Monday, January 30, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012

Getting Real With Food

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I'm still trying to be more engaged in the whole process of feeding my family, and I'm enjoying the results.

Baking

If you bake, you need never miss out on treats, even if you get snowed in for a week. You save money over both packaged baked goods and fresh bakery stuff, and you can make it healthier as well. Since we are gluten-free, baking for ourselves makes even more sense. Loaves of bread, a batch of peanut butter brownies, some blueberry muffins, some snickerdoodle cookies, a loaf of banana bread - all of that has come out of my kitchen in the last two weeks, and it hasn't been that big a deal, time-wise. It is using up our chicken eggs a lot faster than we were before, but if I just wait a couple days the chickens will have replenished our supply.

Rice and Beans

Rice and beans is not actually boring! Turns out there tons of ways to play with it and make it fun, and you can add in almost anything you have on hand. Hardboiled eggs? Sure. Cheese? Yummy. Frozen vegetables? Yes please. Roasted root vegetables? Yep. Sauteed peppers? Delicious. Canned mushrooms? Sure thing. The only thing I haven't tried is adding anything pickled, and I think I will avoid that experiment - but otherwise it's been a great game. And when the power was out and we were snowed in, with my big bags of dried beans and rice I had no worries that my family would go hungry. We've had red beans and rice, chickpeas and yellow rice, and more. And if there's any left the next day, the kids love it fried into little pancake fritters for breakfast.

Soup

There's nothing like a pot of soup, and it's another great way to use whatever you have on hand. If you are feeding a bunch of vegetarians and meat-eaters together, you can make it veggie and serve the meat on the side to just add as desired. If you are serving kids and adults together you can make it mild and serve hot sauce on the side. And it stretches, so you can just add a bit more stock and water to make more soup if you are feeding a crowd. It freezes too, so make a big batch and then save some for later. Serve it with a loaf of fresh bread and you have a warming and satisfying meal. We've had squash soup, potato soup, cauliflower soup, white chili (veggie with shredded chicken on the side), black bean and potato, and lentil pasta soup in the past few weeks.

Snacks

I've been making my own "snack mix" and putting it out in large rubbermaids for my family's consumption. This isn't really "from scratch", but I do like making my own mix so I can pick gluten-free pretzels, cereal, dried fruit, nuts, and other bits we like. If I'm feeling really rice, I'll throw some M & M's into the mix - but we've also enjoyed candy-coated sunflower seeds and honey roasted peanuts as the sweet bits of the mix. With bulk bags in the cupboard, I'm in control of what and how much goes into the snack mix bucket, and then I just let them go ahead and eat that when they want a snack.

Breakfast

Is the most important meal of the day, but also the hardest to do right if you're in a hurry to get out the door. There's more options than just cereal: baked mochi, hardboiled eggs (do the night before), homemade baked goods (the night before) and butter or jam, fried rice, polenta and cheese, oatmeal, protein smoothies, just to name a few.

It feels good to keep it Real, and it sure was nice during the storm to feel like I could deal with food and not panic.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

30 Days of Love, Day 11

Today’s community question: How do you imagine we can make a difference in the world through standing of the side of love?

I don't know how to change the world. All I really know is that I can change, and that when I change my little circle of influence will be changed. And when my little circle changes, all the circles that are touched by anyone in my circle might, just might, also be changed. And so it will go, rippling on.

Yes, there are watershed moments, important landmarks, and pivotal figures in the history of the world. But there were also a whole lot of people who just gradually shifted their perceptions, their opinions, and started to live their lives a bit differently.

I dream of a world in which the inherent dignity of every being who has been blessed with the gift of life is respected, and no life is treated like an object and not a blessed being in its own right. I dream of a world in which the basic task of life - to grow and be happy, to be the unique being each was born as - is allowed to blossom and no one is shamed or abused or oppressed. I dream of a world where we give value to the freedom of the individual to be who they are and to do what they love, while also recognizing our interdependence and our duty to a good greater than ourselves.

Can that dream be achieved simply through Standing on the Side of Love? Can consistently treating others with dignity and showing up to defend the rights of all change the world? Can acting to care for others and accepting them for who they are while also encouraging their growth change the world? Can treating all life with compassion change the world?

I really hope so.

Naked Eggs

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

30 Days of Love, Day 10

Lift up a Story of Courageous Love

When was the last time you recognized those whose words and deeds exemplify the values of inclusion, diversity, community, and equality? Now is an ideal time to honor your hero, whether it’s someone famous, someone in your congregation or family, or a local community partner.

