Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Slightly off topic

I realized recently that I haven't been posting much on my stated topic, all things anthroposophic. That's not to say that I haven't been thinking about it, au contraire, it has consumed most of my spare time and some of my spoken-for time as well.

As I recently confessed to (un)relaxeddad, I've been contributing to the Wikipedia article on Waldorf Education. It's been a bumpy ride, with the article currently blanked out due to arbitration proceedings regarding edit warring and other unkind activities (I'm not named in the arbitration; I just like to edit things!). But beyond the verbal sparring, I've been really pondering some of the issues being raised about Waldorf schools and anthroposophy. More on some specifics later.

Thanks to Anthropapa, I got a moment's respite from it all with this: isotope2.

It's entrancing, after you figure out the controls. Try to make something simple, and see if it "completes" itself.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Adventures at the mall

Today was Mama's day out. Well, Mama's 2 hours out, but still.

I had to get a few articles of clothing, so I ventured out to the mall. Now, this isn't just any mall. This is the third largest mall in the U.S. It has 4 stories, over 400 stores, an ice rink, and a ferris wheel. Inside the building.

I'm not a big fan of malls. They are usually crowded, noisy, and overwhelming to the senses. Not to mention being huge temples of materialism! But in this case the only location for a shop I needed was in the big mall. I've tried catalog ordering but for clothing I often have terrible luck getting correct sizes. So, off I went to try things on.

The clothes shopping went pretty smoothly for once, and I had planned on going to a craft store before heading home. As I got off the escalator on the third floor, I saw it and all my plans changed.

There was a Books Kinokuniya.

I had been to the store in San Francisco's Japantown several times. It was a wonderland of Japanese paper products, enormous loads of mechanical pencils and gel pens, and books. I remember it as an interesting glimpse into Japanese culture: beautiful washi paper alongside plastic Hello Kitty stuff.

Well, the West Nyack Kinokuniya was all that, and more. The juxtapositions were even more jarring: beautiful books about sushi and ikebana alongside manga and amigurumi. I love manga just for the titles: All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, Fruits Basket, and the ever-popular Super Dimensional Fortress Macross II. And the oddest of all: Japanese women's magazines with Italian names. Oggi and Domani. Today and Tomorrow. I...don'

Needless to say, I did not make it to the craft store. I got sucked into the children's books section (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, in Kanji!), of course the writing implements (sorely inferior the S.F. store) and the books (very weird crochet diagrams).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

World Famous

So, I've been thinking about the little ClustrMap in the sidebar. I found this fun little thing on Zygote Daddy's blog, and thought it would be cool to see where people are coming from when they visit my humble blog.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing that I had penetrated every continent (excepting Antarctica-- I somehow doubt anyone at McMurdo Station is interested in toddlers)--thank you Brazil! Thank you Egypt! And some unlikely places: Sicily, Iran, Guatemala....

One problem I have with the ClustrMap is that the resolution is pretty bad. It's hard to tell where some of those dots are: Is that someone from Iran or Oman? Hong Kong or Guangzhou?

And then I wonder about some of those unlikely places...are the hits from countries like Iran or China caused by trolling internet censors? Or are there people interested in Waldorf education or something else I chose to write about?

Memes are quick, memes are fun, here comes another one

This one courtesy of Charlotte's Web. I had drafted a "25 things about me" post back in September, and never got past #13. Not sure if that's an indication of extreme banality or lack of creative thinking, but anyway...I trimmed the list down to 6 and now I feel successful.

1) I was in a Polaroid advertisement Christmas 1975. There was a full-page ad in both National Geographic and Time magazines, and a largish ad in the Los Angeles Times newspaper. The ad company evidently came to my school looking for kids and chose me. All I remember was having to sit on this old man's lap while holding an empty box wrapped as a present, and being told "pretend he's your grandpa". That might explain the slightly contemptuous yet confused look on my face.

2) I used to belong to the Society for Creative Anachronism. My persona was Venetian. I used to attend wars and help my friends make armor. Lots of medieval country dancing and mead-drinking.

3) I've never been to another country, not even Canada or Mexico.

4) I had a joint injury once every seven years: hip dislocation at birth, fractured wrist at 7, both knees dislocated at 14. Then the curse was broken!

5) In college I used to attend the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Nuart Theater in West L.A.

6) I have designed and/or sewn Medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian dresses and costumes including a dog, snake (with 3 foot long tail), trees and bushes, and a ball of flame!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Another green meme

Thank you to Jennifer (ponderosa) for this wonderful meme, also called the Ethnobotany Meme by SandyD. I love learning about native plants so this is particularly welcome.

Think of the plants (trees, flowers, etc) which grow within 50 yards of your home. Which is your favorite?

The maples...I think they're Norway maples, not a native like the Sugar maple. I'm feeling a bit abashed that I can't properly verify this. One problem is that it's 10:30 pm and about 35F out so I'm not inclined to go check the bark, buds or leaf shapes (if I could find any still in one piece on the ground).

Is any portion of this plant edible in any form? Can you boil the root, eat the berries, make tea from the leaves?

We can make maple syrup from the sap.

Can you use any portion of this plant to make something that would be truly useful for you? Alternately, can you use any portion of this plant to make something just for fun, just one time?

For fun, we made leaf crowns this autumn. Maple wood would be extremely useful for making furniture or other durable wood products (like flooring).

Can this plant survive on the groundwater available to it, or does it need to be watered?

We don't water anything around here...plenty of groundwater and precipitation.

Do you see any other creatures -- birds or bees or squirrels -- using this plant?

I've seen squirrels and chipmunks eating the seeds; nuthatches, bluejays, hawks and woodpeckers using the trees for food and/or shelter.

What does this plant look like right now, during this season and at the time of day you're writing?

Right now the maples are bare of leaves but quite colorful with lichens of many sorts. (Of course, right now it's pitch black night so I'm conjecturing from what I see in the day!) The bark is a grayish-brown, a bit furrowed but not greatly so. The branches make incredible patterns against the sky, particularly when it's cloudy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

So Little Time

By way of explaining why it's been so long between posts, here's what's on my plate right now:

  1. Getting over a nasty cold that included an entire weekend of laryngitis. Even a week later Napoleona is still asking "You can say it louder Mama?" and Papa is very pleased that at least one part of me resembles Demi Moore. (Sorry Papa, as soon as my raspy throat recovers, she's outta here.)
  2. Helping Napoleona through nightly bouts of coughing as she gets over the same nasty cold. Sucked it up and bought conventional cough suppressant after homeopathics didn't do much.
  3. Working on a freelance editing job. (Finally! A paying job! Woo hoo!)
  4. Trying to find a permanent editing job.
  5. Reading and commenting on all my favorite blogs.
  6. Editing and commenting on a Wikipedia article. (Won't say which one, too much acrimonious stuff going on behind the scenes there. I want to tell these people: come on, it's only a collaborative encyclopedia, back away from the keyboard and take your happy pill of choice.)
  7. Reading all the cool books being recommended on my favorite blogs.
  8. Trying to convince SillyBilly that I'm not a mean Mama, I'm just THE Mama and a 4-year-old doesn't get to tell me what to do. Toddlers, grrrrrr.
  9. Figuring out what clothing items we still need to get for the Huntlings now that we actually have started winter around here. Currently 22F with 20-30 mph winds, crusty remnants of Friday's snow shower littering the ground.
  10. Shipping books out to BookMoochers.
  11. And then there's the cleaning, cooking, diapers, shopping, etc. that still must be done every single day, day after day, endless days upon days. Must...take...a...vacation!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Green Meme

This meme was created by charlotteotter. I've added #10 at the end.

  1. What do you for the birds and the bees?
  2. Not much right now, I'm afraid. We planted a few annuals in the garden this summer, but otherwise since we're renting and most of the surroundings are foresty, we're not gardening much. I'm teaching my kids all about birds and bees though. They've learned that bees are our special friends, without whom we'd not have most of our food.

  3. Household products. Chemical or organic?
  4. Organic mostly. I use baking soda in the kitchen constantly. It works wonders on the crusty stove gunk. I use Seventh Generation cleaning spray on the toilet. We use chemical laundry detergent, mostly because of price. I can't believe how many loads of laundry four people generate.

