Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Olympics and Wrestling my Inner Tiger Mother

We're in all-out Olympic mode around this house.  We pile on the bed in our room and stay up way too late every night marveling at the strength and determination of the world's finest athletes.  The award ceremonies, that moment when a record is broken, watching an athlete finish a race and then search the stands to make eye contact with their parents - it's all pure beauty.  That shared moment between parents and child - their eyes meeting - that brief scene contains a hundred chapters worth of words.  It all wrecks me.  I feel like a postpartum mess during the Olympics.

A million thoughts and feelings find me during the Olympics, but the parent/child element of each Olympian's story stands out the most.  While I'm cheering for the Olympians and emotionally overcome for them as they win or lose (I'm still not over Jordyn not making it) I'm also aware of my own kids in the room.  I am in turmoil, wondering if I'm doing enough to help them reach their highest potential.

“Nothing is fun until you're good at it.” ― Amy ChuaBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Last year, a sweet friend sent me the book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.  Have you read it?  Author, Amy Chua gives Western parents an insight into the Chinese-style of parenting.  My love-hate for Chua and sick fascination with her parenting style propelled me through this book.  I could not stop reading.  At some points she seemed certifiably insane.  At other points I was overcome with respect for her.  Once I understood her motives and love-inspired dreams for her daughters, I had to confess a lot of laziness in my own parenting.  Why do Chinese parents push their kids so hard?  Because they love them and truly believe their kids possess the capacity to reach greatness.  In Chua's opinion, not pushing her children would have been irresponsible and unloving.

“Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.” ― Amy ChuaBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

“Every day that you don't practice is a day you're getting worse.”  ― Amy ChuaBattle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Chua argues, in a semi-psychotic and yet convincing way that building a child's self esteem is less about working hard to convince a child they are good at something (when they really aren't) and more about helping them to actually excel at a skill (which takes a lot of old-fashioned, hard work and sacrifice).  She attributes not pushing our kids to excellence to laziness and selfishness on the part of Western parents.  She makes a great argument and her book begs the question - why wouldn't we want our kids to reach their highest potential? Are we pushing our kids hard enough - even when they push back?

I walked away from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother equally disturbed and inspired.  As I was reading the book, I traveled through cycles of excuses.  "Pushing my kids to excel at something would consume our life. It would cost a lot of money.  Chua is a professor at Yale.  Her family is loaded.  Hiring the best violin instructors and paying for expensive private schools is not an issue for her."  All of my arguments fell apart during my make-believe arguments with Chua.  Yes, Chua is successful, but her parents were immigrants to the United States who gave up an unbelievable amount of comfort to shape Chua into the woman she is today.  Many "Tiger Mothers" were poor immigrants to the United States sleeping in their tiny shops, sacrificing everything to give their children the very best - relentlessly and sacrificially driving them towards excellence.  Amy Chua lost a lot of sleep and gave up a great deal of comfort to help her children become the people they are today.

Even though Chua's strategies seem extreme, her love for her children is undeniable.  She fiercely believes in them.  I'll never be Amy Chua, but this book I love-hated, haunts me.  A year later, I still find myself arguing with Chua.  I've had some inner cat fights with her as I've watched the Olympics with my sons.  I keep secretly wishing an Olympian's story would read like this, "I didn't really have to work hard.  I was born good at swimming.  I jumped in the pool one day, started aimlessly flailing around, and realized I was born to win a gold medal.  I stand here today because of a steady diet of nachos and Sponge Bob Square Pants."  That story belongs to no one at the Olympics.  Each athlete is competing in London because they have worked hard and suffered.  So have their parents.

Once you throw in additional elements - like faith and the truths we believe about this world and our role in it, I'm left with a confusing mess of emotions and thoughts as I watch the Olympics with our boys at night.  While I want to encourage our sons to reach for excellence and faithfully steward the gifts and talents they have been given, I don't want their entire identities wrapped up in medals, titles, and labels.  I don't want them to feel as though they have to earn our love or admiration.  They already have it.

We are completely wrapped up in the Olympic story right now.  We are deeply moved every single evening as we cheer for the athletes.  Their hard work, focus, and their parent's love and support for them is remarkable.  As we're watching this human story unfold, I've caught myself wishing I would have actually worked harder at something.  While watching Gabrielle knock out her floor routine, I stop and dream for a second about what it would have looked like to have been more disciplined in my studies - to risk - to truly follow my dreams.  Through teary eyes - watching the fifteen year old, Ruta, win a gold medal - I can't help but think of my children in the room.  Their hearts won over by the struggle and victory of the athletes they are watching.  Am I helping them become who they were truly created to become?  Will they one day watch the Olympics and wish we had pushed them harder - will they be grieving their own mediocrity?  I see that "no greater love than this" kind of love - that laying down of a parent's life kind of love in that moment when Missy Franklin takes the gold and bursts into tears once her eyes meet her mother's.   For both of them - I can't imagine how much encouragement, hard-work, and sacrifice it has taken for that gold-medal moment to become reality.

