Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I'm Grateful For

(Feeling grateful even for small harvests)

This month my Facebook newsfeed has been full of people posting their 30 Days of Gratitude.  I blogged my 30 Days of Gratitude last year.  But this year, I decided not to participate.

It's not that I'm against feeling grateful.  I'm not ... we should reflect on what we are grateful for and as a mindfulness practice I find it very helpful.  I think we should pause to note the abundance that we already have, especially in the season of harvest and before we hit Consumer-Christmas.

But, at the same time, the public naming of gratitude has a bit of the image-crafting problems that Facebook has brought into our online culture.  Although I'm sure folks are usually just being genuine with their gratitude, the over-all effect of everyone listing all the things they are grateful for is ... a bit braggy.  A bit off-putting.

Maybe it's just that, as Americans, we can turn even the 30 Days of Gratitude into a competition.

I found this quote in a book I'm reading right now:

If we only wanted to be happy, it would be easy: but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.

--Charles de Montesquieu

When we edit our lives to highlight the best parts, we are projecting a fake life for all to see and admire.  It's something most people do all the time, and I do not believe it to be malicious.  It may even be appropriate to a large extent - airing our dirty laundry or complaining on the internet all the time would be a bit of a drag and show inappropriate boundaries.  But still .... cumulatively we are all guilty of raising the bar of expectations so high that now we can all feel like failures.  Cumulatively, mind, so please don't feel bad individually.

So, I'd like to say this about my own gratitude:

  • I am so grateful for the blessings I have received, which are many.
  • I love my family very much.
  • I can lose sight of my blessings when I think of all I want or all I should do.
  • It really is true, that it's not having what you want, but wanting what you have. 

I wish all a joyous and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Patching Things Up


Stuff is breaking here at home: the dishwasher has been past using for 3 months now, our desktop computer broke this month, the dryer broke, and the well house sprung a leak and needed a new bump tank and all new piping.  Our major maintenance reserve fund wasn't large enough to deal with all of that at once, so I'm living without a dryer or a dishwasher.  That makes daily laundry and dishes a much larger chore than they were before.  But my priority is to rebuild that major maintenance reserve, so no big purchases for me for the foreseeable future.  Sigh.

It's also the time of year when the focus shifts from the outside to the indoors, and we spend these cold wet months on chores and mending that were neglected while the sun did shine.  My task for the last two weeks has been mending quilts.  Patching them, to be precise, as the holes had become so bad my fingers were punching through the quilts when I tried to fold them.

The quilt pictured above was sewn by hand by my great grandmother, and came down to me when my great uncle's home was being cleared out as he moved to a retirement community.  It's not a lovely quilt, but just a practical 9-patch made out of old clothes and backed with a weird green color.  My mom tells me that great-grandma worked as a seamstress at a department store, long before most women worked, and would sometimes get to bring home unwanted "throw away" fabric.  That green fabric might have been unwanted (the color points that way).

I've had the quilt for a few years now, and we use it.  We don't store it away, or display it: it's a practical quilt so we use it.  And now that it's wearing out, I'm sewing patches on it. Not fancy patches - just the bits of our worn out clothing and the scraps that I have in my "re-use/upcycle" basket.  I hope my great-grandmother would approve.

She was a practical woman who raised 11 younger siblings and lived through the Great Depression, after-all - a pretty awesome role-model for trying to live a practical and thrifty life.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The November Blahs


OK - I've been feeling more than a little like this poor Jack O'Lantern pictured above looks - worn out, falling apart, molding, and sad.  I woke up one day recently, looked in the mirror, and saw Depression looking back at me.

I can list current "causes", and trace their vicious cycle.  In a nutshell:

  • People disappoint me.  I wish they would be one way, and they just won't be like that.  I expect them to step up, and then they don't.
  • I start to doubt myself, and to seek validation from those people - the ones who are disappointing me - and they don't validate me either.  They say unhelpful things, things like "people treat you the way you let them treat you".  I start to feel like everything is my fault, and that the only reason people disappoint me is because I just can't manage people properly.
  • I sit with this disappointment and discouragement for a few days, and think about things like just quitting my job or quitting homeschooling or quitting this organization or activity, because what's the point really?
  • Then I get mad. I reject this world view, and get pissed that people are basically trying to make me feel bad for clinging to the ideal that if one is nice to people, it will ripple effect into a nicer world.  
  • At which point anger burns out into depression, and I'm back to feeling disappointed, discouraged, depressed, etc.

But why now?  People are people all of the time, and frankly, they rarely measure up to my hopes for them.  I consistently want and expect the world to be a bit better than it actually turns out to be, and most of the time I consciously choose this stance.  I'm very fond of the idea that a pessimist may turn out to be right more often ... but an optimist gets more done.  I'd rather get more done through willful rosy-glasses thinking than be right about everything being crappy and just contribute to more crapiness. I know I'm choosing to be wrong, and I'm choosing it anyway, because that's the world I want to live in and I hope my choice will make it ever-so-slightly more real.

So why am I depressed now?  

I found comfort in this recent blog post from Simple Mom: Everyone Wants to Quit in November and February.  Aha!  Yes, it's just seasonal.  It's just the November Blahs.  Nothing else has changed, and I just need to put up some holiday lights, give myself a little extra rest, get re-inspired, and charge ahead.  

And I need to plan ahead for February so this doesn't jump out at me unexpectedly again.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Mr. Lemoncello's Library


Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein, is a fabulously delightful book.  Thoroughly modern but with an obvious love for classic children's literature, Mr. Lemoncello owes a big hat tip to Willy Wonka (and this is referenced and acknowledged in the book).

A town without a public library is suddenly getting one, thanks to an eccentric billionaire who has made his fortune on games - both board and video.  Children are selected to attend the grand opening, and are then locked in (with parental permission granted) and set to trying to escape the library, following all sorts of clever clues to find the way out.  Despite no real danger, the plot is still plenty exciting.  It's also funny and full of sly references to classic boardgames and children's books.

Boardgames and Books, and Libraries!  What's not to love?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What We're Into Now: 2nd Grade


Here is the 2nd grade girl's edition of "What We're Into Now".  Right now, she into:

1.  The show Liberty's Kids.  It is a good launching off point for study of the Revolutionary War, as well.

2.  Playmobil has made a come-back in her life.  Lots of historical re-enactments as well as fanciful play.

3.  Drawing and coloring.  I finally just bought her a nice sketchbook and a pencil bag that we keep stocked with sharp colored pencils, and she loves to sketch and color all the time.

4.  YouTube videos of people playing Animal Crossing New Leaf.  Her brother owns this game (although I think he has lost it), but she is still in the process of saving up all her money to buy a 3DS and the game for herself.  This is a long process - that stuff is expensive - so she probably won't get to the goal amount until after Christmas.  But I'm not buying it for her.  The process of saving up for a goal is an important lesson.

That's just a bit of what she's into now.  Once again, I find a lot of what they choose to do with their free time to still have educational value.  Life is learning!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What We're Into Now


Here's the 5th Grade Boy edition of 'What We're Into Now':

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe.  A gorgeous and fascinating look at the periodic table and all the stuff that makes up our universe, my son has been pouring over this book for weeks now.  I first got it from the library a few years ago, and he just wasn't all that into it then, but now that he's older he is fascinated by it.

Khan Academy.  He wanted to learn how to program, and I had heard the programming tutorials and exercises on Khan Academy were pretty good, so I showed that to him.  I guess they are pretty good, because he worked on them in all his free time for several weeks, and made a bunch of pretty cool things.

TED Talks.  I have enjoyed many TED Talks on their website, but now Netflix has them for streaming and my son has watched hours of it now.  He started off with the TED Talks for Kids but once he had watched those ten talks, he moved on to the other themes available.

Minecraft.  Still obsessed - this seems to have as much staying power as Legos.

Building Forts.  A classic, and I'm glad to see him out of the house carting off tarps, ropes, scrap lumber. :)

And that's a bit of what he's into now.  All of it has "educational value", and non of it is assigned or scheduled - and that's just another reason why I love the homeschooling lifestyle.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Zealot


After the author Reza Aslan appeared on The Daily Show for an interview that was almost fawning in how much interviewer John Oliver said he had loved the book, I put Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth on my TBR list.  Then there was his interview on Fox, which I heard all about (Buzzfeed calls it "the most embarrassing interview Fox has ever done").  All that buzz bumped it up my list and I bought it on kindle rather than wait in line for the copy from the public library.

And I wanted to really like it, I really really did.  It starts off with almost theatrical flair in an incredible prologue that describes the assassination of the high priest in the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Aslan's writing is very engaging and has great storytelling value.

But that was the problem, too ... it was sooo dramatic and confident that I found myself wondering how much I could trust the historical validity of this book that is supposed to be about the historical Jesus.  And then Aslan presents a lot of analysis of the gospels as a way to read through them to the kernel of truth they were based off .... but once again there was so much confidence in the one interpretation without much (any?) discussion of how that interpretation can really be done like that.

In the end I find myself agreeing a lot with the review published in The Jewish Review of Books, which throws a lot of doubt on Aslan's overall serious scholarship, while agreeing that his writing is engaging and entertaining.  It was an interesting read, and definitely more entertaining than your average scholarly history book, but I don't know that I trust this interpretation of the historical Jesus all that far.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In the Kitchen This Week: Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Eating seasonally sometimes means that certain treats only come around once a year.

After this:


We were left with this:


So I boiled the seeds in salt water and toasted them with some olive oil and cumin, and got a delicious snack the whole family is happy to eat this week.  (I added the cumin to it, but otherwise it's this recipe)


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Annual Field Trip


Yesterday we made it out on a field trip we do once a year, to see the salmon run on a local creek, complete with docents who help us figure out what we are seeing.


Underwater cameras helped them see some cool salmon action, too.


A fun fall tradition for us. :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Trying to Squeeze More From the Day


So we have just observed the annual practice of rolling our clocks back by one hour ... which gave us one "extra" hour this weekend.  I got one more hour of sleep before heading off to work on Sunday, but the price has been that the evenings are now terribly, terribly, dark all of a sudden.

And I have read more than one article this week that advocated that folks not adjust their sleep schedules, but instead stick to their previous rising times and get up an hour earlier than was their previous habit.  This, say authors such as happiness guru Gretchen Rubin, will give you "an extra hour a day".  Recommended uses for this hour include exercise, spiritual practice, working on a project, or just having an hour to yourself.

But, trick is, you then have to go to bed earlier.  Because we also know that sleep deprivation is not a good thing.  It's like Benjamin Franklin said - early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  I do observe in my own life that mornings tend to be used more productively, and evenings are often frittered away on leisure, socializing, and "vegging out".

Back in the summer I wholeheartedly agreed that getting up early was the only way to go.  Now, perhaps just to be a contrarian (or because of seasonal affective disorder, take your pick), I find myself resisting this notion.  Right now, I don't want to squeeze another hour from the day.  I just want to go with the flow.  I want to wake up with the sun, and be winding down with the sun.  Dawn to dusk may sound impressive, but unfortunately that is now only 7am to 5pm in these parts.  And it will get worse.  But I just don't feel like being productive in the dark.

I still have plenty to do.  I don't know when I will do it all.  But, I'm going to sleep when my body seems to want to sleep.  There is no such thing as an "extra" hour.

p.s. Am I the only one that thinks that "seasonal affective disorder" is a weird name for a disorder?  Like we somehow shouldn't be affected by the seasons, even though it would be the natural course of evolution for living creatures to be affected by the seasonal shifts and to alter their behavior accordingly?  It's like "shift-worker syndrome" ... implying that somehow the problem of doing something totally unnatural to your body is a "syndrome" that should be treated by medication.  I don't know ... all symptoms of modern life I guess.  Modern Life Syndrome/Disorder.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Getting to Calm


One of the many books I've been reading this week is Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens by Kastner and Wyatt.  This book was recommended by a religious educator colleague who is parenting teens, and I agree with her - it's fabulous.

Part of this book is just reassuring parents that a certain amount of bad behavior and bad decision making is normal for adolescence, and that it does not mean parents did something wrong.  But how parents respond can make a difference - to the ongoing parent-child relationship, to the self-esteem of the teen, and whether or not everyone learns something from the situation.

With practical tips and examples of typical situations you may face while parenting an adolescent, this book will help you get to calm.  Getting teens to help around the house, what to do about dating, when parents don't agree and aren't parenting as a team, when teens are rude, when they lie, and more ... all covered here.

I'm not facing the task of parenting teens yet, but this is going to go on my parenting shelf now.