Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

They don't care

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Blogging, pinterest, and other social media are full of amazing pictures of perfect holiday crafts and photogenic meals.  It can be inspiring, but it can also raise expectations.  I've read about how the invention of the vacuum cleaner actually made housekeeping harder, because it raised expectations and made people think it was a good idea to have more carpets and rugs in their homes.  In the same way, "Mommy Blogging", which seems like a great way to fight the obscurity and isolation of modern-stay-at-home-momdom, has perhaps made the job harder by raising expectations.

Guess what? I don't need to be perfect.  My kids don't care about how photogenic their craft projects or meals are.  This weekend I tried to make a gluten-free haunted gingerbread house with the kids, but the gingerbread was far, far, too soft to make into a house.

I was a bit bummed, but the kids didn't care.  They were happy to just decorate the pieces as big cookies, and the gingerbread tasted great.

Good Enough really is Enough.  Let's all cut ourselves some slack.  

Monday, October 29, 2012

Friday, October 26, 2012

Random Things Making Me Happy

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With the way pants are sitting so low, below the waist, this is pure genius!  I love them!

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This arrived in the mail - seriously the best book recommendations by age!  I know what we'll be reading (and yes, I'll also order something from the catalog, because I have to support the business, not just take the book recommendations to the library and check out all the books.  I do that too.)

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My family has figured out how to be totally quiet when I need to do a virtual meeting at home!  I managed to do a whole hour long meeting at my desk (which is housed in the living room, and previously I've had to go hide in an uncomfortable corner of the house to get some quiet).

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In a similar vein of independent off-spring, I didn't decorate for Halloween this year.  I just got the boxes down from the attic, and then the kids are in charge of what they want to do with it all.  Or not.  I really don't care.

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Apple peelers.  The right tool for the job makes it so much easier.  Last year I hand peeled all the apples I made into sauce - this year my MIL gave me this beauty.


And we got Modern Family from Netflix, and had a marathon.  I know I'm terribly behind on this, but that's life without TV.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The best thing I can do for my family is ....

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Cook dinner.  We've run up against the reality of budgets and increased health insurance costs, and I had to do a little audit of my spending.

Places we could cut:

1. Charity Giving
2.  Educational Expenses and the Kids' classes/lessons
3.  Gift Giving/Helping Our Families Out
4.  Eating Out
5. Draconian slashes to all the little budgets in the hopes they would add up
6.  Difficult to implement things like selling a car to get rid of a payment

Well, it's a no-brainer, really.  I'm not going to stop giving to charity, cut my childrens' swim lessons, or stop helping my mother pay for much-needed health insurance.  And the last two options are the hard ones, which we would come to if things got worse but not just yet.  So, no more eating out it is.

As my husband said, he couldn't make this decision because it primarily affected me.  I'm the one who is the primary Domestic One in our family, and I'm the one that will be planning meals, running home from work, cooking the meals, and then often running back to work in the evening.  But, seeing my choices at the moment, I'm up for it.

We've said No to eating out except on special occasions, and I'm working on cooking every dinner and having enough left-overs to pack and carry for every lunch.  So far, we've been pretty good about it for two weeks and counting.

I know a lot of folks don't eat out often.  This probably seems simple to many people - but it was one of the only things I was doing to ease up on my own juggling act of full-time work/full-time homeschooling mom.  So, please, wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What Homeschooling Looks Like Here

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Art

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Geography

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Music

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Farm Field Trips

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More Art

And of course there are the other things we do that are less photogenic. :)  Math, Language Lessons, Writing Strands, Reading, History, Real Science Odyssey, Physics, and more.  Every day is an educational adventure.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Reading Life

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One of my book piles. :)  A few of those books never did get read however, because I ran out of time on the library loan and had to return the Hoffman book unread, and I had accidentally grabbed the graphic novel version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? when really I wanted the original.

I was disappointed with The Rhythm of Family.  It is a series of short essays about living seasonally, but I didn't find it as compelling as I expected it to be.

Happy Home has some interesting sewing projects, but I didn't find anything I wanted to make from it. That's the good reason to check these craft and sewing books out from the library before you buy them!

The books that I am reading for my credentialing studying right now: Multigenerational Congregations, Conflict Management in Congregations, and How Your Church Family Works. All of them are pretty interesting, if you enjoy thinking about how groups of people work together and what healthy relationship systems are.

I really should just take Goat Song off my pile, because it can't compete with the other books I'm reading at the moment so it will be a long time before I come back to it.  And then the Bible and the Asimov guide are on there because I have a goal of actually doing some personal Bible Study, but I never seem to find the time.

And Friedman's Fables was an impulse buy that I haven't spent much time exploring yet, but I like the idea of stories about systems theory and right relations, so I hope to find some good stuff in there. IMG_1155

The kids and I listened to Mr. and Mrs. Bunny - Detectives Extraordinaire! in the car.  I grabbed it at the library because of the cute title, and I loved it.  It had me giggling and laughing out loud.  Some of the funniness actually went over the kids' heads, though, so it's almost a better book for adults than kids.  Very silly, very fun.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Living My Sermon

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IMG_1168 Our High School youth group decided they wanted to do something to support Yes on Referendum 74 (our state's ballot measure that asks us to vote to affirm the marriage equality law the legislature already passed).  Hypatia was hanging out with me last week as I led the youth group meeting, and she was inspired to join in.  This week she made this sign at home, and today she joined the group on the corner of a busy intersection as we all stood and waved our signs and our big Standing on the Side of Love banner.  (That's her dad behind her helping her keep her sign up in a strong wind).

I was struck by how her action today was just perfect with what my 1/2 sermon (I shared the morning with another speaker) this morning was all about:

Bringing Justice Home: Part 1


The story I told today was one that I saw done in a workshop at General Assembly this year.  General Assembly is the annual national gathering of Unitarian Universalist congregations, and this year it was a themed “Justice” GA in response to it’s location in Phoenix, Arizona. 


I think it is telling that in the story the first group to stand in solidarity were children.  This speaks truth to me, not because I think children are naturally always kind and just – in fact children and adolescents are sometimes incredibly cruel to each other.  No – it is not because they are better-natured than adults, but rather because they are not numbed to injustice yet. 

A couple years ago, my son hit that stage of reading where he was working out all the signs he saw as we drove around town.  As I was sitting at a red light, he was working out what the handmade cardboard sign being held by the person on the street corner said.  “Homeless – need help”, it said, and he read that out loud just as the light changed and I drove on about our business.  My daughter, the younger child, cried out “that person said they needed help – why aren’t you helping them!?”.

Indeed, why am I not helping them?  Because I don’t want to encourage street corner begging?  Because I am afraid that giving them money won’t actually help them?; because I am too busy, in too much of a hurry?  These are all possible reasons for any of us to pass by on any given day.  But the reason, the primary reason, I believe, is that we cease to notice the injustices and sad sights that we see too often.  We become numb to it all.

Our children and youth bring new eyes, and as such they can see more than we do.  They can also speak that truth which they see, much as the small child does in the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes when they ask “why is the Emperor naked?”.  Too often, the adults in the crowd are afraid to mention that the Emperor is, in fact, naked.

How do we get so numb, so blind, so afraid to act?  It seems that in fact this is not the natural state of the human brain, as recent studies have shown that when people look at images of others experiencing pain or violence, the viewers have the same parts of their brain activated as if they were looking at pictures of their own children.  In similar studies, when people acted to help another the same part of their brain showed activity as it would if they were experiencing personal pleasure.  These sort of studies have led some academics to propose that humans are naturally compassionate and cooperative, and that altruistic behavior has a biological foundation.

 And then other studies, such as that by Pearl and Samuel Oliner’s study of Germans who helped rescue Jews during the Nazi Holocaust, have found that memories of growing up in a family which prioritized compassionate and altruistic behavior had a strong correlation with future adult action.

With this in mind, I believe that each action I take in front my children – and every action that any one of us takes in front of a child – is important not just because of what that action can accomplish today, but because of what sort of future action will result from my modeling.  Realizing that it was not emotionally and developmentally appropriate for my children to pass by a person on the street asking for help, I helped them create care packages that we now keep in our car and can give to anyone we see on the street asking for help. 

As poet and activist Wendell Berry has written: “Protesters who hold out longer have perhaps understood that success is not the proper goal.  If protest depended on success, there would be little protest of any durability or significance.  History simply affords too little evidence that anyone’s individual protest is of any use.  Protest that endures, I think, is moved by a hope far more modest than that of public success: namely, the hope of preserving qualities in one’s own heart and spirit that would be destroyed by acquiescence.”

I feel that action is needed to preserve those qualities in my heart and spirit, and also in the heart and spirit of all who look to me as a model, those like my own children.  And when I think about the ripples of influence that all those hearts and souls living into their best selves may lead to, I have to say that it is impossible to judge the success of anyone’s individual single action.

Going back to psychological research we find the phenomenon of learned helplessness.  Learned helplessness is the phenomenon of an animal or human who has repeatedly had a negative experience internalizing the idea that they are helpless to change that experience, and consequently ceasing to even try to make a positive change.  If we repeatedly experience ourselves as helpless to effect change, we may internalize this sense of learned helplessness and just stop trying.  Learned helplessness is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy, since we will never effect change if we don’t even try.

I realized at one point with my children that I have learned helplessness.  We were listening to an NPR story about a controversial death penalty case, which sparked a family discussion of the death penalty.  My son was horrified that we would think it was right to ever kill anyone, and I sympathized with his point of view.  But my knee-jerk response, the one that ran through my mind was, “yeah, I used to care about that too, but it’s hopeless.  Nothing will ever change, so we should just change the channel.” 

Fortunately, I remembered how important it is to empower children, rather than to downplay their natural impulses toward compassion and justice-seeking.  It can be so hard to hold onto our impulse toward justice, and there will be enough discouraging experiences for the kids in their lives – one of those discouraging experiences does not need to be caused by me.  Responding to his interest in this issue, I helped him write a letter that we sent to several political leaders.  Did his action make a difference?  Perhaps not.  Did it make a difference to him?  Yes.   It was one of those actions that sustained the qualities of compassion and justice-seeking in his heart and soul.

It is a well-worn cliché to say that “the children are the future”, but as with many clichés there is a core of truth in the saying.  Whenever you engage in justice-work alongside a child, you are making a double investment with your time and energy.  You are making the world better today through your efforts, and you are helping to make the world better in the future through the life-long values you are helping to instill in that young person. 

In General Assembly in June, I attended a workshop called “Justice as a Family Value”.  There were many people in attendance who had impressive resumes of activisim and justice-work, but we spent most of our time talking about our childhoods.  What did we experience in childhood that inspired us to live the values of justice-seeking?  One woman remembered Socks.  She remembered that her mother would always buy extra socks, more than their family needed, and would hand those out to homeless people.  Was that personal sock project huge?  I doubt it.  However, it turned out to be huge in the life of this woman who would grow up to do many many more actions to make the world a better place.

My daughter asked me this summer what I hoped the future would be like.  I gave her a description of my best and most hopeful version of our possible future, and she smiled confidently in response.  “Ok”, she said.  “Let’s do that.”  That youthful voice of optimism inspires me.  Yes, indeed, let’s all do that.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Things We Carry With Us

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How long do you think we are going to be gone for?  Have I packed for a week away?  A weekend? An overnight at least?

No!  This is just what the kids and I need to carry with us for one "normal" day our of the house!  Gym bags, swim bags, lunch bags, computer bags, camera bags, purses, backpacks, and musical instrument cases ...

This is part of why I gave up taking public transportation or bicycling (well, that and the kids not pulling their own weight, and the uphill to work, and then later when we moved out to the country and now there's no bus line anymore).  At least I'm practicing the art of grouping my errands and reducing my trips.  Hey, that might be part of why I have to pack so much for each trip, actually.

So, is this normal or am I carrying around too much stuff?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The first step

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Sometimes the first step of a nice day is the hardest.  Just getting going, when my natural inclination is to stay home.  When something is an optional or extracurricular activity, and I didn't already put money down on it, the day may arrive and I think "eh, let's just stay home and put on jammies and drink tea".

But I almost always am glad that I got out and did something after I overcome that energy investment hurdle, so I need to remember that and just take that first step.  


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I'm sure I'm not the only one to feel this struggle just to get out my own front door.  So I want to remind us all (especially me) that it can be absolutely worth it.  Let's get out and do some stuff!

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Monday, October 15, 2012

The passing of a generation

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I'm currently reading The Multigenerational Congregation: meeting the leadership challenge, which focuses on the "watershed" generational difference between the GI generation and the consumer-oriented generations that follow.

Major markers of this difference:

1.  Deferred pleasure vs. instant gratification
2.  Group vs. individual orientation
3.  Assumptions of sameness vs. difference
4.  Spirituality of place vs. spirituality of pilgrimage

And much of the book is about how to navigate those different value systems and how they play out in the congregation.

But how many of the GI generation are left in leadership in our congregations?  With the passing away of my own grandparents last week, I'm particularly sensitive to the fact that this is a generation leaving us.  And if the watershed moment was post GI, then what are the generational differences we are living with now?

And there were some important strengths and values expressed in the GI generational value system - do we lose that too as we lose our elders?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The daily juggle

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Here is a fact about homeschooling while working full-time: it's a serious juggling act at times.  I'm really fortunate to be able to do this at all, and I'm not complaining, but sometimes I get very very tired.
 I find it important to use the time I do have with efficiency.

A sampling:

Taking the book-learning to the car dealership while the car was getting an oil change.

Mending the girl's special blanket poolside as the kids had their swim lesson.

Writing thank you cards for work while in the bleachers for the kids' gymnastics class.

Having the kids watch a history documentary while I'm doing office hours at church.

Reading about conflict management while running on the treadmill at the YMCA during the kids' PE class.

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But it's not good practice to always be multitasking.  There is this idea of "balcony time", or time spent in big picture contemplation.  I really can't get that done with the kids hanging close by, or in a place full of distractions (like home or my office, frankly).  And so I try to get some time to myself once a week while a friend watches my kids, and I actually sit and just do one thing at a time.





Monday, October 8, 2012

The Arts of Tibet



This year we decided to buy four season tickets to the events that come to the local Performing Arts Center.  Quick calculations revealed that the cost of a babysitter was the same as the cost of tickets for the kids, so taking them with us or leaving them at home makes no difference from a money point of view.

And I see the tickets as part of our education budget, as well.  When I was growing up my parents took me to lots of performing arts experiences, from the local community orchestra and Gilbert and Sullivan group they were parts of to the avant garde events at the local University, to the Seattle Opera, Symphony, and Pacific Northwest Ballet.  It was a big part of my life, and of my homeschool education.

We took the catalog of possible events and went through it as a family, marking the things everyone was interested in, and then narrowing down the selections to a reasonable amount for our budget.

Some of the things the kids picked were obvious choices from a kids point of view (The Stunt Dog Experience?  Of course!), but I was surprised at their pick of The Mystical Arts of Tibet.

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It was a great choice, though, and a great opportunity for a short unit study on Tibet.

We read a couple books: Our Journey from Tibet , and Learning from the Dalai Lama.

We watched some videos about mandala art, which inspired Hypatia to make her own mandala design. I was impressed that she did this project on her own: her own idea, her own work, her own time as it took a long time to do all the detailed coloring, and her own pleasure at the result.

As part of the event, the monks were making a sand mandala and it was open to the public to come view in process throughout the week.  We visited it in progress and watched them at work - it's really an amazing process as they shake the sand out with so much precision and care.

And then the performance (which I had to miss for work unfortunately) had music and dance and has inspired some dance and performance of their own today.


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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Letting Myself Feel Sad

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My grandparents died yesterday.  I knew they were dying, they had been put in hospice care, and I visited them a few weeks ago.  My mother called me this week to say they were worse and that she was flying back to be with them again.

So I knew.  I said goodbye.  I made my peace with it.

It was their time.  They were sick.  Living was no longer a blessing to them, as they found themselves unable to really do anything they enjoyed anymore and instead managed pain and disability and helplessness.  They had lived their full and loving lives, and they managed to die on the same day so neither had time to grieve for the other.  What a blessing that was to them, for they were a very close and devoted couple.

It was their time.

And yet I am sad.

And I will just be sad, for this is the time for sadness.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Reading Life, Junior Edition

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We are reading the second book in the Theodosia series, Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, and loving it as much as we loved the first one.  Theodosia is a precocious girl who basically lives in a museum of antiquities and educates herself, mainly about Egyptian curses and how to counter them.  She is a compelling character, a blend of Hermione and Harry, and she has real adventures while also trying to keep her independence from school or prissy governesses.

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I bought The Mad Scientist's Club for Carbon and he is reading it to himself.  So far, he loves this group of crazy inventors and mad scientists and their high-jinks.

We also have just listened to We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.  It wasn't really developmentally appropriate for the kids, but I grabbed it by accident at the library (they had just rearranged their shelves to make more room for audiobooks, and shifted the YA and Juvenile shelves about).  The kids started listening and were hypnotized by it, even though many parts just went right over their heads.  It's a terribly gothic, slow, dark, but in the end poignantly scary beautiful, story about two sister's who may or may not have killed their whole family and become reclusive crazy ladies.

Now they have grabbed a bunch of 39 Clues off the library shelf.  Onward goes the reading life.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Costume dilemmas

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It's that time of year again - time to get serous about my kids' Halloween costumes.  I used to be firmly and totally in the homemade costume camp, but last year I admitted the reality of how little time I have for sewing costumes, and how little satisfaction my kids and I had had from some of the results.

I took them to one of the big Halloween stores and let them pick out costumes.  It wasn't too bad for the boy, who knew what he wanted, found what he wanted, and was happy with it.

But the girl struggled to find what she wanted.  First she wanted to be a ghost, but they didn't have any basic ghost costumes!  (I'm still flabbergasted that a simple ghost was just not available, but I guess it's too plain for our modern tastes or something.)

Then she wanted to be a witch.  And here was where I discovered the sad fact that little girls' Halloween costumes have become really tacky and inappropriate.  I know adult women have embraced the holiday as a chance to dress like a "sexy cat/nurse/race car driver/etc", and that the teen costumes are pretty bad too, but if you are buying a child's size 4/5, it should not be sexy.  No.  Not OK.

We ended up with one that was still inappropriate and I made her wear leggings under the dress instead of the thigh high stockings it came with.  But it was so cheaply and poorly made it didn't even survive one party and then a short stint of trick or treating.  Really not worth the money at all.

So what should I do this year?  The boy wants to be The Curiosity, so we'll be doing cardboard construction and buying some bicycle lights to put on it or something, but she has listed her ideas as: a goth rag doll, Snow White, or a Ninja Girl.  Now, the Ninja Girl seemed like a chance to reuse his Ninja Boy costume from last year, but no ... she doesn't like that idea.

There is WishCraft, and I think that may be the route I'm going to take this year, even though it is pricey.  Hopefully the quality will hold up and not rip apart in two uses.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

More on how much we are loving our art curriculum

I've already posted about how much we are enjoying Art Lab, but we really are enjoying it, so I'm going to post about it again. :)


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Monday, October 1, 2012

Monday Musings

I'm studying conflict management right now (and of course, living it as well, as I'm realizing that to be in community or family or a relationship is to be in conflict management).

But conflict can be a spur to growth, and so this week I will reflect on this quote:

‎"Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?" 
Walt Whitman