Anyone else feeling this soul-pull during the Olympics?  Talk to me.

{Related Links...}

Fun, Olympics graphics

Amy Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (such a great read).

I'm having way too much fun at night talking about the Olympics on Twitter.  Join the conversation!

Feel like a geographical idiot after the opening ceremonies?  While watching the Olympics, hone your geography skills over at Jet Punk.

Another fun Olympic quiz from Jet Punk.

For the kids - these free Olympics printables from Tinyme are not only adorable but also a lot of fun. Our boys used the Opening Ceremonies Bingo Cards.  Really cool.

Opening Ceremonies photos from The Big Picture.  Incredible!

For fellow Texans:  Did you know 33 Olympians are from the Lone Star State?  Out of those 33, 23 are from Texas A&M.  Can I get a Whoop!  Check out these Aggie athletes in London!

Have you seen this video celebrating the mothers behind the Olympians?  Watch it and weep!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fish Tacos with Creamy Jalapeno

Mid-dinner every single time we eat these fish tacos someone declares (with their mouth full), "Yep.  Still my favorite meal ever."  We're so die-hard about these fish tacos, it's not even funny.

You'll need:

Creamy Jalapeno Sauce.  If you don't make the sauce, it's a total deal breaker for the whole recipe.  Find the recipe for Creamy Jalapeno Sauce HERE.

You'll also need:

Oil for frying
fish fry (batter of your choice)
Tilapia, thawed (fresh or previously frozen fillets)
1 bunch of cilantro
several limes
red cabbage (sliced in thin strips)

After washing the tilapia, coat each fillet with batter. We use a simple, gluten-free cornmeal batter.

Fry the fish. The only thing I like about frying food is feeling like Paula Deen for a few minutes.  Mostly I hate the entire process.  I swear I feel my arteries clogging while standing near hot oil.  I forget all about those clogged arteries once I'm eating these fish tacos.  Triple bypass surgery?  What's that?  Never heard of it.  If you prefer not to get heart disease, I'm sure grilled tilapia would work too. When frying the fish, it seems to take about 5-8 minutes for the fillets to turn golden brown and cook throughout.

While the fish is frying, chop one bunch of cilantro.  Several limes.  And some red cabbage (in thin strips).  After everything is chopped, fried, and ready, wrap a stack of corn tortillas in a wet dish towel and microwave for 2 minutes (this steams the tortillas really well).  You can also use flour tortillas if you prefer (but we think corn tortillas are the perfect flavor combination).

It's time to assemble your tacos.  On your warm corn tortillas, layer fish, plenty of red cabbage, and cilantro.  Slather those babies in creamy jalapeno sauce.  Then squeeze lime all over this blessed pile of wonder.  Eat until you need to ask forgiveness.

Fish tacos, I love you so much I want to have your babies.

Find the recipe for the creamy jalapeno sauce HERE.

Creamy Jalapeno

Last summer I was bound and determined to figure out how to make Chuy's creamy jalapeno dip.  I'm almost positive angels sneeze this stuff.  If you don't have a Chuy's in your state or country of residence let's pause for a moment of silence - and mourn. 

I posted this recipe last summer, but I'm posting it again - because later today, I'm sharing our very favorite way to eat this concoction of creamy hallelujah sauce.


1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tsp. dried parsley
2 tsp. garlic granules
2 tsp. dill
2.5 tsp. onion powder or granules
2.5 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup milk
2 jalapenos with seeds
2 jalapenos without seeds
juice of one lime
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 bunch of cilantro

Toss every single ingredient in a blender and puree until nice and smooth.   The sauce thickens up significantly in the refrigerator. At least it thickened that one time we managed to get it in the frig before gobbling it all up.

Try not to eat it all up in one setting.  Just try.

Best way to eat creamy jalapeno?  On a fish taco.  Recipe HERE.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Community Theatre

I just spent the evening at the Preview Party for one of our local community theaters.  The experience tonight reminded me of another unforgettable moment at a different community theatre in town (if you tracked with that sentence, God Bless You).  I'll never be able to erase this moment from my mind.  And now - neither will you (evil, stage laughter).

At Alice In Wonderland...(from April, 2007)

There was this little boy in the play. He was only on stage for a short time when we noticed he started wiggling. We weren't sure what was going on. Was he really wiggling?

Then, his hand went into his pants...but only briefly...long enough to make us stare...in wonder. Did that really happen? This is Alice in Wonderland. A rabbit goes down a hole, but did that hand go down those pants?

We were pretty sure it did, which means...that stuff before...yes...that was definitely wiggling.

