What I’m Into: September 2014

tomatoes

little pumpkins

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September was mostly terrific. There was harvesting and preserving; we celebrated the autumnal equinox; and we read some good books.

Last week I injured my back (I’m in the third trimester of my pregnancy) and have been pretty much out of commission since; so I have a feeling the next couple of months won’t be as eventful. I’m hoping some chiropractic care can at least get me back on my feet. We’ve also been dealing with some pretty serious extended family issues, which has been hard on all of us; so it hasn’t all been pretty pumpkins and walks in the leaves.

But here’s what we’ve been into!

Books

September books: Killing Monsters and Artful Parent

Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence – Gerard Jones.

Two words: Absolutely phenomenal.

Killing Monsters is one of the most interesting books I’ve read all year. Intriguing and elegantly written. Very challenging and very compelling. I’m a tough customer on this book’s premise, as a pacifist and a general hater of commercial entertainment. But Jones had me seriously rethinking my views on violent cartoons and video games. I know, right?

What struck me most, throughout the book, was his intense empathy for children. It’s central to everything he writes. He’s a true role model. I highly recommend this book to anyone invested in children’s development, especially if you’re interested in the effects of media. You will be surprised and challenged.

The Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art and Creativity – Jean Van’t Hul

I’ve gotten some good ideas from the author’s blog recently, so I suspected I would love her book. And I did! I skipped a lot of the (kinda boring) introductory stuff (I feel pretty artful already); but took notes on her recommendations for art materials. And I loved the activity ideas that comprised the latter half of the book. We already tried a few and I have plans to try lots more.

And I love that the book includes beautiful photos. I’m way more inclined to try an activity or recipe it’s got a picture.

Kids’ Books

Over the last few months, most of our library visits have produced pretty meh findings. But this month we got an incredible haul!

Kevin Henkes

For starters, we discovered Kevin Henkes. We just stumbled upon them at the library. His books happen to be perfect for Lydia’s age (three). Not too wordy, but rich and evocative text. His illustrations are simple and beautiful. My personal favourite from the bunch is Old Bear, about a bear who dreams about the seasons while he hybernates (so cozy and lovely); Lydia’s is Penny and Her Doll (about a little mouse trying to find the perfect name for her new doll). Kittens’ First Full Moon (about a kitty who chases the moon, thinking it’s a bowl of milk) is a Caldecott Medal winner.

Hank Finds an Egg

And then we found Hank Finds an Egg (Rebecca Dudley), which might be the cutest picture book in the history of the world. It doesn’t have any text, it just tells a story through images. It’s made up of photographs of miniature handmade scenes, with breathtaking detail. Every leaf and twig is handmade. And look at little Hank! You  can see every stitch that holds him together. Isn’t he the most adorable thing you’ve ever set eyes on?! The story is sweet and heartwarming.

Television

We mostly took a break from TV this month. We tried Veronica Mars on Netflix but weren’t totally taken by it. And then we watched the season premieres of our favourite shows (Big Bang Theory, Mindy Project) which were fun as usual.

Movies

We re-watched Megamind (with Will Ferrell), and MAN, I love that movie. It is just so clever and wonderful. One of my favourite romance stories ever. I don’t know why it just tickles me. Come to think of it, every movie Will Ferrell has done for children (Elf, Lego Movie) are among my favourites.

With the Munchkin

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I recently got Lydia some new coloured pencils, since she’s so into drawing. I love these particular pencils: the triangular shape means they don’t roll around and fall onto the floor while she’s working; they’re high-quality, with beautiful vibrant colours; and they’re eco-friendly, too! Oh, and she loves them, too!

I thought they deserved a nice holder, to encourage Lydia to take good care of them and not leave them all over the place. So I made this wool felt pencil roll, based loosely on this tutorial (I only did single layers, though. Wool felt is expensive!)

To encourage her to put away her pencils, I told her these were their beds and they needed to go to bed every night. Unfortunately, I hadn’t foreseen how she would assume that just like in real life, everyone would want to share beds. She stuffs them all into just a few pockets. So much for orderly. *Sigh.*

But at LEAST it keeps them off the floor. So: win!

Spider web capture. Spray paint a spider web, then lift with black cardstock.

We also did this spider web capture activity, which was pretty cool. Next time I’d like to try using a brighter colour.

Linking up, once again, with Leigh Kramer!

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10 Ways to Celebrate the Autumnal Equinox

10 ways to celebrate the autumnal equinox

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been sharing our experiences with trying to live more in tune with nature and the seasons. It can take some effort these days in our climate-controlled world, so I try to be intentional about observing and celebrating the changes of the seasons, especially on the equinoxes and solstices.

The autumnal equinox is a time for gratitude and celebrating abundance as we bring in the harvest. Like its sister, the spring equinox, the autumnal equinox the day of the year when day and night are perfectly balanced; but this time it’s just about to tip towards darkness.

Throughout the many holidays rooted in this time of year — shared by pagans, Jews and Christians alike (Mabon, Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving, etc) — you can find universal themes of abundance, thanksgiving, and sharing. These themes are made so much more real when you actually participate in your food production and preservation. I’ve been blessed to spend quite a bit of time in the last weeks harvesting and canning food from the garden, and all those bright reds and oranges and yellows (tomatoes, pumpkins, squash) just make my heart want to sing with gratitude.

Anyway, this year we had a wonderful time celebrating the autumnal equinox with friends. Here’s what we did, as well as a few additional ideas for celebrating the coming of fall.

Visiting the local bird sanctuary to feed the migrating geese

feeding geese

We seriously love this place. At Jack Miner’s bird sanctuary, we can come see the Canada geese who are making their way south for the winter (and the injured ones who are staying there permanently) and feed them barley. I’ve been taking Lydia for the last few years so she’s really comfortable with these large birds. It’s a great opportunity to talk about birds and migration, too! We went with a group of friends which made it extra-fun.

Visiting the Pumpkin Patch

celebrating the autumnal equinox - visiting the pumpkin patch

straw balesRight down the road from the bird sanctuary is a family farm that sells pumpkins, gourds, straw bales, corn stalks, and other wonderful, natural, autumnal decor. So after we spent some time with the geese, we drove down to admire and buy some pumpkins. Some people wanted pumpkins to carve; others to make pie. It was lovely to walk among all the beautiful pumpkins and take pictures and try to decide what we wanted to take home. I already had a bunch of beautiful pumpkins from my family’s garden, so I just got a straw bale.

Decorating the Threshold

autumn wreath

celebrating the autumnal equinox - decorating the threshold with straw and pumpkins

This has become my central and favourite way to celebrate the changes of the season. (Calling it “decorating the threshold” sounds so much more official than “swapping in the new wreath on the front door”). I love having my front entrance reflect the seasons. I put up my fall wreath and set up a pretty little spot with the straw bale and pumpkins. (I like my decorations to be multi-purpose, so after the season is over the straw will go into the chicken coop as bedding and the pumpkins will be roasted, steamed, and turned into muffins.) I get a reminder of how beautiful and bountiful fall is every time I walk through the door.

Decking the Table

Creating a centerpiece using candles, gourds, leaves, and Indian corn is a great way to bring nature to the table (I did this last year). I might try this table runner using fallen leaves yet, too. Or, if you have a seasonal tablecloth, the equinox is the perfect time to bring it out!

Feasting with Seasonal Foods

Autumn dinner: BLT spaghetti squash and fried zucchini

I try to eat seasonally for most meals, so this wasn’t a real stretch. When they think of fall food, most people think of cabbage, apples, and pumpkin; but I just made what was already on my menu plan for the week: BLT spaghetti squash with fresh tomato sauce. I added fried zucchini as a quick and simple side. All from my family’s garden. (To drink, we had gingery kombucha, which tastes a lot like apple cider to me.)

Saying Prayers of Gratitude

Since thankfulness is a universal theme in autumnal/harvest festivals, it makes sense to express gratitude to the Creator of all things. The equinox is a perfect time to pause before a meal, as a family, and consider all the things we’re grateful for.

In addition, I love this prayer by Kathleen Jenks. (I cannot for the life of me find the original source. Anyone know?) It seems so appropriate to consider the fragility of life as plants begin to wither and fall. I think it’s so important to instill in our children a sense of responsibility and awe for the created world.

