Sunday, November 30, 2008

Funny Christmas Cards

I've been working on holiday cards tonight, and it's time for a little break.

Here are some Christmas cards designed to get a laugh:

"We never did..."

It's holiday time! I now hear the Fiddler on the Roof song "Tradition" cuing up in my mind. I am a traditions gal. I love celebrating traditions!

A couple days before Halloween, my kids were practicing the song "Away in a Manger," which they will be singing in the Christmas pageant at church. I got down our creche as a visual aid to help them learn the words to the song. This is the creche my mother finally gave me after I begged her and begged her (if memory serves correctly). It was the creche she had when I was a kid, and I have many fond memories of looking at it and playing with it.

Just getting out my winter holiday boxes and going through them to find the creche filled me up with the stories of winters past. As I took out each item, I kept saying to G., "remember when..."

(Hey, remember that older SNL skit with the "remember when" guy. Yeah, that was funny.)

But this is an interesting time of year to study the way memory works. Memories are not straight-forward things. So many memories we carry are influenced by emotions and hindsite and the state of mind we are in when the event happens and then when we try to recall it.

My dad told me that he once took a class in which a professor asked everyone to recall their earliest memory. The professor then promptly informed them that in all probability, the memory was filled with complete inaccuracies.

Back when I took my first position as a religious educator, I heard many varied stories about my predecessors from the congregation I was serving. It is only now that I am beginning to understand the great number of which were likely not particularly accurate.

In the congregation I now serve, I am following the 25 year career of the religious educator before me. For 25 years she served the congregation in many different ways, through times of small programs and large, times of great activity and times of rest, times of trying new things and times of going with "the old standard." Different years called on different skills. There is only one thing I can be sure of, and that is that she wasn't the same religious educator in year 11 as she was in year 4, or in year 5 as she was in year 8. Of course she wasn't the same religious educator in year 25 as she was in year 1, but I am pretty sure she wasn't the same even in year 24 as she was in year 25.

I spent ten months functioning under the story that the congregation had never had a "Coming of Age" program (a rite of passage program for middle schoolers). That's the story I'd been given by multiple people on multiple occassions. In month eleven I discovered while sorting through old files that there had indeed been such a program for some stretch back in the 90s. Then suddenly when I mentioned it, several people said they remembered it clearly, but the stories of how it went varied wildly from what the actual written records.

This kind of thing happens all the time. "We've never done it like that before" is not only a line only a dying congregation uses, it is also a line used by a congregation that really probably wouldn't remember if it had been done like that before. Institutional memory only goes so far.

Heck, when I came to the congregation, I heard lots of stories about the religious educator before me not being a big fan of change. She'd run a very successful program one way for 25 years and wasn't interested in trying anything new. Then I get into my office and find a series of books on Godly Play in her closet-- that's a new methodology-- and I take her out to lunch and discover she had pushed to try Godly Play for some time but hit a wall.

So now its Christmas Pageant time, and I know that this time of year more than any I will hear, "But we've always done it this way," and "That's a new creative idea!" But I am going to assume that neither things are fully true, and try to listen more to the emotional undercurrent. Regarldess of how things were done in the past, those two statements translate (loosely) respectively into: "This is what I remember and treasure," and "I am tired of the same old thing and interested in getting out of perceived or real ruts!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Win an Ergo

Win a Free Organic Embroidered Ergo Baby Carrier Hands Free System from Along for the Ride

They're awesome. I am hoping my brother and my sister-in-law win, or that I do so I can send them one to use with their new baby who will be born this spring.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Request, an Ignore-This-Please Wishlist

It has been requested that we provide a wishlist of presents for the kids. I have been VERY reluctant to do that. I am giving in, but I would really like for this to be read first:

The kids have plenty. Please, do not feel compelled toward gift-giving. We are having a very tight year financially and are celebrating a simplified Christmas. We won't be giving gifts to others ourselves. We are finding tons of meaning in a more spiritually-focused Christmas, and do not have a need to have more gifts under our tree.

