Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Getting ready for the holidays



The official launch of the Christmas season starts after Thanksgiving, and this year the kids are the main holiday elves. They are in love with the season, but not just for gifts. Carbon put the Christmas lights outside, with a tiny bit of help from me, and they've decorated inside and made a gingerbread house. We're listening to Christmas music and planning baking and other fun. It's lovely to see them be old enough to take a hand in creating their own holiday.

And here's the scene that went into the creation of the gingerbread house:

I'm aiming for a lovely holiday moment, so I've got Christmas music playing, milk on the stove for hot chocolate, and I'm making a gingerbread house with the kids. Then the doorbell rings as I'm trying to stick all the parts of the house together and hold them up until the icing sets. It's the Fedex man, with a holiday related package. But I'm covered in icing, the house falls down, the dogs and kids go crazy and we have to get the big dog out the back door so I can open the front door. I have to excuse myself to go wash icing off my hands, and while I do that our little dog takes a poop right in front of the door! Meanwhile, the milk overboiled. At least I gave the Fedex guy a good laugh today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Happiness Prescription

As I relayed in my last post, I've just struggled with several months of pretty bad depression. I like to think that most people didn't know anything about this - I played it pretty close to my vest and really didn't want to or feel safe letting it all hang out. Now that I'm feeling better, I can talk about it.

I went to a counselor, the same one that four years ago helped save my marriage and help my husband through his depression and stress upon returning from Iraq, and two years ago helped me through a bout of crazy anger- and tension-related insomnia. I trust her and we already have this history on file, so it was faster getting to the meat of the current matter.

It's not like she revealed some amazing truth about my life that I'd missed seeing - it's more like "hey, I'm paying for this so now it's Doctor's Orders". We talked, I did an assessment test to see if my depression had reached "clinical" (just barely not), and she told me two obvious truths:

1. I need to avoid self-medicating through behaviors that are actually harmful. That means don't overeat, don't under-eat, don't over drink, don't smoke, etc. I was told to watch myself closely.

2. My life balance is out of whack. She asked "what would you do if you just had an extra four hours in every week, to do with as you please". Then she said "do that anyway you don't have an extra four hours".

The only way I can accomplish my "doctor's orders" and do more stuff that is purely recreational for me (re-create-ional. I need to recreate myself), was to let something go a bit. The options were:

1. Work. Either lower my standards, get more help, or most-radically reduce my hours.

2. Kids. Cancel some of their activities, lower my standards for homeschooling, get more help, or most radically - stop homeschooling.

3. Home. Lower my standards, get more help, or most radically - burn it down (I'm kidding).

4. Food. Lower my standards, get more help, eat out more, or tell everyone to just scrounge and ignore their pleas for food.

5. Clothing. Just let it pile up dirty. Let my husband go without ironed shirts.

6. Credentialing. I could extend the time I plan to work on my credential, or more radically I could drop out of the program.

7. Normal self-care. I could stop exercising and going to the doctor and all that.

Now - realistically anything that leads me down a path of living in a stink-hole while wearing dirty clothing and eating packaged cookies for breakfast and not going to the gym anymore is a BAD IDEA. That road will just lead to me being more depressed. Yuck - not going there.

My husband STRONGLY felt that I should not ask to reduce my hours at work. He said, and he's probably right, that I'd just end up doing the same amount of work but get paid less.

As much as everyone looked to the homeschooling as the obvious thing to drop, I resisted that with a stubborn grimace.

So it's the Credentialing. I'm not dropping out of the program, but I am going to give myself one more year to complete it. And, honestly, I've lost a lot of my passion for doing it at all - but I'm signed up and so, by golly, I'll do it. I also realized I just couldn't keep loading extra events onto my work responsibilities. I need to keep it realistic and sustainable, and remember to keep the core program strong and do the extras as - well as extras!

By becoming a Semi-Slacker, I've bought myself just enough time for:

1. Sudoku puzzles. Lovely, pointless little things.

2. Fiction reading. It's so therapeutic, no matter what you read! I mean, I could even just read romance novels - the point is it feels fun and is renewing.

