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Jul. 25th, 2015


CBT: Working Toward Compliance

Before I go any further, I have to mention that I really don’t like the term “compliance.” I don’t like the idea of constantly telling my child what to do and having her feel like she simply has to obey. I know that’s some people’s preferred mode of parenting, but it’s not mine. The stuff that comes next required me to really think about what I wanted for my child. The bottom line for us has always been about helping them develop intrinsic motivation to make good choices in life. We don’t want them to say “no” to a friend offering them a beer at a party (when they’re older, of course) because “My dad would kill me,” rather, we want them to say “no” because they know they couldn’t drive home safely if they had a beer.

That means that the idea of “compliance” rubbed me the wrong way. I had to do some soul searching in order to determine how I really felt about it. Again, my thoughts returned to the fact that we had agreed to see the doctors at the Rothman Center as the experts who have helped hundreds of children dealing with the same difficulties as Dot. The approach we’d been using wasn’t helping her to lead a happier more peaceful life so far, and nothing being asked of us went against our morals. In fact, I realized that these things are all just tools to help her get to the point of being able to make good choices in order to experience what that feels like—and that’s how intrinsic motivation is developed, after all. I came to accept what we were doing from multiple viewpoints, but I appreciate that the doctors validated my concerns and gave me breathing room to make the decisions regarding what I felt was best for Dot.

Reinforcement and the Lack Thereof

Like pretty much every other modern parent, we’ve used timeout as a means to successfully extinguish undesirable behaviors in our children. HAHAHAHAhahaha! Just kidding. A more accurate description is probably that we have used timeout to get our kids away from us when we’re super mad because they’ve done something obnoxious. I can’t think of a single behavior that’s ever really stopped as a result of the kid getting a timeout.

With that history to draw from, I was pretty surprised when Dr. Rahman told me that timeout is actually THE most effective strategy for getting kids to stop unwanted behaviors. According to him, it works for 90% of children. I know my kids are special and all, but something that works for 90% of kids should probably work for them. So, why hadn’t we seen this miraculous transformation into sweet angel babies who never had a nasty word to say to one another? (I mean, besides living in reality?) It turns out, we were doing them wrong.

Remember, all the stuff we were learning was science-based. It’s all about the most basic levels of human behavior. There were plenty of times when Dr. Rahman and I would get sidetracked talking about Skinner Boxes, Pavlov’s Dog, or slot machines. The answer to almost every question regarding behavior is: reinforcement. Reinforcement is what keeps us engaging in a behavior. Remove the reinforcement, and most of the time, you can significantly decrease the behavior. That was the theory, anyway. I had yet to see if it was actually going to work for us.

The goal here was still to help Dot improve how she reacted to being given instructions. Rather than inattention or explosive anger, we simply wanted to get her to recognize for herself that following the instruction actually made her life better. Again, our intention was to improve compliance to help decrease anxiety responses when she eventually gets into situations that trigger both her desire to not do something and her anxiety about it. Separating from us to go to school, sleeping in bed by herself, and wearing socks with seams in them are all pretty common examples of things we will be tackling later. For now, though, it’s about things like putting toys away or flushing the toilet.

The process starts with us giving her an instruction. This is done like I already explained. First, we make sure we have her attention. This requires us to be in reasonable proximity to her. Shouting “make your bed” from the kitchen while cooking breakfast isn’t going to cut it. We need to make eye contact, and eliminate distractions if necessary, such as turning off the tv, having her put down her book, etc. Once these things have been accomplished, we actually give the instruction. It is short, clear, direct, and in the form of a to-do. If there is some unusual reason that the instruction needs an explanation, that should come BEFORE the actual request.

Once the instruction as been given, we stop talking and give her ten seconds to process the information, go through whatever emotions she needs to go through, and make a decision about whether or not she is going to comply with the instruction. During this time, we do not turn our attention elsewhere. Attention = reinforcement, after all, and we want to reinforce her listening and responding to an instruction. Often times, the instruction will begin with “I need you to…”

Honestly, I was totally shocked when Dot just started complying right away. Somehow she almost totally did what Dr. Rahman had indicated: The sense of urgency that used to only come when I yelled at her and been transferred to the window of time where I was counting to ten, only without all the negative stuff. In fact, I usually only have to start counting, and she’s off following the request.

We had a long weekend coming, and my job was to continue providing what is known as “effective instructions” using this approach. It was actually harder than one might expect. Every time I wanted to ask Dot to do something, I had to think through the whole thing. Was I only giving her one instruction? Was it clear and short? Did I get her full attention before making the request? Did I add in an unnecessary explanation? I caught myself hollering a request into the other room or asking her to do a series of things more than once. It was definitely awkward to change the way I’d been communicating with her, but when I started to immediately see results, you can bet I got pretty good at it pretty fast.

During this time, I also got lots of practice deciding what things were actually important. It turns out there’s a difference between giving an instruction and making a request. If I wasn’t willing to participate from the time I got her attention, through giving the instruction, until she had started to comply, then it wasn’t worthwhile to give the instruction in the first place. Sometimes I would be annoyed that she wasn’t complying but when I reviewed the situation, I would see that I’d made a request rather than giving an instruction. Ideally, of course, my kid would jump to help when I simply asked her to, but that’s not the point we’re at. We’re building up to that, but at this point, it’s important to stick with the process for important things and let the other not-so-important stuff go.

