Community

Fields of Promise

Friends, I want to draw your attention to an organization that I care about and has helped our family. It’s called Fields of Promise, and I was introduced to it through a Facebook group made up of parents who’ve adopted Ethiopian children. An amazing woman named Pam Zicker runs Fields of Promise, which works in northern Ethiopia and focuses on orphan care and outreach, as well as supporting the visually impaired. One thing they do is offer a sponsorship program to aid the children they help and recently they sent out an email about a few young people who still need support to get through school. Just in case any of my generous readers here are looking to sponsor a child – and please consider it as it’s such a fantastic way to help transform a life! — I wanted to share Pam’s Facebook post here:

MEET our OVER-ACHIEVERS who have passed to Grade 10 in the Ethiopian school system and are fighting for top spots in their class to enable them to pass to grades 11-12. This is how the Ethiopian school system works… If they don’t pass, they move to a vo-tech path. If they pass, they earn the right to be high school graduates and the possibility of government-sponsored university with high enough matriculation exam scores. Lower scores mean they can attend a private college at their own cost. Our NGO partner is committed to seeing our kids all the way through to sustainable independence. Most of our children have sponsors in the U.S. – but THESE THREE remain without sponsors and are in need of some encouragement, prayer, and $40/month to finish out their program:

"M" Sweet “M” is 15 years old, scored in the top 5 students of her class in 9th grade, and hopes to be a doctor. "M" “M” is a hard-working, driven student who wasn’t happy with being ranked 3rd in his class in 9th grade because he wants to be #1. He is 15 years old. "Y" “Y” is 14 years old and ranks in the top 10 of his class. He has waited almost 2 years for a sponsor of his own.

Would you be willing to commit to 2-6 years to see them through with us to the end? Very few opportunities exist to help an at-risk teen finish school and university with a commitment of $40/month! Email us at info@fieldsofpromise.org or sign up on our website.

If you know anyone who may want to help these children, please pass it on!

 

 

 

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Goodness: It’s Out There

October 5, 2016

Simpson Petrol photo

Haiti cannot catch a break. It makes my heart hurt. Yesterday I was thinking about how much bad news there is out there. I mean, when does it stop, right? Not just bad news, but tragic news — stuff that’s hard to comprehend at all, like what’s going on in Syria in towns like Aleppo. It can be too much to take in sometimes.

But then, along comes something that reminds you how much goodness is out there, too… little gems of kindness and thoughtfulness that restore your faith in humanity.

Last night I discovered a voicemail I had missed from Monday. The number was completely unfamiliar, but I recognized the voice: It was a handyman who removed some shutters on our house last year. I don’t know him well, and wouldn’t expect him to remember me well, either. During the first few seconds of his message I had no idea why he could be possibly be calling… Did he want to remind me that he was out there in case we needed more work done? (we do!), or did he drive by our house and remember something he forgot when he was here?

No, it wasn’t that. He worked on a job for a family a couple of blocks down from us — a mom with a baby and a dog named Batman — who are new in town and don’t know anyone. He thought maybe I’d consider going by to say hello, just to make them feel a little more welcomed, a little less lonely.

How sweet is that? I mean, I know that’s probably not so strange if you’re living in a friendly mid-west town or a rural area, but I live in downtown Baltimore and this is a middle-aged handyman I barely know. Yet he took the time to dig up my number and risk that I might think he was weird for leaving me a message like that.

And, of course, I’ll go over there because if that isn’t a direct invitation to do a small good deed, I don’t know what is.

Of course, my Nova Scotian constitution means I can’t go over there empty handed so I need to bake something… but what? Well, I’ll figure it out. (Leave me some suggestions!)

Let’s be grateful for every bit of light and goodness we see around us these days.

Image: Simpson Petrol at unsplash

 

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Dad and son

Most parenting advice is worthless. So here’s some parenting advice.

I laughed when I read that headline. And I like the article, too. Well, not the f-word and cussing. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like when writers use curse words, unless it’s in a novel or they’re blowing off steam on their social media accounts. I’ve noticed that many people under 35 don’t hesitate to use the f-word in their published writing these days. I guess I’m just old.

Anyway, I think the gist of the piece is right on. You know when things start coming your way so often that you know you’re supposed to pay attention? This is part of that for me. I’ve been coming across articles and having conversations lately about how out-of-control the parenting industry has become and how we need to focus more on just being parents, rather than treating our children like projects to manage in order to make them into successful adults.

The author says research shows that genes, friends, and socio-economic status are the greatest determinants of successful adulthood, but I don’t buy that entirely. First, it depends how you define “successful adulthood.” He doesn’t say. Second, if I think about my own childhood, the environment my parents created for me, as well as what they taught and modeled, has made an enormous difference to who I’ve become. (Not that I’d be considered a successful adult by some peoples’ standards — probably not!)

