The Ugliest Principle of Our Society

I started to write this a year ago.
I was trying to decide how to address with my child the death of Michael Brown and the uprising in Ferguson and was told time and time again, "You shouldn't introduce her to such things. Preserve her innocence." Every time I'd hear these remarks, I'd think to myself, "If my child was black, I'd have no choice but to explain warn her about what was going on. I'd have no choice but to teach her how and why these things happen so that they might not happen to her. How can it be that the innocence of some children is protected, while others have to know the cold hard truth?" I would think these things, but I didn't say them out loud. Parenting is hard, everyone does the best they can and they don't need to feel judged.

I quietly ignored what I felt was naive advice. I pulled back the curtain, revealing to my daughter a glimpse of society that, for most of her peers, is almost always categorized as history. After all, if I left it with what she learned in school, she wouldn't even know the term racism and she'd go on believing that equality is real and the inequities of society died with Dr. King. I share these things with her, but I never share them with others. Parenting is hard, everyone does the best they can and they don't need to feel judged. Who am I to share my teacher-mom, soapbox advice about such things? It fits into the same etiquette box as religion and politics, right?

It's been more than a year since Ferguson... Since answering the question, "Black Lives Matter- What does that mean, Mama?" There have been so many other conversations. So many other perspectives on what is really happening in our country. And still, I privately teach my child the truth that I know. There are people who are filled with hate. And there will always be those who try to excuse it or explain it way. It's a disorder or disease, the product of poor parenting. It's the fault of Big Pharma and the side effects of their drugs. It's the fear instilled in people by the media and entertainment industries. Maybe all these things are true, but the truest of all is that the hate and the excuses can be summed up with one explanation. Racism. The ugliest principle of our society. I identify this for my child, but I do not point it out to others. Parenting is hard and...

Sometimes parents perpetuate racism by ignoring it, by calling it something else, by hiding it from their children. And sometimes we perpetuate it by not confronting it with others, so that our children might be able to do the same.

As I'm once again trying to decide how to address another racist tragedy with my child, I read and hear so many different perspectives. I didn't think I would encounter anything truer than Jon Stewart's monologue following the horror terror in Charleston, but then I read these words from my friend, Lisa Anderson:
"I have to say that to read time after time after time post all over Facebook from white people that cannot stay on the subject of the root issue that caused him to commit these murders would be offensive to me if I were African American and is offensive to me even in my white privileged skin. When I ask myself why we are not making progress it seems to me to be this very thing. People cannot simply sit with the reality of the culture and societal evils that raise persons like this young man so we change the subject to the issues we are comfortable with like the abstract evil in the whole of humanity and what went wrong with his 'raising'. We have raised him by defending him as having free speech to spout hate, we have raised him by declaring that he should have a weapon to defend himself against 'those' people, we have raised him by segregating ourselves from each other and we have raised him with our empty prayers of concern. I have raised him every time I have not spoken up for people who are victims of hate. God help us stop rationalizing and begin to act as Jesus acted in that temple that had lost it's purpose. Praying is part of our very breath but breathing alone will not keep us well and fit for the Kingdom."
Lisa's words helped me acknowledge my own culpability. Her words give me hope that it is possible for people to address racism, in all its forms, in a real and lasting way.


Lisa Anderson is the pastor is at Colonial Cumberland Presbyterian Church and Director at Room in the Inn-Memphis. 


Old School GPS

I've made the decision to go old school when it comes to navigating our outlearning adventures. Besides the obvious reasons- fostering map skills for Janie Kathryn and GPS isn't always accurate and can be a dangerous distraction- there is compelling research that suggests that GPS isn't good for our brains.

I mentioned that we used maps for navigating a recent trip in the Missouri Ozarks and I've had several really engaging conversations about this over the past year. So, I thought I'd share some of the information I've come across. Here are two articles to use as jumping off points, if you are interested in reading more about brain-based research.

