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....


Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Kind of Evening

(I suppose this post could have been posted on the main blog, but I haven't posted here in awhile. Actually, I'm not sure of the need for a separate home learning blog any longer. But while I ponder that, I'll keep writing.)

Today was a busy day. Busy in the sit on my butt and move my fingers all afternoon way. I spent a couple of hours drafting a memo and guidelines (volunteer work). I researched homeschool support groups for one friend, and wrote a lengthy explanation of attachment parenting and natural family living for a woman who is starting a new homeschool support group in our area and was curious about these topics and how they relate to some of the area home learners. I answered personal email. I finalized a co-op order. Before I knew it Papa had arrived home and it was time to go to market.

I love the walk to market (when it isn't blazingly hot). As soon as the front door closes behind us I can feel myself start to relax. The rhythm of walking is soothing, and the 15 minutes that it takes us to walk downtown give Papa and I a chance to reconnect while the boys run and cavort ahead of us.

And then we are there. The farmer's market. We hurry to our favorite stands, Papa purchasing tomatoes while I head to the tables next door for eggs. We frown when we learn that the green apples are done for the season, but enjoy talking to the farmer. We're regulars, and he tells me that he has one tree he can check and maybe next week he'll have a basket for us. I'm thrilled that he would do this for us, but I have to let him know we won't be there next week. His wife is a school teacher; I ask her how her new class is settling in, and she remarks on the boys' new hair cuts while she makes our change.

(For those who are keeping track, we've covered physical education and socialization, and we've had a lesson in seasonal produce.)

Our major purchases made, we walk through the market more slowly, seeking out the various small growers that we know grow their produce without pesticides, even though they aren't certified organic. One grower has heirloom melons; T-guy chooses one and pays the seller. The couple that grows peaches in their back yard tells us that the peaches are finished for the year, but they do have plums and quince. Papa asks about quince and he and the boys learn that it is similar to an apple, but must be cooked.

(Consumer math and botany lessons.)

We find another vendor who does have apples and peaches. She doesn't grow as locally as our favorite farmers (who grow right here in Our Town), but her produce is unsprayed. I choose apples, and just a few peaches for T-Guy, who immediately bites into one, juices dripping down his face and hands. The vendor entices us with a sample of plums, and we bring home a paper bag of those as well.

J-Baby asks for an apple. With both boys happily munching away, we sit at the tiny park that is part of our downtown, and listen to a jazz trio for several (long) songs. J-Baby tells me he prefers songs with words, but that if he was going to be one of the musicians up on stage he'd choose to be a bass player. He asks why the pianist and bass player play through every song, but the horn player doesn't play during the piano and bass solos. Papa points out the difference between a trumpet and a flugelhorn. The boys shyly drop a few bills into the tip jar.

(Music appreciation)

Finally we stand up and start the walk home. Boys are boys, and they want to know why the carriage driver has a special device to keep her horse from defecating on the street. We talk about what people today expect in terms of sanitation. Once we reach the block before ours we set the boys free to cut through the alley and meet us at home.

(Health, and for me, an important lesson in giving the boys the freedom they seek. )

The entire experience is a lesson in community, although the reality is that it is a nice way to spend the evening and we aren't thinking about the experience as a learning opportunity. We get to purchase local food and talk to the people who grow it. We get to listen to live music. We spend the time together as a family. We get a bit of exercise. We live and we love and we learn.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Opening the Time Capsule

I have a big cedar chest, you know, the kind that was called a hope chest in years gone by. You were supposed to fill it with all of the things you would need when you got married, which you hoped would happen. Too funny. I received mine when I turned 18 and got married when I was 19, and I'm pretty sure the only item that got tossed in there in preparation for my marriage was a very 1980s peach satin and lace baby doll.

No, mine was a time capsule from the beginning. My prom dress, my cap and gown, my diploma, and other reminders of high school. Also the baby blanket my grandmother crocheted for me, my baby shoes, and an impression of my hand made when I was five years old. There is a stuffed squirrel (made for me by my great-aunt when I was two, which was right before she had her first stroke), the gloves I wore in a wedding when I was four, and the two flower girl dresses I have worn. After the wedding in went my bouquet and garter.

I open it so very rarely. These days it resides in my walk-in closet (is it a walk-in closet if you can only take one step into it?), hidden by the hanging clothes and the multitude of items that get stacked on top of it. Roller Blades, anyone?

Last night I was on a mission. I had just finished a short knit scarf and was thinking ahead to chilly weather ~ I would need a brooch to fasten the scarf. My brain immediately thought of the small stash of costume jewelry that I received when my grandmother passed away 20 years ago. I had to open the chest to find the jewelry.

