Sunday, December 16, 2012

You are precious

I find Facebook is a nice representation of the cultural zeitgeist. I find it reflects the shortness of the American attention span and the ease with which we can be turned from focusing on those issues we passionately embrace one moment and then cast aside when the next shiny object is dangled in front of us.

On Friday, July 20, 2012, a gunman opened fire in a movie theater and killed 12 people. Fifty-eight others were injured. The next day, Facebook was shocked and horrified, deeply saddened, and, once the obligatory condolences were offered, alive with rallying cries to stop the horror. "Gun control!" "2nd Amendment Rights!" "When will the madness end?" "Don't Tread on Me!" Lots of noise, lots of emotion, but virtually zero conversation.

Then, not two weeks after this unspeakable horror was visited on our community, something interesting happened. A private business owner expressed his unpopular opinion about gay marriage. Suddenly, the whole world, or at least all of Facebook, had forgotten the horror of the Aurora killings. Now Facebook erupted with rainbow flags and shouts about the 1st amendment and love versus hate. Half my feed was planning to eat crappy chicken sandwiches on Wednesday, August 1 and the other half was trying to drum up a same-sex friend to make out with them outside of a fast food restaurant two days later. 

But I'll hand it to Facebook. The gay marriage issue did remain in my feed for the next several months. It was joined by heated sloganeering about women's health "rights."Because if there's anything more important than keeping our children from being slaughtered in movie theaters, it's making sure that everyone has access to free birth control. 

Not once during the campaigning leading up to the election did I hear anyone raise the issue of gun control. Not once did I hear anyone demanding to know how the candidates were going to address the issue of crazed gunmen mowing down our children in schools.  

The irony here is that it seems like this is an issue that people should be able to agree on. At least to an extent. While people may never come to an agreement as to whether or not we want to provide free birth control for all, it seems that we should at least be able to agree that we don't want people murdering people en masse in public places. 

After Aurora, people cried, "How many more are going to have to die before we do something about this?" The answer, apparently, is "at least 26 more." 

In the face of this most recent school shooting, I find my Facebook page is once again alive with gun control "debates." I place debates in quotes because the reality is there is no debate. There is no discussion. There is wild emotionalism on both sides with no one listening to anyone with an opinion that differs from his own. There are a few speaking reasonably, but I fear no one is listening. True, mind changing dialogue rarely occurs on Facebook. 

Which is fine. I'm not asking anyone to give up whatever it is they get out of participating in these "discussions." What I am asking is that you stop pretending it's some sort of meaningful activism. If you want to effect change, do so. Stop talking at people who aren't listening. Stop collecting "likes" from people who already agree with you, and find out who you need to talk to in order to make change. 

My plea to all, whether you're shouting "Gun Control!" or "Right to Keep and Bear Arms!", is to put your energy to work where it will actually make a difference. Don't squander it by engaging in exhausting exchanges that have no power to effect change. 

You're time and energy are too precious. You are too precious. 

Which brings me to my final point. Until each and everyone of us realizes that each and every one of us is too precious, we will not see an end to senseless displays of violence. Hateful words on Facebook are born of the same malice that opens fire on school children. 

"You have heard that it was said to them of old: Thou shalt not kill. And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:21-22)

However you choose to respond to this deep sickness in our culture, whether you choose to lobby for gun control or fund mental health research or to fast and pray, remember that every single person you encounter is infinitely precious. That includes you. Until we can begin to see the tiniest glimmer of worth in ourselves and in each other, the tiniest reflection of the value and dignity that Our Father sees in us, until we can begin to see that each life truly is sacred and worthy of our love and protection and reverence, nothing will change. 

Though it's quoted often enough to be cliche, you must go forth and be the  change you wish to see in the world. Change doesn't happen "out there." It happens in every interaction you have with another human being. Make sure your interactions reflect the love you want to see in the world. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

In the face of tragedy

Another senseless tragedy in our country has everyone reeling again. I don't consume news media. All of my information comes from Facebook. Maybe that's pathetic, but I manage to hear about most things anyway.

I don't need to know the details. The outline is horrific enough.

What I don't understand is the shock and disbelief evident in so many reactions to this tragedy. Terrible, horrible, sickening, unthinkable things happen in this world every day. Every single day. And they have happened every single day from the beginning of human beings. This is not news. Every single day some horrible monster does something terrible to an innocent child somewhere. Every single day people are murdered. We only hear about the big ones. And not even all the big ones, but just the big ones that happen in our own back yard.

I suppose I should find it heartening that people are still surprised when news like this breaks. I don't consider myself particularly jaded or despairing, but I am aware that this beautiful life, and the unspeakably precious gift of my children, could be taken from me at any moment in any one of an infinite number of terrible ways. But I try not to let it keep me up at night. Most nights I succeed. When I feel scared, when I the fear of losing my family grips my throat and knots my stomach, I thank God for all that I've been given that I do not deserve. One smile from one of my sweet children is more joy than I could dare to hope to experience in this life. I have so very much to be grateful for.

And speaking of God. Everyone wants to know how God could allow such evil to exist. But evil doesn't exist. Evil is nothing. Just like darkness does not exist, but is merely the absence of light. As cold does not exist, but is merely the absence of heat. Evil is the absence of good. The Good. If you want to rid the world of evil you have to flood it with Good.

And you have to do it every single day. Not just when news of tragedy reaches you. Not just when the big ones are staring you in the face. You have to do good when your child wants your attention while you're surfing facebook. You have to do good when that jackass cuts you off in traffic. You have to do good when you're in a hurry at the grocery store.

We aren't helpless. But it's not easy either. Now is not the time for hand wringing. Nor is it the time for taking up arms. Now is the time for Love. Every single day. With every single person you encounter. How different this world would be if we all remembered this all the time.

"You say, the times are troublesome, the times are burdensome, the times are miserable. Live rightly and you will change the times.

The times have never hurt anyone. Those who are hurt are human beings; those by whom they are hurt are also human beings. So, change human beings and the times will be changed."

-Saint Augustine, Sermon 311, 8

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

DIY Wall Timeline Tutorial

A long while back I wrote about wanting to create some sort of masterpiece of a timeline to hang on my  dining room wall. I promised to update with pictures when I'd done so, but I just didn't. The conversation has come up recently in a number of homeschooling circles, so I am finally sharing my finished product with some pictures and helpful hints.

Without further ado, I give you our timeline:

Do you see the size of that bad boy? It's 5 feet long and 3ft 4inches tall. It dominates the room and is, sadly, the most attractive thing in the room. Aside from maybe the pink Christmas tree. Which was a Halloween tree and will become a "Saint Tree" and then a Jesse Tree before heading upstairs to do it's job as a Christmas tree in the kids' room when the time comes. But I digress.

I'm a bit proud of my timeline. It's not a great work of art, but it is much more attractive than many of the timelines I've seen. And in fact, it's much more attractive than the first one I attempted: 

Here's a bad picture of my ugly timeline.

Now, as I mentioned in my first post on the subject, I've accepted that my house will scream "we homeschool," but I still just couldn't bare looking at that every night at dinner. So I went back to the drawing board. I think I wandered aimless around Dollar Tree looking for inspiration when I was struck with the idea of using ribbon. I didn't find any suitable ribbon at Dollar Tree and ended up at Michael's. 

I wandered around Michael's looking for any sort of round sticker to use for the year markers. I was shocked that I was completely unable to find appropriately sized round stickers. But I saw those giant hole punch things and realized that it was actually cheaper to invest in one of those and make my own "stickers" out of craft paper and glue. And I got a new toy out of the deal. 

If you want to make a timeline like this one, here's what you need.
  • 4 sheets of foam board, 30in X 20in (I got mine at the Dollar Tree)
  • Duct Tape
  • Contact paper in a pattern you don't hate - enough to cover the foam board. I also got this at the Dollar Tree.
  • 40 feet of narrow ribbon
  • a craft punch in a shape you like
  • a ruler
  • a sharpie
  • glue - you're going to have to buy good glue designed to glue ribbon. I used something called Embellishment Glue in stick form. I tried using school glue and a glue gun and both were a disaster. Invest in the glue. Trust me.
The first step is to tape the 4 sheets of foam board together using Duct Tape. Then flip the whole huge board over and cover it with contact paper. It helps to have help with this step unless you're the kind of person who likes to be alone when you're frustrated and trying to wrestle giant sheets of sticky paper.

The next step was the hardest for me, but I've done the hard work (the math) for you, so just follow my lead. Lay out 8 rows of the ribbon. You can be anal and measure to evenly space it, or you can just wing it like I did. I intentionally crowded it toward the top where I figure we'll have fewer dates to add and spaced it further toward the bottom where I figure we'll have more to add. 

The next hardest part is getting the rows straight. Once I decided where I wanted the ribbon, I marked it on one side, measured it's distance from the top and then measured that out on the other side and laid it across. I tried all kinds of crazy things to get the ribbon straight. I hung a string from a weight and tried to get gravity to help me get it straight. . . You just have to decide how crazy you want to be about it.

See the black line? That's there's one in the same place on the other side. That's how I got the ribbon straight.
The glue I used. This worked great and wasn't messy.

Once you've got the ribbon on, the hard part is over. The rest is just tedious.

Take your punch and punch out approximately 18,000 punches.

Now you're going to write years on them as so:

  • For the years 5000 BC to 2000 BC, write every 200 years (5000, 4800, 4600, etc.)
  • For the years 2000 BC to year 0, write every 100 years (2000, 1900, 1800, etc.)
  • For the years 0 - 1600 AD, write every 100 years
  • For the years 1600 - 1850, write every 25 years
  • For the years 1850 - 2020 write every 10 years
A side note for the anal retentive (like me): No, this doesn't give a totally accurate depiction of the passage of time. However. You want this to fit on your wall. And you want room for all of the big events that happened in modern history without leaving huge chunks empty in the ancient past. This is also why I spaced the rows further apart as I moved down the timeline. You're free to arrange your years anyway you want, but then you'll have to do your own math.

I went up through the year 2020 because I want to add stuff to this as we go forward, and I plan to leave it up forever.

Okay, now you're ready to stick all of these on. Use the same glue as before and, starting with 2020 and working backwards, space as follows:

  • 2020 to the year 0, one marker every 8 inches (measure from the middle of one to the middle of the other)
  • year 0 to 5000 BC, one marker every 3 inches

There. Now you're done. Stand back and admire your handiwork!

Since I'm really committed to this timeline, I stuck it to my wall using that double sided foam tape stuff. It's not going anywhere. In fact, I want to paint the room and I think I'm just going to paint around it. I'm afraid I can't get it down without destroying it.

All you have to do now is add the history. I made a template in Pages where I can just drag and drop images from Google Images into the template and then print, cut and laminate. I happen to have scored a laminator at Goodwill on half price day for a grand total of $4.50. So I get to laminate. But you can use packing tape if you're not as lucky in your thrifting as I am.

One of the reasons I wanted to make my own timeline is because I wanted to decide what goes on it. I wanted to be able to add important family events.

We also add the historical novels we read.

And whatever else we happen to take a fancy in.

We've had our timeline up for more than a year now, and it's not as fleshed out as I had hoped, but that is due at least in part to the fact that I seem to always be missing either printer ink, double stick tape, or laminate/packing tape. So I guess that's one drawback of doing it yourself. Another is that it is a pretty big project, but hopefully the mistakes I made will make your efforts easier. I really am proud of this. And it really is a great conversation starter - both for family dinners and for anyone who comes to our home. I had high hopes when I made it, and I think, so far, it's delivering what I'd hoped it would.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Monster Quest: Search for Big Foot

Henry has been deeply immersed in two different "unit studies" of his own design and choosing. One is a study of ancient Egypt, which I'll blog about in another post. The other is a unit on crypto zoology, specifically the search for Big Foot.

I'm not sure what sparked his interest in this topic, but as a result my husband hunted down a couple of shows to stream on Netflix. Monster Quest and Is It Real both examine evidence for the existence of such terrifying and mysterious creatures as Sasquatch, the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabra.

I am astonished by the amount of learning that has come out of watching these shows. Henry has expanded his knowledge of folklore, geography (marking the states on a map where there have been Big Foot sitings), and the scientific method. In the process he's also done a good bit of practice drawing and writing.

He researched on YouTube to find a video showing the process for creating a plaster cast of animal tracks. He practiced measuring and mixing and multiplication to create enough plaster to pour into the print he discovered.

Some non-standard unit measurement for the preschooler.

Working to get the cast out.

This was my favorite part. Our neighbor is a biologist and Henry thought he might be able to examine the specimen. He started to write the note and had me finish it. It reads: "To Brian, From Henry. Please take to lab. If your lab doesn't deal with Big Foot evidence, please return to me and I will send to New York University. Thank you."

The neighbors got a huge kick out of this. Brian did return the specimen noting that his lab generally deals with really tiny things, not big ones.

The project has also involved a lot of writing and drawing. Below is his recording of what he planned to do. "We spotted a big hairy animal. What was it? We will send it to Jack. Signed Monster Quest Member, Henry." (Jack is his best buddy.)

He happened to have captured a picture of the creature on a hidden camera.
This is the unknown specimen. (Potentially Big Foot)

He then compared the unknown specimen to known primates with similar characteristics.
Could it have been a gorilla?

Perhaps it was a baboon?

Or maybe an orangutan?

Or not a primate at all, but a bear?

He determined that it most closely resembled an orangutan but that we could not rule out the possibility that he did in fact discover a new species.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Summer Vacation

Summer vacation officially started this week for all of the kids on our block. Since we basically unschool, the school calendar means little to us. But having the neighborhood kids home has certainly changed our days.

We are so very blessed to live on a block with a bunch of really great kids ranging from 13 on down to 17 months. These kids shatter all of our self-righteous homeschool stereotypes about public school kids. They're creative, kind, they know how to play with kids of all ages. They're really great kids. And, also shattering stereotypes, they're not over scheduled. With the exception of the one family with two parents working full time, the kids are home pretty much all day every day. And they play outside pretty much all day every day.

My kids run out the door after breakfast and I have to drag them in kicking and screaming for lunch and then again for dinner. It's awesome.

The kids are basically running their own summer camp. Today's mission was to catch a garden snake. As far as I know, they didn't actually make the catch, but they sure have had a lot of fun in the pursuit.

The other evening as I was making dinner I looked out my window and saw all 12 of the block's kids playing  in my backyard. A visiting grandma had wandered over to help supervise and as it got closer to dinner a few moms showed up chat and collect their children.

I love all of this. I do. But I have to admit, I kind of miss my kids! Especially my oldest. He's so darn self sufficient now at the ripe old age of 7, that I hardly see him at all. He did come in with a splinter today. That was a nice way to make me feel needed.

It gives me such hope when I look and see these kids playing and interacting the way they do. I see that it is possible for kids to be schooled in a variety of ways and come out great. I see that "kids these days" are intelligent, creative, kind, and respectful.

On the other hand, it makes me that much more thankful for the closeness that homeschool provides. I can't imagine what I'd be missing if my kids were away from me all day, every day, all year round.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Montessori at Home: Spice Smelling

When my oldest, now 7, was a baby, I was very excited about creating a Montessori atmosphere in my home. I love Montessori's philosophy and the beauty of Montessori materials. But at some point I realized that what many of Montessori's "practical life" and "sensory" activities are trying to replicate occur quite naturally in the home. Maria Montessori was working with institutionalized children who did not have the luxury of the rich learning environments found naturally in today's middle class American homes.

There's nothing wrong with creating Montessori materials for your home, but if you're short on time, trays, and baskets, don't feel like you're cheating your child. Just open your spice cabinet.

My 17 month old and I spent about 25 minutes smelling spices this morning.

Nice fine motor component - taking off the lid. 

 Mmmmmm. . . red pepper flakes

Mmmmm. . . rosemary

Putting the lid back on.

Here, Mom! You smell.

Sad because he spilled spices on his toes and he doesn't like the mess.

After a good 20 minutes he expanded the activity from smelling to dumping. He pulled out a measuring cup and started pouring spices into it. This is when I got tired of the activity. I wasn't in the mood to clean up a huge spice mess. Or to waste my spices. Plus I was tired of standing up. So we moved on.

Sometimes when I'm browsing Pinterest and all of the amazing mommy blogs, I start to feel like I should do more for my kids. My point in sharing this is to recognize the good stuff that happens spontaneously.

So tell me, what are some of your natural environment learning successes?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I may regret this . . .

I may regret this, and it's certainly off topic for this blog, but with all the broohaha over gay marriage/civil unions both locally and nationally, and with all of the Facebook updates I see from my friends on both sides of the issue, I just feel like I need to voice my opinion on the issue somewhere.

And I'm probably going to upset everyone of you.

Here's the thing. I believe the Catholic Church's teachings on marriage and sexuality. I believe that sex is perhaps God's most powerful gift to us. Through this intimate act of love we can join with God and actually be a part of the creation of an immortal soul. That's mind blowing really. What else can you do that results in the creation of something that will last for all of eternity? Because of the power of this act, God has asked us to observe guidelines regarding it's use. There's tons of stuff on the internet about this, if you care to read more, but I'm not here to convince you. I really don't care whether you agree with me or the Church. You're not going to change my mind, and I'm not trying to change yours.

Okay, so I take the very unpopular view that engaging in homosexual acts is a sin. Mind you I also believe that contraception and co-habiting are sins. Lots of things are sins. I commit sins every day. I don't think there's anything special about your sins or my sins. We're all sinners. All sin is bad. Again, unpopular views, but I'm just saying what I believe in case anyone cares. Which you probably don't. Which is fine.

But here's the thing. I really, really don't understand why my fellow Catholics are all up in a tizzy about the legal status of "gay marriage." I keep getting emails and Facebook messages about the armageddon-esque horrors about to be inflicted on our state because of the civil unions bill. Because the thing is, the state doesn't define marriage. God does. I'm not married because I have a piece of paper from the state of Colorado. I'm married because I took vows in front of God pledging to stand by my man 'til death do us part. Frankly, I'm annoyed that the Church required us to get a marriage license from the state. Because the state has nothing to do with making us married.

When we bought our house, there was some confusion in the paperwork because the woman we were buying it from was married to a man who was not yet legally divorced from his previous wife. But he'd presented a "get" to his former wife which, according to Jewish law, ended the marriage and made them each free to remarry. I truly admired that this couple placed God's law above man's law in their affairs.

I don't see what harm it causes if two adults receive the benefits available to married couples. There are laws that allow non-married heterosexual couples living "in sin" to receive these benefits and I don't see my fellow Catholics up in arms over this horrible celebration of sin. And if the state suddenly recognizes gay marriage, it doesn't make those marriages any more valid than they currently are.

I'm truly embarrassed by all of the hysteria over the "homosexual agenda." It seems to me if half of this energy was put into something really important - like finding ways to prevent the slaughter of unborn children - we'd all be a lot better off.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Born to Cook

Henry has declared that he was born to cook. Today he decided to bake a cake. He didn't ask for permission, he just went for it while unsupervised. Ryan "caught" him as he finished the batter and prepared to bake it. So Ryan helped him pour it in a pan and bake it.

The mess wasn't that bad. And he did help me clean it up.

The cake came out surprisingly well. And was pretty tasty, if not terribly sweet.

Because I'm always looking for an opportunity to get him to write, 
I asked him to write down the recipe.

I guess he's been paying attention when I bake!