Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fire tonight




There is something really, deeply, humanly pleasant about our fire pit.  Tonight, with my father and sister visiting, we headed out to watch the moon and sit by the fire after dinner.  A chance to talk about movies, life, and Bernstein's third symphony , in the cozy company of a fire.   

Friday, September 28, 2012

Language Lessons


Last year, we switched our Language Arts curriculum to Language Lessons for the Very Young, and I couldn't be happier with it.  Hypatia is doing the Language Lessons for Little Ones, while Carbon is doing for the Very Young, and both kids love many aspects of their program.  (Both are working "below grade level" since I chose these levels for them, but I am not concerned with speeding ahead, but rather laying a solid foundation at a loving pace.)

Hypatia especially loves her lessons, and it is the Creative Expression and Narration lessons that are her favorites.  A typical lesson would be to have a poem for the parent to read out loud, and then some narration or discussion prompts related to the subject matter of the poem.  Then the next day's lesson would be to draw a picture of the subject matter of the poem, and to make up your own story to go with your picture.

She can go on and on and on and on, telling me a story about a Bat, in a tree, in a garden that a Little Girl lives in.  And the Bat falls out of the tree, but the Moon Spirit sees it and calls the Little Girl ...

I usually have to just say "time is up now", or it would go on forever. :)
The lessons are super short, and we typically do more than one lesson on the days we do Language Lessons (but we only do it 3 days a week, so it evens out).

It's not a secular program, but I have found (so far) that the religious studies that are woven in are so light and gentle that I have no objection to them.  Art study that includes Biblical subject matter - well that's a whole lot of the history of art, isn't it?  Getting out the Bible and reading a passage that relates to that picture?  Well, yes, that would be how we would understand what that picture is about ....

And so I'm very happy with what we are doing for Language Arts.  (We are also reading Literature as a family, doing Independent Reading, and doing Explode the Code for spelling, phonics, and handwriting.  And I've just ordered Writing Strands for Carbon, and am excited to see how that goes.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Happiness Trap

In my study reading yesterday I came across this notion: The Happiness Trap.  That, in fact, focusing too much on whether everyone is happy will lead to stagnation, the status quo, and stunted personal growth for all involved.  In this sense, when we work hard to "keep everybody happy", we are actually failing to promote spiritual growth, and often failing to live our greater mission.

Times of conflict and discomfort, then, would actually be times of great growth and a necessary phase in community life.

This notion is simultaneously eye-opening, comforting, and discouraging to me.

Eye-opening because I recognize in myself the traits of a people-pleaser, and because I know that it is easy to evaluate your work with the question "is everybody happy about it?".  If that is truly my only goal in life, I can see that I could be doomed to be pulled this way and that, and never actually get anywhere in the end.  It might be like trying to spread out pizza dough by pulling it to the right ... and then noticing that it is too thin on the left so you pull it to the left ... oh dear now it is misshapen so you pull it upward ... and you never get it right.  But if you just give it a good spin ....

It is comforting because in times of conflict or discomfort I can become depressed, which is associated with feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.  No matter what I do, it will be wrong in someone's eyes.  No matter what I do, somebody will still be unhappy with me so what's the point.  I can't please everyone, so there is nothing to be done. But if I realize that this phase is normal, that we are all growing, and I focus on healthy growth or myself and others and on the fact that we will be stronger afterward - made wiser by the conflict - perhaps not happy about it but better in someways.  Well, that is comforting and gives me something to hold onto.

And then it is discouraging also because really - as someone recently said to me - "if I grow anymore I'll be in the stratosphere".  When I was in Grad school we got to the point where we would say, "oh great, another f-ing Learning Opportunity".  Growing and learning is exhausting work, and it would be nice to imagine that at some point we are Done.  As though there were a point where you had Graduated From the School of Life and now you will walk around in perfect wisdom and live happily ever after.  It's discouraging to realize that we are never done.  There is no happily ever after, just Happy for Now.  If we are lucky, the Happy/Comfortable times come often enough to get us all rested up for that Disequilibrium phase where we will be made uncomfortable and forced to grow.  But the comfortable phase won't last forever.

