Friday, July 30, 2010

{this moment} - Hanging on Grandma's Porch

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. Hosted by soulemama

Kelly is a scholar-turned-mother/activist who is interested in issues of personal balance and social justice. She has published a number of articles and offers presentations internationally on the topics of voluntary simplicity and humane parenting. Learn more at her website

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Minivan Mama

Today, I joined the ranks of Moms Who Drive Minivans.

I never thought I'd find my way here. Not because minivans are uncool (which, apparently, they are) but because they're so inefficient. I always thought that when my old Explorer needed to retire, I'd get a Prius or something like that.

But something overcame me - this irresistible urge for a minivan. Why should this be? I'm green, right?

So I've given it a lot of thought, and here's my theory:

When I was growing up, my mom was a single parent and worked a lot. When she wasn't working, she didn't want to be driving me and my friends around, and I never was able to have friends over the house. My friends' moms all seemed to be so accepting of us, welcoming their kids' friends into their homes for dinner or sleepovers. I vowed that when I was a mom, I would be the cool mom, the warm and inviting kind of mom.

So here I am, with my five-year-old daughter starting to develop a circle of friends and a social life. She's going off to Primary (Wellspring's version of kindergarten) in September, and living more and more of her life away from me. That's a good, healthy thing, but I am also feeling like it is more important that I have a good relationship with her and her friends. I want to be a mom who brings kids to the park after school, brings them home after school for a quick playdate, or brings a few of them home from a field trip. I want her friends to feel comfortable with me, and for her to feel comfortable with her friends being around me. For that, I need a minivan.

So, this time, emotions won out over environmental responsibility. Even though I know I probably shouldn't want a minivan, I do. I want the life, the relationship with my kids, and the experience of motherhood that the minivan represents to me. So I took the plunge. I hope it's all I dreamed it would be.

Kelly is a scholar-turned-mother/activist who is interested in issues of personal balance and social justice. She has published a number of articles and offers presentations internationally on the topics of voluntary simplicity and humane parenting. Learn more at her website

Monday, July 26, 2010

Imagination and Inspiration

We had a great summer weekend. Saturday we took baths early, jumped in the car, picked up some takeout, and tailgated at the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning. We did not enter the fair, but just hung out in the parking lot, had dinner, and waited for the balloon launch. Harry did not tolerate the schedule disruption very well - the day involved very poor sleep management on my part - but Bess and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Sunday we spent the afternoon at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum. It was Fairy Day - we got to build a fairy house, make fairy crafts, and look at everyone else's houses. It was pretty intense - people brought supplies from home, and even built fairy house elements like baskets, houses, platforms, it was amazing. We were not so well prepared, but I think we did okay. The houses will be left up until mid-August, so if you're in the area I encourage you to check them out!

I'd like to note that the ramp on the fairy house is, in Bess' words, "in case any of the fairies are in wheelchairs". You've got to love a handicapped-accessible fairy house!

Kelly is a scholar-turned-mother/activist who is interested in issues of personal balance and social justice. She has published a number of articles and offers presentations internationally on the topics of voluntary simplicity and humane parenting. Learn more at her website

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Link Love

Some of my favorites from around the web this week:

Kelly is a scholar-turned-mother/activist who is interested in issues of personal balance and social justice. She has published a number of articles and offers presentations internationally on the topics of voluntary simplicity and humane parenting. Learn more at her website

Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Personal Creativity Challenge

I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin (as I've mentioned before), and I really took a lot of things she says to heart. One of her prescriptions for happiness is to learn something new, and I certainly find that I always feel more energetic and happy when I am acquiring a new skill or knowledge, so I decided to spend some time this summer learning something I've always wanted to learn.

Since I'm interested in creativity and artistic skill these days, I decided to try my hand at an artistic endeavor - namely, pottery. I enrolled in an adult pottery class that meets once a week near my house, and I am totally in love with it. Most of the people in my class prefer hand building, but I am determined to learn to throw pottery on the wheel. There is something so metaphorical about it for me - I love to have my hands in the Earth getting dirty, and I love how you must always be centered in order to be successful, and how every piece starts out the same, as a big mound of clay, and yet it can be turned into anything you can imagine.

Yesterday I got back my first batch of completed pieces:

Bess used this bowl for her breakfast this morning, and I decided to photograph it that way so as to cleverly disguise how horribly off-center it is! I dropped my hole somewhere not even close to the middle, which resulted in a very imperfect piece. Oh, well.

This is my second bowl. Much better, but still not great. When you lift your piece (in other words, when you build the sides on the wheel - you gotta have the lingo!) it has a tendency to go outwards into a bowl shape, though your goal is to lift it straight up. I am still struggling with that. This bowl was supposed to be a vase. Yesterday I threw five or six bowls, so we'll see how they come out once their fired and glazed.

So far, this beauty is my masterpiece. (I did the glazing freehand, in case you were wondering.) The idea was for this to be my morning coffee mug, but this morning I was too afraid to use it. There is a small crack in the bottom because I made it too thin. The teacher says the glaze fills in the crack so it will be water-tight, and I guess there's only one way to find out. Maybe tomorrow.

I've also made a commitment to work on my sewing skills. Let me rephrase that, because from that sentence you might conclude that I actually have some sewing skills. I should say: I have made a commitment to develop some sewing skills. I took the book Stray Sock Sewing by Daniel (yes, that's the author's name, like Madonna or Cher) out of the library and tried the simplest pattern it contains:

Not so bad for a first try, right? There are a few rookie mistakes, like I didn't turn the sock inside out before cutting and sewing and I didn't turn the heel the right way so he has a crazy punk haircut instead of ears, but all in all I'm pretty satisfied with him.

Friday, July 23, 2010

{this moment} - Say Cheese!

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see. Hosted by soulemama

Whenever I get the camera out my little dude insists on posing for a photo op:

Thursday, July 22, 2010

7 Strategies for Cultivating Creativity in Children

In a recent Newsweek article, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman report that American creativity on the decline. I don't find this surprising given the emphasis on standardization in US schools and our culture's general attitude towards conformity, but it is alarming. Since creativity is such a vital element of successful problem solving and progress, it seems that we would be wise to find ways to cultivate creativity, not silence it.

One of the important points from this article is that creativity is not a characteristic exclusively belonging to artists, writers, and musicians. Creativity is simply defined by leading researcher Teresa Amabile as an idea that exhibits novelty and appropriateness. So while sculptors, painters and composers clearly need creativity in order to succeed in their fields, so do mathematicians, engineers, hairdressers, physicists, doctors, chefs, and parents.

Some of the strategies I've learned to help cultivate creativity in our children include:

1. Be creative. Forgive me if this one seems obvious to you. However, I find that a lot of parents do not consider themselves "creative" because they don't do still-life oil paintings until 3 am. I'm here to tell you that everyone is creative! Maybe you are someone who can look in the fridge and pull together a gourmet meal from whatever you have lying around. Maybe you are the parent who is able to create a fun and entertaining game to pass the time during long road trips. Maybe you enjoy having a beautiful flower garden, or putting together fun outfits, or coming up with original ideas for birthday parties. Whatever it is, let your kids see you doing it.

2. Be flexible. Research, particularly that of Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, finds that parents who are flexible and who create a relaxed and supportive atmosphere in the home raise children who are more well-adjusted, successful and creative. Children cannot be creative and take risks if they are afraid of mistakes and disapproval. This used to be referred to as authoritative parenting (as opposed to authoritarian or permissive), but is now called Autonomy Supportive Parenting.

3. Create a creative environment. Make sure your children have simple, open-ended toys that promote imaginative play. Make your home as washable and child-friendly as possible so they can play and create without having to worry about breaking a favorite lamp or getting dirt on the white carpet.

4. Play imagination games. The car is a perfect place to use this strategy. We like to come up with progressive stories on road trips. It is fun to see how players try to move the story in a particular direction when other people throw a wrench into their plot. We also like to look at other cars or planes flying overhead, and make up stories about the occupants.

5. Keep fantasy alive. There are a few schools of thought on this one, but I firmly believe that by allowing children a rich fantasy life that includes fairies and gift-bearing rabbits, you expand their minds and give them license to imagine the impossible. When ideas are not constrained by the properties of the real world - when magic is seen as a possibility - amazing things can happen.

6. Don't be too quick to answer questions. Young children are famous for always asking questions. For example, my daughter recently asked me why the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening. However, I didn't respond right away (though I did eventually break out the lamp and the soccer ball to offer an accurate explanation). Instead, I asked her what she thought - which, for the record, is that the sun and moon are on a teeter-totter. I like to do this for a few reasons. It lets children use their minds to imagine what might be going on before you offer an answer, thereby ending the thought process. It helps to avoid Expert Syndrome, where children are constantly looking outside themselves for authority. Lastly, it offers a fun and useful window into their minds.

7. Expand their horizons. I guess this is just another way of saying "Provide enrichment", but I think it is much deeper than providing colorful mobiles and music lessons. What I really mean to suggest is this: offer your child new ideas, experiences, foods, people, places, and things to consider. Who really knows where the seeds of a new idea is planted? The more fodder we provide, the more our children will have the opportunity to create new things and ideas. This goes for us, too!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Marc Bekoff and Creative Compassion in Children

In the July 20 issue of The Huffington Post, Marc Bekoff (author of The Emotional Lives of Animals among other animal welfare-themed books) wrote an article about discussions he has had with children regarding concern for animals, human communities, and the environment. Right up my alley, don't you agree?

What I really love about this story is that when asked to engage in a classic animal rights' thought experiment, where there are three persons and a dog on a lifeboat and one must be thrown overboard in order for the other three to survive and the decision must be made as to whom should be sacrificed, the children Bekoff describes simply refused to accept the premise. Instead of working within the parameters they were given, the children tried to find creative ways to save all four beings on the boat.

I think what Bekoff has witnessed represents the type of critical thinking we should all be looking to cultivate in our children. Instead of just accepting injustice and loss as "the way it is", they looked for other ways to make it different, make it better. Regardless of their conclusions (which, by the way, are consistent with those arrived at by most adults who are presented with this dilemma), the fact that they were eager to think outside the box and not see problems as givens but rather obstacles that can, and should, be overcome is very exciting to me. This type of creativity coupled with compassion is something that is encouraging for me to see as a humane educator, because it gives me hope for the future where my children will one day find themselves living.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Five Great Places to Visit With Young Kids

Unlike most Americans (at least those fortunate enough to have jobs that permit time off and money enough to travel), we do not take a family vacation in the summer. My husband's work schedule does not have enough flexibility for us to travel, though we do try to fit in some fun day trips. We also try to go with him on business trips when we can so that we can see some new sites during the day and have some Daddy time during the evening.

We don't usually go far, but have travelled around the northeastern US quite a bit. Here are some of the best places we've found that are fun for both parents and children as well as nurturing creativity, curiosity, and an appreciation of nature:

1. Longwood Gardens (Philadelphia Area)

Longwood Gardens is a beautiful arboretum spanning over 1,000 acres and including a huge variety of plants and garden types. It is not only a fabulous place for gardening enthusiasts, but the kids had a blast there. There are a number of tree houses for climbing and viewing of the surrounding area, and the conservatory houses a super-fun water garden. Unfortunately, we did not leave ourselves nearly enough time to see it all and plan to return the next time we are in the area to spend some time in the kids' garden, the chime garden, and the giant topiaries!

2. Please Touch! Museum (Philadelphia Area)

Our other fantastic Philly find was the Please Touch! museum, right in the outskirts of the city. It is a very manageable size and had fun things for both my two-year-old and my five-year-old, including an Alice in Wonderland area, an indoor water play area, and a beautiful carousel. They offer a ticket deal where you can buy two day passes for a discounted price, but you have to use them within ten days of each other.

I realize this doesn't sound like a great place for kids, but trust me, it is! They have a fantastic children's garden called Weezie's Garden where they can climb a tree tower, pretend to be baby birds, check out the fish pond, and play in a sand pit, but the entire grounds are full of rich areas for play. My kids especially loved the herb garden, where they wandered the paths and smelled the different aromas. This is a great place to bring a picnic and blanket, pack a football or Frisbee, and plan to hang out on a nice day.

This LEED-certified museum is not technically a children's museum, but it was definitely designed with young guests in mind. All the exhibits are accessible to even very young children, and there is a hands-on children's room where the kids can spend hours reading, playing and exploring. Bess especially loved the pond organ, where each key plays a different sound you might hear around the water. There is a small lake outside with trails for exploring, and you can rent snowshoes in the winter to explore the grounds.

5. New Jersey Children's Museum (Bergen County, New Jersey)

This museum is about an hour from our home and near my grandmother's house, so we visit it frequently and never get tired of it. The museum often hosts special events, but even on the average day there is so much to do that we could spend hours exploring the different rooms and pretending to be construction workers, paleontologists, Medieval royalty or just playing house (because we can't do that at home, right?).

We're always looking for new places to visit, so I hope you'll share your favorites in the comments section!

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Is Ahimsa Mama All About, Anyway?

I think part of my resistance to working on this blog lately has to do with defining what, exactly, Ahimsa Mama is about. I recently completed my master's thesis on humane parenting with the Institute of Humane Education, so naturally my work up until this point has used their work as a starting point. However, there is something about taking the principles of Humane Education and applying them to raising children that has struck me as a little inconsistent with my personal parenting philosophy.

Ideally, educators are concerned with the personal development of their students, but in the end their primary responsibility is to the material they are teaching. Humane Education is no different - it is a form of activism that seeks to expose students to alternative ways of looking at things in order to encourage them to behave compassionately towards humans, other animals, and the environment.

Parenting, on the other hand, has different objectives, or at least it does for me. Of course raising my children to be compassionate, responsible, thoughtful individuals is a high priority for me. However, my top priority is to them as human beings. I am still an activist, but first I am a mother to my children. I want them to be expressive, creative, curious, happy and fulfilled. Unlike a teacher I have my kids from birth and have the opportunity - indeed, the responsibility - to "fill their cups" so they have love to spare for the world around them.

So what Ahimsa Mama is really about is raising children in an environment of support and unconditional positive regard so that they can grow to be well-adjusted and actualized individuals who are able to find their callings and seek to have the most positive impact on the world they possibly can.

To that end, I will be working on revamping Ahimsa Mama over the next few weeks and months to better reflect this dual-pronged approach to raising children. I will be seeking resources for raising children with kindness and respect, as well as for lightening our own and our families' footprints on our planet. I invite your comments and suggestions, and I welcome you to join my on this path.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Check Out My Article in the Latest Issue of Education Revolution

It starts on page 9:

Also note, the cover photo and the photo that accompanies my article were both taken by the very talented photographer Parvathi Kumar!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Creativity, Part Two

Cultivating creativity is one of the main pillars of Humane Education and therefore Humane Parenting, as part of the three Cs - the other two being curiosity and critical thinking. As a mother, I not only seek to express my own creativity, but to help my children grow into creative individuals themselves.

As a humane parent, I work very hard to provide all sorts of opportunities for my children to flex their mental muscles. I make all sorts of materials available to them so they can explore their artistic sides. I try to refrain from stepping in and solving problems for them, instead allowing them to find their own solutions. When my five-year-old daughter asks me a question, I try to encourage her to think of her own answer before providing an "official" response. I want both my children to find ways to figure things out and find answers for themselves - it's too easy to just "ask mom", to consider me (or some other authority figure) the holder of information. I prefer them to realize that they often have the answers within themselves, or if they don't then at least to recognize that there are often many answers to a question and they have to decide for themselves what is "truth".

There is another side to the creativity inherent in humane parenting, though. I think that by having a vision of the kind of world we want to create, we are engaging in a very different kind of child-rearing than most. So many parents do what they do with their kids out of fear - fear of not measuring up, of being behind their peers, of failing to find a good job. But humane parents, and humane educators, choose instead to create the world they want instead of running from what they don't want. They are full of hope and see a world full of potential, and choose to do what they can to make that world a reality. What could be more creative than that?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Creative Mamas - A Redundancy

Last night I went to a meeting of the Somerset County chapter of the Holistic Moms Network to see a screening of the documentary Who Does She Think She Is? The film is about women who are artists and mothers, and the ways they are able to balance these two roles in their lives. Of course, the struggle to balance work and family is not unique to artists (or mothers, or even women I guess) but there are certainly unique elements to these women's stories that are not shared by women who are trying to balance motherhood with being, say, an accountant or a teacher. At any rate, it was an amazing and moving film that would speak to any mother - indeed, any woman.

This is the second time I've seen the film, but it was a totally different experience watching it with a group of women as opposed to seeing the PBS version in my living room, alone. Watching the film alone was amazing, but there was so much power in watching with others that I left last night feeling inspired to find a way to pursue my creative passions, especially writing. Then I went off on a mental tangent (as I am prone to do), thinking about creativity and what it means to be a creative woman/mother/person. This was mostly while I was waiting for the tow truck to arrive at 1 this morning because my car broke down on the way home from the meeting - but still, it was worth it, even without the air conditioning to get me through the wait!

By definition, mothers are creative. We create families, if not by actually creating a new person then by choosing and working to bring a child into our homes through adoption or some other means. In fact, our bodies are designed to hold within them this very possibility each and every month for the better part of our lives, whether we choose to use it or not. We create homes, we create cultures within our homes, we create ourselves as people in relationship with our children. Even women who may not be "creative" in the way that word is most often used - to describe people who act, or sing, or dance, or paint, or sculpt, or sew, or whatever - are creative in their roles as mothers.

The women in the film were trying to find ways to put their creative voices out into the world, but I am just as fascinated by the mothers I read about all the time in magazines and, especially, in blogs who find ways to make their homes into hotbeds of creativity. They may sew their children's clothes from old maternity shirts, or may allow their children to glue tissue paper collages to the window, or may arrange their homes in a way that nourishes their children's artistic urges as well as their aesthetic sensibilities, or they may find unique ways to get their preschoolers to eat Brussels sprouts. They arrange their children's books by color, they plant amazing gardens full of different hues, smells and flavors, they find 101 uses for empty toilet paper rolls, and they use their inventiveness and passion to nurture their growing children. I am inspired by the stories of these wonderful mamas who are able to take their amazing talents and find ways to fulfill themselves by creating beautiful, loving homes where imagination is nourished and encouraged.

I hope to be able to do both. I hope that I can use my creativity in my home to establish a joyful, warm and loving place for my children to grow, and I hope that I can use my creativity to put my voice out into the world, to add it to all the other voices that are working to build a more compassionate, just and sustainable world where we all can grow.

Monday, July 5, 2010

7.5.2010 - One Sentence Journal

We've spent the Fourth of July weekend down the shore, which has been....interesting. Bess had tons of fun at the beach, but Harry's not that into the ocean, plus it's been a bit too hot for him to really spend much time outside. Pretty much the best thing Harry's done this weekend is take a three hour nap today. He doesn't tolerate disruptions well - he isn't nearly as flexible as Bess. He's tired, and displaced, and hot, and all sorts of cranky.

Bess, however, is as enthusiastic as always. Yesterday she was watching Sports Center with her dad, and exclaimed to me, "Mom! Did you know that baseball player scored three run arounds yesterday???"

Saturday, July 3, 2010

7.3.2010 - One Sentence Journal

This morning I asked Harry if he needed a diaper change.  He fled, knocking down furniture and slamming doors in his wake, like a perp evading the detectives on an episode of Law & Order.  Who knew diaper changes were that bad?

Bess spent the morning working on her dance moves, practicing her ballet positions and trying to teach them to Harry.  This afternoon she and her cousin found a princess dress-up app on John's iPad.  How did I ever produce a pink sparkles twirly girl?

Friday, July 2, 2010

One Sentence Journal

I am currently reading (well, listening to, anyway) The Happiness Project by Gretchin Rubin.  I'm really liking it and finding that she has a lot of really useful suggestions.  I am on the chapter about August right now, in which she talks about starting a one sentence journal where she just jots a sentence or two at the end of every day about something that happened that day.

I started thinking that one of the reasons I don't blog as much as I would like is that I feel like I have to have something Earth-shattering to say in order to commit it to paper (as it were), and often I don't.  I am too busy living my life, doing my thing and caring for my young family to come up with profundities every day.  So I think I am going to try an Ahimsa Mama version of the one sentence journal.

Here it goes:

This morning I was reading while Harry was otherwise occupied, or so I thought.  Apparently he was just biding his time because he came into the living room, closed my book and said, "The End."  I guess it was time to play.

Bess has been at dance camp all week (don't EVEN get me started on dance culture, that's a topic for a whole other - looooong - blog post).  I hate it - and believe me, I mean hate - but she LOVES it.  Her teacher even commented to me (completely unprovoked) how she is so focused and works so hard, and has great technique for her age.  Imagine me, a dance mom?  Egads!