This is a hard prompt. I am inspired by so many folks: my mother, the ministers who serve my congregation, my fellow-DRE's in this area and those I only know through their work, the many passionate volunteers and advocates who attend my congregation, and the community figures I know who work on so many worthy dreams. And that doesn't even take into account the authors, international figures, and historical figures that inspire me through their work and the love they have brought to the world.

To pick one person seems impossible to me, so I am going to share the story of an amalgam I will call The Dreamer (who is not me, but a combination of people I know).

The Dreamer was born into fairly mainstream American family, and comes from a middle-class family of European background. The Dreamer then gradually started to form their own opinions in adolescence, and although they dearly love their family-of-origin, they don't have the same values and beliefs anymore. College then really changed The Dreamer, and they found their Dream and became passionate about changing the world.

That was all fine and good in college, but after graduation the family says "Ok, now what are you really going to do to make a good income? It's time to cut your hair and get a real job, son/daughter."

But The Dreamer had a DREAM, not a career-plan. So The Dreamer took a low-paying job as an advocate/social worker/librarian/government agency-worker/organic farmer and/or went on to get a completely impractical graduate degree. Their family sighed and worried, but hoped they would grow out of it.

The Dreamer met many other dreamers, and went to live in an Intentional Community/married-partnered another dreamer/got a bunch of really awesome Housemates and found a community outside college that supported dreaming. But it was hard, and many of the dreamers struggled with giving up on their dreams or feeling that it was hopeless - no change would ever really happen and in the meantime you can't afford health insurance.

The Dreamer got older/had children/bought a house and now their family and others they knew expected them to finally give up on this dream and go get that real job. They couldn't afford the things their family could afford, and they were offered hand-outs so they could go to Family Reunions that would be held at expensive resorts or so they could go to the same restaurant for dinner with everyone else.

These things bother The Dreamer, but he/she cannot/will not give up on their Dream, and so they keep on staying home with their kids/working at low wages for an organization they believe in/struggling to be self-employed and build their own business/or working a day-job to pay the bills while doing their real love at the same time.

Ask not what the world needs, but rather what you love, for what the world really needs is more people doing what they love.

The Reading Life

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Reading, reading reading! A great activity for a Snow Week Without Electricity.

When the power was on, the kids still enjoyed their audiobooks.

The Children of Green Knowe, which Carbon has listened to dozens of times, finally made it's way into Hypatia's room and she listened to it by herself. We all adore the magical Green Knowe series, with its gentle magic, sense of place and history, and lyrical use of language.

She also enjoyed The London Eye Mystery by herself. I didn't listen to it, so I can't really say much about it, except that Hypatia liked it.

Meanwhile, Carbon repeatedly listened to The Penderwicks on Gardham Street. That is another book series that we adore, full of Family and Love.

He also listened to Darth Paper Strikes Back, so there have been a lot of Darth Paper puppets around here.

For reading aloud, we enjoyed these books a great deal:

The Twins' Blanket is a charming story of siblings that have to share, and how they get big enough to each need one of their own - but how to fairly split the old blanket in two?

Bink and Gollie are friends, in the best tradition of the Odd Couple (think Frog and Toad).

Where's Walrus? is a wordless book about a walrus who wanders out of the zoo, and he hides out in some pretty funny places.

Alice and Greta are a good witch and a not-good witch, in this story that emphasizes that what you cast into the world will end up coming back to you.

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator! If you find your best friend in the Bargain Bin, I would hope that they would be as wonderful as Amanda's best friend, her stuffed Alligator. This is a thoroughly charming story of friendship.

Books we read but I don't rate very highly:

Puss in Cowboy Boots. It was fun to adopt the cowboy accent for the whole book, but otherwise it's not very good.

Sophie the Sapphire Fairy is one of the Rainbow Fairy books, and as much as Hypatia loves those I just can't enjoy reading them out loud.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

30 Days of Love, Day 9

TODAY’S REFLECTIONS:

  • What is your local community struggling with?
  • How has the economic crisis affected your congregation and community?
  • How have you and/or your congregation been impacted by what you have witnessed these past months in your community, and what have you done in response?
  • How is your congregation standing on the side of love?

The past months, and the rise of the Occupy Movement, have been both inspiring and worrying. It was inspiring to see folks bringing attention to economic disparity and inequity. It was worrying to see the out-of-proportion response that so many municipalities and police departments gave to the Occupiers.

