Friday, November 22, 2013

Fairies and Gnomes Speaking in English

This morning, as I was rushing around the house trying to get us ready for our road-trip, Kaya starts telling me a story. Initially, it sounded pretty similar to much of what she'll say to me, full of passion and interest and a strong desire for me to connect and share her experience. But as I listened further, it slowly began to differentiate itself from other things she'll share. It was a story in German, as is normal with her still in her communication with me, but what began to be very clear is that she was relating not only an experience she had at school (which doesn't happen all that often), but that she was retelling a story that she's been hearing at school lately. A story about a girl who hears Mother Earth calling to her, and what happens with the Feen [fairies] and Wichtel [gnomes] when they heed her calling. Ok, so maybe that doesn't make sense, and I'm outing myself as way more interested in the fact that she was telling me the story, and how than I was in the details (that's the story of my life, actually!).

She was following me around the house as she told me of the adventures of the girl and how she couldn't find the Wichtel and the Feen. As I beckoned her with my hand to come into my room (so as not to interrupt), she continued to her story, adding the song of Mother Earth. But what was different about this part of the story was that it was in English. Not so strange, as we'll often insert words here and there when we don't know how to say them in German. She continued the rest of the 'song' in English, and then, as she went back to narrating in the 3rd person, shifted back into German. Following me into the kitchen, she shared about how the "girl war traurig, weil sie die Gnomes und die Feen nicht finden konnte" [the girl was sad because she couldn't find the gnomes and fairies]. I was a bit surprised at how she was inserting words in English that she knew in German--but felt simultaneously in awe that she was taking the time and effort to interpret this whole story for me into German from English. And then, it hit me. As she continued to tell the story, I realized she was doing all of the narrating in German but all of the conversing in English. Every time the girl or the gnome or Mother Earth would speak, it was in English. But when she was explaining to me what they were doing or where they were going or how they were was in German.

I don't even know what to say that.
Again, I'm in awe.

It makes me feel aMAzed at this whole process, about how the brain works and how she makes the choices she does with the languages she has available to her.

The thing about the English in this story is that in no way was it intended as an 'out' to not speak German, or as a test--which she will do and has been doing more so lately. When our neighbor, Simon, comes over, who understands German but generally speaks only English, Kaya will look at me directly and say something in English, clearly waiting to see how I'll respond. I realize how clear it is to her that I speak German with Si and how he speaks English back--and how that works for him. She is naturally wondering, in certain moments, if that will work for her. Not because she doesn't like speaking German with me--she continues to tell me that she likes that we speak German together--but because she's curious. It goes against what she's used to. To help her with this, I find myself tending to speak English with Si, and when I do, she seems to 'test' me less. I wonder if or when this will change--I would love to support his German, but also find it not nearly as fun speaking to him in German when he speaks back in English. Similar to how I felt about 2 1/2 years ago before Kaya started speaking all German to me.

So, in regards to this insertion of English dialogue, it does feel different, and I continue to find it fascinating. She told me that I could make a video of her relating that story to me, so hopefully I'll make it happen soon and put it here or in another post.

But in the meantime, I'll end on this other gem that she shared with me out of the blue as we were driving to school. As you might imagine, it brought tears to my eyes. And for those of you readers who are newer to our lives and may not know, Nana is my mom who died from Non-hodgkins Lymphoma when Kaya was 1 1/2, about 3 1/2 years ago. Kahlua was our 2nd family dog, who we put down a few years ago because he'd bitten too many people. She loved them both dearly, and hears us speaking fondly of them quite often:

"Mama, weisst du was? Wenn ich an Nana und Kahlua denke, ich sehe sie in einem Feld, mit hohem Gras, zusammen spielen." [Mama, you know what? When I think of Nana and Kahlua, I see them in a field of tall grass, playing together.]

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pirates, Pictures, and Purposeful Integration

Nearly every night, save for those occasions when Kaya is beside herself with exhaustion, we read a book and tell a story before bed. This rings a bell. I think I've mentioned this before. So, from an update standpoint, we still do it. And from a far more interesting perspective, I thought I might share a little twist from tonight's ritual that ended up being quite a fun way to integrate Dada, the non-German speaker, into a German story.

As a backdrop, if you're not as well-versed on our situation, Geoff didn't know more than a few words of German when we started our bilingual journey nearly 5 years ago. Now he says that he gets the gist of about 90% of what we say. Not bad at all for the passive approach, huh, simply being around German and not having to speak it?! (kudos, Geoff!) We used to have all these grand plans, usually including, in some form or fashion, his incorporation of Rosetta Stone to make sure he'd be able to 'keep up'. And that may well be a necessity one day soon, as he hesitantly admits that his understanding is dropping as Kaya gets older, and that he might only understand about 65-70% of what we actually say.

But for tonight's purposes, snuggling on the couch and reading out of Das grosse Bildermaus Geschichtenbuch [The big picture-mouse story book], his level of German was not only fine but quite impressive!

We started towards the back of the book where they have all the pictures with the corresponding words. We went down the list, starting with 'Meer' [ocean] and continuing with Insel and Sonne and Regen. For most of the words, I asked Kaya to tell us what the picture was--"und das ist eine...?" [and that is a...?], to which she would respond with a smile and the accurate word in German. A number of the words were new for her (and me, for that matter, too!), and for those, I would simply tell her--"Das sind zwei Anker." [Those are two ankers.] For some of the words, she knew the English, and would say that, but for the most part, we stayed in German until we got through the list.

Kaya decided, quite excitedly, that she wanted to read 'Die Flotte des Koenigs' [The King's Fleet]--one of the pirate stories in the book. She and Geoff have been playing pirates lately, and it's definitely one of her favorite things to do lately. In fact, the other night, she even told me, "Mama, ich wiw dass du jetzt in die Ahbeit gehst, damit ich Piraten mit Dada spielen kann..." [Mama, I want you to go to work now so that I can play pirates with Dada!], which is quite a shift after the usual tears or dread surrounding my need to work. So, naturally, the pirate story was on the docket.

We've read from similar books before, specifically with the incorporated pictures, but never together with Geoff. So, I thought it might be fun for us to flip-flop back and forth between them as we'd come to a picture. And while it took them a few sentences to get the rhythm down, with my reading the words and them saying the pictures, it was quite fun once we got rolling! Geoff remembered just about every word for all of his pictures, and Kaya would break out in a huge grin when one of us would whisper the word before she'd say it aloud. Her grins ultimately turned into laughter, and we all decided we needed to read the 'Pirateninsel', too. [Pirate Island]

There's one other story ritual that we have at times that similarly makes for quite the integration of languages. While we'll often just tell a story from the innermost reaches of our right brain, sometimes it's kind of nice to have some story fodder. So, Geoff came up with this idea many moons ago in which he opens to a page in picture book (Richard Scary's Wunderbare Welt der Wimmelbilder [Richard Scary's Biggest Word Book Ever] is one of our favorites for this, though the picture dictionaries--like First Thousand Words in German-- are great, too!) and starts telling a story about a character on the page.

