Monday, December 31, 2007

It's getting a little bit Little House on the Prairie around here....

So, I made homemade Christmas gifts & ornaments this year! Mane requested slippers, a hat, pants & a shirt - all matching, all crocheted by me. Well, I got the slippers & the hat done, and she was thrilled Christmas morning:




And Vespera had some knit slippers, which she wore almost constantly. So, I crocheted another pair:



And the homemade ornaments:





Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Strangeness

I am still surprised sometimes by my children. I mean, of course, they do and say surprising and wonderful things. But I mean surprised by their presence, their existence. I am amazed that they are here. Sometimes I wonder how the stars all aligned to put us together in this place. I look at Mane and wonder how she ever came from my body, how our DNA tangled up to make her. Intellectually, of course, I know. But, somehow, that doesn't really explain it. Not really. And Vespera? How did our life stumble into hers? Is it really divine appointment? Does that really happen? How did we ever end up adopting her? How did some come to really belong to us? How did this life become so familiar? What was life like without these two girls? What would it be like? I cannot even wrap my brain around the possibility. Their presence is something I take for granted, yet, when I really begin to think, I can hardly believe how they came to be here.

And when I stop and think like this, I have a look at what my children really are, apart from their role in the family, in my life. And, in this indescribable way, they are strange to me. They are so utterly "other." They are familiar, yet unfamiliar. I know them, but I don't. They are wholly their own people, with their own private thoughts and feelings, their own expressions and ideas. I can never know fully what makes them tick. Maybe even I understand Mango better than I understand my own children. It is so amazing. And so alarming. Wonderful and humbling.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Oh, and I forgot to mention....

The tough also eat chocolate. Not just me, Mango eats chocolate, too.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

When the going gets tough...

The tough take hot showers and call their friends.

Try combining teenage development, dreary MN winter weather, two completely different families (culturally and otherwise), immigration politics, grief, and PMS and see what kind of chemical reaction YOU get.

Life is tough over here. And we're counting on the attachment we've built so far to carry us through. Thanks be to God for hot showers and good friends.

Jesus be with us.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

I Am Bound For the Promised Land

I was listening to Jars of Clay the other day. They have a song on their Redemption Songs album that goes like this:

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan's fair and happy land
Where my possessions lie

All o'er those wide extended plains
Shines one eternal day
There God, the Son forever reigns
And scatters night away.

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promised Land
I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promised Land

No chilling wind nor poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore
Where sickness, sorrow, pain and death
Are felt and feared no more

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promised Land
I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promised Land

When shall I see that happy place
And be forever blessed
When shall I see my Father's face
And in His bosom rest

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promised Land
I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promised Land

And every time I hear the chorus, I get all choked up, tears spring to my eyes, I get chills. And I've been completely puzzled by my own emotional response. What is it that gets me about this song? So, it's about heaven, the promised land. It's just a regular song. Not even any especially provoking lyrics. (Though the musical artistry is amazing.)

I was pondering this in the car the other day. And I had this instant of clarity. The promise of heaven means that I can spend my life on this earth to the very last breath following God on every scary, dangerous, wreckless, extravagant path, and I don't have to be afraid or anxious. Let's see if I can say this right. I can do that, not because life here doesn't matter, but BECAUSE life here really matters. It matters too much to sit around on my hands and do nothing. And since I have the promise of eternal life with Jesus, I can spend this life, I mean SPEND it, use it up, squeeze it out and it's ok because the end is not the end. Then I'll go be with Jesus. God arranged it so that we can live our whole lives here for things that really matter, and, if we have to, even sacrifice our lives, and it's not over. Hmmm... I've no idea if this is coming out right. But there's something about being bound for the promised land that means I can live this life without fear. In fact, it means I can put away the anxiety I keep struggling with. It isn't relevant.

None of this is to say that life here doesn't matter, that the small things are irrelevant. Maybe it's an oxymoron. Maybe it makes no sense. Yet, somehow, the relationships we have here, the community we build, the way we treat people, the things we fight for, the way we live our lives...those things really matter. I believe that. I don't believe that God has us all here on earth living pointless lives. God is a God of relationship, and each one of us is an infinitely valuable image-bearer. In some way, for those who choose God, the relationships we have here will exist for eternity. Though we have no idea what that means or what form they will take.

What we do here is valuable, it's meaningful, perhaps eternally meaningful. And yet, the hope of heaven, the promise of eternal life, the Promised Land that lies before us means that this life here, this human life does not have to be handled with kid gloves. As much as it matters, we can still dive in, drink deeply, live freely, and TAKE RISKS because when it's over, it's not over.

I am not a risk-taker by nature. God has led me into some of the most serious risks of my life recently, and I can only hope that somehow it's because God believes that I am ready for this stretch. I cannot begin to think that somehow I've earned this, nor am I willing to believe that this is God's way of teaching me a lesson. I only know that I am finally becoming ready to open my heart with faith and really and truly live fearlessly.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Simile & Onomatopoeia

Today Mane & I talked about simile & onomatopoeia. I know this is boring for everybody else out there, but I we're having fun.

So, here's the simile exercise we did today. Mane's words are in bold:
The slipper was as soft as a sheep's wool.
The car crash was as loud as fireworks.
The cranberry bog was lonely like a sad person.
The fire seemed cheerful like mom.
The hotel was as homey as our house.

And Mane's onomatopoeia list (those are words that describe sounds, for those of you who aren't in the know):
crash
clumpity
moo
meow
bump
waaaaa
quack
click-clack
ding-ding-ding

Words are so fun!

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Christmas Carol, Timelines, and Continents

That's my week in a nutshell.

Mane & I did a marathon reading of A Christmas Carol. It took 3 days, and then we went to the performance of it at the Guthrie Theater on Thursday night. We placed Dickens on our LOOOOOOOOOOOOONG timeline today. The timeline stretches from the far wall in the kitchen to the opposite wall in the living room, from 0-2007AD. On Sunday we begin Advent and our Jesse Tree. I want to do a timeline with the Jesse Tree stories, but I don't know how long it's going to have to be! Ay-yi-yi.

Anyway, since we were talking about Dickens, we also found England on the map, placed a picture of Dickens on the page about England in Mane's binder about countries, and ended up talking about continents...which led to a discussion of the equator, latitude and longitude, temperature, directions, and the major oceans. I'm exhausted. Oh, and I almost forgot, we touched on the concept of Pangea, all of the continents being connected at one point in the earth's history...because Mane observed how they seemed to fit together.

Mane has also been reading her way steadily through the Bob Books, and is learning to make sense of numbers.

Our whole family (Me, Mango, Mane, Vespera, Novio, Mango's parents, and Mango's brother and sister-in-law) went to Festival of Christmas at Bethel University on Wednesday night, too. This is definitely going to become a Christmas tradition. We went last year. It's nice that it's so early in the season. It gets us looking ahead and anticipating Christmas, and it gets all of us together for something relaxed and beautiful.

Tonight is "date night," meaning Mango & I hang around chaperoning Vespera & Novio.

How time does fly.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Jesus Has Left the Building

So, I finally finished the book I've been reading for the last 9 months, Jesus has Left the Building. Perhaps it's meaningful that it took 9 months to read it, and I've been having dreams of birth lately. I didn't put it all together until I finished the book the other night and realized that it had, indeed, been 9 months since the time I started. A few weeks ago I dreamed that I was in a church with a mixed Hispanic/Euro-American congregation, and I was carrying around a baby that was clearly mine. Mango & I had leadership roles in the church. And the baby was a baby, but it could speak. And the baby was blond with that frizzy, fine hair of a mixed African-European child. Last week I had another dream of being in labor. The labor was long & drawn out, but it wasn't painful. The baby was in a bad position, but I was able to manually manipulate it's position, and I could clearly tell, from the outside, the baby's orientation. Then, suddenly, the baby just appeared in my arms, laughing and speaking. Just as suddenly, the baby was gone, and I was still in labor. The labor was still not painful, and I woke before it was over.

Dreams of birth are, I guess, supposed to be about ideas. They aren't typically about real human babies. Strangely, I hadn't even picked up the Jesus Has Left the Building book in several weeks, and I had both of those dreams before I picked it up to finally slog through the final chapters. If Mr. Vieira ever reads this, I do, indeed, mean that I slogged through the final chapters. That has it's own meaning for me, too. Whenever I've been reading the book (meaning, book in hand, actively reading), I've gotten so excited about the ideas. I've read chunks aloud to Mango. I've underlined and discussed. BUT, as soon as I put it down, I can't get back to it. It's like the book had some magnetic forcefield that repelled me from it. It wasn't that I didn't have time. I read plenty of books in between. I just didn't want to go back to it. I mean, I knew in my head that I wanted to go back to it, but I couldn't get myself to do it.

Yes, this all has meaning for me. Yes, the charismatic part of me reads into every single nuance of what I've said here. What I'm trying to say is that I think the book has some powerful, perhaps prophetic, meaning...for the church as a whole and for me. I see Mango & I somewhere in the front lines. Someday. It scares me, quite honestly. But I'm getting used to being scared. Being scared just means that I live more by faith and less by sight. It's exciting and horribly unnerving all at the same time.

In a nutshell, Mr. Vieira believes that the church, as a building, as a structured entity, is going to collapse. God is going to allow it to collapse. Because the church isn't doing or being what the church was intended to do or be. It isn't a light to the world. It has lost it's salt. And people are going to have to figure out how to BE the church, how to have real relationships and real community with each other. Christ-followers are going to have to figure out how to interact with the rest of society in a way that demonstrates that we are different and that makes all the rest of the world want what we have. The current church is so far from that. It's heart-breaking. Jesus must weep. People don't want want we have. They want to get as far away from Christians as possible.

God, make me a Christ-follower. Make me your instrument. I want to play your music. I want to be light and salt, love and compassion. I want to be authentic. No games, no facades, no lingo, no agenda.

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Homeschooling Supplies

So now I am a homeschooling mom, and I thought I'd share my two week's worth of wisdom on what supplies are truly indispensable for a successful homeschool. In no particular order:

* tape
* playing cards
* cardboard
* those little gem/jewel/rock thingys that are supposed to be used for home decor purposes but make excellent math manipulatives
* a library card
* high speed internet
* a printer
* index cards
* writing utensils and reams of paper
* did I mention tape already? ;)
* stuffed animals (for acting out stories, for use as math manipulatives, for reading buddies...)
* glue (though tape is preferred)
* scissors

That's it. If you have all that, you are way more than prepared.

Please don't forget the tape.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Dreams

I've had a very active dream life lately and wanted to get a few of my recent dreams all written down.

A few nights ago I had a strange dream. Strange because it didn't involve me or anyone I knew. It was more like watching a movie of some people I didn't know. The dream involved a guy, Peter, and a few of his friends, who all played guitar together. They were out late at a coffee shop, sitting at tables on the sidewalk, after jamming together someplace. They were college age and pretty intense friends. So, Peter ended up telling the group about having been molested as a child while they were all sitting at this cafe together. He clearly wanted to sink under the table and out of sight after he said it all, especially considering that one of his friends was this woman he was totally in love with (though she didn't know it). She didn't say a lot, except that she respected him and was so sad that this happened to him. In her mind, he wasn't really any different than the Peter she had always known. She just had some more information about him, and it made some things click into place. But it didn't change how she felt about him. She loved him also, but she hadn't told him yet.

In my dream, Peter goes to Alaska & gets a job flying airplanes. He's terribly homesick & misses this woman from college a lot. But he feels defective, like he can't expect her to love him, and going to Alaska was a bit like running away. He calls her, though, because they're good friends and they want to keep in touch. Finally he tells her that he hates Alaska, that he wants to come home. She tells him that he should come home then. He says that he doesn't want to come home unless she will be there waiting for him. He doesn't say that he loves her exactly, and he hesitates to go on in their conversation because he knows he probably just said too much, and he thinks she probably thinks of him as this messed up, defective person, and he's asking way too much of her. There's this long silence when neither of them says anything, and then she says that she loves him and she will be there waiting when he comes home.

How's that for a wild dream. Mango says I should get somebody to write the screenplay. I have some thoughts about what it all means, but I'm not going to post it all here. Mostly, I'm just surprised that it came up now, seemingly out of the blue, unrelated to anything I've been reading or thinking about lately.

So, last night I had a dream that some girlfriends & I went camping. The guys in the campsite next to us wouldn't leave us alone, kept talking to us, trying to touch us, etc... One of my friends was drunk, and so was totally useless in trying to fend them off. The other friend said I should call Mango. I put it off, but then these two guys tried to sleep in our tent with us. They wouldn't leave. So, I called Mango, but I was really worried about him because there were two guys & he's only one guy. Mango came right away & jumped on both the guys, knocked them out, and then we all helped get them out of the tent.

That's all. It's a dream about trust...about believing that Mango will always be there when I NEED him, even though life is busy and he can't always be there when I simply WANT him. For those of you who have ever had partners in graduate school or who are teachers with 3 preps, you know what I mean. Add two children to the mix, and you've got a very busy life.

I had another dream a few nights ago, but I can't remember it for some reason now. *sigh* Maybe later.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Selfishness & Selflessness, Marriage and Children

This little post is a spin-off from an article I read in the Star Tribune and a discussion I had with Mango immediately following said article. This is completely unorganized and unstructured.

The article in the Star Trib was about how babies change marriages, often for the worse. Husbands feel neglected and deprived of sex. Women feel overwhelmed, touched-out, and resentful of their husbands for helping so little & still wanting sex. Women miss their libidos and husbands miss them, too. Essentially, sex goes down the tubes, everybody gets unhappy, and people get divorced. Encouraging, huh?

While I agree that sex plays a central role in a healthy marriage - see my post about teens & birth control - I also see the rampant complaints following the birth of a baby as a symptom of something much more disturbing in our society...selfishness. Men don't get what they want because they aren't willing to support their wives, emotionally and practically. Women don't get what they want because they believe they can excuse any behavior postpartum by claiming hormonal issues. I don't want to belittle the role of hormones, either. Hormones bring out the nasty evilness in me, and I know how challenging it can be to see beyond the hormones. But, even so, hormones are not an excuse to neglect one's partner for months on end. The real truth is that, in our society, you're supposed to get what you want out of a relationship and not have to work real hard to get it.

It's a sticky subject. I know there are a lot of confounding factors. I've often heard it said that a marriage will continue in the trajectory it was before the birth of a child. So, perhaps, what we're really seeing is that a lot of marriages aren't doing all that well before the birth of a child.

I just finished a book set in an Amish community. (Hang in there, this is relevant.) One major characteristic of the Amish is their selflessness (real or imposed). People are expected to live their lives for others, serving others, and not for themselves. In an Amish society, people think of others first and very little of themselves at all. I'm not suggesting that this is necessarily healthy, either, but it can help us gain a little perspective. We don't *have* to live our lives for only ourselves. We may need, at times, to put our partners first in a relationship. And maybe there's a certain peace and contentment that comes from not being so hung up on our own selves all the time.

Mango & I talked about how that has a potential to destroy a relationship, too, though. Some people are totally willing to do anything and everything for their partner, and their partner is willing to do the same, but neither of them are willing to say what they really want or need to be happy in the relationship. They aren't willing to be a little bit "selfish," even though the other person would be totally ready and willing to give whatever they want. After a while, those two people are just constantly walking past each other, but never connecting. They are giving and giving and giving, but there isn't a lot of love between them.

Ok, another word about the Amish (and Catholics, too): These people see children as components to a healthy marriage. I'm not saying this because I believe everyone should have children, but because I believe that if you choose to have them it should be at least partly because you want them and you believe that children will grow out of the strong and healthy relationship you share. In other words, we tend to view children as an inconvenience in our society. We put them in their own rooms almost immediately after they are born and teach them to cry themselves to sleep. We have hundreds of gadgets and gismos and blinking lights to entertain and care for them so that we don't have to hold them all the time. Our society is full to the brim with things to make it easier for us to go on with our lives as they were before children. This is nonsensical if you really think about it. Why have children if you don't want your life to change? Have children if it's a meaningful part of your journey in life with your partner.

And, yes, I know that change is hard. I know I still long for those long, lazy afternoons with Mango with nothing to do and nowhere to go, lying in bed with the afternoon sun streaming in. But I wouldn't trade my girls for those afternoons. And our marriage, if anything, is stronger than ever before. There was certainly plenty of sleep deprivation (and still is some days), and we've had to squeeze in our intimate moments between the care and keeping of everyone else. But, we're here to serve and love each other. And in return, we get lots of service and love. It's a circle. It's not an exchange. Nobody is keeping track. Sometimes you give a lot and sometimes you need a lot. And as long as the balance doesn't tip too heavily in one direction for too long, it nourishes the relationship to carry on this way.

So, it seems like there are two types of marriages most commonly out there. There are the selfish kind where everybody just wants what they want, and their are the totally selfless kind with not enough communication. Being something in the middle is a challenge. Mango and I find ourselves constantly speaking of "the middle," being in the middle of God's plans for us, in the middle of the extremes of marriage relationships. It's hard, hard work, but I think it also makes us stronger, healthier and more satisfied. And it benefits our children.

