September 27, 2008

Sharing the Love

Image: Belinda Hankins Miller via Flickr

Recently Sandra Foyt of TechMamas asked

How are you sharing your love of technology with your child(ren)?

Here's what I said: We have a seven year old son and each of the three people in our little family has his/her own laptop. (My school has a rotating upgrade budget for computers, and when old ones get "decommissioned," they're put up for auction within the school community. His is "old," but it works!)

We all have limitations on our media time, but we allow our young gentleman some say over how his gets used. At this point, videos still win over computer time most of the time, although he will occasionally "burn" his entire day's allotment (30 minutes, more on rainy weekends) on a fierce round of Desktop Tower Defense.

I try to be transparent about what I'm doing on the computer... he knows that I use it to blog, pay bills, do research, edit photos, write email, etc. We have pay-as-you-go cellphones, and have explained to him why paying monthly fee for more fully-featured, state-of-the-art phones is not a priority for us at this time. He also understands that we consider hand-held games to be potentially socially isolating.

Online videos have turned into a major source of laughs and inspiration. (Our son watched 5th grader Dalton Sherman's inspirational speech in TX three times in a row one day earlier this month.) Our television viewing has dwindled and is probably about 90% sports.
Our son understands that his grandparents (and other friends/fans!) sometimes know what's going on in our lives via my blog. He knows that if there's a "master" of something in the world, we can probably use the computer to access that information.

And this last has meant that he's already learned things I would NEVER have dreamed of teaching him on my own. Like
this. Helping him figure out how best to appropriately navigate cyberspace will be a long-term project, and one of us will always be there to help: all computing in our home takes place in public spaces.

It's an interesting time to be a parent, isn't it?
How are you sharing your love of technology - or lack of same - with the people in your life?

September 26, 2008

Can I Get A Phoenix?

The next time someone tells me they're fixin' to become a parent, here's what I'm likely to blurt out:

Write down the questions you get asked. Because those moments of trying to figure out how to answer questions you NEVER thought you'd get asked? Those are at the heart of parenting.

Image: Paul Hocksenar, via Flickr

Following my own advice, here's how today's episode of "Questions You Never Thought You'd Hear" went at our house:

D (our animal-loving, Harry Potter grooving, seven-year-old whose teacher keeps giving him books whose main characters have pets. Ahem.): Mommy, can I get a phoenix?

Me (sound of mental gears spinning): No, sweetie, I don't think they let people keep phoenixes as pets.

D (mildly affronted at the unfairness of it all): They don't? Why not?

Me (scrambling): I think because they're super special, and maybe a little hard to take care of. (Should have just stopped, but blundered on, introducing a tactical error into our exchange...) Sort of like you can't have a tiger for a pet.

D (trying to keep the concern for my mental impairment from showing up in his voice, and failing): Mommy. They don't let you keep a tiger for a pet because it could KILL YOU. (Thoughtful beat.) How about a bunny?

Image: Jannes Pockele, via Flickr

Someone else can explain to him about the "endangered by way of being mythological" nature of Phoenixes. He's already worried enough about the polar bears and gorillas.

September 23, 2008

Autumn Haiku

(Image by Subharnab Majumdar, via Flickr)

more rain
and a kitchen cricket —
autumn songs

(Image by Sarah MacMillan, via Flickr)

summer's end —
driveway stones
no longer sharp

(Warm thanks to the reader/writers
of haikuworld,
who treated these haiku with kindness)

September 21, 2008

Life Is A Verb comes to Princeton!

Oh, look, here's Patti! We're so thrilled you could make it... how was the trip? (Your imaginary trip to Princeton, that is.) D, you can go back out and play on the swingset for a while, but leave the book here, buddy. Patti, can I get you anything? There's probably still some banana bread, but it's not vegan...

Well, I do love a nice cup of earl grey tea… and I brought you some vegan cupcakes, so let’s start with tea and small eats!