My local community is deeply affected by the fact that we are a State Capitol, and much of our local economy is affected by the state budget. The budget shortfalls, that are common to so many governments, hit us really hard as many people in the community have been given furloughs, deductions in pay, frozen pay, or have been laid off. When programs are slashed or cut, not only do the clients suffer, but the whole local economy suffers. Our congregation definitely is suffering as the state workers are suffering economically.

The recent Occupy activity in our town also highlighted, yet again, the homeless folks who are not adequately cared for. In the final surveys of who was left in the Occupy camp before the State Troopers enclosed it and cleared it out, many residents reported that they were homeless and appreciated the community they gained in the camp.

The congregation I serve Stands on the Side of Love in many ways, but part of our Mission is to "work to end poverty" and we have many projects to aid the homeless members of our community. We house a shelter for families with children on our property, and we are active supporters of a homeless tent city for adults that rotates among churches in our community. We also house an emergency overflow shelter in our church building several times a year (another project that rotates to different churches within the larger community). Our minister is active in working to end homelessness, and his vision and passion, along with that of others in our community, carries us forward in this work.

While the Occupy camp was active in town, we were active in supporting it, and our Minister was one of the interfaith Witnesses who first met with the State Troopers and officials and then later stood in witness to the process of clearing out the camp, thereby most-likely helping to reduce possible violence. We had one of the more peaceful shut-downs of an Occupy camp from around the country.

It's always just a step in the right direction, but we are taking steps, and more steps, and then more. We would be a hummingbird, in the words of the inspiring story by Wangari Maathai.



Snow Science

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Monday, January 23, 2012

First Day of the Semester

For the first time in years, I am back in school. :) This is my first experience with a semester, as well. But of course, it's all online, so I'm not going anywhere.

Want to guess what class I'm taking?

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30 Days of Love, Day 8

This week the 30 Days of Love moves from focusing on individual self-reflection into community reflection. Here is the focus for the week:

Jan 23 – 28, 2012
DescriptionBy telling a “story of us” you can communicate values that can inspire others to act together by identifying with each other, not only with you. Just as with a story of self, the key choice points in the life of a community – its founding, crises it has faced, or other events that everyone remembers - are moments that express the values shared. Consider stories that members of your congregation or group have shared, especially those that held similar meaning for all of you. The key is to focus on telling a specific story about specific people at a specific time that can remind everyone – or call to everyone’s attention – values that you share. Telling a good story of us requires the courage of empathy – to consider the experience of others deeply enough to take a chance on articulating that experience.


Today’s community questions:

  • What are your unique identities? Do you fall outside your perceptions of who the Standing on the Side of Love community is?
  • What inspires you about our community? Why are you involved with Standing on the Side of Love and/or UUism? What does the Standing on the Side of Love campaign mean to you?

Speaking about the UU congregation that I serve, and only have as a comparison other Puget Sound area congregations I've attended and my experience of the national UU movement at trainings and conventions, I would say that my congregation is a pretty "normal" UU congregation. There is a high number of hybrid cars in our parking lot, and those who have actually gone to all electric are lauded and envied. We are mostly of European decent, seem to mostly work in government (but that is our town in general), and I don't know the exact median age but I would estimate it's in the 50's-60's.

We are also military families, prior-service military, and veterans, in much higher numbers than one might expect. This fact was highlighted for me because our last ministerial intern was working toward becoming a Navy Chaplain, so naturally much of her work with us was around how to care for military personnel and re-integrate veterans into our society, community, congregations, and families. Of the five person staff, three of us have military experience. That may be surprising and different for a UU congregation, and part of the Standing on the Side of Love community. However, the work that we have done with supporting area Coffee Houses for military personnel, by working with a chaplain candidate (and how much I think we need UU, agnostic, atheist, and humanist chaplains!), and by seeking to welcome home and re-embrace veterans, is work that I perceive as still being Standing on the Side of Love.

I first encountered the Standing on the Side of Love campaign at the General Assembly in Salt Lake City, and I was immediately inspired by the positive stance of the campaign and by how I perceive that it can tie together many separate political and social issues into one essentially theological stance. We value and respect the inherent worth and dignity of all, and seek to offer fair, kind, and compassionate treatment to all. We choose Love, in the broadest and most all-embracing sense. That is inspiring to me, and much more moving than signing on for marriage equality, immigration justice, or civil liberties work. Not that I don't think all of those are incredibly important - because they are! - but because for me, none of those is a life-orientation that can guide every action I take, every day of my life. Standing on the Side of Love is a life-orientation, however. For every moment, for every decision, I can choose Love.

And in the years since I first saw the campaign, I feel like it is still living up to that promise. My congregation has held multiple Standing on the Side of Love services and events, mostly in support of the ongoing struggle for marriage-equality in Washington State (which is exciting and hopeful right now!), and the message has resonated for me at all of these events. The current focus on immigration justice didn't feel as natural to me at first, but as my congregation has studied the issue and really educated ourselves about it, it too has become very resonant for me.

And this activity, the 30 Days of Love, has been a wonderful idea as well!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A mess ....

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It's a really good thing my husband got a chainsaw for Christmas. :)

30 Days of Love, Day Six

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Here is today's prompt from 30 Days of Love:

Today’s active reflection is about the power of our words:

When was the last time you spoke (emailed, etc.) unlovingly to someone?

To yourself?

What about the last time you spoke or wrote cruelly about someone?

What about people in your lives vs. strangers?

In each case, what was the root of your anger?

How can you remind yourself to promote more respectful rhetoric online, in your personal and professional interactions, and with yourself?


When was the last time I used language in a less-than-loving way? Um, yesterday.


I am not a person who is out yelling in the streets, engaging in road rage with other drivers, leaving hateful comments out on the internet, or feuding with neighbors. I am not combative, and I try to live by the maxim of "assume good intentions" when dealing with others. In my less noble moments, I remind myself of another maxim: "Never assume malice for what stupidity could explain". If people hurt you, they didn't do it out of malice, just ignorance.


But none of that means that I don't use language in a less-than-loving way. It just means that my vitriol is reserved for home, for my husband, for myself, and sometimes even for my kids. It's easier to just "assume good intentions" and let it go when the person is someone you deal with and then get a break from. It's harder to give that grace to those we rub up against all the time, those who leave their dirty socks on our floors, those who lose your flashlights over and over again, or who forget to phone home and leave you worrying about them.

And then it is hardest of all to extend grace to myself. Here I cannot "assume good intentions". I know exactly what my intentions were - and I hold myself to a very high standard. My self-talk is not kind or compassionate, which is part of my struggle to take better care of myself and climb back out of this depression.

I am working on this. True love and peace begins in the heart, and in the home.


If there is to be peace in the world,

there must be peace in the nations.


If there is to be peace in the nations,

there must be peace in the cities.


If there is to be peace in the cities,

there must be peace between neighbors.


If there is to be peace between neighbors,

there must be peace in the home.


If there is to be peace in the home,

there must be peace in the heart.


lao tse




Friday, January 20, 2012

30 Days of Love, Day Five

Description: “Coming Out” about our own struggles and challenges is an act of Courageous Love. Consider the broader definition of “coming out.” By sharing our vulnerabilities and our authentic selves—whether or not what we are disclosing is identity-based—we can help others on their own path. Sharing something personal to help others is so brave, and receiving that story is a special gift.

To do: Today, share something that might help or inspire others.


I didn't think I was going to be able to post today, because our electricity has been out since yesterday morning, and our internet went out midday yesterday. We have been counting our blessings that we have a gas stove and fireplace and a back-up generator that can run part of the house (including the all-important well pump that makes our running water).

It's been part fun break from normal life, part family-bonding experience, part hair-pulling frustration, and part lesson in survival and preparedness.

But now the power and internet are back, and I'm back on this blog. The prompt today leaves me a bit perplexed, though. The story that was shared on the Standing on the Side of Love blog is very inspiring, but I have already shared my struggles with depression, so I don't feel like I have anything new to "come out" about.

I know the power of hearing that others have confronted the same things you have. It can be incredibly helpful to know that you are not alone in this. When I miscarried my first pregnancy at four months, I was amazed at how many women confided to me quietly their own stories of miscarriage and loss. In a world in which 1 in 5 pregnancies end in miscarriage, this is a common tragedy, a common sadness, and yet we don't talk about it. People suffer in silence, not telling anyone. And I was told by many that it wasn't anything to be sad about. "It's not like it was really a baby yet". But my sorrow was real. It was real to me. And it helped to hear how other women had felt this loss.

So I applaud the sharing. Today all I have to share is this, a day spent entertaining my children with odds and ends and (little) electricity:



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Thursday, January 19, 2012

30 Days of Love, Day Four

Description: We are living in turbulent times; each of us is struggling in our own ways; many of us are worried about our own livelihood, our black holes of debt, our ability to care for our families, or the prospects for our children’s future. What are your heartfelt concerns … what keeps you awake at night? What societal systems in place have helped or hindered you in your journey?

Today’s Question: What Do You Struggle With?


This question reminds me of a quote, which I've seen attributed to Plato but also to other folks: "Be Kind, For Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle".


