Monday, May 31, 2010

The Happiness Project

I am currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. There is also a blog that I am following now. Although the special one-year project is a concept that I think is very stale at this point, I like Gretchen, and I relate to her and her efforts to live a better life.

I think I would like to launch my own Happiness Project, but I'm not sure yet what form it will take. So far, I've been reading and journaling, and I've come up with a list of things that are important to my happiness:

  • Health
  • Family, Friends, Love (connection to others)
  • Purpose and Principles
  • Order and Cleanliness
  • Reading, Learning, and Thinking
  • Nature
  • (good) Food and Drink
  • Beauty
  • Creativity
  • Gratitude
  • Spirit and Mindfulness
  • Connection, Attachment, a feeling of Roots

Where will I go with this? We'll see.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The connected life

bringing my work home

In the midst of talk about how to keep privacy and boundaries, I am frequently left feeling non-plussed. I have never been good at putting my life into little boxes, which is how I feel that all of these "healthy boundaries" would be in practice.

Maybe it's because of how I was raised, in a home daycare business, homeschooled, in a community theater company, working in my father's Naturopathic doctor's office from a very early age. I just don't "switch hats" - I wear them all at once, as a coordinated outfit. This is my authentic, whole self, and I feel very little need for a "private life". OK - there are a few things I want to keep to myself (your basic bathroom and bedroom privacy applies!), but I feel that beyond that, I'm an open book.

But beyond being very open communicatively (and making up new words, too!), there are other ways that my life is connected. I frequently bring my work home (such as in the picture above - how lucky am I that I can work on stick puppets with my daughter at our dining table and it's my actual WORK?), or I bring my kids to work with me. They are pretty connected to what I do, but it works both ways. My job frequently makes me a better mother, and being a mother frequently makes me better at my job. The opposite is true at times - work and family do sometimes compete and one could "lose out", but of all the ways to make a living, this one sure would be hard to beat.

And then there is the other way that I am connected, as I am brought into a circle of community that shares its joys and sorrows with me. Last weekend, I was honored to be asked to be part of the "wedding party" for a 25th Anniversary recommitment ceremony. Today, I learned of the death of a congregant who was one of the first to ever welcome me into this church. Her memorial service will be on Wednesday, and I am sure I will be there crying, not thinking about whether this is "work" or "personal". I cannot separate the two - they are both strands of my very being, and as I am a whole person, they are woven together.

Others may have a different way of seeing this, and believe me, I do know the dangers. Growing up, it sometimes hurt to be in my parents' professional or public spheres - it hurt when I became entangled in power struggles or law suits or inspections-gone-bad. But it was wonderful also, as I was part of their lives and included in their good times, their business trips to fun locations, their parties and friendships. To me, a whole life is a fully connected life. The boundary lines are fuzzy, but the intentions and the principles are not. I mean to live an authentic life, as me, committed to my principles. Sometimes that will move me to pure joy. Sometimes it will bring me to tears. I wouldn't have it any other way.

No need to "be a rock", for me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

fun with good pens

art pens

end of year tokens

Last night I spent a couple hours drawing chalices on wooden blocks, to give out as end of year tokens to the children in our Religious Education program (because this was a building year, with our building expansion). I bought new pens for this project, and Oh My Gosh! they are fun to use. The "brush tip" is especially fun to use, as it acts like a paint brush.

I am not an artist.

I generally will tell people "I cannot draw".

But I Like these pens. We all deserve good art materials. That's why I buy real stuff for our kids to use. We can all make art.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The rocky road of parenting

swim girl

First off, you should know that I have a water phobia and I can barely swim. My parents did make me take swim lessons, but as an adult I can just about flounder across a pool once. I wish I could swim, and I wish I wasn't afraid. We live by the water, my husband swims, and even just for canoe trips, it holds me back that I can't swim.

When Hypatia was a baby, I was trying to get 3 year old Carbon to get in the water and swim. He was a reluctant swimmer, refusing to even get in the water, and the whole thing was horribly upsetting for me. So, thinking I would be preventing further stress with the next child, we did baby swim lessons with Hypatia.

Then we just couldn't take the stress with Carbon, so we quit swim classes and decided to wait until he was ready.

A year and half later, I decided to try the YMCA swim lessons, and Carbon almost immediately took to it like a fish. The instructors were fantastic, pushing him just enough, praising him just enough, and getting him swimming in record time.

I patted myself on the back and felt like I had done a good job as a mother, preparing my child for a lifetime of comfort in the water. I'm a Good Mother!

