Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Casa Planeta

We had the pleasure of hearing and singing with the Family Folk Chorale last Saturday at a fundraiser for Clean Your Desk for Nicaragua and Safe Passage.

Clean Your Desk is a project of Quest for Peace and provides a really easy and concrete way for elementary school kids to think about the challenges facing children in South America and a way to be connected to them. Clean Your Desk collects lightly used school supplies for children who do not have any. We started a box, and it did raise some interesting conversation about why we might feel "done" with a half-used notebook and what that means for our consumption. There is a way that I somehow would feel better about sending NEW crayons, but I also think there is something really smart about recognizing how much gets wasted in our culture and building a bridge -- not just buying more new stuff because "new" feels so important.

Safe Passage provides resources and opportunities for children who work in Guatamala's garbage dump area. Guatamala is one of the poorest Central American countries and small donations of U.S. dollars can make a world of difference to children living in Guatamala. Families can sponsor a child for $50 - $200 a month or can make one-time donations.

The act of singing with the Family Folk Chorale and seeing people of all ages and from all different ethnic backgrounds sign in Spanish was incredibly joyful and moving. It really did help me see the world as smaller and that our children and the children of Nicaragua and Guatamala are connected.

Here are the lyrics for a few of the songs :

Des Colores

Mu Cuerpo Hace Musica on YouTube

and Somos El Barco

Trouble the Water playing in Portland

Recently short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary,
Trouble the Water opens Wednesday at The Movies on Exchange at 10 Exchange
Street in Portland.

Directed and produced by Fahrenheit 9/11 producers Tia Lessin and Carl Deal,
and executive produced by Danny Glover, the film won the Grand Jury Prize at
the Sundance Film Festival. The directors will be present for a Q & A after
the 5 and 9 p.m. screenings on Friday, November 28th.

Here's what critics are saying:

"...one of the best American documentaries in recent memory."-- Manohla
Dargis, The New York Times

"...an endlessly moving, artlessly magnificent tribute to people the
government didn't think worth saving." --Richard Corliss, TIME

"...essential, unique viewing: a stunning experience." --Lisa Schwarzbaum,
Entertainment Weekly

"Indelible! Will pin you to your seat!" - Peter Travers, Rolling Stone.

It is an uplifting story about one family's survival of the flooding of New
Orleans after Katrina, and their journey into a new life. A true story about
navigating through difficult times, Trouble the Water takes on particular
meaning and significance as we enter into this holiday season.

Log on to watch the theatrical trailer
and then make a plan to see the film.

Please buy your tickets for the November 26th opening today!

The Movies on Exchange

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

P.S: Please forward this email to your contact list. And consider bringing
members of your local faith based organization, school or community group to
a screening. Call the theater to arrange for group discounts: (207)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

From Meg Cox

Meg Cox's Ritual Newsletter
Special Holiday Edition for 2008

I stopped the monthly editions of this newsletter in September, but I haven't stopped thinking about tradition and celebration. It occurs to me that this holiday season brings a poignant and unusual mix of contradictory realities: great hope combined with desperate need.
How do we embrace these conflicting truths and make them part of our family celebrations this year?
Here's one idea: create a "Giving Tree" for your family. You're probably all familiar with the Shel Silverstein book of that name, about all the ways in which a single tree helps one human being throughout his life, providing shade, apples, and so forth. But this is more like a special Christmas tree that isn't hung with ornaments but with mementoes of all the different ways a family finds to give to others in need during the holiday season.
You can make a paper Giving Tree and tape it to a wall or door.
Or you might get one of those cute small, live evergreens in a pot (which you could plant in your garden next spring). Cut out paper hearts of red and white from construction paper and use pretty holiday ribbons to tie them to branches of the tree. Have a bowl of pre-cut hearts all ready to put on the tree.
Add another heart every time you put some change in a Salvation Army Christmas pot, or when you buy a book or a toy for a needy child in your community. Add a heart when you collect canned goods for your church or town hall to help insure a needy family gets to celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Add a heart after your choir sings carols at a nursing home or hospital. Add a heart when you volunteer at the local animal rescue shelter.
Let the Giving Tree provoke family discussions about who else needs help in your town and throughout the world, and how you might respond right now. Maybe the kids would like to send a card to a soldier who won't be home for Christmas. Maybe they want to pitch in to help with a seasonal community service project at their school. Collect some money from allowances and then have a family vote to pick the charities that receive help.
There are many variations on the ritual: decide whether you want to add hearts to the tree every time a family member does a good deed, or you might add hearts once a week, on Sundays after dinner.

Like all of you, I'm looking at ways to make my family's holiday mean more and cost less this year. In that spirit, I want to share a few online resources that I find especially helpful:
I've always been a huge fan of the organization Alternatives for Simple Living (www.simpleliving.org), which got started years ago as an effort to make Christmas less commercial. Alternatives works within a religious, Christian context and produces excellent resources such as its annual Advent guide, Whose Birthday Is It Anyway?
But there are a number of other excellent nonprofits that don't deal with the religious element but also provide great resources. The website above, redefineChristmas.org, is an effort to harness the internet as a way to encourage individual philanthropy and it's a great tool for finding good charities and then getting money to them. You can send e-cards to friends telling them you gave in their name and you can create a gift registry where you tell your friends that you'd prefer they donate money rather than give you another sweater. You can zero in on causes you care about deeply, whether it's global warming, poverty and hunger, helping to clear landmines or encouraging budding artists.
Three other web resources I highly recommend:
The Simple Living News has a good website that includes an online bi-monthly newsletter. The November-December issue has good holiday ideas.
I'm a fan of the organization Center for a New American Dream, which promotes simple living with an emphasis on environmentalism. They've also got good resources and recently updated their materials on holidays.
Finally, there's a Canadian Mennonite group that started a Christian inititative in that country to make the holiday less materialistic and one result is a detailed, self-explanatory website, www.buynothingChristmas.org

May your holidays be full of love and presence!
love, Meg

One site has it all. Your email accounts, your social networks, and the things you love. Try the new AOL.com today!(http://pr.atwola.com/promoclk/100000075x1212962939x1200825291/aol?redir=http://www.aol.com/?optin=new-dp%26icid=aolcom40vanity%26ncid=emlcntaolcom00000001)

Bringing Arts into the Classroom

The Kennedy Center offers a fabulous looking searchable database of lesson plans that connect arts education with other subjects, including math, social studies, and science.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Take Action Today from Mothers Acting Up

Welcome the 111th Congress with a card....
On November 18th, mothers and others across the country will be delivering "welcome" cards to their local Congressional offices, reminding their elected officials that they voted on November 4th to make climate change a priority. Tackling climate change is not only a priority for us, but has more significant implications in terms of the world that our children will inherit.

Gather up your kids, friends and family and join 1Sky and others or organize your own visit to your Members' offices. While you're there, leave behind information about the Mother Agenda and a plate of cookies (always welcomed by the staff!). Click here to sign-up and get all the necessary information.

Read the MAU blog and watch a clip from their new play

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Magical Thinking 'till age 8

A study from the University of Michigan found that children do not connect their beliefs and their behaviors until they make a cognitive leap around age 8. This has implications for parenting and teaching -- apparently helping kids "know" what they should do doesn't make it any easier for them to do it until age 8. The study doesn't provide a lot of concrete suggestions for helping younger children change behavior (other than a traditional carrrot/stick approach) and I wonder if it doesn't lay the groundwork for reflection to begin practicing it even before they can effectively do it on thier own, but it is useful to remember that when a young child fails to abstract or behave as they say they will, it is more about immaturity than a character flaw... The study also pointed out the ways that magical thinking could help young children, because they can still imagine themselves as "practically perfect in every way" which is a gateway for all kinds of possibility.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bibliography about Media, Marketing & Kids

The resource page from Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne's new book, So Sexy, So Soon provides a great bibliography on issues like "children and commercial culture," media literacy, and gender.


TRUCE -- the Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Entertainment -- has published their 2008-2009 annual toy guide.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Progressives Gotta Keep on Organizing

I'm at a conference in Boston and heard a very provocative speech by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (author of "Racism Without Racists" among others) about the ways that the Obama presidency might prove even harder for progressives to make fundamental and systemic change. It was depressing, but made a lot of sense -- he argued that as people dig in to the idea of a post-racialized America we will have an even harder time organizing around racial justice, and by extension other kinds of social justice, in part because there will be even less openness for dissent from the left, as people either want to protect Obama ("don't wreck his chances at succeeding"), have too much faith that he'll simply do the right thing without pressure, or that the right will make sure to co-opt Obama's centrist language and name progressive ideals/action as crazy and radical. Finally he argued that white progressives will face a lot of criticism from people of color and face being called "racist" for criticizing Obama. I think he (Bonilla-Silva) underestimated how cyncial progressive groups are - how much we understand that we always have to fight for every bit of change -- but I also think about how horrible it was that we let welfare reform occur under the Clinton presidency and failed to really push for economic justice at that time, and think we do need to figure out what a progressive movement looks like without the clear "enemy" that helped us have a stronger identity even without good resources in the last decade. I wonder if there are lessons from Maine, given the challenges in passing a progressive agenda despite having democratic control of our State Legislature.

A small opinion piece from Bonnila-Silva is here and a longer blog post, with interesting comments, is here

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Multicultural Book Festival in Portland Maine

MANY VOICES: A multicultural book fair for families

Saturday, November 22, 10:00 – 1:00

Breakwater School gym, 856 Brighton Ave., Portland

EXPLORE BOOKS that take your child around the world. The fair
features the latest children's books and classics depicting the
cultures of China, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin
America and the Middle East, as well as African American, Native
American, Latino American, Jewish American, Muslim American and
immigration books.

MAKE YOUR OWN ORIGAMI BUTTERFLY just like in the book Butterflies
for Kiri! We'll also offer face painting, balloon tying and other
kids' activities.

MEET THE AUTHOR: Cathryn Falwell, author and illustrator of
Butterflies for Kiri and other children's books, will be on hand to
meet the children and autograph books.

COME AND SHOP! The fair will also sell bake sale treats, gently used
traditional Chinese clothing for kids and adults, and our special
limited-edition tote bag by Maine artist Betsy Thompson.

THE BOOK FAIR IS FREE and open to the public.

EDUCATOR DISCOUNT Educators receive a 20% discount on all books.

FOR MORE INFORMATION email bamboo@... or visit

Presented by the Chinese and American Friendship Association of
Maine's Chinese School.

Titles selected by Curious City (www.curiouscity.net) and provided
by Books Etc.

The Chinese American Friendship Association of Maine (C.A.F.A.M) is
a non-profit cultural organization whose members include Chinese-
Americans, Americans who have lived or worked in China, parents who
have adopted children from China, and others with an interest in
Chinese history and culture. In addition to the Chinese School,
C.A.F.A.M. offers lectures, holiday celebrations, and an annual
Chinese New Year celebration (slated for January 31, 2009--more

PBS Family Page

PBS has new web site for parents and a web site for kids, about families and I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, PBS has adopted a lot of the creepy "cool" look of pop culture and it adds an edge that is offputting to me (the drawings look a lot like BRATZ for example). On the other hand, they do pull from an interesting group of experts and address topics that I care about.

They have a site specifically directed towards helping parents think about media literacy -- not sure if there is any tounge-in-cheek there, since they are the media, but hopefully it is good stuff...

I spent some time on their sibling rivalry page and am going to bring their book list to the library with me -- it seems like books are always a good way to start conversations in our house, although so many books about siblings -- starting with the new baby books -- stress the negative (think, The Pain and The Great One) . I wonder if part of my attempt at learned optimism should be to focus on books that emphasize the good things -- any suggestions anyone?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Practicing Gratitude

My children attend a Friends School and I look forward to the weekly Friends Meeting that I am invited to attend with them. We sit in silence (sort of) on Monday mornings and practice hearing our own inner voice and the quiet around us. Each month the school offers a theme to ground our thinking and November's theme is gratitude. After chewing on the concept for a few silent minutes this moment, I began to really think about what a complicated concept gratitude can be. It is a little different from what we are glad about, I think, because in funny ways we can be grateful for life's losses and dark experiences, for the silver linings and wisdom that comes from hard times; still, we don't want the hard times, wouldn't wish for them or look forward to the next tough turn our life takes. Gratitude breeds wisdom, or vice versa, I think. All the happiness research seems to indicate that gratitude is also a cognitive pattern -- once we begin optimistic self-talk we can maintain a brighter outlook in general. I am looking for strategies to help my family -- a family a bit pulled toward emphasizing injustice, large and small, personal and global -- practice gratitude without it being too contrived. I'm curious if others have family traditions or rituals that help members notice and articulate appreciation.

I haven't found any great web sites, but am putting Happy-Go-Lucky on my netflix list.

On Beliefnet, the author makes an interesting point about not teaching "reverse envy" ("you should be thankful that you have food when other people are starving") which might cultivate guilt over gratitude -- gratitude is somehow more internal and intrinsic to the person and experience, not relative and interpersonal.