It’s August!

August 1, 2016

Photo by Olivier Miche

When August arrives I begin to feel that familiar pressure to cram all the summertime stuff into my schedule that hasn’t happened yet, before it’s too late. But I also find myself eager to be done with the sauna-like weather that greets me every time I step outside the door these days, and there are so many things I love about fall, I don’t mind that it’s around the corner.

On my agenda this month is: vacation! And a couple special gatherings with friends, a lot of preparation for a new school year, and getting our house ready for some renovations this fall.

How’s your summer going, friends? (Or winter, for that matter, if you’re Down Under, which I know some of you are!) Any plans for August? Any items on your to-do list you are determined to check off before Labor Day arrives?

Image: Olivier Miche at unsplash

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Finding the Light

July 27, 2016

Brian Erickson photo

I’m finding it hard to write about lighter subjects this week. It’s getting to the point where one of the first thoughts I  have in the morning is: “What terrorist attack happened while I was asleep? Who died?”

The fact is, a lot of people over the years have died tragically while I was sleeping — I just didn’t know or hear about it. Some people get annoyed when they see others throw up a European flag whenever there’s a terrorist attack there, but not when it happens in Sudan, or Pakistan, or Burma, or Iraq. Certainly, no one is more or less human than anyone else — every unjust, violent death matters. Every life matters.

But it’s also true that it’s very human to be more affected by what feels closer to home. There are many reasons we don’t easily identify with certain places in the world — cultural and religious differences, geography, lack of familiarity, cognitive biases, what the media shows us, etc. (Did I feel as affected by what happens in Ethiopia before our adoption? No. Now what happens there is much more personal to me and I pay attention.) We need to work on being in more heart-felt solidarity with everyone, but as with so much in life, what moves us, scares us, motivates us, is the stuff we feel emotionally connected to.

I think there’s also something to be said for ingrained expectations. Westerners grow up assuming that, for the most part, we can count on being safe in our own homes, in our own cities and towns. We believe in our political systems (well, that might be a little debatable right now!); we live in societies that are based on the rule of law and freedom. So when churches and schools and restaurants and malls and holiday celebrations in the countries we live in and visit no longer seem safe, our personal world no longer feels the same.

There’s also something different about terrorism, about mass shootings in public places, and radical ideologies and prejudices that compel violence. The causes of, and the solutions for, what we see in the news today are complicated and not easy to comprehend or fix by simply saying, “Enough already!” There is real darkness out there. There is hate and ignorance that only wants to destroy and dominate.

But we are always left with the questions: How do I respond? What can I do ? And the one simple thing all of us can do in our busyness right now, today, is to be the light where we are. In our homes, on our streets, in our offices, at our churches. We have light we can bring. And we can look for it around us, because it’s there — in abundance, really. We can celebrate what is true and good and beautiful where ever we find it, and we can share it with others, point it out, keep it before us. It makes me think of a quote from the New Testament, John 1:5:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

It’s true; the darkness will never overcome the light.

Image: Brian Erickson at unsplash

 

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Fire by Roya Ann Miller

Not long ago I was talking to my daughters about what to do if we ever get separated in a public place, or they get lost. I opened my mouth to say “look for a policeman” and then stopped myself. How would they know the difference between a uniformed cop and someone like a security guard or member of the military? Besides that, older strange men often intimate them. So I asked myself Who’s the safest person in a group of strangers for a child? And suddenly it dawned on me: a mom with young children. So, now I tell my daughters to look for a woman with little kids and ask her for help if they ever need it.

How are children supposed to know which strangers to be weary of? It’s confusing for kids to be told not to talk to strangers, and to be wary of strangers, while at the same time expect them to be friendly and make small talk with the strangers they meet in daily life — like shopkeepers or neighbors down the street. Why didn’t you say hello? I’ve sometimes asked my daughters when getting out of an elevator after someone has spoken to them. At times I’ve felt badly about what must seem like rudeness to others. But they were strangers, mom! they say to me. And they’re right — they are strangers — so how do we teach the difference?

