Moving: “Oh? Upsizing?” Nope!

During the process of selling our house and buying a new one, I read a lot about downsizing. Apparently, it’s not just for retirees anymore. There is a real trend happening where young families are trading in large homes for smaller ones or choosing to buy smaller homes from the start, many times located in the heard of the city.

I was finally able to put a name to this thing we were doing! Admittedly, it felt a little foolish to sell our roomy (although aged) home and exchange it for something  smaller in square footage with a bare patch of earth on the side of the house. Quite a change from high ceilings, a family room, living room, formal dining room and a large yard complete with fruit trees and berry bushes.

When we took a look at the first house we bought, there was so much to love about it! I found myself daydreaming about gardening with my kids. But in the almost four years that we’d lived there, we outgrew the space.

Not physically, but psychologically and emotionally.

The Yard

Maintaining a yard is a pain. In money or time. Neither DH, nor myself, want to spend multiple weekends weeding or using extra money to pay for upkeep. And the gardening? It wasn’t happening. Not because I was juggling a new baby and toddler at the time, and I just hadn’t got to it. It wasn’t happening because it is not my thing. I like spending time with my kids, my partner, reading, going out to places, and especially writing. Writing. And really, what makes me think gardening with my sons would involve anything other than seeds and dirt being thrown everywhere? I strongly suspect it’s not their thing either.

And there’s living in the Pacific Northwest, where 8-9 months out of the year, it’s wet or damp out. Sure, hiking on one of Oregon’s many beautiful trails in a misty drizzle is cool. Sitting in my backyard in a misty drizzle is not. I’ll just go in the house and brew some coffee, thanks.

Wasted space

Do you know what we did with the “formal” dining room? Turned it into a playroom and used the smaller eat-in near the kitchen for meals. My DH intuited before I did that a dining table in there is not a very good use of space for us.

And the living room. No one hardly ever went in there. It’s furnished, but the most use it gets is when we change things around a bit to accommodate a sleeping space for my visiting mom. And upstairs, a fourth bedroom was not being used (again, except for when my brother was here visiting) because my youngest still co-sleeps with DH and I. My sons are also quite close. When my littlest guy finally exits the big bed, they will probably want to share a room.

In retrospect, I realize how way too open and impersonal our first house was. Now granted, a interior design genius could have done wonders. I’m okay decorating, but not that good. But I think our new home fits our lifestyle much better. It’s smaller, but it’s perfectly cozy for our tastes.

Homeschooling: ENTP/ENFP learning style

I’ve started researching learning styles. Our #1 son is doing great with school, but I think there is always room to improve the process.

Most children in the early elementary school years love being active and have a hard time sitting still. This isn’t necessarily along biological gender lines, but boys tend to be more prone to the wiggles. This is my experience with our #1 son. And I don’t think him being a boy has much to do with it, but rather, his personality type. People have different opinions on the reliability of Myers-Briggs Personality Type, but the research behind it is solid. And if understood correctly, it’s a tool; a guide for explaining behavior, not so much predicting it. Also, each letter of a type is on a continuum. That means two people who have the same type, will still be very different from one another.

From what we can tell, we think that our #1 son is either a ENTP or an ENFP.

From the Myers and Briggs Foundation, ENFP adults are described as:

Warmly enthusiastic and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency.

ENTP adults are described as:

Quick, ingenious, stimulating, alert, and outspoken. Resourceful in solving new and challenging problems. Adept at generating conceptual possibilities and then analyzing them strategically. Good at reading other people. Bored by routine, will seldom do the same thing the same way, apt to turn to one new interest after another.

 

But what is life like for these personality types as children? According to the latest research, some letters show up fairly quickly and are easy to spot (such as Extroversion and Introversion) by the time your child is toddler age. For the other letters, it can take years. The above types as children are referred to ENP’s. Kidzmet has an excellent description of the ENP child and it very much describes my #1 son well. Here is another place that describes the learning style of an ENP. That really hit home; I recognized some of the challenges we have during school. He needs an incredible amount of stimulation and gets bored easy, any little thing will distract him and our nickname for him is The Negotiator. Our #1 will not take a simple no for an answer, and your explanation has to make sense to him. And when our final answer is “no” on something, we’ve found that we have to very clear about it. As the page with learning styles states, “there can be no room for alternative interpretation.”

Since we homeschool, I think’s very important to create the best environment in which he (and his younger brother eventually) can learn and I can facilitate that learning well. I’m an ISFP and knowing what his type probably is explains so much. Especially the exhaustion! But part of living life well on this planet, is learning to get along with people that are different from you.

Adult privilege

Remember those memes that were going around (and still probably are) of all these rules dad had for dating his daughter? It rubbed me the wrong way because it clearly expressed archaic, unhealthy ways on how to respond when your daughter inevitably starts dating. I recently saw another one that showed a wonderful alternative, here.

Not only do both parents and partners have no say on what a woman does with her body, but this is the case for all young people, including men. There is definitely plenty of sexism in the idea that dad has some kind of co-CEO role in deciding who is good enough to date his daughter, but what is also missing is the larger role adult privilege has in this mindset as well.

People are so quick to tell other people to check their privilege regarding race, sex, or sexual orientation, but rarely will you see someone check their own adult privilege or encourage someone to do the same. I doubt most people even believe this exists. The idea that your dad has a say in who you date or marry is very demeaning to women. But it’s also equally demeaning to young people in general. No one should have to jump through your arbitrary, subjective hoops to be worthy to date your child. And there should be enough trust in your child that they can choose someone who will respect them on their own terms, not yours.

Ok, no easy feat, I know. But it’s certainly a great parenting goal to aspire to. My kids are not teens yet, so check on how stressed my DH and I will be in 10 years!

Writing: Finding your own story

Yesterday, I read this post from Brain Pickings titled, “Good Writing vs. Talented Writing.” It discusses what literary critic Samuel Delany has to say about the craft in his book, About Writing: Seven Essays, Five Letters and Four Interviews. It really resonated with me, this part in particular:

Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the readers mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops at clarity and logic, doesn’t.”

I have a story in my brain that I started writing many years ago. I had a lot of great starts, then I’d hit a creative wall. Looking back, I think that I had no idea what I wanted to say or what issues I wanted to explore. A story about an interracial couple. Okay, what about them? Even ten years ago, I intuitively knew it needed to be about much more than their family/friends/co-workers don’t like the relationship. Outrageous plot-twists and secret-keeping sounded good at first, but once it got onto paper, it didn’t feel right for this story.

Another issue I struggled with was character development. Every writer does, but the main reason for my struggles were this: as a Christian at the time, I thought I had to weave a gospel message into the story. As a result, my characters were flat and boring. They also lacked clear, realistic motivations. I was attempting to wrench in a religious message at the expense of creating relatable, complex characters. And the final message of salvation, even then, felt incomplete and empty. What did I really want to communicate to my reader? Did I want to lecture them and manipulate their feelings or just present an experience and let them create their own meaning? Did I want to tell my own story, or a story I think I should be telling? Ultimately, self-censorship will never produce a good story.

Now, after maturing a bit, having different life experiences and leaving religion behind, I feel like I’ve grown as a person and can write from a more authentic place. Authentic for me, to be clear. This will be different for everyone. And shrugging off the shackles of religion is by no means the only way to grow as a person. But religion can indeed be a hinderance to personal growth (particularly the fundamentalist kind).

Homeschool: Handwriting update

I think that our decision to start cursive was a good one. So far, #1 son likes it and doesn’t have any difficulty learning the strokes. We’re using Kumon My Book of Cursive Writing Letters.

He still does some printing in Explode The Code (ETC) workbook; interestingly, his printing has improved as well. Although I suspect, it is more that his desire to try to print the best he can has improved. Why? I don’t really know, but I can speculate.

Maybe he likes the pace we go at now better than before and is more relaxed? Back in September, he was very resistant to handwriting. ECT has a few pages in each lesson where you have to write quite a bit and this is where he had little patience. We have since slowed down the pace of completing the ETC pages. There are nine pages in total and I originally tried to encourage him to complete all of them in one day. He wasn’t having that. I slowly realized that, even though he did not problems with the material, requiring a 5 year old to sit still and complete all those pages was an inappropriate expectation (it’s first grade work and I think expecting a 6 year old to sit still for that is a probably a bit much too). So now, we do the first five on the same day the lesson is introduced. We complete the remaining four by the end of the week. I don’t think the few cursive lessons he’s had has anything to do with his improvement in printing because we haven’t been doing it that long.

Most likely, his improvement is probably just increased maturity. It doesn’t seem like it, but there is a big difference between 5 years and 5.5 years.

We’re only a few pages into the Kumon book, but I will do another update in a few weeks!

Homeschooling Kindergarten: Winter/Spring

We made a few changes to our curriculum.

1. Handwriting. After going back and forth between considering print vs. cursive (I wrote a post on it here), we decided to teach cursive first. #1 son doesn’t particularly enjoy printing; at least he doesn’t enjoy having to write such straight lines. I think cursive will be more fun for him to learn, since it’s almost like drawing in some ways.

2. Reading/Phonics. We’re still doing Explode the Code, but have decided to do the lessons at a slower pace to account for #1 son’s impatience with writing. ETC is very writing intensive, so we’ll see if spreading it out helps. He loves reading, however, so we’ve added Hooked on Phonics to reenforce that. We did the first lesson today and he liked it.

Now I’m Reading is still a hit. The HOP books are similar, but I think the stories in NIR are written much better. Doing both is fine. I don’t think there can be too many ways to help with reading, as long as the child isn’t struggling or dislikes something.

3. Social Studies. These aren’t lessons, per se, but just reading books together. We bought a book series by Stuart J. Murphy called I See I Learn. The stories are based on four areas children are developing in: emotional, social, health/safety and cognitive. So far, we’ve read Percy Gets Upset and Freda Stops a Bully. He likes the stories, so for homeschooling, we’re going to both read and talk about what happens in the book.

4. Math. Still on Singapore Math and he has done well. Still, this is the hardest subject for me mostly because I constantly worry I’m not teaching it well. I think a confidence in math is super important, especially if a person ever wants a career in the hard sciences or technology. Basically, I don’t want the I’m-not-good-at-math virus to damage any future interest in the fields above.

Also. I am not sure how useful memorizing math facts is. I read this article on the matter. It seems to me mastering the concepts (with a good deal of practice, of course) is a better foundation for doing well in the higher mathematics (algebra, etc.). So, eventually mastering the concept of 10’s helps you do math better in your head, vs. memorizing addition facts.

I don’t know. Will be chewing on this for a bit.

Lastly, #1 son is taking a drama class at Oregon Children’s Theater. I think it’s about 6 or 7 weeks. I think he’ll enjoy it!

Happy New Year!

As always with this time of year there is the positive anticipation towards new opportunities and new goals, mixed with quite a bit of oh-now-back-to-the-grindstone-ugh feeling. I think it’s all normal. Aim high, and you’ll get some things accomplished.

We’re starting our last leg of Kindergarten. This semester will be twice as a long with Spring Break wedged in between. My next post will be a review of fall semester (#1 son did well!) and the tweaks we made for winter/spring. We officially start school tomorrow, but are taking it very slow since it’s a two-day week and our break was long.

Regarding my regular blog posts, it will be the same as usual; a mix of whatever the heck is on my mind. Hair, religion, writing, atheism, race, mixed families, homeschooling, pet peeves/rants about movies and shows. Woot!

Happy New Year and hope everyone has a great week!

Movie Review: Man of Steel

My DH and I went to see Man of Steel for one of our very few date nights back in June while we had family in town to babysit. I thought the movie was awesome. And now I can address some issues people have with the ending and the general tone of the movie. I’m sure everyone that has wanted to see it has seen it by now, but still: there are SPOILERS in this post!

Great start for a reboot

Culturally, we’ve been living off of the Christopher Reeve incarnation of Superman for over 30 years. The first Superman was, in my opinion, the first serious attempt to tackle the superhero genre. The material was taken seriously. Superman II was even better. Yes, there was some camp, but not too much.

Then, Superman III and IV happened and…*tears, ugly crying*

Then, Superman Returns happened and…*cursing, throwing chairs, Hulk Out*

I think the mistake Bryan Singer made (in addition to ditching the X-Men franchise HE started, to horrid results, but I digress) was riding on the coattails of Reeve’s version of the character. Perhaps he was banking on the nostalgia so many people have for it. But it was a failure. If I want to watch Reeve as Superman, I can just watch the original, not something pretending to be the original.

So enter Man of Steel. I think it was a great start to a new franchise. In my opinion, complaints about it being darker are unjustified because they are based, in part, on too much comparison to Superman I & II. In Man of Steel, Clark’s internal conflict was illustrated well and, I might add, more realistically. In the first Superman movie from 1978, Clark comes out of this 12 year hibernation ready to roll and fight for “truth, justice and the American Way.” Cavill’s version of Clark made it a little more clear that the character had to make a choice on what path he was going to take for his life and that it was not a particularly easy process.

That ending

Major spoilers ahead, so if you’ve somehow wandered here, LEAVE. Like in Superman II, Zod dies in the end; only this time it is from Superman snapping his neck. Some people think that killing someone goes against Superman’s established morals or ethics or something. I disagree.

1. Superman kills Zod in Superman II, as well. In fact, an argument can be made that he did this in somewhat of a cowardly fashion. He tricked Zod (which is fine) into getting his powers taken away. Then he pushes him off a cliff inside the Fortress of Solitude. Um, okay? Zod and his crew were as weak as a human at that point, why not take him to jail to face this justice you fight for?

2. In Man of Steel, however, it was clear that Zod was going to continue to go on a rampage. But that’s not completely why I think Superman made the correct decision to kill him. Superman had gotten the upper hand with Zod while inside a building with bystanders. Zod decides he going burn up a group of adults and children with his newly controlled heat vision. Superman asked him repeatedly to stop. He did not. After all that happened up to that point, only a fool would have taken a chance on those people’s lives, to see if Zod would suddenly not be homicidal, just that one time.

I think he made a good call that in no way diminishes his ethics. In that situation, killing Zod was the right thing to do, not just to save those people’s lives, but to stop the madness that was sure to continue unabated. Also, he clearly did not want to do it. I imagine that he was conflicted on not only killing another person, but the last surviving person of his “race” besides himself (that he knew of).

That’s my take.

Monologue or Dialogue?

Discussions are two-way, usually. Debates are between two people that state their point of view and there is little attempt to understand the other side. The goal is to best them, verbally. Dialogues, on the other hand, are different. There is still the exchange of viewpoints, that there may be intense disagreement on, but there is more emotional intelligence involved.

There was an ongoing discussion between a Christian family member and I about my changed religious views. My goal was not to convince them to change their minds, but I thought it might be helpful for them to hear about my experience in order to better understand why I left Christianity. Hearing or reading about the experience of atheists you do not know is one thing. But hearing about that experience from someone close to you, is another.

However, the discussion isn’t going anywhere.

We both accept that the other person isn’t going agree with some of the statements we make. That’s good. But I can’t seem to break through the assumptions on their part that I am in “rebellion against God”. They also seem to be mostly interested in a monologue-type conversation (which isn’t a conversation at all): they say what they want, with little to no response from me. Unless my response is “You’re totally right” and I re-dedicate my life to Christ. There is also little understanding that their point of view about God and Christianity, was exactly my own point of view when I was a Christian. Hence, I am quite intimate from where they are coming from, but they seem to think I do not understand at all (even after I expressed that I did).

So on that note, I will more than likely drop the conversation. To be fair, I think they want to have a discussion…or think they should want to have one (you know, defending the faith and all), but it’s too much work. Responding to theological questions, many of which don’t have a clear answer, is time consuming. Frustration on their part sets in, there is lots of talk about their faith being strong and they wonder what the point of the discussion is. Perhaps I have a need or an agenda and not quite sure about this atheism thing, hmm?

I think discussions are always worthy. But not when empathy and compassion for people is not present. And when talking with some religious people, that is how it goes. There is more concern for the feelings of a invisible entity you cannot see, hear or feel, than for the person standing right in front of you.

Thoughts on ritual and mythology

I’ve been having a  discussion with a Christian family member about my atheism and trying to give them a clearer picture of what led me away from Christianity in particular, and then away from religion in general.

A lot of topics came up from this discussion and I plan to blog about a few of them that I have extended thoughts on. The first is the role of ritual in religion.

Relationship vs. religion

One common explanation from Christians about why their faith stands out is that Christianity is not about religion. It’s about a “relationship” with Christ. I used to think that made sense. But now, looking back, I think it’s a way to make your brand of Christianity stand out from other religions or denominations. It’s also a tacit acknowledgement that something is “off” with the rituals, rules and rigidness of traditional Christianity. This blog post from 3-D Christianity talks a little about that. In it, the writer points out that this viewpoint creates a false dichotomy that is made to point a judgmental finger at other denominations (particularly Catholics).

But what is most interesting, is an essay the 3-D Christianity blogger cites that talks about what that writer, John Suk, believes are the secular roots of the “relationship with Christ” viewpoint (read that essay here). He is very understanding on why people talk this way, but asserts that there is no Biblical basis for the idea of a “personal relationship” with Christ and that the phrasing actually causes confusion with both believers (who may feel they are not having as authentic an experience as their peers and suffer anguish over it) and non-believers (who won’t find any difference between this “relationship” with Jesus and spirit channeling) alike. Ironically, he blames “the pervasive influence of the language of secularity” on the metaphors comparing Jesus/God to a friend, parent or lover.

However, he says what causes the creation of these metaphors are the reality of feeling the absence of God and realizing, if just briefly, that the experience is not at all like when you spend time with a person you can see, touch, hear and feel. He suggests not ignoring that reality, but confronting it by seeing oneself as part of a larger whole and not focusing on the “personal” aspect. I am paraphrasing here, but be sure to read his essay to get the full picture of his points.

Myths and ritual

I think it’s a true observation that Catholicism is very heavy on ritual and rules, but that is hardly something that is  indicative of Catholics. All religions have had and still have certain ways in which they choose to worship and express themselves, largely based on tradition. However, it is a tradition that is very, very old, and often from a culture that is no longer with us or that has changed drastically. So is ritual and myth empty? I think the answer is both yes and no. Rituals, stories, myths and traditions start to feel inauthentic after a while when (after the emotional high has ceased) those things are not relevant to your life or culture. So trying to adhere to rules and norms created by people that lived many thousands of years ago is, to say the least, awkward.

James Campbell talks a lot about the role of myths, rituals and traditions. In this interview, he says “mythology is a validation of experience.” He offers the Jesus story as an example: he was crucified, buried for three days, rose from the dead and then rose back to heaven. Campbell points out:

“[We] know that going at the speed of light they would not be out of the galaxy yet. And you know what it means for a physical body to go up into the stratosphere.”

Of this, he says that image does not fit the contemporary mind, because of what we now know about the universe, saying:

You’ve got to translate these things into contemporary life and experience. Mythology is a validation of experience, giving it its spiritual or psychological dimension. And if you have a lot of things that you can’t correlate with contemporary nature, you can’t handle it.”

Campbell suggests “mythologizing” what we know today scientifically, so we can “validate our experience”. Part of the problem, as he saw it, are that humans need new myths. They need to be able to relate to a tradition or story. The superheroes of comic books and cult phenomenons like Star Trek might seem trite, but they are no different than the stories about Zeus or Poseidon. What is different, is that we can relate much better to the adventures of Captain Kirk or the X-Men, than we can to some ancient Greek (or Hebrew) god. These contemporary stories reflect our knowledge of the universe and what we can imagine being possible with space travel and natural explanations for extraordinary abilities (e.g., a genetic mutation).

So, I think stories, myths and rituals are good for us. The challenge, is taking what is useful and educational, without a belief in the stories being literally true, especially where there is every indication that it is not. Also, we need to resist the urge to go overboard in systemizing beliefs.