5 Ways to Show Up for Hispanic Heritage Month

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Hey,Flagstaff! It’s me, ya girl who procrastinates and writes her articles in between other things. What’s up?

Well, it is almost the end of September/beginning of October, and I have kept pushing out my article. Why? Well, I have wanted to dedicate this piece to celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month! There are just too many things I want to write about and share with you. As my previous pieces have mentioned, I grew up in a Mexican household. My parents and older siblings came here in the ’70s and they started a new life here. I grew up in a mix of Mexican and American culture. Some of it good, some of it super cringe when you think about it…and it all makes for good material. HAHA.

Maybe that’s something I can share with you all another day. For this piece, I wanted to highlight some of the many ways that we, as adults, can help the Latinx community in the United States.

Without getting too into it (trust me, I could go on about this), here are a few ways we can show our support.

1.SUPPORT LATINX OWNED BUSINESS

I have noticed that a lot of people are into Mexican artisanal pieces as well as other Latinx food and cultural practices, and art. While there are a plethora of businesses out there, I encourage you all to support Latinx businesses and pay them for their craft/labors/knowledge when it comes to it.  If you are on Instagram, check out @shoplatinx and @mujeresmarket. I am sure there are plenty more accounts out there, but these 2 highlight online businesses owned and operated by Latinx all across the globe. If you know of other accounts, please share them with me!

https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-09-25/latino-owned-businesses-hispanic-heritage-month
list of latinx owned businesses from the L.A Times -click for link-

 

2. FIGHT FOR EQUAL PAY

I know this subject gets a little touchy, but where would we be if we ignored the uncomfortable? It is unfortunate that in this day and age, we are still fighting for everyone to be treated with equal respect not only in society but in the place where we spend most of our lives- work!   According to equalpaytoday.org, women in the United States are paid .82 cents to the male dollar, while Latina Women are paid .55 cents to that same dollar. I’m going to also include that Native American women are paid .60 and Black women are paid at .62 to the male dollar. It’s sometimes hard to speak up about these things, but it is important to do so. There are laws (this isn’t legal advice) that can help protect you if you choose to do so. 

Gender Pay Gap Visualized. -click for link-

3. ASK QUESTIONS

I have been pretty open about my life and how it was growing up. There are definitely cultural aspects that some people will not understand, and it is ok to ask questions as long as they are done respectfully. How will we know if we don’t ask, right? Always be mindful of what you’re asking and why you are asking. If you are asking to learn, go ahead. If you are asking to degrade or to prove a point, please take a step back and evaluate as to WHY you are choosing to be this way.  Questions to avoid are usually things like “how do you feel about *insert current political event here*. Things that might be ok to ask: “Hey! What are some traditions you and your family have for *insert holiday here*”. Please note that some questions may require big amounts of emotional labor, so if someone is not as open as you’d like them to be, respect it. 

4. LEARN TO BE INCLUSIVE

I mean this with the kindest heart….but not everyone who speaks Spanish and has a brown hue to their skin is Mexican. I can’t count how many times family and friends have been confused for being Mexican because of how they looked. Not only is it a little insensitive to assume, but it also erases and devalues people’s identities. There are 20+ countries in Latin America, and many of those countries have their own beautiful culture, languages, and people. The citizens of these countries range in looks and we are not here to tell them they are not part of the Latinx community simply because they “don’t look or sound like it” And while we’re on the subject, using Latinx has become the more inclusive way to address us. However, If someone chooses to be addressed differently (ex, Latino/a, Mexican, Salvadorian, Honduran, etc) we respect that. While the term is still controversial within some communities, it is gaining popularity because it breaks the binds of gender normative language, making it gender-neutral. Language is powerful and ever-changing. Many have expressed that using it is a form of rebellion to colonialism language and transforming it to our own desire, and I think that’s beautiful. 

(Here is an OpEd piece on the term Latinx)

5. LISTEN

I’ve started using “listen to understand instead of listening to argue”, and it really has helped me understand a few things. I hear all the time about how tiresome it has become to be “politically correct”, but let me tell you, it is just as tiresome trying to defend yourself and your culture. Our traditions have become such a vital part of our identities. It is what’s left of our ancestors and it has to live through us. So when someone says that maybe some people shouldn’t be profiting from our cultures, it’s probably good to listen. There is a line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, but people don’t know where to draw that line (see #3).  I absolutely love sharing my culture with my friends. We want you all to be happy and rejoice with us in our celebrations, but please just be respectful about it. If someone says your joke was racist and insensitive, don’t scoff at the fact that people can’t take a joke. It’s happened to me where someone said VERY offensive things about a minority community and when I spoke up about it, they said “it was a joke”. I’ve clearly become the person that gets avoided for certain conversations, but I think to myself “are those really conversations and groups that I want to be a part of?” The answer is NO.

 

If you’ve come this far…

I want you to know that I love and appreciate you. These things are often hard to talk about because I hate making people uncomfortable. But it’s time that I stop being uncomfortable for other people’s sake. There is truly a beauty that sometimes is unfathomable within the Latinx community. Every time I share food with my friends, I am sharing a piece of myself; a piece of my family. When I sing to my son in Spanish, I am embracing him in the love that my grandma gave to my mom, who in turn gave it to me. When we set up our beautiful altars, I am celebrating the life of those who came before me and hoping that none are ever forgotten. So this Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrate by becoming someone who we would be proud to share these things with. Become our family. Show up for us. Our voices alone may be drowned out by hate, but alongside one another, our voices and actions can drown that hate out.

*links to shops are NOT sponsored*

A Letter to the Editor on Passion and Reason

I read a recently published article on Flagstaff Mom Collective that didn’t quite sit well with me. Looking at the numbers posted by NAU’s COVID-19 positive cases, the writer passionately, but petulantly implored Flagstaffians to stop blaming NAU for the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases. I think the tone of the article is nearly more bothersome than the fact that the writer believes that NAU does not hold disproportionate responsibility for the rising number of cases per capita. I’d like to address both of these.

