Links & Updates 7-31-14

 

There’s so much birdsong that a moment of silence sounds odd. I remind myself to simply listen. Right now I’m sitting on the front porch with coffee, part of my casual daily awe ritual. Two girls are walking down the street with goats on leashes, a neighbor’s donkey is braying, and our garage is lit up like magic as my son welds something he’s designed. A perfect summer afternoon.

It’s peaceful, even productive around here. The man I love has built the most awesome kiwi arbor of all time AND a garden bell sculpture that’s now for sale in a the gallery of our artist friends Steve and Debra Bures. On our back porch are nearly two dozen hypertufa pots, drying after a recent backyard hypertufa-making party. And I’ve got two baskets of freshly picked green beans so we’ll be canning dilly beans soon.

Lately I’ve been amazingly blessed to receive a wealth of poetry-related gifts. I was a featured poet on Houseboat and a poem of mine appeared on Every Day Poems. My book Tending got a good review thanks to Fox Chase Review. Biggest gift was the wonderful review by Ivy Rutledge on Mom Egg Review that left me hand on heart stunned with gratitude.

Before I move on to links I have to share this. My daughter took a picture that perfectly reveals our cow Isabelle’s personality.

BitofEarthFarm.com

Isabelle. Photo by Claire Weldon.

This photo is a meme waiting to happen. Have some caption ideas?

 

On to some links.

Illumination

Find a few thousand ancestors by connecting with others who are building a family tree of the entire human race. All seven billion members. You start small with a family sampling, entering the details you know. If a name on your tree matches a person on somebody else’s tree, then you are given the option to combine trees. With a click, your tree can double. Repeat this a few times and you will eventually be linked to a worldwide family tree. (Geni’s Big Tree is 77 million, and WikiTree’s is 7 million). There’s also a Global Family Reunion in the works!

Check out my strange theory (I’m sure others thought of it long before me) of why we care so much about celebrities.  

“The Shamanic View of Mental Illness” is a fascinating article by Malidoma Patrice Somé, who wrote one of my favorite autobiographies, Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman. He says,

Those who develop so-called mental disorders are those who are sensitive, which is viewed in Western culture as oversensitivity.  Indigenous cultures don’t see it that way and, as a result, sensitive people don’t experience themselves as overly sensitive.  In the West, “it is the overload of the culture they’re in that is just wrecking them,” observes Dr. Somé.  The frenetic pace, the bombardment of the senses, and the violent energy that characterize Western culture can overwhelm sensitive people.

 

Over ten years ago, African leaders pledged to invest more in agriculture. Too many nations have not kept that promise. So nineteen of the biggest musical stars on the continent have recorded a song asking them to keep the promise of supporting smallholder farmers. Each artist wrote his or her own verse, and the song features languages including Swahili, Pidgin, Shona, and Xhosa.

 

Earth Notes

An extraordinary large-scale international climate change project is underway in Africa. Eleven nations are collaborating to plant a 4,000 mile “wall of trees” across the east-west axis of the continent as a defense against the Sahara’s expanding desertification. Called the Great Green Wall, it will be nine miles wide and stretch along 4,300 miles, across the entire width of the African continent.

Many of us who care deeply about the earth plant gardens, not only to bring flowers and food into our lives but also to help pollinators. It’s startling news, but when we buy plants from nurseries and big box stores, we’re unwittingly bringing home the very same pesticide that’s been killing honeybees. That pesticide isn’t only a residue on the plant, it’s also exuded from the blossoms—-poisoning honeybees. Here are the details.

 

Jadav Payeng is known as the Forest Man. He lives in a hut in Assam, India with his wife and children. Since his teenage years he’s been planting and tending trees to combat deforestation, poaching, and large scale encroachment. So far he’s restored nearly 3,000 acres that are now inhabited by elephants, tigers, apes, rhinos, and other animals.

 

 

If you haven’t already, check out the extraordinary Scale of the Universe.

 

Mindful Living

I’ve spent a lot of years as an anti-nuke activist, working against nuclear weapons as well as nuclear power. What I learned about my connection to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in WW II left me with questions about what drives us to do what we do. My article about this is called “The Bomb and Me.”

