Thursday, November 30, 2006

Simple Vegetables

There hasn't been a Diamond Organics box in my house for a month now.

When Papa first took over the cooking duties, he found our produce bin stocked with lots of carrots, some celery, and some zucchini, along with onions, shallots, and garlic in the onion basket. One night he sauted zucchini, carrots, and shallots. Another night it was carrots and onions. He tossed chopped carrots and celery into every salad he made. It was all good.

He's been out for groceries once a week since then, and he's sticking to the basics. He buys carrots, celery, onions, and whatever else looks good...which has been zucchini, yellow squash, and broccoli. Last week he bought mushrooms too. Several nights a week he sautes veggies in olive oil, and they are delicious. There is a simplicity to having a just a few different veggies in the house.

I do miss the box of fresh organic vegetables delivered to my porch each week. The variety was stunning and the produce amazingly fresh. Most of the time the produce is grown in central California, so it is relatively local. Still, it is expensive.

Now that Papa and the boys do the shopping (on their bikes) I don't need the convenience of the box. What I do need is the quality, and perhaps a bit of the variety. Although Papa likes cooked greens, he hasn't actually bought any. Our Diamond box usually had so many greens that we had to cook them everyday. Kale is one green that the local HFS usually has several varieties of, so I think I'll add that to this weekend's list.

I don't get to go grocery shopping. That has become a bicycle errand and I'm not allowed to ride yet. I have, however, been given permission to drive to the farmer's market (we usually walk) and go to a few stalls. I'm hoping my favorite organic grower is there tonight, and that she and her husband have pomegranates and avocados. Anything else will be a bonus.

The box? I don't imagine I will stop ordering, at least once in awhile.

Monday, November 27, 2006

In Case You Were Wondering...

I work on what I write for days before I post it. No, I didn't write all of today's posts today.

Too Much Time On My Hands

A long convalescence usually means you have plenty of time to think. Sure, I can read, and knit/crochet, and make lists, and blog, but I still have plenty of time. I have been completely freed of any household tasks. Papa is doing the laundry, cooking the meals, getting the groceries, doing the dishes, etc.

So I do some things, and I think. I think about what I'd like to be doing. I think about the changes I'd like to make in my life. I think about what we're doing right and what we could be doing better. I think about our family. I think about peak oil and sustainability.

I spend a lot of time reading what other people are doing. There are people who have joined The Compact, something I read about months ago after reading Not Buying It, and still really want to do. There is a mama who is trying to feed her family within the USDA's thrifty meal budget guidlelines. There are families who are homesteading, and families who live without cars, and people who get rid of 7 items every week. It is all exciting and interesting.

I've been thinking about our health. I'm reading John Robbins' new book, Healthy at 100, which encompasses so much more than diet. I had been slowly and steadily reclaiming my health before this little setback, so I was on the right path, but having a hysterectomy was a wake-up call. My body is already diseased. The good news is that already I have spent years reversing some of the damage done when I was a child (and later when I continued to eat dairy and eggs as well as foods I was allergic to), and I have many years ahead of me in which I can restore myself to vibrant health.

It's sort of like having nearly two months to research and choose you goals for the new year. After all, I won't be released to full activity until Christmas. So here are some of my plans and goals:

1) Join the Compact. I can't ask my whole family to do it with me because I believe you must be called to it. I'm still hammering out my ideas...look for an update post soon.

2) Aggressively adopt a car-lite lifestyle. Once I can return to activity I will build myself up again and we will walk and bike everywhere we can. Already the boys and Papa road their bikes to the HFS, which is 10 miles round trip. It is amazing how much freedom we gained with the purchase of a bicycle trailer.

3) Lower our food budget. I too would like to stay within the USDA Thrifty guidelines, and still eat organic. That means eliminating all convenience foods, but I think that would be part of the Compact, anyway.

4) Declutter and Simplify. Okay, this is always one of my goals. I'm thinking though, that with less stuff coming in that we can make progress this year, instead of just holding even.

5) Begin preparations for peak oil living. This means putting in a garden this year, no matter how I feel about bugs. Learning herbal medicine, reducing our vehicle usage, learning to make things or do without, simplifying, getting rid of things, establishing all fits in. We also need to research where we might choose to live when suburbia falls apart. Even if our town reverts to small town status, it might not be sustainable because of the lack of water.

6) Reclaim our health. Eat even more whole foods, and make sure it's organic. Eat less. Exercise more (hopefully making exercise a lifestyle and not an activity to pursue). Create strong relationships. Cultivate community.

7) Live more. I enjoy the computer, really I do. It can be a source of information and inspiration. It connects me to people, truly kind people. With the computer I find artisans, chefs, friends. However, it is not living. I had moved away from the computer before I got stuck in bed, and I will move away again.

It's all big picture stuff right now...I have plenty of time to break the goals down into doable plans of action.

Thinking About the Division of Labor

A friend posted on a message board about a dilemma she has. She is going to school so that she can share in paid work with her husband. The schooling causes a time crunch which means she has less time and energy for her daughters. She is also uncertain about the career path chosen.

But really, I'm not thinking about those things. As long as I have known her, this mama has shared parenting duties with her DH, and when her first daughter was born he arranged his schedule to be home as much as possible. They sold their house and bought somewhere much less expensive so that her DH could take a sabbatical and be with the family.

I have always admired this. In my mind, I created the goal that DH might someday be able to reduce his hours at work. We are already partners in so much, and this would be one of the final puzzle pieces.

However, on the post, someone criticized my friend's DH for not wanting to shoulder the full financial responsibility for his family. I wanted to respond, to defend both his feelings and her choice, but it wasn't mine to defend.

I don't know many mamas who don't think that a little help would be nice. We recognize that being a mama and a homemaker is a huge task. Depending on how the home labor is divided a mama may find herself doing the cooking, the provisioning, the cleaning, the laundry, the finances, the day-to-day child rearing, the kin and holiday work, the educating, and much, much more. In general, the attitude I get from mamas is that they have a hard job, and that their partners should pitch in and do some of it. To be expected to do it all is putting us into a 1950s housewife role.

At the same time, however, many mamas expect their partners to support them financially. There are many reasons for this, one being the idea that children thrive best when they are raised by a parent that stays out of the paid workforce and devotes a significant amount of time to the children each day. In the beginning, when babies are newborn, it works out best biologically for the breastfeeding mother to be the one that stays home with the baby. Also, we may have come a long way baby, but most women with the same education as a man still make less than 75% of what a man does for the same job. These two things together usually result in the breastfeeding mama staying out of the paid workforce in the children's early years.

We don't to be subjugated, we don't want to have to do it all, but we want our partners to stick with the 1950s breadwinner role. Society still looks down on the man who doesn't choose to work full time. Men who are financially supported by their partners are regarded as lazy.

It's crazy, really. We're wrapped up in some way for thinking that hasn't even applied to most of the human race for more than 100 years, and even now it doesn't apply to most of the human race. Men and women (or men and men or women and women) have always worked together, dividing the labor in ways that made sense. Once the use of money replaced bartering most women still needed to find ways to produce income. It might have been a cottage industry, or factory work, or service (taking in washing, etc.), or selling off surplus eggs and butter.

Families have to work together. Recently my sister was teasing her mother's helper (now foster daughter) about how she really liked the baby only because she got paid to care for her. The girl told her, "No, I really like the baby. I had to give the money to my mother." That's life, that is reality. Everyone pulls together.

We've been reading/re-reading the Little House books. The family works together. The days are long, and sometimes Pa is so tired he can't tell stories or play his fiddle. But mostly there is time for stories and music. Pa is home nearly everday for breakfast, dinner, and supper. They all work together, at first it is mostly Ma and Pa, but the girls have things they do that help. Later, as Laura gets older, she works hard and her money is put away so her sister can go to college. Can you imagine a 12 year old now doing that? Well, she wouldn't be allowed to labor in the same way, but certainly many middle class tweens expect any money they earn to be theirs.

Women work. Men work. There is no law out there that says a man is required to financially provide for his partner. I applaud a man who wants to spend more time with his children, and I admire a woman who is willing to step aside and let him truly share that role in the children's lives, and who will even seek paid work so that it can happen.

Why Would You Make It?

This is a phrase I encounter often, spoken or unspoken. Many, many people don't understand why you would make something you can buy, be it food, clothing, a quilt, candles...whatever. The other half of the phrase is when you could buy it?

I remember the first time Papa made homemade soup for my mother, and the best compliment she could give it was that it tasted very much like Campbell's. Not that Papa's soup wasn't delicious, because it was. My mother is just of an age when soup in a can meant freedom for her mother.

There was a time when a woman wouldn't have time to sit and write in a journal every night. A time when her every waking hour was spent working to keep herself and her family alive and well. Of course, that doesn't apply to my grandmother. However, as more and more time-saving devices and products became available to the middle economic class (and eventually the lowest economic class), I think perhaps two things happened. One, our standards went up, and two, our standards went down. For example, we expect our clothes, our homes, and our bodies to be far cleaner than was expected 100 years ago. We don't expect our food to be as good tasting and nutritious, and we don't expect our clothing to last. Heck, we don't expect a lot of things to last.

I know plenty of people who don't understand cooking and baking from scratch. Of course, that has a different definition now; most of us aren't growing our own wheat, milking our own cows, and making our own sugar. Still, I have friends (and relatives) who think that homemade cookies come from a roll of Pillsbury dough. Soup and beans come in a cans. Homemade chili involves dumping cans of tomatoes and cans of beans into a pot with some chili powder and ground beef. Even the great hallowed feast of Thanksgiving, if the full carts seen at the grocery store have any meaning, involved boxed stuffing, canned yams, jarred gravy, canned cranberries, frozen green beans, prebaked rolls, and Mrs. Smith pies.

Sure, preparing food can be hard work. We hosted a vegetarian Thanksgiving at our home once, and we did make everything from scratch. Cranberries with orange zest and Grand Marnier. Pearled onions in a sauce of real cream. Sweet potato soup made from real yams. Real mashed potatoes. Homemade rolls. Stuffed butternut squash, a lentil-nut loaf, homemade mushroom gravy. I even made the pies, starting with the crust. It was a superb feast. I know it was, because it happened 12 years ago and I still remember every food detail.

The thing is, the food is worth it. It is worth it not to take in too much sodium. It is worth it to not ingest artifical colors and flavors, and other food additives. It is worth it to not consume hydrogenated fats and high fructose corn syrup. It is worth it to not poison ourselves with pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Plus, the food tastes so much better!

