Finding Sanctuary within Ourselves and Sharing It

In a season that often seems filled with “things”, I am finding peace and comfort in the sanctuary of friends and joy from giving to others and to organizations whose missions align with what I see as moving the world in the right direction.

Elie Wiesel: “Sanctuary is often something small. Not a grandiose gesture but a small gesture toward alleviating human suffering and preventing humiliation. Sanctuary is a human being. Sanctuary is a dream. That is why you are here, and that is why I am here; we are here because of one another. We are in truth each other’s shelter.”

If you find yourself needing a bit of a spiritual boost to keep fighting, I recommend going to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a movie written by J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. Themes in the movie focus on doing what is right regardless of what society and large groups of people are doing and telling you to do. Keep fighting the good fight. Protect those you can. Guard what is beautiful and innocent from corrupting, pain-inflicting forces.

As Margaret Weis said:

“Like a drop in the vast ocean, each of us causes ripples as we move through our lives. The effects of whatever we do – insignificant as it may seem – spread out beyond us. We may never know what far-reaching impact even the simplest action might have on our fellow mortals. Thus, we need to be conscious, all of the time, of our place in the ocean, of our place in the world, of our place among our fellow creatures. For if enough of us join forces, we can swell the tide of events – for good or for evil.” – The Seventh Gate

There are several good ways to engage kids in the spirit of the holidays, of charity, sharing, and kindness.

Charity

Involve children in selecting and donating to charities. Collecting toys or putting money into a collection box to later take to an organization stick powerfully in a child’s mind and memory.

Pick a Present 

If you have a younger child and a household pet, consider having the child pick out a gift to give to the pet. My daughter loves to be able to give our dogs treats when they come inside as called. She learns to treat them with respect and show affection for them in ways that they appreciate. This helps her, reduces my stress that she’ll engage with them inappropriately (and potentially resulting in a nip or even just a grumpy dog), and helps the dogs, too.

This can also work well if there’s a relative that may not have a strong relationship with the child, like a homebound grandparent. Discuss why grandma or grandpa isn’t able to get around much, why they can’t play in the same way that parents can, etc. Discuss differences but also show community and family. I don’t recommend forcing a relationship that isn’t there, like if the child doesn’t like the grandparent, though. That can increase resentment rather than foster caring.

Movies

My daughter and I watched The Christmas Bunny via Netflix (if you have Netflix you can click on the link to go to it). The movie incorporates aspects of The Velveteen Rabbit, Christmastime, foster kids and what family is. It’s a good movie for pausing and discussing what’s going on, how the characters are feeling, and what the child may feel or do in a particular situation.

There are a lot of holiday movies available, so I recommend looking for some that focus on the emotional connection rather than ones that are just entertainment. Especially for younger kids, the more central the themes are to the plot rather than as a side note, the more likely they are to understand what’s going on. Home Alonemay incorporate aspects of appreciating family, for example, but there’s so much other stuff and action that it may be difficult for a younger child to pick up on that and be able to understand and discuss it.

Books

Of course I’m going to mention books.

Prancer by Stephen Cosgrove – 5 stars

A little girl finds a wooden reindeer that fell from a town display and broke part of its leg. When a real reindeer shows up near her house with the same kind of injury, she’s sure that it’s Prancer.

There’s a movie version of this out as well, but I haven’t seen it to say whether it’s worth watching.

The Mitten by Jan Brett – 4 stars

In the cold of winter, several animals come together to share the warmth of a single mitten. In some ways this is a silly story: of course not all of the animals can fit inside the mitten. There are several ways to discuss how this can be a problem or to find solutions with children, though. Could the animals share the mitten and take turns so that everyone gets to have it a little while? Are some animals being greedy? What could the group have done differently in order to have avoided the final outcome of the mitten?

Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston – 5 stars

This book weaves a bit of history and Southern flavor into a story ultimately about family and community. Even the mention that the father goes to fight in “the Great War” ie World War invites discussion of fighting as a community, a nation.

I think some of the best children’s literature and entertainment, including shows and movies, present children as the heroes of the story, but as children grow up, they see that the parents or other positive adults behind the main characters helped them along the way. These parents often assist in important ways but not to the degree that they get in the child’s way. Yes, that may be done to help encourage parents reading the books to keep reading them, but it’s also a powerful message that children can be independent and their own heroes even if we’re present fully in their lives; we just have to back off enough that they feel empowered to take action and be independent. I want my daughter to be independent, strong, and capable of course, but no way am I backing off entirely from her life. I’d rather remove obstacles that she couldn’t as long as I can and still leave some obstacles for her to move on her own.

There are many more books that focus on the holidays and incorporate such positive messages of community, caring, and giving sanctuary to ourselves and others. I encourage you to browse the selection in your local library.

 
May we swell the tides within our families, communities, and into the world beyond to create a better world for all. Best wishes for a wonderful start to your holiday season, whatever holidays you may be celebrating.

 

 

In Praise of Snuggles & What We’ve Been Reading

In Praise of Snuggles

“We all have belly buttons… We are born from the bodies of others. We cannot exist without breathing and eating. Nor do we exist for ourselves alone” (p. 135 of A House for Hope by Rebecca Parker).

The chapter is “A Home for Love,” and part of it focuses on the interconnectedness of us physically. We touch, hug, and engage with one another as biological beings in addition to any mental or emotional connections.

We reach out to even pet an animal and we reconnect with the world around us and ourselves. I pet my dog, and the act of showing him affection makes me feel love, uplifting my mood. Pictures of cuteness online are grand and nice, but I need positive physical engagement with animals and people.

Consider snuggles, hugs, and other touches a part of our daily sustenance. If you have children, reading with them is a natural way to get in some good snuggle time. We’ve been reading a lot of good books recently (see below), and I hope you check them out. If you’re an adult looking to find something good, check out the Power Ups for Parents page and Misc Recommendations. I love reading and snuggling my dogs.

 

What We’ve Been Reading

Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds – 5 stars

A very compelling book about being inclusive and accepting others. The book turns the normal plot a bit on its head in a fascinating way. The nerdy birdy protagonist is rejected by the cool birds, so he joins other nerdy birdies. He thinks that they’re accepting of outsiders since they accept him, but they all do and like the same things (light sabers, playing video games, etc.), but when a different bird, a vulture, comes to town, Nerdy Birdy is shocked when he invites her to join his crowd (“there’s always room for another nerdy birdy, right guys?… right?”) and the nerdy birdies reject her because she isn’t like them. He realizes that they were just as prejudiced against ‘others’ as the popular birds who rejected him, so he goes to hang out with vulture and chooses the path of acceptance of differences. They don’t do or like the same things, but they like each other. They are respectful. What a wonderful message that I hope takes deep root!

Caveman A B.C. StoryCaveman: A B.C. Story by Janee Trasler – 5 stars

This is an amazing book for kids who are just old enough to understand story and may be trying to sound out letters and start to read their first words. I had low expectations based on the simplicity and seeming silliness of the cover, but I am so glad that we picked it up at the library. The book uses one word per letter in the alphabet to create a story of a caveman and his adventures with a squirrel, a dinosaur, and more. The version we read is a boardbook, and while it’s fine to read with kids younger than 2, ones just a bit older will get more from it. Being able to sound out the word on the page is a very empowering experience, and my daughter doing this for a few of the words in the book and so ‘reading’ the entirety of the story and knowing what’s going on based on just the word plus the pictures starts to form the whole process of reading on one’s own and gaining something valuable from it (knowledge, entertainment, etc.).

Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea – 5 stars

A good book for showing how our differences can be useful. Unicorn seems pretty cool because he can do things like turn things into gold, but Goat finds out that his horns are actually really good for soccer while Unicorn’s horn just deflates the ball. We all have something to share with the world, and this silly book is a nice introduction to showing kids that they have strengths and interests to share in positive ways, too.

The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito – 5 stars

I was shocked at how my daughter tuned into this book. The book focuses on sound, particularly silence, the lack of sound, so the pace of the book is slow as the reader is asked to pause and listen. Being still can be a really difficult thing for a small child, so not all children may be able to handle this book. However, if the child can handle the stillness, the book offers a lovely glimpse into Asian culture, city imagery, and words and concepts that may otherwise not be introduced. This is a gem of a book that is worth reading and cherishing in the right times, but I acknowledge that it may not resonate with every child and certainly won’t be reread in the same way for many in the way that a more active book like Dr. Seuss’s would be.

 

Splat The Cat by Rob Scotton – 2 stars

If your child is fighting going to school or daycare, this book may help. It wasn’t an amazing book otherwise.

 

 

 

Buddy and Earl Go Exploring by Maureen Fergus – 3 stars

Buddy and Earl are pets, a dog and a hedgehog, and instead of going to sleep, they have adventures in their house. The adventures are cute; the hedgehog thinks he seems a mountain and a lake that the dog sees as the garbage bin and a water dish. The dog sees a monster, and the hedgehog can see that it’s just the vacuum cleaner. Discussing the different perspectives with children is really fun and enjoyable. However, I found it useful to ignore the words on the page since I found the writing clunky, at least for reading with a 2 year-old, and just discussing what was going on. Quite fun but definitely not perfect.

The Flying Dragon Room by Audrey Wood – 3 stars

This is another book that I found easier to ignore the writing inside and just talk about what was going on. The first couple pages in particular had so much text that it was hard to get the story started. Once it does start, the illustrations on the pages allow for great conversations and imagining. There’s a room with a lot of food. What does the child see there? What would he/she like to have there if it was his/her food room? In all of the pages, I asked my daughter where the baby in the family was. She was often doing something silly, and finding her was a bit like a Where’s Waldo that allowed more conversation and examination of the book. Lovely ideas are presented that allow for conversations, but the story itself and certainly the writing is a bit weak.

Dinosaurs Love Underpants by Claire Freedman – 1 star

Ridiculous and not in a good way. If you are toilet training a child who needs to be convinced that underpants are great, maybe this will offer a benefit to you. Otherwise, stay away. The story makes no sense and drives me nuts because of the way it may mislead children about scientific aspects. Dinosaurs living at the same time as people is a common enough thing in fantasy, but the book presents dinosaurs as having gone extinct because they fought each other to death over underpants. That’s morbid for no good reason, and the cause of dinosaur extinction is not a concept commonly discussed enough for children to not possibly read this and come away thinking there’s a grain of truth there. It’s rather clear that dinosaurs no longer exist, so that aspect of the fantasy I have no problem with. This may be a pet peeve and others are fine with it, but I didn’t find much redeeming about this book.

 

For further reading:

Chillot, Rick. “The Power of Touch.” 2016 Oct 5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201303/the-power-touch 

Keltner, Dacher. “Hands on Research: the science of touch.” 2010 Sept 29. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research/ 

When We Can’t Hit Reset, We Must Move Forward

This week I traveled to be with an old friend, whom I’ll call Jane in order to respect her privacy, during surgery and in the days after while she went to a post-op appointment and generally needed someone around for the “minor” things like driving her to all this. Side note: people still dopey on anesthesia can be quite funny.

When I say that Jane is an old friend, I mean both that I have known her a long time (10+ years) and that she is old (~70). Our friendship may be odd from the outside, but it came about quite naturally as most friendships do. I actually worked for her a while, and we were friendly. She cried when I told her that I was going to be married, begging me not to do it, came to my wedding with a smile on anyway, and now is comforting and guiding me as I’m going through a divorce.

In so many ways, Jane is family. I was with her when her husband died and her daughter died. Life has beaten us up in similar ways, and as much as we both want to be able to hit ‘reset’ on this game of life, we have no option but to move forward.

As we move forward, though, what are we willing to tolerate in this single life that we have? What is too much? She looks down on some of her friends who has settled into unhappiness in various aspects of their lives (bad husbands, dead-end jobs, etc.). Her respect and encouragement of my courage to own my life is heartwarming. As a surrogate mother figure, she gives me a gold star for seeking my path forward, trying to be a strong individual professionally and personally, and having my priorities straight on being a good mother more than anything else.

Warm and fuzzies from her support.

My grandmother was abused by her husband, but in an age where divorce wasn’t looked kindly upon, she garnered the strength to kick him to the curb and move on. She was a strong woman in many ways, and her finding a loving, caring man to spend her years with after that is encouragement to me now. Regardless of how long the process takes, I will be free to move on and find a new relationship. Even if I never find a soul-mate, the ability and the fun of the search is better, for me, than settling in unhappiness.

I hope that I will continue to have the strength to be “everything” to the best of my abilities: a loving, encouraging mother; a successful professional regards of my job title; and an individual who is true to herself and her ideals.

Strong, true friends are essential for grounding us, letting us view the world a bit more accurately if we’re too close to see for ourselves how things look. Bless them. They are more precious than gold, but fortunately, they can be found and the friendships cultivated to last a long, long time.

Wishing you a week in which you are true to yourself, and if something is weighing you down with unhappiness, I hope you take action to address it before you find the time too late and yourself mired without a good path forward.

 

A related video about loving yourself rather than letting your value rest on others:

Advent Calendars & Temporary Tattoos

What do advent calendars and temporary tattoos have in common? They’re opportunities to practice counting!

I see temporary tattoos as a fun way for kids to explore changing their appearance, like dressing up, so I have no objections to my daughter wanting to wear them every so often. I started to view them as actually useful tools when I realized that they were an easy way to practice counting. As we hold the tattoo and wet washcloth against her arm, we count to 30. I let her count as much as she wants or can and help her continue when she forgets. This lets her verbalize and hear the numbers. It’s also an easy way to enforce numbers over 10, which may be harder to work into everyday life than 1-10.

20161105_215528We practice visually identifying numbers through a Beauty Advent Calendar, which I bought entirely for myself without realizing the use as a learning activity until it arrived. The boxes containing the beauty items are lovely and the unordered nature of them (not 1-25 left to right, top to bottom) makes them great for a guessing game each morning. “Where’s number 14?” “Where is the 3?” My daughter likes looking at the boxes and identifying the numbers. I’m opening these items now just because I enjoy it. I may find a way to put little items in there for her in December as a regular advent calendar activity.

You may not have a beauty advent calendar of your own (though they are fun, so maybe consider something similar just as a ‘treat yourself’ sort of thing), but other things like advent calendars may be easy to find especially as the holidays approach.

Temporary tattoos are just an example of the small, sometimes silly ways that we can find to practice counting or other skills with our kids. It’s hard to break out of the normal patterns of only learning in ‘proper’ channels, but learning sometimes only needs intention and chance. Then the opportunities and means find us.

 

 

Cheap Jumbo Building Blocks

Annoyance can generate creativity. “Fuck this, I want something better/cheaper/stronger/whatever.” “Surely, there’s a better option.” Yeah, that.

Seeing a price tag of $20 for a set of 24 jumbo building blocks is rather annoying. At the core, these are bits of paper. They may be colored and look cute, but there’s nothing magic about them.

So, I made em myself with the help of my daughter.

Materials needed:

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    “I got the wrapping paper!”
  • Used juice boxes (or milk cartons or anything with that tougher outer layer that you’ll find with cartons used for holding liquid)
  • Wrapping paper. I received several neat sheets in the mail from a nonprofit, so I used those. Didn’t cost me a penny. Scraps of wrapping paper that are too small to really be useful but you can’t bring yourself to throw away are also perfect.
  • Scissors
  • Tape

Steps:

  • Clean the juice boxes and let them dry. I accumulated juice boxes on my kitchen counter at each meal until I got around to doing the project. “Cleaning” doesn’t have to be an intense step here.
  • If you’re just going with a basic block, wrap it with tape like for a holiday gift.
  • If you’re going for bigger blocks, tape boxes together and proceed to wrap.
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This wrapping paper needs surgery.

This should prove to be an easy project. This has the added benefit of helping teach little ones how to wrap things in advance of the holiday season. On the silly side, they may decide to ‘doctor’ the block in the process (see image at right of my daughter using her doctors’ equipment on one block).

My daughter loves the Trader Joe’s juice, so these are the boxes I used. I found that with boxes that size, putting four of them together made for a really good size block, almost as big as the ones for sale in the link mentioned at the top of this article. Even if a certain size catches your eye before beginning the project, try out a few shapes. The stability of the block once it’s wrapped may lead you down another road. I had initially thought about blocks the size of a single juice box, but by the end, those bigger blocks seemed better for building really big stuff that my daughter would enjoy knocking down.

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Four boxes taped together yields a very stable, good size block.

As an added perk, if your kids destroy these things, they cost a whole, what, $1 to make? The boxes were going to be thrown away. You may include the cost of the wrapping paper, but if you have spare bits laying around, even that is minimal. The tape costs a little bit, but you shouldn’t have to use a whole lot to get a few blocks and see if those get used. This is an easy project for feeling ‘craftsy’ without needing a crazy assortment of stuff, and there’s very little mess.

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Several size blocks with little effort.