I also write in “Laundry Zen” about finding meaning in a task we normally consider mundane.

 

Here’s a wonderful bit of the Sagan Series featuring Feyman’s talk, “Think Like a Martian.”

 

Learning

Advanced Math is Child’s Play.” I got a chance to interview natural math pioneer Maria Droujkova. She explains that, for young children, math is an enticing adventure that’s too often simplified into rote busy work.

It is as tragic as if parents were to read nothing but the alphabet to children, until they are ‘ready’ for something more complex. Or if kids had to learn ‘The Itsy-Bitsy Spider’ by heart before being allowed to listen to any more involved music.

Trashing Teens.” Great article about the artificial immaturity forced on teens.  “American teens are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many as incarcerated felons.” and “In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense.” That’s what I’ve been saying!

Another study shows that too many structured activities can impair a child’s executive function.  You remember executive function, processes we develop in childhood to help us make decisions and work toward goals, the one that helps us be healthier and more successful in adulthood. processes that help us work toward achieving goals—like planning, decision making, manipulating information, switching between task.

Speaking of brains, here’s a study that shows spanking reduces the gray matter in a child’s brain. That gray matter is the key to learning self-control. The more gray matter you have in the decision-making, thought-processing part of your brain the better your ability to evaluate rewards and consequences. So the more you physically punish your kids for their lack of self-control, the less they have.

Science Shows How Drummer’s Brains Are Different.”  Science tells us there’s a link between intelligence, good timing, and the part of the brain used for problem-solving. Researchers showed that just being around a steady rhythm actually improves cognitive function. “It’s hypothesized that drumming was integral to community-building and that sharing rhythms could be the sort of behavior necessary for the evolution of human society.”  Hence, drum circles.

 

Auditory Yes

2Cellos perform “Il Libro Dell’ Amore” with Zucchero.

Sam Baker performs “Angel.”

Anna-RF performs “Weeping Eyes.” (Next links post, I”ll be sharing an interview I am thrilled to do with this group.)

Resources for Simple Holiday Gifts & Fun

non-materialistic christmas, handmade holidays, simple holidays, no Black Friday, no cyber monday, no shopping on Thanksgiving,

Frenzied sales on Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become holiday shopping traditions. Now stores are opening on Thanksgiving day itself, including Toys R Us, Walmart, Target, Macy’s, Kohl’s, and J.C. Penny. No consideration for store employees. No time for gratitude on a day originally set aside for peace.

There are alternatives. They offer the satisfaction of exchanging wonderful presents while also shifting holiday gift-giving in a positive direction.

Here’s how.

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Enjoy tradition or create new ones.

Some families choose to generate their own fun and meaningful traditions that have little emphasis on gifts. Here are just a few examples.

The children in one Florida family wake on Christmas morning to lollipop trees: dozens of lollipops and other tiny items tied by ribbon to tree branches in their yard. After scrambling to harvest from trees tagged with their names, the family heads the beach for a picnic with extended family before going home to play games.

Inspired by the book Night Tree, a family from British Columbia spends a day with friends and family making treats for birds and animals. They roll pinecones in peanut butter and birdseed, string popcorn, make cranberry garlands. At dusk they bundle up, carrying these treats along with cracked corn and suet cakes, to decorate on and around trees while singing Christmas carols. Afterwards they go back to sit by the fireplace and eat dinner together. Their children now insist that they decorate trees with food all winter long, spreading holiday good cheer throughout the season. 

A Michigan family gives one main gift that benefits everyone, other gifts must either be handmade or repurposed.

A German family has stopped loading up children with presents. Instead each family member creates clues for a scavenger hunt to find wrapped and hidden gifts. As the children have gotten older the clues and hiding places have become more elaborate. Instead of hiding gifts in the house, now gifts are stashed at distances requiring hikes to reach them.

A New Jersey family chooses to remember a much-loved grandmother by making huge batches of her best recipe for the holidays. It keeps them in a flurry of preparations for several days. Then on the afternoon of Christmas they top her pecan rolls with icing and deliver them, as a surprise, to those who have to work on Christmas. They stop by the local fire station, police station, hospital, and nursing home leaving trays of rolls along with crayoned good wishes. They feel they’re sharing a little of grandma’s love with the community where she lived all her life. It’s their favorite part of the holiday.