Thanks that sounds great. Mmmmm, these are good. Well, first off, let me just say that the book is fabulous! So full of hope and real life... and the art! I need more exclamation points!!! I think I would be oohing and ahhing even if p. 194 didn't feature a certain someone whose now almost 7 yr-old self is often featured over here at But Wait, There's More! You must be so pleased and proud. Another blogger whose book came out recently said he discovered that "You can't write a book and maintain a blog at the same time. If you try, one or the other is going to suffer — usually both." But this seems to have been manifestly not the case with you. Can you talk about the blog/book balance a bit? Did you know from the outset that 37 days would beget a book, or...?

Thanks for the very kind words and all those exclamation points!!!!!! I am particularly fond of page 194 for some reason as well…

I had no idea that 37days would beget a book, but I knew I wanted it to at least beget a notebook. When I first started writing it, I printed each essay, three-hole-punched it, and put it in a binder. That notebook was to be the instruction manual for my girls. A few years into writing 37days, a publisher came to me and asked about making it into a book, which is how Life is a Verb came into being.

I’m not sure I would have sought it out otherwise—the 3-ring-notebook was doing its job by achieving my ultimate goal of writing these essays for my daughters. That said, I’m very very very very (times 100) proud of this book and am fully satisfied that this book is my greatest gift—or certainly one of them—to my daughters. I feel fully satisfied. Did I say that already? Fully satisfied.

I do think it is difficult to write a book and maintain a blog at the same time, but not impossible. At the moment, I’m engaging 37days readers quite a bit, asking them to answer the question I’ve been trying to answer these past three years: “What would you be doing today if you only had 37days to live?” The answers have stunned me in their enormity. They are beautiful testaments to the human spirit, and to our quest for meaning, and to all the ways in which we are more alike than different. Readers are also taking others on a Life is a Verb Blog Tour—just as you are doing here—and I’m dedicating space to that at the moment, linking to the blogs of others. It feels right to me at this point in time, to reach out to others, to hear what others are saying, to continue the literary epic poem we all seem to be writing together.

That said, I’m itching to start writing again as I did in the beginning, to regain that focus and intention and sense of urgency. And perhaps some of that solitude. It’s easy to get lost in the outward manifestation of our work, and neglect the internal journeys it represents. I’d like to find my way back to that—and soon.

I confess that I've had a hard time coming up with questions to ask you, partially because like so many other 37 days readers, I feel like I already know you. I still remember what it was like to wait for the next "episode" of your blog to appear, and what I remember most clearly was how delighted I was to hear your human stories. So these next few questions are more story prompts than actual questions, if that's cool...

Could you tell us a story about being a counter-cultural mom?

It’s a description I guess I would never think to apply to myself! In many ways, I imagine I could be considered a pretty mainstream mom. I don’t perceive myself as an “earth mother” by any means though I did insist on wooden toys for Emma when she was younger, much to my mother-in-law’s chagrin!

My kids go to public school and play in the marching band and play video games and text like fiends on cell phones. They have too many toys and not enough chores and probably don’t have a real good sense of where beets come from. Each did spend time in Montessori school, but transitioned into a regular school environment by first grade, and I’m sure they’ll survive it and thrive in it.

I’m not sure it’s counter-cultural, but the ways in which I pass along stories of what it means to be fully human and to consider everyone around you to be fully human regardless of their circumstance—maybe that is counter-cultural to some. Perhaps raising my kids as vegetarians in a meat-and-potatoes culture is counter-cultural in some ways. Mostly, I’m raising them fully inside this culture, with an eye to opening their minds to alternatives to it or alternatives in it. One way I’d love to be able to do more of that is by traveling more with them around the globe.

Could you share a story of a time when you were surprised to find a commonality with a friend or stranger? (I am thinking of the night when my dear friend Becky and I discovered that we both had a particular spoon in our kitchens that we preferred to use for eating ice cream.)

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this in my life is the story of my meeting my friend, Yaron, from Israel. After first rejecting his attempts at connection when we met on a plane, I found myself spending hours talking with him, recognizing myself in him in significant ways. We seek those points of connection all the time, even while we reject them, don’t we? When we find someone who shares our favorite book, we feel closer to them. Our challenge, I believe, is to feel closer to people who share nothing with us except our shared and significant humanity.

You've mentioned that you attended Guilford College for your undergraduate work... can you talk about the ways in which your Quaker connections continue to play out in your life?

Guilford was an extraordinary place for me as an undergraduate. My interactions with faculty were lasting—I just did a reading for Life is a Verb in Asheville and two of my very favorite professors from Guilford surprised me by showing up, some 26 years after I graduated from Guilford (Lord, that makes me feel old). Our classes were small and we were encouraged to really think deeply in broader contexts. The Quaker tradition that served as a grounding for Guilford is one that I am very drawn to still, even though I don’t actively attend a Quaker meeting at the moment. The thoughtfulness, social activism, and relatedness that I found at Guilford are values I try to live daily.

How has your transition to eating veganously been going? There have to be some good stories about that!

I have to admit that I’m at about 94.7% vegan at this point. For the first month, I was 100% vegan, and then one night a slice of gorgonzola cheese roasted potato pizza started calling my name… So while I’m not as militantly vegan as I was in the beginning, I’m definitely still making very deliberate choices not to consume animal products, and staying pretty true to the course with very few exceptions. One thing this focus has engendered is an interest on the part of my older daughter, Emma, in veganism—and in cooking in general. So she and I are watching a lot of cooking shows together now!

It seems like one of the things you've been learning through your blog is how manifestly un-alone you are in your desire to live with greater authenticity and intentionality. Will there be more "group assignments" for the circle of like-minded folks who have gathered to listen to your stories? Or....? What's next?

I have been overwhelmed by the essays written by 37days readers about their own 37 days journeys. So I imagine you will continue to see us all engage together in dialogue—I’d like that, and am searching for good online ways to do that. I have so much to learn from all of you.

What’s next for me is another book of 37 essays like Life is a Verb, followed by a book I’m working on with my business partner, David Robinson, that translates the six practices for intentional living from LIAV into a work context. That is—how can I be fully human at work, in a world in which we pretend we can park our human-ness at the door. David and I are also finalizing a children’s book called Kichom and Fucchi, wisdom tales from the smallest of teachers, about our friend Kichom in Japan and the lessons he has learned from a small bug he called Fucchi.

That sounds terrific; I'll look forward to seeing those projects come to fruition. And now I have to scoot, I think... our Meeting is honoring International Peace Day by hosting an installation of the Eyes Wide Open exhibit, and I'm helping out with that. And YOU probably have a ton to do, or maybe you'll be able to squeeze in a nap, after what I hear was a fabulous reading last night at Malaprop's! But thank you so much for stopping by again, Patti, and warm wishes for you on your journey.

My thanks to you, Shelley, for being such a constant source of encouragement to me. Are you sure we’ve never met? It sure feels like we have. For all the cards and emails and for participating in the art project that made the book a work of art itself, and for helping me figure out technical stuff, and now for participating in this blog tour, my deepest thanks.

(For more outstanding Life Is Verb goodness,
click on over to the book's site here.
Buy several and get a headstart on the holiday season!
Opportunities to see Patti live & in person
are here, at her book tour site.)

September 19, 2008

Getting Ready

Life is a Verb - Blog Tour '08

I've been reading Patti Digh's work forever.

Well, that's what it feels like. The deep and immediate sense of recognition I felt when I first stumbled across her online essays made it easy to forget that they hadn't always been there. Turns out it's only since sometime in 2005. And I didn't leave a comment until 2006, can you imagine? I was just checking in every Monday and feeling grateful.

I can't remember now who first recommended 37days to me, but Patti had me hooked from the get-go. I was moved by the story behind her blog's title. I was enchanted and inspired by her stories, and in awe of her ability to find the perfect photographic illustrations. I was humbled by her powerful writing. And grateful, so grateful, for her ability to listen and learn and tell us the stories, for her willingness to share parts of her life's journey, stumbles and all, with not just her beloved daughters, but with we total strangers.

Except that as time went on, we felt less and less like strangers. The tribe of folks who found in Patti Digh a storyteller whose stories we needed to hear started to feel a sense of community and connection. At one point Donna Miller, another reader of 37days, sent Patti a piece of art she'd been inspired to create. Inspired in turn, Patti decided to encourage us all to go for it, and a literary barn-raising was born.