A woman named Pattie Fitzgerald, who’s been teaching child predator safety awareness for many years, has a program called Safely Ever After and she says we should stop telling our kids not to talk to strangers. “They might need to talk to a stranger one day. Instead, teach them which sorts of strangers are safe.”

She says we should instead help children know how to detect what she calls “tricky” people — the kind of strangers they should be weary of. One of her guidelines for knowing who is unsafe is that tricky people ask kids for help, whereas “safe” adults ask other adults for help — not kids. Her web site has a lot of other tips and helpful info. (I was happy to see that she also says if kids are lost, one of their best options is to look for a mom with kids for help.)

How do you teach your kids about stranger danger?

Image: Roya Ann Miller at unsplash

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In the bamboo

Here’s a perspective shift:

Professor Alison Gopnik who recently wrote “A Manifesto Against “Parenting” in the Wall Street Journal says “parenting” should not be a verb. She says the term didn’t appear until the late 50s and wasn’t commonly used until the 70s. It’s rise as a verb tracks with societal changes in family life and work:

For most of human history, we lived in these extended family groups. This meant that we learned how to take care of children by practicing with our own little sisters and baby cousins and by watching many other people take care of children.

But toward the end of the 20th century, families got much smaller and more scattered, people had children later, and middle-class parents spent more time working and going to school. The traditional sources of wisdom and competence weren’t available any more.

Today, most middle-class parents spend years taking classes and pursuing careers before they have children. It’s not surprising, then, that going to school and working are modern parents’ models for taking care of children: You go to school and work with a goal in mind, and you can be taught to do better at school and work.

Working to achieve a particular outcome is a good model for many crucial human enterprises. It’s the right model for carpenters or writers or businessmen. You can judge whether you are a good carpenter or writer or CEO by the quality of your chairs, your books or your bottom line. In the “parenting” picture, a parent is a kind of carpenter; the goal, however, is not to produce a particular kind of product, like a chair, but a particular kind of person.

This is true. We tend to think if we parent this way or that, at the other end of childhood will spring forth a child who is everything (or close) to what we believe is “good” in terms of a successful human being.

The author’s point is that we ought to shift our focus from parenting as a goal-oriented enterprise to being a parent, which has love as its aim:

Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.

I agree with that. And when I think about it, I do value being a parent more than parenting. I bet we all do. I view “parenting” as the doing part, the part I’m often trying to figure out, along with every other parent out there. Not only are most of us raising kids without the benefits of a “village,” the world out there our children are inheriting can feel scary and uncertain. Love drives us to want to make sure we’re not just caring for our children but preparing them for the future.

I like the author’s analogy of tending a garden. It’s a great metaphor for raising children, and for understanding the role of a parent:

A good garden, like any good ecosystem, is dynamic, variable and resilient. Consider what it takes to create a meadow or a hedgerow or a cottage garden. The glory of a meadow is its messiness: The different grasses and flowers may flourish or perish as circumstances alter, and there is no guarantee that any individual plant will become the tallest, or fairest or most long-blooming. The good gardener works to create fertile soil that can sustain a whole ecosystem of different plants with different strengths and beauties—and with different weaknesses and difficulties, too.

Yes. At the same time, a child isn’t quite a plant. As a parent, I still believe in forming my children, instilling the values, beliefs, traditions, and wisdom that I believe helps to make for a good person who can become her best self. I don’t expect all of that will take root in the way I hope or envision, but the point is that love means more than just pulling up weeds and building protective fences to stave off pests.

I don’t think I’ll stop using the term “parenting” any time soon… For me, it’s a synonym for “raising children” and it’s part of the modern lexicon. But this article definitely made me pause and consider how goal-oriented parenting has become, rather than focused on the subjective, personal dimension of the relationship itself and the kind of love that ultimately lets a child blossom.

What are your thoughts about the piece?

 

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Being creative

You’ve surely heard me call myself “the world’s worst homeschooler.” Almost three years into it and I still stand by that. Okay, I’m probably not literally the worst, but I seriously think I could start a Facebook group called “pathetic homeschoolers” and not feel the least bit like a phony.

