Thursday, December 23, 2010

And now you are six

To My Sweet August,

Although you were very much wished for and planned for and longed for by your Daddy and me, I can still remember the slight catch in my throat, the ever so slight tug on my deepest heart string when I imagined you actually joining our family. You see, your older brother Aidan had already burst forth into our lives and hearts and we loved him with a fierceness and devotion that seeemed unable to be duplicated. But here you were, and coming very soon, and you would require and expect the same. How could I possibly have room enough in my heart for two? As the day of your birth drew ever closer, my fear began to take root.

But your dear Grandma Jackie assured me, unswervingly, that with the birth of each child, a mother's heart simply expands. Seismically, my heart would swell and undulate, creating new forms and shapes to fit you in. She promised.

And then you came.

We really, really believed that you were going to be a girl. The whole time that you were in my deepest places, you were different than Aidan. You moved differently and you made me feel completely different than I had when I was carrying your older brother. Obviously, you must be a girl.

You are most definitely not a girl.

You are our August.

And here you are, turning six! And, although it seems, at times, that this day has arrived here by express delivery, you have managed to fill these past six years with a richness and depth that didn't exist in my life before you.

You are an incredible boy.

And so, in honor of your big day, I thought that I would construct a list of the ten things that I love about you most (ten because it is a nice, even number and one that people have come to expect with best of anything lists--I could have put more, believe me!).


1) You love and appreciate good food. I don't mean fine food. I mean good food. Meat and potatoes, biscuits and gravy, brisket and ribs, fried eggs and bacon. Thank God you have a mommy and a daddy who can attempt to balance out your epicurean tendencies with fruits and vegetables and fiber. Otherwise, you would be headed down a path of hedonistic debauchery. But you earn big time points for the fact that you genuinely enjoy sharing a meal with others, taking time to revel in the tastes and textures.

2) You love to dance. I wish that I could insert a short video of your latest moves so that others could truly witness the zeal and utter concentration you offer to your art. Whether Lady Gaga, Dead or Alive or Erasure belts though the speakers, it matters not. As long as it has a beat, you can dance to it. You seem to be telling a story as you move, one that you offer up to your private viewers (you refuse to showcase your talent beyond the protected walls of our house) with the perfect mix of seriousness and jovialness.

3) You love dogs. Not just your dog. All dogs. You see something in animals that others must not because you are drawn to something deep within them, every time you meet one. Perhaps, in the inevitable slowing of your heart that comes when you truly engage with an animal and love on them with full abandon, you tune into a pulse that not everyone does. You hear them. Really hear them. And they know it.

4) You love to cuddle. This is a big deal because when I used to imagine having children I would always secretly pray to God for cuddly kids. I knew that I would be cuddly with you but I wanted desperately for you to be cuddly back. Not all kids are, you know. For some kids, that is not their love language, at all. But it's one of mine and it's one of yours and through our daily cuddle sessions, we are able to speak into each others hearts.

5) You are Adventurous. Daring. Bold. Most often, Fearless. All things that I am most definitely NOT. When I watch you hop on your snowboard or skateboard or a zip line or a climbing wall I marvel at the confidence you have in your abilities. Of course you can do it. Because you believe that you can. This is something I wish that I had mastered years ago: that, quite often, our competence is not solely reliant on our natural abilities but also on our belief that we can actually have such giftedness. You pave a path for me that gives me confidence.

6) You are incredibly thoughtful. You are the King of random acts of kindness. I never taught this to you (although I really wish that I could take credit for this virtue)--you have just always been this way. You look around you and you see. You know when someone needs help and you help them. You think of ways that you can do nice things and you do them: picking up shoes and putting them away, quickly getting dressed and making your bed so that we can get on to the next activity, rushing to find all available stuffed animals and blankets when you brother falls off of his bike, stroking my hair when I am crying, stopping and struggling in your heart when you think about the homeless man that we see walking through our town and asking, "what does he do when it is so cold, Mom? How does he survive?"
The list could go on and on. You are amazing in your ability to treat others as you would want to be treated, although you never expect it in return. That's just the way that you are.

7) You have chubby cheeks. I know that you are probably rolling your eyes at this point, but you must understand-- chubby cheeks are God's way of ensuring that we will care for our babies. You see, all chubby cheeks emit a silent, albeit incredibly strong, imperative to parents which is received and decoded by the parent's brain as this message: "EAT ME!!!!" For the rest of your life, your daddy and I will struggle with the overwhelming urge to bite your cheeks off. If we follow through on this urge, all bets are off and that's the end of the story. But if we resist the urge, just for today, then we can come back again tomorrow and consider the act anew. You see, it's God's insurance policy on babies and children.

8) You are a wonderful listener. Although not as book obsessed as your older brother, you still love a good story, whether imagined or real. And you are always listening. I've learned this as I've read books to your brother. You always like to be engaged with something (drawing, Legos, building forts) in the same room where the reading is happening and it is easy to assume that you are in your own world. But you are listening. And very intently, I might add. Nothing gets by you. Advertisements on the radio--you hear them. What John Stewart is saying about Congress while your daddy watches a replay of The Daily Show--you hear him. What isn't necessarily said, but implied, whether in books, movies or conversations--you hear it.

9) You rejoice with others in their accomplishments, victories, or achievements. When your brother won his Pinewood Derby race this year, you would have thought that you had won. When you watch Cash Cab with your Grandpa and he gets an answer correct, it's as if you were both in the taxi. When I finally hunt down and catch our stinkerpants dog after she has run into the woods on one of our adventures, you pat me on the back and say, "Good job, Mom."

10) And what I love about you most is that you are, simply, the neatest kid to be around. You're funny, smart, good looking. You love life and you work every day to get the most out of it. You have taught me more than I have taught you, I'm sure, but you take it all in stride, as a matter of course. You are devoted, passionate, and fun loving. You are very much what I would like to be.

So, on this, the sixth anniversary of your birth day, I marvel at how very much my heart has expanded and stretched. In my attempt to make room in my heart for another little boy I have discovered something more.

You were there all along.

Between the innocence of babyhood and the dignity of manhood, we find a delightful creature of a boy.
-- Author Unknown

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

December--in a nutshell

"How did it get so late so soon?  Its night before its afternoon.  December is here before its June.  My goodness how the time has flewn.  How did it get so late so soon?"
--Dr. Suess

"Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home."
~Edith Sitwell

Monday, November 22, 2010

Multitudes on Monday

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~G.K. Chesterton

holy experience

Today, I'm joining Ann  for the first time in giving thanks for the multitude of love and joy and grace that surrounds me in this life.
I suppose it makes sense that I would feel drawn to this exercise on this, the week of Thanksgiving.  But really, I've known of its power for awhile. 

Thanksgiving is the soil in which joy thrives.

It has been in some of my more darker moments that, in turning my head and heart just so, I've caught a glimpse of an everyday grace.  And it has made all the difference. 

It has also been settling in on my heart, more and more often, how very much that I want to model this practice for my boys.  To take their hearts in my hand and lead them along the path of thanksgiving.  Really, what greater truth could I teach to them? 

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, "thank you," that would suffice.
 ~Meister Eckhart

The boys and I walk around the lake by our house almost everyday (mainly for our dog's boundless energy seeking ways but also for the daily dose of fresh air and perspective that it gives to us).  Usually on these walks, the boys engage each other in conversations on various topics--the future exploits of their Lego creations, the type of dog that they might want when they are older, how to be the best secret agent...
But the other day, after a span of unusual silence, August looks up at me and says, "I am SO thankful that we have clean water to drink, everyday."  That was it.

That was all there needed to be.

Yes.  Clean water is a gift that we usually accept without a thought, with a sense of entitlement, even.  We rarely think of the alternative.

And yet, he did.  He understood.  In that very moment, the truth of that gift came rushing into his heart and mind and he couldn't help but speak it out loud.

We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.
~Cynthia Ozick

I am going to begin my 1000 gift list today.

#1  The pink and gold tinged clouds that make getting up at dawn a tad bit easier.

#2  The ability to plan, hope and dream about a bountiful meal that is guarranteed to come.

#3  Plants on my windowsill that decide to keep growing despite my neglect.

#4  The smell of woodsmoke carried on the shoulders of crisp breezes

#5  A happy childhood

#6  Children that fight to cuddle with me, even when I have morning breath

#7  The gentle glow of candles on a dark kitchen table

#8  Hearing, "Mom, look at this..."

#9  Dreams that make you think of a person who needs your friendship

#10  The silhoutte of bare trees against a sunset that hints at cold weather to come.

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.
~Thornton Wilder

Thursday, November 18, 2010

First Hard Frost

"I see, when I bend close, how each leaflet of a
climbing rose is
bordered with frost,  

the autumn counterpart of the dewdrops of

summer dawns.

The feathery leaves of yarrow are thick with

silver rime

and dry thistle heads rise like goblets plated with

silver catching the sun."

- Edwin Way Teale

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sushi Sunday

He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. ~Henry David Thoreau

Picture of Nori with the light shining through it.

"Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises."
--Pedro Calderon de la Barca, Spanish Poet and Playwright, 1600-1681

Dog Happiness


"No matter how little money and how few possessions you own,
having a dog makes you rich."
-- Louis Sabin


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Carnivorous chickens, amazing butterflies and Harry Potter

Carnivorous Chickens

There are a few things that I need to share with you. 

First off, you need to know that anyone that tries to sell you eggs that are described as both "Free Range" and "Fed an all vegetarian diet" is selling you a big carton of malarkey.  Chickens, by their very nature, cannot be of both the aforementioned persuasions.  Chickens, when left to their own devices, will, most willingly, hunt down and eat meat.  My sweet Golden Laced Wyandotte hen, pictured above, is running very determinedly away from her fellow lady friends in order to eat her just bagged toad, alone.  She will most likely, peck its fool brains out, toss it around in the air a bit, and then leave the remaining carcass for anyone else who might be interested. 
Now, if all this time you've naively brought home your Fresh Farm Eggs  and imagined that the sweet hens that shared them with you had, only just that morning, been grazing contentedly in their open field, feeding on seeds and nuts and berries while simultaneously eschewing anything that crawled across its path, well you have been mistaken. 
Chickens are ANIMALS I tell you!  Animals!

Amazing Butterflies

"God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume."
--Vance Havner

As I shared in a recent post, I've been struggling a bit lately.  Valley living, I called it.  The place where everything is hard.  Where everything seems, very simply, broken.
And then, when stumbling out into the blinding sunshine to gaze upon the zinnias outside my front door, the ones that were planted as an afterthought and with nothing more than a haphazard scattering of seeds, I find this marvel pictured above.

A broken butterfly.

One whose wings had an actual hole in them.

And it didn't even seem to notice.  It was flying.  And flitting.  And sucking nectar.  And flapping its wings in that quiet and subtle way that all butterflies do.  It was doing its thing, despite the hole. 

Or could it have been because of the hole?

Did it matter, really, which was the reason?  

Does it matter that I, too, am broken? 

Of course it matters.  But it is what I choose to do with that brokeness that defines me.   Sometimes, all I can manage is what is most basic...eating, sleeping, bathing, caring for my children.  Other times, I can push through and open the shades to let in more light, even if it is a little later in the day than I would have wanted.  And the warmth penetrates something deep within, stiring up the dying ember that He wouldn't snuff out.  And there is hope.

"Grass grows at last above all graves."
--Julia Dorr

Harry Potter

I don't think I will be able to adequately describe to you how our family is forever changed from reading the Harry Potter series.  I know we're a little slow on the draw, having witnessed fellow friends be swept up in the Harry phenomenon a decade ago, but the timing just wasn't right.  But I suppose all of the planets lined up just right three months ago and we found a set of books on sale for cheap.  We gobbled them up and determined that now was the time.  Was it ever.
Our "schooling" has been all over the map this fall.  We've endured growing pains with regards to structure and flexibility, independence and neediness, desire and apathy.  We've studied history and math in spurts and science as the spirit moved us.  We've been tossed back and forth between plans made and undone, sickness and health, dreams cast and reality reeling us back in...  Nothing has gone as planned for a long time.

And then we began reading Harry Potter.  And everything (some days, literally everything) was put on hold.  We read the books aloud, together, all of us, whenever possible.  John couldn't wait for the rest of us and quickly read through the whole series in a week.  Aidan, similarly restless, succumbed, kept at least 5 chapters, if not a whole book ahead of us and, for the first time, while reading in bed, had to be told that we (John and I) were going to sleep and we would see him in the morning.  August, restrained only by the fact that he simply couldn't read the book on his own, depended on me to keep up the momentum and begged, at every turn, to please read another chapter. 

It was magical.  Truly magical.  Our nights, after dinner, were defined by how many chapters we could squeeze in before grown up eyes became too tired and blurry, or little ones' eyes could no longer stay open.  And the discussion.  Ah, the discussion.  There were the continual interuptions by August, full of questions and commentary, that, honestly, often tried our patience but, just as often, presented an insightful observation that caused us all to stop and ponder anew.  There were plot predictions and interpretations of characters' actions and musings on why things had to be the way they were.  There was action and fear and joy and utter despair--one night, as we read after dinner while still sitting at the table, unable to even wait until we had cleared the dishes, an unexpected plot turn found me racked with sobs and tears that I carried with me to my bed.

And then, almost as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.  We had managed to read through the whole series, aloud, together, in less than three months and now, it was over.  John had asked me, the whole time while we were reading aloud, why I didn't read ahead.  "I just don't understand how, after the kids go to bed, you can keep yourself from reading more?" he would ask.

The answer was simple.  I didn't want it to end. 

I suppose, upon finishing, there was some relief.  Like that which comes when you endure a long race or a big project.  A sort of "We did it!" kind of thing. 

But there was also a tremendous sense of loss that came with reading that last page.  We had been completely immersed in this world that had come to define us, in a way.  Questions surrounding the power of truth, love, sacrifice, friendship, bravery and righteousness had informed our conversations with each other as well as the quiet of our own heads.  Conclusions about the consequences of actions, or lack thereof, had been made, again and again.  These books had been an incredible bonding agent, for weeks on end.  And now, we had to move on.  Stumble back into the light of a new day, find our bearings and trudge on.

The level of discourse and understanding that my two boys (one of whom is not yet 6) demonstrated as we read these books truly stunned me and easily accomplished what years of "Language Arts" curriculums aim to achieve.  The attention to detail, ability of recall and overall comprehension of the text was truly impressive.  And the beauty of it all was--they couldn't help themselves.  It just happened.  It had to. 

For that, I thank you, J.K. Rowling, from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Just Add Light and Stir: Real People

I found the way that Sandra Dodd penned this concept to be simply beautiful and I just had to share it with you.

Just Add Light and Stir: Real People: "For all the considerations of stages of development and maturity, it helps to remember that the small version of you was still altogether yo..."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Valley living

Are you there?
Because, obviously, I haven't been around here in awhile and if you have stopped by, looking for a post or photo once in awhile,
you're a better person than I am.

I'm not sure why I have completely abandoned this space as of late. It's not that I haven't thought of a million things to share or work through, as this place has so wonderfully invited me to do in the past. And it's not that I haven't had the time.
I seem to have just chosen to avoid this place for a bit.
Perhaps some of what I have been working through has been just a little too raw to put
out there, exposed, as I worked through it myself. It is true that I have found this blog to be a wonderful vehicle for self discovery and I have shared things that were personal and vulnerable before, but something about the last couple of months has kept me from being
There has been a lot of thinking and wringing of hands and worrying and frustration and hopelessness and self incrimination,
among other things.
Most all of these emotions have been related to, or in conjunction with, our learning at home adventure.
Don't worry, I don't believe that on any given day I felt all of those emotions at the same time but I definitely became all too familiar with many of them.
I know that sounds like I've been an absolute wreck for the last two months and, some days, I was. But really, I believe I was just in a deep valley.

I have learned a lot about myself in the last few months.
I thought that I had learned a lot of this already but, evidently, my psyche is a slow and stubborn learner.
Perhaps I only really learn something after repeated exposure and testing.
I hate that I am like that

And just when I thought that maybe I had found the deepest part of the valley,
the place that is almost impossible to dig oneself out of because the walls keep falling in on themselves despite one's greatest efforts,
it was in this place that I read this:

"After every time of exaltation we are brought down with a sudden rush into things as they are where it is neither beautiful nor poetic nor thrilling. The height of the mountain top is measured by the drab drudgery of the valley; but it is in the valley that we have to live for the glory of God [emphasis mine]. We see His glory on the mount, but we never live for His glory there. It is in the sphere of humiliation that we find our true worth to God, that is where our faithfulness is revealed...The last time you were on the mount with God, you saw that all power in heaven and in earth belonged to Jesus--will you be sceptical now in the valley of humiliation?"
Oswald Chambers
My Utmost For His Highest

It was that underlined portion, that imperative, that pulled me up from the depths.
Not that mountain tops aren't incredible and wonderful and life giving. Indeed, they are.
But real life is really lived in the valley.
And it is in that place that God's glory really lives.
So in my deepest place I found inspiration.

I know you might be thinking that I am overspiritualizing a struggle that is really just about finding one's groove in learning at home but I humbly submit that it is not.
For our family, this decision to learn at home affects and informs everything about who we say we are and what we say that we believe.
This is a lifestyle.

A lifestyle that values:
the individual as part of an important whole,
grace in the midst of struggle,
a love of learning,
the pursuit of all things lovely,
the relentless love of God as he speaks into our lives.

And so, in a very dark place, the light came piercing through.
My valley road has been illuminated slowly, although steadily.

It has been said that thanksgiving is the soil in which joy thrives.

I think that I will begin there. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Trial and Error

"There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.  You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always the something you were after."
J.R.R. Tolkien

So, what else is there to do when it is 3 million degrees outside, in the shade?  Play in the bathtub, of course!  The boys spent a good deal of the afternoon giving their Lego boats a try.  Aidan's boat, above, utilizes some pontoons (wine corks) for better flotation.  He came up with the clever idea of making special compartments for them below the boat after ruminating over the failure of his last endeavor, which used rubber bands to attach the pontoons.  We worked on the construction together and, believe you me, my brain was most definitely challenged by the idea.  There was a lot of assembling and disassembling before the final product was produced.  Something is still not right as, once floating, it likes to roll over on one side.  We're still scratching our heads on that one but now Aidan has something else to think on for awhile.

Twenty years from now, when they are engineers for some big think tank, I hope they will remember this day in the tub.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Simple Woman's Daybook


Outside my window...  the still, dead air of a very hot August day.

I am thinking...  that it doesn't help anyone or anything to long for different circumstances.

I am thankful for...  blessed, heavenly air-conditioning.

From the learning rooms...  today was devoted to the reading of tales...Harry Potter, Hank the Cowdog, the daily comics...

From the kitchen...  our first canteloupes of the season (yeah!).  They are large and beautiful and juicy and delicious.

I am wearing...  shorts and a tank top, my summer uniform, evidently.

I am creating...  photographs that have depth and beauty.

I am going...  to my hometown this weekend for my 20th high school reunion.  Thankfully, I am more excited than apprehensive.  I guess I have matured a bit since those days.

I am reading...  The Art of Mending, by Elizabeth Berg, as well as numerous resources for nature journaling.

I am hoping...  for a "settling" into gently organized routines that allow for flexibility yet provide some security.

I am hearing...  the rattling of a rawhide bone being flung across my kitchen floor.  It is the perfect distraction for a dog that demands much.

Around the house...  there are strewn Legos, books, balsa wood airplanes, newspapers, and vine ripened tomatoes.

One of my favorite things...  is peanut butter with crackers or apples for a morning snack.

A few plans for the rest of the week:  to bake lemon tea cakes and banana bread, make some homemade salsa and carefully organize "stuff" for two separate family trips.

Here is picture for thought I am sharing...

The chickens are trying to find shade anywhere they can.  With a heat index of 110, who can blame them?
From The Simple Woman's Daybook

Saturday, July 31, 2010


"Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragonfly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky."
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Silent Noon

Friday, July 30, 2010

It's so disappointing when you are disappointed

"Never judge a book by its movie."
J.W. Egan

The boys and I recently finished reading Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, which we thoroughly enjoyed.  I can remember Mrs. McGinley reading it to us in fourth grade after we had come back in from lunch recess.  Amazingly, we would all sit quietly while she read to us for a good 30 minutes.  Most of us would draw pictures while we listened, while a few were content to just put their heads on their folded arms and listen. 

I realized quickly that I did not remember a lot of the story, which was strange to discover since I distinctly remember drawing a picture of a rather large peach rolling across the landscape...
Anyway, it didn't take long for August to become completely enthralled with the fantastical story and characters, nor did he tarry in discovering similarities between it and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The short chapters were notorious for leaving us hanging and so it wasn't uncommon to find ourselves stilled wrapped up in the story an hour later (wonderful on a lazy afternoon, not so wonderful when you realize it is suddenly 10:00 p.m.).

As we sprinted through the book we found ourselves pausing, every now and then, just to muse on what images were coming to mind.  It was fun to listen to each other and build upon one another's fantasies.  And every once in awhile, one of us would say, "I wonder how they would make this into a movie...?"  Inevitably, each of us would slowly grin as we wandered back into our own reveries, imagining how what we "saw" might come to life.  Somehow, in some deep, intangible way, I knew that it wasn't possible to pull off the craziness of this book.  It was as if the story, as it played out in my brain, was only truly capable of existing within that realm--in my head.

We discovered, much to our disappointment, that we were completely right.  The movie version (1996) that we watched this evening was partly live action, partly animated.  The boy who played James was good enough, I suppose, but all of the other characters simply failed to live up to their bookish counterparts.  Aunt Sponge wasn't nearly as obese as we had imagined and Aunt Spiker, although sufficiently frightening, was not tall and skinny enough.  Needless to say, there were many changes to the plot which meant that important details were left out, confusing scenes that were not part of the original story were added, and the overall mood just didn't fit.  At one point I actually said, out loud, "Why are they doing this to the story?  I don't understand."

After the movie was over and I was tucking the boys in bed, Aidan shared that he "did not care for that movie one bit!"  When I pressed him for details he paused, shook his head and said, "It was just so different from the book and it was not at all what I imagined."  He was right and I suddenly regretted that we had watched the movie at all.  I felt like I had stolen his interpretation of a wonderfully crazy tale and replaced it with a very cheap knock off.  I wanted to take back the cinematic experience and go back to the place where the real story lived.

Oh well, lesson learned.  I believe that I will think long and hard about watching a movie version of a beloved book from now on.  It's so hard though.  Books are these incredible living organisms that breathe into you, become part of you, change the way that you look at the world around you and it is only natural to want to make that experience tangible and real.  Short of acting it out myself, I watch a movie (and its production company with its much bigger budget and its computer graphic capabilities...) to, hopefully, make some of that happen. I suppose that the best place for that to really blossom is where it belongs anyway, in my head.

"Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes."
John LeCarre

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

FINALLY some pictures!

I can now share pictures with you again!!!!  It's a long story about why there haven't pictures on my blog for the last six months and most of it doesn't reflect well on me.  Simply put, we have purchased a new computer with something like 4 million times the memory as the previous sloth machine. Now I will be able to illustrate more of my blog entries as I have been wont to do for eons...

As a way to celebrate, I thought that I would share some shots of the natural happenings around our place.  I LOVE my camera and I am so impressed with its incredible ability to make me look like I know what I am doing behind the lens.  Granted, Mother Nature provides the perfect material.  I'm just lucky enough to stumble upon it.

"My profession is to always find God in nature."
Henry David Thoreau

Friday, July 9, 2010

It's been quiet around here...

As if not writing for months on end weren't enough to keep this space so vacant, I am now attempting this post for the second time after my computer just turned itself off on me in the middle of my composing.  AARRGGHH!!!  I suppose it's better than my computer having crashed, which is what I thought was happening before my very eyes.... but still!

Oh well, maybe my computer was playing editor to my rambling nonsense and now I'm forced to curtail and straighten up whatever it was that I was going to share with you.

It had something to do with what we've been up to the last month or two and that being the reason that I haven't darkened the door of my personal space on the "Inter-mi-net"...

So, a shortened list of what has been distracting me as of late:

*John's garden  
I have named it thus because I must stop referring to it as our garden, or even, the garden.  The truth is this--that garden wouldn't be here if it weren't for my sweet husband.  For all my pining and longing for a verdant garden that drips with produce I really don't know the nuts and bolts of what said garden requires.  What I do know, I know through John.  I take phrases and sentences that he has said to me and then repeat them as if I had acquired that knowledge through diligent study and practice.  I'm officially outing myself in regards to gardening.  I live vicariously through my husband.  Now you know.  But I won't let that stop me from bragging on it or taking pictures of it or eating its harvest.  I do the flower beds, he does the garden.  And boy does he do it well (take that however you want).
*Swim lessons
This is the summer that the boys decided that they were tired of trying to swim while simultaneously trying to keep any part of their body above their neckline completely dry.  I suppose this is the kind of thing that one just has to learn on their own.  No amount of maternal suggestion, illustration or bribery was able to break through the stubbornness that fed this obsession.  On the first day of swim lessons they both just decided it was time to put on their big boy panties swim trunks and face the music.  Oh, the goggles from grandma and grandpa probably helped, too.  Whatever the motivation, for it doesn't matter to me what it was, they moved ahead when they were ready.  It's amazing how often this truth screams its way into my smallish, stubborn brain.
*Learning all the time...
My boys really don't understand the concept of "school" in any formal way.  I've tried in the past to "do" some of that but it always blew up in my face.  It has only been in this last half of the year that I have seen what we do for what it is.  And what it is is simply--us being ourselves. 

If God had wanted me otherwise, He would have created me otherwise.  ~Johann von Goethe

When we decided to keep our learning based at home, I had to begin a de-schooling process that still continues. I am constantly questioning how we do things and not in a way that is helpful.  It is always with an eye for what is wrong, rather than what is right.  But yesterday I had the most wonderful visit with a friend that I met through our homeschool group last year.  We went to her house for a time of "joyful play" for the kids but what I received from her was a wonderful gift of acceptance and affirmation.  She asked me some about how we do things around our house.  I've gotten somewhat better about describing what a day looks like at our house but I still find myself trying to couch it in educational terms, for fear of being judged as a slacker or incompetent.  She was so quick to tell me that she thought that what we did was great and even, that there was a part of her that wished that she could do things kind of like we did.  What keeps her from being more of an unschooler is that she, by nature, is a very structured person (I think the term she used was neurotic but I think that is a bit harsh) and she craves an organizational structure on which she can hang their learning.  I totally understand that.  I even have my own moments when I feel the same way.  But the beautiful thing is, both of us are right. (see above quote)
So for now, we will continue to learn what we want, as we want, at the pace we want.  I believe that my boys are better for it.

So that is a brief little ditty to catch you up to the present day.
One of these days I'm going to fix it so I can bring you some pictures again (I've got some good ones for you).
In the meantime, I'll see if I can get myself back in the swing of things, blogging-wise.
I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer full of rope swings, swimming holes and sweet, drippy watermelon.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Truth hurts

In one of my online binges I stumbled across this gem. 

Some of you might not find this very funny.

You've been warned.

6 yearold stares down bottomless abyss of formal schooling

Planting seeds

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."
Robert Louis Stevenson

It's been an interesting Spring around here.  We are still navigating the huge learning curve of last year's garden.  The hardest thing to accept has been the much shorter growing season of our gardening zone.  We were spoiled when we lived in Atlanta.  We enjoyed an extended Spring that allowed for much longer growing opportunities and a bit more grace, in terms of frost dates and such.

But here, it's been much different.

This is the second year that we have not had our garden fully planted by this time.  We've been plagued by either rainy weather or threatening temperatures.  If you ask any old timer around here they will insist that you should never plant your garden before Mother's Day.  When I first heard that I literally laughed out loud.  Surely they couldn't be serious!  

They were dead serious. 

Mother's Day morning blew in freezing temperatures in these parts.


So, we are forced to take a breather and be patient.  

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
...a time to plant and a time to uproot"
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-2

Many of our learning experiences this year have been hidden in these breaths.

Much like the seeds that we have been able to plant thus far, there is important work going on, underground.

It would be absolutely ridiculous of me to ready my soil, plant my seed, water it gently and then expect instant growth--evidence of my attempts at fruitfulness.
Even under the best circumstances, a seed can only grow as fast as it, as an individual, was designed to emerge.  If you've ever planted a row of seeds, you've witnessed this first hand. Given the exact same soil, and the same amount of moisture and sunlight and prayers and petitions, certain seeds will burst forth precious leaves of hope before others. 

Every time.

Those first seedlings are not necessarily "better" than the ones to follow, things just jelled for them sooner than the others.  There is even reason to believe that, in some cases, that later emergence will benefit the plant in the long run by providing deeper roots.  Or, even more interestingly, bigger leaves that help to absorb more sunlight and, thus, enable the plant to better feed itself throughout its life cycle.

So, as we ramble down this road of organic learning, I'm learning to let things be.  I'm trying to extract the industrial yield expectations of traditional education from my scorecard and replace them, instead, with ones that are sustainable.

I'm witnessing, daily, that there is more than one path to follow to learn the same thing and one way is not, by its nature, superior to another.

I've seen that hours and hours of quiet reading on one's own, following one's particular interest, spins a matrix of paths and trails that lead to more subjects and facts than makes sense to my limited mind.

I'm, now, humbly aware that five year old kids can master the concept of global warming and all of its ill effects, while still not 100% confidant of all the letters of the alphabet.

And I've come to accept that all of the elements in a day--the sunshine, the wind, the pelting rain--all serve a purpose.  All are needed at some point on the journey to grow something beautiful and unique.

"Don't try to force anything.   Let life be a deep let-go.
See [God/Spirit/All That Is] opening millions of flowers
every day without forcing the buds."
-  Bhagwan Shree Rayneesh

Sunday, April 25, 2010

What are we really after?

"Genius is more often found in a cracked pot than in a whole one."
E. B. White

I've been doing some thinking lately about what it is, exactly, I hope to accomplish with this whole learning at home business. There are the obvious answers--children who can read, write and compute, of course. And then there are the extra credit answers--the ability to write creatively, reason intelligently and to become the kind of people that everyone wants to have on their Trivia Night team.  

But with the obvious and the hopeful outcomes aside, what am I really hoping will emerge?

As I've thought about this I've decided that, until just very recently, I have put an inordinate amount of weight on tangible intelligence.  You know, the kind that everyone can see and admire (or loathe, depending on the circumstances).  The kind about which grandparents can boast to their friends.  The kind that justifies to your friends (whether the parents of public, private or homeschooled kids) that you are not ruining your kids potential and that you are "qualified" to do this learning outside of the norm.  The kind that, according to popular wisdom, gains you entrance to great institutions of higher learning and, as a by-product, even more admiration and respect.  After all, that's how I did it.  Those were the expectations placed on me by those whom mattered most and they were the hopes that bolstered my actions and hard work.

Only because of the incredible clarity that comes with hindsight am I able to pose this question, to myself and anyone else:

But what did I really learn?  Really?

I obviously learned how to do what it took to progress from one grade to the other.  I learned how to stay out of trouble (there was that one really bad instance my sophomore year, but that was the exception) and hang out with "smart" kids which helped show others that I was serious about my education.  I learned how to take my natural interests (scouting, volunteering, political activism and public interest) that I would have pursued regardless of outside pressures and turn them into vehicles for personal advancement (college applications). And I learned that if I kept on this path of "do right-ness", that I would most likely succeed and earn the love and respect of people.  

In many ways, those were valuable lessons.
And, in many ways, I was successful.

Successful at playing the game, that is.

But what if this intelligence we're after has nothing to do with all of those things I mentioned?
What if I want, more than anything in this world, for my children to not be intimidated into playing a game that doesn't really have winners?

When my son discovers that other kids his age have already "covered" a particular topic, how do I want him to respond?  Do I want him to quickly read up on the subject so that he can be considered on par with their "age appropriate" subject matter?  Do I want him to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I know that too"?

Well, that's what my better self would answer.
The person with whom I'm most acquainted, the person within whose skin I've lived most of my life, would say, "Well, that would be the way to know you were on track."  But I'm beginning to know better.
I'm beginning to see how to respond in that way would be playing the game.

If I want this education business to be more than what I experienced, my children have got to be motivated by something much deeper.

He is more than welcome to run out and read up on the water cycle or fractions or Alexander the Great.  Go for it.  Be my guest.
But only if he wants to do it for himself, borne out of his interest and his desire to know more. 
Because the truth is that to do it for any other reason is to play the game.

I'm tired of games.

I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less slowly. Let him come and go freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggest that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of colored paper, or plant straw trees in flower pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences. - Anne Sullivan

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Things I LOVE about Spring

Spring has officially moved into these parts but it has an inferiority complex of sorts and thinks it is Summer so it has been, well, hot.  Like 82 degrees hot.  Five days in a row.  Then some more days in a row.  My perennial herb garden on the side of the house looks like it has always been there and I could easily begin harvesting leaves for meals if I wanted to.  Creeping thyme, lavender, tarragon, chamomile, sage, oregano and a gargantuan horseradish plant (I know, not an herb but...).  We're looking to add rosemary to the perennial bed and then we will have basil, cilantro and parsley in our other small bed by the house.  That bed is also coming into its own with brussel sprouts, turnips, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach.  And we haven't even tilled or sowed the "real" garden yet!  The tomato seedlings for that plot are growing upstairs in our window sills.  I have to give all credit to my husband, John, for making this all happen. I take care of the herb and flower beds but he does all the dirty work for the vegetables.  Growing things, and growing them well, takes work, yes but it is oh so very worth it.  We are still eating tomatoes and squash from our freezer and last night I made pasta with pesto that John had frozen at the end of the season last year.  So, the cycle begins anew.  I wanted to take a moment, though, to simply list some things that make my heart glad.  It has been said that "thanksgiving is the soil in which joy thrives" and thus, I want to share some of my joy.

Things I Love About Spring:

1. The return of the Eastern Phoebes that have come back, once again, and built a nest in our barn's lean-to, only feet away from last year's location.  They craft beautiful places to lay and raise their young, perfectly "nest" shaped, covered in green moss and lichen and cleverly located on top of a empty light box in our rafters.  We can sneak a peek inside if we bring a ladder.  Last year, every one of their eggs hatched and fledged successfully.  We're hoping for the same outcome this year.

2.  The deafening songs of, first, the Spring Peepers and then the chorus frogs and bull frogs.  Our neighbors across the road have about a 5 acre lake for their backyard and so we have access to a wonderful natural observatory.  We explored the edges quite a bit towards the end of winter and we have enjoyed watching the plant and animal life come alive with the warming temperatures.  We're hoping to do a lot of fishing from the banks this spring and summer.

3.  The way the woods behind our house fill up with green foliage, almost overnight, and provide an instant natural screen that obscures any evidence of a subdivision behind us.  One morning, last week, I woke up to discover that we lived "in the woods", not plopped down in the middle of development.

4.  The fact that my boys want to be outside constantly.  Sometimes, it is just to sit on their rope swings in the walnut trees and quietly think and observe.  My dad always wonders, "What are they thinking about?"  The proper answer would probably be just another question, "What aren't they thinking about?"  Sometimes, I'll find them stretched out in the grass, soaking up the sun like a lizard.  Other times, I'll find one of them talking to the chickens, asking them about their day or what they are up to.  Aidan has stated, on numerous occasions, that he is able to understand the chickens and that they, too, can understand him.  I don't doubt it one bit.
August insists that we eat lunch outside every day, which is fine with me.  Maybe this year I can find the perfect cafe table at a garage sale and we can dine in true alfresco style.  I did fine some great little glass lanterns (clear and green) in the dollar bin at Target.  They only had three left, all of which I bought, and I would have bought more if I could.  Now, August insists that we read outside, by candlelight, before bed.

5.  The fact that, because we choose our home as our base for learning, we can fully succumb to the sickness of "Spring Fever" and take everything outside.  Or we can make "outside" our focus for the day.  The flexibility to enjoy this glorious season is such a gift.

I'm sure I will add to this list but I just wanted to share a little of the joy.

Have a beautiful Spring.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

For the love of writing

I just finished reading  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  I absolutely loved it, despite it's stupid name.  When I first saw it on my mom's table, I wrote it off as one of those cheap novels that is written specifically for numerous dumb-downed book clubs that have sprung up all over the place (thanks Oprah.  Oh, and I'm not referring to the Capitol View Manor Book Club of which I was part or the Jefferson City book club that I have visited!).  It's unfortunate name hides a wonderful tale.
It was one of those books where, about halfway through, you're suddenly struck with the awful realization that the book will eventually end.  And then you find yourself completely conflicted.  You can't put the book down because you absolutely must find out what happens next yet, to devour the book means that you will soon finish and that, you realize, is simply unacceptable.  So you begin to ration your reading in order to make the book last longer.  It's as if you believe with your whole heart that not turning that last page will somehow keep the characters and places and everything else wonderful about your new found world...alive...indefinitely. 
It did end, though and I did mourn my great loss at not having another page to turn.

But I realized something about myself as a result.

The book is composed entirely of letters between various individuals.  Every character is introduced and fleshed out through the letters that they exchange with others in the book.  It was a fascinating concept, to say the least.  And it made me yearn for the time when folks exchanged lengthy correspondence.  It has truly made me want to stop using email for anything other than business exchanges and appointments.  The internet and technology are wonderful tools, don't misunderstand me (I write a blog, for crying out loud!).  It's just that we have all but lost our ability to let loose our thoughts via a medium that demands more than 100 character statements.  Twitter seems to be the technological equivalent of "twaddle"-- the word that Charlotte Mason used to describe "dumbed down literature with an absence of meaning."

So, what I learned about myself from reading this book is that I really do want to write.  And not just letters.  And not just blog entries.  I want to write more.  I always used to think that I didn't have it in me to write a novel.  I'm not a great teller of tales, per se.  But I do love to write about people I know and places I love and things I observe along the way and there's no reason that I couldn't tweak those a bit and form them into more than just journal entries.  I would like to write essays, too.  I think of Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favorite authors, and how she writes gorgeous novels (Who else thinks that The Poison Wood Bible is one of the best books in the world?) and telling nonfiction, as well.

This is all good and fine, I suppose, but I know that I have issues to overcome for writing to ever become something that I really "do."  Thus, I am going to start with correspondence.  Real, tangible, paper correspondence.  The boys and I are going to participate in The Great American Postcard Swap.  The group is currently being finalized but once it is finished the festivities will begin.  We will start with Alabama and the family from that state will send one postcard to the other 49 families that are participating.  Each week we will move onto the next state.  Our only requirement is to send a Missouri postcard to everyone else on the list one time but at the end of it all, we will have postcards from every other state.  How fun!!!

Further, I have chosen to participate, myself, in something called Postcrossing.  It is a postcard swap on a grander scale.  Once registered on the website, your name is put into the database.  You receive a name and an address of someone from anywhere in the world.  Once you send them a postcard, you log it onto the website and then you are eligible to receive postcards.  And so it continues, as long as you want to participate.  I've already received my first name and address--a young woman in Russia.  I am so excited about this new adventure and we've got to put up that huge world map so we can start pinpointing all the locations from which I get postcards.

So, if you're lucky, you just might be getting a real letter from me sometime in the near future.

You've been warned!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Silk Route

I wish you could have joined us this morning.  As I've mentioned previously, the one constant in our learning adventure has been the study of history.  We are currently studying the Middle Ages and we just finished reading about Marco Polo and his journeys East with his father.  A suggestion in our activity book was to set up a mock Silk Route in your house.  The travelers were to start off with a map of the route and continue on a journey that would take them through the Taklamankan and Gobi Deserts, the Tun-huang-shih and Loyang-shih oases and down the Yellow River, triumphantly finishing in Peking.  Aidan approached me last week, all but begging me to have us do this activity.  Admittedly, I thought it sounded extremely cool and I promised him that I would follow through.  Today was the day.
I busily set up the stations throughout our house, constructing signs designating the various stops and then adding my own ideas to the mix.  I drew up a scroll of instructions and warnings and sent them on their way.  The first oasis provided them with raisins and dates and fresh water.  Don't pay attention to the fact that this was really just our teeny bathroom.  After each of their treks across a desert they found themselves at an oasis.  The second rest stop, the Loyang-shih, offered them ginger snaps as a snack and a note that told them that this was made from one of the many spices they would find in the East.  I got a big, "Thanks, Mom!" for that.  After they picked up their oars and made their way down the Yellow River (really, as they climbed the stairs to the second floor), they found themselves in a Chinese Marketplace.  There I was, waiting for them.  I decided to dress up and my costume ended up a conglomeration of many cultures.  I wore a brown skirt with embroidery and shiny sequins on it, a yellow shirt with more embroidery on it, a crazy belt that we made while living with my parents (braided from some psychedelic fabric my mom had around), a string of jingle bells, and a muslin turban upon my head.  I offered my weary travelers ivory (dominoes), gold jewelry and spy glasses (Mardi Gras beads and party favors), precious gems (colored glass rocks), silks (I simply raided our dress up box) and exotic animals (rubber snakes).  They, in turn, offered me gold doubloons, Argentinian coins, jeweled rings, gold pieces (fool's gold) and diamonds (found on our property--not real, unfortunately).  We had so much fun that we did it twice. They really took their trading seriously and they offered comparable items for their purchases.  At the end of it all I got the greatest gift of all.  Aidan turned to me with his gorgeous smile and said quietly but with conviction, "Thanks, Mom.  This was really fun."
I must agree.
I hope they never forget about the Silk Route.


Perhaps you've noticed that my posts as of late have come sans photos.  I hate that because I love to help create a mood for what follows by sharing a glimpse into our life via photographs.  Well, their obvious absence is due to the fact that we are in deep doo-doo with regards to our computer.  We have completely, utterly, unbelievably run out of memory.  I mean totally.  I can't even upload one stinking picture.  Although we have a decent internet connection you would never know it.  All of our "energy" is taken up by everything lurking on our computer. "Everything" meaning--all my pictures.  Evidently, my camera upgrade last March did a whopping job on our computer's memory capabilities.  I believe John said something to the effect that all of the pictures that we had on the computer up until the new camera purchase (3-4 years worth) didn't take up the same amount of space on our hard drive as did just the last 10 months of pictures taken with our new camera! Yikes!  I guess that's the cost of better picture quality, eh?  It certainly doesn't help that our CD burner doesn't work so we can't save our pictures via that accessory.  We purchased what we thought was a second hard drive last month but it turns out that it seems to be only for backing up, not saving permanently.  That doesn't help us.  So, we have to figure out what to do next.  I would be lying if I didn't confess that both of us have let our minds wander into the land of "maybe we should just get a new computer..."  That would definitely solve one problem but.....really, that's not a very green solution.  I shudder when I think of adding to all of the technological refuse that has become such a problem in our day.  To our defense, though, the way computers are made these days it doesn't always make sense to try and fix your old one, especially when you can get new ones for cheaper and cheaper prices.  Blah!!  I just want to take pictures and share them with all of you.
Any computer experts out there who want to throw in their two cents on what might be the best course of action?  I would love to hear from you!