Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

I think the kids nowadays say “I’m shook”? And I feel like this is the correct context for my first time ever using that slang, because this book for reals left me “shook”.

I just can’t say enough good things about the work and research that went into this book. And for people to share their stories like this is incredible too when you think about it! The author tells the overlapping true stories of 7 different people and their families as they slowly discover that communism doesn’t work and the leader they so loved has cheated them.

The alarming problem with North Korea that is illustrated in this non-fiction text is not that they live in squalid conditions under crazy dictators and without electricity. (I mean, that’s a huge problem, but that’s not the most alarming part.) No. The alarming problem is that Korea made its way into the twentieth century at pace with the rest of the industrialized world, but before the century ended, North Korea LOST their power grid. Can you imagine living your normal life with internet and theaters and telephones (which I can assume you have if you’re reading this), going through something as awful as a war, and then slowly watching each of those things be taken away as the electricity goes out?! It just blows my mind. I had never stopped to wonder what North Korea had once been, only ever looking at it as we all know it now.

I can’t even say more without giving it away. Just go read it. Please. And then tell me you read it so we can gab about it and maybe start a book club!

How to Decipher Your Grandma’s Navajo Taco Recipe

My whole life I have been fed Navajo tacos. Whenever there were big events or guests, my mom had a few go-to recipes to feed a crowd, and one of those options was Navajo tacos! My husband thought it was a weird joke when I told him that my mom used to make us sort the pinto beans and acted like it was a fun game or competition. But that was my real childhood! When my family was done with the beans and toppings, we’d move in on the leftover fry bread for dessert. Some good ol’ multipurpose fry bread and honey!

The first time I tried to make it myself was years ago in Russia! My dear Navajo companion was crashing at my apartment that weekend, so we decided on a little taste of home for dinner. It was a disaster. I don’t remember what went wrong, but I know that we were embarrassed at the outcome. So every time I’ve thought about making them since then, I just think that if the two of us couldn’t do it together, then there’s no way I’ll manage on my own and toss the plan.

That is, until this last weekend.

I did it! And it was so easy! My mom have me the recipe and said, “Just follow this exactly. It’s tried and proven!” I was like, sweet! This looks super easy! Any recipe card as dirty as the one she sent has to be good.

Buuuut it was also written 20 years ago by a small town woman, who is a much more confident cook than myself, and I had so many questions about the cooking instructions.

So let me help fill in the gaps with things I was told by my mom and sister who patiently answered my phone calls all day as I prepared for this meal.

Ingredients:

  • 4 (15oz) cans cooked pinto beans OR 4 cups dried pinto beans
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 small onion
  • garlic salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 packages of yeast
  • 1 Tbsp margarine (melted)
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp sat
  • 6-7 cups of flour

Meat and Bean Instructions

1. If you are using dried pinto beans, they’ll need to sit in the slow cooker for about 8 hours so start early! You’ll want to check your dried beans and make sure to sort out any small rocks that may have found their way into the bag. Then put the beans in the slow cooker and cover with water for 8 hours. Brown the meat and add it and onions in with about 2 or 3 hours to go. If you are using canned beans, do NOT drain them. Just pour the entire can in.

2. Brown the meat and sautee the onions before throwing them in.

3. Add garlic salt and pepper to taste. (My sister suggests lots of salt and pepper.)

4. Cook all ingredients together for 2-3 hours.

Fry Bread Instructions

  1. Put 2 cups of warm water in a bowl and add the yeast, slowly mixing it until it dissolves.
  2. Mix in the other ingredients, withholding the flour til last.
  3. Add in the flour immediately after the other ingredients. (If you’re like me and realize you have to run to the neighbors to borrow some flour, the yeast will start to rise even without the flour)
  4. Knead it together by hand or in your kitchen aid until it’s nice and stretchy.
  5. Let sit for 15 minutes.
  6. Roll into balls and then stretch them into 6-8 inch circles.
  7. Warm up about 1/3 cup of vegetable oil on the stove to medium-high heat, and fry the dough on each side for about 20-30 seconds.

What Can We Learn From 20 Mom-Centered Birthing Traditions Around the World?

Any day now, I am going. To pop! And I could not be more excited to have another baby boy join the family soon! I actually had a moment this week while texting my husband about summer plans where I started to type, “Oh, the boys will love that.” And I just loved the way “the boys” sounded so much that I totally teared up. Really, what could be sweeter than two little brothers exploring and wrestling and growing up almost exactly two years apart?! Probably two sleeping brothers, is what you’re chuckling to yourselves right now, but I’ll get there when I get there.

In honor of the upcoming chaos, and to kick start today, I think I’m going to try to start a new trend of saying, “it takes a village to raise a mom.” Because, let’s be real, mom’s need lots of help to keep from going crazy most days. The more I’ve studied different cultures birthing traditions, the more reassured I stand in driving this movement for a new saying.

I really believe that having a better understanding of the variety of traditions that exist has helped me have a better vision of what a supported pregnancy and motherhood SHOULD be like. Not just for myself, but especially for others around me that I can do a better job of reaching out to. Whether you’re pregnant, a pregnant woman’s partner, hoping to get pregnant, a new mother, or just know someone that is expecting, you’re going to find ways you can better be a part of the “village” and really raise up the women around you. At least, that’s what I found.

Keep reading to learn about more traditions and why we can’t stop taking care of women once the baby comes!

What are some birthing traditions around the world?

I interviewed a few amazing women about what they have seen as midwifes, doulas, and childbirth educators, and many of these are traditions they introduced to me, mixed with a few I found or knew on my own.

Congo: “The woman from the Congo I worked with recently had virtually her whole family visit her in the hours following birth (despite it being a cesarean section), she was notably exhausted, but it was too culturally rude for her to tell people not to come.  She tied a woolen bracelet around her baby’s hand as her belief was that birth was an impure event and she shouldn’t be exposing herself or her baby to her loved ones without this band around the baby’s wrist to rid him of the impurities of birth.”  -Amy Vacarro

Philippines: “Another woman I worked with recently was from the Philippines. She had married an Australian man and didn’t want him at the birth as in the Philippines, birth is the realm of women and husbands aren’t allowed in.  He wasn’t particularly happy about this mind you!” -Amy Vacarro

Australia (Aboriginal Tribes):  “Traditionally Aboriginal Australian women have some interesting cultural ceremonies around birth, such as smoking the baby (passing the baby through smoke that is emanating from a fire with Eucalyptus branches and leaves) and burying the placenta within their traditional homelands so that baby always has a connection to country and knows where they belong. ” – Amy Vacarro

See the amazing aboriginal smoking ceremony and placenta burial in this video! For a more full explanation of birthing on country, check out https://www.sbs.com.au/topics/life/health/explainer/birthing-country

Native American Tribes (Navajo): Blessingways. “It is traditionally a Native American ceremony, particularly from the Navajo tribe. It is a sacred pre-birth ceremony celebrating a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood. It is steeped in rich culture and tradition for natives and is a glorious honoring of a woman. As Christians have used it, I have found it to also be a beautiful gift to the soon-to-be mother. Prayers and blessings offered, words of affirmation and encouragement, filling the mother-to-be’s cup with love and confidence. It is an intimate time of nurturing and caring for the woman while she awaits the impending birth of her child”. – Doula Nolleen

Bosnia:  “The mother-to-be can’t be cold. It is more of a superstition I feel like than a practice and more lived out by the older generation. But nonetheless, it doesn’t matter if it is 80 degrees and hot outside, they will put blankets on you, sweaters, slippers, and feed you hot soups and hot teas! Well, there’s typically no AC in Bosnia, so the last thing you want is more articles of clothing on you, but the elderly women get very concerned if you aren’t ‘warm’. ” – Doula Nolleen

Russia (Chukchi people): Pregnant women leave their house every morning after waking up, look at the rising sun, and then circle their home in the direction of the sun’s movement.

Russia (Nenets people): Because these people migrate multiple times a year across the Siberian Arctic, timing a pregnancy can be vital to their productivity and survival. While it’s not an exact science, husbands and wives certainly make this a conversation and goal to try to have babies at certain times of the year. Women are essential laborers in this type of community, and want to be as present as possible during seasons of heavier labor and herding. And in case you’re imagining cattle herds – you’re a little off. They migrate with their herds of REINDEER! How cool is that?!

PC: Thomas Debray at freeimages.com
Learn all about the exploration of Alegra Ally across the Yamal Peninsula with the Nenets women as they perform their migratory labors and give birth in some of the harshest living conditions! This project really is incredible! https://www.babble.com/parenting/alegra-ally-wild-born-project-pregnancy-birth-motherhood-indigenous-women/

**The following examples are taken from lecture notes of part of an amazing course taught in Phoenix by Matrescence, and focused more on traditions for healing and well-being during the fourth trimester, or post-partum period. You can learn more about Matrescence at https://www.4thtrimesterplan.com/ **

China: Zuo yuezi, or “to sit the month,” is a month of postpartum rest where mom’s only responsibility is to feed and be with her baby. One or more female relatives, usually mom or mother-in-law, take over all of the house chores for the time period.

Korea: Samchilil, which literally means “twenty-one days”, decrees a period of at least twenty-one days, and ideally thirty days, of specialized maternal care dedicated to keeping mom warm, snug and well-fed.

Vietnam – Nam lua, which has also been called “mother roasting”, is postpartum tradition of laying in a bed over hot coals, and giving new moms nourishing food, warmth, rest, and special care in order to fully recover from birth. Personally, this mother could go for a hot bed of coals and roasting right about now!

India: The new mother often returns to her parents’ home with her newborn for up to three months of focused care by family and the greater community. Ayurvedic postpartum care practice the five- thousand-year-old healing art of postpartum care over 42 days. It focuses specifically on balancing doshas. The vata dosha is characterized by dry, cold, light, minute, and movement, and childbirth is said to be a “vata-provoking experience (Sweet Blessings).”

Malaysia: Pantang protocol involves seclusion, hot stone massages, full-body exfoliation, herbal baths, and hot compresses to care for the life forces that are sourced in her womb.

Japan: Traditionally, the Ubugoya (the childbirth hut) was like a community of new and expecting mothers to live, learn and teach motherly skills together outside the village. The first-comers taught the later-comers how to take care of babies. In modern day, it is common practice for a woman to go back to her parents’ house before the birth and be cared for from one to three months.

The Japanese Gaki zôshi scrolls depict an aristocratic woman in her personal birth room, surrounded by women (family and attendants) while separated from the rest of the room. The scary creature waiting anxiously next to her is a demon-like being that feeds on death, and represents the potential dangers of childbirth. You can read more about this in the first part – “delivery and dangers” – of this essay.

Somalia – Afantanbah is another postpartum confinement tradition of giving mothers 40 days of nourishing food, warmth, rest, and special care in order to fully recover from birth.

Ivory Coast: Female relatives gather at the house right after birth and the mother is bathed in shea butter by her own mom while other relatives take over the chore of cooking. The shea butter bath is a rite loaded with healing properties.

Hmong culture (Australia): The first 30 days after birth a mom rests. Husbands and other family members take care of household chores and other work. If the mother needs to perform her own duties, or wants to work, she may do light chores after 10 days as long as they don’t include lifting things.

Germany: Wochenbett, or the “week’s bed.” to eat chicken soup and focus on recovering for the first two weeks. In the first 10 days after delivery, the midwife visits the new mother at home every day, then every 2-3 days until the end of the 8th postpartum week.

Native American tribes: 20 days of rest after birth culminates in ceremonies of ritualistic bathing, a baby-naming ceremony and going to a sweat lodge to boost circulation and help mom’s body eliminate any toxins.

Latin America: La cuarentena, which you’ll notice sounds like “quarantine”, is a forty-day period of rest and rehabilitation while family takes on household chores.

France: At two months postpartum, moms are prescribed 10 to 20 sessions of la rééducation périnéale, a kind of physical therapy designed to retrain the muscles of the pelvic floor, including the vagina, and is one of the cornerstones of French postnatal care.

“If you look at the entire population from age 20 to 100, 25% of women are going to have pelvic floor dysfunction.”
(1:30) The French started offering la reeducacion perineale for all women a long time ago, but it is something women can – and should – still be looking to do today. Physical Therapists and doctors around the world can help guide these easy techniques.

The Common Denominator?

So, what do most of these traditions have in common that we could learn from? I hope you caught it.

The mother receives ESSENTIAL social support.

Which brings us back to why I think we should start a new saying. Instead of clinging to “it takes a village to raise a child,” we ought to say that “it takes a village to raise a mom.”

I mean, come on. Babies are made cute so that adults will want to take care of them and get them everything they need. That’s scientifically proven (or it should be, if it hasn’t been yet). A baby can get all the love and support it needs from its mom. It’s the mother who needs raising and lifting up. She needs extreme physical, emotional, and every other type of support and coaching as she adapts to a hundred new roles for her baby.

Maybe one of the most interesting things that I read about birthing traditions around the world is a belief about women’s “golden opportunities”. These opportunities include the beginning of the menstrual cycle, post-partum, and menopause. It has long been believed by Chinese medicine that these milestones in a woman’s life can make or break her health until the next opportunity comes around. Beliefs go so far as to say that these are opportunities for allergies and other physical/medical problems to be lessened, or even reversed. This is why social support in these times is not just convenient, but essential! Part of an article on this topic from the Journal of Chinese Medicine can be easily found HERE.

Now, I know that “a village raising a child” has this important implication that parents don’t actually know everything and must rely on others to help their children with different struggles, skills and lessons. But I think that another social bonus of reaching out to mothers more is that those influential people in a child’s life will also happen to be mom’s friends. They won’t be someone a child only sees at school or extracurricular activities. These influencers might instead be there in the home with the family occasionally. After all, it’s the nearness and tight overlap of relationships that make villages so unique, isn’t it?

PC: Erik Dolle on freeimages.com

Midwives, Childbirth Educators, Doulas, and More!

Look for my posts about “How Women Around the World Decide Who Should Deliver Their Baby” and “How Can We Improve Women’s Healthcare During The Golden Opportunities” to learn about extraordinary professionals, who help women around the world have the best birthing experience possible, and to learn what other people have found for support in pregnancy and new-momhood. I honestly wouldn’t have discovered half of these particular traditions without so many people’s help and resources!

If you enjoyed this post, then follow me to learn about more traditions around the world! Subscribe below and also get access to my file of freebies to engage your kids in learning about different cultures and countries!

Why Bother?

7 Reasons to Study Cultures Around the World

What I share today is inspired by my dear, small town, untraveled Grandma Smith, who has been the only person bold and kind enough yet to just come out and say, “I don’t get it – what the point of your blog is.” Probably a lot of you have thought that too, and it’s OK! I talked with her about why I love to study different cultures and kinds of interactions with people around the world, but as she pointed out – she doesn’t meet a lot of people from around the world. “Plus,” here comes my favorite argument that made me laugh from the truthfulness of the statement, “if I want to see or know about China, I can just look on YouTube or TV. I’m not gonna go there.”

Touché, Grandma, touché.

And I totally get it! She’s not wrong! Heck, I can feel the same way about many places that I just don’t think I’ll ever see. Heaven knows my husband has no interest in a few of the places I’ve tried to convince him to go to.

So why do it – study different cultures? Here are a few of the reasons I have come up with.

1. Internet Interactions.

I’m going to take the first swing at the very argument I already allowed, which is that we may never travel to a place, but we don’t have to anymore. That doesn’t just mean that we don’t have to go there to learn about it. We also don’t have to physically be there to share ideas and information with people from another place. With the internet and social media growing the way it is, we don’t have to travel to interact with different people at all anymore! Our online presence requires just as much cultural knowledge as being a world traveler does today! Never before has it been so important to really be a world citizen and have some awareness of things not just within our own communities and countries.

2. Educated Conversation/Opinion.

This is a no-judgement zone, but when I say, “yeah, I lived in Russia for a bit,” there are two different types of responses. The first is something about how “rough” it must have been with the weather, language, or to deal with Russians. The second is a much more specific type of question with key words even as simple as “U.S. relationships, Kremlin, Russian grandmas, adoptions, VISA renewals, etc.” While the first examples are great questions – because let me tell you, it was FREEZING and Russians can be very different than Americans – the questions I really get excited about are those second ones that show that people have some knowledge of what was actually happening when I was there! I don’t feel the pressure of needing to be their most honest account of what Russia was like and try to paint the picture of a whole, complex country. Instead, we can talk about things as they are and just tell my stories.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the number one. The internet, especially FaceBook lately (for us “old folks”, I’ve been told the kids don’t use it these days), is crawling with debates about politics of both national and foreign affairs. When we pause to read the comments on some of these discussion strands, you can always find a few things:

a. the troll, who is just trying to mess with people and pick a fight by asking questions or making insinuating remarks to get people’s blood boiling, but not really adding solutions to the conversation;

b. the passionate word-soldier, who whole-heartedly defends a position and refuses to back down, even if a really good point or question against them is brought up;

c. the life-long student, who has studied the issue, knows the stats, has references they share, can describe the politics and some group of people’s general opinions on it, and yet is joining the conversation saying they want to understand more.

I mean, do I really need to ask which one we all admire and want to be? I have two friends come to mind who are exactly Type C, and I also have a few who are definitely Type B. I myself, probably float between the two, honestly. But when I don’t know where I stand on an issue, the Type C’s are the ones whose opinions I truly respect.

The more I focus on learning about people around the world lately, the more I feel myself leaning towards being a Type C. I have more diverse resources that I have learned to trust, and opinions just a search or text away, and I try to find reliable information before joining discussions. Hopefully the end result is that I am becoming better able to analyze how solutions will affect a wider spectrum of people.

3. Global Service/Charities.

Did you know that around the world, there are many humanitarian projects that lure in anyone with the wealth, resources, and good heart to help build homes, schools, and fundraise; but then they pocket any money handed out and make sure their residents look just as starved and destitute for the next batch of lovable suckers to come through trying to help?! Isn’t that disgusting?! I just learned that recently and was appalled.

So I started to pay more attention, and began looking for keywords to see which countries are actually making changes, enforcing laws, experiencing population growth and return of past refugees. It has absolutely caught my attention every time I have seen a headline with something from the above examples after reading about these humanitarian hustles. We should also consider churches, Red Cross-type organizations, and other places that give a report of their spendings to see where our money is most trusted when trying to help a cause.

4. Family History.

I love how popular the new DNA testing kits have become! People have used these kits to fill in the blanks about questions of ancestors, health, and even research for genetic diseases. Many people have shared stories online of how they found out that their ancestors were from an entirely different country than they had grown up believing.

My favorite story on the AncestryDNA website is about a man who thought he was German. He wore traditional German clothes in a German dance troupe and everything. After some research and a confirmation by the dna test, he discovered his roots were actually Scottish. The catchline on the front page for this story? “So I turned in my lederhosen for a kilt!” Say what? Now . you understand why I even read his story in the first place, right?

If that title doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will! I thought it was hilarious, but also was so impressed at whatever drives him to really connect with his ancestors and involve himself in some way in the culture of his bloodline. For many people this is a huge way to understand themselves, feel a purpose, and even take measures to be more healthy as they understand the kind of people and blood they come from. And there’s no way you’re entire lineage is only from one place, which should encourage you to learn about multiple different places and the time periods in which your ancestors lived in different parts of the Earth.

5. More Holidays!

If you’re one of those people looking to celebrate things like half-birthdays, best friend days, and Chick-Fil-A dress-up days, then I have another suggestion for you. Study cultures, of course! I have discovered so many new holidays every month that I can’t keep up with them! Did you know that Judaism has a holiday to celebrate Queen Esther’s miraculous rescue of the Jews? Or that there is a great Saint Milarepa celebrated by Hindus? And most countries have some sort of war heroes and victories celebrated monthly as well! When you expand your horizons to all the corners of the Earth, every week of the year has a holiday to celebrate something/someone worthwhile and good!

6. Friends and Travel

The old American dream was to build your white picket fence and happily stay inside it with a yard full of kids, and occasional explorations out into the wilderness spaces of the Wild West. But the new American dream is to travel the entire world over and bring home as many new friends as possible. Do I really have to convince you that the new people you meet when you leave home will be 100 times more exotic, entertaining and memorable than any old road trip? Studying cultures definitely gives that boldness needed to interact with a total stranger. Again, if you know something important about the place, then of course you’re more likely to stand up and say, “Hey, are you from Russia? I’ve been reading about the sanctions there, and….” as opposed to saying, “So you’re a Russian? You must be loving this Arizona weather, right?”

7. Cultivating Our Own Culture

I talked about this in “What Is Culture?” As we are driven to learn more about different people, we’ll start to find out about amazing traditions, holidays, and ways of expressing ourselves that would never have otherwise been open to us. We can then start to cultivate and improve the culture around us, which I think is the absolute most important part of all of this. We can really make a difference as we better understand and become more understanding of others. That’s what studying cultures really offers – an opportunity to connect with people, find ourselves, and make a difference.

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Where in the World Do I Live?

Just this week, I took my son to an indoor gym called “Uptown Jungle” for the second time ever. It’s full of fun slides, obstacle courses, trampolines, and of course, ball pits. The place is just a maze of fun for kids, and a full-body workout for parents. That maze part is what really caught my attention. My son and his friend that was with us are both about 20 months old, yet they always seemed to know where they were going, and were able to map out routes to objects we suggested. “Want to go find the red slide?” Zoom! They would both turn and look for the red slide, and then you’d see them check the holes and exits around them before quickly navigating the way there. Or when they would wander apart, I would ask Trey to look for his friend, and as soon as we saw him, Trey would start weaving his way towards Wyatt, only occasionally pausing to make sure we were still on target. I kept thinking that their navigation skills were about up to par with mine! I wondered how many places Trey knew the layout to. Could he find his own way home alone in our neighborhood just as well, or across certain stores?

Unfortunately, experiments of that sort seem slightly unethical.

Ok, they’re probably illegal. Yeah, definitely illegal. But I’m still curious! So I came home and put a lot more thought into this activity that I had researched and saved a while back. How could I make a fun activity span a wider age range to begin teaching my 1 year old about where he lived?

Well, he loves my Russian nesting dolls. But since I’m not a carpenter, and my art supply funds are very limited, I can’t afford to make any sort of nesting dolls showing the place he lives on a growing scale. However, if you are capable of making some sort of nesting doll, I would love to see my envisioned design come to life!!!!

Instead, I have to work with paper and glue like most of you. Here is what I came up with:

Pinterest guided me a ton through this idea of a “Where in the World Do I Live” activity, and people have so many ideas of how to do it! I even found one smart momma that figured out my nesting doll problem! Just put the images on stackable tuberware! Voila! A no-cost homemade nesting doll! But so many of them were asking to be paid for just a circular cutout with some text, and I wanted to make something equally functional but really cute too.

Or you can keep it even simpler and just punch a hole in the top of each of these, tie a ribbon or string, and let your children color the images. You can cut out the stars and glue them to where your city is found on the state, or just use them as the cutest little flash cards! Make sure to share a picture in the comments of how you use these to be featured on social media!

Where In the World Do I Live?

Use this printable in a hundred different ways. You can stack them together like a flip book, tape them to stackable tuperwares or nesting dolls, and the list goes on! However you use them, this printable will hep your young child to gain an understanding of how big of a world we live in. They'll learn that outside of their home, there are different kinds of people on their street, city, country, and continent! That's a lot of people!

$1.00

A Lesson on Respecting People Who Are Different

When I started thinking about this whole project – the blog, the classes, the idea of including cultural acceptance into an acceptedly academic curriculum – I wasn’t sure if cultural acceptance was something children could really understand. I mean, most adults don’t seem to really get it all the time. How would I describe it to a child? How could I make it simple enough for my, then, 16 month old son?

People, friends, and new readers, I will never again wonder those things. And I will never again overcomplicate it myself, because there is nothing difficult about it! Kids make sense of this stuff so easily! They are so quick to take in the loner or the kid that looks a little odd. Sure, in the most embarrassing public settings they will point out the smoker, the dark- or light-skinned fella on the street, the girl with the rainbow hair or extravagant tattoos. But, they do it with the hope of knowing and understanding more, not to hate and ridicule. Why does he smoke when we know it’s bad? Why is his skin different? Why is her hair like cotton candy? Why does her skin look like a coloring book? These are not questions to be embarrassed about! These are questions that I think we should still be asking! Even as adults. Maybe you have tattoos and understand just how much a stranger would learn about you if they were to kindly ask the stories behind your ink. Maybe you wear a jihad and feel proud of the opportunities to explain what it means to you. As someone who only rarely gets questions of this nature from children or friends, I can guarantee that you might learn more about an individual in one such boldly prompted conversation, than in a whole year of friendship. So, when you want to know about someone’s culture and background, don’t be shy! Follow your children’s examples and just start asking questions. Start talking!

Now, this is not a religious post, but in way of giving credit where it is due, I often search through materials from the world’s religions to find interactive stories and fables and other activities for my son. Recently, I was doing exactly that when I stumbled upon this gem of a story published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. “The New Animal” activity is such a sweet and wonderful way to illustrate how we often treat others who are different than us, but also how we can change that behavior to better include others in our circles. I fell in love with this story immediately and knew that I had to have their little printable! Maybe one day I’ll create the little illustrated story book I’ve imagined to share with you all.

For now though, I give you “The New Animal”, or “The Zelmgid” – the simplest lesson of all!

You will need and can find these cut-outs along with the story in “The Friend” magazine for children at this link. Cut them out with your children, and color them in, then as you read the following story, each zoo animal will begin to describe the things they like on the new animal. As they compliment the animal, put the pieces together until you have a “zelmgid”.

I also have copied the story into a single-page pdf version for convenience of using a printable version!

You’ll probably notice that zelmgid stands for: zebra, elephant, lion, monkey, giraffe, ibex, duck. What an amazing creation! This story teaches us the simple truth that we’re all cut from the same material, even if we think of ourselves as different and alone.

When I read this story the first time, I thought of my sixth grade teacher – Mr. Curtis. He made time every week to talk about fairness vs equality. He would always remind us that fairness was more important than equality, and that we weren’t always going to be treated the same as the person next to us, but that didn’t mean we were any more or less important. It meant that we were unique, and he always promised to do his best to treat us the way we individually deserved and needed. This has been such a valuable lesson throughout my life, and something that we should pass on. This is just one idea of a conversation we can have with our families after reading this story.

There are many ways that you can talk about this story in more depth with your family. If you need some other ideas, here are some things I have tried or thought of in relationship to this activity:

The Anagram. Just like Zelmgid is an anagram for each of the animal characteristics it represents, we can make our names into anagrams. Help your children to see the amazing qualities that each of them possess by thinking of traits that start with each letter of their name. Or, work together to create an anagram for your last name!

“K is for kind. A is for aware of others. S is for silly. E is for enjoys little things. Y is for youthful exuberance!”

The Paper People. Pinterest is my Google. When I want ideas, it’s where I go. This next idea was suggested by another blogger, Live, Craft, Eat that I found while searching Pinterest for any illustrations for the Zelmgid that I never found.

Her suggestions will help your family focus more on connecting to real, and very different, people after reading the story. My favorite suggestion though, was to make paper people! You remember how to do this, right? (If not, she has instructions and illustrations.) Fold your paper, cut them out, and color each of the connected figures differently. Talk about how each one is beautiful even though they’re different.

Even though they’re different, they’re all made from the same piece of paper. Consider some ways that all people are the same: we all have feelings, need basic food and protections, and many of our interests and recreational activities can align!

The Actually Social Media Challenge. Sometimes social media is the least social place in the planet. How does that make sense? I don’t know. Help yourself and your family to be more proactive about being kind on social media. In the activity above, we used paper people to show how we’re alike. This particular challenge flips the question to- How are we all different?

Now read this next part carefully..

Consider – What things do your friends/neighbors/family members do/have that we don’t? Then, go out on the web, or in a note, or even in word (yikes!) and compliment the traits in these people that you find! Tell them how cool it is that they stand up for what they believe (and mean it!). Ask them how they got to be so talented in a certain art or skill. Make a goal to compliment a certain amount of people this week. Or every week! Embrace people’s differences, and don’t keep it to yourself when you see something you admire. Especially encourage this in your home. By doing this, you can create your own culture of kindness and positivity wherever you go!

Share in the comments a picture of your family reading “The New Animal” together, or just tell us your thoughts about the suggested activities! How did they go? What did you learn from your little ones? How hard do you feel it is to embrace people who are different from you and let them know they’re accepted?

Don’t forget to follow me and share on my other social media accounts as well! I love it when social media is, well, social!