Speaking of not-so-important stuff, we were strongly encouraged not to let ourselves get distracted by mildly disrespectful behavior when Dot was in the middle of complying with an instruction. Sure, she might roll her eyes, or sigh, or even say something a little whiny, but the fact of the matter is that she is still complying, which is a pretty wonderful step forward. Scolding her for that kind of stuff while she’s actually following through is going to be counter-productive and is basically just taking our eyes off the prize. Now, I don’t plan to have a teenager who is full-on rude to me someday, but I can concede a little of the power in the situation knowing that she is making the right underlying choices.


At this point I’ve gone pretty thoroughly into what it looks like when the kiddo is on board with the program and catches on to compliance. What about when it doesn’t happen? What about when you get to ten, and the kid is still lying on the floor refusing to make eye contact or sticking out her tongue? What happens then?

What happens is timeout. If 90% of kids respond to a properly done timeout with a decrease in undesirable behaviors, you can bet your booty I wanted to know how to do them right. At first it seems like giving a kid a timeout is about introducing a consequence for unacceptable behavior. However, if attention = reinforcement, then a timeout could actually encourage a behavior. This is something that I have struggled with for as long as I’ve been a parent. Everyone tells you that kids will engage in behaviors that get them attention, even if it’s negative attention. I’m actually really good about giving my kids positive attention, so I’ve never understood why they also sought out the negative. Are they just jerks?

Nope. Well, not all the time, anyway. They’re just attention junkies. They’ll take it all and beg for more—positive, negative, whatever—as long as they’re being acknowledged. And that is why timeout can be so effective. A properly-done timeout removes pretty much every single bit of reinforcement for a specified period of time. It turns out that humans dislike this so intensely that we will alter our future behavior to avoid it.

The first step is to find the perfect timeout area. It should be away from all kinds of distractions. The child should not be able to see the TV from there, should not have access to toys, and should definitely not have siblings going by making faces at them. The space should also be well-defined with the child understanding exactly where she needs to be. A chair or a square of masking tape on the floor can be used. We found the perfect place at my mom’s house. The bedrooms were down a hallway that was set a bit off of the living room. I put a rug at the end of the hallway, and when someone had to go to timeout, they would sit on the rug with absolutely nothing to do. The doors to the bedrooms could even be closed to make it super boring with nothing to look at.

As a little aside, I want to mention that I was happy to discover that a “proper” timeout is a really low-intensity intervention. That’s a fancy way of saying that it’s actually a whole lot easier for the parent than pretty much anything else we’ve ever tried. It’s totally clear when someone has earned a timeout, they don’t really need to be monitored during the timeout, and it is over quite quickly. For me, that beats the heck out of getting all mad and yelling about stuff for the next 20 minutes while my kid cries and tells me how mean I am…and still doesn’t do what I asked. There’s also a really short list of things that earn a timeout, so I’m not constantly sorting through my options trying to determine how to address certain behaviors. If it’s X or Y, they earn a timeout. If it’s anything else, then perhaps I need to offer some instruction. I was nervous going into the weekend knowing we were going to be trying this, but within two days, I was a believer.

With the perfect, zero-reinforcement timeout spot ready to go, I explained what the girls could expect. This is really important, as they knew the deal from the get-go. Maybe more importantly, I knew that they knew the deal.

  • You only earn timeout for two things: 1. Non-Compliance (not following an instruction*) or 2. Aggression (we started with only physical aggression against others, self, and objects).

  • I will tell you when you are about to earn a timeout.

  • When someone is in timeout, they get absolutely no attention from anyone.

  • When the timer goes off, timeout is over, and you need to go ahead and follow the previous instruction or apologize for the aggression.

*This refers to the child intentionally not following an instruction. It’s not about them forgetting to do something or not doing it perfectly.

Timeouts typically start at two minutes for us. I’ve always heard you should give the kid a timeout for the number of minutes that correspond to their age. So, Dot’s timeouts would be 7 minutes, Lucy’s would be 4, Winnie’s would be 2. It turn out this oft-repeated piece of advice wasn’t the right approach for us. Instead, we just start at two for everyone.

Let’s say I need Dot to get her stuff off the table for dinner. I would make sure I had her attention, tell her, “I need you to put away your art supplies,” and then silently count to ten. Dot, however, doesn’t want to be done with her drawing and ignores me or tells me “no.” At this point, I go ahead and let her know, “If you don’t put your art supplies away now, you’re going to earn a two minute time out.” I keep my attention on her and count to ten again, usually while holding up my fingers and possibly counting aloud. At this point, Dot’s response is usually a haughty “FINE!” as she gives me dirty looks and gathers up her stuff. If I get to ten, though, she has earned a timeout.

Dot’s pretty good about taking herself to timeout relatively quickly. Lucy, on the other hand, isn’t. When she chooses not to comply, she generally goes pretty big with it, so that an exchange might look something like this:

Me: Lucy, I need you to let me brush your hair.
Lucy: No!
Me: One…
Lucy: No!
Me: Two…
Lucy: No!
Me: Three…
Lucy: No!
Me: Four…
Lucy: No! No! No!

Me: Ten…
Lucy: Nooooooooooooo!

At that point, I tell her that if she doesn’t let me brush her hair, she will earn a two minute time out. If she still refuses, I change my instruction to, “I need you to go to timeout for two minutes.” If I’m lucky, she’ll do it. If I’m not so lucky, just go ahead and re-read the exchange above. If that happens, then I let her know that the timeout is now four minutes. If necessary, it gets increased again to six. Dr. Rahman and I decided that six minutes was the cutoff for us.

