Wednesday, November 11, 2015

what will you do with your one wild and precious life? what I'm doing today.

For seven and a half years here, in fits and starts, I have thought about and ruminated over and over-shared about the question of what to do with your one wild and precious life. It has always been a central question to me, one I stand on the brink of and stare into with fear and curiosity and a bit of wander-lust.

I like living, and I like all of its complicated parts. I like the humanness of each of us, as painful as it may be, and I like the questions. I like what will you do? and wild and precious. And I especially like tell me about it.

Over the course of this blog I have exposed a lot of my self-doubt. I began the blog as we were leaving ministry in the vocational sense, and I spent a long time grappling with that. I began to write and then I began writing a novel, and I wanted this sorely and flailed mightily and kept blogging about it. Along the way I was a mother; joyfully, imperfectly.

A year ago I was restless. The novel I was writing felt stuck. And more than that. I was stuck. I couldn't put a finger on it at the time, but something wasn't working.

I read the book The Call, by Os Guiness, which was profoundly liberating. The book changed my thinking about calling, away from calling as a career. We are called by the voice of our Good Shepherd. My call is to follow Christ.

Next came a significant, personal decision. I needed to surrender my ideas of significance.

I set at the Lord's feet my ambitions. My fears of living an insignificant life. I gave up my understanding of success. I surrendered my ideals and idealism.

And I needed to get a job. We moved into a house that needs some love, and I needed to work to help pay for improvements. I'll spare all the details, but I felt the Lord very directly open the door for a part time job working retail.

I sell luxury home goods. I dress up and talk about leather. I fluff sofas.

But this is what I have discovered I love more than my ideals . .. even more than any humanitarian/ ministerial/ artistic calling . . . I love people. I love the people I work with, I think they are beautiful. I pray for them, and I pray for the people I am selling furniture to, and as I steam sofas and vacuum rugs I pray.

And I love being a mom and homeschooling my kids, and I love the little co-op we are a part of, and teaching writing and grammar to some of the brightest, kindest ten year olds you will ever meet.

I used to think knowing what to do with my one life was necessary and important. I used think, just this year I thought it; well, this morning I thought it once before getting out of bed, just for a breath- that living well is meant to be hard or original or sacrificial, some holy calling, some untraveled path.

Now I wake up and pray, I thank you God for most this amazing day. And thank you for the work you have called me to do today. Help me to do it well.

Friday, October 16, 2015

nourishment



Life is very full right now. I may have bitten off more than I can chew. All good things, all things I would not choose to give up.

But every season loses something to begin something, and the thing I feel I'm losing is art. Solitude. Reading and writing. Me, I guess. The person I thought was me.

Some days I think this is okay for now. And some days feel as though I am missing a limb.

No, not a limb. More like the core of me, at the center. I wonder where I am inside.

I tend to remember everything as better than it was. This week I found my way back to old blog posts from several years ago. And I found myself nostalgic, thinking what good years they were. The kids were so small and precious, the days simpler and sweet and I felt fruitful and passionate. Everything is golden, in memory.

But they were good and terrible years. Events which I never wrote about shook me so profoundly that it was like being uprooted, like the ground falling away beneath me.

Funny how memory sifts things.

I miss writing. I miss the days when words came too quickly to get them all down, when I was sleepless and centered. I carried notebooks in the diaper bags.

But the truth is that art begins in the dark. Where we are most desperate, most lost, unearthed- art- faith- comes from the black loose soil.

It wasn't easy to find my way then,  and it isn't easy now. It is never easy. But it is necessary. To find your nourishment and cling desperately to it. It is your life.

LET NO CHARITABLE HOPE
Now let no charitable hope
Confuse my mind with images
Of eagle and of antelope:
I am in nature none of these.
I was, being human, born alone;
I am, being woman, hard beset;
I live by squeezing from a stone
The little nourishment I get.
In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The girls and I left Thursday after swimming lessons to drive to my parents' in Sugarcreek. I forgot to pack lunches (or just didn't feel like it ;-) and so to avoid fast food or save money or something (?) we ran into Target to grab something for lunch, which took sixty-seven minutes and cost three times the fast food. We emerged with three bags of school supplies and two world maps which means that school is in fact going to happen again, somehow, though I am doing a grand job at ignoring reality.

(Also: three processed kid lunches contained within about sixty yards of packaging. My kids got to make their own turkey sandwiches with fake cheese in the car and this was the bestlunchever! and for about ten minutes I was the bestmomever!)

Friday I went to an event to celebrate the The Budget's 125th Anniversary. I write an article for the local section. But there is a second section which is made up of letters sent from 900 Amish communities all over the Americas. The letters share details of their community- the crops and weather, who is visiting, who is sick, etc. It is a way for communities to keep in touch with one another- an original facebook. I just love this paper, and community. I am so glad to be a part of it.

We drove home late Friday evening and I worked all day Saturday. Just enough time to unpack the car, and pack it back up again Sunday morning. Jim had to work Sunday, the girls and I headed to Mohican state park to camp with my family. Stop at the mall to buy my mom a birthday gift. Stop at Wal-mart for prepackaged boxed lunches all over again. (Tell me one quick lunch that is not guilt-inducing? I'm all out of ideas). Stop to buy a birthday cake. Stop for the bathroom. We can make this drive last allllll day.

We got to float down a river and eat burnt marshmallows and do all the summer things within about twenty-four hours. Home again last night, to no groceries and a week's worth of laundry and soggy towels and muddy shoes.

And a broken washer.

That was four trips in the car and one child who has a really difficult time in the car, which makes it really difficult for the rest of us. Four times packing and unpacking, a bazillion soggy towels and a dirty van and too much sugar. Maybe this weekend was all I needed to be almost, just a little bit ready for Summer's end. Almost.