“As autumn returns to earth’s northern hemisphere, and day and night are briefly, but perfectly, balanced at the equinox, may we remember anew how fragile life is —- human life, surely, but also the lives of all other creatures, trees and plants, waters and winds.

“May we make wise choices in how and what we harvest, may earth’s weather turn kinder, may there be enough food for all creatures, may the diminishing light in our daytime skies be met by an increasing compassion and tolerance in our hearts.”

– Kathleen Jenks, Autumn Lore

Fall Nature Table

fall nature table

fall nature table - pinecones, acorns, little white pumpkins

This is a common Waldorf and Montessori practice, and one that I’ve only now started up. The idea is to keep an area in your home — a shelf, table, windowsill, or in our case, the top of a cabinet — for setting out seasonal objects from nature. It’s a great place for children to store the treasures they find outside. I felt the equinox was the perfect time to set it up.

I mounted our spider-web prints on the wall above, as well as our fall-themed watercolour cards. I set out a basket of little white pumpkins we inadvertently grew (but aren’t they adorable?!), Indian corn, and some pine cones and acorns we gathered last year. Over time, I hope to add leaves and other items (our trees haven’t really started changing colour yet). Lydia likes to incorporate these items in her play, and I encourage it. Apparently unicorns love to eat white pumpkins.

Other Ideas:

Fall-Themed Sensory Table Bin

I haven’t done this yet, but I was inspired by this post by Marking the Seasons about seasonal sensory bins. I want to get back into using our sensory table and this seems perfect. I’ve purchased a big bag of red lentils and I just need to add some fun fall items for some sensory play.

Apple-Picking

Instead of pumpkins, picking apples would be a great way to kick off the new season. We might try this later this month.

Drying Apple Slices

I got this idea from the book Heaven on Earth, and I want to try it yet. It sounds like a fun, kid-friendly way to preserve apples for the winter: thinly slice apples and then thread them and hang them to make an apple garland, where they can dry naturally. It’s decorative and functional!

Leaf Crafts

There are endless ideas for crafts using leaves, corn cobs, and other natural fall elements. Pinterest is exploding with ideas. One that I want to try yet (once the leaves start actually turning) is this beautiful leaf bunting. Or these leaf suncatchers.

You can also follow my Fall Pinboard for other ideas! I’m always adding more!

You might also like to check out how we celebrated the summer solstice and why we might want to, from a Christian perspective. I also share how we celebrate the spring equinox.

 

Sorry, Matt Walsh. You Don’t Get to Tell People How To Feel

Sorry, Matt Walsh. You don't get to tell people how to feel

I was a young teenager when I saw an episode of Touched by an Angel that addressed race. I remember the black male character saying, “You don’t know what it feels like to walk on a bus and see the women all hold their purses a little tighter.” And I remember thinking, Oh please. Racism is not a real problem anymore. Slavery had been long abolished, black people could vote and they even starred in TV shows like Family Matters which we watched every week. Obviously, racial equality had been achieved. The guy was just being sensitive.

That’s my first memory of my white privilege talking.

Years later I went to university to study literature. Let me tell you, in the humanities/art/social sciences, folks are kind of obsessed with talking about gender and race. It’s almost all they talk about anymore, and I got sick to death of it. It felt absurd, sitting around as a diverse student body and a diverse staff (in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation) to talk about discrimination and inequality. Does nobody notice how many women and people of colour there are here? I constantly thought. The head of the department is a woman! Obviously equality has been achieved here. We are so past this; can we talk about something else now? Like whether this book is actually any good?

I thought anyone in the university who still thought racism and sexism were still problems was being ridiculously oversensitive. (And what about this institution’s prejudice against Christianity? I wondered.)

A lot of the things Matt Walsh writes about these days remind me of the ways I used to think and feel.

* * *

I’m not sure when things started to change – when I started to become aware of the realities of race, gender, class, and sexual inequality.

It was definitely after I left the academy — having that stuff shoved down my throat every day by upper-middle-class elites hadn’t been very helpful.

