Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bookworm Meme

From Helen's blog:

  • Hardback or trade paperback or mass market paperback?
  • Trade. They have the substance of a hardback without the weight.

  • Amazon or brick and mortar?
  • Either. Amazon for used books, since we have NO good used bookstores around here (sad that I live within 25 miles of NYC and say that because I never get into the city!) and sometimes I just can't wait for Bookmooch. Brick and mortar when I either don't want to pay for shipping or just want to browse. Plus it's a place to take the kids when it's icky weather out.

  • Barnes & Noble or Borders?
  • Either, depending on what's nearby. B&N seems to have the nifty cafe's more often.

  • Bookmark or dogear?
  • I hate to dogear but sometimes resort to it. Mostly it's free bookmarks from the library, or subscription cards ripped out of magazines.

  • Alphabetize by author or alphabetize by title or random?
  • Neither, I try to keep books in groups by topic. All the crafty books together, all the parenting, fiction, etc. on their own shelves. This works because the vast majority of my books are still stored in the basement!

  • Keep, throw away, or sell?
  • I have thrown away books but only in the rare cases of complete and utter destruction, e.g. massive water damage or children ripping them to pieces. We used to sell lots of books in Sacramento because we had a used book shop that gave quite good rates, but now I use Bookmooch or donate to thrift stores. Nowadays I only buy books that I'm sure I will keep, otherwise it's the library for me.

  • Keep dustjacket or toss it?
  • Mostly toss, especially the kids' books. However I would normally want to keep them.

  • Read with dustjacket or remove it?
  • Remove, for the most part. Sometimes the flap makes an acceptable bookmark though.

  • Short story or novel?
  • Novels...right now I read for escapism, and I don't want to escape to a different place every half an hour!

  • Collection (short stories by same author) or anthology (short stories by different authors)?
  • If I had to choose I suppose it would be collection. The only short story books I have right now are Charles de Lint's Newford stories and Wendell Berry's Port William stories, which almost read as novels because they involve consistent groups of characters.

  • Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
  • Harry Potter. I enjoyed the first Lemony Snicket book but never went back to read more.

  • Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
  • When hubby turns out the light and glares at me.

  • “It was a dark and stormy night” or “Once upon a time”?
  • Reading for myself, the dark and stormy. For the kids, once upon a time.

  • Buy or Borrow?
  • Mostly borrow, with a sprinking of buying and mooching.

  • New or used?
  • Mostly used, except for my latest business expense.

  • Buying choice: book reviews, recommendation or browse?
  • The only reviews I read (now that I seem to have no time for the Sunday NY Times) are on blogs, same for recommendations. Browsing only works if I have actual time at a bookstore without two children dragging me to the picture book section!

  • Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
  • Definitely tidy ending, though cliffhangers are acceptable in books for which the sequel is waiting on my bookshelf.

  • Morning reading, afternoon reading or night time reading?
  • Night time, after the kids are in bed.

  • Standalone or series?
  • Either, though lately I've been wanting to delve deeper into book worlds that I like, hence the many Pride and Prejudice spinoffs on my shelf.

  • Favorite series?
  • Harry Potter, Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

  • Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
  • Hmmm...this one seems like a dare. How about Little, Big by John Crowley, or The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O'Shea?

  • Favorite books read last year?
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susannah Clarke

    Widdershins by Charles de Lint

    Fidelity: Five Stories by Wendell Berry

  • Favorite books of all time?
  • Pretty much anything I've mentioned here already, or here. There are others, like the Lord of the Rings books, which I'm sure I will read over and over throughout my life, but which don't come to mind right now as particularly shiny and enticing.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Parenting and inner work

One of my recent posts mentioned Rudolf Steiner's "six basic exercises," and I thought I would expand on them a bit in relation to parenting. I am taking inspiration from an essay by Signe Schaefer in More Lifeways. I find that these exercises are wonderful, challenging work, and that our children are truly our teachers when it comes to inner growth.

