February 2016

The Moral Bucket List

February 29, 2016


I somehow missed this piece in the New York Times last April called “The Moral Bucket List.” We’re all familiar with bucket lists — a set of things we want to accomplish before we kick the bucket, or sooner. But David Brooks’ thought-provoking article gives the concept a deeper meaning.  Here’s an excerpt:

It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?

We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the résumé ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate that sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.

But if you live for external achievement, years pass and the deepest parts of you go unexplored and unstructured. You lack a moral vocabulary. It is easy to slip into a self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You figure as long as you are not obviously hurting anybody and people seem to like you, you must be O.K. But you live with an unconscious boredom, separated from the deepest meaning of life and the highest moral joys. Gradually, a humiliating gap opens between your actual self and your desired self, between you and those incandescent souls you sometimes meet.

He goes on to list six things he wants to cultivate in himself and talks about the “stumblers” — the people who ask “what is life asking of me?” and not, “what do I want from life?” These people  value the insight they receive from suffering and aren’t primarily living for their own happiness, but instead see life “as a moral drama and feel fulfilled only when they are enmeshed in a struggle on behalf of some ideal.”

My favorite line might be this:

The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be.

I want to be that kind of stumbler. You?

What do you think of a moral bucket list? What would you stick on yours?

Image: Julien Sister at Life of Lix

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Pull Up A Chair

February 26, 2016

Beetles at Pixabay

Gosh, it’s Friday again?

I spent much of the week fighting a virus, the kind that takes the wind out of your sails and makes you want to crawl under the covers and not come out. But every mother knows that moms can’t really be sick, and thankfully I’m starting to feel like myself again. B had a virus last week so I’m sure I caught it from him. So far, though, S and H — our daughters with immune systems of steel — are fine. Knock on wood, they’ve had one fairly mild cold this year, back before Christmas, and that’s it. I thought when they started attending homeschool coop twice a week and being exposed to more germs — like the sweet little guy in their class who seems to always have a cough and running nose — that they’d catch more. I can’t help but think it’s all those amazing Ethiopian gut microbes they picked up in their first few four years of life.

Anyway, given that I’m still nursing this virus, I’m drawn to something warm and lemony with a little kick today — like this hot rummy lemonade from Jamie Oliver. Soothing, right?

February is when I really start longing for spring. It’s when we tend to get walloped by the cold and snow here. But last night we had tornadoes in the mid-Atlantic and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such rain and wind. And that’s saying something as we can get some pretty incredible rain storms here. I was grateful all of us were snug at home and I whispered a prayer for all those on the roads — it would have been dangerous.

How has your week been? Everyone well at your house? Hope you have a slow weekend. See you back here next week!

Image: Leeroy at Life of Pix 



Do You Have Wanderlust?

February 24, 2016

Alexey Topolyanskiy for Unsplash

I’ve always had a bit of a gypsy soul. When I was young, although I deeply loved my family, I couldn’t wait to leave home. So many people I grew up with married their high school sweethearts and settled down nearby. I knew that would never be me.

I moved to the city when I was 17 to attend university and when I was 21 came very close to going to Kenya for six months — it was thwarted only by a theater job I couldn’t pass up (and truth be told, a boyfriend I didn’t want to leave). At 22 I headed to an even bigger city, and two years later, moved to another country (this one) for graduate school. In my 20s, I don’t think I lived anywhere for more than 18 months. Between the ages of 26 and 31 I lived in six different states until I took a job in Washington, D.C. and settled into a studio apartment for a couple of years. Apart from a jalopy I purchased for $1 during graduate school that rusted out after six months, I never had a car until my early 30s, nor did I own anything apart from a roll up futon mattress and some personal belongings. I liked it that way. I felt unencumbered, free to come and go when opportunity presented itself.

I remember buying my first real piece of furniture after I was married —  I was almost 35. It felt really strange. It symbolized settling down, being more rooted in a place. But I knew it was the right time, a new phase of life. If my 20s were about movement and change, my 30s were about settling and commiting — to marriage, building a family, being a more involved member of the community. The Slow Food movement helped me reflect on the importance of a sense of place. I had that as a child — a deep-rooted sense of place, a strong connection to where I was and who was around me.

As I age, I find myself jealous of some of my siblings who returned home after college and jobs to settle down, and the people I meet who still live in their hometowns or near family. The grass is always greener, I know. My choices have brought me to where I am today and I don’t regret them, but I’m aware of how much wanderlust has factored into it. I’m a homebody now, but the wanderlust remains. If it weren’t for kids and stuff and a few more pieces of furniture to my name, I could easily could pick up and move tomorrow to a place I’ve never been. I often think I would have made a good military wife or a diplomat.

Although B has lived overseas and traveled a great deal, he doesn’t have the same wanderlust. Mine, I believe, is partly inherited — both of my grandmothers loved traveling and did so until they were very old. One of my great-grandfathers was the same — his adventures read like a storybook. Though my parents didn’t catch that bug, some of my aunts and uncles did.

I no longer have the desire to move around a lot, although I think my life would have a lot more travel in it if I wasn’t such an aviophobe. I believe being rooted in a place is a blessing, and most of us can best change the world by tending to the gardens in our own backyards. It’s not lost on me, however, that some of my favorite magazines and Instagram accounts take me away to other places and other cultures — there’s a lot to be said for living vicariously through others.

Do you have wanderlust? Have your travels taken you far from home, or do you still live where you grew up?

Image: Alexey Topolyanskiy for Unsplash


Roberto Nickson at Unsplash

I don’t have teenagers yet, but raising two little girls makes for plenty of moments when I wonder to myself, “If it’s like this now, what’s it going to be like when they’re 15?”

I remember what I was like as a teen; it certainly wasn’t the easiest phase of life. Maria Montessori believed the teenage years were a particularly vulnerable period in human development, because there’s so much going on physically, emotionally, and intellectually. And when you have kids who’ve come from “hard places,” adolescence can be extra challenging because there are additional layers to deal with that impact all the work that goes into growing up, such as identify formation, building self-confidence and emotional resilience, etc.

It’s not lost on me that most of what I hear and read about having teenagers is how tough they are, and how you just need to “survive” those years. I could easily think this is inevitable if I didn’t have the good fortune of knowing families with terrific teenagers. Some of my closest mom friends say they don’t just love their teens, they like them and they like to be with them. Equally amazing is that their teens seem to enjoy being with them, too. These kids are normal teens in many ways, but they’re kind, fun, cheerful, interested in the world, and mature. It so happens most of the kids I’m thinking about happen to be homeschooled, but I’d be willing to bet there are a few parents out there who have kids in regular school that would say the same thing.

So this gives me hope. Of course, every child is different. Some come through adolescence with greater ease than others. I don’t think it’s too early, though, to start thinking about how to raise teenagers, and what kinds of seeds I can be planting now in our relationship with one another that will help things when we get there. I read a blog post on Facebook recently by a mom who shared her tips for raising happy teens and so much of her advice seems right on.

Have you raised, or are you raising teenagers? From where you sit, what advise would you give to parents whose kids are still young that might help us prepare the way for adolescence?

Image: Roberto Nickson at Unsplash



Pull Up A Chair

February 19, 2016

 Jean-Marie Grange at Unsplash

Fridays are good days to celebrate successes, big and small. A couple things on my end…

First, I fixed our dishwasher. I’m terrible at any home repair and mechanical anything is Greek to me. My beloved husband, who can figure anything out, was very busy and it just one of those times when I couldn’t wait one more day so I found a You Tube video, took some of the dishwasher parts apart, and it worked.

Also, I made it through the week! On Tuesday, it looked like I’d reach today out of breath and grumpy. Last week B had to work more hours than usual, and spent a lot of time at his office, which meant a crazier than normal week for me. That’s okay; it goes like that sometimes. But this week, the tables were supposed to be turned; I had agreed to take on some extra work hours so B was going to cover for me. Then, B woke up sick on Tuesday. So, I kicked it into high gear and somehow managed to get all my work done, get the homeschooling done, make most of the meals, run errands, and keep everyone in clean underwear — with two terrible nights of sleep thrown in there because of all B’s coughing. (He felt badly in more ways than one.)

I know a number of supermoms and I’m not one of them, so while I’m happy I accomplished everything I needed to this week, what I’m most proud of is that I’ve still got some energy and don’t feel like barking at anybody. Something to celebrate!

What about you — anything to celebrate? How about joining me in a glass of homemade cedrata? It’s non-alchololic, but anything lemony floats my boat.

Hope it’s a lovely and slow weekend for you. See you back here next week!

Image:  Jean-Marie Grange, Unsplash





Internet Menagerie

February 17, 2016

Vladimir Kudinov at Unsplash

We are way overdue for a trip around the web! Here are some of my recent finds; please share yours in the comments.

  • If I had terrible menstrual cramps, I might just try this. (People)
  • Check out this inspirational TED Talk in Geneva (by a fiend’s wife who’s an art historian) on the Sistine Chapel::


Image: Vladimir Kudinov at Unsplash


School days pic from Pixabay

A few months ago a reader asked if I’d write about the homeschool coop we’re part of — she was curious and wanted to know more. It’s not unusual to hear about homeschool coops these days, but what exactly are they, and how do they work?

I’m no expert, but I can share from my experience the past three years, and what I know about coops more generally. People homeschool for all kinds of reasons these days and they do it in many different ways. Coops can be part of the picture.

Homeschool coops come in many shapes and sizes: Some are informal and meet in participating families’ homes; others meet in community centers, church halls, or other locations. Some happen once a week or once a month, while others may be two or three times per week. Some coops are completely parent-run and cost almost nothing, others employ teachers and require fees. Some are religious, some are not. There are coops that focus on younger kids or older kids, on certain subjects or particular methodologies. With some coops, you sign up by the class; with others you must commit to the entire program.

What all homeschool coops share in common, however, is that they’re a place for homeschooled kids to gather, learn, and be together, and they provide parents a support system (and often a little relief!).

Not all homeschool coops function as true coops. The one we belong to this year is called an “academy.” It’s essentially a parent-operated, two-day-per-week program for pre-K to 12. The founders (three moms) make the big decisions and there are uniforms and a set schedule. It mostly follows a classical model, cirriculum-wise, and parents teach many of the classes, though a number of qualified people are brought in (and paid) to handle certain subjects, especially for the upper grades. The day begins at 8:30 and ends at 3, with breaks and a one hour lunch. It’s Catholic so there’s built in meditation and prayer time at the beginning of the day and again after lunch. The classes are small — 10 kids or under (my girls’ grade has only 4 kids, but they join with another grade for two classes). There’s a lot required of the parents, and it functions as a community of sorts, with lots of give and take, and it’s relatively inexpensive.

I know this sounds a lot like a private school — and it’s definitely more formal and structured than most homeschool coops — but the part-time schedule, low fees, and parent-run, answer-to-ourselves nature of it makes it quite different.

Last year we were part of a different homeschool group. It was smaller, classes were generally not taught by parents (though parents had required duties), and you could sign up (and pay) by the class. Our girls took three classes with about seven other kids. A couple years ago, I joined two other local homeschooling families for an informal neighborhood coop of sorts — we met monthly, taking turns leading a workshop — usually related to multi-cultural studies, arts and crafts, or science. One family I know participates in a local coop that’s focused on elementary and middle school kids and seems more focused on creativity-oriented classes, which you can sign up by class for a certain length of time.

There are all kinds of things to consider when it comes to joining a coop. It depends on your families’ needs and the coop’s purpose and offerings. Like many families, we take it year by year, and so far have benefited from being part of a coop. It’s provided S and H a safe and non-judgemental place to develop language and social skills and it’s given me — the world’s worst homeschooler — a chance to not only mingle with and learn from other homeschooling parents (who all take interest in each others’ kids), but also some breathing room: When it’s a week of seemingly getting nothing done at home, I feel better knowing they’re at least getting something done at the homeschool academy. It also helps give structure to our week. Since our physical home environment is such a challenge for homeschooling, this goes a long way.

Of course, there are the tough parts. I teach a class (2nd grade Latin) and have other duties so I can’t just decide that we’re all hitting the road for a month. (Not that we can do that right now, but I dream of such possibilities!) It’s not always fun getting my kids (and myself!), who are not early risers, up and into uniforms while it’s still dark. I don’t have control over the curriculum that’s chosen (though I have some input), or the pace of classes, and I feel the pressure of making sure the homework is done, the same way I would if the girls were attending a conventional school. Also, as a mother with a paying job, it’s hard for me to participate because of the level of commitment and expectations.

So, there are always pros and cons — as there would be to not being part of a coop or similar group, too. As a homeschooler, each year you have decide which set of factors provides the best win-win. Homeschooling is never just about the kids, but the whole family.

All in all, though, I’m a big fan of homeschool groups like coops and admire the people who run them because they take a lot of work and commitment, no matter what form they take. It’s a great thing for families to have these kind of options when it comes to our children’s education.

If you homeschool, I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or experience with coops and similar groups. I’d also be happy to answer any questions in the comments, so fire away if you have any!

Image: Pixabay



Pull Up A Chair

February 12, 2016

Greg Rakozy for Unsplash

A few unrelated things to cap off the week…

First, I want to share this flourless chocolate cake recipe from Nigella Lawson that the girls and I made Tuesday in place of a king cake. (I just couldn’t make the traditional Mardi Gras treat happen this year. Plus, somehow the the plastic baby got lost somewhere. So that was that.) All the women in this house love chocolate so it seemed like a no brainer for the day before Lent.

Since I typically don’t keep white sugar or white flour in the house, I dug up this recipe and was reminded why it’s the perfect go-to chocolate cake. I used coconut palm sugar (stuck it in the Vitamix to make it superfine) and everything else was the same, except for adding dark chocolate chips to make it extra chocolatey. The three of us ate the whole thing in a day. And I still felt good afterwards, which is what happens when you fake your body out with a yummy chocolate cake that actually has no flour, dairy, or refined sugar!

Speaking of sweet things, Valentine’s Day is Sunday. Any plans? I’ve grown to like the celebration a bit more since having kids, but I’m still mostly a humbug about it. Maybe the girls and I will make some decorations, or I’ll surprise them with a treat. Lent and Valentine’s Day don’t really go together in the treats department, but at least it’s on a Sunday.

In honor of love day, and especially on this very cold winter weekend, I’m thinking this broiled grapefruit daiquiri may do the trick. I gave up alcohol for Lent, but virtual imbibing doesn’t count, and I think you’re going to love this one. (Can you tell I’m on a grapefruit kick of late?)

What’s on your docket this February weekend? Hope you stay warm and I’ll see you back here next week!

Image: Greg Rakozy at Unsplash


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Lent 2016

February 10, 2016

Lukas Budimaier for Unsplash

Lent has arrived super early this year! I don’t think I’m alone among those who observe Lent who would say that I have a love-hate relationship with this season. Mostly love, though, as I find the themes and practices edifying, even if sometimes challenging. If Easter is all about light and new life, Lent is the winter twilight. I don’t know what it’s like to celebrate Lent where it’s still summer, like they do in the southern hemisphere; but it seems to lend itself so well to the cold, dark days of winter.

Today I’m making a simple lentil stew for dinner and bidding a temporary farewell to my glasses of wine with dinner and regular dark chocolate indulgences. I have a couple of spiritual books I’ll be reading, and I’ve stocked up on healthy snack bars and bottled water to give to the homeless when the girls and I are out and about. I’m also doing something I just heard of, which is to take a calendar and write someone’s name down on each of the 40 days of Lent — family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors, etc. and then each day I’ll be praying for that person and his or her needs.

There are a few other ways I’ll be marking this season, but I try not to make it too much about doing and more about the spirit of the whole thing. It’s also another opportunity to teach my children about the Lenten themes of sacrifice, simplicity, humility, faith, and generosity. By the way, S and H have decided they’re giving up candy for Lent. Not going to be hard when they ever actually eat candy. Ha.

Do you observe Lent? If so, do you have any common practices?


Image: Lukas Budimaier at Unsplash

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Paint Brushes from Pixabay

I’ve always been a fan of a classical liberal arts education, which exposes students to a broad base of knowledge and teaches people how to think and reason, appreciate beauty, and grasp truth. But so many people think it’s a waste of time to study subjects like philosophy, literature, and history, which don’t seem particularly useful or marketable.

Turns out, this may be exactly what our kids are going to need to survive and thrive in a future economy, at least if this piece in Medium about sending your kids to art school is correct.

We don’t know exactly what lies ahead, but I see more and more stories like this one about robots making ramen noodles at a restaurant in Japan. The robots cost $150,000, but they take no sick days and require no salary so it’s a win-win for the restaurant owners. If this trajectory continues, a great many jobs will eventually be automated. The Medium article argues that the creative thinkers, the innovators and the artists are going to have the advantage in the future.

Of course, more automation and tech-driven products and services will open up new jobs and specializations, and it will be a long time before we don’t need doctors, scientists, engineers, builders, and many other professions. But, if we assume that things will be very different in 20 years, what does it mean for how we should be preparing our children?

I have no idea, really. But I think it’s wise to look at trends, to notice where big money is being invested, and to look back and see how and why work and society change over the decades.

It has me wondering whether we might see more westerners going to work in developing countries, who are behind technologically, but whose economies are emerging and developing and may be in need of workers whose jobs will become more and more obsolete here.

Since all we can be sure of is that things will definitely change, giving our kids the tools to be able to use their talents and abilities in lots of different ways may be a good way to go. Knowing more than one language is going to be hugely beneficial, as will being creative, innovative, and possessing good problem-solving skills. Flexibility will be important, as will adaptability. It will still be important, maybe more than ever, for our children to become adults who can think for themselves, and be able to ascertain truth, beauty, and goodness in the world around them. Great literature and art are always good teachers for that.

I think this also means that education will change a lot, too. Getting a university degree may not be the thing for everyone to do. Trades may make a much greater resurgence. (This has already started.) Entrepreneurs will come in many shapes and sizes, aiming to solve new problems that arise.

There’s a lot to say about this topic; it’s a big one. If you knew that many jobs that exist now would be obsolete in 15-20 years, how would that change what you encourage your kids to do? Do you find yourself anxious thinking about their future, or excited? (Or both?)

Image: Paintbrushes from Pixabay