Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflecting on the month


I can't believe one month of 2011 is already gone. But it is time to flip the page on the calendar, and put this one to bed.

January had all kinds of energy for making a clean sweep, reorganizing and cleaning our physical space and establishing new routines for the whole family. The home clean-up isn't all done, (will it ever be?) but we made great strides. The biggest change has been in the routines, and in a general shift toward a more egalitarian home. My husband has stepped up admirably to the challenge of doing more around the house and encouraging the kids to also do more. I don't know where the shift really came from - was it a change in me or in him? - but we are sharing responsibility and work much better than I think we ever have before.

At work, January was not a particularly busy month, but it was also not very well balanced. I ended up working weeks on end without a single complete day off, and that habit is not good for mental and spiritual well-being. I need a day when I can just take off that "hat" and really stop thinking about work. To try and fix that, I am switching my "Day Off" from Fridays to Mondays, to see if that works better. Unfortunately, I'm booked at work for the next four Monday nights in a row, but I'm going to try in the future to keep the evening also free from work and make Monday my Sabbath Day.

It's been a month of adjusting attitudes and trying to let go of "stuff", both physical and habitual. So far, so good, but the month still left me feeling exhausted and worn down. I think I should turn my attention next to the notion of what I need "More" of to feel strong, healthy, and happy.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Grateful for ...



My first ever dishwasher! (Not counting the one my mom had when I was 14-17 years old.) It's a hand-me-down, and the labor to redo the cabinets and install it was a Christmas gift from my father (famous for giving a day/weekend to each of his children each year as their Christmas gifts). Thanks Dad!

Friday, January 28, 2011

A little at a time


Parents don't come full bloom at the birth of their first baby. In fact, parenting is about growing. It's about our own growing as much as our children's growing, and that kind of growing happens little by little. It's tempting to think "a little" isn't significant and that only "a lot" matters. But most things that are important in life start very small and change very slowly, and they don't come with fanfare and bright lights.

Fred Rogers

Thursday, January 27, 2011

when you're down ...

For whatever reason, whether it be hormonal, seasonal, work or relationship-related, or just because I felt incredibly down today. Fight back irrational tears that try to well up for no reason at all sort of down. (OK - that is a really good sign that this is hormonal, but I never know for sure until afterward).

It was not a good day. I still did everything I needed to do, and I don't think I looked like a complete raving crybaby mess while I did it, but it was a hard day to get through.

So I just dropped everything for an hour or so this afternoon and did this.


This, and about 5 pages of heart-pourings into my journal. It did help. But it made me think of some old line from the show Friends, about these giant coffee cups being a surrogate for your mother's breast. Comfort, anyway.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mama Multitasking


I love our YMCA membership, because it keeps the family active and engaged, and it lets this Mama multi-task some time for taking care of herself.

Last night, there I was on a bike, chatting with an acquaintance, texting with my husband, and watching the state of the union. One child was upstairs in the Playcare Room, and the other was up even more stairs and through the crazy maze that led to the Teen Loft and the Chess Club.

This morning, after dropping Carbon off at school, I was back there again, on the treadmill, while Hypatia had her swimming lesson in the pool.

It's a great place, and a real enrichment to our lives. I love how the YMCA is more than just a gym - here we see the seniors doing their water exercise class, we see the homeless getting showers with their shower coupons, and we have things like Chess Club and swim team as well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

And The Pursuit of Happiness


This book was a surprise and a delight; And The Pursuit of Happiness is like a picture book made for adults. Maira Kalman is an immigrant to the States, and this book features her musings as she spends a year exploring American history, the founding fathers, and current events and culture. It seemed as though she loves America, but also struggles with its issues and has few illusions - this point of view kept the book from being predictable or boring. I also loved how she juxtaposes the serious with the absurd, the profound with the slice of pie.

It's a quick and delightful read.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mega-Science workshop day


Friday was Mega-Science Day (or Science Mega-Day, depending on your perspective), as Carbon was signed up for two separate Science events.