The first exercise relates to thinking. Often parents find themselves easily distracted, and our powers of mental concentration are challenged daily by the ever-changing demands of children. Steiner recommended that we take a small everyday object (e.g. a button or paperclip) and try to focus our attention completely on it. Sounds easy, but it's quite difficult to maintain complete attention for any length of time. Over many days we focus on the form of the object, as well as its manufacture, in a measured, conscious way instead of merely fleeting impressions. We also observe our own thought processes to discover the times and ways we become distracted. This exercise not only helps us become more conscious of our thinking, it also helps us gain a sense of self-control and confidence, so easily lost when faced with the complexity of modern parenting.

The second exercise relates to our will forces. This is another realm in which parents can be easily distracted: I was about to do the dishes when I realized I needed a clean dish towel, but on my way to the linen closet I noticed the cats needed clean water, and then the kids came into the bathroom asking for a snack, so we returned to the kitchen to find the dishes still filling the sink! So we choose a small unnecessary act (in my last post the example was touching my earlobe at 11:45 am) and endeavour to remember and complete it each day. This exercise helps parents strengthen their sense of inner resolve, and helps us feel less on "auto-pilot" or discouraged by lack of follow-through.

The third exercise involves our emotions. We are often unable to remain calm in the face of the baby who won't stop crying or the siblings who won't stop fighting. To begin this exercise, at the end of the day we review our emotional responses: when were we "out of ourselves" and not fully present because of strong feelings? When did an emotional response lead to unintended consequences? Were many of these responses habitual? Eventually we seek to have these insights in the moment instead of in reflection; this helps us stay centered and present, so that we can face our lives with equanimity.

The fourth exercise urges us to find something good, true, or beautiful in any situation. So often we become focused on the negatives in our days: the whining children, the burnt meal, the rude customer at work. Challenging ourselves to guide our thinking and feeling consciously toward the positive when faced with the negative helps us be find balance in our judgments. We can learn to see the beauty in the messes the children make while playing and the strength of will in the argumentative neighbor.

The fifth exercise helps us become more open and receptive to the future and new experiences. We may find ourselves relating to our children's perspectives with scorn or antipathy: the boy who loves to hit and break things, the girl who must eat each kind of food in the meal separately. At the end of the day we can ask ourselves when did we shut down to new ideas? When did we discard someone's opinion as too far from our own? Did we experience a moment when our actual experience differed from our habitual expectations? Working in this way we can begin to work with the gift of open-heartedness that our children bring to the world, and be open to our own capacity for growth and renewal.

The last exercise is to bring the other five exercises together into our daily lives. If we practice the exercises faithfully for a time, we can begin to see them interweave and enliven us. One image is that of the five-pointed star: each point is important itself, but put together they make a radiant, living image. Over time we might find that we have become more conscious, centered, tranquil and in harmony with our surroundings. We can face our days as parents with love, positivity, openness, and objectivity, and model such behavior to our children. As Signe says at the end of her essay, parents and children "are truly on a path of mutual development: their needs for care ask us to grow, and our love and attention nourish their unfolding."

Friday, February 23, 2007

Oh, for the good old days

I just read an article from the Organic Consumer's Association about lead in vinyl lunchboxes. Yet another thing that makes me want to run into the woods to find a log cabin to hide in, despite what some people say about the beneficial aspects of human progress.

As a wee girl in the 70's, I just grabbed that Hardy Boys lunchbox 'n' thermos and went on my innocent, unleaded way to school each morning. Just a thin layer of ink and steel between me and my oreo cookies.

Fun Google result I found while trying to verify that my boys were indeed lead-free: this kinda scary site that has waaaay too much information. Though I'm pleased to see that the Hardy Boys would go for $25, $30 with thermos. Good thing the boys are lounging on a shelf at my dad's house, waiting for the world market in bad 70's TV show memorabilia to go through the roof. Too bad I don't still have the Shaun Cassidy poster that hung over my bed during that crucial prepubescent time.

Asthma and anthroposophy

I've suffered from asthma since I was 17. Over the years I've had many trips to the ER and have gone through countless inhalers. Luckily it's never been severe, but asthma symptoms have definitely limited my activities.

Asthma is a mysterious thing. No one really knows what causes it. There are identified triggers--pollen, exercise, anxiety--but these vary from person to person. No one can really say why someone develops asthma in the first place. Tiny babies can have it; adults can also develop it as I did.

Last year I bought a DVD about the Buteyko method, also known as eucapnic breathing. I'd heard about this from friends and thought I'd give it a try, since it's completely non-invasive. Essentially, Dr. Buteyko stated that asthma sufferers overbreathe. Buteyko believed that asthma is caused by too little carbon dioxide in the lungs; CO2 regulates the ability of the body to take in oxygen, so that if CO2 levels go down, so does the amount of oxygen the blood can absorb. Seems paradoxical, but it makes sense.

The one big thing about this method is that you must always breathe through your nose. Always! Doing this automatically decreases the incoming airflow, among other things. But asthmatics are very often mouth-breathers, and it's an unconscious habit.

So, the main thing I've been doing is to try to be conscious of my breathing and keep my mouth shut! This is where the anthroposophy comes in.

Rudolf Steiner developed his "six basic exercises" to help foster consciousness and balance in our thinking, emotions, and will forces. The "will exercise" involves doing a small, unnecessary act at a certain time each day. For example, I would decide to touch my earlobe at 11:45 am daily. Choosing something insignificant takes away any chance that external influences will help me: something like feeding the cats already must happen, and something like eating a piece of chocolate has its own incentive! So I have to choose something that will require my conscious intention to remember.

I have to admit: I've never been very successful at this exercise. It's far too easy to forget after a few days, and then just give up amid all the myriad activities and distractions of life. But I have tried to use a modified version of this exercise in relation to the Buteyko method.

If I catch myself breathing through my mouth, I bring my full consciousness to it and change over to nose breathing. I try to stay conscious of my breathing for as long as possible afterwards. I then work towards some of the other Buteyko advice such as breathing fairly shallowly and relaxing.

In this way I hope to bring more consciousness to what is normally a very unconscious activity. It's not quite the will exercise, but it's what I'm able to do right now.

Something about this has been working: I've used very little asthma medication in the last year and certainly have had no crises. Have I become more conscious overall? I'll have to get back to you on that.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

What is this world coming to?

I get a catalog from “Oriental Trading Company”. I remember this from years ago as a place you could find massive amounts of very cheap crafting supplies. Either that was a different catalog altogether, or it morphed into the current “way too many incredibly wasteful, insanely ugly, tiny foam things made of toxic chemicals in some Chinese sweatshop.”

But that’s not all! They recently sent me their Easter-themed “Inspirations: A Celebration of Faith” issue.

Nothing says “I love God” than

  1. Cross-shaped lollipops
  2. 4 1/2 inch plush bears wearing “He Lives!” t-shirts
  3. Foam and rhinestone cross ornament kits
  4. “Smile! Jesus Loves You!” rubber punch balls
  5. Lamb of God gummy candies

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bedtime drama storyboard

The scene: A suburban home, 9 pm on an icy winter evening.

The family rejoices as the Papa returns from a week out of town. After enjoying a late dinner, the children are put to bed. A few minutes later...

Hearing the children's bedroom door open, the Mama goes out to check on the kids. The little girl says in a sad voice, "Mama, I threw up." Upon investigation, Mama indeed finds that the pillow, sheet, wool mattress pad, wool sweater and wool long underwear are all casualties. She cleans up, changes sheets and jammies, and rocks the little girl back to sleep. Just as the Mama turns out the light...

Blurp! Another round. This time the Mama enlists the Papa's help, since this time the carpet and the daughter's hair are added to another set of bed linens and jammies out of the running. Much scurrying around of parents ensues, while the subdued daughter looks on. Everything is restored to normal, but then...

"Mama, I have to throw up again," the daughter says as the Mama tries to rock her to sleep a second time. The Mama nimbly transports the girl to the bathroom, where for the first time, there is no collateral damage. The girl, once finished, says she feels better, but by now is sagging with lethargy. While the Papa continues scurrying, taking laundry to the basement, the Mama tries one last time to rock the girl to sleep. This time, success.

Camera pans across the children's room to reveal: big brother quietly snoring, having slept through the entire evening's drama. Fade to: living room clock, striking 10 pm. Fade out.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winter fun, finally

We finally got a decent snow. All morning yesterday we had freezing rain, then a bit of snow to top things off in the afternoon. We spent the day inside, wearing our jammies, listening to the little ticks of ice hitting the windows and skylight.

After so many days inside the house, this morning we went outside immediately after breakfast. It's been below freezing for several days so our humble little brook looks like this:

I've been kind of a neurotic mama about the kids getting wet this winter. It's not like the brook is more than ankle deep right now, and it's not like it would take more than 30 seconds to get the kids inside if they got wet. But I just can't help it. The snow was so hard and slippery that at one point today Napoleona had slipped down just onto the edge of the ice, and was getting scared that she couldn't climb back up. Somehow in that moment I was able to be calm and help her. Maybe because I had to actually take action instead of just brooding on my fears.

We've been having fun experiencing the different kinds of snow. We haven't had any this year, but last year we remember a few days with wet snowball-making snow. The snow this year has all been very powdery and dry, until this last storm which left us with very icy, crunchy hard-packed snow. The kids' feet hardly left marks as they walked, and I left big cracked indentations, much bigger than my actual feet. And because the surface was so slippery, the kids found that the path beside our neighbor's house made a perfect slide:

And shoveling and plowing such hard snow left piles of big snow chunks everywhere. So, there was much climbing and sliding down snow mountains and creating snow chunk sculptures.

Growing up in Southern California, I had absolutely no experience with snow or ice until after I was married and moved to the Sierra Nevadas. And it's only now that I'm coming to enjoy it alongside the kids. Certain grandparents (you know who you are!) grumble mightily about winter and look forward to moving to sunnier climes. For me, I love the variety of the seasons, and I wouldn't want my kids to miss these experiences as I did as a child.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Adventures in miso soup making

Today for lunch I decided to make miso soup. I got out the kombu and brought it to the boil, turned the flame down low and dumped in some bonito flakes, strained the dashi, cut up the kombu and put it back in, put in some frozen peas to simmer, and then added some whole wheat noodles (really spaghetti but we'll pretend they were soba) and a dash of soy sauce. Yum, right?

Notice anything missing?


My brain is definitely on hold until Anthropapa gets back.

PS: How did Japanese people store bonito before Ziploc bags were invented, without their houses reeking of fish? Did they just not mind the reek?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Randomness at 11:45 pm

Anthropapa is 250 miles away this week for a training class. Urg. I've been inside with the kids for days, a combination of illness, cold weather, and the fact that I can't seem to get to bed before 11 pm and the kids can't seem to sleep later than 6:30 am. Evidently that's not enough sleep for me! And now we're supposed to have an oh-so wonderful day tomorrow, filled with sleety weather, kids having major cabin fever, and me feeling less than patient with it all.

On the brighter, or more random, side:

Today the kids ran around the house playing with purses and wallets. They got Target gift cards from a grandparent for Valentine's day, and a few quarters for fun from Papa. But despite our ongoing efforts to avoid teaching them materialistic consumerism, they kept coming up to me and whining "We need more money!" I felt like saying "Don't we all?" but sarcasm is lost on toddlers.

The wikipedia article I've been working on was unlocked though the arbitration proceeds undecided. I recently realized that compared to the three other main editors--a Waldorf parent for 15 years, and two experienced teachers--I have less knowledge to impart about the topic. However I can provide a mediating influence in this rather heated environment. So, I've decided to focus on the process rather than the content: fostering consensus, encouraging neutrality, focusing on improving the content rather than pushing personal agendas, etc. Hmmm, maybe that's why I'm not getting enough sleep.

Napoleona has decided to take imitation to the next level. SillyBilly threw up a few times today, but seemed pretty much OK. Probably just a little stressed by being inside for so many days and missing his Papa. But every so often today Napoleona would pipe up with "My tummy hurts too!" or "I'm sick too!" I tried to tell her that being sick isn't exactly something we should wish for, but she just didn't get it.

I bought business cards for myself, and joined a freelancer's association. Rationally I can see that if I'm trying to build up steady work for myself, I need to invest a little at the start. But part of me feels totally pretentious, like what I'm doing is really just a hobby or something. I will be able to deduct these things come tax time next year, so that's something. Editing is something I've never been formally trained to do, I've never been fully employed at doing, and so it kind of feels like I'm just faking it as I go along.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I am from...

I am from endless California sunshine and brown summer skies. I am from palm trees lining streets like an endless queue of ducklings. I am from crashing Pacific waves, distant islands like smoky mirages, and oil drilling platforms lit up at night like far-off fairy palaces. I am from rivers wrapped in concrete, never to flood again.

I am from hot pink bouganvillea, golden yellow grass, oak trees so large their branches form enormous circles touching the ground around their massive trunks. I am from rattlesnakes creeping across my path, coyotes howling in the night, and shy brown rabbits munching on well-mown park grass. I am from hawks endlessly circling in the bright blue sky. I am from night skies so bright I could hardly see stars. I am from avocado orchards, orange and lemon trees in the backyard, brilliant green lettuce fields as far as I could see.

I am from houses built too close to the water falling into the ocean, houses built on hills sliding down, houses built in narrow valleys being consumed by wildfire. I am from earthquakes waking us up in the middle of the night, shaking us into doorjambs or under desks at school, cracking the sidewalk and our patio floor. I am from the smell of burning grass as flames lick their way up over the nearest ridge. I am from wildflowers immediately sprouting from the blackened earth.

I am from riding my bicycle up and down my street with my dog in the bike basket. I am from playing Nancy Drew mysteries on the playground with my girlfriends. I am from trying to beat the Guinness Book world record for swinging the longest, as long as recess lasted. I am from proudly wearing my Brownie uniform, resplendent with patches, every Wednesday to school. I am from looking on in wonder at the fancy sportscars in the high school parking lot.

I am from driving down the big hill to see my Grandma every weekend. I am from driving out to my aunt's house every Christmas Day. I am from driving endlessly on highways, watching the red and white lights stretch on into infinity through the car window. I am from watching the world blur and drip as the rain dances down the window when we got stuck in traffic. I am from six car accidents, one broken wrist, one facial scar and much broken glass and dented metal.

I am from In-N-Out Burger juice dripping down my chin. I am from bomb pops from the ice cream truck circling the neighborhood, endlessly playing "Pop Goes the Weasel" from a loudspeaker. I am from bologna sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise. I am from always being jealous that my mother got to lick the chocolate cake bowl while I only got the beaters. I am from burritos and quesadillas, Thai sriracha sauce with my tod mun, chicken pizza with creamy garlic sauce.

I am from three little dogs wagging their tails at me when I come home from school. I am from taking each one of them to be put down by the vet in their extreme old age. I am from having four cats and a dog, and realizing that's too many pets for one house. I am from always wanting a cat, and never getting one until I grew up and moved out. I am from helping feed orphaned baby birds, using eye droppers and toothpicks. I am from having conversations with crows, laughing at the arrogance of wild turkeys, and shivering with awe as a herd of deer thunder past me.

Thanks to Charlotte for inspiring me.

The Seven Rules of the Toddler

I just unearthed this from a folder of early childhood resources from a class I took right after my son was born.

  1. If I like it, it is mine.
  2. If it is in my hands, it is mine.
  3. If I can take it from you, it is mine.
  4. If I had it a little while ago, it is mine.
  5. If it is mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
  6. If I am doing or building something, all of the pieces are mine.
  7. If it looks just like mine, it is mine.
SillyBilly will take his "special things" (which change daily) and put them up on a high shelf that Napoleona can't reach. And they will both hoard books on their laps so the other can't read them.

I was an only child, therefore I never developed this need for hoarding. ALL the books and toys were mine! I could share with magnanimity when I so chose. So I find this behavior just at bit mystifying and quite a bit irritating.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Thoughts on Waldorf Traditions

As I mentioned a few days ago, I've been editing the Waldorf Education article on Wikipedia. There is a core group of editors, both supportive and critical of Waldorf, who have been involved for many months, working to improve the article's neutrality and breadth of content.

One of the editors who (if we were taking sides outright) would be on the "con" side, has pointed out that in many Waldorf schools, things are done out of tradition or dogmatic following of anthroposophy, the spiritual philosophy that is the basis for Waldorf methods. I've found this to be true as well.

One big example is the Michaelmas festival, which I wrote about here this autumn. I love this festival, which comes at my favorite time of year. I won't go into much detail about it, but the essence of the imagery is that Michael the Archangel overcomes the dragon. There are many metaphorical layers to this image: light vs. dark, spirituality vs. materialism, truth vs. deception.

Most (if not all) Waldorf schools in the US celebrate this festival, as I'm sure do most European ones. This festival is greatly appreciated in the anthroposophical world, and was lectured on many times by Rudolf Steiner, the creator of Waldorf education and anthroposophy.

However, I think this festival is currently celebrated by schools as a matter of tradition, where many other autumn festivals could be worked with equally well. This kind of tradition, coming from Steiner's (and the first Waldorf school's) Western European and Christian background, has been criticized as being overly eurocentric and Christian given the multicultural nature of modern America.

Steiner admonished us to think freely at all times, never to follow dogma or a guru blindly in place of our own free will. If we think freely about the Michaelmas festival, we may see that it is a celebration of light, of spirit. Many other festivals, or even newly created celebrations, could just as effectively represent these universal concepts. Several that come to mind are Hannukah, Divali, and Samhain. Extending the image to harvest time as a gathering of cosmic light into our food, I think of Sukkot, and Lughnasadh.

Don't get me wrong, I think the festivals as celebrated in Waldorf schools are wonderful, full of rich imagery that speaks to our spirits. And if Waldorf schools choose Christian European festivals, I have no problem with that in and of itself if that is the school's conscious choice, perhaps reflecting the composition of the student body. My problem comes when these festivals (and other practices) are chosen simply out of blind tradition, and do not truly speak to the multitude of cultures reflected in our population.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

10 "V" things I like

Well, I'm just too fried right now to think very creatively, so I'll just take a stab at the "letter meme" passed on to me via Helen and Charlotte. I may have to bust out the dictionary for this one.

1) Violet. This kind of pastel color has steadily infiltrated my wardrobe since my kids were born. Waldorf early childhood theory says that babies need soft colors, more similar to what we think the womb is like, than the bright colors that are more appropriate for older children. So, I've come to peace with pink and violet after years of dark colors.

2) Vacation. I really like the sound of that. The last several vacations have been to see family, which is wonderful of course, but not the same as lounging on the beach with a fruity drink, or sleeping in all day with room service.

3) Velcro. Because it makes it possible for my toddlers to take off their own snow boots.

4) Vinculus. The grubby fortune-teller from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I like how he was the bearer of the prophecy of the Raven King, yet was a total mooch not above shouting for gin amongst gentlemen. (Not my favorite character though; that would be Childermass.)

5) Vis medicatrix naturae. (Oh yes, we're using the dictionary now.) "The body's natural ability to heal itself." I'm a big believer in that, though as I commented to Papa Bradstein recently, that might just be my stoic Swedish upbringing.

6) Volcanoes. While I've never been able to see an active volcano, I was thrilled once by finding lots of obsidian at the foot of Mt. Konocti, a dormant volcano in Northern California. And I take a certain satisfaction that SillyBilly shares my love for volcanoes and can even tell you about pahoehoe and a'a.

7) Valentine's Day. While I've never celebrated it much, it's hard to argue with a day that revolves around love, presents and chocolate.

8) Vasilissa the Beautiful. A wonderful Russian fairy tale, beautifully illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. I love Baba Yaga, the old cranky forest wise woman/hag/witch who travels around in a pestle, and lives in a house that can walk on its chicken legs!

9) Volkswagen. We had a VW squareback when I was a little girl. I could always tell when my parents were coming to pick me up from school by the distinctive sound of the motor. Very fond memories.

10) Vermeer. Every painting is a glimpse into the culture and daily life of 17th century Delft. He was a master of light and texture, making things like a woman's skin or a glass goblet luminous.