Monday, June 18, 2007

Why I Can't be a Unitarian

I recently took a religion quiz and was shocked to learn that I am not, in fact, an atheist, I am a Unitarian. I've read lots of blogs written by Unitarians, and they seem like very nice people, but it's a Religion, and besides it sounds a bit too much like Unarius , those people in El Cajon who dress mannequins up in funny costumes and practice hosting parades to greet our interplanetary visitors.

As far as I can tell, the Unitarians are a wonderful organization. They have meetings for all different types of beliefs, they celebrate the most fun holidays, and they can't be beat for community service. I have visited their web site many times, and have even downloaded the Sunday school curriculum, but we won't be going to the Unitarian church any time soon for one simple reason. I don't want anyone in our family to feel like church of any kind is the best/easiest/most complete source of community. This post and its comments really reminded me that habits are hard to break, so we should think very carefully about starting one.

Instead, we will focus on the hard slow work of building our own community; meet your neighbors, meet your local vendors, talk to them and help them out when you can. Expand the circle and start again. Repeat endlessly.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Springs Preserve

Hooray! A world-class museum has opened here, and we have been twice already. The Springs Preserve offers walking trails, a playground, a demonstration garden, and museums. They have daily classes in cooking, gardening, and conservation. Each exhibit has enough activities for each age that a family can learn together. We especially enjoyed the house that demonstrates green building techniques on our first visit, and the experiments in soil permeability on the second. Both times, the train with passing scenery from the early days of the city was a fun place to stop and rest.

The opening press materials have stressed that this museum is primarily for locals. I really hope they will promote it to visitors. I'm not aware of another musuem of it's kind, and the message is important-save water, live green, appreciate your environment. I know that many visitors here view Las Vegas as a bunch of casinos surrounded by wasteland. The museum makes it easy to experience the beauty of the desert.

On a related note, I have seen some references to this as the "Central Park" of Las Vegas. Let's be clear-the Springs Preserve has little to nothing in common with Central Park. They're both great places, but are completely different. You're never going to see families picnicing in the middle of the Preserve, and you won't be experiencing a simulated flash flood in Central Park. They are, however, both great places to spend an afternoon together whether you are a local or a tourist.

In summary, if you live here, go now! If you plan to visit Las Vegas, consider scheduling some time away from the Strip to learn a little bit, and be sure to visit the giant gila monster under the floor of the gift shop.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Diversity and Compassion

How do we celebrate diversity? By not celebrating it. It's our family philosophy that nobody is the same, and that's what makes people interesting. Without differences there would be no reason to leave the house! We try to meet new people every place we go, and to learn about their lives by asking questions and really listening to their answers. In addition to the "get out and talk to people" plan, we read all kinds of books. Literature is an invitation to enter someone else's mind at a depth rarely achieved in everyday interactions.

The other, harder, aspect of embracing diversity is in accepting differences that are in conflict with my lifestyle and beliefs. Each day I am reminding myself to exercise compassion toward those with whom I disagree. Instead of mocking those with other ideas, or getting upset about the causes they promote, I try to be grateful for the reminder to teach Lucy about what I believe. Instead of stewing about other's actions or beliefs, I try to find solutions to the problems they think they are correcting. (In the first draft of this post, I mentioned an organization by name. Much work to do here.)

What is the best way to teach appreciation of differences and compassion? I think it has to be by example. Lessons and discussion are valuable, but can never surpass simply setting principles, and working daily together to uphold them. It's hard work, but the reward of approaching others with an open mind and heart and receiving responses in kind is well worth the effort.

Monday, May 28, 2007

What We're Learning

In June we are working on:

Classification - Sorting all kinds of materials like buttons, M&M's, Cars we pass, types of plants. Reading Arnold Lobel's "A Lost Button" from Frog and Toad are Friends.

Trees - Looking at different types of trees, learning about what trees do for the environment, learning about how trees grow. Making bark and leaf rubbings. We are anxiously awaiting the opening of the Springs Preserve, where we'll be able to see all kinds of native trees. We are starting nature journals. We are also trying an experiment in which we tie paper bags over some of the peaches on our tree while they are still growing. Each week we check the existing bags and add one more bag. I read about this technique in the Gourmet magazine. There's nothing of interest to report yet, but I have high hopes!

Reading all types of books.

Taking classes: Ballet and Music Together

Meeting weekly with Chinese tutor, and occasionally watching Muzzy or playing Hooked on Chinese

Big Craft Project - Shibori. After a good browse at Home Depot for shape makers, we are going to dye all kinds of clothing and fabrics. I'm still seeking a picture book on Japanese textiles.

The Lonely Road

We made the decision to homeschool pretty early on. I didn't have the seemingly usual doubts about how to get started or what to do every day. The problem started when Lucy turned 3, and her friends all went off to preschool. In New York, this was a minor inconvenience, as most of her friends lived right in our building, so it was easy to pop up for a few minutes in the evening. She also took a number of classes, and basically got to play with kids her own age every day. Here it's excruciating. We are frantically joining groups and seeking activities to get enough friends to make up for school schedules. We play with her a lot, and she has a babysitter once a week to play, but it just isn't the same. I know as she gets older, she'll be able to participate in after school activities and clubs, and she'll make some homeschool friends too, but for now it is getting really hard to hear about what she wants to do when her friends come to visit.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mushroom Lasagna

This got rave reviews last night:
Make regular lasagna, but instead of ricotta, spread Winder Farms artichoke lemon sauce on the noodles, and use portobello mushrooms instead of meat. Not a speck left. No one complained about lack of meat either.

We're learning Chinese!

After about 6 weeks of searching, we have found a wonderful Mandarin tutor. He is well educated in both English and Mandarin, and quite adept at providing lessons that are useful for both parent and child. It will be interesting to see what happens when we add other families to the group, as we plan to do over the next few weeks. i am hoping that it will provide more conversational opportunity rather than chaos!