Well, the jewelry wasn't perfect, but I'll make something work. It was far more interesting to get a glimpse into the top layer of the chest. I think the first item that came into focus was a Mother-ease Popolino diaper circa 1998. Then there were the little baggies with teeth in them (I'm disorganized, they aren't all labeled, and in the end I will have to tell my boys that I have no ideas which teeth belong to whom.) Pulling up the box of jewelry I saw my oldest son's first pair of shoes, and then my veil, and the sarong I bought in the Bahamas. I didn't have time to linger. I quickly glanced at the tray which holds smaller items, and my eyes lit on an old linen handkerchief.

The kerchief was given to me by a friend in high school. Her grandmother had made it; she had dozens and offered to let me choose one to keep, since I had recently taken up embroidery. The kerchief is as light as a feather, with a delicate design. Her grandmother had hemmed the linen herself, and embroidered a tiny oval of flowers. There is just a tiny amount of pulled threadwork.

(I'll have to post a picture once I carefully launder and press the kerchief.)

As it often goes with me, the handkerchief stirred something in me, something less related to the object and more related to life. I always have something to learn.

You see, the kerchief is faded and yellowed, the linen dehydrated, and the folds deep. It has been tucked away, unused, and unloved. I was raised to put away lovely things, old things, special things. My mom has a hope chest turned time capsule, and so does my paternal grandmother. We hide these things, these most special things, because using them means that they might get lost, or ruined, or worn out. We are afraid to love them and use them.

Some things of course we probably aren't going to use again. Baby shoes. Bridal veils. Lost teeth. But some things we could use and love. A handkerchief, a brooch, a lace collar, a bookmark, a sarong.

Why are we saving things for the future? Why do we spend our lives waiting for what is to come instead of living now? Why do the future lives of our children hold more weight than their lives right now? Why do we wait for tomorrow, when tomorrow may never come?

Monday, September 10, 2007

What Do You Do When You Don't Know What to Do?

Lately, I've been hearing a slow, steady stream of questions from people I know ~ both in real life and on the internet. What do I want from life? What do I want to do? Where do I want to live? What is my passion? How do I find out what I want to do? What if I know what I want but I can't make it happen right now?

It's fantastic. Just when you feel like the whole world is sleeping and no one gives a damn at all, you realize that other people are asking themselves the same questions you are asking. There are people out there that are seeking more than the sleep~work~eat cycle. People whose lives don't revolve around mall recreation and the latest reality TV. People who want more than Stouffer's and Lean Cuisine. There are seekers, all around.

(Big Disclaimer: I don't pretend to have any of these questions figured out. I believe that the answers change over time, and that we have to be as receptive to that as we are to the desire to create meaningful lives.)

I'm not always sure what I want. I've pointed out many times that I am a conflicted human being. I will be outside hanging laundry, and I will think to myself that what I'd really like to be doing is reading a book. Except, if I was to put the laundry in the gas dryer and read my book, I'd be unhappy knowing that I hadn't hung the clothing on the line, which is in line with my values.

Aha! We're dealing with multiple wants here. Desires, and also values. Probably other things too, such as the needs of our families as well as the larger community, and also basic survival. As always, we seek balance.

I do think that we have to live in the moment, and that each moment is an opportunity to both savor our here and now and make little changes that bring about big changes. Many little changes effected in the present can affect the future.

For instance, I'm pretty sure we want to move. What was once something we talked about now and then as a possibility has become something we're actively trying for. We don't exactly know where we want to go, or when we will be able to go, but we have a few ideas, and we know of several places that we don't want to go (which is a good place to start).

In the meantime, I live here. Here isn't a terrible place, it just isn't exactly what we want. Still, it is my reality, and I can either spend the time that I am here miserable because I am thinking of everything I don't have, or content because I am thinking of the things about being here that are positive.

There is a lot that has to happen before we get from here to there, wherever there is. When we think of it as a whole it is easy to get so overwhelmed that we decide that staying here is far easier. It probably is easier, in terms of big change, but the trade-off is a little bit of death everyday.

You see, I can tune in and find what it is I love about being here, as long as I am secure in my belief that one day I will get to where I think I should be. Day by day I can live, and I can make the little changes that make me happy now and create my future. All of the things I need to do can make today brighter.

Most of all, and I think this applies to all of the big questions people ask, I can choose to eliminate the things that bog me down and bring me anxiety and anger. I can't create total happiness, as I am a human living in a world with many other humans, and we don't all want the same things, and sometimes what someone wants from me isn't something I can give. Absolute reality is that sometimes I am going to have to do things that I don't want to do. But most of the time I do have a choice, and it is up to me to choose wisely.

