Wednesday, July 26, 2017


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; 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, 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.