Was the wiggle part of the act? If so, which part? It happened so fast, all Aaron and I could do was look at each other.

But alas...the riddle was solved when the child kept on wiggling.

He shook his lower body...first slowly...then vigorously.

Is this really what we think it is?

Yes. Yes it is because...

Then his hand went back into his pants...this time...he was all-out aggressive.  Determined.

First his hand went to work in the front, then down the back.

He was a boy on a mission.

He could not be stopped.

We could not stop watching this scene unfold.

Taking our eyes off of him felt like an impossibility. I have no idea what else was going on in the play at the time. No idea whatsoever. The wiggling child had our full attention.  We had to watch him...even though we should know better. What were we thinking? This could only get more and more gross. We have kids.  We know.  Oh Lord, do we know.

We watched the child dig deeper into his blue jeans. Then, not even parents of several boys could have predicted what was going to happen next. As we sat watching...no joke...the child finally pulled his hand back out of his pants. We exhaled a sigh of relief.  It was over.  That hand had traveled "around the world" in the little land of denim.  The child was down-right exhausted.

He brought his hand out.

One finger pointed.

He looked at it.

We cringed.

He smelled it.

We gasped. It was so awful. I kept repeating to myself, "Look away. Look away." Why couldn't I stop looking?  I hate myself.


After inspecting and smelling his finger...

He licked it.

I died a little and convulsed.

The people around us moaned.

Aaron said, "Nice."

The rest of the play really didn't matter, because at that point...10 minutes into the play...

We had gotten our money's worth.


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Caution: The Following Images are Graphic

We love the Olympics.  The hard work, determination, and mind-blowing talent on display.  Nations coming together in peace to celebrate friendship and the beauty of the human spirit.  The natural conversations that unfold with our kids as we appreciate the gift of other cultures.  Topics like Ramadan, equality for women, and world peace surface while watching athletes compete.  The magic of the Olympics transforms our kids into eager learners.  They are inspired. Not only by the strength and resolve of the athletes but also by the realization that this world is big and beautiful.

I don't think there could be a more lovely image than to see a giant dove of peace flying through the air during the opening ceremonies last night. The wings - covering each nation - each athlete.  If I try really hard to forget that the dove was riding a glow-in-the dark bike and looked a lot like E.T. the image is really moving.  Was I eating wild mushrooms or watching the opening ceremonies last night?  At times, it was hard to tell.

We've burned about 2.2 calories total today.  If there was an Olympic sport called Couch Sit, we'd bring home the gold.  Every couple hours we force our kids to do some jumping jacks - you know - so we don't petrify.  While gorging on beach volleyball and boxing, we came up with these...

all retro graphics from The Graphics Fairy.    

{Fun Olympics links}

Feel like a geographical idiot after the opening ceremonies?  While watching the Olympics, hone your geography skills over at Jet Punk.

Another fun Olympic quiz from Jet Punk.

For the kids - these free Olympics printables from Tinyme are not only adorable but also a lot of fun. Our boys used the Opening Ceremonies Bingo Cards last night.  Really cool.

Opening Ceremonies photos from The Big Picture.  Incredible!

For fellow Texans:  Did you know 33 Olympians are from the Lone Star State?  Out of those 33, 23 are from Texas A&M.  Can I get a Whoop!  Check out these Aggie athletes in London!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Bicycle Beauty

This beauty recently entered my life.  Meet my anniversary present.  Isn't she lovely?  She needs a name.  Don't you think?

We decided a few months ago that we're going to officially be a bike family. Our new neighborhood is beautiful and brimming over with inviting sidewalks.  In the evenings we've been leaving the phones at home, getting out of the house, and taking to the streets.  Together.  About an hour before the sun goes down we load em' up and move em' out.  It feels marvelous outside in the late evenings.  We wave at our neighbors.  Notice houses, gardens, and yards we've never noticed before.  Sometimes we ride fast, racing - legs burning.  Boys yelling.  Sometimes we coast - legs simply along for the ride.  All feels quiet.  I feel fully alive.

Can someone remind me why kids are supposed to wear helmets these days?  I never did growing up.  Ever. Wearing one feels hot and takes away from feeling free.  It feels like wearing a 'schweddy' head bra.  As a family, we've never been big on bikes before.  This is brand new to us.  I'm sure there's a lot of statistics and terrifying public service announcements I could watch to convince me helmets are necessary for every neighborhood bicycle excursion.  Heck, I'm sure there are public service announcements and news stories that could convince me my kids should be wearing helmets to bed at night.  In all seriousness I feel out of the loop when it comes to bicycle safety.  Convince me.  Educate me.  Go easy on me.  I'm listening.  If these fears are legitimate I'll invest more energy in making sure the boys wear their helmets every time they ride (it's hit or miss right now).  If this is simply another odd way we are being conditioned to become overly fearful and see the outdoors as dangerous, then meh - I'm going to be more lenient.

