Tuesday, November 13, 2012

When Giving It Away Is Too Hard for Mommy

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 13 with all the carnival links.)

            One of the biggest surprises I've discovered in parenting is how often your own children can teach you lessons. In my case, I had agreed with the kids to have a house purging. We would clean out everything that was not being used or was not needed, and we would give it to other families who could actually make use of them.
            The irony of this, of course, is that the cleaning brought me back to something I wrote about in the last blog carnival and quite unexpectedly at that. As the girls were cleaning out their rooms, Jenevieve came to me with a folded blanket, placed it on the give away pile, and said quite seriously, "I'm ready to give this away."
            At first, I thought it was just one of the extra blankets that we kept in case the power went out, but when I unfolded it, my heart sank. It was the sister blanket that I had bought for Jenevieve and Saja back when we first brought Saja home. I had gone to Vision Bedding, uploaded pictures of my beautiful little girls, ordered the custom blanket, and given it to Jenevieve to remind her of her connection with her baby sister, Saja. Over the years and washings, the blanket had faded a little, but the pictures were just as beautiful. It still had my art work, but most importantly, it had my little girls' faces. I just couldn't imagine letting it go.
An Urge to Hold
            I shook my head when I looked at the blanket. "You can't give this away, sweetheart," I said. My fists knotted over the blanket, turning my knuckles as white as the background. "This is a keepsake."
            Jenevieve cocked her head, looking at me with that very perplexed look. "But we have lots of extra blankets, Mommy," she said. "I don't need that anymore. I'm not going to forget that Saja is my sister now."
            Dej saw my reaction. He winked at Jenevieve and patted her on the shoulder. "Looks like you're being pretty thorough," he said. "Why don't you go back in and finish going through the toy box."
            Jenevieve obeyed, skipping along. Her thick braids bobbed with her, and she left without a clue that she had so deeply upset me. Dej tried to comfort me. It was very kind, but the truth was that I felt as if a part of me was being rejected. I had done some of the artwork on this blanket, and while I still had the originals, these were my babies' faces on the blanket. They looked so precious and angelic. How could I possibly give this away?
More Surprises
            Dej and I did not discuss the matter much. We just went back about our cleaning. But somehow the blanket followed me. I kept holding it, tucking it under my chin and snuggling it under my arms. I remembered holding Jenevieve and Saja at different times swaddled in this blanket, reading them stories and wishing away the nightmares. I had never dreamed that they might decide that they had outgrown this blanket. After all, wasn't this exactly what a keepsake was supposed to be?
            By the time we were ready for dinner and sat down to a full table of vegetable soup, rye bread, and steamed apples, the girls had put together a large pile of things to give away. I had always thought that we kept things pretty pared down, considering. But even so we had a lot to give away. Jenevieve and Saja talked with great excitement, imagining what the other children would say when they gave them these things. They had already decided that they wanted to take the clothes, toys, and other items to the West Street Church. They were gathering supplies and necessities for families who had had their homes destroyed in the flooding.
            "I hope that we can give it to them in person." Saja said. She tore off a piece of rye bread and dipped it in her soup. "I want to see their faces when we give them Milka and Bernita."
            My spoon dropped on the table. Milka and Bernita were the rag dolls that I had made the girls when two Christmases ago. I had made everything. The dolls, the clothes, the shoes. This community project was taking a turn I had never expected.
            Dej intervened. "Are you sure you want to do that, girls?" he asked. "You might want those dolls back. Your mom spent a lot of time making them."
            "We're too old for dolls now," Jenevieve said. "Besides, there's little kids out there who lost all theirs. They'd like them better. Besides, it's in our rules."
            I nodded numbly. The girls had come up with their own set of rules which they planned to use to determine what to get rid of. I had never imagined that this would lead to such precious things being given away.
Letting Go
            It's hard to realize that our children can sometimes have a better grasp on perspective than we do. I know that I could have substituted out another blanket or hidden this one away, but in that moment, I knew that I was teaching my children a very valuable lesson. As for the dolls, they insisted on giving those away as well.
            By letting the blanket and dolls go, I was letting them know that they were right to value other people's needs above sentimentality. The truth was that this blanket was soft, well made, and beautiful. Its value was not merely in sentimentality, and, after all of the tragedy and hardship that has beset this country, another mother could use this blanket for her children. What good is sentimentality when there is such suffering and pain?
            Now I'm not going to tell you that I wasn't teary eyed when we went down to the church. The kids were in the back of the car, and the baby was in the sling. I'm just glad that he was there, because then I had something to hold onto. The fact was that I actually felt very silly. I was a grown woman, and my response made no sense.
            But when we reached the church, the pastor and some of the volunteers were there with some of the families. The girls hopped out of the van, carrying baskets of their used toys and goods. They presented them to the pastor, broad smiles on their little faces. And my little boy followed along dragging one of his trucks. (He had tried to make his mommy feel better by telling me that he would never give away the stuffed lion I made him.)
            The kids presented the toys and clothes. They then volunteered us to help sort and organize the rest of the incoming supplies. Since Dej was working and I had all of the kids, we did stick around to help out. The supplies kept coming in, and the families in need also began to come as well.
            Everything was given away by the end of the afternoon. A mother with two toddler girls took Milka and Bernita, and another mother with a newborn took the sister blanket. I am glad that we stayed to volunteer. As hard as it was, it helped to realize that the gifts would serve a greater purpose in their new homes. And ultimately, I am thankful that my daughters understand that people are more important than things.
  • Acts of Service: The Great Neighborhood Clean Up — Sarah at Firmly Planted shares how her daughter's irritation with litter led to eekly cleanups.
  • Running for Charity — Find out how Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction uses her love of running and a great new app to help feed the hungry.
  • 50 Family Friendly Community Service Project Ideas — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares a list of 50 family-friendly community service project ideas that are easy to incorporate to your daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal rhythmn.
  • Volunteering with a Child — Volunteer work does not need to be put on hold while we raise our children. Jenn of Monkey Butt Junction discusses some creative options for volunteering with a child at Natural Parents Network.
  • Family Service Project: Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina — Erika at Cinco de Mommy volunteers with her children at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, where 29% of the recipients are children.
  • Family Service Learning: Advent Calendar — Lyndsay at ourfeminist{play}school offers her family's approach to some holiday-related community service by sharing their community focused Advent Calendar. She includes so tips and suggestions for making your own in time for this year's holidays.
  • How to make street crossing flags as a family service project — Lauren at Hobo Mama offers a tutorial for an easy and relatively kid-friendly project that will engage young pedestrians.
  • Pieces of the Puzzle — Because of an experience Laura from Pug in the Kitchen had as a child, she's excited to show her children how they can reach out to others and be a blessing.
  • Appalachian Bear Rescue — Erica at ChildOrganics shares how saving pennies, acorns and hickory nuts go a long way in helping rescue orphaned and injured black bears.
  • Volunteering to Burnout and Back — Jorje of Momma Jorje has volunteered to the point of burnout and back again... but how to involve little ones in giving back?
  • How to Help Your Kids Develop Compassion through Service Projects — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares service projects her family has done along with links to lots of resources for service projects you can do with your children.
  • Involving Young Children in Service — Leanna at All Done Monkey, the mother of a toddler, reflects on how to make service a joyful experience for young children.
  • A Letter to My Mama — Dionna at Code Name: Mama has dedicated her life to service, just like her own mama. Today Dionna is thanking her mother for so richly blessing her.
  • 5 Ways to Serve Others When You Have Small Children — It can be tough to volunteer with young children. Jennifer at Our Muddy Boots shares how her family looks for opportunities to serve in every day life.
  • When Giving It Away Is Too Hard for Mommy — Jade at Looking Through Jade Glass But Dimly lets her children choose the charity for the family but struggles when her children's generosity extends to giving away treasured keepsakes.
  • Community Service Through Everyday Compassion — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children calls us to Community Service Through Everyday Compassion; sometimes it is the small things we can do everyday that make the greater impacts.
  • School Bags and Glad RagsAlt Family are trying to spread a little love this Christmas time by involving the kids in a bit of charity giving.
  • Children in (Volunteering) Service — Luschka at Diary of a First Child reminisces on her own experiences of volunteering as a child, reflects on what she thinks volunteering teaches children and how she hopes voluntary service will impact on her own children.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Preparing for Our Community Service Project as a Family

            In anticipation of the upcoming Natural Parenting Blog Carnival, Dej and I decided to do a community service project with our children. The four little imps have proven quite impish as usual, but they are determined and eager to help, much to my delight.  
            While my youngest is still in a baby sling, we decided that we were going to get involved as a family and spread the joy and gratitude that we have. Since Jenevieve and Saja are both old enough to have input, and Corrim can say a few words of opinion, Dej and I decided to let them pick out what they would do.
            The girls decided and Corrim later agreed to purge the house of everything that we don't need and then give it to the families affected by the storms and fires. They set their own rules for this, which have really surprised me by their maturity. Here they are:
1)      If we have not played with it or worn it in six months and it isn't seasonal, we give it away.
2)      If we have more than one of it and don't need an extra, we give it away.
3)      If we only kind of like it and we don't need it, we give it away.
4)      If it takes up a lot of space and we only use it a little, then we give it away.
I suspect that the girls are hoping to get rid of the monstrosity of a folding chair that is in their play room. Dej and I have had that chair, and it became the official nursing chair after Jenevieve was first born.
So for the past week, we have been cleaning and purging, and it has been a very insightful time for all of us.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Eggs and Honey Soon to Come

            Something wonderful is about to happen! Or rather, it will be happening in a few months. Dej and I have decided that come spring, we will start raising our own colony of bees!
            Beekeeping has been a long repressed hobby of mine. My grandfather used to keep a large colony of bees beside his apple orchard and vineyard. They always supplied the family with delicious fresh honey and honeycomb, and we made sure to care for them. Combining the fresh honey in tea helped soothe many a vicious sore throat.
            I remember playing outside near the beehives. The bees never stung me. Not the honeybees at least. My sister and I never had a problem or a fear of them. Some of my friends have expressed concerns about this decision. They say that the children will be stung or harmed. But I respectfully disagree.
            Nature cannot be controlled. It cannot be shut down. And I don’t want to be one of those mothers who tries to child proof nature. I got my fair share of scrapes and bruises, and they did not harm me significantly. Now this does not mean that I will let my children frolic with the wolves that have been sighted up north or that I will send them out to play in the mountains with pork chops wrapped around their necks. But at the same time, this does not mean that I should keep my children away from all insects and other natural parts of the world.
            The benefits of raw honey are numerous and incredible. My own father, horrifically allergic to bees, has found a strong reversal of his symptoms as he has consumed raw honey.
            So, after a great deal of research, prayer, and consideration, Dej and I have decided to go ahead and start raising our own. Some details still have yet to be established. But I am delighted and can hardly wait.
            We will also be raising our own chickens soon. A friend of mine will have some chicks ready for us very soon, and we will soon have our own fresh eggs to boot. Jenevieve and Saja are particularly delighted with this idea, and I can’t blame them. Soon our little homestead will be flowing with eggs and honey!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Making Ethical Choices Even When It’s Not Cheap

Our Family Standards
            When the economy turned south, my family’s meager budget suddenly seemed a lot smaller. I had already cut most of the meat from our diet, and we developed an indoor garden to help us grow vegetables year round.
            Even before money was tight, we always grew our own vegetables, prepared, and froze or dried them to get us through the winter. We used cloth diapers and had our own well. With the fireplace in our kitchen and living room, we heat the house with wood during the cold months, and in the spring, we tend the trees on our back acreage to make sure that we are not overtapping our supply. Whatever can be recycled, we do. In fact, we even just recently learned how to make sandals out of recycled tires. Buying natural and fresh is not an option, and with this constant work, it has not been that much more expensive. 