Lazy Brains and Fewer Memories
In this Boston Globe article, Leon Neyfakh writes:

"With the arrival of personal GPS devices in cars or phones, the tough cognitive work involved in mental mapping was suddenly rendered less necessary. Gary Burnett, an associate professor in the engineering department at the University of Nottingham in England, wanted to know what effect that actually had on people’s ability to navigate. In 2005, he set up an experiment using a driving simulator in which test subjects were asked to complete a set of four routes. Half of them were given step-by-step instructions that guided them right to their destination, while the other half were given traditional paper maps. Afterward they were quizzed on what they’d seen, and asked to sketch a rough map of their route. The drivers who had merely followed instructions did significantly worse on all fronts. They even failed to recognize that they’d been led past certain places twice from different angles."

"When we use GPS, the research indicates, we remember less about the places we go, and put less work into generating our own internal picture of the world. Often referred to as mental maps, these schematics tell us where things are in relation to each other and allow us to navigate among them. They are as powerful as they are mysterious, even to specialists who have devoted their careers to studying how they work. 'They are very individual,' said Julia Frankenstein, a researcher at the Center for Cognitive Science at the University of Freiburg in Germany. 'The things which matter to you might be completely different to those that matter to your wife or your children.'"

Building Gray Brain Matter
In this New York Times article,  Julia Frankenstein writes:  

"The psychologist Eleanor A. Maguire and her colleagues at University College London found that spatial experience actually changes brain structures. As taxi drivers learned the spatial layout of London, the gray matter in their hippocampal areas — that is, the areas of the brain integrating spatial memories — increased. But if the taxi drivers’ internal GPS grew stronger with use, it stands to reason that the process is reversible after disuse. You may degrade your spatial abilities when not training them, as with someone who learned a musical instrument and stopped playing."

"Navigating, keeping track of one’s position and building up a mental map by experience is a very challenging process for our brains, involving memory (remembering landmarks, for instance) as well as complex cognitive processes (like calculating distances, rotating angles, approximating spatial relations). Stop doing these things, and it’ll be harder to pick them back up later."

The Magical Missouri Ozarks

I've shared about our adventures in the Missouri Ozarks before. I always describe the area as a magical place, with geological features you won't find anywhere else in the world. My counterpart is always quick to correct me, pointing out that there is actually a scientific explanation for all of these wonders.
 "It's not really  magic, you know."

 This boulder weighs 8,500 lbs. or about the same as 2 cars!!
This was our second visit to the Elephant Rocks and while we may have changed a bit, the landscape hasn't changed much in only five years. The landscape of Elephant Rocks State Park began to take shape 1.5 billion years ago. Yes, that's BILLION... as in before dinosaurs... as in before any multi-celled life forms! These rock formations pushed through ice ages and mass extinctions. Maybe it was the slow-cooling effect of magma and the forces of wind, ice, and water erosion that formed these geological giants. But what are these things, if not Mother Earth's magic? I stand by my statement. The Ozark Plateau is a magical place! 

As the Earth's forces continue to grind against the colossal rocks, rainwater fills dimples in the surface (called tinajitas), offering a fleeting opportunity for new life to begin. We found tons of tadpoles and perhaps even the mama toad. This region offers a multitude of opportunities for science exploration. During this trip, we spent as much time herping as we did climbing rocks.

During a day trip to another destination, we stopped to help this little turtle cross the road.
We examined him closely to check for injuries to his carapace (top shell) and plastron (bottom shell). Once we confirmed he was okay, we did a little research for World Turtle Day and then released him in the woods near Rocky Falls, close to where we rescued him. As much as Janie Kathryn would have loved to make him a pet, her research showed that Ornate Box Turtles do not typically thrive in captivity when they are caught in the wild.  He was very photogenic and not at all timid around us. I can see why this breed of turtle is captively bred for the pet trade.

See more of our turtle friends below!

Have I mentioned that we brushed up on our map skills too? During all of our day trips in Missouri, we put the GPS aside and went old school! You can read more about it HERE.

 That last one is a strange-looking turtle, eh? Who's ready for a road trip to Missouri?


Good Business

As our first year of homeschooling is rolling into our next year of homeschooling, economics learning is in full swing! We're learning the basics of running a business by selling the eggs our chickens lay. With ten chickens and a duck, we collect a lot of eggs! Even so, we consistently sell what we have, after reserving what we need for our own use. Helping a nine year old understand the difference between revenue and profit has been quite interesting. Who knew we could learn so much from chickens?!

