What is true for us

Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten

My introduction to mindfulness meditation came through the mail.  I opened a package from the Library Journal offices in New York to find my latest review assignment: Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten.  I was only vaguely familiar with meditation, and the word “mindfulness” was new to me.  This was my perfect introduction to these ideas because it was very secular and scientific, which helped me to have an open mind. It was nearly two years ago that I reviewed Mindful Motherhood, and I have yet to really embrace a meditation practice, though I have found the principle of mindfulness–the definition repeated throughout the book is “awareness of the moment without judging it as good or bad”–to be extremely helpful.

This weekend my family went to an open house at Moe Body Works to support a friend who is a yoga and meditation teacher there.  In addition to snacks and tea, the open house featured several demonstrations of some of the services offered at Moe Body Works.  We didn’t get there early enough for the intro to Qigong, but the Acro-Yoga demo was very, very cool.  As one of the yoga teachers was “flying” upside-down, Ladybug whispered to me, “This is cool.”

Later, the meditation primer was probably less “cool” to her, but we really enjoyed it.  First we experienced two minutes of silence.  The time went fast, and Ladybug was mostly quiet during it, which helped us have confidence that she could handle being there with us during the primer.  Next we spent five minutes in silent meditation.  This was significantly more challenging.  Ladybug spent about a minute sitting quietly in position then she built a pattern with the orange sitting pillows that weren’t being used.  It was a long five minutes, but I’m really glad we all experienced it.  For one thing, my partner and I have a renewed sense of wanting to make a meditation practice part of our lives.  For another, I liked that Ladybug was there to see us modeling meditation for her and even to participate as she was able.

It reminded me of the Montessori “Silence Game,” which challenges children to stay quiet until their names are called as a way of teaching self discipline and awareness to children ages 2 to 6. How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way says, “At first, younger children may not be able to remain still and silent for more than 30 seconds, but gradually they will develop the ability to relax, listen, and appreciate the silence.”  I think this will be a good place for us to start.

The Mindful Child by Susan K. Greenland

When we got home, I picked Susan K. Greenland’s The Mindful Child off my shelf.  I’d read it some months ago but I hadn’t tried any of the activities/meditations with Ladybug,.  The book encourages parents to start using the principles of mindfulness even with preschoolers to help them “connect to themselves (who do I feel? think? see?) to others (what do they feel? think? see?), and maybe to something greater than themselves.”  Sounds like it’s right in line with the principles of sensory awareness in Montessori education.  Actually, several of the activities in The Mindful Child work as variations of Montessori activities (sorting dried beans with a blindfold, for example).  What I really like about Greenland’s book, though, is the flexibility.  She writes, “practice what is true for you.”  That may include art or movement or music.  And that’s okay.  Just keep practicing.  Sounds like something a mom would say.

The Free Art Effect

If you need a reminder of what art can do, check out Free Arts Minnesota.  In the past year, we have run into Free Arts Minnesota as Rock the Cradle 2010 and at the FLOW Arts Festival in North Minneapolis, and each time, I have been reminded of how much I love their mission.  Here’s a bit from the web site:

“We at Free Arts know that artistic expression is a successful way to externalize emotions and gain self confidence. Through dance, drama, writing, music, painting, sculpting, photography and other avenues of creativity, Free Arts volunteers work to increase children’s self-esteem and build character by unlocking the imagination. Children and families participating in Free Arts programs learn ways to channel emotion, release anger and express themselves safely. Building artistic skills gives children a positive sense of their own abilities.”

I have seen this again and again in the teen fiction I read.  The best example I can think of is Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, in which a young teen who was raped finds her voice through art.  I recently read another great example of the “free art effect,” as I am calling it: I am J by Cris Beam.  J, who used to be Jeni, is attempting to come out to his parents and best friend as transgender.  He uses photography both as a creative outlet and also as a way to communicate.  In a subplot about J’s best friend, Melissa, we watch Melissa follow J’s example.  She uses dance to speak about self mutilation, which results in her getting help.  These are the stories I want to hear about the kids in our communities.
Support Free Arts Minnesota to make these stories happen.

Minnesota Mamas

In addition to local food and local music, I also enjoy local bloggers, particularly other mama-bloggers.  Here are a few I enjoy:

  • Lil Fish Studios – Okay, she isn’t local to the Twin Cities, but a bit north still counts to me.  I  first found this blog through the Etsy shop, which I adore.  Nature crafts out in nature.  Love it.
  • Travels With Children – This travel blog is based in Minnesota, and it is a great source for practical info about MN destinations.
  • Mindful Momma – This is the blog of the author of Practically Green, which is a great book for those who want to be as green as possible without being extremists about it.

If you have any MN Mama blogs, you think I should be reading, please let me know! :)

Our Creative Family

I’ve been meaning to read Amanda Blake Soule‘s The Creative Family

The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule

for some time, and I am so glad I finally put it on the top of my to-read list. Her story is almost the opposite of mine. She writes of how becoming pregnant with her first child sparked her to start knitting, and that was just the beginning of her embracing the creative life. For me, being pregnant largely stopped my flow of creatively. I went from writing every day to struggling to put anything into words outside of what I wrote for work. My blog fizzled, and my journal stayed blank. In the three years since, I have been slowly emerging from my writer’s block, and it has taken intentional effort to do so. I’m quite pleased to be able to say that I am currently working on a zine about my writing into motherhood.

It is so important to me that my daughter grow up with art and creativity in her life, and The Creative Family has so many great ideas for creating a space for ‘connection, mindfulness, and intent’ in even the youngest memebrs of the family (though, honestly, most of the suggestions are probably best for 4-6 year olds). Here are some of the things that we have done in our family to be open to art and creativity:

  • We regularly go to the family days at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Insitute of Arts. In addition to being free (which is my favorite price), there are different activities and, usually very open-ended, projects for kids to explore a theme. We keep expectations reasonable, and if Ladybug just wants to play in the Family Center at MIA, we’re okay with that.
  • Ladybug’s room includes space for pretend play, with dress-up clothes, a play kitchen, toy food, etc. The dress-up clothes came from a garage sale a couple of summers ago, and they have been a constant favorite game. I only wish we had more variety. I’d love to see her dress up as a doctor or a pirate or anything other than a princess or a ballerina. She also has an easel where she can draw and paint whenever she wants (Thanks, Gram!).
  • We love collage. We keep lots of different items around to use in our art, and Ladybug is very good with scissors and glue sticks. (That’s what you get when you have a zinester mama.) In particular, we like to have people over to join us in making collages. After all, creating community is an important part of living a creative life.
  • We take every opportunity to take Ladybug with us to concerts that we can. Kid’s concerts are a given, but we don’t limit her to just those. We took her to see Hot Ashes when they played at the Uptown Apple Store, and she saw Red Pens at Music and Movies in the Park. If the venue is at all kid-friendly, our kid joins us.
  • I’m grateful that we live in an area where we have all of these creative resources so close to home. I love you, Minneapolis.

    Winter in the City, Part 2

    Two Saturdays ago we woke to snow falling outside our windows.  It didn’t stop falling until later that night.  Throughout the day, buses and then plows were taken off the roads.  I spent the day intermittently following the various Twitter hashtags dedicated to the event (#snownami, #snowpocalypse, #snOMG, #snowmageddon, and #blizzardpeople just to name a few), reading snow-related picture books to my kiddo, and trying not to think about the book I’d recently finished (Trapped by Michael Northrop: a teen fiction ARC about a group of kids stranded at their high school during a snowstorm the size of a natural disaster).

    It was just a few weeks ago that I posted an entry about my family’s joy at the first snow fall and how we navigate winter in the city.  Two weeks after #snownami, I’m over it.  Monday morning after the snowstorm, I climbed on top of a snowbank to stand with my feet level with the top of a city garbage can to catch my bus out to the suburbs where the sidewalks are not cleared.  One morning this week, a woman yelled “Be careful!” from her car window as I walked down the side of a busy Burnsville street to get to work.  I shrugged my response in a way that I hoped came across as “I’m trying!” or perhaps a resigned “What are you going to do?”

    What are we going to do?  Be careful where we park our cars, dress in warm layers, and just keep on with our regular lives to the best of our ability through whatever as true Minnesotans.

    Also, huge thank you to everyone in my Minneapolis neighborhood who cleared the sidewalks in front of their homes.  Extra thank you’s to those who live on corners and shoveled a path to the street.  I love you.

    When I still lived in sunny Chicagoland, my husband sold MN winters to me by telling me that it was the great equalizer.  It was the time of year when we all have hat hair, red cheeks, and unfashionable but warm clothing.  That is still our family philosophy when it comes to winter.  We stop worrying about looking cool, and we just live and let live.  Perhaps that’s the way it should be all the time.

    Happy winter, everyone. Stay warm.

    Winter in Minneapolis

    Brownie and Pearl See the Sights by Cynthia Rylant

    Winter in the city.  It looks so adorable in Brownie & Pearl See the Sights.  My three-year-old laughs at how even the birds are wearing their winter hats too, and I think about how neither the birds nor the title characters appear to be shivering at all as they walk on a snow-lined sidewalk from shop to shop on a winter day.  I do a lot of walking and a lot of waiting at bus stops, and I doubt it looks nearly that cute.  I have my old pink coat, the hat my mom crocheted for me, and totally inappropriate shoes as I have yet to get myself out to buy a pair of boots.  Six years of living in Minnesota, and I still find myself unprepared for winter.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t love it though.  The first snow, in particular, is practically a holiday in my family.  We walked and bussed and played outside with a new zeal just a few Saturdays ago when Minneapolis was doused in snow for the first time this year.  All that snow seemed to bring with it a special energy.  I don’t think it was just us.  It seemed like it was everyone.  It felt magical to me.  I especially liked the part when we were all back inside drinking hot cocoa.

    I guess winter in the city is a lot like in the book.  Here’s hoping our winter is as adorable as a children’s book.

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    Peace & Harmony at MIA

    Last weekend we celebrated the art of peace at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.  We began the day with some yoga to relax and set the stage for a peaceful afternoon at the museum.  Tami Eshult of River Garden Yoga Center did a great job engaging families with stories and poses, not to mention keeping focused while some of the less engaged kids ran around the room.  Each participant received a “story stone” from her satchel, which my little one loved.  When we got home, she put it in the special spot next to her “lucky stone” a jeweler gave to her at the Uptown Market this past summer.
    Then we headed upstairs for some music courtesy of I Like You.  Love the band name, and the music was pretty cool too.  Kinda folky-jazzy stuff.  Kid-friendly, but not childish.


    In the Reception Hall, we got to create a tiny piece of art that captured our concept of peace to add to a community mural that will be displayed at the Ridgedale Library now through December 17th.  Ladybug took the assignment rather literally: she glued puzzle pieces to her peace collage.

    All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon

    There must have been something in the air because we happened to be grocery shopping this week and peace found us again by way of a box of our favorite circle oat cereal with the book All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon.  It’s a mini bilingual paperback as part of the Spoonfuls of Stories program.  All the World (a Caldecott Honor book) is a beautiful poem with the sentiment of peace running through it–ending with the words “all the world is you and me.”


    Book Festival goes kid-friendly!

    Last year I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival with some friends of mine.  We browsed the many interesting exhibits, bought some books, and went out to lunch.  I was particularly excited about this display of chapbooks.  And I managed to catch Alison McGhee reading from one of her books in the Children’s Circle.


    The MacPhail Early Childhood Band


    This year was a different experience.  The Children’s Circle had expanded to the Children’s Pavilion, so I brought Ladybug for a morning full of bookish fun.

    Highlights included the MacPhail Center for Music band (We got a free CD that Ladybug loves.  We will definitely add their Free Family Events to
    our family calendar.),

    Marsha Wilson Chall reading One Pup's Up

    Marsha Wilson Chall reading from One Pup’s Up (We loved this book, and she was fabulous with the kids),

    and reptiles (the Owatonna Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo had a baby alligator, a boa constrictor, and other interesting animals for us to look at and touch.)

    Tortoise from the RAD Zoo