Oh great.  Another Learning Opportunity.  Another Growth Experience.  Another time of discomfort and disequilibrium.  And I'm alive and growing, and that's how it works.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Making a Commitment to Yourself


This week I was helping out at the congregation's Membership Class (a series of classes that those interested in becoming members of the congregation must take), and we were discussing the question "In your life, what commitments have you made?  How do your commitments matter in your life?"

My answer was that, first of all I have made a commitment to myself.

Does that surprise you?  It surprised the person I was partnered with for discussion.  But here it is - I've come to realize that if I am not committed to myself, then it becomes impossible to truly uphold any other commitments.  I only bring my best to all of my commitments if I am committed to bringing the best to myself first.  (Another way of saying the old cliche that you need to put on your own airmask first in a plane crash).

And so, although I am currently feeling quite overwhelmed by many many commitments and outside demands (some pretty petty or simple and some quite large, complex, and difficult) I am focused on keeping this commitment to myself:

I will care for myself with as much care, consideration, compassion, and love as I can.  I will give my body, mind, and soul what they need to be healthy and strong.  I will remember my own worth and importance, and the value of just being alive.  This one precious life, a gift to be cherished (and enjoyed).

And that pledge has these practical steps:

1.  Hydrate.  This has been my worst health habit, (I really dislike water), but I am going to hydrate my body, because that's what it needs.  I bought myself a new water bottle with a built-in carbon filter for my birthday, and that is making it easier.

2.  Stretch.  Another good thing to do for my body.  I happen to have the sort of physiology that has little trouble maintaining strength, but a lot of trouble maintaining flexibility.  So, morning yoga and lots of regular stretching breaks throughout the day.

3.  Take my vacation and sick time.  It's been hard for me to accept that the world can get along without me for a little while without any ill effect, but in fact, I'm not essential and I don't have to keep the world spinning 24/7.

4.  Read (Fun Books too).  This is good for my heart, mind, and soul.

5.  Acknowledge and provide for my needs for order, beauty, and organization in my surroundings.  I'm not a minimalist or a neatnik, but I do agree with happiness guru Gretchen Rubin that "outer order promotes inner calm".

6.  Use music for mood management when appropriate.  Seek out silence at times as well.

What is not on my list:

1.  Reward myself with food.  No, no, no. (But I won't deny myself food for nutrition and pleasure, either).

2.  Reward myself by shopping.  No, no, no.

So, what about you?  Have you made a commitment to yourself?  If not, what's stopping you?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What does he DO to his pants?


This picture shows the normal state of the boy's pants: patched, and patched again, and then ripped again.

The pants below in the picture are the new "Iron Knee" pants from Lands End.  With the hype that they were basically indestructible, I had to order some.  Unfortunately, he seems to be taking the new pants as a challenge, to see if he can rip out the knees.  He puts them on and slides across the floor on his knees.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Doll's Birthday Party


On Sunday, Hypatia announced that the next day was her American Girl doll's birthday.  And that we had to have a party.


Since the next day was my day off, I obliged.  The kids baked and decorated the cake (Home Ec, yes?), and decorated the table.  The guests arrived, we lit the candles, sang "Happy Birthday", and then all the guests got a little bit of cake (which was all consumed by the kids, until they felt sick from too much cake).


Happy Birthday, Marie Grace. :)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Reading Life


It's been awhile since I've written one of my odes to the habit of reading a whole big stack of books all at once, so this pile is actually from awhile back.

Very Fond of Food - I love this title, and couldn't pass up the book.  It's beautiful, and shows a true love of food and the act of getting as close to its production as possible.  Unfortunately, other library users also found it interesting and so I had to return it to the library before I had a chance to actually cook one of the recipes.

