Friday, October 29, 2010

Bits of blankets, lots of love

One of the many things my children and their friends teach me is that there is no problem so big that a little time and attention, love and friendship can't make better.

This week we gathered with our Difference Maker's group to needle felt some happy pictures on wool squares which will be sent to the Knit a Square Foundation to be made into blankets for AIDS orphans in Africa. Knowing the blankets would be going to children, our kids decorated them with happy faces, hearts, peace signs and polkadots. The kids decorated enough squares to make at least one blanket, but we hope that these specially decorated squares will be spread out among many blankets so that our kids can reach out and touch many children.

Some resources for talking about this issue with children:
Braids by Robert Munch and Taya Kendall (read the story of how this book came to be here.)
Simon's Story by Glynis Clacherty
Our stories, our songs : African children talk about AIDS by Deborah Ellis,

For older children and teens
The heaven shop by Deborah Ellis, 
Ana's story : a journey of hope by Jenna Bush, 
AIDS & HIV : the facts for kids by Rae Simons,

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Empathic Civilisation

Really wonderful talk about how we have evolved through techology to become capable of an Empathic Civilisation.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Message in a Bottle

We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.
~Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732

October 15th is's Blog Action Day and the topic this year is water which is timely because today my kids attended a workshop on the environmental impact of the bottled water industry.
Water has been on our minds a lot lately with today's program, our recent river clean up and a local news story in our about Nestle's "right" to sell our local water and the power that company presumes it gives it within our community to influence programs like the excellent one my kids attended today.

Today's program gave the kids a real perspective on bottled water. Through hands on demonstrations the kids saw how much water (1500 mls) and how much oil (about 150 mls) is used in the production of each typical water bottle (and that is before they fill, package or ship it). They learned about the cost of the water  - just 1 cent to fill it from the tap or 100-200 times that to buy it from the convenience store or vending machine. The learned about the implications for our recycling and landfills from the use of plastic bottles. They heard about threats to our aquifer and local supply - everything from the local Nestle water plant which is extracting and exporting the water for sale to a local mining company which has recently punctured the protective layer which separates our aquifer from surface water contamination.

We are surrounded by water. We spend a lot of time hiking by our river, swimming at the lake at the cottage, canoeing and kayaking at the local conservation area. I have a very hard time imagining what the world will look like in 20 or so years when the fresh water supply has dwindled and is owned by large corporations.

As with anything the first step is to get educated. And the second is to act.

Things you can do with your kids:
Stop drinking bottled water. Buy and use re-usable bottles. They pay for themselves in no time.
Ask your schools, city facilities etc not to sell bottled water
Organize a reusable water bottle buying co-op for your neighbourhood, class, sports team.
Find out the cost implications of water bottles on your recycling program.
Write letters to your editor and mayor to publicize the issue.
Watch the Story of Bottled Water, FLOW, Ryan's Well and other water documentaries to educate yourselves about water issues.
Raise funds for organizations like charity:water
Take part in the World Water Monitoring Day activities,
Do a bottled water taste testing challenge with friends
Do a water audit in your home.

In an age when man has forgotten his origins and is blind even to his most essential needs for survival, water along with other resources has become the victim of his indifference.

~ Rachel Carson

~ A river ran wild : an environmental history by Lynne Cherry,
~ Save water by Viv Smith,
~ Water by Trevor Day,
~ Water : how we use and abuse our planet by Pamela Grant
~ Water supplies by Jude Welton,
~ Keeping water clean Ewan McLeish,
~ Follow the water from brook to ocean Arthur Dorros
~ EPA educational resources for Water
Flow - For the Love of Water

The We Generation

From a lovely article in USA today: Growing numbers of pre-teens and early teens are giving tweens a new face: a socially responsible young citizen. They're not only doing good in their local communities, but having a global impact. Some have created their own non-profits, and most have websites enlisting the support of kids like themselves who also want to help others.

In a related article Huffpro has a feature of 7 young people making a difference. So inspiring

Immappacy ~ How big is Africa?

Excellent post and visual to show how our perceptions can sometimes be so off.

A great book to follow up on the topic of Africa would be Africa is not a Country by Margy Burns Knight.

Talking about religion

I just recently learned that the word religion comes from the Latin root that means to bind.
Wouldn't it be great if we could use religion as a way to bind us together rather than separate us.

Lately we have been confronted by so many religious divisions - the ground zero mosque, which isn't really a mosque and isn't really at ground zero, discussions about whether religion plays into the world's slow response to the crisis in Pakistan, our own city's struggles over the building of a Sikh temple, even philosophical divides on the homeschooling boards I frequent.

In the midst of figuring out how to navigate these concepts with my kids I came across this article (linked from this wonderful blog) and read these words, written by UU president Peter Morales.

Religion is much more about what we love than about what we think...The questions we ask one another are so critically important. If you and I ask each other what we believe, we will get into talking about very heady stuff. We will put forth our beliefs and then support them with evidence and argument. All too often we will end up arguing... However, when we ask one another what we truly love, what we truly value, what we care about more than anything else in life, something amazing happens. We don’t argue. We listen. We connect. We discover that we love and want the same things. We care about one another. We want honesty, depth, and intimacy in our relationships. We want enduring friendships.

We also discover that we realize that we are all in this life together. We want to help heal the world. We want compassion, understanding, and justice to guide our actions and our governments. We want to work together, hand in hand, to build a world beyond exploitation and violence.

This year one of my goals is to take my kids to various houses of worship and to introduce them more fully to the worlds' religious traditions. We started this past weekend with a walk through the stations of the cosmos at a nearby religious retreat which is a beautiful spiral timeline that shows the evolution of the universe, the development of the various world religions and the stations of the cross.   I loved the quotes selected to illustrate some of the ideas of the world religions and how they followed the same threads. We really are more alike than we are different.

Nonviolence is the supreme religion. One who looks on the creatures of the Earth, big and small, as one's own self, comprehends this immense world.
~ Lord Mahavira

Thursday, October 14, 2010

More world food day resources

For every grain of rice
we are thankful
for thousands of workers.
For every drop of rain
we are thankful
for the earth's many blessings
 ~ one of our mealtime blessings

I came across the Kids Can Make a Difference website the other day.
Inspiring kids to end hunger and poverty in their communities, their country, and their world.

KIDS is a program of iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) the world's largest non-profit global network that enables teachers and youth to use the Internet and other technologies to collaborate on projects that enhance learning and make a difference in the world.

If you are looking for activities to do with kids make sure that you check out the Classroom Initiatives to see what some educators have done around the issue of hunger awareness with their students.

And this excellent resource from Mother's Acting Up outlines a classroom Hunger Banquet along with ideas for other activism education.
The World Food Day USA website has a great selection of links and activities including the UN's online fame called Food Force.

And this blog has some children's story books related ethical eating (mostly vegetarianism)
Some other ideas for families for World Food Day:
~ Tour a farm, CSA, or farmer's market and learn more about where our food comes from and why it is so important to support local food suppliers.
~ Deliver donations directly to the food bank.
~ Have an around-the-world-dinner with recipes from various regions of the world.
~ Try Grassroots International's challenge to eat for a day in your community for just $2 or investigate how food accessibility and poverty are intertwined even in North America through movements like Put Food In the Budget.
~ Discuss with your kids and then sign the Petition to End Hunger and the Starved for Attention Petition
~ Before your meal take a moment to try to think of and honour every set of hands your food may have passed through to reach your table.  Choose a blessing for your meal that reflects that. (I've listed some of our favourites below.)

Before we eat,
we turn our attention
to the bounty before us;
We are truly thankful for the gift of this meal
and for the richness of our lives.
May this food nourish our bodies
And the company of those we love
Nourish our spirits.

Thanks to the earth
thanks to the sun
thanks to the rain
for all they have done.
Thanks to the work
of heart and hand
That made this meal 
from the gifts of the land.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Easy as pie

I don't think a really good pie can be made without a dozen or so children peeking over your shoulder as you stoop to look in at it every little while. 
~John Gould

As part of our Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations, we made pies - some for a potluck for our family and then today we made some for a friend serving a post-thanksgiving Thanksgiving meal at a shelter.

In the time it would have taken me to make a dozen pies, my four kids managed four beautiful handmade-with-love pies. They were involved at every step of the process, from picking the apples to peeling, chopping, measuring, mixing, cooking, rolling, filling and decorating the pies. And then they waited, somewhat impatiently, for them to finish baking so we could deliver them to a friend who would deliver them to another friend, who would deliver them to the shelter and serve those humble pies to the shelter's guests.

As we were eating our dinner tonight, my kids wondered if someone somewhere right that minute was enjoying a slice of handmade-with-love apple pie. If they liked the cinnamon and vanilla in the filling and the sugar sprinkled on the crust. If their piece had the heart shaped cut-out - the one that was sort of off center by mistake. If the pie tasted like the ones their mama had made for Thanksgiving so many years ago.  They wondered if having pie would help them feel that someone cared about them. And then they agreed that making the pies to share was one of the things they were most grateful for this Thanksgiving and asked if we could do it again.


I am amazed and grateful that helping kids feel empowered and connected to the world around them can sometimes be as easy as making pie.

Monday, October 4, 2010

World Habitat Day


Today in honour of World Habitat Day some friends met at the Habitat for Humanity building site to help a wonderful artist paint the World Habitat Day Community Mural which will be installed on the permanent fence at the build site. The mural depicts "My Ideal Neighbourhood".
Isn't it beautiful?

A Castle on Viola Street by DyAnne DiSalvo ~ A hardworking family gets their own house at last by joining a community program that restores old houses.

The magic beads / written by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
The Lady in the Box Ann McGovern
A Shelter in Our Car Monica Gunning

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Peaceful news

Came across this lovely magazine in my recent travels.

Ode is a print and online publication about positive news, about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better.

The current online issue has articles about planting peace poles, being open to the power women have to change the environment and time banks. All very cool ideas and certainly kid friendly.

