Thursday, April 10, 2014

she cut her hair, and i lost it (or, how to transform regretful behavior and teach your kids a bigger lesson).

I had left the scissors on my bathroom counter as I went to the kitchen to call the beauty shop. I had offered to trim my eldest's hair, but she decided she wanted to go to the shop instead. I called and got an appointment, and as I hung up the phone, my four-year-old was standing in front of me with hair in her hands. I was immediately filled with dread. As she looked up at me, I noticed she had cut the side of her hair... the back... and the top.... and instead of staying calm, and using all the knowledge I've gleaned from the parenting books I've read, I might have overreacted.

I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something to the effect of... 
"What did you do?! You cut off all your beautiful curls! Your hair looks terrible now! Why would you do that?! Uggggh! I can't believe you would do that! You know better! You look awful! Oh, I am just so mad right now that I could spank you! (I didn't.) Go to your room until I calm down!"
It's hard to even type all of that. It was an epic parenting failure. She ran to her room and slammed the door, crying. When I walked back to my bathroom, there was (what seemed like) a giant pile of hair on the counter. This only made me mad all over again, and I walked into her bedroom, and basically said the same things a second time. When I left her room, she slammed the door again, locked it, and proceeded to throw herself on her bed, crying loudly. 

About 2.5 seconds later, I regretted what I had said. The parent I want to be would not have overreacted like that. She would not have yelled, would not have placed so much emphasis on something that will grow back, and most certainly would not have equated hair with beauty or value. However, instead of making myself suffer in regret, I realized that I was also being handed a perfect opportunity to parent consciously and authentically. I could keep my pride and "teach her a lesson," or I could humbly admit I was wrong, ask for forgiveness, and teach her a lesson in compassion, love, and connection. I chose the latter.

Before I approached her again, I gave her a few more minutes to calm down. She emerged from her room, carrying a yellow piece of paper and asked to talk to me. We sat on my bed and she showed me the "sorry letter" she'd written. There was a sad, crying face on the top and scribbling underneath where she had "written" her apology. She cried as she read it to me, and I could hardly keep from crying myself. 

I told her that she had nothing to be sorry for. I had left out the scissors without telling her not to touch them. I told her that I had behaved badly, and had said many rude and hurtful things to her. I took her head in my hands and told her that she looked just as beautiful as ever because her hair was not important - her hair would grow back - and that she was an amazing, beautiful kid who I loved simply for being born into this life with me. Tears filled her eyes, and mine, as she said, "That means so much to me, Mom. Thank you. I love you."

The moments leading up to that "I love you," were not my some of my proudest. If I had it to do over again, I would have reacted in a completely different way. However, my imperfect reaction opened the door for me to become a little bit more like the parent - no, the person - I aspire to be. 

We will always do things we regret. We're human. But we don't have to live in that regret. Our regret can be the light that shines on our opportunity to make a different choice, to become more authentic, and to teach our kids a lesson much more important than, "Don't touch the scissors." 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

We're doing bare minimum homeschooling. Because life is the ultimate curriculum.

We are in a bit of a homeschooling lull at the moment, and for the most part, I'm okay with it. I loved this post from Modern Mrs. Darcy, in which she says, "Everyone wants to quit in November and February,"  because I found that the transition from February to March put the brakes on our homeschooling routine. The sun finally started coming out, so we started spending more time outdoors instead of at the dining room table. My husband left on a short deployment, so I was single-parenting for a little stretch. And my oldest daughter had her sixth birthday while he was gone. Things were just out-of-sync in our family.

And here we are at the beginning of April, and we still don't have a rigid homeschooling routine. Add to that the fact that we have friends coming to visit next week and are taking a trip to Kyoto, and that my sister is coming for two weeks in May, and I know our routine isn't going to be looking steady for a while. When the schedule is changing every week or two, it's easy to feel like we're not "doing it right." I notice those thoughts creeping in... the ones that say, "Are your kids learning enough?" or, "You are a terrible homeschooler!" And "the should's" aren't great either... "I should be doing more reading/science/math/art/music/you-name-it."

But this changing schedule is exactly one of the reasons homeschooling appealed to me. We don't follow a homeschooling yearly schedule because we try to learn something every day. If learning is a daily/monthly/yearly goal for us, then it's okay that our homeschooling schedule and routine changes with the seasons in our lives. It may look like we're doing the bare minimum, but I'm convinced that my kids are learning a lot from life itself.

Here's what "bare minimum learning" may look like:

Workbooks and read-alouds to slowly practice what we're learning, and reinforce foundational concepts.

We have a phonics workbook, handwriting workbook, and math workbook. I still don't require any workbooks for my four-year-old because... she's only four! But I do require work from my six-year-old most days. It may only be 1-2 pages in each workbook (and spread out over the course of the day), but even if that's all she does, I can still see progress and retention of what she's learning.

I also use mealtimes for read-alouds as I usually have the girls' undivided attention. We might read one chapter from The Story of the World, or do a short lesson on grammar from First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind: Level 1.

Playing outside with little interruption from me when they start digging in the dirt.

We live in a military community, in a tower apartment. We don't have a large backyard right outside the back door. I think it's important for my kids to get outside and play. They burn off energy, get some exercise, and use their imaginations. And they notice, observe, and ask about things in nature that I forgot were interesting. They learn so much when they get dirty! I know homeschooling is working well when they ask a question, I lack the answer, and their response is, "Well we should look that up and learn about it!"

Using their iPad to practice piano over and over, and over.

Yes, they are "playing" on an iPad. But after the purchase of this app, they have spent significantly more time at the piano in the last month than they have in the last year. I have seen improvement in tempo, sight-reading, and using both hands to play. It's hard to tell my daughter "No" when she asks to use the iPad to practice piano.

Travel! And new experiences!

In just the last month, we went on a tour of the Hina doll museum in anticipation of Japan's "Hinamatsuri" holiday (a celebration of girls). We went on a hike with the girls' favorite Japanese tour guide, Fusako san, to have a picnic lunch under the cherry blossoms. We went to a science museum and art museum in Tokyo. And my girls went with me to the a Buddhism class at a local temple, where they played inside the temple, chatted with priests, and got lots of little candies for being good. :)

This month, we'll be traveling to Kyoto and staying in a machiya (traditional town home), going to Tokyo, taking a day-trip to Hakone, and going on another tour and hike in Kamakura (the ancient samurai capital of Japan).

Next month, we'll be showing my sister around Japan while she visits for two weeks. I think my kids will be learning plenty....

Watching educational television.

Have you been watching "The Cosmos"? If not, you should be. We have been watching a new episode every week, and though much of the information is over the heads of my girls, I have been amazed by their interest. They have learned about the solar system, evolution, DNA (which my six-year-old can explain pretty accurately!), Halley's comet, Isaac Newton, space time, and the theory of light. Because of this show, we've had some interesting science discussions, checked out books from the library to learn more, and watched corresponding videos from and to help them understand those concepts a little more clearly. The Cosmos television series has been an excellent addition to our science lessons.

I'm sure our schedule will settle down a bit more this summer - when it's so hot and humid that we don't want to go outside anymore. But until then, we'll plug along with our daily reading and math, adding social studies, geography, history, and science lessons when they pop up. This is the time for imaginations to run wild, for the world to be awe-inspiring, and for learning to be second-nature. If excitement and curiosity is what I'm going for - and believe, me, IT IS - then I think we're doing just fine with "school" at the bare minimum. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hijiki with Gen san (vegetarian cooking with a Buddhist priest)

As part of our third Buddhism class this past Thursday, one of the priests, Gen san, wanted to tell us about his time spent as the kitchen manager of his monastery. "Tenzo" is the word for the chef at a Buddhist monastery, and when he was in this role, he said there were three rules:
  1. Do not waste.
  2. Do not use instant seasoning.
  3. Do not eat meat or fish.
In addition, all cooking is done over a wood fire. These rules and stove are used to preserve the way of the ancient monks - a tradition followed for the last 1,000 years - and as a way to be prepared in case of emergencies like the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. 

At a previous class, Gen san brought a delicious dish to share with everyone and I asked him for the recipe. So at the next class, Gen san came prepared with more hijiki to share, as well as large pictures to illustrate how to prepare the sea vegetable dish. 

Hijiki is a brown sea vegetable growing wild on the coastlines of Japan, Korea and China. Hijiki can be sautéed with other root vegetables, tofu, and/or legumes for a delicious side dish. 

For your hijiki dish, you'll need:
  • 1 package of hijiki
  • 1 package of kelp
  • 3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms (soak overnight prior to use)
  • 2-3 carrots
  • 1 package of abura age - pronounced "AH-geh" (seasoned deep-fried tofu pouches)
  • 2-3 tbsp of olive oil
  • sake
  • soy sauce

Hijiki package

Soak your hijiki for 1 hour prior to cooking.

Kelp package
 Also soak your kelp and mushrooms.

Dried shiitake mushrooms
Gen san said the dried mushrooms are better, so you'll need to soak them overnight. 

After the mushrooms have soaked all night, cut off the stems and set aside (you'll use them later), and save the water in which the mushrooms were soaking. Cut the mushroom tops into slices.

Package of age ("AH geh")
Cut the age into pieces and set aside.

Cut your carrots into fourths and cut off the peels to form cubes. 

Slice the peels.

Now slice the cubes. 

After you have prepared your other ingredients, you should have your mushroom stems, kelp (soaked), hijiki (soaked), age, mushroom tops, and mushroom water. These are the ingredients we'll add to the carrots after they have cooked.

Grab your olive oil and sake.

Heat some olive oil on high heat. 

Add all of your carrots.

After the carrots have cooked for a few minutes and begin to soften, add your mushroom stems.

Add the sake. When we asked how much to add, Gen san made a pouring motion. So add a lot!

Add your kelp and some of the mushroom water. You'll want to add enough so that your carrots will boil and soften.

When the carrots are very soft, turn the heat back down to low. Now, go grab your hijiki that was soaking.

Wash it a couple of times, rinsing with clean water each time. Then strain.

Add your hijiki to the carrots.

Then add your mushroom tops.

And now the age.

Turn off the heat and let it cool off a bit before adding your soy sauce. I didn't know this, but high heat changes the taste of the soy sauce. Add as much or as little as you like. 

That's it! You're ready to serve your hijiki. In temples, it is typically served with white rice and miso soup. And it will keep in your refrigerator for 2-3 days if you'd like to serve it later.

I will be attempting to fix hijiki for the first time tonight, though I'll be using only carrots. Maybe next time I'll try it with some of the age. 

Thanks, Gen san!

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Hike in Kamakura

**Directions and notes about this hike can be found at the bottom of this post.

On Wednesday, the girls and I were excited to head out on another tour with Fusako san, a wonderful Japanese woman who knows the ancient city of Kamakura like the back of her hand. She has an incredible knowledge of the many 1,000-year-old samurai trails that snake through the hills of Kamakura, and we have gone on some great hikes with her. All I have to do is tell my girls that we're going on one of Fusako san's hikes and they are thrilled.

This tour had its focus on the sakura - the cherry blossoms - that are covering most of Japan this
week. They are in full bloom, and only last maybe a full week (if you're lucky, and have no wind or rain) before all the petals start falling to the ground like snow. We started off the tour by taking the train to Kamakura and walking up the sakura-lined path that leads to the prominent Hachimangu shrine.

My oldest walking with Fusako san (in the green jacket).

Instead of going all the way up to the shrine, we turned left and walked over to Jufuku-ji temple. This temple is number 3 of Kamakura's five great Zen temples, and is not open to the public. Ever.

We had so many people on this tour that we had to create a makeshift flag for everyone to follow!
We walked to the left of the temple and followed a path towards the back where the cemetery is located. This is where we found the trailhead towards Genjiyama park.

Photo by my youngest daughter. 

One of the first things we saw upon entering Genjiyama park was this statue of Minamoto Yoritomo, who in 1192 was appointed the first shogun (highest military officer) of the Kamakura shogunate.

The section of the park where we were to have lunch was breathtaking. We could see the sakura long before we got there. It was like snow covering the trees. Simply stunning.

Just as we got into the picnic area, we spotted some newlyweds taking pictures under the sakura. They seemed a tad bit embarrassed as we circled them to take pictures, and clapped in celebration.

See that pink flower in her hand? My youngest ran up to her and presented it to her as a gift.
All the Japanese ladies let out a collective, "Awwwwww!"
Photo credit: Miho Yoshikawa

Kuzuharoka shrine

Photo credit: PA Tran Le

The girls jumped at the chance to purchase a small plate (100yen) that they could smash against a rock.

Photo credit: PA Tran Le

Kirei, desu ne?

We had a wonderful picnic lunch, sitting under the sakura ("ohanami"), before heading back down through the hills and ending up near the Great Buddha.

We had a great day, and I'm so glad we were able to take advantage of the amazing weather to have lunch under the sakura. The week or two of sakura is my favorite time of year in Japan. I think I'm going to have to plant a sakura tree whenever we settle down, buy a house, and have a yard. And a gingko tree... and some bamboo....

If you'd like to go on this hike, I've provided a link to Google maps with directions from Kamakura station to the trailhead at Jufuku-ji temple. Once you are on the trail, there are signs leading toward Genjiyama park, as well as signs leading from Genjiyama park towards the Great Daibutsu (Buddha) trail that ends near the Big Buddha, and is close to Hase station.  Parts of this trail are not stroller friendly, but there are long sections where the path is large enough for a car. Enjoy!

Kuzukaraoka-Daibutsu Hiking Course (click to enlarge)
Click here to see directions to Jufuki-ji temple.