The trick is that he doesn't tell Kaya which character is the star, so she has to listen to the development of the story while she looks for the character on the page. Tonight's story, for example, was about a kitty who wanted to sleep because she was so tired (the page, as you may know, is filled with all sorts of kitties, and pigs, and foxes all doing different things in different locations). Try as she might, she simply couldn't find a place to slumber. She tried the first house, but it was too loud because they were laying bricks and bending pipe. The next house was too loud because they were installing plumbing and a chimney. And the next house was getting new windows and a roof. But finally, the kitty found a nice quiet place to sleep on top of the steel structure (?!).

As you can imagine, Geoff told his story in English--while he's learned a lot, it would be quite a feat if he knew how to say chimney and plumbing and steel structure (not even sure I know the latter two!). And as you might guess, when I play, I tell my stories in German, as I did tonight with one about a mean piggy who got pushed into the water by the kitties and was thankfully rescued by a compassionate kitty with a crane. She struggled a bit with this one, which can be quite fun in regards to the hide-and-seek component of the game. Where is the piggy with soggy pants so sad and so saved?

 I do a lot less wondering and worrying now about what our family might be like down the road with two different languages. I used to worry quite a bit, though, struggling to conceptualize how a family could be anything close to cohesive with such a language differential. I do recognize that our situation is a bit unique in that Geoff understands enough to fit in (and then some)--but in moments like tonight, where I'm hyper-aware of the language experience, I definitely appreciate that bilingualism has done anything but pull us apart.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Marvin's Adventures in Bilingualand

As hesitant as I am to share this video, in part because of my personal criticism of my own German (for those German speakers out there!) as well as the bird nest in my daughter's hair (who wants to inflict discomfort on their baby when she's sick?!), I think it paints a pretty good picture of a few concepts that might be nice to illustrate at this stage of our bilingual journey. 

First of all, since it's been a while since an update like this, I think it would be good 'for the record' (this one's for you, Kaya!) to share that we continue to speak all German 99.9% of the time. I can remember 2 instances in the past 2 months when I've spoken to her in English, and when I do, it's out of extreme frustration and a few words are enough to get me back on track to German. Similar amounts of English come out of her mouth towards me, though not in moments of frustration--simply when she just doesn't know the word. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm more loose with my English in that regard with her, and from time to time, I'll say the word in English, usually prefacing that I don't know how to say it in German but this is what it is in English.  This video illustrates some of this point pretty well when Kaya is telling me how old Marvin is and says "seven" instead of 'sieben'. This similarly highlights some of the challenges that she has with her language, numbers being one of them. Without having done the research (Annabelle of the piri-piri lexicon might know this, though!?), I'd guess that it's pretty normal for kids to struggle to in this regard--while she knows how to count sequentially in both languages (I'm not exactly sure how high in each, though has def. been playing in the 20's in both, and likely higher in English), it's hard for her to name a number outright in German straight from English. At times she can do it, but 7 seems to be causing her challenges lately. This is something that I see with my language students as well, though...sequential counting comes first, then the skill of being able to name numbers out of order. 

There are a couple of other points that I thought I might highlight with this video, too, specifically regarding the topic of the conversation in itself. Kaya has a whole world invented regarding which of her 'children' and 'friends' know German, English or both. This video was my cursory attempt to get into this world of hers and come out with an understanding of who can do what. I think it's fascinating, this concept, and would love to dig into her reasoning of whence and wherefore. Apparently, as you can read in my transcription below, Marvin (the monkey) is her only 'friend' who knows German.--nothing like creativity!) Actually, to be more accurate, I think Marvin is one of her children (ignore the fact that he's older than she is In fact, as I find out later in the video, he's bilingual too, just like Kaya. This kid, much like myself as a child, has a whole world of 'friends', including the newest to the bunch, Coco (the eaglet). And you'd think with a name like 'Tante Jamie' (Aunt Jamie...who is our German-speaking next door neighbor), that baby of hers would be able to speak or at least understand German. But alas, Marvin is the only one. Not Stella, either, who happens to have the same name as our host daughter from Germany (named BEfore we knew about her, I swear! Destiny?). Nor Hazel, nor Max, nor Kylee.

And for those grammar geeks out there like me (and my sister!), you might be curious to know that, while she sometimes puts her infinitives accurately at the end of the sentences after conjugated modal verbs, and kicks her verbs after appropriate conjunctions, she had a even split in this conversation: once, while talking about baby talk, she puts it in the middle, but when asking me to get her a nose rag, she puts it at the end. And to top off the grammar analysis, she has a tendency to confuse some idiomatic expressions (I think that's what they are!?), like the one in this conversation where she says, "alter dann mir" instead of 'aelter als ich'. I didn't learn that term until 2nd or 3rd year college German, so I can only guess this type of mistake is pretty common for little kiddos in German, too?

So, despite my geeked-out, language teacher analysis, it's pretty easy for me to celebrate the fact that, after about 2 years now, Kaya continues to speak fluent German with me--and teachers at German Saturday School or Sommercamp--and while it does tend to lag a bit behind her English development, I watch it grow. Never really 'catching up', but the spurts happen in both languages, and are pretty clear to me. Which is really quite amazing to me--as normal as it now seems.

I continue to have my phases where I want to give up, or at least give up with this intensity of this OPOL (one-parent, one language) method, as I felt quite strongly 7 months ago. But as with many of the phases I experience in this process, they all seem to pass as I continue to lean on and call on the support of the amazing community I have in my life (that's you!). 

So, without further ado, I now welcome you to take a peek into a few moments of our afternoon as Kaya was home sick from school and excitedly playing with her babies in the swing that we just put up on her bed for them:

Mama: Welche von deinen Kindern koennen Deutsch sprechen? Oder verstehen? [Which of your kids can speak German? Or understand it?]
Kaya: Uh, Marvin. 
Mama: Und die anderen nicht? [And the others can't?]
Kaya: Nein. [No.]
Mama: Oder koennen sie beide, Deutsch und Englisch? [Or can they speak both, German and English?]
Kaya: Er kann Engrisch und Deutsch, und sie kann nur sprechen wie ein Baby! [He can speak English and German and she can only speak like a baby!]
Mama: Ohhh .Babysprache. Das ist eine ganz andere Sprache, oder? [Oh, baby talk. That's a whole different language, huh?]
Kaya: Ja. [yeah.]
Mama: Ja. 
Kaya: Kannst du mein Naselappen holen? (off screen...Was hast du gesagt?) [Can you get my nose rag? What did you say?]
Kaya: Hab 'No highers'. [I said "no highers"]
Mama: No highers? Ich dachte er konnte Deutsch. [No highers? I thought he could speak German?]
Kaya: Ja er kann doch. [Yeah, he can.]
Mama: Kann er beide? [Can he speak both?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.] (looking at me as if to say, Well, YEAH, Mom. Isn't it obvious?!)
Mama: Oh, wie du. Er ist zweisprachig. [Oh, like you. He's bilingual.]
Kaya: Aber er ist alter dann mir. [But he's older than me.] (translated directly, grammatically incorrect)
Mama: Oh, alter als du? Wie alt ist er denn? [Oh, older than you (repeated back grammatically correctly)?
Kaya: Seven. 
Mama: Sieben? [Seven?]
Kaya: Ja. Machst du ein Video? [Yeah. Are you taking a video?]
Mama: Ja. Willst du es sehen? [Yeah. Do you want to see it?]
Kaya: Ja. [Yeah.]

