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.

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.

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

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.