3. Watching Star Trek with my family. I like it - something nostalgic that reminds me of my younger self.

That has all been just the fun stuff. I also need to re-form the habit of doing a daily spiritual practice, and I have two that I've done for years: morning yoga and evening journal writing. They just slipped away from me when I started squeezing in study wherever I could, and I justified that studying and writing reflection papers were a form of spiritual practice in their own right - but they don't actually feel very spiritual when you're rushed and anxious!

This is not magic. Doing a sudoku puzzle isn't going to "fix" me, and there are still a few core issues. Like how my standards for myself are really high. Like how I don't get much help. Like the fact that I am a full-time working, full-time homeschooling mom, running a (new, just moved!) household with four acres to care for and planning on hobby farming, and also pursuing a continuing education program that is like part-time grad school.

But the sudoku puzzle does help.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Depression and burn-out

I could not write this post, or open my heart when I really needed help.

I have been in the shadow-lands, my friends. Perhaps I still am, although I'm able to take some enjoyment in life again and most tellingly, I'm dancing again, a bit.

But those were some dark months. I often live by a saying: "fake it till you make it". The idea is that if I act happy, I'll be happy. If I act like I love my husband, I'll start to actually love him again. I also tend to live for my responsibilities. I'm needed, therefore I keep going.

But all that faking and focusing on responsibilities and duties started to have a very brittle feeling to it. My smile was getting strained, my resiliency was gone, and the "bend or break" aspect of my job and of parenting (of caregiving in general) was leaning toward me breaking. The more I pile on my plate, the more I focus on the needs of others, and set a highly ambitious agenda for EVERYTHING, the more I worry about achievement, the more I worry that I'm not good enough just as I am - the closer to burn-out I get.

The job of a religious educator is a giving and care-taking profession, and I'm also a care-giver to my family. People will take what you give. They will bring their problems to you. They will expect you to be present to them, in 100% authentic openness, no matter how many other people are standing there waiting in line for the same attention. You'll sometimes mess up, be less than perfect, and you'll beg forgiveness with a heartfelt and honestly self-reflective gesture. You'll sometimes be helped, and you'll give thoughtful thank-you's. You'll sometimes feel helpless, faced with the fact that people are people, the world is imperfect, and the best-laid plans fall prey to the unforeseen. People will be cranky with you, or fabulous, or hurt, but no matter what, you will find yourself saying these things over and over again: "I'm sorry", "It's OK", "you're fine", "thank you". You will pour love into others' cups, and hold their hands, and clap extravagantly. And, always, always, you will embody happiness, smile serenely, and never looked stressed out. Fake. It. Till. You. Make. It.

If that is what you expect from yourself all the time, you risk running dry.

It came to a head for me in a staff meeting at church. I brought up our bust-the-seams high attendance in religious education classes at our second service, and our minister responded by focusing on how low the first service attendance had gotten, and what was I going to do about that?

I had no resilience left. I had no bend left in me. I fought back tears, and just was quiet for the rest of the meeting. Then I walked into my office, shut the door, turned my back on my kids who were in there watching a DVD, and burst into tears.

And I called a counselor and made an appointment.

Really, when you feel like you just. cannot. deal. anymore - it's time to reach out for help.

More on what I'm doing to "press the sustain pedal on the piano of my soul" in my next post.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Weekend Books, etc.

A week in our life, in media use:

I'm reading:

My husband gave me an early Christmas present, because of all my whining about how heavy A Dance with Dragons is in hardcover, and my general iPad envy. No - not an iPad. That's still too pricey, when I have a perfectly good iPhone and MacBook. No, he's been a citizen of AmazonLand for awhile now, and he likes it there. So he got me a Kindle Fire, the latest from Amazon and their version of a tablet. It's pretty darn awesome - I immediately bought Dance with Dragons and I can also get magazine subscriptions on there, and they would be in full color. But I can also go on the internet with a wifi connection, and download movies, music, and apps on to it. So I'm enjoying it a great deal!

reading aloud:

One of Hypatia's friends was reading the Rainbow Magic Fairies series, so when Hypatia saw them at the library she was excited to try them herself. We've been reading Harriet the Hamster Fairy this week, and although I find it incredibly silly she is enjoying it. I doubt I'll want to read anymore out loud, however - these can wait until she breaks into independent reading.