Any input you have, or stories you'd like to share below would be, as always quite welcome and very appreciated!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Patience and Persistence and Pay-Off

I'm sitting here in the sunshine, on this epic Fall day here in the Pacific Northwest, wishing I could be taking it in more and letting IT be the catalyst for a different mood. And at the same time, I'm learning--slowly--the true value in being able to accept 'what is', however uncomfortable it is, and let that be part of the process to getting where we want to be.

So, here I sit, feeling a bit drab. Disappointed might be a better word. I just had a coaching conversation with a client with whom I've been working for months, and as hopeful as I was about it--after a truly epic and inspiring week of training in Ottawa--it didn't go as I expected. I wasn't able to apply all of what I was hoping to apply in the way I was hoping to apply it. As thorough and life-changing as this method is, as many changes as I continue to see in client after client, it feels really hard at times to really apply it as it's designed to be applied. Did his mood change? Yes. For sure. Was he able to see a few things in a different light? I believe so. Was I able to make some new moves, try some new things, like I set out to do before I started? Yes, I suppose I was. But talking myself, cognitively, into believing that it's 'good enough' just isn't working right now.

As I was procrastinating on preparing for my next client, I saw the window for my blog, open in my browser, and I began to wonder about the connection between my experience now and that of my bilingual journey. Perhaps because writing feels so therapeutic for me--just like the research supports!--and I am now, once again, committed to staying connected here, to you, my amazing blogging community. And I really want to be in a different space when my next client comes in a few hours. So, while I was reflecting and wondering about similarities, it hit me that, just as it took me a while to feel comfortable speaking my non-native language to Kaya, it will similarly take me a while to really get this methodology in my bones. I want it there now. I want to be an Master Level Integral Coach right now. But as I lay it out here, in black and white, I realize how unrealistic that is. It takes time, and that's why I'm in training. It won't happen over night. None of it does, be it German, Spanish, English, coaching, banjo, dog training, (and especially) parenting...

I never really realized what a lesson this bilingual journey could serve for me, but it's quite clear now:

Patience and persistence does make a difference...
together with a HUGE dose of self-compassion and love.

Soon, I'll post a video to illustrate this fact. But for now, it's prep time.
Thanks for joining me in this journey...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Does Absence Make the Language Difference Grow Stronger?

It's just after midnight and in order to see the words I'm typing, I have to keep blinking to moisten my contacts. But I can stay away no longer. When I look at the date of my last post and see that it's been more than 3 months since I last wrote, I cringe. As usual, I've had moment after moment, thought after painstaking thought, of what I might write to break this longstanding silence. And then I don't--for all sorts of reasons, fear being only one of them. I know, I know, what the hell might I be afraid of!? Well, I suppose I continue to recognize this desire to 'make it good' and if I don't think I can, I don't.

But alas, the more I get to know that tendency, the more gently it can just slip here I am.

And oh, does it feel so good.
I'm glad to be back. Every time I return, I remember how much I appreciate and miss you--this little international community of bloggers whom I've 'gotten to know' over the years as Kaya grows up.

I've been away for so long spending most of my time on two primary 'front burners' in my life (it's not just a personal desire for perfection that keeps me away from the keyboard). One of the passions I've written about a great deal, and surely will write about more with time: climate change. The other, while not directly related, has very much to do with that concept, as I hope to, one day, merge my desire to create a stable climate and future with my passion for coaching others to make a difference. While I don't know how exactly I plan to get there, and where my path will land, I am on the journey...and as much as I love it, it certainly doesn't leave as much time for blogging as I'd like.

But before my eyes cloud over completely, I want to at least get out some of the thoughts I was having this afternoon regarding coming home after more than a week away from Kaya.

While I know, cognitively, that there's always an adjustment period, it always seems to hit me in a way that I least expect it. I find myself feeling sad that we can't connect in the way that I imagine it: with her running up to me in the airport, jumping into my arms, and covering me with kisses. Just like in the movies. Or maybe in the movies, it's the mom who does that to the kid...but the kid is definitely into it (as long as she's under 8!). At least that's how it is in my movie. But in my life, it doesn't look that way at all. Instead, it takes us about a day to get back into that place of feeling truly connected, to that point where she's actually happy to be riding behind my bike on her tagalong instead of Dada's. Or where she's hugging my leg in addition to his.

I tell myself that it makes sense. I know it does. I've been gone for 8 days, and she's been with her grandparents for 5 of those days--I know that, at least for her, she needs some adjustment time. But admittedly, I do find myself wondering if, and how much, the bilingualism has to do with that need. As you may know, Kaya is fluent in both English and German, and speaks German with me and English with everyone else in her family and community. Thus, while at Grahms and Grandpa's, it's all English, all the time. When I called, in fact, to say hello and 'I love you' last Wednesday, she wasn't interested, and handed the phone back to Grandpa. In my doubting mind, I wonder if the transition would be smoother if she and I spoke the same language as she speaks with everyone else? Do her words get rusty? Is it a language thing or a Kaya thing?

As I mulled all of these thoughts around this afternoon, I found myself dancing with the thought of how grown up she seems, and noticed a tug of sadness at my heartstrings. Is she growing up in English and I'm not noticing it because I'm with her in German all of the time? Or is it that I was just gone for a week, and she really did grow up a good bit, using word "like" in her storytelling in English: he was, like, going all over the place! (I remember when my dad forbade me to use that word around him in middle school!)

And then, as our connection grew with every passing hour this afternoon, I began to recognize the 'growing up' in her German, too. Her language flowed as she spoke, pointing out the Katze [cat] and other notables in our neighborhood as we pedaled down the street.

And as I sat on that seat, riding down the street, hearing her behind me with all of her excitement for all that was around us, it hit me that I just need to follow her lead and do the same. For it's the flowers and the kitties and the neighborhood pups that can serve to remind us of what is here and now, and what isn't.

It's nice to be back. I look forward to 'seeing' you soon--and, of course, as always, would SO love to hear from you below!

Monday, July 1, 2013

Love Trumps

Sometimes, I really feel like blogging mirrors my sugar addiction. There I was on email, connecting quickly with a friend, when I heard myself think: I wonder how the blog is doing? Worded differently, I wonder if we're on the upswing? I don't know for sure if i'm more tempted to write on the down-swing or the up, but either way, I couldn't stay away from a post. It was like having ice cream in the freezer after an overwhelming evening: too tempting.

It might not be so alluring if I hadn't had this amazing love fest with Kaya tonight during bed time--clear fodder for a long-overdue blog post. It was one of those moments that gets immediately filed in that happy place, one that you're sure will be with you forever.

