Archive for 'community'

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Kristine Carlson, New York Times bestselling author of the Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Moms series. We spoke on the topics of parenthood of course and siblinghood and slowing down and speeding up and love and life and death and the heart opening aspects of ALL OF IT! It was a beautiful conversation and though we had never met our conversation flowed as if we had known each other always. Perhaps because we speak a similar language on all of those topics.

You can listen in on our conversation, along with the conversations of 45 other speakers and authors, all on the topics of tending to the very heart and soul of mothering, how to stress less and enjoy your family more. My particular conversation will air on May 8th at 9am Central Time. The virtual “conference” will start streaming the interviews from May 1-May 10th*. You can sign up now for free and for 24 hours after the conference begins as a special Mother’s Day gift. Truly it should be an astounding event and I’m looking forward to listening in.

 

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I was approached by a mom once, someone whose world randomly intersected with mine both professionally and personally. She was a mom of two littles and I at the time had my three. She had recently seen this picture of me and with a slight twinge of accusation and envy, and a huge dose of fatigue, she said, “UGH! How do you do it? You always make it look so easy breezy. You’re like a mother cover girl.”

I don’t remember exactly what I said next but I think it had something to do with me spitting out my coffee. And then laughing for several minutes uncontrollably, with tears in my eyes.

Occasionally yes, it’s breezy. And even easy. And when it is I try to take notice of those moments in time. Those moments when things are going exactly as I imagined they could go. But mostly, where I live, in a house with 6 people, the line between calm and chaos is a thin one indeed. But what she perceived in that snapshot wasn’t even close to what was.

Which is often true from the outside looking in. Like in this photo. That isn’t even close to a look at the big picture.

Because in one hand, the hand that you can’t see, the one that’s cut out of the photo completely? I’m holding the hand of a rather frantic toddler who is standing precariously on top of a bucket and who is about an hour or so past her naptime and who resisted the idea of lunch just before that and who has hit the proverbial wall of toddler meltdown brought on by the dreaded combination of hunger and fatigue. In the other hand? The one she thought was some sort of handmade bag of fabulous vintage material? Well, that’s actually said toddler’s pants. Full of pee. Which at the moment right before this photo was taken was dripping down my arm. Into the sleeve of my fab dress. 

So the look that to the onlooker seemed to be the very picture of easy-breezy was actually an expression of surrender-to-it-all, if-I’m-not-laughing-I’m-crying, this-is-my-life-and-this-is-what-it’s-like, holy-sh*t.

Since this exchange we’ve added another member to our family and a little more chaos, and in all that time I’ve been aware of the danger of looking in on someone else’s life and thinking I know their whole story.  I know that what I see is a snapshot. A blink. And that I have no idea what’s on their plate at any given moment in time. If I find myself judging – the real of the the virtual, the good or the bad – I know my judgment isn’t really about them at all. But about me. About how I”m feeling in that moment of time. And about what I need. To make me feel whole and happy.

 

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photo by Lucy Noll Anderson Lucy Willow Photographs

What better place to spend the last day on earth than in the park? Who better to spend it with than a bunch of other families who are interested in slowing down, connecting and having more fun??!! Come join us for the End of the World Slow Family Park Day! And if you’re out of Austin, might we recommend you plan your very own End of the World Day at the Park!!??

Here’s the deets….

  • Butler Park the park formerly known as Town Lake Park which has aliases such as Fountain Park, That Park near Palmer, The Park with the Big Hill
  • 12/21/2012
  • Starting at 12:21 pm
  • Bring your bicycles, skateboards, roller skates, blankets, a picnic lunch, whatever!
  • We’ll be near the docks under the Willow Tree on the West side of the pond.

 

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Vote.

This piece originally ran in Austin Mama. When my now 15 year old was 6 and a half…

On Election Day last spring I took my six-and-a-half-year-old daughter to the polls. She was excited about voting; she had been discussing it all week because of the many reminders about town: fliers, placards, postcards, billboards. It was thanks to her reminder that I remembered election day at all. So off we were after a week of discussing the process and a week of MANY phone calls made to the house by pollsters. “Who was that?” she would ask after a brief moment on the phone. “An election call was all,” I responded absently, not realizing she was taking it all in. 

On election day we went, signed in and quickly placed our ballots via electronic voting machine. “Why’d you pick the number five machine?” “Why’d you spin that button?” “What are those stickers for?” “Can I have one?” question after question she voiced. We made our selections, and bid the workers farewell.

Out in the parking lot she seemed confused, “Isn’t this where we vote?” I didn’t understand her question as we had already exited the building. “Is this the place where we vote?” she asked again, rephrasing in hopes of gaining my understanding.

“Yes, that was it, we voted,” I informed her, wondering about her confusion

“But you didn’t call out anybody’s name,” she replied disappointedly. “I thought you had to call out the name of the person you wanted.”

“Oh, Lucy,” I exclaimed wanting to hug her for her misunderstanding. “That would be way better, wouldn’t it? But no, I voted by pushing the buttons on that machine. That’s what that was.” “Oh,” was all she had to say in response somewhat let down.

And I realized that was why she was so excited all week. She envisioned a line of candidates standing in a room facing the voting crowd, “I’ll take her!!” we would yell or “GIVE US HIM!!!” we would shout, pointing to the person we wanted to win.

All week I had talked about using our voting voice, the only voice that is given to us. She took it literally. Tonight I saw a billboard warning against electronic voting machines and how they were easily hacked. A shot of panic rang through me about the upcoming presidential election. Maybe we should shout our demands. Maybe we should rally and the most popular would be declared the winner. If only it worked that way If only the majority actually won. What a world that would be.

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Children in Nature

I’ve always thought that parenting outdoors was way easier than parenting indoors. There’s more room, there’s more tolerance for loudness and rambunctiousness and space to run and climb and play and space for all members of the family to have the space they need to dream, explore, rest, run, and create. It almost inevitably brings our family to its best self. Even times when we enter cranky, we come out feeling recharged and a little nicer too.

In our house we are lucky to have a little bit of nature in our own backyard and to have access to so many amazing natural places just outside our gate.

But not all kids or families have the same access to the outdoors. Or the same faith that nature is a good place to be.

The Children and Nature Network is a national organization started by Richard Louv and prompted by his book Last Child in the Woods.  The organization emphasizes the importance of nature in the lives of children. It works hard to offer families and communities access to the outdoors and to make nature a part of children’s education.

There are branches of this network all over the country and here in Austin we are lucky to have a very active branch; The Children in Nature Collaborative which is a collaboration of organizations in Austin working hard to expose kids to nature. This organization provides education, tools, ideas,  inspiration and a great website to help clubs, communities and families all over Austin to GET OUTSIDE and play.  (On it you can even do a search for the nature nearest you!)

This time of year the Collaboration pays tribute to the folks who are working hard to expose kids to nature – kids who might otherwise have no connection to it all. Kids who are learning how to be future stewards for our earth while also learning some very amazing things about their own abilities.

The Celebration of Children in Nature, on Thursday, September 20th, held at the most amazing Four Seasons Hotel on Ladybird Lake is a night of great tribute and beauty and  is one of my favorite events of the  year!  It is lovely and inspiring and is always so incredibly decorated to truly match its mission.  (butterfly pupa as the centerpiece? That you can then take home and watch hatch in your very own yard? are you kidding me??!!)

This year’s award winners are: Camp Fire USA Balcones chapter, Candlelight Ranch, Explore Austin and Perez Elementary School – all of whom are doing incredible work to help families and kids discover nature and thereby discover themselves.

If you’d like to attend this gorgeous event on Ladybird Lake, or provide sponsorship and help support this amazing collaboration, and cheer on the award winners who are literally changing the face of childhood, not to mention the face of our earth for years to come, you can contact Westcave preserve via email or call 830-825-3442.

Or, if you’d just like to find out more about ways that folks are working to help get kids outside, or discover ways to get out there yourself, visit Nature Rocks Austin.

Now go outside and play!

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Community Swap

This past weekend at my kids’ elementary school we held our 6th annual back-to-school clothes and book swap. It”s a rather amazing event that grew out of a similar swap we attended years ago at Austin Maker Faire 

We have sewing stations and amazing screen printing arranged by parent and art teacher Andrea Fiore – where folks can get their new duds redone with some fine imagery like hearts and stars and monkey faces. It not only freshens up an old garment, but it states to the world forever more, “yup, I got this at the swap.”

There are volunteers galore: sorting, sewing, screen printing all so that the swap runs like a very well oiled machine. Thanks everybody for all your hard work!!! Without you this would not be possible.

The only rules of our swap are “Bring what you can. Take what you need.”  There is no minimum to bring or maximum to take. There are no rules about tit for tat or any of that. There are no admission fees or print fees. There is a tip jar for those that can and for those that can’t, no problem.

After the swap we get so many notes from attendees stating how they got clothes and books for their entire family and shoes and accessories and how, in addition, they also had a really, really fun time. One of the many bonuses. Another sentiment heard quite often, “It was such a relief to clear out all that stuff we were no longer using.”

At the end there is so much left over and we donate it all to various charities – this year Goodwill was the winner when they volunteered to have a truck arrive at the end and pick up every last little bit.  It is a definite lesson in abundance: there really is so much.  And if we all bring what we can and take what we need, there is really, more than enough for us all.

It’s a great day. With great results. And I highly recommend it for your own community. If you want to know how to get started, there’s a tutorial here, on how to do it. Easy. Fun. Community building. And clothes for the whole family.

Homework. And family life.

Have you seen Race To Nowhere? The documentary film that was making the rounds last year and talking about the way our current school system has overwhelmed and overloaded kids with a false sense of what’s necessary in order to “succeed”. And I put succeed in quotes because I think it’s one term that everyone really needs to define for themselves.

The documentary has sparked a movement  in this country and now the filmmakers have started a splinter movement and made a short video about Healthy Guidelines for Homework which they are presenting to the National PTA in an effort to create national guidelines around homework. They’ve got the homework king on their team – Alfie Kohn and many others who speak eloquently and intelligently about the research findings on the value of homework. Which seems to be very little before high school and even then, needs to be a lot more thoughtful than it currently seems to be.

Watch for yourself. And leave your thoughts here about homework in your child’s life and in your family’s life.

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I know it’s summer time but since it’s that time of year when graduation speeches abound, including the rules for life speech falsely attributed to Bill Gates,  and it’s the last summer before my oldest goes off to high school, I figured the time was right to put my thoughts together for her. Because at the time it rolls around and we’re really in the thick of it, I’m not so sure I’ll be able to put my thoughts together too cohesively.

So, to my daughter, entering high school…

At the end of this summer you’ll be entering a brave new world where there are lots of options, opportunities and a lot of new people – peers, coaches, teachers, administrators, staff and lots more kids and parents than you’ve ever been exposed to. High school is an amazing place where many people find their path in life, or their life partner even. Not that I’m advocating for either of those things really but you never know.

Some say the high school years are the best years in your life. I say that’s a sad statement and you don’t want to count your best years so young, but they can be pretty fun. And crazy. And hilarious. And eye opening.  And sometimes hard and confusing too. You’ll learn so much about yourself, about friendship, about community, and about the world as a whole – good, bad and confounding.

I went through my own high school years a little blind and most of what I learned I realize I actually learned in retrospect. I really wish I had kept my eyes a bit more open and taken more advantage of what was presented to me, but alas, it was what it was. And now, though I know you’ll learn your very own batch of lessons, I want to share mine with you. The things I know now that I wished I knew then. And the things that I think will allow you to learn more than I ever did!

Of course there are the lessons in class and all the information you’ll take in, but beyond that there are the lessons even bigger than that.

So, in no particular order…

1. Celebrate your newness. Remember that all your classmates will all be freshman and therefore also new to this whole scene. Some will pretend they know what they’re doing how could they? It’s all so new. So revel in the collective newness and celebrate the fact that you are all inexperienced. Wear it on your sleeve in a very exposed way. Laugh at your errors. Ask for help. Inquire where or what or who something is even if you think you should already know it. Don’t be afraid to look lost or confused or in awe. If you celebrate the fact that you are unfamiliar with this whole scene, you’ll allow others to celebrate it too and you’ll alleviate any teasing from upper classman because most of their teasing is about the fact that you are new. If you’re already wearing it, what’s to tease??

2. Form your own opinions. Whatever you decide to do, study, try, taste, or experience, someone will have a story to tell you about whether you should or shouldn’t do it based on the experience they had. Listen to the stories with your mind wide open. Then open your eyes to all the possibilities and come to your own conclusions. Look at all the people, all the classes, all the teachers, parties and clubs.  Then make your own story.

3. Show your awe. If you see something amazing or hear something wild or meet someone mind-blowing, show your awe. Don’t hide behind a mask of coolness. Wear your awe. Share your awe. And you will allow others to do the same.

4. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.”  When faced with something new – a concept, a big word, a book, a food, an idea, whatever – if you don’t know, say “I don’t know.”  It leaves you open to the possibilities of learning more and seeing more and discovering whole new worlds. A cautionary tale to emphasize my point… When I was about 19, I was at a friend’s house and they were serving whole artichokes with butter. I had never seen anyone eat them before and while everyone else was super excited, I was afraid to expose my naiveté. Rather than saying “I don’t know” I said, “I don’t like those” and so I missed out on a chance to try something new and really delicious. While everyone else sat around the table drooling, and pulling leaves off these exotic plants and dipping them in vats of butter, including one other friend who admitted he didn’t know, I sat there feigning my disdain. It was years before anyone offered me an artichoke again. So when someone asks you if you know this answer or that or if you know about a certain band or scientific procedure or if you know how to tango or drive, don’t pretend to know, don’t pretend to not like it, simply say “I don’t know” so you can share in this new experience and gather the information you need to gather.

5. Eat well and eat enough. As you make your way through classes and homework and practices and socializing, don’t forget to eat good foods and eat enough. Eat the foods that make you strong and give you power to think and do. Eat the foods that will allow you to fully engage with the world, to learn the subjects you want to learn, to play the sports, bang the drum, and communicate and play in the strongest way possible. Sprinkle in some of the other not so good foods too for fun, but treat them like the luxury they are; not everyday sustenance but every now and again indulgence. Eating well will give you a distinct advantage in whatever you do.

6. Bring your whole self to the table.  You are strong, smart, beautiful, creative, thoughtful, innovative and powerful. Remember that when you are dealing with teachers, peers, people you have crushes or want to befriend. When you come to the table, bring your whole amazing self. Don’t shrink to impress – a boy, girl or otherwise. Don’t lose your voice for fear it might seem like too much or too loud or too opinionated. Don’t diminish your abilities in order to make someone else feel bigger. If someone else feels bigger because you lessen, they are not someone you should be hanging out with anyway. As your mother, I realize this advice might come back to bite me when you speak up against something I say, but I’m willing to take that risk in the face of your being your strongest, most powerful self.

7. Choose real experiences over virtual ones. If you have the choice between hanging out with real people, going on real adventures, trying real things in real places, choose that always over a virtual experience. If, for example, you are given the choice between watching a movie and rock climbing, or going for a walk around the block with friends vs. a Facebook chat, choose the realness. The screen will be available always, but the real life adventure might not. You won’t remember the time you watched Hulu all night or got a high score on a video game, but you will remember the hike you took with friends when it started to pour or the meandering walk you took around the city with a dear, dear friend.

8. Be here now. Be present. Love the ones you’re with. When you are with friends, at a show or on a hike, in a class or sitting on the side of a mountain, ignore incoming texts and phone calls that pull you away from fully experiencing where you are and who you’re with. (unless it’s me of course wondering where you are and why you’re not home!) Don’t let the lure of virtual greener grass pull you away from being fully present with the people and places you are actually with.

9. Be nice to the school support staff. The custodians, the lunch ladies, the crossing guards, and all the other support staff do A LOT of work for not a lot of money. Be nice to them. Learn their names. Say good morning. Find out something about who they are and what they like. Pick up garbage in the hallways. Put your tray away neatly. Give a wave. Treat them like fellow human beings who are walking this same earth as you and working hard to make your world run a little smoother. And not that this is the only reason why, but they will be the ones to let you in the school after hours when you accidently leave your study notes in your locker.

10. Join something. Whatever it is, join something. A club, a team, a squad, a support group. Whatever it is. High school is about learning and most of the learning takes place outside the classroom.  By joining something you’ll learn about your own desires, abilities, working in a group, creating something amazing PLUS, you’ll meet lots more people than you would if you just go to class and then go home. You might forget a lot of what you learn in US history but you’ll always remember that bus ride home from the county tournament or the night you stayed up all night with friends to get the yearbook to the printer in time or the way that kid in your Spanish club could make you laugh like no other.

11. Give a hearty handshake and look people in the eye. Whether you are being introduced for the first time or greeting someone for the thousandth time, greet them with a hearty handshake and look them in the eye. The connection made can be just seconds long, but when done with intention and intensity, it can be the most connecting thing you can possibly do.

When you meet a new person, hold their gaze for an extra second. When you come home from school in the afternoon, look your parents in the eye and give them a big hug, look at your siblings. Linger there for just a second or two longer until you feel that essential connection made. It might be uncomfortable at first but it will soon become a part of you and you will be remembered more, you will get the part or the job, it will energize you and the person you are greeting and you will create a human bond that can significantly increase your serotonin levels thereby making you happier, healthier, and cooler too.

12. Listen to your gut. Whatever you decide to do, wherever you decide to go, whomever you decide to hang out with, whatever parties you decide to attend or groups you plan to join, before you do anything, listen to your gut. Is there a part of you that’s questioning your decision? Give that place a little time and space. Sit in the decision. Tune into what your body, mind, heart and ego are saying, then follow that feeling. Listening to your gut will help keep you out of harm’s way more often than not. It will bring you to the right people, places and things and it will let you have more fun than you ever dreamed possible. Which is definitely one of the goals of high school.

So learn a lot. Have fun. Make good memories and don’t forget we’re here if you need us.

 

 

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The Countdown Begins

I just did a calendar check. Looks like there’s only 6 more weeks of school to go. Time to ponder summer plans and swimming holes and camps and craft projects and all the other things we can do with the long stretching hours of school-less days.

And time too to check in with your child’s teachers and see what they need in these last 6 weeks. It’s when the crunch for testing is over and the options for creative teaching expand. It’s time too when the kids get a little restless, especially those 5th graders who are experiencing their first dose of senioritis.

If you’ve planned on volunteering in the classroom, now’s your chance. And if you haven’t planned on it, might I recommend it? It’s a great way to connect with your kid in a whole different way. You’ll gain insight into their day to day and into their peer group and into the whole world where they spend a good deal of their awake time.

Ask your teacher what they need. Figure out what you can offer. And get in there for an hour or so. You’ll be glad you did. And who knows what you’ll end up creating.

 

 

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Why I’m Here

A friend sent me this beautiful poem yesterday. Perhaps it caught my attention more than usual because I had woken up VERY early that morning and wrote a short piece myself about a similar topic. The piece I wrote was about remembering the love that started our families. It was about the fact that if we knew all there was to be done in family life we might not sign up at all but because we start in love it makes it all feel possible. And when we can remember and reignite that love and burning desire that started our families in the first place, it’s not only possible but very much joyful too. My piece you’ll be able to read in 2013 when it comes out in book form from Perigee Publishing. And this poem, that makes me cry everytime I read it, you can read right now…

Why I’m Here

Because my mother was on a date
with a man in the band, and my father,
thinking she was alone, asked her to dance.
And because, years earlier, my father
dug a foxhole but his buddy
sick with the flu, asked him for it, so he dug
another for himself. In the night
the first hole was shelled.
I’m here because my mother was twenty-seven
and in the ’50s that was old to still be single.
And because my father wouldn’t work on weapons,
though he was an atomic engineer.
My mother, having gone to Berkeley, liked that.
My father liked that she didn’t eat like a bird
when he took her to the best restaurant in L.A.
The rest of the reasons are long gone.
One decides to get dressed, go out, though she’d rather
stay home, but no, melancholy must be battled through,
so the skirt, the cinched belt, the shoes, and a life is changed.
I’m here because Jews were hated
so my grandparents left their villages,
came to America, married one who could cook,
one whose brother had a business,
married longing and disappointment
and secured in this way the future.

It’s good to treasure the gift, but good
to see that it wasn’t really meant for you.
The feeling that it couldn’t have been otherwise
is just a feeling. My family
around the patio table in July.
I’ve taken over the barbequing
that used to be my father’s job, ask him
how many coals, though I know how many.
We’ve been gathering here for years,
so I believe we will go on forever.
It’s right to praise the random,
the tiny god of probability that brought us here,
to praise not meaning, but feeling, the still-warm
sky at dusk, the light that lingers and the night
that when it comes is gentle.

“Why I’m Here” by Jacqueline Berger, from The Gift That Arrives Broken. © Autumn House Press, 2010.
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