My Mother’s Gifts For Life

I am very lucky to have parents who love and support me and my family, who have shown me that marriage can be hard but it’s worth the effort, that nothing is more important than family – blood or ‘adopted’. They’ve also supported me through bad decisions, good decisions, and the choices I’ve made about how to live my life – even if my views don’t always match theirs. I’ve written about what my Father has taught me and I think it’s time to talk about the valuable lessons I’ve learned from my Mom.

1. She taught me how to cook and enjoy both the process and eating the results. My mom taught many others how to cook, but my lessons were private.  One important lesson I got was that you should have at least 3 colors on the plate (ketchup doesn’t count). I still feel like I’ve done it wrong if I see nothing but beige on a dinner plate. She also taught me that sometimes pulling dinner out of the freezer is ok, baking isn’t for everyone, and cookbooks are for inspiration 90% of the time – use your imagination in the kitchen. Family recipes should be passed down and most can be modified to fit chosen dietary restrictions. This life skill has allowed me to make the change to being vegan without losing the joy of being creative in the kitchen.

2. Sit down as a family for meals. No one is too busy to NOT sit down for a good meal and connect with each other ever day – even if it’s a quick meal. As an aside, for bigger special occasion meals, get ‘fancy’ dish ware that can go in the dishwasher.

3. Create a garden – love, nurture and enjoy the bounty. Enjoy the process and take the time to prepare your soil – it’s the foundation for growing. (Yes, the implication was intentional)

4. Play with your children/grandchildren – even when you’d rather be napping, cleaning, or watching cat videos on the internet. They will feel valued and encouraged to continue their creativity. No matter how busy you think you are, there is always time to clean, do laundry, cook later. Love unconditionally now. Building Lego creations or tolerating crazy makeovers with children/grandchildren will always be more important than anything else on your list of to-dos. Let them wear a monkey costume out to dinner and be proud of them for doing it with aplomb.

5. Read as much as you can and escape into each book. Read what you enjoy and share books with friends. If a book isn’t catching your attention, leave it behind – there are too many good books to waste your time on any that you don’t connect with. Teach your children the magic of books, beginning with reading to them every day.

6. Give love and support to others – it may be the only kindness they have that day. Strangers need this kindness more than anyone. Don’t make assumptions about them or the choices that may have gotten them into a place of need. If they don’t accept your support, let them continue on the path they’ve chosen for themselves – sometimes people aren’t interested in what you can offer, even if it’s just a meal or a conversation. That’s ok, some people enjoy being the ‘victim’ of life or choose to live in a manner different from your own. Show them kindness and then let them go.

Your family may have needs at critical times in their lives. Do what you can to help take care of them. My mother saved me by taking care of my family, acting as my nurse when I went through chemo and radiation AND made the questionable decision to move forward with a kitchen remodel at the same time. You know your mother is a saint when she helps set up a temporary kitchen, continues to cook for your family, and washes any non-disposable dishes in a teeny bathroom sink.

7. Every child needs to learn how to cook some basic meals, clean, garden, do laundry (including ironing), and sew on a button before they leave home. Extra sewing, knitting, and gourmet meals are a bonus. These are critical life skills to have when living on your own. And every woman is impressed by a man who can sew and clean a toilet well.

8. You can show love to a child or grandchild when you create structure, establish rules, expectations, and consequences for bad choices. Love comes in teaching morals and responsibility, setting a good example, and understanding different points of view with respect and acceptance. Love comes in sharing time, showing generosity of spirit (rather than in physical things), and celebrating everyone’s unique self. Love comes in encouragement of success, displays of bravery and accomplishments big and small. This love creates confidence, a sense of security and an environment where your children/grandchildren feel safe telling you about their fears, problems, questions and discoveries.

