Today is Yom HaShoah

Night

One year when I was a 10th grade teacher, my colleagues and I built a heck of a unit around Elie Wiesel’s holocaust memoir, Night.

We were so proud of that unit as we planned it. The novel was the centerpiece. Then there were ancillary short stories, movie clips from Band of Brothers, Schindler’s List, The Devil’s Arithmetic. We wrote quizzes and essay prompts that mimicked the exit exam. We made photocopies and lesson plans and a culminating project. We prepared profiles of real Jews who had experienced the Holocaust to pass out to the students, and on the last day, we would tell them if their person survived or died. We stole that idea from the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles.

We made it as thoughtful and authentic as we could. Then we set out to teach it.

That first year, I was pregnant with Gabe and I skipped the part with the babies. I skipped a lot of stuff that year, because I just couldn’t.

The second year, I made myself sit with it. That was the first year I got a parent phone call about the book, a mom concerned that the story was affecting her student too deeply. Does it have to be THIS book? I was right there with her. I didn’t skip the part about the babies and I had a baby at home.

I also had nightmares.

The third year, I was pregnant with Kate. This was the year we decided to mix up the movie clips, so I sat at home one Saturday and watched The Pianist and Sophie’s Choice, back to back.

Keep the baby quiet.

A son and a daughter. Choose.

I didn’t sleep for two nights.

That year, I cried when I read the part about the babies. I cried when I read the part about the hanging. I cried when we watched the clip in The Devil’s Arithmetic where the mother refuses to leave the baby she has birthed in secret and they are sent together to the gas chamber. I hugged the student who laid her head down on the desk and sobbed. I didn’t write referrals when kids said “That’s fucked up” in class or when a young man stood up in class, threw his book across the room and said “This book is fucking stupid” after we read the part where the son steals food from his own father and leaves him to die.

But when the unit was done, I asked to be transferred out of tenth grade. I couldn’t do it anymore.

Last week, I saw a picture on Facebook of a teacher friend. Her students were all crowded into a small space—the size of a boxcar. She was standing on a desk over them, reading from the book. They’re still doing it, I thought. God bless them.

I get how this sounds: Like we’re all snowflakes who can’t handle the truth, melting at the first suggestion of genocide. Protect the children from this history. Teach it to them, but don’t teach it, teach it. Don’t read about ten year old boys taking three hours to die from hanging while other ten year old boys watched. Don’t talk about babies ripped from their mother’s arms and thrown alive into a bonfire.

We’ve come so far, that mom told me. Do they really need to be exposed to the horrors when we’ve made sure as a society it will never happen again?

There it is. That right there is why we taught the book in the first place, why we built such a confrontational unit, why we created a place for the kids to sit in the bald faced truth of what happened.

The danger of being 80 years away from something is that we think we have the luxury of choosing to pass the information on or not.

We don’t.

Look around the world today. Hatred lives. And not just There. Here. So high school English teachers all over this nation pick up that book every year and walk through the horrors of the Holocaust with a new group of students so that the kids will know.

Today is Yom HaShoah, Day of Remembrance. We can remember the victims of the Holocaust and pray for the peace and repose of their souls. We can ask forgiveness in the name of our ancestral family and friends who did not know or did not do enough. We can pray for generational healing.

And we can all make sure our kids know—at whatever level is appropriate for them—that when we don’t love each other enough, when we don’t remember that there is no such thing as other people’s children, when we see the world as us vs. them, we invite Evil to walk among us.

Resources for parents and teachers

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Museum of Tolerance

Teaching Gratitude

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We went to Lake Tahoe for Easter. We stayed with cousins. We went to the sno-park and had a seafood dinner and there was ice cream and swimming and prime rib and an Easter egg hunt.

And then on Sunday afternoon, when I wanted to hit the shops before dinner, one of my lovelies threw a fit: I don’t want to go shopping. That’s not fun for me. Can I stay home?

Sometimes, when we do stuff, I see my kids grow and learn and I think “This was worth it.”

But sometimes I think “We give them too much for nothing.”

I’ve talked about this before—my worry that the life we give them because we are older parents with more working years and discretionary income under our belts comes with a cost.

My kids have travelled a lot. Shea and I like to travel and make it a priority. But there are moments where I see that the children have come to expect certain things.

