Celebrating Halloween in the age of COVID-19

Celebrating in the middle of a global pandemic may seem a bit of an oxymoron, but truthfully celebrating what we can, when we can, is exactly what is going to get us through this trying time. Sure, we may not be able to celebrate Halloween in most of the ways that have become ubiquitous with the holiday. This year there will be no trick-or-treating, no parties, and no trips out the pumpkin patch in search of the perfect fall gourd. But that doesn’t mean that there are not still many ways to have a wonderful, albeit smaller and more intimate evening of revelry.

Halloween fun with Lego and origami.
Continue reading Celebrating Halloween in the age of COVID-19

An essay about a book I read that somehow turned into a history lesson on the 1920s

The Roaring Twenties. The Jazz Age. The 1920’s was a time of unprecedented prosperity and social change. For the first time in history, more people lived in cities than on farms, and therefore had considerably more leisure time and disposable income than ever before. Along with this change of circumstances, came the birth of spectator sporting events, crazy contests (like flagpole sitting and dance marathons), and major changes in the social norms. Hem lines rose, hair length shortened, and Wall Street boomed. It was an era remembered for its almost frantic level of fun and frivolity. And when looked at through such rose-tinted glasses, it is easy to see people’s fascination with the time, and a desire, if it were possible, to visit the past.

Continue reading An essay about a book I read that somehow turned into a history lesson on the 1920s

Ballots, Dissent, & Independence

Yesterday, my husband, son, parents, and I all sat down to wade through the Washington State Voter Information Pamphlet, and fill out our ballots. It was a pretty intense experience, and one that I will not soon forget.

Don’t worry, I will not be getting into any of the choices we made, because that is not what this is about, and frankly, it is personal, so I don’t want to share it here. However, what I would like to touch on, was what a great experience it was to have three generations of voters sitting around discussing and sometimes debating the merits of the measures and candidates on the ballot, and then deciding seperately on how to actually vote.

Continue reading Ballots, Dissent, & Independence

Cannon Ball Biscuits and Psychic Wooly Bears

Last week I came across one of those little gems that land in our social media feeds from time to time reporting some long lost wisdom, odd custom, or weird fact; I love these and follow several sites (such as Mental Floss, The Vintage News and Brain Pickings) simply because of the prevalence of these types of posts. Seriously, the more obscure, and less useful the information, the more fascinating I will find it. Tell me useful things like names and dates and the chances of me remembering it are slim to none, but tell me the most useless piece of trivia known to mankind, and I will remember it for all time.

It may have been thirty years since I took AP US History in high school, and I have long since forgotten most of the dates of any of the actual battles or treaties of the American Civil War, let alone the names of almost anyone involved except Grant and Lincoln, but I will never (ever) forget, that in a footnote of my textbook, the author happened to mention that at some point, in some battle or another, ammunition was running low and that the soldiers actually ended up using a found crate of biscuits left over from the Revolutionary War as cannon balls. Genius? Yes. Interesting? And how. But useful…. that might be pushing it, even if I did manage to shoehorn it into one of my essays on the exam as an example of “Yankee Ingenuity.”

So, what, you may ask was this fascinating little tidbit that made such a clear connoisseur of the trivial and useless, sit-up and take notice?

Continue reading Cannon Ball Biscuits and Psychic Wooly Bears

The Legend Of Sleep Hollow, By Washington Irving — BookTrekker

This post is a virtual visit to as many of the real locations mentioned in the Legend Of Sleepy Hollow as I could find.

The Legend Of Sleep Hollow, By Washington Irving — BookTrekker

Please note that the above shared article is from another site that I maintain. I hope you enjoy it.

Soda Bread

Thanks to a nasty corn allergy and a fructose intolerance that was not discovered until I myself was a parent, I have had to learn to cook almost everything my family eats entirely from scratch. As a result, I have found the answers to our modern needs in recipes from the past. This recipe in particular is a favorite in our house. Traditionally, the recipe would be made with milk, but I have found that with a little technique and good quality ingredients, it can be made just as well with water.

Equipment

  • Large mixing bowl
  • A whisk
  • A pastry cutter – a fork can be used in its place, but if you have one of these it makes the job so much easier.
  • A fork
  • Cookie Sheet
  • Parchment Paper (or non-stick spray if you prefer)
  • Bonnet – a medium size metal bowl

Ingredients

  • 450g of all-purpose flour (I particularly like King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, it is more expensive that most of the other flours commercialy avialble, but it the proof they say is in the pudding, or in this case the bread.)
    • alternatively, you can substitute 100g of the all-purpose flour with 100g of whole wheat flour for a nuttier flavor.
  • 1 tsp Baking Soda
  • ½ tsp Kosher Salt
  • 60g Sugar
  • 80g Oil (I usually use Canola)
  • 10oz Water

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F,
  2. In the large mixing bowl measure out the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, kosher salt, and sugar.
  3. Whisk the dry ingredients together until smooth and evenly combined.
  4. Add the oil.
  5. With the pastry cutter, or fork (depending on what you have available) press the oil and dry ingredients together until they have the consistency of wet fine sand.
  6. Slowly pour the water into the mixture and stir in with a fork or spoon until evenly combined. The dough should be wet, and even sticky, but not runny.
  7. Form a ball and place in center of parchment covered baking sheet and cut two perpendicular lines through the center of the bread in the shape of an x (to let the fairies out according to my gran).
  8. Cover the loaf with the bonnet and bake for 45 minutes.
  9. Remove the bonnet and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  10. Enjoy.

A few thoughts about the ethics of making mistakes.

Like I said yesterday, in my post titled The Art of Making Mistakes, I have been thinking a lot about mistakes lately.

Today I am specifically thinking about one of the more painful but important kinds of mistakes, the kind you have to just sit back and let happen because they are not yours to make. If you are a seasoned parent, you probably already know what I am talking about, because it is one of the hardest aspects (at least for me) of being a parent, and that is letting kids make mistakes.

As a parent, helping and guiding our children is part and parcel of the job. From the day they enter our lives, protecting and caring for them becomes second nature. We teach them things like:

  • “Don’t touch the stove, it is hot.”
  • “Look both ways before crossing the street.”
  • “Never take candy from strangers.”
  • “Don’t pet that dog with foam coming out of its mouth.”

Simply because these are clearly not the kinds of mistakes we we want our child to make; sometimes learning through trial and error is not the best idea, if for no other reason than, unlike in video games, we only get one life per game.

However, outside of life and death situations, mistakes are often a child’s most effective way of learning. Parenting experts refer to this type of learning as “natural consequences,” or in other words, when a child makes a mistake and suffers the consequences of his/her/their actions they learn and (hopefully) amend their behavior the next time the situation arises.

Seems simple enough, right? Sure, in principal this is the simplest most clear concept in the world.  But in practice, it is an entirely different ball of wax all together. Sitting and knowingly watch someone you care about do something you know is going to hurt is hard. The natural instinct is to prevent the pain, avoid the suffering, and protect the child. The thing is, life isn’t always painted in clearly distinct blacks and whites. Where the line is, between keeping a child safe, and rescuing them from consequences they really need to experience in order to learn and grow, can be more difficult than solving nonlinear multivariable differential equations. At least, it is for me.

As an anxious nerd of epic proportion, I struggle on a daily basis to figure out where the line between necessary natural consequences and things my kids actually need to be protected from lies. And once the iterative nature of my worried thinking begins, it is not long before I have ridiculously constructed projections that far, far surpass the integrity of the data available; such is the nature of anxiety. The struggle is real, but I digress.

The point is, mistakes are an important part of learning. We are, by nature, adaptive creatures. We learn from our experiences, both positive and negative. And, to paraphrase the late Albert Ellis, it is unethical to take those opportunities away from a child, or anyone for that matter, no matter how purely intentioned your motives. Dr. Ellis would have used far more colorful language to make his point, but I dare say the message would have been the same. Protecting a child from making a mistake that they can potentially learn from, is unethical because it robs them of the opportunity to learn, and more often than not has more to do with quelling your (the parent’s) fears and anxieties than it does about truly helping the child grow.

So what’s the high strung, protective parent supposed to do? Obviously, the answer is not just to turn a blind eye; there are clearly times that stepping in and not letting your child do something is a good idea. However, I am slowly beginning to realize, those times are not nearly as prevalent as the Greek Chorus of Doom (GCD) that lives in the back of mind would have me believe. I now ask myself, or my husband if it is a really bad anxiety day, what are the potential consequences, realistically, of the actions the child in question is currently engaged in. Turns out, that in most cases the consequences are mild discomfort and unhappiness, and not the truly fantastic consequences offered by the GCD.  And added bonus, the kids seem to learn more and faster, than they do from my sermons of impending fiery doom. However, that still doesn’t make it any easier to watch, and I am constantly reminding myself that my job is not just to teach them how to walk, but also to how to stand on their own.

It is tough.

But they are worth it.

The Art of Making Mistakes

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about mistakes.

