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Monthly Archives: November 2013

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I am reflecting on all that I have to be thankful for right now. It is all too easy to get caught up in thinking about the negative things in life. Giving thanks is a way for us to redirect our focus onto the positive. Happiness researchers have found that practicing gratitude regularly will help increase your level of happiness.

I am thankful for…

Family: I’m so grateful to have my husband and daughter in my life. I prayed for both of them to become a part of my life — and my prayers were answered. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. Also I’m thankful for all the love and support that we receive from our parents.

Good Health: Hurray! It can be easy to take for granted if you’re healthy, but it’s a pretty big deal. I’m slightly obsessed with health. My current thing is drinking a wheatgrass/veggie juice detoxification blend daily. I eat fairly healthy and take a multiple vitamin, calcium, Vitamin D and Omega 3 supplements. If I feel like I’m getting sick I take odorless garlic tablets. (I rarely get sick, though neither does my husband, and he does none of those things ;)) And I pray about my health and my family’s health all the time.

Being in Eugene: A direct answer to prayer! So happy to be home again. Having the support of my parents five minutes away is a huge weight off my chest.

God’s provision: Our basic needs for food, clothing, water, shelter, heat always seem to be met. Hallelujah! Sometimes I worry about not having enough money, because if I look at the numbers, it doesn’t seem like it should be enough. But it works out somehow!

My faith: The biggest gift of all to me is my faith. Ever since I started going to church my freshman year of high school I have held tightly to my faith in Jesus. My understanding of God and the Bible has deepened over the years and I have been able to witness an amazing transformation in my own life. I guess that’s how I really know beyond a doubt that God is real — because the changes in myself have been miraculous.

Other things I am thankful for right now include our new church (which Marie loves!), the library (free books and toddler storytimes), the opportunity to work as a sub in Springfield, living next door to a playground, sunshine these last few days, and the yummy salmon chowder my husband made for dinner. And maybe a good night’s sleep tonight? Going to bed now.

Two weeks ago I went to hear Ursula K. Le Guin speak at the University of Oregon, and I bought an autographed copy of her classic book The Lathe of Heaven. I figured since we share the same first name, it’s time I familiarized myself with her work.

Today I finished reading The Lathe of Heaven. It was a quick and entertaining read. It’s a sci-fi book about George Orr, a man who has the ability to change reality retroactively through his dreams. He is afraid of this ability, called “effective dreaming,” and has been taking drugs to prevent himself from going into REM sleep. When he’s ordered into therapy to treat his drug use, the therapist, Dr. Haber, quickly discovers George’s ability. Dr. Haber begins using George to change the world by suggesting dream topics to him under hypnosis. Unfortunately, George’s unconscious is not entirely predictable. When Dr. Haber asks him to solve the overpopulation problem, George dreams about a plague that kills 6 billion people. When Haber asks George to end racism, he dreams of a world where everyone has the same grey skin tone.

According to Merriam-Webster, a lathe is “a machine tool that performs turning operations in which unwanted material is removed from a workpiece rotated against a cutting tool.” In this book, Haber is essentially using George as a lathe. He is using George’s dreams as a tool to shape the world according to his desires.

The strongest theme that stood out to me was that humans should not attempt to play the role of God. Sometimes scientists can create technology that allows them to intervene in things that they should not be intervening in. In the book, Dr. Haber is perfecting a machine that will allow anyone to have effective dreams — and the consequences are disastrous. There is an order to the natural world, and it can be dangerous to meddle in that. Just because a scientist has the ability to create a technology does not necessarily mean that they should do so. Today we have GMOs in our food supply. We have nuclear weapons. We have the ability to detect whether a woman is pregnant with a Down’s syndrome baby and then terminate that pregnancy. Who knows what kind of technology we may have 20 or 30 years from now?

Still, I wouldn’t recommend this book if it didn’t end up being hopeful. In spite of all the difficulties of this world, we are resilient, and through it all — there is love.

Since getting my teaching license 4 1/2 years ago, I’ve successfully avoided becoming a substitute in the public schools. It sounds scary right, or is it just me?  I immediately took a job teaching at a private elementary school, even though it paid less than half what I might have made at a public school, just so that I wouldn’t have to run the risk of becoming a sub that first year. I taught there for two years, then took a part-time office job at a private high school, where I also subbed. At that time I also started subbing at a daycare on some of my days off.

Flash forward to now: I am a stay-at-home mom and our family needs some additional income. Subbing in the public schools pays quite a bit hourly and you only have to commit for a day at a time. So. Today I subbed in a public school for the first time ever. It was in an 8th grade classroom, which many people would probably consider the most difficult age group to work with. I so badly wanted to cancel the job and would’ve taken any reasonable excuse to do so. I thought of all the things I might rather do than sub in a middle school classroom: attend jury duty, go to the dentist, ride the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. But my husband sweetly made me lunch this morning, and my mom showed up ready to spend the day with little Marie, so off I went into the land of adolescent hormones.

Of course, I discovered that it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. True I did have to take one student out into the hall and threaten to send him to the prinicpal’s office, but when I taught at the private school I sent kids to the principal’s office regularly. I even had a teacher’s aide to assist with behavioral support during two of the class periods — and I thought, I’ve died and gone to sub heaven. Of course, there was a reason the teacher had an aide, as a lot of the students seemed to have behavioral issues like ADHD, autism and whatnot, but it wasn’t so bad. My students in the private school had these issues too, I just had smaller classes.

When I was getting my teaching license, I did a student teaching stint in an 8th grade classroom and I never really got over being intimidated by the kids. I think it’s because I had just come from student teaching in an elementary school classroom. Today the kids seemed so young to me, because my most recent job was working at a high school. Also – I’m five years older and I’m a mom now. So I have a whole new perspective.

I’d love to say more but my husband is waiting patiently to hang out with me….so, until next time!

Last call

I love young adult books and dream of being a published YA novelist, so I’m currently taking an online YA fiction writing class. I’m planning a short story and hoping that I find the time/ability/stamina to turn it into a novella. I’ve been throwing around ideas in my head — futuristic sci-fi time-travel story? Historical novel about traveling to the New World? Fantasy about finding a door to an alternate universe? I’m good at coming up with ideas but not very good at following through and doing the work.

So I’m using the Daily Post Challenge to get started fleshing out my protagonist. The first part of the assignment is to choose 5 or more character traits. Here we go:

1) Human

2) Age 16

3) Female

4) Character flaw: Lack of self-confidence. (It’s of the utmost important for your protagonist to have a character flaw, preferably one that is somewhat opposite the theme of your work, thus sayeth my creative writing instructor).

5) She is 5′ 7,” wavy dark brown hair down to her mid-back, light green eyes. Medium-build. She is mixed-race, Caucasian with some Native American blood, giving her the appearance of having a light tan. She has a long scar on the top of her left foot from a childhood injury. She has pierced ears.

6) Her greatest fear is drowning. She knows how to swim but hasn’t been in the water for years since seeing a friend drown.

7) Her name is Kara.

Now to write a scene about Kara:

Kara walked out of the terminal at Portland International Airport and scanned the faces, looking for her mother. She wasn’t there. Kara grabbed her phone out of her pocket — no missed call. Her flight was more than 20 minutes late — her always-punctual mom should’ve been there by now. She scanned the crowd again, pulling her long hair back into her signature ponytail. She dialed her mom’s number. No answer. Maybe she was stuck in traffic? No — it was 9:30 at night.

She watched as other travelers reunited with family members. In front of her a redheaded girl a few years older than Kara wrapped her arms around a tall guy wearing an Oregon Ducks hoodie. “I missed you soooo much!” she gushed before giving him a long, passionate kiss. The guy noticed Kara staring at them and winked. She turned away, feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment. He was really cute, too. Why did she have to be so awkward? She couldn’t imagine anyone ever kissing her like that. She just wanted to get home, shower, sleep and forget all about her summer visit with her dad and his new family. But where was her mom?

 

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photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/vervial/5848928380/”>Franck Vervial</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

 

The girl who dances with shadows.

The girl who dances with shadows.

My senior year of high school began with the attack on the Twin Towers. Images of the flaming towers were fresh in all our minds that fall. This was an act of war, and even though I lived 3,000 miles away in Oregon, it still felt much too close to home. Who could do something like this? Is this the beginning of World War 3? I wondered.

That year I was part of a group called the Young Women’s Theater Collective. We wrote and performed original shows. We decided to name our fall show “Dancing with Shadows.” It was a declaration that in spite of the darkness in life, we could still find joy. Our show included comedic sketches, dancing, singing, and more somber pieces dealing with issues like substance abuse and depression. We performed to sold-out shows at the WOW Hall, and yes, even shared a promotional poster with Slick Rick.

A few years later, I found myself in Ghana, West Africa, on a study abroad program with the UO Journalism School. Wandering through an open-air market in Kumasi, I stopped at a woodcarver’s stall to browse for souvenirs. My eye was drawn to a carving of a woman, one hand balancing a jug of water on her head, her other hand resting on her hip. The carver looked at me. “That’s the girl who dances with shadows,” he said. “There are always shadows, but she is just dancing.”

My heart leapt into my throat in surprise. I had to have that carving. “How much?” I asked cautiously, fearing he might be eager to rip off an obroni. He quoted a reasonable price, so I paid him the few dollars and bought the carving.

The girl who dances with shadows now sits atop my tall bookshelf in our living room. Was this an interesting coincidence, or was it a purposeful message from God to me? I can’t say for sure, but it’s a reminder to me that in spite of whatever may come — I will dance.

“There is only the dance…” – T.S. Eliot (The Four Quartets)

Let’s celebrate my 100th follower! Hurray!

I have reached the magical number of 100 followers on WordPress. Depending on your perspective this may sound like a lot of followers, or maybe like not very many. When I first started blogging a few years ago, 100 followers seemed an inconceivable success. Then again, If I were a newspaper, 100 readers would be a pretty awful circulation.

The truth is about 70 of my followers are spammers who are interested in getting me involved in some sort of WordPress pyramid scheme. (Well, it’s always nice to be invited.) Another 25 followers are people who have followed everyone on WordPress in an attempt to get them to follow their blogs, and then perhaps 5 or so of my readers are genuinely interested in my blog.

But to those 5 or so of you who do actually read Mother Bear — thank you. Even if you’re only reading because we’re married and I told you that you had to read this, it’s nice to write for an audience. Otherwise I might as well just write in my paper journal. So thank you for taking the time to read this when you could be reading countless other blogs, magazines, tweets, or memoirs. (Have you read Debra Gwartney’s heart-wrenching Live Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love? Or Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life? If not, please, stop reading this and go get a copy from your local library or independent bookstore. I promise, we can finish our conversation later). I hope that at times you have found my posts informative, entertaining or perhaps inspiring.

What is a writer without a reader anyway? I write to bear witness to my life, and to share that witness with you. You, dear reader, are a vital part of this contract.

“Looker, gazer, skimmer, skipper,
thumb-licking page turner, peruser,
you getting your print-fix for the day
…that is me rushing to the window…
me standing by a map of the world
wondering where you are–
alone on a bench in a train station
or falling asleep, the book sliding to the floor.” – Billy Collins (“Reader”)

Sleep, glorious sleep.

Sleep, glorious sleep.

 

It’s so confusing. You should just let your baby cry it out and then you can all sleep. Or maybe, your baby will be traumatized for life if you let her cry herself to sleep. What to do?  Despite the claims of one of my high school friends, sleep is in fact a medical necessity. We all need sleep. My daughter is now 19-months-old and I’ve learned a few lessons the hard way. I hope that you can learn from my mistakes so that you can get some well-deserved rest. Some of these tips seem obvious now but are not always so obvious in the crazy postpartum haze. Also I might add that the phrase “sleeping the through night” can be misleading because pediatricians generally consider a 5-hour stretch of sleep to be “sleeping through the night.” So, although some parents supposedly have babies who sleep for 12 hour stretches without any intervention, this probably isn’t what you should expect.

Babies (and adults) need a consistent sleep schedule —

Going to bed, waking up, and napping at the same times each day will help babies know what to expect, and be prepared for sleep when it is time to sleep.

Create a calming bedtime routine —

The bedtime routine helps baby prepare for sleep. Something simple like bath, jammies, teeth brushing and story time works well. Again, this advice also works well for adults. I found that in the newborn days when I had to get up every two hours to nurse, it still helped me tremendously to stick to my own bedtime routine of brushing teeth, washing my face, and getting into pajamas so that I could still feel normal.

Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own —

This was a very difficult and important lesson for me to learn. Although newborns cannot fall asleep on their own and usually need to be rocked or nursed to sleep, between the ages of 3 and 6 months babies begin to have the ability to self-soothe. If you continue rocking or nursing your baby to sleep past this point, they will need you to help them fall back asleep when they naturally wake up in the night.

I got into the habit of rocking Marie to sleep when she was a newborn, and continued to do so until she was about 10 or 11-months-old when I realized we all needed to sleep better. At that point we had gotten into the habit of co-sleeping (I’ll leave that for another post), so we just taught her to fall asleep on her own by lying in bed next to her until she fell asleep. This did involve some crying. But I didn’t feel bad about it because we were right there with her and I knew that this was a skill she had to learn. This has improved our sleep quite a bit during the rare times when she is not teething.

Babies will probably not sleep all night if you nurse them at night —

This is the step we’re working on now. My daughter is certainly old enough not to nurse at night, but since we’ve been co-sleeping, it’s hard to avoid. At the same time, if you’re co-sleeping then night nursing might not disrupt your sleep very much. If you’re not co-sleeping then it certainly will! When and how to night-wean is up to you. Different babies have different needs — my daughter is very thin so I’ve always wanted to feed her as much as possible. I just found a great article that recommends attempted night weaning by 8-9 months and that sounds realistic from my experience. However nursing at night can be very comforting for babies who are painfully teething, which typically continues off and on until about age 2.