At 4 am that troubles me.

In the middle of a condo in Lake Tahoe on Sunday, my head exploded.

That’s not fun for me.

I think teaching our kids gratitude may be the hardest of all parenting lessons. It’s so big and goes on for so long. First, say please. Then thank you. Wait your turn. Share. Be a good listener. Let others go first.

Those are the easy ones.

The older kids get, the more conceptual gratitude becomes. It’s not enough to say please and thank you. Some of the rudest pre-teens I know always remember to say please and thank you.

So here’s what I said: “Life is not all about you. It is not about what’s fun for you. It’s not about you at all. It will never be about you, not ever, ever in your whole life. Unless you are the Grinch and live in a cave with your dog. Even then, you will have to think about the dog. But if you want a family, friends, a job and general happiness, then life will never, ever, ever be just about you. EVER.”

It was a moment. Such a moment that I thought maybe I had cut off too big a slice of truth for their ears. I retreated to my spiritual mom guilt cave and thought about it. For like, 20 seconds, because mom guilt is not my thing and the cave is small.

For five of those seconds my mom ego yelled But these kids ARE special and there should be whole years dedicated to their specialness and one day if we just love them and protect them and write their college entrance essays, they are going to RULE THE WORLD!

I shut her up fast because that is the wrong thing. Jesus wrong, kindness wrong, other people matter wrong. Wrong.

Teaching them that they belong to and are responsible for each other? That’s right. It’s not too early either, because the secular world is selling a different message and selling it loudly. We have to start today so by tomorrow they will realize how connected they are to others and that decisions have rippling consequences and those ripples can be positive and turn into waves and help them CHANGE THE WORLD.

Much better.

In the immortal words of my dad, Papa T—parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. Which means start early AND stay the course. We can’t stop at please and thank you and think we’ve done our job.

It’s bigger than that.

 

My Girl Martha

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Two Sundays ago, the Gospel reading was the Lazarus story from John 11. It’s only glancingly about Lazarus. He died. They buried him.

It’s more about Martha, who came running out to meet Jesus and speak some truth right at Him: If you had been here, he would not have died, which is a conversation we’ll be having later. Right now, you can fix this.

She barely waits for an answer before she gets Mary up and sends her out. She readies the folk. This is Martha. She’s a doer. This is her Messiah and she knows he’s going to do something to make them all feel better. She trusts him.

Mostly.

Because the next thing Jesus says is “Open the tomb” and that is one step farther than poor Martha is prepared to trust.

She points out the obvious, in front of a crowd no less: “Lord, by now there will be a stench. He has been dead four days.”

Or in the Douay-Rheims: “Lord, by this time he stinketh.”

Some people may wonder what Martha was thinking, calling out Jesus in public. Not me. I know that Martha was wondering what Jesus was thinking.

Martha is my favorite Bible lady, the worker bee, acts of service, everything’s under control half of the sisters who were so close to Jesus in his ministry. I relate to Martha. Every time we read the other Martha story, in Luke. I always mutter under my breath in stubborn solidarity “Sure, I’ll sit down and listen but don’t complain to me later when you’re hungry and there’s no food.”

I relate to Martha’s flaw as well—her desire that her plan be God’s plan, instead of the other way around. I get it. I do it. I even think it’s reasonable sometimes.

Why can’t my way be His way, if we’re headed to the same place? Why can’t we follow my directions instead of his?

The answer is a hard one to stomach for Type A gals like Martha and me: It’s because the big picture is BIG, too big for us to see. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead that day in preparation for what was to come: his own death and resurrection.

Jesus loved Martha. And he loves me and all my fellow worker bee, acts of service, everything’s under control sisters and brothers. I know this because he gave us Martha, in the Gospels of Luke and John, so we could see for ourselves that it isn’t wrong to question with an open and honest heart. Only to not listen to the answer.

And can I just say that for me, if there was any doubt to the claim that Jesus was the Son of God, it evaporates in the moment Lazarus walks out of the tomb and Jesus doesn’t cut Martha some side eye.

That is SUPERNATURAL self-control right there.

From That to This

Some people may have seen a giant oak staircase coming down out of the ceiling and thought “That is a really big staircase in the middle of the room.” In fact, Shea was some people. He said “That is a really big staircase in the middle of the room. What do you do with that?”

