The Cupboard Wasn’t Bare

 

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We were cleaning out cupboards and setting aside some food to donate to Bienvenidos Food Bank. Isabel asked, “Who’s the food for?”

It’s for anyone who needs it. Anyone who’s hungry. Maybe a girl like you, who also likes soup and granola bars and macaroni and cheese.

She was satisfied with the answer, so she continued to help fill the grocery bag. When it was full she pulled it to the back door, and asked when we could take the food to the other little girl. The food bank drop day isn’t until Wednesday, and it was very cold outside, so I told her that we’d have to wait, but she asked about the food a few more times during the course of the evening.

None of us, in our family, have ever been truly hungry. When we say that other people don’t have enough to eat, none of us can really comprehend how that feels. We’ve been hungry, but we always know that we’ll get food eventually, from our well-stocked cupboards and fridge. I’m grateful for the abundance in our lives, so I want to do better, by sharing more. But when I start reading statistics about hunger and poverty, making a difference feels impossible. And that leads to inertia. Tonight I’m grateful for my daughter, for reminding me that even one bag of groceries can make a difference.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.” – Mother Teresa

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh

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We held a small party for Kings Day this evening. Well, very small in terms of number of attendees, but very grand in the areas of ruckus making, shouts of glee, mischievousness, and all around joy and love. I should have some photos from our celebration ready to share tomorrow.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking (again) about giving, and the many definitions of treasure. When we were making the crowns, Sam was digging through a bowl of treasures that I keep on my desk. It’s full of old buttons, beads, hairpins, and mismatched jewelry. Every piece is beautiful to me, but there are some that shine a little brighter. My favorite thing is a simple mother of pearl button. It’s special because it belonged to my Grandma Reese, but there’s also a quality to it that just shines, that makes it more interesting than any of the other buttons. Sam could care less about that button, but he’s in love with a small Chinese coin that came from an old earring of mine. We see the story of ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’ repeated each day, at many levels.

We each have treasure to share with those around us, and our treasure is more beautiful than gold (and hopefully smells even better than frankincense or myrrh, you know, metaphorically speaking). Sometimes we forget the value of what we have to give – the value of our love, our attention, our energy, our time. And that our personal versions of intangible treasures are important.

Our Saturdays will be focused on giving this year, both tangible and intangible. I realized during December, our month focused on giving, that I wanted to be more intentional about giving consistently throughout the year, regardless of holidays or birthdays.

I also want to do more volunteer work, as a family. I was telling Sam about the idea of 26 Acts of Kindness, because I had paid for the coffee of someone in line behind us at the Starbucks drive through. His first reaction was so typical, “You shouldn’t give away our money!” We talked it through, and I explained that I wanted to do something nice because the lady in the car behind us looked so stressed out, and that we would still have plenty of money. Clearly it’s a conversation that needs to continue. I understand that young kids are naturally egocentric, but I want to be sure that we raise kids who are able to show empathy and who are able to share their own gifts with the world.

Since our current focus is on family meals, we’re going to look for some giving and volunteer opportunities that involve food and connecting with others.

Have you done any giving or volunteer work like this? How were you able to integrate your own unique talents? If you have kids, how were you able to include them?

She Made It: Lori Pickert

I was living in Hawaii, with a curious, active two-year-old. When he napped in the afternoons, I’d surf the internet (it was an hour long drive to the ocean), and I stumbled upon the most beautiful blog. Camp Creek was a gorgeous compilation of educational philosophy, project-based homeschooling ideas, inspirational photos, book and material recommendations, not to mention a community of parents, engaging in on-line dialogue with the author, Lori Pickert. I was inspired by the way Lori brought the processes of art, learning, and family life together, into a meaningful, self-sustaining circle.

I’ve continued to follow her work over the years, so you can imagine how happy I was to buy a copy of her new book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. Before launching into my short interview with Lori, here’s an excerpt from the book, on the topic of authenticity:

This approach doesn’t work if it isn’t authentic. Your values have to match how you really live. Whatever you think is important for your child should be reflected in your own life and your own choices.

Your core values must align with your goals, which must align in turn with your everyday choices.

Really listen to what adults around you say about children – not their own children, but children in general. Many adults think very little of children and their abilities and motives – possibly because they think very little of themselves and their own abilities and motives. They transfer their negative beliefs onto children. If adults thought of themselves as strong, capable learners who enjoy challenges and want to contribute, presumably they would see children the same way.

Although the title includes the term homeschooling, it’s a book about learning, creating, and living authentically – important themes for all creators. Whether you’re homeschooling, unschooling, public schooling, or charter schooling, this book will feed your thinking about the way people of all ages learn. The questions and ideas presented are thought provoking, no matter what your relationship is to educational systems – if you’re a learner, then there’s probably something for you in Lori’s book.

As for the interview, please make note of her answer to the fourth question – housekeeping is highly overrated – move your creative priorities up the list and go make something! After reading the interview, of course.

What do you make? How did you begin?

I’ve made a business, a school, a family. Most recently I wrote and published my first book about children and learning.

I started my first business when I was only 22. My husband and I have spent years hacking our life. We’ve done a lot of interesting things: ran the business together, renovated the top floor of a historic building for office space, founded a school, built our own space to hold our business and the school, built a barn house. We had two sons who we took with us everywhere.

I think the beginning for me was working my way through college and realizing that I had no interest whatsoever in working a regular 9-to-5 job. Then, starting a company in my early 20s, I got used to living an alternative lifestyle. Being in control of your life is addictive.

Why do you continue to make stuff?

I’m motivated to create because I want to make my vision come to life. I’m not good at settling. Whether it’s a house for my family or a school for my kids, if I can’t find what I want, I make it.

Thoreau said something in Walden: “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” I think a lot of makers and doers feel this way. I would rather make something myself and have it be imperfect in general but perfect for me.

One of my favorite things to create is community. When you articulate your vision, there are always other people who are looking for the same thing. You share the same values and priorities. So when you make something, whether it’s a physical product or an experience, you’re also making friends, community, a life.

What’s the best thing you’ve made lately?

A few months ago I published my first book, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners. It’s the culmination of everything I know how to do — writing, publishing, helping kids be in charge of their own learning.

Along with the book, my husband and I made a new site with a forum — so we created a community as well. This project really combines all the things I love.

How do you balance your creative life, with everything else that needs to be done?

There’s other stuff that needs to be done?

I relentlessly prioritize. If it’s not really important to me, it falls to the bottom of the list. (That’s where you would find things like housekeeping.)

Being with my sons and working with them is a vital part of my creative life. They are the best collaborators. I feel so lucky to be part of their lives, watching them create. They’re my biggest supporters — and I’m theirs. That goes for my husband as well. Our family life is centered around helping each other learn and make.

My work life isn’t something separate from the rest of my life. My need to work and make things is woven into my family life, my home, and my relationships.

Even when I ran my school for seven years, that just became part of my creative life and my personal life. I love to learn, and I loved the experience of making something that huge and complex. I loved the people. I suppose my answer for balance is not to keep things separate. Just make everything creative. Absorb what you have to do into what you want to do.

What advice do you have for others, who want to complete any type of creative project?

Be deliberate about your choices. Define who you are and what you want out of life, then make it your everyday mission to live that life. Surround yourself with people who fill you with peace and energy; stay away from negative people. Make your environment support your goals — everything you see and touch should remind you of your priorities and values.

Relentlessly prioritize. Drop the things that make you feel good in the short term but aren’t part of your ideal life. I watch TV, but I don’t watch it every single night. It may feel hard to sit down and do your work, but the work will actually give you energy. Meaningful work is nourishing.

Remember that it’s not the end result that matters — don’t focus on rewards or recognition. The reward is living your most authentic life and doing your work every day. The only recognition that matters is yours, when you realize you get to spend your life doing what matters most to you.

How do you know when you’re finished with a project?

Being able to finish is crucial. I’m a reformed perfectionist, so it was hard for me to publish the book when I knew I could make it better. The problem is, you can always make it better. I could have held onto it for the next thirty years and kept improving it, but it doesn’t really exist until you let it go and share it with people.

One of the tenets of project-based homeschooling is that you must share what you make with others — it’s the final stage of learning. To really master something, you have to reach the point where you can explain it to someone else. And you need to help others. Pass your knowledge along to someone who can really use it.

If you focus on helping others, you can stop focusing on yourself. Fail enough times and keep going, and you internalize it as a method of eventual success. I’m a writer and that means writing and publishing books and getting better at what I do over time. In order to be something, which is a never-ending process, you have to keep taking on new challenges. Just push your work out into the world and move on.

Speed Round – The A-List: 

 Artist: Maira Kalman

 Author: Laurie Colwin

Actress: Juliette Binoche

Activist: Eleanor Roosevelt

Aspiration: Help parents help kids take charge of their own learning.

Action: A little every day adds up to a good life.

Advice: To quote Woody Guthrie, “Take it easy, but take it.”

Hey neighbor…

 

I grew up in a home that was never locked. Not even when we went away on vacation. There are no keys to the farm house, at least that I know of. Even though we didn’t live in a neighborhood, there was always a neighborhood feel to our home. You could look a half mile east, up Roth Road and see any car or pick-up that was approaching. And with that glance, nine times out of ten you knew exactly who was driving.

Sometimes I wished that we could live in a real neighborhood. Specifically, a neighborhood with sidewalks so I could learn to roller skate, like Beezus and Ramona Quimby. Sometimes our little corner of the country felt too quiet, and I imagined that I’d live in Seattle or Portland someday, and do all the things that I thought people in neighborhoods did. Like maybe playing kick-the-can in the streets or hanging out on fire escapes. I think my idea of neighborhoods was heavily influenced by A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series.

By the time I was finally living in honest-to-goodness neighborhoods there wasn’t a lot of kick-the-can going on. Come to think of it, there weren’t any fire escapes either. But there was a lot of other stuff, that seemed even better in my twenties. My college rentals in Portland were usually surrounded by people who were ready to socialize, anytime day or night. Santa Rosa brought the surreal tranquility of a suburban neighborhood, which I enjoyed along with the parks, the YMCA, and plenty of good restaurants. In Cambridge there was the best running partner ever and some temporary adoptive parents that graciously allowed me to lean on them through September 11th and graduate school. In Chapel Hill we could walk to anything we needed or wanted, and sometimes I’d run into my middle school students on Franklin St. When we bought our first home in Edgewater, we loved walking around the corner to the best Thai restaurant in all of Colorado.

Those neighborhoods were all lovely, but it was always clear that each was a temporary situation – each home had someone else’s history attached to it, not ours. None of the spaces really felt like home, not like my circa 1923 farm house.

When we moved to Volcano, Hawaii, I thought the relationship with our new neighborhood might last. There were great families within walking distance, and we could bike and run in the middle of the road. Our biggest worry was wild turkeys running into the road, not cars. I think I probably could’ve roller skated the loop eventually, if we’d stayed.

By the time we made it back to Colorado, for the second time, I really wanted to find a home and neighborhood where we could take root. The first time we walked into the Grove St. house it reminded me of the farm house and I was sold. We’ve been here three years, and the house has treated us well. The neighborhood has also been a blessing. Our neighbors on every side look out for us, and we’re getting to know more people as we go.

Tonight, at Sam’s urging, we walked across the street to meet new neighbors who were playing soccer in their front yard. Sam is shy at first, like me, so we held hands as we crossed over to bravely introduce ourselves. And it turned out okay. The boys (with Bella doggedly tagging along) kicked the ball, raced to the corner about twenty times, and made a plan for future Lego play.

I don’t know if we’ll stay in this neighborhood forever, but I’m thankful for all that it’s providing us right now.

I’ve seen kids flying down our street on scooters, so maybe there’s hope for me and my roller skate dreams yet.

The Philanthropic Mud-Pie-Makers

 

How could making mud pies be related to philanthropy? It’s a bit circuitous, but trust me, it will all make sense in the end.

First, I want to share a statistic that grabbed the interest of my own inner-philanthropist.

“The global child mortality average is now 57 deaths per 1000, a remarkable improvement from the 1990 figure of 88 per 1000.”

A remarkable improvement? Not if your child is one of the children who die this year. Particularly if your child dies from a disease that could have been easily prevented, for about twenty dollars. From a disease that parents in “first world” countries usually don’t fear, such as measles, polio, pneumonia, or rotavirus.

And in the twenty seconds it took you to read that statistic, another child has died from a vaccine-preventable disease.

Globally, one in five children don’t have access to life-saving vaccines.

Take twenty more seconds to imagine five kids that you know. Then imagine that one will be denied those basic vaccines (possibly in conjunction with a lack of clean water, nutritious food, sanitation systems, shelter and education).  Could you make the decision that this child from Tanzania shouldn’t receive vaccines, while four others should?

She has a smile a lot like Bella’s. But due to circumstances beyond her control, she might not make it to her second birthday, as Bella did.

These are sobering thoughts, certainly not celebration-worthy. So why include this post in our family’s month of celebrations? Because there’s an amazing network of ordinary people, just like you, who are working to change these statistics. I hope this organization will inspire and empower you to create change in the lives of children you’ve never met.

The organization I want to celebrate is ShotatLife (Shot@Life). In conjuction with the United Nations Foundation (and many other supporting partners) this grassroots group has been spreading the message about how each of us can make a huge difference in the lives of children around the world. The Shot@Life rallying cry is simple and memorable:

Every child deserves a shot at life.

We’re usually so wrapped up in the day to day busyness of life that we take many of the simple moments of childhood for granted. Our family has celebrated and shared many of those simple moments here.

Losing your first tooth.

Climbing a tree.

And making mud pies, of course.

These aren’t extravagant moments, but each one is special and memorable. Sam and Bella have each had thousands of moments like these, partly because they were born into a time and place replete with blessings and opportunity.

At the evo conference we learned about creative ways that families in the United States have come together to raise money and awareness for the Shot@Life campaign. Just twenty dollars can pay for life-saving vaccines for one child in a developing country. Families have hosted bake sales, car washes and Valentine parties. You can find supporter stories on the Shot@Life web-page, that will get your own creative ideas flowing. If you decide to raise money for Shot@Life, please share your ideas here. Remember that no idea or donation is too small (or too big)!

In addition to personal or family fundraisers, I hope you’ll check out Blogust ’12. Beginning on August 1, a talented group of writers will be addressing the Shot@Life campaign, for thirty-one days. Here’s the amazing part. For every unique comment left on a writer’s post, $20 will be donated to Shot@Life, through the generous support of private donors. So you could potentially save the lives of 31 kids during the month of August, just by reading and commenting on blogs.

We’re also brainstorming about what our family will do to raise money, so that more kids around the world can have the opportunity to make mud pies.

Oooh, how about a chocolate mud pie bake sale? Now we’re getting back to celebrations…

Love and Other Helpers

 

The post I’d planned for today just doesn’t make sense right now. Hearing the news from Colorado this morning was devastating. We haven’t been watching television or even listening to the news on the radio, so at least explaining the tragedy to Sam hasn’t been a concern today.

In moments when we feel powerless, we each gravitate to our own coping mechanisms. My first instinct is simple – love and appreciate my family and friends. My second impulse is think about what small actions, within my circle of influence, could somehow help.

In the field of early childhood education we focus a lot of energy on the social and emotional development of children. They’ve become such buzzwords in the profession, that they often cease to be meaningful. The Aurora shootings are a reminder that we need to faithfully and constantly tune in to the social and emotional well-being of people of all ages in our communities. We can’t support social and emotional competence from birth to age five and then call it good. It’s a life-long process, and there are ups and downs for all of us. We all need friends, no matter our age, no matter our circumstances. I think that I’m pretty good at supporting kids in this area, but I’m not that great at connecting with adults in my community (always that busy-ness excuse).

In that vein, I’m setting a few small goals for myself, to try to connect and build community. To celebrate and share more love. If you’re inspired to do something similar, please share.

  1. Invite friends over for dinner more often
  2. Get to know more people on our block (and not just the ones with kids)
  3. Ahem. Actually pick up my phone when it rings. Sorry to everyone that I’ve been avoiding for the last decade or so 🙂

 

Of course there are many Denver-area organizations that are also accepting tangible donations.

Finally, I know this quote has been making the rounds on-line today, but I think it’s worth sharing again.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ― Fred Rogers