Passion is important. Passion happens when someone cares deeply about something, and passion can help motivate and initiate important changes. I hope we all feel passionate about the things for which we care deeply. We should also take care to remember how to use our passion. Passionate anger is definitely allowed, but it’s like I tell my young daughter – you’re allowed to have all the feelings, it’s only how you act on them that counts.

In this case, the writer acted on her passionate anger and frustration by accusing Flagstaffians of blaming NAU for the rise in cases. On a personal note, I don’t think I blamed NAU so much as looked at the data and made an observation that NAU’s rise in the number of cases was disproportionately high in comparison to the rest of Flagstaff. It means NAU is becoming a big contributor to the problem, and will likely, therefore, be a big contributor to spread.

Science, reason, and wisdom combined can proffer the knowledge that when thousands of young students (the greater portion of NAU’s enrollees are under 25) return to campus, there are more likely to be a greater number of in-person interactions. It’s really a bit difficult to blame young adults for the types of choices they make in their new adulthood – at a young age, most people simply do not possess the maturity and wisdom to make choices that consider all options. At a young age, choices can be more carefree and less thought-out, not only because of the invincible feeling one has, but also because for the most part, there is less responsibility taken on at that point of a person’s life. This is a generalization based in truth. We can wish, but we can’t expect, that students will not gather, will not go out to meet new people, or will always wear masks. It’s just not the reality that exists.

Because of this, we can expect that the influx of students will come with a rise in the number of COVID-19 positive cases. Instead of pointing a finger at residents for reasonably making this assumption, maybe the writer should have looked at the numbers first and then made conclusions based on facts.

NAU reported an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among their on- and off-campus students of 184% from the school week ending September 11 to the week ending September 18. The number of cases rose from 96 to 273. The number of weekly positive cases in Flagstaff itself had been decreasing since the end of June up through the week students returned to NAU on August 12. The following week, the number of weekly cases began to rise, and as of the numbers posted last week, is still on the rise. This data is all available on Coconino County’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

The Data Dashboard shows that for the week ending September 12 (the day after NAU posted its 96 COVID-19 positive cases in on- and off-campus students), NAU’s zip code 86011 had approximately 20* cases. This zip code covers less than one square mile of land area and the less than 10,000 people that live in it. On the other hand, the 86001 zip code which is inclusive of a large part of Flagstaff that covers nearly 900 square miles and has somewhere around a 6x greater number of residents reported approximately 70* new cases in the same week. This number is much lower per capita than that reported for the NAU zip code. The zip code 86004 which covers another large portion of Flagstaff (nearly 800 square miles and somewhere around 5x the number of residents as that housed in 86011) reported about the same number of cases as NAU*, a disproportionately lower number per capita. Looking at this data, it’s easy to see how residents might feel that cases at NAU are more concerning than any other part of Flagstaff.

This is where I would like to make the point that before we let our own passion take hold and allow a tone of anger to be directed at the community, we need to take a step back and breathe. This is the time to remember that we are ALL in this fight together and support each other. Look at data, look at facts, and be prepared with knowledge. The data may not be perfect, but in general, we can trust these trends (more people tested = larger sample size = better chance of accuracy in trends – it’s just statistics). Your heart may be impassioned, but let your head reason first before spouting off your heart’s desire. Come from a position of understanding, and think about why other people have formed their perceptions. If ever there was something in which we should not inject more divisiveness, it’s this pandemic. Look at the data the county provides and make reasonable conclusions instead of pointing fingers at all, and then choose to help the problem by wearing a mask, washing your hands, and social distancing. The more people practice this, and practice kindness and caring for their neighbor, the less we will have to battle in general – against COVID-19 and against each other.

*These numbers approximated from graphs posted in Coconino County weekly reports listed here: https://www.coconino.az.gov/DocumentCenter/View/36373/0916-COVID-19-Weekly-Update-Week-Number-37?bidId=

Vote Like a Mother

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“When my grandma was born, women could not vote. I use my right to honor the struggle to get me that right and to make my voice heard.”

I have been writing letters to encourage others to vote, and this is how I end most of them- especially those to other women. I realized this in discussion with my kindergartner, trying to give him some context on the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment last month. It’s not that long ago. Many people have gained the right to vote much more recently.  I believe voting is the bedrock of a democracy, it is an important duty of a citizen, and finally, that if you don’t vote, you don’t get to complain about the results. I want to model for my kids that I am engaged in what kind of present and future we will have. That’s a big motivation for me, if I want to weigh in on the community and country we live in- I think I have to have done my most basic duty to shape what life looks like.

Election Day is November 3, 2020. How will you participate?

Base Level: Register and Vote! The Coconino County Elections site has lots of information- this is where you can register to vote (deadline is October 5, 2020!), request an early ballot (by October 23, 2020,) find out where to vote early in person (before October 30, 2020).

I really like being on the Permanent Early Voting List. My ballot comes a few weeks before the election, which confirms nothing weird happened with my registration (I’ve shown up twice to vote, in two other states, and had been kicked off of the rolls…) and gives me time to look into it if it does.  Then I have some time on my schedule to research any candidates or ballot measures I am less familiar with. And finally, while I can mail it back, I usually drop it off in person at one of the many drop-off sites– so I know it got there. If you have questions or issues with registration or getting your ballot, the county Elections office is 928-679-7860.

In Arizona, if we don’t turn in an early ballot or vote in person early- we can actually then show up and vote in person on election day. Bring ID!

I’m going to include with base-level participation- researching the ballot measures and local races, or “down-ballot” as they say. This year we are voting for President and for one Senator, which are big, important decisions. But citizens initiatives and city council or county supervisor can make a huge impact on our every day lives, too!

Ideas to Level Up:

Sign up to be a poll worker! This is a paid position through Elections, workers who are bilingual in Spanish or Navajo are especially useful. Many regular poll workers are older, retired people- and are not able to participate this year due to increased health risk and the Covid-19 pandemic. So if you are younger and healthy and comfortable working the polls (with social distancing procedures and safety precautions in place) you could really help the election run smoothly in Coconino County.

Volunteer with Election Protection, either by poll-watching or answering hotline calls- to ensure everyone qualified to vote is able to.

