parenting

in Salamanca, SpainPhotos courtesy of the Eleven O’Clock Dad

So you’re starting a meditation practice. With a child. Yes, this is possible. And bravo to you! You’re in for a treat. And so is the child who’s about to benefit mightily from learning to quiet his or her mind.

Of course you’re wondering, But how will he/she sit still long enough? Ah, that’s the rub. Below are three keys for creating a successful meditation moment with your child. Likewise, I’d love for you to share yours, if you’ve got a few that work well for you.

First key. Create a quiet, comfortable, distraction-free space. This means no. Other. Noise. Literally. Goose and I do his meditation in the morning, early, before phones begin to ring or texts begin to arrive or other family members begin to be up and doing. Because kids are easily distracted anyway, front loading the experience so it’s interference-free can mean the difference between a profoundly quiet moment or a total bust. We also opt for early morning light rather than artificial light of any kind. Something about the time before sun-up works perfectly for us. Though I have a particular position I like for my own practice, with Goose, we simply sit side by side on the couch. He crosses his legs pretzel style and keeps his hands relaxed, palms up, on his thighs–a way to signal his openness to the creative energy he desires to connect with.

Second key. Breathing matters. Really matters. As his guide, I start the meditation by having him breathe in deep, right from his gut, then hold it for a couple of seconds, just to pull air deep into his body. Since I practice Japa, which involves making a slow “Ahhh” sound on the exhale, I’m teaching him to do likewise. As he breathes out, he simply says “Ahhh.” The sound doesn’t have to be generated with the voice; it can be whispered and still be a powerful lever for focusing and quieting the mind.  I’ve been surprised to see how quickly he falls quiet and still with breathing as the initial mechanism. I pause frequently throughout the meditation to guide his breathing.

Third key.  I provide the mental infrastructure for the meditation, and I do this by narrating a story–one of my own making. My objectives are simple. First, I want him to identify through an empowered ‘self’ (he’s the main character!) going on a brief but intriguing journey of some kind. Second, I want the journey to be vivid enough that he feels he’s there, experiencing it. Third, I want him to feel deeply empowered in both mind and heart once we conclude the exercise.

Our first time, I had him imagine that he was in a Redwood grove, where he free-climbed a giant Redwood tree. Could he do that in real life? Nope. Can he do it in a meditation exercise? Absolutely. Moreover, when we finished, he confessed to being amazed at how real it felt–how much like lived experience. But then that’s the power of a good practice: you can go places in your mind that you’d never be able to go otherwise. And the feeling of doing the impossible proves real enough, potent enough, that you’re transformed–maybe just the tiniest bit, but you are.

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Already, Goose describes the benefits of going deep into a quietly imagined moment in which he is both journeyer and hero. He says he feels calmer, that he trusts himself more. In these meditations, he is a kind of Odysseus, scaling mountains, seeing through the eyes of Bald eagles, diving deep as he searches for sea creatures, venturing into mountain caves in search of rare gems, and finding–wherever he wanders–that real power always resides within.

In a time when gadgets rule the day; when each new form of digital wizardry dazzles and distracts, the wisdom of going deep into oneself might seem like a less-than-impressive place to find the Answers. But one of the greatest benefits of any meditation practice is the way learning to empty your mind in order to refocus it in more intuitive directions actually connects you to the real locus of your power. For every practitioner, that locus feels a little different, but it’s there, and tapping into it unlocks hidden but rich reserves of very real strength.

Being a 21st Century Kid is a fraught business. Why not navigate it knowing how truly fit you really are to do so?

Jaén, Spain

Stay tuned for thoughts about how to craft the perfect meditation narrative!

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The Eleven O’Clock Dad grabbed Goose a minute ago, and they went to get haircuts and pick me up some of my favorite Greek yogurt.  Miss Lavender and Miss Zinnia took off for the library maybe an hour ago.  I am alone in my flat, a rare occurrence and an excuse to break out some of the chocolate I have “hidden” in my closet.  (The quotation marks indicate my certain knowledge that everyone knows where my stash is.)  I confess I am rather comfy at the moment in a long-sleeved Volcom pullover that once belonged to El Surfeador and a well-worn pair of men’s pajama bottoms.  I have cranked the heater–a strange-looking contraption of European origin that pumps out the most fabulously warm air–and no one can tell me, “It’s not even cold!” because they’re not here to say it.  The sun is out, but the weather’s been a big tease lately, messing with whoever gets cheeky enough to start believing it’s actually spring.

I spent an hour or so blog-hopping just now–something you might be surprised to hear I don’t do a whole lot of.  It’s Miss Lavender who’ll sometimes tell me, “Mom!  I found a blogger with older kids!”–as if such a discovery ought to be front page news.  The Mom Blogosphere is an interesting place, don’t you think?  Lots and lots of moms talking about their young ones.  Fewer of us talking about our older ones.

Really:  why do you think that is??  And does any serious discussion of that question pretend to happen without a) men’s pajamas in the mix, and b) chocolate as well?  (I particularly like the German brand that makes Milch & Schokolade, with a yogurt ganache in the center.  Yes indeed.)

Stay tuned for the afternoon session of these musings.

 

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How do you know when your teenage son or daughter’s friend is a good fit? How do you know when a friend is really a friend? I’ve asked myself that question so many times! Moreover, as a mom of teens for nearly ten years now, I’ve had many opportunities to observe the various friends who’ve crossed my kids’ paths. Three things I’ve observed about genuine friends–a litmus, if you will.

One. A good friend will bring out the best in your child. In other words, your son or daughter will tend to be his/her best self around that friend, the effect sometimes lingering even after said friend has left. How do you measure this?–it’s observable! If your daughter, for example, seems lighter, brighter, happier, kinder (especially to siblings!), more connected to her dreams and gifts and sense of humor and generally to all the hopeful possibilities of her life, then that friend is a good one.

Two. A good friend will never undermine your parental authority or love by talking negatively to your teen about your family’s culture, rules, expectations, values, or anything else you hold dear. It’s that simple. Nor does a good friend use manipulation as a lever to get your teen to do anything that could be viewed as a rejection of family beliefs or infrastructure.  If a friend respects your family and what it stands for, then that friend is a good one.

Three. A good friend–either intuitively or consciously–strives to practice ‘compassionate joy.’ The concept was initially Buddhist but translates beautifully to any world view, the idea being that if your child succeeds, then the friend, too, desires to celebrate that success rather than resenting it or being envious of it. When life blesses your child, a good friend will feel delighted, not threatened. The friend capable of feeling compassionate joy is a good one.

If we’re using this litmus to thin-slice our teens’ friends, then we likewise ought to be actively encouraging our teenage sons and daughters to be that friend to others: working to bring out the best in their friends; respecting the family values of which their friends are a part; and being sincerely overjoyed when their friends’ lives take a brilliant turn.

I’ve watched my kids collide with all kinds of friends, and I’ve seen the results. Naturally, I nourish a particular affection for the friends who have proved over time to be an especially good fit. If you’ve got your own litmus, I would LOVE to hear about it! I am passionate about growing each other’s tool boxes and skill sets!

In an upcoming post: how to help your teens build solid friendships.

(Photo above: Miss Zinnia, trying out the fit of a pair of clogs in Haarlem, North Holland, while her older brother hears the siren call of gelato.)

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Something very Mister Rogers-esque about this short stop-action video of an Eleven O’Clock trolley trip, shot by the Eleven O’Clock Dad here in Barcelona. Don’t you think?

I loved Mr. Rogers, and I loved the beautiful tribute to him written by the amazingly articulate James Poniewozik of TIME magazine after Fred Rogers died of stomach cancer at age 74, back in 2003.  As Poniewozik points out, “Mister Rogers was softer than anyone else in children’s TV because so many of the messages he had to impart were harder. That your parents might someday decide not to live together anymore. That dogs and guppies and people all someday will die. That sometimes you will feel ashamed and other times you will be so mad you will want to bite someone. He even calmed fears that may seem silly but to a child are real and consuming — like being afraid to take a bath because you might be sucked down the pipes. Mister Rogers gently sang, ‘You can never go down/Can never go down/Can never go down the drain.'”