This whole concept, as inarticulate as it is here, carried over into parenting. When we live to serve each other, but not in a way that doesn't allow us to also get our needs met, we can give our children all the love and nurturing they need without needing them to be what we want them to be. We can let them go and write their own life story because we aren't selfishly demanding them to be a reflection of ourselves or our desires. And we don't feel defeated by their mistakes. AND, if we find the balance between selfishness and complete selflessness, we also teach them that we are people, too, and we have feelings. They need to treat us with respect, compassion, and love. And, in that way, they learn from us to go out and create their own healthy relationships. They learn that they are valuable individuals and that others are valuable, too.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

If you asked what I've been up to....

Letsee, I've been really getting into fall cooking: pumpkin soup, apple pie, borscht (that's beet soup). I love the autumn. It's my favorite season. I always wonder why I didn't have a fall wedding, but, then again, if I look around me I know exactly why. School starts, the soccer season is in full swing, and it rains and rains and rains. Has it always been this way in the fall? I can't remember. But, I know it's always smelled this way. Mane & I stood out waiting for the bus this morning with our noses in the air, sniffing. Wonder what the bus driver thought of that?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Novio

I got tired of constantly referring to "Vespera's boyfriend." So, we have christened him "Novio" for the purposes of internet conversation. I have added him to my profile, for those of you who are trying to keep all the internet handles straight.

Carry on.

Apple Pie

I made my first ever apple pie yesterday, and I made it with Mane, and we made it gluten free!! AND everyone loved it. Some days are so satisfying.

Making the apple pie was the closing event for our week spent "rowing" How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World. We read the book every day and spent time studying fall harvest, geography (to find all the apple pie ingredients), photosynthesis, and math (story problems based on the book & the recipe). We also made pumpkin soup on Thursday, learned "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater," and read Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper. We went to the Farmer's Market on Sunday and picked out some pumpkins in the pouring rain and ate corn on the cob.

Autumn is such an abundant time to practice homeschooling.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dating

Another post I wanted to save from GCM. I referred in my last blog entry to a post I made about dating guidelines. Here it is:

"Miss Priss asked me in another thread what my guidelines are for dating, since Vespera has been dating the same guy for the last 5 months. I have to admit to struggling with whether to give the short answer or the long answer to this question. It's hard for me to put my finger on a set of guidelines. So, there's a lot of explanation that comes with everything I say. I will try, try, try to be brief. Bear with me.

First, my rule of thumb in parenting is to say "yes" to my kids as often as possible. So, when I have to say no, they respect that & understand that I have a reason. So, I'm not inclined to set up a bunch of arbitrary rules. I'm more inclined to feel out a situation and see what rules are warranted.

Next, I think your rules about dating have to be somewhat dependent on the type of kid you have. You have to know your kids, their weaknesses, their strengths & personalities. I don't suppose that's too much to assume here on GCM. I think most of you have that type of relationship with your kids.

So, ok. I don't have a ton of rules for Vespera...mostly because she's extremely honest & trustworthy. She's forthright about her emotions and her expectations. She won't hide things from me, and we talk about her relationship with her boyfriend on a regular basis...at least once a week.

Hmmm.... The first rule is that if they go someplace together she has to be home by 8. It's starts to get dark around 8. Neither of them drive. So, they're out on rollerblades or bikes if they're out. We live in a high crime urban area. She needs to be off the streets before dark. Her boyfriend sometimes stays at our house past dark, but then he bikes home super fast & calls when he arrives.

They don't go out on school nights. Vespera has soccer & homework. That fills her week. In the summer they saw each other several days a week. That's not difficult for them since they live within biking distance of each other. It would have to be different if I had to drive everywhere. She checks in with me about plans, and family plans always take priority, though sometimes it is appropriate for her boyfriend to be included, and then he comes along.

As a philosophical aside, it helps if you can be really flexible and open about family time & activities. As our children grow up, I think we have to be willing to open our homes and our plans to the people who are important to them. I ask Vespera's boyfriend to stay for dinner when he's here at dinner time, just as I would one of my friends who happened to be here during the dinner hour. It helps to remember that hospitality extends to those who are younger than us, to the friends of our children. Likewise, I try to help him feel at home here...especially since they have been dating for so long. He knows how to get his own glass of water & put his dishes in the dishwasher. I think it's important for Vespera's friends to feel like I'm looking out for them, too...sort of like the way people used to look out for each other's kids when all the kids roamed the neighborhoods. It was me who insisted that he call when he gets home whenever he bikes home after dark. I ask him about school, his grades, classes teachers... Mango & I sometimes offer advice about school or jobs or extracurricular stuff. I make sure they've eaten when they're going to be gone for some hours, help them make a plan for how long to be gone if they've got a particular destination in mind.

It really, really helps that Vespera's boyfriend makes a concerted effort to talk with us. He asks questions and participates in family conversation. We also ask questions and make an effort to really get to know him. He's shy, and it's hard to draw him out sometimes. But, I love it that I see him making an effort. He's very respectful of Vespera's "curfew" and of her space in the house. He doesn't go into her room unless asked and he looks to us for a nod of approval before he goes in. They keep the door open.

I didn't make rules about keeping the bedroom door open, but I'd make it a rule if I thought my kids needed it. As it is, I know that Vespera & her boyfriend have had conversations about physical boundaries. They hold hands & kiss, which I think is fine. We have, on two occasions, left them at the house while we ran errands. We absolutely felt that we could trust them. If I didn't feel I could trust them, I'd make it a point to be home, but I'd also make it a point to be having some serious conversations about sex. ...oh wait, we've had the serious conversations about sex anyway. And she's told me about the conversations they've had about sex.

I think as their relationship deepens and they've been together longer, it may be more important to be sure they aren't alone together for too long. I think the willpower to wait for sex may begin to wane as their emotional commitment and passion for each other increases. They might need help maintaining their boundaries. Right now I am not concerned. I trust them both. I know where they're at, and I know this isn't something we need to worry about right now.

Hmmm...what else? Oh, Vespera has a cell phone. We find it's beneficial for our family. She calls her boyfriend pretty much every night or he calls her. The rule is that as long as it doesn't interfere with her homework she may talk to him for as long as she wishes. She sometimes chooses not to call or to just call & say that she has too much to do to talk tonight. She does not generally take calls during dinner or while we're out places. These aren't exactly rules, but she recognizes these things as a matter of respect. I guess I'd make rules about it if I felt I had to. Oh, and I make sure she actually has the ringer ON on her phone so I can reach her when she's out. She always calls if she's going to be late.

And about being late. They were really, REALLY late once. I sat on the porch waiting for them. When they arrived I very calmly asked if they had any idea what time it was. I told them that I know how to get angry, and I would be extremely angry if this ever happened again. I explained that I am concerned about safety, and it makes me worried when they don't show up when they say they will. And I told them that if it ever, ever happened again they'd do all their dating right here on my front porch. They've since done lots of dating on the front porch of their own accord, but they haven't been late without calling ever again. They have not been chronically late, but after they were late & called a few times I told them that I expected them to plan better so that they were not always calling to say they'd be late.

I don't have rules about dating age. Vespera moved in with us when she was 15. At the time, I recognized that she was mature enough to date if she chose to. I don't know when that will happen for Mane or if I'll need to set an age."

In response to some other questions:
"The reason Vespera's bedroom is an ok place to be is because it's right off the living room. We live in an 1870's duplex. The living room is the center of the house. Both bedrooms & the kitchen open off the living room. Through the kitchen is the bathroom & dining room. And that's my whole house. If they're in the bedroom I can see them from the living room & part of the kitchen. I can hear them from anywhere. So, in the bedroom with the door open is sort of like being in an extension of the living room. I might feel different if they were in another level of the house or down a hallway....but maybe not. I don't know. As long as the door is open, I don't see how they're going to do anything they shouldn't.

They also spend lots of alone in public time - biking & rollerblading. They ALWAYS (I am totally serious) run into people who know them and are looking out for them. And they spend lots of time with the family. Over all, I'm very satisfied with how they conduct themselves. They were 16 & 17 when they started dating. He's 18 now & she's almost 17. I think this has a great deal to do with why it's going so well. They are also both from Hispanic families by birth, and think this has something to do with their relational maturity as well. I hope to raise Mane in similar ways so that she is prepared to conduct herself in such a mature way.

I have to put in a word, too, for talking to teens about how to be with their boyfriend/girlfriend when they're around other friends. Vespera & her boyfriend have been careful (using some of our advice) to not alienate their other friends when they're all together. They're affectionate (holding hands & maybe leaning on each other when they sit together), but they don't kiss around their friends & they are careful to not always sit together. They want to make sure they maintain their other friendships. They both have had experience with people who are "all over each other," who "can't leave each other alone," and who can't do anything without their boyfriend/girlfriend. They knew exactly what we were talking about when we mentioned this to them, and they don't want to be that way.

And...since I can't seem to stop typing... ...we've also talked with Vespera about nurturing the friendship part of their relationship and making it a priority over the "romance" right now because they both have 2 years of school left (he moved here from Mexico & was placed back in school because of language issues) and they may break up. But they *do* have a totally unique friendship, a lot of similar interests, and a genuine care for each other. If it turns out that this isn't a long-term thing for them, they may be able to end the dating on good terms and keep a valuable friendship."

Teens & Birth Control

Someone on the GCM message board asked about whether we should provide our teenagers with birth control if we know they are going to have sex. The question is whether or not this is the same as condoning teenage sex. Is it the same as telling them to go ahead and do it. I wanted to save my response. So, I thought I'd post it in my blog. Here it is:

This is an excellent question & one definitely worth discussing. If anyone has read my posts on teenage dating you know that I'm all about open communication & honest, forthright education. Vespera is aware that sex is a beautiful, wonderful, pleasurable thing...and that it's not for her right now because it would compromise her integrity and her future. At this point, she isn't finding it hard to wait...yes, we talk about these things. I suspect that in another year it will be getting harder if she's still with the same guy. We've talked about how it gets harder over time...especially when, as someone else mentioned, it's "not some sweaty thing in the backseat of a car," but something borne of deep emotional connection and is an expression of a long-term commitment, something sweet and tender and loving and all those things I hope for her *after* the wedding.

We've actually talked quite a bit about how sex has the potential to be this beautiful, sacred, holy, pure and, therefore, very life-giving connection in a relationship when people wait for the God-ordained time to be together. And sex has the potential to be fraught with emotional baggage when a couple does not wait. We have emphasized that this does *not* mean that healing cannot happen, that people cannot be restored, that the life-giving qualities of sex cannot be restored to a relationship. BUT, we have emphasized that this is a choice she can make...to choose the one path or the other.

Sooooooooooo, where does this leave us? *If* it should happen that Vespera decided to have sex with her boyfriend anyway despite our best efforts to educate and encourage AND supervise (and after expressing my concern & disappointment), I think I probably would help her have access to birth control. I'm not sure I would provide it for her. She already knows about the types of birth control available to her from health classes at school and from the books I've shared with her over the past few years about bodies & sex. She is currently morally opposed to birth control. So, I don't forsee ever being faced with this situation. wink It's good to think it through, though.

I have to say, though, that in the past few years, I've had a lot of experiences where I feel like the wisdom to handle particular situations has come to me on an "as needed" basis. Mango & I strive to be always connected to God's plan for our lives, to be ever listening for the still, small Voice. And we've found that our parenting has evolved situation by situation. We don't always know how we would handle something ahead of time, but, when the time comes, we simply know. We have experienced the Holy Spirit in nearly tangible ways as we've made decisions we hadn't been prepared to make. So, I always hesitate a little now to say what I would or would not do. I cannot know for sure what I would do, but it's good for me to think, in theory, about what I'd do. I think these discussions are valuable and helpful...yet, I know that, ultimately, I will have to be open and flexible to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Friday, September 21, 2007

School

So, we've had a bumpy first few weeks of school. Mane has gone from excited to distressed and resigned and back again. We considered homeschooling all of last year...seriously considered it. And I'm still pretty much homeschooling, except that she's gone for a few hours every day. Now we're in the struggle of deciding whether to keep her in school or not. Because she's learning very little content. Though, Mango will tell you that learning process is just as important as learning content...and I believe him. But she also has the longest bus ride I've ever heard of on the way to school. And she doesn't like the bus driver on the way home. And the boys in her class push people.

She is learning to put everything away after taking it out. To wait her turn without interrupting. To take responsibility for herself when she has needs (like getting off the bus past kids who won't move). She is making friends, learning new games, and singing new songs. She has stories to tell from life on her own in the big, big world.

But I miss her. And I have so many things I want to do with her. And I want her to learn the things she's interested in learning. And I want her to do that without being so tired from school that she cannot possibly do/learn one more thing. I love the way that homeschooler talk about their homes and their families. I might really want to homeschool. And the bumps this year have given me a lot of pause.

Soooooo, this morning she said AGAIN that she didn't want to go. So, I said, "Ok, you could stay home. You don't have to go to school." Mane paused, considered, and said, "No, I really like school. I want to go to school." Later she said that school was too long, and that it's boring, but she still wants to go. What am I supposed to make of that?! Well, I supposed what I can make of that is that a 5yr old cannot be relied upon to make such a decision, and I still need to make it myself.

And so I sit and stew. I need to talk and talk and talk about it. I'm even bored of hearing myself talk about it. So, now I'm writing instead.

I know she needs friends. And I know that's the age-old question about homeschooling, and homeschoolers have lots of ready responses. I know all the responses. I've even used those responses in defending my potential decision to homeschool. But, the truth of the matter is that there's something unique about spending several hours a day with the same group of kids. Even if I arranged other social activities for her, I'm sure I couldn't find people who wanted to get together for a few hours a day a few times a week. That's what school is for, right?

And now I have to run because Mane needs attention. Probably more thoughts to come...though everything may have changed by the time I get back to this.

Spanish

I'm going to just say the cliches. I have to get them out of my system, ok? Spanish is the most beautiful language. Truly. It rolls off the tongue in a way that English almost never does. Now granted, you can say things very, very specifically in English. Spanish has fewer words, tends to be less specific. But, it makes up for this in beauty, in emotional expression. You have to put your heart into your words to get at the specifics. Maybe this is why I find Spanish music so powerful. You can tell the specifics, not by the actual words, but by the inflection. It's not a tonal language, yet if you use the whole range of emotional expression available to you, you can say much more than the words actually say. I suppose this could, perhaps, be said of English also. But, there's something different about Spanish. So much of it sounds sensual, juicy, full, brimming. English words do not suffice to describe Spanish.

I love it, and Mango love this, that Spanish has ONE word, meaning "with you." Contigo. Go ahead. Say it. (cohnteego) And "with me." Conmigo. (cohnmeego) My favorite Spanish words. You see, in Spanish one has to use the familiar form of the verb to say "with you" or "with me" as one word. If one is speaking formally, one must say, "Con Usted" or "Con Yo." But, informally, familiarly, it's one word. And such lovely words. I don't know why I feel this way. I just do.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Big Days

Vespera's adoption was final one year ago last Saturday. She spent the day with her birth family and playing soccer. That has a certain poignancy all by itself. Life with her is often filled with the paradoxical.

It wasn't too painful, though, as it gave us the opportunity to reflect on her adoption and find a suitable gift to celebrate the one year anniversary of the day. She came home to us on Sunday and we ran off to a birthday party & housewarming. On the way we stopped at a coffee shop. (Yes, we've gotten her addicted to coffee shops, too.) She got a smoothie with whipped cream. Truly the way to this girl's heart is, at least partly, through her stomach. Her mama taught her to love good food, no substitutions. So, we all sat down, and I passed her the gift we'd found...a book of wonderful quotes. She (and her boyfriend) can spend hours reading quotes. She just loves these little gems. It's like short poetry. I have to admit to enjoying a good collection of quotes myself.

I sent her off to school on Tuesday brimming with excitement, carrying the posterboard she made about vectors for summer homework, two apples & granola bars for the time between school and her soccer game tonight, brand new backpack & notebooks & folders. Mango was anxious and tired, ready but not ready for the new year. Vespera sang to him the night before, "Lean on me when you're not strong. I'll be your friend..." It was cute, her helping him along for the first day of school. The relationship between them has taken several gigantic strides since a few weeks ago when we got some new info from Vespera about her birth family. It's amazing what honesty will do.

Our celebration Sunday was small. Sunday & Monday passed in the relaxed ease of time shared together and with friends. Tuesday saw Vespera & Mango off to school, and I just now have a moment to reflect. We tumble through these momentous days one after another. I sometimes feel it a desecration to not honor each moment in some big way, but this year small seems to suit us. We didn't have big adoption parties or back to school parties. The quiet of this year is a dramatic contrast with last year. Somehow this is right. We are nourished and satisfied by the sweet, small moments.

Now, tomorrow, Mane begins kindergarten. This is her moment this week, and I have a feeling it will be big...

Saturday, August 25, 2007

We have PETS


These are our new baby rats, Luna (meaning "moon" in Spanish) & Nube (noo-bay, meaning "cloud" in Spanish). Luna has the white stripe down her head. Nube has the all brown face. I wasn't excited about the idea of rats at first, but I hear they are friendly, clean & smart. In fact, I hear that they spend 1/3 of their lives grooming themselves, they can learn to come when called, they love to play games, and they will go for walks on a leash. What more could you ask for if you can't have a dog?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Opposite of Faith

I just wanted to say a little something about the quote that's been hanging out at the side of my blog for a while. "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty." Anne Lamott said this in an interview on NPR a while ago. She probably had no idea it would end up in print on somebody's blog. But, in any case, it resonated with me in a way I could never have expected, and the concept has come back to Mango & I numerous times in the several weeks since I wrote it down. It's just a little gem of wisdom that fits some thoughts together neatly in a new way. Lots of people scratch their heads at this idea. But here, let me break it down. If you are CERTAIN, you are not employing faith. Faith means you are believing in that which you cannot see, that which you cannot know. I am so comforted by this. Faith is not a religious platitude to make us feel better. Faith is messy. Faith is when you are living on the edge. Faith is when you are so confused and unsure and blind and scared. And you believe God anyway. Just God. You don't know anything else, except that God is. And you know the tiny glimmers of God that have flashed through the dirty lenses of life. You know some little bit of who God is. And that has to be enough. Because nothing else is certain. You simply have faith. And that isn't cute or religious or easy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Stay With Me

We were talking about college the other day when she said, sort of off-handedly, in that off-handed-I’m-dying-to-know-the-answer kind of way, “Where will I live when I go to college?” I responded quickly, “Well, right here, of course.” She smiled and laughed and got that relieved, excited look. “Really? I can stay here?” Of course. Of course. Honey. Child. Sweet Love. You are always welcome here. You can live here for the rest of your life if it pleases you. And I am so happy that you want to, that you want to know if you can be here because you’re comfortable here, because it feels like home.

I am so grateful. I have so many thoughts about this past year. Last summer was so new, so full of raw emotion, uncertainty. It was a blood, sweat & tears kind of summer. We held tightly to each other, as though if we let go we’d fly into opposite directions. Vectors. She’s learning about vectors right now, and that’s what I think of. What happens when two things are bound together tightly, but they’re pushing at the cords? When you set them loose they fly apart so hard they’ll never find each other again. So, we held tightly, with persistence. We held tightly even though we were scared and worried and tired. We cried.

And then the cords loosened a little and we could walk away from each other still attached. It was hard and scary, and we weren’t always sure that the connection was still there. She held loosely, with her face turned, buried in school work, not always interested in connection, not full of the gratefulness that first filled us all in this journey, not always conscious any more of the gift we were giving, nor of the gift we received in her.

And then, slowly, painfully, and somewhat surprisingly we discovered that closeness exists through time and space, that connection can happen after separation, that somehow we can flow in and out of each other’s space in a comfortable sort of way. I guess we became family. It wasn’t so much a decision any more. The focus is not the adoption. We simply belong to each other. We didn’t think about the strangeness of it all the time any more. We just live together. We just live together. Now. In the moment. And maybe now it’s in her heart, in her emotional memory, ingrained in who she is that she will always be family. Maybe it’s moved out of her head and into her existence.

And she wants to stay. I could not ask for more.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Camping

Excerpted from an e-mail to a friend:
We just got home from our own camping adventure on Friday. Wednesday night was 50 degrees & we shivered our way through dinner and then went to stand with our faces in the wind down by the water. The lake was rough & wild. Vespera sketched pictures, and I took some paper & a pen down to the lake. My fingers froze, but it was so powerful and wild out that we couldn't help but be drawn to face it. Then we snuggled down in our tent and slept peacefully to the sound of crashing waves & roaring wind. Thursday was chilly in the morning, but by afternoon everybody was wading in the water, collecting agates and skipping rocks. By evening it was downright warm & we sat on the shore taking pictures while the sun set. Friday we packed up to leave, as both Vespera & Mango had broken out in hives - I think from the moths, but that's another story. We took ourselves to the Munsinger Clemens flower gardens in St. Cloud and took more pictures, dangled fingers in the fountains, danced in the gazebo, and sat on the swings facing the river.

My journaling out in the wind & the cold:
This place has been a place of healing, the balm of water, the relentless wind. I found beauty here when the world lacked beauty. And power, power so strong I couldn't help but open my arms and fall into it. Trips to this lake, to this shore, are a way of marking the passage of time for me. Here I found the freedom of traveling alone with my lover, my friend, the one who knows my soul, to whom I have been married these 9 years. It is a heady sort of freedom to find that now you are married and you're "allowed" to go on trips alone with your love. We took one of those first trips here. And here I snuggled my baby to my chest to keep her warm with my heat and my milk through a long, cold night. I was filled with the fierce mama-love to protect my own from the elements. Here I opened my closed fist to hope when I learned the tragedy of my family's history, when I had closed my hand and my heart to most of the world. Here I found myself much healed the next year, walking the shores with a toddler, holding her hands, holding the hands of my love, snuggling under the rain, through the thunder, laughing, smiling, feeling the pulse of our lives and a readiness to live again.

Then, this year, I've returned, with another daughter, two years since I last was here. Life so full, so rich that I find myself not just standing, facing the wind, hands, arms, face open, but longing to run to the shore and splash my face in the warm summer water, letting the waves wash over my feet. "I have known the wind. It's been a friend all of my days..." even when I didn't want it, couldn't feel it, ran from it. And this year my smallest daughter sat next to me on the rocks and said, "I'm thinking about the waves, Mama," and she threw her hands up to the wind. My older daughter, the one who lives intensely in a baptism of wind and waves, the one who calls me out to immerse myself, who makes me remember that this is what I always wanted anyway, she is drawing on a bench facing the lake. She is recording the moment, after spending a roll of film for her photography class. The ones I love the most are all around me. Sweet windy darkness is falling. The air is chill and still we sit out in it, wrap ourselves in it. This is our life, embracing the wind and all it offers. And I know that I will always love the wind.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Of waterbirth, trauma, swimming & allergies...

Mane learned to swim two days ago. I was just beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen. We have a membership at the YWCA. She loves to be in the water, loves to play and slide and jump. She loves her life jacket, too, though we only use it in lakes and hotel pools. We've kept it out of the Y pool intentionally to see if it would prompt her to try to swim. But the honest truth is, though she loves water, she's afraid of it. She has always hated to get her face wet, but the fear seems to go beyond that. She got very excited about swimming class and then panicked that they might just throw her in the deep water when she can't swim yet. She has never, ever heard anyone talk about doing that to teach someone to swim. The fear seemed to come from nowhere in particular, but it sent her into enough of a panic that our conversation about swimming lessons went from happy & excited to near tears in a matter of seconds, leaving my scratching my head and totally confused. I dropped it and hoped that someday she'd learn to swim...in her own time.

I'm getting better at learning to trust, to believe that when the right time arrives, she'll do whatever it is that she needs to do. After all, she learned to roll over, crawl, walk, talk, and read with very little assistance from me. It seems that my job has always been, and probably will always be, creating an environment conducive to learning and then stepping back to allow it to happen. She's always been sensitive to too much prompting and to performing upon request. This child has fierce boundaries, a strong sense of her own identity, and a deep need to be the initiator of her own actions. When I see it that way, I am grateful. She has strong internal motivation.

I was pondering Mane's birth recently, as her 5th birthday recently passed, and I'm also wrapping up a childbirth class for moms who are both due in early July. Mane was born at home in a big birthing tub in our dining room. My pregnancy and labor were relatively uneventful. I wasn't horribly sick. I was in pretty good shape. I ate well, swam a little, went to work, and finished my Master's degree. The labor lasted 10 hours from the time I got out of bed because I couldn't sleep any more to the time of her birth. I walked, showered, threw up a few times, and held on to the sides of the tub. My midwife arrived 2 hours before the birth. Mane's heart tones were great. But, after two hours of pushing, she was born limp and blue. We rubbed her and talk to her. Our midwife suctioned her mouth. The bag of waters never broke. So, we didn't know she had passed meconium until after she was born. She didn't open her eyes or even really seem to be with us until our midwife gave her a few breaths, at which point her eyes flew open, and we all laughed and cried. And, after 5 breaths, she breathed on her own. And then the cord finished pulsing. The time was intense, but not overwhelming. And it only really became scary to me in retrospect. It helped that our midwife was so calm.

When Mane was about 2 years old, she told me about her birth. She told me it was "dark in there" and she "had to sleep a lot." About the actual birth, I can never remember her exact words, but she told me about a bright light - consistent with the flashlight our midwife was using under the water. And she said something about being in trouble and needing help, which is consistent with the above story.

In a moment of insight, or perhaps just crazy mom-brain, I wondered aloud to Mango a few weeks ago, if Mane's love/fear relationship with water might have something to do with her birth. I mean, she told me very clearly that she remembers being in trouble and needing help. She'd never heard her own birth story at that point. She loves baths and always has. She was never the kind of baby to scream in the tub. She often bathed in the tub with me and still does sometimes. But, she has also had this somewhat irrational fear of water in her face, of water that's too deep, of getting in over her head.

Two days ago, she brought her swim goggles to the Y. She put them on & started dunking her face in the water (because Mango did it with her & they could look at each other under the water). She was nervous and would come up really quick. Then she started going under longer as she realized she could see my hands and feet and swimming suit under the water. She got interested in reading the YWCA letters at the bottom of the pool. Then she started picking up her feet and kicking & the next thing any of us knew, she was swimming across the pool under the water. Yesterday we went again & she switched from goggles that covered her eyes & nose to goggles that covered only her eyes. She also started swimming briefly above the water. I was in total shock, but it was like something finally broke through. She stood up in the water and shouted at the top of her little 5yr old lungs, "I CAN SWIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!" And then she threw herself back in the water & started paddling again. Her excitement was beyond any I've seen at any other developmental stage.

As some of you know, Mane was also diagnosed with a wheat allergy about a month ago now. She's been wheat/gluten-free for 4 weeks today. minus two very small accidental exposures to gluten. The gluten-free eating has enormously improved her ability to handle frustration and cope with transitions, enough that Vespera has also noticed and begged us not to put her back on gluten to test & see. I'm wondering now if clearing wheat/gluten out of her system gave her the mental clarity to break through whatever fear was keeping her back about the water.

It's all theory, of course, and there's no real way to find out what has been and is going on. I just wonder, though. It makes me think. It makes me consider the ways that birth and nutrition affect us in small but real ways, or perhaps even big and unusual ways. We'll never know. None of us can do our births over again, nor can we know what subtracting an allergen from our menus would have done at different points in time. I was reading a book called Passionate Marriage last night. It's by a Marriage & Family Therapist. One of the therapist's clients said to him that he only wished that he & his wife had gone through therapy sooner. He was lamenting the years that had been "lost." The therapist responded by asking what made the man think that he & his wife were capable of making their new changes at any earlier point in their history together. His point was that all the things that came together to make them who they were at that point contributed to the positive changes they were able to make in their relationship. I find this comforting. Who knows if the breakthrough Mane made at the pool could have happened any earlier in different circumstances. Everything in her life history up to this point came together to make swimming possible two days ago. We can't know any more or less than that.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More on Wheat & Gluten

It's some sort of crazy confirmation that taking Mane off wheat was the right thing to do when Vespera insists that we cannot put her back on wheat or gluten for more testing. Vespera has noticed the behavioral difference more than anything and really, really doesn't want us to put her back on gluten. ;)

So, I've got gluten-free bread baking in the oven right this second. I made quiche last night. We had biscuits over the weekend. Everything is a little experimental, but that's the story of my kitchen anyway. I need a two or three week cooking plan. Wouldn't that be hilarious. I don't think I've ever been quite that organized.

We are also waiting for a call from Mane's pediatrician to see if he'll refer us to Enterolab for testing: enterolab.com We're going to do the testing anyway...just wanted to see if we could get insurance to pay for part of it.

Since Mane's test was positive for wheat allergy we've met many, many other people who have trouble with wheat and/or gluten. It's all over the place. Another mom at motheringdotcommune said that so many people can clear up their digestive trouble by eliminating gluten, not because they're allergic, but because gluten is so hard to digest anyway. I thought that was interesting. She also pointed out that we don't need medical professionals to tell us what our bodies are already telling us. If your body feels better when you don't eat gluten, then you already have your answer. That's so true.

Many, many of the people I talk with wonder aloud how many other kid probably have allergy or nutritional issues, but the symptoms are so seldom associated with allergies that nobody figures it out. Mane had an accidental exposure to gluten after being off it for 5 days. Within 45 minutes she was practically crawling out of her skin. She could not sit still. Her attention span was reduced to zero. She had trouble listening and controlling her impulses. She had trouble falling asleep. It was outrageous. Perhaps the reaction was more dramatic because she hadn't had any gluten in five days. I really don't know. All I know is that she has always periodically behaved like that and now we may know why.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Wheat Allergy

Oh, and Aurora's allergy testing came back. She's allergic to wheat. I'll be posting recipes. I learned to make wheat/gluten-free Mexican mole sauce this week.

Reflections on the Bible and Immigration

Excerpt from an e-mail to a friend:

My thoughts about immigration have been long in forming and they still aren’t totally developed yet. I did a searched of Old Testament law the other day just to check out whether there were any policies about letting people in or out of Israel. I mean, Israel was a theocracy, the laws given by God. I think it’s a pretty good standard, though I don’t claim to understand all of it. In any case, there aren’t any laws or regulations about securing borders. But there are mandates to care for aliens and temporary residents and to treat them as citizens or native-borns. And that only seems right and humane to me. We destroy families, leave children parentless, leave mothers and children in poverty when we randomly deport people. This is not right. Not to mention the psychological, emotional and relational damage that comes from tearing apart families. This doesn’t even cover the arguments about what people of illegal status are contributing to out country. It’s sick and wrong to treat them as second class citizens. Immigration policy fails to really look at these people, to look them in the eyes, see their faces and hear their stories. It treats them like numbers and statistics. I serve a God who loves people individually. And I intend to do the same. And to fight for them as real human beings. It isn’t about foreign policy or the economy. I believe that if we treat people right, God will be in our midst and we will be blessed. And I’m sorry that I cannot separate my church and state for the sake of this argument. I believe that my faith has everything to do with my politics. Though I don’t think politics should get to say anything about my faith.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Race - Part 1 - Who am I?

An on-line community that I have been a part of with some regularity since Mane was small is having a discussion about race. It's an organized discussion with writing assignments and such. This seems like a good place for me to wrestle with my thoughts. So, the first assignment went like this:

"But who are you? When you look in the mirror, who stares back at you with eyes full of wonder, mystery, and knowledge? If you had to describe yourself, what community, race, or cultural terms would you use for yourself? When other people or institutions in the community describe you, what racial terms do they give for the complexity of your lived experience? Do you use the same descriptions as others? If not, why do you think there are differences?"

When I look in the mirror I check out the bump on the ridge of my nose and the freckles all over the place. I see someone who looks a lot like my mom. Some days I'm really happy with what I see and some days not-so-much. I'm struggling to find that place for freedom where I don't worry any more about whether I look young or old or beautiful, where who I am matters more than how I look.

If I describe myself in terms of community, I'd say that I live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood with some wonderful people who have been support and love and encouragement to me. I, sadly, wouldn't describe myself as a member of a church community, as it has been more than difficult to establish ourselves in any community of faith.

I am of European descent, particularly German and Swedish and Irish. My great-grandmother immigrated to the U.S. when she was 9 years old, shortly before World War I. She refused to speak German to her children, and she knew very little English. So, she didn't really speak with them at all. I would say that my family has identified much more by occupation than ethnicity. I come from a family of farmers. Sometimes I am reminded of this when I run into the cultural traditions of Mango's family - a family of more educated professionals.

To be honest, I am not fond of being "white." This is another thing I'm trying to work through. I want Mane to be proud of her heritage, not trying to become something else. My family gave me very little sense of cultural heritage, and I have to be intentional if I want to pass something of a cultural heritage on to Mane. Vespera's experience is rich with culture and fraught with the hardships of racism and discrimination. Being her mother has caused me to pause much more often in reflection on culture, ethnicity and race. Here is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to a friend last week:

"The attitudes toward Hispanic people are pretty heated all over the U.S. right now. The kinds of things I tend to deal with are people's attitudes about immigration. AND the total neglect of Hispanic people in discussion about racial tension and race relations in our country. People in the U.S. view "race" as a black-white thing, as though everybody else does not exist. The science museum here just did a "race" exhibit, and I was surprised by how much I had trouble with it. As a rule, I don't use the word "race" at all, except when I'm specifically talking about the tensions in our country that have to do with skin color. The rest of the time I talk about ethnicity and culture. I was surprised that the science museum called their exhibit "Race," though that was what they were getting at - skin color, I mean. Anyway, being in such close proximity with another culture has made me think about how we humans like to be with people who are like ourselves and what that means. I don't necessarily think it's good or bad. It's the way we are. And I'm frustrated with the way adoptive parents are encouraged to find ways to connect with people of their child's cultural origins. This can lead to a lot of artificial self-serving relationships. Authentic relationships are much harder to come by and cannot be forced. I've thought a lot about how not to be just a "spectator" of another culture but, instead, how to embrace that other culture in appropriate ways. I don't want to exploit, and I don't want to act like something I'm not. It's all a big jumble in my head. It's a difficult topic, and, in some ways, I feel that I don't even have the right to say much about it since I am of European descent."

I get frustrated with my "whiteness" and, perhaps, my lack of cultural identity. It drives me crazy to check off the box that says I'm white on applications for things. White is not an ethnicity or a culture. It's a color - not to mention that white & black are not technically the color of skin of anyone I know. Mane has grown up describing herself as pink. And our neighbors call themselves brown. Vespera calls herself brown. These are actual colors of skin, and if we tried to name all the colors accurately we would run out of words. There is simply more diversity in the world than that.

So, I guess I wouldn’t describe myself in the terms that other people use to describe who I am. I am a mother, lover, friend, Christian, family therapist, childbirth educator, woman, neighbor, activist. I am German, Swedish, and Irish with a messy family history. I hold within me the characteristics of those cultural groups without thinking about them. I am a collector of diverse traditions. Someone learning to cook and sew and garden. Someone gathering spiritual traditions from various traditions. Someone gathering family traditions from the same. I am me.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Library List Continues

Some new ones:

In Rosa's Mexico by Campbell Geeslin, Illustrated by Andrea Arroyo
We haven't read all of this one yet, but it's a very fanciful book about Rosa, violetas, her mother's soup, and their cooking pot.

Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer, Illustrated by Marvin Bileck
This is an enormously strange book of silly talk with equally strange illustrations. It's worth it just for reading something totally out of the ordinary. It's a Caldecott Honor Book, too!

Inch by Inch: The Garden Song by David Mallet, Illustrated by Ora Eitan
This is a picture book of the Inch by Inch song we have on our Peter, Paul & Mary album. Mane loves to read the book and then hear the song. There's something amazing about something being in two places and two different mediums.

The Tale of Rabbit and Coyote by Tony Johnston, Illustrated by Tomie dePaola
This is the favorite of the four books we last checked out. It's very reminiscent of Brer Rabbit stories, but this one comes from Oaxaca, Mexico, and includes some new Spanish words for us to learn.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Biblical Thoughts on "Aliens"

Although most immigrants I speak with are not fond of the word "alien," this is the word used in our English translations of scripture for people who were not Hebrew but were living among the Hebrews/Israelites. For the sake of Biblical study, I'm using the word "alien" today.

"When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." Leviticus 19:34

"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." Deuteronomy 10:17-19

"Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this." Deuteronomy 24:17-18

"You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD." Ezekiel 47:21-23

Monday, May 21, 2007

Grace

"Sometimes grace is a ribbon of mountain air that gets in through the cracks." ~ Anne Lamott

Or sometimes grace is digging in the garden in your own back yard. In either case, some of the dirt got under my fingernails, some of the sunshine got into my skin and popped out a few more freckles, and I am feeling better. Prayers ascending on ribbons of spring air and sunshine brought a whole lot of healing to my heart this weekend.

...enough that I may be able to compose the post I've been thinking about race. Stay tuned.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Anxiety

Between the IRS, the neighborhood, Mango's graduate school & the school where he teaches, and Mane's potential allergies my anxiety levels are reaching unparalleled proportions. Apparently just when you're really convinced you've got a problem whipped, it's time for the devil to bring it back to life. And God is sitting there waiting for me to just trust.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

Help me, help me, Jesus.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Life on a Cliff

It wasn't too long ago that I posted about how if you're really uncomfortable where you're at, and whatever you're doing makes you want to run away, you're probably just about where God wants you. It's not always like that, of course. Sometimes we have these beautiful moments where all things come together and all the stars are aligned and it's totally worth it. It's a little like walking on the edge of a cliff. You'd rather be a little further inland, but then you'd miss the beautiful view. And you'd miss all the close calls where you know that God is watching out for you because you're doing the right thing. And you'd miss that flip-flop feeling in your gut. Ok...so maybe I could do without the flip-flop feeling. The truth is, I'm afraid of heights. And I'm afraid of my neighborhood right now. I'm just so sad and afraid. I haven't felt afraid in a long time, and I know that isn't where God wants me. At Christmas I wrote about how peace is knowing that God is at the helm and trusting God. When I put it that way, I believe it. And for a few nanoseconds I have peace. I believe that God made humans this way so that we'd have to keep repeating it to ourselves for the rest of our lives. If it got too easy, we'd forget to attribute our peace to God. We'd think we figured it out for ourselves, and then we'd give ourselves a little pat on the back and forget about God. Nope. Not gonna happen. God is the One who holds all things together and keeps them from flying apart at any moment. I like to live my life faced with this enormous reality. It keeps me awake.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Neighborhood

If you have it in you to pray for my neighborhood, I am asking you to do so now. Crime and racial tensions are climbing. We are gathering neighbors for picnics in our yard on Friday evenings to help fight the crime and build community. We need your prayers. Thanks.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Barbie Dilemna

Mane is 5, and she LOVES barbie. I have so far not allowed barbie to live in my house, but I'm starting to think about the pros and cons. The typical cons I hear about barbie are as follows:

* Barbie is ridiculously proportioned and may lead some little girls to develop bad body images.
* Likewise, supporting the industry that makes Barbie allows the industry to continue to make ridiculously proportioned barbies.
* There are tons of barbies in the world and their continued production leads to more plastic trash in the landfills.
* Barbie is materialistic - focused on clothes & accessories.

Ok, so Mane has neighbor friends who have what seems like millions of barbies. They've gotten them mostly from thrift stores, though a few were gifts. For me, this solves the plastic production/landfill issue. I know I can get used barbies at almost any thrift store, along with whatever accessories I might be inclined to purchase without contributing to the further production of said plastic toys.

And, I guess the materialism is something I see with most toys. American Girl is the same way. You can go as far as you want with buying accessories. And Calico Critters. And Groovy Girls. And Only Hearts dolls. They all have tons of clothes & accessories available if you are going to buy into the materialism. Barbie isn't alone in that respect. It's similar to what I was saying in my post about freedom. Buying alternative toys doesn't necessarily free you from materialism.

I grew up playing with barbies, and, although I have also dealt with my share of body image issues, I have never thought of them as related to barbies. How I felt about my body had a lot more to do with my experiences with real live people growing up.

And I really did love playing barbie. My play with them was very involved. There were epic sagas. They had names and personalities. My mom and my aunt had made clothes for them, and my mom made furniture out of wood blocks & carpet scraps. My dad built them a closet.

I guess I don't like them in my house because I don't find them aesthetically pleasing...at least not any more. How's that for a snobbish response? I don't have a problem with Mane playing with them at other people's houses, as long as I don't have to have them strewn about my house with their clothes and shoes and handbags. But...I *would* love those cute little calico critters, even if they were strewn about my house. So, I think the issue really is aesthetics. But, aesthetics for me and aesthetics for Mane are two very different things.

So, I guess I'm torn. I loved playing barbies. Mane wants to have barbies. But, I think they're ugly. They're plastic and weirdly shaped, and they don't move well. Soooo, could somebody please make a cute alternative for barbie? Only Hearts dolls won't do because she wants to play with grown-ups. That's a major lure of barbie, I think. She likes Kelly dolls (Barbie's little sister, who is allowed to live in my house because she isn't ridiculously proportioned and ugly), too, but she always has to choose one to be the mom and one to be the dad because she wants to play "family" stories.

*sigh* *shrug* Thanks for letting me vent. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Sleep Research

Some interesting tidbits (my own writing is in green):

"Human biological clock makes a turn in a cycle of about 25 hours when there is no clue to know the passage of time. However, the earth rotates in a cycle of 24 hours, repeating light and darkness. " (http://www.societies.cam.ac.uk/cujif/ABSTRACT/020825.htm)

"For most of evolution humans have slept clustered together with friends, animals, parents and children. In traditional societies, according to Worthman, communal sleep is considered safer since there is always someone there to help in case of an emergency. In these societies people find that group sleeping reduces the risk of spirit loss, which is especially common when a person dreams.

Recently, studies have shown that this type of sleeping, called co-sleeping to contrast it from the solitary sleeping patterns of people in modern societies, has real physiological benefits. James McKenna of the University of Notre Dame reports that babies in many countries outside the United States sleep next to or in the same room as their parents. He notes that infants who sleep alone slip into abnormal patterns of very deep sleep which prevents them from waking during an episode of apnea. " (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0ISW/is_2002_July/ai_87719989)

"Recent research suggests that sleep patterns vary significantly across human cultures.[8] The most striking differences are between societies that have plentiful artificial light and ones that do not. Cultures without artificial light have more broken-up sleep patterns. For example, people in these cultures might go to sleep far more quickly after the sun sets, but then wake up several times throughout the night, sometimes staying awake for several hours. The boundaries between sleeping and waking are blurred in these societies. Some observers[attribution needed]slow sleep believe that sleep in these societies is most often split into two main periods, the first characterised primarily by "" and the second by REM sleep. This is called segmented sleep, which led to expressions such as "first sleep," "watch," and "second sleep" which appear in literature from all over the world." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep)

I have to say that this last quote from wikipedia is fascinating and somehow appealing to me. I love the way my house feels when I walk around it in the middle of the night and everything is peaceful and sleepy. I love how close everybody feels on my block when it's late on a still night. I can lean off my balcony and and talk to my neighbor halfway down the block almost without raising my voice. I love the intimacy of talking in the middle of the night. What I wonder is how the different sleep patterns affect the relationships between people. Obviously, without artificial light, people aren't really doing anything when they're up in the middle of the night except maybe talking and thinking, maybe walking or small tasks that can be done by the light of moon or fire.

I have to clarify that I don't like to have to get up in the middle of the night. I *do* enjoy an unbroken night of sleep...yet, on the nights when I've been up for a while in the middle of the night there's something appealing about it...not when I have to be up, but when I am just up.

Also, I need to clarify that the last quote is from wikipedia, and I'm still looking for more scholarly sources. If anybody out there knows books or resources about the anthropology of sleep, I'd be interested.

Here's an interesting sleep project:
"The Uberman's sleep schedule revolves around forcing yourself to rely on six twenty to thirty minute naps spread throughout the day for your daily dose of sleep. I stuck to thirty minute naps, currently having them starting roughly at 2 AM, 6 AM, 10 AM, 2 PM, 6 PM, and 10 PM every day."
(http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/4/15/103358/720)

Ok...here's something other than Wikipedia saying the same thing:
"
Indigenous cultures that do not rely on artificial light differ greatly in their sleep patterns from those that do, according to Prof. Roger Ekirch, author of At Day's Close: A History of Night-time. They have what's called "segmented sleep" patterns where they wake several times during the night, sometimes for long periods at a time. Ekirch theorizes that artificial light's influence on sleep cycles has contributed largely to the rise of sleeping disorders in industrialized nations." (http://shl.stanford.edu:3455/TenThings/1735)


Sleep

I have long thought about sleep, human sleeping habits, and the anecdotal stories of sleep I know. Since I'm rather sleep-deprived myself this morning, I thought it would be a good day for my promised post on sleep. :)

I started thinking about sleep when I was in college. I went from being an early-riser, who can go to sleep early & rise early and loves the site of the morning mists, to a lover of the midnight hours, writing poetry in the dark, sipping coffee and talking philosophy late into the night.

In graduate school I wrote a paper about co-sleeping, and I became more interested in human sleeping habits and arrangements than ever. Co-sleeping, also known as "the family bed" by many, involves family members, other than spouses, sharing beds. For us, this involved sharing a bed with Mane until she was 3. (Then she moved to a mattress on our floor. Then she moved to her loft bed when she was 4. Then she started sleeping on the couch at 4.5, where she still sleeps now....more on that later.) Co-sleeping fosters attachment, easier nighttime nursing, and none of that cry-yourself-to-sleep business. It looks beautiful in theory.

Then Mane was born. And I found that nighttime nursing involves MUCHO sleep loss...or, at least, very broken sleep. Then I started hearing theories about broken sleep...how people never used to sleep 8 hours straight in early societies. It's sort of a modern luxury to get uninterrupted sleep. Yet, somehow, all our experts are telling us that uninterrupted sleep is essential to good health. Could it be that if we slept in other ways our bodies would adapt? If we stopped being resentful about interrupted sleep, might we find that broken sleep works just as well? Try as I might to make that theory work, I still felt pretty sleep-deprived for much of Mane's early life.

Yet I am sure that getting out of bed was not the answer. Co-sleeping allowed me to stay in bed, only semi-conscious, while attending to Mane's nighttime needs. I was more rested than if I'd had to fully awaken and get out of bed to attend to her. And Mane has thrived from the attachment bond created by knowing that we will always be there to take care of her. We didn't leave her in a dark lonely room to cry alone, and we never will. And it hasn't turned her into a shy, dependent, clingy child, either. Quite the opposite. She is outgoing and thrives in new situations. She has a great deal of confidence.

So, what I find interesting is that people all over the world sleep with their children, yet it is such taboo in our culture. People believe that you have to get your children out of your bed or they'll sleep there forever. Yet...um...we get married and then begin sleeping with our spouse in our adults years and don't think of this as a sign of dependence or poor sleep habits. I think it's good and healthy to help children adapt to all kinds of sleep situations. As Mane got older we moved her to her mattress on the floor because there wasn't enough room in our bed. And we were elated to have privacy in our own room when she moved into her loft. We're still pretty happy with her sleeping on the couch rather than with us. Because she learned to sleep with us, though, we can take her camping and on trips all over the place, and we don't worry that she won't sleep. She can sleep anywhere as long as we're around. Now she'll even sleep on other people's couches. :) Children who are trained to sleep in a dark quiet room in their own bed with no people around from a very early age have trouble traveling. It's just true.

Research tells us that being around other people helps babies regulate their breathing & sleep pattern at night, perhaps reducing the risk of SIDS.

And my theology studies tell me that God is a God of relationship and community. We are created in the image of God and have a deep need for connection with God and with other humans. Those monkey studies tell us that mammals need real connection in order to thrive. You can't deprive a monkey of an attachment figure and expect it to live.

When we sleep we are at our most vulnerable. And so when we sleep with others it demonstrates our trust, and it nurtures the bond of deep connection between people.

So, I think Mane sleeps on the couch because it's in the middle of our small house, and she feels a certain connection with everybody that way. Mango brings her to sleep with me when he gets up early in the morning so that he doesn't wake her up while he's getting ready for work. And this works for us. She sleeps on her own...but connected...for much of the night...and then she gets some snuggle time with me in the morning until I sneak out of bed about an hour before she gets up.

Only recently have I begun to realize Vespera's need for physical connection with people. She came from a house where she slept with her sisters. She has her own bed here, of course. She tried having Mane sleep with her once, only to end up on the floor because Mane wanted to take up the whole bed. Vespera sat and talked with me in the beanbag last night with her head on my chest, playing with my fingers, just like Mane would if she were sitting there. And she always responds positively to having her hair stroked or her back rubbed. I commented to Mango that other night that most "American" children, especially at the age of 16, would be resistant to physical affection. It reminds me that I want to raise Mane to be demonstrative with her affection. Be able to hold your child as a teenager gives you one more tool to foster the connection when they are most likely to be unable to bridge the gap between you in any other way. When they are feeling so out of sorts that they don't know what to say or how to be close to you, a head-rub, back-rub, foot-rub maintains the connection. The human touch can still be there when words fail.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Finding Freedom in All Kinds of Places

It started with a Beth Moore teaching in my Bible study group about women and their/our obsession with body image, weight, food, clothing size... We humans often fall into one of two categories with most things in our lives. Obsession or Neglect. Ms. Moore gave examples from the Bible of God's trouble with the Israelites. Either they neglected God's laws or they became Pharisees. They either gave up or obsessed. We women often do this with our bodies.

And I've noticed a trend whenever I talk with people about attachment parenting, whole foods, alternative medicines, and natural living. The people who talk about it walk a fine line between balance and obsession. Worse yet, a spirit of judgment often accompanies those who obsess (which is not to say that the neglectful aren't also having their judgment-fest regarding the obsessed). This neglect vs. obsession dichotomy exists in other areas of our lives...housekeeping, finances...religion.

Freedom is somewhere in the middle. When I'm free I don't need to worry about what everybody else is doing. When I'm free I have walked away from the sickness that comes with neglect and the fear that comes with obsession. Ironically, the truest freedom comes when we release total control to God. Then we are free. Free from judgment. Free from shame. Free to be and do what God would have us do and be.

Is it wrong to fill our bodies with foods we know are bad for us? Sure. Is it wrong to have a donut every now and then. Absolutely not. Is the donut still junk food? Yup. Neglect says that we only live once and we should eat whatever we want. Obsession says donuts are bad and it's sinful to eat anything that isn't whole and natural and healthy.

I have always subscribed to a philosophy of balance, of finding the middle between the extremes. Of course there are absolutes. But for many, many things in life a happy medium is truly the free-est place to be. When we find a balance we find healing the parts of us that are sick from neglect and frozen with obsession. And there we find wholeness, which was the integrating motif for my Statement of Faith at Seminary. God wants us to be whole and free. God uses us even in our brokenness, but imagine how much more we can be used in our wholeness.