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Friday, November 10, 2017

November:Making Peace with Disruption

The first thing that came to my mind today when I thought of my little blog, was that I keep getting interrupted by unimportant  details that take on a huge significance, sometimes to me, sometimes to others around me.  I allow them to get in the way of the rest of my life. But perhaps those disruptions are there for a purpose. Maybe I should see them as building blocks, places to pause and breathe, instead of simply rushing through them, trying to get on to the next item on my agenda, even if it IS the next project to knit.

I am still trying to figure out how my second car accident in six months could be seem as a guide post from the universe. Honestly. I was driving REALLY slowly both times. 

Another very unpleasant experience took on all of the aspects of an opportunity for learning, once I had stopped being positively furious, a matter of only two weeks, give or take a few days. I have learned how to file a motion, electronically even, which may or may not come in handy in the future. If given the choice, I certainly hope it will not EVER be needed again. I suppose I learned that some things cannot be rushed, even though you were wishing they did not have to happen at all.

One child has a theatre festival out of town this weekend. As I drove home from dropping her off at 6:30am, I took the side streets through the old section of town. There were some stunning old homes in these parts, but most of them are in a sad state today. Families just like mine are raising children here, in the midst of violence and drug deals. Their plumbing probably sucks even more than mine. I bet the roofs all need replacing. I get to wake up every morning in a warm home, with a back yard where the kids can play in safety. My house has a working fireplace and there is a pile of wood to burn. Gratitude goes a long way toward joy and hope returning to one's perspective.

Our garage was the center for a "please join us, all!" Halloween fest again this year, dressing up is so much fun. And a whole lot of creative effort went into the costumes, from the children themselves. Above: Gaël, as a medieval plague doctor, or something. His mask was a work of devotion and love; papier mache, leather piecing, punching and stitching, by himself and our friend, Juniper, below:


Charles made his costume in the garage, his other dwelling place; he went as SportsMaster, I think, a comic book character:


Valentine, aka Little Red with Toto, visits with the Lion. She recycled her now completed red cape I made her.

Friends who came to play, Jon and Molly:
And, the grown-ups, dressed up, at the Witches' Ball: (Charles graciously loaned his costume to his Dad for the evening).


Thierry had to leave the country again, but this time it was a sorrow as well as a privilege. His grandmother passed away, at the age of 96. Goodness how we all loved her. She was incredible, and very much small scale, fiercely devoted to her family and taking care of them. The rest of the world could go hang; except for the church festival and others needing her knitted layettes. If you asked, she would knit. And yet, as her family grew and grew, she touched more and more lives every day. She did small things with great love, as seems to be the secret of all sages everywhere.

When my grandparents passed away during my time in France, we had not a penny to spare for me to return. It broke my heart not to be able to grieve with my family, but I had my husband who loved me and that made all the difference. It also meant that I had complete empathy with his need to be with his family. What we needed to do to make it happen was going to happen. Easy? No, but then, most things that are worth doing are not going to be easy.

I gazed at the sunrise from my car while waiting in the parking lot this morning. I breathed in the beauty and imagined millions of people all breathing in unison, praying for peace, at that moment, and you could tell; those colors were not easy to mix to make this picture just so. And it happens over and over, every single day. Courage and light to you.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Trip Not to Do Over: 2010 and a Volcanic Eruption

"Are we there yet?" has taken on a whole new meaning. It's been 43 hours, but who's counting? We are still not there, not sure how we are going to get there, but we are trailing around 6 suitcases and various other backpacks, purses, cosmetic cases and knitting bags, and a toddler (no sling, nice going mama.) I am writing from a McDonald’s in a dubious quartier in downtown Paris, while the kids go up and down the escalator of the eerily empty mall we are in.

We have been caught up in one of the craziest natural disasters to hit the western world in a long time. A volcano erupted, in Iceland (it's always Iceland with me.) The volcanic ash from the fall-out, as it were, has formed itself into a giant cloud that has shut down all of the airports in Northern Europe.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Can Fame Beget a Reader? Bruce Coville and the Spark

We sat at a table with HIS table within sight. Gaël took small, distracted bites of his sandwich, but forgot to chew, had to be reminded. He would chew, chew, swallow hard and glance over at the clock across the great auditorium on the wall. "The line is getting longer, Mom."

I was attempting to have a friendly chat with a homeschool mom I had just met. She was brand new to homeschooling and looking for a little reassurance. Gaël barely glanced at them, he had his eyes on the man, the clock, and one hand on the new book. He did not fidget, but his whole small self thrummed with suppressed excitement. When was it going to be the official book-signing time?

"He won't get a chance to eat, that's not fair."
"I know, honey, don't worry. It bothers me too, but I guess he'll make it through." I hid a smile. Poor guy.

Bruce Coville, mentioned in an earlier post, was a guest author and speaker at the children's literature festival here. He had just sat down at his designated signing table, with a boxed lunch in front of him. Gaël and I were passing by, but it was a full 45 minutes before book signings were to start. We (I), rather not nonchalantly, wandered past, shook his hand and Gaël presented him with a well-read copy of one of his books that he had signed for Duncan over a decade ago. "We're fans," the obvious stated, we wandered off to find a table for lunch and to let the guy have a break to eat. The thing was; not everyone felt the same way. There was soon a line of about a million people waiting to have their books, programs or various body parts signed. It was like a rock star giving autographs, except they were swooning school children and teachers.

Gaël was in despair of ever getting his book signed. His strong sense of fairness and respect for rules, and his French-imparted respect for meal time, kept him from jumping up and joining the line with the others. We ate, and talked. A representative of our excellent Home School Assistance Program stopped by to offer a free book out of her program-provided bag of books. Naturally, Gaël chose another Bruce Coville offering. Now he had 2 to sign! 

"Here, put the rest of your lunch back in the bag. You can finish later. I'll be right there, go get in line." I tidied up the table, folded up napkins and got it all put away, and went to stand in line with my child.  There were quite a few kids in line at the next line over for another author, but the Coville line was longer. The buzz of 900 children in one auditorium was louder than ever. The quiet of home was calling, more insistent with each passing moment, but I would stick it out. 

When our turn (um, my kid's turn) arrived, he said, "Hi Gaël, would you tell me how to spell your name? And is this book for your brother?" The fateful phrase pronounced, the result was first a happy, "No, they are both for me!" followed by a, "Mama, we should maybe get a book for Charles and Valentine too." That was such a sweet sentiment of generosity that I said, "sure! Let's go get them a book too."


It was the beginning of a very long journey. The book table was surrounded by crazy hordes of small children, but Gaël made his way up to the Coville section and together we found two books we thought his siblings would enjoy. There was a line to pay, a long line, but we made it, only to learn that this particular line was for cash only, no machine for cards. We would have to go across the way to use a card payment. "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, ma'am." 

THAT line was like nothing I've ever seen. From across the way, it made me feel a little ill. My palms went sweaty and I wanted to run away. I do not go to amusement parks, but I have heard that the lines can last forever to get on a ride...this was a bit like that. Except with the jostling, buzzing and shrieking of a million children, their teachers, parents and bus drivers all around us. "I'm looking for the missing St.Anthony's students!" The thought did occur to me that it was pretty cool that there were so many children buying books, but it was a passing one. The irritation was winning out over positive thoughts. I had agreed to this, so, I stayed. I could do no less and no more.

After paying, Gael went back to the line and I sat and knit while he waited. Not only did I not want to appear the stalker fan and hovering mother, but I was pretty much done with the day's lines. The bus drivers were becoming more agitated, their time table was getting all out of whack. Poor Bruce finally had to make an announcement that, sadly, he would only have time to write a name and scrawl his signature in each book, instead of the fun dedications he usually does, because the buses needed to leave. This did not seems to bother the kids; they still got to have their book signed and talk to him for a second. I wonder how many books got read that very same day by eager children, who had just had a little dream come true?

I know that in our house, a miracle happened that day. It has happened five times before, when each of my children, and husband, became avid readers. They went from reluctantly cracking a book because they had to, to the kind of person who is never without a book in their hand. It is known as a "de-clic" in French; a moment of profound and immediate change. Thierry went from being an adult who read for work, but for pleasure, would always choose a comic book/graphic novel. He read books, a Stephen King here or there, but it was not  a truly pleasurable leisure activity. It happened for him with a book that the rest of us were reading. He wanted to catch up on a fad, to see if there was anything to it. It was "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," believe it or not. We ended up ordering three copies of the six and seventh books so that there would be no bickering when each one arrived on the day of publication. Cate and Duncan each got a copy. As for the third: I got it during the day, he got it at night.