9. People can grow when they’re exposed to new experiences, new ideas, and new points of view with an open mind. Living unwed with a dreadlocked reggae musician can sometimes work out well for all involved – you just may get a good story and a wonderful son-in-law. Traveling the world gives you a broader understanding of others’ experiences and culture than you’d ever get sitting on your couch and watching the travel channel. Sometimes your children need to learn by making their own decisions in life – support them, but let them learn through those choices and any consequences – don’t feel you need to ‘solve’ things. Good or bad, the lessons they learn will stick more than a lecture or having a solution handed to them based on YOUR opinions and life views. Allow them to grow and see the world through their own eyes.

10. Sometimes the ‘small’ things in life are the most important. Enjoy watching the birds at the feeders, the trees in bloom, the changing colors in fall, holding a baby, snuggling with a child, baking cookies – just because, or watching your children play harmoniously. Too many things can be overlooked in the hustle and bustle of life, sometimes you need to just stop and enjoy the journey.

Happy Birthday and thank you Mom for being the best role model a girl could ever have in life.



Knitting Lessons, The Sequel

This weekend, I revisited knitting lessons with my daughter. I first attempted them in the summer of 2012 and discovered that neither of us had the patience for it. I asked if she wanted to try again and her response was, ‘kind of, but you’re just going to get mad at me again.’ Oh boy, time to swallow my pride. I admitted that I was less than patient with her, but I felt that I’d do better this time. She agreed to try again and the lessons began.

During our first lesson (this time), she learned how to cast on and count stitches. She had the sense to start easy and make a scarf. I had the patience to explain it and show her with my own needles and yarn repeatedly, without snapping whenever things went sideways. I explained that it takes practice and there will be times that she’ll just have to start over – as I, and most knitters, have done many times. After some trial and error, she got it down. She decided how wide her scarf will be and got enough stitches cast on to start the next step.

I showed her how to hold the yarn and do a basic knit stitch. I explained that there are 2 ways to hold the yarn and the way I learned has its issues. She may go visit our neighbor to get a lesson in the other (probably better) way. That’s as far as we got, but it was further than the first attempt.

I’d love it if she learned to knit because it’s something she’d have in common with me, her Nana, and our neighbor, not to mention a few of our friends. It’s a skill that used to be a given for children to learn – girls AND boys. Perhaps less critical a life skill than it used to be (given the general availability of socks), it is still a very valuable skill to develop. It exercises fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, concentration, creativity, and generosity – since a knitter is likely to make gifts for others. It’s a skill she can continue to hone as she grows and offers the satisfaction of accomplishment with every project finished.

I’ll keep offering lessons and demonstrating my ability to be patient. I’ll continue to encourage her through her triumphs and mistakes, showing her the extremely awkward and probably quite humorous way I held my needles when I started my first project. She’ll hopefully see that she’s already further ahead than I was at this stage in the learning process. She’ll also learn that I have limits to my knitting prowess, which will likely motivate her to improve beyond me so that she can become the teacher and I, the student.

Perhaps my son will want to learn too.

Questions Of Life And Learning

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our education systems in the US. Learning. Schools. Standardized Testing. Inequalities. Priorities.

I wonder if my children are getting the kind of education they need to be happy, successful adults who contribute their skills (whatever they may be) to society. Will they be encouraged to explore their world? Will their interests in the arts and science be stifled because they are forced to learn how to fill in a bubble on a test form to answer multiple choice questions? Will they challenge themselves to find the answers to questions they have about the world rather than just waiting to be fed the ‘answers’? What more can I do to ensure I raise lifelong learners who challenge themselves and the status quo and pursue their interests with unabashed passion? If I were to decide to homeschool (for instance), would I be capable of doing it well or for long?

What have our ‘No Child Left Behind’ efforts done to stifle, rather than improve learning and innovation? Does our standardized education system put our children at a disadvantage in a global world? What has the lack of focus on science, engineering, technology and the arts done/what is it doing to our economy?

Basically, I have a lot of questions. I can’t pretend I have the answers, but I’ll continue to explore the options and ideas.  I’ll continue to support my children’s education (in the broader sense, not the bubble filling sense) as best I can, for as long as I can. We’ll see where it takes us.

Here are a few Ted Talks from some great minds to get you thinking – if you so choose: