Discarded Fence Wood becomes a A FREE DIY Play Set

So you may know by now that I am a DIY Girl. You can thank my Daddy for that! As the daughter of a carpenter, there’s nothing like the joy of a well done do-it-yourself project. And it’s even better when it’s FREE!

I love the Nextdoor app. Besides ways to meet neighbors and truly build a community, there are so many giveaways that can lend themselves to a great project. One of my neighbors gave me a bunch of fence wood. I wasn’t exactly sure how I would use them.

They sat for about a year as I pondered their use. And then it struck me: a playset/climber for The Kid. We’re still designing and decorating our house and backyard and the real play set I want to buy him is nearly $2000 and has about 2000 pieces. We truly haven’t had the wherewithal to tackle that project yet.

So, turning this wood into a battery burnout play set for The Kid is a win!! I didn’t have a complete design plan when I started. I literally just improvised as I went along. I knew I (aka The Hubs) wanted to do very little cutting.

My measurements were simple. I used the width of each plank to space out the ladder walls. The Hubs cut about 20 squares from two fence boards to help me space each ladder level evenly and provide better climbing support between spaced out ladder levels. I found some leftover screws from past projects. I used three fence boards as the vertical support on each ladder wall. And I made each ladder wall fit together like a puzzle for more strength and security.

All in all, it took me about 3 hours to settle on a design and throw it all together. The Hubs anchored it into the ground so no child is injured while climbing and voila!

A free play set! It’s a hit!! And it didn’t cost me a penny!! I love it when free materials get a new life!! Upcycling is fulfilling!


Oranges for Home and Health

I love oranges any which-a-way. Juiced, sliced, ummm…that pretty much covers the edible stuff. But once I eat or juice any citrus fruit (grapefruit, blood orange, Valencia orange, lemon or lime) I take the peels and make an all purpose cleaning product for my home!

Having kids means keeping harmful chemicals and germs at bay 24-7, 365. This cleaning solution does just that!

Materials and Ingredients:

-Large Recycled Glass Jar with Lid (Pickles, Mayo, etc)

-Spray Bottle(s)

-citrus rinds from 2-3 fruits, collect as you eat (orange or anything else)

-1/2 To 1 tsp Tea Tree Oil

-White Distilled Vinegar

-fresh mint leaves

There’s no real magic mix here. I simply stuff the peels in the jar, add mint for added aromatherapy then fill the jar with vinegar. I add a teaspoon of tea tree oil and close it up. Let it sit for two weeks and you have a CONCENTRATED cleaning solution for non-hardwood floors*, greasy gunk, sticky messes, bathrooms, non-stone countertops, glass and plastic surfaces. You’ll know it’s ready when the vinegar has turned as deep orange color.

*For hardwood floors, just use Apple cider Vinegar in the place of white vinegar to protect the floor’s finish.

No matter which vinegar you use, this concentrate should be diluted before use! For heavy duty cleaning, use a 50/50 mix of vinegar solution and water in a spray bottle. For lighter duty cleaning, you can stretch your mix further by adding more water to it.

Now here’s the BEST PART: it’s kid safe! This is a no-rinse way to clean baby’s toys, eating surfaces and floors where they love to crawl and lick. (This is why we don’t allow shoes inside our house)


If you incorporate chores in your children’s lives, they can clean their own bathrooms with this!! The Kid now has a weekly chore of cleaning his sink, mirror and shower and he’s (currently) excited about the rite of passage of getting to use cleaning solutions and clean his own space.

So, oranges. Good for your health and your home.

The Morning of Jubilee: He’s sleeping all night

You know that part in the movie Glory where the regiment is marching through the town and little children are in shock and awe at the all Black soldiers with guns? They can’t believe their enslaved, oppressed eyes that these men are armed and seem free. Then Morgan Freeman tells them “Go tell ya folks how kingdom come, the year of Jubilee!!!!”

I am the child in disbelief and this article is Morgan Freeman.

The Tiny One SLEPT.


Hubs and I slept continuously from 11-6:50.

I slept so long, I achieved morning breath. THANK YA HOLY FATHER!!

I slept so long, I woke up afraid of SIDS, ran to the nursery only to see my beautiful babies asleep peacefully and healthy. I left in disbelief then went back to listen for breathing. All good. WON’T HE DO IT?!

Listen. You. Can’t. Steal. Our. Joy.

The Kid didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months. And then, it was only 4 1/2 hours or so. Y’all. The exhaustion was so real that it made us put nearly 7 years between our children. (Fool me once was the idea)

We gambled with our sanity and went for Baby 2, co-slept for 6 months and then transitioned The Tiny One to his own gorgeous room. He’s been showing us that he’s marvelous and different by increasingly sleeping longer each night. But we never expected this!! HALLELUJAH!!

Now, my superstition kicks in. We will try our best to recreate the uniqueness of yesterday exactly and reap the same results tonight. 1) Allow Tiny to beat up The Kid. 2) Allow Tiny to beat me up and pull my hair with glee as I scream. 3)Three meals of solids throughout the day. 4) No Bath. He will be Funky Cole Medina. 5) Novel chapter read aloud before milk and bed. 6) The Kid sleeps in his room with him. (In his own sleeping bag)

Ain’t no telling what I’ll accomplish today with all this luxurious sleep behind me! Cure Cancer? Maybe. Wash the Mountain of Laundry consuming our house? Most probable. But hey, maybe both!

Meals on Wheels: Teaching Citizenship 

The Kid has been learning that he is part of a Village as both recipient and giver of help and support. One of the benefits of homeschooling is that we can take advantage of our community’s programs that occur during the school day. Meals on Wheels has been such a beautiful tool to connect us to generations of veterans, experienced and wise people. Today’s volunteer appreciation luncheon also gave The Kid a chance to practice impromptu speaking. He did an amazing job! ​

Milk is going for Round 2!

So nice, we did it twice.

I checked the Chinese Calendars, I ate a diet to make my body more acidic, I did other ridiculous things… and was defeated by genetics and the desires of The Kid for a Baby Brother. When that balloon popped and blue confetti flew out, it slapped me in the face and choked me-literally. I mean ALL THE CONFETTI descended heavily upon my head and, with my eyes closed, I inhaled in an effort to gain the courage to open my eyes. The inhale welcomed blue feathers and confetti into my throat. I coughed for two days. I found blue stuff inside my dress and bra hours after the private gender reveal for The Hubs and me. (Notice how my mouth is closed in the second set of pictures? This was two weeks later at the public gender reveal party.)AF6EB928-9072-478E-AA61-12793CF3BB11


( I did a little Roc kick when the cameras were off…you know what I’m talking about! THIS ROC…the fist pump and kick)     Roc_Ella_Joyce_Charles_S_Dutton

It was as if my son to be said, “HA! TAKE THIS MILK!!! I’M ALLLLLL OVER THIS BI$%&!”

I hear you Baby J! We are so excited to have Baby J join the mess that is this loving family. He is the song that the Fat Lady Sings. He is the heavy curtain that drops loudly after the Vaudeville encore. He is the One I already love more than words- and we haven’t technically met.

The reality of it is, there are many reasons I wantED (notice the past tense, Baby J?!) a girl. Yes, I wanted to buy pink and green things. Yes, I wanted to braid hair and style sweet little curls into the perfect ‘do. YES! I wanted to shop for life’s big moments: graduations, proms, a WEDDING! I wanted my amazing husband to let his daughter wrap her tiny fingers around his. I wanted him to hold her hand through all of life’s ups and downs-loving her unconditionally and in the only way that The Hubs does – beautifully and selflessly.

So yes! I wantED a girl! None of which was rooted in not liking little boys. I LOVE my son and the new sweetie too! I already fiercely protect both of them daily. And that’s just it.

In a time where lynchings still happen, racial kidnappings still happen, segregation still happens (legally), and mass incarceration is back on the Legislation table, poorly disguised as a war on crime- having another little Black man to fret over was just overwhelming. I KNOW that daughters bring their own worries too (Sandra Bland, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith-just to name a VERY few). Yet our boys become seen as men as early as age 9. Our Men are seen as threats more readily than neutral.

Studies of deliberately neutral faces (faces showing no emotional facial expressions) find that observers report Black people’s faces to appear angry. One study showed a White face, Black face or other image and at the same time shocked people with a low voltage but uncomfortable electrical shock. This pairing produced a “fear response” whenever the Black face or shock-associated image was shown. The study then showed that Black face or other shock-associated image multiple times WITHOUT the shock in an attempt to get rid of the mental fear that a shock was coming. They found that it was difficult and in some cases impossible to disconnect the physical response of fear of an impending shock from the Black face but not the White face. The study said that perhaps the Black face had an element of natural fear producing similar to the sight of a snake or other natural threat. This natural fear made it harder to disconnect the fear from the face, even after the person was given plenty of time to “know” that no shock was coming. This study was done in the last 20 years and the findings were replicated many times. Furthermore, a 2015 study from NYU found that stress compromised the ability of a person to treat strangers as individuals and instead increased the person’s sensitivity to irrelevant social feedback. So whereas the color of one’s skin might be irrelevant to some, in a stressful situation, all of a sudden race becomes a factor. Given the well-established value of “Blackness”, it’s more than likely to trigger the “natural fear”.

WHEW! You see what happened there? That’s where my mind goes after a lifetime of being Black in America coupled with 6 years of Neuroscience research and reading in graduate school. This is the domino effect I have when I think about how the heavily-armed world sees my sons and male family members. WHO would sign up for double the fear? Apparently me.

So, as I continue to homeschool and enjoy The Kid and wait impatiently on Baby J, I ask that you consider the paragraph above and do you own research. I ask that you think of the joy I felt and how it was tinged with fear that I now have two amazing, beautiful, brilliant little boys who will someday become men. I ask you to celebrate the fullness of my joy with me. And, I ask you to be empathetic of my fears that my little boys might one day be perceived as angry or as a threat and trigger some person in Blue Uniform or person who is licensed to carry. I ask you to consider the singular experience of Black parents who raise their children in America. We do it in constant hope that our children will be given a chance to live freely, make mistakes without street justice, and grow into the beautiful men and women we they are born to be.

So, when people ask me if I wanted a girl, these are all the thoughts that are behind my “yes”. It ain’t pretty. It’s a mess and then some. But it’s the truth and the facts lie scattered all around all of us-no matter your race or economic status.  Walk with me as I go back into having a new human to adore. I’ll be reviewing baby things, asking questions, and sharing how we’re preparing The Kid to be a Big Brother.

Follow me on instagram mamajenhen @milkbrainblog!


Mud Pie Math!

What?! You read it right! Mud. Pie. Math. What’s not to like about playing in the mud? I combined The Kid’s love of Disney movies, parties and mud pies to work on fractions! I pretended to get call after call from his favorite Disney characters with updated RSVPs of how many guests our party would have. In response to the updated RSVP, he had to modify his mud pie to serve the guests. We worked with halves, fourths, sixths, and eighths. We even branched into concepts of 2/8=1/4, 4/8=1/2 and so on. Talk about fun and challenge all in one exciting “task”. When I moved on to practice letter writing with The Red One, The Kid was still begging for more phone calls to update the RSVP count so he could change the pie fractions.

With The Red One, we used his mud cake as a writing surface! He whipped out his “smart finger” or pointer finger and we wrote “A” then traced it. We discussed colors and our sense of smell. Mostly, we focused on building stamina and completing projects from start to finish- these are the proper focus areas for a three year old. What’s most pivotal is building stamina and follow through as these are huge components for long term academic success.

For The Kid and The Red One, we used mud pies and chalk paint for some powerful STEAM play! They created colorful sidewalk murals, read them as stories to each other, then played with the sun to create shadow tracings of their bodies!

Making mud pies lead to a continued discussion on the water cycle and how “sun baking” will change their physical properties over time. So now, as our pies bake in the sun, we have a project on dehydration and water vapor movement. We also added the variable of a physical barrier between the pie and the sun when The Red One put a large mound of grasses over his mud pie. How will these pies “bake” differently?

And just for fun, the guys got to take an outdoor shower in the hose to wash off their hard morning’s mud and chalk play! Later, as they waited for lunch, the guys continued independent reading on our topic of Adventures in Texas with these books: The Black Cowboys by Gina De Angelis and Black Cowboys by Andrea Robbins and Max Becher. Finally, we rounded out the morning with our character building activity of reading and discussing Light as a Feather: 42 Laws of Maat for Children by Kajara NiaYaa NebtHet. This book has great pictures and provides great encouragement to discuss and think about our actions and words with the guideline of the ancient Kemetic principles set forth by the goddess Maat. Both little gentlemen had self-guided revelations of how they could apply a MAAT principle to their own behavior to improve the “weight of their heart”. That was so great to see!