Gifting a Week of Meals

giving meals, cooking for others, meal sharing,

Yum. (CC by 2.0 thebittenword.com on flickr)

Soon after my second baby was born, I was informed that I’d be receiving a week of meals delivered by my friends. The next seven nights our doorbell rang and there stood someone dear to me holding warm dishes filled with delights.

A break from planning and making dinner was a blessed relief. It also exposed my family to a wider array of foods. More importantly, each night we sat down to eat a relaxed dinner lovingly made for us.

We were given so much food that we tucked lots of it in the freezer, spreading the bounty of kindness into the following weeks. One friend came laden with two different kinds of lasagna, one with garlicky white sauce and spinach, another layered with black beans and lots of veggies. Years later I still make both of her recipes.

A week of meals for families with new babies became a tradition in my circle of friends and my Le Leche League chapter. Here’s what worked for us.

1. Someone particularly close to the new mom and her family usually broached the idea to their mutual friends. We never designated a person in charge of planning. But your group of friends, or church, or neighborhood may decide that putting one person in charge of noting who will make a meal which night makes it easier.

2. We contacted the new mom with some basic questions such as best days and times to drop off food, food preferences, and if she wanted food brought ready to eat at dinner time or in advance to heat up later that day. Some moms preferred to have meal deliveries every other day.

3. Then we verified the plans with all potential participants. It worked best to accommodate a variety of needs among people contributing meals. Some preferred to drop off bags of Mid-Eastern salads or trays of sushi they picked up on the way home from work. Some didn’t have time to deliver a meal during the week but happily provided brunch on the weekend. It helped to jot down what people were planning to make so the family didn’t end up with three enchilada entrees on three consecutive nights.

4. We sent out a full schedule to everyone participating. It functioned as a reminder, listed who was bringing what, and offered suggestions such as labeling pans and including recipes. A shared Google doc can uncomplicate things. Or use one of these online meal scheduling sites to make this easier:

Meal Baby

Take Them a Meal

Meal Train

Care Calendar

Lotsa Helping Hands

Caring Meals

Of course, a new baby isn’t the only reason to provide a series of meals. It’s a great way to welcome someone home when they return from service project or military assignment. It’s a godsend when people are dealing with illness or injury. And it’s remarkably helpful during the time a family is undergoing a major home renovation. Mix it up. Rather than arranging a week of steady meals, you might offer a meal every Wednesday or set up a regular potluck date to eat together.

There may be no more basic gesture of kindness than feeding people. Food sharing is a tradition found in every culture, stretching back to our earliest history. It’s a stomach-filling, community-building kindness like no other. It can also swing back around remarkably. By the time my fourth child was born I was gifted with a full three weeks of meals, nearly all made by people I’d once cooked for. It was an embarrassment of riches but oh how those delicious foods warmed our hearts.

Other ways to build community:

Bring Kids Back to the Commons

Engage the Window Box Effect

It Really Does Take a Village

We Don’t Need No Age Segregation 

Welcome Kids Into the Workplace More Than Once a Year

Odd Second Saturday Suppers

Better Together: Restoring the American Community

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

All That We Share

This is a repost from our farm site

We Have Room

 

refugee children, host border children, welcome the stranger, angels unaware,

All images thanks to wikimedia commons.

There may be no more powerful image in art, no more important message in scripture, than open arms. Welcoming the stranger is a basis of civilization, especially if that stranger is a refugee and always if that stranger is a child.