So, now Lucy has messy hair and a six-minute timeout that she hasn’t done. This was seriously one of my biggest fears when it came to the whole timeout thing—and I knew it was going to be Lucy who put it to the test. Once the kid has refused to go to timeout, the game changes. Since attention = reinforcement and reinforcement, well, reinforces the behavior of not going to timeout, we withdraw all attention from her. Her sisters are not to play with or talk to her, Mama and Papa don’t respond to her questions, and if the TV or computer are on, they get shut off. The only way that Lucy gets attention reinstated is by taking herself to the designated spot and doing her time.

I cannot believe how well this works! My bull-headed little girl needs to have some control over the situation, but she also cannot hold up under the silent treatment for very long. Sometimes it takes her a couple of minutes to decide to go to timeout, sometimes it takes longer. But, she has followed through every single time and rarely refuses to go if she does get a timeout now. The biggest difficulty with this is that she doesn’t tell me when she’s going to timeout, so if I don’t keep a subtle eye on her, I won’t know she’s there waiting for me to tell her when the time is up.

When the timeout is over, the child needs to go and follow the original instruction, with a few exceptions. If the parent had to take care of it (say, I had to clear Dot’s art supplies in the earlier example so we could set the table while she was in timeout), she needs to perform a different but similar task. If there just isn’t time because you’re running out the door for school or something, then the task or a similar one will need to be done when the child gets home. The same is true if you run out of time for the timeout. If it gets to be school time and the kid still hasn’t gone to timeout, pick back up after school. If they fall asleep at night without having done the timeout, they get reminded in the morning and don’t get reinforcement until it’s done.

Because of Winnie’s age, there is no escalation in the amount of time for a timeout. She just gets two minutes no matter what. That said, I will actually pick her up and set her in timeout if needed because she hasn’t quite gotten to the point in her cognitive development where she can rationalize all of this out. There are also methods for taking time off of a timeout once it’s been earned, but we’re not there yet.

By the way, I keep using the word “earned” regarding timeouts. Dr. Rahman teaches parents to use that word because it gives the kids ownership of what is going on. There’s a very different feeling between “I’m giving you a timeout” and “You’ve earned a timeout.” The first one is me imposing my will, the second is the kid facing an outcome of their own making.

As a final note for this piece, it’s good to let the kids know we’re not infallible. There may be times when I tell Dot to go to timeout for aggression but then later find out that it was actually Lucy who did it. We make sure they know that we’re not perfect and that there may be times when they disagree with our take on the situation. That’s okay, but discussion of it needs to take place after they’ve complied with the instruction. We will listen to them after that and will apologize if appropriate and will work to make that kind of thing less common in the future.
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Jul. 24th, 2015


Starting CBT and Learning How to Give Effective Instruction

After the medical evaluation at The Rothman Center, Dot was seen by a neuropsychiatrist. We met first with with another staff member, Dr. Horng, to pinpoint the areas that seemed the most worth targeting, i.e. the behaviors that are causing the most disruption in Dot’s life. Her separation anxiety was right at the top of the priorities list, as well as her inattention when it comes to following directions or remembering to do routine tasks. All the info from this appointment was then used by Dr. Rahman to determine where to start.

We met with him for the first time on June 24th, and he recommended that we start out by working on “compliance.” The reasons for this seemed really obvious once he said it out loud, but was probably something I wouldn’t have factored into the equation if I’d been trying to figure this all out on my own.

It looks something like this:

When Dot is full of anxiety and is fearful of something, there are two things working against her.

1.       It’s not a fun thing, so she doesn’t want to do it.
2.       It’s an anxiety-provoking thing, so she doesn’t want to do it.

By working on compliance first, we would be helping her to remove the “I don’t wanna, so I’m going to refuse” part of the process. Just ignoring a request or saying “no” to a parent’s instruction would become a much more foreign proposition, and with that option less likely to pop into her head, she’s would “only” be dealing with the anxiety angle, which is something we planned to also deal with later on in the therapy.

To start, Dr. Rahman had me go through what an exchange between me and Dot would look like. I described a pretty typical back and forth between us.

Me: Dot, you need to put your shoes away because someone’s going to trip on them and break their neck.
Dot: (may or may not respond)
A few minutes later…
Me: Dot, I told you that you needed to pick up your shoes. I’m so tired of having to say the same things over and over!
Dot: Okay, okay, I will.
I return to the room an hour later.
Dot: (finally puts her shoes away)

I’ve got to say, laying things out like this for a therapist is kind of embarrassing. I mean, I’d love to be a mom who never yells at her kids. But I’m not. To be fair, I keep my cool for a pretty long time; but once someone has taken advantage of that grace for an unreasonable period, I start to get resentful and angry. And then I yell, because I’m mad and because it’s the only thing that seems to motivate her to finally follow through on the instruction.

To his credit, Dr. Rahman was very cool about these types of confessions. It probably helps that he works with a lot of families who are at the end of their ropes due to behavioral issues caused by a variety of factors including PANDAS. He managed not to be judgmental at all, rather was just interested in what the interaction looked like, as well as what was the final piece that would finally get the job done. In our case—as in a whole lot of other people’s, I learned—it was when I finally broke down and yelled.