As my kids are spending more and more time outside, there's always this tug - wanting them to be free, to explore, to fall madly in love with nature, to feel comfortable and at peace while they are outside - and wanting to keep them safe.  That balance between unsubstantiated fear (one too many Lifetime movies) and responsible parenting seems difficult to find.  Do you feel that way too?

Do your kids wear bicycle helmets every time they ride their bikes?  Do you?

We're also in the market for a bicycle seat for Hudson.  Got any pointers?  The one we inherited from a friend does not work for him.  He's four, but he weighs less than 40 pounds.  Tall and skinny.  Can he still go in a seat on the back of my bike, or do I need to use one of those trailer contraptions?  My fingers are crossed hoping he can hang out in a seat on the back of my bike.  

While riding we have found several hidden treasures near our home.  Perfect trails.  Parks we've never explored.  The boys have a whole list of places they want to visit this weekend on their bikes. And when I say list, I mean they actually have a long list written down on paper after spending a solid hour on Google Earth. My kids dig a list.  

Got weekend plans?  We're making friendship bracelets with some friends (duh, who else would you make them with?).  Last summer when we were staying at the farm, my sister-in-law bought all the supplies for friendship bracelets.  I thought for sure her girls would be the only ones crazy about a jewelry-genre art project.  I thought for sure my boys would make a bracelet to be nice - but then be done with it.  For sure - I was wrong!  They loved the art and work of making designs for themselves and their friends.  We could easily declare last summer the summer of the friendship bracelets.   

We'll be falling hard and fast in love with the Olympics tonight, and I think we'll spend another weekend on our bikes.  It's habit forming.  After watching the Olympics, I'm sure we'll ride extra hard and extra fast.  Isn't that the way it goes?

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."  -- H.G. Wells

How about a few weekend links?

I love this army man remix.

This is dreamy.  Who wants to pack up and go?

This is obviously not her day.

I'm making this again this weekend.  Try to stop me.

Do you have a Lowes in your town?  These really are fun - and free.

When I'm riding my bike, this is what I feel like on the inside.

This is cute.

This article about the Olympics made me all kinds of teary and hopeful.

This is such good news for African mothers.

Speaking of helmets, Hayden has called dibs on this one.  Ashton on this one.  Have you seen these?

Could every parent in the world please read this?

Have a beautiful weekend!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Add a Little Ed Emberley to Your Summer

Pablo Picasso said, "All children are artists.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up."    I'm not trying to argue with a famous dead artist, but as a mother I've noticed how fragile a child's spirit can be when it comes to the idea of artistic expression.  Not only is it a struggle to remain an artist once kids are grown, it seems to be a struggle to gather the courage to become one at all.  It takes confidence to dive into something new and creative.  Even for kids.  Our boys love art, but with each of them I remember a distinct window of time when they were unsure.  They were easily discouraged.  They could not bring the visions and beauty in their mind alive on paper. They lacked confidence.  They could have easily given up and declared, "I'm not good at this.  I quit."

Two people in their lives were tangible influences during these periods of frustration.  Both of these artists, in their own ways, gave our kids the encouragement and nudge they needed to grow their confidence and ultimately fall deeply in love with visual arts.  One of those people is Aaron's mom.  Her skill as an artist and one-on-one time spent with our kids introducing them to new mediums has given each one of our boys a confidence boost.  The other person who has been a solid part of our kids' journey into the arts is Ed Emberley.

Thanks to Ed Emberley's drawing books, at the age of four years old, Ashton was bringing me pictures like this one:

I'm not saying this picture should go in anyone else's museum (besides mine), but what I remember most about this time was how excited Ashton was about each picture he drew using Ed Emberley's step-by-step approach.  Ashton's growing confidence in his ability to draw was far more important than what he was actually drawing.  Each picture he created fueled a desire to draw another picture - to try something new.  He felt successful.

We checked out a whole stack of Ed Emberley books from the library this week.  Once again, I was amazed at how eager each of our kids were to sit down for a couple hours and create.  Surprisingly, they spent the majority of their time using the simplest of Emberley's drawing books - the Fingerprint and Thumbprint books.

We own several of Ed Emberley's books.  These are one of the few items around our house that our kids cycle through, with passionate interest, several times a year.  Every few months these books seem to get rediscovered and our home is taken over by new Ed Emberley drawings.  Emberley not only offers simple, step-by-step instructions, the themes in his books seem to resonate naturally with our kids.  Animals, nature, pirate ships, silly monsters, and trains - these are the loves of every childhood.

To send light into the darkness of men's hearts - such is the duty of the artist.  - Schumann
Isn't it exciting to see a child's creativity and confidence increasing?  Is it crazy to think these moments spent with stamp pads, paper, markers, and paint are the strokes in our children's souls - gently creating deep thinkers and problem solvers?  I love the idea of our kids becoming adults who use their creativity to "send light into the darkness."

