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Archive for October, 2007

We took the kids trick or treating tonight. Ben was Anakin Skywalker and Julia was ahalloween-2007.jpg glamour witch (think feathers and sparkles on the trim of her cuffs and skirt). As we visited old friends and walked around from house to house, I was struck with the realization that Halloween is probably the one day of the year in the US when people walk around visiting their neighbors. We have become so isolated in our lifestyles that we often don’t know our neighbors and certainly don’t drop in on them unannounced. We are a culture of strangers that drive to social gatherings (if we have time to be social) rather than walk across the yard to the neighbors for a chat. At least that is the way it is in the white, middle class culture of which I am a part.

I lived in Thailand for a while and the culture there, particularly in the small town and rural areas is very much one of hospitality. People know one another and drop in on one another unannounced. The traditional greeting in Thai is not hello (Sawatdii), it is “have you eaten rice yet?(gin cao, ruu yang?). The greeting is an inquiry and an invitation. “Have you eaten? If not, come in and join us.” I suspect that many older people in the U.S. can remember a time that visiting with neighbors was the norm rather than the exception. I have some memories as a child of people coming to our house to visit unannounced. (I remember because it was always a mad dash to pick up the clutter before they got to the door.) But I can’t remember the last time that happened to us and I would certainly think carefully before dropping in on a friend without calling first.

As I walk my dog at night, in almost every house I see the blue glow of a television and can often see lone individuals or occasionally a couple sitting watching something. It occurs to me that we have substituted TV or other electronic forms of entertainment or connectivity for community. Other technologies keep us in the house and out of contact with others as well. There was a day when most folks dried their clothes on the line outside. Often neighbors would talk across the fence in the process. Now we stay inside and use our clothes dryers. Rather than stopping in at the local news stand or coffee shop to chat about current events, the computer allows us to get our news, chat, and daily fix of gossip from a screen. iPods allow us to download our music rather than going to a venue to hear it with others or browsing with friends through the stacks of CDs at the record store. Our love affair with the personal automobile allows us to drive in comfort and isolation to wherever we are going; no more annoying encounters with real people on the bus or train. (OK, I know this is not the case for many in more urban areas so my apologies to you). Our technologies have made our lives more convenient but not, I think, easier. We have become a nation of individuals rather than a nation indivisible; no longer a culture of hospitality but instead a culture of skepticism.

I had fun tonight. There were no tricks and in fact, it was a treat to be out with my family visiting friends I love and seeing other families out as well. Halloween is the eve of All Saints (Hallows) Day on which the Christian church remembers all the saints, faithful servants of God, who have gone before us. As we remember our connection with a community of faith which stretches back to the ancient past, it seems a fitting time to practice, however imperfectly, being community in the present. To suspend, for one evening, our skepticism and practice hospitality to our neighbors.

May God add a blessing to all who opened their homes tonight to help our children have an experience of community.

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I heard on the radio today that if every home in America switched just one regular incandescent light bulb for a compact fluorescent bulb the savings in carbon dioxide emissions would be equivalent to taking one million cars off the road every year. While the compact fluorescents are more expensive, they last up to 30 time longer and use much less electricity which saves you money in the long run. I can’t tell any difference in the quality of light and if you don’t like the white light typically associated with the tube fluorescent bulbs, just stay away from the bulbs marked “daylight.”

If you’d like to read more about this, click here.

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I bought a blanket for my water heater today at my favorite home improvement store for less than $20.  Our water heater is more than 10 years old so it can be made more efficient by adding extra insulation.  I also turned the thermostat down on the water heater to 120°.  These measures should lower our energy usage and reduce the amount of carbon we are putting into the atmosphere.  Doing my part to be a good steward of the earth and saving money; what more could I ask for?

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I’m wearing a sweatshirt and keeping the thermostat low (you should know that I like to be warm, my husband would say too warm, in the winter so this is a big step for me). We can reduce our family’s carbon dioxide emissions and save money on heating costs at the same time by taking this one step.

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Well, Autumn has definitely arrived in our part of the world and with it less access to outdoor activities.  I’ve wondered how it would be to have the children in the house more with no TV but, while it is more demanding of my time, I am seeing some things that I don’t think I would be seeing if they were watching TV.  These are the ones that have made the most impression on me:

  • Benjamin has always been a good reader, but now, he is reading all the time.  I know he would not be doing as much of that if he were occupied with TV and video games.
  • Julia and Ben both have been plinking around on the old piano we have.  We’ve had it a few years now but I’ve never seen them show much interest.  Now, I can hear them playing around with it much more.  I believe that as they are being challenged to occupy their time, they are trying new things.
  • Both of them are spending much more time drawing, coloring, doing “art projects.”
  • Julia has a new found interest in ‘putting on plays.’  Her most recent projects are “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “My Fair Lady.”
  • Ben has advanced from following the directions to build lego creations to creating his own space ships, planes, etc.

