Thursday, December 30, 2010

The post-Christmas rest period

I had big plans for this week, full of rearranging furniture, sorting piles of stuff, and making a new plan for my life. Simple stuff, you know. :) Instead I found myself knocked down by the flu for 3 days, and just having to rest. Luckily, the kids have been pretty happy about that, and have been very happy building the new lego sets, playing rediscovered Wii games, watching some Netflix, and making movies of their own.

The after-Christmas energy can sometimes seem melancholy and sad to me, but this year I find it peaceful.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

You'll just do what you have to do


This is my mother, back around Thanksgiving when we went up to put up her Christmas tree with her.

Whenever I've doubted that I could get through something tough, whether it was a quarter in college where I took 20 credits while working full-time and playing the lead role in a community theater production, or the year that I had a little baby and was in graduate school while Noel was deployed to Iraq - my mom's advice was always that I could do it, that in fact everyone can do it, because "you just do what you have to do". Will I be able to take the pain of childbirth, mom? Yes - you won't have any choice anyway and you just keep going, doing what you have to do.

I used to think that this advice, this mindset, was incredibly unhelpful. I wanted to hear that there was some trick to it all. That there were shortcuts through the tough times, strategies that would make it all better, or at least that I was so special that somehow I would be different from everyone else.

Now, with some of those tough times under my belt, I understand what she means. It doesn't take any special strength to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, no special talents to look around and just do what needs to be done right now. You may not become rich and famous, or be a star in all you do, but you will do what you have to do. It is the same ethic that has served her family of mid-Western german-american farmers well for generations. One foot in front of another, and you'll get through it.

Now my mother faces a new challenge herself, as she got really sick right before Christmas and had to be hospitalized. She faces new health challenges, and more surgeries are ahead, and she's uninsured and lives below the poverty line. It's going to be tough times, the sort of times when you go without food and heat in order to pay hospital bills. But I know she'll get through it, because she'll just do what she has to do.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Spreading some Christmas cheer


Yesterday was almost all about cookies. We had another play date, with a sweet little girl who bridges the age gap between Carbon and Hypatia and got them all playing together, and then I had to go and pull them away from that play with the offer to help make cookies. They also made cards, which Hypatia is holding here. I don't know why she wrote "Wagon Merry Christmas", but she very specifically asked me how to spell "wagon" while I was rolling out cookie dough, and then I wrote "Merry Christmas" on another sheet of paper for her to copy.

Making cookies with children is a process. It's more process than product, sometimes:


We sang carols as we worked, then we hopped in the car and took three plates of cookies to the homeless tent city, where the kids dropped off the cookies and the cards they had made. I don't know how much it mattered to the residents there, as they are a hard bunch to understand sometimes socially. The older lady who was spending part of her day volunteering there at the Host Desk was very happy to see the kids come in though, and she asked them all their names, how old they are, if they are ready for Christmas ,etc.

Later, after our friend had gone home, we also gave plates of cookies to our neighbors. The kids were excited to carry the cookies over themselves and ring the doorbells. It struck me how much I like to see them excited to Give this time of year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Shop Main Street


Fight Sprawl; Shop Main Street. Buy Local. Support Local. All good slogans. :)

This holiday season, I was delighted to see that the local children's museum was offering a "Making Merry/Parents Drop and Shop" workshop, so we could drop off the kids to spend the afternoon making us gifts like handrolled candles and lavender pillows and we could go shopping together.

We took the kids to their day at the museum at 4pm, and then we headed the few blocks down to the main downtown shopping district. With one large canvas bag and a long list in our hands, we walked from store to store exploring and shopping and having fun.

We found something for everyone on our list, dropped the big bag (getting heavy by then) off in our car and then walked over to a restaurant for a lovely meal together.

I LOVED this, for these reasons:

1. We just scheduled time to do the shopping, so I didn't feel the need to tuck it in all over my schedule and I didn't worry about shopping any other time.