  5. Do you junk?
  6. We get junk mail, though not so much. Moving several times in the last few years has helped. What we do get goes to be recycled.

  7. Air-dry or tumble-dry?
  8. I use the dryer for everything except woolies and unmentionables. We just inherited a massive drying rack that is now proudly standing next to the dryer. I'll use it more in warm weather.

  9. Old gadgets. Recycle or toss ‘em?
  10. We try to buy things that will last. Then if they're truly unwanted, we either donate them to a thrift store, or use Freecycle, which is particularly good for old baby things.

  11. Lightbulbs - incandescent or fluorescent?
  12. My husband has a problem with the quality of the light from fluorescents, so we use incandescents. But I'm pretty dogmatic about turning lights off when we're not in the room.

  13. Meat or veg?
  14. Well, we eat meat in many forms. But we also eat a lot of organic vegetables and fruits, and I try to have meat-free days often.

  15. Loo paper. Virgin or recycled?
  16. We've tried recycled toilet paper and paper towels, and frankly the quality was lacking. We use cloth bags at the grocery store, and we recycle paper and cardboard. We've got a pretty comprehensive recycling service here so our trash volume has gone way down. We used to use cloth diapers, then Seventh Generation paper diapers, and now we buy mainstream paper diapers.

  17. Tap or bottled water?
  18. We only buy bottled water for long car trips. Otherwise it's the tap, though the chlorine is pretty yucky here. We used to use a faucet filter but now our sink is too shallow for that! So we're trying to figure out what else might work.

  19. Dating - metrosexual or ecosexual?
  20. I'm not sure I totally understood this one, but our family is all on the same page as far as environmentalism.

  21. Compost?
  22. We have two huge compost bins about 50 feet from our front door, but we're still trying to figure out how to fit a compost bin in our tiny kitchen. The compost goes over to the biodynamic garden next door from whence we get vegetables and honey. So, it's my goal to increase our level of composting.

Well, looking over my answers, I'm not too impressed with myself. Many of my unsatisfactory answers come down to cost, meaning we don't have enough income to buy certain ecologically sound products. However I think we're doing some other things that are equally important. We only have one car, bought used, and driven only a few thousand miles a year. We cancelled most of our magazines and newspapers, and get our news and entertainment online. We use mostly rechargable batteries. Unfortunately we're all well aware of what we should be doing, but there's a disconnect between that and what can actually happen. Onward and upward, I guess.

An Odyssey of Eating

When Anthropapa and I were first together, we ate food that was, well, at least filling if not nutritious. I remember many Boboli pizzas, McDonald's breakfasts, bean burritos, steaks and pasta. We would buy vegetables with all seriousness, and then let them rot in the fridge for laziness and ignorance. And I remember at least one week when we visited our favorite sushi bar four times. Ah, the days of wine, roses, and disposable income.

Then at some point we started to eat in a more healthy way. More vegetables were cooked instead of thrown out. Boboli disappeared in favor of brown rice. This happened, to be honest, partly due to changes in the disposable income arena. But I'd say we had become more conscious of many things in our lives: around this time we stopped watching TV, started using alternative medicine, and became much less acquisitive in our spending habits.

Now that I am staying at home with the Huntlings, I've turned another corner food-wise. I've developed an interest in making things from scratch. Last night I made turkey-vegetable soup with dumplings. For dessert we had apple-pear-cranberry crisp. I can make sauce Béchamel, and from that, sauce Mornay--the snooty French version of cheese sauce which makes all vegetables instantly edible to toddlers.

Now, I'm saying this not with hubris, but with a modicum of amazement. Our diet regularly includes such oddities as kale and rutabaga. I can cook quinoa. And I make possibly the yummiest roast chicken around. Where did all this come from?

Some of my major inspirations include Joy of Cooking, Nourishing Traditions, On Food and Cooking, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the Little House Cookbook.

And a plug for Anthropapa: he makes rockin' kombucha!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Anonymizer Has Spoken

I've just gone through all my posts and changed my kids' names to nicknames. My son is now SillyBilly and my daughter is Napoleona. I know there are still links to our photo blog, and I'm sure their names are in the comments somewhere, and I'm not sure if this action even increases our privacy or security, but it somehow makes me feel better.

I found through Technorati that a very, very weird site had linked to one of my posts about my son. I never wanted to go this route, trusting in the universe and all, but in the immortal words of Beethoven and Milan Kundera, Muss es sein? Es muss sein.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Wordy Meme

Thanks to Helen and (un)relaxeddad for passing this one on, I couldn't resist.

A word that describes me is:

Wooly. Because I love wool sweaters, wool knitting yarn, needle-felted wool toys, sheepskin rugs, etc. Love love love winter!

My favourite word is:

Oh, how to pick just one. How about this: raunchy. It's got such a great crispy sound, yet the meaning is so grubby and smutty.

My least favourite word is:

A tie between mischievous and irregardless. Because it's NOT mis-chee-vee-ous, and somehow I don't think people are really trying for a double negative. Maybe people think they can make themselves sound better or more educated by adding random syllables.

Use these two words in a sentence:

Irregardless of his politial persuasion, the mischievous blogger felt no compunction about posting raunchy pictures of the senator.

A word I have to think twice about pronouncing is:

Cavalry. I always want to say Calvary, and I'm pretty sure there were no mounted units with Jesus at the Crucifixion. (Though that reminds me of the funniest line from Love, Actually: "We've been given our parts in the nativity play. And I'm the lobster.")

Dictionaries. Printed or online?

Printed. I rely on The New Oxford American Dictionary, though it would end up at the thrift store in 2 seconds if I could ever afford the ginormous, amazing Oxford English Dictionary (and a house big enough for it). Now on sale for only $850.00 for the 20-volume set!!

A word whose meaning I cannot seem to retain no matter how many times I look it up is …

Sesquipedalian: adj., given to or characterized by the use of long words, a word with many syllables. Not a very useful word unless you're trying to sound overly erudite. Si hoc legere scis nimium eruditiones habes!

Open a dictionary to a random page and find a word you don’t know. Post the word and its meaning.

farruca: n., Spanish. A type of flamenco dance.

Use the word and the word you can never remember in a sentence.

She was too breathless from dancing the farruca to respond to her partner's sesquipedalian conversation.

One of the most overused words in my area of work/study is …

Poop. We're potty training.

Children and Food

I think it's clear that we have a problem with eating in the US. Either we are obese McDonald's-eaters, or we are anorexic-bulimic fashion model wanna-be's. Somehow we have lost the ability to just enjoy a variety of foods in moderation. And not surprisingly, this problem has filtered right down to our children.

When I read about 6-year-olds worrying about their weight, I feel sick. Children should learn to love food and to eat in a reasonable fashion. They should not worry about being too fat or too thin, or about calorie intake or fat grams. They shouldn't have to think about food much at all, other than how yummy it is.

Evidently even those public officials concerned with our children's health can't seem to see clearly:

Here, in the rural Southern Tioga School District, the schools distribute the state-mandated [body mass index] reports even as they continue to serve funnel cakes and pizza for breakfast.
Um, OK. Part of the problem is economic: the article goes on to say that the district tried to offer field greens and kiwi fruit in cafeterias, but due to high costs they went back to the old iceberg lettuce and canned fruit. Because of government subsidies, processed foods are often much cheaper than whole fruits and vegetables, undermining any public health drives toward better nutrition.

Part of the problem is cultural. I remember savoring baloney/mayonnaise/white bread sandwiches as a child. Now I couldn't choke that down, but that's after many years of reprogramming my taste for healthy food. I imagine many of the kids in the NY Times article eat more pizza at home than kiwi fruit.

I'm doing my best to encourage my kids to have healthy appetites for a variety of foods. I acknowledge that I have unusually game children: for lunch we had homemade seaweed salad sushi rolls made with brown rice. For dinner we had homemade split pea soup and whole wheat biscuits (savory scones not cookies, for my UK and Australian blog friends!). They regularly chow down on mixed green salad. I know it's not uncommon for small children to want nothing but, say, yogurt three meals a day. But I think the key here is to serve nutritious food, model the behavior of enjoying the food, and not make a big deal of it.

And get off your duff and play outside!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Chaos in Everyday Life

It seems like most of my days are spent doing housework. With four people, it's incredible how many dishes and loads of laundry pile up, not to mention cooking, sweeping, cleaning up toys, vacuuming, making beds...the list goes on.

It's a challenge not to be overwhelmed and uninspired by the endless nature of housework. But I've got a few resources to help me practically and spiritually.

The title of this post comes from a wonderful article by Linda Thomas written for Kindling, an early childhood journal from the UK, available online through the Online Waldorf Library. Linda is the manager for cleaning services at the Goetheanum, the headquarters of the General Anthroposophical Society, in Dornach, Switzerland. This is a huge building, which includes a 1000-seat auditorium. So, this woman knows about cleaning on a large scale.

The inspiration for me comes in her words about the deeper meaning of cleaning and caring for a space and its inhabitants.

"Order seems to have this special quality of merging into disorder without much effort, yet the opposite never occurs. I have to consciously intervene in order to re-establish the lost order."
Oh yes. It's as if she's in my house, after a few hours of the Huntlings playing and scattering toys about. The thing that strikes me is that creating order needs to be a conscious activity, whereas chaos can be created without much thought at all.
"When I clean, I do not simply want to remove dirt. I consciously try to create space for something new."
I've noticed that when their room is very messy, the kids have a hard time playing. It's too distracting and chaotic for them. But if we spend some time tidying up then they can begin playing again.
"If we are unable to lead the meditative, spiritual life we wish to lead, we can try to find a spiritual attitude towards everything we do in our daily lives....Often it is not the work we have done which tires us. It is the mere thought of all the things that still need to be done that really exhausts us."
This rings true for me. I've been a big-league procrastinator all my life (still haven't sent out 2006 Christmas cards, oh well) and have always felt overwhelmed and depressed by big cleaning tasks. Of course this leads to a downward spiral of bigger, more intimidating messes. I've learned to break things down into manageable bits, and usually find that I can finish the big tasks even if they looked insurmountable before I started. So I've discovered it's all in the attitude. And if I can remember that caring for my home is a loving act toward my family, then it's all the easier.

Another inspiring book is The Spiritual Tasks of the Homemaker, by Manfred Schmidt-Brabant. He looks at homemaking on an esoteric level. Just as many people believe we have guardian angels, Schmidt-Brabant talks about the elemental beings that surround us. Some of these beings are represented in the old stories of house brownies or gnomes, or in fairy tales like the Elves and the Shoemaker. While we won't actually see brownies in our homes, Schmidt-Brabant says "...the elemental world is everywhere where there are processes going on within matter." When we fail to clean a forgotten corner of the house, movement stops in that place, and the life seems drained out of it. We joke around our house that sometimes a certain shelf or corner becomes "invisible", because we've stopped paying attention to it and it's cluttered or dirty.

Schmidt-Brabant looks at the homemaker as the center of the home, the creator of the family unit. Through the work of the homemaker, the material world of the home is humanized, and therefore spiritualized. He also describes the home as the carrier of modern culture. Previously culture was shared and strengthened through geographical proximity. Now with our pluralistic societies (I'm assuming he's speaking of Western culture primarily) we no longer have this community support, and must develop our family's cultural life ourselves.

And then, there's the scarily practical, big yellow book: Home Comforts : The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson. Scary because, while a very helpful reference book, it also includes such minutiae as three ways to fold socks; a chapter titled "Peaceful Coexistence with Microbes"; and schedules for daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual and annual housekeeping. Oh my.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Respecting the little people

Sometimes I marvel at how hard it is to be respectful of my children. I mean, I birthed them, still change their diapers, and can pick them up and carry them. So it's hard to remember that they aren't little beings for me to control.

I try to think about it like this: if this child were an adult, how would I be acting and speaking in this moment? Would I be yelling? Probably not. Would I spank them? Probably not (consenting adults excepted, of course). Would I constantly be telling them what to do? Probably not.

It's easiest for me to remember this on occasions where my child might need help. Usually when one of them falls down, I watch and wait instead of rushing in to pick them up and make a fuss. Perhaps I acknowledge their fall verbally, "Oops, you fell down. Back up on your big strong legs!" (this last comes from my neighbor Heather, a nice affirmation of their physical capabilities). But otherwise I don't intervene unless they seem truly hurt or upset, just as I might do with an adult who trips and falls. And even then I tend to be on the calm side, so that they don't become total drama queens, or at least any more than their natural proclivities!

When my son was born, I took a parenting class through Rudolf Steiner College, where in addition to Waldorf methods, I learned about RIE, or Resources for Infant Educarers. The amazing thing about RIE was that it taught me that children, even infants, mostly need us just to be present, but not necessarily actively directing them. When my son was an infant and needed a bit of extra help with his physical development, I found just letting him move freely on the floor, with a few toys for motivation, and me sitting quietly nearby, allowed him the space to learn and grow at his own pace. I think it allowed him to be confident in his body, and secure that I was there for him without interfering.

Nowadays it's a bit harder, with two toddler/preschoolers full of emotion, needing to assert independence whether it's convenient or not, and way too smart for their own good! I need constant reminding that they are human beings, albeit small ones, with their own agendas and destinies. I am here to keep them safe, be a role model, and shower them with love. Everything else is just my stuff getting in the way.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A tree severely pruned

I've been getting back into genealogy research lately, because I don't have enough projects to keep me busy, yah right.

On my dad's side, I can trace one shoot back to about 1600 in England, with very early immigration to what would become Massachusetts. Pretty exciting stuff, reading about long ago ancestors fighting in King Philip's War and the Revolutionary War, owning large farms and mills, and generally being interesting colonial people. (With the family name Blood, how could they not be cool? Still looking for any links to pirates.)

On my mom's side, I can trace her father's ancestry back about as far back in Sweden, thanks to a cool hand-written family tree her father passed down.

But on my mom's mother's side? Her grandparents are the oldest generation, and for them and their relatives I have almost no information. Thanks to the Holocaust, it's a complete dead end. The only thing I can find is that some of them indeed died, in Auschwitz and Riga, Latvia. Thanks to some combination of luck and pluck, my grandmother made her way to Shanghai, China where she met my grandfather and continued our family line. Otherwise we'd all be not even memories, just some tiny bits of data about lost grandparents in some backwater of the internet.

Bleh. Maybe I have reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I'm depressed because of lack of show and balmy weather!!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The stuff that's been littering my brain

Last night as we went to the the car for a dinner out (no-one was up for cooking or cleaning) Napoleona took a flying header as she ran down the road toward the parking lot. She cried for a while but all seemed well. Then this morning as I'm changing her clothes I discover a huge bonk on her upper forehead, complete with puffiness and those little red spots from the rough concrete. Felt like a very lame Mama for not checking under her bangs last night. Have been assiduously applying arnica gel ever since.

I've been reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma. Such a depressing book really. For purely financial reasons we've been eating less organic foods lately, and for some reason more meat, and now it all makes me feel queasy reading this book. So now my brain is filled with thoughts of the interdependence of cheap corn, feedlot animals, fractionated corn products comprising most processed foods, farmers going bankrupt, cows heavily medicated to accept food they were never meant to eat, why potato chips and Wonder bread cost less than fruits and vegetables, and the fact that there are now more "overnourished" people in the world than undernourished. Can't wait to get to the section about hunting and gathering, hopefully much expanded from his article in the NY Times Magazine of 3/26/06.

Funniest holiday moment: the 10 minutes it took the kids to notice the play kitchen next to the Christmas tree, because they were too distracted by passing out presents and opening stockings. Grandpa literally had to say, I think there are more presents under THAT BIG THING OVER THERE!!!

Saddest holiday moment: the night before Christmas eve, spent cleaning and soothing Napoleona as she spent the whole night throwing up in her sleep every 20 minutes.

Most Christmasy holiday moment: singing Silent Night holding candles in Grammy's church with the kids.

Most annoying holiday moment: realizing that the only snow we were going to see for the entire vacation was on the day we were leaving to go home. Grr!