Sunday, November 30, 2008

Raising Awareness about Adoption

Today is the last day of November.  I woke up early this morning feeling compelled to write about a topic I've been avoiding all month.  November is National Adoption Awareness Month. My avoidance for the cause-of-the-month comes from my deep conflict about adoption.   

My understanding of the intention behind this month is that this is a vehicle to draw attention to the need for foster families and foster to adopt families.  Some enterprising souls have also dedicated the month to "promote positive perceptions and debunk myths" about adoption. I acknowledge the value of these goals. I, too, long to see every child in a loving, supportive home. And as an adoptive mother I hate the stupid stereotypes I see daily about everyone in the adoption triangle: first parents, adoptees and adoptive parents.  

But. But there is another awareness that needs promoting.  Problem is, there's no happy spin on this one, so you won't see it on glossy brochures or TV ads.  It is the awareness that adoption means that somewhere along the way something went very, very wrong.

Plainly, babies are meant to be with their mamas.  Their first mamas, their natural mamas. And mamas are meant to have all their basic needs met: need for safety, good food and shelter, a supportive, loving environment.  In any situation where you find a baby removed from the arms of their natural mama, consider it a giant red flag.

To me, the prevalence of adoption is a signal of how messed up our world is.  The poverty, shame and ignorance that propels many incidents of children being relinquished is just wrong. The shame, greed and manipulation that drives the removal of babies from their mamas by controlling family members and conniving adoption works is beyond wrong.  Adoption is a devastating symptom of the severity of global illness.

So I'm promoting this awareness about adoption - that at its core, it's wrong.  There should be no place in our world for the separation of baby and mama. 

Just to be clear, I in no way support anyone who promotes the idea that there is something bad or wrong about the mothers who relinquish their children, whatever their motivation (hurt, yes. wrong, no). Similarly I'll rail against anyone who suggests there is something wrong with adoptees or foster children (hurt, yes. wrong, never).  What I am communicating here is that our entire culture is mixed up in a system that is at it's core deeply perverse.

So I've waited until the end of Adoption Awareness Month to write about it.  Because of this on-going internal conflict:
  • To my core, I believe babies belong with their mamas.  Regularly I ask myself am I doing my part to help effect the change that will keep them together? 
  • Right now somewhere there is a baby who, for the evils of this world, needs a mama. Do I continue to grow my family through adoption, all the while weeping and angry for the need of it?

Here are some resources for a new understanding about adoption.
Bastard Nation's Adoptee Rights website
- Nancy Verrier's article on the effects of separating baby from mama
  (and a fascinating rebuttal)
Ethica - A Voice for Ethical Adoptions
Pact - my favorite adoption support resource

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Barnacle Offsite

One of the books I'm perpetually reading is 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, by Stephen Covey. I really love his perspective on focusing on what we want our families to be.  A strategy that Bill and I quickly and easily incorporated into our life is the idea of a regular check-in to make sure the family is headed in the right direction. Based on our best corporate training, we've dubbed these "Barnacle Offsites."

Today we left the kids with our beloved and amazing housemate to head downtown to a friend's office.  With 6 full hours of kid free time, we chugged through our agenda.  Our usual items include the state of the house, how each family member is doing, a conversation about finance/budget and upcoming projects.  

After our first couple of offsites, Bill and I came home with huge lifestyle changes - Bill quitting his corporate job, moving to a new neighborhood.  People in our household became a little nervous about the idea of these meetings. But having resolved some of the major issues with our lives, meetings are now smaller scale tactical conversations and long-term planning.

Last meeting we realized we could schedule the next event in advance, so only 3 months have passed since our last check-in (as opposed to the 9-12 months that slipped away between previous ones).  Amazingly, it was easy to review our progress as we could still interpret our notes.  Also with a specified date looming, we actually kept track of and completed many of our action items. 

We closed our meeting early today having worked through our agenda and identified next-actions. We scheduled a date for the next offsite and headed out to meet the bus.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Pre-nap conversation

With the kids being older, quiet time has pretty much replaced nap time.  A few times a week, though, I lay down with Rosie in hopes she might catch some zzz's. 

Today as we cuddled up, she started up some pillow talk. I love these little peeks into how her heart and brain work.

"Mommy, will you love me forever?"
"Yes, I will love you forever.  And a day.  That's a really long time."
"Will you love me when you're dead?
"Yes, even when I'm dead."
"Will you love me when I'm dead?"
"I'll love you when you're dead.  I'll miss you, too, a lot."
"Do I have to go to college?"
"No you don't have to, but I think it is a good idea."
"I'm not going to move away, I'm just going to live in the house next door."
"We won't be neighbors if I live next door, though.  Because you're my mommy."
"Huh, I didn't know that.  Did you know, some people go to college in Seattle."
"Then, will you come with me to college?"
"Maybe, we'll have to see.  I might be ready for more school then."
"Really?  Old people can go to college?"
"Rosie, I have a headache, let's go to sleep."
"Okay.  We've talked about enough.  We talked about loving each other and college.  That's enough. We can rest now."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Wishes

The pies have a golden glow, the sorbets fluff nicely after each mixing and the fully brined turkey waits drying in the fridge. I've a kitchen full of promise here.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!  Hope you day is full of love, peace, laughter and fun.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pie and Parking

Pies are on the docket today: two pumpkin (one low-carb so I can gorge on it post-Thursday) and one chess (sort of like pecan w/o the pecans and maple syrup instead of corn syrup).  

Here's a little something to keep you chuckling through the day, from the Seattle Police Department Blotter:

Parking meter heist foiled

On November 25th at 1:02 AM, Seattle Police received an anonymous 911 call stating that 2 men were attempting to steal a parking meter station in the 200 block of Battery Street by chaining it to a van.  West Precinct patrol officers responded and located the van in question parked diagonally in the roadway.  Officers discovered a City of Seattle parking meter station inside the van.  The two suspects inside the van were taken into custody.
Upon being interviewed, the suspects claimed ignorance as to how the parking meter station got inside of the van.  Furthermore, they had no idea who the van belongs to and could not explain why they were inside the van.
The van was impounded to the SPD Vehicle Processing Room and the suspects were booked into King County Jail.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Turning the Tables

In large part, I started this blog to share some of the information I collect and sort.  The first step in gathering info to share though, is have an empty spot where some knowledge should be.

Coming up on Thanksgiving Day, I am always painfully aware of a vacant space where a tradition should be.  We have the friends and family, we have the meal but we're missing the ritual that makes the day about more than just the food.

I hate the "everybody around the table share one thing they're grateful for" routine.  Anyone have traditions that keep the heart of the celebration without being painfully cheesy?  Bonus points for fun or tactile.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Someone Out There

Following a string of blog links today, I came across this post.   I really hope Someone out there is thinking of her Little One today and everyday.  I know she's thinking of Someone.

What I'd give to see them loving each other.

T-Day Countdown

Remember that organizational bent I have?  Producing Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite sports!  I know many people who dread the task. Just in case you are one of them, I'll share my meal and schedule planning.  If you too relish the challenge of getting everything warm and lovely to the table, let me know. I'd love to geek out with you!  

We have about 10 people coming for dinner. 

We're providing:
- Turkey (Best Recipe) - the Whole Foods cutie said 14 pounds should be enough for leftovers
- Stuffing (The Silver Palate Cookbook) - heated in the crock pot to be moist and yummy
- Gravy (Best Recipe)
- Cranberry and Orange Sorbets (VitaMix cookbook and my brain) - in 1/2 orange rinds
- Pumpkin Pie (Joy Of Cooking, 1997)
- Chess/Silk Pie (Joy of Cooking, 1997)
- Whipped Cream for pie

Guests are bringing:
- Mashed potatoes
- Salad
- Sweet potatoes
- Green beans
- More Pie
- Rolls
- Wine

Tuesday: Kids and I will do this.
- grocery shop
- start turkey brining

Wednesday: Housemate and Kids will help.
- make pies
- make sorbets
- vacuum, maybe mop?
- create decorations
- set up table and chairs
- remove turkey from brine and set it to dry in fridge (where???)

Thursday: Household works together!

worker 1    

10:00 AM  turn on oven, prep turkey

11:15 AM  turkey in

12:00 PM   turn/baste turkey

everyone eat snacks!

12:30 PM  baste turkey

1:00 AM turkey out (ish)

guests arrive

1:30 AM carve turkey

worker 2

10:00 AM  set table

11:15 AM  start gravy

12:00 PM   make gravy roux

12:30 PM   clean up kitchen

set up serving space

1:00 AM  finish gravy

1:30 AM  rolls in oven

do green beans

worker 3

10:00 AM  whip sorbets

11:15 AM  start stuffing

12:00 PM   stuffing to crockpot

12:30 PM   pick up house

1:00 AM  transfer sorbets


2:00 AM EAT

3:30 AM walk

4:30 AM eat pie, play games

6:00 AM eat leftovers and more pie

edited to add: fie upon blogger.  There is no table formatting and it won't let me copy in a table from Numbers or Pages nor add the table saved as a .pdf.  Sorry about all the craziness  folks.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

On Not-Getting-Things-Done

In a past life, my professional title was administrative assistant.  I worked for several telecom companies and my favorite software corporation.  

I was born organizing - joy for me in grade school included stapling shoe boxes together so that each sock color could have its own home. In high school bagging shopper's food into tidy little grocery bag specimens pervaded my dreams.  For fun, I was the marching band uniform manager and one of the main promoters of well planned weekends for my gang of friends.  Not surprisingly, when I graduated from college directing people, information and schedules came easily to me. 

I prided myself on having everything ship-shape.  By the end of the day, my desk was always neat and tidy with to-do list for the next day.  My email inbox never exceeded 2o messages. Projects had follow-up dates that were carefully recorded and maintained.  I even developed creepy Radar-esque abilities with my 2 favorite bosses, handing them reports and documents they needed as they opened their mouths to request them.

My desk, and life, looked something like this:

Now I have this:

Everything important that needs to be done resides here.  Mostly it just sits, until the need for it reaches crisis level, at which point I sift wildly through it trying not to spill the whole she-bang on the floor ('cuz there are 2 more piles down there and it would never to do have the "A pile" mixing with the "B pile"; neither of which should consort with the "to file" pile).

I have a variety of thoughts about how I have morphed from Sara, born organized to Sara, chaos monger.  Most of them have to do with two darling children.  Related thoughts center around not creating any time in my life to do anything about anything. Then I go back to thoughts about small children.  Sometimes I have fantasies of having a desk again and chunks of time every week to sort through piles, make to-do list and actually DO things from them. Other times I have fantasies of having more children and I pretend these don't conflict.

In the meantime, my longing to return to my former self has turned up several lovely resources.

One of my favorite how and why to organize my time and stuff books is Getting Things Done by David Allen.  When I was putting aside time, his systems showed me how to make the right work happen quickly and effectively. I still use several of his ideas daily, though I'm sure he'd never recognize them.

FlyLady is an on-line coach I "met" almost 8 years ago.  Her goal is for anyone who is interested to have a peaceful, orderly, loving life.  Her motto is baby steps and she assures me I can do anything for 15 minutes.  Much to my horror, it turns out I can do most things I've been putting of and dreading in less that 15 minutes.  So I adore her kind support in keeping my house tidy-ish and my life something like peaceful. Oh, and her calender rocks my world.

The Dinner Diva is one of FlyLady's cohorts.  She provides weekly dinner menus complete with shopping list.  We've spent most of the past 4 years eating dinner with her. I recommend her low carb menu mailer.

My new crush is AmazonFresh.  I click on the yummy food, they bring it to my door in the wee hours while I sleep.  Much to my amazement, their prices are low. 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

My Ukulele

Bill took up the ukulele because he wanted to be able to play and sing along with others. Learning the guitar just never worked out for him what with his full and hectic life.  The slightly comical little uke fits his time and ability bandwidth right now (and maybe personality).  It is small, cheap and durable so he can tote it along on his travels.  From my side of the office door, he sounds completely fulfilled in there strumming and humming away.

Knitting has always been my guitar. I admire my knitting friends (like this one) and their knitting lifestyle. It looks very soothing when they pull out their projects working as they chat with adults and moderate kids skirmishes. Being tactilely driven, I crave the rhythm and touch of the different yarns and needles.  And then there is the major bonus of having actually made a thing.

Several kind friends have tried to teach me.  But the mix of yarn, two needles and keeping an ear on my kids spells disaster.  I can't make anything, and as soon as I leave the presence of the helping friend, all knowledge spills out of my brain.

Enter crocheting.  One day at the park, I watched another mom whip out a hat.  Slack-jawed, I asked her to teach me how.  Turns out, my cranium can manage yarn, one needle and two kids.

So far I've made one ugly round white thing and one not-revolting long red thing.  I'm  very pleased. A book gorge at the library yielded about 15 very simple patterns for fun things. Stuck with nothing else to read in the car, Theo flipped through the books and insisted last night that I teach him, too.  We sat cozy on the chair together talking about the ugly long things we were making together.  Theo, pleased as punch, declared his nice looking and mine not too ugly. 

Here is my favorite crochet book so far (note: I can't even decipher the patterns yet, but this one seems clear with great projects).

Here is a great ukele video.

Friday, November 21, 2008

There's a Button for That?

Turns out there's a little button that says, "Moderate Comments" in blogger.  And if I click on it, I can see and publish the comments people have posted to my blog.  What will they think of next?

Thanks for the love, everyone.  Next time I won't be so slow to catch on to your comments.

My 5 Hour Thing

I have this sleep phenomena, to myself I call it "the 5 hour thing," where after 5 hours of sleep my body temporarily believes I am rested and restored.  

I first noticed the 5 hour thing in college, when I perceived it as an asset.  Study until the library closed at midnight, walk over the the pub for a drink with a buddy, in bed by 2:00 meant I could nab 5 hours before getting up at 7:00 for my first 8:00 class. Apparently I was somewhat functional, too, based on my grades.

After college I mostly forgot about it.  10 years later, enter babies and true sleep deprivation, then suddenly the 5 hour thing is a major player in getting through the day.  

Now my kids are over 4 feet and the 8 hour snooze is no longer some longed for myth. Suddenly the 5 hour thing is a dreaded phenomenon.  On a normal night, with sleep cycles being 1.5 hour loops, I'm out cold when the magic 5th hours comes. I sleep through the dog's squirrel dreams, kids grinding their teeth, hubby's snores. Occasionally, however, something happens at the 5 hour mark. 

I've learned over the years that there is nothing I can do to trick my body back to sleep if awoken at the 5 hour mark.  I've tried lying quietly in the warm dark for hours, snacks like turkey and cheese, thinking sleepy thoughts, reading a dull book, reading a funny book, melatonin, Tylenol PM, even Nyquil.  No luck.

So last night when hubby had a leg cramp 5 hours after I'd nodded off, I lay in bed for an hour, then gave up and came downstairs. Maybe it is because I'm older, but I no longer perceive myself as functional. Especially at 4am.  Rather than pull out the stack of work I need to do, I've been surfing the web for 4 hours now.  

The kids are awake and Bill is making coffee.  Maybe 5 cups is the cure to 5 hours?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Brilliant Idea

The combination of struggling to work with both children at the same time and writing about what we do here generated a brilliant idea today!

Instead of counting the morning as Homeschool Time for both kids, I'm going to try dividing our weekly charts up into 4 sections: Theo/Mommy Time, Theo/independent work time, Rosie/Mommy Time and Rosie/independent work time.  And I'm going to add a column that specifies how much time each task takes, to help me be aware of time.

Off to make a chart to see if the hypothesis is viable.  Wheeeee!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Poems Before Sleep

Must go to bed.  But first two poetic bits for you.

One of my old favorites:
  The best-laid plans of mice and men
  often go awry.

Commentary thanks to Wikipedia
Based on Steinbeck's own experiences as a bindle stiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns's poem, To a Mouse, which is often quoted as: "The best-laid plans of mice and men/often go awry," though the phrase in the original Scots of the poem is "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft agley."

And apparently the second poem falls into the poetic justice of the first as I can't get the formatting to work out so the poem is visible.  Try Googling it instead: The Snark by Lewis Carroll.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tracking our Schooling

In the same vein as my last post about how we homeschool is how we track what we homeschool.

Through some Yahoo! group or other, perhaps The Well Trained Mind Secular group, I heard about Full-Year Notebook.  I knew I wasn't going to want some computer heavy system, so this printable planning and tracking system appealed to me.  

Essentially, you print out the long-term planning sheets and create customized weekly plans for each child.  Those weekly plans go in each child's own notebooks with the theory they can work independently from them.  The notebook includes completed pages of work for a full record of the year.  I've tweaked how we use Full-Year Notebook (FYN) over the past two years, and I'm sure as the children, and their school work mature, we will tweak again.

Several things about the program keep us moving in the right direction.  
- I really value the creator's way of envisioning the school year and walking me through understanding how much time we have and how much work we can really do in that time. 
- Her ideas about gathering support materials (like library books) didn't quite work right for me, but I wouldn't have found the process that works for us without trying hers first.  
- Envisioning a full-year of homeschool gives me a vision of where we're going.  I have found that planning an entire 9 months of school work in August doesn't work well for me (the best laid plans of mice and men...).  So with my year's vision in mind, I have a loose quarterly plan.  I write my weekly sheets from there.
- FYN tracking sheets include a space for each subject, the books used and their pages, plus any notes.  There is one for each child.  Her set up overwhelmed my kids, but it was easy to create something that worked for us after trying her version for several months.
- The PDF download, at $30 is a steal, compared to most of the tracking systems out there.  And I can use it year after year with no annoying software updates!

It turns out having a fat little notebook at the end of the year is really satisfying for my kids. Each has their own 3 ring notebook that they have customized with personal art work.  Inside are tabs for their different subject plus all the weekly sheets.  And I love that I can easily whip out last year's notebook to double check something we've done or show-off to nay-sayers!

Monday, November 17, 2008

So, you homeschool?

People often wonder what we DO when we homeschool, both civilians and homeschoolers alike. I always appreciate seeing what other families are doing, so I'll share the list of things we hypothetically do in a day. 

We're probably closest to the classical style of homeschooling, though I draw much of my philosophical base from what I've learned over the years from the brain-growth folks at IAHP and FHC, with new inspiration from some unholy combination of Lisa VanDamme and Andrew Pudewa.

Theo is almost 8. Here is his list:
- IEW Spelling Zoo, one lesson per day: 15 minutes
- Suzuki guitar practice: 30 minutes
- History at Our House teleconference lecture, plus geography map work: 30+15 minutes 
- Reading with pRoshi: 20 minutes
- RightStart Math, level B. One lesson per day, plus one practice sheet: 30 minutes
- IEW Poetry memorization, all known poems and new poem. In car: 20 minutes
- Physical: bike or run 
- IEW Writing: 15 minutes
- Literature discussion/copy work.  About 15 minutes per day.
- Read aloud library books

I typed them pretty much in order of priority, the things that need to be practiced daily or cost money seem to get most of my attention.  Writing, lit and read aloud get dropped on busy days, and I am truly sad how little time I seem to spend reading to the kids these days.  

Rosie's list, at 5 years, is much shorter. I find I'm really struggling to work with both kids because neither of them spend much time on independent work yet. Several of the items in Rosie's list exist sheerly to buy me focused time with Theo.
- Suzuki guitar practice: 15 minutes
- Headsprout reading program: 20 minutes (with some bonus Starfall or, gasp, Sesame Street if I need more time with Theo)
- Headsprout review flash cards and mini-books
- Handwriting Without Tears practice or copy work: 10 minutes
- RightStart Math, level A. One lesson every other day: 15 mintues
- Craft work (can you say "busy work"?).  Just printed out some compelling pages from WonderTime.
- IEW Poetry memorization, recite all known poems each day, plus work on new poem. In car: 20 minutes
- Physical: bike or run 
- Read aloud library books

On a weekly basis we also have an alternating art-science group, guitar lessons, park day, swim lessons and potluck night.

The crazy thing about writing a list out is that it doesn't really reflect how the day goes.  First off, there are the random days where the water heater explodes, someone is sick or we run away from home to Costco.  Still, if you add up the amount of time the work should take, the grand total is about 2.5 hours.  However, add children and mix and the work can easily stretch out to 5 hours. And I'm not willing to work that hard for that long.  So we stop about noon, do our afternoon activities and sometimes re-group for a little more work after dinner.

I beat myself up from time to time that our lists are so very rarely completed (yes, I have one too).  I don't really even know how to asses if they are doing "well" or not as we go along. Of course, the list also misses all the magical learning moments that happen throughout the day, too.  Making pancakes looks like math work to me.  Our runs along the lake beg a million questions about the life teaming in and near the water.  Spending every day together is a giant exercise in communication, negotiations and emotional intelligence. Millions of conversations in the car about friends, race, sterotypes, war, love, how puppies are made.  The water heater incident, the grocery store, talking with rodent control man - my children learn tons just making it through the day together as a family.  How do I quantify all that?

In any case, for now this is how we putter through our days,  and that's how we homeschool.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Evil C's

When my husband leaves town, balance is the key to family survival.  Balance starts with enough sleep for everyone, plenty of nourishing food, exercise and maintaining our routine to reduce anxiety and levels of negotiations. 12-15 trips a year has drilled this information deep into my brain.

Enter the evil C's.

Computer, caffeine and crochet.

It started the day after he left.  Obsessive reading of blogs until midnight.  Then lots of coffee the next morning to mask the sleep deprivation.  Which wired me a little too much to fall asleep at a reasonable hour the next night.  Overly focused work on my very first crochet creation (a long, ugly thing) until I couldn't prop my eyelids open any longer. It all becomes a dizzying blur of more coffee, more blog posts and more long, ugly crochet.

Now Mama's too tired to get up on time, kids are eating cereal and potato chips for breakfast, our daily runs are completely out of the picture.  The other day we cut our losses and spent the morning at Costco to prevent the stream of tired, grumpies that our day would have been.

Sometimes, it doesn't matter how smart I am and how much I know, I still do the wrong thing.  On purpose.  Over and over.  Thank heavens Bill comes how tomorrow to save me from myself!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Have you ever tried to take your own picture?

Have you ever tried to take your own picture in a mirror trying to use a camera phone?  Not as easy as it might sound.  Most of the pictures range between scary and just plain crazy.

As promised, I was trying to capture my natural curls on a day that I really liked them.  Not sure anyone can see them for the freaky eyes and shiny face, though. 

It is good I entertain myself up so easily, what with Bill still gone. Whew.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rubbed the Wrong Way

For the first time in many years, I truly engaged in the elections.  Everyday I followed the news and visited plenty of blogs to get various points of view. Heck, I even donated money.  I am absolutely thrilled with the results and look forward to what 4 years of Obama in the White House could bring our country.

The writers of the blogs I follow are far more in touch and worldly in the ways of politics than I, so I have chosen to keep my trap shut.  But there is something in the McCain acceptance speech that really rub me the wrong way.  I expected to see it all over the internet, but no one has commented on it.  Maybe I'm hearing his intention wrong, maybe I'd have a few too many corn chips, but this really grated on me:
This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight.
I instantly perceive this statement as a huge discount of the value of Obama's election - that it was really only meaningful to the African American community.  But it wouldn't really have much meaning for us white folks.  Or any of the people of color who were not African American. Or other minorities in the US, like the LBGT community. Just that 13.4% of the US population is affected.

So what do you think - was McCain responding sensitively to the historic significance of the election of a Black man by a country that was founded upon and grown through slavery?  Or was he talking from the depths of "us vs. them" with Obama representing the Other? 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Clear Winner

A couple of months ago, I was in desperate search of new music.  

After requesting 20+ CDs from the library, which all came at once, I worked through the stack. My minimum listening requirement was at least 1 minute on two tracks.  Several didn't make it past the minimum (Ben Harper and the "World Music" cds, for instance).  Most of them were uninspiring.

One, though, really got me.  The variety of sounds appealed to me, and I instantly loved the singer's voice. One of the songs even got me all teary (I love weepy songs, thus my tendency towards country music).  

The album is Food and Liquor by Lupe Fiasco.  I don't like music videos as I prefer the visions in my head.  That said, the "Kick, Push" video delighted me.

"He Say She Say" is the weeper song I loved.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

HomeOwner's Club to the Rescue

Today I went down to the basement to get coffee makings, only to find several inches of standing water with even more pouring out of the bottom of the water heater.

After frantically turning off several knobs (we're not even going to talk about the number of nasty spiders webs I had to shove through), I finally stopped the flow.  A moment of panic ensued as I looked at all the water. I took a few deep breaths and ran upstairs.  As our housemate headed off to Lowe's to pick up a wet/dry shop vac, I called the HomeOwner's Club.

Someone from one of the local yahoo groups turned me onto the Club last year, just as we were selling our Montlake house and moving to Columbia City.  As you'll remember, this house has been rather challenging, so HOC is a regular part of our lives.  

Here's the work provided this year:
- pest control (yes, the rats are still sneaking in)
- tree trimming (to keep nasty rodents off roof)
- carpenter to fill holes in siding (where opossums were getting in)
- cleanup of rodent mess and installation of new insulation in crawlspace 
- plumber to fix flooding sink problem
- furnace company to install a real, working heating system

The annual membership fee of $25 is easily justified by the high quality contractors they send after a single phone call.  No more cold calling 6 plumbers from the phone book in hopes of finding a dependable company that can send someone in the next hour. In fact I figure they saved me 15 phone calls and around 10 quotes/interviews.  With two kids in the house and quiet phone time at a premium, that's priceless.

I'm comforted by the fact that all contractors are vetted, and all billing happens through the Club. So if there is a dispute we have experienced professionals advocating for us. Really the only other thing they could do to make these various crisis better would be to bring me a drink and a shoulder to cry on as I bemoan all the ways this house is broken.

Eventually today, I did managed to get my coffee together and breakfast started.  Only to realize the oven isn't heating.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Zoo doo

Yesterday was Homeschool Day at the zoo. The kids and I bagged our usual morning school work and went to see the animals.  

We were early, so the admissions window was free and clear.  I presented our zoo membership, the cashier checked my ID and asked if we'd parked in the zoo lot.  This is how getting into the zoo goes every single time.  Then she paused for a moment.  "Any guests?"  I looked around me, thinking someone was standing really close and she mistook them for a grandma or grandpa.  Nope.  No one. "No?" I said mystified by the question.

We collected our maps, started down the path and all the while pondering the question.  Like a little countdown in my head 5...4...3...2..1... ding!  Rosie, she must have been talking about Rosie.  Rosie's a different color than us, she must not be part of our family. Sigh.

That hasn't happened to me in a while.  I never know what to do about it.  Should I say something to the woman?  Or just let it go and use it as a teachable moment for the kids?

These sorts of comments bother me because they are stupid and insensitive.  But as an adult, I am confident in what makes us a family and I understand some people are just plain ignorant. However, I wonder what it feels like to be my kids.  How much does it shake their sense of who they are and what makes us a family? And how much does my incessant prattling about stereotyping and lack of education counteract those messages?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Stereotype 101

Last week, Bill and I attended a lecture by Joe Feagin as part of the Bush School's Diversity Lecture Series.  The title of the lecture was "Things My Teacher Didn't Tell Me."  Feagin has a doctorate in sociology and specializes in racism and sexism issues, so my guess was the "things" would have to do with minorities in history.

Feagin reviewed familiar major events and heroes of American History, but additionally he also related the left out information about the writing of the constitution, George Washington and the moral climate during which he owned slaves, and Abe Lincoln's opinions about slaves and steps towards signing the Emancipation Proclamation.  Now I know, from studying women's history, that many large and important details are missing from mainstream history. But I was stunned at the huge swaths of information omitted, maybe even covered up when it comes to Blacks in American History.

During the Q&A period, one of Feagin's answers to the various "what can we do about this?" questions included having schools teach Stereotype 101 and Racism 101 every year - he thought doing a 6 week unit was not too long.  I've looked long and hard for young elementry age appropriate materials that cover essentially these two subjects. Usually I find one of two types of resources: the cultural tourism manual (naan bread on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, Pad Thai on Wednesday, cornbread on Thursday....) or some broad recommendations to talk daily with children about race and racism.  Suddenly, I found myself in the room with an expert who seemed to be alluding to a structured and meaningful curriculum.

After the long book signing line dissipated,  I introduced myself to Feagin as a homeschooling mom of a mixed race family (to which he gave and enthusiastic "GREAT."  Ah.  I love that.). When I explained that I can and want to do the two units he suggested but that I'm struggling for material, he promptly gave me several resources and his email address to contact him if I have further questions.

He sent me first to Marc Aronson's book Race, also the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance magazine.  Progress! I need to take a closer look at the Aronson book, but it promises to be a whole slavery/racism/history text in one, though targeted at an adult audience. Teach Tolerance is mostly a collection of suggestions, which lacks the purpose and organization I crave.  So, while neither of these are concise unit studies on Race and Stereotyping, I'm getting closer. 

Most useful, though, was hearing Feagin talk and realizing I could shift focus from teaching multiculturalism (which I could never bring myself to accept as the solution to America's problems) to directly teaching about the issues that are at the root of our country's racism problems. Give the whole story of history, and address the ideas of stereotyping and racism and their impact explicitly instead of tip-toeing around them with an "I'm okay, you're okay, it's okay to be different" message.

I'm still back to the drawing board on creating a plan, but suddenly activities and lessons I come across fit into a larger structure. I've started with stereotyping as I see this as the foundation for the bias that creates racism.  Currently, I'm printing out ideas and searching for books.  Next stop, the local children's librarian for stories to spice up our discussions.  Once I have an outline with some details, I might even ask Feagin for feedback.

My remaining big question about teaching Stereotyping 101 has to do with the audience.  Do I stick with just my 2 kids or do I open it up to our homeschool community in hopes of educating my children's (mostly white) peers along the way? I'm new to the anti-racism ideas, I'm a little afraid of the mistakes I might make.

Any ideas?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"I Never Remember to Check Your Blog"

In chatting with people recently about blogs, I realized something.  Most people are trying to remember in their brains (as my children say) what blogs they like, where they are and to check those blogs from time to time for new posts.

As a woman with a sieve for a memory and an addiction to blogs, I'm going to let you in on a little secret.  Google Reader.  Okay, its not really a secret and its not little.  But it is a fun saver.

Here's how it works.  You get an account with Google (it is easy and free).  Once you're logged on, pick the tab "Reader."  When you come upon a blog you like, highlight and copy its URL from that long little window at the top of your browser (like, then slide back over to Google Reader, choose "Add Subscription" and paste the URL into the form.  Then click add.  Easy peasy.

On the right side of your screen, Google will magically present the 10 latest posts from the blog.  One the left side of your screen is a list of the blogs to which you are subscribed.  And every time one of your beloved blogs is updated, the blog will show as updated in the left column.  Groovy, isn't it?

Now, one the top right of your screen, click the "settings" link and look it over.  You can fuss things around - I think the only thing I have changed is the "mark posts as read when scrolled over."  I like to do my own marking, thank you.

Marking?  Well, it turns out once you mark a post as read, it disappears. So I will often glance over the latest blog posts, mark most of them read and save one or two to savor later.  

Now, don't be afraid to sign up for plenty of blogs.  Turns out, most bloggers only post 1-2 times a week.  Many even less.  Of course, there are some that post 7x a day.  But you can delete those blogs later if you find them overwhelming later.  Just choose "manage subscriptions" from the bottom left of your browser and delete the boring or bothersome ones.

The only thing left to remember is to log into Google Reader.  Look around the internet, there are least 100,000,000,000,000 blogs for the subject most near and dear to your heart. For instance, my search for "gingerbread house blog" yielded 465,000 results.  Once you find a few people who interest you share and voice/tone you enjoy, connection and curiosity will do the remembering for you.

Your brain is now available to retain and recall more fun information (such as where you've put your cell phone and car keys).  And your can relax knowing Google is storing up late night reading fun while you carry on with your day.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Carb Heaven

Somehow with the Halloween fall off the no-carb wagon, it seemed reasonable to have a last fling before climbing back on.  So today a friend came over and we fired up the deep frier for some good old fashion doughnuts.

In all my years of food adventures, Joy of Cooking (the 1997 edition) has yet to disappoint.  Their raised doughnut involves 3 risings, which we shortened to 2. I did the usual substitution of whole grain flour for white bleached as well as Sucanat for white sugar.  I'd like to point out that I refrained from adding my usual protein powder and nettle tea to the mix (mostly to prevent scaring off my new found friend). She supplied the makings for both chocolate and butterscotch glazes, and I dug frosting mix and powdered sugar out of the pantry.  

The frier, new love of my life, has a rotating basket and holds its temperature automatically. Since doughnuts only require 1 minute frying per side, the actually cooking was easy.  That just left glazing, admiring and eating. Notice their lovely doughnut shape and their golden hue.

Fresh from the hot oil, the doughnuts tasted a little bready to me.  Maybe it was the whole wheat flour?  Maybe we kneaded the dough too long? But later this evening, the bready taste seemed to have vanished, maybe as the yeast cooled and lost its tang. I liked the texture and the level of sweetness both.  After a careful sample of all the toppings, I easily preferred the butterscotch glaze.  The kids were crazy about the frosting/sprinkles combination.

Think of me tomorrow as I eat my last doughnut and haul my hiney back up on the wagon of health, deep frier in tow.  

Friday, November 7, 2008

Why One Should Only Listen To Raffi

So I've reached the conclusion that as a parent, one should only listen to Raffi.  In the car, at home, on one's phone.  Everywhere.

Because if a parent were to enjoy a wide variety of music and allow their offspring full access to said music, something embarrassing might happen.  

Something like realizing, in the middle of an conversation with a important community elder who is devotedly Christian, that one's five year old girl is sing, "Save a horse, ride a cowboy." Over and over.  In a clear and loud voice. 

At least she hasn't seen the video.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The First R

One strategy for organizing homeschool teaching is by unit.  Say my child is very interested in the planets.  I could spend 6 weeks focusing all our time and attention on planets, using this subject to incorporate reading, math, writing, science and history.  While I don't usually work with my kids this way, I do tend to obsess about a subject, essentially doing my own Unit Study on the present topic of interest.

An ongoing preoccupation is race, currently race and children.  To that end, I've just finished the book, "The First R: How children Learn Race and Racism" by Debra Van Ausdale and Joe R. Feagin.

The book is written by two researchers who, apparently for the first time ever in the history of child psychology, decided listening to preschool age children in their normal everyday lives might be a valuable way to learn what they know and experience in regards to race.  

This revolutionary approach requires that their writings carefully explain, review and refute the traditional ways of procuring information from children, so that academia will be soothed enough to read the results.  And, in order to report their findings, introducing the new approach requires lengthy explanations of their methodology.  In short, one of the adults hung around the kids without interfering in their games and conversations (unless physical harm was at risk) until all the kids deemed her fun, but non-threatening.  At which point, the kids either treated her like one of them or completely ignored her.  Then, she spent a year carefully recording their conversations and interactions.

From a stylistic perspective, I found the book rather schizophrenic, just for the combination of the dry academia speak and the riveting stories about the children. In the end I found I enjoyed the book as the stories and their thoughtful analysis easy won out over the drone of rebuttal and citations.

Before I share a few of my take-aways, I want to review the basics of the set up.  These are preschoolers 3-5 years old in a center that uses an anti-bias curriculum and has a mixed race staff who are dedicated to the idea of anti-bias. The school had a desirably low staff to child ratio.  The kids themselves are a mix of races, from a variety of countries, more than a few from bilingual families and a mix of socio-economic levels.  Debra Van Ausdale established herself as the "non-sanctioning adult" and spend about a year watching the kids, their parents and the staff.

Here's what I learned:
- children "see" color starting at a very early age, and they are very astute at determining the power structure in regards to skin color
- children frequently experiment with all the "forbidden" subjects outside of adult supervision: race, ethnicity, gender, potty talk, sex talk.  And they are quite skilled at creating pockets of supervision-free space.
- even in preschool there is a kid code of honor - don't tell the adults everything.  This manifested either as Annie saying "Jenny hurt my feelings" rather than reporting that a specific racial epithet was used. Or, telling the specific insult, but not reveling which was the guilty child.
- adults totally underestimate and even discount children's understanding of pretty much everything regarding race and culture
- children not only understand the racialized structure of our society by the time they reach 5, but the white children seemed regularly to feel they actively needed to keep children of color in their defined boxes
- all children exclude based on color of skin, ethnicity or culture, but only white kids use racial epithets; kids of color never insulted each other this way
- the anti-bias dedicated staff at this preschool often let discrimination by other adults slip, mostly for the fear of the conflict confronting it would cause (and these are people trained to recognize and handle such issues)

Based on these ideas, I've made a few internal shifts.  First, I'm following the hunch that my kids really see race and power structures in our society and have from a very young age. Second, I've accepted the hints that racialized play happens A LOT when Rosie is with other kids, especially when they're white.  And that she's unlikely to bring it up with me or answer direct questions about it.

So will our lives change, based on this book?  Yes.  For my part, I'm yet again more committed to my own personal growth in understand what racism looks like in me and recognizing the multitude of ways I benefit from white privilege.  Our family continues to focus on connecting with our local, diverse neighborhood.  Books and blogs now regularly include sources where we can see, learn and understand how race, ethnicity and culture are at play in our country. 

With the kids, I now assume they are experiencing prejudice on a regular basis.  I've amped up my telling of stories about "some one I know" to make sure communication lines are open. We're aggressively pursing ways to make sure both children spend lots more time in groups and friendships full of families of color. I'm working out the 5 and 7 year old version of Stereotype 101 and Race 101, so my kids have to vocabulary to express what they see around them.  

I'll close this post with the last few sentences of the book.
It is not a mystery where children this young get their ideas: We adults are a primary source. And they are champions at showing exactly how masterful human beings can be in perpetrating racial-ethnic hatred, discriminations, and inequalities.  Attempts to change their behavior, however, may be ineffective until we adults change our won. Watching children at work with racism is like watching ourselves in a mirror.  They will not unlearn and undo racism until we do.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Two Gems

Today I have two little gems of happiness to admire.

Number One:
Monday Rosie, in a rare brother free car-ride, regaled me with the true interworkings of Sesame Street.  Apparently Zoe (Elmo's orange, wee voiced buddy for you unintitated) is "played by a black man.  Zoe HAS to be played by a black man because they are the most beautiful and the most talented.  But they put a costume on him so he'll look like Zoe.  But it has to be a black man because black is the most beautiful."

Love hearing "black is beautiful" coming out of my little girl's mouth organically and unprompted!

Number Two:
I'm elated, thrilled and relieved to have the Obamas moving into the White House.  Posted many times today I've seen (and teared up every time) this lovely piece from an unknown source:

Rosa sat,
so Martin could walk,
so Obama could run,
so our children can fly.



Perhaps in a crazed state because my husband is leaving for almost 2 weeks, I've decided to give this a try: NaBloPoMo.  Post everyday for a month.  Okay, already we're going to have to settle for good enough, because it's the 5th and I've just started.

Whew, now I don't have to be perfect.  This could be fun!