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

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Smoke, Thanksgiving, and Broccoli

Dear World,

It is almost Thanksgiving. My siblings are all in Michigan, every last one of them....except me. I am there in the my soul: staying up too late with my sisters talking, cooking with mama, playing guitar with my brother, snuggling kittens and eating wild apples out of hand. I love them all and I am so glad that they are getting together and though I can't be there in person every time, I am so glad to know that we all have each other, despite our differences and busy lives. Familial connection is an elastic wonder.

We will be here for the holiday, pet-sitting for our home-going friends who all headed off in their cars to see grandparents. We are here with borrowed parakeets and guinea pigs, making pies from scratch together and test running board games for the big day. A's kind aunt and uncle who have been like bonus grandparents have invited us to come celebrate with them and so we will pack up our noisy van full of hooligans and drive the 30 minutes to their stately, elegant home on Thursday. It feels strange to say that I will be making broccoli for Thanksgiving. I said I would cook whatever would be useful and a green vegetable was the open slot. No extensive brining or searching for fancy recipes or agonizing over the decoration of pastry but also, no stress about the pie cooling properly or the meat being done all the way or the timing of the swapping of various items in the oven. It's kind of lovely to think about a day of gratitude in which I can just cook some broccoli and then read story books, dig out A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and press fallen leaves. It sounds good. Also, truth....I bought the ingredients for a small brie-en-croute and stuffed figs and I was thinking to make a little bit of my family's traditional wild rice dish. Not that I will take all those things over to dinner....but it wouldn't exactly be the holiday without them.

I am trying to come up with a classic to read next. I want something I have never read before that isn't too drippy and romantic but does feel uplifting. I can't do Austen right now, too much romantic fuffle. I can't handle Ethan Frome....too hard. I need something in between. In the meantime, I am working my way through My First Summer In The Sierras by John Muir. I am pleased and gratified by his botanical and scientific warmth in describing the world of the mountains, no one can do it better, but I am astonished at his own lack of facility and capability outdoors. He feels a little weaker than I ever expected. He's rather dependent on stuff: food, equipment, proper clothing, warm fires, etc. I think  I might be tougher than he is! Not sure how I feel about that. This is John Muir that we are talking about.

Speaking of fires, the air was clearing just a little today. I love the fact that stepping outdoors didn't mean itchy eyes and instant cough. The smoggulous smoke (as Suess would say) was so terrible earlier this week that we truly didn't leave the house for many days, not even to step into the garage for clean laundry. The Camp Fire seems to be finally dying down a bit which is a blessed relief. Wednesday the weather men are saying we will have rain. We had one little spit of a shower in October but otherwise, we've had nothing for half of a year. It is amazing to me that the plants can just hold their breath and wait that long but they truly can. As soon as the rain begins to fall there will be an astonishing surge of rebirth. I look forward to gray skies that are heavy with big bulging clean rain clouds and not ash, and air that feels like clean hope and not a kick to the gut. I cannot wait to hear the sound of it on the roof and have a home day with a steady drizzle on the yard and a stack of library books!

Happy Fall, everyone...I hope the rain patters on your roof, your lungs breath free, your family gathers and your books uplift you!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Poetry Friday: Something There Is That Loves A Fence

Poetry never seems to really leave me alone, not that I am asking it to...but I don't exactly beg it to stay either. I haven't written a Poetry Friday post for some time and yet when I planned today that I would join in again and post something up I had about four or five ideas for poems come zinging into my consciousness. I would never self-identify as a poet but I do love a good poem and I seem to have a lot of poems rattling around in me trying to get out.

Poetry Friday is being hosted today by Poetry For Children and I am thrilled to join in again! Check out the other contributions. Happy Summer!

Today I am sharing a poem about our California backyard. This is our first yard with a genuine privacy fence and I have to say that I love it, the privacy and the peeking over and through it to talk to the neighbors. Its amazing how much I think of Frost's poem and chuckle.