Every chef will tell you, “if you are going to make an omelet, you need to break a few eggs;” it is an adage that is as ubiquitous as “regret is worse than failure.” These idioms are supposed to indicate that mistakes must be made in order to succeed. However, what they don’t seem to mention, is how much failure is involved in success; that while you may only need to break two eggs at a time to make an omelet, you will have dozens of undercooked, overcooked, shell-laden, or otherwise inedible messes before making one decent omelet and probably a few dozen more before you make a truly good one.

A five-minute web search will easily yield a thousand plus articles about the importance and benefits of making mistakes, and how making mistakes is how we learn, grow, and improve ourselves. Yet, despite this knowledge, I still hate to make them. I hate to invest time in something that doesn’t work. I hate feeling like a failure. And I hate the fear and anxiety that all comes with making them. The battle between keeping my anxiety in check and allowing myself to make enough mistakes to grow as a person, is a constant and often brutal fight.

How many omelets do I have to make before I can make a decent breakfast? How many eggs do I have to waste? How much time and money will be spent on making those inedible mistakes? Would it be better to settle for scrambled eggs and spend the time doing something easier, less stressful, or more in-line with my abilities and interests? Do I sacrifice the long-term gains that come from trying something new, learning, and improving myself for the short-term gain that comes from the peace of avoiding those same things? Clearly, sometimes the answer to those questions must be yes, but with few exceptions, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise, it is better to make the mistake, try the new, learn the lesson, etc. So, the quest then becomes not how to avoid mistakes, but rather how to embrace them along the way. How do we learn to find the beauty in the mistakes, in the short-term, and not just down the lane when we are looking at them in the review mirror?

I wish I had an answer for that, but I don’t. I suspect the illusive answer I seek has something to do with stepping back, letting go and trying to see the big picture…it usually does.  That is a pretty tall order if you are anything like me; targeted and focused on anything and everything that possibly can go wrong. However, having said that, recently I have begun to get a glimpse of what that other perspective is like, because I made a mistake, that was absolutely adorable.

Lumpy, the adorable mistake.

You see, after a dozen different attempts at making the tiny little body for a little doll I was crocheting for my husband’s desk, all of which failed for different reasons, I had to stop and walk away for a few minutes. I was frustrated and my hands were starting to hurt. As I began to massage them with a tennis ball, rolling the ball back and forth over the cramping muscles in my palm, I noticed that the misshapen little body I had made for the doll was about the same size as the ball. And I honestly don’t know why, but I then sat and tugged and pulled and squeezed the mistake over the top of the ball. It reminded me of the dancing mushrooms from Fantasia, so I drew a face on it, and fell in love with it. It was absolutely adorable and cracked me up every time I looked at it. Lumpy, as I have dubbed him, is now sitting on my desk, reminding me that mistakes are ok, sometimes they are even kind of cute… But between you and me, I am still not sure I would like to volunteer to make more.

Please don’t tell Lumpy.

Emotional Baking Soda

Being an empath is a bit like being emotional baking soda in the big refrigerator of life; you sit there quietly minding your own business while inadvertently soaking up all the funk that surrounds you. It means that you often are not just aware of other people’s feelings, but actually share them, which can be as exhausting as it is confusing. In some ways it is not unlike being a psychic in an old black and white film, minus the dramatic eyelashes and eccentric clothing. As an empath you sense things, you feel things, that others cannot. And as such, you try very hard to differentiate your actual feelings from those radiating off the people around you. It can be confusing, and more than a little exhausting, and is not something that anyone in their right mind would volunteer for, but it can be useful, if you learn how to manage it.

However, if, despite being one of the shortest words in the English language, may actually be one of the most powerful. With this one tiny word, the entire fate of civilizations can be changed or even lost. If managed, empathy can be a superpower that enables one to help others, avoid bad situations, and understand the people around you. If not managed, empathy is the source of immeasurable anxiety, discomfort and frustration. So how does one manage something that cannot be seen, and can just as easily help you as hobble you? Good question! I wish I knew, especially as I sit here typing this surrounded by all four of my children as they learn to navigate the uncharted territories of on-line education.

Thanks to a global pandemic, and a terrible internet connection at home, my family and I have rented an office space for school and work. This means that we now have the lightning speed Internet connection of the modern day, instead of what would have been considered fast for 1995. This high speed connection has brought down the panic that was settling in when we were trying to figure out how to have up to 5 people on Zoom calls on a connection that on a good day would support .75 of one call (you could get the audio content and sometimes a jumpy image). However, this now means that we are all in the same room working separately. My husband is telecommuting. My two youngest children are navigating the virtual hallways of middle school, while their older sister is doing her junior year of high school at the local community college, and my son is starting college, his first “lecture” is in about ten minutes. My job in all of this, is to help the two younger kids with their assignments, feed everyone, and help talk everyone (including myself) down from the proverbial edge when everything gets to be too much.

You see, I am literally sitting here, stewing in a boiling soup pot of other peoples’ emotions. Don’t get me wrong, there is more than a fair amount of my own anxiety in this stew’s recipe, but there is far more angst in this room than even I can produce on my own, and that is saying something, believe you me. At present, the perfectionist who resides in the back of my head is reminding me that I really should have a better handle on this, because I already know what I need to do. But as with most things in life, there is a huge difference between knowing what you are supposed to do, and actually doing it.

So as I found my anxiety level rising toward the terminal velocity of free falling, I began to write this as a way of distracting myself from what was going on in the room around me and hopefully also reminding myself what to do, and how to do at the same time.

The first item on this agenda is, of course, say it with me now, boundaries. The idea behind boundaries, is to decide what is and isn’t acceptable, tell others what those boundaries are, and then stick to them. That sentence is so easy to say, but the truth of the matter is that setting boundaries is difficult for most people and is something with which, I in particular, have always struggled. This is because other people’s feelings, or at least our perceptions of them, get in the way of protecting ourselves. We worry that others will be hurt if we are not available. We forgive other’s bad behaviors by making excuses or explaining them away. Or my personal favorite, “this time it will be different,” “this time I will overextend myself, but the other person will have a breakthrough and it will all be worth it and better forever and ever amen.” In the specific case of empaths, if I do not differentiate between your feelings and my own, then I may end up helping you to avoid things you need to feel in order to learn and grow, simply to lessen my own stress and anxiety. This is a tough one, and luckily, I am not in this gig alone, I have a supportive partner, and parents, all of whom have been willing to scrape me off the ceiling more than once or twice over the years, and remind me that sometimes the kids have to be sad, hurt, and even struggle in order to learn, grow, and thrive. I hate that. But it is a truth, and a boundary that I must respect if I am to maintain my sanity and my children are to grow into independent adults.

The second item on the agenda is to remember the emergency landing instructions given before a flight, put your own oxygen mask on first. If we don’t take care of ourselves, there is nothing left to give and we are of no use to anyone. This of course refers to selfcare in all of its many forms. However, since I am focusing specifically on empaths here, I want to tailor this item a little for those purposes. First and foremost, I want to take this opportunity to point out that setting (and enforcing boundaries/limits) is selfcare, because by deciding what we are willing and able to handle, we never come to a place where we resent others for having a problem, sucking us dry, or otherwise just feeling burnt out by the problems of others. The second, and perhaps even more important tailoring of the notion of selfcare is pointing out the importance of alone time, time away from other people, and their feelings, is not just important, but imperative. I spoke about this at some length in a piece entitled, “A Space of One’s Own.” Time and space to be separate helps to restore the empath, as well as to reaffirm the concept of separateness. Or to say that in a less convoluted way, being alone with your own feelings allows one to start to identify which feelings really are yours and which belong to others.

The third and final item on this agenda, because of course all good things come in threes, is to remember that by not rescuing others from their problems, by not taking them on as your own, you are helping them far more than by just making everything ok. I know I eluded to this before, but it is so important, and hard, that I wanted to give it a spotlight. The natural instinct of the empath is to rescue others, and to calm the emotional climate, as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. But the truth is, often people, and kids in particular, need to suffer a little to learn. By this I do not mean to say that they should be harmed or abused in any way, but rather, failure can be a good teacher. Sadness can lead to self-discovery and growth. Anger can be a constructive force for change. However, if the emotional climate is normalized too quickly, if someone is rescued from that failure, sadness or anger then you both lose. They lose the opportunity to learn and grow, and you lose the opportunity to see them succeed on their own. This one is really hard for me; I hate to see people suffer, especially my kids. But I want them to learn to stand on their own two feet and succeed on their own more, so I keep trying. Or in this case, typing.

During the course of writing this, my son has finished his first lecture, my eldest daughter has entered into hers, and the two youngest have finished their lessons for the day (yeah, I am kind of a slow writer). But the point is, everyone made it through the day, and I think they are all a bit better off for my not having jumped into their panic wagon and gone for the ride with them. Instead, I found something else for myself to focus on, made myself available when they needed (and asked for) my help, and am now ready to go home and start on the laundry, dishes, and dinner…and maybe even a little time alone.