For more inspiration, consider the following resources.

Ten Ways To Take Back The Holidays” (New Urban Habitat)

Avoiding Consumerism at Christmas” (Natural Life Magazine)

A Non-Consumer Christmas” (Get Rich Slowly)

Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For A More Joyful Christmas

Simple Pleasures for the Holidays

Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season

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Make it yourself.

Overspending to show we care has gotten out of hand. American Consumer Credit Council reports the average American family has approximately $5,000 in credit card debt, but will spend $704 for holiday gifts. Longstanding movements against rampant materialism such as Buy Nothing Day and Buy Nothing Christmas ask us to consider a different approach. They advocate handmade gifts, gifts of service, and simple holiday togetherness as alternatives to spending. In my family, kids make a gift for everyone, putting the focus on giving as well as receiving.

For ideas, check out the following resources.

34 Homemade Gifts to Make Yourself” (Get Rich Slowly)

Gift Ideas” (Make It and Love It)

Holiday Gifts Kids Can Make

FamilyFun Homemade Holidays

Christmas Crafting with Kids

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Spend consciously.

Your spending choices have a powerful impact. One in four Americans is now identified as a consumer attracted to “goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development, and sustainable living.” These consumers are a 290 billion dollar market. Simply by purchase decisions, shoppers have forced industries to limit the use of BPA, avoid bovine growth hormone in dairy products, reduce packaging on all sorts of products, and make organics more widely available. We do vote with our dollars.

Each time you spend, you’re saying “yes” to the businesses and products your money supports. Choose who gets your “yes.” You can easily find out how big companies are rated in such areas as environmental responsibility, gender equality, and worker’s rights using the following resources.

Knowmore is a web community sharing information about corporate responsibility with a searchable database for conscious consumers and activists.

Crocodyl provides searchable profiles of corporations. This service, offered by CorpWatch.org, is based on extensive information provided by researchers, journalists and non-profit organizations.

Environmental Working Group provides up-to-date reports for conscientious shoppers. Recent ratings include least polluting cars and safest personal care products.

Center for a New American Dream offers detailed resources for making one’s own ethical choices, aimed at both adults and children.

The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference is a pocket reference grading companies in a range of sectors, from department stores to prepared foods.

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Give gifts that support a good cause.

The holidays may inspire you to donate, particularly in the names of people important to you. It’s particularly meaningful when that gesture connects to what the recipient means to you. You can protect endangered land for someone who grounds you, donate baby chicks for your favorite chick pals, give the gift of vision for someone who helped you see in a new way. Let them know what they mean to you and why you chose that donation. Sometimes donation gifts don’t seem particularly festive when others are unwrapping presents. It’s easy to pair a donation with a small related gift. For someone who has sweetened your life, you might tie a gift tag on a jar of local honey, add a donation of bees and a beehive for new beekeepers in the developing world.

Gifts: Personal As Well As Global” (Wired) for more gift pairing ideas.

Glorious Do-Gooder Gifts” (Wired) to support charities. Or make a donation to a local charity, arts organization, or other cause dear to the heart of your recipient.

When you buy a gift from a museum, house of worship, or any non-profit you know part of the purchase price helps to benefit that institution. It’s easy to find beautiful, useful, or just plain fun gifts that also do some good.

Consider a giving a certificate to a charity clearinghouse, allowing your gift recipient to choose his or her own causes.

Give wisely. Before donating to any cause, check them out using Charity Navigator or Charity Watch.

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Buy right in your community

When you do buy gifts, consider shifting your money to independently owned businesses. Research shows that only $13 of every $100 spent at a big box store stays in the community. But when you shop at a locally owned store, $45 of $100 remains to boost your area’s economy. Other studies have found somewhat different figures, but all indicate that supporting locally owned stores is a viable way to promote jobs and increase economic activity.

Don’t limit your local present-buying to something that will fit in a gift bag. Consider the following ideas.

Give gift certificates from locally owned landscaping companies and greenhouses, restaurants and coffee shops, golf courses, skating rinks, city tours, and galleries.

Give memberships to museums, theater companies, recreation centers, gyms, clubs, and art centers.

Pay for a lesson or two in horseback riding, yoga, sculpture, glass blowing, tai chi, skiing, or whittling.

Find a local worker who specializes in house cleaning, home repair, car repair, lawn mowing, driveway plowing, or plumbing, then pay for a few hours of his or her time in advance.

Buy from area artists including potters, knitters, jewelry makers, calligraphers, woodworkers, and painters.

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We try to say something with our gifts: I care about you, I’m thinking of you, I get you.  We also say something about ourselves and our values with each choice we make too. It’s possible to welcome the brightest possible future even through our holiday gift-giving choices. Are you making a shift?

simple holidays, frugal holiday resources, saving money over the holidays, handmade Christmas, alternative Christmas traditions,

Links & News 5-20-13

Lots going on here, from peas and strawberries ripening in the garden to bigger excitements. I hope to start including weekend links and news along with my usual blog offerings. Let’s see if I can keep up.

I’m pleased to have an article in the creative education issue of Lilipoh magazine (print only) which will soon be available in Spanish and Chinese editions. And the biggie this week for me, I signed a contract with a small publisher to have a collection of my poetry published. I’m really thrilled about the news, but also feel suddenly shy. Poetry is so personal. Well, not so personal once it’s out in March 2014…

I share a lot of links via my Free Range Learning page on Facebook, but I recognize that plenty of people have better self-control than I do and stay off social media. So here are a few links for you to enjoy.  Continue reading

These Are Interstellar Times

interstellar travel, voyager 1 beyond heliosphere, first in space exploration, conscious shift, NASA rocks, amazing news,

Voyager 1 and 2 are traveling through the outermost layer of the heliosphere.
Image: NASA.gov

The most epic science fiction fantasy is coming true. For the first time ever a human-built vehicle is leaving the entire solar system behind. This is huge. The daily news cycle has barely mentioned it in passing. Most people on this lovely blue-green planet have no idea what our species has accomplished.

Six months ago experts predicted say it could happen any time. Now it has. Voyager 1 has flown beyond the heliosphere, the bubble-like region dominated by the Sun and its solar wind. We’re going where we’ve never been before. I’m talking interstellar. That’s defined as “the space between stars.” The whole futuristic thing? It’s here.

Thirty-five years ago NASA launched probes designed to explore our solar system. Perhaps to confuse historians, Voyager 2 blasted off first on August 20, 1977. Voyager 1 followed on September 7.

We’re making science history with 1977 technology too. That year our species toddled toward greater innovations. For the first time optical fiber was used to carry telephone traffic. New technology debuted, such as Commodore PET, Tandy TRS-80, and Apple II series computers. The Atari 2600 was released. And (coincidence?) Star Wars opened.

space exploration, big news in space,

Voyager spacecraft sent back 52,000 images of Jupiter. (Image: nasa.gov)

Voyager spacecraft are powered by computers with 80 kilobytes of memory, using software without data storage capability. (They rely on relics known as tape recorders.) Despite weak signal power, information is sent from both Voyagers daily. So far that totals five trillion bits of scientific data.

Over time some of the instruments have been turned off to save energy but not before both Voyagers sent back remarkable, never-before-seen images of our solar system. Thanks to Voyager drive-bys we more fully understand the far-off worlds of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Science is still mulling over the data.

Then in 1990, as Voyager 1 moved ever farther from us, Ground Control directed the craft to turn around so its cameras could photograph the planets. From that vast distance, Earth appeared only as a point of light in the darkness. The image was titled “pale blue dot.” It inspired Carl Sagan to give a lecture and later to write a book titled Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. In it he wrote,

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

The Voyager crafts weren’t actually intended to do more than a planet hop for five years. But as we’ve seen, those unsung NASA types take their jobs seriously. They designed the probes to do a lot with a little. The program weathered funding cuts, even a Bush-era threat to end the entire program, and as money trickled in NASA reprogrammed the spacecraft to keep going.

The total cost of the Voyager missions from planning in 1972 to today (including launch vehicles, power source, and tracking support) comes to $865 million. This equals about eight cents per U.S. citizen per year. To put it another way, we’re cracking interstellar space for a fraction of the $6 billion the 2012 U.S. political campaigns were estimated to cost.