What Dr. Rahman wanted us to do was to use a particular method for giving instructions that would get the same results as yelling. He explained that she knew she could blow me off and ignore my instructions until I got to the point of being personally offended enough to start hollering. The yelling was what gave her the sense of urgency she needed to get motivated. What he wanted us to do was to replace the entire above routine with something different that would create the same sense of urgency, but without the negative parts.

I was dubious. That certainly sounded like a bunch of fairy magic. But, we traveled thousands of miles to work with this guy, and our ask-ignore-remind-forget-yell-do method obviously wasn’t working. I had decided beforehand that I was going to put my trust in the professionals at the Rothman Center and to follow their advice to the letter. I don’t work much on “faith,” but I am most definitely a “hope” kind of person. I would do my best and hope it worked.

Giving Instructions

Because of Dot’s difficulties with anxiety and inattention, we were starting at square one. In order to get her to comply with requests, we had to take a different, simple approach. First of all, we had to stop with the multi-step instructions. Sure, a seven-year-old should be able to follow the logic of, “Put your towel in the hamper, get your pajamas on, and brush your teeth.” In fact, Dot could likely follow that, at least on a good day. The thing was, though, that we needed foolproof. We needed to set her up to succeed and to get used to succeeding.

So, it was important to give only one instruction at a time. Not only that, but the instruction needed to be very easy to follow. It had to be short, clear, and direct. Dr. Rahman suggested using the fewest number of words necessary. Whenever possible, the instruction should fall into the “to-do” category, focusing on what you want the child to do rather than what you don’t want her to do. (Instructing them to sit quietly rather than to stop yelling, for example.) In fact, Dr. Rahman’s instructions generally start out with the word, “I need you to…” because it pretty much eliminates other behaviors as options.

Interestingly, it’s also a good idea—at least when working to develop compliance—not to give unnecessary explanations. When asking/telling/pleading with Dot to pick up her shoes, I would explain that she needed to do it because it was a tripping hazard for her toddler sister, that they were wet and getting mud on the carpet, or so she could find them for school in the morning.

There are two problems with this. Actually, there are more than two, but there are two that I’ll mention. First of all, the kid already knows why I want her to pick up her shoes. It’s because THEY DON’T BELONG THERE. She is perfectly aware and knows what she should do. Secondly, I’m dealing with a kid who has attention issues. If I tell her to pick up her shoes and then give her a list of reasons why, by the time I get to the part where I’m whining about how unfair it is for everyone to expect me to pick up after them, she’s already moved on in her head. She needs to hear the instruction and then be able to act on it.

Now I will contradict myself. While I shouldn’t be causing a lag between the instruction and her beginning to follow it, I do actually need to give her a window of time in which to choose to comply.  This window is opened by me giving her the instruction, and it lasts for the amount of time it takes for me to count to ten. I make sure I have her attention, give the instruction, then count to ten. Ideally, it’s a silent thing. Sometimes I remind her by holding up the corresponding fingers. I may even count out loud if she isn’t looking at me and needs to be reminded that the clock is ticking. Dr. Rahman says that some kids get really annoyed by the counting, so parents will sometimes start off counting silently and start saying the numbers aloud when they get to six or so.

We had often had decent luck with getting the girls to do something by counting to three. With a background of getting compliance this way, going all the way to ten seemed a bit excessive. Like so many other times, though, the rationale behind it made perfect sense—once someone else pointed it out. When I really looked at it, I could see that the “one, two, three” thing was pretty much the same as yelling. We didn’t start counting until we were frustrated, so when it happened, they felt the right level of urgency to spur them into action.

The point of counting to ten at the very beginning of the process is to give the kid a chance to sort through emotions rather than having a knee-jerk reaction. When I ask Dot to go feed the cats, her first thought it probably something like, “I don’t want to feed the cat! I’m in the middle of something that’s way more fun than feeding the cat! I don’t want to stop what I’m doing, and I’m not gonna!” Hopefully, all of these objections are making their appearance in her mind while mine is just calmly thinking, “one…two…three…four.” While I continue counting to myself (or aloud, if needed), she has a chance for her thought process to follow a reasonable progression. While she might start out being ticked off that I want her to stop having fun and do something dreadful, once she’s had a moment to think about it, she can start to see that feeding the cat actually wouldn’t take that long and she could go right back to her activity when she was done. Yeah, and if she just got it done now, it’ll be over that much faster.

Let’s be realistic. Very few people with kids who have behavioral difficulties think that the above is what’s going to happen. I certainly didn’t. I think I actually laughed at the doctor. Again, I didn’t have a whole lot of faith that things were going to veer into this beautiful La-La Land he described, but doggone it did I HOPE they would!

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Mar. 1st, 2014


Screw It...

...I'm ordering a pizza.

Feb. 26th, 2014


Staying on this Crazy Ride a Bit Longer than Expected...

It turns out that Spend-Free February is probably going to need to be extended.  The thing is, Darling Husband Rob's paydays are on the 10th and 26th of each month.  So, when we started this on the 1st, we had already spent some of his previous paycheck.  Since part of this whole experiment is about actually saving money, it kind of makes sense to extend it until the 10th, so that we have two full paychecks worth of saving.