All that said, if you are among the folks trying to get a list for ideas, here you go:

Sleep "Training"

Sleep is a wonderful thing. Lord knows I cherish it. I'd rather sleep than do a lot of things. There is nothing like the beautiful feeling of falling into a deep, blissful sleep.

And goodness knows how a sleep-deprived mother misses it. I know. I have been there. So in desperation, I know some parents give in and try to "train" their children into some kind of artifical sleep schedule. I don't want to argue about that with anyone on my blog, as I know opinions about this are varied and passionate. But I do want to share my perspective for anyone for whom it might matter. By sleep train, I don't mean routines. I mean actually trying to impose a sleep schedule on your child through coercive and artifical methods such as cry-it-out (cry to sleep).

Whomever you are, my dear loved one who is considering or starting to do this, I hope you will reconsider. There has got to be a better way to survive your child's early years.

Here are the top ten reasons why I think such a course is usually (I will make no hard line about never, but USUALLY) not such a good idea:

10. Because children need parenting all the time, not just in the daytime. If you fail to parent your child at night, it means neglecting some needs that your child has.

9. Because the person you are really training is: yourself. What are you training yourself to do? You are training yourself to be non-responsive to the messages your child sends you. You are training yourself to ignore your child in his or her moment of need. This is not natural. There is a reason that mother nature has given mothers (and fathers) an instinctual, painful, gut-level response to a baby crying. Everything we are meant to do in the first year or two of a baby's life has to do with a high level of responsiveness. By training yourself out of your responsiveness, you diminish, even if subtly, your closeness with your child.

8. Because even if you can do nothing to soothe your baby's tears, your presence counts for something. It is diminishing to you both to assume that it matters not whether you are there. Have you yourself never been comforted by a loved one, even as you sobbed in his or her arms? Sometimes the ability to stop tears is not the best measure of the difference one person makes in the life of another.

7. Because independence is not a foundational level skill. Imagine trying to teach a child to write before he or she ever sees a letter, to ride a bike before he or she has learned to sit up, or to answer the phone before she or he has ever spoken. Independence is a slowly building skill, and the ability to sleep independently in many children does not develop for many years. While some may be able to train their children to "give up," and to stop crying because those cries go unanswered, this only demonstrates the development of mistrust that one will be cared for. It is a far cry from real independence.

6. Because unaswered cries are stressful for babies. Of course, sometimes some of us will need to put our babies somewhere safe and walk away for a few minutes to get ourselves together. It is hard when a baby cries, and cries, and cries and there is nothing we can do to make it better. But when you choose to ignore your child's needs in order to "train" him or her into some false "independence," you are choosing to let stress hormones rage through your child's body. In the short term, this can lead to vomiting, overheating, and maybe even contribute to risk for SIDS. In the long term, repeated episodes of exposure to stress hormones through "cry it out" could result in permanent changes to your child's neurological system (BRAIN!). These changes can impact memory, attention, and emotion over the course of a lifetime, perhaps even including a predisposition to anxiety and depressive disorders. Also, who wants a child to associate sleep with stress hormones?

5. Because a baby's need to sleep will vary depending on a large number of factors. I am all for routine. Routines help children feel secure, can ensure a child's needs are not unintentionally overlooked when a parent is otherwise distracted, and can increase the chances that everyone will keep their sanity in a family. But schedules, well, they can be good...but are trickier. When you artifically impose a schedule on a very young baby, you will miss those changes in sleep needs that naturally arise from things not limited to growth spurts, work on developmental milestones, and dietary variations. By tuning into my children's needs, I have been much better equipped to recognize when suddenly they need that second nap each day again after not having needed it for a few months, or when they need to go to bed a little earlier or a little later, or when they are too busy learning to sleep and will catch up later. It's a similar thing to following a baby's cues for which case you ensure you don't miss a need for more calories (more meals) for a growth spurt, and so forth.

