MommyCon 2016 Review & Ticket Giveaway

Crunchy Parent MommyCon 2016 Chicago natural parenting conference review & ticket giveaway

Yesterday I reviewed MommyCon’s recent Chicago stop, focusing on the overall natural parenting conference experience and speakers. Today I wanted to spend some time highlighting the expo side of MommyCon, and reviewing MommyCon’s great gifts and giveaways.

I’m also excited to jump on the giveaway bandwagon myself. MommyCon has provided me with two free tickets to give away to the upcoming MommyCon event of the winner’s choice. You can enter to win at the end of the post. You can also knock $5.00 off of any MommyCon ticket price with the discount code CRUNCHY16.

MommyCon Vendors

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As much as MommyCon is appreciated as a natural parenting conference, I think that they are equally well known as an expo; bringing together great vendors whose products cater to natural families. Any time that you wanted to pry yourself away from the speakers, and all throughout the lunch hour, the exhibitor area was bustling with activity at all of the wonderful booths. For people who frequently only get to explore natural specialty products online, this was a great opportunity to see, touch, and interact with items, and to make purchases, often at promotional MommyCon discounted prices.

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Over 100 vendors were present at the show, selling baby carriers, cloth diapering supplies, teething jewelry, reusable menstrual products, natural personal care items, organic mattresses, hip advocacy and nursing wear, and more.

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In addition to vendors selling their products, there were also companies promoting their products through product samples, local service providers raising awareness about their businesses, and organizations spreading the word and rallying support for their causes.

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The vendor area also housed the Babywearing School stage toward the back, where babywearing topics were presented. Products were demonstrated to show different wrapping and wearing techniques to accommodate children of various ages.

Sprinkled throughout the vendor area were informational tables helping to educate conference attended about feeding techniques and cloth diapering.

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Cloth Diaper Resource Center

For anyone who has ever tried to figure out the difference between a fitted, AIO, pocket, or prefold, there were displays on-hand allowing parents to touch, see, and consider which products might work best for their families.

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More Cloth Diaper Resource Center

Consultants were also on-hand to help answer questions that parents might have about cloth diapering in general. I thought that these informational displays and consultation areas were great low-pressure ways to promote the use of more natural products and increase awareness.

My one regret was that I walked throughout the vendor area taking it all in without buying any products initially. I planned to wait to make my purchases at the end of the day because I didn’t want to have to carry them with me throughout the show (I was already lugging a bag, snacks, a reusable water bottle, note pad, etc.) My intention had been to take the 20 minutes in between the final big presentation of the day and the end-of-the-day product giveaway announcement to scoot back to the vendors and make my purchases. As I came to learn, that plan was flawed (more on that in a moment). As a result, although I saw many products that I would have loved to have brought home from the show, I ended up not buying anything. Fortunately, several of the vendors included special MommyCon promotion codes for savings off of online purchases in the show materials, so the chance for future orders remains. Still, had I known how the end of the day was going to shape up, I would have planned my purchasing differently.

MommyCon Giveaways & Gift Bag

If there is one thing that has earned MommyCon great word-of-mouth, it is their amazing gift bags and giveaways. Before going to the show, I learned that every attendee to the show would receive a jam-packed gift bag. In addition, MommyCon gives extra gift bags to attendees of their VIP events. All MommyCon attendees are also be entered in the end-of-the-show giveaway to receive any of a number of amazing prizes ranging from car seats and organic crib mattresses, to high chairs and baby carriers. MommyCon had also promoted some mysterious “scavenger hunt” prizes through their Facebook page with small items hidden throughout the MommyCon convention space that could be redeemed for prizes. In all, there is no doubt that MommyCon knows that people really love gifts and free goodies.

The MommyCon conference day ended with 25 minutes of giveaways, for which the winner was required to be present. What that looked like in actuality was every last man, woman, and child at the conference descending upon a central area to hear if their tag number might be called as a winner. As mentioned before, the prizes were fantastic and the giveaway was clearly a huge draw and an incentive for people to stay, learn, and shop the expo up until the very last moment. Unfortunately, this also meant that the room was filled to bursting with overtired babies and toddlers who had been troopers through almost 8 hours of the conference already, and the noise level began to climb with restless, crabby children. It also meant that as everyone filtered into the room, many gathered toward the back near the doors, making exiting and entering the room a bit of an adventure.

MommyCon Chicago 2016 giveaway crowd

The MommyCon crowd awaits the giveaways. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland www.katiehovland.com

I had been seated near the front of the room during Jade Beall’s presentation that ended 20 minutes before the giveaway was scheduled to begin. As mentioned, I had intended to scoot back to the vendor room to make my purchases in those 20 minutes and return for the giveaway, but as I saw the traffic situation in the room shaping up into a major bottleneck by the doors, I gave up that idea, and stayed put in my chair.

The giveaway dragged on a bit, not helped by the restless crowd. I am sure however that the many winners were completely delighted by the items that they received, and found them well worth the wait. Once the last product had been handed out, all of the attendees poured out of the room and headed toward the elevators and parking garage. Despite the large numbers of people, I was surprised by how smoothly the transition went. It wasn’t long before I was back in my car, and ready to make the drive back home.

The gift bag that I received was for members of the Media Team, since I was attending MommyCon as part of their Blogger Collective. I’m not sure how the Media Bag differed from any of the other gift bags, but since it was in a different area than the general gift bags, I can only assume that it is unique in some way, so I wanted to provide that caveat.

I have to be honest and say that I was rather impressed when I went to pick up my gift bag and was handed a giant reusable MommyCon tote filled with goodies plus an adjunct item. I have attended many conferences and expos in my day and never have I received anything like this. I was eager to get back home and look through all of the goods.

MommyCon Media gift bag

MommyCon Media gift bag

The bag contained loads of informational and promotional materials from vendors and sponsors of the event, many of whom had included special codes for MommyCon exclusive discounts off of orders. The bag also held many great products from vendors at the conference.

If I was a mother of very young children, I would have been especially thrilled by all of the useful items, which ranged from disposable breast pads and glow-in-the-dark sippy cups to a cloth diaper wet bag and a breastmilk pumping and feeding system. As a parent of children who are past their infant, toddler, and preschool years, only a fraction of the items included were relevant for our family at our current stage of life. I felt a little guilty for being the recipient of such lovely items that we have no use for. I am sure that I will have no trouble finding a friend who will enjoy the items, but nevertheless I wish that more of the products were useful for families with children beyond the nursing, diaper, and bib stage.

The theme for MommyCon 2016 is “Growing Together” and I know that a lot of emphasis has been placed on including topics relevant to older children, families, and to parents themselves. I loved this step forward to embrace more of the natural parenting community, but the gift bag didn’t seem to hold true to this idea as well as the conference and expo on the whole. I would have been thrilled to find a reusable menstrual product, advocacy wear, un-paper household product, or other items that would have helped the overall balance of the bag to better reflect this year’s theme. I am nevertheless still blown away by the general awesomeness of the gift bag and will savor the yummy foods, household, and personal care items that were included in the bag.

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Evenflo scavenger hunt prize

In addition, my eagle eyes were fortunate to find one of the “scavenger hunt” items hidden in the conference area by Evenflo. As a prize for my good fortune, I received a cute Evenflo coffee mug and a $10 Starbucks gift card, which by far was Rich’s favorite thing that I brought home.

Final Thoughts about MommyCon Chicago

I was a bit dubious about attending MommyCon as a mom of children in elementary and middle school. I wasn’t sure if there would be much for me to learn after parenting from a natural/attachment parenting perspective for over thirteen years; and with the birthing, nursing, diapering, and babywearing years behind me. I was encouraged by the “Growing Together” theme, and figured that even if I didn’t find the topics to be directly relevant to my family, the conference would still be a great chance to meet other like-minded parents in the area.

I was really pleased to find the conference experience to be completely satisfying and enriching. There was not a moment of my time that I did not feel was being spent productively; learning or discovering something new that was relevant to me and to my family. I came away from the day feeling more empowered and prepared to take on approaching milestones for my children at their current ages, and for enhancing my relationship with my husband at this point in our marriage. I reflected on myself as a woman beyond my role as either wife or mother, which I know is far too easy to loose touch with, especially when one is oriented toward a very hands-on approach to parenting.

Overall, I was very impressed with the extent to which MommyCon attempted to cater to the needs of parents and children attending the conference. From diapering, feeding, snuggling, napping, playing, and more MommyCon had given thought to what their guests would need to comfortably enjoy the day. This alone is such a juxtaposition to so many conferences and expos, where children and their needs must be “managed” by parents so that adults can attend, rather than woven into the fabric of the event as it was at MommyCon.

For any parent of young children navigating the waters of natural, gentle, crunchy, or attachment parenting, I would assert that MommyCon is a safe place to find your tribe; to learn, to discover, and to grow. For experienced crunchy parents of older children like myself, I am pleased to report that I found MommyCon to move the conversation of natural parenting forward into later phases of parenting as well. In addition, MommyCon shed light on the too-often neglected topic of parents themselves, and their needs as individuals and partners. I am already looking forward to MommyCon returning to Chicago next year.

MommyCon Ticket Giveaway

If you are still waiting for MommyCon 2016 to arrive at a location near you, you’re in luck. In addition to offering the CRUNCHY16 code for $5 off tickets, I have two tickets to give away to one of the upcoming MommyCon 2016 events*. I will select one winner who will receive 2 free ticket to the 2016 MommyCon event of their choice*, or two passes for a 1-day attendance to MommyCon’s Milk or Wear conferences.

Fine Print: The winner is responsible for any transportation or accommodations as needed. Contest will remain open through Tuesday March 29, 11:59 PM Central time. Winner will be notified by me within 24 hours via email, so please enter with an email address that you check regularly. If I do not hear back from the winner with their city of choice within 72 hours of being contacted, prize will be forfeited and a new winner will be selected. Crunchy Parent will make every effort to arrange and support prize distribution, however ticket giveaway and distribution are ultimately the responsibility of MommyCon. Good luck!

*The April 2nd Seattle Conference is not eligible as a prize option due to the timing parameters of the giveaway.

Win 2 tickets to MommyCon! (Please click the link to enter)

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MommyCon Chicago 2016 Review

mommycon chicago 2016

It’s such a great experience when you find yourself among like-minded people, discussing topics from a shared perspective. It was a big moment for me in my earlier parenting years when I attended the La Leche League 50th anniversary conference, and for the first time found myself surrounded on a large scale by experts, vendors, and parents who shared and supported many of my parenting values.

I was so excited to attend the MommyCon Conference in Chicago earlier this month to see if I could capture some of that same magic, and to consider if such events were still relevant to me as a parent of older children. I am happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

MommyCon gives a lot of focus and attention to topics of interest to parents of young children, such as breastfeeding, babywearing, and cloth diapering. It was evident that they also emphasize issues pertaining to older children, in addition to the well-being of parents themselves.

Before I dig in to all of the nitty gritty, here is a breakdown of the MommyCon basics

MommyCon is a conference and expo aimed at “forward thinking parents with a natural flair.” The conferences are held on multiple dates throughout the year at different venues around the country. Tickets for upcoming MommyCon events can still be purchased, and the code CRUNCHY16 will knock $5.00 off of the ticket price. ***BONUS Spoiler*** Tomorrow I will be posting Part 2 of the MommyCon Review, which will include a giveaway for 2 free tickets to an upcoming MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choosing.

Chicago was the second stop of the 2016 schedule. Parents from near and far converged upon the convention center, many wearing their babies with them at the one-day event. Tremendous effort was put forth to make sure that babies and young children were comfortable throughout the day.

Caring for the Big and Little MommyCon Conference-Goers

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MommyCon had play areas set up in the back of many of the large lecture spaces so that children could remain entertained while the adults listened to speakers.

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There were also craft stations in the hallways for older children to flex their artistic muscles when they were in need of a creative outlet. New this year, MommyCon offered a drop-off care option at the Chicago location for children ages three and up, although this is not available at all of the conference locations this year.

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In addition to keeping children active, MommyCon catered to their other needs as well. The conference provided fully-stocked changing stations where babies could be diapered in complementary (healthier) sposies. Wipes were also provided free for all the mini conference attendees.

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Stonyfield sponsored an eating area where babies and children (and parents) could enjoy a snack of yogurt. MommyCon also had water stations in the hallways where reusable water bottles could be refilled, and where cups and cold water were available as needed.

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Mystery bags hanging out in the hallway

MommyCon provided snack bags on several tables in various hallways, free to anyone who had the munchies. These bags were not labeled in any way though and they went quickly, so you needed to be made aware of their presence and act fast if you wanted one.

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Revealed! Snacks for those in the know.

Nurslings could of course snack wherever and whenever they wanted. For those benefiting from a quieter, less stimulating environment, MommyCon had a “ladies & babies only” nursing lounge for some private snuggle time, as well as a Quiet Room for a good long nap.

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MommyCon Talks & Topics

MommyCon had packed the day’s schedule with presentations covering topics of interest to parents with children of all ages. They had four larger conference rooms in addition to three smaller, topic-specific rooms exclusively targeting sleeping, feeding, and woman-centered issues. At any given moment, conference attendees could select from among 3-6 different presentations on topics ranging from cloth diapering 101, breastfeeding for the working mom, infant massage, car seat safety, toddler wearing, picky eaters, body positive images, baby led weaning, and more. It was sometimes difficult to choose between subject areas, but I tended to stick with parent, older-child, and family-oriented discussions since they were most relevant to me.

Vagina Village at MommyCon 2016

Vagina Village draws a crowd

The talks held in the larger conference rooms had plenty of seating available, as well as the aforementioned child play areas in the back. New to 2016, MommyCon introduced “Vagina Village,” a smaller room hosting presentations specific to women, such as intimacy post-children, talking to young girls about their periods, and supporting care of mothers postpartum and beyond. Many of the talks here were standing room only as listeners sat on the floor and spilled out into the adjacent hallway. With such an enthusiastic response, I hope that MommyCon will give some of these topics more premium space at other venues, and in future years. It was clear to me that in addition to learning about their babies and children, MommyCon visitors really want to learn about mommy too.

As a parent of older children (ages almost six through thirteen,) a standout session was “The Period Talk Unraveled” by Meg Eldridge from generationMe. Meg gave parents thoughtful tools for helping their daughters feel comfortable, prepared, and knowledgeable enough about their periods to respond to their cycles from an empowered position; without fear or embarrassment. She encouraged ways to normalize and acknowledge this milestone, and to create a positive culture around this aspect of womanhood that is often complained and joked about in our society, rather than honored or respected. Meg spoke about the many reusable menstrual products available today.

Meg from GenerationMe MommyCon 2016

Meg of generationMe shows some of the reusable products in the exhibitor area. Photo Credit: Katie Hovland www.katiehovland.com

I was rather intrigued by “period panties” that have an absorbent panel to catch any leaks and avoid embarrassing middle school moments or unnecessary laundry challenges. During the Q&A session following Meg’s presentation, moms shared some of their experiences with reusable menstrual cups, and discussed how to talk to their young children about menstruation (since moms never seem to have a moment alone in the bathroom and the topic has a way of coming up). Meg also handed out a mommy-specific tip; informing us that the Soft Cup menstrual cup is even safe and tidy to wear during intercourse (who knew?).

In a session focused on natural products for the whole family, Jenny Duranski of Chicago’s Noktivo natural nail salon spoke about the lack of regulation in the United States with respect to the ingredients in personal care and beauty products. She encouraged parents in attendance to become more aware, and to make simple changes in the products that they use to help maintain safer healthier homes, and safer healthier families. She highlighted two of my favorite resources, the EWG Skin Deep Database and the Think Dirty app as starting points to become more conscious of what is in the products that we buy and put on our bodies.

As many of you know, I am rather passionate about making healthy choices that support wellness. I am likewise always in support of products that are effective, affordable, and allow people to feel nurtured and beautiful. I was delighted to see this topic presented at MommyCon, and I hope to see healthy home products and green beauty explored even more at future MommyCon events.

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I also very much enjoyed the presentation about positive body image by photographer Jade Beall of A Beautiful Body Project. Beall showed dozens of her powerful images, capturing women’s bodies as they really appear in all stages of their adult lives; from pregnancy, nursing, postpartum, and on through to grand-motherhood.

Beall focused on the liberating, educational, and cumulative effects of projecting real images out into our society, rather than accepting mainstream photoshopped “celebreality” pictures as truth. To highlight the assertion that honesty in images can change society’s views of beauty, Beall demonstrated that a Goggle image search for the term “beautiful body” is now peppered with Beall’s “true beauty” images amongst the scantily-clad photos of starlets and swimsuit models (warning: link contains nudity). This concrete example showed that grassroots efforts to promote realistic images of women and beauty, change the definition of beauty over time.

Stay Tuned….

Tomorrow I will continue my review of MommyCon’s Chicago stop, talking about the Vendor Expo, giveaways, and gift bag. I’ll also have a giveaway of my own to share; two free tickets to the MommyCon 2016 event of the winner’s choice (enter here).

If you don’t want to leave anything to chance, you can still get a $5.00 discount off of your ticket purchase for any remaining MommyCon 2016 dates with the code CRUNCHY16. If you are feeling lucky, be sure to check back tomorrow to enter the ticket giveaway. Subscribe to Crunchy Parent and you’ll even receive an email reminder when the giveaway opens so that you won’t forget.

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What I Learned By Taking My Daughter to My Cancer Yoga Class

Photo credit: Patrick Savalle / Foter / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Patrick Savalle / Foter / CC BY-SA

I’d mentioned here a while back that I was bumping up my self-care commitment to include yoga class for me once again. In the spring, I started taking a weekly class at a nearby cancer center. There were a few reasons why I chose the class, not the least of which being that I feel compelled to keep myself involved in a community of people living through and beyond cancer. It keeps me grounded and connected in a way that a traditional yoga class cannot. I also remember that when I was first diagnosed almost five years ago, it was very important for me to see and be around survivors. It gave me hope to interact with people who were okay and living their lives, knowing that they had once been as scared and overwhelmed and uncertain as I was. I want recently diagnosed people who are at the cancer center to see me, to talk to me, and to know that there is hope beyond diagnosis and treatment. I also appreciate that the class strongly emphasizes mindfulness and meditation in addition to the strict yoga practice. It helps me to actively tune into calm.

As the school year was winding down in the late spring, Asher was enrolled in a morning camp program held at his school, and Eva had a summer school program on her schedule. Alina however was not interested in the idea of camp or classes at all. It was a difficult time for her. She was coming to the end of the school year, having finally become settled at the school where she had started in October when we moved from our old home into my parents’ house. She knew that we were looking for a new house of our own, and that although we were committed to staying in the same town and school district, it was likely that she was going to have to change elementary schools again before the next school year started in the fall. For a child who craves security and is slow to warm up to new people and situations, the idea of another new school, her fourth school in four years, was daunting. She was adamant that she was not going to go to camp over the summer too; too many new people and places in the recent past and on the horizon. She did not want a new school and she WOULD NOT go to camp. Despite many attempts at revisiting the conversation from every angle, she was adamant, and I was going to respect her limit. I decided that it might just be what she needed to have some one-on-one time with me during the summer while her siblings were away in the mornings.

I enjoy Alina very much, and she is an easy companion. Unfortunately however, that left me with the challenge of having to figure out what to do for the hour each week that I had set aside for my Cancer Yoga class. The easy answer would have been to just take a break from the class for the summer, but I hoped to find a way to meet both of our needs. I took a chance and asked the yoga instructor if she would mind me bringing my nine year-old to the class on occasion when there was nobody available to stay with her at home. She was open to the idea, and even a bit excited when I told her that Alina might be tempted to join in; she has an enviable tree pose.

It has only been within the last year that we have been talking openly and more frequently with the kids about me having had cancer. There were many reasons for that decision that warrant their own post entirely, but nevertheless my cancer is now part of the family culture. This class was going to be a chance for Alina to take a step with me into the cancer community at a deeper level. Before the first class, I talked with Alina a little bit about the cancer center and who would be attending the classes. I wanted her to be prepared for the possibility of seeing people in different stages of their cancer treatment and recovery; some might be bald, many would be wearing compression sleeves to address lymphedema. I wanted her to know that everyone there would be doing what they could, and what they needed to, so that she wouldn’t be upset if she saw someone take a break or sit out during a pose. We talked about what she could bring to keep her quietly occupied throughout the hour-long class if she decided that she wanted to observe rather than participate. She opted to bring a notebook and colored pencils to the first class, and to watch from the sidelines.

The yoga class is held at the cancer center in a large room with a wraparound window and a view of a pond across the street. As I prepared for class, I once again offered to lay out a mat for Alina next to my own in case she wanted to join in on any pose. She declined and seated herself on the floor near the wall a few feet from my mat. The teacher welcomed her and began instruction. Alina watched quietly while she drew a picture in her notebook. On occasion, as I moved through poses I would sneak Alina a little wink or a quick kiss. She mostly smiled shyly and watched. At the end of class the teacher acknowledged her for being a good observer and presented her with a small gift of candies and tumbled stones carved with some inspiring words. Alina was in heaven.

As the weeks wore on, there were many times when my parents were home to watch Alina during my class, but Alina still wanted to come with me. She did not bring a book or pencils after that first class; she preferred to watch me and to watch the instructor. She only joined in once after repeated invitations. She stood in front of me on my mat as we did tree pose. Her little body stood straight and strong in front of mine. She did not waiver until the teacher tried to snap a photo of the mother and daughter trees; then she quickly retreated back to her safe space by the wall. She would not return to the mat for yoga the rest of the summer. Slowly however, she came to take comfort in the rhythm of the class. After a while, I was able to entice her to come snuggle up next to me under a blanket at the end of the classes. We would relax in our “spooning shavasana” and listen to the guided meditation together.

I often thought that I would have found the experience rather uncomfortable and boring if I had been in her position. Spending an hour each week during the summer watching a bunch of grownups do yoga doesn’t sound like much fun to me, yet she always wanted to come with me to class. As I observed her in life, it became evident that she was gaining more from the class than I had realized. In quiet moments of our days, especially when we were out in nature, she just started to assume poses on her own. It became her own silent practice; something that she did in her comfortable space and at her own pace. The experience of attending class with me also helped her put faces to cancer; to demystify what is often a scary and overwhelming word. She saw many people, standing straight and strong, breathing their way through challenges and stretching themselves just a little bit beyond what was comfortable.

Tree pose at the lake.

Tree pose at the lake.

As summer drew to a close, we found a house and moved in a week before the start of the school year. Alina was leaving her grandparents’ home and going to a new house and a new neighborhood across town. She would be attending another school in the fall, as she had feared. She was miserable. Beyond miserable. It was a lot of change. One day, just prior to the move, Rich took the kids to the park so that I could focus on packing. He sent me a picture from the park with the message, “I think that this is your influence.” It made me smile. She was breathing her way through challenges too. Finding space for peace and calm amidst tumult.

"I think that this is your influence."

“I think that this is your influence.”

The first day of school was approaching, and the energy within the house was pretty intense. Three kids starting new schools, and for Alina it was especially difficult. She did not want to go. We made the decision to have Alina and Asher ride the bus on the first day so that they could get any initial instructions about bussing to school, and begin to become familiar with the routine. I then drove to the school on my own to attend a meeting that was being held for the kindergarten parents just after the school day began. I had not told the kids about the meeting because I thought that they would balk at taking the bus if they knew that I was going to be driving. I was also afraid that Alina might refuse to get out of the car if she rode to school with me, and this would send her brother into a tailspin too.

I arrived at school while all of the students were still standing outside waiting to be let into their classrooms, which I had not anticipated. My eyes found Alina, standing alone, head bowed while the other fourth graders around her chatted and laughed with their friends. Before I could even think about the wisdom of my action, I approached her and gave her a hug. As soon as she saw me, she burst into tears. I held her and promised her that this was the last first day when she wouldn’t know anyone. I reminded her to breathe. I took a few deep breaths myself as the bell rang, she wiped her tears, and she headed in through the doors.

Parents’ Night at school was the following week. It was a chance to meet teachers and to see the classrooms. Alina wanted me to be sure to introduce myself to a couple of moms because their daughters were her newfound friends. As I walked into the fourth grade room we were encouraged to look around before locating our child’s desk. Strung up along the perimeter of the room were essays that the children had written and mounted on bright construction paper; “What is something fun that you did this summer?” This is a start-of-school essay that my kids tend not to enjoy. They have never attended fancy overnight camps or gone on a family vacation like many of their classmates, and it sometimes leaves them feeling sad about what we haven’t been able to provide. We try to encourage them to remember the simpler, but still fun things that we do, and to write about those. I saw Alina’s essay “Yoga with My Mom.” As I started to read, I found myself fighting back tears.

cancer yoga with my mom essay

The thing is, we all find ourselves at times having to do something that we really don’t want to. Not just math homework or eating blue cheese, but something that we would give anything to avoid, like saying goodbye to our friends and being the new kid at a new school again, or being diagnosed with a scary disease that makes you wonder if you will live to make any new memories with your children. What began as a creative solution to a logistical problem became a life lesson for my girl, and for me. Sometimes life is hard in ways that nobody can change. When it is, look for the simple joys, find peace in the quiet moments, turn inward for strength, and outward for support. Above all, remember to breathe.

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Barganic Alert: Green Mountain Organics 25% off woolens through July 31st

Green Mountain Organics

When the children were attending a Waldorf school, outdoor time was a very big part of the curriculum. Over and over we heard repeated, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.” The phrase underscored the idea that the school children needed to be well-suited for fun outside regardless of what Mother Nature had thrown their way. It quickly became important for us to source out wool or silk long johns, balaclavas, and other clothing to keep the kids warm throughout the cold Midwest winters. Our children continue to be nature-lovers, and we never want inadequate clothing to prevent them from enjoying time exploring and playing outside in all seasons.

Although cold, snowy days are still (hopefully) months away, sometimes it can really pay to plan ahead. Green Mountain Organics is rewarding their “forward-thinking” customers with a great sale on organic silk and wool underwear, outerwear, and diaper gear. With sizes for babies to adults, Green Mountain Organics is ready to provide that needed extra layer to keep everyone warm indoors or out this winter. Through July 31st they are offering 25% off their organic cotton, wool, silk, and wool and silk blend clothes in baby, child, and adult sizes from brands like Lanacare, Hocosa and Ruskovilla. Discount pricing is already reflected online, and prices will adjust back to full retail on August 1st.

I know that when that first cold snap hits, I always feel better knowing that I have the woolens on hand and ready to go so that we can have fun outside. What are some of your favorite winter activities to do outdoors with your kids?

**Barganic Alerts are an effort to spread awareness about affordable crunchy goods and services. They are not endorsements, nor am I compensated in any way. They tend to be time-limited, and often go quickly. To make sure you are always in the know, subscribe to CrunchyParent.com to receive emails of all Barganic Alerts as soon as they are posted**

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Barganic Alerts: What they are and why I strive to highlight affordable healthy living


PinkMoose / Foter / CC BY

You may have noticed that I post a lot of “Barganic Alerts” and that may have you wondering what they are and why I bother making such a fuss about them. Bargainic Alert is a term that I coined when I started writing this blog in its first iteration back in 2007, before the crash (read more about that here). I developed the term to clarify that I was pointing out a good or even great deal on an organic, eco-friendly, or otherwise crunchy product. The reason that it was, and continues to be especially important for me to broadcast these deals is because making healthy, green, crunchy choices often comes at a higher price point than more conventional ones. As a result, families may shy away from crunchy practices not because they are not interested, but because they get sticker shock, feel financially overwhelmed, and just conclude that crunchy options are too expensive to be available to them.

I really want people to have access to the choices that they wish to make, and that they believe are the best fit for their families. My children and I often have discussions about needing to allocate resources mindfully; to find a balance between time, talent, money, and desire. Everyone, no matter what their station in life will find at times that they want more than they have, or that their resources will allow. They then get to decide where they want to channel their time, talent, and money; and which desires are worth striving for, or living without.

In the case of my family, Rich and I both worked and put ourselves through graduate and professional school in the earlier years of our marriage and family, leaving us with very little disposable income. In addition, we have always been a single income family. My employment was a condition of my graduate studies, and thus did not pay for much more than the cost of tuition compensation or the expense of daycare to allow me to be there to complete my degree once Eva was born. As with most single income families, my being home with the kids comes with a tradeoff; there is less money in the bank account. Three years ago, when Rich was laid off from his job, we were suddenly a zero income family (save unemployment) with no idea of how long it would be before new employment would be found. Moreover, we were still reeling from the medical expenses of my cancer treatment on the heels of a high risk pregnancy and delivery. We were scrutinizing every expenditure that we made, and trying our hardest to make every purchasing choice a wise one. I say this not to elicit sympathy; we are fine and grateful, and Rich is happily employed once again. My point however, is that there are ways to be crunchy and live frugally at the same time; that living a more natural, attachment-friendly lifestyle can and should be available to those who want it, regardless of wealth. Hence, me shouting from the hilltops when I have a Barganic Alert to share.

The first crunchy bargain that I can remember finding was at a children’s resale event. I did not even have any children yet (I’m always one to plan ahead,) still I could not resist this sweet little soft doll with knotted hands and a gentle face. Not being familiar with Waldorf Education at the time either, I did not know that I was face-to-face with a Waldorf blanket doll, or that the $1 price tag was a steal, but he came home with me nevertheless. About a year later when I was newly pregnant with Eva, a visit to a children’s resale store introduced me to a gorgeous Maya Wrap sling for $10 that I went on to use to wear all three of my children.

Ready to rock the 4th of July in the Maya Wrap

Ready to rock the 4th of July in the Maya Wrap

I continued to keep my eyes out for crunchy bargains as I prepared for Eva’s birth. I knew that I wanted to use cloth diapers, but was overwhelmed by the cost. I poured over diaper sites looking for deals so that I could amass a usable system (daycare would use pocket dipes for her but they weren’t going to be bikini twisting any prefolds). I built up my stash with a dozen precious Kissaluvs size 0s and larger sizes that I got on sale for being second quality, Fuzzibunz seconds where the print was sewn inside out, hemp prefolds that were stitched in slightly the wrong dimensions, and ProRaps diaper cover seconds that had mildly wonky stitching. Everything was new, adorable, and still worked just fine, they were just a little less pretty to the trained eye.

Years later, I stocked the play kitchen with small dishes and wooden bowls found at the thrift store, bought a deeply discounted Moby Wrap in a style being discontinued on Amazon, and snapped up organic cotton sheet sets and blankets for the whole family when a company had a closeout sale (the latter was a Barganic Alert from years ago). I looked for ways to support health and beauty for my family and in our home that resonated with an attachment parenting lifestyle, yet still worked within our minimal budget. I participated in many mama swaps where crunchy goods, crafts, or talents were traded. I have organized and joined co-ops and CSAs. I have filled my gardens and pantry by participating in seed, plant, and food swaps. I treasure every crunchy bargain that I have ever gotten. I see it as the Universe and I being in partnership toward providing my family the crunchy lifestyle that I think fits us. It is my absolute commitment. I honestly believe that where there is a will, there is a way.

Now all of this is not to say that I don’t buy crunchy products at full retail as well. I absolutely do, and I believe that it is important to support companies whose products we value with our dollars when we can. In addition, I try to “pay it forward” when I get a good deal by sharing it with others, but also by advertising the product (and crunchy choices in general). I cannot tell you the number of people who have stopped me over the years and asked me about that $10 Maya Wrap sling or that sale Moby as I wore my babies in them; who chatted with me about cloth diapers after seeing me pull one from the diaper bag and demystify the idea of cloth. I know that there have been many slings, wraps, and cloth diapers purchased by families who saw me using mine, and who let me tell them all about, and show them how to use them.

As I said before, we all have to allocate out time, talents, and money. For some, I hope that Barganic Alerts will make you aware of a great company or resource that was previously unfamiliar to you, whether you take advantage of the deal or not. For others, it may allow you to provide a crunchy treasure for your family that might otherwise have been beyond your reach. If you all lived nearby I’d tell you when organic stone fruit or berries were on sale at the grocery store too, and we could all make jam together. I’d send out an alert when my friends were putting together a group order for raw, organic, local honey. We could start a really great co-op. Since we don’t all share the same neighborhood, broadcasting Barganic Alerts to my online crunchy community is the best that I can do for now.

Barganic Alerts are generally precious and limited. Some are first come, first served. Others may be for a brief period of time. I think that they are usually pretty fantastic, and I often take advantage of them for myself and my family. If you want to make sure that you do not miss out on a Barganic Alert, I encourage you to subscribe to CrunchyParent.com so that you can be emailed directly whenever I post a new alert. If you tend to spend more time on Twitter or Pinterest, you can subscribe to me there too as Crunchy_Parent and I will do my best to tweet and pin the Barganic Alerts as well so that you are sure to see them.

If you see a great bargain on a crunchy product or service that you think is worth sharing, please let us all know. Comment here, send a tweet, or email me directly at crunchyparent@sbcglobal.net.

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How I Breastfed Correctly By Accident: New Research on Natural Breastfeeding Positions


malmesjo / Foter / CC BY

When I became pregnant for the first time, I was highly motivated to learn as much as I could to support the type of birth experience that I was hoping to have, and to care for my newborn in a way that would best serve his or her emotional and physical health and well-being. I read and researched, participated in online expectant mother communities, watched videos, attended Bradley birthing classes, and otherwise filled my head with information. I wanted to do everything “right.” With respect to breastfeeding, I registered for the breastfeeding pillow voted number one by lactation consultants, devoured The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers among other books, attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital, and even sat in on a couple La Leche League meetings. I studied the intricacies of the football, cross-cradle, and cradle holds, practiced holding and maneuvering my breast as I was instructed (“like a cheeseburger”), and evaluated baby wraps and slings based upon the ease of breastfeeding while babywearing. I felt pretty well prepared to nourish my child.

Eva finally made her grand entry into the world after a shockingly fast labor and an almost-can’t-fill-the-tub-fast-enough water birth that had the midwife scrambling. Despite all of my careful planning and preparing, I was met with some intense postpartum complications, which included multiple hemorrhages, several blood transfusions, and surgery. In the days following her birth, my blood levels were so low that even subtle movements of my head would at times cause my blood pressure to plummet and me to teeter on the brink of losing consciousness. I continued to be determined to care for my newborn and her needs. I was her mama, and I was going to nurse her, just like I had planned. It simply meant that we were going to have to do it with me lying flat on my back for a while.

Just like that, all of the carefully studied holds and techniques flew out the window. There was me with my breasts, and a baby with a mouth. We just had to make the pieces fit together. Fortunately for me, Eva had not spent any of the 40 weeks prior attending classes, watching videos, or reading books like I had. She just sort of knew what to do. I scooped her up onto my torso and marveled at this tiny person, face down on my breast nursing away. It looked nothing like any of the videos that I had watched or pictures that I had seen, but I figured that it was the best that I could do under the circumstances, and it appeared to be getting the job done. For the better past of her first week I lay in my hospital bed and she lay on my belly, nursing face-first when she needed.

Imagine my surprise when I saw an article this week on mothering.com reporting Nancy Mohrbacher’s conclusions about breastfeeding positions. Ms. Mohrbacher reflected upon recent research as well as her thirty-plus years of experience as a lactation consultant and breastfeeding authority. She suggested that perhaps Eva was right (instincts and all) and it was I who had been misguided in my breastfeeding eduction.

I highly recommend giving the article a thorough read, but in summary it suggests that allowing the newborn baby to connect his or her full front with the mother in a reclined position is an ideal way to nurse, and mirrors what we often see in nature. This position allows for gravity to assist the baby with a deep latch and for the baby to receive stimulus on key pressure points that aide baby in coordination of movements that facilitate effective nursing. These positions also take strain off on the mother’s back, neck, and shoulders, allowing her to relax. Ms. Mohrbacher has developed a wonderful library of videos demonstrating the “Narutal Breastfeeding” positions and approach that can be viewed here. These, and additional breastfeeding videos are also available are for viewing on Ms. Mohrbacher’s You Tube channel.

It has been over twelve years since I reflected with gratitude on this sweet newborn’s ability to figure out how to nurse despite her mama’s physical challenges in what was at the time a very difficult and unexpected postpartum situation. The guilt that I felt about not being able to do things the “right” way to take care of her is still palpable when I think back to her birth. Reading this week’s article served as a reminder that doing things “not right” for my baby or my child may in hindsight not be the same as doing it wrong. Sometimes it may even have been a blessing in disguise. So I chipped away a little bit of mama guilt that had been hanging around for over a decade and high-fived my five-foot-five tween. What a smart little baby she was!

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Being Attached in a Detatched World Revisited

Eight years ago I wrote a post on this here blog in it’s pre-system-crashed-everything-deleted version about being invited to stand up in a close friend’s wedding halfway across the country. At the time, Alina was eight months-old and she was exclusively breastfed. Moreover, despite ultimately being the longest-standing and most committed nursling of my three children, she also was the most challenging baby with whom to establish a comfortable nursing relationship, and she was never willing or able to take breast milk that had been expressed. Never. Not once. Not even a little bit. Of course, this meant that if I was going to be flying over a thousand miles and standing up for my friend of thirty-plus years, Alina was going to be joining me.

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which being financial, Rich and Eva were staying home and I was heading out on this journey alone with my little babe. The reception was adults only, so this also meant that I would need to hire some unknown babysitter to stay in the hotel room with Alina while I shuttled back and forth between the room and the reception downstairs throughout the night (half of you are aghast at this notion, and would have told the bride, “baby or nothing!”). It probably goes without saying that this sweet baby who refused to take a bottle also had limited experience with babysitters, and by that I mean that she had none (half of you are aghast at this notion and are cursing me for coddling my child and not making adult time a priority). I was a stay-at-home mama and she was a stay-at-home baby, so we’d pretty much been a matched set up to that point.

It didn’t go well. Alina cried and cried the entire time that I was away from the room. She refused to sleep and was generally miserable. When I finally returned to the room for the night, hours ahead of the other guests, the babysitter handed her off to me sheepishly and in her broken English informed me, “She is not good baby” before making her exit. I wrestled with that declaration for a while. It really rubbed me the wrong way because she absolutely was a good baby. She was smiley and friendly, with bright shining eyes and a clear ability to communicate her needs and desires. When she was upset, she let you know why, and when you met those needs, she was mollified and content. She wanted to be with her mama. She was attached to me and it was deeply unsettling to her to be in a strange place with a strange person and without her touchstone. She was a good baby, but the idea of an eight month-old baby being so firmly attached to her mother that she could not be left home for a weekend of travel or with a babysitter for a night of adult-only celebration seemed to be generally frowned-upon and viewed as dysfunctional.

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

Now, I’ve mentioned here a bunch of times that I am actively trying to make self-care a higher priority in my life, basically because I am really horrible at it. Like many parents I am always so focused on my kids’ seemingly more immediate and important needs, and day after day runs out of hours before I dig out from under all of the kid stuff and remember that there is another person here with needs of her own. My cancer diagnosis four years ago was the Universe grabbing me by the shoulders and shaking me with a very stern lecture about putting on my own oxygen mask first. It was my wake-up call that I can’t habitually neglect myself in the name of good parenting because that isn’t being a good parent (or a good human) and I may never get to that “someday” list that I always put my own needs on. I keep saying that I will join a gym again or start attending yoga classes at the cancer wellness center again, or make time to spend with friends, but somehow months go by and it just doesn’t happen. So, I decided that until I get better at the routine self-care I will go for the occasional grand gesture; a carpe diem experience every now and again to give myself a shot in the arm.

In celebration of my recent birthday, I planned a grand gesture. I had seen a highly esteemed herbalist offering a small-group, four-day class on essential oil making and learning about medicinal plants of the Southwest. It would include herbal walks, wildcrafting, and hands-on workshops and demonstrations in and around a secluded hot springs campground. The class was to be held in Arizona and I would be joined by a good friend of mine who is crunchy-oriented as well. It would be an experience unlike any that I had ever had; the first “girl” trip with a friend that I have taken since college. I was amazed and excited as it started to come together as a reality.

As my reality began to come together, my children began to voice their upset about me leaving. The kids are used to Rich being out of town for work (they don’t like it, but they are used to it). The idea of me not being home is a whole different matter altogether. It just doesn’t fit with their experience of of the world, and they were really struggling.

Alina was once again shaken and insecure to know that I would not be here. We talked about the trip a lot. Rich would be taking time off of work to be home during the school days to shuttle kids to and from school and appointments, to make dinner, to tuck them into bed. My parents, with whom we currently live, would be home to help as needed. I would be leaving on a Friday morning and retuning on Tuesday afternoon, so technically there would only be three days when we would not see each other. She wasn’t moved by my efforts to comfort her. She alternated between desperate, angry, and just plain sad in the days working up to the trip. The morning I was set to go, I tiptoed into the girls’ room at 6:15 am to kiss Alina and Eva goodbye before jumping in the cab. I found Alina lying in her bed looking forlorn with tears streaming down her cheeks. She wanted to be with her mama, or at least know that her mama would be home whenever she checked in throughout her days of school and playing.

As I rode in the cab to the airport my heart was heavy having left such a sad girl behind. Alina is still a happy girl with bright, shining eyes. She is smiley and friendly, thoughtful and very kind and nurturing to others. She is generally easygoing and the first to go without so that someone else’s needs can be met, but she craves her security and at the core of it all, that is me. I must admit that although my heart ached for my tearful babe, I was aware of feelings of irritation as well. Why must it be so hard? After all, she is not eight months old any more, she’s eight years old. Why is it that the rest of the free world can seemingly go to work, or on a date, or on a trip and their children seem to take it in stride, yet mine protest for days and leave puddles of tears in their wake? I need to put on my own oxygen mask sometimes. I need to be able to get away and nurture myself once in a while. Why must it be so hard?

I kept thinking back to Ainsworth’s Attachment Styles (all of those years of psychology school keep those ideas very close in my mind). Securely attached, isn’t that what I’m wanting here? Shouldn’t we have reached the point by now in which she is secure in the the idea of knowing that her mother is a safe base in a theoretical sense? Can’t this allow for more extended explorations out into the world by now, for her and for me?

I sat and pondered and ruminated a bit. I fiddled with my phone as the cab driver brought me farther from home and closer to adventure. Then I saw it, a message from my former graduate school. The director of one of my PhD. programs was retiring. He had been my dissertation advisor, and had instructed me in several of my classes. I liked him a great deal, and he had taught me a lot. He had an easygoing nature that was comforting in the context of the stress of graduate school, and he had provided positive feedback and words of encouragement when they were very much needed. He had mentored me and helped me find direction when I was struggling with decisions about my educational and career future. He watched with baited breath along with the rest of my committee as I presented the defense of my dissertation. I was nine months pregnant with Alina at the time, and ready to burst. He had been the first to shake my hand and call me “Doctor” when it was successfully completed. His was among the first emails that I had sent in the days that followed to explain that I was a bit delayed in making the suggested edits to my dissertation because I had gone into labor that night after completing the defense. He hooded me at the commencement ceremony several months later, and I pointed out my two girls in the stadium crowd to him before ducking out to nurse my baby girl while donning my full regalia. He was leaving.

Mind you it had been many years since I had seen or spoken with my advisor, but as I read that message in the cab, it didn’t matter. There had been a security in knowing that he was there, always where I expected him to be just in case I needed him. The reality is that I still might need him. It has been highly unusual for me to have taken this career break. I suspect that it is not the traditional path to complete one’s PhD. and then opt to be a stay-at-home parent for years before entering the workforce, but that’s the road that I have traveled. When it comes time for me to revisit my career, I will need letters of recommendation from those who can speak to the quality of my work, my mind, my training, and they’re all going away. Retirement, health challenges, moving elsewhere and losing touch….my advisor was the last of the core group of faculty who really knew me and my work.

Here I was, a forty year-old woman in the back of a cab having heart palpitations because my advisor was going away and I might really miss him. I might need him and he wouldn’t be there. The irony of my situation was not lost on me. Perhaps eight years is not too old to be rattled when your security walks out the door. Maybe forty isn’t either.

I continue to struggle with finding my place and finding a place for my family in a society that seems to emphasize independence for young children and career advancement for adults as much as ours does. I am not sure that I understand how to reconcile those goals with the needs of my kids. I’m not sure which side of the independence/attachment coin to favor; when to gently push for one, and when to patiently nurture the other. I took my trip and had an amazing time. She missed me a lot. The days passed and I came home. Now I am going to write a letter expressing my gratitude to my advisor and wish him well in his retirement. I may add a request for a letter of recommendation in there too, just in case I need it someday.

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The Return of the Crunchy Parent

***Surprise!!!!*** Well, probably not much of a surprise to most of you who are new around these parts, but just in case there’s someone out there who had a magical feed reader that held on to this little page waiting and wondering for the last six years whatever happened to that woman whose family you used to know a little about, I’ll take a moment to catch you up….I started this blog back when my two girls were teeny bits. One was watching the world unfold in gauzy magical colors at her Waldorf preschool and in our backyard. The other spent most of her time smiling at life from her perch, usually snuggled in her Maya Wrap close to my chest. I was transitioning to the role of full-time, stay-at-home parent after many years in graduate school completing PhD programs in both clinical psychology and school psychology, and trying to figure out how all of the training that I had received fit with these two little beings who had not necessarily read the same books or followed the same syllabi that I had. My husband and I were trying to approach our role as parents mindfully, with a strong focus on preserving childhood as a time of exploration, wonder, and creativity, and making thoughtful decisions that we hoped would support the emotional and physical health and well-being of our children. I’m the first to admit that our aspirational path was not an easy road for us to walk, and sometimes we had to settle for doing the best that we could in a given moment or circumstance even if that was not the same as what we wished we could do in the moment or in hindsight.  That is where my blog took a sabbatical.

In the summer of 2008, my husband sustained a significant back injury and took an extended leave from work to recover. I attempted to balance the child care, the diaper washing and round-the-clock nursing, the food prep, the transportation, laundry, groceries, mowing the lawn, taking out the trash, the CSA pickup, the chiropractor appointments and doctor visits, caring for him as he was mostly bedridden, and trying to maintain my blog. Something had to give. The blog seemed like the appropriate choice, so it sat gathering dust and waiting for life to settle down a bit.

Thankfully life did begin a return to normal, enough to consider that third baby that we had wanted but had also put on hold in light of the chaos. We were lucky enough to be blessed with a third pregnancy, but our joy did not last long before it became overshadowed by complications. When I was 8 weeks pregnant I began to experience significant bleeding, and 15 weeks into my pregnancy I was on complete bed rest with a diagnosis of subchorionic hemorrhages. Now it was my husband’s turn to be the full-time house manager, child care provider, and breadwinner as we tried to maintain a challenged pregnancy over many months and still meet the needs of our girls. It was during this time that we also discovered that a deadline had been missed, a subscription had gone unpaid, and my blog and all of its content had been lost. It was too low on our priority list at the time, and it seemed that the Universe was telling me to just let some things go. The days and weeks crawled along, and despite odds that seemed unthinkable at times, I gave birth at full term to my beautiful son.

Recovery from almost six months of immobility was difficult and involved a great deal of physical therapy, but I began to improve. An area on my leg that I had noticed as seeming different and restricted during the pregnancy never really got better despite my increased strength and decreased pain elsewhere. In the end it turned out that it was cancer, and that was a whole other journey.

I am excited to say that I am four years cancer-free this month. Our little crunchy family has weathered many challenges over the past six years; too many to list, but not enough to have completely derailed us from our crunchy path. I continue to be excited by learning new things; by crafting, cooking, and creating, by supporting health and well-being in holistic ways, and by attempting to glean the best from mainstream and non-mainstream approaches while keeping an open mind that today’s best choice for our family may not be the same as tomorrow’s, and certainly may not be the same as another family’s best choice. I am also mindfully choosing to place a greater emphasis on self-care. Like many parents I tend to fall into the habit of pouring every ounce into my children without taking time to refill my own cup. That is simply not sustainable or beneficial for the family as a whole, so I am trying to make new choices in that area of my life to support continued health and well-being. This blog is self-care for me. It gives me permission and time to express myself, to explore my interests, and to engage in a community that teaches me endlessly.

There have been so many times over the years that I have learned something or done something and wished that I could share it on my blog, only to have a melancholy moment thinking that the blog had been just one more casualty of those rather difficult years. My oldest child recently turned twelve and in poking around online found the three Crunchy Parent videos that I had put up on You Tube all those years ago. She pointed to the page views and to the followers, “Mom, people are still interested,” she said, “You should bring Crunchy Parent back.” If I am going to believe that the Universe may have cued me to let go when I needed my focus to be elsewhere, I am going to be open to the idea that it may be nudging me to return. So, I’m back. No promises and no apologies, but I hope you’ll be happy to see me again, and many of you for the very first time.

As I mentioned above, I love to learn new things and I find it exciting to share what I know with others. If you have an interest or a question, let me know and I will possibly have the information for you, or you can be the inspiration for me figuring it out. Thank you for hanging on or checking back after all these years. I hope that you will be glad that you did. If we are crossing paths for the first time, I assume that there must be a good reason. Please make yourself at home and I hope that you find something that enriches you for the experience.

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