Monday, November 14, 2011

Martinmas Celebration and Holiday Reading for Little Ones.

I love Martinmas.  We have an annual tradition of celebrating St. Martin's Day with decorating lanterns, telling the story of St. Martin and then after the sun sets, taking a lantern walk.


St. Martin in known for taking his sword and cutting his cloak into two pieces.  The additional piece went to a shivering cold beggar who was scarcely clothed.  Traditionally Martinmas is celebrated with lantern walks signifying what St. Martin saw in the poor beggar.  St. Martin recognized the divine spark in the beggar,  and offered protection with his cloak.   To make a lantern, we may feel like we too are protecting our own little flame and carrying it through the dark world.  It may only be a small and fragile light, but every light brings relief to the darkness.  -Taken from All Year Round, A Calendar of Celebrations.

My flash is presently not working so these pics are a bit blurry. 
Here are the lanterns we made this year.  Cut pieces of tissue paper and glue stick the pieces on to a glass jar.   Attach a handle made of twine or other.  Brush a coat of Modge Podge on top and allow to dry.  Voila!  You have a gorgeous lantern to adorn your holiday home.  

We also use the story of St. Martin as an impetus to donate coats, clothes, etc., to those in need.  If furry friends are on your radar, you can collect non-filled blankets and donate them to your local animal shelter.  Dogs will appreciate something warm to sleep on, other than concrete, as the nights get colder.

I ordered some Christmas selections from Amazon last week for our home holiday book reading.  I really love the illustrations and the simple and sweet messages of these stories.  Here's what I ordered and I can highly recommend these, now that they've arrived.  (Age 3 plus, yet my 1 year old likes to listen too.)

Since having children, I am continually shocked at what one finds in books aimed for little ones.  The amount of name calling, sarcasm, and unsavory illustrations are disturbing.  However as you can see above, there are some wonderful books that aren't all that popular to be found.  One of our favorite winter time stories, (and authors for that matter,) is The Story of the Snow Children by Sibylle Von Olfers.  You will be captivated by the illustrations alone. 


Happy Holiday Reading and Tradition Making!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Follow up from last post.

As a follow up to my last post, here is a really inspiring video of where local family services, (in this case King County in Seattle) really does wonderful things for people, thereby affecting the entire community. The need for organizations like this is so much greater than what is currently available.   

Here's a news story on a homeless family in Lancaster, Ca.    The story is from 2007, but it gives an example of a homeless family and their struggles.  Their story is sad yet there is gentleness and hopefulness in them.  For me it puts meaningless daily frustrations into perspective.  I am reminded to not sweat the small stuff and to be thankful for what I have.  ...Also to give extra hugs to my children and pray that they will always be safe and warm. 
If you are interested in helping out homeless families, children, people in your community, check out your local family services organizations.   (I found a great one  called Compass, here in the Bay Area that I will be contacting.) 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween and Homelessness

On Saturday evening we had the privilege of attending the Lucas Arts Halloween Bash held in downtown San Francisco.  We excitedly prepared for the event, primping, making last minute costume alterations, etc. with our 4 year old daughter.  (Our littlest one was staying home for the evening with Grandma.)  As we approached our destination we drove under a freeway overpass and saw a woman wearing only a t-shirt on a chilly Bay Area evening, walking with a jogging stroller not unlike one we have at home.  She was clearly strung out on something.  Our hearts dropped thinking there was a child in the stroller.   Thankfully after a few seconds it was apparent that there wasn't.  We parked, entered the party and had a good time.   When getting into our car to leave, we noticed there were several carts and boxes put up as makeshift homes along the sidewalk that weren't there before.   There was an older woman, that looked to be my mother's age just sitting and staring into the darkness.  I wondered if she was someone's grandma.  Driving home,  the San Francisco streets were filled with a mix of costumed party-goers and the homeless.  Sometimes it was hard to tell them apart.

Living in sleepy Marin County, we don't see much of this, yet we are no strangers to it.  We spent most of our adult lives, (to date) in Los Angeles where homelessness runs rampant.  In Los Angeles, most people turn a blind eye.  They are in a sense, "desensitized".   It's not entirely their fault.  When one looks into the situation, it truly seems helpless...even from a standpoint of wanting to help.  To offer a solution, one must know the root of the problem.  Pondering the problem of homelessness is extremely overwhelming.  It involves so many facets, the breakdown of the American family,  lack of funding for mental illness, etc., etc., etc.,   All I know is that every human being should have the right to a clean and safe bed, at the very least. 

Pregnant with my 2nd daughter, just before we left LA, I did some on-line research of LA's skid row after hearing about an awful story involving the death of a baby.  (Someone official had authorized a homeless man to take care of an infant and within 24 hours she was dead).    I wanted to help in some way.  The thought of people, especially children and babies living and dying down there was unbearable.  "Down there," meaning less than 20 miles away from the snooty neighborhood where we lived.  (Zip Code: 90211)  While trying to find a way to get involved, I met dead end after dead end.  So I bought a bunch of socks off of Ebay and drove them to a downtown shelter on Christmas Eve day.  It was something, but not enough.  Certainly not a step towards a solution.

Here are some things I learned while living in Los Angeles.  1.  Skid Row is like a 3rd world country and in many respects worse;  riddled with violence, drugs, and unthinkable living conditions.  (It's only blocks away from the fancy financial district of downtown LA.)   2.  Cities around the country pass out one-way bus vouchers to homeless persons.  The destination on these one-way bus tickets?  Los Angeles.   Maybe because it's warmer in LA or maybe the cities don't want to deal with the issue.  Out of sight, out of mind?  I'm surprised the city of LA is OK with that.  Are they getting some funding by providing this "service?" If there is funding, I wonder if it is getting allocated in such a way to help the homeless? 

Recently I learned that many cities have skid rows, much like the one in Los Angeles.  Unfortunately things have gotten worse with the economy.  We as a country not only have the homeless problem we had 5+ years ago, but we now have tent cities springing up all over the nation, filled with people that had their homes foreclosed on, people who lost their jobs/unemployment benefits, etc..  These new tent cities are said to be filled with ex-members of the forever shrinking middle class.   Old homeless and now the new homeless.  John Edwards wasn't the strongest presidential candidate but I truly appreciated his bringing awareness to the issue of homelessness in America.  It was on his radar.  His presidential platform.  I haven't seen this discussed by anyone else to date, yet the problem has gotten worse.

Eradicating homelessness should be on all of our minds.  Why don't we ever hear about it?  I posted a video I came across on Youtube.  (There are several to look at).   I posted this one because not only does it give "a face" to the homeless, but also it has intermittent information about homelessness in general.  Awareness and education might be a good start to end homelessness. 

One thing to remember is that we are all human.  We are all connected. 

I will gather socks and other necessities again to donate. This year I will be adding cloth diapers to those supplies.    If I figure out something else more useful to do, I will post it.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Neglecting the Blog

So many topics have entered my mind the last few weeks on what  I'd like to blog about. Topics such as cloth diapering, (obvious choice), marriage and relationships, (James and I just celebrated our 6th anniversary), wanderlust, (need I say more?), leaving Facebook (because I suffer from internet social anxiety disorder), big business health insurance companies (boo on them), Kawasaki Disease (my 4 year old was diagnosed and treated with it during the summer), and parental guilt, (being a work at home mom has its challenges.  How much time am I on the computer vrs how much time I am present for my little ones), to name a few. 

Modern life has been fulfilling yet exhausting the last few weeks.  With work, Dr's appts,  school functions, etc., I' find that I'm falling asleep shortly after my little ones.  I am yawning as I write this, so I think I will excuse myself and take yet another night off from my beloved blog.

Of course, before I close shop for the night, I shall twist this in my favor by stating how liberating it is to turn off one's computer or cell phone.  Make a day of it...or two.  You'll be surprised at how much more time you have and how you spend that time.  (I'm bad enough with my laptop, I can't imagine owning a smart phone as well.) 

Before I sign off, I will mention that I'm starting a new book, The Thirteenth Tale. When I finish, (at my current rate, this will be most likely be in the new year), I will report back on my experience.  Feel free to join along for a discussion.  The Thirteenth Tale at Amazon  
Peace out.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Ahhhh Exhale.