Like most homeschoolers I know, I struggle at times… I wonder if I’m doing enough, or missing the best strategies, or using the right curricula. I’m inconsistent, I get tired, I compare myself to others, and my kids to other kids. I question if this is the best path, and sometimes entertain the idea of throwing in the towel. Not all the time, but there are days.

The truth is, however, I do it because when push comes to shove, I love homeschooling. And I’m convinced that, at least right now, it’s the best option for our daughters and for our family. But since homeschooling is not the typical path and I support school choice and recognize that different options work better for different families, I’m conscious about how I come across when I talk to non-homeschoolers.

When friends and strangers alike hear that we homeschool, they often say things like, “Oh, I could never do that!” or “I love my kids, but I really like when they’re in school!” I understand those comments. There are days when I dream of my kids being in school all day so I have no interruptions and can get all my work done. But when I get such comments, I’m tempted to minimize my love for homeschooling, not wanting to make someone else feel bad or judged in any way. (I often say: Believe me, if I can do it, anybody can! And I really mean that.)

But at the same time, when I’m out and about — like say at the grocery store with my 8 year-olds at 1:00pm on a Monday — I’m aware that people may wonder if I take my kids’ education seriously, or if my kids are missing out, and I don’t want to sound insecure about our decision or reticent to talk about it. So I’m often trying to find that balance of being a happy homeschooler while making sure no one feels like I’m rubbing it in their face.

Recently someone posted this HuffPost article on Facebook called “3 Things Your Homeschooling Friend Isn’t Telling You” and I found myself nodding along with the whole thing. It reminded me once again why a woman like me, who doesn’t think she homeschools very well, continues on. I love the flexibility it allows, the creativity, the ability to tailor learning to my individual children. I love the wholesome environment we can provide our daughters to learn and to discover who they are in this big world. As much as my kids can drive me crazy at times, I treasure all the time I have with them because time passes quickly and the relationships we’re building now are a foundation for the future. I’m grateful to have all the supports we have around us, which make it easier to do this — coops, activities, other homeschoolers, lots of resources.

I suppose this post is mostly meant for me, to remind myself that I really do enjoy being a homeschooler, despite my struggles and chaotic days and my down-playing it to others. Of course, I’m writing this while we’re on our summer schedule, which is an easier time to sit back and feel good about things. But when November rolls around, I think it may help to re-read this post.

If you’re a homeschooler, does that article resonate? If you’re not, do you find it helpful to remind yourself why you do what you do?

 

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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Pull Up A Chair

July 8, 2016

Cornfield by Joao Silas

It was a short week and I’m not complaining about that, but there’s still a whole lot on my to-do list as I head into the weekend. I have no coherent commentary on anything in particular today, so here’s a handful of random things that are on my mind and heart. Before I start, though, how about joining me in a tall glass of Smashed Blackberry Sage Sprtiz? Seems like a refreshing way to start a summer weekend. Okay, so let’s see…

