Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This blog hasn't exactly moved...

...but my attention has, ever so slightly...

Those hoping to keep more current than once per year may wish to check out the blog I've been posting to for a couple of months now, at http://hummingbirdhomemaker.typepad.com/hummingbirdhomemaker/

It's not specifically Unitarian Content, except for the post about the tse tse fly. It's more this-is-my-life content.

I am planning to start posting here again, with more focussed Unitarian stuff... ...but it will be a while yet.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Best Parenting Tip Ever For a Clean House

Learn to look around the room every time your child asks for anything. It goes something like this:

Kid: Mom, will you play Go Fish with me?

You: Sure honey, as soon as you pick up the lego.

1) Make sure your request is small in comparison to theirs. If they ask for a glass of juice, pick a request they can carry out while they wait as you pour it. If they ask for a game of Monopoly, you can pick something a bit bigger. (For a game of Monopoly, I feel you would be justified in asking them to build an addition on the back of your house. Have you ever actually played and entire game of monopoly? Of course you haven't. You wouldn't be reading this if you had, because you'd still be playing).

2) Limit the scope of your requests to stuff they left out. Don't set a tone of "I won't help you unless you help me". Don't use this as a way to get them to empty the dishwasher. It's not a trade of work for work. You're simply using their request as a cue to remind them of what they should already have done--put away a toy after using it.

3) Remember, turnabout is fair play. If they do catch on (mine haven't yet), you will be glad to have limited your requests to the scope of tidying up. Worst case scenario, if your child responds to "Honey will you play blocks with your brother for a couple of minutes?" with "Sure, mom, but first can you put away the half folded laundry on the playroom floor?" this will feel reasonable and fair to you. And it's a plus when you're actions seems reasonable when imitated by your kids. Because they will imitate you. They are reliable like monkeys that way.

But, isn't it much better to teach your kids to put things away as they use them?

Yup. Definitely. Much much better. That's the way to cultivate a lifelong habit of tidiness, that is. That's the first choice, if you can do it.

But a close second to putting things away immediately is the habit of regularly looking around the house and tidying up any mess. As lifelong habits go, that's good enough to keep you out of squalor.

The four benefits of this system:

1) If you develop this one habit, you will have a tidy house. Assuming your kids are sufficiently demanding (which I bet they are--kids can be Truly Gifted in this area).

2) This is a self-reinforcing habit. You will not feel inspired to set down what you are doing, figure out what your child is leaving out, and get them to put it away. But when said child interrupts you with a request for something, asking them to quickly put a toy away gives you a minute to finish what you are doing. You will like that. So you will actually be motivated to develop this habit. You will not need to use willpower.

3) You won't have to initiate anything--you don't have to notice when something gets left out. Developing a response-habit is easier, I find, than a initiating-habit. But, interestingly, over time both you and your kids will get used to the look of a tidy house, and you will notice and respond to mess more readily. I often will ask them to put something away as they finish with it, now. Even my kids seem to have reoriented towards tidy as a "natural" state of affairs. (By "reoriented" I mean that they pick up reasonably cheerfully when asked. I don't mean that they tidy spontaneously. This is not a fairy tale).

4) You will have to play less Go Fish. This is a big bonus.

So, look around the room every time your child asks for anything that doesn't involve a fire extinguisher or an ambulance...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Before we go any further, I have to warn you...

Being honest is really important to me. Like, if David says to me "Did you forget to do that think you said you'd do?" I will cringe and say "No, I thought about it but it was inconvenient and I was in bed eating chocolate and didn't want to get out and figured I'd do it in the morning." That level of honest. Which is strange, because it doesn't bother me at all that (say, in the last four lines of this post alone) I have proven myself to be self-centered, gluttonous, and lazy. I am good with those flaws. But honesty is important to me.

Except where exaggeration is concerned. Exaggerating, you see, is not lying (this applies only to the telling of stories). My dad used to say (of the wife and four children that he and his eardrums were blessed with) that we'd "never let the truth get in the way of a good story". This is not technically the case--sometimes there is a good story but I won't tell it because it's true. Privacy and all. Like the story about David on the bus when he was nine and the thing Anthony said about testicles the other day.

When Nathan was twelve he went to a wedding reception, came home, and announced "Liz is never coming to my wedding". Apparently, he thought I would tell stories.

"Hah." said David (then eight), "Liz will never remember the stories that long."

"Hah! Will SO!" I countered (with my usual practice of meeting eight year olds where they are in terms of maturity level) "because I WRITE them DOWN!!!"

