"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Flip Side of Weakness

Its Single Mama Week at our house. A is pulling 9 to 5's in California and I am here, manning our urban homestead. Been reading Gladwell's, David and Goliath which is not a sacred book about the Sunday School story but a super readable social commentary on underdogs and cultural giants, power and clever thinking outside of the box. I'm really enjoying it a lot and its making me think that I should spend some time brainstorming. I'd like to through the things that I think are my shortcomings and the places where we as a family are odd or can't quite measure up and see what hidden strengths are there and also what fresh thinking can do to help me/us accomplish things that seem otherwise difficult or impossible. (Also, I now want to learn more about my Mennonite spiritual roots, the Huguenots and the Quakers. I'm a pacifist in my soul.)

Been thinking about Single Mama Week like this a bit today and yesterday. Its hard to be apart but in some ways, if we're optimistic and energetic...it can be a chance to connect more deeply. If we do what we plan we will have real conversations twice a day in special, private, kids are asleep kinds of settings. We mean to talk and hang like that in normal life but I think we actually end up being more scattered than that. A business trip is also a good chance to reboot our texting, photo sharing, spur of the moment phone calls and short love note emails. More contact in some ways means more connection, even though we aren't in the same place physically.

The other strength to being apart for a week like this is that A can get caught up on sleep and kid-free space and I can get caught up on projects. The evening time after the kids go to bed is free...I can read, I can paint, I can work on the house, I can deep clean the cellar....whatever is nagging me on my list can actually get my full attention because there's no call drop everything and watch Game of Thrones episodes with my husband. God knows I love watching Game of Thrones with my husband...I'm not complaining...I'm just saying.... Looking at the flip side of the loss means seeing what can be gained and there's always something to be gained. I am determined to think that way normally anyhow but this book is pushing me to be resourceful about how to strategize and visualize the hidden goodness of my own "losses."

Am also reading Eating On The Wild Side, which is SUPER INTERESTING nutritional data all about which foods are the most nutrient dense, which varieties are the best to grow for nutrition and even how to prepare them for the best dose of nutrients. Fascinating stuff. There's all kinds of little nuggets of info:  carrots are best eaten cooked....and its best to cook them whole and then cut them up for serving, shallots and scallions are the most nutrient dense onions and outpace bulb onions by fathoms, tomatoes release more nutrients the longer they are cooked....tomato paste is out of sight! Some of this stuff connects to the stuff in the other book. Its amazing what foods are popular and are cultural giants and yet have so little nutrition. Some of the least known and loved or the marginalized and not trendy (cabbage anyone?) are the best picks. 

Breaking my routine and reading, are my latest reminders to examine my life, my habits and my assumptions.


Monday, September 22, 2014

I No Eat

I was standing in the kitchen when I heard a scuffling, mousey kind of noise behind the pantry door. I froze and listened, wide-eyed...hoping that it wasn't rodent visitors. Please no tiny, naked tailed, scuttling, creepers, clambering all over the shelves leaving me tiny poop gifts between the canned goods!!! Please! I tip-toed towards the door, and then....a thought occurred as I stood flinching on the threshold, listening with my hand on the knob.

"Pom? Is that you?" The scuffling stopped. Silence.

"No Mama!" He called....and then when I came around the door he informed me: "I no eat yo poh-teen powduh!" No mice. And no worries...he didn't eat my protein powder. Good to know. Guess we're good to go. Tee hee!!!!


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One Mug At A Time

Its one of those early fall days, the leaves haven't started to turn in quantity yet and there's been no frost on the pumpkins or in our case...the plethora of zucchini...but it feels like fall. I'm not sure what it is, some kind of change in the air, the smell in the wind, a yen for spiced coffees, my end of summer cold? Hard to say.