Geoff was just starting in on the guitar, singing her some lullabies as one of both of us does every night. She and I were lying on her loft bed, next to one another under the covers. After we got her all situated--including getting cream and benadryl for this awfully itchy rash on her back and tucking snuggle-monkey into the crook of her neck--she nestled into the covers and grabbed my hand. For a few minutes, she'd be on her left, only to roll quickly on to her right--where we'd then be facing each other. Within a few minutes, her fidgeting slowed and she started staring at me. But it wasn't just any stare. It was this look, a deep penetrating connection, through the biggest smile I've ever seen on anyone's face. Ever. She just smiled. And stared. And when I thought her smile couldn't get any bigger, it did. Along with mine. We just stared. And smiled. And laughed, at times, when the smile could no longer contain our joy.

As I lay there, gazing into her smiling face, it hit me:
Yes, I worry about her level of German, and whether it will carry us through the communication I want us to have in our lives.
Yes, I tend to believe that she's far more verbose and expressive in English right now.
Yes, I find myself wondering what to do about these beliefs and concerns, wondering even further if my perspective is skewed.
But what I don't worry about is our love and the connection we have behind language.

Throughout this bilingual journey, I realize how much emphasis I've put on the words, on the abilities to learn them, to form them into sentences, connected by intricate and accurately-used conjunctions. But what I've tended to ignore until now is the power behind the words, and all that can be and is expressed above and beyond language.

Who knows if Kaya is a different kid in German than she is in English. Sometimes I think so.
And who knows if we'll do this forever.

But when I come back to that 'love fest', to that presence and power, it fuels me.
It leaves me with a sense of confidence that, as many concerns as I've had about the pros and cons of this journey, love trumps.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Collision of Dreams

This really is the last thing I should be doing right now, starting a post at 10:45pm. But I can't help it! I've missed writing, missed connecting with you all, missed being able to slow my thoughts down enough and capture all the amazing experiences and quotes and memories of our bilingual adventure with Kaya.

Backpacking Last Wknd on the Lower Salmon River 
So, tonight, I had to at least take a few moments to get my butt back online and at least MARK the moment. After all these years of concern, of wondering whether to focus on German or on the Outdoor thing, I finally bumped into an opportunity that allows us to do both. Granted, not necessarily at the exact same time, but in the big picture of things, both are happening, and that naturally makes me exceedingly happy.

To make my point more clear, Kaya started at Kindersommer this morning, through the German American School of Portland, where she'll be immersed in German songs, games, crafts and books for the next two weeks, 9-3pm (and then again for the last few weeks of summer, too). It's really a dream come true for me, despite the long hours away from my babe, and shethat made me even more  thankful that I bumped into the idea online, too.
's quite happy too: an amazing opportunity within the city, in our own country even, for her to be surrounded by German by people other than me. After school, in fact, I bumped into a woman from LA, California (who so generously shared raspberries and blueberries with Kaya!) who found the program online when they weren't able to make their yearly trip to Germany. They drove up here as a family just so their kids could take part in the program! Hearing

While I didn't hear a ton about her experience today, I did get lots of smiles and heard a story about her new friend whose name she knows but couldn't say and reminds her of a different friend, Anya. I'd put quotes around that, but she told me this in German, so it wouldn't be quite as accurate. But this girl was "sehr nett" [very nice], and they played together for much of the day, Kaya told me. AND they read a book by the same author of one of her favorite books, Silly Sally (since, as Mama didn't really realize, the whole theme of these next two weeks is on Audrey Wood!). For me, aside from having so much time to get tons of work done and so many errands run, the best part was how the teachers knew exactly what to do to help Kaya warm up to a brand new experience in a brand new place. For a mama, there's nothing more relieving than having a teacher who can take your stressed-out, gripping-your-wrist child and gently transform them into a quiet, relaxed being who's now eager to adventure and join the group.

Definitely a sign that we made a good choice on this one!

Soon, oh so very soon I hope, I'll dive into the annals of our language experience of late...definitely lots to say on that front from our wild and wonderful little four and half year old bilingual. But until then, it's nice to be back. I hate being gone that long...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Staying Strong for the Journey (Part 4)

And for the final, and possibly most important, piece of our presentation (see parts I, II, and III for more details about our presentation on the Climate Crisis, if you're just coming on to the scene), how do we not lose hope when we choose to let reality in?

Staying Strong for the Journey
Written and delivered by Katherine Jesch

So, now we know:  There are strategies that seem to show potential for slowing, and even reversing some of the worst of the impacts of the impending climate disaster, but they’re not the easy ones any more.  And simply taking our own small steps individually, while necessary, isn’t enough.  We must, in addition, join the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are working to change economic, social, and political systems that keep us stuck in the old ways.

To move forward, how do we bring our best selves to the effort and avoid the deepest despair and burnout?  What will keep us strong and motivated so our actions can be amplified to be most effective?

Fortunately, as UUs, we don’t come to this work empty handed.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith gives us the strength to sustain our commitments over the long haul.  I want to explore four of the gifts our faith teaches us that are critical to the work: commit to justice; practice gratitude; choose hope; nurture community.


Our religious ancestors had a history of demonstrating their faith through their work toward justice.  Our own congregation is a model for this way of being religious.  You know that the Alliance is the descendent of the Ladies Sewing Circle that started this church in 1862.  The original founders were activists in the Portland community with their eyes wide open.  They paid attention to what was going on around them and they took steps to improve conditions for education, public health, care of animals, among other issues.  I see that heritage in action today in our more than a dozen social justice groups, in the rich lifespan learning community for young and old and everyone in between.  And in our care for each other in so many beautiful ways.  

In more recent times, our environmental values have become a highly visible part of that faith.  We were the first denomination to adopt a theology and policy statement on climate change in 2006.  Now, as we approach the climate tipping point, we must step it up, taking our response to a whole new level.  The Community for Earth is providing some tools to help us do this.


Now while our faith calls us to action in a broken world, it also reminds us that this world is a beautiful place, and it is a gift to simply be alive in it.  To forget that fact, to separate ourselves from that beauty, is to open the floodgates of despair.  A critical antidote to this despair is the spiritual practice of gratitude.  I heard a Rabbi preach this message some years ago at a global warming conference.  He claimed that Americans suffer from “Gratitude Deficit Disorder” – We keep trying to make ourselves happy through more stuff, but of course it never works, so we have to grab for even more.  It’s a never ending escalation, this addiction to stuff.  We must break the cycle, remembering that happiness comes from relationships, community, and the satisfaction of worthwhile endeavors.  Gratitude allows us to let in that beauty.


One hundred years ago, Glacier Nat'l
Park in Montana had over
150 glaciers. 25 remain today...
It is true that facing a future on a much warmer planet is very scary.  Directly confronting the consequences takes more courage than most of us can muster except in very small doses.  The farmer-poet Wendell Berry is exactly right when he says, “It is the destruction of the world in our own lives that drives us half insane, and more than half.  To destroy that which we were given in trust: how will we bear it?”  It’s healthy to acknowledge the despair we feel, understanding that despair is a response “that arises from the depth of our caring, from the truth of our interconnectedness with all beings.  But despair without an alternative vision of where you want to be, and without companions to go there with you, is simply debilitating.

The great healer of despair is hope.  But hope can be tricky.  Many assume that hope is only possible if you’re really certain that in the end all will be well.  But this is a misinterpretation.