Same with the wood walls and all the millwork around the doors and windows. The 5 foot wide gold trimmed mirrored closet doors. And the beast of a red brick fireplace.

What do you do with that? You call some people.

I found Bethany and her husband David. They are the owner-operators of Reclaimed Cottage, a business they grew up in Beaumont, Ca—which is close to where we used to live—before it moved up here to the Rogue Valley last Fall. Bethany refinished the kitchen of my friend Michelle and came with glowing recommendations so before we even offered on this home I sent her a Facebook message with pictures of the house that said “Do you see all this wood? I know we can do big things with all this wood. Are you in?”

And she said “YES!”.

And then I said “My name is Jen and I am a friend of Michelle’s”. She just rolled with it, which is how I knew for sure that she and I were going to do big things with all this wood.

I said “I want to white wash the brick fireplace.” She said “Yes.”

I said “I want to paint and distress the wood behind the fireplace so that it looks beachy-cottage-y.” And she said “Yes.”

I said “I want to paint these stairs white, except for the steps, which I want to stain the color of the new laminate.” And she said “Stain is a thing. Takes days and smells up the house. What if we brown wash the stairs with paint?” And I said “Yes!”

We chose wall paint colors—Refuge, Meditative and Sleepy Blue from Sherwin Williams. They’re all shades of blue. It’s now my signature color.Call me Shelby.

We decided on matte white for the bedroom wood wall. When you paint stained wood white, you discover all kinds of holes and imperfections that blended in before. David offered to fill them, but I liked the character so we left it.

I think the stairs turned out amazing and I can’t wait to decorate for the holidays.

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We have miles—of doors—to go before we sleep in a finished home. New interior doors. A new garage door, which was unanticipated. And I think new front doors. The old ones are in fine and refinishable shape, but there’s these eagles on them.

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If I paint them red or black, is that too “Make America Great Again”? Or do they just have to go?

Thoughts?

Stay tuned for the next installment of Reclaimed 1980s Modern Ranch House: “Mom, where’s the milk?!” and other challenges of small kitchen storage.

 

My Babies Are Your Babies Are My Babies

“We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”  Steve King

I have grown.

I used to fear and pray for and love over only my own children. For so long, that was my measure of personal well-being, if my own babies were healthy and happy.

My world was small because I was so scared. And I was scared because my world was so small.

Once I saw it, I fought hard to spread my net of love and prayer farther than just my own babies. And when I did, when I reached out my hands in benediction for more than just my own, my world got bigger. I touched hands with other mamas, spreading their light of prayers and love outward over more than just their own too, and my babies got safer.

My babies are your babies are my babies.

There’s a responsibility here though. To feel the pain. To stand in solidarity with the mothers who have lost.

Who are losing.

Are fighting.

Hiding.

Fleeing.

Searching.

Grieving.

No matter their color, country or creed.

“There’s no such thing as other people’s children.” Hillary Clinton

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How To Get Ready For Lent–From My Sunday School Class

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Dear Ms. Jen’s people,

We want to tell you how to get ready for Lent.

So first, read Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-18. It’s the Ash Wednesday reading in the Catholic church. It may confuse you because it’s all “Don’t let the right hand know what the left hand is doing” on a day when we walk around with ASHES ON OUR FOREHEADS, but Ms. Jen says those ashes tell the world we are sinners, not do-gooders. So it’s actually not hypocritical. And the point is that when we do good things, we do them to honor God and NOT to honor ourselves. If you give up chocolate but go around telling people you gave up chocolate, they cancel each other out.

And Lent is not just about giving something up. You can also take something on. That sounds good but we didn’t know what it meant. Ms. Jen says you can stop doing something or start doing something. Angel said “Like stop eating vegetables and start playing XBOX 1 all day long?”

Ms. Jen said no. Angel was bummed.

If you don’t know what to give up or take on, you could think about these three lines from the prayer at the end of our chapter:

Help us to work with you to bring justice, love and peace to everyone.

This could be giving up mean words, fighting with a brother or sister, talking too much at school. It could also taking on hugging someone every day, giving a compliment to someone every day or leaving an anonymous note on your teacher’s desk (you should type it because teachers are really good at figuring out handwriting and they might thank you and then everyone would think you were teacher’s pet).

Free us from being careless and lazy.

This could be making your bed, folding your laundry, setting the table, clearing the table, doing the dishes, walking the dog, cleaning your room, feeding the dog, cleaning the toilets and so on.

(Really, we only came up with the first three and then Ms. Jen and Ms. Elena, her helper who is also Joseph’s mom, took the markers away from us and kept making the list longer)

Keep us from being blind to goodness.

This could be things like giving up regular music and listening to Christian music, or not playing that one violent video game. Maybe turning off the news or Facebook. This one was weird for us because why is it hard to see goodness? Ms. Jen said it’s more of a grown-up problem.

After you pick something, you should think of someone in your life who made a sacrifice for you. Then you could write them a letter thanking them and telling them what your sacrifice for Lent will be. This is a nice gesture, and it will also help you stick to your thing, whatever it is, because you said it to another person.

(At first we didn’t want to do this, but then Ms. Jen was all “Jesus DIED on a CROSS for you, can’t you write a letter?” It was kind of like, Oh. Yeah.)

So that’s it. Good luck!

Ms. Jen’s 4th grade Sunday School

PS: You get Sunday’s off!

PPS: From Lenten sacrifice, not church.

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Thank you to Angel, Ashleigh, Carolina, Joseph, Margaret and Blaine for such a great class on Sunday and for inspiring this post. You guys crack me up! And the future of the Church is safe in your smart, logical, artistic and kind hands.

Introducing Our Before

I bought a 60 pack of moving boxes on Amazon and told my family to pack carefully because if it doesn’t fit in 60 boxes, it’s not coming. Kate wailed that it took 1,000 boxes to move here from California and I said “Exactly” and let her chew on it.

I called all the people to stop and start service. I called all the other people about floors and walls and  dragging gas lines from the street to the stove. I sweet-talked the nice sales lady into keeping the hutch I just bought in her store until I actually move because Shea said I could only get it if we didn’t have to move it.

I chose paint colors. I culled wine glasses.

I lay in bed at night and try to fit this house into that one. It’s 700 square feet smaller, but I have lots of empty cupboards in this one so I know it’s possible. I’m doing well except for the books. I can’t figure out where to put the books. This is a big problem, since 8 of the 60 boxes are full of books.

(Kate says they shouldn’t count in the final tally if we aren’t going to unpack them until the next house.)

AND DID I MENTION WE’VE HAD THE STOMACH FLU????

Here we go with some Before pictures of our 1983 charmer, as well as some thoughts about what will happen next.

The outside:

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Here is the color scheme for the outside. Shea—who repainted his Maui Sugar Shack twice growing up, assures me he and the kids can do this themselves. However, I can’t think about that today. I’ll think about that tomorrow.

The living room:

Why yes, that is cedar paneling. And yes, the brick fireplace was installed over the paneling. So we’re hoping to do something along these lines, with a whitewash on the fireplace and a chunkier beam mantle.

I love those windows though and the fact that the room is sunken. Call me a child of the 80s but I have always wanted a sunken living room.

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Look at that staircase. That thing is why I wanted the house. It’s magnificent. It’s not original to the house—it leads to an attic loft space that will be Gabe’s bedroom. But those stairs—I have plans for them. Big, lighted, joyful Christmas-y plans.

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I’m good with the kitchen. The former homeowner refinished the cabinets herself and did a wonderful job. She and I would like to chat with the fool who built the brick island though. We had a good laugh over that thing. We’re going to pop some white quartz counters on top, create a taller breakfast bar, paint those bricks black and call it a day.

And then there’s the master. It is by far the biggest master we’ve ever had, which is cool. But the wood. I don’t even know. I honestly want to go to bed and hope for drywall.  Does that work? If you leave some money by the bed, will the drywall fairies come in the night?

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I’m keeping the bathrooms to myself for now. The good news is that the cabinets are real wood and the counters are tiled. The bad news is that both those things are original to 1983.

Right now the plan is tile paint and Grandma on a plane to help me refinish the cabinets. It’s a solid plan. There will be wine. I feel good about Grandma and wine.

I’m super excited about all of it. I can see what the house can be and I love the challenge of doing it as economically as possible. I am also open to suggestions. Apple Hill Cottage, I’m looking at you.

Stay tuned!