We took a break from lessons over the summer, and then I signed up both children last Fall. Carbon returned to the water, and continued to do well. But Hypatia - well Hypatia did not do well. Our first lessons she refused to get in the water and she screamed. We finally coaxed her into sometimes participating, but she would still get out and sit on my lap for most of the lesson. We ran into a teacher that was NOT good with her, and it got so bad we just stopped the lessons again.

The entire experience had me shaken, but I had my previous experience of Carbon to remember, and I thought it would still be OK. I was an OK Mother.

But when we went back a few months later, in a different time slot and with different teachers, she screamed for the whole 45 minute lesson! In a crowded row of parents, I sat there and gritted my teeth for weeks as she cried and screamed in the lessons. She still got in the water, but she screamed she wanted her mommy, she screamed that she didn't want to do what they told her to do, and she screamed just because.

I was in a bind now, though, because Carbon was still progressing, but if I pulled her out, he wanted to quit too. And I just kept thinking, surely this time she'll be OK. Between lessons we would talk about it, and she would say that she was fine and she wanted to swim, and then BAM, right back to screaming during the class. Now I was the BAD Mother, who everyone looked at askance. In fact, other mothers started to make not-so-subtle comments to me about "pushing too much" and "how sorry for her" they felt. So now I was The Really BAD Mother.

Eventually she stopped screaming. She still cried, and she still wouldn't let go of the instructor. The instructor asked me if something traumatic had happened to her, because she was just progressing so slowly. No, nothing traumatic - except for having a Really Bad Mother, that is.

At this point, I broke out the parenting tool I like to use as little as possible - pure bribery. "If you are brave in swim class, I'll give you a treat". I bought two bags of gummy shark candies, and for each brave thing she did, I told her she'd get a candy. We had one bad day, when she did really poorly in class but climbed out of the pool saying "gummy sharks now!". When I told her No candy that day, I ended up having to carry a Temper Tantrum Terror out of the gym.

So, now I was a Bad Mother for pushing too much, and a Bad Mother for engaging in behaviorism with - of all things! - junk food as a reward.

But, it actually worked. She got over her fear as she kept doing "brave" things on purpose in order to get a reward. I got rid of the structured reward system, and instead one day after a very good lesson I took her to the toy store and bought her a toy mermaid, "for being my wonderful mermaid girl". One time we stopped for milk shakes after a lesson.

And yesterday, she really took a huge leap forward. She was in the pool, just going for it. She has decided she can swim "all by herself" (she can't yet), so she was asking the instructors to stay way back while she just went for it. She swam all the way across the pool on her back, with no help. And she did it all just because she wanted to. When she got out of the pool, there was no mention of a treat - just high fives all around. So now I'm back to being a Good Mother, and I'm on the road to having two swimmers.

There are so many ups and downs to this parenting path.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

the place of audio in our lives

Although I would never give up old-fashioned reading, and the feel of a book in my hands is a great comfort to me, there is definitely a place for audiobooks.

I just downloaded my first digital audiobook from, after I heard a review on NPR of The Help. As the reviewer noted, some books have a lot of regional dialect or accents in them, and a talented cast of readers can make all the difference. This is very true of The Help, which was written in the voices of several women, both black and white, in the south in the sixties. The voice talents on the audio recording added a great deal to my enjoyment of the story.

And by putting The Help on my iPod, I had something to listen to in the kitchen as I cooked dinner, or on my headphones as I worked out at the gym. I also found that ironing my husbands shirts seemed more fun if I was listening to this story, which features so many domestic details of everyday life.

Audiobooks have been a staple in the car, but now we are branching into audio language learning, with Pimsleur's Basic Hungarian giving us a language lesson everyday as we drive to and from Carbon's school. Carbon and I are taking a trip to Transylvania in July, so this is a great way for us to get ready.

Carbon and Hypatia each enjoy audiobooks at night as they fall asleep, and they pick their own books from our local library. A friend recently gave Carbon a used Zune, and my husband has loaded it up with books that Carbon enjoys listening to over and over again. This was great for the airplane rides on our recent vacation.

None of this replaces reading silently or aloud as a family. All that audiobooks do for us is to open up time when we can't read and let us fill that time with more literature or learning.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Stories of Compassion

On Wednesday, as I was leaving my office at church, the minister stopped me in the hallway and asked if I felt like telling the story this Sunday. Having just come back from vacation, I was still catching up and couldn't even remember what the theme was for the coming Sunday.
When I asked him what he'd be talking about in the sermon, he said "oh, the war in the Congo".
Yeah - that didn't call out as a story topic for the children to me!
But on further probing, he would be talking about the woman who had been inspired, or called, to create Run for Congo Women after she learned of the war in the Congo on an episode of Oprah (incidentally, I saw that same episode a few years ago and have been a Women for Women sponsor ever since).
What story could I tell to go with that? Hmmm.
As I left the church and got into my car, what should be on the top of a canvas bag, sitting there waiting to go back to library? 14 Cows for America, the true story of how the Maasai people of Kenya were so moved when they learned of 9/11 that they gave 14 cows (a very important animal in the culture of the Maasai) to America. And that was my story for today.
When you hear of a need, answer it! Say yes to the call.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Pop culture dilemmas

My daughter came home from her nanny's house singing Lady Gaga songs. Not knowing anything about Lady Gaga ourselves, my husband and I were appalled to hear lyrics like "I want to take a ride on your disco stick" coming out of our four-year-old's mouth.