2. We did it together, without children in tow, making it much more fun. It was like a date.

3. Walking around downtown eliminated the driving and parking that gets so stressful this time of year. I hate how rude the drivers get before the holidays, so I was glad to avoid that.

4. The salespeople we encountered were nice, smiling, and seemingly not angry and stressed out. That is not true in the big stores right now!

5. The atmosphere was festive and fun, with decorative storefronts and lights up. The music that was played in the stores was fun and festive but not that horrible Mall Mix of holiday songs played like Muzac.

6. I was glad to know that I was supporting local businesses and a strong downtown core, instead of chain stores and urban sprawl.

In the end, we got almost everything for the holidays on this one shopping day. The only things that required mail-order or a run to the big-chain toy store on the other side of town were the Legos and Pokemon things, and the one little mini-American Girl Doll Hypatia is getting.

Three days to go to Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reusable Wrappings


The old rolls of wrapping paper and the plastic bows are on their way out. More and more folks are embracing the idea of reusable wrappings, whether they are recycled paper, paper gift bags, or fabric options.

There is an excellent post about this at One Small Change, and a good tutorial for fabric bags at Mama Chalk. If you are curious or interested in how to do reusable gift wrap, you should check them out.

As for me, however, I have this roll of paper. I've been on the reduce, reuse bandwagon for a long time, and so we've only used this paper for a few things each year. We bought this roll at Costco, as one of those economy rolls that has 500 feet on it or something crazy. And, get this, we bought this roll in 2001! This roll of paper has almost lasted a decade, and can I say how tired of snowflakes I am?

I'm kind of hoping this will be the year that we come to the end of the roll. We are giving several books as gifts, and homemade calendars, and a couple things in boxes, and I plan to wrap them all in this paper! I'm not going to use any recycled paper or children's art projects this year! I just want to get to the end of the roll ....

Monday, December 20, 2010

Celebrate the Winter Solstice

This year the winter solstice will coincide with a lunar eclipse of the Full Moon - truly something special for the longest night of the year. I know folks who are planning on sitting up and trying to see it over the water, and I've heard of others going on hikes in the dark or other special nature outings.

I don't know what we are going to do - my energy level is a bit low for coming up with anything beyond the candle-lighting ceremony my family does every year. But it's still nice just to note that the eclipse is happening, even if we don't get a chance to see it.

I wish one of these hikes was in Washington, but if you live elsewhere here are organized hikes listed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Today in church

I wish I had a picture to put at the top of this post, but I was far too busy to stop and photograph anything today. But what a day! It was the sort of day that made me so happy to be a religious educator.

It started off with a little nativity scene in the service, with children in costumes and poetry read from the book The Stable Rat, and other Christmas Poems by Julia Cunningham. One of the poems is about crows cawing a "hoarse Hosanna", and we had a family who all dressed up as crows for Halloween this year, come up and just be stand-out crows. They were wonderful. Then the sheep and shepherds came up, while our minister read a poem told from the point of view of a sheep - what is this all about? Why are the shepherds singing strange songs? Then Mary and Joseph came up. We had no little girls at the first service today, so I had to press my own daughter into service as Mary - a tiny four-year-old Mary in an adult bathrobe! Our Joseph was also tiny, also wearing an oversize robe, and when little Mary was gripping the Baby Jesus (her Bitty Baby doll from home swaddled in an old blanket) with a precarious grip, little Joseph turned and took the baby from her so tenderly, and cradled it. It was adorable.

Then we did that again for second service, and one girl came from home in a lion costume - she really wanted to be a lion in the nativity scene. So we welcomed her up with the sheep - "the lion with the lambs" - and our minister quipped that we were witnessing our own Christmas miracle.

It all went much better than I was afraid it might. Then I taught the preschool class, as we were short a teacher, and had one of those religious conversations that preschoolers are really the best at. My daughter started our practice of sharing Joys and Sorrows off with a sorrow - that she "didn't want to die someday". A little boy in the class tried to comfort her with the idea that "when you die, your mom dies too, and then you are together up in heaven". Another little boy interrupted with another idea, namely that "you just rot in the ground". We processed ideas, and talked about death, and that it was ok for us to each think something different - it's a big Mystery.

Then I told the Spirit Play story adaptation of the Posadas lesson from Holidays and Holy days, and we had another little conversation about the existence or not of angels, and whether Jesus was really born like the nativity story tells.

Many other things were happening: the 1st-3rd grade children were learning the reason for the winter solstice and building a model solar system, the middle school group was watching a documentary about the Vatican, and the 4th-5th graders were watching the classic "How the Grinch Stole Christmas". There were some high-energy levels in some children that made it a challenge for some of the teachers, but overall I still left with a little glow - this is a good place, a place where children are supported to explore questions, values, and ideas.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

2011 is on its way...


And we have been hard at work making calendars! The little elves have made personal calendars to gift to family members, and we also made a calendar as a fundraiser for the youth group at church. This page is Carbon's drawing, of Chalice people catching gifts from the sky. Each page features the artwork of a different child or youth from the church - I love them!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reading and Listening to ...


Hypatia has been enjoying many good picture books from the library. A few stand outs:

Swamp Angel is a fun tall tale, with a giant girl heroine and lovely lilting language that made us think of Kentucky relatives' accents.

Saint Francis and the Wolf tells the fairy-tale like story of the gentle Saint taming a dangerous (and huge!) wolf. The illustrations are vibrant and evocative.

The True Meaning of Crumbfest gives a new twist to the holidays. From a mouse's point of view, this is a time of year when the crumbs rain down like manna from heaven ... but why does it come once a year? One young mouse sets out to discover why, and his epiphany is very interesting ...

The Rabbit and the Bear, A Christmas Tale follows the traditional story line of the predator and the prey declaring peace for this one special day of the year, but the illustrations are fun and fresh and the story is enjoyable.

Carbon is listening to and enjoying:

The Name of this Book is Secret has some quirky kid heroes and a story so dangerous and scary that the author really shouldn't have written it down ... as he keeps telling the reader in little asides and warnings. Why are children with synesthesia being kidnapped by a mysterious woman?

The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones is the beginning of an exciting series of books, which sends siblings Dan and Amy off on a life-threatening scavenger hunt to follow 39 clues to the final prize, following the life of Benjamin Franklin to France, and then finding the second of the clues, setting them off to research Mozart and head to Vienna ... this series is exciting for the kids and promises to be rich in geography and history details.

I've been reading:

Mockingjay, the final book of the Hunger Games trilogy. I know many were disappointed in how the book ended, but I liked the ending (and the resolution to the love triangle) and I found this one to be just as much of a page-turner as the first two ... good entertainment!

The Illustrated Wee Free Men - how could it go wrong? I am a Huge fan of Terry Pratchett, and have enjoyed his books for decades. I like this illustrated edition, although it's too large a book to carry around with me or read in the bathtub, and that is slowing me down as a reader ...

I'm setting myself a challenge, however, to read something a bit more important, so I've checked out The Great Gatsby from the library. I've never read it before, so this will be my on-going education book for this month.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The baking season


'Tis the season, with cookie exchanges, bake sales at church, my husband's birthday, and class parties at school before they let out for winter break. Being gluten-free means I need to volunteer for all the baking, so the kids can actually eat it at the party. I'm baking a lot more than I'm used to - I ran out of flour!

When I ran out of time for one bake sale, I just went easy on myself and made rice krispie treats. It wasn't impressive, but they all sold!

What are you all baking right now?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Friends, Worst Enemies

Especially as we hear so much about bullying , here is an important book for us all to read: Best Friends, Worst Enemies by Michael Thompson, Ph.D. (If you have read and liked Raising Cain, you will like this other insightful book for all who have or work with children.)