There are many other things that people make because they want to. Why do I want to make the bulk of our holiday gifts? I want to show people, especially my children, that not everything comes from factories and stores. I want to give gifts that aren't emblazoned with logos. I want us to give of our time, our energy, and our talents. I don't want holiday giving to be about shopping and spending money. Perhaps long ago a premade present from the store meant something because it was probably made in the USA and crafted by an artisan. Artisan gifts are still special.

But really, what does it say if I give a microfleece hooded sweatshirt with the letters G A P embroidered across the chest? Maybe it says that I want you to stay warm. Maybe it says that I am hip to whatever the culture deems cool. Maybe it says that I know that kind of thing is important to you. Maybe it says I could afford to spend $50 on a sweatshirt. Maybe I don't mean it, but it says that I don't care about the company's labor policies. It also says that I don't care about synthetics and the fact that they are unsustainable, and it says I don't care if you have that against your skin.

Maybe all it really says is that I was out of time, I needed to buy a gift, and there was a display of these hoodies in front of the store.

Why make things? Because I can. I can buy or grow herbs and make my own blends for infusions and decoctions. The herbs are fresher and the packaging is minimized. It saves money too. I can use the same herbs for herbal medicine and personal care items. Why make herbal medicines and toiletries? The quality is better and it costs less. I think the skills are worth having, too.

I can knit a hat, and it is exactly the color and fiber I want it to be. Same for scarves, blankets, and other knit/crocheted items. I know the items weren't made in a sweatshop. I personalize the object made for each person, and I find that I think about them as I knit or crochet. Oh, I'm not perfect...I make stock-up gifts as well...but most of the time I do use my crafting time to meditate upon the recipient.

Why, oh why make candles? For one, it's an easy craft to do with my boys. Rolling beeswax requires manual dexterity, but not huge amounts of skill. The oys are proud when they make a candle, proud in a way that they wouldn't be if we bought one at Target. They can give the candle as a gift and know that they are giving a little piece of themselves a well. Again, we get a quality product. We'll be branching out to dipped and poured candles for next year.

The theme repeats over and over. Homemade cleaners are cheaper and safer for your family and your planet. Really, how hard is it to mix some liquid castile soap and some baking soda with tea tree and lavender essential oils? It takes me less than 5 minutes; I couldn't bike to the HFS in that time. Heck, that same "soft scrub" I make is safe and gentle enough to use on my body.

Why do I make things? Because I can...

Monday, November 20, 2006


It's a big, busy world. Most of us barely know our neighbors. We have many acquaintances, but not many true friends. We think good thoughts, and we mean well, and then we tell ourselves that there simply isn't enough time.

I didn't grow up with the kind of mother who baked pies for new neighbors or visited the elderly. We didn't donate to food drives, buy holiday gifts for underprivileged children, or deliver Meals on Wheels. I want to excuse this, to say that money was tight (it was) and that time was short (not so short that we didn't watch soap operas), but I know that what we were lacking was an abundance of kindness.

I believe kindness is learned. I can't fault my mother for not having it, because I know that often in her life it wasn't given to her. Later, after I left home, I saw more kindness develop in her life.

Kindness and obligation are not the same thing. If you help someone out, and complain about it later, then you acted out of some sort of obligation, but you were not kind. Kindness and generosity are not the same thing either, although they can appear in tandem. You can be generous and not kind; for instance, you might be generous with your money or your time, helping someone out but complaining about it. You might be kind, offering your sympathy at another's financial difficulty without having any money to be generous with.

I am reminded of something I read, about how presents are something you want the other person to have, and gifts are something you give them that they want, and how not all presents are gifts, and not all gifts are presents.

An act of kindness touched my heart today, kindness from a woman I have never met in person. For years we have hung out at the same little piece of cyber real estate. She knew I was hurting, and she offered kindness. I have no doubt that she is kind to people all over, those she knows personally and those she doesn't. She is kind.

Kindness has been creeping into my life over the past couple of years, mostly kindness given, but sometimes kindness received. Outside of my immediate family, kindness received is rare enough that it can still bring tears to my eyes.

Still, I am cultivating kindness. It was easier at first with online friends. Way back when I first got online I made a friend and started sending her handmade cards and care packages to cheer her up when she was low. I've sent many little packages since then. I had to learn kindness, to accept and to offer it; doing so with online friends was a low pressure way to move though the discomfort of learning to be kind.

I had to move on to my own community. One thing I decided to do is to offer kindness to someone that I had never been genuinely kind to, even though we are family!. I also extended kindness and understanding to another family member, erasing the unkind thoughts I had thought for years. I forgave my mother's best friend of a hurt my mother had forgiven her for years before, and offered kindness there as well. These were little kindnesses, experienced mostly in my heart, but the energy between us did change for the better.

There are little kindnesses and bigger kindnesses. When one friend couldn't find her iron and was planning a photo shoot that evening I dropped what I was doing and took my iron over to her, and kept her company while she pressed their shirts. When a friend experienced a miscarriage, instead of wondering what to do, I did something.

I said hello to a neighbor who is so shy that she avoided making eye contact for the first 5 years we lived side-by-side. It is a slow thaw, but she talks to my boys now, and a few weeks ago I heard her talking to the Girl Dog. I pause to catch the eye of the young man across the street, to wave and say hello to this man who is mentally disabled. I do it to let him know that not everyone in this world is afraid of him.

I am aware now that I must teach my children kindness. It is not enough to offer kindness to them, though they certainly deserve it. It is not enough to gently correct them when they are unkind (not to punish, but to guide). They must see kindness emanating from me. When they ask why kindness has been give I must give them explanations. Sometimes I am sad that my children have to ask why we are kind, because it means that they don't see it all around them.

It really is so easy. Little kindnesses can be offered everyday. I can say hello to people as I pass them on the sidewalk. I can smile at the postal clerk. When a cashier apologizes for a wait I can say that I understand, that I was fine with waiting, that I know it wasn't her fault. When people make mistakes I can remind myself that everyone makes mistakes, including me, and I can react out of kindness instead of anger or impatience.

When I make a soup I can make extra and freeze it to offer to someone who is ill. I can bake extra cookies and give them to my neighbor. One thing we do when we are walking in the morning is take newspapers up to the door/porch so that our neighbors don't have to walk to the curb to get them. If we know someone is out of town for the weekend we stack their papers neatly by the door (out of sight if possible).

We aren't at the new year yet, and certainly I don't mean to wait until then to start, but I have decided that 2007 will be a year of conscientious kindness for me.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming...

No more writing about surgery or recovery. I could pretend to put a natural/sustainable slant on it by writing about herbal medicine or rice-filled heating socks, but the fact is that reading about someone else's health problems is boring. So rather than bemown the fact that my body is currently broken, I think I'll just celebrate the fact that my brain isn't.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Grade 2 Blocks - Block 2

One thing that I find very exciting about grade 2 is the more formal move into multicultural studies. The grade 1 fairy tales do come from all over the world, however, you don't spend 2 months immersing yourself in another culture like you do in grade 2.

Our second block will be our first full multicultural cycle. Because we are starting in January and ending in February I have chosen for us to study Martin Luther King Jr. as our sage, and to immerse ourselves in African/American culture. Harriet Tubman is also offered as a sage in the Enki materials. I chose MLK Jr. because T-Guy was born on his birthdate, and J-Baby was born on the anniversary of his death. It is a unique coincidence.

For those accustomed to Waldorf block cycles, each cycle (which I am calling a block for my own simplification) consists of a language arts main lesson block and a math main lesson block, within the container of a specific culture.

Week 1 we will use an African trickster tale as the basis for our language arts work. Weeks 2 and 3 we will use the MLK Jr. sage story (I do hope it is ready by then!). The skill we will be introducing during this block is syllabication ( as well as the sage process). During weeks 1-3 our practice time will consist of reading practice (sight words and word families), handwriting numbers, and math games.

Week 4 we start the math portion of our cycle, and will review the four processes Weeks 5-6 we will introduce Fact Families. We're a little behind the standard for Enki math because we switched to Enki midway through grade 1, and I decided to take it slow and redo some of what we had done with Christopherus. Because of this we are doing more math blocks than are indicated on the Sample Grade Two Core Content Work sample in the grade 2 teaching guide, and I expect us to fully get through place value by the end of our formal academic year. It's not so much that I feel the need to catch up as it is the fact that J-Baby is grasping complex mental math very early (he is 6.5 and is already catching on to place value) and I want to give him a solid grounding through developmental-immersion-mastery. So where the sample has only 3 full math blocks, we're going to do 5 blocks of 3-4 weeks each, spreading place value over 3 blocks to accommodate our 3 day week.

Our practice time for weeks 4-6 will consist of handwriting letters, reading practice, word families (using the town board and stories), and a few other word games we have.

Throughout this cycle we will be immersing ourselves in African/American culture. Our music, crafts, and even some of our foods will reflect the culture. It isn't a teaching of a culture, it is an immersion in a culture. We'll be doing what we do anyway; singing songs, playing circle games, cooking and baking together, doing crafts. In addition, as J-Baby is still young for grade 2 I intend to use some of the grade 1 fairy tales from each culture we immerse ourselves in as stories (not worked with), either at bedtime or during our other reading times.

Grade 2 Blocks - Block 1

Kyra wants to hear about the blocks I am planning, and rather than lose them on the comments page I thought I'd do a proper post (actually, this has now morphed in 6 posts as I will detail each block in its own post). Remember, this is still very preliminary planning. I don't even have most of the Enki grade 2 resources or the instruction guides.

Block 1: Winter Holidays and the Christmas Tradition

This is an easing-in block, just 3-4 weeks to start moving us back toward the rhythm of structured learning. Compared to our other learning blocks it will be short, and will not focus on any new academics nor immersion in a different culture.

The plan is to choose 3-4 stories (1 for each week),and to take each story through the intake-digestion-output cycle. I think we might read The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader, The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens, and perhaps the story of the three shepherds as told in Donna Simmon's Practical Waldorf at Home: First Grade Syllabus. However, we're just getting back into Isabel Wyatt's The Seven-Year-Old Wonder Book and make take all 3-4 weeks from those stories.

We will stay within our own culture for this mini-block. The underlying goal is to firm up the daily and weekly rhythms with crafts, songs, and stories. I want the boys to get familiar once again with hearing a story, recalling the story, drawing the story, and writing a sentence or verse.

Honestly, I see no reason to step outside our own culture during a season that is full of tradition. I also do not believe is taking on other people's religious traditions as my own, so we won't just jump in and light a menorah. If we are invited to spend an evening of Hannukah with our Jewish friends that is within the context of community and is integrative, but doing so without connection makes no sense. We do celebrate the solstice in a non-religious manner, as I believe the turning of the seasons is something that all people in all times have found meaning in.

We'll reinstate practice time, alternating between reading skills and math manipulatives, along with daily handwriting practice. I'm ordering this lovely Christmas pop-up book to use with J-Baby and his alphabet sounds.

Crafts and art come easily at holiday time. There are gifts the boys can help to make, a tree to trim, cookies and treats to bake. We're planning to roll beeswax candles, to make bath salts and soaps, and to make olive oil lamps (we bought the basics from Lehman's and will use jars we save from food). We're searching for some good gluten-free,vegan recipes to make treats (I'll probably have to concoct my own). We can definitely make vegan GF rice crispy treats and vegan GF Fudge.

Holiday and seasonal songs abound. We'll listen to old favorites and pull some from the Enki materials as well. One thing we love is making music, and Papa has gotten very good at playing many holiday songs on his guitar.

I won't be released to full activity until right before Christmas, so we'll probably focus on fingerplays for our movement, along with slow, easy stretching movements. I'm hoping to talk the doctor into letting me take an easy walk around the block each morning starting the week after Thanksgiving.

My goal is to use this time of holiday, when we do so many integrative activities, to act as a springboard for the rest of our grade 2 year. I'll be slowly moving the boys back into rhythm, but gently, much like warming beeswax and then softly pressing here and there to create shape.

Okay, so this probably isn't the block Kyra was most interested in. However, my point was to illustrate that the holiday season is a great time to ease into Enki, whether it is for the first time or just transitioning to a new grade after a break.

I'll add a post for block 2 later this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Reality, Crashing All Around Me

So, I didn't die in surgery, nor in the post-operative hell I experienced for the first 24 hours. The post-anesthesia nurse denied my request for an overdose of narcotic (she wouldn't cut my bladder out of my body with her bare hands, either). I survived an allergic reaction to the above-mentioned narcotic, as well as made it through a couple of bad hospital meals. Did you know that hospitals, even good, vegetarian hospitals, will serve you doughnuts for breakfast? As I've yet to see a glazed, raised doughnut made without trans-fats I'd say it was part of a master plan to get me back in there in a few years for some repeat business, perhaps a triple-bypass.

Today is day 7 post-op. It has been one week since they took my uterus. I have moaned in pain, I have cried for no reason, I have complained of boredom, I have begged for sleep. My husband is an angel, feeding me smoothies, fresh salads, and homemade soups. He begs me to stay in bed; oh, how I wish that was a romantic, passionate request, and not the pleading of a man who is afraid his wife will break in half and start bleeding uncontrollably.

Life however, has marched right along, not caring if I am incapacitated or not. J-Baby came down with a cold as soon as I came home, and T-Guy picked it up a couple of days later. Papa got the cold, as well as a blocked tear duct that left him with bags under one eye resembling Sleepy of Seven Dwarves fame.

Now J-Baby is complaining of stomach pain and has taken to his bed, refusing to eat and claiming to be unable to walk. He doesn't have a fever and he isn't actually sleeping, so we're doing a "watch and wait". J-Baby often starts his serious illnesses this way, be it an ear infection or influenza. The refusal to eat makes everything worse because he gets weaker and weaker.

(It seems it wasn't serious. He vomited bile, drank some chamomile-ginger-honey tea, listened to a story CD, ate his lunch, and was outside playing by 2:30 p.m.)

We won't talk about the house. Papa is trying, really, but one man can't keep up with two boys while nursing a bedridden wife and holding down a full time job. We have until Monday to get the mess contained; I acquiesed to the idea of a weekly housekeeper through the holidays and a team will be arriving Monday for a thorough initial cleaning.

To top it all off, the beloved Girl Dog brought in a possum last night. It was dead, but freshly so, as rigor mortis had not set in and Papa was privileged enough to see its guts spilling out as he removed it from the house and scrubbed its blood from our floor. I told Girl Dog that she was darn lucky that she hadn't dropped it on the Persian rug. For the life of me I can't figure out why she chooses to mutilate possums when otherwise she is the gentlest dog on the face of the planet. Perhaps someone should clue the possums in on the fact that playing dead doesn't work with the Girl Dog, and in fact will result in being dead.

So, it wasn't the last walk, or snuggle, or kiss. I'm grateful. My life is beautiful. Messy, but beautiful.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I Lied...

Papa seems intent on enforcing 2 weeks of bed rest, and already I am going insane. So today I did a little more grade 2 planning. I filled in the dates, finalized cultures, and added our health curriculum (a California thing, and we've always considered it an unschooled subject, but I want to focus more on nutrition and on emotional health).

Some cultural blocks end perfectly; ie. our African/American block ends during black history month, so we should find events in Los Angeles to wrap up the block. We've planned a trip to Yosemite and other natural areas of California to follow the Scottish/John Muir block. Our Mexican/Aztec Indian block will end just in time for Mexican Independence Day, which will surely be celebrated throughout Los Angeles. We might even take the train straight to Olvera Street.

Others may be more problematic. There is a Jewish holiday that coincides with the end of our Israeli block, but it isn't exacly a festive holiday and I try to be very careful when it comes to co-opting other religions. Tisha B'Av has been described as the saddest day of the Jewish calender. Perhaps there will be a commemoration at the Museum of Tolerance.

Our Native American block ends less than 2 weeks before the summer solstice, so although we will have just moved on to our Israeli/Jewish block we will hopefully find a solstice celebration to participate in.

This is the nuts and bolts kind of planning that my brain can handle right now.

Monday, November 6, 2006

A Near Death Experience, Beforehand

Okay, I'm not going to die in surgery. But I can't keep my mind from wandering to that place. What if this is the last walk I take with my family? What if this is the last morning we spend snuggled in bed together? What if I never read them another chapter book? Is this the last hug, the last kiss, the last I love you?

I decided to write about it, because it appears that I have come to appreciate life in a way that many people find only after they have come near to death. Things like cancer, a car crash, or cardiac arrest...these are things that make people reassess their lives. The important things stick out, and the unimportant fall by the wayside.

It isn't just the fact that I am having surgerythat has brought me to this place. My experience with the philosphy of Enki Education has helped me to find my center, to balance my life, and to determine my priorities. A year ago I wouldn't have been savoring each moment leading up to my surgery and convalesence. Perfectionism was my affliction, along with an unhealthy dose of procrastination, and a bad case of poor self-esteem; I would have been scrambling around trying to make everything perfect and would have missed these sweet moments.

Sweet they are, and sweet they will still be if I live to be 100. While I still look to the future, I have learned to live in the here and now. Our times are uncertain; I can't focus all of my energy on the lives my children will live when they are adults...I need to help them live lives that are meaningful now. What is more important - a chapter read now, cuddled together on the couch, or drilling math facts and history dates in an attempt to get them into a good university? What will they hold in their memories as they grow older?

Likewise, would it be right to use my remaining time before surgery to organize the pantry and scrub the toilet? Part of me wants to do that, because someone might come over while I am in the hospital, and what would they think of me if my home wasn't immaculate? Luckily, I've come to a place where I care a lot less what people think. Hopefully they will offer me compassion; they will know that I spent months in pain before scheduling this surgery. They might know that I was ill for over a year. If they don't know these things, they don't know me well and I shouldn't care what they think. If they do know these things and judge me anyway, well, they must not love me, and again, I shouldn't care what they think.

No, I will take care of the basics. I'll pack a bag. I'll do what I can, within reason, to make things a little easier for Papa and those that come to care for the boys. I can do laundry, and tidy the house. I'm writing out basic recipe and laundry instructions for Papa.

But most of all I am going to spend my time with my family. We'll walk this evening, hoping to see a beautiful sunset as well as a few trains. We'll take Girl Dog as well, and I will relish her delight in being with us. We'll listen to our story. Tomorrow we will vote. We'll have something for breakfast that involves maple syrup. Maybe we'll have lunch out. I will hug and kiss all of them, repeatedly, all day long. I will snuggle with Papa on the couch once the boys have gone to bed. I will pet the Girl Dog, and speak kind words to her. I will live each day as if it might be my last, not because I think it is, but because everyday there is the chance that it could be the last, for any of us.

A Long Break From the Blog...

Don't expect to see anything here for a few weeks. In fact, if I write anything here before 11/27 you have permission to email me and tell me to get off the computer.

Surgery is 11/8. I'm hopeful, and terrified. I've decided that I should stay off the computer for the full 2 weeks that I am not allowed to drive (with the exception of occasionally checking email from my laptop, in bed). After that we have Thanksgiving and I do not want to spend family time writing in the blog. So Monday 11/27 I give myself permission to think about blogging and homeschooling again.

I should be able to report what it is like to go through recovery when you spend 24/7 with your children. I think it will be fine. T-Guy is really sad about losing co-sleeping privileges for a couple of weeks, however, he is equally excited about using his recently acquired kitchen skills. He can now pour his own cereal, make toast and frozen waffles, and use the microwave to make popcorn (microwave popcorn was purchased in anticipation of my recovery). Although I have written down my basic recipes for Papa, it is T-Guy who plans to show him how to make beans, rice, etc.

J-Baby is having a tougher time of it, because he doesn't release his emotions as easily as he exhales (T-Guy swims in his emotions). He's been asking a lot of questions. He snuggles me more and keeps getting in as many double hugs as he can (a hug in which we pick him up and he hugs us with his arms and legs). It seems that his stuffed dolphin is also scheduled for surgery, which is one way that J-Baby processes a lot of things.

So farewell for now. Papa will be sending out a surgery update via email to a few people, so there will probably be updates at Amity's, as well as on HF and IEAWL. I gladly welcome all good thoughts that you might want to send my way....

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Use It Up, Wear It Out, Make It Do, or Do Without

I first encountered this phrase when I was 19. Someone bought me a rubber stamp emblazoned with the phrase because I was a new hippie, a health nut, a tree hugger and yes, a rubber stamper.

It stuck with me. It is wisdom that you would get from a grandparent. It is also the antithesis of how most American consumers live today. It doesn't say buy, buy, buy. Is the lipstick half empty, but you'd like a new color? Don't use it up, buy a new one. Are your jeans bootcut when skinny is in? Don't wear them out, buy a new pair. Is the coffee table a little dinged and scratched? Don't make it do, buy a new one. Would you like a 60" plasma screen TV, but you can't afford it? Don't do without, buy it - on credit!

People were talking recently about how choosing to be frugal is seen as mental illness in our culture. An unwillingness to splurge indicates self-loathing or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yeah right. Let's talk about that again when the economy collapses or when most of the senior citizens in this country can't afford to retire. How how of whack is our society when living within your means is so uncommonplace that it is seen as the alternative, not the norm?

Tell your friends that you don't use credit cards (or you pay your bill in full each month, without fail). They may outwardly feign admiration, but they'll talk about you behind your back. The next time they plan a trip and you choose not to go because you can't afford to pay cash or you simply don't want to spend your money that way, they'll think your a little off. You're denying yourself, you're a tightwad, you don't know how to have fun.

I hear it all the time. We can't afford it, but it's Christmas, so we can't afford not to. Or, I needed a little retail therapy. Perhaps it is as honest as I'm going to die in debt anyway, so why not enjoy life now?

We've come to a place where buying certain things on credit is accepted as the way to do it. Not just mortgages and car loans, but furniture, appliances, electronics, groceries....yes, do you really think that every person who uses a credit card to buy their groceries pays it off in full each month? Do you think that the cart would have the same food items in it if that person had to pay cash? Certainly, there may be tough times and families who use the credit card to get them through. However, those families probably aren't purchasing Napa wines, organic brie, and artisan breads with their Mastercards and Visas.

It's insidious. Marketers convince the unsuspecting consumer that they need this boxed cereal, that granola bar, this instant drink...or they won't provide a healthy breakfast to their children. A shot of bacon and eggs is shown along with fat information to contrast the "healthy" cereal. Where is the shot of a whole grain hot cereal? People talk about how expensive food is. Well, actually, food in the US is cheap relative to income. Organics cost more; howver, I know of parents that feed their families a nearly organic diet for $300 a month. They aren't buying Hamburger Helper, Pop Tarts, Coca-Cola, Nutter Butters...nor are they buying their even more expensive health food counterparts: Newman's Os, Annie's Mac 'n Cheese, Santa Cruz organic sodas, Bear Naked granola.

We need a new way of thinking. We need to revive the spirit of those who didn't waste things. We need to wrestle away the power of the marketing machine. How to start? Turn off your TV, or at least find a way to watch without viewing commercials. Don't have your children watch commercials either. Talk about the fact that Madison Avenue wants you to spend your money on things you don't need.

Take the time to thrift with your children. ALso take the time to show them how expensive things are in retail stores. They aren't stupid; they'll catch on that getting the same thing for less money is a good thing (sorry Martha). Teach them about reducing, reusing, recycling. Get creative; make things out of what you have when you can. Teach them the skills to be savvy purchasers instead of mindless consumers.

Life in Balance

Sustainable living is tough. It is also a worthy pursuit, taken in tiny incremental steps until you realize that thinking sustainably has become part of who you are. There is no one right to approach sustainability, there is no perfection. Everyone who is trying falls somewhere on the continuum. We do what we can.

For instance, someone questioned our buying a new bicycle trailer. Why didn't we buy a used trailer? We looked, but all we could find were old child trailers. They could be converted somehow, but we weren't sure we had the know-how to do it. Why didn't we build one ourselves? We don't have the skills to build a trailer from scratch. In this case we traded what we have, cash, for a trailer. Someone else might have more skills and less cash. Burley is a good company. It is cooperatively owned by its employees, and the trailer was manufactured in Eugene, Oregon.

My thinking on sustainability evolves on a daily basis (my friends think I change my mind a lot!). When I think about peak oil and living in smaller, self-sustained communities I know that we need to be prepared. I'm not sure that stockpiling cash is going to do us any good. No, I'm not going to blow the nest egg, but slowly I want to acquire durable goods that will serve us in the years to come. I'm thinking of things such as a treadle sewing machine, a well-made carpet sweeper, bicycles, etc. Everything that I purchase now I evaluate for its long-term durability. If I need a measuring cup, I go with stainless steel. If I need a pot, I buy cast iron.

This isn't only about how long things will last. I want thing that aren't made of plastic, because it is wasteful to produce and doesn't decompose at the end of its lifecycle. There are little choices you can make; wooden pencils, solid wood furniture, a metal trash can. You can choose organic cloth diapers and wool covers. Wooden clothes pins and cotton line. A glass pitcher instead of Tupperware. It is helpful to think of the lifecycle of anything you buy. Where did it come from? What is it made of? How long will it last? Can it be made into something else once it can no longer serve its original purpose? Finally, can it be recycled (metals and glass) or composted (cotton and wool)?

It's easy to get consumed by guilt. I want organic produce. Eventually I plan to acquire the necessary skills to grow a lot of produce right here at home. For now, I buy what I can find organically grown locally, and I order the rest. Do I feel bad that my box comes via FedEx? Sure, but not enough to support local, conventionally grown produce. I am in the inbetween place, sourcing out what I can locally, slowly finding more. Next summer we will garden! I will not be put off by the amount of money it takes to get a few beds going.

Balance and being aware can take you far.

Halloween in the Red Dirt

Can I just start out by stating that I am conflicted about Halloween?

We actually had a peaceful Halloween. We carved and painted jack-o-lanterns Monday night. Our porch is decorated with one string of Halloween "tacky lights" that we had originally purchased to hang on our trailer (it's hard to explain tacky lights if you've never camped at an RV park). Also hanging is a pumpkin windsock that I bought on clearance for $1 in 1994. We have a lot of pumpkins, because I love pumpkins and fall, and having pumpkins on our stoop all October has made me very happy. In addition to the jack-o-lanterns I lit several candles on the porch table.

We had a simple supper of beans, then the boys dressed in costume (same as last year, Darth Vader and a Storm Trooper) and Papa took them out. Girl Dog got to go too. I settled into the rocker on the front porch, working on a knit hat. After half an hour my hands were getting cold and I had yet to have any trick-or-treaters (we had about 10 right at 5 p.m.) so I went inside. I lit about 30 candles and did more knitting. The quiet and candles were both beautiful and peaceful, which was welcome after a full day of Halloween anticipation by the boys. I had 3 families come by in the hour and 15 minutes Papa and the boys were gone. We had about 5 more after they came home and that was it. The boys put on their pajamas, we watched It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and then I read them Sheep Trick or Treat and The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything before brushing their teeth and tucking them into bed.

Growing up, Halloween was simple. Most often it occured on a school day. We'd wear our costumes to school: hand-me-downs, Kmart specials, cobbled together "homemade" costumes. There would be a parade and a costume contest, which was always won by a child whose mother had spent 6 months designing and sewing his/her costume. I wasn't jealous; that's just not the kind of costumes we had. I didn't feel like my mom had to compete with anyone.

We would come home from school and carve our pumpkin (only one), which had been purchased at the grocery store, probably the day before. Pumpkin carving was easy in those days; we kids were trusted to use the knives, we did the design and carving, and no one ever lost a finger. We didn't have pumpkin carving tools and stenciled designs; Martha Stewart had yet to turn pumpkin carving into an art form.

My mother would roast the pumpkin seeds in plenty of margarine (we were a margarine house, the cheap stuff) and salt them well. This was the one time each year that we had pumpkin seeds. The pumpkin seeds sold in convenience stores (David brand) held no allure, and pepitas were yet to become a gourmet food item.

We had an early dinner, probably macaroni and cheese, and then my dad would take us out to trick-or-treat. Mom stayed home to pass out candy; she loved seeing the children come to the door in their costumes. She still does.

Our "treat bags" were pillowcases. The local newspaper didn't send a slick plastic bag with Sunday's newspaper, with a full-color advertisment of the lastest children's movie to hit DVD. We didn't carry Longaberger baskets or light-up pumpkin buckets. Some children did have pumpkin buckets, but they were basic models picked up at Kmart for less than a buck.

(Growing up we had Kmart. Target didn't arrive until I was a teen, and Walmart hit the scene after I was married.)

We trick-or-treated in our neighborhood. We didn't cruise the streets in a minivan, looking for the most happening streets. Going up and down the street the neighbors knew who we were, because we played in our front yards, tossed baseballs in the street, and roller-skated up and down the sidewalks.

We'd come home, pillowcases heavy, and we'd sort the candy according to our favorites. Miniature Snickers bars and bags of M 'n Ms topped my list. We'd eat as much as we wanted, right then, before bed. If we were lucky CBS might be showing It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. We didn't own it on VHS or DVD, ready to play at a moment's notice.

Halloween is different now. We actually don't get a lot of trick-or-treaters, because we live about 2 blocks from the best place in the red dirt to go for trick-or-treating. It is so chaotic out there that they have to block off the streets. People drive from all over to take their kids to this neighborhood. Some of my own neighbors told me that they were going to skip passing out candy on our block and just head over to the other neighborhood. Indeed, many of the hosues on our street were dark.

Something about this just seems wrong. Instead of visiting their neighbors people take their children where they will get the most (and most expensive) candy. It makes me sad. Our first Halloween in this house came the month after we moved in, and taking T-Guy out was a great way to meet the neighbors (Papa stayed home with the J-baby). We talked to the elderly woman who walked her dogs past our house everyday, and the man across the street whose family had bought the house when it was first built; he was born in that house. I'll never forget the older man who had just lost his wife; he invited us in to see his house, to get a glimpse of her, although she was gone. The rug she chose, her antiques, the kitchen. Some of those neighbors are gone now, however I still enjoy taking a few minutes to catch up with everyone as we walk up and down the street. Time passes, we get older and the children grow bigger. People die, and babies are born. Families move out, new families move in.

Why the conflict? Halloween is fun. My boys look forward to it for months. But it is so commercial now. Halloween decorations go on sale the day after the Fouth of July. The amount of plastic junk sold each year is staggering, most of it is made in China, and destined for the landfill after just one season. People can buy pre-carved "pumpkins" made of foam. Not only is that not fun, it is toxic. Really, if you can't carve a pumpkin yourself due to arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, why not invite a neighborhood child to carve it for you?

People need to make connections. Don't drive 20 minutes to go to another neighborhood to trick-or-treat...go out and meet your own neighbors. Think about the earth; wear a costume more than once, buy second hand costumes, offer and accept hand-me-downs. Make costumes out of your dress-up clothing; when J-Baby was 3 he wore his brother's firefighter rain slicker, a pair of rain boots, and a fire helmet he had received as a party favor. If you want to decorate think about pumpkins and natural materials, which degrade into compost. Make a banner out of wool felt and use it year after year. Make your own garlands out of paper. Whatever you do, don't buy fake plastic "candles" for your pumpkins; the plastic and batteries are both environmentally unfriendly. You can use real candles and be safe; make sure the candles are in glass holders and don't leave them unattended. Place the jack-o-lanterns away from where little ones in costumes are walking.

Perhaps I am less conflicted that I thought. I realize now that I made the holiday exactly what we wanted it to be. The boys had a great time. The big difference? After today all of their candy gets sent to work with Papa, to share with his co-workers. I had better see if I can find a miniature Snickers bar before then....