Crawling Guiltily Along

July 29th, 2015 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Garden | Living On Purpose - (Comments Off on Crawling Guiltily Along)

I discovered the above poem at the tender age of seven, when I decided to plagiarize it and claim it for my own in a second-grade writing assignment. The teacher did not recognize the poem and gave me a “very creative” stamp on the paper. And guess what? I’ve felt guilty about it all these years. So here’s your shout-out, Monica Shannon. I’m sorry I stole your poem in second grade.  I still think of it whenever I see a caterpillar. And, sorry, second grade teacher (I think her name was Mrs. Ryan), for passing off this work as my own. Also, I probably shouldn’t have waited 40 years to make amends. Sorry. Sorry!

Speaking of guilt, I have a number of friends who are into raising monarch butterflies. They are considered endangered, you know. My friends wouldn’t have left this fellow on the milkweed to be eaten by a hungry bird. Oh no, they would have taken him inside to nurture him safely to butterfly adulthood. But I didn’t do that. I don’t really know the fate of this fat friend. I do know that he enjoyed his meal of milkweed leaves. He mowed them down with gusto, just like anyone who has read The Very Hungry Caterpillar would expect. I hope he moved on to a safe branch somewhere to begin his transformation into a stately monarch. But I feel guilty for not knowing.

I feel guilty for a lot of things. I feel guilty for not writing. I feel guilty for not cleaning my house. I feel guilty for not pulling weeds. I feel guilty that my office looks like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders. I feel guilty for not hugging my children enough. Or am I hugging them too much? I feel guilty that they spend too much time staring at a screen. I feel guilty for nagging them about their screen time. Most of the time I’m not even sure what I’m doing right or wrong, but guilt is a constant. And let’s not even get started on world hunger, social justice and the environment. If it has a hashtag, I probably feel guilty about it.

A very good friend once told me: “Guilt is a useless emotion.” She was mostly right, and I admired her ability to give guilt the cold shoulder. Guilt is paralyzing, stultifying, crazymaking. It tells you bad things about yourself. It’s a sign of thinking too much. Perhaps it’s also a catalyst for action, though. Doesn’t it spur us to do better? Or keep us from doing wrong in the first place? I have a sense that the antidote to guilt is action, and the cure is grace, but still I get mired in the guilt-mud on a regular basis.

Are you living a guilt-free life? What do you do about mommy guilt? Daddy guilt? Eco guilt? Other kinds of guilt? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

And by the way, I feel guilty for all the guilt I’ve laid on my kids over the years. But at least I feel better about the caterpillar poem now. That’s a start.

Mental Discipline

March 23rd, 2015 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Garden | Living On Purpose | Photos - (Comments Off on Mental Discipline)

Sometimes you just have to stop the negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts. Am I right? That’s why, even though it’s March 23 and we just got four inches of new snow, I’m refusing to photograph it. Instead, I’m posting pictures of these hyacinths. Yes, they’re forced blooms, but their perfume fills the entire first floor of my house. It may be winter on the outside, but it’s spring on the inside.

A photo posted by @dawnann12 on

“I don’t really know what my mom does all day, but she used to be a writer.”

Trophy Mom mug available on Etsy. It might be the only recognition you get!

Trophy Mom mug available on Etsy. It might be the only recognition you get!

That’s what my son wrote as part of a “getting to know you” writing assignment in school last year. I don’t know what was more upsetting about reading that sentence: Discovering my “former writer” status, or absorbing the implication that I don’t presently have much of a life.

I have to admit, it stung. I was tempted to hand my kid a list of all the “mom chores” I do every day, or point out the writing projects (both paid and volunteer) I have done in the past year. I did neither.

I did think a lot about recognition, and why it hurt me so much to feel unrecognized. Clearly, I had not earned “mom of the year” status in my son’s eyes, despite all my momming around, since he couldn’t even figure out what I did all day. And my writing exploits were, apparently, far from impressive. At least, they didn’t make much of an impression on him. That one sentence in my son’s essay stirred up a hornet’s nest of doubts about whether I was performing well at either of my “jobs.”  Of course, those doubts had been buzzing in my brain for a while. Being a mother can be a thankless job. The benefits are fantastic, but the pay sucks, and there are no trophies. In my work as a freelance writer, I seldom get any public recognition. All the “glory” goes to my clients, which is the way it’s supposed to be. I do get a paycheck at the end of the project, most of the time.

So, I’m stuck with a recognition deficit. Only time will tell if my kids ever recognize what I did all day, and truly, I don’t really care. It’s not their job to fill me up. But it is nice to have a community of other parents to say “hey, I see you, and you’re doing a good job,” and then say it right back to them. If you’ve ever felt the same way, I’d love to hear from you.

20131118-090546.jpg I have not always been big on board games. “Monopoly” and “Pictionary” were the extent of my game repertoire prior to having children. But during my kids’ early grade school years, their teachers encouraged us to play board games for the many educational benefits, and as a result, we’ve become a game-playing family. We add new board games to our collection each Christmas, and games are a highlight of our New Year’s Eve with friends. We take board games on vacation with us, and Family Game Night happens several times a year around here. Though we always come back to our favorites, we also like to try new games regularly. To see the very latest in board games, I’ll be checking out the Chicago Toy and Game (ChiTAG) Fair this weekend. I can’t wait! For more details on the ChiTAG fair, and a discount on admission, see the end of this post.

Why Play Board Games?

It shows you care.  Whatever their age, kids love to get parents’ undivided attention. Setting aside a night to unplug and just play games is the definition of quality time. It shows you have made family time—and play—priorities in your busy lives, and that is a valuable message. Even though my kids are in the tween and teen years, when we say it’s game night, we don’t get any complaints.

It’s good for your kids. Board games pack so much learning into a (flimsy) cardboard box! (As an aside – why can’t game manufacturers make stronger game boxes? They are not built to withstand children. Does anyone still have Candyland in the original box? If you do, my hat’s off to you.) Playing age-appropriate games can build skills such as hand-eye coordination, number recognition, money management and more; reinforce social skills; increase attention span; deliver life lessons, and teach healthy competition. If you’d like to learn more about how this all happens, this article from Scholastic is a good starting point.

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Make Time for a Thankfulness Tradition

November 1st, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Living On Purpose | Traditions - (Comments Off on Make Time for a Thankfulness Tradition)

20131101-140130.jpgThis time of year, the calendar seems to pick up speed for busy families. Halloween is over; before you know it, “THE HOLIDAYS” and all their craziness will be upon us. Retailers and advertisers are already pushing their holiday must-haves in the stores and in the media. Before the kid start making their holiday wish lists, let’s help them remember what gratitude is all about! Thanksgiving is the next major holiday on the American calendar, and November 1 is a good time to consciously slow things down and be thankful.

In our family, we’ve had a “Thankful Tree” tradition for at least 10 years now. Super-simple to make, it gives us a focal point for dinner-table discussions about gratitude during the month of November. It’s an easy way to help kids develop the ability to show gratitude, an important skill that can lead to a happier life.

How to make a Thankful Tree

1. Find a flower pot or other container for your Thankful Tree (we used one from a flower arrangement we received).
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Aaaahhhh…screen shot from White Noise App

What do you do to relieve stress? I, for one, have a tendency to blow off the fact that I’m stressed, thinking it’s not a big deal, until it becomes a problem. Or I do something dumb, like drink more coffee, to get myself through the day. (Getting even more wired—not a good idea!) So lately, I’ve been looking for some healthier (and easy) ways to get my stress level under control. Technology to the rescue! Did you know that the App Store is well-stocked with relaxation apps? And, there’s no need to get stressed trying to figure out which app to download. I’ve done some research and some testing so you don’t have to! My top five stress-busting apps for iOS are listed below.

If you feel stressed at times, you’re not alone. According to the 2013 American Psychological Association Stress in America study, approximately seven in 10 Americans report experiencing symptoms of stress such as irritability or anger, fatigue, feeling overwhelmed and changes in sleeping habits. And, women consistently report higher stress levels than men.

Left unchecked, stress—from your job (even if your job is “just” parenting), your thoughts, life events or your living environment—can build up and cause health problems over time. But you can prevent stress from becoming a big deal if you do a little bit to manage it every day. Creating a regular stress management routine can really improve your health and happiness. By putting stress relief tools right on your phone or iPad, stress-busting apps let you de-stress anywhere and anytime. No excuses!

Here are those five apps I promised. Check them out. They can put relief, literally, right into your hands.

BellyBio Interactive Breathing App (by Relaxline, FREE). Deep breathing is a great starting point for stress relief. Many of us go around holding our breath when we’re stressed. If you have never practiced deep breathing, you’ll be amazed at how it helps relax your entire body. This “biofeedback” app is fun to use. You place your phone on your belly and the app gives you visual and/or sound feedback as you breathe, helping you to slow your respiration into a deep belly breath. (more…)

Chew on This: Local Food is a Win-Win

September 25th, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Food | Living On Purpose - (Comments Off on Chew on This: Local Food is a Win-Win)

Some of the laying hens at Nature’s Choice Farm.

This past weekend, my hometown held its first-ever, local-food Harvest Festival. All the food and drink was grown, raised or created within about 250 miles of our town, with most of it from within a 30-mile radius. Guess what? The festival sold out of food within the first 90 minutes. Local food is hot.

In restaurants and in home kitchens, more and more people are turning toward locally produced food because it is fresher, has less impact on the environment and is good for local economies. It seems that many people, given the choice, would rather spend their dollars locally and help small farmers in their communities. Eating local—and involving kids in the process—is also a great way to connect kids with their food and promote healthy eating.

Over the summer, my daughter and I paid a visit to Nature’s Choice Farm in Grant Park, Illinois, about an hour from downtown Chicago. We’ve been buying our meat and eggs from Nature’s Choice Farm for about a year now. The pasture-raised (grass-fed) beef, pork, chicken and turkey is not only delicious, and healthful, it is locally and sustainably raised on a small farm within a short drive from our home. The meat is also processed within the state of Illinois. We normally pick up our meat and eggs at the farmer’s market or at a local delivery site, and we’ve had the chance to meet the farmers, Eric and Samantha Sexton, on many occasions. But visiting the farm in person gave us an even greater appreciation for the work they do and the quality of the food they produce.

Our beef comes from this small herd of grass-fed cattle raised about an hour from downtown Chicago.

On our farm visit, we rode behind the tractor for a tour, indulged in a pig roast, and gathered our own eggs from the hen house. For city and suburban kids, who may have never seen an egg outside of a grocery store, the chance to pick up an egg still warm from the chicken’s (ahem) bottom was truly an “a-ha” moment! For me, it was gratifying to see the pigs, cattle and chickens out in the open, free to roam and graze, in a peaceful, pastoral setting. The contrast to large “factory farms” was pleasantly apparent. Yes, this is a small operation. Even with a dedicated customer base, Nature’s Choice raises a herd of fewer than 40 cattle in any given season. (more…)

Pinterest for Personal and Social Good

February 19th, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Good Ideas | Living On Purpose | Social Media - (Comments Off on Pinterest for Personal and Social Good)

Beautiful use of Pinterest for social good: www.pinterest.com/personalink

One of the things I love about social media site Pinterest is that it’s so positive. This deceptively simple platform is based on a “virtual pin board” concept. Users post beautiful images, useful ideas and inspirational messages to “boards”, collecting the things they love in a virtual space; then, other pinners can repin, comment or share. Snark is minimal. Most people I know use Pinterest to find recipes, decorating ideas, fashion tips, or craft instructions, or to browse and collect funny/inspirational sayings, but the potential for even greater uses is huge. I’m really excited about how some pioneers are using Pinterest for social good. Below are some tips and examples on how to “pin” for your own personal or group success.  

Powerful, Simple, Collaborative

Even though Pinterest has been criticized for being the domain of suburban housewives,  inspiring “craft envy”, and  encouraging over-the-top domestic exploits, it’s also being used for more meaningful pursuits.  And why not? It’s an easy-to-use, powerful tool that enables users to quickly collect images and their related click-through links. Here are some creative ways to take Pinterest’s super-effective functionality and put it to work for your favorite personal project or good cause:

Personal Vision Boards can be set to private or “secret.”

1. Create a personal vision board. Pinterest was intended to be a “virtual pin board.” With the recent introduction of  “secret” (or private) pin boards, you can create more personal pin boards that don’t necessarily have to be shared. Why not use this functionality to create a digital “vision board” that gathers images of your goals, ideals, and visions for the future? (more…)

Tradition: The February Kindness Tree

January 22nd, 2013 | Posted by Dawn Bertuca in Conscious Parenting | Good Ideas | Living On Purpose | Traditions - (Comments Off on Tradition: The February Kindness Tree)

This kindness tree from 2007 uses a posterboard and construction paper. Looks like we didn’t get very many hearts on the tree this year, but hey, at least we tried!

Cleaning out my office the other day, I came across these old “kindness trees” I made with the kids when they were very small. It was our February family tradition to go beyond the hearts and candy of Valentine’s Day and instill the love of doing good in our kids. For some reason, we stopped doing it in recent years. But, I’ve decided to resurrect the kindness tree this year. It’s been almost a decade since the first kindness tree, and we’re much busier now with school, sports and activities. It will be interesting to see if we can take time out of our busy days to intentionally do something kind, or if we can notice some naturally occurring opportunities for kindness in our days.

How to do it

The concept is very simple. It is similar to creating a “Thankful tree” at Thanksgiving time (another tradition we really enjoy), but this time, we bring the family’s focus to kindness.

1. Make a tree of cardboard, paper, or real branches. Our first year, we used some scrap cardboard for the background and construction paper for the tree. This year, I’m upgrading a bit with a metal photo-holder tree from Pier One. (more…)