Encourage others to register and vote. I have been writing letters to unlikely voters through non-partisan Vote Forward. They roll out new campaigns pretty often and are halfway to their goal of sending 5 million letters before the election. I am about halfway through my goal of 300 letters. You can also phone or text bank for a specific candidate, party, or PAC. All of these systems have ways to protect your personal information- you’re not mailing from your return address or calling/texting from your actual phone number.

And, of course, donations to campaigns at any level are helpful and a way to vote with your dollars. This is especially true in small and local campaigns where small amounts can make a huge difference.

Talk to your friends, talk to your family, talk to your kids. Make voting an expectation. Discuss why voting is important to you. Help people you know overcome barriers – offer rides or babysitting to help folks get to the polls. You’re able to drop off ballots for disabled household members.

This is an important year to be an Arizona voter- so get out there, use your rights, and vote like a mother!

What Can a Man Be?

There are many important conversations happening in America, and I’m not saying this one is more important than others, but it came up at my dinner table this week: what does it mean to be a man today?

Did you know, according to the Department of Justice, that males are convicted of the vast majority of homicides in the United States, representing 89.5% of the total number of offenders?

According to the FBI as of 2011:

* Males constituted 98.9% of those arrested for forcible rape
* Males constituted 87.9% of those arrested for robbery
* Males constituted 85.0% of those arrested for burglary
* Males constituted 83.0% of those arrested for arson.
* Males constituted 81.7% of those arrested for vandalism.
* Males constituted 81.5% of those arrested for motor-vehicle theft.
* Males constituted 79.7% of those arrested for offenses against family and children.
* Males constituted 77.8% of those arrested for aggravated assault.
Male violence in this country permeates every facet of our society, from dating expectations to media depictions, to the way some people refer to certain shirts as “wife beaters.”

As a girl, I spent a great deal of time being educated about how to protect myself from men.

This included not only what to do the moment a man grabbed me, but also preventative measures. Don’t go out alone. Don’t go out without a phone. Think about how you’re presenting yourself. This I heard all the time: “Men only want one thing.”

I vividly remember my grandmother saying, “Girls think if they stay quiet it will all be over, but you scream if a man grabs you because he will kill you either way.”

By college, I knew multiple ladies who had to take anxiety medication to go on dates.

But what were the guys told? What were they doing while my friends and I texted articles about which parks and bars to avoid?

I have no idea. I have deep relationships with men and I have no idea.

My husband and I were talking. He asked me if I could define what it means to be a woman. I had a whole proud speech ready. I asked if he could define what it means to be a man. Silence. My heart broke.

He didn’t know.

My husband isn’t perfect, of course. He has his battles. But he is a good, thoughtful man. He is a good, thoughtful man living in a time where male violence is so overwhelming that boys don’t learn much else about manhood. So many of them miss the language of connection, love, forgiveness, hope, and celebration.

What can a man be, besides dangerous?

I’m not sugar-coating the fact that in this world men are responsible for very real acts of violence, but I want to tell my husband and son some stories of what else a man can be.

A man can be a safe place. When I lost my first pregnancy, after we came home from the hospital, my husband climbed into the bed and held me all day. He held onto me and held me together for hours.

A man can be a storyteller. When I was anxious as a kid I would ask my grandfather to tell me stories about his childhood. He was never too busy for me. He inspired me, distracted me, and cared for me.

A man can be a voice of reason. My buddy Nick is a great guy to call in a crisis. He literally came to pick me up after I freaked out and cut my face by accident on my wedding day (long story). Our friendship disproves When Harry Met Sally’s notion that “men and women can’t be friends.” I still love that movie, but in real life friendships between men and women are so important.

I could go on and on, but my real goal is to start a conversation. I want my son to have an answer if someone asks him what it means to be a man. What do you think a man can be?

What great men have influenced your life? Share your stories!

Back to Campus in the time of COVID

As a member of the Flagstaff Community for 10 years, I confess that over the years I blamed NAU (Northern Arizona University) on occasion for traffic, lack of housing options,  and constant construction near the campus.

However, I am now a student at NAU in the College of Education and my views have changed.

Lately, I have seen posts on social media that blame the number of positive COVID19 cases on NAU students. This is not fair! NAU alone is not the problem. 95% of the students in my classes are working from their dorm rooms, family homes, or even out of state. I do not know anyone that has a positive case. I have been on campus one time this entire semester. A lot of faculty and staff did want to stay fully remote for the Fall 20 semester but it was not allowed. They are not thrilled with the idea but want to keep their jobs. A lot of students were told they could not receive refunds for housing, so they came to FLG and are working remotely.

Yes, there are more people in town because of the start of the semester and as of Sept. 18, NAU is managing 273 cases of on- and off-campus students. In comparison, ASU said 1,580 students have tested positive as have 30 staff and faculty members — a 2.8% positivity rate.  UofA (University of Arizona – Tucson) has seen a total of 1,951 cases campus-wide since Aug. 4 as of Thursday evening. 
Also, the number of positive tests being seen is because of testing being done at the NAU Fieldhouse.
Community members can register for a free test at this link: https://nau.edu/jacks-are-back/testing/ Without that location doing FREE testing, a lot of community members might not be able to get a test.
 
Please don’t blame NAU as a whole for the total number of cases.

 

Remember to follow the local and state guidelines for COVID. In addition, please make safe choices for yourself and your family. Wear a mask when you are unable to stay socially distant, and stay home if you are sick, whenever possible. If you think you may have COVID or have been in contact with someone that has it, please get a free test. More information here

5 Games To Play While Sitting-An Ode To The Lazy Parent

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We all know the struggles of parenting during a pandemic.  Whether you’re an essential worker trying to figure out childcare because you have to go to work and come home exhausted, maybe you are a remote working parent trying to simultaneously work while caring for your child or children, or a bit of both-this is not an easy time for families.

What we need is a break, even for a minute.

The following “games” are options that can be done from the comfort of your couch.

SIMON SAYS: I like this one.  If I say “Simon Says” at the beginning, I can get my son to do basically anything because, well…it is a game.

“Simon Says put all your dinosaurs in the middle toy bin.” Done.

“Simon says run outside and tap the back fence 30 times then run back inside.” This one is a good one because it usually requires a counting restart a few times, providing a few extra independent moments.

BALLOON VOLLEYBALL:  Playing balloon volleyball from the comfort of your couch is surprisingly satisfying.  Extra points if we can hit the ceiling fan and the balloon diverts in the opposite direction.

MUD PIES:  If you have access to dirt or a sandbox, turning it into mud provides something new and a different sensation.  Although this may not be for the faint of heart and you will likely need to be ready to spray them down with a hose afterward, this often provides an extended period of freedom.

BODY CARS: Literally lay on your stomach and have your child place as many matchbox cars on your back as possible.  The more cars he can pile up without any falling off, the more points.

USE THE FORCE:  If all else fails, use the force.  This does require the use of your arms and holding them up, but using the force also requires your child to freeze for at least a few seconds.

Do you have any games to suggest that require little effort?

Bringing School Rivalry Home – Why I Might go Crazy

My husband and I must be certifiably nuts!

Our two oldest daughters are 20 months apart in age. I knew when they were babies that they would be two years apart in school and be in High School at the same time (for two years). When we didn’t live in Flagstaff, we only had one public high school choice – given where we lived, we had to be good with it. Here in Flagstaff, that’s a completely different story.

…Always a (insert Mascot here)

Two years ago our oldest spent 9th grade at Flagstaff High School. She made this choice, not based on our address, but on friends and classes offered at FHS. I am OK with this. You see FHS is where I graduated from and “Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle!” However, she pulled out and spent the last year online, where she and I both learned that online school is NOT her cup of tea (yeah, this year should be loads of fun – I hope you read that dripping with sarcasm). It’s not really the best platform for any of my kids… but I digress… She’ll be back at Flag High this year.

Now our second daughter has made a personal and unique choice to attend Coconino High School this year. 😳 Um… O… K… She has friends there and classes that interest her, oh, and it’s where our kids “should” go. I think there is also a bit of an attitude where the younger one has always felt eclipsed by her sister. You know, the teachers in elementary school who already knew our family because of the oldest. This is an opportunity for her to move away from that sense or feeling. My husband would make the argument that his cousins are CHS grads and turned out fine. He also makes the argument that he drives a bus for both schools and doesn’t want to take sides.

I mentioned classes, but let me elaborate on that. I talked to a teacher once that specifically said that if you are going to choose a high school in Flagstaff (instead of merely going where your address dictates), you choose Flag for The Arts or for a more ‘classic’ education; you choose Coco for STEM! Our second got into Coco’s very difficult to get into CIT program. She’ll spend two years cramming three years’ worth of science and engineering classes into her head. We’re very proud! That’s not offered at FHS.

Why are we OK with this?

These two beautiful, young women are making what we feel are very adult choices in this respect. They each chose a school that can give them the best education that they deserve. Each choice fits their personality and interests. They are learning that they are in charge of how and what they learn. I love seeing this maturity in a 14 and 16-year-old. Now if we can keep this learning ‘to adult’ thing going HA…

A side note

Flagstaff and Coconino High Schools are not the only High School options in Flagstaff or even within FUSD (other schools include: Summit through FUSD, and charter’s FALA, NPA, and BASIS), if there is a school that seems to fit your child better, try for that one!

A Civil War

Unfortunately for our family, two high schools create a conundrum. When (if…) big “cross-town/ rival” games come up, which do we root for? I have enjoyed rooting for FHS because, as I said before, that’s where I went. But can I still do that? And if my husband roots for CHS, because his cousins went there, will that be seen as a slight? Do we switch sides at half-time, do we stand in the end-zone or the edge of a court? Will our daughters use these choices as “proof” of which one is the “favorite?” (We tell them they are loved equally, but they refuse to believe this). If you see me at a game looking lost and confused, you know why. These questions may never get a good answer.

So we have a weird sort of civil war in our house, and ya, we all might just be a bit crazy. (Or should I wait for that designation for when I have four kids in four different FUSD schools? Yikes!) But we just want the best for our kids and I suppose as long as our children are able to grow up to be happy and the strong women they show themselves capable of, then all will be well with our little world.

Choosing Quality Child Care and Preschool

Disclaimer, there are only so many childcare centers in Flagstaff so many times when people ask “where can I take my six-month-old that’s a good center?” The answer is, where ever you can get her in, he should’ve gotten on a list 12 months ago.
When it comes to preschool you have a little bit more options, but you still have the same struggle of getting your kid where you want them to be, it can’t be something spontaneous or something you decide when they are three. Many times if a center has a spot open I would be more cautious about it. Why do they suddenly have a spot open when
everywhere else is full?
Because of my educational background and the amount of time I’ve lived in Flagstaff I’m frequently asked what the best centers and preschools are. And aside from my background and my former position in supporting child care centers, I am also a highly critical and very opinionated person. I won’t give you all the gossip but I will tell you what I would look for when it comes to quality child care centers and preschools.

Ratio 

There is a maximum that a center can have under their license in Arizona. For example, this number in an infant room is 5 infants to 1 adult. You could also have 11 infants and 2 adults. The numbers keep growing from there, but personally, it is much more realistic for one adult to understand the needs of 5 infants than it is for 5 adults to understand the needs of 15 infants. It works better to have a smaller ratio, but not to the capacity that the caretakers do not know their class. In preschool, the higher the ratio the more there needs to be an assistant. You’ll see this in some great preschools around town. There’s usually a primary teacher and then a teacher’s aid.

Home vs. Center

I have heard of some great home-based centers, however, I’m very hesitant about in-home-based learning and care. Arizona is not a state that has to have any kind of licensing for in-home childcare. It could be great and amazing, but there’s also nothing to prove that except your gut feeling.

Play-based

This is the most important thing you can look for in a preschool. Kids should be exposed to good quality toys, time to play with them, and lots of room outside to play.  If there’s academic times or centers, that’s great too, but they should be very short, and they should be only as a choice. Preschool or toddlers should not be expected to sit down and do a lesson. It is not how their brains work. There should be absolutely no worksheets.  If you encounter a preschool that expects homework or academics, run for the hills! They have absolutely no idea what they are doing! Preschool should be played based, that is how kids learn. I believe preschool is a very necessary enrichment. It isn’t about academics, but social and emotional development as well as play-based learning.

Nutrition

I personally am not a fan of schools that offer their own snacks or schools where the kids all share a snack. Centers that have nutritional programs have a guideline they must follow for funding. However, there are lots of loopholes to feed kids some crap food. For example, I have seen a snack calendar for a local preschool include Jell-O and Rice Crispy Treats as their healthy snacks of the day. What I consider healthy food is not what the government considers healthy food and I think we’re all pretty familiar with that problem.

Staff turnover

The nature of child care is that you pay an exorbitant amount of money, and the teachers are usually paid minimum wage. There are preschools in town where the teachers actually make a salary and that’s great too, but this isn’t the norm. There’s a balance between teachers leaving because they really can’t afford to teach preschool and teachers leaving because the center they work at does not value them. If a center can’t treat a teach with respect how are they treating you or your kids? It’s a very hard line that you’ll have to be a good judge of.

Hygiene

You and your child should be expected to wash your hands upon entering a child care building (yes, even pre-COVID!). A childcare center should not smell overwhelmingly of cleaning products but should be very visibly clean. Teachers should be cleaning frequently, but not so much that they are not interacting with the children.

Environment

Classroom items should be child-sized and in good repair. Children should be talked to constantly by their educators, yes even an infant room should have lots of language! Your kid is going to be spending a chunk of their time there it should be a place where everyone feels comfortable. If you feel overwhelmed in a classroom, imagine how your child feels! Nothing should be battery operated. There should be zero screen time, including tablets, computers, phones, or TV. Music is great but it should have a purpose and not just be on a constant loop.
This is a simple baseline in what quality child care and preschool should look like, especially for those who may not know that they should be looking for when making that choice. Ultimately, go with how you and your child feel about a certain place. I know that isn’t how most enrollment takes place, and I know that right now things are even more up in the air.
What do you look for when making your child care choices?

Using the Pandemic As an Excuse to Simplify My Life

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I used to look forward to Flagstaff summer because we get to be outside and enjoy the farmers markets, Concerts in the Park, and Movies on the Square. Since the pandemic has started, we have had to limit our time outside and be creative about ways we can spend our time inside. But here was the problem: I’m not a creative person by nature and I also have three young children, four and under, who demand a lot of energy and attention.

So what do I do?

I looked for ways to simplify but still enjoy my life indoors.

My first strategy was to let someone else do my groceries. It was hard enough to drag three kids to a grocery store before the pandemic, but it got too challenging to put masks on them and endlessly remind them to not touch things during the pandemic. I decided it is okay to let someone else pick the best-looking apples and appropriately ripe avocados. The control freak in me had a hard time in the beginning, but I was relatively happy when (most of*) the groceries showed up on my doorstep within a designated time frame. There are several grocery delivery services out there, but I use Instacart that waives delivery fees on orders over $35. There is still a small service fee with each order, but I believe it is worth my time to not strap three kids in their car seats, unstrap them upon arriving, watch them as they fight over who gets to sit in the shopping cart, search for masks in the car, etc etc…

*Sometimes, the items I chose are unavailable at the store at the time of shopping.

My second strategy was to bring the bar to me. Why not have an awesome home happy hour on zoom with friends or in person with a significant other? I love sitting out on the bar patio in the summer and sip on local beer. Nonetheless, I want an excuse to sit out on my own backyard patio and sip on something. I have been exposed to new flavors and cocktails upon joining a monthly cocktail club at Shaker & Spoon. It has been fun making my own drinks with ingredients I have not heard of while expanding my very little knowledge of spirits.

My third strategy was to utilize audiobooks for kids. I love reading books to the kids, but some nights, I just don’t have the energy to read. Because stories keep my kids engaged and help them BE KIDS despite what is going on in the world, I turn to Audible (https://stories.audible.com/start-listen) for help. This has been a more effective alternative than turning on a screen or forcing them to go to bed when it is still too bright outside. For as long as schools remain closed, Audible is offering an incredible collection of stories for FREE for streaming on a computer, phone, or tablet. My kids are currently enjoying Story Party: The Complete Collection by Joel be Izzy.

How have YOU simplified your life? Will you please share?

This post is not sponsored. I have not been paid to endorse any of the companies I mention in this post.

Outdoor focused family vacation in Vegas – say what?

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Yes, you can do this, moms and dads. Vegas isn’t all about high rollers, dancing at the clubs, partying in the pools, eating all the food, walking the strip, and hitting the sky-high rides at all the hotels. Well, it certainly can be and I’ve done that trip or some version of it many times as a younger 20 something and even to celebrate my 40th birthday with my college besties.

But this year I planned an epic family vacation for spring break to none other than Las Vegas that included none of the things above. I also needed something in driving distance because flying a family of four is not very affordable these days. Then COVID 19 happened and I was forced to reschedule it for October fall break. I’m crossing my fingers we can actually do this trip, but it may be delayed again. That said, I put together some kind of loose itinerary (I say “loose” because I have ideas, not a dated and timed agenda) with some incredible and relatively budget friendly ways to experience Las Vegas and its surrounding areas.

Base camp for families

Because we’re traveling using our gifted-to-us timeshare property, we chose a resort off-strip (yes these beautiful properties do exist) and that has crazy awesome pools with giant slides. It’s a perfect property to entertain the kids on days we wouldn’t plan to be exploring the outdoors and learning a little history about the area. We chose Cancun Resort Las Vegas about 7 miles from the insanity of the strip. I really don’t even like going to Vegas anymore, so if we’re going to do this with the kids especially, this is the way to go. Or choose an Airbnb or VRBO property for even more privacy.

Outdoor exploring – it may not be Disney, but it’s also not Disney prices

For Vegas, the places on my list to visit include the following below, all within a short driving distance and plenty enough to fill a whole day. Many of these activities are free as they are state parks or on public lands. Just make sure you don’t go in the middle of the summer. October – March is the best.

  • Hiking Mt. Charleston – It’s 11,916 feet high. Almost as high as Mt. Humphrey’s here in Flagstaff. So definitely a challenging hike. And okay, maybe we weren’t going to hike to the top with a 6-year-old but definitely hike some of it. I’ve seen the views from the top and it’s pretty incredible. Definitely a high peak of the SW that you should add to your hit list.
  • Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area – Another beautiful place to hike, bike or camp if you choose.
    • Hiking: There are 26 hikes/trails you can enjoy so depending on the ages of your kiddos, you can find something for everyone. And if you haven’t figured this out yet, you better like hiking for Heather’s Outdoor Exploring Trip of Las Vegas.
    • Mountain Biking: Yes, likely better suited for families with older kids, but a couple of places actually deliver the bikes to you at your hotel so you do need a way to transport them. But you can even do guided tours. What the what? Sign me up. This is another option where you will drop some change, but it’s not Disneyworld prices either! I found one place that runs $60 per bike rental. For guided personal tours, more like $120 per person.
  • Kayaking or SUP Rental at Lake Mead National Recreation Area – This might be the most expensive aspect of our trip but for me the BEST part. You can rent kayaks or SUPs, from a few outfitters, either to book actual kayak tours (found about $120-$180 per person) or just rent a kayak/SUP and go out on your own, which range from $50-$75 per day depending on if you want a single or double kayak. And guess what else? Yep, hiking. And camping too, if you choose to make your trip totally outdoors. Even better, if you can, haul your own kayaks out with you, and then it’s FREE.
  • Hoover Dam Boat Tour – Also another non-free option but well worth it, you’ll learn something and are for small groups. Which is important at this time. But COVID aside, this would be really neat to see the Hoover Dam from the water, right? Dependent on the tour company you’d go with and the type of boat (these are all typically smaller boats) it ranges anywhere from $20 – $70 per person and usually just a couple hours out on the water.

Swimming and relaxing at the resort or house rental

Well, you’re obviously going to pay for the resort or house rental (make sure you get one with a pool), but it won’t cost you any more money to have fun and chillax. The other thing we had planned, to keep costs down, was grocery shopping and make all our breakfast and lunches in our kitchenette. Eating out, even at the resort would add up quickly with 4 of us. Even easier with a house. And honestly, living in the mountains, hanging out in a pool for days on end sounds dreamy since we don’t have that option here.

Vegas + Family + Outdoors = LEGIT VACATION!

So these are just a few examples of how I had pulled together a non-Vegas strip, family-focused, relatively budget-friendly vacation. I’m sure there are many more things to do, and I did research a lot more of free places to take the kids to, but in these COVID 19 times, I’m wanting to avoid those places now since likely they are either closed or I simply don’t want to be around that many people right now, that’s if we make our trip happen in October. Take from it what you will and I wish you luck planning a creative and outdoors focused family vacay.

How to make a Sourdough Starter

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Ever since my Instagram Stories takeover I have had an uptick of people asking me how to make their own Sourdough. In order to make sourdough though, you need a starter. Here’s my guide on making a starter.

What you need:

  • Any type of flour (I use all-purpose especially when starting because you go through a lot of it. I, however do not buy bleached anymore, only unbleached but it doesn’t matter a whole bunch while you are getting started)
  • Warm water (I use the baby bottle test on my wrist to make sure it’s not too hot)
  • A Kitchen Scale (make sure it can measure in grams)
  • 3 mason jars, quart sized (I think mason jars are the easiest to use but as long as it’s clear and you can properly ventilate anything is fine)
  • A hair-tie or rubber band
  • Tea towel, cheesecloth, or even a paper towel will do.

Instructions:

Take one of your mason jars and place it on your kitchen scale. Turn your kitchen scale on and make sure it is set to zero g. Slowly fill the mason jar with flour until you hit 50g. Leave the jar on the kitchen scale and reset it so it shows 0g. Now very carefully pour your warm water into the mason jar until you reach 50g, it’s okay if you go a gram or so over but try not to. This is called 100% hydration.

Take your mason jar off of the scale and stir together the flour and water. I like to use a chopstick for this but a butter knife works fine. It should look like a thick pancake batter when done. Use your hair-tie and slide it around the mason jar so the line is at the top of your mixture. Place a tea towel over the top of your mason jar and using the tightening ring of your mason jar lid screw it tight over the towel so that your jar is sealed, but ventilated. This will allow air to get in but keep bugs and animals out.

Find a nice warm spot in your house for your starter to live as you grow it. For instance, when I’m trying to help my starter get active, I place it in the window of my husband’s office by his computer where I know it stays nice and warm. Leave it there for about 24hrs.

Now that it has been a day we are going to ‘feed’ our starter, this is something that you will do every day until your starter is active, happy, and ready to use. Take another mason jar and pour the majority of your starter into it. You should only have 1-2 Tbsp. left in your OG jar. This new jar is going to be your ‘Discard’ and I would label it as such. You can just put the regular lid on and store it in the fridge adding to it every time you have discard. There are a lot of discard recipes out there and I’ve attached a link to a list of some of my favorites. Put your OG jar back on your kitchen scale and make sure it is zeroed out (0g). Now put in another 25g of both flour and warm water into the jar. You are just repeating the process you did yesterday but adding onto what you already have. Mix well, put tea towel back over, tighten top, and put back in a warm spot.

You will continue this process every day until your starter is ready. Because you are essentially farming a living thing found in the air, the timeline for this varies. I’ve known people where it has only taken 4 days and for me, it took about two weeks of my second attempt. IMPORTANT NOTE: If you see a film of liquid on the top of your starter dump it out BEFORE you discard and feed!

