Saturday, September 30, 2006

Buddha or Bombers?

On our trip to Manhattan last weekend, we passed by the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The sight of a huge aircraft carrier with at least 5 fighter planes on top, and a submarine beside it, was extremely exciting for SillyBilly.

I'm not sure where his interest in airplanes, cars and such has come from. Sure, he is part of a family with military affiliations -- one grandpa was an Air Force Major and another taught jungle warfare in the Army -- but we certainly do not focus on these things.

In fact, we try to teach non-violence. How to balance the seemingly genetically ingrained boy's love of machines with peace and love?

Any thoughts from my 2-3 loyal readers?

And for extra credit, anyone know of a good picture book for small children about Buddha? In my attempts to expose the children to the world's religions (not too difficult: we live near a large Hasidic community, 2 grandmothers are Christian, the next-door neighbors are Wiccan, a Buddhist nun lives in the dorm next door, etc.) I've found lots of bibles and Jewish holiday books, but nothing good about Gautama.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Michaelmas time

Autumn is, hands down, my favorite time of year. I'm all about wearing warm clothes, raking leaves, and eating pumpkin pie. It's also the time of my birth, though September 11 is no longer such an auspicious day.

I'm still new enough to the East Coast that I cannot help but make constant comparisons with California, where I grew up. The parts of California where I lived, Los Angeles and Sacramento, do not have autumn really. Summer extends far into October with only slight cooling and the threat of rain by Hallowe'en.

By contrast, we are in the thick of autumn here. Leaves are turning more colorful by the day, temperatures have dropped precipitously, and the chipmunks, sparrows and yellow jackets have a new urgency in their activities.

In anthroposophical circles, now is the time of Michaelmas, where images of the Archangel fighting the dragon abound. We think about courage in the face of the year's dying away, and of the spirit conquering the forces of materialism. The shining, pure, upright, courageous hero overcomes the dark, sullied, cowering dragon.

In my children I see the picture of the will transforming substance: they love nothing more than to dig in the earth, break sticks into firewood for the gnomes, and to hear stories about brave knights conquering evil foes. It's a challenge to balance teaching about non-violence and to support their need for heroic archetypes.

So, last autumn we talked about how Michael doesn't really kill the dragon, he tames him and shows him the way to goodness, truth and beauty. A bit heavy for little ones, but they seem to take in what they can and digest it in their own time. The image of transformation is a strong one in early childhood, as the child transforms his whole self through growth and maturation.

This year SillyBilly for the first time has expressed fears of monsters and witches. We talked about how monsters and mean witches hate beauty and kindness and love. So, we do a little transformation of our home from daily mess to evening neatness, to help keep the monsters at bay. And I explained about good witches who help people with medicines made from herbs.

For me, talking about these things with my children is a little like autumn itself: a little of this and a little of that. On the one hand we have knights and wise women, on the other we have dragons and monsters. The air is chilly but the sun is bright.

These are the words to one of our favorite Michaelmas songs:

When I conquer within me fear and wrath,
Michael in heaven casts the dragon forth.

Firmly on the earth I stand,
Michael's sword within my hand.
When I conquer fear the dragon's chains I tightly bind,
Michael's light within my mind.
When I thrust against the monster's pride,
Michael is at my side.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Give Me Liberty

On Sunday we went to see the Statue of Liberty. Or, as I found out, the statue entitled, "Liberty Enlightening the World".

Oh, the irony.

I had a hard time not getting completely choked up looking at that big green mama. It's an amazing sight. That is one strong arm holding up a beacon of freedom to the world.

Though I'm not a particularly political person, I felt a bit embarassed about the USA standing there among all the tourists speaking Italian, German, Korean, etc.

It seems like we're not doing such a great job of enlightening the world with liberty these days. And those huddled masses, yearning to breathe free? Well, I'm not sure the breathing is much freer over here actually.

The free pamphlet from the National Park Service describes the mood of the country while "French intellectuals" planned the statue: "Nationalism, prosperity, and new technology brought forth an era of monument building." Strikes me as similar to today's mood, except instead of monuments reflecting pride in our nation's founding principles, we have a proposed 700-mile fence along the Mexican border and increasing Islamic radicalism as a direct result of American arrogance.

I noticed that the base of the Statue of Liberty is remarkably militaristic in style. According to the pamphlet, the base is indeed Fort Wood, built in 1811. Perhaps another symbol, like the bald eagle, of American aggression?

Like I said, I'm not normally overtly political, but I couldn't pass up commenting on such an experience.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Autumn Craftiness and Nature

It seems like just at the beginning of September I am bitten by the craftiness bug. I start dreaming of all those beautiful things I could make for my family, if only I could have a room devoted to crafts and all the time in the world! In the past have made blankets, sweaters, hats, dolls, slippers and socks out of yummy soft wool.

Then there is wool felting, which this year I started to do with the kids. They really enjoyed working with soft wool in warm soapy water! Napoleona especially was into the tactile sensations; I would look over at her and see her gently stroking her little wad of wool.

Here are some of our recent creations:

SillyBilly made a butterfly! OK, I helped a bit so that it didn't fall apart.

SillyBilly made a bird sitting on its nest on a branch. Squint a little, you'll see it...yellow bird, red beak, green nest.

Napoleona made a red bird flying through clouds under a yellow sun. Again, squint a bit.

Napoleona handed this to me and said, "Mama, this is for your blog." How could I resist a blog blob?

Now for the Mama section:

The kids like me to draw seasonal pictures for them to decorate their room. This is my latest autumn scene.

This is a picture of our nature table. Complete with gnomes, gourds, squirrels, plus acorns, grasses and pine cones we picked up on our walks. I made the green and yellow gnome from felt and raw wool, and the squirrel from a kit.

SillyBilly proudly displaying the crocheted gnome I made for him. Made from a pattern in Knitting for Children.

A bit about the nature table:

Young children do not grasp nature intellectually, but unconsciously accept its laws. When we bring the external world indoors, creating a seasonal table in colours and in tableaux without the use of words, children become aware of nature at work in their surroundings.
-The Nature Corner, M. van Leeuwen & J. Moeskops
We are so lucky to live amidst a beautiful forest where we can take daily nature walks. We see wildlife--Will we see Chippy chipmunk on that rock again today?--and beautiful plants--Look at those red leaves in the sun!--and experience the textures of nature--Let's dig in the sand by the brook, throw a stone, break a stick in two!

SillyBilly and Napoleona beg to go outside and play or take walks. When we do, we find many treasures that make their way home in our pockets to be placed beautifully in the nature corner. We just today watched from the kids' room as a gray squirrel found the perfect place in our backyard to bury an acorn.

Right now, the corner is on a shelf so that the children cannot easily reach it, but can see it. Soon they will be old enough to carefully add and subtract things on their own. But for now, sometimes Mama arranges things, and sometimes little gnomes come and do it when the children are elsewhere!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

What is Success?

When I was gainfully employed at the cube farm, my level of success was easy to ascertain. Did I get a pay raise or promotion? Did my staff's production and accuracy increase? Did I finish my to-do list for the day? Were my customers happy?

As an at-home parent with two squirmy, crumb-coated customers, I find that measuring success is a bit more slippery.

What is a successful parenting day?

I could use a positive benchmark:
1) My children ate 5 servings of fruits and vegetables.
2) I helped my children share and use their words instead of screaming and hitting each other.
3) At bedtime, we all helped clean up the toys and books and both kids brushed their teeth.

Or I could use a negative benchmark:
1) I didn't spank or yell at my kids.
2) I didn't cave in and give them cookies for snack.
3) Neither child broke any limbs, cracked open their heads, or vomited profusely.

I know there is the long-term success of raising a happy, healthy human being. And there are the short-term successes of walking, speaking, potty training, etc. But many days it's difficult to determine if I accomplished anything tangible at all.

Yesterday: we ate well, including one meal with 5 vegetables (yay, leftovers!); the kids got to be creative with pens and tape and paper; we went on a nature walk through the forest; but, SillyBilly refused to nap and I yelled at him after he woke up Napoleona (boo, cranky tired Mama).

Today: we did more drawings and made felt balls (well, I did, they made felt lumps); we went on an even longer nature walk, filling a basket with "treasures" that we left under a tree for the gnomes; we ate another meal with 5 veggies (yay, cafeteria at Papa's work!); but, I threatened SillyBilly with no playing outside with his toy airplane for him to settle down and take a nap (boo, cranky tired Mama).

So far, today feels more "successful", though I'm not sure why. Maybe because I didn't get crazy angry at the kids at naptime. I've noticed that I am much more likely to get angry or upset when my needs aren't being met (time to myself, sufficient sleep, getting projects done, etc.), which leads me to think that my anger is a kind of self-absorption.

It's like a combination of Buddhism and Non-Violent Communication: I want to be more compassionate and attentive to my children, but to do that I need to make sure my needs are met as well. Maybe that's the secret to a successful day.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Night Monsters

SillyBilly has been saying lately that he's scared of monsters. This comes up at bedtime, usuallly after the rituals have been completed: story told or read, talking about the day, talking about tomorrow, talking about dreamland and visiting our guardian angels in our sleep.

I can see this partly as a normal develomental stage, and partly as a delay tactic for bedtime. The problem I've had is, I don't want to pooh-pooh his belief in monsters. I want him to be imaginative and to process his fears in his own way. So what to do?

I tell him that monsters would never come to our house. We work hard to make our house pretty, our yard and neighborhood are beautiful, and we are surrounded by loving friends and family.

Monsters hate that stuff. They hate beauty and love. So, they will never NEVER come to our house.

I think he bought it. Tonight after we told each other I love you, SillyBilly said, "Mama, we love each other so much, the monsters would see all that hugging and kissing and love, and they would run far away."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Why I love Project Gutenberg

Last month I started volunteering for Project Gutenberg's Distributed Proofreading project. They are putting public domain texts online for the benefit of humanity! Errors from the OCR scanning process have to be proofed and formatted before the etexts are uploaded for viewing.

The wonderful thing for me is the variety of texts being scanned. I've worked on Six Metaphysical Meditations by Rene Descartes, a biography of Swedenborg, a pirate adventure, and Historic Trees of Massachusetts.

Many of the texts are serious literature or works of science. Others, however, are just silly. The following gem of dialogue comes from a 1846 Scottish magazine story:

"Blockhead!" said I, "what made you show her in there?
To a certainty she'll be meddling with the theodolites!"