4. Because there is nothing like the times when your baby falls peacefully asleep in your arms. You can't get this time back, when they are little and cuddly and want to be with you. You just can't. 'Nuff said.

3. Because it is a lie that your baby will still need you to go to sleep when s/he heads off to college. I promise. Seriously, your child will grow to want his or her space and you will someday come to miss these years. Whoever invented the myth that whatever you do when your baby is a few months old is what you will have to do *forever* was seriously misguided. My children's sleep habits have changed more over the last few years than I could even describe. These days, they don't like to be touched even (so sad for me). I just sit next to them.

2. Because closeness with parents in the early years is actually a good thing. It helps children develop a solid foundation for many emotional intelligence factors...the ability to empathize, the ability to be comforted and to comfort others, the ability to read the emotions of others, a healthy desire for closeness and intimacy with others, and a sense of confidence through security (and the assumption that the world is generally a good place where needs will be met). These emotional intelligence factors are critical to a successful, happy life.

1. Because parenting is not about what "works in the short term," but rather about what you want to do for your child over the longrun. Hopefully, we all want to have confident, secure children in the longrun. But actually, it is useful as well to know that in the short-term, many times "cry it out" doesn't "work" for even short term parenting goals. When it does "work," it often requires that you do it over and over again. Night after night. And again with each growth spurt. And again any time your child is teething. And again with each major developmental milestone. It is actually often way more work.

There are many different ways that parents address sleep needs without sleep training. If you are interested in ideas and advice, try this: Nighttime Parenting Discussions.

That's my two cents. For what they are worth.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Feeling Okay

So I posted yesterday about how freaked out I was about the economy and job security. Part of why I was freaked out is specific to how the congregation I am serving has learned to approach money and staffing over the years. I don't think it is in the best interests of the congregation to cut program staff. With enough time, that will hopefully change. In the meantime, as I said, I need a plan B.

In just twenty minutes of conversation, G. and I were able to come up with at least one plan B. It makes me feel good to know that we have at least one option, and that if we thought on this some more, we could likely come up with another plan or two.

My plan:

Should the congregation decide to cut my salary, they will need to be aware of a realistic picture of what that will mean in terms of staff hours. What I will do as prep is to create a list of all the work I do, and should it come up that they will be cutting my salary, I will let them know how many hours that will give them and ask them which part of my work they would like to cut. This will not be something with which they will have experience, but I think it is important in part because on a reduced salary, I will need to have enough time to have a second job. Also, it will be important for the congregation to have full information about what they are asking of me.

Our plan if I am then working, say for example, 25 hours per week, is to open a home-based Montessori-inspired half-day preschool for six children (in addition to our own). This is something that would be very exciting to offer our community, use both our skills very well, fill a need we believe there is in our community, fit well within our lifestyle, and enhance the education of our own kids to boot because I'll have more time for teaching. It's not an easy road in the least, but it is a challenge I would enjoy and something I feel very passionately about in any case, and I feel really good about this option.

Of course, we are still hoping and praying that I will be able to continue working full time with my current salary, but having a plan I can get excited about feels much, much better.

The challenges will be much bigger if they can't fund my position at all, or if they cut my salary, but not enough to give me time for a second job. I'll continue to think out my approach if either of those end up being the case.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What I've Learned

Okay, I've done a little research, and here is what I've learned...if I understood everything correctly:

1. The good: It looks like there is a such thing as "partial unemployment" if hours/wages are reduced by the employer. This would make it worth it to stick around.

2. The bad: I just saw that it looks like I would be ineligible for unemployment anyway because I work in service of a church.

Plan B

I am really worried about the economy and the security of my job. We had our monthly staff meeting yesterday, and things are not looking good. I am the last person to be hired here, and it is possible that this fact will influence me in being the first to go.

I've never been in such a position, and am completely ignorant. The scary thing is that we used up all of our savings during our move a little over a year ago when I came out for the job (my employer paid for a goodly sum of the move, except that the move went all wrong for a number of reasons including the economy and the struggle to sell our things went haywire). I had hoped we'd have time to rebuild our savings, but we haven't...and that was a lot of money.