 

How to know when your starter is ready:

  • Lots of bubbles
  • Your starter is doubling in size (This is where the line with your hair-tie comes in handy)
  • It should smell sweetly sour (if it doesn’t smell sour at all it’s probably not ready, but this isn’t always the best indicator so rely more on the doubling)

The Great Bottle Battle of Thursday morning. An Epic.

baby touching mother's face in a moment of togetherness and comfortIf there’s one thing I know as a mom, it’s that solidarity and the knowledge of I’m not alone in my struggles with raising kids is extremely important to my mental health. One of the things that has helped me the most is what my husband has dubbed my “momfab”. It’s a constantly running confab with my closest friends that are also coming into their mom-hood. We share advice, consolations, woes, trials, excitements, rants, achievements, memories, goals, and everything in-between. Among our continuously running conversation, my absolute favorite shares would be the epic tales of monumental feats and efforts a parent achieves whilst attempting to guide their children forward in this life. The kind of tale meant to make a listener laugh at the absurdity of it all while also yielding feelings of empathy because you’ve been there, too. And this is precisely why I want to share my recent Thursday morning epic – so others can share a moment of absurdity and remember they aren’t alone in this journey of parenthood! Let me attempt my best Homer voice…

As it approaches bottle time this morning, I feel a certain amount of dread. I convince my daughter to go put her toy cars into her backpack so she can’t see me pouring the milk. I look longingly at her bottles still sitting on the drying rack. My heart starts to feel achy, and my face gets splotchy and hot thinking about how my sweet toddler would joyfully down her favorite drink in mere minutes in times past. Wait, was that only a few days ago that we told her it was time to say goodbye to bottles? Man, I already feel battle-hardened. I start absent-mindedly putting a bottle together. Oh shoot, would you look at that? It’s completely together now… Maybe I could just… No! Don’t give in! I think of the pediatrician’s advice. Everything will be fine, I say. It’s good. I set the bottle aside. It’s time to gather my wits and run into battle.

I think I’ll try offering options to her again. I ask my toddler to come into the kitchen. She comes running in, already yelling BOTTLE! I tell her, remember when talked about saying goodbye to your bottles? I offer her two cup choices. She pushes my hands away and yells bottle in the most whiney voice I’ve ever heard. I think maybe if I offer one cup at a time, that might help. I offer her a thermos. NO! I offer her one sippy, another, another. No, no, no! I get into the cupboard to find more cups and she becomes very excited about one that I thought she hated. I pull it out and ask her if it’s the one. It is. I pour the milk into it, and we go to sit in her bedroom and read like we always do. I wait with baited breath. She takes a sip and I get super hopeful… I try to play it cool. Could it be?

No, Mama. Take this cup. Read Little Excavator. I casually take the cup and read about the excavator that just wants to dig. I try offering the milk a couple times. Hard passes from the peanut gallery. Darn!

I ask if she wants a different cup to try. Yes, yes she does. Awesome. I get her favorite straw cup, dump in the milk, and sprint back to the bedroom before we lose steam. I try to hand it to her. She looks at me like I’ve done her a solid wrong. The straw is old, and the valve has turned to the crap side so the warm milk starts pushing its way out of the straw. I take a quick sip to prevent it from spilling over. She gets really upset and says THAT’S MINE! I’m like, yeah it is! Please take it! She says NO MAMA and shoves it back to me. Milk kind of flies out of the straw in little droplets. Well shhhhhhh…oot, I think. Now what?

I ask my dear, sweet toddler if she still wants the milk. She looks at it longingly and says yes. I say, Let’s go out to the kitchen and find the right cup. She flops around on the chair to think about it for a minute, then grabs her favorite stuffed animal and the Little Excavator book, and we’re on our way back to the kitchen. I don’t even have a chance to offer her a cup because she sees her “big girl” cup on the counter and says THAT CUP! I clarify by asking if she wants her milk in that cup. Yes, Mama. Ok, here we go. I dump out the water already in the cup and dump in a little bit of the milk because I don’t want her to spill it everywhere. I give it to her. She looks at it in her hands. I wait.

Still looking at it.

Still…

She asks to sit on my lap, so I sit on the floor, and she hops onto my lap. She stares into the cup. Still staring. Oh my GRACIOUS, I’m trying not to rush her, but…

She takes a sip. I am hopeful again…

Be warmer, she says as she shoves the cup back to me and spills a little on her stuffed animal. Ok sure, I say attempting to project my calmest, most meditated being. I stick the cup back into the warmer and think I’ll use this opportunity to recap our bottle farewell ceremony. She won’t look at me and kind of picks at her socks for five minutes. The timer dings. I hand her the cup of nice, warmed milk. She takes the cup, walks slowly across the kitchen, and sits on the floor. She pats the mat next to her and says, Mama SIT. I obey (wait… who makes the rules?).

She holds the cup and stares into its depths. She touches it and says, warmer now. I muster up a noise of confirmation, keeping my mouth firmly closed to avoid letting out my building frustrations that are pinned on the hope that she’ll latch onto this cup like it’s her new best friend. She keeps touching and staring into the cup. I wait.

She jumps up and says, SIT ON MOMMY’S LAP. I allow this. I pat her lovingly and try so hard not to put pressure on her. But, like, dude. I’ve given you all the cups. I warmed the milk. You can do it.

She jumps up and says, SIT ON THE MAT! I press my back into the cool wood of the cabinet so I can ground myself to reality. She goes and sits on the mat, looks at the cup, and this smarmy grin appears on her face. She jumps up and yells, SIT ON MAMA’S LAP! I let her. She steps on me. She grins smarmily. She jumps up and yells, SIT ON THE MAT, and she runs to her mat spot holding the cup in both hands, milk sloshing dangerously above the splash guard. This repeats numerous times, and I think that this must be the kind of extraordinary despair that Olympic gods bestowed upon their enemies in perpetuity. Still, I wait patiently. Or, really, not so patiently on the inside.

In her jumping frenzy in which no milk has been sipped, she drops the cup. I’m pretty sure I know it’s all over now because she can’t resist cleaning up a mess.

Yes, indeed. I know this kid well, and she immediately starts begging for a paper towel. The really naïve and hopeful part of my brain says, we still got this. We’ll give it another try. I let my toddler wipe up the mess, but now she’s cleaning the whole kitchen. I wonder about the future, in which I’m sure it will be a struggle to get her to do this very thing that she’s so excited about right now. My brain has now started to wander, too, so I should surely realize that this is truly a lost cause. But no. I try again.

I pick up the cup and try to redirect her. Look, honey, look. Your stuffed animal is drinking the milk. She looks. She continues cleaning.

Look, honey, look. Your doll is drinking the milk. She looks. She continues cleaning.

Look, honey, look. Your beanie baby and your lego man and your puppet and this dump truck are all taking a drink of milk. She looks. She cleans.

Look, honey, Mama is taking a drink of milk. She yells THAT’S MINE and grabs the cup. She stares at it. She touches it. Not warm, she says. I think, well fffffff…arts. Well farting forks. Ach. Forks. Farts.

She stares. She almost thinks about taking a drink. She becomes smarmy. She drops the cup. The splash guard falls out and all the milk is on the floor. She reaches out to me and asks for a paper towel.

I die a little inside and look at all the cups on the counter and the milk everywhere and think, thank goodness my husband is on duty this afternoon when it’s time to try again.

The overwhelm of working, parenting and at home learning

We can do this virtual remote learning, right?

I’m talking to you working moms of young kids. RIGHT?! I’m still trying to figure it all out and not lose my mind over everything and still do my job. Not gonna lie though, I’m pretty stressed and worried alot. But I’m grateful for an employer and a leadership team who are understanding and supportive of their employees in such unprecedented times.

We are all going through this facing different challenges with virtual at-home learning. I literally heard one of our top leaders (a veteran and a woman) say in a call the other day “I empower you to do what you need to help your kids”…or something that like that. Empowered. Yes, I do feel empowered. Thankfully. Not everyone I know outside of our company feels this way. Most, but not all.

Virtual learning and how to navigate this new world

Here in Arizona, we started remote online learning for public schools in the last 2-3 weeks. Where we are in Flagstaff, we just wrapped up our third week of school. For our 6-year-old (first grader), we chose to group with 3 other kids in a small learning pod. My son and his friend are in one class and the other two kids are in another class, but the same school. The new term of 2020…learning pods!

Thankful for my tribe of mom friends with flexible work schedules and a recent NAU grad (local university) we hired who is willing to work and guide our kids through the day. Because no, first-graders can’t do this on their own. And being on zoom and having class through an iPad is hard. It’s hard and I don’t like it and neither does my kiddo. And I’m sure the teachers don’t either (but PS, I’m seeing some amazingness happen with them, BRAVO teachers!) But it’s what we have to deal with. What a strange time we are living in.

And then my 6th grader, 11 years old, working independently in his room every day. He has 8 classes at his public charter arts and leadership school to manage and to be honest, it’s alot to deal with in this new world. He has four 40 min zoom classes a morning from 8:40-11:45, ultimately attending each of his 8 classes 2 or 3 times a week, dependent on the week. After an hour break, he gets the afternoons to work on his own on assignments that in a pre-Covid world, he would be doing in class. I like the way they are doing this.

He’s managing surprisingly well but I’m so sad for him, missing out on the great energy on his particular campus (foundationally built on the arts so music, theater, art, etc. so you can just imagine the creativity oooozing there) and the transition into 6th grade (which is already difficult in person). And fortunately, or not, he’s not terribly tech savvy. So just think about that learning curve as well. We have a lot of frustrating days together.

Canvas, Zoom and Email, Oh My!

There’s a lot of new technology my 6th grader is navigating and learning, and he needs help. I hear “Moooooooommmmmmmmmmmmmm HELP!!” often throughout my day. It interrupts phone calls and when I’m in the zone working on something or writing an email. And it’s also easier to ask mom in the next room for help than email his teacher and wait, when he’s stuck or needs help. So there’s that. Some days it takes me 3x as long to get something for work done. I’m working later because of it. It’s all pretty exhausting. But I want him to succeed.

Fortunately, my first grader is gone with his pod at another house 4 days a week. He’s only here for Friday mornings. And with my VERY demanding job, whereas I can be on conference calls anywhere from 4-6 hours a day on average, I am mostly unavailable, so the pod is the way to go for us. Friday mornings I try to sit with him at the kitchen table and work and if I’m on calls, my mom will sit with him. And that’s about all I can handle.

Is it fall break yet? Asking for a friend…

If I’m being really honest, I cannot wait until the kids are back on campus. But who knows when that will be. I hope Arizona keeps up the good work of mask-wearing in public, social distancing, and restricting who they are around. It’s working. I see it in the case numbers here, where we are seemingly back down to where we were in April (according to the AZ Dept of Health COVID website). However, I’m nervous about the flu season and the additional challenges that might bring and how it may keep our kids doing school virtually at home for longer than we’d like.

This has been the longest and hardest and most emotionally challenging 6 months of my life as a working mom with two young kids. I know, it’s just a chapter, a season of life, and it will end. But it cannot end soon enough. I look forward, like everyone else, to getting back to a life without all of these worries, restrictions, and stress.

And a real vacation!! I love camping, ALOT, trust me, and kayaking. We’ve done our fair share this summer at the lake – our happy place. But I’m missing out on our annual family vacations, like driving to San Diego or Mexico and sitting on the beach for a week, eating all the food and doing all the fun things with reckless abandon. Well not reckless, but you know what I mean. And my work travel. I actually miss traveling for work which I did pretty often. Pre-COVID living. Still, such a weird thing to say. Travel wasn’t something we felt comfortable doing during all of this although I know people who have been. o each their own. My company banned us from travel for the year so there was no decision to be made there. I’ll take the break though anyway.

It really does take a village

Working moms of young kids…what’s your workday look and feel like these days? Share in the comments. Vent. Share pics. Share ideas. Share it all. Because this is hard. “They” say it takes a village. I’ve heard that expression alot over the course of being a mom, and it’s never been more true. Hang in there! We CAN do this…together. And we will.

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In + Around Flagstaff

Guide to Fall Color in Flagstaff

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Drive around town and you know...fall has come to Flagstaff, Arizona. It's been playing peek-a-boo with us for awhile now, and amateur photographers everywhere (including...