First I picked him up early from school so he could go to a Homeschool Science Workshop at our local Children's Museum. The theme of the day was Paper Architecture, and for part of it they worked in teams to build these structures from newspaper rolls. The workshop time was up and none of the kids wanted to leave!

Then Carbon's dad left work early and the two of them headed up the road to Seattle, to attend a "Camp-In" at the Pacific Science Center. They have a Harry Potter exhibit right now, so the theme was "Wizard Camp" and featured a "Potions" workshop. They also went to the tropical butterfly house, saw an IMAX movie about the Hubble Space telescope, a lazer show, some other stuff, and got to sleep on the ground under a large model of the solar system.

He had a great time, but he was exhausted by Saturday afternoon!

Friday, January 21, 2011

A week in dinners


Saturday: My husband ate leftovers at home, while the kids and I ate Macaroni and Cheese from a box at a church childcare event I was working on Saturday night. I made regular organic mac n'cheese for most of the kids, gluten-free mac n'cheese for Carbon and me, and dairy-free, gluten-free mac n'cheese for Hypatia. It's great that those options are available to buy now.

Sunday: For my little sister's 17th birthday, we drove over 70 miles each way to go have dinner with the extended family at a Mongolian Grill Restaurant. We had to skip the noodles, as they only served wheat noodles, and we skipped the little wraps that were wheat as well. It wasn't a particularly good or safe gluten-free arrangement.

Monday: I made Thai Peanut Soup with tofu and brown rice noodles. This is one of my husband's favorites, although he would prefer it with chicken in it. That would have been tricky with my pledge to only cook whole birds now, so I used baked tofu instead. I just had time to finish it and inhale a bowl before I had to head out to teach a class at church, and then my husband and the kids ate after I left.

Tuesday: I made Chili in the slowcooker in the morning, and I had time to eat a small bowl for an early dinner at 5pm before I took the kids to the YMCA for Chess Club. My husband met us there and brought the kids home, and they had the chili waiting for them for dinner. I went from Chess Club straight to a Council Meeting at church.

Wednesday: I made a gluten-free pizza crust and left my husband with that and a pile of toppings - including regular mozzarella and almond-mozzarella for the girl - so they had pizza for dinner. I took a bowl of leftover chili with me to an Auction Planning Meeting at Carbon's school.

Thursday: Finally, we actually had a schedule that allowed us to all sit down for a dinner at home. I made Pork Chops in sauerkraut, and Roasted Root Vegetables.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

On the nightstand


My word for 2011 (Less) is not applying to my reading pile. :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Children's Chores

(the kids washing the window)

A quick progress report on my efforts to get my family more involved in household chores:

  • The chore charts work. They work if I make them work and check them daily and remind people what their chores are.
  • If I want my husband to wash dishes, I have to accept that he is going to do it at 9:30 or later at night, after the kids are in bed and cutting into whatever "adult" time we are going to have for the evening. He likes to sit and rest and either watch TV or play his nintendo ds after dinner, not jump right up to clean the kitchen. It drives me crazy to see those dishes sitting there waiting, and I like to have some time with him after the kids go to bed, but if I want him to wash the dishes, I will have to compromise both of those things.
  • When the kids do some chores, I have to do them with them and it's actually MORE work for me. But this is probably the only way to teach them.
  • I also have to accept a lower, or at least different, standard on any chore that someone else completes. I'm trying not to nit-pick their efforts too much.
  • There is a LOT of whining and moaning about the horror of having to do things like wash dishes and take out the trash. I hope this will lessen with time, and right now I'm trying to block it out by humming my "happy song" really loud and driving them crazy.

Friday, January 14, 2011


From the book Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup:

When my shiny black Belgian sheepdog, Cornelia, was struck and killed by a car, I bured her myself. I was eighteen years old. I dug the hole in the part of my family's property reserved for the internment of beloved pets, lined it with a bed of wildflowers, then placed Cornelia's body on top ... I gathered rocks from the surrounding fields and woods and piled them on top of the grave ... I pulled apart the pile and began stacking the rocks again, more deliberately this time, with greater care ... I built and rebuilt that pile at least six times. For as long as I was fussily gathering, placing, and judging stones, then casting them aside, I still had a dog. When I placed the last stone on the grave and walked away, my dogless life would commence. It was a moment I desperately wanted to postpone.