For my last reluctant reader, it was this experience of making literature a grand thing, something special, meeting the author, participating in the excitement of the day; a million children's noise notwithstanding. He took home his books and read them, one after another, with nary a moment for anything else.

Maybe it is overwhelming to a child to have an entire library of books at their disposal every day. Maybe the very specialness of not owning many books and choosing one yourself makes that book that much more appealing.  I thought I was doing us all a favor by having such a great selection of reading material in the house, and in one way this is true, but in another, it has been the opposite. Because it has always been there, there is less desire to read it. Going to the library and getting fresh books to read is more fun for the three younger ones.

The biggest part of the credit, however, goes to the excellent writing of Bruce Coville. I have been neglecting the laundry and sweeping (ironically) since yesterday, while I finish up reading "Diary of a Mad Brownie." It tells the tale of a wee Scottish brownie sent to live with a messy American child because of a 300-year-old curse. It is a celebration of imagination and sibling cooperation, all wrapped up in a tale of clashing cultures and times between today's modern world and the Enchanted Realm. I not only enjoyed every bit of the story, but my heart was warmed every time I thought of how this book brought Gael into the fold of the readers of the world. He has not been seen without a book in his hand since that day.


The same book has been re-published as part of a series. The above is the new title of the book.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." - William Butler Yeats

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. - William Butler Yeats

Are there some things that you really must know in order to be well-educated, well-rounded or at least functional in our world? This "filling of a pail" is wildly popular in the homeschool as well as the schooling community. Just think of the popularity of the core-curriculum ideas and the hottest selling homeschool book series ever; "What your Kindergartner (1st grader, etc.) Needs to Know." I once owned the whole series, but soon sold them all on ebay and made enough money to invest in a year's subscription to Home Education Magazine, my favorite periodical resource. I did keep the first one, only because it contains the story of The Velveteen Rabbit.

Back to my question. Of course there are some things that are good to know, a lot of them really; hitting is not the way to get your doll back, do you need to take a boat to go from China to Russia, how to hang up a picture frame, change your socks every day, but if you think about it, they are clearly too numerous for one teacher to ever get around to teaching to even one pupil, much less thirty. 

Isn't it better to "light the fire", spark the curiosity and love of learning in a child and let it lead him where it will? A lifelong learner is someone who never grows old, who continues to hold the joy of discovery and novelty in their hearts. 

Does this mean we give up teaching anything at all, and just let children "go for it?" Just go about your business, as John Holt once suggested, and let children see your own passion for what you love. Even Steiner said, repeatedly, that it was not what the children are learning, but how it is being presented. He also prescribed subjects to be taught to each developmental stage. These subjects answer to the soul's needs at each stage and prepare the children for a multi-cultural world in which living in peace with their fellow humans is the ultimate goal. The answer lies somewhere between Steiner and Holt, with a good dose of Yeats in between.

Parents: choose your battles, pick your subjects, the ones you believe in, the ones that speak to your child; her developmental readiness, his interests, and delve into them with all you've got. Let them have your time and energy and enthusiasm for this present moment, this present topic. Let them find their own passion with your help. Go ahead, read the fairy tales, the botany lesson, but give it all you've got. This is what is meant by blocks in Waldorf education, this is what is meant by unit study and by child-led learning. Depth, focus, fire.

Unschooling Meets Waldorf: reposted from 2008

*Respect for the child and observation of his needs, sensitivity to developmental stages, trust in her capacity to learn and grow and lots of love have been the basis of our “educational programming,” since our children were born. Homeschooling made sense to me on this deepest level and unschooling followed naturally. *


“I want to know exactly what I need to do every day so that I can finish it and get on with my life.”


My oldest daughter, having reached the ripe old age of ten, finally eclipsed both of her parents in the organization department. Her room was neat, her work was neat, her ideas about what she wanted and did not want to do were clear. Her request could have knocked me over with the proverbial feather.