Now exploring interstellar space. (Image: nasa.gov)

Now exploring interstellar space. (Image: nasa.gov)

The Voyager probes carry more than 70′s era equipment. Before the spacecraft were launched, Carl Sagan chaired a committee to determine what message we humans should send to beings who might eventually come across the Voyagers. That’s why each Voyager carries sounds and images from earth on gold-plated copper disks, electroplated with uranium-238. They’re called Golden Records. They include diagrams of DNA, maps of the Earth, greetings in 55 languages, sounds like a chimpanzee’s call, images of people engaged in daily activities, and music such as blues by Blind Willie Johnson and a concerto by Bach. One of the messages is by President Jimmy Carter, which says in part,

“This is a present from a small, distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe.”

Here’s to Voyager 1. Eleven billion miles from the Sun and now beyond our heliosphere carrying determination and goodwill.

Here’s to humankind, achieving wonders even if we too rarely pause to notice. Let’s have another beautiful shift in consciousness, as we did when the luminous image of Earth seen from space was photographed in 1972 awakened us to a worldwide ecological movement. It’s time to shift again. We are co-participants in a much larger and more amazing story.

 

For Brainpower & Focus, Try Clapping

Mom was right.

The older I get the more I recognize the wisdom my mother applied in parenting. For example, she believed that traditional games held their value. We played croquet in the back yard—-a lawn game that went out of fashion soon after the Victorian era. We played Battleship using only graph paper and pencils. And we played all kinds of clapping games, from Pat a Cake to silly counting rhymes.

Turns out I owe my mother thanks for more than my straight hair and tendency to burn immediately upon exposure to the sun. I owe her thanks for those games, particularly the hand-clapping ones.

New research finds hand-clapping rhymes and songs are directly linked to cognitive skills.

Dr. Idit Sulkin, of the Ben-Gurion University Music Science Lab, found that young children who naturally play hand-clapping games are better spellers, have neater handwriting and better overall writing skills.

Intrigued, she conducted further research. For ten weeks she engaged groups of children, ages 6 to 10, in a program of either music appreciation or hand-clapping. Very quickly the children’s cognitive abilities improved, but only those taking part in hand-clapping songs.

She also interviewed teachers and joined in when children sang in their classrooms. She was trying to understand why they tend to enjoy hand-clapping songs until a certain age, when other activities such as sports become dominant. Dr. Sulkin observed, these activities serve as a developmental platform to enhance children’s needs — emotional, sociological, physiological and cognitive. It’s a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up.”

Interestingly, Dr. Sulkin also found that hand-clapping songs also benefit adults. When adults engage in these games from childhood they report feeling less tense and their mood improves. They also become more focused and alert.

Clapping and singing, clapping and chanting—-this is found across all cultures in religious ceremonies, solemn rituals, joyous celebrations and to accompany storytellers.  The experience of calling and clapping may speak to something deeper in us.  Maybe we all should play a round of Miss Suzy or Cee Cee My Playmate at the start of every political debate, business meeting or extended family get-together.

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Clapping Hands sketch courtesy of  sycen

Lament of an UnNerd

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Gray-haired guys in line ahead of me at the coffee shop text with casual ease, order fabulously complicated drinks and manage to pay in one smooth motion.

I’m too cheap to have texting as an option on my phone and too clumsy to text anyway. I’m not confessing anything about dropping change I meant to put in the tip jar or knocking over biscotti on display (although really, that display was clogging up counter space).

The upside of no texting? I read and write unimpeded at that same coffee shop while all around me tiny rectangles brrrr and thumbs tat in a display remarkably similar to old sci fi versions of humans controlled by robotic forces. The downside of no texting? I’m forced to leave voice mails on my cell phone. According to the hilarious (frightening) site How Not To Act Old leaving voice mail decidedly marks a person as well beyond their 20’s. Not a problem, the casual observer could tell that about me from my boring hair and tendency to knock over biscotti.

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My son’s 80-something bagpipe instructor pirates and shares music.

I still buy CD’s and don’t own an iPod. I’m glad that wind through the trees is the soundtrack to my daily walk, but really, if I got around to gathering music in handy digital form I’d spend forever assembling it. I’d cheerfully search out lost tracks from vastly unappreciated musicians like Frazier & Debolt. I’d linger over the task while choosing a ridiculous array of opera, Scandinavian folk and Mongolian throat singing. Then with my short attention span I’d probably weary of each piece after one listen.

Wind in the trees is free.

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And one last lament. Thank Gawd I live with tech support. I happen to love these people but their presence here is also vital to my work life. If I don’t get immediate help when trying to deal with simple problems like unzipping old files sent by certain maniacal interview subjects I tend to shriek at the blameless screen.

That scares the dogs sprawled at my feet, which activates my ever-ready guilt, forcing me right out of the house and off for a walk with wind as my soundtrack or, if the tech problem is really serious, off to a coffee shop where an innocent display is just waiting to tip over. Perhaps it’s a message that I should develop a taste for biscotti.

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Creative Commons images

texting thumbs courtesy of TheKat11 http://thekat11.deviantart.com/art/Texting-100020644

pirate image courtesy of mrs.mcD’s photostream flickr.com/photos/cordandme/492100572/

biscotti image courtesy of La Mia Cucina’s photostream  flickr.com/photos/25901168@N00/313577580/

Singing From the Inside Out

I can’t sneeze in a roomful of my friends without hitting a number of talented singer-songwriters who’d love to make a living through music. (Yes, a metaphorical sneeze.) Yet nearly every gifted artist any of us know has to ignore his or her gifts in order to make a living.

What cultural transformation might we see if those drawn to poetry, sculpting, composing, painting or other mediums of expression had some hope of living by their art?

Well here’s some hope.

A homeschooled guy who chose to help out with a worthwhile project now appears with John Mayer, Sheryl Crow and the Dave Matthews Band. His songs are heard on House and Ugly Betty. And more importantly, he sings about what matters to him.

See if the questions posed by this deceptively beautiful piece, “Ain’t No Reason,” resound long after the music is over.

Brett Dennen grew up in rural California, homeschooled along with his brother and sister. In an interview with Frank Goodman for Puremusic.com Dennen describes his mother’s homeschooling approach as “experiential.”  He says, “…so she rarely had a lesson plan or anything like that. She would give us books, and we would read the books. And we did a lot of gardening, and we did a lot of science education through being outside. We took camping trips with other kids who were homeschooled. And when we were out camping, we learned about rivers and forests and mountains and geology. We’d take books out camping with us, and we’d read about it, and we’d look for what we’d read about. Experiential education basically means instead of being in a classroom and being taught or told something, to actually go out and see it, and see how it works and learn through experiencing it instead of learning through being taught or told it. And that was really valuable to me.”

Dennen took the same approach when learning music. As he says in the same interview, “Because of the way I was homeschooled, I got into the idea of trying to learn how to do things my own way. And so when I started playing guitar, I taught myself. I took lessons for a while, but I lost interest in them because I think I just didn’t like going to my lessons, I didn’t like my teacher, I didn’t like what I was learning. So then I quit. And after I quit, then I really started to learn.”

He went to college planning to become a teacher. While a student, Dennen met Lara Mendel at a wilderness-safety class and the two of them wrote a humorous song about backwoods diarrhea for a class assignment. Mendel happened to be developing a powerful hands-on program for children, one that tackles intolerance and violence head on. She named it The Mosaic Project. Dennen wrote songs to reinforce the activities. Now his music and her project teach hundreds of California children about acceptance, friendship and peace in each session of The Mosaic Project.

The creative and independent spirit of Dennen’s homeschooling background hasn’t left him. Goodman’s interview opens with these comments. “He’s like a new kind of human being to me, this Brett Dennen. After spending time with him this week, I feel that way even stronger than after the positively confounding impression that his new CD, There’s So Much More, left on me. If he’d said that he was an alien, I could have swallowed that; it would even have made sense to me. Because I’m simply not accustomed to meeting and spending time with people that appear to be so incorruptible, so odd and yet so self-assured; so, uh, enlightened and inner-directed, if I might venture all that.”

I don’t know if Dennen’s life up to this point says more about homeschooling or about doing the work of one’s heart. I do know there’s no separating the two.