(This is true. I have chronically messy house, my car only gets an oil change when it rolls over, sticks all four wheels in the air and goes into convulsions, and my yard has been a GIANT heap of garbage for SIX YEARS, but I have meticulous baby books. I like to write. It's like talking, but you don't have to find someone who will listen to you.)

"AAAAGGGGHHHHHH!" Nathan shrieked, upon learning that I was writing about him, "The Book of Doom!!!!"

So, I have great sets of baby books labelled "Books of Doom" for each child. And the new car, which has bluetooth cell phone capability, has learned to dial the oil change place itself and book an appointment.

So my point is that you have been forewarned that from time to time I exaggerate. In case you didn't figure out out from the part in my blog post where the car rolled over on it's own and started dialing my phone. This exaggeration is particularly true of medical conditions. Gary thinks blissfully of the days pre-internet medical sites, when he was greeted with "How was your day?" instead of "I have immune thrombocytopenic purpura." So, reader beware.

In the interests of accuracy, I must note that I don't think Gary has ever been greeted with "How was your day?" (see prior note regarding self-centeredness). Ironically, I think if this ever happened, he'd send me to a neurologist to rule out a brain tumor.

Hey, speaking of brain tumors... So, this friend of mine (I have been reading blog sites and learning that you aren't supposed to use real names, so I'll call her Mrs. Smith which is really ironic because I call her that in real life, too, and it's not her name there either), this friend of mine burned herself on my tea kettle on account of side effects of a brain surgery she had years ago. I burn myself on that kettle all the time, and there's nothing surgically wrong with my brain, but you know what hypochondriacs people with brain tumors can be. Well, actually, it wasn't a tumor, it was a brain cavity (caused by a congenital condition). I have to tell you, if I had had a cavity in my brain, I would be referring to it as "part of my brain was born missing!" for my whole life because that is way more dramatic. But Mrs. Smith is not a big exaggerator.

So, David enters the kitchen part way through, and I say to him,

"Did you know she had a brain tumor?"

"It was a cavity." Mrs. Smith corrects.

"I figured." David says. "That's how Liz tells a story. Makes me glad I have perfect teeth."

I'm really not that bad.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Should Being a Unitarian be Easy?

So, my husband has these friends at work who I think should be Unitarians. They're a group of six or so from varied paths--a couple of Agnostics, an Atheist, a liberal Jew, etc--who meet every month or two to talk about religion. One of them, (who I call "Cuba guy" because I can't remember his name and I'm really impressed by his medical work overseas) even asked me about Unitarianism once. I was prepared. I had my elevator speech at the ready (an elevator speech is an outreach tool--your thirty second summary of how you'd define Unitarianism). I drew it out and launched into it with full speed and enthusiasm. He backed away slowly... nearly onto the street, actually...

"How's that different from a book club?" he asked.

I wasn't sure.

So, realizing that I wasn't so good at this conversion stuff, I transfered my efforts to my husband. Our conversations would go something like this:

Me: Hey, they would love Unitarianism. You should tell them about it.

Gary: They know about it.

Me: You should tell them more. You should tell them to come to a service.

Gary: I don't want to be creepy.

(long awkward pause)

Me: We need better elevator speeches.

So, this conversation happened a couple of years ago, and not much has gone on since. The group of six has been meeting regularly, enjoying themselves, and continuing on completely oblivious to my religious direction. Last summer, Gary and I started asking ourselves some hard questions about what it means to live out our Unitarian values. This fall, we un-plated the Mercedes, and Gary started riding his bike to work--through minus thirty temperatures, snow, sleet, and so on. At work, he was met with an "are you insane?" reception from the other doctors. He was surprised by this--we're used to Unitarians, who bike and walk everywhere, and who's insanity is widely acknowledged. We watch them pare down their vehicle needs, buy solar panels, and take on social justice issues. It was Unitarians who took us aside when the housing crisis hit Saskatoon and gently pointed out that we have way more space in our house than we really need.

In the last month or two, Gary's friends have been asking him questions again. They know a lot, it seems, about Unitarianism--they've been reading about it online. It's led to some interesting discussions. A lot of people are asking questions. I don't know if any of them will come to church, but in the last couple of years I've mellowed enough that this doesn't matter to me so much. I want the people who need us to know that we exist, but once they do... I'm less concerned with my religion's power to change others--and trying to focus more on its power to change me.

I remember how when I first found Unitarianism, I was relieved. I thought it would be simple. I was mystified by my husband's attitude, when he initially refused to join the congregation.

"But this is a perfect fit!" I declared. "What could be easier?"

"When I join a religion," he answered, "I don't look for it to be easy."

Gary doesn't have an elevator speech. But if he did, I imagine it would go something like this: "My religion challenges me. It challenges me to think through and define my values and to live up to them. It helps me steer clear of the easy outs--of accepting someone else's plan for my life, or of drifting through life without a moral compass. It holds me accountable for living the life I believe to be right."

Gary doesn't have an elevator speech--but he's working on an elevator life.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Even Unitarians can be succinct. See?

I have become enamored with six word stories.

I'm a Unitarian, a religion infected with verbal hemophiliacs (of which I'm a textbook case). As an attempted cure for myself, I have managed to sum up all major aspects of my life in six words each.

Life story: I was right to take detours.
Love: I married up. (So did he).
Friendships, female: Loving you, important. Laughing together, critical.
Friendships, male: When talking, imagine words cost 1.00.
Environmentalism: This is going to take forever.
Art/Writing: Good stuff out there intimidates me.
Death: I can't believe there's no bargaining.
Babies: I see why nobody tried explaining.
Preschoolers: But they sleep through eventually, right?
Teenagers: Maybe I'll be omniscient again later.
Homemaking: I make a world I love.

"Hey!" you declare, "Isn't religion missing from your list of major aspects of life?"

Why yes, I answer, I saved it for last. As a part of our National Identity Initiative (albeit an only tangentially related part with no official blessing and mostly just for fun), I challenge all Unitarians out there to come up with the six word story of their religion. Impossible, you say? Two examples that I didn't write: "Find us and ye shall seek" and "We will question all your answers." A few examples that I did write:

God/no God, whatever. What next?
There are others like me? Really?
We footnote all the deep words.
Some questions still unasked--as yet.
Same church community--different price tag.

So, the gauntlet is thrown down, fellow UUs (all three of you now following this blog)! Six words--what can you do?


As a footnote, my favorite six word stories from the website:

Became more like myself every year.
Birth, childhood, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence, adolescence...
Giraffe born to a farm family
Accidents cause people--son is wonderful.
After your jump, the net appears.
Alas, a farewell to legs. Next!
Awkward girl takes chances. Fun ensues.
Found Jewish princess. Good-bye succulent pork.
Tried men. Tried women. Like cats.
His love letters had bullet points.
Arthur-ectomy taking years! Beware: wed cautiously.
Lived in moment until moment sucked.
My family is overflowing with therapists.
Screw cleaning. I have twin boys.
Hope my obituary spells "debonair" correctly.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Lentil-Covered Pancreases

I'm in awe of Eric's kindergarden teacher. Not just because she spends three hours every morning with a dozen five year olds and nobody ends up bleeding--although that in itself deserves some kind of award--but because she somehow manages to do it with such calm, dedicated organization. Everything is decorated, everything has a place, every activity is educational and tied into the theme of the week. They had entire units on sorting stuff (Eric's favorite activity). It contrasts sharply with my home, where we have themes too, such as "unstick spaghetti from the wall" day, "lets stomp around in the snow until one of us steps on and finds the snow shovel" day, and "lets eat whatever we find in the freezer that doesn't have a label" day. But I recently learned something (maybe everybody else already knows this) that has changed my perspective on teachers and their godlike Martha Stewart personas.

The teachers are cheating.

They have this store full of books where everything's laid out for them in themes, and all they have to do is carry out the instructions and copy the cool activities. I discovered this store accidentally and became instantly dazzled. It was around Christmas time. I was in the middle of buy nothing christmas. Buy nothing Christmas was great for the boys--they loved it--but I was having serious withdrawal. I kept looking for excuses to purchase stuff. For a while I figured we needed a pizza stone to cook pizza on like my brother in law. Of course, a) a pan works fine and b) I don't cook pizza. Then I thought I should buy frames and put up family photos--this would work better if I had any photos that were more recent than 1998 (I'm exaggerating--my sisters take lots of photos of my family). When I discovered this store full of shiny books filled with great activities for my kids, I was dazzled. I could save so much time by busying them with educational activities. I began saving time immediately by spending hours sifting through those things, then spending hours photocopying stuff and planning. We could have a gingerbread week, and a toy train week, and a mice week...

We already had a mice week, actually, when a certain older child (who will remain nameless because I am convinced that he can control all of the internet with his freaky computer skills) left the back door open overnight. For weeks (I estimate about forty billion weeks) we battled a mouse infestation. Every morning, the boys would excitedly check the traps for new friends, to be let free in the back yard. The boys didn't come to understand that mice are "supposed" to be scary, as evidenced by this story Anthony told me about when Izzy was babysitting (picture a three year old prattling on in one continuous sentence):

"And so I sat on my bed and I saw a mouse but it was a dead mouse and I said 'Izzy, look, this mouse is dead and Izzy said 'AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH' and then Izzy told us we were going to go to her house for a visit until you got home and I said 'but I have to finish my time out' and Izzy said 'you can finish your time out at my house because we have to go RIGHT NOW' and we went to her house but she forgot about the time out and I got to play with her barbies instead."

Anyways, I am happy to report that the mouse infestation appears to be over, and ever since Pine Sol themed week, both Izzy and I are breathing much easier. And I've even made use of the educational materials I picked up around Christmas, although I never quite manage to get a full unit together. We don't have "Lets learn our internal organs" day, because I never quite get it all synchronized. We lean more towards "I need to take this phone call. Boys, colour these pancreases."

Despite the fact that the idea of organized theme units pleases my inner Martha Stewart (who, quite frankly, is beginning to sink into a deep depression and deserves a little lift), the kids don't care. Their favorite themed day was "day mom realized that the dried lentils she's been intending to learn to soak and cook so as to save money are actually older than either of us and so we dumped them all in a tub and stirred them with sticks and then glued them to paper and then stuck them up our noses and then mom made us go back to colouring pancreases."

My favorite teachers' book isn't a unit book at all. It's called "instant lessons for little learners (by the mailbox people)" and it's designed for the day when the planned unit goes haywire, and the teacher is faced with a teaming mass of five year olds who need to be told what to do before they start gluing lentil covered paper pancreases to their hair. These aren't organized by unit, they're organized by what kind of junk a panicked teacher will have on hand. The "units" have titles like "yarn", "popsicle sticks", or "dried pasta". I use this book more than all the others combined.

This gets me to thinking. What I really could use as mom of preschoolers is a book (or website) designed by the "units" of a stay at home parents' life--grocery shopping, doing laundry, doing dishes. Those "games" that we all invent out of necessity. Often they're educational, but most of all, they're convenient and real life. One of my favorites is "Find the letter". Here's how it goes:

Prepwork: Enter a long lineup in a busy place, such as a grocery store or post office. This is a good game for when your kids start pulling stuff off of the shelves and you see the clerk phoning for the security guard.

How you play: You declare a letter of the alphabet (you could use a colour for younger kids, or a riddle for older ones). The child has to look through all the products in front of them (usually candy--if I believed in Hell there'd be a special place there for the guy who puts all that candy at the checkout) and find the chosen letter. Then you repeat with a new letter. This is good for three or four minutes at least, before the fun runs out and you have to switch gears to something else--a rousing game of sort-the-stuff-in-our-cart-according-to-size or go-pretend-that-other-lady-is-your-mom. When my first batch of boys were eight and twelve, we'd play "somebody in this room is a spy, can you subtly figure out who?" but gave it up when they had trouble understanding what I meant by "subtle".

But I'm not joking (about any of this, unfortunately, not even the dead mice). We need a resource like this to have on hand, one that offers help with the units of daily life: riding the bus, washing the floor, sitting in the ER for two hours waiting for the nice doctor to dig the lentils out of your three year old's nose (okay, I'm joking about that). Lets replace the "Dora the Explorer's Creativity Enhancement Program" with "12 things to do with old egg cartons". Because lets be honest. Parents have lives of their own. Parents working outside the home often have two lives. Who told us we needed this stuff? (Okay, it was me, at the beginning of this blog post, but since then I've bathed a kid, made lunch, and cleaned out a closet. Consistency would be an unreasonable thing to expect).

On the front of one of the books it says "make the most of each teachable moment". Why do I need to do that? For all of the history of humanity, children have been loved and guided and woven into daily life. When did they suddenly become products?

Today Eric wanted to learn about the post office, great, so I explained it (accurately, I hope). But the internal organs never really interested him, and so what if he grows up thinking "pancreas" means "paper thing to colour and stick stuff to"? Lets be honest, he's unlikely to come face to face with one. Sure, I know he'll likely come face to face with gingerbread and bears and toy trains, but won't he figure that out as he goes along? Do we really need units on "bigger" and "smaller"? Won't that come up on its own at some point?

What have you, loyal readers of this blog (both of you) found useful? Any books to recommend? Websites? Neat real-life games? Reliable and inexpensive exterminators, in case the mice come back?

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Esteemed Art of Synchronized Falling

(missing trapeze video would go here--we're having technical difficulties).

Our trapeze show was fantastic--due largely perhaps to the fact that I was not in it. Allyson says that I was excluded because she doesn't think I could pass for a Bedford Road student (it was the Bedford Road Talent show, not actually The Liz's Trapeze Show), but I figure it's because she's mad at me for dropping her so much. Allyson has a glass-half-empty attitude about being dropped--she fails to even acknowledge the fact that I hold on to her successfully way more often than I drop her.

The four trapezers in the video are:

Izzy: Izzy babysits my kids, and got recruited to trapeze on the grounds that she's really small and really light. Turns out that she's very good at it--very graceful, which is surprising because she can't walk ten feet without tripping on something and falling over. If there's nothing to trip on, she just falls over anyways. In the performance, however, as you can see, she doesn't have any accidents. Allyson points out that this is because SAM (Izzy's trapeze partner) doesn't drop people.

Allyson: Allyson is a perfectionist.

Mamoru: Mamoru came to Canada to learn English and has instead learned guitar, trapeze, and how to make a fantastic lemon pie. I figure this is okay--he can pick up English any time (hey, my three year old and five year old can do it--how hard can it be?). He has been doing trapeze for only eight months, and deserves a medal for being able to decipher all four of us yelling conflicting instructions in a foreign language.

Sam: Sam is Allyson's brother. He is brutishly strong and can do anything on the trapeze, which causes us to resent him. Or maybe we resent him because he sits in the pit and throws foam blocks at us while we are practicing.

Now trapeze is not something you should try at home. It is best attempted under the careful eye of a trained instructor, with regular practice on professional equipment. Unfortunately for these four, instead they have had only me, one night a week, using a bar that I made out of scrap metal and hockey tape, holding up my laptop featuring videos I found on youtube and yelling "Do this, do this" (or in the case of Mamoru, attempting to meet him halfway by declaring in Japanese "Corewa ee desu. Kudasai. Mecha Kowai. Hidori Migi" and gesturing wildly). On the bright side, we have a foam pit to practice over, which is way safer than when we were working off a tree in the park and the only padding we had was that inflatable mat with "not suitable for use as safety equipment" written on the side. Also, when we were in the park, the only think Sam could find to throw at us was sticks, and Izzy kept getting distracted by wondering whether the boys biking by were "cute old" (as in 17 or so) or "old old" (as in 18 or over).

A disadvantage of relying on YouTube is that we have no idea what any of the tricks are called. This results in us referring to them by whatever names seem logical to us, such as "super painful move", "move Izzy was right about", "canning Sam move", "lap dance trick" (really, when you see it, you'll recognize it), and "move Sam can't do". In the case of Move Sam Can't Do, Sam has been arguing that since I've dropped Allyson twice now, the name should be changed to "move that neither Sam nor Liz can do".

As those of you who know me will already be aware, when I tell a story it is usually filled with "exaggeration". Move Sam Can't Do isn't really "Move Sam Can't Do" so much as it is "Move Izzy Won't Let Sam Try Because Liz Keeps Dropping Allyson Whenever They Try It". Actually, all this talk about making Allyson mad by dropping her is exaggerated as well--Allyson is actually very understanding about being dropped. And I don't so much let go of her, exactly... I more let go of the trapeze. Which results in a similar feeling of, um, weightlessness, but it's not quite the same. I like to think that Allyson is comforted by a pleasant feeling of solidarity, knowing that I am falling with her. Or, more accurately, on her. Also, my claim to sympathy is even more valid than hers, because she is way bonier than the "not suitable for use as safety equipment" mat. So, really, my landing is way less comfortable than hers.

I am exaggerating the risks, of course. In fact, the closest we've ever come to real injury wasn't while practicing "Move Nobody Seems to Be Able To Do" at all (a move we deemed too risky to put in the show because we might fall. We saved it for the encore. And we fell). The only moment I was truly afraid that we'd end up with serious injury was when, during the show, Allyson's dad (think strong like Sam but about nine feet tall and very protective) realized exactly what we do at trapeze. He was particularly impressed not only with "Kamikaze Move Nobody Seems to Be Able to Do" but also with "Lap Dance Trick" and "Butt in Face Move". I tried calm him down by pointing out that for the show we used a mat that is intended for use as safety equipment, but he still seemed a little, um, grouchy. It didn't help that Allyson's teacher (a woman who is clearly high on creativity and bravery but not so much with the discretion) chose that evening to invent "Flip That Ends in Faceplant Inches From Edge of Mat"...

They say running is great cross training.