{{Our Emberley Favorites}}
Although we've never met an Emberley book we didn't like, these are the ones that seem to inspire our kids the most.

The pirate section in this book is fabulous.

Other Inspiring Links

Flower Patch Farm Girl's take on bravery, art, and children - such a beautiful read.

Judy's Art - Post about the art Aaron's mom has created for our home and her inspiring story of blooming as an artist later in life.  As a woman and mother, her story brings me such comfort and hope.

Ed Emberley's art is now featured on fabric.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 24::Tell An Old Joke Day

I'll never forget it.  Third grade.  Show and Tell day.  I would remember it was Show and Tell Day the exact moment the teacher would declare, "Everyone get out what you brought to Show and Tell."  Since I was obviously born with the inability to get it together, I used my lack of forethought to really hone my joke telling skills.  While other people were showing off their turtles and yarn collections, I was wowing boring the class with the jokes I remembered reading on Laffy Taffy wrappers.  One day  I decided to mix it up and recite a joke that was not sponsored by bite sized candies with enough torque to pull your teeth right out of their sockets. 

I had recently overheard my mom telling a joke to some friends.  She got a great response so I thought I'd try it.  At the young age of 8 I already lived for a laugh.  I stood in front of the class.  Confident.  I'm sure my teacher was expecting another "What do you call a cow with no legs" joke but instead I went with this one:

Q.  What did the elephant say to the naked man?  
A.  How do you breathe through that thing?

Shuzam.  I was waiting for everyone to slap their knees in uncontrollable laughter.  I was sure the class would just get it over with and officially declare me class clown and most likely to have her own television show.  Surely after a joke like this the teacher would cancel Show and Tell altogether and give me my own segment every week.

Instead - I'll never forget my teacher's face.  She was stunned.  She sent me in the hall.

I got a firm talking to.  My teacher asked me where I heard the joke.  Oblivious, I chirped back - "My mom."  Talk about throwing someone under the bus.  Oh my head. As a mother, I feel so horrible for my mom.  Can you imagine?  I guess when we decide to have kids we also decide there will be no end to how mortified and embarrassed we will be while raising them.   I just knew the joke I told in front of the class made a room full of ladies laugh. The material was audience tested.  So why not run with it?   

I've learned from this experience and draw from it when I threaten my kids about telling new jokes in front of new people.  I've also been known to say, "We just met these people we're hanging out with today. I swear - if I even hear ONE Yo Momma joke..." 

July 24 is Tell an Old Joke Day.  I'm not even kidding.  Who makes this stuff up?  I wrote up some of our favorite old jokes for another site we run, so I thought I'd share them here.  Are your kids always telling jokes?  Our kids are totally into them.  When our boys check out a joke book from the library I’ll admit – I sigh.  They follow me around the house for a week saying, “Mom, mom.  Listen to this one. It’s hilarious.”  Now repeat that scenario 1,422 times and you’ll understand why I try to distract our boys from the joke book aisle at the library.  As much as the corny jokes can be annoying, I’ve found jokes are a really natural teaching tool.  In order to understand a joke about a mushroom being a “fun guy” kids have to know that a mushroom is a fungi.  I usually have to define a new vocabulary word for the kids to get the punch line.  Understanding a play on words takes some higher level thinking.  I’m always surprised how much “teaching” a child will allow me to do when a joke books is in their hands.  It’s like secret school.  I feel like an educational ninja.

1.  Why was the broom late?  He over swept.
2.  What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite.
3.  What do you get from a pampered cow? Spoiled milk.
4.  What do you call a cow that just had a baby? De-calf-inated
5.  Why didn’t the skeleton cross the road?  He didn’t have the guts.
6.  Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because: 7 8 9
7.  Where do pencils go for vacation? Pencil-vania
8.  A boy was having a birthday party. A mushroom walks in, and the little boy says, “That mushroom can’t come to my birthday party!”-The mushroom said, “Why not? I’m a fun guy
9.  How much does it cost a pirate to get his ear pierced? A buccaneer!
10.  Why do cows wear bells?  Because their horns don’t work.
11.  Knock, knock.  Who’s there?  Nobody.  Nobody who?  (don’t say anything).
12.  Knock, knock.  Who’s there?  Smell Mop.  Smell Mop Who? (har, har)
13.  What do you call a bear with no teeth?  A gummy bear.
14.  What did Batman and Robin become after they were run over by a steamroller?  Flatman and Ribbon
15.  What do you get when you cross a centipede and a parrot?  A walkie talkie.

Got any jokes your kids are lovin' these days?  Will you share them?

Summer Water Potions

Mint leaves + water + mason jar = summer

Have you tried any of the cool flavored water recipes online?  I put "make water potions" on our list of things to do next week.  If I call something a "potion," our boys will try almost anything. We have a really great farmers market and local produce store near our house.  I thought it would be fun to go gather what we'll need this weekend and make a new water potion every day next week.

We're going to try these:

Inviting Waters from Martha Stewart

Pineapple Mint from The Yummy Life

Lavender Orange Water from Organic Authority

We're also going to try Mango, lime, and mint.

Look at this cool contraption for infusing water with flavor.

If you think everything tastes better in a mason jar, have you seen these cool lids that turn a mason jar into a travel mug?  Brilliant!

Speaking of water.  Looking to buy a wedding ring?  Have a wedding ring?  Find out how rings can provide clean drinking water for people around the world!  

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wanting to Live a Better Story? Mercy Project can Help.

“We live in a world where bad stories are told, stories that teach us life doesn't mean anything and that humanity has no great purpose. It's a good calling, then, to speak a better story. How brightly a better story shines. How easily the world looks to it in wonder. How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them.” -- Donald Miller

There's this section in Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years where a father is lamenting the direction his thirteen-year-old daughter's life is heading.  Jason had recently found pot in his daughter's room.  She was dating a guy that smelled like smoke and grunted out monosyllabic answers to every question.  Then Miller says something to his friend that catches them both off-guard.  "Your daughter is living a terrible story.  She's caught up in a bad one."  A couple months later, Miller ran into his friend Jason again.  He was smiling.  His daughter's life was turning around.  Why?  Because Jason had decided to lead his family to live a better story.

"Jason realized he hadn't mapped out a story for his family.  And so his daughter had chosen another story, a story in which she was wanted, even if she was only being used.  In the absence of a family story, she'd chosen a story in which there was risk and adventure, rebellion and independence."  Jason described his daughter this way:  "She's not a bad girl.  She was just choosing the best story available to her."

Jason pursued a better story and invited his young daughter to join him.  He partnered with an orphan care ministry and invited his family to be change agents in this hurting world.  This brave man decided to take on a $25,000 campaign to care for orphans.  At first, his family thought he had lost his mind.  He knew a good story always involves risk, but was this too risky?  Eventually - inviting his family into a story worth living completely changed the dynamics of his family.  On her own, his daughter broke up with her boyfriend.  She was too busy getting wrapped up in something beautiful and worth living for to be bothered with a dead-end story.

If your family is looking for a better story - if you're wondering whether there's something more meaningful than the rhythm your family may currently be living - there is.  This world is a terrible, depressing place until we dig in deep and become part of the solution.  Then it's beautiful. Hope seems to hang out around every corner.

Looking for a cause?  Looking for a better story?  Will you take 10 minutes and watch this documentary that sums up what Mercy Project is doing in Ghana to free child slaves?  Will you show your family the short film and invite them into the world of Ghanaian children?  We're not asking for your money.  We're simply inviting you to be a part of something that matters.  Chris Field, who runs Mercy Project, is a personal friend and goes to our church.  We're vouching for this organization's practices and desire for sustainability in Ghana.

Please feel free to post this video on your blog or share on Facebook and Twitter.  If you share to Twitter will you use the hashtag #endslavery?  Will you post the video on CNN Freedom Project's Facebook Page and mention @CNNFreedom or @IJMHQ in your tweet?  Mercy Project will free its first group of child slaves this September.  This is something to celebrate.

If you're a blogger, Mercy Project is looking to partner with other bloggers to spread the word.  Please email chris@mercyproject.net if you'd like more information about advocating for Mercy Project within your sphere of influence.

How to Get Your Kids Involved in a Better Story

Coming Soon:  Once the first group of children are freed in September and returned to their families, Mercy Project is committing to pay for the children to go to school.  Our family will be hosting a nationwide readathon to raise money for the children's school expenses.  We're inviting US schools and families to be a part of the solution.  We love the idea of giving children the opportunity to read and raise money for children who cannot currently read. How lovely for an American child to read for a child in Ghana.  How perfect to invite your school, classroom, or child, into a meaningful story by reading stories and ultimately changing the story of trafficked kids in Ghana.  Who says kids can't be a part of the solution?  More details to come!

“And once you live a good story, you get a taste for a kind of meaning in life, and you can't go back to being normal; you can't go back to meaningless scenes stitched together by the forgettable thread of wasted time.” -- Donald Miller

Recipe for Change::Basil Pasta with Slave-Free Tomatoes

The Problem

Slavery and other human rights abuses are an ongoing threat in U.S. tomato fields. 

•  Over the past 15 years, seven cases of forced labor slavery have been successfully prosecuted, resulting in over 1,000 people freed from slavery in U.S. tomato fields.  

•  Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Molloy once called Florida’s tomato fields “ground zero” for modern-day slavery in the United States.  -- From IJM

International Justice Mission, best known for rescuing families from forced slave labor in South Asia is also working to free slaves right here in America.

Appalled human-rights violations of this magnitude are happening right here within our borders?  Want assurance that you're not buying tomatoes harvested by slaves?  Check out the following links, get informed, and find out how to be a part of the solution.

Recipe for Change from IJM.  Get all the facts about slavery in Florida's tomato fields and find out what you can do to help.  We all have a neighborhood grocery store - which means - thankfully we each can be a part of the solution.

Recipe for Change Facebook page.  Stay informed, hear from others exposing these issues in Florida, and read stories and updates that point to true change and freedom.

Want to buy local?  Find a Farmers Market or CSA in your area at Local Harvest.

If you have a Trader Joe's or Whole Foods in your town, take a moment the next time you're in the store to speak to a manager and let them know you're grateful for their commitment to buy fairly harvested tomatoes.  You can also leave them a message on their Facebook wall or Tweet your thanks to each store.  Trader Joe's Facebook Page.  Whole Foods Facebook Page.  Whole Foods on Twitter.

To celebrate and raise awareness, The Giving Table has organized a Food Blogger Facebook Page where foodies are sharing recipes that incorporate slave-free tomatoes.  Check them out and get some mealtime inspiration.

In the Press:  Join Michael Pollan in Ending Slavery of Tomato Workers  |  Did a Slave Grow Your Tomato?

Got a favorite recipe that includes tomatoes?  Post it on your blog and raise awareness for Recipe for Change!
An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.  -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Easiest Ever Summer Pasta Recipe::Basil Pasta

Due to poor planning, I threw this recipe together one night and begged it to save me. It was so well received, it has become a weekly staple in our home this summer.  I bet this is what it feels like to win the lottery.

You will need:

1 pkg of thin spaghetti noodles (angel hair or cannellini)

1 stick of butter

fresh basil to taste (we love it so we go a little overboard)

slave-free cherry tomatoes (we get ours from the farmers market - delish)

salt and pepper to taste

shredded parmesan cheese

Boil noodles according to directions.  While noodles are cooking place a stick of butter in a large bowl. Chop basil and add to bowl.  Cut desired amount of cherry tomatoes in half and add to bowl.  Once the noodles are cooked (don't overcook), strain.  Pour noodles on top of butter, basil, and tomatoes.  Allow butter to melt a minute or two before stirring.  Toss the noodles, butter, basil, and tomatoes until well mixed.  Salt and pepper the pasta to taste.  Place pasta in bowls and top with a handful of parmesan cheese.  Enjoy!

This meal takes about 8 minutes to make.  Perfect for summer.

Paleo modification:  While my family is enjoying their pasta, I either add the tomato/basil to an omelet or blacken slices of summer squash in a cast iron skillet, remove squash from pan, and top with tomato/basil and mozzarella cheese.

Want to learn more about slavery in Florida's tomato fields?  Read the book Tomatoland.

In Tomatoland, which is based on his James Beard Award-winning article, "The Price of Tomatoes," investigative food journalist Barry Estabrook reveals the huge human and environmental cost of the $5 billion fresh tomato industry. Fields are sprayed with more than one hundred different herbicides and pesticides. Tomatoes are picked hard and green and artificially gassed until their skins acquire a marketable hue. Modern plant breeding has tripled yields, but has also produced fruits with dramatically reduced amounts of calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin C, and tomatoes that have fourteen times more sodium than the tomatoes our parents enjoyed. The relentless drive for low costs has fostered a thriving modern-day slave trade in the United States. How have we come to this point?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Beating the Statistics::Tree Detectives

"Sociologists point out that American kids today can identify a thousand corporate logos but less than ten native plants and animals that live around their homes."  -- William Powers in 12x12
I'm waist high in 12x12 at the moment.  This quote stuck out to me because our family had recently piled on the couch together and played The Logo Quiz.  Even our three year old would say, "Dat place you get coffee" when we pointed to the Starbucks logo or "Dat place wif duh fwench fwies" when we pointed to McDonalds.  This may gain me some instant haters and eye rollers, but to our knowledge Hudson has never eaten at McDonalds.  I say "to our knowledge" because he's awfully agile and brilliant.  It would shock me none for the doorbell to ring during his naptime, me answer the door, and find a grown up standing there holding Hudson's hand.  "We found him down the street at McDonalds ordering a milkshake and some fries.  He tried to pay with some pink, Sponge Bob LIFE money.  That's when knew something was up."

It could totally happen.  I wish I was exaggerating.

This child has most likely never eaten at McDonalds and thanks to Netflix and DVR - has only seen a handful of commercials in his life.  Yet he held his own in the corporate logo game.  Our older boys?  They dominated it.  We were surprised how well they all did.  We were impressed and disturbed all at the same time.

Because I'm nothing if not a reactive freak, I went straight to the library and checked out a pile of Texas Tree books.  McDonalds and Chanel can kiss my grits.  I was determined to beat the statistic and teach our boys about the trees in the backyard.  I conveniently picked one of the hottest days of the year to undertake this task.  In case you're wondering - yes. Absolutely.  This makes my family love me and not grumble at all.  They practically beg me to be a little bit more insane and unpredictable.

We decided to declare this species the "run for your life" tree.  

We found a Pecan Tree, a White Mulberry, a Winged Elm, a Yaupon, a Cypress, and a Japanese Privet.

I can't quit rolling this thought around in my mind:  "What if this disconnect with the earth is also a disconnect from the one who created it?  What if our ignorance of the natural world seeps over into the spiritual?"


After we identified each tree, the kids would make a simple rubbing and label their leaf.

“If I had influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.” ― Rachel Carson
If you decide to explore your own backyard or a nearby park and identify the trees you find, here are some great art ideas that incorporate the natural world (and some added nature links).  Got any other links, books, or activities that have inspired you to connect with nature?  Please share the nature love!

Elephant Leaf Art

Deer Leaf Art

Fish Leaf Art

Leaf Art for Grownups

Dinosaur Leaf Art

Watercolor Leaf Rubbings

Fancy Leaf Art

The Yarney Stone

Rock Art

Want to get outside and go on a nature hunt?  Get a free, nature scavenger hunt printable HERE.

If you live in the Northeast, check out this new app called Leaf Snap.  You can take a picture of a leaf on your phone and instantly have information about each species!  Leaf Snap will eventually contain information for all trees in the US.  Isn't that exciting?

Favorite Reads that Inspire Families to Get Outdoors

Roxaboxen (children's book that will get your kids outside) Check out how this beautiful book inspired weeks of outdoor play for our kids.

Marian called it Roxaboxen. (She always knew the name of everything.) There across the road, it looked like any rocky hill -- nothing but sand and rocks, some old wooden boxes, cactus and greasewood and thorny ocotillo -- but it was a special place: a sparkling world of jeweled homes, streets edged with the whitest stones, and two ice cream shops. Come with us there, where all you need to gallop fast and free is a long stick and a soaring imagination.  In glowing desert hues, artist Barbara Cooney has caught the magic of Alice McLerran's treasured land of Roxaboxen -- a place that really was, and, once you've been there, always is.

The Nature Principle - Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. 

This New Nature Movement taps into the restorative powers of the natural world to boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds. Supported by groundbreaking research, anecdotal evidence, and compelling personal stories, Louv offers renewed optimism while challenging us to rethink the way we live.

Last Child in the Woods - Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder

Richard Louv was the first to identify a phenomenon we all knew existed but couldn't quite articulate: nature-deficit disorder. His book Last Child in the Woods created a national conversation about the disconnection between children and nature, and his message has galvanized an international movement. Now, three years after its initial publication, we have reached a tipping point, with Leave No Child Inside initiatives adopted in at least 30 regions within 21 states, and in Canada, Holland, Australia, and Great Britain.

12x12 - a one-room cabin off the grid and beyond the American dream.

Why would a successful American physician choose to live in a twelve-foot-by-twelve-foot cabin without running water or electricity? To find out, writer and activist William Powers visited Dr. Jackie Benton in rural North Carolina. No Name Creek gurgled through Benton’s permaculture farm, and she stroked honeybees’ wings as she shared her wildcrafter philosophy of living on a planet in crisis. Powers, just back from a decade of international aid work, then accepted Benton’s offer to stay at the cabin for a season while she traveled. There, he befriended her eclectic neighbors — organic farmers, biofuel brewers, eco-developers — and discovered a sustainable but imperiled way of life. 

Whether you’re a first-time camper or a veteran backpacker befuddled by the challenges of carting a brood—and all the requisite gear—into the great outdoors, here you’ll find all the tips and tools you need to plan the perfect nature adventure with your family. Humorous and irreverent, yet always authoritative, this guide to camping with kids, from babies through pre-teens, is filled with checklists, smart tips, recipes, games, activities, and art projects. Helen Olsson, a seasoned camper and mother of three, shares lessons learned over the years of nature outings with her own family. Learn the basics of family camping, from choosing a destination and packing gear to setting up a campsite and keeping little ones safe. Create the perfect camp menu with simple and tasty recipe ideas. Discover foolproof tips and tactics for keeping kids happy and entertained while hiking. Explore nature through clever and creative camp arts and craft projects. This guide is your game plan to unplugging from the digital world and connecting your kids to nature. Whether it’s roasting marshmallows around a crackling campfire or stretching out on a camp mat to gaze at the stars, the memories you’ll be making will last a lifetime.