We track which birds are laying, eggs that are accidentally broken, dozens that are sold, eggs that are cooked... Every single egg is accounted for. As it turns out, our brood pays for itself... with a little funds left over. Tracking these numbers are important for any business, but for some entrepreneurs it is especially important- it offers important insight into how much can be given away.

When we started this flock, the hatchery from which our chicks were purchased, donated one extra chick, called a "meal-maker." The purpose of the meal-maker is to feed a family in need. So, in accepting the free chick, we agreed to donate her eggs to help a family in our community. Since my business partner and I are such meticulous record-keepers, we know exactly how many fresh eggs can be donated.

This is Dorothy. We named her after Dorothy Day because Janie Kathryn wanted our donations to go to The Dorothy Day House of Hospitality. I had wondered how we could actually help a family with a chicken, but JK's idea was perfect! The Dorothy Day House helps families who are experiencing temporary homelessness stay together during hard times and the eggs of Dorothy-the-chicken could be given to the residents.

Dorothy is all grown up, now. And we are ready to donate her share of the inventory. Though we aren't actually donating eggs that come from Dorothy, we are donating the equivalent number of eggs she adds to our inventory. It's just good business!

If you're interested:
This is the curriculum we have enjoyed, while learning about economics. If you are interested in reading more about The Dorothy Day House, check out other posts about service learning or visit their website.


Farm-to-Table Recipes

Learning about food sources and buying local has been a central learning theme for us lately. We have a garden, ten chickens, one duck, and just became CSA members with Roots Memphis. No. I am not a foodie or a food blogger. Ha! I'm barely a blogger at all. With that disclaimer out of the way, I wanted to create a post for sharing and pinning our farm-to-table recipe successes!

What do you get when you combine duck eggs and mizuna? Quiche!

This recipe {from Crazy for Crust} for pie crust is my go-to recipe for quiche. It's so easy and it's delicious. I rolled out the dough and JK pressed it into a quiche pan.

Quiche Filling:
3 ducks eggs (or 4 chicken eggs) 
1½ cups milk
1½ cups cheddar cheese (from a block)
 1 bunch (1-2 cups) of sauteed mizuna (or other greens)

Mix eggs and milk together. Season to taste. I used salt, pepper, and a little fresh green garlic. Spread half of the cheese over the crust. Spread greens evenly into the dish and top with remaining cheese. Pour egg mixture evenly over the dish. Bake for at 400° for 40 minutes.

A Twist on Falafel + Humus 

This recipe {from my little celebration} for humus with this recipe {from Minimalist Baker} for falafel made with collard greens was so good! I used wheat flour in mine and topped them with sunflower sprouts! 

The beans & greens recipe came from Martha. I substituted my Roots Memphis kale for the escarole and vegetable instead of chicken stock.  
What can I say, I live with vegetarians!

We love trying new recipes, so please feel free to share yours here or on Facebook!


Those Who Can Do More

This post is likely not the last I'll share about service learning, though it completes the posts about our Martin Luther King, Jr. Month of Service Learning. Wow! What a way to start off 2015! I planned to have this posted by the end of January, but I needed time to reflect on the experience as a whole. Okay, that's only partially true. I also got really busy with a family road trip to Louisiana and home renovations. Honestly, I wasn't going to write about our final day at Room in the Inn because I really didn't think there would be anything new to share. I was wrong.

The last day of service learning was a lot like the other days we served at Room in the Inn. We set tables, we made beds, we shared what we knew about homelessness with new volunteers. Of course, by the end of our month of service, these young volunteers needed a lot less help and guidance. In fact, they zipped through all of the tasks and jumped right into discussion with little prompting from me at all. I think it's more accurate to say, they completely took over!

They took turns sharing ideas with each other about how they might continue to help people who are experiencing temporary or chronic homelessness. The discussion not only highlighted what they had learned throughout our project, but how much these brilliant, compassionate, young people have to offer our community. I just sat and listened as one ten year old girl proposed the idea of a hotel for homelessness- a future Memphis institution that would be staffed by the people it aimed to help.

"Maybe people who can afford to stay in the hotel can pay to visit and this can help give jobs to people who can work and live there, until they are no longer homeless."

...As I sat there listening to the budding architect describe the best layout the building, it was so clear that each kid had their own talent to bring to the table- I mean hotel.

I've thought about it every day since then- the grace of a ten year old girl's idea and her passion for sharing it with like-minded kids, who all want to be involved. All this reflection made me realize that behind each one of our service learning projects was a truly inspiring woman. This is not to say that the fellas aren't working hard too. I just think it's worth pointing out that the ladies are doing some really amazing things in this town. How lucky I feel to know these women and see their positive impact on our community... their impact on how other young volunteers see the world around her. 

I bet these women were just as passionate when they were ten.

Sarah at Volunteer Odyssey, who introduced Janie Kathryn and me (and countless others) to all of these organizations and meaningful volunteer work in our community; 

Sister Maureen, whose kindness changes the lives of so many families and makes all who enter the Dorothy Day House feel at home;

Miss Lisa, as she is called by those whose lives she touches as director of Room in the Inn- Memphis- she spreads warmth and compassionate across our city, and not just on the coldest nights; 

Lois, the most organized and dedicated volunteer I know and coordinator of volunteers for Room in the Inn - Trinity;

and Rev Deb, pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church, who leads a congregation in true service to our community.

Lauren at Action News 5, who always highlights the good in Memphis and never gives up pitching the positive stories;

and Erin and Megan at Carpenter Art Garden, whose compassion for children and community is changing lives and igniting a passion throughout Memphis. (Though this wasn't part of our first service learning adventure, I expect it will be in the near future!)

These women are truly, truly inspiring. 
As Las Savell's sign would say, "Ladies, you make Memphis a better place!"


Do the Math: Volunteering Adds Up!

It's seems like so long ago that Volunteer Odyssey introduced us to St. Mary's Soup Kitchen. The first time I walked into the soup kitchen, I remember thinking that it would likely be the ONLY time I ever volunteered there. Was I ever wrong! It's a funny little story, actually.

Since then, St. Mary's has become like home- the people like family. This week marks 34 consecutive weeks that Janie Kathryn and I have volunteered for our Tuesday shift. That's 34 Tuesdays of waking up before the sun, through the hottest weeks of summer and into the coldest of winter. I mention this not to pat myself on the back, but because it's a testament to how much it means to my child and to me to have the opportunity to be there every week. It's an activity that homeschooling affords us and one that engages my child's brain as well as her heart.

There was absolutely no way that we could participate in a month of service projects with other homeschoolers and NOT serve at St. Mary's Soup Kitchen. It would be like asking your friends to come over and not inviting them inside! I knew it might be a stretch to expect a group of youth volunteers to make it downtown by 7:15am, so I inquired about how we might help after-hours. The project: making peanut butter sandwiches and touring the soup kitchen. The sign-up slots filled up almost instantly. How exciting that so many people wanted to come to the soup kitchen- our soup kitchen!

We assembled, 9 kids and 5 moms, and made short work of a sandwich-making session. Everyone brought loaves of bread (30 in all) and together we prepared 360 sandwiches. And yes, we did the math together. It varies by ability, but you might be surprised how much math you can work into making sandwiches. You can actually practice a lot of skills while volunteering at the soup kitchen, but math was not the learning objective of our Month of Service Learning. This group was focused on addressing hunger and homelessness in our community.

During their time at St. Mary's the Service Learners contemplated the challenges of making healthy food choices when eating to ease the pain of hunger. We also considered the fact that people who are experiencing hunger (or food insecurity) are not necessarily homeless. One of my 8 year old friends was quite perplexed by the idea that a parent can work hard at multiple jobs, have a home and a car, and still not have enough money to keep food on the table for the entire family.

We walked through the steps of a volunteer shift at the soup kitchen. The tower of soup was most impressive, while the early morning hours were less appealing. So, of course we talked about other ways to be involved!

Sign up through Volunteer Spot on the soup kitchen's web page. Be sure to take note of the address, so you show up at the right place- a little reference to my first time serving!

You can make donations of food or supplies. Just contact St. Mary's to work out the details. You can also contact me, whether it's leftovers from your party or extra food after a business meeting, I'm happy to help you get your gift to people who need it. You can also make a monetary donation online Every dollar counts

Be Informed
You can sign up to receive newsletters and stay up-to-date on events and opportunities for getting involved at the soup kitchen. You can also follow St. Mary's on facebook.

Now, how about a little soup kitchen math?