I am both cool with and dreading this.  You see, we've been doing really well.  As I've mentioned, we're good on food.  We haven't run out of anything major.  I wouldn't be surprised if we could go another month without buying toilet paper!  There are still three loaves of bread in the freezer.  But, there are a few things that are starting to run low.  To be fair, they are not essential things, but running out of coffee filters, for example, will be less than pleasant.  (That said, Brewers are problem solvers, so I'm guessing we're going to figure something out.)

March 10th is two more weeks from now.  Do we have two weeks' worth of food?  Probably.  Meals are going to start getting interesting pretty soon, though.  I'm literally considering sending baked beans in Dot's school lunch on Friday.  My personal struggle is that we have only one can of Coca-Cola left.  Yes, I know it's horrible for you, but it is kind of my vice.  I've been saving the can for a few days, but there's no way it's going to hold out for another two weeks.  Oh, well!  I walked into this with my eyes wide open.

I'm pretty happy that my kids don't exactly have a concept of time.  As long as we don't happen to mention it, they'll possibly not even realize it's March.  They get that we're not buying anything in February and are actually being pretty cool about it, but I'm not sure they're going to keep that attitude once they realize they've been volunteered for another ten days of this.  I think that Dot has the idea that NOBODY is ALLOWED to buy anything in February.  Like, it's a world-wide law or something.  I'm trying to explain to her that it's just something our family is doing, but I'm not sure it's sunk in for her.

One kind of disappointing this is that when all is said and done, I don't think we'll end up having saved as much money as I was hoping for.  We have an account that needs to be caught back up to a certain level, and my hope was that this month of not spending would make that a reality.  It looks like that is probably not the case.  Still, it will be closer than it was in January, right?!

Feb. 21st, 2014


Is "Humbled" the Word I'm Looking For?

Chest FreezerToday's post is bit of a reflection when it comes to this whole no-spending thing.  It started yesterday when I finished off a loaf of bread and went down to the freezer to see if we had any more.  We live just a few blocks from a bakery outlet store, and it's not unusual for us to spend $20 and come home with four or five bags full of bread, bagels, English muffins, and possibly some animal cookies.  I figured we must be out of bread by now, though.  I mean, we haven't been grocery shopping in 21 days!

I was shocked when I went down and discovered there were still a few loaves in the freezer.  I decided to poke around in there and see what else we had.  A few bags of frozen fruit for smoothies, several packages of frozen homemade soups and chili, turkey stock Rob made at Thanksgiving, a ton of breakfast burritos I made and froze awhile back, a bag of chicken breasts...it went on and on.  Our pantry is still full of a couple dozen cans of soup, instant pudding and jello mixes, back up baking supplies, homemade jelly I canned, a zillion kinds of tea...it goes on and on.

What a freaking wake-up call!

We have not been grocery shopping in three weeks, and we still have so much food.  I'm almost kind of embarrassed.  What have I been thinking during my weekly trips to the supermarket to get things we "need?"   Obviously, I haven't been taking into consideration the things we already have.  I feel...I don't know...kind of greedy or something for having so much.

On the other hand, it is kind of cool to note that if something catastrophic happened, like, one of us lost our job, we would apparently not starve to death right away.  The mortgage and the car payments and all that other stuff aside, we'd be ok.  If there was a huge blizzard and we couldn't get out of the house to get provisions, we'd probably be just fine for a very long time (although, there would probably be less mouths to feed, because being stuck in the house together for that long would likely lead to us going all Lord of the Flies on each other).

I'm a Word Nerd...It says so right on my business cards.  But, I'm having a hard time coming up with a way to describe how I feel about these realizations.  It would be some combination of:

  • Embarrassed

  • Grateful

  • Uncertain

  • Pleased

  • Fortunate

Between that and the fact that I can pretty much "shop" in my craft room when it comes to finding stuff to make gifts or just activities to entertain us, I feel like we are either hoarders or we are kind of living our life in a way that makes sense for us.

Feb. 16th, 2014


Greetings from 1805

Dear Diary,

It is day 16 on the trail...The wagon train is slowly making its way over the mountain pass.  We came across some nice gentlemen, although I had to stifle a giggle when one introduced himself as "Merriwether."  Not a very masculine name for someone in such a rugged occupation as explorer.

Some provisions have gotten low; but Mama, Papa, and the children are making considerable progress toward their goal.  At present, Papa is in the midst of his first-ever attempt at home made yogurt.  Thanks be that we are allowed to purchase milk.  Papa did make a small exception and spent $0.59 on a small container of plain yogurt so we would have the cultures to make our own.  Mama has frozen fruit squirreled away, so there is at least a small chance that the little ones will eat the yogurt when it is done 12 hours from now.

As you might imagine, it was a spectacularly simple Valentine's Day for the Brewers.  The children were forced to hand make Valentine's greetings for their peers utilizing recycled materials.  Mama, being ever in pursuit of creating items worthy of Pinterest, fancied up the Valentines a bit with some scrapbook paper and a stapler.

While Valentine's Day has never been excessively celebrated between Mama and Papa, the fact that no gifts could be purchased caused Rob to deliver to his wife the most thoughtful and perfect Valentine of her life.  It will certainly be saved amid the mementos of 2014.

Papa only spent less than a dollar on yogurt, but Mama "cheated" a bit more heartily by making a $10 donation to a friend's kid's fundraiser.  The timeframe for contributions didn't allow for procrastination until March.