Last weekend we lost our pet snake, Bethsheba. She was a corn snake, and we inherited her from my brother, who inherited her from a reptile education program. She was a good snake.

We knew something was up for the last few weeks, as she became more lethargic than usual, and refused all the food we offered her. But still, on the morning that Carbon woke up and found her stiff and dead in her tank, he was shocked and upset. He went through a stage of guilt, sure that he hadn't taken good enough care of her, blaming himself for turning off the heat lamp for the night.

Then he wouldn't let me bury her right away. He wasn't convinced she was truly dead, and was worried we might accidentally bury her alive. So we had a wake, leaving her in the tank for a day while he would go in occasionally to check on her and talk to her.

She started to smell. I insisted she had to be buried at that point, and so at our first chance we went out in the yard and dug a hole near the place we buried our old chicken, Wicked Witch. I would have just done it by myself, but he wanted to bury her. He dug the hole, and when I placed her body in it he covered her with dirt. It was a process that he insisted had to be very gentle, so that we wouldn't "hurt" her body by dropping the dirt on it too hard. He made a wooden grave marker for the spot.

For two days after, he went outside to talk to her at the grave site, and to check that it hadn't been disturbed by animals. It's been a whole mourning process. From the earth we are born, to the earth we return. Goodbye, dear Bethsheba. You were a good snake, and we were glad to have you in our lives.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Birthday planning

One of my major jobs as a mother is to make the children's Birthdays come true. From party planning, present buying, cake-baking, to clean-up afterward, the Birthday is a big job, and it mostly falls on my shoulders. However, it's a job I like to do, and I realize that I enjoy those birthday parties almost as much a the kids do. So it's all good. :)

One thing I did let go of this year, in my year of LESS, was the stress of trying to make a handmade birthday present. Yes, making things for my children is precious and they love mama-mades, but having to work in secret means working late at night and that just sucks the joy out of it all. So I was very pleased to purchase something lovely from an Etsy seller instead. I'm very impressed with the lovely doll clothing for sale on Etsy, all handmade!

Shhhh ..... I kidnapped Hypatia's doll for a photo shoot of the gift:


And then a job we can do together: making invitations!



It's still almost a month until Hypatia's 5th birthday, so I'm doing Very Well on preparations and I hope there will be very little stress as we get closer. Especially as I am feeling some angst that my Baby isn't really a Baby anymore ...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Quote

These words by Sophia Lyon Fahs seemed appropriate to recent topics here:

The world we now know is one. The universe is one. Mankind is one brotherhood. We even belong in the family of atoms and stars. Reality can no longer be divided into clear cut contraries, the material and spiritual, the animate and inanimate, the temporal and eternal, the body and mind, good and evil, today and tomorrow, Jew and Gentile, Christian and Pagan, the secular and religious, even the Creator and the created. The dividing walls are down. All things are blended and interdependent. Truth, goodness, love, freedom - all are relative and mixed up with falsehood, evil, hate, and slavery. The ethical questions we must face almost never present merely two clear cut possibilities: the right and the wrong. These varied choices call for weighing the partial good against another partial good. The development of moral and spiritual values today involves not so much the courage to fight for the right against the wrong, as the patience to understand the wrong, its causes and its meanings. It involves also learning the arts of negotiation and empathy.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Above All, Be Kind

My last post about the Wizard of Oz got a couple good comments over on my Facebook page, and one friend pointed out that it is not so much the stories we tell as whether we are raising our children in an authoritarian, top-down model that is a predictor for black-and-white, us-versus-them thinking.

Absolutely true, although I think there is a post coming soon about the power of stories. But what do you do, besides not be authoritarian, to promote compassionate children and nuanced, independent thinking?

