Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Transformation and the Trans Am

I'm working on transformation. You know, transformation. When you fix stuff. Or evolve. Or you know-- transform.

The work that I do as a Religious Educator is so good for me, and so fulfilling and so rich with life. But as I'm writing my yearly report for the annual meeting, I'm realizing that this year has been a transformation of sorts. I think when you go into year five of a stint as a Religious Educator that it's often a transformation. I've seen a number of Religious Educators be transformed right out of a job at year five! So, yes, it's a little scary. But not really. I love my congregation (hi y'all!) and I love the kids--LOVE the kids. When you get to be the person a two-year-old will sit with at the pledge drive dinner while she eats her cupcake, and then get her on your lap for the Story for All Ages the next morning? Well, what's not to love there? It's all good. I think we've still got a good love fest going in my congregation.

But looking back over the year and looking at our goals from last year and the years before, evaluating our growth, looking at the changes we've made I realize that in some good ways I've kind of given up. For a long time I really wanted everyone to see what I saw; that bringing children to religious education classes on a regular basis could literally change their lives. It could. They would learn things and grow friendships with adults and children and become a part of their church in ways that coming once or twice a month will never, ever allow. This year I gave my heart and my soul and a ton of my time to sharing that message. And people really got it, they did.

It does not matter. Families may understand how valuable church can be. They can believe it. They can commit to coming as much as cold and flu season will allow. And still, life doesn't let them come. It hardly lets them participate in church life with any level of commitment. The family with a parent in a major role at our church is rare and usually fleeting. Family life is crushingly busy. There is no time for quiet or peace. Sometimes families need to just skip church to have a moment to breathe together. They need time to play and read and just be. Together.

So, for next year I guess we'll just work at being the very best drop-in program we can possibly be. I'll accept it. I may have to mourn a little. Things could be different, but I'm not sure they ever WILL be different. Parents and children have so many things pulling on their time that they sometimes just have to say no, and saying no to church is one of the easiest. There's no game, no RSVP, no starting line-up. And for us in the Unitarian Universalist church--as a fellow PNWD blogger notes, we're All Carrot and No Stick. There is nothing to scare folks into coming. Of course, I would never want that, really--never, but it is a little different than other mainstream churches. And families really need time together. It's just natural that church would be the thing to go for them.

I am revamping our whole plan for curriculum. There's no sense in crafting a big scheme that completes a long curriculum cycle. Almost no one is coming often enough to have it be meaningful. We'll keep it simple and try to keep the weekly class as consistent as possible, so the kids don't have to re-learn what to do and where to go in class if it's been a month since they've attended.

I'm sad, yes. I thought if people just understood they'd come more. They do understand. They try to come more often. Our lives just don't allow it. They just don't.

And with that transformation, I'm changing this little blog. I'll find some bright sunny pictures and keep playing with bright sunny colors and fonts and I'm looking into what it might take to move to wordpress and combine some of my wayward blogs and the pieces of my life. As my husband is preparing to be part of a panel discussion of the movie Adopted I'm reading KAD (Korean Adult-Adoptee) blogs like this amazing one called Harlow's Monkey and realizing that I just might find other spouses of adult adoptees who would understand the experience of being married to an adoptee. And people in recovery from compulsive food issues, maybe I should go there, too (at least I am in recovery today). I don't know. Lots of transformation.

So much transformation, I feel like I should be driving a TRANS am!. OK, bad joke with all the car stuff going on in this bad economy. Bad joke. But funny. At least, I'm laughing.

And hey, isn't that something after all? Laughing?

Yep, it is. For me anyway, it sure is.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day.....what, today?

Oh it's been so busy in our life here lately. I totally forgot that today was actually Earth Day. I mean, yes, we had the whole Earth Day service at church on Sunday and all. And yes, I read the blogs and facebook this morning, and Earth Day was all over the media, too. But wait, surprise, it's actually today!

Oh well. I meant to have a vegan day in the house, but I ate an egg for breakfast and one of the boys had cheese. And I sent a spaghetti bake for lunch for the younger two, with sausage. I don't eat meat, and this "clean week" that I've been having with food doesn't include a lot of cheese, but eggs are one of my "stick to your ribs" sources of protien. Tofu and all the meatz-like-substitutes are actually kind of processed, so eggs fit well in a clean week.

In fact I guess "clean week" fits well with Earth day. But still, I was hoping to help my kids know that you can eat without meat--and be fine.....but on my calendar, right under where it says "Earth Day" the menu says "tacos". I already defrosted the ground beef. So, maybe next time. Maybe tomorrow. Or maybe on this one, we can say--got it covered. Check. Good enough. We are continually downsizing our meat intake as a family, all of us, not just the vegetarians.

Now that's an idea. Say "OK, good enough, we've got this one covered."


Something I may be doing just right. Or right enough. Or enough.

Happy Earth Day!

and thanks to Katy for this lovely visual companion of Blue Boat Home

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pig at the trough

I was having a little calendering party with my husband tonight. I gotta admit, it's not quite as much fun when he's in Atlanta and I'm in Washington State--it's really hard to share the beer. But it is oh so much more important, now. At one point in our conversation we had him flying out after the talent show on May 7th and back for a play performance by the evening of May 8th. Thank God I'd forgotten that we had decided at our little school that this was crazy for the parents who lived FULL TIME here, much less the ones with business that has to get done on the morning of May 8th thousands of miles away. The play is on the 15th, silly me. But hey, that's what a red eye flight is for, right?

Anyway, it's ugly. And growing new hairy warts every day.

But as we calendar-ed he asked when GA is. Oh GA! GA is coming up. SOON! This crazy meeting of every kind of UU from every corner of our world feeds me like a pig at a trough. I cannot wait. I took my job as a Religious Educator on June 15th, 2005 and pretty much went straight to Fort Worth for professional days. I think it's an absolutely fantastic way to start-out this work.

This year, after attending my first LREDA Fall Con, I thought "well, with budgets and splitting my professional expenses with my colleague DRE (well, well, well worth it, bless the ground you walk on Shannon) maybe I should just go to Fall Con and skip GA". But then, I was honored to be asked to join the LREDA Board.....holding the GA PORTFOLIO! Ha. That means I can't skip it. I have to follow Cindy Leitner in her GA work this year so I know what to do next year. OK, HAVE to is maybe an over-exaggeration. I would probably have decided that I HAD to go to GA for some other reason......maybe the fact that my son is the FUNTIMES Senior Manager or something like that. But yeay. GA is coming up. And I get to go. And I cannot wait.

I hope I get to lay eyes on some of the blogger folks I've come to care about. I hope someone else from blogland is going, too. We can meet for a beer and a chat and then, you know, blog about it. I can't think of a finer evening that that one. Nope.

GA Countdown begins now! OK, later when I have the energy to figure out how many days left until the big fun starts.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Earth Day Play

Today was our first ever "Children and Youth" Service, meaning: All kids, only kids, for kids. And OK, yes, it had it's imperfections, but for the most part.....YES! I loved having a middle schooler as service leader, and an older and early el brother pair as the Lorax and the Oncler. And handing out the "Truffula Trees" to little ones willing to go add them to the stage and then......smack, pull them down when the last one gets cut down. Fun!

We adapted this version.

Really good stuff. But instead of most of the hymns we had "Open Music" spots. Kids were invited to bring their instruments in and share as they felt moved to play music. There were three sign up sheets to grab a spot, but it was pretty flexible. We rolled an old cranky piano over to the stage area. Our music was all provided by different kids who played a violin, a cello, and a mandolin, there was a punk rock band and a couple of pianists. This was the best part: kids, incluing mine, were very willing to share for an audience of other children and youth. Who knows, mabye they will be more interested in playing upstairs now? No matter what? It made my heart soar to hear our kids play for each other just for the plain joy of it. Even the three and fours watched every moment of every song. That is wonderful.

I had a great Sunday. Kids who didn't want to sit in chairs pulled a cushion over, kids who needed to wander, did. Kids who wanted to beat up their brother were lucky enough to have me come and sit with them. But for the most part, it was great. We learned that we really do need to have a rehearsal. It just goes better. We need to keep things moving, and that was our fault, the adults need to stay on top of cueing the kids. But really? What a fun Sunday! We will do it again. No doubt!

Happy Earth Day everyone!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Family on spring break

Watch Spring Break in Comedy | View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

How Much is that Doggie in the Window

I wonder if it's time. My beloved dog Emma has been gone for over four months now. And no I can't put her beds away yet, but with my husband traveling so much, maybe it's time to start thinking about a new furry friend.

Yesterday I mentioned it in a morning facebook status update and oh my, I got lots of feedback to go add to the family! More feet, more fur, more fun! And one friend even works with a rescue organization for Cairn Terriers--like ToTo in the Wizard of Oz!

So there I was yesterday on a break from a big power cleaning day at church, sitting down to a lovely Garbage Soup lunch (everything in the fridge with onions and diced tomatoes=Garbage Soup) and chatting with the assembled cleaning angels. We were talking about dogs and families. One of the women is a vet, though not currently practicing. I love when church folks chat about work, and while they have known each other for years, they have no idea what everyone did or does for work! "You're a Physical Therapist? No way? A Nutritionist? Really? A Physician? I had no idea!! We have more important things to talk about I guess, that's wonderful.