I swear one of the hardest things about mothering is knowing how to help your kids manage their reactions to the sometimes frightening (or just bothersome) realities life throws at them.  In fact, I suspect any one of them could come up with a short list in about ten seconds–that some friends’ priorities are different than yours; that feminine hygiene products NEVER want to fit right; that siblings go through confusing stages that can throw you for a loop; that parents do actually age.  And on it goes.

Fred Rogers had the proportions just right–equal parts straightforwardness and gentleness. Delivering a necessarily truthful message to a child, whether he’s five or fifteen, works so much better when it’s done with a soft touch.  Kind of cool to realize, so long after the fact, that Mr. Rogers was talking to the adult me–the one with four sensitive, delicately wired children–as well as the elementary-age me.  From the Neighborhood, he mentored us both.

Not many people you can say that about.

(Homeschoolers: check out John “melodysheep” Boswell’s very cool mash-up in collaboration with PBS–it’s an homage to Mr. Rogers. Also visit Boswell’s “melodysheep” channel on YouTube, where science gets digitally musical–and therefore a lot less opaque.)

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The Eleven O’Clock Dad showed me this the other day, and we actually showed it to our kids a couple of nights later as part of an ongoing effort to think not only about what our family is, but why it is.

Maybe a year ago, we drafted a family mission statement, each member coming up with a single word they felt described our family, and we arranged the words in a series of short phrases. While we still like what we came up with last year, it’s nevertheless fascinating to ask your kids this question: What is our family’s ‘why’?  Articulating a ‘why’ statement can be as simple as saying, “We believe in . . .”

Try this. Ask your kids: What’s our family’s ‘why’?  For that matter, extend the discussion by asking your kids to think about their own ‘why.’  It’ll be an illuminating moment. And a very cool one.

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A little story.

My older daughter, who’s heading off to college next fall, said something almost exactly like this to me recently: “Mom, I need to learn to cook some stuff.” The irony here is that we are total foodies. We start the day off with big, drippy breakfasts. We graze throughout the day. We sit down to a hearty spread at night. We. Love. Food.

You would think I would have hauled my kids into the kitchen more, wouldn’t you?–for a tutorial here and there, right?  Sometimes I’m guilty of what I call “faster-if-I-do-it” thinking, which doesn’t help my kids, not one bit.

The irony doubles back, too. Twenty-four years ago, newly married and with my head deep in my grad school books, I could scarcely follow a recipe, nor did I want to. Every once in a while, we’d slow cook a roast, my husband and I, but other than mac and cheese, we pretty much had our poor-starving-newlywed arrangement down.

Fast forward. I really like cooking now. And I have paid for my modest successes with loads of failed meals. Two things changed the way my kitchen and I get along. One, I realized the value of good tools. About ten, maybe twelve years into my marriage, I looked at my husband one day and said something almost exactly like this: “You know what? You have all your high tech gadgets, and you wouldn’t dream of trying to work without them! If anybody expects me to turn into some kind of meal wizard, I need some tools. Some really good tools.” And so I got some. I bought a slick Bosch mixer, in which I make doughs which in turn make me look good because they rise and become divine things like cinnamon rolls and pizzas. (It’s the tools, I’m telling you!) And it went on like that, with me building my store of kitchen accessories and my meals getting progressively tastier and my family saying things (almost exactly) like, “Whoa!” and “You made this?” and “Can you make this again?” and “Wow, this is good!” (intoned in such a way as to suggest that the previous offerings might not have been quite as adequate). Eventually I acquired a (very nice) pressure cooker, for example, and voila!–ribs and roasts so tender they made you feel almost reverent; homemade refried beans that made you wonder whether you needed anything else to accompany them. In short, it’s not just technique, although that is important. It starts with decent tools.

Two. I asked some pros how they did it. In my case, I had several pros close by: my mother-in-law, who’s a super hero in the kitchen after a lifetime of practice; and my sisters-in-law, who grew up with Madame Super Hero. I watched. I started to ask questions. I began writing down recipes and tips. One sister-in-law, the bread/pizza maker extraordinaire, never allows salt to come into direct contact with her yeast when she’s baking. “I’m very gentle with my yeast,” she’s always said. And in addition to soaking up what I could from the Dream Team, I attended cooking and baking classes. It was fun! I realized I could do something besides read, write, and teach. The kitchen had become my friend.

But baby steps, right? My daughter wants to learn the recipes for some of the things I serve all the time, especially for breakfast (since breakfast is an all-day proposition, right?). So I got to thinking, and I decided I’d type up a few of our go-to, get-full-fast recipes, with teen-friendly instructions, and let you all practice at home.  Note:  I address myself to the teen crowd.

Scrambled Eggs Deluxe, Meant To Take The Edge Off Your Starvingness

2-3 eggs, depending on your hunger level (shells washed and dried BEFORE you crack ’em, because salmonella is scary)
1/2 teaspoon mayonnaise (either Best Foods or Hellman’s)
1 to 2 teaspoons milk, depending on whether you’re using 3 eggs
a handful of grated cheese (cheddar works well, as do combinations like cheddar & jack, or four cheese Mexican)
1 teaspoon butter
salt & pepper to taste

Heat your pan on medium low for 2-3 minutes.  The heat level differs depending on whether you’re using an electric or gas stovetop, so be prepared to adjust the heat up or down.  While the pan heats up, crack the eggs into the blender. (Yep, the blender is key.) Add the mayo and the milk to the eggs and blend the mixture well (5-7 seconds). Now add the butter to the pan, let it melt (the butter, not the pan), and swirl the butter around. Done? Good. Now pour the egg mixture into the pan. With a spatula, stir in the grated cheese and keep the eggs moving while they cook. Sprinkle in salt and pepper to desired saltiness/peppery-ness, and keep everything moving until eggs reach desired level of doneness. I like to use my spatula almost like a pastry cutter, meaning I’m constantly breaking up the mixture as it cooks. (My teens like their eggs that way, is all.)  Then:  serve it up.

Chase the eggs down with a huge glass of very cold milk. You will be pleasantly full for at least thirty minutes, guaranteed.

Provecho!

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Years ago in one of her columns for the Oprah magazine, Martha Beck talked about how to connect with your right life.  As she explained it, first, you need to know what you’re truly passionate about.  For some of us, that might seem like a big “duh.”  But she points out that some people have gotten so good at ignoring those self-sent invitations to take up doing what they love that the invitations eventually stop coming.  The result:  they completely lose touch with their sense of vocation and spend their lives doing what they feel they’re expected to–at the expense of ever doing what they love.

Her remedy for this is an exercise so powerful, I’ve used it many times with my teens to get them thinking about how to engage with their connected, impassioned selves.  So here’s the trick:  notice where your thoughts go when you’re not aware that they’re going anywhere.  In other words, when you find yourself daydreaming, what do you daydream about?  More often than not, we daydream about what we’d really love to be doing.  I suggested this to my son, who often wondered what (beyond surfing) he was meant to do with his life. When he became more aware of where his daydreaming mind went, he started attending to it, and he discovered over time that his thoughts always went to music–and not just to the kind he wanted to listen to, but the kind he wanted to make.

My older daughter’s thoughts inevitably go to fashion and design, more specifically to things she can make right now in an attempt to beautify her little room here in Spain.  Recently, my husband found an old door sitting out in front of an apartment building nearby, a signal that someone was ready to abandon it to a new owner.  The piece is tall and narrow, as are so many doors here, with the hinges still on it and panels carved into it, which she plans to cover with chalkboard paint as a prelude to standing it up against a wall in her bedroom, where it will serve as an art board.  How to give old things with good bones a new life–this occupies her daydreams.  Currently, my younger daughter has been daydreaming about growing a little garden.  Her nice dad helped her find some antique pots to serve as homes for her herbs, and she’s one step closer to realizing her dream of becoming a plant whisperer.

The second piece to this is the more complex one.  As we grow up, we realize that the price of doing what we dream about means acquiring the discipline to accept the drudgery that always goes along with it.  It was easy, for example, for all of us to watch my amazing niece, Breeja, who just swam in the Olympics, and forget the day-in, day-out, unremitting, muscle-straining work that got her to London.  Yes, she dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer.  And oh yes, she absolutely did the work.

What do your kids daydream about?  Where do their thoughts go when they’re untethered?    Ask them.  The answers are illuminating.  Moreover, sometimes it falls to us to help move them along in their march toward a dream.  My son’s brilliant piano teacher interviews and auditions every prospective student.  She also wants a detailed bibliography of the family’s music libary.  When he first met with her, who do you think put that bibliography together??  Um-hmm.  That little task took many, many hours out of my life, but it helped land him a spot on her docket.

How do you help your teens identify and move toward the things they daydream about?  Over the years, I’ve missed the boat a couple of times, not for lack of good intentions but simply for lack of know-how. So let’s grow each other’s tool kits, shall we? What a great resource we are for each other!

(Photo from June, 2012. The Eleven O’Clock Kids are dead serious about Budapest.)

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Last spring, I packed up a few colorful outfits, some not-so-sensible shoes, grabbed my laptop, got on a plane, and flew to Miami, where the Mom 2.0 Conference, at the Ritz Carlton Key Biscayne, was happening. I had decided I wanted to start blogging, and I knew nothing at all about how one went about it. I’d done plenty of writing. But blogging?

What I did know was that I wanted to reach out to moms of teens. That demographic, I felt, was underrepresented in the blogosphere, probably because we were all busy assembling meals for tweens and teens whose staggered schedules meant that the kitchen stayed open around the clock. Or we were helping with homework until 2 am. Or running this child or that one or all of them to/from ballet or voice lessons or track practice or a study group or a friend’s pool party or an orthodontic appointment or an MUN (Model United Nations) conference, etcetera, ad infinitum. Moms of kids in the (roughly) eleven to eighteen range, you know what I’m talking about, don’t you? I mean, how would any of us have time to blog, of all things?

Nevertheless, I checked in at the conference, and so began an interesting weekend, where mom bloggers of all stripes, authors, speakers, marketers, advertisers, media groups, and purveyors of very nice swag came together for morning plenary sessions, panel discussions, Q & A’s, lunches, a highly anticipated Twitter event, a reception at the Versace Mansion (skipped it, too tired), and on it went. Lots and lots to collide with, take notes on, process. Lots of networking to do, which is tricky if you have no business cards. Gals were handing them out like they were candy, and believe me, some serious thought had gone into the design of those cards.  As I was cardless, my line was, “I’m just starting out,” a confession which prompted one or two magnanimous smiles from women who were no doubt writing me off.

And there was plenty of “Reach out to me” talk going on.  One woman, a well-heeled rep for Macy’s, herself the mother of a teenage daughter, was telling me about her weekend in the Carribean with Rachel Roy and Martha Stewart. “Reach out to me,” she said coolly, passing me her card, and I was thinking to myself, “Mm, you probably don’t drive a Suburban that smells like the family’s last camping trip, do you?” But I smiled blithely, thanking her for her little compliment about my chevron-patterned knit skirt, which I’d picked up at a consignment store a few days earlier.  I doubted she frequented consignment stores.

On the one hand, I thought, what is all this?  On the other hand, I thought, why not?  Why not reach out, connect, build communities?  But I wasn’t sure my voice was sufficiently tuned, and that seemed to be the key feature of the blogs I resonated to–a strong sense of voice.  At the end of the weekend, I collected my things, got back on a plane, and flew back to Orange County, California, where the family waited to see how it had gone.  “It was cool,” I told them.  “Very interesting.”  Which it was.

And that was that.  Summer came.  The extended family met in Budapest to start a European river cruise, a gift from my parents.  My son was getting ready to embark on his own grand, two-year adventure, and I probably wrote five blog posts between May and September.

Then we moved. Out of the country. And I dusted off what I could recall from Mom 2.0 and started thinking again about blogging for real, about trying to connect moms of older kids, whose work is more fraught and rewarding and complex and gratifying (shall I go on?) than anyone can imagine. “We’ve got to be talking,” I thought, and realized I really wanted to try to kick start that conversation.

To that end, I thought I’d share my take aways from the conference. First, if there was one thing that became clear to me, it was that mom bloggers have reach. They have bandwidth.  I figured that out the second I visited momitforward, for example, one of the really amazing blogs referenced in a panel session I attended.  Up to that point, I had no idea that women could mobilize like that!–taking up themes important to moms of all kinds, creating communities, and making great things happen.  Second, while the business of connecting with your tribe through your blogging efforts takes the kind of boundless persistence I would have thought only Olympic athletes or candidates for political office were capable of, even small steps forward invite good things.  I talked to all kinds of other bloggers who were steadily building their communities and having a great time doing it.  Third, if you focus on content that matters deeply to you, eventually you’ll find traction.  Over and over I heard this, and now I guess I’m challenging us all to prove the idea solid.

Finally, I thought I’d share a story that continues to inspire me.  One of the panelists that weekend was Lee Rhodes, of glassybaby.  A lung cancer survivor, she wrestled to get her company going in spite of the fact that naysayers popped up everywhere.  Wasn’t going to work, everyone told her.  No one would ever want to pay a premium for handblown glass votives.  But the light of candles had always kept her going during the dark days of her illness, and she felt so sure of her uniquely artisanal product and its mission that she pushed forward.  Take a look at what glassybaby is doing today, in spite of the fact that when the company was still just an idea, no one thought it could work.  Her message to everyone at Mom 2.0 was that all kinds of “you-can’t-do-it” folks will show up right when you’re ready to start something new and noteworthy.  They’ll tell you why it’s a bad idea.  They’ll tell you not to waste your time.  Do it anyway, was Rhodes’ message, because you might be about to connect with your right life.

For me, that was the big take away from Mom 2.0.  Whatever your own (or anyone else’s) hesitations about your blogging efforts and mission, do it anyway.  Because plenty of people are listening.

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The Els Encants flea market and the odd alleyways that branch off from it enchant my daughter, who simply could not contain herself. Wouldn’t you do a little dance in the air if you stumbled upon a place so full of character?  The vertical leap, she gets from her dad, who used to have a nice one back in his college ball days. The vintage obsession she gets from her mother, who loves “antiguedades” as much as anything else on earth, unless it’s good chocolate. Or a good book.

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What makes your kids jump for joy? Whatever it is, let’s help them jump, shall we?

My middle daughter currently has an obsession with kitchen herbs, and, having obtained an Italian parsley plant now struggling to grow out on our terrace, she has plans to expand her “garden” to include basil, oregano, and rosemary.  We plan to help her develop her green thumb.  (Stay tuned for more on that!)

Once, years ago, when I was in high school, I won a modest prize in a poetry contest. My mother, convinced I’d done something grand, accompanied me to the college campus where the winners were being honored, and we made a day of it, soaking up the salon-like atmosphere, stopping for lunch afterwards. My poem was not special. She may have known that. But for her, the girl who wrote it was. I’m smiling right now as I think about the very big deal she made out of a very small one, like I’d won the Nobel at age fifteen.

I suppose all teenagers want to be able to chuckle to themselves, imagining that their doting parents, too blinded by affection to know any better, just can’t help but celebrate the little victories that wouldn’t seem to warrant any celebration. What a gift we give them, letting them believe we cannot help ourselves, when we know very well that the passions and triumphs they believe to be small are, in truth, the things that matter most.

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Here’s to joyful dances in alleyways. And happy fussing over how to care for temperamental parsley plants.

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Brothers. In thrift store ragz. Goose, Volcom shirt. His older brother, in Ralph Lauren. Out of pocket expenses: roughly fifteen bucks.

I’ve been a thrifter since forever. Since long before it was hip. But it’s not just bric-a-brac I’m looking for. I like the good stuff, the stuff you know landed there as a result of someone else’s cleaning-and-purging frenzy. In short, I want boutique goods for pennies. I want the Waterford stem at the thrift store price. And I am so often rewarded for my efforts, I can only giggle. And rejoice.

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Miss Zinnia. “Che” Beret, vintage, Little Joe’s Gang, Vienna. (Fetching, no?) Out of pocket expense: 7 euros.

So. Here are five secrets to successful thrifting. One. Go often. Sometimes, you’ll strike out, and there will be absolutely nothing but chotchkies.  And clothing that (really!) doesn’t work.  Just more “stuff,” in other words, that needs regular washing and/or dusting and should therefore prompt you to ask, “Do I really want to do more washing and/or dusting?” If you can answer No! to yourself just that fast, then you don’t need said item(s). That’s why it’s important to go often–because you’ll get a sense of the inventory that flows through a particular store, and you’ll know pretty quickly what a good day looks like versus a total strike-out.

Two. If you’re striking out, leave. There it is. Do not ever buy something that has no utility or beauty, a rule of mine inspired by the words of William Morris, father of the famous Arts & Crafts movement that started in England and moved to America. To his mind, it made no sense to have anything in your home that you did not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. So, even if the item is ten dollars; even if it’s just fifty cents, hold onto your pocketbook and go. You will thank yourself next time House Work Day rolls around, and you will certainly thank yourself next time you are forced to purge your entire house because you are moving out of the country . . .

Three. Absolutely pick up items you’ll need in six months (“need” being the key word).  One example was a boy’s navy two-piece suit I once purchased for my younger son to wear to church on Sundays. When I found it in a children’s consignment store, it was too big.  Six months later, my little Goose had a very sharp, like-new suit, and I was out somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty bucks. For the quality and the fit, not bad, not bad at all. (Note: consignment stores are different from thrift stores, but not really. Items can run a little more but tend to be in really good condition.  The main difference is that you can take in your own gently used items and consign them, thereby earning credit toward future purchases!)

Four. Know your brands. All my kids enjoy thrifting with me, and the older three have a solid sense of which brands are usually parked in non-thrift stores like Huntington Beach Surf and Sport, let’s say, or Anthropologie (a very non-thrift store).  My older daughter in particular is religious about knowing what brands live in her favorite boutiques, not so much because she’s logo-happy but because she knows how well her brands of choice are actually made. Thus, when she stumbled a while back onto several “Sparrow” brand sweaters at a consignment store in Costa Mesa, California, she knew perfectly well the quality packed into the deals she was getting. They were little cardigans, her sweaters, and beyond charming. She was giddy with excitement. So: window shop, frequent your favorite stores and even boutiques because once you’re familiar with the offerings, you’ll know exactly how lucky you are come time to make your purchases at the thrift store counter.  Moreover, sometimes a great find has been sitting on the rack long enough for it to be half price, another boon. Yep. This is your new hobby!

Five. Teach your kids to thrift! Saving money is a skill anyone can acquire, and doing it smartly–i.e., getting great value for less–is essential these days. Over the last many years, we have saved so much money and acquired so many terrific pieces and felt so happily triumphant together and shared so many great moments and laughs, it’s ridiculous!

Make haste, then!  Your Ethan Allen sectional awaits. (I know this to be true because I once bought a practically new Ethan Allen sectional at the absurdly low price of $179. at the Salvation Army on Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa, CA.  We stuck it in our garage, and my kids and their friends went on to trash it. But hey–we’d saved a bundle, including the blow to my sanity each time I had to pull Smarties wrappers out from under the cushions after an epic Mario Kart session.)

Final story. Last week, the thrift store down the street from us here in Barcelona was emptying out all its inventory so it could make room for more. Every piece in that store–every coat, every pair of shoes, every top, every everything, was 1 euro. Really! I’m seventeen euros poorer, but my family now has great jackets and shirts for the winter, and I have a couple of groovy (and warm!) skirts.

Off you go. With your kids! Make a mom date out of the excursion. Get some fish tacos (hmm . . . missing those, I realize) or ice cream afterwards. Your bargains await!

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