  • My social media feeds are once again full of news of white cops shooting black men  –and protests erupting in police deaths. Terrible, terrible. Each situation has its own particulars I know, but what they have in common can’t be denied. Hashtags and forwarding prayers aren’t going to fix this problem — each of us needs to play a role. There are lots of words that get written, and spoken, and words are important, but what particular actions can we take? I read about how one young white woman starting picking up trash in a section of her inner city neighborhood where many African Americans live. She ended up spending an hour cleaning and sweeping with an elderly neighbor and the two plan to continue the effort and encourage others to join them. Everyday, “ordinary” things can make a difference.
  • I had my first experience with deer ticks and it was a bit nerve-wracking. We came up with the bright idea of hiking last Saturday because it was so beautiful outside, and off we went to one of our favorite local spots. Even though we didn’t walk in tall grass and we wore long pants and had socks on, B still ended up with 3 ticks crawling on him, I had two, and H had one that had crawled in her shoe. We inspected ourselves thoroughly before getting into the car and I still found one on my arm when we were half way home (that probably came from my hair). We took our clothes off at the front door and got showers, and the next day the girls spotted a tick on our kitchen floor. Ugh! Luckily, no one was bitten, but I think that about did it for hiking in Maryland’s countryside until fall, especially after I read about the 92 pathogens ticks can carry around here, including the sometimes Rocky Mountain Fever. Sigh.
  • Currently on my nightstand is my 2016 “summertime novel.” It’s not something I need to read for work, it’s not related to parenting, or something I need to learn — it’s for pure reading pleasure. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr has been recommended by many people so I’m looking forward to seeing what I think. I’ll let you know.
  • After one of my daughters told me she couldn’t sleep because she was bored of her room and even the walls were “making her sick,” I decided we should take an afternoon and change things up. Not easy to do in such a tiny room with two doors, two windows, and a closet to contend with, but we managed it. It was a group effort and honestly, she’s been sleeping a little better ever since. Parenting lesson #9654: Kids sometimes need something new and different, too.
  • It’s July, friends; we’re halfway through 2016! How’s your year going so far? What do you need to do or plan for now to make sure you’re happy with the way this year has turned out when the end of December rolls around? I’m asking myself this very question.
  • Got any recommendations for carry-on luggage — for both kids and adults — for a week-long summer vacation trip? I’m in the market.

Happy weekend! Rest, relax, stay safe.

Image: Joao Silas at unsplash

 

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The 4th of July and Me

July 4, 2016

Blueberries, veeterzy at Unsplash

It’s Independence Day here in the US of A, which means it’s a holiday, with cookouts and fireworks and flags flying everywhere.

More than any other US holiday, this one brings out the national pride. At times, the rhetoric around American patriotism can get a little…I don’t know… much. But 20 years of living in this country has afforded me the chance to understand it better from the inside out, and to love it. Until I spent time in a developing country, though, I didn’t really appreciate the life I have here — the life I’ve always had as a North American. Not because this country (or my native home) is so perfect — heaven knows, that’s not the case — but because there are so many places in the world that are harder to live in; so many places where it’s still very difficult to be a woman, to succeed, to obtain enough food or adequate medicine; so many places that are in the midst of war, or recovering from war; that have no rule of law or fairly elected government.

It was in Ethiopia that I realized how spoiled I am because I’m used to toilets and toilet paper and electricity being on all the time, and access to things, and all kinds of little luxuries and conveniences that make life easier. I love experiencing other cultures and lands and peoples, but at the end of the day, I get to come back to a place that, at least for now, is safe and comfortable, and affords me a life where I have many, many freedoms to be and do what I choose. This really should never be taken for granted because things can change and we never know the future. But despite a rather frightening election coming up, and all the problems I see around me, I can, with sincerity, wave a flag today in appreciation of the many great things this country stands for, and what is has afforded me over the course of my life.

I’ll blame my reflective mood on the gray skies and drizzle outside. No doubt a juicy burger and one of my brother’s martinis later this afternoon will make everything seem bright and sunny. Happy 4th of July!

Image: veeterzy at unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image: veeterzy at unsplash

 

 

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O Canada Day

July 1, 2016

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers!

Here’s a little entertainment if you get tired of the cookouts and fireworks:

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And Now They Are 8!

June 27, 2016

Pastries at the farmers market

My beautiful girls turned 8 years-old on Sunday. Eight! It’s hard for this mama to believe. I should perhaps say that we celebrated them turning 8 because as anyone who’s adopted a child from Ethiopia knows, birthdays are rarely accurate. They don’t record birth dates in Ethiopia and don’t tend to celebrate birthdays. Add to that the fact that children relinquished for adoption are often assigned younger ages to make them more “adoptable” and you rarely come home with a true birth date.

Most people don’t do anything about it — unless the discrepancy is vast and it causes issues with school, health, or developmental issues. Changing it on all of the documents that come with adoption would be a paperwork nightmare in my books. So, June 26 it is in our house!

Last year, S and H didn’t want a party so we had just family and godparents over for cake and did something together as a family instead. This year the request was different: they wanted a party with friends. Since it was a busy week after getting back from Kentucky, we kept it simple: Snacks, drinks, cake, and ice cream in our courtyard for about 20 people. Then most of the group headed down to the carousel and water fountains at the harbor, close to our house. Thankfully, the weather was perfect. Then it was gift-opening when we got home. The girls proclaimed it “the best birthday ever,” which is always a good thing.

8th birthday

I didn’t have time to make two cakes like I did last year. Instead, the girls picked out what they wanted at our local WholeFoods bakery. I did, however, make gluten-free cupcakes since as one of our little guest needed it. The vanilla cupcakes themselves turned out really well, which was edifying since I made some substitutions such as coconut palm sugar instead of white sugar. But the frosting was another story…

The plan was to whip up a topping using coconut cream (from a can of coconut milk) and flavor it with vanilla and honey. But when I went to re-whip it, just before the guests arrived, the consistency changed and more or less curdled. No idea why. (Chemistry was never my strong-suit, which is probably why I’m such an  inconsistent cook.) It still tasted good, though, so I went with it, hoping to disguise the mistake with some colored sprinkles on the top (dye-free, of course). But 10 minutes after I put the sprinkles box on the counter, I couldn’t find them anywhere. The whole family ended up getting into the hunt for the box of sprinkles, with no success; they had disappeared into thin air. So, I stuck some dark chocolate chips on top instead.

I had to laugh, though: after all that, the little guy I made them for didn’t like them! All the adults did, though, and the other kids, too, so the cupcakes still got gobbled up. (Oh, and I found the sprinkles later hiding under our Japanese wood cutting board. Turns out, the little box fit perfectly underneath the board, and rather than lift the board up, we kept simply pushing it around the counter in our search. Good grief.)

Anyway, back to the birthday girls… They are growing and changing so quickly and I’m trying to be present to the everyday moments, knowing they pass all too fast. I don’t want to be a mom who’s always upset that my kids are getting older — and in my girls’ case, they need encouragement as they are sometimes unsure they want to get any older — but I can’t help feeling a little wistful to see their younger selves transforming before my eyes. Just a part of motherhood, right?

Images: Zoe Saint-Paul

 

 

 

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Handmade dresses

Among my mother-in-law’s many gifts is her ability to sew. And I don’t mean simply fixing hems or mending holes. This woman can make stuff. As a young woman, she made her own clothes that were fashion magazine worthy — people would stop her on the street and ask where she got what she was wearing. She has sewn all kinds of incredible things over the years, and I would add kids Halloween costumes to that list as the ones she made for the girls the past two years were really something.

I marvel at this talent because sewing is not something I grew up with. My mother never learned — she was left-handed and refused to do it the right-handed way, which is the only way anyone would teach it when she was young. And I had such a crummy experience in home economics class myself that it put a bad taste in my mouth when it came to sewing so I didn’t pursue it. Neither of my grandmothers seemed to sew, either, at least as far as I remember.

One of the highlights of our trip to Kentucky this month for S and H was being introduced to sewing by B’s mom. She had them practice using the machine, and then she took them to a fabric store where they picked out fabric for sundresses she helped them to make. They were quick to know what they wanted — and both knew they wanted their dressed to be long.

The results are above. Aren’t they beautiful? (They also look so grown up — sniff, sniff!) For Father’s Day on Sunday, the girls insisted on wearing them — to church and out for brunch — and as predicted they made a statement everywhere they went. (These girls can wear any color and look dynamite – I’m so jealous.)

Coming home with a beautiful dress that they can say they made (with Nana’s help!) is indeed special, but perhaps even better is the memories this made. Sewing with their grandmother is something the girls can treasure for many years to come. I guarantee they’ll remember these first outfits they made.

Do you sew? Would you like to learn? If you could make something with a sewing machine, what would it be?

Image: Zoe Saint-Paul

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