Adults often ask me why children in groups are so cruel. I am always astonished at the question. What about groups of adults? What about the Holocaust? What about the Serbs and Croats? How could neighbors who have lived together for hundreds of years suddenly turn on one another and begin to see each other as enemies? Why have Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland been willing to plant bombs in each other's neighborhoods and kill people only blocks away? What about the Hutus and the Tutsis? During the genocide in Rwanda, a Hutu man beheaded his Tutsi wife and his three sons in front of a crowd when the Hutu chief in his town told him he had to kill all Tutsis. What force could make a person do something like that? Peer pressure. Peer pressure in a horrible group cause.

All human beings who live in groups are subject to invisible, neutral forces: the laws of group life. And if we are going to understand why children do the things they do to each other - especially the cruel things - we have to know what these laws are. Without knowledge of these social forces we make the mistake of thinking that tragic events are driven solely by "bad kids" or "gangs". We won't understand that "good kids" are often responding to exactly the same set of underlying principles as "bad kids" or that there are gangs of "good kids" in our schools as well as gangs of "bad kids".

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Birthday to him


Today is my husband's birthday. Over time, I've learned that he doesn't want the same things from a birthday that I do. Presents should be simple and small, unless it's some big splurge he buys for himself. He doesn't really need a cake, but I bake one anyway because the kids love birthday cake. I've planned parties for him before, and it's not worth it - he doesn't like the fuss. A small dinner out at a nice restaurant, just family, and the chance to go out for drinks with one or two people - that's all he wants.

And I've learned not to make him breakfast in bed. He'd rather be left alone in the morning, and ideally sleep in.

I try to remember to love him and celebrate him the way he wants, not the way I would want. The golden rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) doesn't always apply - especially to marriage. Do unto others as they will like.

Monday, December 13, 2010

wrapping up Chalica


After trying out Chalica all week, I think I'm sold on the concept. The chance to review the principles was very nice, and the worship service I put together for Sunday morning's Childrens Chapel did just that and was well-received by the kids.

But it was the family-sized celebration that was the most valuable to me. So much of what we do as Unitarian Universalists is centered around the congregation - in fact, you can't technically be considered a UU unless you are a member of a congregation. But in congregations, we focus so much of our attention on BIG ideas, BIG issues, and collective action - which is all great and not to be knocked!

However, as my family gathered around a candle to talk about a principle, we ended up focusing on really personal and intimate interpretations of them all. "Acceptance of each other" ended up being a heated conversation about what irritating tics and habits we accept and what we complain about and encourage change in! "A free and responsible search for truth and meaning" became a long list of all the things we wonder about: what happens after you die, is the universe really expanding, what existed before the Big Bang, what the heck really is a quark, and what would it feel like to go in a black hole? "Peace and justice for all" naturally led to a conversation about avoiding family fights.

It was a lovely week, with some lovely conversations and a chance to remind ourselves of the principles and explain their meaning to the kids. Chalica could be celebrated anytime, so if the month of December already feels too full to you (it does to me), there is no reason why this family practice couldn't be done at a different time.

Others blogged the holiday as well:

While others just cringe:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Two ways of doing art in school


I've been very struck by the quantity of art I end up bringing home from both of my kids' schools. But a post about how to store and process all of that will have to wait for another day (a day where I have figured out how to do it and then am qualified to share!).

But another fact is very clear to me. There are two kinds of art projects in these piles: art that my kids made on their own with no direction from an adult, and art that was prepped and supervised by a teacher.

Let's talk about the latter type first. When I had a daycare business, we called these "parent pleasers", and the audience is always in mind. What is going to be nice for the parents to have? What will impress them and let them know that we are doing cool things with their children? This type of project can actually be very nice. For instance, above my desk right now I have a turkey handprint made for Thanksgiving, done very nicely on nice paper and matted on a scrapbook page. That came home from preschool, and I could literally slap it into a scrapbook and keep Hypatia's handprint for future sentimental value.

But every child made an identical project, and there was no exercise in creativity for Hypatia. Frequently children do not enjoy doing these types of projects. And if I gave her the raw supplies and invited her to do it again, she wouldn't be able to. The tissue paper flower in the picture is a prime example. How did she make that? She took the paper the teacher had already cut for them, was handed a pipecleaner, and told how to attache the paper to the pipecleaner. And then if she couldn't do that, someone came over and did it for her.

Then there is the other kind of art. The kind that kids will do with anything you give them - the contents of the recycling bin would be a very welcome material! The main problem with this kind of art is that it can create an amazing mess - glue and bits of stuff thrown around like a tornado visited your classroom or art space. And it generates a lot of pieces that if handed to a parent will just get a "what?". I've got my fair share of those - the item that I have to be careful not to ask "is this art or are you just bringing home some junk?". Almost nothing is ready to be put in a scrapbook or sent to a grandparent as a gift.

But this is genuinely the work of the child's own hands and mind. They could reproduce this, and the next one may be even better. They are learning skills that they will be able to continue without help from an adult. And sometimes the results are really cool, and unexpected. This piece Carbon made is a good example.

Overall, you can tell which method I prefer. At church I much prefer to give "free art time" than to make kids all make one project. If art or craft supplies are brought out for a specific project, I don't like to "make" anyone do it if they don't want to. It just isn't worth it, in my opinion. You want to learn to carefully follow instructions? Let's bake a cake. That needs to be exacting and it's a great time to follow directions. But make art? Who follows directions to make real art?

(Note: I am not an artist and have had no instruction in such. I do know that some skills, such as drawing, require some practice and discipline and following instructions - this is not a piece about how to run an art school.)

So if the kids coming out of my church program are carrying pieces that inspire parental responses of "What?", please smile and take them home. Say "tell me about your creation." and not "what is this supposed to be?"

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

tough times on the mothering front


We all go through it. The moodiness, the little developmental stages where they are growing either physically or cognitively, and it seems like we suddenly just don't even Know them anymore. Where did this child come from? What am I supposed to do with this little person now?

If you are wondering about the picture, this is what happens when you are wearing a camera around your neck and your child tries to jump on you. She got bumped on the mouth by the camera, and then - of course - I took a picture of her before I put away the camera to comfort her.

Here's to hoping it gets better soon! These are the times that try a parents patience.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Carbon's fundraising letter


Writing a letter this long was a very painful process for the boy, but he loves his school and he was motivated to write this letter to go out with a fundraising letter from the school. We copied it (I wasn't going to make him write three copies by hand!), and mailed the little packets to three of his sets of grandparents. It really is a sweet little school, and they offer extremely generous financial aid - so much so that it's pretty tough for them to meet their budget.

Carbon plans to donate his January allowance to the school (he has to spend his December allowance on Christmas gifts, or he would donate that). He really loves the school.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Chalica


What is Chalica, you ask? You wouldn't be alone in not having heard of this new holiday. In fact, I don't know that hardly anyone really celebrates it, and most people I talk to aren't interested in doing so. It smacks of a bit of misappropriation, or basically "a rip off", of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. And I already have plenty of candle lighting December holidays that I could celebrate - like Advent or Solstice (check and check, we already have a family tradition for both of those).

But I've been reading about Chalica, and I became a Facebook Fan of the Chalica page, and then this year Carbon said he wanted to celebrate it. OK, if he wants to celebrate it, I can't really see any good reason not to, and so we are.

Chalica is a UU holiday that starts on the first Monday of December and runs for 7 nights, corresponding to our 7 Principles. The idea is to celebrate it at home, with your family, and light a chalice each night as well as take an action that day that corresponds to the principle of the day.

Today is the first day of Chalica, and so the First Principle is "Respect the inherent worth and dignity of all people". We lit our chalice at the dinner table during dinner, and then I repeated the 1st Principle for everyone and shared a short reading (I'm taking all my readings this week from the book Come Into the Circle, but you could take readings from your hymnal if you own one, or find other sources, or just not do a reading). Then we all went around the table and talked about ways we could "live" this principle more. Carbon talked about following the rules at school more, trying to clean up after himself more and respect other people by "not annoying them". I talked about trying to see the dignity and worth of people, particularly the people that really annoy me - bad neighbors and drivers and folks like that. Hypatia and my husband didn't have much to add to the discussion, but they played along tolerantly.

Our reading for tonight:

This symbol of energy
of life, of light
to remind us
of the energy within us
of the light of our life
of the light that is in us
of the light that IS us

Janet Goode

So Happy Chalica to you all, and tomorrow we will celebrate the 2nd Principle!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Love Is ...


Love is coming home from work and untangling lights and changing broken bulbs and climbing ladders in the cold to put up Christmas lights, even when you really hate doing this annual chore. Love is (mostly) biting your tongue when you want to curse at the tangled mess of lights, because you know other people really enjoy this sort of thing.

Thank you, honey. You were a dear for helping me with the lights.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dear Santa,


To translate her handwriting for you, Hypatia has asked Santa to bring her a Pokeball, some Pokemon cards, a yo-yo, a Fairy, and a Bouncy Ball. Then yesterday she thought of something to add, after she had "sent off" the note (I can't find where I put it in the house! This is not good!), and she decided Santa can "hear" your wishes if you say "Santa, Santa, Santa" three times. So it was "Santa, Santa, Santa, please bring me more barrettes because I've lost too many of mine".

The whole issue of Santa Claus seems to be on people's minds right now. For more, see posts by my good friend and by UUMomma. As a Unitarian Universalist Religious Educator, I know we've always avoided the issue of Santa Claus at church, unless we brush against him when we talk about "St. Nicholas". There is too much difference in personal practice within the families at the church, and we don't want to have some kids who have been told that "Santa is a lie" getting into it with kids whose families do practice the Santa visit. I suppose we could work to frame the discussion and it would be OK - but it doesn't seem like the conversation is that important. The conversation about God, yes that one we need to have over and over in church. (And it's very similar to the conversation about Santa! Some kids will be like "my parents say there is no God." and then another will say "yes there is. If there's no God, where did trees come from?" or something like that and then the conversation is off and running!). The stories of the season (Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, St. Lucia even) need to be told over and over again. But Santa Claus exists somewhere else - somewhere more personal to each family. And, of course, I don't have to worry that they won't hear about him in the general culture. There is no gap in the story tradition that I need to fill in.

For myself, I see no harm in Santa Claus, but I also like to keep him low-key. No visits to get pictures taken with him, no big gifts delivered. This is the first year the kids have written to him, and they got the idea to do that from a friend. We leave out cookies and milk for him, and the stockings are full in the morning. Carbon "knows", or at least he knew two years ago when he asked us point blank, but he acts now as though he completely believes in it. He's either a pretty good actor or he has chosen to believe again. Hypatia is a bit doubtful this year, but she's so comfortable with the notion that something "maybe" exists (I'm such a proud agnostic mama!) that she is fine speculating without having to know for sure.

And I'm very happy that the expectations are pretty low-key, because it will be an easy joy to fill those stockings with Pokemon cards, a yo-yo, and a bouncy ball. And more barrettes, of course. For those of you wondering, Carbon also wrote and he asked for: Pokemon cards, Bakugans, Legos, and video games.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sweet Honey in the Rock

I got to see Sweet Honey live tonight, and they did not disappoint. Wow, what amazing musicians, singers, and women.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy December!


My husband is fairly strict with us about not starting Christmas until the 1st of December, but this year we had a jump start because we drove up to my mom's house on Saturday and helped her cut and set up her Christmas tree, then had a cookie exchange. It was really nice to spend time with my mother and my siblings at the beginning of the season, as it felt really loose and carefree and was filled with sweet anticipation. We carried all the boxes of ornaments down from the attic and the kids were really excited to help her set them all up. She told me on the phone today that it's nice to see all the jumbled up decorations that the kids did - it's been awhile since children handled all those decorations (even though my 17 year old sister still lives at home with my mom, she's not exactly a kid anymore).

And now tonight we open the first door in our Lego Advent Calendar! Hopefully I'll find time soon to decorate around here ...