Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Embracing the Moment

When I was in fourth grade my parents moved to another house within our school district. Looking back this move brought about the first major change in my life. Even though, my parents assured me I would see my old friends when I went to junior high. This was three years in the future – an eternity in a child’s eyes. I was leaving a group of friends I had started in kindergarten with and attending a new school. I was also leaving behind a whole neighborhood filled with girls and boys my age. In this new neighborhood, I was the oldest girl among my younger brother’s friends. The nearest girl to my age was second grade and as a fourth grader this was a big deal.

At this new school I definitely stuck out like an odd bird in that school. I was dressed vintage 1950’s ideology before the TV show Happy Days became popular. Imagine bobby socks in the middle of a Cleveland winter – this was me. My mother had it in her mind that I should set an example by dressing in appropriate attire for school and this didn’t include pants (thus the 1950 mindset). My mother’s ideas were in conflict to these new and exciting time. It was the 1970 and the women’s movement was alive. Girls my age had choices and could wear jeans to school like the guys, but I had no choices other than to wear either a skirt or dress. What made matters worse even the Brady Bunch girls on TV got to wear pants to school.

It was hard being the new kid. You walk into a school, nervous because you have no idea what you are walking into. In my case, I was quickly placed into a box that I would spend the rest of my North Olmsted days trying to get out. I could jump rope okay but couldn’t spell – and the clothes: “Because my mother makes me”... wasn’t working out.

Where I found sanctuary was with my teacher Mrs. Kohl. She didn’t care what I wore and didn’t care that I couldn’t spell. And then there was Amy, she liked me the way I was. As a wise fourth grader sage, Amy always seemed to put things into prospective. What’s more she played chess and liked math – this put her in an odder position than me wearing skirts and dresses all the time. (Did I mention I also have braces and glasses....). When no one sat with me at lunch – Amy plopped herself down and began to tell it like it is. She always seemed to see the big picture and it wasn’t here it was somewhere in the future. She believed things would be different someday. Amy had self confidence – I wished I had back then.

My YFU children seem to have this confidence too. They embraced their differences and used it to their advantage. As the new kid, everyone knew who they were – the foreign exchange student. (That in itself is so exotic). However, my YFU children haven’t let people determine who they are, but have taken control over their destiny. They’ve been the captain of their ship. They’ve used this time to explore a different aspect of their self they didn’t know exist. Stina tried out science and discovered that she liked it. Jan? American sports – Football, basketball and track. Jakob – he submitted a scholarship application and got it for a trip to Washington DC. (We’re still waiting for Ayumi’s adventure to unfold)

Stina recently wrote me saying: “each day is an adventure.” I remember her coming back from school telling me how she’d shrug off comments about how she dressed by saying: This is what we wear in Sweden. (And, why didn’t I think of that phrase back in 4th grade?). Continuously, World Walkers tell they‘re having a once in a lifetime experience and are planning on living it to the fullest. The sky’s the limit on what they can experience here .... as long as it isn’t listed under dangerous activities. What people say – isn’t going to hold them back.

I wonder if we all decided to live this adventurous way. I wonder if life would be easier if we thought we were having a once in a lifetime experience. Myself? Back in 4th grade I would have thought more about what adventures Amy and I could share than agonizing over my clothes.

Brady Bunch Pork Chops and Apple Sauce....
Peter asks Alice what is for supper? She relies: Pork Chops with Apple Sauce.... Then Peter with his funny ways repeats in a bad Humphrey Bogart: “Pork Chops with Apple Sauce....”

4 Pork Chops
Salt and Pepper for seasoning 
1/4 cup of dried cranberries
1 Jar Applesauce
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Add pork chops to iron skillet and brown over medium heat.
3. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Pour applesauce and cranberries over pork chops.
5. Bake 45 minutes or until done in the oven.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Secretary Clinton Thanks Host Families

In case you missed this webcast Secretary Clinton thanks host families. 

"As American families prepare to send their children back to school, thousands of families and schools across the country are also welcoming young people from abroad to live with them and study in the United States. Nearly 27,000 international secondary school students come to the United States each year and are hosted by American families. Secretary Clinton recently took the opportunity to thank these American host families for opening their homes and hearts and personally engaging with people from all over the world."

I'm a mom to one of these nearly 27,000.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homesickness and Chocolate

One of the reasons I decided to become a Mom to YFU World Walkers is when I was in high school I wanted to be a foreign exchange student. It was one of those dreams I had to keep to myself, because I knew the response if inquired. My parents were on a limited budget and didn’t have the money to fulfill a dream like this. And, the babysitting money I was saving barely scraped the amount needed; It scarcely paid for the books and art supplies I needed when I went to college.

As a teen, I really liked to travel and saw myself as an adventurer. I was a modern Laura Ingles Wilder rolling across the frontier full of grit and independence mixed with a little quirkiness of Pippi Longstocking; Vivian Lee as Scarlet with her fist up in the air saying: I’m going to lick this; A Marlo Thomas or Mary Tyler Moore career woman in New York City or a Maria Von Trapp portrayed by Julie Andrews singing: “I’ve got confidence...” and marching off to the bus stop with her bag. I admit, during my teen years all of my foreign travels were through books and old black and white movies played on WUAB Channel 43. It was cheap and I didn’t have to ask for permission to travel. Oh the places I traveled to: ancient Greece, Austen’s England, Post War Germany, Ireland, Scotland, India, Mars......

I did travel quite a bit when I was young. My parents took us camping during the summer touring the US. I froze my butt off in San Francisco in a flimsy wind breaker; roasted in the back seat on red vinyl in a non-air condition car to see the Alamo; and did a death march on the Boston Historical tour.

My first adventures without my parents had to be Mohican Camp when I was in sixth grade. Homesickness? I don’t remember missing home. I was too busy tramping around the woods in the snow. Weekend Girls Scout cabin trips with Mrs. Zolar, again I was having a great time earning badges such as cooking, hiking and nature. When I was in cadettes, we went to Washington DC; again I had a great time and still have the Matryoshka doll from the Smithsonian. In senior high, I went on a backpacking trip with a church group. I strapped on the backpack filled with food, sleeping bag and tent for the week. Me and ten other Presbyterian high school students from all around Northern Ohio, again I can’t remember missing home, because I was too busy exploring my different surroundings.

In the fall of 1981, I finally left for college; I couldn’t wait to head for Columbus town – home to the Buckeyes. My first quarter was so busy meeting new friends, studying, dancing until 2:00 am on the weekend and eating terrible cafeteria food – I sometimes forgot to call home. And, back in the early 1980s communicating home was expensive long distance call and not a “click send.”

So when people say they’re homesick it’s a foreign subject for me.

My neighbor told me I was bred to not have homesickness. He’s concluded it’s in my genetic make-up (along with heart disease, ability to roll my tongue and the need for glasses). Personally, I think it goes back to how I saw my self (see the second paragraph). I continue to see my travels away from home as one big adventure. Each time I travel, I need to experience the place down to the minute detail. This has lead to high stressful periods like when I first visited Europe. I tried unsuccessfully cramming as much as possible into every second of the day. Death marches were part of the experience, but then I had trained for in back in Boston. (Tom is a very patient man.) However, I’ve now added food to the mix.

Sure I've missed home, but I’ve found it’s the convenience of home I’m missing. At home, I can rattle off where the coffee shop is; where the art movies are shown; where I can get a great rice pudding; or know the location of the bookshop; and of course I don’t have to figure out where the light switch is. Somewhere down the line, I’ve learned that if I focus on all the conveniences I’m missing from home I won’t find new favorite places to go – like the coffee shop in Luca, the old book store in Tucson and Glastonbury, or the curried Indian food in Kyoto.

Differences? My belief is: if I wanted things to be the same as home why would I spend the money and travel? It would be cheaper to stay at home and watch the travel station.

But, there are some World Walkers do experience homesickness. If you’re considering becoming a World Walker parent for the year, I’ve learned to ask frequently about this feeling – thumbs up day, thumbs in the middle or thumbs down day? Sometimes World Walkers don’t want you’re to know or don’t feel comfortable telling you. But not inquiring about it can lead to an unhappy relationship and a stressful home environment. In other words, it is much better to get it out in the open to deal with than to let it fester the entire year.