In the context of wanting to move and making little changes, I can start by eliminating possessions that I no longer need or want. I can do the (sometimes) hard work of letting go of things I don't need any longer. I can admit mistakes. I can acknowledge that I have changed. I can connect with the part of me that knows I don't need so much. Each day I will be a little freer, and also a step closer to being able to pack up and move.

I can also start to let go of the certain lifestyle we have now. I can let go of relationships that cause pain. I can practice living on less. I can change our focus and zoom in on the very local. I can expand my community even as I know I may very well leave it soon. Each change is positive now, regardless of where the path ends up taking us.

Maybe I want to write. I don't know. I've never given it serious thought or serious interest. I could decide to lock away the unformed desire in a box and tell myself that I can take it out again and give it a good examination when my children are older, or I've done my part to save the world, or when my life is just perfect. Except we all know that perfect never comes. So I can choose to write everyday (or at least whenever I have the opportunity), even if I never decide to seek publication. Here and now I can fulfill that need, and it may bring me toward a future I haven't imagined yet, or it may just satisfy me now.

I've decided that it is perfectly acceptable to not know what you want to do, or to have half-formed dreams and desires. The big picture can be fuzzy, and as long as you are consciously working on the present the days will bring that picture closer into focus. You get to know yourself better when you live in the present. You get to know this person, the person you are right now, and not just the person you think you might be in the future. You can have a relationship with yourself.

So, what do you do when you don't know what to do?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Change in Perspective, 20 Years Later

In 1987 I was completely into Boston, the rock band. They were vegetarian, can you imagine it, and seemed so sensitive in the liner notes for Third Stage (1986). My emerging feminist self reveled in the lyrics to To Be A Man:

What does it take to be a man?
What does it take to see
It's all heart and soul
A gentle hand?
So easy to want and so hard to give
How can you be a man
'till you see beyond the life you live?
Oh, what does it take to be a man?

We can be blind, but a man tries to see
It takes tenderness
For a man to be what he can be
And what does it mean
If you're weak or strong?
A gentle feelin'
Can make it right or make it wrong
What does it take to be a man?

The will to give and not receive
The strength to say what you believe
The heart to feel what others feel inside
To see what they can see

A man is somethin' that's real
It's not what you are
It's what you can feel
It can't be too late
To look through the hate and see
I know that's what a man can be

Of course, at the time I was thinking that women had it all figured out, and this song was all about men and how they needed to find their sensitive sides and stop behaving like the men I grew up around. Later I was thrilled to have married the man that I loved, who I really felt embodied all of the qualities in the song. If the 15 year-old me was interested in a boyfriend who was intelligent, handsome, and a smart dresser (yes, the 15 year-old me made a long list of qualities that I wanted in a boyfriend, and that list is both hysterical and relevatory), the 18 year-old me wanted a young man who could be everything in this song (and the fact that he sang and played guitar was even more attractive).

I hadn't thought about this song, really thought about it, since then. I have listened to it many times, sung along, and admired it, but I never really stopped to revise my perspective. Then last week the song lyrics were brought to me again, and suddenly everything shifted.

The song isn't about men. It's about people. It is as relevant to me as a woman, mother, friend, lover, human being as it is to any other person living on this planet.


Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Back Again

Here I am, once again waving at everyone in blogdom, ready to spill my thoughts and words out all over the place.

Not writing doesn't work. I write. If I'm not blogging I'm thinking of what I would write (honestly ~ I will think the words as if I were writing a blog post or article). I write long entries in my paper journal, I write love letters, I post on message boards. I think as if their is an audience waiting to read my words.

So I will just own up to it, and recognize it for what it is. I write. Musicians hear tunes in their heads, painters dream of painting, writers think in sentences, paragraphs, stanzas, and more. It is perfectly fine to pursue any art and not worry about getting paid for what you do. Even if my audience is just my spouse and a few good friends, I can still write.

Once it occurred to me earlier this summer that I could actually get paid for writing, or at the minimum get published, I balked. Taking the blogs down recently came because I was afraid. Long, long ago, I was on a local BBS (we're talking late 80s and early 90s) and I posted a poem I had written, one that had been well-received by both my literature advisor and my poetry teacher. A kind soul quickly told me that anything I posted online was ripe for theft. I have carried that with me.

As long as I was just writing to write, to enjoy the process and to share my thoughts and my life, I had no fear. When I started thinking in terms of articles and books I started to imagine my words, ripped from me, published as if they had come from someone else. I didn't like that idea at all.

The reality is, I don't know if I will ever get paid or published. I've never investigated the idea or sent out queries. I don't know if I need that motivation, or that recognition. I don't know what I want, and that is okay too.