Happy Happenstance

We’ve just had a week off for spring break.  As homeschoolers, we certainly could have kept up the normal routine while our public school counterparts had the week off, but we decided to take our own break.  We didn’t travel.  We just enjoyed some simple pleasures at home.  We played a lot of Pictionary.  We played outside.  We anxiously waited for a forecasted snowstorm that never came.  We went to a movie.  We read books.  We spent a lot of time at the YMCA.

We happened to be at the pool when a Multiple Sclerosis Water Exercise class was about to begin.  Not all participants had MS, but most of them were older and had some limitations in mobility.  Side note:  I love that the YMCA offers classes and exercise options across a huge range of ages and fitness levels.  The family feel, the whole community feel, is largely what drew me to the Y over other gyms.

A gentleman who was waiting for the class, Bob, approached me to ask about my tattoo.  I told him about my Ragnar Relay experience and that several from the team had gone to get tattoos together after the race.  He told me that he had had a stroke six years ago and had been coming to this class for about 4 1/2 years.  He told me that after his stroke he could only speak two words and had to relearn to speak, walk, everything.  He remarked that now he “can’t get himself to shut up”.  He was delightful.  His zest for life was contagious.  I can understand his enjoyment of his gift of gab.  I imagine it is something he does not take for granted.

At times, I feel a similar sense of gratitude and enthusiasm to that of my new acquaintance, Bob.  It took years after my heart surgery to really appreciate the gift I’d received.  I resolved to make the most of my healthy heart, and for a while, I did.  Then I began to let it slide, caught myself, and renewed my efforts to keep up healthy habits and do my best to hold on to this gift of good health.  I was so happy to meet Bob, and I hope that we will see each other again at the Y.  I think he gains something from sharing his story.  You should have seen how he lit up talking to me and my children.  He certainly gives in the course of sharing his experience.  Inspiration.  Encouragement.

Coincidentally, when I met Bob, I had just started reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, the true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s massive stroke and locked-in syndrome.  His cognitive function remained excellent, but his brain could not communicate to the rest of his body, essentially leaving him trapped in his own body.  His only means of communication was blinking his left eye.  It was a touching book, heart-rending really.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

For those of us who are fortunate enough to enjoy good health, let us not take it, or any of our other blessings, for granted.

Boundless

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Image: NASA

I have been reading a book called The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen by Lloyd Alexander with my children.

I found the following passage worth jotting down so I can read it again and again. The characters noted below were high in the air, looking down at the world.

“Are we still in the kingdom of T’ang?” Fragrance of Orchid said. “Have we left it and crossed into another kingdom?”

“The first thing to understand,” Niang-niang said, “is that there is no Kingdom of T’ang, nor any other realm. Do you see borders? Is one countryside so different from another? Is not a mountain a mountain, a tree a tree, wherever it may be? Kingdoms? They are pitiful inventions of humankind. They mean nothing to us. We see there is only the world itself, nothing more, nothing less.”

Truly. Look at that image of Earth. There are natural boundaries formed by oceans, rivers, varying climates. There are not lines denoting ” us” and “them”.

There is so much division in our society, in our world. Different religions. Different political ideologies.

I became a mother after 9/11 and just two months before the U.S. launched its War on Terror. It saddens me that this has been the state of our world for my children’s whole lives. It saddens me that these patterns repeat again and again throughout history.

Radicals aside, isn’t the average person simply trying to live a happy, safe, healthy, meaningful life? Are we really so different from one another?

Looking Forward to Getting ‘Cooked’

Yes, I know this post title sounds bizarre. It makes me chuckle, so bizarre it shall be.

cooked

I just caught part of an interview with Michael Pollan in which he talked about his new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

First of all, I am excited to read his new book! I just got myself onto the waiting list at the library. 🙂

Second, there were a couple things he said that reminded me of some particular events from my own life that I’d like to jot down here.

Once upon a time, part of my job included grocery shopping for a household, but I was not the person who did the cooking. In retrospect, I can see that this could be challenging for the person who would ultimately do the cooking. I know that as the cook in my own home, I prefer to also be the one in control of the grocery shopping. Who better to know what’s needed for the coming week? That wasn’t really possible in this particular situation, so those tasks were split.

What brought me down this particular section of Memory Lane was Michael Pollan’s recommendation to “Shop for Ingredients, Not Meals”. I remember being so irritated when my coworker complained of there being nothing to make. I knew there were all kinds of wonderful ingredients in the house. I stocked them! I finally realized he was looking for something easier. It was a source of tension, two different approaches to cooking. I never did make the move to buying convenience foods, so I was probably a source of annoyance to my coworker for the duration of that arrangement. I don’t regret buying quality ingredients rather than ready-made meals. My job was to stock the household with good sources of nutrition, which is what I did.

Pollan also noted that a lot of people don’t cook these days because they feel they don’t have time. I won’t lie. I have two frozen pizzas in my freezer right now, and there are some hectic evenings when I’m glad to have an option like that. I do try not to rely on those kinds of foods often, though. I’ve found over the years that it is possible to cook up a healthy meal fairly quickly if need be. For me, occasional meatless meals on these busier evenings have helped me provide quick meals for my family that are still real food. I do cook, but you won’t typically find me spending hours cooking our evening meal. (Once in a while, yes.) Thinking of cooking and time reminds me of a conversation with an older woman visiting from India who asked me if I cooked. I told her yes, and she asked me how many hours I spent cooking. She went on to tell me of her marathon cooking sessions. I was never sure if she was trying to make me feel inadequate or what. Maybe she envied me? I don’t know. Just a funny story that still makes me smile.

And as it happens, I’m off to start dinner. For the record, onight’s dinner will take about two hours to complete.

See, I’m enjoying Cooked before I’ve even gotten my hands on a copy. Maybe I’ll be back to talk more about it after I’ve actually read it!

Time to get cooking!

Machiavellian Mom

Machiavelli for Moms

Did anyone else see the piece on Suzanne Evans over the weekend? Here’s a link to the article I read, which is quoted below, if you’d like to take a peek. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323646604578400804035071688.html

Author of Machiavelli for Moms: Maxims on the Effective Governance of Children, Evans applies principles from Machiavelli’s The Prince to child rearing.

Some of what I read made me feel sad. Pitting the children against each other in a competition for better grades?

“Excellent!” I praised Teddy when she brought home a nearly perfect second-grade report card. I then rewarded her with a celebratory family dinner at the restaurant of her choice. On the other front, Daniel, whose report card wasn’t so stellar, got nothing, other than the shame of losing the competition—to his younger sister no less, as I reminded him.

I favor respecting all family members as individuals, with different gifts and interests. Family relationships are more important than grades, in my opinion. It is not worth putting that kind of wedge between siblings in an attempt to provide more motivation. If a family member struggles with a given subject, then support, don’t shame. And accept that not every person will be equally gifted in a given area. The idea of intentionally shaming a child upsets me. I’m a big believer in each person working to his or her own potential. Do your best. Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing.

I also can’t get behind this:

So, to minimize resistance and feelings of unnecessary abandonment (“You’re going golfing? Can we come?!”), I told my kids that their dad and I were going away for the weekend on a business trip. And I didn’t feel a bit guilty about it. The result: When I returned home, I was well-rested and relaxed, and my kids, who had worn out their grandparents, were thrilled to have me and their dad back home.

In other words: Don’t feel guilty for lying to your kids if it makes you happy and relaxed…because having a happy, relaxed mom always benefits a child.

It might be easier in the moment to avoid a confrontation (and believe me, I hate confrontation), but I don’t think it is worth damaging the trust between parents and children in order to get away for a weekend. I see nothing wrong with taking that weekend away, only with lying about it.

While it sounds like Evans does offer some advice that I would agree with (such as providing children with a set amount of money and letting them decide how to use it ~ it’s great to teach the value of a dollar!), there is too much emphasis on results over relationships for my taste.

Parenting is hard work. I make mistakes. All. the. time. Even in my imperfection, I want my approach to be from a place of respect. I show them how to show respect by modeling respect in my treatment of them and others. I teach them how to be kind by modeling kindness. I teach them diligence by diligently going about my own work.

Whew! I am suddenly feeling overwhelmed.

It’s a work in progress.

Even if modeling my parenting style after Machiavelli results in high-achieving, well-behaved children, the cost is too high if it means breaking trust within the family.

What do you think?

Book Love

I frequently pick up books at the library that I think my children or my husband might enjoy (in addition to those that they choose themselves).  Some turn out to be total duds.  That’s okay.  When I check out these books, they represent possibility, not certainty.

Occasionally I stumble onto something really wonderful for a member of my family.  Sometimes one of my library grabs will even grow into a long-term interest.  I feel so gratified in those moments when I see a sparkle in the eye that tells me I brought something new and exciting into their lives.

If you know me, or have read this post, you know how much I love books. I truly think they open up the world to those who look inside.

Here’s my sweet girl, engrossed in one of my successful picks.

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Have you read anything wonderful lately?

Sailing by Ash Breeze

I wanted to share another book that I really enjoyed reading with my children. This particular title, Carry On Mr. Bowditch, is a biography of young Nathaniel Bowditch, a bright boy who was forced into indentured servitude due to his family’s poor financial situation. He had dreamed of attending college, but his circumstances would not allow for that. A man who worked at the chandlery with Nathaniel described him as “becalmed” – like a sailboat that cannot make progress for lack of wind. Nathaniel, however, refused to allow himself to be stopped by circumstances that were out of his control. Instead of giving up his dream of further learning, he decided to study on his own at night. He taught himself Latin, physics, mathematics – anything that he was interested in. This bright boy grew into a brilliant man, all as an indentured servant. This in itself would understandably appeal to me. As a homeschooling mother, I value examples of successful self-directed learners.

My absolute favorite thing from this book, though, is the idea of sailing by ash breeze. When becalmed, the sailor must use his own power and row the boat. The oars were commonly made of ash wood. Ash breeze.

It is true that life can throw any variety of obstacles in our paths. Sometimes we feel quite stuck. As stuck as a becalmed sailboat. However, with determination and hard work, we can keep moving using our own power.

The next time I feel stuck, I will consider what is in my power to do, rather than dwell on what is out of my control. Sail by ash breeze.

Tyrants always do

I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series aloud to my kids over the last few months. We are currently about two-thirds through the sixth book. I never expected to find them interesting, but I am totally into it, for better or worse. A friend and I have discussed the fact there are elements to the Harry Potter books that most children are probably oblivious to, but give adults a lot of food for thought. I read the following passage tonight and found it interesting. Interesting enough to save.

If Voldemort had never murdered your father, would he have imparted in you a furious desire for revenge? Of course not! If he had not forced your mother to die for you, would he have given you a magical protection he could not penetrate? Of course not, Harry! Don’t you see? Voldemort himself created his own worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!