At heart, I am an unschooler. I chose to homeschool because it meant following my instinct. I get to spend the "good" part of the day with my children (as opposed to the grumpy morning and worn-out afternoon hours before dinner). We learn together and explore the world and its wonders.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Cleaning Homeschooling Messes: a Complete Guide



Often, as homeschoolers, we are on the lookout for project ideas and things to do to enrich our dear lambs' education and lives. What has been forgotten in all of the homeschool books and forums, is the fall-out from those projects and the very special methods it may take to clean up after them.



Here is a catalog of messes and how to repair your home after them.

Beeswax.

This is a special sort of Waldorf mess, but if you have ever tried your hand at candle, soap or cream-making, you have most likely encountered it. To remove beeswax:
1) From the floor: take your patience and a nice, flat, butter knife and scrape. Be kind to your floor;

Monday, October 9, 2017

Joy From India to Iowa

Any time I could have been writing, has been spent instead, listening, to an incredible interview found in this book, between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu; The Book of Joy. It has been profoundly peace-giving and inspiring, a life-changer. So much wisdom, love, joy and compassion are exchanged and offered from these two venerable, elderly men who have seen tragedy, loss, and despair, and come through it with a sense of wonder (and humor) still intact. I listened to it on audio, and it was an incredible experience, (I listened to it twice, as did my husband, who recommended it), but I will get a paper copy to return to as well. 

I am glad that this book was in my life, because the last three weeks have been mostly alone; Thierry has been to India and Germany, and back again to Germany. A shot of a festival he attended, from his cell phone camera:



That same night, Gael woke up sometime in the wee hours with a high fever, sore throat, sore ears...everything ached. The previous day had been busy; homecoming for Valentine, on the left:

This meant an afternoon of preparation, which, thankfully, was beautifully accomplished by her older sister and her friend, the super-talented Michaela. My dining room table, with the extra leaf pulled out, was taken over by beauty supplies. I have never seen such a spread.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Fossils, Flowers, Bikes and College Students

Beauty in the quarry

Gael and I took a trip to hunt for fossils here; a quarry near home


My early morning biking partner (cute, huh?)

Gael decided to knit a hot-dog costume for bear...(back of vest; relish, front; bun, hat; condiments)

Love the painting of hands in gratitude behind her; Cate and I had a minute to meet for coffee when I was in town for a hearing. A true joy.

More joy; look at that pollinator garden! I threw handfuls of seed and it grew. 


One tiny kitten unites! It's not always easy or tidy to have so many children. I hesitated before posting this photo of every day chaos, but the spontaneous getting together of (practically) all of my munchkins to spend time with this borrowed kitten was so lovely. Here is my other new college student, back from fishing, half naked. Cate dropped trophies and laundry and backpacks everywhere. The caterpillar in the jar is on the table amid colored pencils and books. Gael is still eating his dinner that Duncan brought home from a local take-out place as a treat. Valentine is helping the animals make peace amongst each other.  And the poor pooch? Simply overcome. Like Mama.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Relentless

This IS life; a non-stop merry-go-round of offs and ons, stops, starts, and days when you feel like it just keeps turning round and round in an endless circle of sameness. The sameness is the illusion. 

The rhythm we seek to provide our children when they are home is a good thing. A daily routine provides a structure, a predictability to their day, to the seasons in the year. It is not, however, a treadmill that never veers off-course, or a moving sidewalk on a trajectory to adulthood. It is a backdrop, for all that life may present you with, a solidity among the ever-changing. 

Yesterday I met with the cardiologist who had seen Gael as a baby. This time it was for another child, and it was just a "make sure everything is OK," visit. But I'll bet that pediatric cardiologists are right up there with dentists for the appointments one dreads the most. An  hour after that, mostly reassuring visit, I lost the youngest in the park for an hour. He'd gone off with friends to explore along the creek, and he came back safely, but with wet feet. How kids are attracted to the water!

One of the best and worst moments of my entire career as a mother* was the instant I was finally able to hold my first child in my arms. Pregnancy had been harrowing and tenuous for months, ending in the most unplanned c-section in history.**I had been fervently praying since week 4: "Please, God, just let us make it through this whole pregnancy safe and sound." The "safe and sound" was, obviously, meant for the health of my baby, not mine. Then she was born, perfect and beautiful and...utterly tiny, naked and utterly vulnerable and my heart was rent right open with the realization that it had all just begun. 

I had thought, honestly, that I would have no more worries once my baby was born. All life's promises would have been fulfilled; and they were. What I did not know was that it would now never end. It was the beginning of never, ever, not being entirely connected to another person again. I am a mother. Worry is my new normal. "What if" is my new mantra. And change was the one thing to look forward to and to dread. Has she gained weight? Is she holding up her head alone? Sitting up alone? Can she talk? Walk? Run? Sail in freezing water in March? Yes! And what if, while doing all of this running, climbing, sailing, she gets hurt? sick? has her heart broken? 

So, little by little, I had to learn to trust. I (we) had to have faith that all would be well. Just as I began to feel confident that my child would not freeze to death (she was all of five pounds and born in December, it was real), or later, suffer a serious injury on the playground, she moved on to running into the ocean as soon as my head was turned. As soon as I trusted that my son would not drown in the creek by the park, he decided to learn to skateboard. (And man, did he skate! All over those crazy parks with ten-foot drop-ins and "bowls" and things. Eek.)

Today, Charles, 13, is riding his bike to school along busy city streets, Valentine is at a school where six security guards break up daily fights while teachers barricade students in their classrooms, Duncan will attend his college classes and then go to work at the car wash, where his colleagues are largely off-and-on prison dwellers, and Cate lives in an apartment with two other girls near a campus where gang shootings killed two or three people last week. Does this make me want to move to an island on a lake in Canada? Yes! It does! Sticking my head in the sand would be great, but there is precious little air to breathe underground. 

Change will not change. Hold them tight and then...pretend you let them go. But not too far. Enough for them to feel confident you think they will be fine. Until they finally grow the wings strong enough to carry them, so they can soar. And then, you can sit back and count your gray hairs...hopefully on just one hand. 


Footnotes:1) When I looked up the word "career" to see if I should use it for motherhood, the two definitions both seemed to apply: 1) "an occupation undertaken for a significant period of one's life, and with opportunities for progress," and 2) "move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way. " (Oxford Dictionary) Right?
2) That is my take on my first birth. I had prepped as much as any mother has ever, for a natural birth in a progressive hospital. At one minute after midnight, via emergency cesarean, our baby was born.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Caterpillars!

Though this idea of NoNoWriMo has me feeling like my daily 2500 words are mere trash spilled onto a blank canvas, at the same time, memories are returning, a desire to make them beautiful is emerging, and two monarch caterpillars appeared on a leaf one morning:



He is in a jar for safe-growing, as is this beautiful rose, a gift from a friend. I felt like I was in a fairy tale in Arabia land; I admired, she gave. Thank you for the blessing of beauty!


Monday, July 24, 2017

Write a Book in a Month

...also known as NaNoWriMo, here in the US. I am sitting on my new kitchen window seat with an eye on the coffee machine as it brews vinegar water. The bad thing has been overflowing and spitting coffee all over the counter for a week now. Time for action. My window seat? A chair that was still in the sunroom, even though its entire back had come off. Someone had stuck a cushion on it anyway and must have used it when we had too many people per chair around the table. I was about to take it out to the curbside, when I thought how perfect it would be as a temporary window seat. So, voila. I have a lovely view out the front window AND I can supervise the brewing. Besides the holes where there used to be rungs, which is covered up by the cushion, it is really still a pretty piece of furniture...hmmm, not sure it deserves the distinction of being called "furniture." 


This is a post to introduce our at-home writing adventure. I have wanted to take the NaNoWriMo challenge ever since I heard of it. Who wouldn't? (Don't bother to answer that, please.) One, insane month of writing like a madman to meet a looming deadline of 50,000 words; due or die. The problem I created for it in the past, (besides having a million other excuses), is that the traditional month for it is November, and November is way too busy for me, personally. So, I began once, and promptly quit, saying I'd do it in January or February. But January is the beginning of the "new semester," and February is too short. Then it's March and spring is coming and the world starts to look like a place we'd like to be out in again. Now, August...August is a miserable month in my book. Hot. Humid. Is there anything else to say? August is a perfect month to sit inside and write together.*

After reading "No Plot, No Problem," I knew I could no longer ignore this book-writing calling that has been with me since I was 12 and attended my first Young Writer's Conference. In the paraphrased words of author Chris Baty; "I always thought I'd write a novel. I just thought I'd be 80 or so, full of life's experiences, and the whole thing would come to me in one piece, which I would dictate to my personal assistant or secretary, and it would, naturally, be a work of great genius."


