Thursday, July 31, 2014

Reclaiming the Village

"It takes a village to raise a child."

But what happens if there is no village?
Photographer - Amy Figley
In our car-dependent world, it can be much harder to know your neighbors than I'm sure it was back when walking to school, to the store and to work were the daily modes of transportation.  

Even in urban areas now, people walk by one another but they are tuned out.  Their ears are plugged up with IPods, their eyes are fixed on IPhones and their minds are occupied with IWants.  No longer are we focused on the common "we"... just a whole bunch of "I"s.

Then throw in a heavy dose of fear to keep children locked up inside houses playing video games instead of exploring and you have us all living together, in isolation.

When is the last time you were able to borrow eggs from your neighbor when you ran out?

Speaking of neighbors, do you know yours?  Do you know their names?  Their children?  Their lives?

Do they know you?

Photographer - Janie Mote
Are you alone in "the village"?  Most of us are.

I am not posting this to make any of us feel guilty.  And, I know I'm using a hard tone but I want your attention:

Times are different now, yes... but *not* because crime is higher or people work harder.  Times are different because we have allowed it to become that way.  There is nobody to blame for the fall and crumble of our villages but ourselves and I am here asking you to help rebuild them.

I'm not trying to pretend that we can create little utopias across the planet free of crime and filled with beautiful people holding hands and singing "Kumbaya".  I know, firsthand, the challenges of people living in inner-cities and other places that are far from the Sesame Street we grew up watching on TV.

However, I am trying to tell you that any attempt at joining forces to make your neighborhood a better place will do just that.... make it a better place.  I'm not saying it will fix it... or make it perfect... just better.  And we could all use a little better.  It's better than nothing.

I also know there will be neighbors who are not the types of individuals that you want to be neighborly with or want your families around.  Some may even be a true concern.  But, isn't this even MORE of a reason to create a network of other like-minded people who live in close proximity to you?  Isn't there safety in numbers?  Isolation does nothing to solve these issues.  Let's join forces to take back our streets.

I am asking you do to something for me.  But, first, I want you to imagine....

Imagine a place to live where you know everybody's name (sound like Cheers?  stick with me...).  Where your children are watched over not only by you but by others who care about them and know who they are.  What could that do to the choices some children make?  Could it create change?

Imagine a place where you and your family know you have plenty of people to call in case of an emergency; a place where you look out for one another and call upon each other, rather than a number in the yellow pages, when you need help.

Imagine sharing skills and friendship with others right outside your front door. Imagine a place where you know people's struggles and you help ease their burden.  Where you get the same in return.

Imagine a place filled with neighborhood friends of all ages on porches, back decks, apartment terraces and playgrounds.  Imagine your children cared for by others that you know and trust when you are not home.

Imagine not being alone anymore.

Imagine this place and then look outside your home.

It's there.  It only needs you to rebuild it.

I am asking for your support in helping me Reclaim, Rebuild and Renew our villages, one family at a time.

The first family is you.

This will require you to get out of your comfort zone, as all change begins with us first being uncomfortable but I promise you it will play a huge part in helping to change our world.

Here's how:

  • Get to know people on your road, in your apartment building or extended community.  Stop to say hello or ask a question. Be prepared at first for some people to think you are odd or annoying. Sadly, it is not commonplace to start small talk at the mailbox anymore. Do not be discouraged. Remember that is what we are trying to change. Keep on.
  • Create a neighborhood watch program. Gather a group of adults to walk the streets together, taking back what is rightfully yours and your children's. Coordinate keeping outdoor lights on at the same times each night to create a safer environment. Take turns keeping an eye on things in groups outside.
  • Build a community garden. It can be in your own yard... but ask neighborhood children and adults to help and take home vegetables. Leave a 'Free for Neighbors' box of veggies outside your home whenever you have extra.
  • Coordinate a parent group in your neighborhood and organize safe outings for children so they can get to know one another.
  • Organize a garbage clean up to make your area a cleaner place to live. 
  • Focus on the elderly in your community.  Visit them, bring them meals, mow their lawn, take them to appointments and learn from their experiences.  
Photographer - Sarah Teo
  • Barter. Tutor a child in return for landscaping help. Teach computer skills in return for car rides. What can you give?  What could you use in return? Money is not always necessary when people are willing to work together to lift each other up.  
  • Offer to teach a skill at your home or on your porch - knitting, cooking, language.
  • Start a book club with neighborhood people only.
  • If you live in an area where there is a large population that could benefit from English as a second language classes, offer them.  Create a group of people that can help one another learn to write, read and speak in a new language.  Then, in return, ask to learn their first language so you can expand your knowledge as well.
  • Schedule weekly nature walks around your home.  Invite neighbors to come along.  Get to know your outdoor landscape and space together.  Invite special visitors to speak or share insight.  
  • Start a walking club. 
  • Help new parents find relief.  Offer advice, supplies, breast feeding support and friendship.  Offer to sit in the living room and hold the baby when a new mom needs a nap.  
  • Host a small backyard music concert!  You can find others in your neighborhood who play instruments and invite them to perform or just play the radio together.
  • Think about the seasons and holidays.  Organize an Easter Egg Hunt, a Summer Party, a Bike Parade or a Trunk or Treat event in your driveways.  
  • Start a monthly mom and dads night out for neighborhood parents to get to know one another.  
  • Host movie nights indoors or on a screen outside.  
  • Consider opening up fences, creating paths to one another's homes and taking down some mental walls while still maintaining your privacy.  
  • Beautify your neighborhood together.  Plant flowers, clean up trash and debris and restore old spaces.
  • Make a neighborhood playground or take turns having children rotate backyards each day of the week after school where one parent supervises.  
  • Make a community newsletter.  Ask for contributors - writers, classifieds, events.  
  • If you own a pool, consider hosting swimming once in awhile to those who do not have the same. 
  • Put benches, picnic tables and chairs in your front yard and encourage others to do the same.  Talk to people when they walk by.  Say hello.  Move your fire pit to the front yard and invite anyone who walks by to join you! 
  • If you live in a more isolated environment, expand this community by doing the same with people from church, school or work.
  • Start an annual neighborhood block party. Take back your streets and play games, eat together and bond. 
  • Create emergency plans together.  Write it down.  Make sure everyone knows where they can go for help and who has what to offer.  Talk about fires, natural disasters and other occurrences that you can help each other with.  Consider a phone chain for emergencies.  Remember people who need extra assistance.  Be the ones they can count on.  
  • Post your neighbors phone numbers and emails on your wall and have them do the same.  When trust has been built, consider sharing house keys in case you are away or there is an emergency. 
  • Take care of your neighbors pets, plants and yard when they go away.  Be a presence in an otherwise empty home.
  • Have a community tag sale. 

I would love to add to this list and maybe eventually offer a Free EBook on this topic.  If you would like to submit an idea, please leave it in the comments section or email it to info (at)

Love breeds peace.  Create an amazing world right where you live.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Slow Summer Photo Contest Winners!

Slow down, grab a cool drink and be inspired by these beautiful WINNERS of our Little Acorn Learning *Slow Summer* Photo Contest!
ALL of the entries were absolutely breathtaking and we are filled with joy to see our community slowing down enough to breathe in every precious moment of summer with their families.

We hope you are inspired to do the same.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Show Me Your Slow...

Today is the last day to submit your photos in our Slow Summer Facebook Photo Contest!  Show us your slow, unhurried and carefree summer photos of you and your children enjoying childhood as it should be.  

Send no more than 3 photos to info (at) to enter to win a FREE ebook of your choice! Photos should show us what a "slow summer" means to you and your family! Hashtag the photos you post on Instagram and Facebook with #slowsummerseries to inspire others to slow down and do the same.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Free Range Summer : Slow Summer Series

As I sit here to write this, I have just returned from a fun evening on our boat with the girls.  This year we bought a tube for them to enjoy.  The tube is fun.  I enjoy it myself.  But, it can go fast.  I can’t deny that each time one of my daughters gets on that tube, my insides curl up just a tiny bit, especially when it is my youngest daughter’s turn.

And, of course, as soon as they sit inside of it they already start sending my husband the “thumbs up” to go faster and faster and faster.  All the while, I’m telling him to go slower and slower and slower *OR* biting my lip in order to let them enjoy a little “Free Range” excitement. 
I don’t claim to be an expert on the things that I write about.  If I am very honest, I struggle with most of these things just as much as I am sure you do….

But, somewhere inside of me, I know that in order to grow at all as a human being we have to allow ourselves to be a little bit uncomfortable.

I also truly believe we need to learn to trust our instincts more as parents so this can get complicated and it becomes a VERY careful balancing act. 

It takes bravery to be a parent and let go enough to allow your children to have a childhood full of fun, risks, experiences, challenges and accomplishments.  It takes guts to bite your lip a little while your insides curl up and figure out when to say “enough” and when to let the uncomfortableness set in enough to let go just a little bit more. 

And we are all different. 
Truth be told, I was not a Free Range Kid like many of my peers and I’m sure, many of you were.  My family was VERY cautious of my whereabouts when I was young and living in New York, near the Bronx, there were plenty of real things to worry about to try to protect me from.  All concerns about my safety were filled with pure love.

Yet, I can’t help but feel I did miss out.   

I remember friends near my apartment being allowed to ride their bikes down to the local park.  It was within a mile or two and they went in groups.  One day, I was asked to go for the first time.  I was SO excited. 

Calling up to my apartment window, my friend asked me if I could ride down, play a game on the field and get an ice cream from the ice cream truck before coming back home. 

This was a regular summer day for him.  But for me, this proposal seemed like the most wonderful opportunity of my lifetime!  I begged and pleaded with my mother but it was NOT going to happen.  I remember being so upset that I secretly broke my piggy bank into pieces and gave my friend the money to get me an ice cream to bring back anyway. 

Somehow he did manage to make it back alive with my melted ice cream in hand.  The ice cream was good but the ride to the park seemed, in my eyes, to be much sweeter… and I would have traded them in a blink.

As a matter of fact, Tony made it back alive at least 20 times that summer and each and every summer after that. 

Could he have gotten abducted, hit by a car or injured?  Yes of course.

But, the truth is, that there was MORE of a chance that I’d get into a car accident with my family on a “safe” ride to my grandmother’s house the next morning or any of the workday mornings that year or years after.

But I didn’t. 

Some may argue that “times have changed”.  That somehow, back then, streets were safer – crime was lower and bad things didn’t happen as much as they do now. 

But the research and facts tell us otherwise.

Why, then, are we so afraid? 

I’m not sure. 

I assume it must have something to do with our access to news, social media and crime stories.  What would happen if the news was 75% positive?  Would our perception change? 

I think it would.

What I am trying to say is that it is not easy to be a Free Range Parent - not now and probably not back then either.

It takes courage.  Things can happen… things will happen:  scraped knees, broken bones and neighborhood drama. 

But, other things can happen too: tree climbing, neighborhood games, confidence building, learning one’s own boundaries, practicing balance, learning from mistakes, fresh air, sunshine, building forts, navigating disagreements and so much more.

My middle school daughter opened my eyes, once again, to this very concept.  She said “Mom, I know you love us but you should try not to always ask for the best teachers for us each year.” 

I knew where she was going with this… and, often, I do write a letter or meet with the Principal to ask for a “good fit” for my children with regard to placement.  I feel it will help their educational experience if they are in an environment that nourishes who they are.  And, it will…

But maybe… maybe there needs to be more balance and “letting go” on my end too.

She continues, “I know having one of my hardest teachers, Mr. X, really made that class difficult for me last year… but because of that, I learned how to deal with people who are not always easy.  And I got through it and did well.”

She did more than well.  She did excellent.  And the world is filled with people who are not always easy.

We absolutely need to be our children’s advocates…. But we do not need to create a perfect and safe childhood for them covered in helmets, bumper pads, plastic wrap and rainbows.  We need to find a way to let them learn the hard lessons in life yet lead them the right way when they may be going astray.  We need to know when certain things are age appropriate for them to try and when we should protect a bit more. 

We need balance. 

If we make life so easy for them that they do not struggle, they will not be able to cope as adults. 

A few winters ago, one of my best friends and I decided to give our children the gift of more freedom.  She lives under a mile away… well maybe it is a bit more than a mile, but it’s in walking distance from our home. 

While I am often very annoyed by how fast people drive in my neighborhood, the truth is that we live on pretty safe residential roads.  There really is no reason that, in a group, our children should not be ok walking to one another’s homes.   

But our streets are not filled with children at all.

So, once a week or so we took turns sending our children, with sleds in hand (and I will admit, a cell phone “just in case”), to each other’s homes to sleigh ride. 

This seems like such a simple thing that so many adults now did daily in their youth… but living in this day and age we felt like REBELS.  Not many of our friends would have allowed the same.  Even living in suburban CT, most moms we know would worry too much to let their children walk that far and be out of sight for half the day in the freezing cold. 

Guess what?  Each and every time they came back ok.  More than OK.  They came back filled with stories and cold fingers, asking for hot cocoa by the fire as they relived the exciting moments they spent discovering and flying down hills on their sleds together.  They talked about ways that they helped and protected one another down the “steep slopes” and how they looked out for their little sisters and brothers. 

They came back with memories and they came back with the confidence knowing that they are more than capable of being safe and responsible and trusted. 

And they came back. 

Each time.

This led to Free Range Bike Riding in the spring and summer.  Our children now enjoy meeting one another midway between our homes for a few hours of riding around the neighborhood unsupervised. 

Here are some Free Range things we have done THIS summer:

Walking barefoot through a rocky creek without watershoes or hand holding.

Riding bikes to the beach without me (I admit, this was out of my comfort zone as this is our first summer at the shore house but I did it)

Using a sharp knife to cut veggies while helping me cook.

Watching (while biting my lip) as my monkey child explored vines and trees to hang on at a local state park.

Swimming (where we really weren’t supposed to) in the waterfall among sharp rocks and edges. 

Sending my second oldest into the grocery store, without me, to get a few items while I wait in the car.  Be careful with this.  She’s 13.  Nowadays parents can get arrested if children under 12 are out and about!!!!

Letting the girls hike through the woods in our backyard without screaming “watch out for ticks – don’t walk in the tall grass” like I usually do every five minutes (we do check our bodies pretty thoroughly after though – we live in tickville!)

Saying YES when my little one wants to try swimming to the dock with her sisters for the first time at the beach. 

Were these hard for me?  Yes… many times they were.  Letting go is always hard and does not come without risk.  But, I would like to argue that it comes with more benefits than risk.  I would like to hope that my letting go will give my children the tools they need to be independent and confident adults one day who can cook a meal, drive a car, swim a few laps and explore their world without me. 

Here’s a thought:

What if we took back our streets, our playgrounds, our beaches, our parks, our schools and our world – what if we stomped out FEAR in masses, taking back our rights and our children’s rights to live in this world freely.  Imagine how safe we’d feel if there were 20 free range kids biking to the local store – not just two.  POWER IN NUMBERS BABY!

Some exceptions (or maybe the better word is confessions):

A good friend of ours sadly and tragically lost his child in an ATV accident very recently.  It was so heartbreaking and I was shattered walking out of that innocent child’s funeral.  We have ATV’s and if I am honest, they have always made me very nervous even though my husband is very safe and careful while the girls ride.

Since the funeral, I will not allow the ATV’s any more.  In my opinion, right now, the risk of injury to a young child on a motorized vehicle like that is more than I am willing to take in the name of Free Range.  Somehow letting my girls walk to the corner store seems much more reasonable.  Is my fear rational?  Maybe or maybe not.  It hit us personally and I think I’m not ready for this one yet – or maybe ever.  Although, Sandy Hook was near also and while it took everything within me, I sent my girls back to school.

After hearing about a dangerous person in your area such as a pedophile, irresponsible gun owner or drunk driver – be smart and teach your children the same.  There is no reason to be ignorant in support of giving our children a Free Range Childhood.  When we are presented with knowledge that is RATIONAL and real, we should of course be more careful.  The problem is that the news, media, Facebook, twitter and other tools we have in our life right now are making it feel to us that there is more bad than good in this world.  And I refuse to believe that.  As we know, the facts dispute that.

So, I ask you – what Free Range Summer activities have your children enjoyed?  

Please share with us here on the blog in comments or by Linking Up your blog post below.  Be sure to also use our hashtag #slowsummerseries to inspire others to slow down and give their children the gift of a slow and free summer this year.    

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Recreating the Family Unit : Slow Summer Series

There was a time (so I hear), in our society, when families would live together in closer proximity or in the same dwelling: grandparents, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, children, siblings - even great-grandparents and other extended family members.

The childcare, homemaking and care of the land would not be just one or two caregiver’s responsibilities; The work was shared by all. Some family members would focus more on manual outdoor tasks while others may take turns caring for the home, sewing, cooking and caring for the children.

There was always someone to share the load with.  It was not one man's responsibility to handle everything while also being away from the home 8 hours per day.

In our modern times, with most parents living away from family members and relatives, who often live many miles away, the advice of a gentle grandmother at a kitchen table has been replaced with weekly $150 therapy sessions.

A man to man talk in the backyard with a favorite uncle while stacking wood has been replaced with a bill to a landscaping company.

An older sibling's arms to pass the crying baby to or play a game with restless children has been replaced with Baby Einstein movies, IPads, Kindles and television.

We have isolated ourselves from others and removed ourselves from the family.  Yet, we expect so much more from ourselves.  We feel we are not doing a good enough job if we can't figure out our own problems, stack our own wood, or keep our kids busy.  We feel overwhelmed and guilty.  We feel tired and empty.

Not only does it take a village but it takes a family.  We have lost the family.  But I believe it is not too late to change things.

"Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world." Mother Theresa

This week at our family’s beach house, I experienced both ends of this issue.  In many ways, it is very difficult living side by side with others.  Sharing space, having different opinions and looking for quiet spaces can make it hard.  Yet, in other ways, it was very nice to have extra hands if one of my children were hungry while I was busy folding clothes; sharing outdoor and indoor chores with others rather than struggling to handle it alone lightened my load.

It started me wondering about ways that we, as caregivers and parents, can recreate the family unit we have lost without losing our self, our privacy and the independence that we (*I*) cherish.

Some ideas:

  • This "family" does not have to be blood relatives.  Find your tribe within your community and create a family unit with members of your church, your neighborhood or other parents in your area. Explain what you are trying to do. Get together on a regular basis, share meals together, share babysitting, cry on each other’s shoulders, ask for advice, help your neighbor in her garden, ask a handy grandfather to help you fix something at your home and remember to give back more than you receive.
  • Start a family tradition of having close relatives (or friends) over for dinner one or two nights per week. If you decide to do this on a weekend, start early and tell them to enjoy the day with you. Let them get to know your home and your children closely and be a part of their life experience.  ALLOW them to help you and offer the same in return.
  • Seek out elderly people or other people in your area who may be lonely and have something to add to you and your children's lives. An older gentleman could be a wonderful father figure for a child whose dad travels a lot. A lady down the road may be an excellent listener who can offer experience and advice over a cup of coffee.  Maybe you can share a meal with those who often eat alone. Building these bonds, especially in your own neighborhood will pay you back tenfold.
  • Block out time for no electronics. It is impossible to build true bonds and relationships if we are always hiding behind a screen. Put down the devices and talk. Reach out to your children, your spouse and your family and ask them what is going on in their life. Find out what they are struggling with and help ease the burden. Speak out loud about what you need help with and receive the help with open arms.
  • Barter.  Swap babysitting with another mom so you can go to an exercise class.  If you sew, offer to make something for a friend in return for fresh vegetables from her garden.  Think of creative ways to work together to enhance each other's lives.
  • Never feel bad for asking for help and never be afraid to receive it. We are expecting too much from ourselves. This is not just for the primary caregivers who are at home, I mean this for the parent who works outside of the home as well.  Working all day and then coming home to take care of everything else including finances, lawn care, shopping and parenting is A LOT to do.  We need to learn to share our load.  If you need a mother's helper, get one.  If you have to have your groceries delivered so the baby can nap, do it.  We are expecting ourselves to do the job of too many.  Be gentle with yourself.

I would love to hear any other ideas you have on how to slow down and recreate the family unit this summer.  After all, how can we slow down if we have so many things on our plate that MUST get done?

Please consider linking your own blog posts in this Slow Summer Series  below by clicking the Link Up button or tag your slow summer photos with #slowsummerseries


An InLinkz Link-up

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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Slow Summer Series

(handcrafted braids by girlfriends and wildflowers)

(a special moment sharing stories)

So in order to keep me focused on maintaining a slow summer for our family and just for the fun of it, I am going to challenge you all to join me in my #slowsummerseries.  Whenever you catch your family truly relishing the summer moments without rush, please join me by linking up your blog post or Flickr photos or use hashtag #slowsummerseries on Instagram or Facebook to inspire others to do the same.  I will post a new Slow Summer post each week for you to link up to and before the next week's post, I will choose a WINNER to receive a free e-book of their choice from Little Acorn Learning (there is a voting option through this link-up).  This will be our first post to link to.
(family made summer corn salad)

This delicious Roasted Corn, Bean and Mango salad kept my girls and I busy for a good part of the afternoon yesterday.  It was just at a time when they were feeling extremely bored and I was beginning to feel guilty for not taking them out of the house that day.  So, I had them help me cook and they had so much fun and ate every last bit I gave them.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Slow Summer

Summer is here and I've made a few adjustments.  Each summer, I tend to sign the girls up for various programs and activities and while it can be nice for them to have something to look forward to each day, the daily grind of getting up, packing lunches, driving back and forth, putting on sunscreen, packing a towel - you get the idea - does not exactly fall into the philosophy of "slow living".

This year I almost made the same mistake but at the very last minute I decided to cancel most of the summer programs I signed the girls up for.  I often talk in my writings about living a simple life but I don't always walk the walk.  Consider this my summer challenge.  

So instead of numerous playdates and camps, day trips and projects - I've been working hard to slow myself down enough to just allow my daughters to be.  What I have begun to realize is that their world is already so big in their eyes.  Their very own backyard can offer hours upon hours of discoveries for them.  Our garden, our bunnies..

The leaves and flowers on the trees and plants that surround our home... 

 An old box of vintage stamps and postcards I was given by my Nanny who passed away many years ago....

The beach at my mother-in-laws lake community...

Our boat...

Our family...

A favorite farm that we love to visit... 

Neighborhood friends ...

All of this is MORE than enough.  And I am going to work very hard to slow us down enough to enjoy it... but more importantly to be able to truly see it.  Our daily blessings and so much abundance in the very simple and slow.

Wishing you and your family a slow summer as well because all you really need, you already have.