Dear Cleveland

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Dear Cleveland,

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What’s with the lonely sidewalks? You’ve got so much to offer. No, I’m not saying that because I feel sorry for you. You have a great personality and a good heart, that’s what matters.

Wipe that look off your face right now. How many times have you been told to stop putting yourself down? I don’t care who called you America’s Most Miserable City. Someone didn’t raise those name callers right. That’s right, you laugh it off.

You don’t need to prove yourself with casinos or a med mart or port development just because everyone else is doing it. Stop comparing yourself to all those other cities.  It’s how you treat one another that counts.

You know you can sing and dance with the best, and that’s after you beat them all in science class. If no one asks you to play, don’t think about it another minute. You already know how to party hearty don’t you Cleveland?

When you feel small, know that’s because the bounteous arms of Sister Erie embrace you and the blessed skies look upon you. So clean that grime from your windows. Smile at the weather, greet your neighbors and tell your stories.  Remember, you are wise as your oldest people and lively as your newest baby.

You’ll always be my Cleveland. Don’t you forget that.

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Love,

Laura

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Photo courtesy of ifmuth’s Flickr photostream

Don’t Bother Mom, She’s Blogging About Motherhood

child

Motherhood is oriented to firsts.

Our   baby’s first smile,

first step,

first word.

After the baby is born,

some firsts seem to take forever.

First smile, first tooth,

first time mom can have an uninterrupted conversation

or read a book and remember the contents.

The only hint that it’s

not all about firsts

comes from older women.

enjoy them while they're young,

They fuss over our darling babies with delight.

When they do,

our traitorous babies make liars of us:

cooing back as if they don’t have colic and diaper rash

and the incessant ability to dominate our lives.

These older women speak

in some kind of code

known only to those

whose babies are long grown up.

(Maybe a secret society.)

The way they operate is so

consistent that clearly

it’s a ritual of some kind.

child

There’s always a pause

in their baby chortling.

They look us in the eye

to say some version

of the very same thing.

“They’re little for such a short time.” Or,

“These years go by so fast.” Or,

“Enjoy every moment.”

They want us to know something they didn’t know,

that no one really knows fully

until their babies are grown

 

Despite the exhaustion and sleepless nights

and the loss of one’s free time

to the cutest loud smelly creature ever,

the earliest years

are packed with heart-filling wonder.

When our babies grow up

we see

motherhood is also

filled with lasts.

The last time we’ll change

a diaper is worthy of a

celebration, true.

There’s also a last

time holding a little

hand to cross a street,

the last tucking into bed,

the last book read aloud,

the last

of many

blessedly ordinary

expressions of love

once enfolded

into daily

life with a child.

Such “lasts” line the

way toward our child’s

adulthood. They

remind us to cherish

every moment.

As a mother who is now shorter

(okay, much shorter) than each of her four children,

I claim the right to coo over babies

and tell new mothers in all seriousness,

“these years go by so fast.”

I haven’t been invited into the secret society yet.

I hope there’s not a dress code.

I’m NOT wearing any damn red hat.

*

*

*

Creative Commons image credits

Baby hand http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewmalone/1114928353/

Woman and baby  picasaweb.google.com/…/9NX5sOZc8XwaveIURkiqGw

Eye flickr.com/photos/43927576@N00/531269809

Woman and baby flickr.com/photos/jm_photos/2057212651/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Woman and baby flickr.com/photos/iandeth/1949150981/sizes/l/in/photostream/

Angel girl  flickr.com/photos/tianderson/286211866/

Baby  flickr.com/photos/50824868@N00/197011571

Little girl flickr.com/photos/40379737@N00/3812002166/

Boys in street flickr.com/photos/mcsimon/1266570816/

Reading aloud flickr.com/photos/j_regan/8197734711/sizes/c/in/photostream/

Boy in tree http://www.flickr.com/photos/takile/5809992860/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Materialism: What’s With Wanting So Much Stuff Anyway?

“You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?” Steven Wright


When times are hard, my husband and I tend to quote a few lines from an old movie called “The Jerk.”  Lines like, “All I need is this lamp and this chair, that’s all I need.”  Or, “It’s not the money, it’s the stuff.”  We chortle like merry imbeciles at our bad Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters impressions but really, materialism itself is pretty ridiculous.  What’s with wanting so much stuff anyway?