Sunday evening.  Quiet now.  Children in bed.  After an action packed, aka leisurely weekend at home, I can now take a moment to relax into myself.  I love autumn.  I love the darker days, turning leaves, colder evenings and the comfort food that goes along with it.  There's no turning back.  Say goodbye to summer salads and cold drinks!

On Friday I had a sudden urge to make homemade macaroni and cheese with baked Brussels sprouts.  The whole weekend has been filled with baked goods, yummies that we haven't had access to, for fear of turning on the oven and adding a few degrees to our already, overly hot house.  Tonight we had a dinner of veggies, sauteed asparagus with mushroom and red onion, bread and butter, and a recipe from my mother-in-law, Jeniveve.  Cauliflower cheese and peas. (Pictured above.)  Cauliflower cheese and peas is a favorite in our household not only for it's warming goodness, but also for the induced 70's nostalgia.  I actually didn't eat this as a young child, but it really has that 70's look and feel to it.   Can you imagine some bowl-cut-haired kid with plaid pants and a turtleneck, sitting at a Formica table happily eating his cauliflower peas and cheese?  I can.  Maybe he's wolfing down his meal so he can catch the latest Bewitched episode that is just about to start. 

Yesterday was October 1st and for our household it means, Break out the Halloween Decorations!  It also means taking a moment in remembrance of my Aunt Gloria who left us too early when she was merely 44.   Halloween and the festivities surrounding it, are also comforting on a deep level.  (I have my aunt "Dodie" to thank for many Halloween time memories and warming family meals.) What is it about the autumnal season, food and festivities, that brings us back to earth from the summer, centers us, and ignites in us the warm and fuzzy wonderment of our youth?

I feel strengthened and centered on this early October evening with a sense of....could it be....maturity?  I suppose what I am really feeling is balanced.  I am here and now.  I have a sense of the past and confidence for the future.  (I hope this lasts!)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Miss to Ma'am

At what point in time did I go from Miss to Ma'am?  I was recently on the phone with a tech support person for my retail website and the girl I was speaking to was very nice, knowledgeable and...young.  I'm guessing she was in her mid-twenties.  At the end of the phone conversation she said, "Is there anything else I can help you with ma'am?"  Immediately my nose hairs crinkled and I was stunned silent.   I regained my phone composure, thanked her accordingly and that was that.  Or was it?  Over the following few days, I started trying to pinpoint exactly where in my life the switch took place.  From when did I go from youthful, artistic, dreamer/impressionable type, where life was a bowl of orange blossoms, to ma'am?
As a late bloomer, I related to the "college crowd" probably past my welcome, but at some point the college crowd stopped relating to me.  I was kicked out of the club without even realizing it.  Blindsided so to speak.  I should have guessed this was all happening when I started feeling victorious on the rare occasion that I got carded, or maybe the fact that I now own underwear that is sold in a plastic pack of multiples.
My ma'am change did not happen after getting married, nor did it happen after having my first child.  I feel this is a recent change, even though I can't quite pinpoint it.  If I had a guess, I would say it began somewhere between 1 and 2 years ago. 
According to the Kubler/Ross stages of grief model, I seem to be surfacing from the 1st stage of Denial and entering the 2nd stage of Anger, (judging by my crinkled nose hairs.)  There doesn't seem to be a time frame on all these stages.  That is individual.  It could take years!  After Anger comes Bargaining, the hope to postpone or delay.  That could get ugly, but since I lived the better part of 10 years in LA, I've seen that stage manifested in the most unfortunate ways and know better. 
Only after the 4th stage of Depression, will I begin to Accept.  And who knows what that means!?   I think I'll revisit cozy comfy Denial and report back on this issue later.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Silent Night

Photo from the 911 Digital Archive    

Instead of adding an entry, I will remain silent in honor of all who were lost, all who were brave, and all who are still missing a loved one this evening.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Import Taxes. Something Stinks in Denmark.