The Kitchen Linens Book is by the author of The Apron Book, and it is an ode to the "fabrics of our lives" - the linens we actually use in everyday living, and which can be beautiful and functional.  As a lover of embroidered towels and fabric napkins, I appreciated this lovely little book.

Rilke on Love and Other Difficulties was my answer to my Ho Hum experience with Goethe.  I like this much better. :)

Flashforward is a science fiction novel, based around the idea of "what if we could see the future/is destiny fixed?".  There was a TV show based off it, and I just recently spent a couple sick days watching it, so I was interested in the novel.  They are NOT the same thing at all, but with predictable differences.  (Physicists are so boring.  Let's make this be about FBI agents!  Neutrinos from a collapsing star caused this?  No - a global shadow conspiracy!)  The book is good, but verbose.

The Storytelling Animal explores one of my favorite subjects - just why do humans love stories so much?  Do we think in stories?  Do we construct our realities of make-believe?  And did we evolve this way?

And then I also read Fifty Shades of Grey. OK, I heard it was smutty.  But really, how did this get to be a best-seller?  And, um, why did I read the whole thing?  I actually had a long experience with romance novels as a teen, and this is just like another one of those cheap, quickly written pulp novels.  Except that this one is a bestseller.  Hmmm.

Homeschooling in Pictures









Monday, September 17, 2012

Welcome Back to Church


Many, many UU's take the summer sort of "off" from church, and so we drop down to just one All Ages Religious Education class in the summer.

Yesterday we went back to the full array of classes, and had a big crowd show up.  For the first day of class, we concentrated on playing icebreaker games to build community, and on writing a Covenant in each classroom for how the children or youth will be together this year.

It was pretty energizing to see all that activity in our classrooms again. I'm looking forward to a great year!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Rest Comes Easy


Ahhhh.  My dear husband gave me a fabulous gift this year for my birthday - a Weekend!  Well, actually it wasn't a weekend at all, because I can't take a weekend off work right now, what with it being church start-up season.  No - he took two days off work so we could go away together and I could still get back in time for Sunday.







Thursday, September 13, 2012

48 Days


The Seattle area just went 48 days without any rain - the second longest dry stretch in history.  The rain we did have was tiny (nothing registered in our rain gauge at home).

Yes, it's nice to have a "real summer" and be able to go swim at the lake and so forth, but as a Northwest Girl, I miss my rain.  

It smells wrong - like we are drying out.  Stuff is turning brown.  It's just not right.  Rain already!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I am a Ninja


Or at least, that's the way my son drew me on the birthday card he made me!  Today is my birthday, and yes, he gave me a knife - a paring knife - for my birthday.  Chop, Chop, Chop!  I will destroy all carrot missiles!

(The strange bit on my chest are handprints, because he drew me wearing an apron I own that has their baby handprints on it in fabric paint.)


A lovely dinner out (to an Italian place with a gluten-free menu!) capped off the day.

Now - what should I use my ninja powers to accomplish next?

Monday, September 10, 2012

"organized" homeschool


Here's how I'm keeping us on track right now: a big white board To Do list that I write up each morning for the kids.  I have a plan of which subjects we do on each day of the week, and then I add in chores that the kids need to do as well.  So far, they can do their list in whatever order they like, as long as there is some agreement about taking turns with equipment they both need or about coming together for the subjects they are doing together (those are the ones in the big box).

We've also started some more serious limits on Screen Time, and they can only have their limited Screen Time after they finish the whole To Do List.  They can take other breaks as they wish, to go play or read or take a nap (I wish!).  Because they both really want their Screen Time, they have a reason to get the list done with some efficiency.


And I'm keeping track of all we do in the very handy Complete Homeschool Planner and Journal.  For me, it's a journal and not a planner.  We don't plan too far ahead, since my experience is that the kids will really cruise through a study area quickly and then get bogged down, and I can't predict their pacing too far in advance.  I just sort of go with the flow.