I digress....so the conversation turns to "have you ever lived with a terrier?" And I can tell that this question comes from experience. From vet experience. Oh man! No! I lived with a wild short-haired pointer as a kid. She never settled down and had a path worn around the yard from running circles. And my dog, Emmadog was old when she came to live with us, and was always simply a lady. She woudn't run away, why would she want to leave us? My friend and Associate DRE who was also at the garbage soup lunch walks and dog sits a little neighbor dog and she said "you know Paisley is a terrier" oh. No! I didn't! Now I do. I know Paisley. She is sweet and so cute but WILD!

Maybe we'll look for a dog, but maybe a dog who has the primary characteristic of sitting calmly on my lap and keeping me company. So, maybe not so much a puppy then! Oh I don't know. We want a dog small enough to fly with us so she doesn't have to stay home when we travel. And somebody who is not too long haired and maybe low impact on allergies. So this is the latest thought.

A dachsund. A mix who needs a home, but you know--kind of "weiner-y". Maybe two so they can keep each other company. The little short legged pups we know are so sweet. So very sweet!

So, maybe. Or maybe not quite yet. But maybe soon.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Non-Anxious Presence

This is one of those weeks that, in my 20s, I would have assumed was the absolute end of the world. Armageddon, and the end of days for sure. In my 30s, I would have panicked and believed heart and soul that things could just never be the same and that all good and sun and hope was gone from the planet. I this like being 41 thing. At 40 you can start to see the mudslides and avalanches of crazy things happening all over your life's landscape and think, "oh, there goes the mud again, guess we'll be digging out."

Not that it's not hard, and not that having chaos and hostility and insane numbers of things that are on the "triage" list isn't something I'd rather avoid. Of course I'd like time to relax and play music and think and read. But I know now, this will pass, things will settle down. My children probably will turn out to be good men and not serial killers, probably anyway. And eventually the perpetual stack of things "to-be-organized" will, you know, get organized. Or it will get dumped in a box and shoved in the garage anyway. My husband will not always work 1,500 miles and three time zones away from home. Things will be better. I know they will.

I'm stealing a phrase I've picked up from my friends and colleagues and my friend-colleagues who have been lucky enough to go to seminary to name this awareness. "Non-Anxious Presence." I think we can all steal it. I know it's really a kind of mindfulness, holding the spark of the holy in your mind and in your soul but more importantly in your gut and on the tips of your fingers. And while they talk about holding a non-anxious presence in a congregation during a tough meeting or in a hospital room when things are scary, I'm holding this for myself. MY scattery-scared-simpering-self. Because if I can't hold this for myself, how can I hold it for parents of a new born, or a 14-year-old emerging into adulthood, or for church leaders wrestling with a gangly budget? I may not have time for good, solid self care, but this? This I can do.

My hero "HAPPY Cindy Changes the World" said this all in a way that makes sense to me this morning, bless her hard-workin'-soul. This is important work, and what sometimes feels like the "busy-work" of the job isn't. It isn't at all. It's absolutely as important to sweep and mop and organize shelves of Spirit Play stories as it is to offer a sympathetic ear to a family in crisis. It is as important to say no as it is to say yes, sometimes anyway. It is good, good work that does make a difference. And flaking out is simply not an option. So, I'm sitting with myself while I work today, being a non-anxious presence. Keeping it in perspective.

This-- this whole deal. This whole crazy wonderful thing of a life is good stuff, mister.

And oh man, I can't wait to be 50.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Joy of Easter

Happy Easter!

May the lovely spring sun warm you. May the heady fragrance of flowers fill you. And may you have as many new beginnings as you desire.



Friday, April 10, 2009

Busy Week

Oh what a busy week we had. So busy. Very busy. Really busy.


There was the board meeting. Working for a dear, just barely mid-sized church with no building and big hits to our members in the financial scene made for a long, deeply moving but very stressful board meeting. I tried to stay focused on my little role in the church by filling 100 plastic eggs for the egg hunt on Sunday.

And there was the RE Council meeting, with half of us missing, but still a lovely meeting of the minds and hearts. Lots of good work, but also lots of sharing and friendship and even a nice big plate of sushi that someone's kids woudn't eat for dinner. Yum.

And there is the Earth Day service coming-up--all ages, all kids, parts to learn, parts to assign. Music to cover, readings, leaders. Truffula trees to create!

Now if you've looked at the calendar or the Target ads you know---it's EASTER on Sunday. More busy. Eggs, lots of eggs, eggs dyed with natural dye and little brown half egg-shells that will be planted with grass seeds. And those hundreds of plastic eggs filled with little trinkets and marbles. And 5 dozen eggs to hard boil so the kids can dye eggs in our little community while they eat soup and bread and chat. And a story for all ages with one little girl and one Goddess Oestara and dear sweet girls who are happy to act out the parts.

Oh and don't forget all of the curriculum prep for all of Spring. And yes, it's only 5 weeks worth of classes for 3 age groups, but it took so many, many, many hours to get it ready to be easy to implement. There will be dry ice and worms and aloe vera plants. And each teacher will have a tidy little notebook all ready to go with each Sunday carefully mapped out so they don't have to worry about what they're going to do with the kids, they can just relax and enjoy teaching.

I am deeply thankful for the Associate DRE I work with. She is am amazing woman. I love spending time with her, and working together. She works so hard and gives advice and knows what the boys will like and offers perspective when I want to throw in the towel. I don't think I would be looking at another year if she hadn't stepped in to work these wacky hours in this wacky job. Thank God she did! I love my work, and I just might have lost it.

I'm tired. Weary even. But it's a good tired, like you feel when you've run a long way and you're finally at the end of the path. For Religious Educators Fridays are not really the end of the week, in fact one of the little pitfalls is that there isn't really an end of the week. But it feels so good to have come to the end of this week. I'm still standing. Still smiling.

Must be that all is well.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Slicing Potatoes

It helps,
putting my hands on a pot, on a broom,
in a wash pail.

I tried painting,
but it was easier to fly slicing

Rabia of Basra

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"One More Step...

We will take one more step, til there is legal marriage for everyone, we will take one more step."

It almost feels like we've played some hopscotch. Jump, jump, JUMP! Iowa and D.C. and Vermont.

One more step.

We had a nice dinner tonight with some extra kids at the table. Our conversation went from Arthur (the PBS show) and Buster and how the Buster show got canceled because it portrayed a family with two dads as a normal family. We talked about the changes in the world for marriage, and then we talked about some of the changes that have already taken place.

In a number of states, the year that my husband and I were born it would have been illegal for us to be married. Interracial marriage was illegal. Police in Virginia entered a couple's home, and their bedroom and arrested them. They were sentenced to jail, and told if they left the state, the sentence would be suspended for 25 years. They chose to move. On June 12th, 1967 the Loving Decision was handed down, ending all race based legal restrictions on marriage.

We celebrate Loving Day in our home on June 12th.

It was great to discuss this with a group of teenagers. That someday we'll all look back on today's decision as part of the cascade of decisions that led to final, definitive protection for legal marriage for all people.

I hope that very soon we can add another day to our holidays, we will celebrate the decision ending all gender based legal restrictions on marriage. One more step. And one more. It sure feels like we're on the way.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Sunny Sunday

Oh what a lovely morning! The one thing about the clunky dark building that we rent? We know what our church is about; the people. Our walls, our rooms, our core--it's the people. I love our people.

I have been trying to keep a practice of doing a UU History lesson "Story for All Ages" on the first Sunday of the month. So to coordinate that with the sermon and somehow with the theme of the Chalice Chapel downstairs and the Service Sunday project gets a little hectic! Today I told the story of Lewis Latimer it tied the Passover story of escape (his parents escaped from slavery) and the search for light and truth (he invented the part of a lightbulb that let's it burn more than three times). But it didn't tie into the Environmental Action pillar we're on with the kids. Oh well!

I love leading the Chalice Chapel, our little monthly children's worship time. Today I created a lush altar with primroses and little pea starts and candles and chimes. I added my chalice banner and our Children's Chalice. We lit our chalice with the worlds from the Tapestry of Faith series "We are Unitarian Universalists, with minds that think, hearts that love, and hands that are ready to serve". Then we sang "Come Sing a Song With Me" zipping in other things like "come hang out with me"! I promised them we'd sing the version my family sings: so Ryan and I sang "Come do laundry with me, come do laundry with me, come do laundry with me that I might have clean shirts". Yep, that's a real story from our family. I heard belly laughs from the littler ones over that one. Joys and sorrows were good, sharing real things. Then I read this little reading:

The seed turns to shoot
The shoot turns to plant
The plant grows a bean
The bean is picked
And eaten
and turns into YOU!

We did a nice tangerine meditation, thinking about the tangerine momma-the tree and where the tree lived, the rain on the tree, what happened in the breeze. The bloom that grew to our little tiny tangerine, which grew ripe and fat and got picked and delivered to the store and then.....to us! I would have loved to have local food, but this was good, too.

To end we each took a bean seed in a quiet bean communion. I hope we'll all go home and plant our seeds and remember our lovely community and how we're all a part of each other.

Then the kids did their service work. We made kits for natural cleaning. Vinegar, baking soda, rosemary infused water with borax (YES, real rosemary plants!) lemons. Good stuff. I got to sit with a few little girls and read stories, even one about Rachel Carson. One four-year-old asked if I could come over for a play date.

I can't think of one thing I'd rather do. Not one.

Now the sun is out, and I'm going to go put those primroses from the altar into my garden and plant the pea starts I have left--many went home with loved ones at church. And I'm going to plant a nice circle of beans from our bean communion. All summer it will remind me of the precious circle of children, youth and adults that I was blessed to be a part of today.

And I will look forward to my play date.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Our Fine Friends

Bless You Iowa.

Live Blogging from GA Youth Staff!

Which, if you were to make it an acronym would be G.A.Y.S.! Here.

Good thoughts on the change in UU University and it's impact on the schedule.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Plans for General Assembly--from the Youth

Did you know....

...that there is fantastic youth programming at GA?

...that youth can and do serve as delegates at GA?

...if there is no money to send youth from your congregations, scholarships are available?

...that my son Michael serves as the FUNTIMES Manager? (It's means something fancy, but basically comes down to facilitating the youth who serve as delegates--he knows Robert's Rules, and the format for getting things done at the business sessions and decodes it all for the youth. Part of what he's learned is a formal process for coming to consensus. How cool is that?)

And he's live blogging from the Pre-site meeting in Salt Lake City. Part of what the youth do at their presite meeting is to go out and find the cheap places to eat, the interesting things to see and the ways to get around the city. Good information for all of us who are going to GA this year.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Busy, busy, busy, busy, busy families

There was a moment of darkness early this week. "Is this worth it?" "Why do we work so hard?" "Who really cares anyway?"

It was bad. I looked for jobs at Starbucks. I thrashed around and washed dishes like they deserved some wicked punishing.

It's passed, I talked to people who know that I don't really mean it, that this is part of the work we do.

But man, I wish I could see into a crystal ball and know which kids are going to show up on any given Sunday. And if only one is going to show up? Well, I wish I could call the dedicated teacher for that class early in the week and tell them to relax, not to buy a box of donuts, not to prepare an amazing lesson, not to give thought and time and prayer to a group of kids who just are not going to be there. Maybe I should work on my psychic powers.

This is the hardest part of being a Religious Educator. Keeping the faith that some people do care, and that a spiritual home is important for children, even if they come only once in a while.

Ours is a culture of power programming for kids. This week on the LREDA list we were talking about how you deal with games and lessons and recitals being actually scheduled on Sunday mornings. How do we plan? How do we know what families want and need? Church can't just be a drive thru where you order one unit of world religions and two sides of spiritual development. It takes the commitment of a whole family, it takes a whole family wide understanding of the role of a spiritual life in the development of a child. Yes, soccer and swim team are important--and my children have missed church for these things, too. Yes. But our families are pulled so hard in so many directions, what are they supposed to do? It's critical to have some down time as a family, too. What if Sunday is the only day that isn't packed full, and what if Sunday is crammed full from dawn to dusk, too?

I'm used to counter culture living. We had a family bed, years of breastfeeding, homeschooling and were radical liberals--we only really fit in with our UU church homeschooling group! So telling a swim coach that we wouldn't be coming to Sunday meets was not too big a deal, until my son didn't qualify for the yearly regional meet in some of his best events because those qualifying races were always held on Sundays. And premier soccer simply never takes "no" on required practices--sometimes we skipped anyway. Eventually my kids backed down from these sports that took their lives away from them. But for most families it's extremely difficult.

My goal this year was to help our families realize that "our religion isn't taught, it's caught" and that to really have children absorb all the good stuff about being Unitarian Universalist, families have to show up on Sundays. The dark part is that even when they really get that, life still pulls hard, and most of them come less than half the time. Maybe it's our substandard programming, but I really don't think so--our programming really is excellent. Maybe it's the nasty building we meet in, could be. I know it's not the teachers, they are dedicated, top quality, dear folks who commit for a whole year to the kids. I really think it's just the pace of life. As we're spinning and spinning through our week, it's hard to gear up and get the energy to get the family to church on Sunday mornings. It's just really hard.

Simplify, Simplify, Simplify. (H.D. Thoreau). Maybe this is next year's theme. Maybe.