In addition, I firmly believe that writing is a skill which everyone needs to develop, or at least every child under my tutelage, in school or not. I was originally going to have summer writing goals for each kid under 18, because, even though it is called "Honors English," I am not convinced that writing for one semester a year constitutes a  habit frequent enough and strong enough to ensure success. The block system used in our schools means kids get one or two "blocks" of each subject per year. There are four blocks in a year. (One semester of a foreign language also makes no sense to me...but that's another topic.) 

When Thierry expressed interest in accepting the challenge with me, I knew this could be a really cool family project to work on together, rather than daily homework and me making up lists of things to read and write about. For Gael, I did purchase a writing idea book that he is in love with; "642 Things to Write About," Young Writer's Edition, by 826 Valencia. Charles and Valentine can write about whatever they'd like, though with the summer's adventures, I think they each have something cool to get down in writing for posterity. Last night was the first date; our time is 4-6pm, and there were three of us here and two more on the road, writing in notebooks. We had snacks; special fizzy water, nachos with melted cheese and cookies. I was planning on having Gael dictate his writing to me beforehand and letting him copy it, but Valentine came up with a much more brilliant plan. She handed him her phone and he was able to take down and copy his own dictation. First night went well! Apparently, week 2 is the one to get through. 

* I DO realize that it is still July, but we have to get around the fact that our public powers that be chose to begin school on August 24 this year, which made me feel that it would behoove us to finish, have a party to celebrate, and recover from the last days of mad writing, a few days prior to starting school for those of us who may be doing so this year. (It is still up in the air for all concerned, Valentine really just wants to go back to Guatemala, and Charles is wondering if junior high would not take up all of his building time.)

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Butterflies are Inside

                                               TUESDAY (July 11, 2017)

Charles is off at Boy Scout camp; and the forecast is strong storms. I don't like it one bit. We saw Valentine off to Guatemala this morning, without us, at 4:30am. I don't like that much either.

I am over-the-top excited for them to have adventures and travel and do new things...and I really wish sometimes, that they were still doing so from the safety of the baby carrier.

Just nerves. And butterflies have taken over my stomach.

You cannot go backwards, and technically, it is wrong to live in the past, wrong to pine after what cannot be, because you lose the present and the gift of now. Memories are awfully nice, though. Look:

2005

2005; How a Flood Happens


Onward to my future: Thierry and I are going to Wisconsin...yes, it is still the Midwest, and not so very far from home, but Spring Green,WI.is home to the American Players Theatre. We are going to see "A Midsummer Night's Dream," tomorrow night, and "Cyrano de Bergerac," the next night. It is where Frank Lloyd Wright built Taliesin, his studio and home. I doubt this visit will grant us the opportunity to visit, but it is in the works for another time. We will also, curiosity oblige, visit the House on the Rock, because neither of us has ever been there, and because Neil Gaiman set a whole book, or at least part of a book in it. Scary as all get out.

MY get-away is going to be fun and romantic, and not a bit scary...except maybe for the walk back through the woods after the play in the dark, where the fairies lie in wait...

                                       MONDAY (July 18, 2017)
That was last week; the boy has returned from Scouts, happy and safe, even glad to be home. I have had one text from Valentine in Guatemala, all was well at that point, breakfast had consisted of "the best chocolate crepas EVER! And there was a strike, but now we are on our way to the village."

And Spring Green? A dream, a magical land where the theatre is better than promised and the hills are green and wooded; breath-taking, and everything has been influenced by the combination of the landscape and Frank Lloyd Wright.  The House on the Rock was built onto a rock that had a view. It is full of Japanese art, carved wooden window coverings and rock, reminiscent of FLW's work, as well as many, many other things. The hotel we stayed at, the theatre, many of the houses and buildings in the area, were FLW-built or inspired. 

The places we stopped to eat all had local produce, fish and meat. Everything was delicious, from the salmon and asparagus to the coffee and local brews. We biked a few miles into town on Friday, and rode around, being tourists and having breakfast. It was such a leisurely trip, our phones had no reception and the wifi didn't work in our room, so we were almost completely disconnected from the rest of the world. Heaven.

