#SparkleFriday, With the Kids at a Toy Store

Are you tired of the Black Friday hype? Have you sparkled lately?

I’m not sure about where you live, but here in upstate New York, the “Black Friday” push started over a week before Thanksgiving…way too early for us, even with a generous dose of snow to beautify Wednesday, and give a Christmasy feel to things. I’m not a fan of the rush to buy, buy, buy, and I tend to balk when marketers try to get me to do it on their schedule. Coercion isn’t big in my world…

But a few weeks ago, my friend August McLaughlin came up with a wonderful idea that sparked my holiday cheer – #SparkleFriday. What’s that, you say?

Glad you asked! It’s a simple idea, really. Here’s what August has to say about it:

Many of our friends and most of our relatives live thousands of miles away. *cue Beatles music* So in lieu of a conventional housewarming party, we’re asking our family and friends—including you!—to join us virtually in an act-of-kindness celebration. We’ve chosen Black Friday, a day on which it’s easy to get caught up in or disgruntled by commercialism, figuring we could all use some added cheer.

Here’s how you can participate:

Between now and 11/28, conduct an act of kindness.

On 11/28, share a description and/or a photo on Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter using the hashtag #SparkleFriday. (Writers, feel free to post yours on your blog!)

Check out others’ posts by searching for the hashtag on the 28th—sharing, liking/favoriting and commenting on your favorites.

Pop back to my blog the following week where I’ll share highlights and give away prizes for the most creative, impactful and entertaining acts!

See? Simple, sparkly, and powerful!

We decided to make an event of a donation to Toys for Tots, with Jeremiah and Annalise each choosing a nice gift that would add a little sparkle to another child’s Christmas of Hanukkah.

Below, in images and captions, is our happy foray into a seldom-explored realm for our family- a big toy store on Black Friday. I was not only thrilled to see the consideration the kids put into the gifts, but the happy way they interacted with others along the way. It’s also interesting to me to see the way their approach to toy stores has changed, since they were little…and that led to the realization that, in what might seem like the blink of an eye, to me, toy stores aren’t going to hold nearly the same allure for either of them.

But today, these growing-up kids gave me a #SparkleFriday, and now we all want to share it with you!

A bit of exploration and debate…


Jeremiah chooses a physics-oriented gift…


Annalise chooses some scary fashion!


Anonymous Donor?


#SparkleFriday is for sharing, and scaring!


A little #SparkleFriday in our cart….


A Helpful #SparkleFriday Spirit.


A double shot of generosity…


Giving with her whole self!


#SparkleFriday grin!

I hope you enjoyed watching this as much as we did living it!

If you missed #SparkleFriday, why not commit an act of kindness today, tomorrow- or anytime? You’ll add a little more of this to the world!

A JOYful August!

Coffee and Conversation: Jo’s Monday Walk to the NY State Museum!

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while! It’s time for Coffee and Conversation!

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..

Yes, I’m getting to this a little late in the day. It’s been a little odd today – normally, my Accomplice in Mischief, who is a chef, has Monday off.  But today he worked a local food festival, and, for the first time, our 13 year old son went as his assistant.  I’m also experiencing the distraction of having written over 10,000 words of my NaNoWriMo novel in a single day – a personal best for me!  

So, I’m a little out of sync…but I’m hear, making this post while watching Castle and contemplating the next scenes of my novel. But I am here, and I’m inviting you to come along with the children and I as we visit the New York State Museum, in Albany. Originally, I was going to share the entire visit – but, well, this is our favorite museum, and we make the most of every visit. Today, we’re just going to walk from the parking lot next door, around the corner, in the door, and as far as the rest rooms…I promise, future walks will carry us into the museum proper, to explore…as a matter of fact, I’ve got many photos, from many trips, so we can go back again, and again, and…

Oh, look.  There’s a parking space.  Let’s pull in here, gather up our stuff, and get ready to see how much fun we can have with two unschooling kids and their mom, just walking in to the museum…

It was a lovely October day, and a pleasant, familiar walk…



Sometimes, you’ve just got to cozy up with a shale wall….and give it a nice snuggly hug.



The thirteen year old in my life makes me work for photos…


Okay, we’ve seen some wall-hugging and camera-dodging, and now we’re ready to continue on, through the parking area and around the corner. While the kids lead the way, I’ll snap a few pictures of the trees, with the first hints of fall color touching their leaves, the museum against a gorgeous early fall sky, and the skyline beyond the Empire State Plaza.








And now we round the corner, and the museum is just ahead. But…



That’s apparently the perfect time to hug your brother – whether he especially wants you to, or not…




Of course, when your sister is your friend, you sometimes go along with these spontaneous public displays of affection.