I just have to say that I am having a major, all-day, fantasy of teleporting to a secluded cottage for two in Vermont, complete with roaring fire, wool socks, mug of tea and plaid blankets. I think about it all day long. I have told this to A. I have told my sister. I think I've even told the boys. Maybe its just my sinus headache but I'm having a hard time being patient with my children (especially the ever constant chaos) and I am having another hermit phase where I hide to recover from life. If I can't have my log cabin oasis dream then I can pretend to create it in my own house. So, I am drinking big mugs of warm turmeric milk, taking naps, beginning the fourth Narnia book with the boys and lying low. No big reason to go out, life with keep spinning and I can always get on again when I the post-nasal drip goes away.

Speaking of my fantasy....one thing I need in order to recreate it is firewood, and a chimney sweep. I love that we have a fireplace. I kind of love it more than I can say, honestly. Even a tiny, little house with a fireplace feels perfectly accoutered. This summer, one of the things I did finally get changed was the fireplace. One of the previous owners had incorrectly installed a fireplace insert stove and then the doors had broken anyhow. I got it all cleaned out and called a pair of scrap metal dudes to haul it out of our house. I gave the newly uncovered tile a scrub and now I need a serious chimney cleaning (its never been done in the history of our owning the house) and I also need to stock up a nice pile of firewood.
Our new, no insert, fireplace....all that glossy black tile was hidden before.

 Our neighbors across the street just rented a log splitter and stacked a neat heap of pieces in their backyard, I wanted to go running across the street hollaring, "Oooo! OooO!!! Can I have some too?!?!" I see free firewood all the time on Craigslist....now to figure out how to get it cut. Wonder how much that splitter rents for anyway....

We have nursed a sick chicken back to health. Pearl, our extremely ugly (truth, y'all) little Auracana chicken who had a woman troubles once before was back in the sick kennel in the house with us again this past week. This was my most serious pet doctoring yet. Truthfully, folks...I was freaked out, and scared and had some trouble sleeping. I know that my mom has no trouble harvesting chickens when they don't keep up their end of the bargain but whew! I am not my mama. This was some serious sickness....there was blood, medication, sprays, maggots (maggots, y'all!), special baths, and rubber gloves. It was for real. I feel like I should get a badge for making it through that one. I'm glad to say that Pearl is back to her old self...although still a little thin and not back to laying yet.

Life on the city farm is sometimes intense.


Monday, September 8, 2014

The Bethlehem Fair, birthplace of holy memories

We just did our annual trip to the county fair, one of my very favorite, ever end-of-summer rituals. Little things can make wonderful traditions.
 We live in a size-able city that is a bedroom community of The Big Apple...that means that living around these parts is quite urban and rather devoid of fairs. In urban New England, people in our neck of the woods have mostly grown up attending carnivals which are like fairs, minus the agricultural bits. I love agricultural bits.

 I love the part about how you park in a tromped down hay field and walk forever to get to the gate. I love the quilts and the baking contests and the view from the top of the ferris wheel that is all trees and rolling hills and the occasional church steeple.

I love that you have to wear your old boots because the midway is just a dirt path that gets messy from so many feet tromping through it all week. I love that nobody thinks twice when our four year old has grass stains on both knees and our toddler is hanging off the fences by the livestock pens.

The fair was one of my childhood rituals. I grew up entering things I made, dreaming of owning a horse of my own after visiting velvet noses in the horse barn and spending my savings on the Tilt-a-Whirl and The Scrambler. I feel so right at the fair, lots of great memories there. Wonderful, precious to me, part-of-who-I-am, things-that-make-the-world-feel-right-memories. Its simple stuff and silly stuff, (the ridiculous carny patter on the midway still makes me laugh out loud and The Scrambler makes me giddy) but its so happy and so gritty and inspiring to me.

 I always come home and want to go to visit the area farms more and grow bigger carrots and teach the boys to knit and work more carefully on my pie edging. I love that fairs make me think of things that I can do myself and want to do them. I love that they make me proud of capability and relaxed warmth and my own state. I love how much the fair has become a celebration for my sons. Its super fun to share the things you love with the next generation.

And I have to say, my husband, who isn't an agricultural devotee has been very gracious about learning to appreciate this ritual that I love so deeply. Affectionate shout out to him for making me feel understood and helping the kids value things he knows matter so much to me.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Dee, At The Moment

Spending some time being conscious, just thinking about my second child today. Noticing all the new little changes and the way he is shifting and what he has let go of since the last time I took a day for just him. May we all be dynamic...and may our children do the same!

Dee Loves....

  • Rotisserie Chicken: He'll sit and eat it until he can't eat anymore and who can blame him? The stuff falls off the bone into its own juices.... This mama is super glad that one of her secret tricks for saving dinner is such a big favorite.
  • His Great-Aunt Sheila: She has a quiet, peaceful house with a basket of small, quiet toys in corner of her walk-out basement looking out onto the salt marsh. She makes lunches with many little details all organized and thought out and she saves a particular napkin holder for his cloth napkin which he loves. 
  • Hand Sewing: We've started hand sewing together a bit, working on a project, making a set of bean bags for a friend's first birthday. He loves the stitching and he's begging me to teach him embroidery although he didn't know the name for it, "Teach me how to write with sewing, Mom!" I bought him a small sewing machine and working up to teaching him how to use it soon. 
  • Watching Video Games: Its funny to me but, he doesn't jocky for video game time himself like his brothers and if its specifically offered to him he will often refuse anyway...but he does love to watch. Ru's video games end up counting for his screen time most of the time because he genuinely enjoys watching, sometimes advising but often just enjoying the ride second-hand. Love his curious, observer's mind.
  • Seashore Science: He took a solo class on seashore biology and microbiology and LOVED it and that combined with his Aunt Lockbox's knowledge of all things marine have lit a serious fire. Its amazing the details about the blood of sea stars and the diet of anemone's that he retained. I see more ocean classes in his future and maybe some field guides.
  • Studying Things Consistently: He's such a creature of habit and lover of routine that he bugs me if he misses a reading lesson or if we fall off the wagon with his math time. He inspires me. Love that he knows what's good for him in this way. 
  • The Idea Of Playing The Flute: He's only 6 so no instructors will take him yet, they all insist that you wait until 8 before the mouth has enough strength to develop an embouchure. I'm amazed at the persistence of his dreaming...he knows he has to wait and is still holding out for the day when he is old enough. I see a Pied Piper in our future!
  • Little Girls: You'd think Ru would be my confident dandy but he's very mum about his personal feelings towards girls. Dee loves girls...and has had several little favorites so far already. He's very quiet but confident about his choices and makes no bones about his feelings towards them and his intention that one day he should end up with one of them.

Dee Abhors.....

  • Raw Apples: They used to be fabulously handy for taking along as a playground snack...all my kids would eat them, they are cheap and they travel decently. No more. We are on to a stage where they aren't cool with Dee anymore, he'll take pretty much any other fruit as substitute and apples are accepted if they come with peanut butter.
  • Factual Errors: He's a stickler for the details, this one. He hates it when people exaggerate, miss the facts or remember things wrong. Trying to teach him about hyperbole, kindness and tact while appreciating his love of truth.
  • Swimming Lessons: He's proud of what he learned but he hated, hated, hated the stress of taking swimming lessons. The deep end makes him tear up, putting his face under water is terror and being forced to self-propel through water is mortifying. Add in his instructor's thick accent and brusque manner and you have a special kind of hell. Poor kid cried at every, single lesson. 
  • Shots: I mean, who doesn't, right? But really...he hates, hates, hates them. Its all I can do to keep him in the room and reasonably still. Good thing he's getting to the end of the schedule for childhood immunizations. Whew!
  • Having His Hair Cut: He hates all kinds of physical disturbance...washing his hair is another one that still really gets his goat. He complains that every little snip hurts and that the hair itches and that he is nervous I'll cut him and that its taking too long. I am letting his hair grow out a little longer at the moment and I wonder if he'll eventually try long hair just for the sake of avoiding the physical annoyance of getting it cut. 
  • Not Being Prepared: He needs lead time, lots of it...I'm  always reminding myself to tell Ru at the last minute and Dee, two weeks in advance because that's what works best for their vastly different selves. Ru loves surprise and thrives on spontaneity and hates waiting for things. Dee loves to think about things and mull over them, needs warning and wants to figure out what he is doing far, far ahead of time.
  • Wearing A Swimsuit: I wonder if this is related to his hatred of his swimming lesson experience. I haven't been able to get him to explain so far. He sometimes flatly refuses to wear his swimsuit and will purposely wear other shorts to play at the beach and even swim in. I'm not sure if its a control thing or a sensory hatred of swimsuit material or a rejection of lesson memories...whatever it is, its curious. He just says..."I don't want to." when I try to get him to put his swimsuit on, so mostly...I don't make him.
  • Coconut: He'll ask me when I am making a smoothie if I put coconut milk in it, he wants to know if I have fried things in coconut fat and he will skip candy or ice cream if its coconut flavor. I am slightly obsessed with coconut so maybe its his way of asserting independence or maybe its a real personal taste preference. Hard to say...he's not big on explaining. 


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I Was Wrong About Homeschooling

Can I confess something? I was wrong about homeschooling. I don't mean that I am going to stop or that I think its bad. I just feel guilty of a bad attitude about it. Just like so many parenting choices (natural birth, traditional vaccination, no spanking, giving an allowance) I think I've been too polar built myself a temple of superiority. Homeschooling works for us, its what we're doing right now. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it and sometimes I feel super empowered and like I have the world by a string. But truth...its still just real life and real parenthood and real school.
A peek into my childhood. There's my artist grandmother, my mama and papa, myself in the center, and my next two sisters...just halfway done with the family. I must have been around 5 or 6.
The trick is, I think I was wrong about the way I talked to my kids about school at first. I started out really us/them and very self justifying. I was excited and wanted homeschool to be amaaaaazing, and wanted so badly to be right (as we all do) and I was scared by my children and everyone else around me questioning my choices and demanding justification for schooling in some alternative way. I think the truth is, I have no perfect answers. I don't KNOW that this is the best thing ever, sometimes I do feel like my kids won't listen to me, sometimes I feel like its all too much to handle. I'm not homeschooling because its perfect or even because it is objectively the best choice ever. (Who can know that?!?) I'm homeschooling because, at the moment it seems like the best thing for us to be trying and because there are lots of wins for our lifestyle and family philosophy. I need to make no promises for the future and I need to tell myself, other people and my children that there are lovely, lovely people who come out of all the methods of schooling that exist.

When Ru got old enough to realize that all his little friends were starting to enroll in school he started asking me questions: "When will I go to school Mom? When do I get to ride the bus? Why don't I know my new teacher's name? etc." Its scary to look your little kid in the eye, listen to a thing they want and consider to be normal and tell them you have planned to do something else. Its scary when its owning Barbies or having giant lush birthday parties or eating junk foods daily or going to Disney World and its scary when its school. I don't want him to miss out and I don't want him to be sad and I don't want to choose crazy, pale, vapid things for my kids. I'm doing the best I can. I'm choosing what I think will be good. I also know how it feels to have your judgement questioned or have your choices raise eyebrows and induce condescension. Its tempting to take this fear and the desire to be right and turn it into a campaign to prove your own choice making superiority. I did that. I told my kid that what we were doing was better than anyone, I told him that he was so lucky, I told him that school was horrible. I told him other people were ignorant or blind to the genius of our own path. I'm sorry now. I realize I totally annihilated that one.

This year has been full of big lessons about acceptance, learning that shame is poison, getting rid of labels and seeing humanity, searching for love and cultivating it blindly until it overwhelms me with relief, hearing what people mean to say instead of what they really said, learning to value in everything, and owning my own dark side. Homeschool superiority is part of that. I've changed my rhetoric and had long conversations with my kids about it. I tell them the thing I like and didn't like about homeschooling and public schooling, I've talked with them about how they'll become more and more involved in making their own educational choices as they get older. I've talked about how good schools make good neighborhoods and good cities and good citizens and so they always matter...even if that's not where we attend. I've talked about how its important not to be unkind to other people because they are different from us. I've talked to them and to A about putting them in school later at some point, partly so that they see the other side of the fence and have a more well-rounded understanding.  I've talked about how you can choose something that is right and good and there can still be other rights and goods.

Two other things that have fed into this realization have been my sister and a homeschooling acquaintance changing her schooling plan. My sister Lockbox, was homeschooled and public schooled by halves like I was and she came out of her experience with a pretty different perspective. I love her and respect her and she loves and respects me but she has no plans to homeschool any future children she may have, she thinks public schools are great and thinks daycare sounds perfectly acceptable when wisely chosen. Its easy to demonize the other when they aren't your own dang family, living in your own dang house, being so dang nice and normal right next to you. Another thing that go up under my skin and bothered me was watching one of the local homeschooled teens choose to go to a brick and mortar school this year, her mother is an avid unschool advocate and has been very involved in planning and strategizing for homeschool culture and community in the area. Seeing her daughter make the transition brought back so strongly all my own feelings and memories of making the switch to a highschool myself. I remember all the social pressure to forswear my previous world, "You were homeschooled? Did you hate it?!?" And the concerned questions from everyone who was watching, "Are you bored out of your mind? Do you wish you hadn't stopped home schooling?" Watching this local girl, and chatting with her for just a minute or two I realized that what I wanted to tell her was the kind of thing I should have been telling my kids and other people all along. "You'll do fine. It'll be a little scary and there will be thing that you'll miss but it'll be exciting...and in the long run, you'll be so lucky to have personal experience with both worlds. Great people come out of all the schools there are. Your school does not define who you are...you do."

So yeah...that's where I came from since last year at First Day and where I am now. From polar fortress building to acceptance and vulnerability. I feel like it was way too long in coming and I can hardly believe that was me but both parts of the story are real and important and allowed. Then Me and Now Me both have value....speaking of acceptance. So embarrassing to see your own frail ego at work and see the painful, stupid things you said and the completely wrong things you told your children. Hard to swallow and own that stuff and also not have it turn into self-hatred or denial of your own mistakes. I've been talking a lot this year to my kids too about how I'm a work in progress with a heavy need for grace and forgiveness.

I tell the boys now: "I'm doing the best I can and when I learn something better I change and I mess up sometimes, that's why I need to understand when you mess up....I do it too and we all want to do better. Lets learn together." And they're amazingly forgiving and healing to me.

"Its okay Mommy. I get it. I know how that feels."


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

First Day, Crazy Day

It was our First Day of school today. I got up late and there was a breakfast argument between two brothers and lots of rushing. A had a phone meeting before catching the train, ("Could you keep the kids quiet?") and I walked into the sunroom and found my canary slumped peacefully over his seed cup, never to sing again.

Sometimes life is weird and bumpy and awkward. And that's okay.

It's also okay to not let those bits define the day or who you are or what school is this year or how your family always is. Things are sometimes crazy. That's honest. But sometimes isn't always and accepting crazy doesn't have to mean cultivating it.

It was wicked hot here today. So hot that we couldn't really spend the first day of homeschooling at our home. Whatever. We rolled.

So we homeschooled at the library and the beach. People whined, naps were had in odd places and one person did get hit over the head with a stick. (God bless the brotherhood!) We also caught two crickets and took them home in a bottle to observe for a while, we saw an egret catch a fish in it's yellow bill, we read about the fabulous Archimedes (Don't stop Mom!!!") and we did math on a park bench next to the Atlantic Ocean. Not such a bad start.

We'll take it.

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