But the author’s point dovetails with a recent conversation I had with my mother, a woman who’s gleaned a thing or two from raising 10 kids to adulthood and was never particularly good at going along with the status quo or following cultural trends that struck her as irrational, unnatural, or just plain ridiculous. She was complaining about how the “cult of the expert” reigns supreme today, and how it has eroded parents’ confidence and undervalued the wisdom of older generations.

This is true, and I think there are many reasons for it. I think one reason we don’t glean much from parents, grandparents, relatives, and more experienced friends these days is that they’re not around much. So many of us live far away from these relationships; it’s a very transient culture. Additionally, many of today’s parents grew up in small families and didn’t help with childcare. When you don’t have your own experiences to draw from, or that of your elders, you turn to other resources to help you figure it out. I had all of the above myself, but then I became an adoptive parent and that added an entirely foreign dimension to my parenting. I’ve not only leaned on others’ advice and experience, I’ve turned to authors, writers, and therapists — all of which are certainly considered “experts” — and I’m grateful for them.

So I don’t think it has to be an either/or, but I totally agree we’ve lost something important in our culture and it’s resulted in a lack of confidence to march to the beat of our own drum as parents. Like the author of the Vox article, I think we’ve become obsessed with getting parenting “right” and agree with his point that “childhood is life, not preparation for life,” which I take to mean that everything we do now shouldn’t simply be to ensure a certain future for our kids, but that childhood should be a wonderful thing in its own right. Our children are not just adults-in-waiting; they are people, living their lives in the here and now.

As parents, we’re often anxious and fearful, calculating so many decisions we make. We all want what’s best for our kids, of course, but what if half the things we do and worry about aren’t going to matter much to their future success one way or another? I suppose we don’t want to take the chance, right? But we’d probably do well to realize that too often what we’re doing is more about us, and that we’re approaching parenting as project managers rather than as loving parents who enjoy our kids’ childhoods and who trust that it’s a whole host of factors — many of which are out of our control — that will determine our kids’ futures.

What do you think?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

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The 6 Hour Work Day?

May 25, 2016

Anthony Delanoix

Here’s an interesting experiment: A nursing home in Sweden (predictably!) was selected for a study about work hours. Researchers wanted to see what would change if employees worked a six-hour day instead of eight hours — for the same pay. After one year, the program “had sharply reduced absenteeism, and improved productivity and worker health.”

Sweden is already home to many businesses that allow flexible work hours and liberal parental leave policies, but it seems to me that this is a worthwhile conversation for other places to have. Is the “8 hour work day” ideal for every kind of business and employee? And if not, should we change it?

When I began working from home, I noticed that despite its challenges, I got a lot more done in far less time than I did in an office. That’s because in the average work place there’s a lot of time spent on things that aren’t directly task-related — such as casual conversations, coffee breaks, dilly-dallying, and unproductive meeting time. People are often more efficient when they have less time. (This is one reason why busy moms get so much done!)

The same can be said of school. The time children spend at school actually doing academics is far less than the hours spent there. Of course, education is not just academics — and this goes for the work environment, too. Many employees enjoy chit-chatting around the water cooler, and spending time that they’re not “on task.” But with only 24 hours in a day, is that more important than having more time for family at home, for the outdoors or exercising, for making healthy meals, for being involved with your community or church, for learning something?

Of course, it’s necessarily the case that six-hour work days are best. There are probably businesses and professions that it doesn’t and wouldn’t work for. But maybe this isn’t a one-size fits all approach. Truth it, we don’t even have a eight-hour work day so much anymore — it’s more like nine or 10 hours, at least when I look around at the kind of time the average person spends at his or her work place.

Would you welcome a 6 hour work day? Do you think it would be make you more more or less efficient?

Image: Anthony Delanoix at unsplash

 

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It’s Holy Week so I’m doing my best to be a little more reflective, a little more focused on the “lasting” things. The L’Arche community, for which I volunteered years ago, always reminds me of this. In a world of many tragedies and great sufferings, it helps to remember that while hardship inevitably comes our way, love surpasses it all.

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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

 

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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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Puppy Friends

I’ve been thinking about this article in The Atlantic ever since I read it, which is about how friendships change over time, into adulthood. It’s kind of a no-brainer… we all know friendships change. Some all but disappear. I can think of two people I was very close to at one time who I haven’t heard from for many years despite my numerous attempts. Their lives are busy, they live far away, and they don’t seem to prioritize long-distance relationships. I get that. Still, if the communication were there, I sense we’d still be close today.

I also have long-time friends I stay in touch with, and spend time with when I can. They’re important to me — we’ve known and supported each other through many phases of life and we’ve made a lot of memories together. I invest in these friendships to various degrees and each brings something special to my life.