Frances Moore Lappe and her daughter Anna Lappe write this in their book Hope’s Edge:  “ . . . Hope does not come from convincing ourselves the good news is winning out over the bad.  Nor does it come from assessing what’s possible and going for that.  Since it’s not possible to know what’s possible . . . we find new energy in this very truth.  In the awareness of possibility itself – always unknowable – we are free to focus on creating the world we want.  Hope comes from a place deep within.  Hope is not what we find in evidence.  It is what we become in action.  We become hope because we are alive.  We become hope because our planet needs us to.  And our hope can spur us on to choose a healthy and sustainable future.”


So how do we move forward on that choice?  Tamara told us about what some activists are doing now, and what more we can do, so there are lots of ideas.  We could spend several hours on that topic alone.  But just as important is how we maintain momentum instead of giving up.

Campaigning for a carbon tax doesn’t give Tamara hope.  Her hope comes from the relationships and shared efforts they create in the Citizens Climate Lobby.  She then shares that hope with those of us here at First Church in the Community For Earth, and today, we share it with you.  As a community, we can help each other stay engaged and motivated, while together we find ways to celebrate the abundance of the earth.

Let us draw on our faith for sustenance.  With our passion for justice, gratitude for the beauty, hope for the future, and a community to share the journey, let us choose a healthy and sustainable future, today, and every day in this remaining window of opportunity – the 13 years Tamara told us is what remains for us to pull back from the brink of catastrophe.  Without a lamp, it’s awfully hard to find your way out of that place. Our faith is that lamp, and what keeps it burning are the precious and sustaining relationships nurtured in our congregations and the other communities of which we are a part.  Together, we must work toward that healthy and sustainable future as if our life depends on it.  Because, in fact, it does.


Thank you so much for being a part of our presentation, even if only from afar. I came away very inspired to share this message with as many people as possible, and am currently working to make that a reality--posting it here, being just a part of the journey. If you are aware of any audiences in the Portland Area that may be open to a presentation on Climate Change and how we might respond effectively, or perhaps with more detail on the Carbon Tax and or the science behind it all, please don't hesitate to let me know. And, of course, the more you can share and spread this information, the better off we all are, as a global community! We have quite a beautiful thing to protect for these children of ours, and theirs, not to mention for all those organisms who aren't able to protect it for themselves...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Momentum Brings us Hope

Geoff and I tried to go on a date tonight...we got as far as dinner when we got our first call, with a very sad Kaya on the other end of the line. "Ich wiw mit dir kuscheln...," [I wanna snuggle with you...] I barely understood her say, through her despairing sobs. Five phone calls later, it was becoming clear that we'd be unable to enjoy the the Timbers game--the ultimate destination of our date--knowing how upset Kaya was on our bed at home.

Osterhase, Kuschelaffe, Kaya & Marvin, Snug as a Bug in a Rug
Once we got home, I was surprised at how eager I was to comfort her. Such a welcome difference from feeling frustration or resent, as I might expect of myself after having my evening 'interrupted'. She, too, was clearly quite happy, as she giggled and smiled her whole way through bedtime. When we finally landed in her bed to snuggle, she was asleep within minutes, and when I got up to leave, I couldn't believe how cute she looked, nestled amongst her favorite snuggle-friends.

How can I not do everything in my power to protect this beautiful earth for her future?

As eager as I am to wax on about the connection that I feel with her, about how, in this moment and the past long while, in fact, I've felt no concern about any lack of connection with her in this 'non-native tongue', as I've expressed in the past, I'll save that for a future post, and will, as promised, share with you Part III of our presentation on our response to Climate Change. If you're just "joining us", I encourage you to read Part I and Part II of our presentation, which includes some of the science behind climate change as well as how we might respond from spiritual and moral perspective.


Evidence that momentum is gathering gives us hope
Written and delivered by Tamara Staton to the Alliance at the First Unitarian Church

...In response to Katherine's question of me regarding how things are working out, and how much we're really capable of, I share this...

Well, Katherine, there is a plethora of good news, actually.

First of all, there is a global recognition that a problem exists, which is causing momentum to build quickly. Australia, for example, which is one of the world’s leading exporters of coal, introduced a carbon tax just last year. And In the year that this carbon tax has been in effect, there has been a significant drop in carbon emissions, and their renewables are now cheaper than coal. China, in addition, has announced that they will be introducing a pilot cap and trade system, which is huge because they are now the world’s biggest source of carbon pollution and growing quickly. And in the United States, in terms of new energy generation capacity that was built last year, there was more energy produced from renewables, like wind and solar, than from fossil fuels. Similarly, the cost of renewables is going down while the cost of accessing fossil fuels is going up. 

All in all, the science of climate change is getting stronger and stronger and the denier arguments are getting debunked, to the extent that the deniers and the denier arguments are really on the fringe of serious discussion. This is in one of the only remaining countries—ours-- where there’s still any serious question that climate change is real and caused by human activity. All in all, this alone is great reason for hope.

As you may have noticed, all of these changes are systemic. While there are naturally individuals working in the mix, these momentous changes are on a grand scale, affecting the structures that regulate and ultimately determine how we live in community. Like the ability of our faith to enable us to look beyond ourselves, these systemic changes require the same, are exactly what is needed for us to halt the 13 year prediction. Over the past many years, society has been delivering messages that individual solutions, like planting gardens and taking the bus and flying less, are enough to solve the crisis. I believe that these messages have been aimed at keeping people from feeling too small, like their actions don’t matter and can’t make a difference. As important as this message is, we need to send a new one now: The individual solutions do make a difference, in the ripple effect that they cause, but we need bigger and faster. We need the speed and scale that systemic changes can offer to humanity and all life forms on the planet.

For me, I know that I tend to get overwhelmed pretty easily. As detail oriented as I am, I often find that, when the details are too many and too big, I shut down. And this climate change situation is naturally full of MANY details. At times, I’ve found myself wondering, how do we affect the system as just ONE individual. It’s huge. Once we’re past the point of shut down, what is our role in the framework of our national and global community?

As you heard me mention earlier, the momentous changes that are occurring around the world are because of thousands of individuals coming together in community to make a difference. While some of those changes may seem like a matter of one—one government, one law, one decision—they are actually changes that were inspired and taken on by community, in some manner. For example, many of the large scale projects and systemic changes that are occurring across the world are being taken on by one of the hundreds of organizations worldwide dedicated to climate action. As Emily mentioned when she introduced me, I have the most personal experience with number 32 on the list, Citizens Climate Lobby. In April of last year, I helped to start our Portland Chapter, and I wanted to share some of my experience with you not only because of how this group has empowered and inspired me to make a real difference, but because it is a solid example of how individuals can come together to work towards and make a systemic difference. To address climate change, we’re going to have to make big changes to get ourselves off fossil fuels, and one of the most powerful tools to do that is to put a price on carbon. 

 When I first heard about the national group, Citizens Climate Lobby, I was uninterested. Having no experience, nor interest, in politics, I didn’t think that any group with the word “Lobby” in it’s title would be anything for me. But when I began to think about what it’s really going to take to get more people on the bandwagon in this country, not to mention others around the globe, it hit me that most people act when they have to. When the storm hits their county, they take action. When the money comes out of their paycheck, their wallet, they start to listen. For this reason, an organization that has the power and capacity to affect change on a systemic level, at an inspiring and committed grassroots level, is worth being a part of. For this reason, a tax on carbon where the revenue is returned to every American household, could be the systemic change that we need to beat that 13 year prediction. And as an organization, CCL has that revenue-neutral carbon tax as its primary policy objective. “Political Will for a Livable World” is our mission, but there is an underlying message that comes through everything we do: 

Relationship comes first. 
Because it does.

