Thursday, March 31, 2011

For Earth Month

The following is my column for this month's church newsletter.

Getting Outside

In the poem Native Trees by W.S. Merwin, disconnect from nature is described:

Neither my father nor my mother
knew the names of the trees
where I was born

How familiar a condition that is – while some of you may know a great deal about our native plants or animals, or this land in general, most of us do not. A study a few years back reported that children knew more Pokemon creatures than they did the names of animals that live in their local area. I would bet that many children can name more dinosaurs correctly than they could local species, as well. W.S. Merwin continues later in the poem:

Surfaces of furniture held
The attention of their fingers
And across the room they could watch
Walls they had forgotten

We spend so much of our time indoors! Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, has this to say: “Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.” If this is a problem – I think it is, but you may not – what is the solution? If we do not feel connected, if we are ignorant of, if we are separated from, our natural home – the place on earth and in the interconnected web of life we occupy – how does this affect us and the way we live our lives? If children grow up knowing all the problems and the dangers and the guilt of environmental concern, but don’t know the joy of climbing a tree or collecting wildflowers or of having a special “place” they go to, how can they be loving stewards and protectors of the earth? Luckily, the solution can be something pretty simple. Go outside. Look. Listen. Get some guidebooks. Start a nature journal. Take a walk. Sit by a pond. Climb, or just hug, a tree. Explore. This year for Earth Day, give yourself and the children in your life the gift of nature, of loving a place, before you worry about all the rest. Think “Connect, Respect, Protect”, and make the connection come first. Get outside those walls you have forgotten are there, and focus on the trees more than the furniture.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Children's Art Post

I can't help it - I love the stuff my kids make. Here, Hypatia had a Homelink assignment from her Our Whole Lives class at church, to write and illustrate a story about herself and stuff she does. It was supposed to be a catalyst for a discussion about taking care of our bodies and being healthy. She chose to write about THE TOWER OF TERROR. (She always says it like that - all caps). It's a ride they went on when the grands took the kids to Disney Land, and I guess it was pretty rough - she cried hysterically afterward and it's left an indelible impression on her.

So that's her on the left, and her grandmother on the right. They are about to go on the ride - with no idea what is in store for them.

Monday, March 28, 2011

more work, but cute work


The World is Made of Stories


Reading and journaling are one of my spiritual practices, and I try to do both daily.

Picking up this book, I thought it would be a quick read. It's slim, and it's organized in short thoughts and quotes from others. But this book was a bit like taking the red pill in The Matrix - reading it I slipped into a different way of seeing things that was at times mind-blowing. Yes - this book was mind-blowing. I highly recommend it.

It also took me forever to read because I found so many passages I wanted to copy down into my journal. I do that with bits from books that really strike a chord with me - I copy them into my journal by hand. This practice helps me both keep that thought on record if I want to find it again later, and to more deeply process the thought in my own brain. I've always been the type of learner that did best by copying out things and then looking at them again in my own writing. (This is how I memorize stories to tell in church services).

So I found myself copying whole sections of this book - a task that made the actual reading of the book very slow. :)

Narrative is sometimes distinguished from rationality, mythos from logos. Yet reason is a storytelling style, a "second-order story", that needs a story to evaluate.
That we cannot get behind our stories is not idealism, which is a philosophical claim that the world is made of "mind-stuff" rather than "physical stuff". Idealism and materialism, like rationalism, are meta-stories: stories about stories.
We want to discover the master-story, the one true meta-story that includes and explains all other stories - but it's turtles all the way up too.
The biggest meta-stories are mostly religious: God, Brahman, the Tao. Such stories try to point at something that transcends stories. Yet a meta-story cannot get outside itself to explain the relationship between stories and that-which-is-outside-stories.
A Zen metaphor warns us not to take the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself, but "the moon itself" is also not the moon.

-- David R. Loy, The World is Made of Stories

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Handmade Home: Repurposed towels


This project is in the book by Amanda Soule: Handmade Home: Simple Ways to Repurpose Old Materials Into Family Treasures.

I've long been a bit of a fan of Amanda, and I am a regular reader of her blog, Soule Mama. Her first book, The Creative Family, is a wonderful inspiration for a lifestyle of creating and gentle mindfulness in family life. So I wanted to love this second book, as well.

Overall, it's a good book. It just didn't Wow me as much. A great book to check out from the library and browse for a bit, but not one I need to keep on my bookshelf.

But I do love this bath mat. It feels great under my feet, and I like finding a use for both this fabric (what was I thinking when I bought this, anyway?) and this old towel (the first towels we bought 10 years ago when we moved in together).

Friday, March 25, 2011

heaven on earth


For Jesus, the gifts and blessings of heaven - happiness, peace, contentment, ease, joy - are the natural fruits of being gratefully awake every day upon the earth. Everything promised about heaven is already here, in our midst - in the bread we bake, the seeds we plant, the small blessings we receive. Still, when the bone-weariness in us runs deep, when we are overwhelmed and discouraged by almost everything, feel pressured on all sides to take on more than we can bear, how can something small or quiet ever relieve such an enormous sense of powerlessness? We need stronger medicine, something enormously powerful, potent, and dramatic to lift us up and rescue us from our weary disappointments. We need to do great things, struggle and strain to achieve tremendous spiritual growth and accomplishment. Then perhaps we might gradually earn our way back into some vague sense of peace.
But Jesus said, "If you are faithful in the small things, you will be faithful in the large things". Every parent knows that our most potent interventions are in the small things - the wiped nose, the sweater hastily fastened before a child runs into the cold, the cup of hot chocolate upon her return. Heaven is born in this world, the small world of a good word, a kind touch, a loving glance, a moment of tender understanding. When we think of heaven, it need not be dramatic, grandiose, or even visible. Rather, look for what is small - the gentle rising and falling of the breath, a sip of wine and piece of bread, a prayer uttered quietly without hurry.
Spiritual practice teaches us not to look UP to find our true wealth, but rather to look here, now, to listen more carefully to the beauty, grace, and priceless value in the smallest of earthly blessings.

Wayne Muller, a life of being, having, and doing enough

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Project Simplify: The Kids Stuff

(Before - the boy's room)

This week's assignment for Project Simplify was definitely the hardest one yet for me to complete. That's because it tackled the kids' rooms, and involved their participation. It's been a stressful week, making them sort and clean their stuff, but I'm happy with the results. It feels good to get rid of some of the excess toys, and they also found treasures they had lost.

(Before, the girl's room)

And, then the After:







yet another sign of spring


Green buds on our quince tree. This is Carbon's tree - the tree we planted over his placenta - so he is always checking on it. He was thrilled to report buds.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Spring Has Sprung...

Happy Spring everyone! I'm more than ready to celebrate this new season, so this week I plan to have a post a day showing the signs of spring!

Here's a big sign of spring around here:


They are not sick - those are turkins, also known as "naked necks".

Saturday, March 19, 2011

that was fast...

Right after I posted about my paper simplifying efforts yesterday, the book arrived in the mail! Here is it:



Friday, March 18, 2011

Project Simplify: The Paper Piles

This week's assignment for Project Simplify over at Simple Mom was to deal with the paper clutter. I decided to focus my efforts on one part of this that really gets out of control in my home: the kids' paper creativity. I want them to be creative, but boy! it makes a big mess.

I started by gathering up all the paper I could find in the boy's bedroom and in our dining room:


That lego box in the basket is actually full of drawings that he wanted to keep. At one point, that seemed like a smart solution to the problem ... but then the box got full and more drawings just kept piling up. And little hand made card games. And paper sculptures. And failed origami practice bits. And it goes on and on. Behind the basket you can see a portfolio - an earlier effort to keep some of the kids art nice and contain this problem. Unfortunately, the only place the portfolio fit was in his closet, and then it got crushed at some point when he was stuffing more and more stuff into the closet.

I sorted everything, and anything too damaged or obviously just "scratch" work went straight into the recycling bin. Then I settled down for an hour or so of photographing all of the art. Then I (gasp!) recycled ALL OF IT. I had thought I would make a pile of "things to be framed", but framing and then finding wall space is such an ordeal that nothing ever met the bar for that pile.

Then I took all those photos and went to, and created a coffee table book of their art. I can't show you the "after" picture yet, because that book has yet to arrive in the mail - but I'm sure it will be a lot nicer than this pile of art was!

To keep this problem in control from now on, I assigned one bin in our dining room to be the "paper bin" and it has both paper the kids can use and their current creations. I've warned them that as soon as that bin is full, I'm going to go through it and recycle. Anything they are really proud of should be brought to me immediately for photographing.

I hope this works!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Ethical Living and Eating reading list


Did Not Finish:

Harvest of Hope: A Guide to Mindful Eating by Jane Goodall. It's a good book, and she is a good writer, and I found her comments on the eating habits of primates to be interesting, but once she moved on from there and started to describe what is wrong with the way we humans eat now that we've industrialized our food systems, it was a repetition of the same material I've read so many times before. However, if you are new to the ideas, I expect you would like this book. And if you aren't new to them, the stuff about primate behavior around food is still new and interesting.

Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should be Good, Clean, and Fair by Carlo Petrini. I love the idea of the Slow Food movement, and it's quest to both preserve food diversity and traditional methods of food preparation. It's a foodie movement (they love to talk about "gastronomy"), so it can seem a bit elitist, but it's also an ethical movement that supports treating people, the environment, and the sources of our food (animal, vegetable, or mineral) fairly. However, once again the book was too much of a repeat of stuff I've heard before, so I didn't finish it.

Did Finish:
Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living by Doug Fine is a totally different species of book: the life "project" taken on with the purpose of writing a book about it. While this type of book is usually less obviously useful, I still enjoy them for their blend of humor, entertainment, and mild inspiration (if this guy can do it - I can do it). Fine moves out to a rural ranch in New Mexico and tries to set himself up to live locally: goats, chickens, garden, solar power, well water, biofuel, etc. He is a bit of a fish out of water, and there are comical mistakes, and this lifestyle obviously wouldn't work for us all (there isn't that much land available for us all to farm like this), but his style and writing are fun and I enjoyed this book a great deal.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday, monday


Monday is my one day off a week. But when there is so much left undone around the house, it frequently doesn't feel like a "rest" day - and I also still have to get up, make breakfast, pack lunch boxes, and take the kids to school.

I'm OK with this, but I do wish I had a real day off when I could just sleep in, or go hiking, or whatever.

But this week's Project Simplify assignment is a good one. If you would like to play along, here it is:

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Picture Books about Islam


Have you been paying attention the congressional hearings on Muslims in America? Want to help your children understand that most Muslims are just people too, and promote their inherent worth and dignity?

The Hundredth Name by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim

The Day of Ahmed's Secret by Florence H. Parry

Sitti's Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye

Fasting and Dates by Johnny Zucker

Friday, March 11, 2011

Project Simplify: The Closet

I've joined in on Project Simplify over at Simple Mom. She is assigning "Hot Spots" on Monday, and everyone is supposed to post about their progress on Friday. The first assignment surprised me, because I don't consider it much of a hot spot: The Closet.

I thought I really didn't need to do this, because I don't have that many clothes! My "Before" pictures are really fine. I may have clothing in four different places (closet, dresser, hatboxes, cedar hope chest), but they are all neatly contained:



(sorry for the crazy sun glare - I should have pulled the shade on the southern facing window)


But then she said to take everything out and pile it all up so you can see the whole picture:


And that's without doing all the laundry first, or unpacking the cedar chest where I've got my summer clothing packed away! I had no idea I had so much clothing. I discovered surplus in some surprising categories: athletic socks, black dress shoes that I don't really like that much, old worn out pants that I keep for gardening and painting and so forth.

All told, I sorted out this much to give away:


And the best part of the "After" is that I now have a Tshirt drawer that allows easy access and viewing of the Tshirts. (I didn't take a before picture of this drawer, but it was crazy overstuffed and the only way things would fit was by rolling the Tshirts).


I've already taken those bags of donations to Goodwill, and now I can just enjoy the simplified clothing situation. Oh, and it was also a really great chance to vacuum and clean the closet and dresser while they were empty.

I hope next week's assignment is this "Do-able", but we'll see!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A vicious cycle

I hesitate to write about this, because I know many people in my real life read this blog. Really, everyone and everything in my life are wonderful, but still I manage to make life hard on myself.

There's a vicious cycle that I get into:

1. I feel incredibly blessed (and a bit guilty about that), and I proceed to over-promise to others (my time, my money, etc). I say Yes too much, and even if no one else asks for something, I think of more stuff for myself to do!

2. It's too much, and I start to feel really anxious. I'm anxious and and I get hyper trying to get it all done and stretch it all out. I start to feel less-than-blessed and start to resent it all.

3. I exhaust myself with all that anxiety and hyperactivity and resentment. I get depressed and find it more and more difficult to just meet my basic commitments.

4. After a suitable time of crying and hiding under blankets and being a pain-in-the-behind for my family at home, I decide it's time to pull myself up by my bootstraps.

5. I start kicking my own ass to do more yoga, make a gratitude list, reorganize the cupboards or the To Do list - whatever it takes to increase my energy level and productivity and happiness.

6. Having successfully "faked it till I make it", I then feel incredibly blessed.

7. The cycle repeats.

Perhaps it's not the worst cycle in the world to be stuck in. But having reflected on this pattern and my habits, is there some way to avoid the down part of it all? Is there a way to stay in balance, in equilibrium, instead of yo-yoing back and forth?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ninja, Cowboy, Bear


In the game "rock, paper, scissors" all the options are basically equal. Sure, rock beats scissors. But scissors beats paper, and then paper goes on and beats rock.

This cute picture book is a version of that game, but with three friends: a ninja, a cowboy, and a bear. One day the ninja and the bear start to argue about who is best, and the cowboy devises a cute competition to see who wins ... and around it goes.

Both of the kids LOVED this book. Hypatia chose it for bedtime story three times, and Carbon chose it for his reading practice, and proceeded to struggle through reading it despite it being much more difficult than any of the books he's been reading. Then he chose it for a bedtime story one night, rather than the chapter book we'd been reading.

The end of the book has a cute game of "Ninja, Cowboy, Bear" that you can play, and we've done plenty of that as well.

A cute and fun book!

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's time for ....


1. Inventory the seeds I have (some left-over from last year, some saved from my own plants)

2. Order the rest of the seeds I want

3. Start some seedlings indoors

4. Work on the soil in my raised beds

Good times.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Repurposed sweaters



Hypatia was in the mood to model this morning, showing off her new sweater skirt. Actually, the hat and the skirt she is wearing are recently refashioned out of a sweater of mine that got an unfortunate grease stain on it. I cut two hat shapes out of the bottom, utilizing the ribbing at the bottom of the sweater. I made two tiny hats out of the sleeves, so she has matching hats that fit her dolls. Then the top of the sweater had these stripes across the chest, so I cut just a rectangle and made a simple elastic-casing for the waistband.

Since I hate to throw anything away before I get as much use out of it as possible, I'm very pleased to refashion that sweater into something she enjoys wearing.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Car-Free Fridays

car free friday

It's been a long time since I joined in over at One Small Change with any little changes to my own lifestyle. I was very enthusiastic about making changes at first, but as all the "low hanging fruit" of obvious eco-habits started to be used up (reusable grocery bags, rechargeable batteries, waste-free packed lunches, rags instead of paper towels, unplug stuff, line-dry laundry, skipping showers, etc), I found myself unable to think of new things to change.

But I've been in this dysfunctional relationship with my car for a long time. I really really want to be the kind of person who just doesn't own a car. I don't love the wheels! But it's incredibly difficult to live in our society without a car - I managed it when I was in college and didn't have any kids but since then the schlepping got to me. Running errands, doing the shopping, transporting large quantities of stuff to and from, and just running the kids around does require that I own some sort of car.

So we bought the Prius, and I love it. The gas mileage is great ---- but it's not all the way to carbon-neutral, by any means.

Does it have to be all or nothing, however? Just because I own a car, do I have to use it everyday? Do I have to drive all over, back and forth across town, just because I can? No.

So I would like to announce (drum roll please) Car-Free Fridays! We are going to try and go it without the car, just that one day a week. It's not a stay-home day, so we will actually have to use alternative transport. Today I took Carbon to school and then Hypatia and I headed over to church for my office hours, all on the city bus. With the kids too big for my bike trailer and too small to be trusted riding their own bikes in traffic, the bus may be our friend for a while. Luckily, we have that option and our local bus system is wonderful.

It's not a lot, to leave the car at home one day a week. I'm still driving all over town the other days of the week, and I can certainly get all my errands done without having to do any on Friday. But imagine if we all did it! If we all left our car at home, just one day a week, what would that add up to?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Afterschooling afternoons


It's been a long time since I posted about our afterschooling practice, but we are still doing this. I had a period of discouragement, and a little embarrassment, after our mid-year conference at Carbon's sudbury school (at least one staff there seemed to strongly disapprove of this family practice). It began to feel like a huge drag, and we only kept at it out because I can be a stubborn-mama.

When I re-evaluated my life over New Year's, we talked about whether we should just stop afterschooling. The kids are going to school, and we aren't under any obligation to keep homeschooling them also. But I didn't really want to give this up; at heart I'm still a homeschooler. As much as I love Carbon's school, in a world without any compromises I would be homeschooling my kids on a modified Charlotte Mason plan. I'm not really built to be an unschooler or a Sudbury parent; I'm more than a bit of a control freak.

Know thyself, and then work with that.

My kids get their freedom at school, and their sit-down lessons at home. We're just totally backwards! But I think it works for us.

So we weren't having much fun with our afterschooling after the school conference, but we realized at New Year's that a lot of that was because we had stopped doing all the Fun Stuff and were just slogging through the math and reading workbooks - the least inspiring, least interesting, least fun part of our afterschooling. So I resolved to not do Less afterschooling, but rather More. Just More Fun.

Now we are back in a groove. I write the week's lesson plans (really just an outline) on our white board, and when we get home from school the first thing the kids do is get a snack and some tea and sit down at the table for their afterschooling. Hypatia doesn't actually have any afterschooling assignments, but that doesn't stop her from creating her own work using Carbon's old Math U See Primer level book and some old handwriting practice books. She finds her own work.

Carbon is doing Math U See Alpha level still. We're in no hurry. He does a page of it about three times a week - we won't win any races but really that is not the point of our work. He is using the Explode the Code and reading to us out of all sorts of easy readers and primers (we just have a basket of them and he picks out the one he wants to read on any given day). We just started using Hooked on Spanish to do some spanish language work. I don't know yet if I like it or not.

That covers the stuff that we count as not-as-much fun.

Then we are reading and narrating with Story of the World, volume two. Carbon loves history - heck, actually the whole family loves this book. I don't love classical education, completely, but I do think this book series is incredibly well-written.

For science, we just follow Carbon's interests. He picks the topic, we check out all the library books we can find on it, do some hands on projects and experiments if appropriate, and look for documentary films. He loves science, he loves history - he's at this adorable stage where he browses the library juvenile non-fiction section and checks out more books than he can carry home.

I think we are in a good groove now with our work here. I treasure our family learning time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Reflecting on the month

feb calendar

Yet another month has gone by already. February actually felt like a big tease: the weather was great, then winter came roaring back; we seemed to have figured out chores, then it all sort of fell apart; we had a whole weekend without the kids, but have actually had one injury or illness after another and couldn't have much fun this month.

I also "hit the wall" on my resolution to embrace "Less". I found that I just don't want to give up much. I Want to have the full-time job, and pour my very soul into that. I also Want to be a very hands-on and active Mother. I also Want to have a clean and neat and organized and green home. I also Want to be fit and attractive and healthy and have a great social life and a great relationship with my husband and read great books and think big thoughts and try to reduce my carbon footprint and be active for social justice and causes that I believe in and grow my own food and volunteer for those less-fortunate and , and , and ....

Basically, I want to Do it All, Have it All, and Be it All. And that self-imposed pressure can sometimes lead to an emotional breakdown, but I still haven't figured out how to take the pressure off.

So, onto March. Goals: Less Pressure on Myself, Restart the family chore-chart, start working out one day a week with my husband, go Car-Free one day a week, and start the garden.