Life on the trail has been busy and hectic, which has likely provided plenty of distraction from not being able to make purchases.  It's been fun to head up to the craft room and see what is to be found when things come up such as birthday parties.  Yesterday we created a "fort building kit" for a six-year-old birthday, completely comprised of things we already had around the house (a repurposed drawstring bag, two twin sheets, clothesline, bungee cords, clothes pins).

We're more than halfway to our goal, and so far we've braved the challenge quite well.  We'll see how things go over the next two weeks as our supplies begin to dwindle.  (Full disclosure:  I brought up the soup that Rob bought on huge sale something like a year ago, and we could probably survive on tomato and chicken noodle for the rest of the month if we really had to.)  We had a lot of bread in the freezer, so haven't had to make our own yet, but I suspect that's coming down the pike soon-ish.

We're like pioneers, yo.  (No, no we're not.)

Feb. 10th, 2014


We Are Problem Solvers!

My six-year-old Dot thinks I can do anything.  When we don't have something we want, she'll often say "why don't you make a curtain/brownie mix/super-hero cape/nuclear reactor..."  I really reinforce that kind of self-reliance in my kids.  Instead of saying "You're so smart!" when they figure something out (although I do say that sometimes, too), I try to say things like, "I love how you thought about the problem and came up with a way to solve it!"  When we ran into some sort of problem the other day Dot told me we should think of a solution because "that's what Brewers do."  (Freaking awesome, right?)

Remember when I was trying to figure out what to do about getting plane tickets for my mom to come here?  I wasn't sure what to do because putting off the purchase would likely mean that the tickets would cost far more.  It was definitely a conundrum!

But, you know what Brewers do, right?

One of my clients reached out to me and offered to barter me a plane ticket for my services.  To me, that seems really in-line with the no-spending challenge. It took cooperation from my mom, too, as it's a standby ticket and she could end up stuck in some airport; but she was onboard with the idea.

I suspect that as this month goes on, we'll be finding more and more creative ways to solve problems that arise.

We're Not Going Hungry

Just a quick update on the Spend-Free February.  To be honest, I feel like it's been going really well.  I haven't felt much of a pinch at all, but then I'm the one who's generally home most of the time anyway.  I'm looking forward to chatting with Darling Husband Rob tonight to see how he's feeling about it since he's the one who has to make his own lunch at work.

The biggest time I really noticed the fact that I couldn't buy anything was when I was out running errands and realized I was really hungry.  I needed to stop by and wait at the pharmacy for some prescriptions.  (By the way, we forgot to put "medication" on our list of exemptions.  We talked about it and decided that it truly belonged on the list.)  Anyway, I found myself thinking, "Ah, I'll just grab something at the coffee shop inside while I'm waiting for my medication."  Of course, that thought was quickly followed by, "Um...no I won't!"

The bigger girls (age 3 and 6) are doing great with the whole thing, too.  When they want something, they'll say, "In March, can we buy ____?"  It's pretty funny, actually, especially since they don't really have a concept of how long a month is.

We're still doing great on food, although we're almost completely out of any type of fresh produce.  We've got half a banana, three oranges, and a couple of really pathetic roma tomatoes, as well as a few apples that are probably not good for more than juicing or making apple sauce at this point.  I love that I have a juicer, though!  When Lucy was feeling under the weather last week and there was no from-concentrate juice left in the freezer, I was able to make some fresh juice with apples left over from Dot's birthday party.

I am a little alarmed at how quickly we're going through the snack/lunch stuff.  We've totally got enough of it to last for cold lunch to school, but we also keep getting into it for snacktime, too, so it's being depleted.  No big deal, though.  I know we're only 10 days in to the 28, but I'm still not terribly concerned about running out of food.  Last night Rob made baked potatoes and thawed out some of my homemade chili in the freezer, grated some cheese, and cut up some pepperoni and Canadian bacon for toppings.    Oh!  And cereal.  We are almost out of Cheerios, which is not going to go over well around here soon.  I try not to serve cold cereal for breakfast more than once a week, but it's been going really fast anyway.

I'd like to send a quick shout-out to my friend Ashley who stopped by totally unexpectedly this morning and dropped off a big package of fresh strawberries.  Like I said, fresh produce is not something we've got a lot of around here, and my girlies lurve strawberries!  Thanks so much, Ashley.

Feb. 7th, 2014


It's Been a Very Hard Day

I do have things to share regarding the Spend-Free February, but to be honest, I am going through some stuff right now, and it’s kind of overshadowing the challenge.  I’m finding myself very, very disillusioned and heartbroken.  I know that this blog is called “Something Good,” and it seems a little weird to write about something that is this Bad, but I don’t know what else to do with all these feelings.  I will say, though, that it does have a positive twist if you stick through my rantings and introspection to the end.

The Abbreviated Backstory

For those of you who might not know, a new bar opened in our city last weekend.  The Daquiri Factory is in the downtown area, and they have created a controversy that has now gone nationwide.  I’m not directly involved in it, although, I am kind of on the periphery with supporting the protests against this bar and trying to educate people about the problem.  I’ve also gotten a bit snarky from time to time (OK, a lot), with my favorite response being directly to the owner (on the bar’s Facebook page) that if nothing more comes out of this whole thing, I will stand proud that I was a part of helping him learn that there is no apostrophe in the plural from of daiquiri.

In a nutshell, they named a drink “Date Grape Koolaid,” and when told that it was insensitive to rape survivors and maybe they should change it, the owner came pretty much unhinged.  Arguments have run the gamut from you people have no sense of humor to we never meant it to imply rape and you have a dirty mind for making that association to freedom of speech, mother f*ckers! Many people decided to see the bar’s tasteless-name brand of free speech and up it with their own protest-with-picket-signs-and-everything variety.

If you want the whole story, you can check out the many, many articles and news casts that are all over the web right now.  Trust me, though, it’s ugly.

The Ugliness

As for me, I’ve been getting to know some of the protesters online, as well as trying to give a little factual information to the bar’s supporters to help them see that maybe they should reconsider what they’re doing.  It started with me saying things like “Hey, it’s not too cool to joke about rape” and escalated to the point where I responded to some guy’s complaint about us “whiney bitches” with links to stories with photos of rape victims with the suggestion that they could tell those ladies what they thought…except those ladies didn’t survive their attacks.

This…this is where my heart is breaking.  I cannot believe the number of people who are supporting the Daquiri Factory.  I cannot believe the absolutely vile and horrendous things they are saying in defense of it.  Rape survivors are being openly mocked on the bar’s Facebook page.  Hell, I was having a conversation with some folks on the protest page when two of the bar’s supporters (women, no less) showed up to let us know how fat, ugly, stupid, and sexless we all were.  They called us whores, cocksuckers, and shared the opinion that we were so unattractive that we would have to use date rape drugs if we wanted to get any action.  They also accused us of threatening them (we didn’t) and of being terrorists (um…nope).

These very same people keep telling us “It’s just a name!  It’s just a drink!  Why are you so upset?”

I’d like to say that I’m particularly proud of the fact that I cast myself as the comic relief in that conversation, and when they threatened to plaster pictures of us all over Facebook, I asked them to please pick ones from before I cut my bangs, as I was regretting my recent haircut decision.  I posted some Kumbaya lyrics when the protesters were getting all lovey-dovey with each other.  And when one of the “trolls” said we couldn’t possibly get laid without using roofies, I told her that might be true but that we’d never even joke about doing it because “THAT WOULD BE GROSS AND WRONG.”

I’m really trying to stay above the fray.  I’m really trying not to sink into the mire and the muck.  But, it’s hard.  And when I am referred to as a “bully…”  Well, anyone who knows me or reads this blog will suddenly have a clearer glimpse into how faulty these folks’ view of reality can be.

Where I’m Going with All This

Sure, this controversy started over a name, but for me (and I can’t truly speak for anyone else), it’s not about the name anymore.  It’s not even about free speech.  It’s about common decency.

Let’s say you’re walking down the street and you accidentally bump into a lady carrying some bags.  Maybe you bump her kind of hard and she drops one of the bags on her foot before it spills on the ground.  She says, “Ow.”  Your general response would be to say something like, “Oh, I’m sorry.  Are you OK?”  At that point, you would quite possibly also pick up the things she dropped and hand the bag to her.

This situation, however, goes more like this:

This guy is zig-zagging down a crowded sidewalk and “accidentally” bumps into a lady carrying some bags.  He bumps her kind of hard and she drops one of the bags on her foot before it spills on the ground.  She says, “Ow.”  The guy responds by knocking her down, telling her that her foot couldn’t possibly hurt, stealing her purse, and calling his friends up to come over and go through it to make fun of its contents.  Oh, and while he’s at it, he’s going to insist to his friends that SHE bumped into him, and even though they all know he’s kind of a jerk, it’s a lot more fun to go along with his version of things.

That last part, though.  I don’t know if that’s an accurate analogy because I cannot wrap my brain around what these people are thinking AT ALL.  Sure, they have the right to free speech.  They can totally make rape jokes all day long and half the night if they’d like.  It is, as has been posted so very many times on the bar’s page, a free country.

But why?

Why would you want to say those things?  Why, when a bunch of people came forward and said, “Hey, that’s really mean,” do these people feel like they should keep going and going and going?  Why on this big, green earth would this be the battle that these folks decided was worth fighting?  Why is there such a desire to defend the right to be horrible?

There are a lot of words being thrown around, like “butthurt” and “feminazi.”  There are a lot of questions being raised about people’s educational backgrounds and understanding of the rules of grammar.  There are conversations happening about what the right to free speech is all about.

But why?

Why is it so important to these folks to make jokes about rape, to tell rape victims that they should shut up or get tougher or that they “probably weren’t” really raped anyway?  Why is that what is important to this group of people?

I am so incredibly disillusioned right now.  I am drowning in my realization that so many of the people walking the same streets as I am are apparently carrying around an incredible darkness within them.  I’ve seen glimpses of it before, but this situation has allowed them to out themselves.

I am grieving for the knowledge I have gained through this experience.

It Goes Both Ways

I’d like to point out that repugnant behavior, while definitely a staple of the supporters of the Daquiri Factory, hasn’t been limited to that side of the controversy.  I’ve seen people who claim to be supporting victims suggest that various friends of the bar patrons should be “graped” and so forth.  I made a point to call that shit out, too, just so you know.  Not only did I publicly say “shame on you,” and “you sound even creepier than the bar owner right now,” but I also sent the person a private message and explained  my point of view.

For the most part, though, the protestors have been incredibly respectful.  OK, OK, so we’ve continually made fun of the fact that people who go to the Daquiri Factory don’t seem to realize that “you’re” and “your” are different words.  That said, it’s also been made incredibly clear that no one involved with our particular group is to use violence, damage property, or—generally speaking—be a twat.