Privacy Fence
I walk the high board fence between our yards
Escorting the black hose the length of the flower bed
Hissing fallen petals, shed leaves and dust ahead of us.
Your glory vine is pushing fingers through the planks,
Spying at my boys as they lounge in the hammock
My leadwort is getting positively coquettish,
Throwing its sky blue tresses clear over the wall.
In your direction.
Neither of us mind.
You peek at me through the slits in the boards grinning
Passing bags of Cambodian shrimp chips over to us
Or dropping candy bars to my jazzed 6 year old
I bow and wave and wish you a good day
Sometimes sending over a bouquet of mint
Or a few choice stems of rose blossom
And over us, your banana cluster ripens benevolently
While my passiflora vine tenderly creeps up
Into the arms of your apple tree.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

12 Years Old, Ru's Taste

Yesterday my oldest son stepped to the brink of coming-of-age and turned 12. I can hardly believe we are here, teetering on the edge of the teen years. Its both refreshing and a little demoralizing to realize that here, in tween land I feel not a whole lot more grave, impressive or wise than I did when I first started parenting. I know a lot more than I did when I first started trying to be a mama to this boy who was handed to my unripened and eager self but most of what I know is how insufficient I am, how much his childhood is about me growing up and how very humbling and human it is to try to be anyone's mother. I am comforted that I am not all jaded or superior and that I am still playing, discovering, laughing-out-loud and even running and climbing trees but I am amazed that at 37 I don't feel very much like I have a corner on anything. I have learned to love parts of parenthood that scared and repulsed me (toddlers who talk back, vomit, and hosting playdates) and I have cherished the pieces that I always knew I would love (the hugs, playing sick nurse, making birthday cakes) and through all of it I am learning so much.
12 years ago, what an exhausting, scary, amazing day

Reuben, one his second day of external life.

 I am figuring out how to be tougher than I knew I was, more vulnerable and open and changeable than I ever have been and man, has this boy blazed the trail in teaching me these things! I don't know how it would have gone if I had started with sweet, little complacent child as my first but I am pretty sure that I wouldn't have learned what I needed. God knew I needed this spitfire of an action figure with a taste for leadership in my life. I needed my world rocked, I needed skateboarding and baseball and graphic novels, to pet more dogs and ride more horses and hear more knock-knock jokes than I could ever have prescribed myself. I am a different woman. I sure love this kid. I love who he is, what he brings to our family and whatever it is he is about to show me about his adolescent make-a-difference, live-an-adventure self.

Here is a little peek into his world, on his second day of being 12 years old.

Reuben Loves:

  1. Babies: He's always loved babies but the older he gets the sweeter it is that he hasn't lost his love of holding them, making them smile and knowing just what little things they need. He's a fantastic older cousin and will make a top drawer babysitter someday.
  2. Baseball: He's played steadily in Little League for years now, never missing a season and I am amazed to see that he still is wistful over winter when there are no trips down to the ball diamond. He's a sports kid for sure and baseball has been his game, although interestingly he has no real interest in following professional games or players.
  3. Greek mythology: He has drawn up his own family trees, read oodles of legends and stories and can tell  you all the details of each of Hercules' labors. This inclination made him great fun as a fellow tourist in Italy. So many stone reliefs were unveiled before our eyes because he recognized the stories.
  4. People: He loves groups, laughter, conversation, friends and even strangers. Always has, always will. Card carrying extrovert. 
  5. Avocados: He's always loved them but now that we live in California, the land of fresh avocados and can even get them at our farmer's market it seems like a legit part of him. We regularly split on together as a snack...half for him, half for me...although these days Pom in horning in too.
  6. Swimming: We are about to gear up to go back to swimming lessons like we did last year before summer. Ru can hardly wait! He regularly needs two or three scoldings to get him out of the water after lesson has finished. He loves to swim, loves water and has great facility as a swimmer too. Fun to watch him learning to dive and perfect the trickier strokes now.
  7. Monopoly: This is his favorite board game. We have the original and two other variations and he loves them all with equal fervor. I think this one may be genetic, it was my own mad love as a child too. I may have infected him. 
  8. Zinnias: They are always his favorite bouquets at the farmer's market and he plants them every year himself. He can never have just one variety and he's always totally impressed when they bloom. They look good in the packet, but even better in the flesh. He's already got a couple of varieties ready to grow this year. 
  9. Audiobooks: We are always listening to at least two together as a family and Ru is always my ready reminder to remember to turn it on during long drives. He's always loved story, hearing, imagining, telling and reading....its in his blood.
  10. Mowing the lawn: This has become one of his personal chores over the last year. Its pretty cute to see him relishing the mowing of our teeny little postage stamp of a front yard. He sometimes mows it before it really needs it again just for the joy of the experience. I have just begun to experiment with having him string trim as an extra connected privilege.

Reuben Loathes:

  1. Cooked squash: All the varieties get the miss. I have to say, I try to make sure nobody knows in our household but I hated cooked squash as a kid. I eat it some now but I always thought it was so squishy and far too sweet for my liking. Not sure what gets him about the whole family of squashes but he sure does skip them all preferentially. 
  2. Editing papers: This is his second year writing papers for me and although he enjoys the craft of putting down his thoughts he really doesn't like editing and drafting the next rounds. I drag him through the process of polishing the piece and adding the next layer each time, he'd much rather just bang out the story and be done, fussy he is not. 
  3. Star Trek: We showed the boys the Star Wars movies this year and so we thought as a compliment it might be fun to experience a little Star Trek too. Nope. Nope. Nope. We showed Ru the first episode and it freaked him out so much that he can't even calm his skeeves down enough to consider discussing the show. Way too scary. Ooops.
  4. Origami: His younger brother's maddest passion completely drives Ru bonkers. He can never stick with the pattern long enough to get all the folds right or crease the corners evenly and he doesn't really care to. We are all given things we love, precisely folding paper is not one of his loves. 
  5. Saving money: He loves making money, he loves spending money, he doesn't really enjoy or value saving money. Hopefully, this will come with time but at least we don't need to worry about any miserly tendencies! 
  6. Home days with no exciting plans: His least favorite days are the days when we have nowhere to rush off to and nobody coming over. Homebody he is not. 
  7. Snakes: Something about moving Out West to the land of genuine rattle snakes has made him very nervous about the whole family. Of course, a few tweeking younger brothers have exploited his aversion and perhaps deepened it with their repeated surprising faux rattle sounds on hikes.
  8. Wearing a helmet: He loves to ride his new bike and still enjoys skateboarding along with playing on his new ripstick he got for his birthday but he hates wearing a helmet. He is a devil-may-care child and doesn't see the point of a lot of fuss so we have to be vigilant for him and keep on the reminders. He also runs warm and I'm sure a helmet doesn't help keep him already toasty temp down.
  9. Early bedtimes: He loves to stay up late and has no natural inclination to sleep and going to sleep early because of some scheduled need drives him batty. He'd rather flip back and forth in bed for an hour than actually go to sleep early! Total waste of time.
  10. Scary movies: He still really doesn't like scary films although he is slowly easing away from his previous jumpy relationship with any plot tension. I am not much for encouraging scary movies anyhow to I feel like his tenderheartedness can just stay right exactly as it is and I won't mind at all.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Wearing Two Hats At Once

This week I playing professional mommy and home mommy at once. I'll be in San Francisco for two whole days for a training conference for a homeschool public speaking gig that I started last summer. I am super stoked and enjoying the whole adventure of an outlet, a chance to put on a little polish and step into some different shoes. Its also so incredibly empowering to go have get-togethers with organizer go-getters who have all self-selected into a room full of energy driven, life loving, spur each other on power. I love the buzz in the room. I love that no question is too wordy or obscure or intellectual. I love that everyone wants to be there and is invested. Also, nobody follows me into my bathroom stall or puts Legos on my plate while I am eating, which is kind of novel and fantastic. I was even thinking happily of the 5 hours I will spend commuting back and forth (I am driving back and forth in the mornings and evenings) and realizing that I in no way dread that time either. I have audio books, sisters to call, mental space that is just waiting for me and all of that time will be a gift.

I was talking to another mom today and mulling over why in the world I would be making the crazy choice to drive back and forth when there will be hotel accommodations provided. It sounds massively inefficient and kind of illogical at surface value but, as a mama I have to say that it seems quite worth it to drive all that way so that I can tuck my kids in at night after they have been playing their friend's house all day. Its worth it to be able to kiss them goodbye in the morning and zip their hoodies myself, after I put all their yogurt dishes in the sink. Even a tiny amount of contact and continuity will carry us and will keep the kids feeling loved and seen in a small measure. I have also learned that I need all the hugs that we share, I need to be with my husband when he gets home from work and to savor the delicious letdown of the quiet house and slipping into bed together for a little pillow talk before sleep. It feels good to be known and seen and connected to those who love you. I also love little things like watering my own houseplants, making space to be barefoot in the backyard for five minutes alone, and putting a roast in the oven for dinner later that night.

 I am also imagining that contact with my normal life and with my kids will keep me grounded in my training. I have a tendency to live utterly in what I am currently learning....in good and bad ways. I see all the trees and forget the forest even exists. I get excited about the ideas and plans I am learning and don't keep planning, home life and self-care in the viewfinder, I also get overwhelmed and intimidated by the grandness of what I encountering and have trouble chunking, right-sizing and staying in the moment. Kids are amazing at keeping you right where you have to be. You learn to spend far more time than you would ever imagine sitting patiently waiting for a shoe to be tied, you learn how very many steps there are to washing hands and how easy it is to forget any of the parts and you learn exactly how pungent a hug is and very much it matters when you make eye contact with an earnest question. These things keep me learning, they keep me stable and they keep me tethered. Its not all some kind of delirious dulcet cocktail though, sometimes these are bitter lessons that I grind through...remembering with some embarrassment and a bit of honest failure exactly where I am. Lest I get to grandiose about my speaker self, the boys and my husband are there with needs like runny noses and fresh underwear to keep me realizing that no matter what intellectual things I offer or achieve, I have to keep myself strung into the action of community and connection, even in the small humble ways and build my character alongside my brain. So here we go!
Speaker Me + Homemaker Me = Real Me

Friday, February 16, 2018

Of Broccoli and Book Clubs

All the little trashcans in our house have fluffy teetering piles of tissues in them. We are fighting off a cough, cold, grab-you-by-the-throat, fevered dreams, headache that pounds when you move kind of a bug. I can just feel it trying to grab me in the back of my throat although I successfully evaded it thus far. I slept over 8 hours the last two nights and I still feel draggy. I have a sudden urge to clean the whole house, stock up on blankets, order the groceries delivered and start a pot of chicken soup. We have had a whole week of hunkering down and clearing the schedule. We cancel activities by the day as it is clear we are still fighting ear infections, coughs and fevers. As long as there is the blessed sunshine in the yard (which there is) and we can eat our lunch outdoors at the picnic table, I do not feel cooped up. It actually feels kind of good to be able to hermit legitimately and just be home together. We can take all day to do read-alouds and write letters to the cousins and fold and fold and fold the laundry. 
I have been making some little brave gestures towards connection and establishing a circle to surround myself. Its time to make sure I am putting down roots here, digging in the support and connection I need, not just making do with whatever falls into my lap. The first thing I did was plan and execute a freezer meal making party which was very successful and not nearly as much hard work as I expected. I have been chewing on plans and ideas for one more in the future. There was an expansive and effervescent response when I timidly broached the topic with women I knew. Its so encouraging to know that the things you think up sound not only tolerable to other people but also exciting. I also have started a little bookclub with a friend and we are co-leading. Little stabs into real discussions and built in rhythms which might be all it takes to get the ball rolling again.

I say these are little brave gestures because they are both small, maybe no big deal to lots of people but were both scary and hard for me. I love people once they are in through my walls and there sipping tea with me kindly in my kitchen but in the meantime I am rather cowed by all the rules I know I don't keep without even meaning to, all the marks I miss as a woman, as an upper middle class person, as a Christian and as a mom, and all the ways other people appear impressively pulled together. I don't hate them for it or wish they were a little muddier for my own comfort, I actually find it inspiring to be around but, I do worry that they'll find me distasteful, embarrassing and indecent. A little of that is fine. I do want to be relate-able...one new acquaintance of mine, that I rather like, is absurdly fawning to the point where I can't seem to get through to real connection as two mamas on equal footing. I struggle with the teeter totter between vulnerability and its accompanying humility and poise and the appropriate level of attainment. Sometimes I think I might look a little over-impressive at first blush, in public but be a little bit astonishingly rough in my private reality. I think this is partly because of my love of inspiration. I do want to strive for ideals. I want to speak optimistically and I want to speak in the direction I am hoping to move. I have no problem being humble but I think some people hear my starry eyed inspiration ideas and then my humble confessions and either decide I'm an over fervent freak who needs to just get her life in line or else that I am my aspirations and my confessions are faux transgressions dramatized for the sake of personal color. Who can tell. I can only really say that real connection is the cry of my heart and something I so dearly love and yet its scary too.