In the book Above All Be Kind, author Zoe Weil offers four tools for raising compassionate children: provide information, teach critical thinking, instill the three R's (Reverence, Respect, and Responsibility), and offer positive choices. And then, above and beyond all the tools in your toolbox, she reminds you that Your Life Is Your Message.

My conclusion is that if your goal is to raise a compassionate, caring, happy human being that you must first of all work on making yourself a compassionate, caring, and happy adult and live in a compassionate, caring, happy home environment.

  • Surround yourself with information, continue to learn, continue to listen.
  • Don't stop asking questions, don't assume you have all the answers now, and don't be afraid to engage in debate (with yourself, with your kids, with others) over ideas and even "how we do things here".
  • Approach life with the Three R's - talk about them but more importantly LIVE THEM.
  • Stay positive and optimistic and offer ideas for positive action and positive choices.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Good, Evil, and the Wizard of Oz


I took the kids to see the touring production of The Wizard of Oz today, and the Wicked Witch cries out as she is melting "How did such a good little girl destroy someone so Wicked?"

The show is all about the virtues of home, but it also about Good with a capitol G and Evil with a capitol E. And then there is the Wizard, a figure who finally expresses both good and evil.

I don't believe in Good and Evil, and overall I worry that stories like this give children a "black and white" "us versus them" view of the world. There is a spectrum of good, of evil.

And that is why I find the storyline of Wicked so much more interesting. Wicked takes this Good and Evil story and asks "what is evil?".

Also interesting, Carbon and Hypatia had a heated argument about this new Wicked Witch doll: Carbon says she is evil because of her green skin and black dress; Hypatia says she is good because she is smiling. Stereotypes, but I enjoyed the debate.

Edited to add: I don't "worry" so much that I wouldn't tell this story to kids. The classic fairy tale narrative meets many developmental needs, and most of us grow up able to see that the world is actually more complex and nuanced than a fairy tale. I guess all I was saying is that I would worry if we were giving this to them as Truth. The stories we tell will always be less important than the values we live by and the example we set. But I'm still struck by the simplicity of the one story line, and then the interesting nuance brought to it by the Maguire books.

Less: in the Laundry Room


I made a big push toward less stuff by tackling my laundry room. This little room is also a hallway, that we all walk through several times a day to get to the garage. So the room needs to be kept neat and free from shoulder brushing hazards, so the mop or vacuum cleaner doesn't jump out and attack.

What clogs up this room the most is that here I store my craft supplies. I had shelves full of drawing paper and pencils, embroidery hoops, yarn and knitting needles, etc. And then I have this dresser and basket tower full of fabric.

When I spent time over winter break on self-discernment, I realized that I don't really enjoy crafting much anymore in my life. I have a creative job, so it's not like I need a creativity boost at home. I don't have enough time, either, to pursue all the possible hobbies out there. And the goal of making my own clothes is an actual downer, because it makes me feel like I shouldn't buy clothing when "I could make that", but I don't have time to make that, and it's always a huge disappointment if I make the time and then don't like the way it turns out.

I have enough body image issues that it's better to just try the stuff on at a store and know that I like the way it looks on me. Sewing stuff for myself is a bad idea. So goodbye to all the patterns and some of the fabric.

At the same time, I realized I don't have the time or patience right now to learn how to knit. So goodbye to the knitting books and yarn. I'm just keeping enough to knit wash clothes with, since that's all I'm really interested in doing.

I don't have time or interest to really work on learning to draw. Goodbye charcoals and paper. Lest you think I'm cheating the kids, I donated the drawing supplies to Carbon's school, and he can use them there.

Same thing with all the old counted cross-stitch projects I had. What can you really do with a counted cross-stitch picture? I already have one hanging here, and I gave one to my mother and she has it at her house ... No more counted cross-stitch.

So I'm down to sewing for the kids, doing small projects like embroidered napkins and lavender sachets, and doing minor alterations and repairs. I'm not getting rid of the sewing machine, so I can always start sewing more if I want to. But I need to get rid of the pressure, the feeling that I should be sewing.

Honestly, I can't work a full-time job and be a domestic goddess at the same time.

Friday, January 7, 2011

all the sad and scary documentaries

The film GasLand opens with the filmmaker saying that he is not a pessimist, that he has always believed in people, and that we will somehow figure it out before we destroy what we love most.

I, too, am not a pessimist. I believe that there is an intrinsic goodness in most people, and that we can make a difference. But watching GasLand and other documentaries of its type, I find myself just so sad and hopeless.

Can't Do It All

Here is a relief: District Assembly for the Pacific Northwest District of the UUA is FULL. I was thinking I should go, and it's only a short 3 hour drive/train ride away, BUT this year it falls on the same day as Hypatia's birthday.

District Assembly or be here for my daughter's 5th birthday? Hmmmm.

I managed to miss Carbon's 5th birthday (I was in the hospital having my gallbladder removed) so there is precedent for me being gone on a birthday ...

So I was trying to figure out how I could do it all. When could we have a party on another day, who would watch the kids for me while I was gone, what would they do on her birthday so she still had a special day, etc. I was trying to figure out how to be SuperWoman and be in two places at once.

But all that worrying and plotting took so long that I didn't register until the DA was already full. They are doing DA on a smaller scale this year, in a large church instead of in a conference center, so they absolutely cannot exceed the capacity of the building. Yay for me!

As soon as I found out, I called the place Hypatia wants to have her kids party, and reserved a time for the day of her birthday. She's super-excited and now we are going to make some invitations today.

I'm just letting it go - I can't do it all.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Me < Them


Well, the formula for the title of this post still isn't true, as I am still singly doing more than "them" combined in my household, but as I look at "Less" for myself this year, it's clear that part of that effort means "More" for my husband and kids.

During the winter break I did a lot of journaling and talking about what I currently do and what I could stop doing. We didn't find any really unnecessary tasks on the list, other than things that feed my soul, such as keeping this blog, writing in my journal, or doing yoga in the morning. Doing "less" of the things I love is not the intention of the whole "Less" theme for the year.

So instead of canceling tasks, I have created a family organizer and assigned some of them out. It wasn't really hard to create the binder: print out the month off my google calendar and stick that in the front, a free menu planner template from organized home, a chore chart from here for each member of the family, and a lesson plan template to organize our afterschooling.

I've given each family member a different daily chore, and everyone has something different do throughout the week. So we are taking turns with evening dishes, vacuuming, taking out the compost, etc. Other tasks that I still do all by myself (cooking, packing lunch boxes, laundry) still seem easier when I have a plan laid out in front of me.

I always feel less internally stressed when there is more exterior structure. It lets me stop thinking about it anymore, and just follow the plan. The rest of the family isn't exactly thrilled by the new chores, but at least my husband is supportive of the effort to make things more fair.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Asking for help


I am trying to find better ways to ask for help, and then ways to gracefully accept the help I receive. This is going to be an ongoing effort, I can tell.

One thing I'm trying at work is to set out a station with simple tasks that can be done in small bursts of time, and invite people to stop and help with whatever time they have to give. So far, it has mixed results, but even if I still end up doing the work, at least it's all set out nice.

It will probably take awhile before I really know whether this will work or not.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

10 years


For New Years my husband and I celebrated 10 years since our first kiss. That is 10 years of us building a life together, as a couple. 10 years that saw so many changes, from our first pet adopted together to our babies being born. On our date 10 years ago, we found ourselves standing in a parking lot, shivering, waiting for the fireworks on the Space Needle at midnight. That was our first kiss, at midnight. This time, we went up and stayed in a nice hotel by the Space Needle and watched the fireworks from our hotel room window, choosing to avoid the 26 degree chilly night. It was really a sweet and romantic and nostalgic day, but I won't make you want to gag on all the sweetness by going on and on about it.

I'm looking forward to the next 10 years, and then the next after that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My guiding word for 2011


Instead of any specific resolutions this year, I am just choosing one word to guide me for the year: Less.