freddy, Bubbles, loads of Beanie Babies, as well as many more friends I did not recognize. The ones I did remember were faithful companions, loved for ages, squeezed at night, cuddled whenever necessary,  and who even accompanied us on our travels.

This picture, from about 5 years ago, shows two of these faithful companions on a trip back East. The black Lab in Daniel’s arms is a smaller replica of our own black Lab. The stuffed version was chosen not long after we adopted Buca, and now resides safely in Daniel’s room. Ben’s koala friend was made at one of those build-your-own-stuffed-animal parties and became his dear friend for quite a while. Although it’s hard to tell, this marsupial companion is dressed in a soccer outfit that coincides with the beginning of Ben’s fervent interest in the sport, bringing back those memories and making finding it all the more special.

While my memory-loving heart melted at seeing these stuffed animals, the more practical side of me was so glad to have photographic proof of how near and dear these companions were to my sons, especially since my guys are  growing up too quickly, in my mind anyway, and toward things other than stuffed animals. And although these stuffed animals made the cut of what to return to the less cluttered room, who knows where they will be in a few years?

If you can think of it, next time your little one clutches a faithful companion to his or her heart, grab your camera and record this moment of sweetness for posterity. While the stuffed animals may not be found in a big cleaning years later, the photo can last much longer.

Connecting with Each Other

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Our family had the most wonderful Sunday afternoon together recently. We headed out in the late afternoon and brought some dinner to one of our favorite parks. We spread out a blanket and some chairs and feasted on some great food. Afterward, we continued one of my favorite family traditions: playing croquet. We started this years ago when the kids were younger, and often we set aside time on a special day  to go to the park and play croquet together.

Instead of worrying about catching the latest show on TV, we focused on each other and, of course, trying to hit a little ball through wire arches, which often results in a lot of laughter. This confirms one of my suspicions: Getting out of the house is one of the best ways to connect with my kids. Gone are the distractions of phones, TV, and computer, enticing us to while away too much time. Instead, we can focus on each other. Being somewhere else just seems to free us up to connect with each other better.

One family we know takes their kids to the beach in the late afternoon every Tuesday night during the summer. They do this without fail, walking on the beach, eating a relaxed meal, jumping in the water, connecting with each other. My friend says that this is her favorite activity, because it is low-key, relaxed, and something they can all do together.

Now if going to the beach or the park won’t work for you because of either time or distance, maybe a walk around the neighborhood would be a better fit for your family. The other night we went for a walk after dinner and ended up finding a wonderful area with lots of purple flowers blooming right under our noses. Had we not ventured down this particular street, we would have missed the beautiful colors and, most importantly, the beauty of our conversations. And what were we missing at home? Absolutely nothing.

Today’s children are losing touch with the natural world. Rarely do they feel free to wander in woods, climb trees, or build forts and tree houses anymore. There are too many safety issues, rules and regulations, and the urban destruction of green and growing places. Children are meeting nature ”virtually” on the Internet and television instead of running outside and encountering the world sensually for themselves. One fourth-grader told the author, ”I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

When children (and adults) are separated from nature, their health and well-being suffer. So do their souls. Louv offers studies that reveal how much playing in nature can stimulate creativity, imagination, vitality, and joy in our children. Schools that allow outdoor play in natural places find increased learning skills and greater concentration in their students. Parents of attention-deficit children often find time in nature to be as healing and as helpful as any drug. And yet our children are spending most of their time indoors, and when they do venture outside, it is only in controlled settings like team sports — not the same as letting children explore and experience nature for themselves. Louv has written a book that is both a blessing and a challenge. Please, please, read this book, and give it to every parent and teacher you know. It feels profoundly important — essential — for the health and well-being of our children and for the survival of the planet we call home.

Review by Lucinda Herring

Frugal Gardening

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

In past years, many spring weekends would find me at a local nursery, loading up on plants, eager to bring home the latest and greatest. More often than not, what I chose did not flourish in my mostly shady but dry garden. Finding plants that thrive in shade with little water has been quite the undertaking since most shade-loving plants simply drink up every drop of water you offer them. As I’ve become more and more aware  of this precious resource – not to mention my pocketbook – I’ve searched out drought-tolerant plants that do well in sun but can also prosper in a bit of shade.

My biggest success has come with a striking plant called Calandrinia grandiflora, a gift from a like-minded frugal-watering friend. When I saw these plants for sale at our local water conservation garden, I figured Calandrinia would fit right in with my limited watering scheme. And boy was I right!

The first year I planted it, I was rewarded with nodding stems of hot pink flowers emerging from beautiful grey green foliage shaped like flowers. I fell so in love with this plant that I wanted to have it in other areas too.

By using another economical gardening tip, I filled one hillside with my new favorite plant. Since I’d had success growing more succulents by putting broken-off tips into dirt, I thought I’d try this method on these plants too. One day, I broke off pieces of the mother plant and poked holes in the moist soil (kids love to help with this!). I watered the hillside sparingly, and while I lost some of the plants in my first season last year, most of them grew and even flowered.

This spring, I was rewarded with almost the entire hillside covered in spiky grey green shoots, covering so much of what had been bare soil (most of the ivy trailing down this hill had withered with my less-is-more watering plan). I’ve already planted Calandrinia in another area this spring, in hopes I’ll have even more flowers next year.

Anyone else have water-saving gardening tips? No doubt you’ll be helping other gardeners who want to conserve water but still enjoy a lush landscape.

For gardening with children, we recommend A Child’s Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier. This book will inspire you to give your children the gift of growing up in direct contact with the natural world.

The Magic of Good Soil

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Years ago when I was new to gardening, I would read books about amending the soil and be absolutely mystified about this. What was organic matter and where do you get it? Since I wanted flowers, I went ahead and dug a hole and plopped my rose bushes into the ground. When they barely bloomed, I wondered what I was doing wrong.

A few years later, we were in the process of buying a house with a much larger garden and discovered that the owners were meticulous gardeners, with plans and drawings of their garden from bare dirt and stories about what worked and what didn’t. When I marveled at the huge trees, they mentioned the trees were planted from one-gallon pots, lovingly watered and regularly weeded.

One day while we were visiting (these generous souls had us over practically every weekend, while our house was still their house,  to share stories, show us their manuals for practically everything, and — now that I look back on it — gently ease their way out of their home of 38 years), I noticed a huge mound of leaves at the end of the driveway. Doris and Glenn proudly showed me their compost heap. They added leaves, water, and this and that and ended up with this marvelous dark rich soil – black gold, they called it – that they added to their soil. Even though they lived in an area known for loose-draining soil, theirs was rich and held water well. This was their secret to the majestic beauties that made this yard more of a park.

Just like in cartoons, a light bulb went off above my head and I “got” what amending the soil was all about. Compared to what I read in books, this made a lot more sense. And perhaps, even more importantly, I now understood the benefits, since the evidence was right in front of me.

We’ve now been in this house and garden more than 20 years, but I fondly remember the story of how those trees grew from something so small into something truly majestic. Now that I know the secret, I have a lot more garden successes, with my trusty compost heap to help me along the way!

The Joy of Plants

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

I looked up at my calendar yesterday to discover that it’s Plant a Flower Day on March 12. What a great idea to have a day devoted to plants! Just think of all the joy plants bring us, and they sure make our yards, decks, patios and offices look beautiful. Not to mention the benefits of having plants indoors to freshen up our air, literally.

If you want to encourage your kids’ interest in plants, try something easy like succulents. These plants thrive with little water, come in a myriad of colors and styles, and are extremely forgiving with little hands. In fact, if an eager tug results in a broken piece, just put that piece in the dirt and more times than not, it will thrive.

In fact, one of my fondest gardening memories with my boys was when they had a friend over and they all “decorated” a mound of dirt in a rusty old wheelbarrow with broken-off pieces of these wondrous plants. I was not sure how long their creation would last, especially since I was quite a newbie gardener back then. Years later, that wheelbarrow is spilling over with a beautiful assortment of succulents that at times is almost breathtaking. Just looking at that wheelbarrow brings back the excitement of that afternoon.

So enjoy some of nature’s finest plants with your kids now and you’ll be making some beautiful memories — as well as some pretty cool plants!

Featured Chinaberry Employee - Kevin Dillon

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Witty and fun, Kevin Dillon has been a Chinaberry fixture for 8 years now. Company meetings are never dull with his quirky sense of humor! Although he’s our Web Marketing Coordinator now, Kevin was a preschool teacher for many years and has lots of funny anecdotes about the kids. Kevin is married to Jenn who is a preschool teacher. Known to many as the “Movie King,” as he has more than 500 titles in his library, his recall for movie trivia is legendary, as is his love of Mystery Science Theater. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys camping in the great outdoors.

Building Character While Playing Characters

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

My 11-year-old son was in a play last week. For years, friends had been telling me what a great experience this theater program was and how much their kids enjoyed participating in it. I’m not sure why, but in my mind I pictured spoiled child stars, overly-doting parents, and cramming rehearsals into an already packed schedule. In short, I could not see much positive coming from the whole experience.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself talking with the program’s director at a neighborhood park one day. He explained that the emphasis in the productions was not on the singing and dancing or who was the star of the show, but on responsibility, character, and leadership. Now I started getting interested! Not that I don’t value singing and dancing, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s the real life lessons that I value most.

So Ben auditioned for the play and made it. The weeks just flew by until it was time for the scheduled performances. The kids were busy, and the parents were even busier since it was an all-volunteer production. On the final night before the last performance, I found myself sitting in a room with all of the performers while the director gave them suggestions. After having seen the play from lots of different angles—as a parent, from backstage, from the audience —I expected to hear him tell them not to miss a certain cue, to sing out more during this scene, or something of this sort.

Instead, what he said has stayed with me a long time, and in fact, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. (more…)