Beginning a Business
            But things started to change once I started my own business. I’m an artist. I specialize in conceptual paintings and images that seek to capture the soul and heart of a person or a scene rather than what is just there. My business, though small, is in sketching pictures and combining photos to make gorgeous custom blankets. For the actual printing, I use Vision Bedding. I chose them because they complete their entire business within the United States, and the quality is excellent. Working with all American businesses and buying organic and American is very important to my husband and me.
            I wish I could say though that our conviction did not waver. But as prices continued to rise and I started finding it more difficult to earn with my blankets, I started looking for places that I could cut costs with my business. Was there a way that we could cut the costs? 

Looking to Cut Costs
            At first, I looked at printing stores aside from Vision Bedding. But, as I clicked through each one, I found either ethical or financial reasons not to change. My oldest daughter came to place financial accountant with me. As she sat next to me at the kitchen table, poring over the printed and handwritten receipts, she tilted her head. “It’s not the bedding store, Mommy,” she said. “It’s the paints. You can get these at Wal-Mart for $2.”
            Off the top of my head, I didn’t remember how much I spent on paints. But I knew she was right. You see, my work is highly personal. I don’t just pick up the phone, gather the pictures, and arrange them on the quilt template like a novice scrapbooker. When I receive an order, I sit down with my customer, and I talk in depth. I learn about the person the blanket is for. I come to understand who they are. We are all more than faces. We are souls and minds with memories, hopes, and dreams, concepts which make us far more than the mere sum of our parts. My goal is to reveal a little bit of the soul with each blanket I design.
            With that in mind, I always sketch out the initial portraits by hand before I scan them in along with the photographs. Sometimes I paint with watercolors. Other times I sketch with charcoals. A nine image quilt easily has six different pictures plus drafts. Often times, I include hand drawn and painted pictures with the blanket as a thank you to my customers. And for all this work, I use homemade paints and charcoals.

The Watercolor Lady
            No, I don’t make them. I buy them from the Watercolor Lady, a sweet woman who visits her customers in person, bringing their orders in her little black basket. She rides a green bicycle with the basket mounted on the front and a turquoise and amethyst paisley cloth over the top. When the weather turns cold like it is now, she wears a large purple scarf over her head and a long wool coat, looking for all the world like a babushka. Compared to pens, pencils, and paints made in China or Mexico, her prices are extremely high.
            The Watercolor Lady makes her own dyes for her paints. She oversees every step of the process. And she relies on this side business of hers to supplement her own income. Whenever she comes to the house, I pick up an order of two to five different paint colors and perhaps a bit of charcoal. True, sometimes I don’t just buy what I need. I like to think of it as a luxury.
            But now at that kitchen table, the table where we seem to have so many conversations, my little Jenevieve and I were talking about perhaps changing our paint source. Source makes it sound far more impersonal. It’s all business. Not a big deal. But when you see the Watercolor Lady, you suddenly realize that nothing is just business.
            “Why do you think we should cut the paints?” I asked Jenevieve.
            “It would save us money.”
            “Is saving money the most important thing?” I asked.
            “No…” Jenevieve answered slowly, studying my face as if she was not sure which one was the right answer. “But it is a good thing.”
            That was true. I smiled and picked up the receipt. The Watercolor Lady always did calligraphic letters for her receipts, using her own ink and quill. “It’s good sometimes, but not if you give up something else you value.” 

Not Worth the Money
            When we choose to go into business, we have to make many decisions. A side or a hobby business is no different. I am raising my children to understand that we bear a certain responsibility for the money that we spend and where it goes. In some cases, we may not have a choice but to buy something manufactured overseas
            I could certainly save money by not purchasing my art supplies from the Watercolor Lady. But I choose to give my business to her. We are interconnected. Purchasing handmade or homemade goods does not come with the cheapness of mass manufactured, but it does come with connections. A human connection. When I buy from her, I am contributing to the economy on a level where I can actually make a difference and see it.  
            And I guess in a way, that I am treating the Watercolor Lady as I hope my customers will treat me. Any of them could go and buy a soft blanket from Singapore at half the cost. But I offer something in addition to the physical product.
            My father always used to tell me that our money shows us what our values are. It’s a small way to live by example. So I am still buying paints from the Watercolor Lady. It’s important, even in times of economic crisis, to not stop pursuing those things that matter. The bottom line and overall cost are important factors to consider, but it’s not worth it if we give up something far more valuable.