Build a Better Morning Routine

Young girl feeding her father breakfast

Every year we think about how to switch from the summer groove to back-to-school routines. Do you reinvent morning routines for your family every year? You need a system.

It turns out I reinvent morning routines on this blog every year, too! I’ve been writing for EcoBabySteps for the past six years, and I write about school routines every year.

Morning routines specifically, though, set our children up to have great days, so I’ve pulled together several posts to share with you on morning routines for school days.

Family Systems

In business we call these routines systems, and I find that businesses function more efficiently when we don’t reinvent the system every time we do it. To build better systems, we document what we are already doing in a step-by-step outline then we improve the system by making deliberate changes.

If documenting your family routines and putting them in a family binder would help you, do it. Not everyone functions well that way, but some families thrive on having clear systems. Who can resist a beautiful 3-ring binder organizer for the family? I can’t.

Even if you don’t want to be so rigid as that, it helps to think through what it takes to help your day go well. Even a far more loosely documented system can be a routine that helps your family.

Are you wondering how to build a better morning routine? Here are a few of my past posts to guide you.

Morning Routine (2009)

Elements to balance every morning are: food, grooming and cleaning, passing information along, and just being together. I also walk through the details of my family’s morning routine. Looking back five years is interesting because the structure hasn’t changed much but what we actually do within that structure has changed a lot.

Easing Back into the School Routine (2010)

A smooth morning depends in many ways on preparation the night before, so I’ve included nighttime routines in this post. If you are a planner and calendar person, check out the charts, schedules, and planners.

My favorite part from this part is that you need to remember to make this FUN! “A new routine and a new school may be stressful for your child. Keep it calm and collected. Be positive. Focus on all of the great things your child will learn and do in school.”

Routines That Make Starting School Easy (2012)

Especially for a child just starting school, anticipating what is going to happen helps to ease any worry they might feel. I encourage you to talk through all of your child’s questions about school. Then, you start with your desired outcome and work backward to figure out what you need to do to get there.

Whether loose or tight, keeping your mornings moving along smoothly is all about having a morning routine or system that works for your family.

All the best to you and your children as you go back to school.

Image © Tatyanagl | Dreamstime.com - Child With Father Have A Breakfast Photo

Slowing Down

Woman in a breeze in the foreset

If time is sliding by, and you are not sure where it’s gone, you may need to bring yourself back to focus in your everyday life. We all need to slow down.

It might sound difficult—or impossible—to slow down with everything you need to get done. Rewards await you, though. You will get more done and be more aware of what you are doing if you slow down.

It’s not just a nice idea. I am telling you that if you don’t slow down, you are going to miss it all. You won’t get things done. You won’t remember those precious moments in the lives of your growing children. You won’t know where it all went as it slipped away.

Scary? Good. Whatever it takes to get you to realize what is at stake.

A simple start will put you on the path to slowing down.

Mindfulness

Last week, I suggested that the time you spend breastfeeding is an ideal time for simple meditation. In just three steps you can start: sit with your back straight, notice your breath, and bring your mind back when it wanders.

Those 3 basic steps are common to most forms of mindfulness, but I pulled them from Dan Harris, an ABC Nightline anchor who wrote a memoir and mindfulness guide after he had a panic attack on the air. In his book, 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story, he is funny and self-deprecating even while he makes a case for slowing down.

Yes, it’s just breathing—and it works.

When you are ready to build on the breath, you can use the RAIN technique to show yourself compassion. Add this to your basic meditation or use this technique in other areas of your life.

  • Recognize what is going on;
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
  • Investigate with kindness;
  • Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.
    (From Tara Brach, “Feeling Overwhelmed? Remember ‘RAIN,’” Mindful, August 2014.)

Through RAIN each of us can answer those voices that say we aren’t enough—aren’t good enough, aren’t experienced enough, aren’t organized enough, aren’t rich enough, aren’t good enough. (Yes, that last one comes around again and again.) If those voices are crowding in while you are finding your bliss, you just meet them, greet them, ask why they are speaking, and let them be. The voices aren’t you. We don’t let them grow; we don’t put our energy into fighting them; we just re-focus. Bring it back to whatever you were doing, thinking, or breathing before the voices tugged on your attention.

Practicing RAIN is just one way to be compassionate with yourself. Self care is the most important step in caring for others.

It’s Not Always the Breath

Do you know of the FlyLady? Years and years ago, when online forums were the rage (I’m going to say 15 years ago), my online parenting friends and I were all trying to gain control of our cluttered houses by following the FlyLady. When you are a new parent especially, you need to adjust your routines for your new reality.

FlyLady knew a lot of us were living in chaos, and she broke down organization into non-threatening steps—delivered in an overwhelming number of emails per day. So, I turned off the emails and kept the first step: the sink.

When you organize your house and home, FlyLady always starts every day with Shine Your Sink. If you don’t get to the rest, you always come back to the sink. The sink is the breath in FlyLady.

Coming back to focus can be the breath in meditation, the sink in cleaning, or whatever you need to focus on.

Come Back to the List

Each day, I make a list of three things I want to accomplish that day. Three might seem like a small number, but the chaos of real life can pull you away so often that it gets difficult to check off those three things.

When I let myself get distracted from my list, I just pull myself back and focus on the first thing.

Let the one thing be the only thing.

You might think multitasking works, but science shows that it doesn’t. Bring yourself back to one thing, and make it a small step (like I did in the 30-day Eco Challenge).

Whether it’s a list, your sink, your breath, or your baby’s gurgling noises while you breastfeed, bring yourself back to focus—with compassion and gentleness. Your wandering mind is part of the practice. No, it will never stop! Just bring it back.

Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the time crunch all of my friends and colleagues seem to be barely surviving. Several months ago I bought a book I thought might help me understand how to help others:

Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time (2014).

Here’s my sad little secret: I haven’t read it yet. I tipped it up against the wall so I would see it a dozen times a day as I walk by, but it hasn’t hit the top of my priority list yet, and I’m starting to feel really bad that I haven’t read it.

Overwhelmed is a map of the stresses that have ripped our leisure to shreds, and a look at how to put the pieces back together. Schulte speaks to neuroscientists, sociologists, and hundreds of working parents to tease out the factors contributing to our collective sense of being overwhelmed, seeking insights, answers, and inspiration. . . . Overwhelmed is the story of what she found out.”

Why feel bad that I haven’t read it? Because what if THIS book has the answer to everything? She talked to scientists. She talked to parents. She has the answers. I want the answers.

You know how it goes. We wind ourselves up.

So, let’s wind back down and return to our breath, our list, our sink, or whatever has our focus in this moment.

The book you haven’t read will be there when you are ready to read it. The news feed will fill up with more tidbits next time you check in. It can all wait.

What can’t wait is self-care, your health, your growing children, and whatever you let into your core.

You decide where to put your focus. Choose one thing. When too much at once starts to feel overwhelming, just slow down and bring your mind (or your action) back to the one thing.

Peace.

© Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com - Woman In Summer Dress Enjoying Breeze In Woodland Photo

Kids Birthday Parties

Kids birthday party with roses

Summer birthdays for kids can be so fun. We make an effort to keep the parties green, focusing on nature and the experience rather than the stuff. These are a few of the articles we’ve posted on eco birthdays and giving. We hope these help you plan a great birthday party for your little one.

Most of the posts on EcoBabySteps are written by NatureMom (Tamara, who owns bynature.ca) and AttachedMama (Lori, who writes EcoBabySteps). Both of us are figuring out the issues we write about. Both of us have had to find a balance between our desire to celebrate our children’s birthdays in a big way with a preference for natural and eco-friendly celebrations. Meaning, we had to find ways around the waste without birthday parties feeling like lectures in environmentalism.

These are two stories of actual parties each of us created for one of our children. Maybe seeing what we did will help you come up with ideas that fit your child and your family.

Our Eco Birthday Party
Eco birthday party table

When Nature Mom threw a birthday party for her daughter, she worked to lower impact for every aspect of the party. Here she shares the story of what she did and how she did it.

My Daughter’s Eco Super Hero Birthday Party
Gaia Girls elemental circle

On my daughter’s 11th birthday, she and her friends celebrated girl eco-super heroes. My daughter had a Gaia Girls themed birthday party. Gaia Girls is a girls adventure series in which four girls are each approached by Gaia, the living organism of the earth in the form of an otter, to help her. Each of the girls has power over one of the elements: air, fire, water, or earth. Gaia, as an otter, asks each girl to help her by using the elemental power she has. The author joined us by phone, and the girls at the party were treated to a chapter in one of the unpublished books in the series. This is the story of how I made that happen.

Planning the Party

Start with a plan. Will you invite friends or keep birthdays a family celebration. There is no wrong answer. We’ve done both.

Once my kids could talk (starting with the 2nd birthdays), I asked them what they wanted. I built themes around a buffalo, alligators, a little stone cottage, rock climbing, trains, and a lot of other ideas. Each of these became a homemade cake, and the party grew from that core idea.

Here are a few ideas we have posted on themes and core ideas for children’s birthday parties.

Creative Family Birthday Celebrations
Family birthday celebration

Holidays and birthdays are opportunities to celebrate the familiar—the family-ar, as in, those ideas and those people who are so close to us that they are part of our intimate circle. For a lot of us who are focused on attachment parenting, those intimate family relationships are the core of our motivation for all of these choices. We are creating our children’s reality. We are setting a pattern for what our children will celebrate as familiar.

8 Fun and Free Places to Hold a Birthday Party
Kids meeting a horse

Cut down on children’s birthday party expenses by finding a place to hold that party that doesn’t charge an entrance or event fee. New places may suggest fun themes and activities beyond the usual party games. Even if you do the usual games and cake, going to a new and exciting place can be an adventure that makes the party memorable.

1st Birthday Themes for Babies
Baby's first birthday

Babies have a lot going on around the time of their first birthdays. Many speak their first words and take their first steps near their birthdays. They are busy! A birthday party will be a new experience. Frankly, first birthday parties are more ABOUT the baby than for the baby. To have the best chance that your baby will actually enjoy the party, keep it short and simple.

Toddler Birthday Party Ideas
Toddler birthday party

Toddlers are ready to have a good time. Even those children who would rather sit on their mothers’ laps during a party will often have a good time observing the fun from that safe spot. The secret to a successful birthday party for toddlers is flexibility. Have a plan B and plan C to accommodate the ever changing moods of your little guests.

Birthday Party Themes for the Imaginative Young Child
Child pirate

Between the ages of 5 and 8 years old, children are immersed in imaginative play. They love dress up, and they don’t look for direction from adults in creating their characters. A birthday party for young children should take full advantage of this phase. Give the children plenty of chance to be the characters, to tell the story, and to make up the party as they go.

Older Children Provide Their Own Birthday Party Ideas
Children rock climbing wall

As children get older, between 9 and 12 years old, I have found they want birthday parties about their interests, whether those interests are friends or activities. You may not need to think through a focused birthday party theme or a predictable structure like you did when your children were younger.

Birthday Party Workshops for Teens
Teen doing aerial dance

By the time your child is a teenager, the cute themes are over. (So, take advantage and enjoy it while they are little!) If you have used your own child’s interests to give shape to parties every year, that will make it even easier to do the same for teens. For a birthday party that engages teens, start with your child’s passion.

Birthday Gifts

Do your kids anticipate birthday gifts? I start hearing plans and requests for birthday gifts at least 6 months in advance. We tend to save big gifts, like a bike or skates or a musical instrument, for holidays. This year my teenage son wanted a suit! As long as I listen closely, I can usually find a way to give them something they hoped for as well as adding a twist that surprises and delights them.

We try to de-emphasize stuff, though. The biggest gift in our family is for everyone to take the day off of work or school or any other obligations and do what the birthday person wants to do. This often involves movies and ice cream, but sometimes we go for day trips and hikes. Whatever they request, we do our best to make it happen. Birthdays are dreams-come-true days for us.

Reusable Gift Wrap
Reusable birthday gift wrap

We my family started showing up at holidays and birthdays with gifts in cloth bags, it didn’t take long to convince our extended family that this was a great idea. This is a holiday post, but I find it relevant for birthdays as well. This is how we manage not to use only reusable wrapping for gifts.

10 Ways to Give without Stuff
Teen knitting wool scarves

This is another holiday post, but I thought you might find the giving ideas helpful for birthdays. I interviewed my daughter for the post, as I do for a lot of posts. These ideas were based on her ideas and our brainstorms.

My Rules of the Eco-friendly Loot Bag
Girl with a birthday party bag

Has your child ever come home from a birthday party with a bag of candy and throwaway plastic toys? Is there really anyone who can say “No!” to that? I’ve even seen myself give out party gifts that make me groan and feel more determined than ever to improve the loot bag with each passing year. Every time I throw a children’s party, I manage to get a little closer to the ideal of a low-impact loot bag. These are my evolving rules of the eco-friendly kids’ party bag.

Allergy-free Birthday Cakes
Baby with a birthday cake

For both of my children, their first birthday cakes were their first solid foods. That means all at once they covered their faces with milk, eggs, wheat, and other potential food allergens. A lot of us take the chance that our baby won’t have a reaction or sensitivity to birthday cake even if we are careful introducing new foods slowly otherwise. If you are introducing your baby to new foods at a birthday party, at least simplify the birthday cake recipe to reduce the number of potential food allergens.

Reusable Birthday Party Supplies

Parties can generate a lot of garbage. If you want to avoid that, you can move toward reusable supplies like cups and plates as well as decorations like garlands and hats.

You will find a lot of reusable party supplies in the bynature.ca store in our Green Celebrations department: candles, decorations, games, and a few great gifts for a green loot bag.

Waldorf Birthday Rings
Wooden birthday ring

Have you seen Waldorf birthday rings and wondered how they work? I explain this beautiful family tradition to help you get started. Then, year after year you will spiral back around as you focus on your birthday child.

Party Hats
Reusable birthday party hat

Where did the tradition of party hats come from? I did a little research.

Happy birthday to all the children of summer! Drop in to bynature.ca and ask how we can help you green your birthday parties this year.

Image ©  | Dreamstime.com

10 Easy Ways to Lower Your Family’s Environmental Impact

Family in front of their house

We often use Earth Day as an annual check in on our environmental impact. So, how are you doing? What are you doing right, and what would you like to change? Here are a few areas where you can lower from family’s environmental impact.

1. Choose Energy-efficient Transportation
One of the biggest changes we can make is how we move ourselves around. Use public transportation when you can. Buy a car that uses energy efficiently. Travel long distances by plane seldom. With technology available for long-distance meetings, it’s less important to travel as much. This makes a big difference.

2. Use Home Energy Wisely
Start by using energy wisely. These are the common pieces of advice you hear: don’t use lights in the daytime, don’t leave appliances plugged in, etc. Each of these baby steps is a good start. It also makes a bigger difference when you choose energy-efficient appliances when it is time to replace.

3. Buy Renewable Energy
Another step you can take is to buy renewable energy. My family pays for wind energy, which is an option with our power company. Even better, you could install solar panels. Small systems can work really well for a family. Once you start, you might be ready for bigger steps.

4. Choose Cleaning Solutions Carefully
When buying solutions as home cleaners or body cleaners, look at ingredients. Without realizing it, we use a lot of chemicals that have health impacts on us personally and on the wider environment. To start, you have great resources available. In addition to the Skin Deep database for cosmetics that we mention often, EWG (Environmental Working Group) has a database of home cleaning products. Check those you buy regularly. If you don’t like their score, choose another.

5. Save Paper
We don’t always notice our paper use. Tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, stacks of printed paper. So, notice! Replace paper towels with reusable towels. Few people are willing to talk about it, but it’s not so difficult to replace toilet paper with washable family wipes. Use paper wisely in your home office as well. Print only what you need to keep, use both sides of the paper, and recycle when you are done.

6. Eat Real Food
Make your meals from real, whole ingredients rather than from processed food-like substances. Obviously, this is a good choice for your health, but it is also a better choice for the environment.

7. Organic Can Matter
Disappointed as I am with organic mega systems being co-opted by corporations and the real impact of organic being gutted in favor of lesser standards, I still worry more at the non-organic options for some foods and fibers. I worry about what is happening in the fields when more chemicals by weight are poured into cotton production than cotton comes out. I worry that pesticides outlawed decades ago still show up in our foods now. Keeping fields clean matters. Know the Dirty Dozen, and always buy those organic.

8. Choose Clean Water
For environmental impact, don’t buy bottled water, but for health impact, don’t drink unfiltered water unless you know exactly what is in your local water. When you do use water, use it wisely. Start by not wasting water—turning off the tap when you brush your teeth, for example—then move on to looking at ways to save more water through water-wise plumbing.

9. Plant for Your Climate
Plant what grows well in your area. That means no lawn in the desert and no tropical fruits in Ontario. By matching your yard and garden to your climate, you ensure that you need less water and fewer chemical inputs to keep your surroundings flourishing.

10. Low-impact House
If you haven’t bought or built a house yet, you have an opportunity to make choices that will have a big impact on your impact. Don’t buy more space than you need. Don’t buy a house covered in vinyl siding. Look for a house that is specifically designed to be low impact through placement of windows, use of materials, and use of lighting and appliances. If you already live in the house you want to stay in, you can make changes gradually, like adding more insulation to save energy on home heating and cooling.

In all areas of your family’s environmental impact, start where you are. Baby steps make small differences, but they also prepare you for bigger steps. When you see how easy it is to make changes, maybe you’ll be ready for the leaps that make a big difference.

Read on:

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10 Easy Ways to Lower Your Environmental Impact When Having a Baby

Parents with baby shoes

Having children creates environmental impact. Even as environmentalists and eco-families, many of us have children anyway. If you are concerned about that, consider these 10 easy ways to lower your impact when you have a baby.

1. Stuff
Become STUFF AWARE. Especially if you haven’t had a baby or been around a friend or family member having a baby before, you won’t know how much of what you are told you need is really needed. The answer: not much. You don’t need all of that stuff on the baby lists. We’ve written about cutting down on baby bstuff to save money, but you also save on environmental impact when you acquire less. Only buy what you need, and even then look for the lower impact stuff.

2. Breastfeed
When you breastfeed, you shorten the chain. You eat food, you make milk, and your baby drinks the milk. No manufacturing, packaging, shipping, selling, or trash to throw away. Breastfeeding is not just good for you and your baby; breastfeeding is good for society.

3. Reusable Diapers
Rather than putting 3,000-4,000 disposable diapers of any material in landfill, wash and reuse a few dozen diapers of any material. You use water, detergent, and energy to wash and dry, but you don’t cause the repetition of extraction-manufacture-shipping thousands of times. To lower impact even further, choose materials carefully, wash warm rather than hot, choose low-impact detergents, and air dry.

4. No (or Few) Diapers
By using the method of infant pottying (elimination communication or diaper-free babies), you use even fewer diapers. You might use more water and cloths for clean up, because accidents will happen, but water is a renewable resource—unlike oil and gas that go into the plastics used to make disposable diapers. Even this choice doesn’t need to be all or nothing. When you follow your baby’s cues, you will probably find yourself doing this naturally.

5. Used Clothing
Buy clothing at a thrift store or consignment store. Babies and children grow so fast. It can be expensive to buy new clothes, but that expense is only one issue. Those clothes that are worn for only a few months have impact where the materials are grown or extracted, where they are manufactured and shipped, and where they are sold. Share great clothes with other parents by passing them around, or buy used.

6. Natural Body Care
One thing you probably will need is a gentle soap for baby baths and perhaps cream or lotion for skin care. Cosmetics often hide nasty chemical ingredients, but you have a lot of choices for baby cream, lotion, soap, and shampoo with all-natural ingredients.

7. Library
If you are like me, you read a lot to learn about new adventures, like having a baby. I had books on pregnancy, on baby care, on parenting, and on and on. Rather than buying every book new and leaving it on the shelf after reading, use your local library. If you don’t see all of the books you are looking for, talk to the librarian about getting them. The process will probably take a while, but you are starting a positive ripple in your community of having these books available for others.

8. Low Tech
Gadgets are certainly available. I see crazy new baby gadgets every year at baby trade shows. You don’t need a plug-in wipes warmer, a baby monitor, a sock that continually takes your baby’s vital signs, or a mechanical arm that feeds your baby a bottle. All of those gadgets are used for a short time then they become waste. They use materials and energy that wasn’t really necessary. Maybe you need a gadget here or there, but you don’t need them all.

9. Good Wood
If you choose to buy baby furniture, like a cradle or a changing table, look for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification, which tells you that the wood comes from a forest that was managed according to best practices environmentally and socially.

10. Plant a Tree
It isn’t just that a tree can absorb more than a ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Your child will really connect with a tree that was planted at their birth. This tree could become the place where you sit together to talk about their impact on the world. A tree has physical and psychological impact.

Keep in mind, too, that having a child in North America does not have the same impact as in other areas of the world. We use more resources, so having a baby here means a bigger environmental impact. A study out of Oregon State University in 2009 on family planning and environmental impact made the rounds of environmental news that year. The statistical study looked at the impact of having children as compared to efforts to reduce impact through small steps that many of us take. When you look at the numbers, it is clear that having a baby in a high-impact country makes a big difference.

By being conscious of the choices you make and the impacts both now and over time, you can make choices that will significantly lower the impact your baby has on the environment.

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