The plays, though, for a lover of theatre, were "a thing of beauty and joy forever." Such beautiful, beautiful Shakepeare, with drums and music and joy. The "Up-the-Hill Theatre" is an outdoor theatre, and Act I is mostly by daylight, so you can see the trees behind the set and the moon and the clouds overhead. By the middle of Act II, the sky is midnight blue, with swirls of what might be clouds, the trees a dark outline, and the stage alight.  I don't necessarily like to be sitting outside for 3 hours when the day's temperatures have been in the 90's, but I practiced letting go, and enjoying being there. And the next night; for "Cyrano de Bergerac"? Not only was the weather absolutely perfect; 70-ish, but the play...was fabulous. It was the first time either Thierry or I had seen it performed in English; there was some anticipation. It was in English...and so FRENCH! We loved it! What fun, what humor, what a beautiful tragedy, what lovely humans and fragility portrayed. Hats off, APT.

The Hill Theatre

The House on the Rock

One of many planters: House on the Rock

The (almost) invisible books lining walls of the House on the Rock

As for the butterflies; one monarch wanders through every once in a while, but no eggs, no caterpillars, a sad day for our pollinator friends. The hummingbirds and bumblebees are frequent visitors, and I like to think, a harbinger of future goodness.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Surrender and Adoration

The idea of finding peace and leading a fulfilled life through submission or surrender is one that is found in every spiritual practice the world over. The wheel does not need reinventing; "surrender, relinquish, give up: your way of viewing the world/of viewing others/of considering material goods," is a concept repeated in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism...the list is long, and wherever you find yourself on your spiritual journey, you have most likely heard this before. When the idea sinks in though; either all at once or bit by bit, it is a revelation. It is thrilling and life-changing, but it may take the rest of your life to accomplish, reconquering the fear anew each day.

 



When I was very young, we were taught to trust God, He had a plan. "Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?" -Mathew 6:26. I remember moments of what felt like divine inspiration, as these words translated into a reassuring message to my small self; "it will be OK. Someone else is in charge and you can trust them to make it all OK."

A basic human emotion is denial of change. A basic law of physics is that it is all changing, all of the time. Poets know that the power of beauty in the bloom of a flower or the crash of a wave on the shore is in its very fleetingness. When I wrote about giving in to the changes in our family's lives, it was the admission that things change, children grow up and their needs are fulfilled in different ways.  My mindset needed to change if I did not want to suffer and make them suffer while they did what they should be doing. It was this moment of dawning that I wanted to share with you here.

Later, I would hear the message of surrender from another, unlikely source. My yoga teacher would write on the blackboard before class. The quote I remember her writing the most often was; "The Universe is falling into place as it should." She was 40 years old and dying of cancer, the mother of two young boys.
 
It is just as difficult to give up the all-consuming desire to fix the misery that fills the world as it is to let in the joy and sunshine. Giving in, accepting that the way to end suffering is by accepting that it exists and accepting that there will be sadness along with joy and pleasure in life, is the way to a full and peaceful life. 

As a mother/daughter/wife, it can often feel that you are in a unique position to take responsibility for a every situation. "I am the only one who can make sure; a healthy dinner is served, the kids get to the dentist, mom talks to the physical therapist, my husband doesn't feel neglected." The reality is that you do not hold as much power as you think you do, and that others also are the only ones who can take responsibility for their reactions, thoughts and feelings. A mother fundamentally gets that we are all connected, that never again will she be just one body; there is at least one more walking around that holds your heart, oh so negligently, in its worn-out, full-of-holes pocket. What a mother, or a father or the mayor a a town may forget, is that they do not hold absolute power. A sunburn, an accident, another point of view, an economic disaster may or may not happen. People may fall in love and get married and have crazy-irresponsible children who grow up to be soccer moms, feed their children fast food and not mow their lawns in your neighborhood. There is no merit or utility in trying to hold on to it all. And it will make you insane.

The flip side of this is that the one thing you can take responsibility for and work on, every single day, no matter what the weather, time, place or circumstances, is your own mind, heart and soul. People will say hurtful things, and your reaction can be to be hurt/angry/vengeful. Or your reaction can be to see that they are just like you; this person is suffering too. You cannot control what someone else will say; see above, but you can control how you view what is said and how you react to it. Meditation or practiced mindfulness and prayer are my methods of renewing with this pledge to let go, yours may be another spiritual practice; daily mass, contemplating nature, yoga. May you choose yours, make time for it, and find peace.

Gifts to be grateful for, from above and below: pink violets

 The Iowa City Courthouse:(humans make cool stuff too)

 Minion with a teapot, by youngest for his mama:
 The earth's inhabitants:(pirates of mine):



Thursday, July 6, 2017

Surrender to...the Thrill of a First Car

Here is my sweet boy, Duncan, 19 and finally getting his first car, with his own, hard-earned money, the way it simply must be in a family of seven. He is so proud, and I am very proud of him. He has worked his tail off over the past year, and I have watched him grow up, mature and realize a few things about life and living. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Resist Not...Hahaha! But,

What if...obligations were opportunities in disguise. What if "family time"with older children, in the United States, was easily obtainable, at a price? Isn't there always a price for what you want most dearly? For what is sacred and good and worth fighting for? What are the things you would fight for, and what would it look like to let go for once, instead of battling?

Falling victim to one's own superior vigilance in not letting the world and its values interfere with parenting the "right way", may have a couple of draw-backs. Maybe. I have been so careful about not scheduling too many things which take away family time for so many years it has become a reflexive mechanism of self-defense. "Don't over-schedule!" Not the kids! Not me! Not my husband!

This, of course, goes along with more reading, draconian screen-time limitations, regular chores, family meals every day, and sunscreen. They really hate the sunscreen. 

I have spent years and intensive effort, making sure I make time for the things that are our core family values. What if it were time to make more allowance for what they love to do? AND...join in the (fun?)?  What if, two of my biggest bug-a-boos: scouts and The Boat, were, in fact, if I allowed for it, actually a way to stretch and grow AND keep my family together?

Boy Scouts is the grand master of insinuating yourselves into every bit of our lives; home, hands, hearts and minds. This is the same troop that I have admired exceedingly over the past two years, as one with exceptional leadership and place of growth for my son. They do so much with the boys and for them; the effort and dedication are astounding.
I might take the time to wonder if the Scout Masters we so admire, perhaps have more life experience and another approach to life that holds some validity. Naturally, this came to me later, not while I was having a mama melt-down yesterday when I heard of a third Eagle Scout project requiring my son and/or my husband's labor. That was a last straw. Right then, which came on the heels of a few weeks of "special ceremonies" for other Eagle Scouts and brand new baby scouts, a two-day bike ride, 2 camping weekends, as well as the regular weekly meeting and weekly bike ride, right then, I fear I gave in to a rant, while I drove home from taking care of the boat-we-never-sail for an entire day.

Upon meditation, I decided to classify the Boy Scouts and the Boat in the same vessle; that of opportunities not to be missed. 
For example: look at that doe! She and her sweet little fawn were wandering around the boat yard when we returned from scrubbing.

First the scouts;  who says I cannot come along as well when the guys are landscaping or cleaning up yards? All hands are welcome, and I bet a batch of cookies fresh out of the oven would be my ticket to a warm welcome. Nothing is keeping things from being a family activity except my own dictionary's definition of the concept.

Sunrise, or The Boat, which we have outgrown and yet love with all our hearts, really needs to be sold. And yet...and yet, we've just spent two whole days working, all together, to clean, repair, polish, wax, and rinse it. This was fun. It was! I highly resent the hours and hours the stupid boat takes without giving back a whole lot. A few passes back and forth across a lake or the Mississippi? In the hot sun? Bah. Yet, our family's identity as a sailing family has meant a lot to us.  We have super-sweet memories of fishing, camping and sailing together on our little boat.  It also provided a chance for leadership, activity and outdoor living to Cate when she went away to college. We now regularly meet up with her at the boat-house near her college campus, to watch her sail or even take out a boat with her. She teaches and races and sails solo when life is stressful and the wind is just right.

Today, I will practice surrender. They say it has fantastic value for all sorts of reasons, this "giving in" or "letting go." I really should give it a shot. The temperatures should be in the 90's, my favorite (ugh), and everyone but me has been looking forward to finally getting Sunrise out on the water. My mind and heart have been changed (or they are working really hard on it, at least), and this chance to be together doing something that can be pure fun, is not one I am going to pass up.