Yep, it's not too "organized", but it's enough for us.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Hanging in there


(Sometimes, being between two hard places actually is good)

Things are a bit tough, but so far we're hanging in there.  I'm very busy at church, and the church is going through a very rough experience, but we'll get through it.  Life is busy at home too.  Really, it would be enough to "just" be a stay-at-home mom, but to do a full-time job and homeschool is A LOT.

My house isn't as clean as I'd like, and my garden is just done for, but otherwise we're making it through.  I'm getting it all done, and taking care of myself at the same time.  It's going to be OK.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The recent UU World article examining "Obama's Childhood Unitarian Universalism", says:

Despite his childhood exposure to Unitarian Universalism, Barack Obama found his religious home elsewhere - just as too many of our young people do.

9 out of 10 Unitarian Universalist youth will leave UUism as adults.  I'm not sure how many of them eventually come back, but overwhelmingly we are a denomination made up of transplants from other faiths, as Seattleite from Syracuse recently described.  I, too, in many ways am a transplant, although I transplanted myself while still in my teens so sometimes I get counted in the demographic of "life-long UU" depending on where folks are drawing the line.

My family roots are in Presbyterianism, and I have attended my grandparents' church whenever we go back to visit.  But my parents both drifted from their family's religion and became part of the "Nones" - for "what is your religious affiliation?" "None."  I grew up with no church, plenty of skepticism and cynicism about organized religion, a very large dose of New Age dabbling, and an unhealthy vein of fear and paranoia about being persecuted for our religion or lack-there-of.

I found my own faith home when I first walked into a UU church, but I had a long road to travel before that home noticed me back.  A decade of attendance in UU churches, in fact, always feeling like an outsider, being asked if I was a Visitor even in a church I'd attended for more than 3 years, and existing on the periphery or church life.

In her article, Thandeka speaks of the age-fracture in our congregations.  We do a poor job of bringing people of different ages together, of creating multi-generational community.  And there is a chasm that our young adults fall into.  We have a warm and vibrant community going on for youth - CONS are a big part of that - and I think we've got a pretty good thing going for older adults.  But most mid or small sized congregations don't have much of anything for young adults.  A youth who has experienced a vibrant youth group community and then is just dumped into the big pool of adults is going to feel lost and alone.

Young Adult groups are part of the solution, I think.  More of an effort to invite young adults in and take them seriously - so they don't feel invisible for a decade like I did - would also help.  And changing the way our RE programs prepare children and youth for a future adult religious life would also help.

I, personally, think UUism is pretty darn awesome, and that it has a lot to offer as a life-long path.  It's worth the effort, I think.

Monday, September 3, 2012

In Kansas-Land


I'm off in Kansas, without the kids or my husband.  This is where my family comes from, and my grandparents are here in a nursing home.  (The photo above is of a giant blow-up of the college mascot in the hall of the home).

My grandfather, above, and my mother and grandmother, below.

They are facing the end, however long that may take, and we are looking at hospice care for my grandfather.  This brings the whole family up against our mortality.  My great-grandmother died in that same nursing home, just 6 doors down from where my grandparents are now.  We walk past "her" old door as we go down to their room to visit them, and I keep imagining she's still in there, her amazing imperious ancient self.  My roots to this land are dying off and the ties are being severed as each bit is lost: great-grandparents, their old farms and homes, my grandparents' home that my mother grew up in and that they stayed in until this nursing home, and now the grandparents themselves.

At the same time, here I am without my children.  Most of my generation made this trip without our spouses, partners, or children, and there has been a noticeable regression in our behavior.  Here we are, being "the kids" again, and expecting our parents' generation to take care of us.  And they are facing the death of their parents and the question of how they want to face this aging process themselves.

Generation to generation, the bonds of love and care pass back and forth.  Someday that will be my mother who needs my care.  Someday it will be me.

Sunday, September 2, 2012



How is it that a plant we spend most of the year trying to get rid of then gives us such sweetness for a few months of the late summer?

A weed is just a highly successful plant that does not conform to our expectations.