If we have relationship with the person on the phone asking for money, we generally give at least some of what we have. And most of us will bend over backwards to help those we love. And so from this understanding, more than 1500 volunteers in nearly 90 chapters across the US and Canada take individual actions that contribute to a systemic change that can turn things around. As members of Citizens Climate Lobby, we build relationships by sending hand-written letters each month to members of congress, as well as writing Letters to the Editor of major newspapers. In 2011, for example, we were published 181 times in our Letters to the Editor, to be superceded in 2012 by 535 published letters. This year, we’re already averaging well-over 100 a month, including op-eds. 

We also build relationships by meeting in person with members of congress and the editorial boards of newspapers. In January, we had 16 meetings with editorial boards, and we had 537 meetings with members of congress last year. These actions give us hope, because over four years, we’ve gone from being laughed out of the office for our carbon tax proposal to being supported by congressman who are proposing legislation for the same. 

We are actively building and strengthening our group, both here and in many other cities in the US and Canada, so if you or anyone you know might be interested in joining forces, taking action, or signing on as a supporter (financial or otherwise), we’d love to hear from you, and I have an invitation for you here with more details.


As you can imagine, it would have been strange for me to download the audience with all sorts of details, like date and time (every Wednesday, 5pm!) for the introduction calls, should someone be interested in learning more. Similarly, for me to share the link for call registration would have been quite cumbersome and awkward. Thus, I share it here, and I thank you for making it all the way to the bottom of this lengthy post. If it's not clear already, Citizens Climate Lobby has changed my life, and I would highly recommend you listen in on an intro call if North America is your home and you want to be a part of the systemic solution that we need. And Dr. Hansen would agree:

"Most impressive is the work of Citizens Climate Lobby, a relatively new, fast-growing, nonpartisan, nonprofit group with 91 chapters across the United States and Canada. If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group."  
- Dr. James Hansen, head of Goddard Institute for Space Studies, NASA

Stay tuned for the 4th and final part of our presentation, entitled, "Staying Strong for the Journey." Hope you can round out your online version of some hope and inspiration regarding what some consider the biggest issue of our lifetime...

Friday, April 5, 2013

Danger and Opportunity...Continues

To those of you who are following up specifically from my post yesterday, How do you say Climate Crisis in German, welcome back! I know that at least one of you out there felt like I left you hanging on a cliff, after not providing further information about how we might respond to this climate situation. Today, I'm going to share the second part of the presentation that Katherine and I gave to the Alliance, which is a group at the First Unitarian Church in Portland with "the purpose of  strengthening communication and support among members; nurturing spiritual growth; working for a society in which there is justice and equality for all; and discovering, preserving, and celebrating the history and contributions of Unitarian Universalists." So, while this second part of the presentation clearly wasn't written for all audiences, I share it because it provides a scaffolding, even for non-UUs I believe, to begin to respond to climate change in a way that can not only leave us with more hope, but can make a difference on a grander a scale--which is what we now need.

Before diving into the presentation, however, I thought I might briefly share the 7 Principles of the Unitarian faith, as Katherine uses those in her speech as somewhat of a backbone...

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:
  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
In addition, knowing the multiple sources of Unitarianism might give you a better reference point from which to process this part of the presentation...

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:
  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

So, without further ado, I now present you with Part II of "Danger and Opportunity:  A UU Response to the Climate Crisis", written and delivered by Katherine Jesch, a Unitarian Minister for Earth.
A Faith Based Response

            The science explains what’s going on, what exactly is happening around us.  But I think it’s our faith, our belief system that helps us figure out what to do with that knowledge.  

            Albert Einstein once said “Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”  Most of you here today are already aware of the climate change problem at an intellectual level.  Maybe that’s why you came today.  But has that awareness sunk into your heart? Into your body?  

            Openness to that awareness begins with the type of reflection we started with here:  How do you respond to the feelings that arise from the mention of climate change?  I’m convinced that the need to move to this deeper awareness is precisely why we need to bring this conversation into our faith communities.  It isn’t enough to leave this business to secular organizations like, and the Citizens ClimateLobby, and the Sierra Club.  

            A different level of awareness – moral and spiritual awareness – is critical.  The necessary transformation in the way we live on this planet is not possible without it.  Our faith gives us the framework to think about the morality of the way we live.  This is about more than personal behaviors. It’s also about the social and economic structures we create to sustain our families and communities, providing justice  ---  or lack of justice, for all who live in the world.  Religions offer something beyond individualism and self-interest.  

            Our spiritual orientation shapes how we see ourselves in the world, how we relate to one another, and how we respond to the crises of our time. Our world view and moral values in turn, shape the way we participate in the social, economic, and political systems which we have helped to create. Our life-ways are embedded in those systems, defining where and how we live, what and how much we consume, and who controls distribution of benefits and costs.  

            For Unitarian Universalists, our seven principles serve as an ideal foundation for developing our unique, yet universal, perspective.  For example, our first principle calls us to honor and respect the worth and dignity of every person.  We’ve got that message when it relates to oppressed and marginalized people in our own communities, poor, people of color, gays and lesbians.  But we must also understand that so far, and in the near term, the worst impacts of climate disasters hit poor and marginalized people most seriously.  

            Sea level rise is already forcing mass migrations in the South Pacific and Bangladesh, among other coastal areas.  Native villages in Alaska are already in chaos from the melting permafrost that used to be their ground.  As agriculture is disrupted by drought and severe erosion, food scarcity will be a burden heaviest on the poor.  

            And with new awareness regarding our non-human neighbors, have you ever considered what it might mean to extend worth and dignity to every living being in creation, even to the micro-organisms in the ocean that make up the crucial base of ocean life systems?  We’re really going to have to stretch our thinking with that one.

            Our 3rd principle recognizes the importance of spiritual growth.  I know many UUs who find their spiritual path in a deep connection with nature.  We can explore the many traditions of human-Earth relationships through various spiritual practices, such as worship, study, and meditation, as well as through gardening, or hiking in the woods or on the beach.  Through these practices, we are nurtured in both our individual and communal spiritual lives.  

            Our 4th principle promotes a free and responsible search for truth and meaning, reminding us that truth unfolds only when we actively seek it – and let it in.  Our study of the science behind the changing climate certainly does involve a critical search for truth, and it calls us to a deeper reflection on what changes will be required in the way we live.  

            And finally, the 7th principle is the one that most of us think of as our environmental principle.  It reminds us that we’re part of something larger than ourselves, larger even, than just humanity.  It tells us that our religious life is not complete without acknowledging and celebrating the interconnected web of all existence, of which we are a part.  It gives us the basis for reflecting on our relationship with nature: how it nurtures and sustains us in our daily lives, and what our responsibility is for caring for it.  

            Our principles challenge us to learn to use our power and privilege in the service of liberation, not oppression.  If we take them seriously, this is no small task.  The natural response, the very human response to this challenge is to hold on to our comfortable lives, avoiding the truth of our predicament and resisting the necessary changes that would take away the privileges that make our lives worthwhile.  So of course we prefer to lull ourselves into believing that modest adjustments to the way we live are sufficient to the challenge, or that modest adjustments are all we are capable of achieving.  

            Well, I submit to you: we are capable of so much more!  Thank heavens the storms like Hurricane Sandy and the New England blizzard of 2013, didn’t bother us directly in the Northwest, at least not this year.  But there is a gathering storm of activists turning up the heat and light on the necessary changes before it’s too late.  Tell us, how is that working out, Tamara?  How much are we capable of?

And with that, I will return tomorrow, with Part III, to share some details on what's happening out there, and how that, in itself, can bring us hope...!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How do you say "Climate Crisis" in German?!

There's something about Kaya going to spend the night at her grandparents that often leaves me feeling inspired to write. Granted, I'm one of the very lucky ones in the world with family who not only lives close, but family members who are completely enamored with and passionate about playing a big role in Kaya's life. Thus, she goes there weekly, as you may have heard me reference in the past, and I get one day (and night!) to play 'woman' vs. my usual role as Mama.

This week, however, I'm lucky enough to get TWO nights (I don't think my all caps THANK YOU can come through loud enough to my wonderful in-laws across the river)--so even though it's midnight-thirty right now, I know that I not only get time to sleep in tomorrow (did I say 'lucky'?!), but I also get time on top of that to catch up on work, on gardening, on cleaning, and even some time to run alone. Thus, I'm inspired to write without the pressure to get to bed. Seems like it should be my birthday, not Grahm's...!

So, this afternoon as I was riding this emotional high from a presentation I'd just given, I had this idea to try something a little different on my blog. Generally, I do my best to make my posts here as Kaya-related as possible, though I have certainly veered towards thoughts and feelings that surround us in our bilingual journey. The presentation I gave this afternoon, however, was a bit further removed from Kaya, and specifically from our bilingual adventure. When I thought about it more, however, I realized that it has everything to do with Kaya and her future, not to mention your future (and possible present!), as well as that of your children, grandchildren, and the children of your friends. Thus, my post tonight will include the first of four parts to the presentation we gave this afternoon entitled, "Danger and Opportunity: A UU Response to the Climate Crisis".

As you may be aware, UU stands for Unitarian Universalist, and according to the Unitarian Universalist Association, is a "liberal religion that embraces theological diversity; we welcome different beliefs and affirm the worth and dignity of every person." As a fellow Unitarian, and part of the Community for Earth group, I had the opportunity to do a presentation today with with Katherine Jesch, a Minister for the Earth and the minister that I happened to randomly choose 7 years ago to marry my husband and I (before even starting to attend the UU church). As hesitant as I am to bring 'religion' into my blog (as non-religious as I tend to identify), I was really happy with not only the presentation itself--and my excitement and overall calm in giving the presentation--but with the feedback we received by the audience afterwards.

Thus, as important as this topic is to me, and as important as it is to all life forms of this planet, I share Part I of "Danger and Opportunity: A UU Response to the Climate Crisis". (By the way, before diving into this part, we led an interactive paired-share for the group, where they shared their response to the term 'climate change', and then shared some of what they heard in the large-group.)


Evidence of the Impending Disaster
As evidenced by many of your responses, the term Climate Change brings up a number of reactions. I, too, have had a variety of reactions to the information that I've learned over the past many years, and until recently, did a pretty fine job of avoiding any input (which was most!) that left me feeling helpless and overwhelmed. After finally realizing over the past few years, however, that my actions CAN and DO make a difference, I am better able to truly look with open eyes, and let reality in--without the debilitating overwhelm that I used to feel. It is in this vein that I share some evidence of the gravity of what we're facing--with the hope that you, too, will be able to find inspiration in the truth.

There are five main points that serve as evidence of severe climate change and the drastic need for us to take immediate action to turn things around: an increase in CO2, temperature and extreme weather, as well as the rise in sea level and acidification of the world's oceans.

I'll briefly touch on each of these to give you a better idea of what we’re facing.

As you may know, 350ppm is the upper limit for safe levels of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide, or CO2, and we are now at 396. While there have been clear undulations in CO2 levels over the past 800,000 years, never in the record of human history, much less in the 200,000 years of human existence, have CO2 levels been as high as they are now.

Excessive CO2 and other greenhouse gases cause the earth to warm. During the prolonged heat wave last spring, 671 heat records were broken, including the hottest March since record-keeping began back in 1895.

Hurricane Sandy and the widespread fires in Colorado and Eastern Oregon are just two examples of the extreme weather caused by warmer temperatures. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, 2011's severe weather events struck communities all over the US, breaking over 3200 monthly weather records.

The rising temperatures are also causing a rise in the global sealevel, mostly due to melting land ice from Antarctica and Greenland. According to the EPA, since 1870, global sea level has risen by about 8 inches, and over the next 100 years, is expected to rise at a greater rate than during the past 50. While this may seem negligible, the flooding of coastal areas as well as the ultimate overpopulation of cities which are currently more inland, will not be.

And lastly, while the acidification of the oceans may not seem like much of an issue, when you consider that the acid is dissolving the shells of the organisms at the bottom of the food chain, it puts it in better perspective. The acidification is actually occurring so quickly that it poses a serious threat to biodiversity and all marine life, and could destroy all our coral reefs by as early as 2050. As you can imagine, it has the potential to disrupt other ocean ecosystems, fisheries, habitats, and even entire oceanic food chains. 

Carbon Budget Story
What really matters from all of this, however, is this: There is a limit on the amount of carbon we can emit. When scientists calculate how much carbon the atmosphere can absorb before the impacts are intolerable, they estimate at the present rate of emissions, we’ll exceed that level in just 13 years. …  13 years is a very short amount of time to turn around our total lifestyle in order to minimize the risk of climate catastrophe.  My daughter will be 17 then, on the brink of her adult life. How do we turn things around on such a grand scale in such a short amount of time? 

That’s what I find myself wondering, anyway, and imagine that many of you might, as well. Assuming you’re still “here” that is. As I began to talk, I mentioned that I used to avoid any input that would leave me feeling helpless and overwhelmed. And when I consider all of the facts that I just shared with you, regarding the severity of the situation we face, I’m aware that each of you in this room similarly has your own personal reaction and way of processing, or not, the information you just heard. It’s an awareness of this response, coupled with a willingness to manage it, that is the true beginning to “tackling” this issue. So, if you would, take about 15 seconds to check in with yourself, with your body, to see how all this information is sitting? Did you check out at any one point and start thinking of something else? Do you feel a sadness in your heart or belly? See if you can become aware of the reaction without judging it, but just letting it be what it is. 