Thursday, August 6, 2015



Every summer has a theme and for our family this has been a summer of work. We've worked on the house, worked in the yard, worked on Math, worked on our bad attitudes. I have spent the summer working on the class I'm going to teach for our co-op. We have worked to ready the house for company and worked together cleaning up. I began a part-time job this spring. Summer is Jim's busy season at work and some weeks all we do is pass each other- quite literally- as he comes home from work and I leave for work; I work one weekend day and he works the other.

I like to work. I am glad for all of the ways I need to work right now.

I like my job. It is a good job, the hours are what I need and I am thankful for it. It is stretching me in ways I need to be stretched. I've tried to blog about it but it is too complicated and too boring to tell all the details; what and how and why I believe the Lord led me to it. And because I can be conflicted about everything, I've needed to sort and re-sort it out in my head; is this work meaningful or important?

Jim reminds me that most people don't get to do work that feels all that meaningful. It is the fallen condition of work. For now, my work is to make money and bless my family. I have a new sensitivity for people doing hard, meaningless work forty hours a week. I think a lot about this. There is a great lack of teaching on this subject.

But we can work as unto the Lord. We can offer our work to Christ. We can love our co-workers and pray for them. We can pray always. And Christ is there.

p.s. One night I was lamenting that I don't have contemplative time anymore. I said to Jim,I've not been reading or writing like I used to. My mind is too full of details, I only think in logical ways anymore. I feel shallow. My husband's ever-logical, wry response; Who gets to live a contemplative life all the time? Welcome to the world of the rest of us shallow people who have to go to work everyday to make money. Me, laughing: That's true. Thank you for being an engineer so I can be a mystic. ;-)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

buy yourself flowers

: because I have this habit of questioning every decision I ever make (my life's calling/ where to live/ how to pray/ crushed or diced tomatoes)

: because living on the surface is only floating

: because the one thing I sense the Lord instructing me to do is to lighten the heck up

: because I want a couple more kids and a front porch and fancy Sunday dinner, every week, and to write books and to wander and to live next door to all my favorite people

: because I want my kids to grow up in the city and the country

: because I can't believe my kids are growing up

: because today is only ten days away from the first day of summer and this is the very best time of year

: because I am homesick and content and anticipating, all at the same time

: because the Cavs

: because more and more I see how lost is the human condition apart from Christ

: because it is possible one day to just give up and to quit dreaming and stop growing and you aren't even dead yet, and I am opening all the windows and brewing strong coffee and buying myself flowers because I want to stay wide awake





Thursday, June 4, 2015

Hello,




It has been a long while and there is so much water under the bridge. I've been a bit of a muddle anyway, change does that to me, the new job and end of school, house projects, relatives came to visit- we stretched the little house but we did just fine- and this week I have the flu. Ugh. There is nothing I hate more than wasting time, and the first week of June when I want to be digging or planting or wading or a hundred things but lying in bed certainly isn't one of them. 


Well then, a daybook:

Outside my window:  I am visiting my parents for the day, so my view today is green grass and trees, a hay field being mowed. Green green grass is vibrant this time of year, and watching my kids run in it one of the best views of summer.


Thinking: about our summer routine and how to make summer somehow fresh and interesting even though we are still at home and doing our thing just like every other season. 

: about my parenting, always; what do we need to change, what am I not seeing?

: about the idea of writing your own obituary, how do I hope to have lived and what habits do I need to change that I might?

: about how we construct our own existence, we build the house we live in, by our thoughts, and that by the time one reaches old age we are pretty much settled into the house we've built, we don't want to change, our minds have made us; and therefore how important it is that we take every thought captive, that the most basic habits of our minds are rooted in faith, offered to Christ, saturated in love . . . that I would build a life of faith by a lifetime of faithful thinking. (As a man thinketh in his heart so is he. -Pr.23:7)


Thankful: to be a mom to three funny, passionate, creative, smart, strong girls and to get to help nurture who they will become.

Creating: a basic, easy work wardrobe that I don't have to think about. 

Hoping: to feel better soon

In the kitchen: not much. Working evenings means I try to have dinner ready before I leave, and I've been keeping things simple; roasted potatoes and seasoned meat in the le creuset, tacos or salad are staples. 

Reading: Motivate Your Child by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller (I got to hear them speak at the Midwest Homeschool Convention) 

In the homeschool room: Math, math facts, and cursive. Hooked on Phonics from the library for Josie for the summer.

One of my favorite things: Last night, after several days of feeling like all I do is repeat myself, all day long; the same instructions, all day long, hearing myself say the same correction over and over . . . I asked the girls to tell me something I say to them all the time . . . their answer was I love you.  

The job: is good. The best part? Two hours of cleaning a night = two hours for prayer and solitude. Glory. Plenty of over-thinking thoughts on what I'm learning from the job . . . soon.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

laundry and honey



I was awake in the night and thinking, how beautiful it is to live. This, our little routines and our little sleeps, circling the seasons, taking care of each other. Laundry, three meals and cleaning up, picking up, our daily, gorgeous ordinary. It is honey from the rock, let me tell you, I have been broken and remade so many times on this journey.

I began a job this month and while I keep telling myself nothing is ending, only a beginning, it does mark an end; the end of baby days and baby nights, the end of a child on my hip, needing, always needing. Goodnight Moon. 

The truth is I am not ready, not ready to go. Here we are, sleeping all night and in the day on the move, a place for everything, all of the baby things donated, all but the crib, and I find myself awake in the middle of the night asking the Lord for one more, two more? Here, my arms, and here, my hip, my heart, here, these plates, this table, my sleepless nights, this, its what I do, there is more to give.

