Archive | January 2016

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Autonomy: Parenting Book Roundup

This post contains Amazon affiliate links for research purposes. Your library probably has these books and you should check there first!

I have come to believe that the best way to parent “wrong” is to try to parent some way that is not natural to you and your kids. Personally, for the first few years there, I really struggled with finding my way to the kind of parent I wanted to be. I lacked confidence so much that I never wanted to parent in front of an audience.

Time passed, I got better at it. Being, well, me, books were naturally part of how I found my feet. I read plenty that were useless or just didn’t suit me, but here are some of the best.

Alyson Schafer, Honey, I Wrecked the Kids and Ain’t Misbehavin’

I actually read the later book first, but it mostly works either way. Schafer is an Adlerian psychologist who urges parents to practice “democratic parenting,” which essentially consists of treating your children like people. You don’t use rewards or punishments, because those don’t work anyway, and you don’t engage in power struggles with your child. Instead, you always offer your child a choice, and you do it evenly, with no drama or vindictiveness. You definitely don’t use shame. If your child doesn’t brush his teeth, you might explain that means he is choosing not to have sweets, since sweets are bad for your teeth, but you don’t go on and on about how his teeth are going to fall out of his head. And when it’s lunch time and he can’t have jelly on his sandwich, you remind him of the reason calmly, but not smugly. You shouldn’t enjoy it.

This is the author that has helped me the most, hands-down. For instance, we had meltdowns every time we turned off the television until I started asking the kids, “Do you want to turn off the TV, or should I?” (Fortunately, turning off the TV is a three-remote process, so I have plenty of buttons for both of them.) I taught them to push the right buttons, so now they get to practice a fun skill every time we turn off the TV, and it has cut down on meltdowns dramatically.

More authoritative parenting books like 1-2-3 Magic and Parenting With Love And Logic weren’t that helpful for me. Trying to give time-outs just made us all agitated; I would start counting or warning or whatever and then not want to follow through. While I still have to find a way to follow through, at least it’s not via trying to get a kid to stay on the naughty step. Some people swear by them; they just weren’t for me.

Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Not actually a parenting book, but pairs nicely with Alyson Schafer. Just like sticker charts won’t really motivate your kid to go potty, paying people to solve a problem won’t inspire creativity. The authors agree that the research shows people are more strongly motivated by internal forces, like the desire for autonomy, belonging, and a sense of purpose.

Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

Also not actually a parenting book, but the chapter on communication (“Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood”) is crucial for learning to relate to people of any age, even toddlers, with empathy. This one also helped with two areas I’m still struggling with: constantly operating in crisis mode, and complaining instead of solving.

The Gesell Institute, Your [X]-Year-Old series.

These books are old now, but don’t discount them–they’re still in print for a reason. They are often laugh-out-loud funny and bursting with positivity even about the most trying ages and behaviors. Besides which, they are a fascinating glimpse into a time when parenting expectations were a touch more reasonable. 
Do you find parenting books helpful or useless? What are your favorites?


How I Used A Hacksaw To Clean My Dishwasher

Caution: This post contains disturbing imagery. Do you view unless you have time to clean your dishwasher immediately.

This week’s learning experience: I attempted a minor household repair that people often outsource. I made a tremendous hash of it, but with the help of Internet strangers, I ultimately prevailed.

See, the dishes were not getting clean in the dishwasher. A vinegar cleaning was not effective, so I knew I needed to take the floor apart and clean the underneath.

This is supposed to be a simple procedure with a few basic steps:

  1. Remove lower spray arm by removing the nut holding it in place.
  2. Take out screws with special star-shaped screwdriver.
  3. Disconnect white tube thing at back and remove the screw under it.
  4. Lift up filter, clean, then reassemble.

That seemed straightforward, so I started by turning the nut with needle nose pliers. Or sometimes I held it still and spun the arm.



Now that would have been fine. There were two problems with my plan: One, the nut in my particular machine doesn’t actually come off. As I was told in the MMM forums, the arm is supposed to sort of walk up the nut and come off, leaving the nut behind.

Two, it’s a right hand bolt. I had been turning it in the wrong direction for like half an hour. By now, I could not get the nut to move. The arms were jammed underneath the threads of the nut and would not “walk” back up. I waited thirty-six hours for Mr. FP to come back from his trip because he’s better with unscrewing things. No dice. Still stuck.

I despaired. There may have been tears. Since he got back Thursday, New Year’s Eve, I knew that even if I had wanted to blow a bunch of money calling a plumber, I wouldn’t be able to do that until Monday. And I emphatically did not want to drop a hundred some dollars on plumbing, especially with my car needing work this month.

Instead, I decided to destroy the nut. Lacking any suitable cutting tools, I bought a mini-hacksaw at Walmart and sliced off the top of the nut. Removing the top was super satisfying. Then I had to poke around in there with a screwdriver and whatnot until I was able to pull up the spray arm.


What was left of the retaining nut after I hacked at it.

That exposed the screws I needed to unscrew. I already owned a set of star-shaped and other “precision” screwdrivers left over from when I tried unsuccessfully to disassemble my phone. It was a little flimsy for the task, but got the job done. Then I needed to sort of yank on the white tube on the back to expose another screw and detach it from the bottom tube, but that came off surprisingly easily.

I think I paid $5 for these at Home Depot.

I think I paid $5 for these at Home Depot. I put the dishwasher one in backwards so I’ll remember which one to use next time.

Friends, under there was the most disgusting thing I have ever been a part of in my entire life. And I have children. It was like a slime palace. It was like there was a slime emperor, the Nero of slime if you will, and he had stripped all the riches of his slime kingdom and used them all to build this extravagant, vulgar imperial monument to his own slimy grandness.

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I read that you should remove the water under there with a wet vac if you have one. I don’t, so rather than use towels (ewwww), I used my turkey baster. I’m sure I can disinfect it later. I removed a lot of the loose goo with a plastic putty knife before I started wiping. This part was not actually that difficult, although it was gross and smelly. All the goo wipes up with a damp paper towel, no chemicals or elbow grease required. The hard part was accessing the goo, much of which was in hard-to-reach places. I often used a pipe cleaner.

Just when I thought I was done, I discovered that the filter comes off the little table thing underneath and discovered a new store of ickiness to clean.

This would have seemed pretty gross had I not seen the rest of it already.

This would have seemed pretty gross had I not seen the rest of it already.

Having done that, I was still left with the problem of having destroyed the retaining nut. A little searching gave me the part number, then I found it on Amazon. Unfortunately, it’s an $18 piece of plastic. On the other hand, it was available with Prime shipping. (Amazon did not recognize my model number, so I had to consult other sources.) I was emotionally prepared to wait at least a week for the part, so you can imagine how psyched I was to get two-day shipping. ‘Cause I am not enamored of sink-washing dishes.

It arrived. I remembered where it went and installed it. I put back in all the little star-shaped screws. And then… I could not get the spray arm back on. It wouldn’t engage with the threads. Indeed, I had the disorienting sensation that the spray arm was threaded backwards from the nut.

The indented part at 9 o'clock should be pointing up and the flat part at 6 o'clock should be pointing down.

The indented part at 9 o’clock need to be pointing up and the flat part at 6 o’clock needed to be pointing down.

That’s because it WAS. I went back to the Mr. Money Mustache forums and consulted again with my new friend, the one who told me about how the arm is supposed to walk up and encouraged me to try the hacksaw. From a picture I posted, he diagnosed the problem–I had deformed the spray arm. I was all set to buy a new one, but he said I could fix it with some needle-nose pliers and a screwdriver. I just needed to push one side up and the other side down, forming a sort of helical shape to engage with the threads. Once I had done that–and it was not pretty work, but since the damn thing was already broken, I had nothing to lose–I gave it one more try and it spun right back on. Phew! I would have done an end-zone dance right there in my kitchen, but I was too busy starting the dishwasher. (Empty load with vinegar to finish cleaning it out.)

Hats off to zolotiyukeri, whoever he may be in the real world, the nicest guy on the Internet. He took apart his own functioning dishwasher to better examine its workings so that he could advise me. He answered questions again and again and again. I have no doubt I would have had to call a repairman without a little hand-holding on this one.

I would rather not have spent the $21 dollars, but at least  didn’t have to shell out for a plumber. And next time I clean my dishwasher, the chances are excellent that I will manage NOT to destroy the retaining nut, and it won’t cost my anything.

I probably won’t even need my hacksaw.

Have you ever overcomplicated a simple job? What was your outcome?

January Buying Break

Our Christmas was fairly modest by American standards, but boy, did I buy a lot of things in December. Christmas presents. A roasting pan. Christmas presents on other people’s behalf. (Since we did not go East for Christmas, several generous relatives sent holiday checks. And since we’ve never stayed home before, I lacked key supplies like a roasting pan.) Cookie cutters. Ornament making supplies. Preschool teacher gift cards. Wreath. Wreath hanger. Christmas tree.

Everything I bought has a purpose, and I didn’t even come close to spending all those Christmas checks. (We’re stashing some for filling wants* as they arise and/or for experiences.) But it was much more spending, especially buying new, than I normally do. (Both boys got brand-new coats and brand-new jeans, plus a brand-new kid-sized table and chairs, a level of newness unprecedented in our household since we were preparing for Big Brother’s arrival five years ago.)

Packable, washable down jackets from Costco, approximately $23 each. Thanks, Grandma FP!

Packable, washable down jackets from Costco, approximately $23 each. Thanks, Grandma FP!

Now, there’s no way January is going to be an uber-frugal month. The dishwasher is broken** and my car is making alarming knocking noises when I turn corners (no more putting off that axle replacement). And Mr. FP and I have a weekend getaway planned for just the two of us.

Still, it’s time to recalibrate. I have major buying fatigue and don’t even want to think about walking up and down aisles or researching products on Amazon. Besides that, all that shopping has started to seem like normal behavior, something to do every few days. For me, it’s not, and it can’t be.

So… I’m not going to buy anything in January. Not for me, not for the house, and not for the boys. There are only two exceptions: I will buy whatever I need to fix the dishwasher, and I will buy Big Brother one or two birthday presents and some balloons. (Not his fault he got stuck with a January birthday.)

Now, last year I decided there was too much going on in January and I would just wait for February to do a proper uber-frugal month. This year, I’ve reminded myself that the perfect is the enemy of the good and decided that the time to start is now.

Does anyone else feel the need to do a bit of a January spending detox?

*We need a word for in between “want” and “need.” Something along the lines of, Little Brother’s uniform pants are wearable but short and I buy him new ones. He doesn’t NEED new ones, exactly, but it’s more than a passing fancy.

**Technically, I broke it while trying to clean it.