Anyone who wanted to try to create art was assigned an essay. I'm not a visual artist, but I so wanted to be a part of the fun that I pushed through my fear and asked for an assignment. The essay I got, "Signal Your Turns," uses Patti's aging car as a teaching tool. As the granddaughter of a chauffeur and an old car essayist myself, I desperately wanted to live up to challenge. But I was scared. (Did I mention I'm not a visual artist? Or at least that I don't usually think of myself that way?) My friends helpfully told me to quit fussing and make something, already. Finally I decided on submitting a modified photograph, using our son as a model. I used graphics programs I'd never used before and was quite tickled to be able to use my favorite shade of yellow for the lettering of my image. Which you can see on page 194 of the book. (Go buy it. Buy several, actually, because as soon as you read Patti's essays and the 100+ amazing pieces of art that accompany them, you're going to think of several friends who need to have this book in their hands before the week is out.)

Patti's book is a record of the transformative power of love; as she wrote her way to the advice she would want to leave for her daughters if she weren't there to give it, she began to see the ways in which the advice could be applied to her here-and-now life. Say yes. Be generous. Speak up. Love more. Trust yourself. Slow down.

Please tune in Sunday when Patti arrives here at But Wait, There's More! for a stop on her fabulous Life Is A Verb Blog Tour!

September 17, 2008


Here they are, the boys of summer, in a final fling with swimming as the season winds down.

Last night, when I changed out of my work clothes, I put on a pair of sweatpants. First time in a long time. We were all grateful for the cool night air, ready for the change.

I hear the radio reporters calling our upcoming election a "toss up," and I wonder if fear of change or a longing for it will win the day.

We could see, in our son's body language as he headed off to school this year, the difference that familiarity makes. Sure, there would be new kids in his class... but a few of the faces would belong to friends. His classroom teacher would be new... but the lunch ladies hadn't gone anywhere. And gym class, while it offered new games and new rules, was still the same place, requiring the same shoes and shorts. He is ready for the new stuff, because he takes comfort in the old. One night we'll read a book he's never seen before. The next night, it's back to an old favorite.

This is how we grow.

September 05, 2008

My Tribe

In the book we're reading at bedtime now (The Time Thief, the second in Linda Buckley-Archer's fabulous-so-far Gideon trilogy), there's a moment when the book's villainous Tar Man recognizes an element of kinship in a total stranger. He watches a young woman enter a space and sees in her careful scanning of the crowd the watchful plotting of a fellow thief.

I had a similar feeling of, "Hey, this guy's from my tribe!" feeling when I saw this video today (thanks, Ze!):

I once read a book (of course I can't remember what book, now, but please weigh in with a comment if this rings a bell) in which humankind had evolved towards elective affiliations, rather than ones automatically conferred through heredity or geography. I think about this sometimes. What tribes do I belong to without my say so, and which are mine because I've claimed my membership?

How about you?

September 01, 2008

Heptathalon of Happiness

When we were planning for D's birthday this year, he lobbied hard for a departure from the traditional "# of kids = # of years on the planet" formula. "There's NO WAY I can only invite six people!" he cried. But we held firm, and as a result he is hoping for some special one-on-one playdates with some of the close friends who we couldn't squeeze onto Saturday's guest list.

Once we got past that hurdle, the party planning went very smoothly. Questioning revealed that D's idea of a perfect day consisted of a series of outdoor adventures, and with our brains still buzzing with Olympic excitement (have you heard our outgoing phone message lately?), the Heptathalon of Happiness was born.

Seven kids. Seven events. Seven winners. The events were as follows:

1) Kid Drop Off
2) Frisbee Fling
3) Woods Wander
4) Free Swim
5) Cake Eating
6) Cake Eating, part II
7) Ice Cream, possibly

And here's how it all turned out:

Kid Drop Off

Warm Ups

Frisbee Fling Photo Opp

Woods Walk

Free Swim

Walking Towards Cake

Post-Pool Photo Opp

Events 5-7
Photographic response to the all-important question:
"Hey, D, how was your party?"

(Many thanks to the wonderful friends
who helped make D's special day truly special.
He was especially grateful that several of you
chose to help support the Dian Fossey fund
instead of buying a "stuff" present.
Although the stuff presents were also a big hit!
We'll be working on those thank you notes,
but hope that this is fun in the meantime...)