I readily suggest offering your World Walker some coping skills. If these don’t work don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to ask for help from another adult. Giving your World Walker other adult non-parent relationships is a powerful framework to help with the growth and well-being of the young person. It’s also research theory based (Search Institute). I’ve had no problems calling my support network to assist me including: my YFU volunteer coordinator (Martha), neighbors, teachers, and school counselors. Finally, try not to wear your feelings on your shoulder if your World Walker decides to tell someone else. It’s about them getting their feelings out and not about you being the bad parent (refer back the Search Institute Work).

Tips you can share with your World Walker:
  • You’re not the first student to feel this way.
  • What are the new experiences you are gaining and can share with friends back home? Do you want to set up a travel blog?
  • Can I help you sign up for a club, choir, band or sport?
  • Have you e-mailed, facebooked your friends and family today? Why don’t you schedule a routine time to call/skype home.
  • At our home and in the US we vent our feelings to help work them out. Thank you for coming to me and sharing your feelings. It’s important to share them rather than keep them inside.
  • It is okay to feel angry, frustrated, sad, foolish, or incompetent here. Everyone feels this way when they start something new.
  • Who have you talked with during class? Why don’t you ask them to lunch, to the game or coffee. I bet the (name) is sitting at home watching the game or tv program; why don’t you call them up and do it together.
When all else fails – offer chocolate to them and have one yourself? I’m not talking about the milk chocolate waxy stuff we have in America. I’m talking the dark rich kind. (Quit laughing.) Chocolate has been proven through research to help reduce stress. Chocolate is high in flavonoids which have been identified as relaxing properties. Chocolate also contains phenethylamine, a chemical that enhances your mood. Researchers have found that eating the equivalent of one average-sized dark chocolate candy bar (1.4 ounces) each day for two weeks reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the “fight-or-flight” hormones known as catecholamines in highly stressed people. (The study, titled “Metabolic Effects of Dark Chocolate Consumption on Energy, Gut Microbiota, and Stress-Related Metabolism in Free-Living Subjects” was published online in the November 13, 2009 Journal of Proteome Research. )

Below is a recipe known as the Chocolate Pflaff. Jan brought this recipe from his home and made it for potluck events.

Chocolate PflaffJan (2009-2010)
Heidelberg, Germany

1 Tasse starker Kaffe (1 cup of dark coffee)
300 g herbe Schokolade darin schmelzen, abkuhlen. (10 oz of melted chocolate)
0,5 L Sahne mit Schnesteif in grosser Schussel schlagen (2 1/2 cups of whipped cream)
Schokolade vorsichtig unter die Sahne heben, mit Mandelsplitter order Schokostreuzen verzieren, kuhlstellen. (Mix the coffee and the chocolate together. Whip the cream. Fold the chocolate mixture into the whip cream gradually)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Crucible

“If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and leap governments...to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other.” Eisenhower (1956)

Ayumi is reading The Crucible for her English Class. To refresh people’s memories... It’s a play written by Arthur Miller http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/miller/biography.html (1953) that fictionalized the Salem witch trials. The play is his allegory to the McCarthy trials that were going on in Washington during ‘50s. In both trials, the public is driven into a fear based obsession to find everyone that is different and who didn’t conform to the majority’s beliefs and values. Once, these people were found they were forced to admit their guilt and join the majority or else be eliminated or thrown into prison.

Yes, I know there are other elements driving some of Miller’s characters like greed for a piece of property, coveting another’s husband and maintaining authoritative power; but what I want to write about is the oppressive nature humans have and is illustrated in this play. Specifically how this play showing how society continues to shove misfits out into the cold because we are made to feel uncomfortable. I believe these are the ideas my English teacher at North Olmsted, Ohio pointed out when I read The Crucible and it’s what I always associate this play with. (Yes, I was a normal teenager and at the time admit to the practice of studying it for the test, writing an essay and doing a brain dump. But somehow this was one of the books I remember along with Mr. Denmen's social justice discussion on Picasso's "Guarnica")

The way I see it, there’s no utopian Kumbaya city in the US. My city is no different than any other city and it’s made up with: 1) people who want to box people into inescapable categories and 2) people who are trying to unlearn this idea. So when I attended Ayumi’s ‘meet the teachers’ night’ at our local high school; these two types of people greeted me. (Note: I’ve had the similar experiences for Jakob, Stina and Jan.) I need to warn you; sometimes you need a good pair of glasses to spot this behavior in adults, at least in my city. No one’s behavior that night was overt like the heretic accusing characters’ found in the Crucible or like we’ve seen this summer in Arizona or New York about undocumented citizens or Muslims’ building mosques. It was very subtle.

If you are thinking about being a YFU parent then you need to know and admit this hateful behavior is present in your city and in our country. You must be able to confront it if needed. Finally, you need to be willing to examine how this exists within yourself and figure out how to unlearn it. I admit I’m not a saint and haven’t been cured of this disease; I’m forever struggling to unlearn it- I often ask myself: "Where did I come up with that idea?" This is one of my crucibles.

Why is this so hard?
The way I see it; every civilization including the United States has been built on the backs of the dehumanized; and no race, creed, age or fill in the blank has escaped from being the scapegoat or slave. Re-examining Miller's The Crucible who was accused of being a devil's instrument: a slave woman, a poor homeless woman, a woman who read, a woman who said it like it was and an old man who didn't have anyone to stand up for him.... The weak and the poor.

This idea is hard to get away from. It’s in our media and jokes, caricatures that poke fun at people that are different. And, in some cases it instills fear and hate about a group of people by indoctrinating our minds to believe that dehumanizing actions are acceptable behavior in certain circumstances. It’s like Honeysuckle which is hard to get rid of. Cut down, it still manages to come back. I keep working at it.

People have asked me is it different being a surrogate Mom to foreign children? Though there are some differences in being a YFU Mom vs. being Z’s Mom; when it comes to any of my children feeling oppressed, feeling left out or being made fun of – these mother bear-like qualities seem to rise up out of nowhere. I admit. I’m the first to raise the flag of injustice for my children. Sometimes, I think I come across like the Field of Dreams’ Mom when she passionately stands up and speaks her mind at the PTA meeting. I ask you - why would I ignore these bullying or racist actions that may happen against my YFU children and not tolerate them if it is happening to Z?

I think the real difference is how these harassments are resolved.

My YFU children are teens and Z isn’t. Parenting a teen is an art. In this case, you must continually ask if they want you to step in. And, then know when it’s time for adult intervention. Warning: Teens are often more creative in resolving conflict then us adults – we could learn from them. I think of Stina's (2008-2009) courage standing up to several young men in her class who made fun of her accent.

Lately, the teens I’ve interacted with in my city seem more accepting, than some of the adults. Perhaps it’s because they’re a teen and are more willing to step in another’s shoes. Maybe it’s what drives adults crazy about teens - their unwillingness to conform to cultural norms and act a little more like John Proctor? Maybe there's else something going on.

At parent’s night I was standing in the hallway during Ayumi’s study hall period waiting. Two boys asked if I was lost. I said no. My daughter has study hall this period. The one boy asked who my daughter was. I said ‘Ayumi.’ ‘The foreign exchange student?’ one asked. I said yes and told them I was Jan’s Mom last year. The young man remarked: “We need his web-designer ability.” The other signed: “Janold. The football team misses him.” I asked the first if he was on the football team. “No, I play drums in the band.” I told him Ayumi plays traditional Okinawa drums. I told him he should ask her about the drum corps she’s in back home. (With these teens I see a future conversation. A future cross-cultural understanding – unofficial diplomats meeting and not the ugly mob)

What No Recipe?
No, I don’t have any period recipes. Sorry. My Irish ancestor Col. Halferty hasn’t been born yet and doesn’t arrive to America for another 80 some years. If you are interested in what dinner would be like in the 17th Century America – here’s a link. http://plimoth.org/kids/homeworkHelp/dinner.php And, the Salem, Massachusetts city guide will give you more information about the witch trials http://www.salemweb.com/

If you would like to know more about Miller PBS Great Masters has several essays http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/episodes/arthur-miller/none-without-sin/56/

If you want a copy of Miller’s play: First, please support your local public library and try to get there; 2) buy a copy from your local Independent Bookstore - one of my favorites is http://www.bookloft.com/ in Columbus, Ohio. 3) you can also find it on Amazon:

The picture: November 1, 1954 The Bristol Old Vic Company in a scene from Arthur Miller's play The Crucible Picture Post - 7840 - Crucible - unpub. (Photo by Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Getty Images)