I also have newer friends who reflect who and where I am today. These relationships are satisfying because they’re so intentional. Our lives are very full, yet we make time for each other because we find something life-giving in the relationship. I’m much more aware of what I need and want from a friend now than I used to be.

When’s the last time you mulled over the quality of your friendships and how they’ve changed? And how you’ve changed? I know I sometimes feel conflicted about the time and energy I have to invest, when I should let go, and whether and how to find mutually supportive new friends.

One of the interesting things the article discusses is the “double-edged sword” nature of adult friendships. They take a back seat to our spouses/significant others, children, work, and other commitments, so they can suffer. But because each of us silently acknowledges this fact, there’s a flexibility and freedom to friendship that makes it so valuable. The “voluntary” nature of it makes it great, but can also present challenges because it’s a less-defined relationship. If one friend’s expectations or desires are different than the other friend’s, then hurt and resentment can build up and strain the relationship.

One of the best things about friends, especially close ones, is that they’re not just great in their own right, they’re cheerleaders and supporters for our primary commitments — marriage, parenting, work, etc. Friends also remind us of who we are as individuals so we don’t get lost in our many roles and responsibilities.

Of course, in order to keep a mutually supportive friendship going you do need to invest something of yourself, and that’s where it gets tough when there are only 24 hours in a day. A lot of it does come down to expectations — if two friends have similar expectations of each other, they’re likely to maintain a harmonious and mutually satisfying relationship.

What are your greatest challenges when it comes to friendship at this point in your life, and what is most important to you in a friend?

Image: Picjumbo 

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Basket from Pixabay Over the weekend I was pushing my cart down the aisle at the grocery store trying to keep up with my daughters when a woman looked up at my daughters and then at me, and said, “Oh, I’ve read your blog!”

Really?!” I said, totally surprised that anyone could possibly recognize us in public from this little web site.

“Yes, at least, I’m pretty sure it’s you,” she said. “I found you through Google and passed along a post you did about hair care to Caucasian friends of mine who have transracially adopted kids, and are looking for resources.”

“I think I know the exact post you’re talking about.” I said.

At that moment, my husband, who was just around the corner, showed up — not the least bit surprised to see me having an animated chat with a stranger in the cereal aisle.

“Hey, she’s read SlowMama!” I tell him, still in shock that I’ve run into a stranger in WholeFoods who recognizes us. (S and H, who still don’t know what a blog is, were thoroughly confused as to what we were all talking about.)

Turns out the lovely woman had just moved to Baltimore from New York. We chit-chatted a bit about that, about hair care, introduced ourselves, and then went on our merry way.

The encounter was one of those fun, unexpected moments in life. But it also made me realize that I spend most days forgetting that people I don’t know — more than I realize — read SlowMama. That’s the weirdness of blogging. Or maybe of just me. But if most of my readers are as lovely as that woman, I’m super lucky.

Image: Unsplash at Pixabay

 

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Ship from Pixabay

There are many tragic things happening in the world and I don’t write about them here much, but lately the plight of refugees and migrants has been on my mind a lot. The news keeps bringing incredible images like this, and distressing stories like this. And it’s heartbreaking.

Perhaps because I’m a mother now, I find it particularly frightening to think of needing to flee with my children, possibly in the dead of night, leaving everything I know — my belongings, my land, my home. And then walking for days, maybe weeks, with very little food or water and arriving at a border and not being able to cross, or being stuck in a refugee camp with tens of thousands of others, or stepping onto a rubber raft or a poorly constructed, overcrowded boat to cross the tempestuous Mediterranean sea to presumably safer soil.

Right now, millions of people are in situations like these and it makes me feel helpless. What can I do? Just watch from the sidelines? Wait for governments to take action? While I get that these issues are politically and legally complicated, what keeps going through my mind is: What if that were me? What if my little family were in this situation, and I could do nothing, but plead for others to help us? Frankly, the control freak that I am; the mother who — like most parents — would do anything to protect my children, can barely imagine it.

But there are things I can do. First, I can pray. I believe in the power of prayer; many studies show that prayer does change things, and I’ve seen it myself.

I can give to organizations that have people on the ground aiding refugees and migrants. I can research what my church and other groups I’m part of may be doing.

I can also keep reading, keep watching. It would be easier to turn away, but it’s hard to be in solidarity with others, to form my own views and be inspired with ways to help, unless I let myself see what’s actually happening. Not necessarily in that 24-7 news cycle way, but also not burying my head in the sand because it’s painful. It’s also good for me: it helps keep my own life and problems in perspective and inspires me to be humble and grateful.

Do tragic international events ever make you feel helpless? What do you do about it? How do you do your own small part to work for broader change?

Image: LaughingRaven at Pixabay

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