And then, with walls and siblings and Mom (not pictured) feeling happily hugged, we arrive at the entrance – yup, a bona-fide revolving door which beckons us in…well, eventually. I mean, this IS a revolving door, and what would be the fun of not taking an extra spin or two….?




And now we’re inside, thinking about what to see first….take a look around the lobby, and feel free to offer your suggestions…we’ll be right back, after a quick visit to the rest room, which, after its recent remodeling, looks a little like a modern train car, to me…




So, a little birdie told me that that’s it for today….

But we’ve got a little bit of unfinished business, so let me refresh your beverage…


We’ve got a few choices for the next museum installment, and I’d love your opinion!

  1. Adirondack Wildlife
  2. Ancient Peoples
  3. Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries
  4. Epic Checkers
  5. Building Stuff
  6. Canned Food Scultpture
  7. Carousel
  8. Minerals and Gems
  9. Discovery Center  Just drop a number into that nifty little comment box down there!


How about you? Do you have a favorite museum or gallery? Want to chat about it? I’ll get another round; let’s talk! 












SoCS : Finding Sweetness

Get more SoCS here!

This post is part of Linda G.Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday meme.

The idea is simple – post an unedited stream of consciousness piece that ties into the weekly prompt – this week’s is to write a post with “find” in the text or as the theme.

I’m not going to say a lot to introduce this piece; it and the images do the job more than well enough.

It’s fall here in upstate New York, and the crispness of the air, the mown down cornfields, the smell of woodfires, occasionally gunshots from the hunters, the sudden whining insistence of chain saws, endless election ads – nearly all of them negative and leaning toward unpleasantness -, the carunking of the Canada geese as they fly by on their way south…all say winter is on its way.

Oh, and apples!

Yes, I said apples.

I know that Washington State is the place most people think about when they think about apples, but we here in New York have plenty of apples, and an abundance of orchards to choose from. When the kids were little, we went every year, but, as the kids got a little older, somehow, we stopped finding the time for this particular adventure.

But this year, it turned cool early, and the kids and I decided we’d go. On Thursday, I heard a weather report that said we’d get rain on Saturday, and it would be hard enough and windy enough to knock the leaves from the branches –

And we hadn’t gotten out to apple-pick yet, or taken any drives out to just peep at the leaves – now, I understand that if you’re from certain parts of the world, that might not make a lot of sense, but it’s a big enough thing here that Amtrak has added dome observation cars to its route into the Adirondacks, to facilitate people’s peeping experiences.

Saratoga Apples, Schuylerville, NY

So we decided that we’d go to an apple orchard on Friday, and enjoy the beautiful early fall weather, some exercise out in nature, and treasure-hunting to find the perfect treats – apples!

Annalise wasn’t sure she wanted to go – she’s like that, sometimes, with things she’s not used to. I told her she was free to stay home; she’s old enough now to stay home alone, if we’re not too far away. But she decided to come, and, after we’d looked around a bit in the farm stand, scoping out the veggies and fruits and apple cider donuts, we bounced out into the sunshine, beneath a still-pale half moon hanging low over us, adding a bit of magic. We ambled and walked through the rows, each with our own bag, in which to place our own treasures. We laughed and I took pictures, and we picked apples, wandering here and there through the rows of trees – each offering its own unique bounty.

There were maps available, but we didn’t take one. Instead, we just let inspiration and the prevailing opinion guide us, picked apples without knowing their names, and happily filled our bags with our found treasures before making our slow way back, burdened with our delicious loads, stopping to rest when we needed to, and for Annalise to climb a pile of woodchips with a built in valley, so that she could jump from side to side while I tried to capture the moment of flight.

We finished in the farm stand, where I treated myself to an African woven basket with handles- I’ve wanted one for a decade or more, and it was wonderful to find one I loved while I had money enough to pay for it. We bought donuts and cider, brussels sprouts on the stalk, carrots and a huge red pepper, plums and Concord grapes and blueberries and honey straws and dried cranberries and chips and a big chunk of dark Belgian chocolate…I took more pictures, and Annalise did, too…

And then we went home, along the country roads with their blaze of color in the fading sun and brightening moon, my basket and our bags, filled with our found treasures, riding with us in our Subaru wagon. I stopped down the road, at my parents’ home, so that the kids could bring them each a donut and an apple.

But those aren’t all we found on our short adventure. We found something far more precious, far more rare. Something that becomes a larger treasure as the days pass, as my children grow up.

We found time. Time to be with each other, to enjoy and laugh and chat and explore and celebrate.