The folks on the Daquiri Factory’s page are making fun of the folks on the boycott page because the boycotters have actually been trying to find job openings for the employees of the DF.  There’s concern that maybe some of the employees feel stuck there because they need the job.  There’s also the idea that if the place ends up being shut down, it’s pretty awful for those people who depended on the place to have no income.

The bar’s supporters continually refer to the protesters and boycotters as being “selfish,” of not thinking of anything but their own agenda, of having no cares but pushing political correctness.  To me, the fact that there is a whole thread devoted to looking for jobs for the people caught in the crossfire tells me a lot about the character of those who oppose the bar.

Several people have suggested that the owner, Jamie Pendleton has orchestrated this whole thing from the beginning to make money.  That he somehow knew he would create this big controversy and it would bring him all this cash.  To that I say, "baloney."  Read what this writes.  My feelings are that he's an egomaniac who stumbled into this and is now milking it.  Don't get me wrong, he'll take credit for it while it's working, and if and when it fails, he'll blame everyone else.  (Seriously, this guy considers himself a victim and takes zero responsibility for any of his actions.)

I hesitate to say this, but I kind of feel like it's the elephant in the room...This guy shows nearly all of the classic behaviors of sociopathy.  I certainly do not have a psychology degree, but if he was Brittany Spears, it seems likely the courts would have appointed him a guardian by now for his own financial protection.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

To be honest, I really thought this whole thing was going to blow over.  I didn’t even get involved in it for the first few days.  I figured the guy would get some publicity but would change the name (because, c’mon, it’s a rape joke).  I was really, really surprised when that didn’t happen.  It wasn’t until I started seeing all the support he was getting that I realized this was a Really Big Deal.  Like, this kind of is our lunch-counter sit-in.  This is our bus boycott.  This is our opportunity to make an actual change.

That’s why I said to stick with me to the end if you wanted to get to the Something Good.  To be honest, I have been overwhelmed by this.  I feel utterly defeated.  I am a survivor of sexual assault as a child and date rape as an adult.  I have PTSD as a result of my abuse, and you can bet your ass I’m all sorts of triggered by the constant stream of rape imagery, horrid comments, and such going through my Facebook feed this week.  I’ve told myself repeatedly that I should just walk away for my own sake.

But, I’m choosing not to.  Because you know what?  There are probably thousands of people in the country (the world, as I have learned that this story is international) who never even knew what “rape culture” was before this happened.  I’m not an idiot.  I know that many of them who have learned the term in the last few days are finding ways to believe it doesn’t exist (one of the best so far is the constant reminders on the Daquiri Factory’s page that it’s not in the dictionary).  However, there are a whole lot of people who now know that it does.  And they will join the fight against it.

One of the saddest things I keep seeing is people saying, “If you want to stop date rape, then watch your drink closely, don’t walk alone, blah, blah, blah.”  It’s ALL about how the woman (or sometimes man) should keep herself from getting raped.  NONE of it is about teaching respect for others, to keep your hands off others, that only “yes” means “yes.”

So, I have cried a lot today.  I have screamed and cursed and dreamed of moving away.  I am disgusted that Jamie Pendleton is making money off of this.  On the other hand, he is doing more to educate the country about the existence of rape culture than just about anyone right now.  And that is Something Good.

If you're not sure what "rape culture" means, this is an excellent introduction.

Feb. 4th, 2014


Cat Poop and Other Things

Day three of this adventure went by well, with the exception of figuring out what to do about the plane tickets.  I'm working a couple of ideas right now, and I'll share when a decision is made on that front.  No matter how it goes, it will be awesome to have my mom here helping out with the girls while I work a more rigorous schedule for a while.

What am I saying?  Day three didn't actually go all that well.  I just remembered that I went downstairs to discover that the washing machine is broken.  And, it's broken in a sort of probably-can't-home-repair it way.  But, I'm going to give it the old college try.  I'll also get Darling Husband Rob on looking into seeing if it happens to still be under warranty, although I'm not really holding my breath.  Should be interesting.

There's another little hiccup that's going to require some creativity on our part.  My never-ending to-do list informs me that I forgot to buy a new litter box for the cats.  We're needed to add another one to the house because, frankly, our cats are passive-aggressive jerks.  Now that the baby is old enough to understand that what's in the box isn't Almond Roca, we'd like to put one downstairs and see if that helps.  (I am so grossed out by the idea of where we have to put it, but it will be less horrifying than what is currently going on.)  So, it's time to conjure up some sort of litter box solution that will work until we can actually purchase one.

On the "This Is Awesome" front, however, this experience has prompted me to take care of something that has been on my radar for 3+ years.  You see, when we moved into this house, we put a bunch of stuff in the dining room closet and started referring to it as a pantry.  And by "pantry," I mean "a crowded closet that has a ridiculous number of precariously balanced boxes, many full of woefully outdated food, not to mention all our board games, a card table, a couple of booster chairs..."  (You can see why we went with the more succinct title of "pantry.")  Anyhow,I went through that bad boy this week!  I had a cupboard/shelf thing in the basement that I brought up and some plastic containers in the craft room and created a much more organized space where you can actually get to the food without knocking over bags of flour or dropping jars of expired baby food on your foot.

To be fair, it's definitely a temporary solution, but considering what we've lived with up to this point, t's kind of awesome.  And I didn't buy anything to make it happen!

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