Being Dad

Mothers get a lot of training. It starts when we’re very young; it’s not long before we become aware that our bodies are capable of growing and birthing a child. This knowledge affects the way we view the world, ourselves, and what we choose to pay attention to, for the rest of our lives. And then there’s pregnancy. For months we’re in direct contact with our children before they are even born. Our physical training begins at once: carrying them, staying up nights for them, changing our eating habits. Even mothers who adopt have usually been pregnant or changed their lifestyles trying to get pregnant before adopting. We mothers are used to change.

Fathers buy books. They listen to bellies and talk to bellies. Once their partners are pregnant, they do their best to quickly tap into that inherent knowledge that women have grown up with since they were toddlers: that caring concept, that birthing power running through our veins. But nothing can fully prepare a dad (really, any parent) for the day that baby arrives, tiny and fragile, helpless and needing. It’s a jolt into reality that is shocking, even for us mothers with early training.

If you’re a working father partnered with a home-centered mom, you know what you come home to every day: You’re on for bedtime, you get punted all the complicated “how does that work?” questions that Mom didn’t have time to get to as she was preparing meals, running kids to play times, or changing diapers. You make the most of the tiny bits of time after work and on the weekends that you get with your kids, soaking in every minute and wishing always for more. If you’re the home-centered dad, you get funny looks and needless pats on the back at play groups. You get days with your newborn when she’s crying relentlessly for mommy, as you try to squeeze the last drop from the bag of pumped breast milk into a bottle.

But every dad is trying to make a living – a life – for their family. Dads have a way of creating their family’s world. If it’s Mom who plans the picnic, it’s often Dad who picks the spot. Mom says let’s have a dance party, and Dad picks out the music. Mom buys the birthday party dress, and Dad gets the deck and grill ready. Dads are often more willing to play pretend, cook with the kids, or draw a hopscotch half a block long.

I once had a friend who joked that when her kids were acting up she would sometimes say “Just wait until your father comes home!” But she was always surprised that it would scare them into compliance, since her husband had never once raised his voice (and she, like most moms, had had plenty of moments when her voice was raised in frustration). I always remember this story, because it says a lot about dads. They will hold you to your word, and they are straightforward. Maybe my friend’s kids weren’t scared of getting yelled at by Dad, just of disappointing him. Sometimes it’s easier for dads to rise above their own feelings of guilt and worry, and just see the problem at face value. For that reason it’s often Dad who is called in for backup, when Mom has exhausted all of her own resources.

Whether your first child is due in July, or you’re 6 years in, or you’re a grandpa, it’s not always easy being Dad. We know that. Thank you.

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Mother’s Work

I spend a lot of my time doing women’s work. I clean, cook, and do laundry; I teach our kids how to count, and help them get dressed in the morning; I help them navigate their emotions; I haul them to the park, play times, the zoo, the library, and the doctor; I walk our older daughter to and from school; and a significant part of my day is devoted to planning and executing (successfully or not) our younger daughter’s nap.

Yes, men are capable of and do this work all the time (trust me, this house would be falling apart if they didn’t). But all over the globe it’s still mostly women who are doing this work, so it’s still women’s work. And I do it because I choose to.

Our culture is changing, but it’s still a societal norm to consider women’s work as not enough, and I don’t know why. It’s a really hard job, and now that I have two children I feel strongly that it’s just about the most worthy thing that a person can do. I’m sure a lot of you are responding with “Yes, of course! Raising children is so important!” But you know as well as I that child rearing and parenting is not fully valued in our culture. If it were, someone would be paying me right now.

I also appreciate that the women who fought so hard against the notion of “women’s work” are the reason I was able to go to law school, work for a female federal judge, work in a law office that was nearly 50% female, and end the last phase of my career as a lead policy advisor in state government. The work I’ve done in my career isn’t men’s work, but there were times in history when it was considered so.

I didn’t fully appreciate what my mother did for me as a child until I became a mother myself. I didn’t fully appreciate what any parent did. Unless you’re in it (or you’re really sensitive and close to someone who is in it) there’s just no way you can understand how physically and mentally challenging it can be. There are some days when just the constant sound is exhausting, and you look forward to laying in bed because you know (hopefully) that that is when the sound will stop (it’s impossible to fully describe how many questions, pleas, demands, and declarations two young kids can make in one day).

So this Mother’s Day I’m thanking my mom (her life’s work is the work I’m doing now, so it’s a bit of a pat on the back for me too): Thank you, Mom. I still don’t know how you did it, but I for sure know why. You did it because – whether they are home-centered or part of the workforce – mothers are selfless, devoted, tireless, resilient, and absolutely unquestionably boundless in their love. You didn’t do it because it’s easy. You did it for me. Whatever I do in my future career, I have you to thank for getting me there. And nothing I ever do will compare to my greatest achievement, mothering, which is a success we can both share.

Happy Mother’s Day to every mother. While doing some searches for this post I found these two (very different) sites. Both very fun, you might want to check them out: https://womenswork.org & https://womanswork.com

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50 Ways to Use Less, Reuse More, and Maximize What You’ve Got

When you’re shoveling heavy snow in mid-April, you can’t help but think about climate change. Extreme weather is on the rise, and it’s due to the overall warming of our planet. Recently I met up with my friend Jill for coffee, and our conversation turned to the state of the world and our personal frustration with how much waste and pollution goes unregulated. On the one hand it annoys me that so many reduce and reuse campaigns are directed at average consumers, when the bulk of the world’s waste and pollution is created by large corporate manufacturers. If we held them more accountable, we wouldn’t be in this mess. On the other hand, it’s the responsibility of all of us to be mindful of what we buy, use, and throw away.

So Jill and I came up with an Earth Day challenge to come up with 50 things we can all do to reduce our consumption of resources and better use and reuse the materials we do consume. Below is our list. We’re not presuming that you can do all 50 of these things all the time (although it’s definitely doable and would be great if you did!). You can pick the ones that fit best into your lifestyle, and be mindful of the others and maybe add goals to your list for next year. With few exceptions, these will save you money as well; so it’s a benefit to your environment, your family, and your soul. Some of these were taken from the EPA’s website, and you can learn more ideas by visiting their page on reducing waste.

Have a happy Earth Day. The best thing you can do today is go outside, and teach a child something about our home planet.

  1. When you go shopping always carry a reusable bag and refuse plastic bags at the store.
  2. Stop using dryer sheets. Wool or plastic dryer balls work better and eliminate waste.
  3. If you use a lot of paper towel, try using less. A few tips: don’t buy it in bulk. It’s tempting to go to Costco and buy a huge package, but then you risk using it less mindfully. Also, try to limit use by “assigning” paper towel appropriate tasks (e.g. cleaning up dog puke) and inappropriate tasks (e.g. wiping up the countertops).
  4. Use a handkerchief instead of facial tissue.
  5. Buy cleaning supplies in bulk.
  6. Cloth napkins are awesome! You can find a lot of cute options on Etsy.
  7. Get a reusable coffee mug (most coffee shops offer a discount for using one).
  8. Bring a reusable water bottle to work (plastic water bottles still take up valuable resources to make and recycle).
  9. Stop using synthetic air fresheners. Essential oil diffusers work better and are healthier for your body. Synthetic fragrances are pollutants, and the plastic used to create plug-in and other air fresheners are needless waste.
  10. Plant some vegetables. You can start with one tomato plant in a pot.
  11. Take the bus.
  12. Walk instead of drive.
  13. Ride your skateboard to work.
  14. Use cloth diapers.
  15. Use cloth baby wipes.
  16. Don’t use plastic cling wrap. Silicone covers or a plate will usually do the job.
  17. Don’t use plastic sandwich bags. Reusable bags are more fun and more durable!
  18. Use a push mower to cut your lawn. The fuel is free and good exercise!
  19. Buy food in bulk.
  20. Save scrap paper for your grocery and to-do lists.
  21. Make your own cleaning supplies. They are less harsh on the environment and use less packaging. And if you use essential oils you can choose your own favorite scent!
  22. Save gift bags and ribbons and reuse them for future gift giving.
  23. Use Japanese Furoshiki to wrap gifts, which is a present-wrapping art using fabric instead of paper. It can be an especially beautiful and eco-friendly tradition for your family during the holidays. You can accumulate special fabrics over the years and it will gain meaning and memories. Thanks Jynelle for this inspiration!
  24. When eating out, bring a reusable container with you when you know you’ll have leftovers.
  25. Borrow/lend books from/to friends or use your local library.
  26. Make fun crafts using empty toilet paper rolls (two taped together with masking tape make great “binoculars”). They also make great dog toys, as long as you are around to make sure your dog doesn’t eat them.
  27. Give your empty egg cartons to egg sellers at your local farmers market.
  28. Arrange a clothing swap with friends and acquaintances.
  29. Print documents to PDF, instead of on paper, and read them on a tablet or other device.
  30. Turn off lights when they are not being used.
  31. Get a compost bin. It takes some of the load off your garbage disposal and you get free soil for your garden every spring!
  32. Use mesh cloth produce bags at the grocery store.
  33. Reuse your plastic food storage bags. Yes, they are incredibly easy to clean!
  34. Reduce your consumption of one-time use plastics like straws and utensils. Silicone or stainless steel straws are fun and reusable.
  35. If your clothes are too worn out to donate, turn them into cleaning cloths. T-shirts make great dusting cloths.
  36. Do not put your used furniture on the curb, someone else can use it. Many donation centers will pick up your furniture for free, so that’s even less work for you than taking it to the trash!
  37. Get a clothesline. You’ll be surprised how little time it takes for your clothes to dry on the line. Plus it’s fun to be outside, and your clothes will smell nature fresh!
  38. Raise the height of your lawnmower blade during hot summer months, keeping the grass cooler and reducing the need for watering.
  39. Take care of your stuff: If you keep your toys, tools, and outdoor furniture clean and properly stored, they will last longer and be kept out of the landfill. When something breaks, try to fix it first before just throwing it out to buy a new one.
  40. When you buy things online, especially during the holidays, save the packaging and reuse it in the packages you send.
  41. Use reusable mops and sponges. They often work better than disposable products anyway.
  42. Join the Natural Resources Defense Council. They are one of the few organizations lobbying our government to ban toxins from our household products.
  43. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture). It’s organic food that comes straight from the farm to your home – reducing packaging and delivery costs, and feeding your family healthy vegetables grown with ecological stewardship. CSAs are often a low-cost way to access organic food.
  44. Reuse food and condiment jars. Many jellies, mustards, and nut butters come in lovely useful jars that can serve a new purpose whether it be storing nuts and snacks, a rock collection, tiny toys, or cotton balls.
  45. Use compostable garbage bags, or at least bags made from post-consumer recycled plastic.
  46. Use paper products made from post-consumer recycled paper. These products are also often whitened without the use of bleach, making them gentler for your skin (and gentler on our groundwater).
  47. Let your dirty dishes soak overnight to loosen stubborn stuck on messes. You’ll use less water and save some elbow grease.
  48. To save energy, put your computer to sleep when not in use.
  49. Catch rainwater and use it to water your garden or indoor plants.
  50. And of course, always recycle your used paper, aluminum, and plastic!
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Poem for Election Day and Beyond

Springtime. A time of rising up.

We mothers thought our work was enough, having born children of light,
raising them with no prejudice, sharing with them the wonders of nature,
guiding them to choose a path filled with hope, Love, and a strong sense of self.
But where does their path lead?

We again roll up our sleeves and get to work. This time not to raise our children for the world, but to raise a world worthy of our children.
With the perseverance of the snail making its way back out from beneath the log,
we will vote every profiteer claiming to represent us out of office.
As each bud grows on the branches into the sun,
we too emerge,
no longer dormant in the face of exploitation, prejudice, greed, or inhumanity.
Invincible, we are in solidarity with flowers.

photo 1

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Springing

The day before spring began I saw the first crocus making its way out of a pile of composted leaves into the sunlight: a tiny bead of purple against a brown muddy landscape.

I’ve been thinking about rising up, standing up to negative forces, a lot lately. My friend recently sent me the poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith, which speaks to the frustrations of parents raising innocent happy children in a world that at times seems full of hatred and violence.

I get angry at the amount of greed and manipulation in our country’s culture and political leadership. As mothers we give completely of ourselves when raising our kids: we dedicate our minds, our souls, even our bodies to this role. To come up for air after 2, 5, or more years of labor dedicated almost solely to the basic needs of a child so that they can be prepared for the world, and then look around to see that the world we’ve prepared them for is still in awful shape if not worse than when we “left” it, is dejecting.

But rising out of my anger is hope, especially when I remember the true leaders in our communities: those who devote their lives to making this world a better place. People like Michelle Alexander, Greg LeRoy, Lois Gibbs, and Danielle Brian. They may not hold positions in public office but their impact is greater, in many ways, than those who do.

Each of us can make an impact when we vote on April 3rd. Regardless of how you feel about the value of your vote, just showing up at the polls makes a difference. People showing up means people are still in power. We need leaders who represent the needs of the whole community, and not just themselves. To find out where to vote or what’s on your ballot, you can visit www.vote411.org/ballot. If you live in Wisconsin go to wisconsinvote.org and hit “Voter FAQs” on the right-hand side.

Another friend once told me that his greatest inspiration is the resilience of nature. This seemed profound even though it makes absolute sense. What is more resilient than the tulip bulbs that burst through the ground every spring, the animals surviving through the coldest winters, or the geese and butterflies who seasonally migrate across countries year after year after year? We can take inspiration from nature to know that we too are resilient, and strengthen our resolve to make this world more beautiful.

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A Halloween Post

“Examine these and similar actions as we will, we shall find them resulting solely from the spirit of the Perverse. We perpetrate them merely because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle; and we might, indeed, deem this perverseness a direct instigation of the arch-fiend, were it not occasionally known to operate in furtherance of good.”

The Imp of the Perverse, Edgar A. Poe

Last night I watched the American Masters film documenting the life of Edgar Allen Poe (who actually went by “Edgar Poe” or “Edgar A. Poe” because of his difficult relationship with his adoptive father John Allen.) The above excerpt was cited to illustrate Poe’s struggle in life with what he viewed as his own self-failings. Poe might seem a morbid writer, but his work’s confrontations with death, love, and the struggles of living resonate with us all. What a contrarian yet human thought: that we might actually carry out “wrong-headed” actions simply because we know they are wrong.

Consider this completely different piece of text:

“Our mindfulness practice is not about vanquishing our thoughts. It’s about becoming aware of the process of thinking so that we are not in a trance – lost inside our thoughts. … To train in becoming mindful of thoughts can help us to notice when your mind is actively thinking, either using the label “thinking, thinking,” or identifying the kind of thought – “worrying, worrying,” “planning, planning.” Then, becoming interested in what’s really happening right here. Coming home to the sensations in your body, your breath, the sounds around you, the life of the moment.”

I realized I don’t have to believe my thoughts, Tara Brach

AND

“A core teaching of the Buddha is that we suffer because we forget who we really are. We forget the essence – the awareness and the love that’s here – and we become caught in an identity that’s less than who we are.

When we are in the trance of unworthiness, we’re not aware of how much our body, emotions, and thoughts have locked into a sense of falling short and the fear that we’re going to fail. The trance of unworthiness brings us to addictive behaviors as we try to soothe the discomfort of fear and shame. It makes it difficult to be intimate, spontaneous and real with others, because we have the sense that, even if they don’t already know, they will find out how flawed we really are. It makes it hard to take risks because we’re afraid we’re going to fall short. … Right in the heart of the trance, there is a need to do something to be better, to avoid the failure lurking right around the corner.”

Discovering the Gold: Remembering Our True Nature by Cultivating Mindfulness and Compassion, Tara Brach

Wait a minute, are Edgar Allen Poe and the popular Buddhist meditation teacher Tara Brach onto the same thing? I think they are. They both endeavor to paint a more real picture of what it means to be human, not denying our self-doubts and contrarian thoughts, but accepting them so that we are not afraid to take the risks to become our true selves.

The experience of parenting seems only a magnification of the emotions and struggles that every other person on the planet is contending with as well. As parents we might forget to be self-forgiving, because we worry that every action we take could negatively affect both ourselves and our children. But self-acceptance also means not creating an illusion of perfection, because our children need to know that we are not perfect. They too will feel imperfect as they grow older and face challenges. We can model for them how to embrace human imperfection, so they have the courage to believe in the power of love and kindness.

Courage comes from facing these realities of life just as it comes from facing the realities of death. Halloween, All Souls’ Day, and Dia de Los Muertos all celebrate death as a celebration of life, because one does not come without the other. If we need any help considering death, Poe is our man. Here’s something that gets right to the point:

“The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
And the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy “Man,”
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.”

The Conqueror Worm, Edgar A. Poe

This might be too real, but part of the fun of parenting is the ability (and need) to be blatant. My daughter’s questions and comments regarding death and dying over the last year have been eye-opening (and often hilarious). Fear of death is often something that is taught, and I try my best to avoid instilling that fear in my own children. Instead I encourage them to accept the imperfection, self-doubt, and even death that comes with accomplishment, confidence, and vivacity. If we can teach a whole world of children this mindfulness, none of us need fear the perverse thought, especially that which might lead to the furtherance of good.

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Our Most Vital Mother

This weekend I feel so much pride; I’m proud to be the mother of two of the best girls on the planet. And I think about the stewardship of that planet a lot. This Mother’s Day, I can’t help but think about Mother Earth. The name Mother Earth transcends cultures and time, and it makes sense. If there is one thing that unites us all, it’s that we all have a mother. And beyond our (amazing, beautiful, brave and devoted) biological mothers, the mother we all share is this planet Earth. Mother Earth is like the mothers who birthed us: she is our life source, and much of what we depend on for physical survival comes from her. That dependence is still very much about biology.

Why then, has her protection become a political discussion? Issues concerning the protection of our earth, its biodiversity, and ultimately our very existence are being minimized, and important and hard-fought environmental protections established under previous administrations are being undone. Simple facts and information about things that affect our lives directly aren’t readily available, making us less equipped to protect our own well-being. Here are some things about our environment and physical health that you might not know:

Toxicity in mothers (via the food we eat, the air we breathe, or the water we bathe in) is often multiplied to fetuses in the womb, or to newborns via breast milk. This means fetuses are our most vulnerable population, and yet fetal studies are not always considered when state regulators set acceptable standards for toxicity.

Synthetic air fresheners like Febreze contain known cancer-causing toxins that are not disclosed on the label. These are just one of many household products where known toxins are allowed in production and not adequately regulated by state agencies. These are products that can easily be replaced with non-synthetic or non-toxic chemicals.

The use of mutated seeds (commonly known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs) often means a higher use of synthetic pesticides, some of which are already known to cause cancer. Over 1 billion pounds of pesticides are dumped on the earth in the United States every year.

There is so much injustice in the world, that it’s hard not to feel frustrated and helpless that we can’t solve all of these problems at once. We all have families, full-time jobs, and frankly the need for fun and relaxation, so we can’t be expected to devote as much time as is needed to every cause. This is why we elect representatives to have full-time jobs (and the necessary staff) devoted to researching policy problems and developing meaningful solutions. Their jobs are to set up the necessary regulations (or deregulations) so that everyday people can live with faith that our health and safety is protected; freedom to explore our own interests and spirituality; and means to enjoy life.

But lately these representatives are failing us. Many of them don’t seek to represent our interests, they only seek to serve themselves and their greed. In some cases they literally attempt to write themselves out of defective legislation – thus not only creating bad policies for us, but protecting themselves against the effects of those bad policies. To me this is one of the prime examples of the undemocracy that we currently live under.

For these reasons, our work and our family lives are no longer enough. I’m not calling on every reader to become a community activist. When you are feeling overwhelmed with what role you can play in the community, remember that you don’t have to do everything. Choose one issue, and one way in which you can contribute. Even becoming more knowledgeable about one subject area can do a world of difference. Choose an injustice or policy issue that you care about the most. Read about it. Learn everything you can. If nothing else, you’ll be more prepared the next time you go to the polls.

More importantly, we must all start speaking up. Public policy can no longer be that topic that’s hidden under the dinner table, but it doesn’t have to be the dinner table where you talk about it. It also doesn’t have to be  – and really, to be more effective, shouldn’t be – combative. Just asking sincere questions or offering factual information at least encourages people to think more about their claims about social policies. You would be surprised how little it takes for someone to change their mind (it’s why there are undecided voters!). But, we are all human, and we do like to change our minds in private don’t we? Don’t expect to win an argument, but be satisfied that you spoke up.

Some of you have already devoted your careers (even lives) working for justice, peace, health and prosperity for everyone. If this is you then remember to give yourself a break too: take time to breath, meditate, and enjoy family and relaxation when you can. You’ll be that much more of a fighter if you do.

Enjoy Mother’s Day, whether you’re celebrating as a mother, a son or daughter, a grandmother, or a friend. Mothers are what tie us all together, so it’s really a celebration of all of us. Let’s make this Mother’s Day about loving each other, respecting our earth, and being true to our hearts. Let’s become that community that we can all be proud of.

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Send a Message with What You Buy or Don’t Buy: Five Easy and Fun Ways To Help The Earth

I consider myself a hard core Earth lover. Many people love the earth, but don’t know where to begin to reduce waste, preserve resources, or avoid the use of toxic chemicals. If you find improving your environment to be too work intensive, here are 5 things you can do that include an additional motivation: fun! This Earth Day weekend, pick one that you don’t already do and try it for six months. It will bring you joy to have at least tried.

5 Super Fun Ways to Help the Earth

1. Stop using plastic wrap.

Using plastic wrap to store something for one day is often needless waste. You can usually store your food in a container (I especially like glass containers with plastic snap-lock tops). If you run out of those or it just doesn’t seem worth it to use an additional dish, silicone lids work well and are super pretty.

IMG_4442

I have 2 in different sizes and they are easy to use, easy to wash, and take up very little room in the cupboard. Plus they brighten up your fridge with color!

2. Bring your own grocery bag to the store.

This is just an excuse to buy a beautiful tote! The key is to find one that you feel good using so that you are motivated to grab it before you go. Buy a simple canvas tote that you find appealing, or if you’re looking for something more practical, the insulated and other cube-shaped bags often sold at grocery stores work best because they lay flat but hold a lot of food when filled (and now come in many fun prints). Even if you just bring one large tote, you’ll reduce the number of bags you use by at least two. You will love not having to deal with as many plastic bags in storage or in your recycling container. Recycling is great, but it still uses resources and creates pollution to create plastic bags and recycle them.

IMG_4425

 

3. Use recycled plastic or compostable trash bags.

In college, I once visited a landfill for an environmental studies class. Overwhelmingly, the waste that visually dominated the landfill was plastic bags. So I started using cloth bags at the grocery store to reduce the number of plastic bags that I use. I do like having a liner in my trash cans, but recently I switched to recycled plastic bags. They look prettier than the plastic grocery bags that I used to use, and I feel a little better about using them in the trash. Another option is using a compostable trash bag. Yes these are all still plastic and there is even some disagreement about whether compostable bags will actually compost in the landfill, but my philosophy is if there is a routine in your home that you can improve upon even if it is not perfect, then do it.

4. Use cloth napkins.

Again, this is an excuse to buy and use something pretty! Further good news is that you’ll never have to buy napkins again. Cloth napkins work better (you need only one, unlike paper napkins where it seems you need 5 per meal to get the job done), and they add decorative style to your table. They do add another load of laundry to your life so if you hate doing laundry this might not be for you. Hint: wash your cloth napkins and other kitchen linens with dish detergent (only a tiny bit!). It gets out the grease and helps them dry faster.

5. Use earth friendly, plant-based soap.

There’s no excuse to use harsh cleaners with synthetic dyes or fragrances (made by companies using unsustainable practices) anymore, because there are so many brands that produce biodegradable, natural soaps at varying price points. They smell delicious, are more gentle on your skin, are healthier for your body, and usually come in pretty packaging. Look for earth friendly cleaners for all areas of your home. But don’t buy something only because it’s labeled “natural.” Read further to determine why it’s better for the earth. Some key words to look for include biodegradable, and non-synthetic fragrances or dyes.

 

Remember Earth Day is a day to celebrate the importance of nature and to make a commitment to the sustainability of our planet. The most important thing a parent can do this weekend is to go outside with their kids in nature. Happy Earth Day!

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Be Thankful for Yourself (Revisited)

I was looking through old posts and came across this. Today is a special day for me, as I am achieving one of my lifelong dreams: an art/anthropological project I’ve been thinking about for several years. It’s coming together with the immense support of friends and family, a renewed understanding of setting priorities, and an appreciation for how long achieving your goals can take. I’m feeling very thankful today.

Be Thankful for Yourself (First published November 28, 2013)

After Alzette was born I threw away my to do lists.

Not all of them of course. I’m not talking about the “take out the trash, launder the cloth diapers, and schedule a dental appointment” list. I’m talking about lists that looked like this:

Radio documentary with interviews of former prisoners
Research microfiche of Madison underground 1960’s newspaper
Start after school program for youth centered on art and music

It all started when I was in middle school, when I had a science fiction dream and decided it would make an awesome novel/movie. That’s the day I started my list with “write science fiction novel. “*

Of course I never wrote the novel, but it was always in the back of my mind to do so, and for years I felt horribly guilty and anxious about not getting around to doing it. Looking back, I think it’s a tragedy that an overachieving middle school girl spent so much time stressing over a project that she clearly wasn’t as interested in completing as she had convinced herself she was. I blame this atrocity on our society’s obsession with convincing children that they can “do anything” and should do as many things as they possibly can. Moreover, this message is sent without emphasis on the time and work that needs to be dedicated to those achievements in order to complete them. This message carries through to our adult life. The science fiction novel was only the beginning for me. From then on every time I had a big idea I immediately added it to the list, and I filled my head with aspirations that I would never achieve. In hindsight there were simply too many of them, and my need for constant achievement actually worked to my disadvantage because I never had enough time for anything.

Fortunately, giving birth to Alzette put an end to all of this, and provided the freedom I had been searching for to give myself a “clean slate” as far as my achievements in life. Not to say that I won’t continue to pursue my interests, but I have a much better perspective on pursuing things more naturally and at a reasonable pace. When I became a mother I did what I now think of as “letting myself off the hook” for all the things I always thought I should achieve but hadn’t.

But what I noticed after Alzette was born, and much more so after I quit going to work and started taking care of Alzette full-time, was that the rest of the world started letting me off the hook as well. Now people are always telling me how great it is that I am raising a human being, and contributing to the world by supporting the health and development of a great person, and that every day as long as Alzette is healthy and happy I should feel a great sense of accomplishment.

These people are so right. I should feel a great sense of accomplishment. Making food and keeping a happy home and spending time with those I love and simply living are more important than anything else. My only frustration is that everyone else should feel great about this too! Why is it that when we are working our achievements never seem to be enough? It feels as though we must constantly prove our success (however that is defined) and accomplishments to the world and to ourselves, yet we never seem to measure up. What does it actually mean to “give 110 percent” anyway? Perhaps more than 100 percent is too much. Our to do lists just keep getting longer, so that even during our vacations and down time we have this nagging feeling that we’re not getting anything done.

So this Thanksgiving, I’m suggesting you do what I’ve done: let yourself off the hook. Whatever it is that you’re doing, it’s enough. The best thing you can do for yourself and the world is to be a caring, thoughtful person. The true measure of your life will be whether you were kind to others, and the time you enjoyed doing things like reading, walking in the forest, sitting on the beach listening to the waves, or sharing a meal with your family. At the end of the day, we’ve achieved a lot just by being human. So be thankful for it.

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*For those interested, my dream was about this blob that two scientists had created that could be shaped into anything and manipulated with people’s minds. In one scene the blob was a spoon and someone was bending it with her mind. Yes, I am saying that I dreamt that scene in The Matrix eight years before the film was made. Matrix fans should be appropriately freaked out – let’s just leave it as further proof that living is enough.

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Tips for Snow Globe Making

This year my daughter and I made snow globes. It was her idea. She saw an episode of Daniel Tiger where they were making them, and she bugged me about it until I saw the light. “Mom, we should make snow globes! It’s super easy, you just glue a little toy on a cap, put water and glitter in the jar, and then close the jar!”

Well, it really is almost that simple. I did some googling and found it works best if you add a touch of glycerin to make sure the glitter stays suspended. I also realized that I needed a hot glue gun, an item I’m almost ashamed to say this Midwestern mom still did not have in her possession. So after a serious trip to the craft store one day, I picked Alzette up from school telling her that we had all the supplies needed to fulfill her dream.

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We became a snow globe making factory! Each of her friends received one this season. She had so much fun choosing the figurine and jar for each friend. Along the way we learned a lot about the art of snow globe making. The first globe we made we used the wrong glitter. Who knew there was right and wrong glitter? Hard to describe but the wrong glitter is more like tiny sequins, kind of plastic-like and sticks together with static. So it just clumped together looking more like bubbles than snow (fate would have it that the first figure we used was a mermaid, so the bubble effect worked anyway). You need the powdery metallic stuff to get the right look. Also gold glitter looks more like a sandstorm, and rainbow-colored glitter just looks kind of dirty. Silver really does work best.img_0586

If we put too much glitter it was super fun to shake that much into the jar, but then it was hard to see the figurine. Also, Ball jars are quaint, but really too big for a successful homemade snow globe (unless you find a tall enough figurine). The figures we had were tiny, so the Ball jar lids were too set back and the figurines got lost. They were fun but did not look as good as baby food jars, which make much better snow globes. The caps are almost flush with the jar itself so the figurines are easy to see. If you don’t have a baby in your life get jars of organic apples, it’s just a single serving of really good applesauce!

Next, remember that they each turn out differently, and it’s a homemade snow globe so it’s not going to be perfect. Some of them leaked (the baby food jars have a strange cap so I sealed them with hot glue), and after enough shaking most of the figurines dislodged. For some of them it still looked fine, the figurine is just now part of what you shake along with the glitter. We had a blast making them and it felt good to give people we love something we took time to create with our hands.

Tonight is a special night for our family. Stockings are hung, presents are out, and we’re looking forward to a day of family and relaxation. It’s the end of a big year, and we’re ready to start a new one. So, to review, here are my tips for snow globe making. You might find them useful this holiday season:

1. Keep it small and simple.
2. More is not necessarily better.
3. It won’t be perfect, but that’s why it’s beautiful.
4. Nothing lasts forever.
5. The whole point is doing something fun with or for someone you love.

Merry Christmas and many wishes for a peaceful and happy new year.

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