Accumulating material goods, past the point of sustaining a reasonably enjoyable and healthy lifestyle, is ironic if you think about it.  The simple equation of working for wages means that each expenditure represents more hours of life that you have to trade in to buy them.  You also require an ever larger space to store what you own.  If you run out of living quarters and garage space, you’ll wind up filling storage space too, then devote more working hours to paying rent on that.  Silly.

Sure, I hanker to own beautiful things. I particularly adore buying original art. That way I get the excuse of supporting someone else’s creative process while adding some beauty to my home.  I haven’t hung a new painting on our walls for too long because there are pesky bills to pay, but I still buy artwork to give as gifts.

Fortunately I’m twisted enough to get a kick out of frugality. For example, my husband and I still refuse to replace the last blanket we received as a wedding gift. It’s pretty tattered, but there’s something about waking up with our toes in blanket holes that strikes us funny.

We’ve also spared our kids indulgences like fancy toys, designer clothes or the thrill of being ferried around in a late model car.  For the first eight or so years of their lives they weren’t exposed to commercial television (except those glimpses at grandma’s house) and we didn’t make shopping a recreation, so they didn’t notice any painful contrast. Judging by peace they show now with worn jeans and scuffed shoes, they still don’t care too much.

There are reasons why some kids are more materialistic than others. A fascinating post on Half Full: Science for Raising Happy Kids explains,

“Turns out that there are two things that influence how materialistic kids are. The first is obvious: Consciously or not, we adults socialize kids to be materialistic. When parents—as well as peers and celebrities—model materialism, kids care more about wealth and luxury. So when parents are materialistic, kids are likely to follow suit. Same thing with television viewing: The more TV kids watch, the more likely they are to be materialistic.

The less obvious factor behind materialism has to do with the degree to which our needs are being filled. When people feel insecure or unfulfilled—because of poverty or because a basic psychological need like safety, competence, connectedness, or autonomy isn’t being met—they often to try to quell their insecurity by striving for wealth and a lot of fancy stuff. Because of this, relatively poor teenagers ironically tend to be more materialistic than wealthy ones. And less nurturing and more emotionally cold mothers tend to have more materialistic offspring.”

Yikes.

I can’t help but wonder if, metaphorically, this says something about our larger cultural obsession with stuff.  Are we as a people suffering from insecurity?  Sure.  And the more we listen to political pundits, the more insecure we feel.  Is there something about this current time that causes us to have unfilled needs for connectedness?  Having read Bowling Alone : The Collapse and Revival of American Community I’d have to agree with this too.

Materialism may feel good ever so briefly. Maybe seeking out, buying and bringing home the goods stimulates some primal instinct to hunt and gather. Maybe owning things makes us feel safe from deprivation (even while it increases our debt). Or it maybe it makes us feel worthwhile, at least on a superficial level.

Let’s face it, mindless consumption isn’t great for the planet. The developing world can’t live as we do in the U.S. without critically depleting what’s left of global resources. A shift of priorities is in order, one that asks us to be less selfish. Really, how hard can it be to give up lifestyles based on driving to big box stores in gas guzzlers to buy too much crap, then never paying off the resulting credit card debt? Better for us, better for the planet. Yet research indicates that people with the most materialistic attitudes care less about the environment than folks with stronger value systems.

Interestingly, materialistic attitudes aren’t good for individuals either. Studies have repeatedly found that the more a person focuses on the accumulation and ownership of stuff the less happy they are. They are more likely to suffer from depression, narcissism, low self-esteem, antisocial behavior and substance abuse. They’re also more likely to have health problems including headaches, backaches and digestive disorders. Clearly the gimme gimme approach doesn’t do squat for happiness. And really, whether we raise our children in a grand mansion or a small apartment the factors that go into making a family have very little to do with the things money can buy.

Happiness can be as simple as waking up next to someone you love, laughing because the blanket covering you is riddled with holes. What else do you need? Okay, maybe a lamp. And a chair.

Research cited from the following books:
Simple Prosperity: Finding Real Wealth in a Sustainable Lifestyle
The High Price of Materialism,
Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness