Thursday, April 29, 2010

Let it Be a Dance We Do


My daughter has been in one of those "phases" of late - one of those rough developmental patches that seem to result in a lot of need. She is fussy, wants to be a baby still, is (Still!) wetting the bed at night, and yet she also wants independence, to be a big girl, and to have her way in all things. She only wants her Mommy, and accepts help from other caregivers only after a struggle.

What can I do? Just get through it. I have the hymn Let It Be a Dance stuck in my head: "Let it be a dance we do, can I have this dance with you? Through the good times and the bad times, too - let it be a dance, let it be a dance, let it be a dance ... the morning star comes out at night, without the dark, there'd be no light, yet, if nothings wrong then nothings right. So let it be a dance, let it be a dance, let it be a dance".

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Snack Mom dilemma

Since Carbon started attending the little Sudbury school I've had to pack him a lunch every day. We've been able to do that without compromising our disposable plastic rule, because of my collection of reusable containers. Waste-free lunches are possible!

But what about when I am the "Snack Mom"? Carbon's baseball team has a snack schedule for both practices and games, and I can see that this is going to become more of a part of my life. What do you hand out? So far, Carbon has received those individual cheese and cracker snacks (can't eat that - not gluten free) and a bag of cheetos, and also always a little Caprisun drink pouch. These are not healthy snacks, they don't follow our dietary needs, they are in no way ethical, organic, or local, and the excess packaging generates all this waste!

(I am wondering if I should start collecting those Caprisun pouches he gets handed and keep them to sew a sunshade or a lunch bag or something).

I've had two turns at snack so far, and I brought organic apples and bananas for one and organic granola bars (but in individual wrappers) for the other. And juice boxes - Carbon says I have to bring juice boxes. I got low-sugar, organic juice in a paper box instead of those pouches, but still - argh!

The fruit was received fairly well, the granola bars were not (many kids told me "But I don't like this kind of food!" when I handed it to them). Do I just always do fruit? How can these quick and portable snacks be healthy and not generate all this waste? Ideas?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Picture Book Post

recent reads


Some of our favorite reads of late:

Bog Baby is a bit odd (do you believe in bog babies? why do they look like little imps?) but once you get beyond the oddness of the bog baby itself it is a very sweet story about loving something and having to let it go.

Lost and Found in which a penguin is lost, and a boy tries to take him home to the south pole in a row boat. But what he was really looking for was a friend!

The Magic Gold Fish is a retelling of the Russian folktale of the fisherman who catches a magic fish, and the wishes his wife makes him ask for. Demi's illustrations are done in her trademark highly-stylized ink drawings.

The Flying Witch is another Baba Yaga story, this time retold by Jane Yolen. As usual, Baba Yaga is scary and wants to eat little children. Unusually, this time the little girl in the story convinces Baba Yaga that turnip soup is better and easier to catch than children and everyone is happy in the end.

The Valiant Red Rooster is a retelling of a traditional Hungarian tale. This version features extravagant and repetitive language that make it fun to read aloud, but the illustrations weren't to my taste, with exaggerated and florid figures for the sultan and the rooster.

Mathilda and the Orange Balloon is sweet and appropriate for younger children. Can a sheep be like an orange balloon?

Love and Roast Chicken was a lot of fun. I like trickster tales, and this one gives it a twist, as the fox is the hapless foil to the tricks of a guinea pig.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

mailbox fun

fun in the mailbox

Look what came in the mail on Friday! I won a giveaway on the One Small Change blog, and got this beautiful bunch of goodness. I'm going to love knittting with this yarn. Check Angie's Etsy shop to see all the lovely, natural-dyed yarns she has for sale. Thanks, Angie!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day - wrapping up my One Small Change efforts

I love the way challenges can build a community on the internet, but I've never had one as wonderful as the One Small Change community has been. For the last four months, amazing people have been making one change a month in their lifestyles to try and be better to the earth. It has been inspiring and supportive, and a great challenge.

Starting out in January, I thought I was already living a very green lifestyle. "What could I change?" I thought. Well, we found things we could change.

January - we decided to stop shopping altogether. We didn't buy anything all month (except food), and the process we learned some good things about our consumer habits. Especially for me, I had to confront my use of shopping as an emotional "pick me up". After the month was up we wanted to maintain a more rational level of consumerism, but it has been a slippery slope. I'm going to have to keep watching this one, so that I truly do only buy what I need.

February - we decided to try and cut disposable plastic out of our lifestyle. What I discovered was how incredibly pervasive plastic is in our culture. We haven't reached a complete elimination of it (yet), but we've been able to reduce it with bulk bin shopping for more food and shampoos and soaps, by switching to baking soda and vinegar instead of packaged household cleaners, and with other careful shopping habits.

March - I really wanted to switch to alternative transportation. Although I did manage to bus and bike a bit more, it wasn't as much as I had wanted to do. What it made me realize was how much easier all this was before I had kids. I used to bus and bike all the time - in fact I didn't have a car while I was in college. But I cannot (yet) figure out how to transport two kids who have become too large for a bike trailer and yet not large enough to ride their own bikes through traffic, and get everywhere we need to go for a working mom with kids going different places to school. I need an electric car! The transportation challenge continues ...

April - we've cut back our meat consumption and pledged to try and eat only local, ethically raised meat. It's been much easier than the other challenges, as we live in a vegetarian-friendly community and have discovered good (if expensive) sources of ethically raised meat. The kids and I don't mind eating vegetarian, either.

This is the official end of the challenge, but I want to continue pushing myself. I'm going to do a "refresh old changes" month next month, and go back to "no shopping, no plastic, and car-free days". I'll keep posting about our efforts to live in line with our values.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Care and religion

As I wrote in my last post, earth-based religions are frequently paired with environmental education for children. But, after attending several Earth Care events put on by the local Interfaith Works, I am pleased to see that for many people of various Christian denominations Earth Care is a religious imperative. A Catholic nun that I have been very honored to know through these events wrote this lovely opinion piece for our local paper.

In our Unitarian Universalist faith, our 7th Principle calls for us to "respect the interdependent web of life, of which we are all a part". In my congregation, this manifests itself in many ways: in our Green Sanctuary committee leading the way in making our church a greener place, in our Adult Education committee including the category of "social and earth justice" as one of their 6 types of classes to offer, in an Ethical Eating Work Group that has sponsored a Food Film and Discussion series, in worship, and in children's religious education.

UU's care about the Earth. (According to the UU Ministry for Earth, 137 congregations are doing something special for Earth Day. The number is probably low - my congregation isn't registered but we always do an Earth Day worship service.) We're not always perfect about it (who is?), but overall, we feel the imperative to care for the earth as a religious and spiritual imperative. Just as I wrote when I warned that we should not scare or depress children before they even have the chance to love nature, I think we shouldn't hit adults with fear, depression, or guilt about nature either. Love, connection, spiritual oneness - those are the reasons I feel passionate about the environment. There is a positive, loving, spiritual and religious message we can give our children, calling us all to live in right relationship with each other and with the earth.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Earth Week - Nature Tables

Easter display

One of my favorite parts of paganism is the attention it pays to the seasons. The part of my childhood when my family considered itself Pagan was marked by lovely holidays and an effort to "bring the seasons indoors" on our family altar.

Paganism, and other "earth-based religions" are by definition, Earth based. They are a natural fit with environmentalism, and many of the stories and rituals and holidays from earth-based religions work very well to connect children with nature and the Earth.

And nature tables - the semi-secular version of that family altar I had as a kid - are sweet and wonderful for younger children. Some folks get very elaborate with this, and I say "go for it!". But if you don't feel up to an elaborate display, it can be a very simple thing. I think the priority is to make it accessible to the kids, so use materials they can handle and put it somewhere close to eyelevel for them. Getting the kids involved in setting it up, and then letting them rearrange it and change it throughout the season, gives them a little corner of nature inside their homes.

Just another little connection between kids and the earth - I don't think there can ever be too many.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Our mindful meat-eater efforts

This month we made the pledge that we would try to only eat meat raised ethically and organically, and we'd cut back on the amount of meat we eat.

How it's been going:

  • I am happy eating vegetarian at restaurants, but my husband is not. He is just not going to honor this pledge when he's not in the house.
  • The first week I made way to many meals with heavy dairy (mac and cheese, enchiladas, pizza) and I ended up with a horrible painful stomach ache from my lactose intolerance.
  • I bought frozen meat from a local farm, and my husband was very sweetly making me breakfast when he suddenly realized that the bacon cost more than $1 a slice. It shook him up.
  • Now that we can't stop for fast food, I've embraced the concept of peanut butter and jelly sandwichs for dinner on nights we are busy and running around.
  • Breakfast for dinner is pretty appealing when you are swimming in eggs as your main protein source.
  • My husband brought home frozen steaks that he bought from a coworker who has family that ranch. He also made dinner with those steaks and asparagus, so I was very happy to see him get involved in the effort. He had asked all about how the cows were treated and we are talking about buying a quarter cow from them and making room for it in our freezer.
  • Beans require planning ahead, but then they are good. Slow-cookers were invented for people who want to eat beans.
  • Our dog has been very happy, because eating this way we have had more bones than we did from supermarket cuts. Ham hocks, steak bones - she's in doggy heaven chewing on those.

We can do this. We can eat this way, live this way, and just be in better touch with where our food comes from.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Earth Day Kids - crafts


Today at church I had a station set up for kids to make animal masks, and next week children will use those masks in a "Procession of the Animals" in the worship service.

Carbon's school is also making animal costumes, to be a tidepool in our community Procession of the Species. Carbon has constructed a sting ray that he will wear and an eel he is carrying on a long bamboo pole.

If you don't have a parade handy, however, there is the wonderful stand-by of making Junk Art or Recycled Art. What cool stuff can you make from trash? Collect stuff like toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, junk mail, etc. and let their creativity go wild. Or if you have welding skills, you can collect old bicycles and other metal trash and make sculptures.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Earth Week - Family Movie Night goes Green

Two nights ago the kids and I watched Dirt! The Movie together, and I loved the message. In all the known universe, only our planet has a living skin, called Dirt.

Kids love to play in the dirt, and my children were very interested in this portrayal of the aliveness of our dirt, the dangers to it, and what we can all do to love the dirt. The middle of the film, which portrayed strip mining and many other environmental problems, was a bit too intense and sad for the kids, but we stuck with it and the film-makers did bring it back to a positive message of change, so the kids were OK. It's such a fine line between too much scary destruction just leading to despair and too little attention paid to problems maintaining ignorance and the status quo.

Some other films we've watched as a family:

No Impact Man, but this one was a bit boring for my kids. It would be good for middle school and up, I think.

Planet Earth, of course.

The Blue Planet is a David Attenborough look at the watery parts of our planet.

Food, Inc. was a bit too much for the kids, again, but it was a hit with the youth group at church.

The Life of Birds - we love David Attenborough!

Life in the Undergrowth - David Attenborough again (but this one featured slug sex, which has to be one of the weirdest things we've ever watched as a family)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Earth Day Kids - Earth Appreciation in Art

earth day books

I've been deep in reading to find the perfect readings for the Earth Day service I'm leading at church, and there are some wonderful nature poems and picture books out there.

The Tree That Time Built is a poetry compilation about nature and evolution, and includes an audiorecording with many of the poets reading their own poems. I love this one.

Art & Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry pairs beautiful art with lovely poetry. I found several good readings in this one.

Anthology for the Earth draws from very diverse sources, including bits by John Muir and Thoreau and modern poetry, with illustrations of all types. Here you will find more strident calls for action.

The Curious Garden is a picture book that I will be adapting as the story for my Earth Day service.

Grandad's Prayers of the Earth was the lovely picture book that I adapted as the story for last year's Earth Day.

And there are many, many more out there! Read to your kids in honor of Mother Earth.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Earth Day Kids - Get 'Em Outside

mission creek

Many years ago, I read the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. It is a powerful argument for the importance of getting children out into nature, giving them an attachment to place, and letting them naturally develop a love of nature. This emphasis in ecological-education would make sure that kids love nature before they fear ecological destruction, avoiding what the author termed "ecophobia".

Unfortunately, in our modern life children may not have any contact with nature, not even with where their food comes from. And so the primary task of teaching children to be good earth stewards is just to get them outside in natural or even semi-natural settings.

Hence, resources such as the books I Love Dirt, and Let's Go Outside by Jennifer Ward, and the many bloggers participating in The Outdoor Hour Challenge and writing about their efforts to go outside for an hour a day.

I think the many Citizen Science projects out there are also excellent ways to get kids outside and engaged with nature. My family especially loved Project Feeder Watch, as a way to get through the winter while still engaged with nature.

And I'm not saying that you can't get your kids involved in environmental activism or service projects - but (especially for young kids) it's better to do something fun and positive than it is to emphasize problems. Going out and planting trees or cleaning a beach can be a wonderful experience for kids. Take them back to that spot later so they can enjoy their work, and bond with the place even further. There is a huge sense of pride in seeing "my tree" or "my trail" or "my beach" and that is a feeling of pride-in-place that leads to Stewardship.

Happy Arbor Day!

Go Outside!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Count Down to Earth Day

April 22nd is Earth Day, and this will be the 40th anniversary of this holiday of environmental awareness. In honor of Earth Day, I'm going to post something about teaching children to appreciate the environment every day for the next week.

This isn't the most important thing to do, in my opinion (bigger ideas coming next), but one thing my family enjoys is playing environmental themed games, and Earthopoly is one of our favorites. Just like Monopoly, you move around the board and have a chance to buy properties, but here the properties are natural environments. You then collect carbon credits and can trade them for clean air.
There is also Oceanopoly, Garden-opoly, and Animal-opoly, but we haven't tried those.
Add a little environmental twist to your family game night - especially perfect for celebrating Earth Hour, I think (if you have natural beeswax candles to see by, of course).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Troubling History


Today we tackled some more difficult subjects in Sunday School, and we had a bit more talk and depiction of violence than usual.

Because today we talked about the crusades. The kids had heard of the crusades before, but they didn't know much about them. In the days of history textbooks controlled by the Texas Board of Education, the idea that Christians had committed atrocities in Jerusalem isn't getting a lot of classroom attention.

Our 4th-6th grade class has been doing a curriculum I wrote to accompany the PBS documentary, Jerusalem: Center of the World. The documentary is very well done, and the class consists of watching one chapter each week and then doing projects and discussion around the film. Today, the kids engaged in a very mature discussion of how the crusades were a violation of the faith and religion that inspired them. I love when kids can grapple with troubling issues, and they really did that so well today.

And then our 1st-3rd grade class was learning about Muhammad today, with a lesson I put together using the picture book by Demi. Completely without prompting, the kids launched from that book into a discussion of how much they "believed" in Muhammad, Moses, and Jesus. They were comparing the miracle stories and the messages, and they brought up ideas about how it could look like water had turned to blood, etc. The teacher explained what metaphor means, and I was just so proud of those kids!

It was one of those days, when I just felt like they got it, and everything worked.

Friday, April 9, 2010

My Mindful Mornings

It's been about 9 months now that I have had a morning yoga practice, and I wouldn't give it up for the world. I don't do it every single morning - weekends are off and obviously if I oversleep I have to skip it and some mornings are just so rough that I do a hot tub instead and call it "hot tub yoga".

But most mornings, I do at least 10 minutes of yoga first thing. I'm never going to be a pretzel - the same inflexible body that made it so hard to do ballet when I was younger just won't allow that - but that isn't why I do it.

The main reason I do it is because for those minutes out of my day, I check in with myself. I try to banish all other thoughts from my mind, and just pay attention to the way my body is feeling. It doesn't matter what I look like or how long I do it, it just matters that I give myself that time to just Be before the Do list and tasks of the day hit me.

So I stagger from bed and I am faced with some basic truths each morning:

there are inherent limits in our physical abilities and our physical selves

it's about balancing surrender to what is with effort toward what might be

you have to be honest with yourself - you can't fake this

it's natural for the mind to wander, and relaxing is actually a skill to practice

just Being is scary, and that feeling of boredom is a prod to avoid the discomfort of all of it

And, just to keep it real, here is my partner from this morning's yoga. She woke up at 5am, and fussed and fumed about having to stay in her room until 7am, when I got up. I invited her to join me for my yoga, and this was the result:

sleeping yoga girl

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sewing Books: Inspiration or Instruction?

sock sewing

If you read my post about doing three projects from Weekend Sewing, here is an update: I don't want to do anymore of those projects. I'm just going to give the book away, rather than force myself to do a project that doesn't appeal or won't be practical for us.

So - all of these books of sewing projects that are out right now are very appealing. But I don't actually do the projects out of them. Do you? I like to flip through them, and they inspire my creative juices to start flowing. But when it comes down to it, I usually either want a standard sewing pattern from an envelope or I just want to make it up as I go along.

Sometimes a project is inspired by a book, such as the sock creature Carbon made all by himself above, but that doesn't really justify buying the books, does it?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Framing children's art

3D Art piece

A frame makes all the difference for children's art. Putting their art in a nice frame honors their work and preserves it. Because let's face it - stacks of art or art stuck up with push pins is just going to get ripped up, wrinkled, lost, and otherwise messed up.

Does framing it mean you have to keep it forever? I don't think so. You can take it out later and reuse the frame for something else.

In the meantime, look at the nice presentation you can have for their art projects.

A Reliable Wife

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick.

This book is set in northern Wisconsin, but I felt as I read it that it should have been set in snow-bound Russia. It had the feel of Russian Lit, with a toss of Wuthering Heights and a small pinch of East of Eden for American flair.

It is beautifully written, and does put a twist on the whole genre of bleak tragedy that makes it stand out. What is the book about? Well, I will just give you a quote from the book:

It was just a story of how the bitter cold gets into your bones and never leaves you, of how the memories get into your heart and never leave you alone, of the pain the bitterness of what happens to you when you're small and have no defenses but still know evil when it happens, of secrets about evil you have no one to tell, of the life you live in secret, knowing your own pain and the pain of others but helpless to do anything other than the things you do, and the end it all comes to.

Yes, it is a story of a father who needs forgiveness, and a son who hates him, and a mail order wife with a bottle of arsenic in her purse. It is a story of bleak and cold winter.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Building special spaces

Before, he had special spaces like this:

sofa fort

But now Carbon's dad has started to make good on his Christmas promise-gift of a treehouse. He only had one day off work, and the weather was JUST AWFUL, but he toughed it out and finished this platform for Carbon. The boy loves it! More construction to come, but for now he can climb up there and launch his airplanes, pretend it's a bird observatory, a pirate ship crow's nest, and much much more.

new treehouse

Monday, April 5, 2010

We survived Easter

egg hunt

I love holidays, but Easter is not one of my favorites. It is a lot of work, and problematic in so many ways!

Top 10 Reasons Easter is Not My Favorite Holdiay

1. It is meant to be celebrated outdoors, but the weather usually doesn't cooperate.

2. Easter Dresses are silly and too cold for the time of year. It's hard for me to figure out what to wear.

3. The kids get way too much sugar, so they are hyper and difficult to manage at church.

4. The Christian holiday is a hot potato subject, theologically speaking, for our Unitarian Universalist congregtion.

5. Organizing the annual Egg Hunt at church is a lot of work, and then the kids run and it's done in about 15 minutes.

6. No special foods that I really love. (OK - deviled eggs are yummy but I have those all the time)

7. Did I already list the icky weather?

8. No one ever makes me an Easter basket.

But then again ...

9. The looks of happiness on the kids' faces during the egg hunt are pretty wonderful

10. Spring and renewal and new beginnings are all lovely things, even if they do frequently start with mud and rain and other difficulties.

Friday, April 2, 2010

April Small Changes

I'm participating in One Small Change, making one intentional change each month to make our family lifestyle better for the environment. So far we've decreased our shopping and use of disposable plastic, and increased our use of public transportation.

So what is the next step? I was debating between meat and fabric, and they both have big issues. Meat production uses more land than feeding the same number of vegetarians would, and the methane gas produced by cattle actually contributes to global warming. And then there are all the ethical issues involved in how we raise and kill the animals. So there are a lot of reasons for environmentalists to become vegetarians.

On the other hand, cotton may be "the fabric of our lives", but conventional cotton farming uses massive amounts of pesticides. Organic cotton is much better for the environment, but it's more expensive and would require that I seek alternatives for much of the fabric I use.

But after consulting as a family, we are going to go with the meat this month. We aren't going to become vegetarians, but we are going to cut back. Yes, ethically raised meat is more expensive - but that provides a natural limit on our consumption. So most meals from now on will be vegetarian, because we will only eat organic, ethically raised, local meat. I'm not sure how that will affect eating out - I'm not ready to totally give up restaurants, so we'll see how that goes.

Plant-based diet, here we come!

Thursday, April 1, 2010


Today was Carbon's first "real" day at his new school, a small Sudbury model school that is basically group unschooling. He loves the school so far, and it seems wonderful to me as well.

But I'm still not ready to hand over my childrens' education to someone else. In fact, I don't think I would ever, as a parent, be ready to let anyone other than my child step in and take over for me. I think parents are ultimately responsible for their childrens' educations, and that the family is the primary educational unit. This idea is shared by homeschoolers and by afterschoolers.

Afterschooling means that during the afterschool hours families focus on furthering their childrens' educations. Today we did our afterschooling bit, and it looked like this:

3:30 - pick him up from school, and then drive home listening to The Lightening Thief on audiobook.

4:00 - snack and pack

4:45 - swim class

5:30 - drive to Costco, listening to The Lightening Thief again.

6:00 - Costco shopping, eating samples, and grabbing hotdog meals for dinner.

7:00 - Home, and the afterschooling begins! We read part of the new issue of Cricket magazine, did a couple quick addition wrap-ups, read La Ropa and did a game where I sent them off hunting for clothing items in spanish, which finished up with a command to find "pijamas" and put them on.

7:30 - The kids watch The Blue Planet while I make them some popcorn. They keep watching while I work on signing us all up for a community walk to combat hunger and poverty.

8:15 - bedtime stories: Storm in the Night and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

9:00 - both kids go to bed listening to audiobooks