I hope you'll join me for Part II over the next few days...the power of our presentation, I believe, is in coupling the facts with gentle guidance for response, specifically focusing on the hope that is necessary to let it all in and ultimately take some action. To take in the facts and be left with despair, with no exit into hope, is debilitating, and the last thing I want for anyone to experience as a result of what I share. 
So, please, come back soon, and don't hesitate to share your comments below. Thanks!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Not all 'Denglish' in the Forest

How quickly can I peck out this post, as the minutes tick by after midnight...?!
Knowing that I'll have a whole day tomorrow, with little to no opportunity to share, has me pushing past my unofficial bedtime because this experience excites me so...

A few days ago, while "gathering data" for our school-decision process, my friend Megan (another Mother Earth School mama) was telling me about how her son knew a lot more than just the names of the plants in the forest, but how to use them, too. She relayed a story about a fern on a tree, how he had instructed her in the best foraging practices, as well as how to use it: "You don't just pull the whole plant off, Mom. You have to just take the root...and you don't just eat that, you have to scrape off the outer layer first..."

I was in awe. All this from a Kindergardener with just two years of Mother Earth School under his belt.
As I said in my post yesterday, this was one of those things that I really wanted for us, and for Kaya.

And then, it happened to me, too.
Just 6 months in, and Kaya is teaching me now, too!

Lately, I've been a bit sad, concerned that perhaps Kaya doesn't share with me much about the specifics of what happens at school because it's all in English. There are so many terms that she, not to mention I, don't know in German. I figured that, in so many ways, it's probably so much easier for her to share with Dada about her day that she would just bypass me and wait for him.

But today, she proved me wrong.
And oh how joyous it felt to be so wrong.

Licorice Fern, surrounded by moss
Walking down the dirt road, heading for home after school, Kaya points up at the tree above:
"Diese Pflanze heisst Licorice Root in Englisch, Mama." [That plant is called Licorice Root in English, Mama.]

I turned around, amazed at what I'd just experienced.
Did Rylan tell Kaya that I was dying for this experience, dying to know what she knows, what she's learning, desperately eager for my daughter to be able to identify and use the plants in our forests?!

Naturally, I was curious if she'd say more, so I waited a few. When I heard nothing, I couldn't help but inquire further:
"Benutzen wir die ganze Pflanze?" [Do we use the whole plant?]

"Nein," she responded, confidently. "Wir muessen nur die Root nehmen." [No, we musst only take the root.]

Damn. She nailed it. And then, she topped it off in the car by telling me, in a solid Denglish mix, what to do with the root: "Und wir benutzen das nicht bis wir den Moss scrapen." [And we don't use it until we scrape the moss off...].

If we hadn't already decided that this would be her place for next year (whooohoooo!), this experience certainly would have solidified it. Maybe she was holding out on me until I actually got my ass off the fence and let her really settle in...

How do people without kids ever learn these really big lessons in life?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Nana Incarnate (& the Nanaphone Revisited)

Last night, at the dinner table with Estella, Geoff and I, Kaya let us in on some of those curious questions that  children begin to develop about life, and it's unavoidable opposite:

Kaya: (directed at Geoff) Did you have a mama when you were younger?
Geoff: Yeah.

Very eager to know if she knew who it was, I busted right in with a follow-up, naturally in German. Fortunately, she's allowing this from me, lately, with no unpleasant screeches or screams.

Me: Weisst du, wer seine Mama ist? [Do you know who his mama is?]
Kaya: Nein...
Me: Grahms.

Kaya didn't say much in response, acting neither surprised nor interested. Naturally, I was very curious to know if she knew who my mom was.

Me: Weisst du, wer meine Mama war? [Do you know who my mom was?]

I really didn't expect her to know this, either, since she sees Grahms every day and hasn't seen Nana in years (which is likely why, since she has a relationship with Grahms that she never had with Nana). But, after pausing a moment, Kaya responds, huge smile forming on her lips.

Kaya: Nana...
Me: Ja, genau! [Yeah, exactly!]

After about a minute, and quite out of the blue, Kaya shifts the focus.

Kaya: Warum ist Nana gestorben? [Why did Nana die?]

I have to admit, I was quite surprised by this question. Though we've talked a bit about Kahlua's death, our dog whom we had to put down last year, death hasn't been much of a topic at all, despite the fact that Nana died nearly 3 years ago. It's not that we've avoided the topic--she defiitely knows that Nana died, and we talk about her on a very regular basis. But on the whole, Kaya hasn't been very interested in the topic. I guess it's about that time, though (she's also got a new friend in her school who has been very interested in the concept lately, too).

The exact response we gave her--something along the lines of Nana being very sick, the kind of sickness that you don't just wake up with and die from overnight, and the fact that everybody dies one day--was less meaningful to me than what she said a few minutes into the conversation, once again, a bit out of the blue. I was so taken aback by the insightfulness of the comment, as well as the delight on her face as she said this, pointing at all of us and towards herself, that I laughed aloud, falling in love with her all over again:

Kaya: Vielleicht wird es andere Leute mit unseren Namen sein, nachdem wir gestorben sind. [Maybe there will be other people with our same names after we're gone...!]

Where did this come from?! Did they talk about this in school (which I somehow doubt!)?
My mom was such a believer in reincarnation.
And I chose Kaya's initials, KL, in honor of my mom, Karen Lasnover.

While I've never been one with strong beliefs around reincarnation, this is one of many experiences that definitely leaves me thinking, once again, about my mom's passing so soon after Kaya was coming into her own in this world. Having Kaya as a part of my life, especially as she gets older, leaves me feeling so close to my mom, so connected in a way I never imagined possible.

Yesterday morning was no exception, in fact, now that I reflect on the experience we had soon after getting out of bed. I was clearly annoyed with Kensa, our dog, after letting her out, then in, then out again, attempting to get her to stop barking at the neighbors. After a few minutes of this, Kaya looks at me lovingly, and calmly and inquisitively asks me, "Mama, warum bist du so frustriert?" [Mama, why are you so frustrated?]

Here I was, feeilng so frustrated with an innocent, well-intentioned, loving beast, understandably wanting to protect her space and her family, and my 4 year old calls me out in the most compassionate way I can imagine possible.  I was floored. And so grateful.

Taking her in my arms, and into my lap on the couch, I cradled her close and thanked her. "Danke, Baby. Danke, dass du mich gefragt hast. Das ist wirklich eine gute Frage. Warum bin ich so frustriert?" [Thank you, Baby. Thank you for asking me that. That's a really good question. Why AM I so frustrated?]

It's a bit hard to explain, how meaningful this is to me, but what Kaya did for me--gently bringing the light of awareness to my actions--is what I've been working towards for a long time. Being able to be mindful of my way, and then to hold this way of being with compassion and love, is what I know to be my path to peace. And here, my four year old, my loving mom in spirit, was able to model this for me.

I couldn't be more proud.
And in awe.

The following video gives a little flavor of Nana in our life these days. Tante Lena came for a visit--one of my mom's closest friends--and asked Kaya if she still had the Nanaphone. Naturally, we had to "call" her. While it certainly won't win Best Picture, or Most Exciting Movie of the Year (nor any awards for Cinematography), it does let you in a bit to the wonders of the Nanaphone (even if Kaya tends to be more shy this time around, while she normally has full conversations with Nana on the phone 'by herself'). Enjoy! (and THANKS, Lena, for this enjoying Nana with us in that wonderful way!)