We're still reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to Carbon. It's slow going with such a hefty book.

listening to:

We got another Book of Umber: Happenstance Found from the library this week, on audio CD, and Carbon basically disappeared from family life for a day until he'd listened to the whole thing. He carried around his walkman and headphones, and was only barely restrained from even listening at the dinner table.

And Hypatia's theater class is all learning the song My Favorite Things, so I'm playing (by a loose definition of the word "playing") that on the piano and singing it with her, and I got it on my iPod so she can listen to it over, and over, and over, and over .... but we still like the song!

We watched:

Connected to the theater tickets I've bought this year, we got both Young Frankenstein and Monty Python and the Holy Grail from netflix. My husband and I watched Young Frankenstein - I'd never seen it and he thought I should see it before we go see the Broadway version. I have to say, I didn't love it that much. We'll see how I like the live performance.

We all watched the Monty Python together. Carbon loved it, although we had to explain quite a bit of it. Hypatia liked some parts - the Knights who Say Ni has been a favorite game of theirs for the last few days - but she was disturbed by some of the fake blood spraying bits (and the rabbit attacking Knights was totally uncool with her).

Friday, November 25, 2011

A non-consumer Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is still the least commercial holiday, although the way that the rest of the weekend goes with its increasingly crazy Christmas shopping frenzy is so overpowering that possibly Thanksgiving is just being swallowed by Christmas.

But we still try to celebrate Thanksgiving first, and keep the shopping monster at bay.

We drove up to my mother's couple acres near the mountains, and talked to the turkeys that were deemed too small to harvest before the holiday.


Ever since my mother was a little girl it's been a family tradition to do a jigsaw puzzle on Thanksgiving. We pulled out an old jigsaw puzzle I remembered from when I was a little kid, a cool one with small pieces and big pieces so it presents the right challenge level for the whole family. Only now it's my kids doing the easy part, and me doing the hard part.


My brother and sister-in-law hosted the dinner, with the turkey being one they had raised and killed and cleaned and cooked themselves.


One of the fun things at my brother's house is their pet pig, Blanche.


We stayed over at my mother's, and today (instead of the crazy Black Friday sales) we headed just a short way up the road to a hiking trail. Getting the family out into the forest seemed like just the right compliment to a day of celebrating our gratitude, and the antidote to the culture of consumer excess that we don't want to join.





Wednesday, November 23, 2011

harvest home, and we give thanks ...

Remember the apples I picked?


And I didn't grow all of these, but I'm abundantly provided with squash!

Tomorrow we'll head up the road to my mother's and my brother's homes for Thanksgiving with family. They will be preparing one of the turkeys they raised this year; we'll be bringing a pumpkin pie made with the pumpkin we grew. Sure, there will also probably be jello in a molded shape (my mother is from Kansas and the midwest traditions are strong in her) and what my children lovingly refer to as "that weird red stuff that comes in a can" (cranberry "sauce"), but it will also be a meal celebrating the harvest that we actually brought in, and the local harvest of those real farmers around us.

And after singing this in church last Sunday (it's by a Unitarian author and it's a Thanksgiving song - not a Christmas song as is often thought), the kids and I will most likely sing it as we drive:

Monday, November 21, 2011

to boldly go ...


After watching Star Trek, I thought it would be a good connection to read about some real explorers. So far we've read about Matthew Henson's journey to the North Pole (crazy! why risk your life for that?), and William Beebe's journey into the deep ocean. It's a great geography tie-in as well, and we got onto Google Earth and looked at maps and satellite pictures.