In other words, yes, we all struggle with something. While those of us who are blessed with relatively large privilege should remember the great struggles of others and recognize our privilege, but it is also helpful to look at ALL people - even those of privilege - and recognize that we do not, cannot, know their internal struggles.


What do I struggle with?


With never feeling good enough. With guilt and anxiety and depression and burn out. With accepting my limitations and loving myself anyway. I was a child prone to anxiety attacks, a teen with anorexia/bulemia, a young woman with internalized misogyny, and now I am a woman who struggles with depression.

Not so unusual, apparently. The psychiatrist I recently saw was able to describe my personality struggles based on just knowing my birth order, what my parents do for a living, and my early history of anorexia. Apparently I am exactly what you expect from an eldest daughter of an ambitious doctor. Not unusual, but there it is.

My other struggles pale in comparison to the intensity that I feel this one, but I also struggle with not having enough time to do everything, with not managing our money well enough, with eating right and taking care of my body, and with maintaining a happy and healthy marriage.

In the big picture, my struggles are pretty minor. I have enough to eat, a warm roof over my head, a secure job, access to quality healthcare, happy and healthy children, a marriage to a good man who is good to me, and I am of a group of people that is privileged to a low amount of discrimination and oppression. In fact, as I age as a woman, I experience less and less sexually-based harassment and more deference and courtesy. While I don't think that is a good thing at all, and I hear that there is a downward curve when women get to and past middle age where they start to experience less courtesy and more invisibility, but at least for right now I am experiencing more positive, or pleasant, sexism.

So I don't hold up my struggles as something for others to do anything about. No - they are MY struggles. I am actually my own worst enemy, and the solution to my struggles will come from internal work and learning to love myself as I am. When I finally stop chasing the approval of others or some standard of achievement, that will be a great day. When I am able to truly love myself, as I am, and take care of myself, I will be on the road away from depression.

Be Kind. Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle. Assume We Do The Best We Can, At This Moment.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blazing the trail

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Older siblings frequently blaze the trail for their younger siblings (sometimes folks say that the first child "breaks the parents in" on each new thing) but today my oldest literally blazed a trail for his less-tall sister to follow. :)

30 Days of Love, Day Three

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Small dogs were not made for more than a foot of snow. :)

The whole family is staying home today, for a Snow Day. Husband is working from home on his computer, with noise canceling headphones and his own music to drown the rest of us out, children are enjoying playing in the snow and then dragging all that wet stuff back in with them, or busy doing their home school lessons (no snow days for homeschoolers), the dogs are having trouble getting in and out, and I am wondering why I didn't think ahead and bring home my curriculum binders from church.

And here is today's prompt from the 30 Days of Love:

Description: Making room for our own thoughts, and space for others’ thoughts, is crucial to standing on the side of love. Today, from morning to night, speak in a gentle voice, sparingly, allowing for silence as much as possible. Note how this feels.

Today’s question: Does speaking gently change the nature of your conversations, or how people interact with you?


Hmmm. A snow day at home with the kids is a funny time to work on this, I think! We're sort of all trapped in here together - a great time for the noise level to climb and patience levels to decline. So maybe this is the perfect day to work on this.

Absolutely the way I speak changes the nature of the conversation, and how people interact with me. In fact, it's usually more effective for me to lower my voice and speak slowly, calmly, quietly, and draw the kids in closer so they can hear me, than it is to escalate and get louder and louder to deal with a situation. Working with children, you still need to get their attention first, but then speak gently.

Will I be able to allow for as much silence as possible today? Sure, but it may require ear plugs. :)

I recommend these books for better communication skills with children:

Screamfree Parenting: The Revolutionary Approach to Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool






Tuesday, January 17, 2012

we weren't the only ones birdwatching ....

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30 Days of Love, Day Two

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My daughter, as she was almost six years ago.

Description: To know the story of us and the story of now, we must know the story of self. Powerful actions emanate from profound self-reflection. Join us in introspective love by answering crucial questions this week.

Today’s question: How is love part of your personal identity?

For children: Draw a picture of what love looks like to you.


I put the picture of my baby on this post, because when it comes to personal identity, I really did find that "a baby changes everything". The picture that I carried of myself, who I thought I was, and what I thought defined me as a person - all of that was swept aside by the identity of Loving Mother.

It came home to me most powerfully in a early workshop for the Masters in Teaching program I was in. To start us off we had a week-long retreat with the rest of our cohort and the professors, and we did a whole week of processing identity questions and group building. One exercise we did was with a box, and we wrote inside the box how we saw ourselves. Then we passed the box around to these still-mostly-strangers and they wrote on the outside of the box how they saw us.

I still thought of myself as being tough and striving, an achiever who stressed out too much, and a whole bunch of other identity stuff from my pre-children days. What the others saw was a young mother who had to leave class all the time to go pump breast milk for her baby who had been left for the first time ever with a new nanny. They saw me as the Loving Mother. What I had been before was no longer visible, and frankly didn't really matter anymore. Having a baby changed everything, and it transformed me as a person in big and small ways.

Since having my children, Love and Service have been at the core of my identity at all times. Sometimes it's a narrow focus Love and Service that only encircles my own family, and sometimes it's a kind of general love for all of existence that feels like it could burst my heart into little bits because it's just too big for one person to feel all at once. Sometimes it is something in between, when I feel powerful love and compassion for others that calls me to care for them in some way. But some sort of outward focused love and the need to care for others is always guiding and motivating me.

What I'm discovering now is that I have to stop and give that same love back to myself. Going back to that box that we wrote on for the identity exercise, I have to love all the bits of myself that no one else ever sees. I have to nourish and care for the inner person, so that I will have the strength to bear this Love that can drain me of myself. Love calls me to service, and Love and Service can hurt sometimes. But Love also heals, forgives, and waits patiently.

Monday, January 16, 2012

30 Days of Love, Day One

At the UU blog, Blue Boat, they are running 30 Days of Love, from today, MLK Day, to Valentine's Day. I like this idea a lot, and want to focus on 30 Days of Love myself. I don't know if I'll always follow their suggestions or if I'll diverge into some reflections of my own, but I want to focus on Love and the power of Love for this month.

"I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
Martin Luther King, Jr.




Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Reading Life

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We're still loving picture books, and have found some more good ones.

Poindexter Makes a Friend is a sweet story about a shy pig who loves to play with stuffed animals and read books (my kids love to play with stuffed animals and read books, so they could relate), and how he finally makes a friend.

Beauty and the Squat Bears is a graphic novel, so it's automatically not my cup of tea, but Hypatia got her dad to read it to her and she enjoyed this mixed up fairy tale. I just can't learn to enjoy reading comic book style writing, and the speech bubbles really distract me.

A House in the Woods starts off with two little pigs who have made little houses for themselves in the woods, but then their houses are accidentally destroyed by Bear and Moose - so the four of them decide to build a home they can all share.

We've read The Giraffe that Walked to Paris again, this time paying attention to the vocabulary words in it that Hypatia didn't already know.

And How Rocket Learned to Read is a sweet story of a puppy learning to read from a bird. I was slightly bothered by the issue of how a little bird was able to carry all those books around (the books were as big as the bird, and there were a whole pile of them), but those nit-picky adult concerns didn't bother the kids.

We also love audiobooks here, and this week it's been:

A Wrinkle in Time, which I'm enjoying just as much as the kids.

Clementine, a story of a spunky girl, so of course Hypatia liked it.

Judy Moody Around the World in 8 1/2 Days, the second Judy Moody book Hypatia has listened to. Another spunky girl character!

The Penderwicks on Gardham Street (again). Hypatia likes to chew through audiobooks and then move on to a new one, but Carbon will get into a groove and want to listen to the same story over and over again. Recently his obsession has been with the Penderwick books.

The Cricket in Times Square didn't appeal to either kid, but I just put it on anyway, and they ended up adoring it. The story of a cricket who learns to play opera was the big hit of the week, actually.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Geography time in our homeschool

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There is the geography portion of Hypatia's Five in a Row curriculum, and there are also some nice basic geography workbooks we got as Christmas gifts. The FIAR work is nice for just getting a big picture idea of where countries are in the world. The workbooks are nice for working on directions, maps, and so forth.

And then the kids take off on their own fun, and create treasure maps and treasure hunts. I think we need to do some geocaching. :)


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Friday, January 13, 2012

Doing his own thing

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My ideal balance for our homeschool (my ideal, and our homeschool, so other folks can certainly have different ingredients in their schooling) is to have some stuff the kids just Have To Do, some stuff that I sort of Strew about and let them do if they want, and some time to do whatever they want along with the supplies and help they need to get it done.

  1. Assigned tasks you must do
  2. Materials strewn about their lives that might spark something
  3. Time and Support to follow their on interests
That's the mix that makes our particular eclectic homeschool.

This week Carbon took the time to do things and ran with it. He had two main interests this week: sewing and origami.

After listening to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (an example of something that was strewn for the kids), he was really interested in doing some origami. There weren't any books at the library when he looked, so he asked me to put some on hold for him, and this week they came in. With a pad of scrapbooking paper, he went to town.

He was also very interested in sewing, and this week he asked to look through my patterns. I helped him cut out a pattern, but that seemed a bit too intimidating to him, so he switched to making pillow cases and quilts. He made a pillow case for himself out of corduroy (Super Nice feeling to lie on), with help from me and his dad (who doesn't know how to sew either, so he was also a beginner learning) and now he's confident enough with the sewing machine that he's just making a crazy quilt top all by himself.

I love the spontaneous learning and how he uses his time!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Storytellers

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(This is what I ran in this month's church newsletter, with pictures from the first class)

Years and years ago, before I became the DRE here, I remember the minister telling a story about a man-eating tiger and a Buddhist monk. That story has stuck with me for years – and that is the power of stories, for when they touch us they stay in our minds and hearts and inform our lives forever more.

Faith and religion are ultimately about meaning-making – how we understand the essential and core realities of the cosmos and our place in it. In my opinion, stories are one of the best forms of meaning-making, and they have served that purpose for our ancestors since the hazy days of prehistory.

This year our program at the 9:15 service was compressed into one all-ages class, and we have been using the Spirit Play format for that class. But starting in January, we will start a new program, based on the power of stories to help us make meaning.

We’ll call this program “Storytellers” and in this class the children will explore a good story for several Sundays in a row, learning the story, retelling and dramatizing the story, creating their own interpretations and illustrations and retellings of the story – in short they will take the time to make the story truly their own. We’ll also have story connections that the kids can take home with them, to share the story with their families.

It’s still fine to just drop in on this program – each Sunday will stand alone enough to be welcoming to newcomers, visitors, or those who normally come at 11:00 but this week just need to come earlier. But it will be a meaningful and complete program all by itself, and I encourage you to consider coming to the 9:15 service with your elementary aged children.

The January story will be “The Mitten”, a fabulous and funny story of animals finding what seems like a cozy way to stay warm in the winter – until too much sharing literally bursts the seems. It will be a chance to talk about sharing, making space, and what warms our hearts. There will be fiber arts, sewing, drama, and more.

Stories can connect us to that which is true, of worth, and meaning. They can ask questions, not always answer them, but point us toward an answer. They have a powerful appeal that has held true for human beings for millennia, and we can all be storytellers. With stories at its center, the Storytellers program at the 9:15 service will be something meaningful and fun!



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Monday, January 9, 2012

The Reading Life

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Our local library had a winter reading contest, so if the kids read five books and then brought in their list they would be entered to maybe win a $20 gift card to a local bookstore. That motivated Carbon to cruise through some picture books. It motivated Hypatia to start making a book list, but for some reason the idea of being in a contest is very upsetting to her, so she doesn't want to turn in her list at the library. As there is really no reason to stress, we'll just take Carbon's in and let her keep hers.

Samantha on a Roll reminds me of the illustration styles I knew when I was a kid, and there is a sort of vintage-feel to the book even though it is a 2011 book. A little girl takes her skates out by herself, while Mommy is busy, and ends up rolling out of control through some crazy situations before winding up back at home again. It's like Curious George, without getting in trouble at the end.

Poor Scrawny Cat used to be loved and have a home, but now all anyone calls him is "Get outta here!". Taking refuge on a little boat, the scrawny cat is blown out to sea in a storm, and washes up on a little island. But never fear, all is well in the end.

Press Here is the low-tech response to all those "interactive" books where you push buttons. The book instructs the reader to push, tilt, shake, and clap, and in response the dots "move about". My kids loved it, and "highly recommend it".

The Teeny Tiny Woman is just weird. A teeny tiny woman finds a bone on a grave (?!!!) and decides to take it home to make soup (!!!!!????), but after putting it in a cupboard it speaks to her (!!!!!!!) and keeps waking her up saying "Give Me My Bone Back" (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). Weird and creepy.

Nina, in That Makes Me Mad taps into the basic childhood frustrations and how they make children mad. It's pretty cute.

For our Five in a Row studies, we read The Giraffe that Walked to Paris. It's based on a true story, of the first giraffe to ever be seen in France, and both kids enjoyed it. I was only moderately impressed by it.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Everybody Cooks Rice

One of my basic tasks as a religious educator is to teach tolerance, acceptance, and open-mind/heartedness. Today I had created a plan for our Way Cool Sunday School and Children's Chapel that combined observing MLK day, discussing immigration justice (our special social justice issue this year, heading into the "Justice GA" in June), and some more general Welcoming Congregation work.

Planning the Sunday, I knew that it needed to be fun and keep the kids' attention, and be something that we could accomplish within the limited time. And I came up with what I think was a great plan, involving a guest speaker (who did a great job and taught the kids a song in Spanish), the book Everybody Cooks Rice and then five different rice recipes I cooked and brought in for tasting, and a project to write Welcome signs in many different languages that we could hang around the RE wing of the church.

It reminded me, though, that we were taught in grad school to avoid "holidays and food" as the main way to teach multiculturalism. Because there isn't much depth to that, of course, and because you can end up perpetuating more stereotypes. Those are all good reasons, and we should keep best practices in mind.

On the other hand - the kids love food! Any time I bring food into the class, it's a hit. Today was fun, and the kids really did enjoy themselves. One little boy said to me, "I'm glad I came to church today", another told me "this is the best rice I've ever had", a little girl was very proud of her Welcome sign and wanted me hang it up right then and there, the parents who were there told me it was a great lesson, and the guest speaker left happy and thanked me for the opportunity. I rate it a success. :)


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Saturday, January 7, 2012

Art kick start

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We've had some major stress from Hypatia about comparing her work to her brother's, and feeling like she's not good enough. There is a three year age gap, and those are three years of major developmental growth, but she isn't willing to just give herself time.

So I wanted to get her over some of this stress, with a bit of a "jumpstart". I tried to set up a time to just do art with her, but Carbon couldn't stay away once he saw the paints come out.

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The "jumpstart" was that I sat and sketched in a pencil drawing, and asked Hypatia to color it in with watercolors. This was our second picture together.


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She moved on to doing her own pencil drawing, and then asking me to watercolor it, to then just doing projects all by herself.

The results excited her, so I think it was a successful boost - like I said a KickStart. :)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Right Relationship and Riding a Bike

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I've been working on the "Right Relationships and Ethics" section of my credentialing portfolio, and it was good timing for me with the self-care, self-awareness, and self-management work that I'm doing right now. I was especially drawn to the leadership theory of Rabbi Dr. Edwin H. Friedman, with its emphasis on self-knowledge and self-control. He teaches that leadership is about self-regulation within the relationship. Management of self, and still Being Somebody and Being Present, rather than losing yourself in the pursuit of consensus or an effort to please others. Leadership requires being aware of and modulating how you function in the relationships that mean something to you. It's about differentiation.

Another idea that jumped out at me was that leadership is a relationship between the leader and the led. It's the space between you and others. (The Safe Congregation Handbook)

and .... anxiety is normal, but as much as possible the goal is to keep calm and values-focused. (The Safe Congregation Handbook)

And finally, this thought from Practicing Right Relationship from the Alban Institute: "when we do not self-manage, others are placed in a position of having to manage us, taking time and energy from the tasks at hand."

So what does all that have to do with riding a bike? Well, right now I'm teaching my children how to ride their bikes. We're all at different ability levels, but in this situation, I'm the leader.

I need:

  • to be aware of where I am and how I'm feeling, whether it is that I'm on my bike or standing there holding up their bike, or standing back and letting go all together. I need to remember that I'm me and where I am in this process.
  • to self-manage my own anxiety or whatever else is going on with me. I need to keep my balance, let the anxiety go, and stay focused on the goal and my values (in this case that we all ride bikes and that we enjoy the process and stay in loving relationship throughout).
For the kids:

  • I need to be paying attention to them, with an open mind and heart, not assuming I know what they are thinking and feeling.
  • I need to envision how I want this relationship to go, and to adopt a positive stance that will help that happen (compassion, playfulness, caring, audacity, respect, honesty, or a combination there of).
  • And I should acknowledge them for more than just what they do, and show them that I am seeing and appreciating the person they are and the qualities they are bringing to what they are doing (for instance their persistence, their courage, their joy).
For the outcome:

  • It is normal to feel anxiety about the outcome. After all, people fall as they learn to ride a bike.
  • It is normal to feel anxiety about letting them go. After all, eventually children will no longer need you, and will ride off without you, and each step along that path is a little letting go of this precious child.
  • It is normal to be unsure when is the right time to let go. And there is trial and error, and mistakes, and falls, and upset feelings.
  • You can't control the outcome, but most of the time it all works out in the end.

And so you:

  • Give a little push when it seems like that's what's needed.
  • Stand back and watch, controlling your anxiety.
  • Run up to give comfort or aid when there is a spill along the way.
  • Clap and praise when there is success.
  • Encourage when there is fear or doubt.
  • And then let them go.

After all, its their bike ride, not yours.