I think it started when I began actually listening to the voices of people from marginalized groups. I started to listen to the stories of gay and black folks, of immigrants and people with disabilities. This was all still through the easy, sanitary media of books, blogs and magazines, but still: I heard stories I had never encountered before. About exclusion and violence and systematic oppression. People really did seem to be suffering from injustice due to their sex, skin colour, or physical appearance. In Canada and the U.S.! They weren’t just making it up. People of privilege really do systematically ignore, silence, insult, and marginalize minority groups, often without realizing it. And I realized that I’m one of those privileged people, who never has to worry about my race or sexuality working against me.

I also started thinking differently when I learned that the Church is still the most racially segregated institution in North America. So just because my all-white church can hold hands and sing kumbaya, it doesn’t mean we’ve achieved reconciliation with the rest the world.

Yes, we have made a lot of progress towards equality since government-sanctioned slavery was abolished and women got the right to vote. But just because we’re not allowed to own people doesn’t mean everything’s okay.

How do I know? Because members of marginalized groups are still saying they’re being discriminated against. And I’m going to go ahead and believe them.

* * *

Earlier this week, Matt Walsh published a post entitled, “Sorry, but it’s your fault if you’re offended all the time.” He begins, “I truly believe that we are the most whiney, sensitive, thin-skinned, easily offended society in the history of the world.” He makes fun of the concept of “microaggressions,” and makes a number of declarations like, “If it wasn’t intended to offend you, then you shouldn’t be offended,” and “Being offended is a choice you make. Nobody is responsible for that choice but you.”

Then Walsh lampoons ethnic minorities and transgender people who share experiences of microaggression on the internet.

As a straight white person like Walsh, I will never know or completely understand the experiences of the people he’s mocking. But instead of calling them names (overly-sensitive, thin-skinned, etc) I think it might be more helpful to actually listen to what they’re saying.

And here’s where I especially disagree with him: the speaker’s intent is NOT the only thing that matters. You are still responsible for hurting someone if you speak out of ignorance.

Because here’s the thing. I also know what it’s like to be alienated and insulted without the speaker’s intent. You probably do, too.

For example.

When we were having a hard time getting pregnant, people said a lot of things that hurt me. They didn’t mean to. They just didn’t know.

Once, in a group setting, a friend shared about another couple that was spending a lot of money on repeated fertility treatment. Another friend spoke up, remarking, “I don’t know why they don’t just adopt. It’s selfish to keep spending money on fertility treatments when there are so many babies that need families.”

That wasn’t meant to hurt me – we weren’t even talking about me, and I wasn’t even undergoing treatment – but I wept the entire way home that afternoon. It wounded me so deeply not only that she didn’t understand, but that she didn’t care to understand the unique pain that comes from infertility.

It would have been nice if she could have tried to hear their experience from their perspective.

* * *

I agree and understand that it is difficult to say anything without offending anyone. It can get really tiring, always rethinking what you’re going to say so as not to hurt anyone. Especially those of us in positions of privilege, who have never had to think about race and sexuality being a disadvantage to anyone. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be polite and sensitive at all times. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to apologize when we’ve unintentionally hurt someone’s feelings and try to learn from the experience.

I know I have and will continue to hurt people with my words, in part because my experience is incredibly limited. But instead of ridiculing and belittling people when they point it out, I want to actually hear their perspective, apologize, and try to be more sensitive next time.

And yes, part of maturing involves getting a tougher skin at times and not letting people’s words get to you. We don’t need to throw a tantrum every time someone says something that hurts our feelings. I agree with Walsh here, and am always trying to grow in that respect.

But at our core, we’re all dreadfully tender. We all ache to be loved and accepted. We all bleed at the slightest scratch if it hits the right spot. We just all have different tender spots. Haven’t we all been brought to our knees in agony by a glance, a word, a sneer, a phone call that never came? But instead of mocking people for their tenderness, we ought to try to be more gentle. Because we’ve all been there, haven’t we?

It’s easy and fun to make fun of people for being “sensitive” about things we’ve never had to deal with. Mockery shuts down the conversation quickly, so we never have to take responsibility for our ignorance.

But I’d rather go out of my way not to hurt my fellow bleeders. I owe it to them. And the best way to learn how to do this, I believe, is to listen. I’m going to try to keep my ears open and my judgey mouth shut as much as possible.

And definitely not tell them how they ought to feel.

Image courtesy of sciencesque.