Monday, December 31, 2007

Waiting for a Post?

I'll have this blog on hiatus in January. Riot 4 Austerity posts can be found here.

So, What the Heck Are We Doing?

I love the idea of Compacting. I know people are are committing to it for 2008, and it sounds fantastic. I started 2007 following the Compact as an individual act. Eventually I switched over (mostly) mindful buying, and that worked well.

Mid-year the Riot 4 Austerity began. The is the 90% carbon emissions reduction project. I started gangbusters with the R4A. It spoke to me as a way of changing our consumption patterns long term, and not just our consumer spending.

Over the past month I've been teeter-tottering between the two projects. I love the idea of Compacting, and I have to say that I honestly think it is the easier of the two projects. After all, you don't have to change your consumption of fuel, electricity, natural gas, water, etc. You don't have to seek out local food. I know, many people will also do these things, but you don't have to.

So after much wrangling, we've decided on the R4A. We may not hit a full 90% reduction while we live in So Cal, but we will do what we can to reduce our overall consumption and carbon footprint.

Why not both? The reality is that participating in the R4A may require the purchase of new goods in order to lower consumption in other areas. In reality, I had already made many exceptions when I formed my compact last year.

These were last years goals, not all part of the Compact, but using that as my starting point:

I will carefully consider each purchase I make, even in the exception areas. I will strive to see if I have something that I can use before assuming I need to buy something. I will consider the food I buy, the amount of (used) clothing that comes into the house, and where any allowed new goods come from and what they are made of (natural materials, organics, fair trade, fair labor, etc.)

Absolutely, right on. I won't change a word.

This is the year of making do. No new towels, no new sheets, no new furniture, no new small appliances, pans, or kitchen gadgets. No new decorations for holidays or decorative house items. No new hair accessories, or aprons (but I can sew one), or jewelry. Certainly for 12 months we can make do with what we have.

I like the concept, but we do need a few things. Towels for the boys (Um, they are still using blue hippo capes designed and sized for three year-olds. Plus I have learned ~ get brown towels. They dry their hands on them so I need to match the color of mud). We may buy an organic mattress and a bed frame for it. I still don't think we need any of the other stuff listed. Oh, we need a cleaver.

It is also the year of making. If we want fancy soap we'll mill it from the plain soap we have on hand with herbs and essential oils. I will make the new pot holders I need (I have the loom and wool loops). I really want to make the quilt I planned out (just need to scavange more denim and corduroy).

Yeah that!

All my and the boys' clothing except underwear, socks, shoes, and boys' pajamas must be bought used, traded for, borrowed, or received for free. We're not frivolous shoe purchasers anyway, but I will only replace necessary shoes (sandals and walking shoes) that are beyond wearing. The boys may each have one pair of sandals, one pair of sneakers, and one pair of hiking boots, and I am ordering T-Guy a new pair of slippers for next fall and will pass his down to J-Baby. This goal is actually a continuation of one started last summer, except that we won't make exceptions for sale new clothing.

We're still working on this. I'm having trouble with pants. Good news is we didn't need to buy pajamas at all, and we managed without hiking boots as well.

I will stop buying the little stuff - a toy here, a snack there. You know, the kind of stuff that will nickel and dime you to death.

Still doing this, and hoping for 100% in 2008.

Food must be carefully considered and chosen based on need. Natural sodas (the kind made with cane sugar) are out. Prepared snack foods are out (it will probably be a month or more before they run out of the GF pretzels, microwave popcorn, and organic fruit leather we bought for consumption during my recovery). Chocolate will be okay for special occasions (organic and fair trade, of course). DH will still buy wine and tea. I will make whole wheat bread, but will purchase vegan GF bread. Canned beans are allowed as an emergency food.

Ok, you got me. We still bought natural soda for special occasions. Our diet changed dramatically over the past year with a new medical diagnosis. Home cookingn is even more essential that it seemed a year ago. Our goals this year also involve buying as much local food as we can. That's part of the R4A. We joined a CSA (they finally have one in our area!).

Our goal is to eat out only twice a month, coinciding with payday, and only at local establishments. We will have to make some allowances for travel. We also have to figure out how this works with family, as both of our families prefer to get together at restaurants rather than cook meals (large holidays excluded). I am more than willing to cook, but people don't always want to come to us, nor do they all like eating vegan food.

Still the goal, actually we'd like to eat out less. Our new plan involves only eating out when family occasions require it.

No new books. First I see if the library has the book I want to read; if not, I see if I can borrow it from someone I know. If it is a must have book (for information, no fiction allowed) I will find it used. My book addiction is serious especially since half the time I realize I could have done without whatever book I ordered from Amazon. In addition to not buying new books I will not browse used bookstores or the thrift store for books that I am not specifically searching for. Really, I have enough unread books here at home to keep me reading all year.

I had to buy some reference books new. But I can hardly believe how well we shifted our thinking on books. We use the library regularly, and we buy books used almost all of the time. I did buy several books written by authors of my favorite blogs.

No magazines purchased in stores. I have subscribed to the magazines I am most likely to pick up, and will read the others at the library, go without, or find a way to borrow them or buy them used. I do have one homeschooling magazine that I need to call and order on the 3rd (no online orders).

Fell down on this. Picking myself up and trying again.

No new music. This isn't usually an issue for me until holiday time, but I am putting it out there now.

I received one CD as a gift. I didn't buy any for myself or the boys.

I am going to inventory our craft supplies and choose projects based on what we have. We have so much to choose from that we just have to say no to some of the great stuff out there. It will be okay to replenish consumables such as glue, chalk, crayons, etc. Even then I don't anticipate needing to do much more than replace the frequently used Stockmar colors. We do need 9 X 12 drawing paper.

This worked well, and we'll continue it into 2008.

We will make all greeting cards or use our stash cards (scavenged by my dad). We will recycle gift bags, make wrap, and use any old wrap we have.

It was great to wrap all presents with stash wrap, reused wrap, and homemade wrap. I bought a couple of cards; stash sympathy cards seemed heartless when the losses were in my own family. If it happens again I'll write letters.

I will not buy new yarn until the stash is gone and even then I will try to find sweaters to frog. Any yarn purchased after the stash is gone must be for a specific project. The exception to this will be if I decide to make hats for any kids as I don't have any superwash wool and I don't anticipate many parents wanting to care for merino or alpaca.

I did well with this, buying synthetics a couple of times for kids' gifts, and some cotton. I'm going to keep it up.

I am going to learn to sew. Any fabric purchased new must be for a specific project. However, before that I will use reclaimed fabric, thrift store fabric, etc. I have about 5 yards of flannel but certainly do not have a stash and am not going to build one.

I did start learning, and will continue in 2008. I was gifted a nice stash from a friend who was moving.

I have begun studying herbalism. I will allow myself to purchase necessary supplies to make herbal medicines and personal care products. This is an investment year; I may need funnels, storage jars, etc. that I will never need again. Still, I will source used goods whenever possible (please don't suggest pickle jars...I never seem to be able to get rid of the pickle smell and I will not ruin good herbs that way).

New medical diagnosis coincided with increased allergies. I've mostly had to give up herbalism. The good news is that I spend very little on it before I found out.

We are allowed to purchase what we need to start our garden, including minimal tools, lumber for raised beds, seeds and starts, soil amendment, etc.

Photo paper and inks are permitted.

Artisan goods are allowed. Entertainment is allowed if it falls within our budget. Experiences are allowed.

Yes to all of the above.

Items I didn't get around to purchasing in 2006 that are still possibly on the slate for early 2007: a wool mattress pad for the boys' bed, a futon mattress for FIL to sleep on when he is here (if he decides to come weekly), ear phones for my iPod (yes, I have's nearly 3 years old), a clothes rack and/or umbrella style drying rack. I'm going to try to find alternatives (such as finding a used king-sized 100% wool blanket and felting it for the boys' pad). I planned to buy ear phones before now, but haven't been able to get out to try any.

I felted a wool blanket for DS. I went without ear phones until the holidays, when I received a pair as a gift. We bought a rack system this week.

We're still hammering out the details for 2008. This year we are in it together as a family, which will make a difference. This blog will be specifically related to the R4A project, rather than homeschool or natural living musings.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Letting the House Cleaners Go

We decided this week that we won't have paid house cleaners next year. We had hired a couple to clean our home a year ago, after I had surgery. They were very nice and they did a fantastic job. Letting them go was hard.

We've had house cleaners off and on over the years. I don't think that there is a reason not to have cleaners, in terms of the Compact.

One of the reasons we made this decision was financial. While we can technically afford to pay people to clean our home, we decided that what we could save was significant. We've diverted the amount we would pay the house cleaners directly into our automatic savings. Every time one of us thinks that we'd rather not be cleaning house, we can think of the growing savings account and what it means to our future goals.

Another reason involves my boys. They are old enough to be of real help when tackling household chores, and I think there is value in learning to clean, not only the skills gained but a better sense of the work it takes to maintain a home.

A big reason for letting the cleaners go is the fact that there was always stress involved in their coming. The boys had to get their room clean, and then it had to stay that way until it had been dusted and mopped. I had to figure out where we would go while they were here. I usually had it coincide with our weekly park outing, however, rain or cold could cancel our plans. When they came in the morning I had to have everything prepared the night before. I thought that was stressful, but trying to keep the boys' room clean until 2 p.m. was far harder.

Also, when I cleaned my own house I used natural and/or homemade cleaners. At first, I just requested that these house cleaners refrain from sprinkling anything on the carpets. Later I realized that I experienced fatigue and headaches after they had cleaned. I tried to air things out by opening windows. I tried to have them use my non-chemical cleaners. It didn't work. Many house cleaners prefer their chemicals because they work fast. I can understand that, but I still needed to stop the toxic contamination of my home.

We have been in transition for many years, moving always toward lighter living on the earth. 2007 has been a transformative year for us, and we expect just as much from 2008. Our year is not only about mindful purchasing, but about making changes that reduce our carbon emissions and making choices that simplify and enhance our lives. It will be another year of learning, as we garden, hone our cooking and homemaking skills, and move more toward a car-lite lifestyle. We will continue to build community and relationships. Most of all, we will continue our journey through this life together, the four of us, attached, loving, and learning.

The Wanting is the Hardest Part

Lately, when I take my youngest son into a store he is overwhelmed with wanting. Indeed, he wants everything, not taking into account whether he likes what he sees or would use it. Everything is so wonderful.

I found out a few months ago that the wanting made him feel badly. Because he couldn't have what he wanted, he thought he was bad for wanting it. Oh no, I told him. Even grown-ups go into stores and want things. Sometimes they are things we would use and love, and sometimes they are shiny and new and grab us by virtue of a color, font, package, or function.

The desire, the wanting, it is part of who we are and part of the culture we live in. On a rare trip to a bookstore my oldest, who has recently become a proficient reader, was suddenly awakened to the multitude of books available. Books he recognized! King Arthur! The Three Musketeers! Robin Hood! He saw a sign on a table and mistook Humor for Homer, and well, you should have seen his excitement at the idea of piles of books written by Homer!

I quickly told him that most of the books he was interested in could be found at the library. Now, the library is wonderful. It just isn't designed to grab you the way a bookstore is. There is little merchandising. There is no holiday music in the background, and certainly not the scent of coffee and warm baked goods. For the most part, children can't see the covers of books. That's really sad, because if they could, they might check out something that they had never heard of before.

As we embark on a year of mindful buying, it is helpful to remember that the wanting is not a bad thing. It simply is a desire, like any other. It is what we do with the wanting that takes on significance. Do we need it? Can we get is used? Can we use something else? Can we do without?

Where was is made? By whom? How was that person paid? How was that person treated? How are the costs externalized? How much energy was used to make and transport the goods?

Why do we want it? Are the advertisers appealing to emotion? Are they trying to make us think that our lives would be better if we just had their product? Is that true?

It becomes a new way of thinking, and then a new way of living. None of us can be perfect. We can, however, go past the wanting and look into what it is we want, and why, and then we consider the ethical impacts of our desires, as well as our own lives and happiness.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holding Space

This is where I am going to journal about our Compacting/Riot 4 Austerity year in 2008.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Simple Winter Holidays

(My apologies to anyone reading this in the Southern Hemisphere, where Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, and the new year may all take place during summer.)

I grew up with big C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S. Presents piled to the ceiling, huge family gatherings, feasts in the American tradition. Even the years that were lean had big Christmases; the Salvation stepped in to help us one year, and credit card companies filled in for Santa many a year.

Papa really didn't know what to make of my big Christmas. His had always been more simple; the gifts were few and most likely something they as children needed. There were toys too, but rarely anything that would elicit a Wow! Raised in the Catholic Church, Christmas involved mass, and having a Mexican-American mother meant that the included many traditional Latino activities in their holiday plans. We make almond crescent cookies, they made tamales.

Twenty years ago, when we had our first married Christmas, I did my best to make it big, on a budget. We didn't have a major credit card back then, but I'm sure JC Penney helped us out. We had the traditional big breakfast with my family, and spent the rest of the day driving to Tucson to meet up with Papa's family. His grandmother was getting remarried the next day.

I could go on and describe other Christmases over the years. Let's just say we started to get extravagant as our income rose, helped along by credit and the increasing popular 0% interest for ___ months.

We probably started the slow down a decade ago. I started a savings account for Christmas each year, which helped stop the debt spiral. We found that we already had a lot of stuff and we actually wanted less. As our children were showered with gifts we began to see the wisdom in small gifts, needed gifts.

Each year we put out fewer decorations, and as we put away the decorations each year we sent some to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. The number of Christmas bins was cut by at least half.

About ten years ago we began acknowledging the winter solstice in a more formal way. At first it was something I did alone, sitting in darkness and waiting for the precise moment when the position of the earth would change and bring the light (for me, this year, it happens on 12/21 at 10:08 p.m. local time). Papa and I might get out for a walk or hike on the day of the solstice. Once the boys were a little older we began giving them solstice gifts, most often little handmade items (usually made by a talented friend). A couple of years ago we started the tradition of rolling beeswax candles a few days before, or even the morning of, the solstice.

This year the winter holidays are nearly here, and I am happy with their simplicity. We were able to buy gifts for the children that weren't manufactured in China. Our general plan is to give items that will last (both developmentally and in terms of durability) or items that are meant to be consumed (crayons and paper). Our adult gift recipients will once again receive handcrafted gifts. Adults who made a specific need known will see that need met if it is within our budget.

Within our own family we cut back our spending, and we set specific limits for Papa and I to follow. It has been freeing to acknowledge that we don't need anything. We may want many things, but our needs are taken care of.

There will still be big C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S at my dad's house. He is trying to balance his desire to get the kids everything they want with their parents' desires to not get so much. He asked for input ~ from kids and parents. Yet, for himself, he could think of very little that he needs. I think he is beginning to see the consumption from the other side.

I feel so calm and relaxed. The gifts I'm making aren't finished, and nothing has been wrapped, and I feel fine. I don't feel like I have to keep up with or compete with anyone. No longer are there subtle competitions: who got the decorations or lights up first, how many different types of cookies have been baked, are the cards sent yet, are the presents all wrapped. I stepped away from it ~ out of the mainstream.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Christmas, This Year

I think, perhaps, I had been pretending that Christmas wasn't coming this year. Oh, certainly I have procured some gifts, and I have sung a few carols. It's cold, which means December in my part of southern California. The winter holidays are upon us.

Today we put up the tree. We didn't decorate it, but we did manage to get the Lego train set up around it. We'll do a little bit each evening, and in a few evenings we'll be finished. Each year we've pared down the decorations. Each year I think that I don't want to put up the tree, and even now I dread actually decorating it. But as soon as it is finished I love it.

Today the full force of the fact that my mom is gone really hit me. I keep encountering it in little ways; thinking of her when I see Aplets and Cotlets at the local market, or when T-Guy breezes through a book that was too hard for him just last spring, or when I go to my dad's house and the bed is made. They are little things, and I will feel a little sad, and then I will fall back into rhythm. Today though, I could no longer escape the thought that my mom will not be with us this Christmas.

Perhaps it is because I helped my dad do his online shopping yesterday. Perhaps it was pulling out the silly Laker's Santa hat she gave Papa last year. Perhaps it was knowing that I haven't wrapped a single item, and she hasn't been on the phone to ask me about it.

I'm glad that we've simplified Christmas; it makes it easier to face this year. Our focus is less on stuff, and more on people. We spread the happy times over a few weeks. There is a holiday birthday party for my FIL, and we'll draw names for gifts on that side of the family. Our friends have invited us to a Solstice celebration at their home (bringing our own celebration of Solstice to a new level). There is a Christmas Eve service and party at the church that we would love to attend. Christmas morning my FIL will come over for a simple breakfast (my fancy brunch of years past is gone). That afternoon we'll gather at my dad's house, and allow the glee of the children to carry us through what will most likely be a day of teary memories. On the 27th we're heading to the desert for the day, to see Abuela and visit the desert zoo. Then on the 29th the whole big family will gather for a day of cousins. Our plans for the new year are up in the air, however we are thinking we'll have a simple, elegant meal on New Year's Eve and then invite friends to stop by on New Year's Day for a soup potluck open house.

It sounds like a lot, and it is. What makes me smile is the focus on family and friends.

Bring Your Dog Into Your Food Chain

Ssshhh . . . don't tell the vet. I feed my dog table scraps. In fact, most weeks she doesn't have a bite of commercial dog food. I'm not feeding her a fancy biologically appropriate raw food or bones and raw food diet, either. No, I just finally decided that if it was good for us, it was good for her. I learned that she could eat foods that we might not choose to, such as chicken organs and skin, or leftovers that are a little past their prime.

It has been really easy to feed her. When I make chicken or turkey stock, I careful pick through all of the (hundreds of tiny) bones to get every bit meat I can. I pull out the veggies too, the garlic cloves, carrots, and celery. To these things I add any leftover grain in our refrigerator, or I make a pot of grain just for her. Mixed together, I have homemade dog food that well, looks and smells a bit like dog food, except I know every ingredient in it. No chance of melamine.

I give her leftovers and scraps, too. She'll eat meat the boys have chewed at and rejected as too fatty. She loves the skins of squash (just not too much, or we see the results). She adores apple cores. On the rare occasion that we visit a restaurant I will gather the uneaten potato skins from everyone at the table (it seems only my family eats potato skins) and take them home for her.

Sometimes a boy requests more food than he can eat. Girl-Dog gets the leftovers. Sometimes we look through the fridge and find containers with little bits of food: half a cup of soup, two tablespoons of cooked carrots, two little pieces of broccoli, etc. If it's time to feed the Girl-Dog I'll pull these things together to make her meal.

Sometimes I think of her while I'm cooking; I might toss an extra half cup of oatmeal into the porridge pot just for her, or bake an extra potato. Starches are inexpensive.

Girl-Dog is happy and healthy. Her coat shines. She's an old dog, so we try to give her as much fat as we can. She's happy to have the chicken fat skimmed off a cooled container or stock. She loves the fat trimmed off of a piece of beef (which has been rare up until this point). Heck, we trust our meat producer so much that we pour accumulated beef juices from the vacuum-pack bag right into her dish.

I've yet to cook and prepare meat just for Girl-Dog. The closest we've come to that is cutting up a pot roast that was cooked incorrectly and was dry and seemingly inedible (a lesson learned, to be certain, about pot roasts, slow cookers, and blindly following recipes). She isn't picky about her proteins, however. She'll happily eat leftover pinto beans, whole or refried.

I don't worry that I feed my dog table scraps. I feed her real food, food that I am willing to eat myself. Our food waste is almost non-existent (I've yet to dry chicken bones and grind them into bone meal to supplement her calcium intake). I have a container of commercial dog food that I've had for some time now, to have on hand should the leftovers be short one day. But overall, I have nearly eliminated our reliance on commercial dog food, which is highly processed and must be shipped great distances.

Every dog is different. Last summer I watched the Girl-Dog carefully pull tomatoes off the outdoor table, one by one, and gobble them down. They were the split culls from the morning's harvest. She loved them. I knew she wasn't a picky eater, but the tomato incident helped me to see that she would eat a wide variety of foods, and that what I might have seen as waste (or compost fodder), she saw as food. I already knew she loved apples, and cooked broccoli. She had already faithfully cleaned up the floor after each meal, leaving only raw pieces of lettuce. She, unlike some dogs, isn't too keen on raw carrots.

I've stopped believing that experts know what humans should eat, so why should I trust them when it comes to my dog. If highly processed kibble is so great, so superior to real food when it comes to dogs, then why doesn't that apply to humans? No, commercial dog food is big business, a way to sell to us food that we wouldn't choose ourselves. Humans know spoilage and the stench of disease. We know what to stay away from. Commercial dog food factories are the place they send the diseased meat, the road kill, the parts of animals that no one else wants. They also process lots of corn for our canine friends. They then, of course, have to supplement the foods with vitamins and minerals. Uh, isn't that a sign that the food would otherwise be deficient?

I'm not exactly in the camp with the B.A.R.F. folks either. Sure, Girl-Dog would probably love raw meat and bones. But my goal isn't to create a new category for her to eat from. No, she is a canine living with humans, sharing our food. In return for shelter, food, and kindness she offers companionship, unconditional love, and protection. A canine is the original lock on the door and the original smoke/fire alarm. Girl-Dog is also exceedingly good at warding off solicitors. My tip? Open the door just a crack (we have one of those old-fashioned chains, basically worthless), hold your barking canine by the collar or ruff, and watch as people back away. If they ask if she bites, say "yes", even if it isn't true. Before the person can start their sales pitch say the words "We aren't interested." Watch the magazine salesperson, the tree trimmer, and the water delivery person depart quickly.

Of course, Girl-Dog is a actually well-mannered, and is greeted warmly by friends, neighbors, repair people, mail carriers, and package delivery employees. She turns off the bark and wags her whole body as soon as she knows that she has encountered friends. Canines are smart, and she watches our body language and listens to our tone of voice, and quickly determines friend or foe.

Not a bad trade off for chicken stock leftovers, cooked vegetables, grain, and the occasional tomato cull.

Solar Energy, Now

I am fortunate that all around me, there are families like mine trying to make changes that will positively impact not only their own lives, but the lives of others as well.

I've been thinking about peak oil and scarcity, as well as about abundance. Finally, I am moving away form being scared to death about the end of oil. I am letting go of the fear, and I am welcoming in transformation.

I believe that we will live in a world that is experiencing change. I do not believe in a technological savior, but I do think that we can transition to a world based on solar electric as our main power source. It isn't going to be easy, and it isn't going to happen fast enough to prevent disease, despair, death . . .

I think, though, that it means that the little, "bottom up" changes we make as individuals will make a difference. Not a difference in terms of the end of oil, and a not a difference in terms of slowing climate change. Those are big issues. Life on our planet is going to change.

We can be at the forefront. We can harness the sun's energy now. It doesn't take huge investment and technology. We can:

Grow food. Turn the power of the sun into food calories we can consume. In turn we reduce the amount of fuel needed to bring our food to us.

Dry clothes outside. Hang a laundry line. If we need to do a lot of drying indoors, make, scavenge, or buy a drying rack. The sun's energy will dry our clothing. We unplug our electric dryers or reduce our use of natural gas.

Use the sun to warm our homes. Start by opening curtains on cold, sunny days. Eventually we may want to make a simple solar heater for our homes. Plant according to our climates. Deciduous trees near windows can keep our homes cooler in summer and then as they drop their leaves they allow more sunlight in through the windows in winter.

Use the sun to heat hot water. We can start simple. Put a dark bucket full of water in a sunny place. Use it to wash dishes, or too fill the bath tub. Eventually we may want more: there are plenty of plans on the internet. Solar hot water makes too much sense for us not to use it.

Learn to live by the natural light in our homes. How often do we flip the lights when it isn't necessary? Take a shower by the daylight already in our homes. Put reading chairs near windows.

Let the sun shine . . .

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Sunday Simple Pleasures

~ sleeping in

~ talking to a friend for a few minutes about a subject dear to my heart

~ forgiveness

~ soup leftovers for lunch

~ snuggling

~ a long family walk after dinner

~ a pot of broth on a long slow simmer overnight

~ hot water bottle heat

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Okay, So It's Been Awhile

I've been busy.

I did host Thanksgiving, and it turned out fine. It wasn't Martha Stewart perfect, but the food was delicious and homemade (including stuffing made from homemade gluten free cornbread, and gravy made from turkey stock, as in I roasted a turkey the Sunday before so I could make stock) and we didn't use any disposable flatware, plates, or cups. I didn't buy bottled water or Coca-Cola. Most of all, we gathered together as family and friends and managed to enjoy ourselves despite my mother's absence.

I completed NaNo. My novel isn't quite finished; my main character has more to do, but I don't know what that is now. I do think, however, that I am more comfortable calling myself a writer. Heck, maybe I'll take the title of novelist (albeit unpublished).

I'm feeling more relaxed, more in rhythm. This week has been good. The boys and I are spending some time each day reading, drawing, and crafting together; it has been beneficial for all of us. December is nearly upon us, and I don't feel rushed or stressed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

People, Problems, Friends, Family

I thought our sermon yesterday was going to be about how we can see people as problems or well, people. It never really got into that, but it was enough to get me thinking. It turns out that a guiding principle of UUism is the idea of the inherent worth and dignity of each person. Not surprisingly, one thing that really drew me to Enki as a holistic model of education was the concept that wisdom, compassion, and vitality are the birthright of all human beings. I think the inspiration is Buddhist, although for me they are both humanist ideas.

(You can have interesting discussions on whether these traits are inherent or not, if they have to be earned or learned, and whether foolishness, impulsiveness, and stupidity are also inherent human traits. Really, they make for fascinating conversation.)

It is really easy to objectify people, especially if they have hurt you. A sibling who has many problems and whose problems have spilled out and affect every family gathering can easily become a problem. It's hard to look at that person as a person, as someone who is going through the human experience just as we are. We love to share joy, love , and happiness; it is harder to be faced with fear and pain. We need to see past it, and remember that over all we share very similar goals as human beings ~ to be alive, to contribute to the next generation (whether biologically or not), to be happy.

It is also easy to objectify people when we allow them to become other, rather than us. People of different skin color or economic background. People of different religions or with different politics. Criminals. Youth. Homeless individuals and families. It is human to seek people who are like us, and for a long time, it was very human to divide ourselves up into us and other, vying for food and land with other tribes and societies.

We still do it, on a large scale, and I suppose, on a small scale. Obviously, we wage war in other countries, still scrambling for a bigger piece of the earth's resources. We say that we do it to provide democracy, ease human suffering, etc., but if that is true, all I can ask is, what about Darfur?

I wanted to touch today on the objectification of people, even people we know and care for deeply. We trivialize our relationships with people. We are slow to offer friendship, preferring to keep people in the categories of acquaintance or casual friend. We label people instead of embracing our closeness. For instance, I have had a tendency to introduce the woman who lives next door to my dad as his neighbor. She is far more than his neighbor, she is his friend, and she was my mother's dear friend for 29 years. As a teenager I spent countless hours at her home, listening to her tell stories of being a young woman in the 20s and 30s. She is an honorary great aunt to my children. She is a respected elder in our family. And yet, I say neighbor. I diminish her importance to our family. I offer a label, instead of a relationship. When you think about, why does anyone need to know where she lives?

I'm not saying that the labels are unimportant, but they provide information that has nothing to do with relationship. I have one friend who has introduced me to many people she knows, and she always describes me as her friend. In fact, she rarely gives the rest of the information (from our homeschooling group, from our AP group, etc.) unless it asked for. Likewise, when she talks about her other friends it is pretty much up to me to know how she is connected to various people, and I suppose that it doesn't really matter if she is talking about a friend from high school or a friend who shares a hobby with her. They are all her friends.

I know the sting of being introduced to someone via label versus relationship. It's like being dismissed, as if you are not all that important to the person introducing you to someone they know, especially if they know that person well. You can be friends with someone for a decade, and suddenly be reduced to the wife of someone who works with someone else's husband.

Why not offer relationship first, and explanation later? Even with new friends, how about saying, "This is my new friend", and offering facts when asked? Children can be amazing with this; they seem to recognize the gift of friendship far more readily than adults.

Lately, I had time to ponder this idea of relationship versus information. At my mother's funeral I looked around, and found myself connected to so many people because my mother had become friends with them. When it came time to introduce some of these people to Papa, he needed the information, yes, but I wanted him to know the relationship. "This is ____, she was my stepmother for a few years and she was very important to me as I was growing up." "This is ____, she was my mother's cousin and when we came back to California she and her children were the people we had to call family when it felt like ours was falling apart."

I'm thinking about this now because there will be introductions going around on Thanksgiving. I must remember that I can say "This is my good friend ____" when introducing someone. It sure beats "This is ____ from my play group." When introducing a family member it's easier, but I can elaborate on the relationship. I can mention how dear my SIL is to me, and how very much I like my mother-in-law.

Out of time, not out of thoughts . . .

(A few more thoughts. I don't think we consciously label people and describe our relationships with them in terms of facts versus relationship. In that, I don't mean I think we intend to cause hurt by it. I think it is a part of the information society we live in, and our disconnection from people. I do think it takes a conscious effort to change how we think of people and to move into relationship thinking. I also think, when it comes to the labels we use to describe family, that relationship is part of the label, so we don't need to add favorite or dear or beloved to each one.)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Finding the Simple in Thanksgiving

I am cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year.

I know. I only started eating meat and poultry again 8 months ago. I'm a novice. I haven't hosted Thanksgiving dinner in more than a decade. That was an amazing vegetarian feast, with appreciative guests. It's easier to please people when they aren't expecting a traditional turkey dinner.

So here I am, making lists, scheduling out my tasks for the next week, and basically trying to avoid a panic attack. I've sent a good friend several email messages already, knowing full well that she won't be reading them tonight or possibly even this weekend. So here I am at the blog, trying to talk myself down, trying to remember what I want as a big picture.

I'm actually not afraid to make the turkey. Well, maybe that's because I am making a practice turkey tomorrow. I remember roasting my first chicken, with an audience, and it was nerve wracking. No, I'm roasting a bird tomorrow. It's my style anyway; I want homemade turkey stock for the gravy. Sometimes I make extra work for myself and it is 100% worth it.

But there are a plethora of side dishes to make, and I have to figure out when each one goes in the oven. I keep trying to simplify it, and other people's expectations jump out at me and require that I squeeze in one more item.

I am going insane over sweet potatoes.

Really. Papa wants praline sweet potato casserole, the one I make. Of course, I always make it and take it with me, snug in a little thermal carrier that keeps it hot so my host doesn't have to use his or her oven to warm it. This casserole is pushing me over the line from can-do to can't-possibly-do. I don't have a double oven, or even a toaster oven. My oven is booked solid all day: pumpkin pie, turkey, dressing, rolls.

(Note to self: Dad needs a toaster oven. Can I buy one to use on Thanksgiving and give it to him afterwards so it doesn't clutter up my house? Does anyone else I know have one I could borrow?)

It's not like my marriage is going to fall apart over sweet potato casserole. But Papa wants it ~ it's the dish that says Thanksgiving to him.

Is this really all about sweet potato casserole anyway? Could it be that I let simple get away from me? Am I being haunted by the ghost of Thanksgiving past? I think I am, and I don't like it. Everyone is bringing their expectation of what Thanksgiving should be, especially when it comes to food. We have ardent roasters in the family, and confirmed BBQ aficionados. There is a contingent that definitely prefers marshmallows on the sweet potatoes. No one in my family has ever made a fresh, not frozen, turkey. Some people definitely prefer their cranberry sauce to be can-shaped.

Then there are ads and magazines and TV shows trying to make me believe that Thanksgiving has one look, and only one look: perfect. Crisp table linens, gleaming china and silver, dining rooms that hold tables that seat 24. Backyards with fountains and gardens and ponds, outfitted with redwood decks and teak furniture, on rolling acres of grass and meadow. There are no smudges on the windows (the kind that appear when little boys press their noses against the glass, willing their visitors to arrive), no finger prints on the door ways, no pencil marks on the walls. The dogs are always purebred.

I can't please everyone, period. So here is my Thanksgiving manifesto for 2007:

1) I will make 10 pounds of mashed potatoes for 23 people. I will not make 15 or 20 pounds of potatoes just to be certain that everyone needs to unbutton their pants after dinner and leave with leftover potatoes. 10 is enough.

2) I will make one batch of sweet potato casserole, not two. If we run out, there will be other food.

3) I will make simple green beans or a green salad. I will not make both. I will not let myself believe that greens beans must be roasted or covered in Hollandaise sauce. I will not fool myself into thinking that a green vegetable will somehow undo the indulgence that a Thanksgiving feast is. I will embrace the indulgence.

4) I will buy an oblong tablecloth or a sheet for my oval table, being that I can't find an oval tablecloth at a decent price, and I only need the bigger cloth a few times a year. I will stop trying to make it perfect.

5) I will not fret over the fact that the carpet in the family room really needs to be cleaned. I will remind myself that it would need cleaning again afterwards, anyway. There will be children here.

6) I will not go out and buy new bedding for the master bedroom. I will not. I can't get what I want, and I haven't made it yet, and I have to be okay with that.

7) I will remind myself that I don't need matching, holiday-themed dishes for one meal. I will acknowledge that the only way I could afford to do so would be to buy Chinet, and I don't want to do that.

8) I will not give in and buy Coca-Cola and bottled water. I thought I could, I can't. I feel better already.

9) I will not lose myself this week. I will stay available to my children and I will not let stress overwhelm me. I will attempt not to yell at anyone.

10) I will remember that I love to cook, and I will have fun.

So, to recap: no paper plates, no plastic forks, no bottled water, no made-in-China centerpieces and decorations, no stress. Yes to being who I am, yes to having fun, yes to imperfection, yes to friendship, yes to laughter, yes to love.

I'll let you know how it turns out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A Little "Aha"

We took the boys to the UU (Universalist-Unitarian, although most congregations reverse the order) church last Sunday. I had been the week before, and T-Guy was eager to go, to see some new friends he had met last month.

So we went. We promptly signed the boys up for Religious Education, and after about 15 minutes of the main service they were "sung" out of the sanctuary to join in age-appropriate groups for some sort of lesson.

T-Guy announced that it was just like public school. Really funny, because he's never been. Perhaps he recalls my mentioning that public school children must sit in their seats, raise their hands to ask questions, and ask permission to use the restroom. Anyway, they talked about animals.

Yesterday, I sat with a few women whose children attend religious education. We talked about it, but only with the idea that it is absolutely necessary. We discussed the issue of snacks and the needs of food allergic children as well as the desire of mainstream children to have mainstream snacks, and the desire of the toddler parents that their children receive something healthy.

I know I hit a nerve when I mentioned that the snack was little more than a time killer before the parents pick up the children. I was told that the snack is supposed to be a time of fellowship for the children.

I didn't see that. I saw a bunch of kids munching cookies and drinking punch. The fellowship that I saw came later, when the children ran and screamed and played on the church lawn. That is how children connect, through play.

I kept thinking about the entire situation, and finally it occurred to me to ask myself, why do my children need to be sent away from me during the main service?


Will religious education teach my children things that Papa and I can't teach them ourselves? No.

Do we want to give someone else the responsibility for teaching religious education to our boys? No.

Is religious education a separate subject that requires teaching by people following a curriculum? No.

So, why send them? If it is to make the main service more enjoyable for the adults, then I object, strongly. Why are the kids separated out? Is the main service to mature for them, too inaccessible? From what I have heard so far, no. They might not get it all, but they are not harmed by remaining with the community and hearing what the adults are discussing. Are we protecting them from boredom? If we are, then the main service must be boring for us as well.

My role, while these boys are children, is to guide them. To guide them in all things, even those that touch on the moral, the ambiguous, the painful. Especially those things that are moral, ambiguous, and painful.

We are visiting the UU church to determine if it is a good fit for us, if we can participate in a community of like-minded people. I believe the community needs the children present, reminding us of why, as human beings, we go on. Mentoring the children in the lives of adults rather than taking them away and then dividing them into age groups.

T-Guy is right, it's like public school. Sunday school (call it religious education if you want to) is modeled after schooling.

I don't know what the answer is going to be. I'd like to ask my boys to stay with us during the service; I believe that they belong by our sides. It may be boring until they learn to listen. It may be hard to sit still for an hour ~ it is for me.

This may make or break us attending this church. I absolutely don't want to send my boys away from me. I don't like that the community is divided this way. I don't like the idea that children need to learn religion/kindness/ethics/etc. from people other than their parents and the larger community around them. I don't believe it needs lesson plans. If you want to transmit values to children, you live them. If you believe that children are valuable, you keep them with the community.

Most everyone will disagree with me; they usually do. But when it comes to religious education, I have a feeling that we are not Sunday schoolers, we are life long learners. It doesn't get separated out on a single day of the week. It doesn't require a planned curriculum.

It's been an interesting idea to explore. I definitely chose a crazy month to revisit my feelings about church and to attempt to find the larger community we are seeking. But I never said I wasn't crazy . . .

Monday, November 12, 2007

They Are Children, Not Labels

It has been a hard day. A hard week, a hard month, a hard season, a hard year. Hard isn't even a good word for it. Trying, tough, painful, emotional, frustrating, sad, frightening, anxious . . . those are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Yesterday I was helping my 7YO practice his reading. When asked what he wanted to learn most of all, he expressed a longing to read chapter books. So we're practicing, just he and I.

We practiced. He wiggled, he bounced, he swayed. He moved the entire time.

It wasn't hard to look at him and think, ADHD. After all, he's also in attentive, easily distracted, forgetful, fidgety. He seems to not listen, not to even hear at times.

For a moment, I let myself feel the fear. Then I reminded myself: he's 7.

It is really hard to try to live a life without labels. My oldest son has special needs as well. We could probably get a label if we went looking for one. At least one. When he was little he could have received early intervention. In a school setting he would qualify for an IEP.

Sometimes I think that we're making a mistake rejecting the labels. Maybe they are there to help us. Maybe they make the path smoother. Maybe you can name your enemy and you can battle and win. I know people who are winning. People who face the labels and use them as tools, and never lose sight of their children as people.

But I also know people for whom the label becomes means of disconnection. Children are medicated, separated, trained. They are medicalized, and someone else ~ a doctor, a therapist, a pharmaceutical company ~ someone else is supposed to fix the problem.

Once upon a time, someone told me that Naomi Aldort thought that maybe some of these disorders, so newly common, are simply new ways of being, an infinitesimal step in human evolution. I still think about that sometimes. Some of them, I think, are disorders of society, not the brain. The answer for my youngest is not sitting still at a desk, it is running, playing, jumping . . . moving!

As for my oldest, he is my boy. He is not a label, he is not a disease, he is not a syndrome or a disorder. He is a child. I have not yet given up on the idea that time and love will be the deciding factors in his life. I will love him, and I will give him time, and I will life my life in tandem with his, not separated, so that we can live and learn together. I will turn back the decades and I will give both boys freedom, real work, time to think.

I will not fear his ability to connect; I will see his desire to, as well as his deep bond not only with his father and I, but with his brother, his grandfather, and until very recently, his grandmother. I will not let people tell me that he should have a best friend by now, and that he should be separating from me. He does have a best friend, his brother, and that relationship is complex and ever changing and growing. As for separation, he's 8. I want him to be attached to me. I want him to see me as a source of love, compassion, and wisdom.

I'll admit it, I get scared sometimes. I worry about the future. I think about the labels and I tremble in fear. I read statistics and I want to crawl into bed and hide. I cry. It is hard, tough, frightening, difficult . . . sometimes there aren't enough words to describe the fear.

But there is joy, and love, and connection. There is laughter in this house, and jokes, and silly pranks. There are two children, their hearts open to life and love. They are not jaded, not grown up before they're 10, not afraid of love and affection. They are children. They are not the labels that could be given to them. They are human beings, unique, wonderful, amazing human beings.

And they are mine. Let me remember that.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Be the Thing You Seek

Okay, this has many variations. Be the peace you wish to find it the world. Just do it. Be all that you can be. Dream it and you can do it. If you build it they will come . . .

It's a lesson that comes to all of us, throughout our lives. A lot of times the phrases come at us as a way to prod us to action or get us to buy stuff. Today I am thinking of it in a far more personal way.

Three years ago I was pretty miserable. I had ended a long term friendship, badly. I hadn't been brave, or honest . . . I was a coward. Rather than confront the issues we faced head on, I ran away. I'll never know if we could have worked it out. Given the fundamental differences, I don't think so, and I don't harbor regret that I ended the friendship. I do at times wish I had at least told my friend straight out what the problem was.

Right after that, I wanted a new friend. Maybe it stems from my childhood; every time a pet died we rushed out to the shelter to bring home a new one. My mom's philosophy was that having a new dog or cat to cuddle would take away the pain of losing the other, and it seemed to work pretty well when the loss was an animal and the person a child.

I put out a call to many of the groups I am part of: I want a friend! I listed all of the faults of my previous friend, because certainly I didn't want to make the same mistake twice. I went on some best friend "dates" checking compatibility of values and children. A few people on the fringes took the time to tell me that I was really too busy to make connections with people, that I was putting up too many barriers. Leave it to suffice that I met some nice women, women who over time became casual friends. But I never found the one.

Eventually I would come to realize that I didn't need to shop around for best friends. I wrote about that here.

This post isn't about that. This post is about becoming what we need, and about proudly proclaiming who we are.

A year after I had broken up with my friend, I took over a local homeschooling support group. I had been a regular attendee of the group, and when the leader moved away no one else was willing to take the reins. I didn't want to, but I also didn't want to lose our support group, so I reluctantly agreed.

For almost two years I acted as the public face of that group. I answered emails. I made sure I was present when new families planned to attend, and I spent time talking to them. I learned how to be a friend; to offer support and advice, to listen well, to make time for people, to share who I was. Slowly, one by one, friends came into my life. By putting myself out there, by offering friendship, it came to me.

I am finding that when it comes to our creative pursuits, we are waiting for someone to give us what we want. It doesn't just apply to writing; I know musicians, poets, singers, painters, etc. who don't take what is rightly theirs.

Let me illustrate. Papa is a really smart man. He is a bit mystified by NaNo and my pursuit of writing. Not that he doesn't support what I am doing, because he is all for people stretching themselves by trying new things. But he isn't sure that the act of writing makes me a writer. I questioned him, "What makes me a writer?" He didn't really know. I asked if it was publication. He stepped back a minute, and said that the goal of writing is effectively communicating with someone, and in that we all write, so some other definition needs to exist to claim the label writer.

I disagree, and I told him so. I pointed out that he plays guitar and ukulele, he sings, and he plays piano. He is a musician. He didn't think so. So I asked, "What makes a musician? Do you have to play a concert arena, symphony hall, or at least a coffee house? Are you not a musician until some one pays you for what you do?"

I won't make this pretty and say that he had an "aha" moment and that of course we are all the artists that we wish to be. He is still thinking about it. He doesn't feel comfortable crossing the line from "someone who makes music" to "musician."

It makes me sad. Sad that so many of us lose what was so proudly ours when we were children. Children are naturally artists, and no one expects them to meet the cultural definition of success; that is, to make money doing what they do. Children are free to paint pictures, sing silly songs, write poems and stories, sculpt, bang drums, and so much more. When they are children the adults around them recognize this as a beautiful thing. Beautiful that is, unless they aren't succeeding in subjects such as math and reading. Beautiful until a sixteen year old announces that she wants to be a rock star, or an eighteen year old says he has applied to art school. Beautiful until the adults in their lives start judging what the children do in terms of dollars and cents.

I am sad when a poet says, "No, I'm not really a poet. I'm a bank manager and a mom." Or when a person says, "No, I'm not a musician, I am a computer programmer." Even stay at home parents label themselves according to work or non-work status.

Can we open it up a little? How about saying, "I am a mom who chooses to stay out of the paid work force and I'm a writer and I'm an environmentalist and I'm a lover and I'm a knitting geek and...."

I think sometimes the fear stems from how others in society judge us. It's possible that the first response to "I'm a writer!" is, "What have you had published?" Couldn't all of us who haven't been published cheerfully say "Nothing yet, but I'm still writing." Couldn't we be proud of our blogs? Couldn't we gently point out the flaw in their logic by answering that there is no requirement to share our art; it exists whether we show it to the world or not.

Be a writer. Be a musician, a poet, a dancer, an actor, a painter, a sculptor, a mixed media artist. Be what you are, and claim it proudly, and stop the cycle of teaching children that their art has to hide when they become adults. Teach them that it is better to pursue your dreams and be broke than to work a soul-sucking job that you hate just because it brings in the big bucks. Tell them that there are ways to have what you want. Tell them that the mommies and daddies who stay home with them have dreams and desires and need time to pursue them. Tell them that the mommies and daddies who work outside of the home are more than their job titles.

Be the thing you seek, and seek to help your children be who they are.

Me? I'm a writer, a blogger, a mom, a friend, a lover, a poet, a radical, an environmentalist, a cook, a planner, a dreamer, and yes, even a former bank manager. I am an artist. I am all of these things and much, much more.

Monday, November 5, 2007


I have always been all over the place with my creative interests. Over the years I have taken up cross-stitch, embroidery, beginning sewing, rubber stamping, scrapbooking, flute, ukulele, card crafting, crochet, loom knitting, knitting with needles, herbal crafting, candle making, cake decorating, felt crafts, dance, watercolor, pastels . . . I am sure the I could list at least twenty more things if I thought long and hard about it.

Some of these interests have waxed and waned, and I have easily let them go. Some of them are seasonal and don't engage me more than a few weeks each year. Some I barely dabble in. Some I haven't let go of because I have expensive supplies and a sense of guilt when I consider getting rid of things. Some I actively want to pursue.

Some things will always be with me. I like to sing. I'm not a particularly talented singer, but I am enthusiastic, and my family seems to enjoy it. My dad sang silly, made up songs to me, and I do the same to my boys. Sometimes the boys and I sing together purposefully, without accompaniment, and sometimes we all sing as a family, with Papa playing guitar or ukulele, or every now and then, piano.

I know that I'm not serious about singing, so I don't devote a lot of time to it. The good thing about singing is that you usually have your voice with you, and you can sing and do other things at the same time, like drive. In fact, when I was younger I often composed little songs while I commuted to and from work. I've forgotten most of them now, but I did come up with a lullaby that I would sing to my own baby ten years later.

It isn't always so easy with the other creative pursuits. I can honestly say that I have too much to choose from, and it creates a mental clutter that makes it hard for me to focus. Knit or crochet, and if knit, then which of the four projects I have going right now? Watercolor a card, or rubber stamp it? Crochet a baby blanket, or sew one from flannel, or attempt a baby quilt? Maybe I should knit the baby a hat instead?

The other day though, it occurred to me to ask myself, which of these things could I let go of? At first, my thought was none of them, and I started listing everything I enjoy about each specific activity (well not cake decorating . . . that's one I let go of). But it was easy to let each creative activity clamor for equal time. Knitting is great; I recently learned how, and I can make things for other people. Crochet connects me to my grandmother. Scrapbooking feels like something I should do. I've recently become interested in embroidery again. I saw some felt animals that I'd love to make. Nothing wanted to go.

So I rephrased the question, and actually created an exercise to help me weed through my many options. It goes like this:

If I never (did a certain activity), I would (fill in description or alternative).

If I never knit again, I would still find what I need.

If I never scrapbooked again, I could forgive myself for not meeting society's expectation for white, middle class moms, and I could tell my children every day that I love them by the life we live together.

If I never play the flute again, I can still sing.

If I never really learn to play ukulele, I can give mine to J-Baby and he can learn on a nice instrument.

If I never roll another candle, I will still have light.

If I never make another salve, I can find someone who does.

If I never rubber stamp again, I can write and draw with my hands.

If I never learn to quilt, it won't be the end of the world.

If I never take up embroidery again, I might be sad.

If I never crochet again, my hands might feel empty and cold.

If I never write again, I will be lost.

Do you see how easy it is? Right now I obviously want to spend my time writing, crocheting, and eventually, doing embroidery. It doesn't mean that I have to get rid of everything else, but I can tell you that I feel a renewed sense of vigor when I think of decluttering my craft supplies.

Having done this same exercise with other activities, I can see that my high priority list includes spending time with my family, getting out in nature, and reading.

Some things burn brightly in us, but we don't focus on them because we have candles glowing everywhere we look. We get distracted by the money we've spent, by other people's expectations, by goals we've set for ourselves without thinking about whether the express who we really are.

In some cases, the things we do are an expression of ourselves, but they are poorly received and perhaps poorly formed. For instance, many years I have worked hard to create a handmade holiday. I want everyone to have a gift made with my own hands and heart. It is also helpful that I can create nice gifts for far less than I could purchase them. I trade my time for the wow factor (which has increased over the years, as hand crafts have increased in popularity once more). But when I am completely honest about it, I don't always gets that "Wow". I probably don't get it half of the time. I don't get it from children other than my own. I don't get it from my side of the family. Most everyone who receives a homemade gift from me would be perfectly satisfied with a purchased gift.

So given my new, tightly focused set of priorities, where will I spend my time this year? I have a feeling I won't be knitting hats for my nephews, or making an ABC scrapbook for my niece. I'll probably finish what I've started, in the spare time that is truly spare.

Why did I learn to knit? Well, at first it was because I was supposed to, so I could teach my very Waldorf children how to knit in grade 1. We never got to it in grade 1, because I hadn't learned yet. By the end of grade 2 I got determined, and inspired (by a novel) and figured it out one night. So we made knitting needles, and bought fairly traded wool yarn, and gave it a go, but it turns out that someone had forgotten to program the desire to knit into my children. Oh, they liked the story I read to them, and the cute verse we learned, but when it came down to actually trying they gave it 5 minutes and proceeded to go outside and play.

I stuck with it, and made couple of scarves. Secretly I preferred crochet, but crochet isn't hip and a shiny aluminum hook doesn't have the cachet of two hardwood needles sticking out of your bag. Knitters are admired; crocheters are just old, even if the Stitch 'N Bitch author did try to make it hip by writing a book entitled The Happy Hooker. I've been to yarn shops and knitting circles; crochet is something that knitters have to learn just enough of to finish their garments.

What I am saying is that I didn't fall in love with knitting. I liked it for all of the wrong reasons: it was Waldorf, it was hip, it was supposed to integrate the left and right sides of my brain. I could make warm, practical, funky knit gifts for people who didn't want them, out of yarns that I loved but they would have to hand wash. I could hang out with friends who knit, which was cool.

I have a feeling that I am not done with knitting, but I know now that it isn't on my high priority list for now.

I still love the small, seasonal projects. It's nice to make a beautifully soft hat for a newborn, to roll candles for the holiday mantle, and to spend an afternoon mixing oils and herbs making hand salves for the year. Put in their proper place they don't take away from my focus.

Why was writing my top creative choice? Writing for me is like breathing. Everyone wants to communicate, and long ago the written word chose me, to both read and to write. I don't have to write published articles, award-winning poetry, or the next great American novel. I do need to find a way to let the ideas and words out of my brain. I have to get them out, and as I do, as the words move from my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen or paper, my thoughts are refined. The burn into my being as parts of who I am.

Really, that is what art is all about . . . expressing our humanity. At one time in my life I did that with my body, dancing and moving. Later, I painted. Always I am trying to communicate who I am by what I create, and always, words have been my preferred medium. Some of the other things are way stations, stepping stones, things that help me figure out who I am, but that in the end are not who I am. I know it's true, because always I must write about them.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

I May Be Out Before I'm Really In

It occurred to me last night that NaNo can't be my main priority project right now. As much as I would love to have a month to really focus on myself and my creativity, I have to address some issues that I have been putting off for far too long.

That said, I wrote 1768 words this morning. I'm not giving up; I just can't obsess. I'll have to treat writing like a job, and allot certain time to it and let it go at that. Since I was after discipline, it may work out fine.

I have main characters. Wow. They named themselves and everything. I seem to be working on introductory back story and character development, rather than plot. Having never done this before, I accept that as perfectly fine.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So, NaNoWriMo

I signed up a few days ago, after procrastinating for a couple of years.

What I think to be true:

~ I don't have time to write 50,000 words in November.
~ I should be using November to reconnect with out rhythm and get back into the swing of living and learning with my family.
~ I really deserve a month off.
~ I'm afraid that what I write will be crap.

What I also think to be true:

~ Regardless of whether or not I write a novel worth using as tinder, I have the opportunity to introduce discipline to my writing.
~ Participating in NaNo may help me decide what I want to do in terms of my writing.

What I know:

~ I am a writer. Not just was a writer, or wants to be a writer. I write. I have always written. I write in my head even if it doesn't end up on paper. In fact, getting my words to paper is my major hang-up. In the past I have focused on poetry and creative non-fiction, but that is mostly because of the horrible short story I wrote for my fiction class when I was 20. Which, judged by my peers, wasn't as horrible as I thought it was. It's time to move past that and see if I have a voice for fiction.

~ I always struggle to say I am a writer.

~ I have not mentioned this to anyone IRL.

~ I could lie and say that I won't be posting much on the blog, but I know it isn't true. Writing begets writing, and procrastinating results in blog posts.

Do you NaNoWriMo?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

When Life Throws You Stuff . . .

Tammy over at Just Enough, and Nothing More asked yesterday, "When Life Throws You Stuff, What Do You Do?"

It's a great question, and I was tempted to answer over at her blog, only the more I thought about it the longer my answer got, so I figured I keep her comment section short and write a post here.

Life has thrown a lot at me over the past year. In the last 12 months I've had major surgery, I was diagnosed with a chronic disease (3 months after the surgery), my grandfather died, and my mom went through a long illness and died. That's just the really big stuff. Needless to say, my life today is far different than it was a year ago.

But little stuff (and medium-sized stuff) flies at me all of the time. My children have on-going special needs (and more than that, they need to be loved). I have needs. Papa has needs. My grandmother is now a widow and my father a widower. I have siblings. I have friends. Somehow it all gets managed, and we all get most of our needs met most of the time.

Still, things can come at me from out of nowhere. Things that have been stewing and brewing can come to the surface and require immediate attention. Changes have to be made, relationships shifted and pruned, tears shed. Sometimes I choose the things that come at me, purposefully.

My first reaction to stress is to get anxious and try to avoid it. Typical flight response. I hate conflict, I hate being busy, I hate making anyone upset (and I hate being upset, which is one reason I end up with so much emotional conflict). But it happens all the time, because I am human, and as a good friend put it, life is messy (well, she said MESSI, which is Multiple, Emotional, Simultaneous, Surprising, and Imperfect).

Second reaction? Control. Can I fight the situation? Can I make a schedule or plan? Can I make a list? Can I apologize and take back everything I said, even the stuff I meant?

See? Flight or fight.

What I am learning, oh so very slowly, is to flow with whatever is happening in my life. Even if it is messy, or painful, or overwhelming. When I feel like I have too much to do I need to either accept the situation and find a way to do it, or I have to figure out what I can let go. The stress does me no good. When I am in a painful situation I need to let myself feel the discomfort, and only attempt to fix the things that are mine to fix. Some things are going to be painful and I can't avoid it.

That said, when life is throwing me lots of busy stuff I do my best to find my way back to rhythm. Focusing on the big things helps me feel that some things are manageable. The days of the week pass. We sleep and wake. We eat. Laundry is done and the house tidied. Birthdays and holidays come. Breathe in, breathe out.

With keen observation I can feel the rhythm of each day, each week, each month, each year. Allowing myself to breathe into that makes it easier to plug in all of the other stuff, and to figure out what doesn't need to be there. It isn't perfect ~ sometimes I spend a lot of time pursuing something only to figure out that it doesn't fit. Sometimes things that used to fit don't fit anymore.

I like to make plans. I went to a session that Tammy offered at the CHN EXPO this year, and she mentioned making the schedule, and sticking it in your back pocket. It's there if you need it, and if you find a different way to get where you need to go that's fine too. So I still make plans, I just try not to stick dates on them (well, except for NaNoWriMo . . . wait, I never actually blogged about that) and I accept that we might end up doing something else.

Making plans is useful. I need to know what the priorities are. I also have to intimately know myself and each member of my family, and I need to know our rhythm so I can add new things where they are going to fit best. Mid-mornings I can easily carve out an hour for myself; after quiet time I know the boys need my focused attention. By the way, that is the reverse of what all of the Waldorf/Enki educators (and many other educators and so-called experts) say the day "should" go, but it is our reality.

Basketball season started tonight. Bear with me, this does have a point. My first reaction to the start of basketball season is denial and fear. I don't want it to be here. Papa is a fan, I'm not. This means that during basketball season we don't spend as much time together in the evenings as we do other times of the year. I don't expect Papa to not watch basketball. What I finally realized was that I didn't have to sit out there with him, mindlessly surfing while he watches. So I let him know that I don't want to watch, and he accepts that.

Basketball is part of the rhythm of our year. Papa doesn't watch each minute of every game, but I do have more time to myself, especially on nights when the games are more interesting (to Papa) or critical in terms of outcome. So, in the fall I write more. I read more. I take long, hot baths, bake, create, and a hundred other things that I often don't feel I have time for during other times of the year. Sometimes I sit with Papa and I knit or crochet while he watches. I just let it flow. I don't get angry and try to control the situation. I don't pout. I don't get depressed. I recognize it and move with it. Instead if denying or controlling the situation I see it as a time where Papa's needs are met (because he loves basketball) and mine are met too (because I need to spend time with myself).

I can apply this same thinking to other things that come my way. Don't fight, don't flee. Accept reality, accept the needs of other people, don't be a martyr, make it work. Rhythm and flow. When life throws me stuff I usually move into a tailspin, but eventually I right myself and find my rhythm again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Neighborhood Park

Do you have one? Oh, most of us living in urban or suburban areas have parks we can drive to, but do you have a park within walking distance? Is it a big park or a small park? A quiet park or a noisy park?

Technically, we have two parks within easy walking distance (and a few within an acceptable biking distance). Lately I have fallen in love with our closest park. Actually, the park is in little pockets here and there; the area between the library and the Lincoln Shrine, the grass alongside the outdoor amphitheater, a small corner near the old city hall, and the "big" part of the park, which has restrooms, tables, shuffleboard courts, and a lawn bowling court (yep, lawn bowling . . . and it's not our only park with a lawn bowling court, either).

Our park is a quiet park, probably because it is small and because it doesn't have playground equipment. In fact, while I loved the park before I had children, I pretty much gave up on it when my boys were younger. But now it is perfect. They can run, play tag, toss a ball, and generally goof off. We can sit on a blanket in the shade and read out loud. There are only a few squirrels, so the Girl Dog doesn't go berserk barking.

A park you can walk to is a treasure. We are there in 7 minutes. We can spend an hour at the park and it barely makes a dent in the day (except that the time spent at the park feels so wonderful that it colors the day in a happy way). We can tack a walk on before or after.

We have lots of parks, and they all have their own vibe. The oldest park in the city is big, and has a busy, multicultural feeling to it. We can play on the playground, or we can walk a hundred yards away and play in the creek bed and forget that the big plastic play structure is even there. Another park is definitely the kind of suburban park that parents of preschoolers like to hang out at. There is a park that make me a little nervous, even with the Girl Dog. And there are even more parks than that.

I am in awe of really big urban parks, but all I really need is my little neighborhood park.

Walking With Grief

Our culture has some odd phrases we use when we talk about someone who has experienced loss. We talk about getting over the loss quite often. We generally want to know if people are doing okay, and if they have moved past the grief. Grief is a mountain to climb; indeed, some people are said to have never gotten over it.

Through the past two months I have spoken repeatedly to my family about the ability we have to hold two or more thoughts and/or feelings within us at the same time. Thus it was perfectly normal to say I don't want my mother to die and I don't want my mother to suffer. We acknowledge that both of these feelings/beliefs exist within us, that they may be at odds with each other, and that in the end we may not be able to have both. That doesn't mean that wanting both is wrong.

It can be the same way with grief. I can say I am sad that my mother died and I need to get on with the rhythm of life. I can walk my path with grief as a close companion for a few miles. I think it is important to be able to say I am sad that my mother died and I am happy to be listening to my children play. It really irks me that some people equate grieving with the loss of all happiness.

Death is part of life. We all hear it, we all know it, and yet when faced with it we deny it. My mother's death was the end of her life, not the end of mine, and not the end of my father's. It is unfair to expect us to hide in our houses crying, unable and unwilling to get on with living. It is unfair to judge us when we do continue living.

Grief is personal. We all cry at different times, feel sad at different times, and we cry and feel sad for different amounts of time. Grief may pop up on the path at any time, even years from now.

As a repeat depressive, one who has had a plethora of diagnoses tossed at me, I am expected, at least by the medical community, to move into a major depressive episode. But I laugh in the face of the psychiatric community. I learned how to be my own therapist. I learned a few things that could take the place of psychiatric medications. When I feel sad, I let myself feel sad and I acknowledge that it will pass. Believing that keeps me out of the hole. The first two days after my mother's funeral I wanted to stay in bed, to not think, to not have responsibilities. I recognized that I had a choice to make: depression or life. I do not believe that life co-exists with depression; oh yes, the body still functions, but all vitality disappears. Depression is like a suicide that happens mentally instead of physically. I say this having spent several years of my life mentally dead.

So last Thursday and Friday, I acknowledged my sadness and eventually got out of bed. The grief was strong, so I didn't expect much from myself, but I did choose to cling to my vitality. I cried, a lot. Saturday and Sunday were a little better, but I knew I was on the precipice. So I told myself that Monday I would have to get back into rhythm. I took a long, hot bath that morning and I knew that I had chosen life, and I feel much better now. Grief is still my companion, but she is less obtrusive now, and she is more likely to remind me of good memories rather than pain.

Grief isn't something to get over or to move past. Grief is a part of life. We all experience it, in little ways and big ways, over and over again until it is our time to die. The lessons of grief remind us how wonderful it is to be alive now, to love now, to think now. This moment is all the sweeter knowing that it will never be repeated.

Monday, October 15, 2007

What Do I Want to Do with My Life?

It's an honest, heavy, question, pressing on me far more intently than when I perused the subject last month.

My mom died on October 6th. Two months of illness, surgeries, blood transfusions, infection, ICU stays, and all that goes with it, ended on a beautiful Saturday morning, at home, in her own bed with her family gathered around her. Her breathing slowed, and then stopped. Peaceful . . . that is what everyone hopes for at the end.

I wish we could say that we did everything right while making hundreds of decisions over the past two months. What I can say is that we made the best choices we could (especially when acting as a group), and that when faced with the ultimate decision we chose to offer her dignity and the end of suffering. I hope that everyone in my family can see that what is is, and that second guessing doesn't give you more time, and that truly there was no ending but the one we got. In truth, one decision probably bought us 3.5 weeks (Was it right? I can't know, it simply is what was done), and another brought the final 48 hours.

I wasn't a perfect daughter. I am content with that. My mother and I were fundamentally different in our values and life philosophy. Still, we managed to create a bridge that we could be happy on. She could (and did) drive me crazy, and I am sure that I drove her crazy too. We weren't especially close (not as close as she wanted), nor were we best friends. I won't try to romanticize the relationship now that she has died. I was conflicted often, and in turmoil when it came to balancing her needs with my own. But she was my mother, and there is still profound grief in her death. I think that is completely human and normal. I think it's healthy to accept reality and to offer her compassion, to offer it to myself as well. We did the best we could.

Here we are 9 days later, having been through a busy week of grieving and preparing. We've chosen clothing and jewelry, ordered flowers, and held a funeral service. We've visited with friends and family, near and far. Now comes cremation (today), and a burial on Saturday. We keep saying goodbye in bits and pieces, and it's hard.

My children are more grounded in the moment, and for the most part they don't dwell on their loss. They simply must play, and ask questions, and hear stories, and sing, and squabble, and plan Halloween . . . on some level they know that their lives go on, and they seem not to be faced with any major decisions. Their lives are too new, and they do not question the path they walk.

I, on the other hand, feel the weight of my years and the importance of time. Last night I came home (the first night that was ours alone), and looking around I saw so much, and I thought of the week I'd spent and who I'd spent it with, and I heard that big question pop into my head: What Do I Want to Do with My Life? More specifically, I suppose, I am asking myself if I am doing what I want to do. Am I focused? Do I know what my priorities are? What do I want? Am I filling time just as I fill spaces?

The day of the funeral I thought to myself, I can't leave now. Can't leave my dad. Can't leave my family to flounder when the one person who kept us glued together is now gone. But don't I flounder with them? I am no savior. Thinking that I couldn't leave added to my grief, and I realized that I might be trading my happiness for some idea of loyalty that isn't required of me.

I don't have any answers right now. I know I have been on the right path (can I be on any other?) and that for now I must keep walking. The answers will come to me. The questions, they pop up everywhere.

Am I ready to completely ditch the very flexible holistic education program that's we've not really been using, and embrace fully the learning and living lifestyle which we have lived for the past year? Would I rather go in the other direction and participate in the Enki teacher training, so that I could open a small private school (no, I don't really think so)? What do I want my role to be within the Enki community? What is best for my children, and for us as a family?

In other words, do I make that final leap off the cliff, throw off the idea that any one person may be right about education, and trust myself, Papa, and the boys to take full control and responsibility for our lives?

(I write it out, and I know the answer.)

Do I really want to spend my time pursuing the hobbies that I have surrounded myself with? Knitting? Crochet? Sewing? (Which is still theoretical at this point.) Why do I read less than I want to, or spend time reading things that aren't high on my list?

Do we spend enough time together as a family? Why do I pay lip service to playing games and spending time in nature and yet fill most of our time with other things? Are the other things more important to us right now? It isn't as if we are a scattered group of four people with no connection. We are a strong family. I will spend more time observing, I will add in some of the things I want to do, and I will see how it fits.

I will be here less. Well, not necessarily writing on the blog less, but certainly participating in online forums and groups less often. I had already tapered off much of my online activity over the past year or so. It's important that the computer be a tool, and my family and community be where I focus my energies. I already knew this.

Papa and I have talked often about the impermanence of this life, and the illusion of time. We know that we must live in each moment, savor them, and make each one full of love and worthy of the time given it. That doesn't mean that we won't all cuddle up for family movie night or a ball game, or that we won't be silly, or that we abdicate from all mundane responsibilities. It only means that we bring more awareness to all of it, something we have been seeking for a long time, and something we will continue to seek.

Today I look for the small pleasure in the tasks of everyday living. I call upon my patience. I live with the knowledge that I may die tomorrow or 50 years from now, and that either way I want each day to be one that lifts me up, that nourishes me, that is in line with my values. Whatever time I have, I want to live it aware.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Welcome Fall!

I went away last week, demanding that Autumn arrive by the time I got home, and lo and behold, she's here, right on time. Oh not in your typical New England trees are awash with glorious color way, but in the way she comes to Southern California. The major sign that it is no longer summer: it's not hot (although it may certainly get warm again). The windows are open, it's 70 degrees in the house, I have on a sweat jacket and am thinking I need to put on socks. The boys are going to need their wool comforters.

Having been gone all week, we came home to a pretty bare refrigerator, so our Fall Feast was rather meager; we'll have to put off a major harvest meal until after the farmer's market on Thursday. Still, I managed to serve maple-glazed carrots alongside our brown rice noodles, and I just pulled a pan of pear bars from the oven. That's right: it is cool enough to bake again! If I had wood I'd make a fire.

Tomorrow the boys and I will bring out our Fall decorations. I love washing and drying the silks, pressing them, and draping them over the nature table. Out come some of our favorite friends; gnomes made by Dannielle, a cornucopia basket, acorn caps we found on a hike, and more. Honestly, the Fall nature table is the only one we do formally any more ~ every other season kind of creeps into the house (although the boys are particularly fond of one winter play set, so that comes out every year).

I can hardly wait to start buying pumpkins!

Starting tomorrow I'm going into a major planning and simplifying mode. Call it fall cleaning, if you'd like. By Halloween I hope to have cleared the clutter and created some systems to help our home run more smoothly, so we have more time and space for loving, learning, and living.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Broken Shells

We are away this week, enjoying the kind of vacation that I never dreamed of as a child. I am typing here in a resort condo, with soft ocean breezes wafting past and a gorgeous view of the blue Pacific sparkling under the southern California sun.

It has been a restful week. We've spent hours at the pool, swimming and laughing, teasing each other, and generally enjoying something we don't usually do (we don't have a pool at home). We've been to the beach several times, sinking our toes into warm sand and watching the boys dance with the waves. We've had lazy mornings and relaxed evenings. Papa and I had dinner out alone (we are grateful for grandparents), and have had many nice talks sitting snuggled on the couch or side-by-side gazing at the ocean. We went to a baseball game, and rode our bikes from pier to pier, played games, and did a puzzle.

It has been exactly what we needed ~ time to reconnect. Reconnecting as a family, as a couple; reconnecting with ourselves.

Yesterday we were at the beach; a beach with many small shells and well as many shell fragments. J-Baby was jumping up and down with excitement as soon as we hit the sand. My first words regarding the shells were, "No broken shells, and nothing smaller than a half-dollar."

Ooops! Right away I had set loose my inner perfectionist. She isn't very fun, you know. Oh yes, she's handy to have around when polishing silver or folding napkins, but really, she is a dull, dull girl. She doesn't look beneath the surface; she doesn't see gems in the rough. Seeking perfection she is very rarely happy with life the way it is.

Luckily, J-Baby pretty much ignores her. Oh, he set out to find big, unbroken shells, but the lure of the unbroken tiny shells and the broken big shells were too great. He sifted through the sand, looking for big shells, but exulting in everything, delighted in finding them, shouting in glee at each one. He sent perfectionist girl packing, because his enthusiasm was infectious, and soon I was picking up tiny perfect shells (except none of them is perfectly perfect, which I noted upon close inspection). Soon I was picking up bigger fragments, broken shells, just for J-Baby. A little boy's interest wanes quickly at times, so he was dancing with the ocean and I was picking up shells. T-Guy joined me in my pursuit, noting how much they looked like gemstones, these little shells.

Broken shells. I am sure that at some point in my childhood I was admonished not to bring home broken shells. To adults they can seem worthless; cast-off exoskeletons waiting to be ground into sand. But to those who look with the eyes of children they can be treasures. The fact that the ocean has rubbed away the sharp edges makes them soothing to rub between your fingers. You can look at the piece and imagine the whole. You can put pieces together like puzzles, creating new shell shapes that never before existed. Instead of just looking, looking at a perfect shell, you interact with the brokenness and find that the chips, the breaks, the erosion...they change the shell, they make it different, but it is no less than the perfect, unbroken shell.

On the beach, a chance to reconnect with the wisdom, vitality, and yes, compassion that is our birthright.

Good-Bye Old Paint

The time was bound to come.

I love blogging about learning. Those of you who have been with this blog from the beginning have witnessed the transformation of our family from dedicated holistic homeschoolers to free living life learners. It has been amazing; we've struggled with rhythm, routines, schedules, and more. We've tried new things...some worked, some were mistakes, all were learning experiences.

Thank you all for your comments over the past couple of years. It was so nice to have a dialogue with the new and growing holistic home education movement across the country and around the world.

I may not have know it while we were walking the path, but eventually we were able to integrate learning and living to a point where a keeping a separate blog for learning is redundant. So now, I plan to stop writing on this blog, unless something of great importance related only to home education comes up. Otherwise, you'll find us loving, learning, and living over at Red Dirt Life.

Peace, wisdom, vitality, and compassion...sought and offered, given and received....