“You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” Christianity, Deuteronomy 10: 19

“Charity—to be moved at the sight of the thirsty, the hungry, and the miserable and to offer relief to them out of pity—is the spring of virtue.” Jainsim/Kundakunda, Pancastikaya 137

“When the Holy One loves a man, He sends him a present in the shape of a poor man, so that he should perform some good deed to him, through the merit of which he may draw a cord of grace.” Judaism. Zohar, Genesis 104a

“One should give even from a scanty store to him who asks.” Buddhism. Dhammapada 224

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Christianity. Hebrews 13.1

“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good – to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet) and what your right hands possess: For Allah loveth not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”  Islam. Quran 4:36

“A traveler through a country would stop at a village and he didn’t have to ask for food or for water. Once he stops, the people give him food, entertain him. That is one aspect of Ubuntu.” Nelson Mandela, discussing the southern Africa tradition of Ubuntu

“See to it that whoever enters your house obtains something to eat, however little you may have. Such food will be a source of death to you if you withhold it.” Native American religions. A Winnebago Father’s Precepts

“`0 Ke aloha Ke Kuleana o kahi malihini. Love is the host in strange lands.”  Hawaiian saying

Relieve people in distress as speedily as you must release a fish from a dry rill [lest he die]. Deliver people from danger as quickly as you must free a sparrow from a tight noose. Be compassionate to orphans and relieve widows. Respect the old and help the poor. Taoism. Tract of the Quiet Way

 

child 2

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Whether scripture or statue inscription, we all know it’s easier to state our principles than adhere to them. I’m as weak as the next person in actually living up to what I believe.

I’ve vowed to keep politics out of this site, so I won’t be talking about lies fostered by divisive media or shockingly cruel attitudes toward refugees of any age. I’ll only say that it takes an extraordinary act of love to scrape together the coyote fees to send one’s child away in hopes of a safe haven. It takes inestimable courage for that child to walk through deserts, ride the tops of trains, and face down thieves along the way in hopes of real freedom.

My husband and I did some soul-searching. We talked to our kids. And we decided we cannot stand by while refugee children turn themselves in at the border only to be treated like criminals. We have room to host refugee children.

We applied to the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. We were told placements might be for a few months or they might be permanent. So we re-imagined our lives. Now that our kids are college students and young adults we thought we were done raising children, but we can go back to homemade popsicles and toys on the floor and books read aloud. We have our own problems with unemployment and a not-remotely-profitable small farm, but what we have can always stretch. There’s a place in our home and our hearts.

That doesn’t mean we have a greeting card view of this. These children will be traumatized, experience culture shock, and face learning a new language. We’ll have plenty of adapting to do as well.

Lately before falling asleep, I look ahead to rows of family pictures stretching into the future. Those pictures seem to hold two dark-haired faces newly dear to me, and eventually, more of their relatives joining them and becoming part of our extended family, on for generations, with babies in arms growing to stand tall, my husband and me fading into old age and beyond. It’s a good vision.

Right now it looks like that vision won’t come true. I just got an email from Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It said, in part, 

After exploring the nationwide LIRS foster care program network, I am sorry to share with you that LIRS does not have a foster care program in the geographic area that you are located. If at a future time an opportunity arises, we will reach out to you at that time.

I wrote back, asking if there was some way I could help set up a program in our area. Apparently the only option is applying for a grant through the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which I admit is probably past me. So now I’m applying to other agencies.

I only mention our quest in hopes that someone out there may qualify even if we don’t. Here are resources to investigate.

Office of Refugee Resettlement

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Bethany Refugee Care

Texas Interfaith Center
refugees, host border children,

 

International Hosting: How Strangers Become Family

Children of Chernobyl, host a child,

Tanya’s portrait.

“It’s a decision of the heart.”

Director Patty Knable sat at our kitchen table interviewing my family as potential hosts for the Children of Chernobyl Project.  It had taken almost two years to get the Ohio branch of this non-profit to consider us (based in Youngstown, they preferred families nearby). I hoped we passed muster.

The Children of Chernobyl Project brought kids each year from contaminated areas in Belarus to stay for the summer with host families. Vast amounts of radiation were released in the 1986 catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear power station. Radionuclides spread from the Ukraine across Europe, leaving 23 percent of the territory in Belarus highly contaminated. Food, water, even the dust exposed people to radiation. (It will continue to do so for countless generations.) The result? Much higher risks of cancers, genetic mutations, and other health problems. Getting kids out of that area for a few months each year to live with host families helped to boost their immune systems. We were told it had to do with eating uncontaminated food and getting medical care. Patty said extra happiness helped too.

I asked how she matched a child with a host family. She said it was hard to explain. She looked at the names of the children on her list, thought about the families who had applied, and let something past intuition guide her. “It’s amazing how it works out,” she said. “It’s a decision of the heart.”

A few weeks later we were told the little girl who would stay with us that summer was Tatiana, seven years old. We learned very little about her in advance other than she was an only child.

I knew she had to be a very brave little girl to travel thousands of miles away from home to stay with strangers, people who didn’t even speak her language. I knew her parents must be even braver. I wondered if I’d be able to muster the courage to send my children away if I were in the same situation. (Our home is closer to two nuclear power plants, along the shores of Lake Erie, than Tatiana’s family was to the ruined Chernobyl plant, so the consideration is important.) I’d long been driven to act in opposition to the splitting of the atom, but preparing to host this little girl felt entirely different than petitions and rallies and lobbying. It felt like simply extending a hand of friendship from our family to hers.

Finally the day arrived. We’d set up a bedroom for her with art supplies and puzzles, some new clothes, and simple wrapped gifts.  I’d ordered all sorts of Russian language kid’s books and audiotapes from the library. We’d hung a banner over the front porch with WELCOME in Cyrillic letters as well as English. And we’d prepared by learning Russian words and phrases. I even taped cheat sheets in the inside of cupboard doors so I could ask her questions like what she wanted for breakfast.

It was a long drive to the Youngstown airport, although nothing like the trip this little girl had been enduring. She’d been traveling with a group of other children and volunteers. The last leg of their trip would be in small aircraft flown by volunteer pilots. The tiny airport was aswirl with families welcoming kids returning for repeat visits. As each plane landed we stood at high fences watching their young passengers disembark. When seasoned host families,  carrying balloons and gifts, spotted a returning child they waved and screamed their names. Many planes landed before I saw a little girl with a honey-colored ponytail and a red baseball cap get off the plane. My heart leaped. I’d never seen a picture of her but I was sure this was our child.

When our names were finally called to the room where the children were waiting we were introduced to a different girl. Okay, I thought, my intuition was wrong. I knelt down to say privet to her. Just then she was pulled back by the volunteers, who apologized for the mix-up. Another girl was brought forward. The girl with the honey-colored hair and the red cap. Yes, my heart said, yes.

From the very first day this darling little girl’s personality shone brightly. She made it clear she preferred to be called “Tanya.” She told us, almost entirely through gestures, about her first plane ride by showing us that her seatmate Yulia cried for her Mama, that Yulia retched, that the stewardessa droned on in “angleesh.”

We thought we’d learned enough Russian to speak to her. We were wrong. But our pronunciation gave her something to laugh about, which helped. We spent a lot of time flipping through our illustrated Russian/English dictionary pointing and giggling at each other’s languages. My kids adored the Russian words she taught us (the belly button is called “poop”) and the Russian drinking songs she sang for us. That first night, thanks to library materials, we danced to the Hokey Pokey in Russian.

Tanya was horrified by my vegetarian meals, refused to participate in the activities my outdoor-loving children preferred, and let us know that she hadn’t traveled so far to live like a peasant. She wanted to be entertained!

Children of Chernobyl.

Amusing my new daughter from Belarus.

My scruples fell by the wayside. Like anthropologists to our own culture we explored shopping malls and tourist sites, went to amusement parks rather than wilderness areas, even bought some fast food meals. Tanya picked up English quickly. She displayed her brilliance in many other ways too, typically beating any of us at board games we’d played for years and she’d just learned.

She made friends in the neighborhood and particularly adored spending time with my daughter, her American sister. Her time here changed all of us, especially my four kids. She became a member of our family, a family that now joyfully extends to Belarus.

host a child, international hosting, homestay programs,

She stayed with us every summer until she turned thirteen.

That last summer she’d been hosted as many times as the program could allow. We did our best to stay in touch by sending letters as well as holiday and birthday gifts. We got a few letters back from her, each one ending with how much she loved and missed us and hoped we remembered her. Then those letters didn’t come any more. Finally she got computer access and got in touch. We learned she’d received none of our gifts the last few years and thought we’d forgotten her.

This year we managed to help her get a travel visa, not easy in a country like hers, and flew her here to stay with us. She’s a new university graduate now, a gracious and lovely young woman. She just left to return home few days ago. We can’t wait to visit her some day, to meet her parents and immerse ourselves in her culture. She’s a forever member of our family, a daughter of our hearts.

Children of Chernobyl, become a host, international hosting opportunities,

Our beloved Tanya, all grown up, enjoying one of our favorite restaurants.

Become a Host! 

I think we all need to love specific individuals in different places in the world instead of staying on our own little street corners. One way to do this is by hosting people in your home. You can do this informally, inviting far-off online friends or people you’ve met through other long-distance connections to stay if they come your way. There are also plenty of programs that bring people to your door, people who may very well become family to you in a short time. Here are a few ways.

Host a child:

There are many organizations with the name Children of Chernobyl operating in the UK, Canada, and the US, most with similar guidelines for hosting families.

Urban kids in the US are matched up with families living outside the city, where the kids stay for a week or two, via the Fresh Air Fund. This link is for the NYC program, but you may find one in your area. We hosted an engaging little boy through a similar Cleveland program, called Friendly Town, which no longer seems to be in operation. He came one summer, then a few weekends, but moved out of state before we could host him the next summer.

Exchange students are a lively way to connect. Some programs are short stay, others are a full school year. Check out well-established programs with support personnel in your area like American Field ServiceYouth for UnderstandingRotary Youth Exchange, or World Exchange. Friends of ours have hosted a high school student every year for the last 11 years. They stay in touch with these young people and their families, and have visited nearly every student in his or her home country.

Host an adult:

Check out groups you are affiliated with such as religious institution, charity, or club. Oftentimes these groups will need short term lodging for a speaker or visitor.

Welcome a visiting professional through the Fulbright Scholar Program. We know a retired couple who have opened their home for years to educators and researchers from dozens of countries around the world through this program.

Register with the AFS Intercultural Program to host young people performing community service or teachers doing foreign exchange service at a nearby school.

Sign up with the National Council for International Visitors. This organization connects visiting leaders from other countries to people in the community. You might welcome them for a meal, show them the highlights in your area, or host them for a few days.

Join Servas, the oldest of international exchange programs. You can serve as a day host or offer a homestay.

40 Ways Kids Can Volunteer, Toddler to Teen

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“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.”  Anne Frank

 

When we make service work a normal part of our lives we don’t simply teach our children strong core values, we demonstrate these values in action.

Often volunteering isn’t “official.” A family does yard work and errands for a housebound neighbor. Or they compile information and pass out fliers to get a safety initiative passed through city council. Or they put on a garage sale and donate all the proceeds to benefit a local shelter. They are making the community a better place through their own efforts. The side effect? They give their children a wonderful dose of can-do attitude.

When families reach out to help others, their children learn that this is a natural response. After all, the word “humane” is a variant of the word “human.” The definition of “humane” includes demonstrating better aspects of the human character such as kindness and compassion and showing respect for other people’s views. The word used to define us also describes the qualities essential to forging a society based on mutual regard.

And science tells us that giving makes us happy, from toddler on up.

There are many creative ways to volunteer based on local needs and your child’s interests.

1. Regularly visit a “grandfriend” at a nursing home, assisted living facility, or in the neighborhood. Play card games, do crafts together, teach each other new skills, make up stories, exchange advice, and build a real connection

2, Volunteer to deliver Meals on Wheels in your neighborhood, perfect for parent and young children.

3. Raise a service dog, typically a puppy training commitment of two years. There are many organizations. Here’s a partial list:

4. Grow vegetables and offer extra produce to people who don’t have space to garden, to new parents who don’t have time to garden, to a hunger center.

5. Set up a playgroup for babies at your local nursing home or assisted living facility. This is something I did, which started a family tradition of getting kids involved in the community.

6. Have little kids draw special pictures. Use these as wrapping paper, tucking inside them a piece of wrapped candy or silk flower, along with a note like “thanks for being so nice” or “you made my day.” Then keep these in the diaper bag and when you’re out together, stay on the lookout for a nice cashier, helpful librarian, or kind friend to hand out a surprise package. It cues kids to see goodness everywhere.

7. Let little kids offer popsicles to garbage truck workers. For more ways the smallest kids can engage in acts of kindness, check here.

8. Create ways to share with your neighbors, from a toy swaps to co-ops. Consult the Center for a New American Dream guide and any of the great guides offered by Shareable.

9. As a family or with a group of kids, develop a program to present at a nearby library, daycare, or community center. It might be a puppet show, play, or craft project. Or get your dance class, choir, or martial arts school to give a demonstration at a daycare, nursing home, or community center.

10. Form a band or acting troupe with friends and give free performances.

11.  Make some no-sew dog toys for animals in shelters using inexpensive fleece remnants or old torn jeans. Use old blankets, pillows, or fabric remnants to make pet beds for shelters. Ask if you can volunteer to walk dogs. Raise funds to buy food, litter, and other items the shelter needs. And consider adopting a rescue animal. There are rescue organizations for all sorts of companions, from horses to hamsters.

12. Do errands, cook for or otherwise help out a someone dealing with an illness.

13. Pick up litter in your neighborhood or wildlife area. It’s safest to do this wearing gloves and using a pick up tool or a reacher. Put each piece of trash in a box or garbage bag, then recycle or throw away when you’re done.

14. Protect natural, cultural, and historical resources by volunteering for the National Park Service Youth Conservation Corps (age 16 and up).

15. Work on sets, distribute tickets, usher patrons to their seats, or perform for your local community theater.

16. Learn rehabbing skills while volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. Rules may vary, in our area older kids can volunteer along with a parent.

17. See if your local food shelter will let families work together to set tables, serve beverages, and clean up. If not, you can raise funds to donate food. We know a family that twice-monthly cooks an entrée for 15 people, along with several other families cooking the same entrée, so it can be served that evening at a free dinner offering.

18. Walk dogs, collect mail, shovel snow, or rake leaves for someone in your neighborhood who needs the help.

19. Serve as unofficial welcoming friends for immigrants who could use help navigating unfamiliar streets and who need assistance learning the customs and colloquialisms that aren’t in any handbook.

20. Repair and donate such items as toys, household items, bikes, or computers.

21. Volunteer with Red Cross Youth Services through your local Red Cross branch. And make sure kids and parents take a CPR/first-aid course so everyone is ready to volunteer lifesaving services if necessary.

22. Write letters to deployed service members. For more snail mail ideas, check out 38 Unexpected Ways to Revel in Snail Mail.

23. Produce a neighborhood newspaper or e-letter.

24. Volunteer to help out with Special Olympics.

25. Connect with teens around the world through Unicef-sponsored Voices of Youth.

26. Certify your backyard, even your apartment balcony, as a wildlife garden through the National Wildlife Federation.

27. Greet new people on your street with a small gift such as a houseplant or plate of cookies.

28. Network with other young people working on causes and get small grants to fund your project through Do Something.

29. Certify your dog as a therapy dog to volunteer in hospitals and schools.

30. Form a Peace Jam club and work on positive projects together. (pre-teen, teen)

31. Adopt a town monument and keep it clean.

32. Volunteer to help your library run an Edible Book Festival.  For more library-related service ideas, check out Celebrate Hug Your Librarian Day.

33. Make treats and deliver them to your local police or fire station.

34. Volunteer as a family to help at a Ronald McDonald House in your area.

35. Make warm scarves to donate. Collect clothing, blankets, toys, disposable diapers, and personal care items and donate to homeless shelters.

36. Get involved with Youth Volunteer Corps.

37. Plant extra seeds and share the plants. You might set up a seed or a plant exchange in your 4-H club, church, or other organization.

38. Organize to build a playground in your neighborhood.

39. Earn a President’s Volunteer Service Award for your volunteer work. People of all ages can sign up, track their hours, and search for volunteer opportunities through United We Serve.

40. Earn the Congressional Award, which recognizes initiative by American youth in four self-determined goals areas: Volunteer Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness and Expedition/Exploration. The award is earned individually or with friends, at one’s own pace. 

Portions of this post are excerpted from Free Range Learning.

  

Many More Ideas 

The Giving Book: Open the Door to a Lifetime of Giving

The Busy Family’s Guide to Volunteering: Do Good, Have Fun, Make a Difference as a Family!

The Kid’s Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference

The Teen Guide to Global Action: How to Connect with Others (Near & Far) to Create Social Change

It’s Your World–If You Don’t Like It, Change It: Activism for Teenagers

A Kids’ Guide to Protecting & Caring for Animals: How to Take Action! (How to Take Action! Series)

77 Creative Ways Kids Can Serve

How to Be an Everyday Philanthropist: 330 Ways to Make a Difference in Your Home, Community, and World – at No Cost!

Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play

The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking

It Really Does Take A Village

takes a village to raise a child, don't raise children alone, parenting in isolation, isolated mother, community supported parenting,

onurrus.deviantart.com

 

You’ve heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” You’ve probably also noticed slap backs like, “I’ve seen the village and it’s not raising my kids.”

If we actually consider the proverb we see the wisdom it contains. Throughout nearly all eras of human history, parents weren’t isolated from a supportive network of other people. Grandparents, siblings, cousins, and friends not only nurtured children, they made good parenting much easier. When a baby cried there were other arms to carry it or carry on the mother’s tasks as she nursed. When a toddler played there were other eyes keeping watch. When a child was ready to learn there were people available to show him how to fashion reeds into a basket, to fish in the river, to tan hides, to choose the right plants to make medicines. When a teen sought role models there were many to emulate, people who had been guiding forces her whole life. Children grew up with an invaluable sense of connection to kinfolk and community.

Today we don’t benefit from the educational richness of traditional village life where children can see and take part in the real work necessary to sustain life. Few of us live near extended family members. But we can foster the development of our own “villages” in at least three ways. Here’s how it worked for me.

1. Establish a supportive network.

When my first child arrived I didn’t know another soul mothering a newborn. Although my parenting and life choices were far different than my mother’s, I found myself calling her nearly every day. It was comforting to talk to someone who cared that I’d been up all night, even if I had to filter out suggestions like feeding rice cereal to a newborn. I also started attending a nearby Le Leche League group to be around other mothers with small babies. There I found women who shared ideas, laughter, and lightly used baby clothes.

When we began homeschooling, once again I felt isolated. All my friends’ children were school bound. So I linked up with several homeschooling groups. Online is great but in-person is better in dozens of ways. My new homeschooling buddies and I had approaches to learning that spanned the spectrum from unschooling to school-at-home, but our lively conversations veered away from judgment. We cared about each other, looking forward to field trips and park days as much as our kids. We particularly enjoyed the way our kids’ unique curiosities blended, creating the kind of quirky fun so typical of homeschooled kids.

2. Create a “chosen” extended family.

Sure, I felt closer to my parents once I became a mother, but I also needed to expand my tribe. The first woman I met with a newborn became like a sister to me. We didn’t always agree on politics or religion but it didn’t matter. As more children came into both our families we watched each other’s kids, exchanged household items, went on day trips, and supported each other through crises.

My group of parent-friends expanded. This made it easy to take turns carpooling and babysitting. It also made for wonderfully boisterous get-togethers. My extended family also included a group of women who called themselves “crones,” new farming friends, and an elderly Scottish bagpipe instructor. These people cast all sorts of light in our lives.

3. Develop rich connections in the community.

When I moved it took a year to meet the people across the street. It was not an overtly friendly place. I was determined to make it into a real neighborhood. I invited people over for potlucks, Halloween parties, and all sorts of kid-centric fun. When new families moved in, I greeted them with homemade goods and an invite to my next event. It became a place where my kids felt known and accepted. One son learned small engine repair from a retired man who liked to tinker, another son liked to visit the guy a few doors down who sculpted in stone, my daughter sang impromptu operas in the front yard without a moment’s self-consciousness.

We stretched to make community connections as well. We struck up conversations that turned into remarkable learning experiences, giving us access to experts in all sorts of fields. My kids have spent years volunteering in Red Cross, recreation programs, wildlife rescue, and more. We make our home part of a larger village, for example hosting people from overseas, running a food co-op, and holding social action meetings. Like our home, the community became a place where my children’s interests were nourished. We have a village now. Whatever direction we extend a hand, we find a friendly hand waiting

Village building resources.

*Get in touch with family members, near or far. Reach out for support even if it doesn’t come in the exact flavor you’d prefer.

*Connect with other parents at the park, playgroups, and nature preserve. Build mutually supportive networks by exchanging your time and talents.

*Join groups that sustain your interests in a positive way. Ask for information about homeschooling groups and programs at your public library. If you are nursing a child, try your local Le Leche League chapter.  Consider joining the Holistic Moms Network. Find or start any sort of group on Meetup.com, from a stroller-pushing-dog-walking get-together to a kids’ chess club. 

*Enjoy the sense of belonging found in active membership in a church, charity, outdoor group, or any organization where families are welcome.

*Establish connections by becoming “regulars.” You may choose to go out for breakfast each Saturday at the same locally owned place where the staff knows your kids. You may help out at a CSA farm as a family. You’ll also feel more at home in your community through regular visits to your library, recreation center, and park.

*Be the neighbor you’d like to have. Extend kindness and warmth as you get to know people. Perform acts of service along with your kids, whether shoveling the driveway of an elderly neighbor or volunteering with Meals on Wheels. Even the smallest children can perform acts of kindness.

*Develop a tradition of community service. There are plenty of ways for kids, toddler to teen, can volunteer.  And help them get involved in civic affairs, clubs, and community organizations. They’re creating their own place in the village too.

it takes a village, community building for families,  isolated parents, parent friendships,

cozplayinsmed.deviantart.com

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.

Sock Monsters Take On The World

Okay, maybe not the world, but these guys are trying.

I started making sock monsters a few weeks ago in hopes of earning some money for the holidays. The monsters require little in the way of new materials other than stuffing and socks. Their features are created out of vintage buttons, embroidery floss, rick rack, even thread so old it’s wrapped around wooden spools. This makes them extra special because these notions were left to me by my mother and grandmother. It’s also, frankly, necessary frugality. I’m grateful every day to be writing and living on our little farm especially when others have greater struggles. But I do notice that smaller portions of bliss pie are particularly sweet, perhaps because each morsel is savored.

As I stitch odd little ears, embroider asymmetrical eyes, string bright tufts of hair and appliqué teeth on these monster faces my thoughts keep turning to a woman I’ve recently begun corresponding with, a woman whose selfless actions call out the best in others.

Her name is Sasha Crow. Back in the autumn of 2005 she read an article about an Iraqi ambulance driver who had been killed during a U.S. bombing raid while trying to rescue the injured. Survivors included his young widow with six small children. Sasha had a moment of connection reading the names of those children. She managed to contact the journalist to see what she might do to help the family. Finally the answer came back. The widow needed a quarter acre of land, two cows and some sheep. Sasha hadn’t expected this request, but mustered up a fundraiser among her Seattle friends to provide the struggling Iraqi family with some assurance of security.

After that Sasha was more crucially aware of the needs of Iraqi refugees, the largest Christian diaspora of our time. The slogan “Not In Our Name” suddenly took on many real faces. And Sasha’s life changed.

Now with activist Mary Madsen and other dedicated volunteers, Sasha runs a shoestring charity based in Jordan which provides direct relief to Iraqi refugees. Innocent civilians, described dispassionately as “collateral damage” in wartime, have inspired her to call the non-profit organization Collateral Repair Project (CRP).

Here I sit in my comfortable house night after night leaning close to a gooseneck lamp as I stitch soft toys. My dogs sleep on the rug nearby. I listen, as long as the Internet connection is good, to podcasts on science or philosophy or spirituality. When my kids come in the room I solicit their ideas for the next sock monster’s face. I hear wind picking up enough to give a delightful feeling of contrast: cold outside, warm inside. I know that my heart won’t let me keep any money I might make by selling these monsters.

Sasha and I have been corresponding in particular about a project she’s struggling to get off the ground. Iraqi refugees in Jordan are not permitted, by law, to work. Before being displaced by war they were teachers, engineers, business owners—-never expecting to lose everything. Now they try to live on small assistance checks while waiting to see what the future might bring. Sasha realized with horror that many of the babies in these families are sickly and malnourished. Their mothers have been separated from close extended family ties, traumatized by war, and too often are unable to breastfeed. Without this vital source of nourishment Sasha knows the infants suffer from the lack of nutrients at this formative stage.  When there’s no money for milk let alone formula, what little milk there is gets watered down. Or worse, families must resort to feeding their babies sugar water. Sasha has tried promoting projects to advance the cause of breastfeeding through peer-to-peer relationships, like Le Leche League, but there’s insufficient funding. Right now she’s simply trying to provide formula and milk to babies in need. But no one, not one major relief agency, will partner with CRP’s Milk Fund because it’s a global goal to advance breastfeeding (a cause she supports, but logic dictates that formula is also needed in this situation). Even older children are not getting the nutrients they need. Hence, the project has to be funded directly.

All proceeds earned by these sock monsters will go to CRP. This first batch will be sold at Elements Gallery, run by artists Steve and Debra Bures. Then, if I’m weary of monster making I’ll come up with something else. Maybe an online art challenge with all works sold to benefit CRP. Or a big mid-Eastern feast this winter, all proceeds going to CRP. Any other ideas? I’d love to hear them.

Wind may be howling outside, but here the monsters are soft and made with love.  In a small way they’re taking on the misery created by larger monsters.

How to Get Involved With CRP

Take a look at CRP Projects

 

How to Make Sock Monsters

Select a baby or toddler-sized sock.

Remove an inch or so strip from the open end of the sock. Snip open a small space at the toe.  If you choose, make a small slit at the heel where you can sew in a tongue or tasty morsel the monster might want to chew on.

Then turn the sock inside-out. Sew the ends and sides of the ears closed in a continuous seam. Try making one shorter than the other.

Trim the seam.

Stuff the sock tightly with polyfill or old pillow contents or dryer lint or whatever you’ve got. Start with the ears and work your way down.  Leave the bottom end open for now, as you may want to stitch through this opening as you add features.

Now it’s time to add personality. Remember if you’re making a sock monster for a baby, the safest features are those drawn or embroidered on.

Try some scary felt teeth.

A tongue made from left over bits of sock (yes, monster surgery).

Layered eyes of notions like snaps and binding.

A silly sideways felted mouth and giant button eyes.

Perhaps a bright patch of embroidery floss hair.

Or ring glasses.

Then sew the toe opening (monster rear) closed. You may choose to seam the sides together for a simple bottom, which looks like toes on this head-standing sock monster.

Or insert a bit of sock fabric and sew the opening shut, making a somewhat more stable monster  (standing-wise, not necessarily emotionally).

I’ve been experimenting with feet, hands and wings on my next monsters.  Sock monsters are much more forgiving than actual monsters, thank goodness.