OK - I loved Flash Dance when I was that age. Loved it. Later I would dance around my living room to Madonna tunes - with no real understanding of what the lyrics meant.


I really dislike the sexualization of our young children that goes on in our culture, with sexy clothing and dating culture marketed to young girls.


After finding out more about Lady Gaga, I actually kind of like her myself. I have a few of her songs on my iPod now, and some of them (like Just Dance), are harmless enough for a dance party at home with the kids.


I still wouldn't want to hear kids singing the lyrics from some of the other songs.


Oh dear. It's just a lot of "Buts" for us. We aren't ready to totally cut off pop culture and shelter our kids (nor do I think we could unless we also cut them off from contact with people like our neighbors and so forth), but we also aren't comfortable with everything they encounter.

I guess we'll have to keep making up our minds case by case, and doing the radical thing of talking to our kids, even about shades of grey and times we're not sure.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Tar Pits

La Brea Mammoth

On the day that LegoLand was closed during our vacation, we went to La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. This visit was a huge success for Carbon, who has always loved dinosaurs and fossils (but there are no dinosaurs at La Brea, of course). Hypatia wasn't as interested, and instead seemed to just feel really sad about all the dead animals.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Not on vacation anymore

Malibu beach

A week ago today I was here, with my feet buried on Malibu beach, watching my kids play in the surf. Today, I am home, mowing my yard in a wind and hail storm (because I just couldn't stand to watch the grass grow any taller and I have this small window of time that I can do this).

Yep, not on vacation anymore.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010



OK - Legoland was fantastic! The park is bigger than most of us expected, and much, much cooler.

We spent four days there, which felt about right to do everything. There are amusement park rides, but they are all pretty tame. My four year old could ride and enjoy everything, and did! There are also many lego sculptures, and a whole lego "Miniland" that have inspired Carbon with new ambitions for his lego building. When you are tired of walking around, there are building zones with the signature toy to play with as well as amazing playgrounds kids can just run free in.

The food in the park was a bit expensive, but the quality and variety were good, and we even found gluten-free accommodations (like gluten free hot dog buns at the hot dog stand!).

It's a great park for four to ten year olds, and we had the best time!

glamor girls

Monday, May 17, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Letting Go for a Bit

I need to breathe.

I need to let go.

Each and everytime I have a vacation, I run up against my perfectionism and my illusion of control.

I feel like if I stop pushing, the world will stop turning. I am pushing myself against life and I usually don't take much of a break from that.

Because, after all, it would all fall apart if I wasn't here, right?

How egotistical. How grasping. What was they said in Star Wars? "The harder you squeeze your fist, the more will slip from your grasp?" Something like that.

I am going to be gone for a week - and two Sundays at work. We are in the midst of transition and change in our physical church space, but I still leave it in good shape and in good hands. I also feel great stress about leaving my home - that other people might come in here and see a dust bunny and judge me.

Oh goodness, I have such a long road ahead of me to truly grow in wisdom. But for now, I will simply try to grow, I mean Go, on a family vacation.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

doing lots of stuff

This is a very busy time of year, so in the last two weekends I've had the kids involved in lots of "stuff". They've had art hanging for our local Arts Walk, been in a parade, been in a thrift store fashion show, and walked in a charity walk.

That's with also spending each Friday night out at the family cabin and having Y baseball games each Saturday morning. Oh, and church on Sundays, of course.

Carbon is less than thrilled about doing it all, and he keeps saying he doesn't want to do this stuff next year. I always did lots of stuff as a kid, but I worry that I might be pushing too much. My husband says, no, though. He doesn't want Carbon to be like he was as a boy, not doing anything.

We've been overscheduled for a bit here, but I really do like to do all this "stuff". I just wish it didn't get piled up on these "target weekends" when it seems like everything happens at once! This always happens to us around Earth Day to May Day.

Procession of the Species

thrift store fashion show models

Crop Walk

Saturday, May 1, 2010

New space coming along!

the new nursery

classroom setup

Today I set up the new Nursery and Spiritplay (montessori style pre-K) classroom. How did we ever live with the old space? Goodness, this is so much better!