Sunday, December 23, 2012

Living Christmas

Breathing, flourishing, savoring, thriving.  
Our Christmas season traditions mesh an eclectic blend of appreciation for nature and religion.  The season begins with a trip to DC Botanical Gardens to visit their holiday exhibit.  I kept Kaio out of school for the day.  Every year the garden displays new and amazing pieces of plant art, with miniature trains running though the exhibit.  The delicate detail put into this exhibit, I imagine they must work on it all year long. This year's theme is a fairy garden, and it tickles your imagine to no end.

Here are Botanical Garden instructions for how to Create Your Own Fairy Garden.

Breathing, conscious, growing, subsisting, dynamic.  

The Botanical Gardens had little flyers for how to create your own living ornament; I showed Kaio and then stuffed one in my purse.
At home when we unboxed the Christmas ornaments, I found a clear glass globe, perfect for making a terrarium.   As soon as Kaio saw it, he wanted to go outside immediately and grab some dirt.  But, it was night and dark.  The next morning, before even having breakfast, he ran outside to gather dirt for our little oasis of life.

We decided to add moss and dirt.  I thought the moss would grow well in the high humidity glass ball.  We have a cute little moss hill in the backyard and so we cut out a chunk for the terrarium.

Well this was really kaio's deal.  When he's feeling inspired, there is no getting in his way.  He did all this before breakfast on a school day.

The botanical garden instructions suggest using a little funnel to get the dirt in without spilling.

After adding the moss and dirt we also put some sprouting seeds that I had laying around the kitchen, as well as a couple teaspoons of water.

Our tree is right next to a window so it gets lots of light.

In a week it was really thriving.  One of the beans had sprouted and was trying to escape.  The kids debated whether to open the top for it or not.  They decided against that.

Now three weeks later many more of the beans have taken off.  Kaio calls it an 'island'

And in most recent developments, life makes an exploratory mission out of its world.

So amazing to me how by nature some plants seek to constantly expand out to further territory, no matter how impossible it seems.  And then other plants are content to stay close to where they are planted.  I guess this little microcosm is a metaphor for life.

Kaio thinks the bean is coming to tickle us.

The Botanical Gardens instructions recommend planting seeded plants that stay small, like African Violets.  I imagine that would be super cool.  I"ll probably check out the craft stores for clearance ornaments after Christmas so we can make a bunch next year.

A well, a spring, a stream of creation.  

The church within walking distance of our house holds a Living Nativity every year.  This has become another Christmas Tradition.

I love it.

Process, rhythmic, breath, birth and rebirth.

Then there's our winter solstice tradition that we've been participating in with HMN Nova moms for the last three years.  The kids walk a spiral garden of greens with a beeswax candle, light the candle and follow the spiral out, lighting a votive along the way.

This year some of us made releasing bundles to burn in the fire, releasing what is old and welcoming the new.  Nala saw me making them and grabbed some fabric to make her own.  We wrapped up dried sage with notes and tied them shut with patchouli vines.   Nala couldn't think of anything that she wanted to release - I guess at four years old you don't have many issues to shed yet.  So she asked me to write things she wants more of "beauty rainbows" lol.

When we were done she refused to consider burning it!

Fluid, lively, spirited, energetic. 

One last "Living" thing (and this is the first year I'm doing this).  Elf on a Shelf.  I had no idea what that was because my parents never had an elf.  But I learned about it this year and picked up some 'elves'  from our trip to Iceland (which I'll write about someday).  When we got home I told the kids that I brought some of Santa's helpers back from Iceland.  They fly to a new spot in the house every night.  I'm having just as much fun with this as the kids are.

Kaio showed the elves his letter to Santa.

Silly elves, what are you doing up there?

Here are traditions from previous years:
'11 Pretty Holiday Magic - more pictures from the botanical garden last year
'10 Santa Claus Magic - Why I believe in Santa Claus!
'09 Holidays in Our Style - Our first family Christmas Tree

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nala's Girly Girl Lego Party

Nala went to bed the night of her birthday party repeating, "That was the best birthday ever."

Nala woke up the day after her 4th birthday party, "I think I need more presents."

I had to chuckle, "Well Christmas is coming soon and you'll get more present then."

"I want more presents now!"

"Ok well next year we're not going to let any of your friends give you presents for your birthday party just so you can learn to be thankful for what you get."

That shut her up.

I tried to teach Nala that birthdays aren't just about getting presents.  I tried to explain that it's about celebrating with the people you love.

She's obsessed with pink and princesses, concerned with people judging her appearance, and very materialistic.  So far, pretty much the opposite of values I've tried to instill.

I made it a direct point to steer her away from pink as a baby.  I decided the color pink boxes girls in to a stereotype, limits their options, and makes them slaves to such a short spectrum.  Like a communist country only dishing out white bread and nothing else.  You need to taste the rainbow Nala, you shouldn't just wear pink because Mattel says it's the girl color.

But she revolted and now refuses to wear anything but pink.

Then she says things like, "The kids are going to laugh at me if I wear this."
I wish she wouldn't care about what other kids think.

She noticed every person who came to her party and what they brought.  The gifts she didn't like quickly got tossed aside with a snooty upturned nose.  I suggested donating them to toys for tots. "No.  Those are my toys and I'm going to play with them."
Then I suggested giving some of her stuffed animals to kids who lost everything in Super Storm Sandy. "No, those are mine."

In contrast, Kaio wrapped up one of his favorite gifts from his birthday to give to his friend at school as a Christmas present.  I had to try to convince him to, A. wait until Christmas  and B. consider giving something else.  Kaio has always been so generous.  Last year as we cleaned out toys to donate, Kaio put his very favorite toys in the donation bag.  At lego league last week he saw a boy crying because he didn't get the lego character he wanted, Kaio quickly handed his lego figure over to the boy and ran off without even waiting to hear if the boy said 'thank you.'

Kaio asks for lots of toys, and very specific ones.  But he also enjoys them and then sets them free to make space in his life for new things.

Nala doesn't ask for much at all, but gets very attached to the things in her life, personifies them and finds comfort in them.

So, I don't know if you've seen these yet but Lego has a line for girls.  It's called "Friends" and the legos are pink and purple, with little animals, flowers, and butterfly stickers.  Instead of dragons and space ships you can build houses and hair salons.

The first time we were ever exposed to these was on a commercial over at my brother's house.  Nala immediately perked up, "Look Legos for girls!  I want those!"

It literally sickened me that the educational creative toy of choice had succumb to the same girly girl marketing box.  Friends around the net were crabbing on lego for ditching the generic color scheme and turning the traditional lego figures into slender miniskirt-wearing teens.  It seemed like no toy was sacred anymore.  But really the change began long ago, in the last decade the company seemed to make a conscious decision to market strictly to boys with all the product line themes being action adventure or monster focused.

I remember back in the 80's growing up and loving legoes.  Although at the time they were pricey and it was a major treat if my parents bought me a tiny set.  At my school we had tons of legos and I'd build houses and cars, and trade the special more rare legos (like a blue steering wheel) with other kids.

Nala would come with me to Kaio's lego league at his elementary school and play.  We had 3000 legos for the kids to build with.  Nala found 5 little pink legos in the whole batch and would sit there every week playing with her little pink legos, pretending they were food for her puppy, or building a little house out of them.  Each week she'd clean up the legos into a bag and the next week she'd seek them out again.  I started to feel that a set of pink legos would make her a happy kid.

So for her birthday my aunt got her a pink lego bucket set.  As she sifted through the pieces she found the set came with a girl figure, "Look it's me! It's Nala."  Then she proceeded to attach lego Wolverine claws (from one of Kaio's sets) to the girl figure and scratch attack a dragon enemy. "Rarrrrr I get you."
A girl after my heart.

So my dad bought her the Lego Friend's Stable, which comes with horses and a little kity cat.  She seems to love it.  I assembled it for her and she played for hours.  She loves the flowers and little animals.  It does seem to be a great toy for her.  I just wish it wasn't so pink.  But then she might not like it as much...

So I don't know what the right answer is, should I let her play with the girl things or try to keep them from her?  I get the feeling like she's going to be who she is regardless.  As she insists that one toy is for girls and another for boys, I try to tell her that girls and boys can play with the same toys.  But then it's just me against the pictures on the boxes and commercials on the TV.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

If Every Day Could Be This Precious

She crept into my lap, wrapping her arms around my waist, nuzzling my heart with wispy uncombed hair.  "Mommy, mine.... Family stay together, forever."

She talks like that sometimes; in shorthand.  It's like her cutesy baby talk.  She cocks her head like a cat and waits to be cuddled and petted.

Today was a long day.  We stayed home cleaning and setting up the Christmas tree.  At four we went to wait at the bus stop for Kaio and started a game of hide and seek.  I hid behind a skinny tree and she spotted my leg sticking out immediately.  When she ran over to tag me no painter could paint a face that pretty, no musician compose a song as beautiful as her laughter.  When she hid, I pretended to not see her and she let the giggles out to give herself away.

The bus pulled up and she jumped in my arms with excitement over our little man getting home.  He skipped off the bus first and ran to us in a big group hug, planting a kiss right on my lips.  Nala turned to him and kissed his cheek.  He kissed me again.  "Mom, can we go decorate the Christmas tree now?"

"Yes we can!"

I love saying yes.  

We stopped at the quail cage.  I'm teaching Kaio to take over the job of feeding them.  Mari and I leave on a mini vacation next week and I know my mom doesn't want to deal with the birds.  Kaio lifted the door up and propped it open with a garden fence rod.  He carefully took out their long narrow feeder and struggled a bit to open the hinge.  It finally popped open and he walked to the plastic tub of food, took a big scoop full with our big magenta scoop, and began to pour the crumbles in the feeder.  The problem was he poured everything in one spot and food overflowed onto the deck.  I led his arm to the left, showing him how to distribute the feed evenly across the length of the feeder, so as not to spill. 

In the house we continued where we left off yesterday with the Christmas tree.  This meant stringing the lights to She and Him Christmas music, and Nala loved it.  She loved it so much that she repeated, "I love this, I love this, I love this."  over and over with a huge smile.  

Yesterday night our neighbors knocked on the door while were moving Christmas decorations inside from the garage.  They brought us a holiday tin and invited us to an event at their church.  After they left we went in the kitchen and opened the tin.  Inside were two batches of home-baked chocolate chip cookies.  All three of us spontaneously broke out into a "yay!" shouting happy dance.  We finished off the last of the prior week's raw milk delivery, saving some cookies for daddy and Santa.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Family Is

My kids are the ones who play on top of the playhouse.

 My daughter wears all pink and climbs trees in a dress and party shoes.

My son is the one testing the laws of nature

And I'm the mommy up in the tree.

And this is the daddy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Subtle Act of Creative Defiance

Today I volunteered at Kaio's school helping with a kindergarten art activity.  As the teacher's aid explained the task to me I couldn't imagine the kids actually doing it.  She wanted the kids to draw symbols on a paper bag vest and write the words for the symbols below.  This was to teach them that Indians wrote using pictures instead of alphabet.  She had a poster with about thirty symbols to choose from, like a teepee, a tree, a girl, a boy, etc.  The task seemed really complicated to me because the kids would have to look at the picture and copy it, along with spelling a word.

I asked, "But what if the kids don't want to draw that and they start drawing something else?"

"Oh they wont do that.  This is the task and it's not free draw what you want time, they need to draw these symbols only.  They'll do it."

She seemed confident the kids had been trained to follow directions.

In came five kids, including Kaio, to work with me on this task.  I was imagining total anarchy breaking loose.  Kids scribbling all over the page and not understanding the task.  My expectations were pretty low you could say.

Kaio walked in with a smile bright as the sunshine, beaming all over his little face.  He sat right next to me, petting my arm, feeling my hand as if I was barely real.  As if I might be an illusion.  As if I was his sweet long lost love.

Kaio whispered and chatted instead of looking at the teacher while she explained the task...   I braced for needing to repeat the instructions all over again.  I worried about how I'd help five kids all at once.

But, then he proceeded to complete the task exactly as she had instructed.  It blew me away.  At home, he would never do anything of the sort.  At home, he draws what he wants when he wants, don't even waste your breath asking him to do a worksheet or draw something specific.  It would just result in a backlash of, "No! you do it."

I had no idea he could write words other than "Spiderman, and Lego".  I had no idea he could follow directions without continual prompting.  I had no idea he was even paying attention when people talked around him.

So seeing him siting peacefully in the chair, keeping on task, just knocked my socks off.

Then he asked if he could add a door to the teepee.  The teacher had left the room so I said, "ok."  Then he added a tongue to the snake.  Then, in the very last line on the vest - the last spot for a symbol, he drew something that wasn't one of the 'approved images.'

 He didn't ask for permission this time.  I could see it was too late for that.  The creativity inside him begged to escape.  The ideas flowing through his head, visions bursting through the little muscles of his hand, pleading to bleed onto that paper vest.  He'd proven he could complete the task, he'd repressed the desire to cover the vest with symbols for ninjas, monster trucks and angry birds.  Now, at the bottom of the back of the vest, cleverly shaded and camouflaged by the perfectly conformist copies of teacher produced symbols, in a subtle act of creative defiance, he drew a simple stick figure dog.  And under it wrote the word, "DOG"

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Mellow Phase

This time of year always gets a little crazy.  I either find lots more time to write, or none at all.  The last couple weeks I've made no time to write.  And really, that's uplifting.  Because writing's a type of therapy for me and so if I'm not doing it, it's because I don't need the therapy.  

I've stepped into a mellow phase in life. Not that there aren't 100 things to do.  I still have a to-do list a page long, written on the back of an envelope, next to the computer.  Every day I cross a couple things off and add 5 more.  

I still get out and have fun, see the kids acting incredibly cute and want to burn the moments into eternity.  But, it seems less important now that they're older.  Maybe that's dangerously deceiving  and I should be writing these things down.  Like the time when Nala discovered her elbow, or when I heard the greatest sound ever, or when I learned how dumb I am, or when the kids had their first tiff.  Are the moments of today any less important?  Nala stuck a role of Scotch tape to the tip of my nose and it hung there.  Then she balanced two pens and a scissors inside the roll.  I volunteered at Kaio's art class and he looked over his shoulder brightly beaming at me the whole time, then made this self portrait:

A couple days ago I walked into the bathroom and it looked like this:

You see Kaio and Mari were out of town for a week.  They flew down to Brazil for a good friend's wedding.  That whole week the house felt so quiet.  Nala's such an easy kid, she'll entertain herself for hours without asking for anything.  By the end of the week the house was clean, so clean and organized.  Just us girls we got through the piles of clothes to be put away and kept the toys off the floor and the rooms tidy.  

Then the boys come home and within an hour toys are dumped all over the floor, suitcases sprawled and clothing piled.  I still haven't gotten it all picked up.  In no time Kaio was leaping down the stairs, four stairs at a time.  The yang energy back in full force.

The quiet lunch time that Nala and I usually share, ripped into by a hippidy hoppidy kiddo full of bounce and ideas.  He wanted to bob for apples.  This is the kind of request that would make me annoyed.  But because I hadn't seen him in a week, it sounded fun and refreshing.  I'll try to remember that on a daily basis.  Remember that although these off the wall schemes he comes up with seem like a nuisance, they are the thumping of the heartbeat that keeps our family thriving with life. 

Then he dressed up in a spiderman suit and climbed a tree.  

Halloween 2012
Nala dressed as Rainbow Dash, her favorite My Little Pony.  She was always on the move, jolting from one spot to another.  

My costume sucked but whatever.  I'm always looking for an excuse to dress up.  The day I stop dressing up on Halloween will be the day my inner child turns to ice.  I hope that day never comes.

There was a sign saying "No Adults Can Bounce" so I had to just sit there and watch them.  It sure looked like fun :(.

When you're a teenager you feel like you own the world, like you can bend light with your mind and change a city from the ground up.  You get older and wiser and realize that you can't do much about anything without exhausting way more effort than it's worth.  And the idealism melts into a something payment, signed away with indifference and learned helplessness.  Then we nod at the news and weather and find our joy in the smiles of the younger generation, in their sparkle, their naivety and wonder.

In case you wanted to see a jack-o-lantern massacre
 Ack.  that sounds so depressing.  I'm not depressed, just mellow, contemplative, reflective.  I love my life right now.  Love my kids and man.  Could just kiss them endlessly.  

And so as 2012 comes almost to a close.  To my pleasant surprise, the world has not ended yet.  Looks like the human race might survive.   As the kids are older, diapers are away in the closet. I don't have to worry so much about watching their every move, making sure they're not holding a knife or running with a glass jar.  We can spend more time focusing on what we like to do, and on little projects.

And time passes slowly again.  And we savor every minute with great gratitude.

and I just love this family with big kisses all over.


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