Every choice we make about how to spend our time eliminates some other option.  I don’t think TV is bad or evil, in and of itself, but I do believe that the time my children  (and I) spent in front of some screen in the past eliminated opportunities to develop other interests and skills.  I feel like we are achieving more balance now and it feels good.

I have to admit that I miss watching the Colts but maybe someone will invite us to their house for a Colts party because watching TV then would be part of a social activity and therefore allowed (hint, hint).

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I would recommend that everyone read the summary report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” due to global warming. It’s not very long and you don’t have to be a science whiz to understand it. The report summarizes the current and the projected impacts of global warming by continent as well as by looking at such things as food supply, ecosystems, coastal & low lying regions, health and industry. It includes graphics and charts that are helpful in understanding both the changes that have already occurred and what we could expect if temperatures continue to rise and gives the expected likelihood of such changes. This document is the most helpful thing I have read to give me a broader understanding of where we are and where we are going. Even if you only look at the graphics and charts, you will come away with a better understanding of what changes global warming is bringing and will continue to bring for the foreseeable future.

Click here to read the report.

Click here to go to the IPCC website.

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One of my seminary professors and clinical supervisors once made an observation as we were discussing a mother’s frustrations with her non-compliant children: “children don’t make very good pets.” I laughed at the time and appreciated the truth of the statement but, not being a parent then, I couldn’t really grasp the full import of those words. In the past couple of weeks, as I have tried to help my 5 year old daughter make the transition from wearing “small clothes” as she calls them (a.k.a. summer clothes) to long sleeves, long pants and shoes instead of sandals or flip flops I have come to appreciate my professor’s statement on a whole different level.

As David and I were planning to have children, we, like most parents, had fantasies of the way we would parent and the way our children would be. Our children would be precocious, curious, polite, well behaved: ‘like us’ somehow. It must be said that our children are all those things (though normally not all at the same time and usually not with us). They are, like all of us, a mixture of good and bad and I was, for the most part, prepared for that. What was harder to anticipate before being a parent, however, is the surprise and mystification that comes from realizing just how unlike me my children are. They are truly their own people with their own personalities.

As a lifelong animal lover, I have had my share of experiences with the good the bad and the ugly that can come with having pets. We now have a very calm 12 year old Cocker mix (Kess) and a 17 month old Chocolate Labrador Retriever (DaVinci).  We have lost numerous shoes, toys, stuffed animals, baseboards, important papers, etc. to DaVinci’s oral fixation. While we have had to deal with various behavioral problems both our dogs are great family members. They are both good natured, DaVinci doesn’t jump on people (which is very important when you are 96lbs. of pure enthusiasm), and both are always happy to see us, and live to be with us and please us. My children, however, are not like our dogs. They are not always happy to see me (particularly disappointing when I am really looking forward to seeing them) and they certainly do not live to please their parents. They don’t fetch, sit, or stay as well as the dogs (ok…they probably stay better but you get the picture). They don’t always stroke our egos and unlike dogs, they can hold grudges, harbor hurts and say what they think will hurt you the most. If what we want from pets is enthusiasm, companionship, loyalty and unreserved, unquestioning acceptance, then children don’t make very good pets. It occurs to me as I write this that, as a parent, I might, at times, compare unfavorably to the dogs in the eyes of my children as well.

And yet, while parenting is harder, more frustrating and more emotionally draining than raising a dog, there are joys common to both experiences. There is the of joy of witnessing unrestrained enthusiasm as I watch the dogs run at full speed across a wide open space or my daughter twirl and leap as she dances with no self-consciousness to “Rhapsody in Blue.” There is the tenderness that comes as my children snuggle close to me while I read them a story or when DaVinci lays beside me and rests his head on my knee; all of them content simply to be near me. There is the pride I feel as I watch my son growing into a boy with a compassionate heart and the appreciation I feel to watch Kess extend comfort to a family member who is hurting. These joys are commonplace and yet extraordinary. They are the gifts of connection, the ties that bind; the sacred bonds that anchor us and give life shape and meaning. Without such bonds, we are lost.

It’s true that children don’t make very good pets but both pets and children, friends and family, colleagues and coworkers, enrich our lives and give us opportunities to learn about what it means to be human; to live as God created us: interconnected and interdependent. In the morning, as I work through the morning saga of “I don’t know what I want to wear” with my daughter, I’ll try to remember that we are both still growing, that she’s not like me, and that I have been given a precious gift. And maybe, just maybe, for those few moments in the morning I can, like my dogs, let go of my memories of past morning drama and practice unrestrained, joyous acceptance of who she is.

May God add a blessing to my intention.

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