G. is starting to look for jobs, but she needs one anyway, even if my job continues to be secure. Despite this, her earning potential is relatively modest. Either way, until she finds a job, I am the sole bread-winner of the family.

I am praying hard and visualizing things working out. But what if they don't? I think it is time for me to do some prep, just in case.

If my employer decides to reduce my salary instead of lay me off, I may need to ask to either be fired (if they aren't satisfied with my work) or laid off (if the issue is truly just the money). My family is already stretched as thinly as we can be. We have a very, very modest budget. We simply couldn't make a lower salary stretch to fit, and this wasn't the agreement I had with my employer when I made the decision to move for this job.

Before I decide what my reaction should be if my salary is cut (which is only one of several potential scenarios...they might also just lay me off or fire me), I need to know if it makes a difference in terms of unemployment whether one is fired or laid off. I also need to know how much unemployment I would be able to collect (assuming I am looking for new work, which I will be) and for how long. And finally, I need to know how long it would take for the checks to kick in. Seems I have some research to do.

I'll keep you posted if I learn anything interesting.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Networking Blog

I've started a blog for the purpose of networking. I am hoping to gather together a group of folks in my region who are interested in a public Montessori school for the city in which I reside and work. Now I just have to start spreading the word (always a daunting task at first).

Anyway, if you are curious what that is about, check it out:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

One More Reason to Homeschool

I have had to fight our school district pretty hard since M. turned three to keep him out of public school. It's been really tough having to stand up, only to be battered at every turn. I do it because I have seen with my own eyes the benefits Montessori has had in M's life, because I have observed the public school classroom recommended for M. and seen the sub-standard education offered, and because I have researched the heck out of it and made the decision I feel is most educationally sound.

Even though this isn't the reason I have M. doing partial homeschool and partial private Montessori school, this kind of thing is one more reassurance I've done the right thing:

My local school district has some crazy approaches to behavioral management, and I could totally see this kind of thing going on. In fact, I actually had to request a new school district speech therapist for M. after, among other things, his speech therapist grabbed his arm and yanked him very roughly right in front of me.

Everyday I am down on my knees saying my thanks that I have been able to keep ds out of harm's way, for the most part.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

When Your Vision Is Too Expansive

I have difficulty compartmentalizing information.

This is often a blessing. I am easily able to take a broad view of systems and also transfer information from one system to another. At classes and workshop, I find myself impatient when other attendees have to stop and ask, "What does this have to do with...[fill in the blank with whatever the topic is]?" (Yes, I found college almost painful.) If the teacher or leader of the class or workshop has made the connection, you can be certain that I too have made the connection. When other people are saying things like, "This is nice, but I was really hoping to get some tangible ideas I can take home," I often am sighing inside. My neurons have usually been firing off ideas the whole time as I've connected all types of information in response to what I am learning.

At times, though, my inability to compartmentalize becomes problematic. Today I found that a global perspective I have been taking for granted for some time is not a common world view. I didn't realize until after I pissed someone off (at work, no less) by taking my broad view as a given. Actually, it took me getting upset that I'd pissed someone off. I got upset and called a colleague who listened to me explain my thinking to her, and then she said "I have never thought of it like that before." The subsequent dialogue in my head went something like:


Oh! Huh.

Really? I could have sworn that other colleagues have talked about this before.

Is it just me?

I don't get how this can be compartmentalized.

I am so confused. I am so hurt [that the person I pissed off was so offended].

Sometimes it is hard not to feel crazy.

Postscript: A few days later, I am feeling much better. I called another colleague, one from the west coast whose response to the idea that I think much differently than others was, "you do?!" Ah, it is likely another one of those east-west coast adjustments I am making. So then I talked to a colleague out here who is one of the longest-serving and most respected in our field. And though she has worked for 30 years in the northeast, she also is very involved in the national organization of our association and has a good understanding of regional differences. She is a tremendous mentor for me! I wanted her to help me shift my thinking, if necessary, into a more regionally-appropriate form. But she told me I was spot-on in my thinking, and that more than anything I just have to be patient (and try harder not to scare people so much with my wild west ways LOL).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Reflections on the Win...a Night To Never Forget

The night of the election, I drove to an election party at a local bar, my hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel as I heard what I thought was an announcer indicating that McCain had taken Pennsylvania. When I realized finally that they were talking about Obama, I relaxed slowly, not wanting to allow myself to believe until everything was for sure. I wandered into the bar tentatively. I wasn't meeting up with friends, and no matter what was about to happen, it was bound to be an emotional night.

I spent the first part of the evening tucked away in a crowded area of the bar, uninterested in expending the tremendous effort it would be to navigate the crowd only to stand in another crowded area. It was a good sized, diverse crowd. Lots of young folks. A fair chunk of old folks. Some folks were coming back and forth between the congressman's party and this party, but from what I heard, we were the younger crowd with more folks of color and more food and fun. I couldn't hear the reporters on the television, but the visual images were enough.

Obama. Obama.
Two more states for Obama.

Another win for Obama.

Well, that one was expected.

Two women finally started chatting with me, and pretty soon I began shaking hands and meeting the people around me. The mood was jubilant and cheerful, even if afraid to believe. A congregant from the church where I serve spotted me and came over. We chatted for a bit, and then he returned to the folks he was with. The energy was starting to buzz in the air.

The more time that went on, the more confident we all became. We watched the senate majority climb (yahoo!): 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56...

I was getting impatient. This all looked like such good news, and everyone began to feel ready for the announcement of Obama's win. It was late, and I was tired, but it all felt so imminent, and I didn't want to go home without hearing for sure. I distracted myself in conversations with the folks around me: what work we do, how long we have been in our city, in the state, how long we have been voting, what we like to do in our spare time. I haven't done anything social like that with total strangers for a long time.

In a moment of total distraction, I glanced up at the screen just as the announcement came across, "Barack Obama: President Elect." I didn't know if I should trust what I was seeing and hearing, but suddenly the crowd broke out in cheers. This was it.

I can't even begin to describe to you what that moment was like in that room. We were screaming and laughing, and we were all embracing one another. Strangers and friends all in one moment. A woman who moved to the United States from Kenya eight years ago stood in front of me, hands clasped together in the air for a long time after the first rush of cheers had died down. Another woman kept pounding her fists on the bar, and saying, "Now we are one. Now we are one." A woman originally from Rwanda stood staring at the television screen with tears streaming down her face. All of us were crying.

I wish I could convey to you better what it was like, but I can't. It was so visceral. It was this palpable healing energy. It did not fix everything, but it was needed to soothe our souls. I have never in my life experienced something quite like it, and I know I will be lucky if I experience it again.

There is a great post on one of the blogs I follow about the bittersweet moment this was, when on one hand so much progress was made and on another, so much ground was lost: But the words to a hymn come to mind: "We will get there. Heaven knows how we will get there, but we know we will."

There is a long road ahead of us. It will be hard. It will be full of pain and difficult decisions and hardship. Justice will not always be served. But I can see Obama isn't wasting time, nor disengaging from the public discourse that was the campaign: I am impressed.

I have been very teary since the election. My children may remember into adulthood the way we talk about how we have the power for positive change, and the way President Elect Obama has reminded us of that and called us to keep on keeping on. This is huge. Huge. May we never forget, and may we Get. To. Work.

Yes we DID!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tomorrow is Election Day.

This is such a historic moment that I actually get chills thinking about it:

Vote. Vote. Vote! Don't forget.

And please join me in voting for hope, and for the promise that is America. Let's get to work!

Love ya'll,

I Love My Mother-- I Am Proud To Be a Member of My Family

The Horoscope that Has Scared the Living Daylights Out of Me

(And I don't even know if I believe in this stuff)

Here it demons right there in my weekly horoscope:

And my monthly horoscope: