Monday, February 28, 2011

From a Past Life

Or at least part of my life that seems long, long past.

In my final year of college, where I majored in French Language and Literature, I developed a penchant for  medieval French literature.  Yeah, talk about obscure professional training.

This evening, 20 years later, Theo came down raving about an advance review copy of a graphic novel he's reading called The Song of Roland.  Smoke coming from my ears, the wheels slowly churning, I dug up archaic neural pathways to remember that The Song of Roland, or for we French speakers La Chanson de Roland, is one of the earliest works of French literature.  I remember war, dying and love, nothing more specific.

Thank heavens for wikipedia where you, too can now explore the high points of ancient French literature.  Here's The Song of Roland for you, and my favorite, The Book of The City of Ladies. Christine de Pizan took a first stab at feminism way back in 1405, in a story that fascinated me for many, many years.

Old dear friends, long passed by.  I hope you enjoy getting acquainted with them.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Fun Theory

Will people really do more things that are harder if they're having fun while doing it?

I sure hope so because making work fun turns out to be one of the driving factors in getting our school work done around here.  Math seems hard?  Change the story problem from Miss F cutting pillow cases to ninjas eliminating the enemy.  Copy work too boring to survive?  Find a thrilling passage from Harry Potter.  Practicing new spelling words while sword fighting with mom, you get to take a stab for each letter.

Seems some people in Sweden actually study how fun affects people's behavior.  Check it out!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Little Housekeeper

Looking through my iPhoto, I came across this picture of Rosie from a couple of years ago.

The idea of the desolate housewife, weighed down by child raising and house maintenance is so palatable, I laugh almost to tears every time I come across this photo.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


In one of the Neufeld videos (the ones on attachment) that I've been watching recently, Dr. Neufeld lists 4 elements we need to be effective parents: insight, patience, warmth and a very good lead.

Warmth challenges me.  I'm not sure I always know what it looks like or how to have/share it with others.  Neufeld talks about relational warmth being like the feeling of the sun shining upon us, causing us to want to cast off our capes of emotional protection to soak it in.

Being in a throng of families at the Great Wolf Lodge provided me with ample opportunity to look for warmth. What I noticed seems sad to me - in all these people, come to this place with their families for time away from the buzz of normal life to play together, I saw very little that looked like warmth to me.

Sometimes NOT seeing something is as helpful at identifying as seeing shining examples of it. I witnessed little hand-holding, back rubbing, arms around a shoulder, lap sitting, prolonged eye-contact or even just loving smiles. This austerity of connection is so not what I want for my family and relationships.  What would it cost me to glow a little love towards those close to me once an hour?  What difference would this tiny, easy, heart-felt kindness affect on the overall tone of our day and home?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Great Wolf Lodge

As a family we spent 24 hours this week at the Great Wolf Lodge, an indoor water park - hotel - entertainment whirlwind. The lodge, rather oddly, is just south of Olympia (that'd be our state capital which is a pretty small town without much beside political entertainment as a draw), about a 90 minute drive from our house.

We spent 4 hours Wednesday afternoon and 3 Thursday morning sliding, splashing, moving with the waves, squirting and dumping. How very refreshing to spend a whole day playing, laughing and being together.  Also, I like 84 degree weather in February.  Warm enough to hang out in a wet swimsuit and feel good felt like heaven to me.

Re-entry into our regular full Thursday afternoons of guitar lessons and choir was turbulent. We all wished to enjoy our faux Hawaii/Disney-esque break for a few more days.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lotto: Play to Win

One of my favorite crazy indulgences comes in the form of a Washington State lotto ticket.  Usually I prefer Mega Millions.  I mean, who can resist the ring of such lovely alliteration? It is only a buck, after all.

The kids and I spend many car rides dreaming what we could do with $12-120 million - there's a billboard with the current jackpot numbers near us that usually starts the conversation.  First, we take into account taxes, forking over about 50% of our winnings to Uncle Sam.  Theo usually plans giant Lego acquisitions. Rosie fills our home with dogs, cats and related paraphernalia.  I focus on the perfect house, lots of travel and a closet full of shoes.

Not that I buy tickets often.  Maybe one every few months.  And never more than one at a time - I figure if my luck is up, than it is up and I only need to get the one set of matching numbers to win.  Buying two would communicate my lack of trust in the great lotto gods.

For me, the most entertaining part about buying lotto tickets has to do with the odds. Turns out, chances of winning the Mega Millions jackpot are 1:175,711,536. This means buying a ticket only slightly increases my odds of taking that jackpot to the bank.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Morning Delight: Merganser

Usually I start my day out with a walk. Good for by body, good for the dog, good for allowing Bill and the kids to connect with each other.

For the past many months the 6am darkness keeps me in the neighborhood streets where the lights offer a sense of protection.  But in the past few weeks, the first rays of sunlight allow me to turn back down to walk the path along Lake Washington.

The beauty of the lake changes daily - today my little treat from its shores came in bird form.  I saw a common merganser which I've not seen in a long time.  Certainly a disappointing name for such a dramatic looking bird.  I love their straight, pointy lines and their bright clear markings.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Brene Brown on Vulnerability

I can't remember the last time I read a whole book to learn something - my life seems to be a series of video courses, TED talks and YouTube videos.

Yesterday, at the ale house, I watched this TED talk on vulnerability.  I've put it off for several weeks because the subject sounds so serious.  The speaker cracked me up, though, and more than once the people at the next table over stared at me because of my loud guffaws. The information she presented dovetails nicely with the attachment work I've been doing with the Neufeld work.

Check it out and let me know what you think - the talks are about 20 minutes long.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Handwriting Update

Check out these triangle pencils.

Soooo, after years of agonizing, encouraging, begging, pleading and grumping Theo to take pencil in hand and put *something* on the paper, we're finally made progress. To the point that in 6 months I've gone from deep despair to thrilled with where he is at.
Y'all have followed some of my agony (and several of you have personally endured my endless questioning and agonizing).  I thought I'd share what's been working for us and where we are at.  
The basic premise is easy: I offered him a bribe.  Or maybe you could call it an exchange. 
Through Boy's Life Magazine, Theo learned that Lego was releasing a massive multiplayer video game called Lego Universe. Theo loves Legos and has huge bins of them.  He loves the idea of computer games.  Theo loves the stolen minutes of playing Lego Batman at the Apple Store when I or his father shop there.  Thus, the child worked himself into an absolute frenzy over the coming of Lego Universe (maybe we'll talk later about the intense genius of Lego marketing strategies).  Which sucks when you have a mom who is pretty much completely opposed to video games.  There was just absolutely NO WAY I was going to buy or let him play such a game. Which perfectly matched his plan that there was absolutely NO WAY he was going to make fluent friends with his pencil.  
In a moment of giant frustration, I finally keyed into this parallel.  Then I hatched a plan.  I'd buy the game, and Theo could play it any month he's written enough words to "buy" the on-line subscription. Bingo, I had instant buy-in. 40 words of copy work 4 days a week for 4 weeks.
The first 3 weeks were the same version of hell we'd been living - Theo sitting at the table alternating between how stupid I was, how stupid the copy work was and how stupid he was being.  But he'd get 20 or 30 words done over the course of 30 minutes.  Then, one day in the middle of week 3 he stopped, looked at me and said, "You know, this really isn't that hard."  And he did the work. 
He LOVES the game and swears it was worth the work.
Now 6 days a week he's doing writing work - 4 of them are copy work days.  Once he got 40 words done easily in 20 minutes, I moved the quota up to 50 words per session (I'd warned him at the beginning this would happen). It is often the first thing he chooses to sit down to in the morning.  He's really beginning to enjoy interacting with the material I choose (okay, it is Harry Potter, how bad can it be?).  

Most rewardingly, he's using pencil and paper to get what he wants in his life. He ran off and wrote his dad a reminder to make fried pickles for dinner soon.  Today he wrote most of a grocery list for us while I was driving.  He makes notes of lego ideas, and he copies down cheat codes for computer games from his friends at park day. The other day he wrote me a poem. Yesterday, he wanted to go play and couldn't stand to wait for me to finish working with his sister first so I could help him, so he plowed through writing out his history test on his own in the time it took me took to help her through it.
I'm so happy for the little dude.  This year he's made a giant leap from pencil phobia to easy writing. And as I suspected, his life is much the richer for it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Classify The Ways

One of the things that bugs me about the English language is that lack of words for the idea of friend.* Sure, there are a few synonyms for the people we are more or less close to in our lives (think acquaintance, buddy, classmate, college, partner) , but not clear words for how close we hold someone to our hearts.

It irks me to use the same word for the nice man who has been bagging our groceries for the past 5 years as the girlfriend I tell all my deepest secrets to or tearfully call during a time of crisis.

Two ideas about caring and relationship with people have collided in my brain recently to help me start making sense of this.

First is the idea of circles of influence.  In searching for an image to share, I found that concept of circles of influence is used mostly in business and social welfare. But we can easily apply them to any aspect of our lives.

Using this tool to describe relationships, I could demonstrate the levels of influence people have on me. The more someone affects me, the closer to the center they are. So, if I put myself in the middle, the second circle would quite honestly be my husband as he, more than anyone else influences my life, thinking and enjoyment of the passing years.  The next circle, then, would be the two or three girlfriends with whom I can and do talk about anything and everything in our lives. Many, many circles could be defined next depending on how often I see someone, how authentic of conversation we have, the varying levels of our shared interest. Not surprisingly, the closer to the middle the fewer specific names I would write into any given circle.  And the further out the more names.

The problem with this model comes in with defining the circles.  I could choose how often I see people or the depth of our conversations or how much they influence my daily life or how long I've known them.  But relationships aren't this tidy.  For instance, I have dear friends I talk with everyday on the phone.  But I also have dear friends I only talk with once a year (granted, these are usually marathon-long conversations).  There are people I talk with everyday who have very little impact on my life, they're just in it.

Which brings us to the second idea in the mash up.  Gordon Neufeld describes attachment not just as a single phenomenon, but as a 6 stage process. Each step in becoming attached to someone follows the developmental capabilities of a growing baby each one building upon the earlier ones. Like this:

1- proximity (being near and experiencing with our senses- touch, smell, hearing)
2- sameness (being like someone as in shared traits or interests)
3- belonging (fitting in with, feeling loyal towards, being able to depend on)
4- significance (being important and special to, valued and preferred)
5- love (giving your heart to, feeling warm towards)
6- being known (feeling seen, understood from the inside, believed in, sharing personal truths with)

Now, when I scramble the circle of influence with Neufeld's attachment stages model, I can put the last attachment stage in the middle of my circle with all the other one radiating out from there.  For me this clearly illustrates my relationship with all the people in my world.

What I really want, then, is six words to define friendship.  Six terms that allow us to explain and negotiate our relationships with those around us. Then when you and I were out walking in town and I said hello to a "friend" you'd understand if this was the dude who is careful not to bruise my pears each week or someone so near and dear to my heart.  Or when I canceled a lesson, the teacher would understand the level of importance of my Being Known friend being sick and needing help. Understanding where I landed in people's attachment circle would make easier to know where I stood with people and help me identify which relationships to put more or less of my energy into.  We could so easily describe shifts in relationship, as in she was a Love level friend, but X happened and we've drifted to Sameness.

On the other hand, how quickly do you think we'd create a social disaster when people realized they held each other at different levels?  How would we handle being quickly and easily defined as way less or way more significant to someone that we perceived? Would such clear definition lead to meaning creep, where people start mixing the terms in order to prevent hurt feelings?

Maybe it isn't such a good idea - maybe various words for different friends tried to surface over the ages and were stomped out by the resulting disharmony.  Still, I enjoy thinking about the people around me and how they influence my life.  It is useful for me to clearly define relationships from time to time.  Having structured definitions could enable me to more easily help my kids navigate the tricky world of social connections.

I'd really love to have those six words, if only to use in the privacy of my own head.


* Here I was going to refer to the large number of words that Inuits have for the concept snow, but apparently that is an urban legend based on a misunderstanding of the constructs of the Inuit language.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

How to Live to Be 100

Here is a fascinating TED talk about longevity. About 20 minutes long, it ends with the 9 things researchers have found most common in communities with large numbers of centenarians.

Certainly makes me think about making a few changes to my life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pact Camp 2011: July 17-21

Yesterday I registered our family for our 5th year of Pact Camp.  This is the annual camp for transracial adoptive families that fuels and informs our life.  Pact puts on an amazing program, both for kids and adults, with speakers and facilitators of amazing quality.

Pact Camp is a funny mix.  Full of honest, caring people who will look you in the eye and tell you the truth about your life and the world, camp can bring out what's not working in our lives.  So that's challenging.  At the same time, there is so much that is deeply enjoyable and rewarding about spending days with such forthright people who care so much about our kids and our family - most of whom also love to find the bright and laughable in life.  And of course there is the true beauty of spending 4 days not having to explain our family, just enjoying sharing with other families like us.

The kids are given the opportunity for lots of real conversation about their lives, along with plenty of fun and games. The kid's counselors come back year after year.  They care so much about our kids and remember them from year to year - my kids glow on that first day back they see those familiar welcoming faces. I am constantly in awe of how carefully Pact manages to address the needs of both my adoptive African American child and my white biological child.  Their staff really sees and provides for the whole family.

We go every year and each year camp changes who we are and how we see the world.  I hope you'll join us and get to know this remarkable group of people and the support and change they bring for our families.

Oh, and yes it is in California. Believe me, it is worth the trip.

To read more about camp, read this by John Raible and Pact's official camp page here.  Then, go register here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Amazon's Funny

Just ordered a new pair of running shoes as mine are kaput.  Since I always wear the same style and size, ordering them online with fast free shipping saves me time and the irritation of running an errand.

Once I'd placed my order, Amazon's Thank You includes a list of recommendations.  Guess what they suggest I buy to go along with my shoes? Doggie poopy bags.  35 rolls of them.