The apples will be sweet – but the time is the truest delight of this beautiful autumn afternoon. It will glow within us while the rain comes down, and we’ll be snug within it.

What have you found lately? Was it tangible, like apples, or more like the laughter, the sunshine, the moments of just being that warm your soul?

Enjoy stream-of consciousness writing? Anyone can play, so long as they are willing to follow a few simple rules. See you next week, for another live-streaming look into the lovely chaos in my mind! =)

Join in or read more SoCS posts here!

Coffee and Conversation: Is Teenage Rebellion a Given?

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while. It’s time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own..

“All teenagers rebel, at least a little.” – This was written by a family member of mine, when my oldest child was eight years old, as though it was a fact everyone knew, to be accepted without question.

But is it a fact?

My oldest will be thirteen tomorrow. Is it a foregone conclusion that he’s going to rebel, now that his adolescence is at hand? Will he morph into someone with an entirely different personality than he’s had up till now?

I don’t think so. Why not? Well, let’s take a look at the word ‘rebellion’, as defined by Google.




  • an act of violent or open resistance to an established government or ruler.

“the authorities put down a rebellion by landless colonials”

synonyms: uprising, revolt, insurrection, mutiny, revolution, insurgence, insurgency; More

  • the action or process of resisting authority, control, or convention.

“an act of teenage rebellion”

synonyms: defiance, disobedience, rebelliousness, insubordination, subversion, subversiveness, resistance

“an act of rebellion”

Do you notice something, there?

In order for the action of rebellion to occur, there has to be an opposing force to act against. In this definition, ‘established government’, ‘ruler’, ‘authority’, ‘control’, or ‘convention’ are the opposing forces.

Eight year old future rebel?

Those things aren’t part of our family dynamic.

My Accomplice in Mischief and I aren’t fond of using our parental authority as a tool or a weapon – we reserve it to use when we truly need it, and, the rest of the time, we live in our home as four equals. When disagreements crop up, adult views don’t supersede younger ones. That’s our convention; and there’s nothing to rebel against in a convention that guarantees him equal footing and due consideration.

As he enters his teenage years, Jeremiah is in control of his own life. He knows that:

  • His parents are on his side, willing to do what we can to help him to fulfill his wishes and his purposes.
  • He can make mistakes without fear of being punished. As he’s growing up, the slings and arrows of life will inflict enough damage, without us adding to it.
  • He can talk with us, ask us questions, state his wishes, and have them respected. That’s why he doesn’t appear as often as his sister on this blog- he’s a more private individual, and part of respecting that is honoring his desire to keep most aspects of his life personal, rather than having me expose them to anyone who comes here to read.

  • When he wants new freedoms, he can ask us. His requests are considered, and usually granted, because he tends toward being very aware of his own limits, and seldom asks for freedoms he doesn’t feel ready for.
  • We don’t say no, without offering something he can hang onto or work toward. When we don’t allow something, which isn’t commonplace, we are prepared to explain why, discuss options, or what might need to change first.

With these as the conditions of his life, rebellion would be a waste of energy!

Planning a subversive campaign, or hanging with friends at the lake? You decide!

I think teenage rebellion is something of a boogeyman, and often has more to do with parental attitudes than with the behavior of adolescents biologically geared toward gaining independence and adult status. As in many other aspects of life, point-of-view and purpose can define an interaction. If life is black-and-white, with the demand of adherence to parental rule, any deviation from that is an uprising that must be suppressed (but is likely to surge up again, in some other conflict). Eventually, suppression will fail, because teenagers do become adults, beyond their parents’ ability to legally control.

Our purpose is different. We accept that our children will be adults, and we don’t think that rules and punishments are the most effective way to help them get to that point well-equipped to function in the adult world. We’d rather give them as high a degree of autonomy as possible, so that they can learn, piece by piece, choice by choice, interaction by interaction, how to manage the matter of living.

What some might term rebellion, because they are focused on controlling their older children, I see as an opportunity to help my kids build conflict resolution skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. Conflicts can be resolved without an escalation of tensions only so long as everyone involved is willing to listen to the others, and to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution. I can’t expect my children to develop that ability if I’m not practicing it myself; so it falls to me to be willing to hear my children’s perspectives and be open to them.

Deep thoughts of rebellion at the Albany Art Institute? Well, maybe not…

When life is engaging, and teens aren’t being forced to simply carry out parental choices with little regard for their own, there’s no need to rebel, and nothing to rebel against. There’s simply life – with all its successes and failures, contentions and resolutions, growth and learning, grace and missteps.

And isn’t that enough for anyone?

What do you think? Are teens fated to rebel, even in a family whose objective is to support them as they pursue their goals? Is my family headed for even more lovely chaos, or utter disaster? There’ll be birthday cake here, later, and a variety of beverages. Won’t you stop be and enliven the conversation?

On a final note, this post is Jeremiah-approved. =)

Twelfth birthday. Is this the face of potential teenage rebellion?

Coffee and Conversation: Projects, or People?

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday Tuesday again  (Okay, I’m a day late!)- time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own...

What happened when I stopped treating my children as projects to be completed, but instead as whole people, already?

Too often, in modern American culture, children are seen as projects. Maybe it comes from an illusion, carried over from times past, that babies are blank slates, empty vessels waiting to be filled with what their parents and their society deem important. It’s true that babies aren’t able to do many things – but they aren’t empty. If I look at my children today, at nearly 10 and approaching 13, I can see in them the seeds of who they were as babies.

Jeremiah on his twelfth birthday. We were on our way to lunch.

Maybe it’s because very small children need a lot of care. They need to be changed, fed, carried, cuddled, comforted, helped to know what is safe and how the world works. There are many book, magazines, programs, classes, and products designed to meet these needs…and the insecurities and fears of new parents, maybe far from their own families. Much money is made by preying on parents’ desires to not only do well by their kids, but to give them the advantages that will lead to a “successful life”.

I used to indulge in more of these than I’m comfortable admitting. I bought into the idea that I “owed” my kids all I could afford, and then some.

But over time, I started to notice something. So much of the literature and programming was designed less to help children, and more as a means of manipulating them, steering and pruning them, making them more convenient to live with, and steering them in the directions we want them to go…often, directions that will give their parents something to brag about.

At Lake George, NY, being Just US. Three people. Photo by Jim Burton.

When my children were 7 and 4, my growing unease with this led our family to make a huge shift. We were already homeschooling our oldest, and the lessons I was conducting at the kitchen table were not going as well as I wanted. My son’s spark of curiosity was fading, and household battles were far more common than I wanted.

My kids were my projects, and I was screwing them up.

And so, we stopped.

I gave up the idea that they were projects, and began to learn to see them as….well, as people. Just that. Small, new people with lots to learn – but with the skills and desire to learn it.

It’s been remarkable.

Every day, one or both of my children will do something unexpected, or learn something I never would have thought to teach them. Every day, they become more who they are. And, because my role is as facilitator rather than project manager, I get to see something I might not have, if I were still managing them as projects.

I get to see that they know how to learn, that they’re hard-wired for it. They’re naturals at growing up – they just need support along the way. All that effort and angst and never knowing if I was getting it right, when they were little, was time and energy I could have spent on simply loving and supporting and enjoying them…

Because they are remarkable people. They always have been. There’s no one just like either of them. Each of them is unique, individual. Each of them is learning to become an adult – one moment, one breath, one action at a time.

And, now that I’ve let go of the idea that I need to direct this, I get to do something I like a lot better. I get to just be myself, and enjoy. =)

Girls Night Out, to see Phantom of the Opera with a sweetly silly person.

Have you noticed the “projectifying” of children? Have you seen the people within? Pull up a chair, enjoy your cuppa, and let’s converse!

Stream of Consciousness Saturday: “With/Without Kids”

When they’re here….they’re HERE! =D


This post is a part of Linda G. Hill’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday meme.  Click the title  for the rules, and to read other posts! =)

The point is as simple as it sounds. Using the weekly prompt, I write a stream of consciousness piece, correcting typos but not otherwise editing.

So, raw and immediate, here is my post!

Today’s prompt is With/Without.

I’m sitting in my study, in a house without children. That’s not a common state, for me – partly because my kids have lived their lives without school, and with me.

We orbit one another, much of the time, intersecting, then moving away into our own lives again…it’s very different from the life I lived, growing up, and yet, in other ways, not.

They do not live with parental abuses, shaming, punishing, arbitrary rules arranged to make their parents’ lives more convenient.

They live without chores, homework, fierce competition for their parents’ love.

They live without a brother who died while one was a toddler, and before the other was born…

And they live with each other, and with us, their parents.

I am their mom.

I am also their friend.

So often, in parenting circles, this is set up with a false dichotomy….you can be your child’s parent, or their friend, but not both….

But I can’t be one without being the other.

I am their mother- by biology, by law, by choice. That title comes with responsibilities, and authority. At almost 10 and 13, they aren’t little kids anymore; there’s no need for me to be forever perched or hovering over their shoulders. That would only get in their way – and, if I’ve been a good friend to them, they won’t need me to.


Because good friends look out for you. They don’t let you get yourself into trouble without trying to keep you out of it. They forgive you when you make mistake, and offer you support when you need it. They don’t act superior, or lord the fact that they sometimes have greater skill and experience.

That’s the kind of mom-friend I strive to be.

The kids are home, now, and the flavor of life is different, now that they’re home. Time to go enjoy that – they aren’t going to be these ages, forever!

Coffee and Conversation: Who Mowed the Lawn, and Why?

Grab a cuppa and a comfy seat, and let’s chat a while.

It’s Monday again - time for Coffee and Conversation.

When I was six, my family was driving on a highway late at night. Streaks of headlights and taillights painted the dark. For the first time, I realized that each car held people living lives as important to them as mine was to me.

I wanted to know what those lives were, and to share my own…

I know, it’s a day late for a Coffee and Conversation post. I’ve been rather lost in my Story A Day May Challenge, and I just didn’t get to this yesterday. So here it is, belated, but heartfelt…

On Sunday, my 12 year old son mowed the yard.

My guess is that he was far from the only boy in America that could be said of, on any given spring weekend when the weather is cooperative. It seems to be a traditional chore given to boys large enough to handle some adult jobs, but who haven’t yet reached their full strength, growth, or perhaps ability to resist…

Because, on a fine spring weekend at the end of a long winter, and approaching the end of a long school year, it’s conceivable that a boy might begrudge that time spent on lawn work; that he might have some other idea of how to spend those few precious hours of freedom…

But, because kids must learn responsibility, and chores are a means to that end that also shifts some of the burden of yard maintenance from adult shoulders, the boys (and, I imagine, in our current climate, some girls as well) are sent out to mow.

But that’s not how things are, at our house, and not at all why Jeremiah was mowing the yard this weekend.

As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t assign chores in our home. Both my husband and I grew up with gender-specific chores, and neither of us felt that these helped us to learn responsibility as much as they built resentments at the unwanted workload, the time away from the things that fired our passions and spoke deeply to us…

Chores stole from my life, far more than they added to it. That isn’t to say that I begrudged my family my help – only to say what I suspect is true of most people, whether children or adults.

I wanted to choose the ways in which I helped, to give my help freely, and to have it appreciated without being judged.

There were things I did happily, without being asked. Yard work was one. None of my three siblings seemed to enjoy it as I did, and so, more often than not, I would do it alone. In the house I grew up in, alone was a rare and treasured state. Alone meant that the stories playing out in my head, the deep thoughts waiting to be explored, at last had a little space, a time to unfurl without interruption. The repetitive motions of raking or weeding provided a rhythm, and there was pleasure in both the physical exertion and the creative introspection.

Chores, though, were assigned labor. In our family, there was no thought given to whether the chore suited my nature and talents; I was expected to do as I was told. And, to me, that seems unfair to a child. Children are already smaller, more dependent, less powerful, and too often disenfranchised.

And so our children help when and as they choose.

And, on Sunday, after both my husband and I had mowed portions of our steeply sloping yard, and after hinting a time or two that he might, Jeremiah asked if I minded if he did some mowing.

He mowed for hours. When the mower clogged, he turned it off and cleared the blockage – safely. When he ran out of gas, he told me, and I showed him how to refill it. When he got tired, he took a break.

After, as I looked out upon a sweeping expanse of freshly mowed and fragrant grass, I asked him what he’d been thinking while he mowed. He said he’d been thinking of stories he’s read, and ones he’s been attempting to write for the last few months.

He enjoyed the mowing so much, he said he needed to find a way to pay people to let him mow their yards. When I told him people might willingly pay him to mow for them, his grin took over his face (he likes earning money!).

Today, he went to work at his grandparents’ house, and learned how to drive a lawn tractor.

Will he mow again, with the same enthusiasm? Maybe – or maybe not.

But I’m pretty sure that he wouldn’t have quite the same joy in it, if we assigned it as his chore.

I like it this way. The lawn looks lovely, and, rather than a grumbling child who feels his life is being measured out for him, there’s a boy here who’s gained some confidence in his own strength and abilities, and had all the time he wanted to think big thoughts while the rest of the world was shut out by the sound of the motor. He’s accomplished something useful and easily quantified, and fulfilled deeply personal creative impulses. He’s helped his family, and himself, just because he wanted to.

And I’m not the only one smiling about that!

How about you? Did you have chores? Assign them? What did you love, or hate, to do as a child? Is there some “chore” you still love today? Have a cuppa, and tell me all about it!

Last year’s lawn…shadow-dappled, A perfect canvas for dreaming.