Those difference makers

We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us.
When we see land as a community to which we belong,
we may begin to use it with love and respect.
~ Aldo Leopold

A merry band of friends, a few big garbage bags, gloves meant for adult hands and a beloved river.
A chair frame, fencing material, broken glass, furniture, building equipment, bags of paper, plastic, cans.
Small caring hands cleaning up messes made by large thoughtless adults.
I love these kids, environmentalistsactivists.

The activist is not the man who says the river is dirty. The activist is the man child who cleans up the river. ~ Ross Perot, with apologies for the editorial correction

Saturday, October 2, 2010

World Food Day

As we approach World Food Day this fall there are over 1 billion people who are hungry.

One Billion.  That's one sixth of the earth's population.

Hunger is something young children can easily sympathize with. One year the kids and I planned a mini hunger banquet. I served the kids 1/3 of a cup of uncooked rice and dirty water for breakfast, while I feasted on bagels and eggs, yogurt and fresh fruit. Eventually I shared, but not before a few tears and gasps of horror as they realized how deeply unfair the disparity was. I think they got the message.

There are plenty of resources you can use to talk to kids about global hunger issues. The Feeding Minds website is an excellent one. Children may be surprised that there there are people who are hungry right in our neighbourhood and may need some guidance to understand that hunger happens because food may not be available or that it may be available but just not accessible to certain parts of our population. The Feeding Minds website offers some great lesson plans which are easily adaptable to family discussions and include not only information about hunger but also some tools to spark ideas about what we can do to alleviate it - both in our neighbourhood and world wide.

~ Hungry planet : what the world eats by Peter Menzel
~ Let's eat! : what children eat around the world
~ The Penguin atlas of food by Erick Millstone
~ This is the way we eat our lunch: a book about children around the world
by Edith Baer
~ Food for all by Rufus Bellamy
~ Beatrice's goat by Page McBrier

Those leaves, those seeds

The other day I went looking for a rake. 
All of ours were gone.
Apparently the kids and some neighbourhood friends had decided to go around the neighbourhood offering to rake leaves for charity. For the low low price of $2 a band of kids would descend on a neighbours yard to rake and sweep and shovel those leaves off the grass. They even would haul them away in bags.

They raised $30 (thanks to some generous tips) which they plan to split evenly between the Red Cross and the Terry Fox Foundation.
AND they scored a huge pile of leaves to play in.

Everyone wins.
And my heart melts to see these seeds grow in them, to know they internalize what we talk about, include their friends and realize that a little work can go such a very long way.

Craftivism: A great way to get the kids involved

When the world's troubles seem too big , I am always amazed at what a little comfort can do to help my kids. A little handmade warmth, a small gift that says I love you, some tangible way to convey that they are cared for seems to make almost any situation better. I think it is universal in fact and my kids are often moved to "make something" for friends who are struggling.

When our home school group was in the middle of the the doll making project my friend Joanna wrote something so beautiful on her blog.
I am not kidding myself that this will change very much in their hard lives. I know, though, that if my little ones ever found themselves without me there to care for them, I would be overcome with gratitude if another Mama, somewhere in the world, shared a little bit of her hand made love with my children.
I think kids get this - that a doll or a blanket won't change the world on it's own but that it can make someone feel loved and cared for.  And putting more love and caring out into the world does make a real difference - both to the giver and the recipient. Whenever we have made things to give away, my kids develop a deep connection with the place and the people their gifts are intended to help. The idea that they have sent dolls to Haiti, which were made by their own hands and hugged with their own arms before shipping them has come up in so many ways over the past few months.

There are lots of ways that kids can become involved in making tangible gifts or items to show others they care.

Some opportunities to get your kids involved:

Dolly Donations - Sarah launched an amazing program to send dolls to Haitian children after the devastating earthquake. Working with organizations and orphanages she is sending love to so many. Kids can help choose fabrics, decorate faces, sew and stuff and make cards to send along to with their dolls.

Conn Kerr - provides cheerful pillowcases for pediatric cancer patients. Kids can help choose fabric, sew, tie-dye or decorate purchased pillow cases non-toxic dyes. There are coordinators for local hospitals all over North America so your crafts help local kids.

Knit a Square provides blankets for aids orphans in Africa. If you don't knit or crochet there are plenty of online tutorials to help and this would be a great beginner project. There is also a felt option using shrunken wool sweaters (and there are directions on this website). A group of our friends are going to get together to decorate some wool squares with needle felting so the kids can add some designs and pictures to their squares. We are hoping to send at least 40 squares to make a blanket.

Craft Hope is a great place to become involved in craftivism and their new book is fabulous.

There are also likely local opportunities. Knitting and quilting guilds often have connections for all sorts of charitable organizations who would love to receive handmade goodness. Often there are hat and mitt drives for local schools or shelters and it is super simple to make fun fleece hats. Seniors homes will often love to receive some bright kids art to decorate a seasonal table. Or you could arrange a kid craft sale and donate some of the proceeds to a favourite charity.

One of our favourite children's books is about the power of giving handmade gifts.  The Quiltmaker's Gift is incredibly beautiful and sparks great conversations with kids of all ages.