Another door opens but I'm not closing this one. Even if not my own body which groans and makes room, there is more work to do, a whole lonely world. More circling, more laundry, more honey. Hold the door, my arms have stretched to the moon. Come in, come in.

This ever my true work, this breaking and remaking, this circling. Taking care, picking up. This my heart. It is true, you know, a mother's work is never done.

Friday, April 24, 2015

from their mother



It has been wild to see what emerges from the ground of our new house this spring. Every time I look out the window there is some new color. I did not plant a thing. 

Out of the mundane rises gold with all its might. Lavender like remember. Fiery red yes. Raw purple poetry, vulnerable and rejoicing. 

Everything comes back. Today is not only today. 

It is not all lovely. There is so much to clear away. Overgrown and in the way. Pettiness, despondency. 

For two weeks I've lived on the thin layer of epidermis, sliced deep by poison ivy, my skin angry like words I can't forget. Everything comes back. Today is not only today.

And my own words and prayers are seeds scattering, erupting one day in some season or place far from now. 

One day my kids will peer out the window and see some shape of me. What seeds do they carry in their heart from their mother? 

Have I scattered faith and strong and true and passion? Among the mundane and daily, have I sown beloved, imagination, some shoot of fiery red?  Have I broken open, dancing? 

Or only passive shrubbery? 

Only arguments and sighs?


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Homeschool (question, convention)



A few weeks ago I began to imagine life if we didn't homeschool. I wrote lists of possible life plans if the kids were in school; get a job, finish the novel, go to grad school, drop the kids off and go to Starbucks. 

This is only our third year of homeschool, but each year in the spring I have worked through our decision all over again. It is likely that every year this will happen and its good and necessary to give myself space to ask the question.

But even at my most doubtful, in the back of my mind I know the Midwest Homeschool Convention is coming, and this fact alone gets me through muddy March.

I've attended smaller conferences which left me less satisfied or outright annoyed, and for me the bigger conference is worth the four hour drive (time with grown-ups? I would drive ten hours). It is one time a year without children, and enough conversation and homeschool inspiration to hopefully re-fuel me for another year.

Most of my Classical crushes were there, some really solid parenting workshops, and a plethora of everything else. I came home with renewed vision for what homeschool is and what it can be, my mind swirling with thoughts and ideas.

I love to learn the theories. But Sam still needs to learn her multiplication facts, and this is where I find myself again today, attempting to put the glorious wide vision into a daily practice.

I thought I would sort out my notes and blog about a few of the highlights. This is the main thing the Lord impressed upon me this year:

The work I am doing is God's work. 
I am to work as unto the Lord.
God will complete His work in my kids.
I have everything I need.


The best line from the convention was a speaker quoting Ben Carson. He said:
"You will likely have about seventy-five years on this earth. You will spend the first twenty-five years preparing for the next fifty. You will spend those fifty years reaping the benefits or paying the consequences for how you spent the first twenty-five."
What a gift to have these early years with my kids, to nourish their bodies and minds and spirits with all that God has given, to furnish their minds with good and true and lovely things, to engage with them the great conversations. To help nurture the person God has created them to become, and disciple them in the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Truly, the call to homeschool is a gift, and I am so grateful.


p.s. I wouldn't want to do it alone. I am grateful for friends on this journey with us, and a fruitful co-op, and for Christ-centered women I am learning from and with. I am blessed!

p.p.s. My favorite part of the convention was hugging my dear friend Shannon! I love how God weaves people together throughout life's seasons.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Work, sometimes

Work, Sometimes
Mary Oliver

I was sad all day, and why not. There I was, books piled
on both side of the table, paper stacked up, words
falling off my tongue.

The robins had been a long time singing, and now it
was beginning to rain.

What are we sure of? Happiness isn't a town on a map,
or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work
ongoing. Which is not likely to be the trifling around
with a poem.

Then it began raining hard, and the flowers in the yard
were full of lively fragrance.

You have had days like this, no doubt. And wasn't it
wonderful, finally, to leave the room? Ah, what a
moment!

As for myself, I swung the door open. And there was
the wordless, singing world. And I ran for my life.


Reading this poem was like a sudden warm breeze. Like yesterday, the thirtieth of March, when the grass began to grow. It felt like swinging a door open. It describes the way I have been feeling lately about my work.

And wasn't it wonderful, finally, to leave the room? Ah, what a moment.

I have spent ten years in this room. Mothering. Writing in the margins. It is my heart's work. I am falling-down grateful for every day of it.

But I got a job. A real, dress-up job with other adults. It feels like it is time, now, to leave this room, sometimes. It feels like swinging a door open.

Happiness isn't a town on a map,
or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work
ongoing. Which is not likely to be the trifling around
with a poem.

My new job is a few evenings and weekends. Nothing particularly noteworthy, just a simple part-time job.

We are still going to homeschool. I will keep writing in the mornings. The time is right, and we need for me to bring in some extra income. It feels like an open door, like fresh breezes. I think it will freshen all of my work- mothering and homeschool and writing.

All work is best sometimes.

For a long time now I have lived should-be-writing. But art {life} isn't produced through guilt. It comes by distraction, attention, fun.. . time in the yard full of lively fragrance.

The best thing I have done for my work recently is to walk away. To learn to work, sometimes. It is wonderful, sometimes, to leave the room.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How to make a decision

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace... Hebrews 12:28


I am quite moveable. It is a problem. There are so many ways to think about any given subject and I can think and overthink and lay awake thinking and exasperate myself.


Then there are the things which I don't analyze or question at all but which somehow ease in beside me. Poetry begins while making the beds or running baths or watching the street. Things like affection rise up from the ground, they water themselves, they survive on dust. Things like affection don't need thinking or persuading or dissecting but space, wind, light.

I think I am learning, slowly, how to know, which is to think a little less. We try too hard, planting all in rows when we are meant for freedom. Kingdom life is not for measuring and counting, analyzing, deciding, but for scattering, wasting, blooming, bursting.

A kingdom which cannot be moved is not wide and tall and certain- reinforced- all of these kingdoms crumble. An unmovable kingdom slips in the frame of the door. It is slim and small and scattering in the breezes, planted in the cracks.

Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love.

It is the smallest room behind the smallest door. It is the treasure buried in a field, the yes of the heart, the quietest knowing. To decide is more of a waiting- unknowing- still and small and quiet, listening, wind blowing where it will. Let us have grace.

“Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there.  I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises.  Often I have received better than I deserved.  Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes.  I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley.  And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led- make of that what you will.”-Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Wisdom of Tenderness

When Jesus said that he was hungry and thirsty and naked in those around us, he was referring to more than mere corporal needs. We’re surrounded by people who are hungry and thirsty and naked in their souls, and they come to us hungry for understanding, thirsty for affirmation, naked with loneliness, and wanting to be covered with the mantle of our genuine tenderness.  
 
It’s more important to be a mature Christian than to be a great butcher or baker or candlestick maker; and if the only chance to achieve the first is to fail at the second, the failure will have proved worthwhile. Isn’t failure worthwhile if it teaches us to be gentle with the failure of others, to be patient, to live in the wisdom of accepted tenderness, and to pass that tenderness on to others? If we’re always successful, we may get so wrapped up in our own victories that we’re insensitive to the anguish of others; we may fail to understand (or even try to understand) the human heart; we may think of success as our due. Then later, if our inner world collapses through death or disaster, we have no inner resources. 

The greatest thing on earth is respect, because it is the heart of love. 
 

Your faithfulness will be measured by your willingness to go where there’s brokenness, loneliness, and human need. What are you to draw from the life of the Master? The knowledge that love and mercy are the most powerful forces on earth.

from The Wisdom of Tenderness: Brennan Manning- an excellent book! Worth re-reading again and again. 




A collection of Patchett's essays, published throughout her career and ranging on topics such as her disastrous first marriage to the story of her happy marriage, her career as a writer and her relationships and various experiences. Patchett is a master essayist. I thoroughly enjoyed these essays and listening to her read her own work on audio only enhanced the book, as she has a wonderful voice. 


I chose this book to read looking for stories on the immigrant experience for the novel I'm writing. The story of Bohemian immigrants who settle in Nebraska in the late 19th century was fascinating both for the story of the immigrants who helped settle our country, as well as the fascinating description of the vast plains and struggle to survive in it. (I was born in the wrong century. sigh).

Saturday, March 21, 2015

end and begin



The gift of a long vacation is to be fully there, unpacked, entirely away. But it's like the mornings before my kids wake up, or when I have a sitter for a few hours- it isn't reality, and I know it will end soon, and so I feel this pressure to maximize my time somehow, to cram in all of the things, rest meaningfully, read all of the books, experience some moment of clarity or vision. Yes, I know #firstbornproblems.


Instead I came away with only this: Everything ends and begins. It is beautiful. Love and mercy.

And one more: Here I am. 

It is the best anyone can do, to be here, wherever I am. All that my kids or anyone needs from me, all Christ calls me to, all I have to give- myself, at this moment. Tenderly.




And then we came home to springtime. The birds outside my window are a racket this morning. How ever did they survive the winter? 

Yesterday we learned about maple syrup. We watched them pierce the flesh of the tree and the sweetness that drips out, born of darkness and death. Everywhere is resurrection.

Springtime evening light is lush and pouring forth sweetness. It is a mother's arms. It is the father's leap and the prodigal's return. It is the lover's Come away. It is the tenderest greeting and the grandest surprise and the thing we'd been searching for, all this time and darkness and even when we should have given up. It is so far away and suddenly right here, behind and before.

Everything ends. Everything begins. Eternity in our heart. Everywhere is resurrection.

Here I am.


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

whatever we lose(like a you or a me)

Last week I went to the store for groceries and when I came home the bananas slipped out of the bag and landed in the snow, and something about that image of brilliant tropical fruit on a snow bank filled me with such wild longing. Today I went to the store and brought home bananas and I ate one standing at the window, sun pouring over. Things in their place.

Now there is sun on my toes and on my shoulder and pouring over the keyboard. Child emerges with the sun tangled in her hair and a white tank top slipping off a brown shoulder. Today is a long blue day. Small rhythms. We will stretch, play, listen. I am so thankful.


I love our latest poetry memory, for while we are in Florida:
maggie and milly and molly and may
E. E. Cummings
maggie and milly and molly and may 
went down to the beach(to play one day)
and maggie discovered a shell that sang 
so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles,and
milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;
and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and
may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone.
For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) 
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea


The Piano Tuner
The redeeming qualities of this book are it's setting and truly mystical sense of faraway lands, legends and curses, the entrancing qualities of music, beauty, a search for something one cannot name. The writing is dreamlike and haunting. And yet the plot did not match the setting and prose. I was irritated by the main character- by his inexplicable choices and what felt like forced tension of the story. I suppose I am meant to notice the literary devices, and be left pondering what happened or what was fantasy. But I just didn't connect with the character enough to really care.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

What I learned in February



Winter, you are lovely but I have my limits. We wintered valiantly. We fled joyfully.

I mastered hot chocolate and crispy oven fries. We drank dozens and dozens of cups of hot drinks. I can make hot chocolate faster than it takes the kids to get their boots off.

Writing fiction will scare the bejeezus out of you. I've reached the point in my novel that suddenly feels like standing in a room with no clothes on, and I'm running for cover. I'm not sure I have the guts to expose myself, or if it is time for a rewrite, or just to put it away for a while or maybe forever.

I learned the very best way to weather a long, long, loooong stretch of being home inside with small people for manymanymany days: The Chronicles of Narnia on audio, radio theatre version. Best investment we ever made. Best cure for February evenings. 

I learned what I want in a kitchen. (Want: a good window, plenty of lighting, a place for the Kitchenaid, a charging station and mail drop that is out of sight. Don't want: Formica).

Here is the kitchen before:


and now:


I learned never to tell my children about something they will anticipate more than four weeks in advance. I heard about going to Florida All! Day! Long! for weeks! and weeks! They began packing in January. The anxiety level of the entire house was through the roof for weeks. There is something to be said for anticipation but oh, my word.

I loved February for the homesteading and all, but I will admit: we ran out of steam. Homeschooling is hard in February. There was so much arguing and complaining. We usually can maintain a pretty steady pace but by the end I was lonely and the kids were bored. My self-talk: Everyone wants to quit in February. Also, so long as we homeschool, we will hit the road in some form or another at this time every year. A change of scenery is part of the curriculum. 

We did a lot of interior house projects like painting and Jim stuffed insulation into every crevice of the house.  

I began to make art again. The kids are old enough now not to eat the oil paints, and there is a spot in the basement just right for painting, and I am remembering how energizing and addictive it is. I love the meditative process of art making, and I am constantly finding new metaphors. Like how much good art I've covered up and lost by trying to perfect it, and how art- and life-- grace- beauty-- is as much about knowing when to pause as it is about effort.

And that was our February. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

we homeschool because we can't homestead

I complain all the time that we can't be farmers. It would be good for the kids, I say. They need more chores, I say. My dad got up at four every morning to milk cows . . . 

I am a broken record. I know we will never be farmers. A garden. Maybe chickens. Maybe.



One of the biggest reasons I think we and the whole world ought to return to an agrarian lifestyle, is for the rhythm. Our bodies are meant to adapt with the seasons. We were never meant to function at a consistent, forty-hour pace. 

Jim is an engineer. He gets up at five and catches the six-thirty train and returns home at five, every single day. This is the way most jobs function. 


Consider the days of my grandparents, who were dairy farmers. There were very early mornings, every single day. There were no vacations or weekends or holidays. Spring and Fall were intense seasons when they worked until long after dark. But these seasons are naturally invigorating. Our bodies want to move in spring.

Then, there was winter. There was a natural season of rest, while the earth rests. This was a time for working with your hands.


Our bodies are meant to live according to the seasons, and my kids prove to me this is true. I have experienced it enough now to see that every year this happens: they naturally want to hibernate.

This time of year we become so still and quiet and small. It may take a few weeks, there is some resistance, a little boredom at first. But by now, deep into winter, we have established this deep, slow rhythm which feels so restorative and natural and good.

We didn't leave the house all week. It was a break week for our co-op. And below zero. And then the car wouldn't start. And it was lovely. 

We did our lessons, we sipped tea, we baked. There was a lot of playing and reading. We didn't hurry. I asked the girls if they'd like to have friends over to play and this week, they said no. Their friendship with each other is forged in these cold months. We are in a rhythm of quiet and creativity and play, an underwater place, and that is enough for now. 

Soon we will begin to grow restless. Spring will awaken in our bodies before we feel it in the air. Our schedule will pick up again. 

This is what I love about homeschool- freedom to live in the seasons. We work we play we rest. In winter, we hibernate.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

a stopping off point

Lent begins. I feel wilderness lurking. There is darkness I am reluctant to enter.

Lent is a choice. There are no rules, no compulsion, no enforced fasts.

And so is the journey of the Christian life. One could stop at anytime.

It is possible to linger, placate, indefinitely. What temptation is this? A slowness that grabs from within. Drags my feet. Shortens my vision.

There are nice views and plenty of friends and distractions here. I know what I know. I am who I am.
Busy, of course. And winning or losing, lonely, obligated, fat or thin, coveting, bored. These things require my attention. What is Lent again?

A stopping off point. The place to drop our luggage and decide- is it worth going on? The climb is long, and only growing steeper. Within and without, there are terrible places I'd prefer to avoid. Within and without, there are battles I don't have energy to wage. Humiliation I hate. Loss I fear.

Who wants to venture through the next wilderness when I could unpack, quite comfortably, here.

But there is the sweetest voice calling me. Higher up, further in.

{Remember the mountains we climbed? For days and days, up and up, and how it burned. And then- the view. And then- the soar. What if we'd stopped?}


The road is hard.

The road is glorious.

We repent of loving You, Lord, so little because we have loved ourselves too much-The Call for the Next Forty Days


Monday, February 16, 2015

our (almost) Whole30



Whole30 was a spontaneous decision. I skimmed the list of rules one night and decided to start the next day. Jim decided to join me.

I am a fairly healthy eater and healthy cook, but I don't restrict anything. I try to keep sugar and treats in moderation. We eat a lot of fresh food. Generally the only rule I follow is to cook mainly from scratch and to {nearly always} only eat foods with recognizable ingredients. That doesn't mean my kids have never tasted a Dorito. Their dad loves doughnuts. When we are on vacation or visiting I don't make an issue of food. 

I wasn't necessarily trying to lose weight. I was more curious about how foods affect me. Aside from unpleasant but pretty normal pms, my only complaint is a foggy brain sometimes. This could have more to do with three children chatting at me all. day. long. than with food, but I was curious whether sugar and flour might be contributing to both of these.

The rules for Whole30 are to eliminate all sugar, grains, beans, alcohol, peanuts, dairy, and all processed food for thirty days. Basically you eat only vegetables, meat, seafood, fruit and fats. They are super strict about no cheating whatsoever. Even a taste of anything containing the restricted ingredients requires that you start all over from day one. There is no almost.

Well, I cheated. I am not a good rule follower. Especially when choosing between rules and parties. There was a birthday party, and then a super bowl party, and another birthday dinner . ..  I did not start all over again. Also, after I cheated the first time I gave up and started adding cream to my coffee. Sue. Me.

Aside from a few cheat days after which we did not go back and start over, we did stick with the Whole30 program. A typical day looked like this:

eggs and sausage for breakfast
big salad for lunch
fruit for snacks
meat, vegetable, potato, salad for dinner

Overall, the meals were very satisfying and (aside from the black coffee) on an average day, at home, with no temptations, the rules are not difficult to follow. The hardest part is the extra time it takes to prepare food, and eating so much meat is expensive. (I'm not sure I agree ethically with consuming that much meat. The diet does seem elitist). 

This is what I learned:

-I reach for convenient foods way more often than I realize. I don't usually eat breakfast, so around 10 I might grab something easy like toast, and then I snack on tortilla chips and chocolate chips the rest of the day. I've learned to replace this with fruit and nuts, and take the time to fix myself lunch and sit down and eat it.

-I rely on bread and grains more than I need to, especially for quick lunches. I didn't even buy bread this month, and the kids didn't miss it. 

-I eat chocolate always. I didn't realize just how often I grab chocolate chips, especially when I am stressed or bored.

-Sweet potatoes saved me. Tossed in olive oil with salt, roasted until they've caramelized- I could eat these all day long. This is nearly as good as chocolate. For real.

-It is fun and easy to roast all kinds of vegetables. I rotated trays of vegetables every day, and we ate them for all of the meals. I want to keep doing this.

-I still endured pms. In fact it was really strong this month. I had hoped avoiding sugar would help but it didn't seem to. Maybe it is lack of vitamin D. Maybe it is part of the curse and overcome through prayer and dying to self.

-Jim and I both felt more mental clarity and energy overall. 

-I noticed behavior improvements in the kids, and one child in particular. I think fewer grains may help her. 

-I enjoy all food, but don't try to turn them into a pretend food; i.e. cauliflower is cauliflower, not pizza.

-We eat more cheese and dairy than we need. I was using a lot of cheese, and when we eliminated it I found we didn't miss it. 


Our plan is to continue all of these habits as our normal daily diet: more protein, plenty of living, fresh foods, and for the most part no sugar or grains throughout the week. On weekends we splurge and eat whatever we want. I will continue to keep a stash of dark chocolate for backup when the sweet potatoes aren't cutting it.


The negatives: 

My problem with any diet is that is makes me think about dieting, and thinking about dieting makes me want food. (The strength of the law!)  After struggling with my weight most of my life, the key for me was learning to enjoy food but not too much of it. I fear diets because they make me anxious and rebellious. 

I really don't want my kids to grow up afraid of food. I prefer to not make an issue of food at all. I only ask them to pay attention to their bodies; How does your body feel? Are you full? Do you think that eating more dessert would make your body feel good or bad? Generally, this works well enough. They will often say I can't finish this {sugary dessert or snack} because my body says it's enough

Diets are the new legalism. We secretly love laws. We crave measurements and restrictions because they give us a was to achieve something. (I don't mean people who have health issues or food intolerances). It is good to fast, good to cleanse your body and to heal it with food. But diets can also become one more form of idolatry. During our diet Sam kept saying, why don't you just eat healthy? 

In summary, I love food! I love food for all of the reasons- because it heals and nourishes and gives life. And I love food because it brings people together. Because it is celebration and tradition and nostalgia. I love to prepare food and I love to feed people. A party will always trump a diet, as I think it should. I believe God gave us food for pleasure and to thank him for, and when we have a healthy relationship with food we can enjoy it and indulge sometimes and celebrate heartily- without guilt or condemnation. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

books this week

Today is Valentine's Day. But we had breakfast on the good plates, and raspberries in teeny tiny cups, and we've broken all the diets. (A post on our almost-Whole30 soon). Sam made chocolate lava cake waiting in the refrigerator, and steaks marinating, and potatoes sliced for these french fries (one of the beautiful things to happen during almost-Whole30). The kids are lego-ing, I am planning our kitchen remodel, Jim is reading. It's been snowing all day and there is no reason to leave the house. Perfect.


Books:
Crossing to Safety: Wallace Stegner
This is such a lovely book. I am sad it is over. The story of a beautiful friendship- two married couples- who find each other and walk through life together until the end. It is the kind of friendship which is probably too good to be true, and time together spent doing the every good kind of thing. A simple, gorgeous story about marriage and friendship and living and dying. 

Once again I ask myself, how do people cope who don't read fiction? 

The Expats: Chris Pavone
Maybe it is because thriller/suspense books aren't the kind I typically read, this felt contrived and outlandish. I suppose it did hold my attention, mostly because I had already invested enough to make it worth finding out what happened. The characters were entirely shallow and selfish and I wasn't able to sympathize with them at all. Books such as these work well on audio because I can tune out and not miss much.



Listen:
"Things take the time they take. Don't worry."

Link:
I fear that -- if we continue this mad quest for perfection -- we will all end up as stressed-out and jumpy as those stray cats who live in Dumpsters behind Chinese restaurants, forever scavenging for scraps of survival while pulling out their own hair in hypervigilant anxiety.



“[Friendship] is a relationship that has no formal shape, there are no rules or obligations or bonds as in marriage or the family, it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood, there is no glue in it but mutual liking. It is therefore rare.”

― Wallace StegnerCrossing to Safety

Thursday, February 12, 2015

why and why not

Every so often, well, all the time, I will think of something I might like to blog about, which is instantly ferociously attacked by all of the voices in my head; the silliness of having a blog, the self-indulgent nature of blogging, the endless unnecessary internet chatter, the need for silence and stillness and privacy, the waste of time, the fact that there are millions of mom blogs millions of times better than mine . . .

Tell me all of the reasons why blogging is dumb, I will tell you more.



I don't expect anyone to read this space, though if you do Thank You.

Why do I blog? {I ask myself}. Because it's one small place in the world with my name on it, which I do for no reason other than a creative outlet; my own. I don't want to build readership or buy an expensive camera or learn coding. I just want to sit down every now and then and play with words, and think about my life or what I am reading or learning.

And because, Why Not?

Why Not? might mean more than we think. Why send the card or bake your bread or write a poem? Why not? Why eat an apple? Why linger over dinner? Why tell jokes? Why have conversations with children?

Maybe Why Not is infinitely important. Maybe Why Not is our holiest work.

There is a person who will do everything that is expected, nothing more. A card right on time, but just a signature. No I love you, no I'm thankful for you. There is no phone call, no I'm thinking of you, how are you? No extra anything at all. All of the Whys are covered, but there is never a Why Not. Funny how this feels like rejection.

We are listening to the Chronicles of Narnia on audio in the evenings and oh how my soul needs the fairy tale. I am desperate to remember the magic. It is what drew me to Christ- delight. Not because at seven years old I understood theology- but because the people who seemed to know him best, had eyes that sparkled. Because I heard a distant song.

Lord, do not let me rob my children of the fairy tale, in my efforts to teach them about you.

I have been in churches where there is no fairy tale. The legend has been lost. It is replaced with information; how and why and therefore. There is music but no one is dancing. A card with no note.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . against such there is no law. There is no law for such things either, I think? There is no law that one enjoy life. No law for play. No law that food be delicious. No law for affection, no law for beauty, no law for belly laughs, no law for eyes to meet.


I am guilty of living only in the Whys. Especially in this season of life, when there is so little margin. Only if it saves time or money, only if there is an achievable goal, only if it fits into my schedule. I can't answer the phone right now, can't send the card because it requires going to the post office for stamps, can't eat the chocolate cake because, you know, this diet.

I have missed important things, living by the whys.

So I will keep blogging, imperfectly. And I will keep trying to write a novel, slowly, and make art, joyfully. I will do my best to spoil my people, lavishly. I will try to waste more time. And I will be too transparent and too vulnerable and make a lifetime of mistakes, and feel too much, and believe impossible things. I will be slightly wary of Why? and wholeheartedly Why Not?

Friday, February 6, 2015

What a normal week looks like for us

Oh how I love a good, steady, normal week. Funny how a normal week is the exception. And funny how homeschool doesn't necessarily mean we are always at home.

I love to read how other families organize their weeks, so I thought I would share ours.



One of the things I love about homeschool is the rhythm. Typically we aren't at home too much or on the go too much, and there is enough time in the margins for things I believe are really important: tinkering on the piano, drawing, reading, making meals, doing chores, playing.

This is what a normal week looks like for us:

Two days we are at home all day. These days I really try to maximize our lessons. We will do a good long review of our memory work, fit in all of the subjects, and read aloud longer. Generally this will last from about 9:00 to 1:30 or 2:00, with a break and lunch. After lessons the girls have quiet time and then play outside. This is the first year I don't have to be outside with them. (!!!!!!!)

Usually quiet time is when I get to my to-do list. Anything I think of throughout the week I add to a list on my phone- look-up ideas for Latin memory work, order books from the library, appointments I need to schedule. Occasionally I will have time to read.

While they are outside I am beginning dinner and taking care of housework. Laundry also is done on these days, bedding, deeper cleaning upstairs or down. It sounds like a lot, but it is amazing how much can get done in an hour while I'm watching the kids out the window. Listening to audio books while I work means that I look forward to this time of day.

As soon as Jim is home we eat dinner. Jim and I are currently doing Whole30, (which takes all the pleasure out of meal time). It does simplify things. Meat. Vegetable. Salad. The kids are awesome at eating what we eat (I've never been a short-order cook), but I usually give them rice or something extra.

One day a week we are at Classical Conversations. After CC a friend and I swap kids each week- one week she gets the afternoon off, the next week I do. We are so blessed by these friends who have three daughters the same ages as ours. They are growing up together and each pair are the best of friends. I thank God all the time for this sweet friendship. It is truly a gift.

One morning a week our fabulous babysitter comes for three hours. I give Sam and Annie a checklist of work to complete on their own. Bridget helps them and keeps Josie entertained. I think they look forward to: 1, a break from me and 2, to work independently and 3, everybody LOVES Bridget. So if the work is complete when I get home, we get to go to the library in the afternoon. It is always complete. Sam and Annie both have their own library cards which they think is the coolest thing ever.

One day is our floater day. It seems there is usually something extra- a playdate, a field trip, etc. Usually on this day we do a bare bones curriculum- only math and piano, and then listen to our CC review cd and Story of the World in the car. Today for example we are going to the museum.

In the evenings we are gone two nights for lessons and one for a small group Bible study.

Mornings I wake early to read and write. The kids are allowed to watch t.v. after they wake up until 8:00.

Saturday mornings I have a writing deadline which I try to finish as soon as possible so we can spend the day as a family. Once on a weekend we eat out. We try to be intentional to observe a Sabbath rest.

There still isn't time for everything I want to do. I don't exercise, and I need to. There is never a good time to go to the grocery store and I put it off longer than I should. There are plenty of days when I'd really like to follow my own agenda rather than catering to everyone else's (who doesn't?). But overall our weeks are steady and good. It is a full schedule, but not hurried and I love it.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

What I Learned in January

1. We have a ballerina. 
This girl love, loves her ballet class. It is bringing out all kinds of confidence in her that I didn't know she had. What fun to watch new colors emerge in our kids.


2. I really love teaching art.
I have an opportunity to teach art for six weeks at our co-op and I am enjoying it so much.

3. Courage begets courage, art begets art.
(Just a thought)

4. Playdates are out, girls nights are in
In January I decided that it is time to retire from the playdate. It's been a nearly ten year run of them, and I'd like to be done now. Our kids friends are welcome here- Always- but it is time for the mothers to graduate to Mom's Night Out. Fewer granola bars, more bottomless chips and salsa please.

5. Given a weekend to do anything, we choose the library.
My awesome sister-in-law and brother kept our kids for an entire weekend. We went to the library. It was perfect.




6. How very grateful I am for indoor plumbing.
Yes and Amen.

7. These sock snowmen- a cute and easy playdate kids craft.




8. Rollerskating is just as awesome as it always was-
but better, with my kids. My childhood skating rink hasn't changed one bit in thirty years. At all.

9. Whole30 isn't awful. (But is it necessary?)
I'm on day 8. I miss tortilla chips. And cream in my coffee. Not making any promises.



10. To pray for the interior life of my kids.
What do they think and dream and imagine? The older they get the more I realize there are parts of them which I have yet to meet, places I can't go with them. I am learning to pray for their solitude, their curiosity, their wonder.

We are in the middle of a winter storm here in Cleveland today. There are meatballs in the crockpot, we are heading out to watch the Superbowl with some friends, I've spent most of the day writing. Today is lovely.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

when the light is cold



I had some apprehension before buying our little house but since moving in only one regret- I can't see the sunset. It's hidden directly behind a neighbor's old, giant pine tree.

The light-filled kitchen in our previous home was one of the things I loved most. And watching the sky as I made dinner each night such an important part of the liturgy of my day.

It is January. I am hoping that the earth's tilt in summer will grant me more of a view. Or maybe the Spirit will prompt our neighbor to cut down that tree.

Or maybe the sun will be partially hidden from me always, for the duration of our time here, and I will only get a view of the edges. Will it be enough to know that the heavens are declaring God's glory? Can I behold the beauty of the Lord- though obstructed- by faith?



For most of the year I follow the light. I watch the way it softens the earth and calls forth tulips. I watch it rest on the red nectarines. The way it changes everything in Autumn. The longest nights give the day a kind of dark hush which makes the light raw and tender.

I trust the light and am wooed by it and admire it endlessly.

And then there is January, February, March- the light seems to grimace. It is flat, like an insincere smile.

oppresses, like the Heft of Cathedral Tunes.


Winter light is everywhere and nowhere. I want to close the blinds, to hide from the cold light and it's cruel shadows. In winter I prefer to walk in the dark, the nighttime fog, the snowy trenches.

I believe God is near to us in the dark, that even the darkness is not dark to Him.


When the light is unfamiliar or obstructed, when God seems distant or indifferent, I think it's okay to recognize that and to hide in the shadow- the cleft of the rock.

It could be His glory passing by. It is too good for us to bear. (Exodus 33)

The light we cannot bear, the goodness we can't recognize- has he put us in the cleft of the rock? Is he covering us with his hand until He has passed by?

We follow His light through the year- maybe springtime we see His back. Summer His robes, Autumn the hem of His garment. In Winter we hide our eyes again.


The earth lies frozen and trembling until spring.



There's a certain Slant of light, (320)

BY EMILY DICKINSON
There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

Friday, January 23, 2015

How to shape a soul?

Some days I can't believe I get to do this every day- read books like it's my job. 

The more I learn about Classical education, the more I believe in it. Classical education is about soul formation. It is the cultivation of virtue.

How does one cultivate virtue in a child? How to shape a soul? Through story. By reading good books.

It is so simple and so glorious. This resonates deeply with me as books are what feed me. I have been saved over and over by just the right book at just the right time, and the chance to pass this on to my kids- to provide them with the space and time to hear stories and talk about stories, for their days to be shaped by story- this is the greatest gift I can imagine. For the kids and me.

I try to think of the priorities of our homeschool day as two or three big rocks, and the rest are the smaller things which find a way to settle around the edges. The biggest rock is to read aloud. Reading aloud bookends our day- morning and evening, and is woven throughout our day. I have needed to learn and re-learn and learn again, to keep this our top priority. It feels good to zoom through the text books, checking off our lists- and that happens as well- but reading aloud is the most important. Even if nothing else is accomplished, if we have read, it is enough.

Jesus taught in parables, because the deepest truths are recognized through story. All of history is a story, our lives are a story, and the ability to find ones self within a greater narrative is, I believe, the way to live a virtuous life. 

I can tell you so many ways I fail as a mother. I'm not very strict, I've never been good at making rules or enforcing rules. I had this problem of being quite madly in love with my babies and also a personality which is very flexible and go with the flow, I'm not very authoritative by nature. I see so many moms who seem to have this thing nailed down, who can run a tight ship and I feel so far from that in many ways. 

I say this very humbly.

Ah, but books. I may have failed in a thousand ways, and will fail, but I know that I have read to my children. Maybe this is the only thing I do well. 


P.S.-

Something that has re-inspired me recently is Sarah Mackenzie's conversation with Sarah Clarkson, adult daughter of Sally Clarkson, in this podcast: On Living a Storyformed Life.  To hear an adult (and student at Oxford) speak so positively and eloquently of her homeschool experience- and being raised on and formed by books- is truly inspiring!