I do so love how homeschooling can follow a twisty-turny path. We really are explorers ourselves, boldly going where no one has gone before. In fact, everyone is an explorer, pushing out into the unknown. And the journey along the way is the whole point.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Links

Our life this week in quick links:

I'm reading:

I have been given an official prescription that I need to spend more time doing things just because they are fun (this is the benefit of going to see a therapist for my slide into depression - more on that later), so with that in mind I went to the bookstore this week. I wanted A Dance With Dragons, but the sheer size of the hardcover book gave me pause. That thing would throw my back out carrying it around! Definitely going to get that on the Kindle. Instead I bought David Sedaris's holidays on ice, a collection of six holiday stories by the caustic comedic writer. So far I'm enjoying it, but not busting out loud with laughter.

We're reading to the kids:

We finished the Ivy and Bean book this week, and instead of starting another chapter book I thought it would be nice to read a few picture books. Even as they get older, I don't want to stop reading all the wonderful picture books out there!

Me ... Jane introduces us to a little girl named Jane and her fun stuffed monkey, and all the fun outdoors they have. And of course it turns out that the little girl Jane is Jane Goodall and she grows up to have wonderful adventures outdoors with real apes. Hypatia loved it and was inspired to jump right up and go join Roots to Shoots and save the world. This book has made it onto a lot of "Best of 2011" lists.

Grandpa Green is a romp through a crazy topiary garden, so the illustrations are very interesting. It also reads like a love-letter to a beloved grandpa. This is also on a lot of "Best of 2011" lists.

In the Rainfield: Who's the Greatest? is a story from Africa about an argument between Wind, Fire, and Rain about who is the greatest. In the end, Rain, the gentlest, is also the greatest, but the story was a bit odd to our ears. However, the illustrations are very interesting with a blend of photo collage and paintings, and we enjoyed examining them very much.

We read some other books about explorers, but I'll post about them later.

We're listening to:

Pimsleur's Learn to Speak Spanish, as we drive around town.

More NPR than we had time for before. A pleasant side-effect of my longer drive to work after our move, and a reminder that I really ought to send in a pledge! The kids are also getting old enough that they actually listen to it with me, and it sparks lots of good conversations about what's going on in the world.

The Children of Green Knowe, which Carbon has heard already too many times to count. This book series is easily his favorite of all time. Hypatia has only heard this one once before, so we're listening to it again in the car. They are truly, deeply, lovely books.

We're watching:

Project Runway, Season 5. The kids LOVE this show, and the whole family enjoys watching it together. And they are working with some of my old scrap fabric and making sketches, trying to become designers themselves.

Star Trek, the Original Series. I loved Star Trek when I was a kid, and it's fun to share that now with my own kids. Sure, it's silly, but it still has a lot of good messages and we've had some great family discussions based on it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Care Packages for the homeless

Carbon is reading every sign and everything we pass, especially when I'm driving. Now that he's finally got the letter-reversals mostly under control, the Code is Cracked and he's loving being able to read things for himself.

So it's a rainy day, and I'm taking them to PE at the YMCA. We are stopped at a red light, and there's a homeless man standing at the corner with a hand-lettered sign on a piece of cardboard. Carbon sounds it out: "Homeless. Please Help", and he reads it out loud just as the light changes and I start to drive away.

Hypatia yells "he was asking for HELP! Why didn't you stop?"

Indeed. Why didn't I stop? Because I don't know how best to help him? Because I'm afraid that giving him cash won't really help? Because I don't usually carry much cash? Because I'm embarrassed to hold traffic up? Because, honestly, it gets tiring to keep seeing other people's pain and a numbness takes over where you just stop looking?

None of that is good enough for my kids. None of that is good enough for my own best self, either (and my kids are like the external manifestation of my own best self - and worst self too, of course. All about the extremes, young people). The kids want to help, and they need something tangible they can do.

So we talked about what would help, if you lived on the streets. We don't want to give them money to spend on alcohol or drugs, if that is part of why they are on the streets. But we want to give them something. In the end, we went to the big warehouse store and got batteries, those instant handwarmers, and some good thermal socks. We also bought gift cards to the movie theater, hoping that maybe they can go get in out of the cold for a bit that way. Gift cards for coffee shops and McDonalds (hey, it may not be the best nutrition but it's right downtown, it's warm inside, and the money goes a long way there) will go in future bags I think.

The kids wrote cards, that say "Stay Well" on them, and they packed the care packages up. Now, the next time we see someone who is asking for Help, the kids can give them this.



Thursday, November 17, 2011

Time management


This is something I recently got at a conference: this idea of how you can divide up your time and To Do List into these four quadrants. And if you looked at your time, most people probably spend the majority of their time in that top left quadrant, doing things that need to be done immediately for other people. And most people probably spend very little time in that bottom right quadrant, doing things they hope to do eventually for themselves.

This state of affairs keeps us from ever getting to the things that are possibly the most important - the long term goals and dreams we have for ourselves. And always doing just what needs to be done immediately is a limiting way of living, as well.

A fellow DRE in my "cluster" (the regional group that meets once a month for mutual support and study) was telling us all that she was reserving one work day a week to "work ahead", and that inspired me to try something new with my own work week.

Monday - the day of Rest
Tuesday - the day to tie up all loose ends. Get to the bottom of the Inbox and do any lingering To Do list tasks
Wednesday - Prep tasks for Sunday and all immediate tasks
Thursday - Work ahead and look farther ahead than just this week
Friday - really long-term work like study and developing new curricula
Saturday - if there are any last minute prep tasks or special events, do those
Sunday - the big day at church

This week so far it has been very nice, and I'm very hopeful for this way of organizing my time!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

current best practices: felt boards for classes


One of my latest projects has been to add a felt board to the 1st-2nd grade class so that the illustrations from the books they're reading in there can be better enjoyed by all the children. As the class has gotten larger, and as we are trying hard to better welcome children with special needs, seeing the illustrations in a book the teacher is reading from just weren't enough anymore. So I ordered this felt board (should have just made one, really - it's just a folded bit of cardboard with felt glued to it) and I've been photocopying the illustrations and laminating then sticking velcro to the back of them. The kids can either manipulate the illustrations or the teacher can, depending on the way the day is going. Overall, I'm quite happy with how this helps them focus during reading time, and I think it helps them all to have more to look at.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

haircut time



Among all my other motherly duties is the job of keeping my kids from looking like little ragamuffins. They would, indeed, go out into the world with uncombed hair, dirty faces, ripped dirty clothes, etc - generally you get the idea - if I wasn't here making sure they walk out into the world looking like the child of someone who actually cares.

I read somewhere, a few years back, and I really wish I could remember where, an essay by a white woman who had adopted African-American children, and she wrote about the obligation to take care of their hair as it was explained to her by a black mother, as being a cultural obligation to make sure that your children are obviously valued and loved. I really wish I could find that essay again - so if you know what I'm talking about please send me the link!

There is a sort of hippy-kid look that lets them dress however they want that is very popular in my social circle, and there is a norm for the kids to be allowed to choose their own "look". I have to walk a line with that and with my own feelings on the matter. Really, I kind of like the look of kids in school uniforms with matching crew cuts. Honestly - I really like that! I think it's because I was one of those hippy kids and all that freedom of self-expression just never seemed that great to me or all it was cracked up to be.

OK, long story short - I've got both the kids' hair cut and I'm very happy that they're looking less scruffy!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Comic Crazy


Letting your kids watch cartoons is NOT supposed to be educational. In fact, screen time and being "plugged in" has a really bad rap and parents are encouraged to "unplug" their kids and get them reading or building or playing outside.

And kids should read and build and go play outside.

But I also let my kids have more screen time than others recommend, and I'm not too worried about it. They are not lacking in time to do all the other good things, and they are not passive consumers - they are engaged with what they are watching.

In fact, last week I got them a disc of Super Hero Squad from netflix, which they watched happily about three times through. This led to a conversation about "The Marvel Universe", which led to me having to do some online research (thank you Wikipedia!) because I knew nothing about comic book heroes or the whole "DC versus Marvel" conversation.

And that led to a trip to our local comic book shop, and the purchase of a Super Hero Squad comic book. Carbon has been struggling his way through reading it independently - and that's the first time he's tried this hard to read something all by himself.

Reading a comic book has led to wanting to create a comic book, and lots of drawing time for both kids. And that also led to some great conversations about what the law is for copying a character - we had to once again consult the internet for some copyright law information (thank you, Wikipedia!).

Carbon decided he wanted to buy a toy related to this whole thing, so we went to the store and found out how much that would cost. Then he's been saving up for that toy, and doing a bunch of extra work to earn money. I had flower bulbs that needed to be planted, so I offered that as a paid task. He had to be shown how to properly plant them, and then he spent hours outside planting flowers so he could earn the money to (he planted 100 flower bulbs). So he ended up spending time outside too!

(Hypatia's comic heroes)

Overall, not a bad cascade of results from letting my kids watch a cartoon! I don't think it's the time spent being "plugged in" or "unplugged" - I think it's how plugged in the adult is to the child - how much you are noticing their interests and then giving them the resources they need (including their time and your interest and your time) so they can engage with their interests.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Way Cool Sunday School

Once a month, I'm experimenting with a different method of Religious Education called "Way Cool Sunday School". We aren't doing the pure method, as we are only doing it once a month, but it's primarily a more hands-on and multi-age method of RE. We are trying it so there is something for the kids that feels less like "school". Last month was our first try at it, and it was crazy, hectic, and not ideal.

This month we tried again, with all we learned last month under our belts. It was much better! In fact, it was pretty cool. A 15 minute Children's Chapel worship was followed by a rotation with three stations that kids spent 15 minutes each at.


A guest speaker talked about Sustainable Agriculture and how to take care of your garden in organic ways.


Kids made posters for our Food Drive we'll do this month.


They cooked.


And they ate.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend Links

Boy, my life is busy, and I don't much like it this way. Go, go, go, go, go! But here I have a couple precious hours at home on a Saturday, between work hours, and here are my weekend links.

I'm reading: When Youth Lead: A Guide to Intergenerational Social Justice Ministry by Jill M. Schwendeman.

I WISH I was reading (if I had time, precious time!): A Dance with Dragons. I enjoyed the first four books over the summer, and I really wish I had time to read the 5th in the series.

Carbon and Hypatia's read alouds are still the same as last week (No News is Good News and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)

The kids enjoyed watching The Super Hero Squad Show from netflix this week, and it spawned some new interests. So we headed down to our local comic book shop and Hypatia bought some Strawberry Shortcake comics and Carbon bought a Super Hero Squad comic. He has trouble reading the fonts they use in the comics, but he's motivated and trying - the first time he's really done much independent reading. You can also create your own Super Hero Squad comic online - it's pretty fun. More about comics in a later post.

We've also started watching Star Trek: The Original Series as a family. It's streaming on netflix, and I love how it's bringing us together as a family to sit and do one episode a day. It's cutting into our bedtime reading time, but it's worth it. We are having so many good conversations around these old episodes, and I jokingly said we should do a "Star Trek Unit Study". Well, that sounded awesome to the kids! So I'm thinking about how to do that.

And then we had a tragedy this week: I had two tickets to the touring production of Spamalot, and I gave them to Carbon. He got to choose which parent he wanted to take with him, and he chose his dad "because I don't get to spend as much time with Daddy". We were all set, and he had watched YouTube clips to get ready, read the synopsis, and then I looked at the tickets and realized I had goofed up the date and the production had been LAST NIGHT. We totally missed it because I had it on the wrong date on the calendar - major tragedy. We were all terribly upset. That sucked, to say the least.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Gratitude Workshop


Here is a workshop that I did last Sunday at church, and the Gratitude Tree that Carbon made at the workshop!

Family Gratitude Workshop

Gathering (10 Minutes)

Hymn: “We Gather Together”

A Simple Gratitude Ritual

A basket is passed around the circle, and each person chooses one object from within. Then, while holding that object, think of something that you are grateful for. Once the basket is empty, it will be passed around again. Each person places their object back into the basket, saying what they are grateful for. The final person takes the full basket and says “Our basket is full, “our cup runeth over”, thank you for these gifts we share.”

(This could easily be done at home, around a dinner table. A small bowl could be used in place of the basket, for a smaller gathering. Objects can be stones, fruits or nuts, seashells, or anything else that feels meaningful to you. Something that actually feels good in the hands, giving this a tactile experience for the children, is better.)

Reflecting/Creating (30 Minutes)

Children will Now create Gratitude Trees

Adults will Reflect and Discuss

Questions for Reflection. Take a few minutes and think or write about these questions, then get into pairs or groups of three and discuss (for these, it doesn’t really matter if you talk with your own life partner or another, but later it would be good to switch it up).

Think back to your own childhood. Watch the time. Reflect for 5 minutes.

1. What made you happy?

2. What energized you?

3. What barrier did you overcome?

4. What changed you?

5. What triggered your creativity?

6. What deepened your spirituality?

7. What kindness did you experience?

8. What did others do for you?

9. What inspired you?

10. What made you feel good?

11. What difficulty taught you an important lesson?

Discuss your childhood memories with a partner or in a group of three. Watch the time – share for 10 minutes.

Now, read the following sermon excerpt: (5 Minutes)

Parenting As Spiritual Discipline

A Sermon by the Rev. Wayne B. Arnason and Ahmie Yeung, Worship Associate
for the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church, Rocky River Ohio
April 10, 2005

Sermon Part 1: Wayne

In her book, The Heart of a Family, Meg Cox tells a story about the Siegel family of Alexandria, VA. They “had started to eat dinner one night when two year old Rebecca, sitting in her high chair, suddenly got very quiet. Tears rolled down her cheeks, while her confused parents and older sister frantically tried to figure out what was wrong. She didn’t seem sick or in pain. The food on her plate was something she liked. What could be missing? What had they done differently? Suddenly, it came to them. They had forgotten to sing grace.”

So they held hands and sang the grace their family used. As they began to sing it, Rebecca’s crying had escalated into loud sobs, but then subsided quickly as she heard the familiar tune that began their meals. She calmed down and ate her dinner. The family never forgot grace again.

When Ahmie Yeung and I began talking about this sermon idea, we found that the theme raised enough questions for us to fill three sermons: “How do we pass on our beliefs to our children? Do UU parents really want our children to choose what they believe for themselves? What about those of us in our church whose family heritage includes more than one religious path and finally; “How does parenting change us, the parents, as spiritual beings?” We won’t cover all these questions today but you will get at least two themes for the price of one. First, “How does parenting invite and instruct us in the virtues and practices of a formal religious life, especially a Unitarian Universalist religious life, regardless of our personal theology?” and second “What are the personal spiritual lessons of parenting?” It’s been great to talk with Ahmie about these questions from two ends of the parenting spectrum – she as the mother of brand new child and me as the father of a child about to graduate from college.

The story from Meg Cox illustrates well how both of these dimensions of parenting as a spiritual discipline can manifest themselves. Parents who implement a regular grace at meals with their families may do so for many reasons, some of them very personal to the spirituality of the parents. But one of the reasons will often be to create a ritual of moral and spiritual instruction for children. The message grace conveys is that we should be grateful for our food, and the many hands and the larger context of living that has made it possible for us to be able to eat it. Well and good! Little Rebecca wasn’t old enough to understand the moral lesson of grace, however. At age two, she just enjoyed how it felt. It was part of the family ritual whenever they sat down to eat, and so when they didn’t sing the grace, she noticed! And she cried! What did her parents learn from this?

  • That love of ritual is something that is deeply ingrained in us, and a natural way for our youngest human beings to make sense of a confusing world in which there is so much to learn.
  • That there are some events and moments in family life where everyone needs to be included, and if they aren’t they will likely let you know.
  • That the pain and distance created when an important ritual is missed can be assuaged by reconciliation and renewal of the ritual.

With a different partner than you discussed before, discuss these questions: (10 minutes)

1. How is parenting a “Spiritual Discipline” for you?

2. What lessons do you learn from parenting? What challenges you the most?

3. What gifts do you receive from your children?

4. What practices or “rituals” do you have in your family? What values are reflected in your rituals?

Family Gratitude Trees (10 minutes)

The kids have been making trees (which they’ll take home with them), now we reform into family groups and cut out leaf shapes from paper, write what we are grateful for on each leaf, and tie them on the trees. One leaf for each thing that someone in your family is grateful for.

(This ritual could be done regularly, or just around the Thanksgiving season. If you don’t have a wire tree like we just made here, you could use a real tree and tie ribbons to it, make one out of twigs, or make a large paper tree and post it on a wall of your home, and tape/glue paper leaves on to that poster for each of the things you are grateful for. If you google “Gratitude Trees” and choose “Images” you will find many inspiring pictures.)

Closing Ritual

Hymn: “We Give Thanks”

Responsive Reading “We Give Thanks”

Monday, November 7, 2011

Homeschooling Field Notes


Field Trip Day. I'm really glad I joined this homeschool "meetup" group, and that we are able to join them for field trips. I'm seeing a theme in my life right now, and that theme is that stuff needs to be scheduled or I won't find time to do it. If I sign up for a field trip there is some accountability and it gets onto my calendar. If I just think, "oh, sometime in November when the salmon are running I should take the kids out to see that", it will just keep getting put off until it's over and I'm thinking "boy, I wish I'd taken them out to see the salmon last month".


The weather was great, the group was just the right size (4 families, about 12 kids), Carbon had kids about his age that he enjoyed spending time with, the docent was nice and knowledgable and the kids asked good questions, and the salmon were active and easily seen. And I learned that from now on, if Hypatia is leaving the house in rubber boots I need to make sure she put socks on under them. Her toes were purple by the time we got home!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Weekend Links

OK, so my "Saturday Morning Book Posts" have been interrupted by a schedule of Saturday morning gymnastics classes and so forth. So here's a new stab at keeping a record of what we're reading and so forth - "Weekend Links".

Storytelling: The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau made a great story in church this morning.

Reading out loud to Hypatia: Ivy and Bean: No News is Good News (Love it!)

Reading out loud to Carbon: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Listening to in the car: Dragon Games (Books of Umber) (Pretty fun)

The kids are listening to on their own: the Hank the Cowdog series (They both enjoy it - I find it irritating)

We're listening to: The Green Album (Muppet Fans unite!)

Hypatia has this irritating pop song stuck in her head and keeps singing it: Half Of My Heart

Something we actually saw live and enjoyed:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We've got PE covered


I enjoy exercise, but I find it hard to make it a priority to go to the gym on my own. I might squeeze in a walk or some home yoga with a DVD, but to get my butt down to the gym I really need to have another reason.

Thank goodness the kids have a full gym schedule! Because we use the YMCA, there are classes for the whole family, and the PlayCare room for Hypatia when there isn't anything for her. Carbon has joined a Jiu Jitsu class that meets two evenings a week, and they are both doing a Homeschool PE program there that meets for two hours, twice a week. It's an hour in the swimming pool and then an hour in the gym.

They're getting plenty of exercise. (And having fun!). And the schedule means that I'm getting my exercise too. I go off and do my own stuff while they are swimming, then come back in time to help Hypatia wash her hair in the showers, then join them for the gym part. And I can sneak some reading in there too.

Sometimes we just need an external structure to keep us going.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011






I had time to pick them on Monday, on my day off when the sun came out and was just so inviting and glorious. Now, when do I have time to actually do something with this many apples?