Everything in the US is imported, so why is my tiny company that imports a specialty item from New Zealand taxed almost 20%?  Twenty percent taxes on my specialty product,  plus shipping, customs handling fees, and import broker fees and I'm supposed to be able to operate a healthy small business?   Am I being punished for importing from another country?  I'm all about living locally, etc., but I also feel that healthy trade is good for our country and good for our people  My company is importing a woolen cloth diaper from NZ.  And to try and keep it local, we are making the insert component of the diaper here in the state of California.  Bi-Country teamwork if you will.  Lets face it, New Zealander's know their nappies....and they know their wool.   They have been on board with cloth diapering far longer than we, disposable-lover Americans.  That's not to say that there isn't a growing movement and awareness within our US brethren, but what's wrong with learning from, and using a helpful product from our friendly Kiwi neighbors? Why re-invent or steal the wheel?  The product is fantastic and in my opinion, charmingly from New Zealand. 

The other day I was at a fabric store and saw cute little wooden birdhouses for sale.  The price?  Only $1.  One dollar will buy you a cute little wooden birdhouse.  (The birdhouse is very small, so it is really just a decoration or a children's painting project.)  The birdhouse is made in China of course, but I've been to China and I know wood is not plentiful.  China does everything by coal and as a result has the highest CO2 emissions in the world.  But that's another blog chapter.  My point is, the New Jersey Company that sells these little bird houses to the fabric stores must have a very advanced accountant.  Is it possible that this New Jersey company exports wood to China so that the bird houses can get assembled there and then imports the final product back into the US?  And how is it, with all the export/import taxes, assembly charges, etc., that this little birdhouse can be sold for only one American dollar???  How is it possible to make anything off of this little birdhouse, let alone pay for all the fees associated with manufacturing and distribution?   I'm confused!  What kind of deal does this New Jersey company have with US Customs and how do I get in on it?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Too Much Stuff

I have been on a simplicity kick for quite some time, striving for, less is more.  The impetus of the "less stuff" kick were my children.  Before my daughter was 3 years old, she had accumulated astronomical amounts of stuff.  Books, toys, clothes, stuffed animals, etc.  I was overwhelmed and I felt she was too.  Add on another baby and all of her stuff, and we were drowning.  We definitely had too much and I decided to do something about it.  I attended a lecture on Simplicity Parenting and was given even more fuel for my personal de-stuff movement.  It was wonderful and empowering to know that we didn't have to drink the Kool Aid of our consumer society--that there are growing groups of people all over the world that are waking up to the chaos that stuff can bring, and they are waving their biodegradable trash bags in war cry. 

A year and a half later, countless drives to donation sites, and cautionary thoughtful purchasing, I still have not won the battle with my stuff, my family's stuff.  No matter how much I get rid of, more keeps coming in.  Stuff is cheap and stuff is plentiful.  A lot of the time stuff is free.

Why do I care?  First of all, simple aesthetics.  Stuff equals clutter and clutter stifles clear thought and creativity.  Stuff ends up in landfills and most likely is not biodegradable.  I battle the ebb and flow of navigating one's life within a throw-away society.   I will not teach my children our plastic "love em and leave em" ways.   This of course is a work in progress.  I am still learning the ways of the Junkless Jedi.  Less is more on so many levels.

Simplicity Parenting mentions a childhood with having fond memories of that one special toy, that one stuffed animal friend who was there through the thick of it, or that well-read comfort book.  I want my children to experience these things; not the massive shifting of stuff that enters their world and exits before too much of an impression was left. 

Thank God for the green movement.  It is not going away, nor should it.  We have to adopt better ways of living.  Better ways of preserving and disposing.

I often wonder what it would be like if we all had to deal with our own trash.   Imagine taking out your household waste and recycling, and placing it in a corner of the yard for a year.   Maybe then we would finally say, "Enough is enough" to all the trinkety cheap crap we buy our loved ones, our children, our friends, ourselves, that ultimately ends up in a refuse bag next to Fido's dog house.

Let us purchase thoughtfully and with purpose.   Where was this made?  What is it made of?  How long will it stay in my house?  Where will it end up when I'm done with it?  When it finally ends up in a landfill, does it take up much space and will it be there for long?  Do I really need it?  Do I really love it?