The broccoli plants that I put in the ground last spring are still putting out little fairy heads of broccoli and I can't bring myself to tear them out and put in something more substantial. They have big meaty stalks that are hardened and woody like trunks and their output is both speedy and pathetically small. They seem to sprout little branches and bloom out in seedy finality in the space of one or two days. I cannot ever seem to gather together enough for a meal for the family, there is never that much at one time but, I am enjoying the secret pleasure of a few tiny stalks sauteed in butter or quick steamed to lay alongside my belated morning breakfast egg or draped across my plate of leftovers at lunch. There is no end to my enchanted love of the green things growing in the dead of winter here. I plan to never let it grow old. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Head Noticer And Keeper of Field Notes

I have been snatching all the spare moments I can to analyze my children this past week. There's been several things that all have pointed that direction and like many curious projects I find that's clearly where Fate has shoved me suggestively. It started with a retreat I had this fall with girlfriends (a total wonder of thing!) where our 2,000 mph marathon talk sessions had me suddenly wandering into the territory of examining our children. We all as mamas strive to give our kids opportunities, fun, education and friends and when life is busy its so easy to just throw money at the problem and sign them up for a bunch of clubs, groups or activities and call the thing done. But, as we mamas mused together we dug up an idea, like a dusty looking rock that has a crack that shows a glowing center. What if we meditated on who are kids were, studied how they changed and evolved and tried to see them as different from their siblings and then ministered intentionally to who they were, what they loved and what things made their curiosity whoosh into flame? What if, instead of signing everyone up for a museum daytrip club we noticed that our kid was into starfish and combed our home library for applicable books and then put out a feeler to our friends for more books or experience and knowledge on sea stars and the sea? What if we noticed that our kid was a natural dancer yet instead of signing them up for drag-everyone-hither-and-yon, and mortgage-a-different-child-to-afford-it-class at the local dance academy we asked a local teen who is already dancing to come be a dance tutor three times in a row at our home?

The basic idea is a combination of three concepts: 
  • Intentional, careful observation of our actual, individual kids and noticing who they are and how they change 
  • Leveraging the resources we already have in our homes and our own skill-sets as individuals
  • Mining our community for talent and interests, abilities and knowledge that tie in

So instead of just hitting the Children's Museum because you know, they're children....they'll love it....maybe we go to the local horse farm to pet horses because we know one of kids is enamored....who knows, you might run into the farmer and you might purposely slow down and pick up rocks on the lane nearby for the kid who is obsessed with geology. 

So, at first it was an idea that popped up as we mamas talked on our retreat about how to do parenting better, mused on our kids and their issues and funny endearing behaviors. Then we got talking about personality tests and I thought even deeper about customizing education to each kid in light of not only their interests but their style and needs. So cool. We spent some time later that night, journalling lists of topics and talents that came to mind for each of our children.

Then, after I got home from the retreat and was diving into some new podcasts for moms and homeschooling and learning I bumped into one with an unschooler (am only moderately unschooley myself) talking about this topic! She mentioned that customizing her child's education which is the big focus of unschooling philosophy meant that she had to study her kids as separate and dynamic topics. She keeps field note journals that are pocket sized for each child! What a thought! All observations about what makes that kid swoon with pleasure, what they are deeply troubled by and what they are super obsessed with doing all day go into her little book. Quick, jotted Cliffs Notes on her students who also happen to be her field of study. What a fascinating idea! How useful would that resource be for lesson plans, outings, birthday parties, interpersonal problem solving, bedtime discussions or those sudden gift requests from grandparents? Instead of the latest cool toy we could feed who our children were and show them that we see them not just childhood or kiddie stuff land. 

Then, here I find myself at just post-Christmas gift buying time, true....but heading into birthday season at our house and I am doing what I always do and trying to think deeply about each kid and what thrills them and what they are missing and what they dream of. I always do this, gifts are pretty important to me and I love thoughtful giving. This year though, it seems like part of the big picture lesson. One more chapter in the book Fate is drawing me through, "Here's your lesson of the hour...study your children, learn them as they unfold. Be their very best noticer."