Thursday, June 30, 2011

To Borrow a phrase from Thisisme....EEEEEEK!

Today I'm borrowing a phrase from my friend Thisisme at Southamsdarling.       


Elliot's seventh birthday is one week away!  


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Giving Tree

While visiting my childhood home in Michigan, I went outside one afternoon and saw that the sun and the birch tree were working together on this masterpiece of shadow art.

I don't remember ever seeing this while I was living at home with my parents.  But I'm sure that it happened every sunny afternoon in the month of June.  Back then the shadow would not have been so large. This birch has grown since I left home to embark on my adult life.  

An art teacher once taught me to notice shape, lines, light and color.  I wonder how I ever saw anything before her guidance.  Perhaps I was too busy reading books to notice the natural world. 

This picture reminds me of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.  Perhaps you've read it.  Silverstein has a dark side and way of making readers either laugh hysterically or cry themselves to sleep at night.  The Giving Tree is the kind that makes you bawl.  I read it to Elliot once and he doesn't want me to read it ever again.

When I look at the shadow of this tree in my old back yard, I'm happy because it's still standing tall, complete with branches and leaves.   

I'm taking it as a sign that I am not like the boy in the story who seldom comes home, only to take what he needs and leave again.                

If the giving tree in the story is a metaphor for a mother, in which the tree is "happy" to give everything she has only to end her life as a stump that the old boy rests on....

 I wonder if my mother has ever felt that way.  Because I live so far and have not visited as often as I'd like.

Then I  wonder if I am like the giving tree.  Happy to give my apples, my branches, my trunk...

If only the boy would come back.      

You see, the tree gives everything.  Everything.  And she's happy.  If we believe the words written on the page.  Yet while we read it, we are thinking "happy!???"  That's not HAPPY!  That's miserably sad!  The boy is a completely selfish taker!  

Yet perhaps the giving tree is actually a metaphor for mother earth, and we are the boy.  

Which still makes this story a matter that the last line is "and the tree was happy."

So this picture has me thinking about sacrifice, and how to be giving while not seeking martyrdom.  To release my leaves before winter so that my trunk and branches will not die of thirst when there is no rain.

It has me thinking that I need to stop this clenching reflex, this need to hold...everything in place.  To release and let things flow through.  

And also to call my mother today.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ideas come in clusters

Hi folks! Thanks for stopping by today.  I am developing a few new products for the shop because I have long wanted to act on the cluster of ideas surrounding Knees and Paws.  So today I present the new "Doggie Bed For Kids who love to play dogs"
 Although of course, a small dog might like this bed too!  I hope that it finds its way to the child who loves to play pretend.

There is also one new product that I'm working on that is unrelated to Knees and Paws. Due to the fact that I am giving the first one away as a surprise gift, I cannot share it with you until later in the week.  I've been very busy at the machine, filling orders and squeezing in time to make new items.  Please forgive the lack of introspection in my post today.  Perhaps you will enjoy the break from my ever rambling thoughts!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Art of Living Happily

I have been thinking about my life differently since I stopped smoking nearly three years ago.  It's hard to imagine that I used to spend a great deal of time ingesting destructive chemicals into my lungs.  Looking back, I think the real problem was that I held on to resentment and anger, foolishly believing that it was my right to be mad and depressed about my circumstances.  I clung to the past and spread blame for every injustice done to me, never realizing that I had choices.  I didn't understand that I willingly participated in things that made me unhappy.  I'm slowly waking up to that fact right now. 

These thoughts have come to the forefront of my consciousness because I am beginning to pay closer attention to my emotions.   Just yesterday, I realized that I was jealous of one of Richards' happy memories.  It's be jealous of the beautiful moments of his past.  But there I stood, completely wanting to have his moment of joy and freedom for myself.  He had described a sunny day at a ball game in Charleston, eating a hot dog.
It's true that I've attended many baseball games in my life, complete with a hot dog and sunshine.  So it was completely illogical to want his moment in the sun. Then I realized that his memory recalled a particular circumstance that I desire:  no responsibility.  At that time in his life there were no children to care for.     

   I can't remember a time when I did not have children to care for.   

And this is messing with my head.  I love children, especially the ones I am blessed with.

It is my own fault for thinking that I have no freedom.  Because in reality, I am free.  I don't have to listen to the annoying noise from the video games or the children's programming for hours on end, just to "get some work done"  I could instead tell Elliot to find a silent activity while I play music on the computer that I like.  I don't have to listen to the latest pop/rock/rap in the car while driving around with Emily.  If I want silence, I should ask for it.   I don't have to compromise so much, thinking that everyone will be happy if I do.

The art of living happily is to remember what I like and to practice enjoying those things every day.  If I need respite, I should walk outside and water the garden.   

Or ask Richard to dance.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Caring for myself amid chaos

Summer is chaos sometimes.  Activity piled on activity.  Travel. Heat. Injury.  Expectations.  Emotions.
I am doing my best to stay in the moment and care for myself during the ups and downs and the chaos of family life.  After two months of suffering from an injury due to a bike accident, I finally went to the doctor.  I can't tell you what a relief it is to know the exact cause of my pain.  It turns out that my irritability and pain is due to an "impinged" shoulder.  Which means that my shoulder has gone into a spasm, creating a huge bump near my neck and squeezing the nerves. 
Thank goodness for my beautiful, intelligent doctor who immediately gave me a steroid shot, muscle relaxers, tylenol, and a topical cream.  I can already feel improvement.
I'm working today on several orders that came into the shop this week.  It is a blessing to have work and to have a day to myself.  Richard took Emily and Elliot out shopping so that I can work and recover.  I am listening to my favorite music, sitting comfortably in the air conditioning, being thankful for solitude and the good sense to remember that I need to take time to heal properly instead of throwing myself into a million tasks.
I've also been thinking about my identity crisis.  After reading something about multiple streams of income, I realize that it's possible to embrace all the different facets of my skills, experiences and desires and to turn them into something that sustains me.   So I started a little herb garden and bought fabric to make a totally new product that I'll share with you in the next few weeks.  I also brought out my french horn last night and entertained my kids.  I was shocked to realize that Emily loved what I played.  I'm excited about this because I have so many weird little hobbies that a teen age girl might scoff at....but she was saying things like "that was AWESOME" while I played my horn along to the opening song on The Who's Tommy.  I told her that horns aren't just for the orchestra, but for rock too!
I hope you all are having a great week...

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Magic Pond

Remember the little frog Elliot discovered in his pond the other day?  After finishing his chores yesterday morning, he ran out to see if the frog had decided to spend the night.  A few minutes later I heard him shrieking in delight.  "MOM! Look how BIG my frog grew over night!"

 Which was really a different visitor to the pond.  Somehow the magic pond had turned a small green frog into a huge, bumpy toad!

The mini pond was such an easy, affordable addition to our garden that I'm thinking of digging a larger one. It was worth every bit of the $35.00 we spent to see Elliot's beaming smile.

Elliot does not know this, but I am also using the pond to teach the power of intention. He has been a little worried that once the frogs come to visit, they will leave and he'll be disappointed.  I explained that the reason these frogs bring delight to us is that they are visiting us on their own terms, living in their natural environment.  This fact is what makes it so exciting.  It would be completely boring to buy one at a pet store and keep it in captivity.  After a few hours or days, the novelty would wear off and then he'd have to find bugs for four years....

I taught him to use the power of intention by suggesting that he envision many creatures visiting the pond every day.  I told him to continue to imagine wildlife near the pond whenever he feels bored. 

It must have worked because after the toad left, a new frog arrived.  This one is a brand new baby "froglet."

If you are curious about how we made our pond, I'd love to share it.  First, we purchased a large round storage tub from Home Depot (the kind with rope handles on the sides).  At $6.99 this pond liner can't be beat!  Secondly, we discovered a small fountain with a pump in a kit at the garden center of Home Depot.  Our model cost $24.00.

  At home, we decided on a location that was close to an outdoor electrical outlet.  It is essential that this outlet be safe:    

All outdoor outlets should have GFCI (Ground Failure Circuit Interrupt) - protection against shock, which detects leaks from the electrical circuit and breaks it.

Third, we bought a few goldfish (.35 each).  Goldfish love cold water, so if your pond will be in full sun, it is recommended that you add aquatic plants to provide shade.

We then dug a large hole, set the bin inside and added a few bricks to support the fountain.  Once the fountain was set up, we filled it with water and added the fish.  We made sure to feed the fish a few flakes of food until algae grew on the sides of the pond.  Now, the fish are growing like crazy without any help from us.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Chicken Marsala with a side of Julia's Garlic Potatoes

My attempt at a  "serious" pursuit this week turned into a delicious meal last night.  Somehow I found being on task in the kitchen for a block of uninterrupted time to be therapy.  I have also been thinking about what I actually contribute here, which is usually just a random collection of thoughts.  Some bloggers are experts at sharing practical things or important information.  In that spirit, today I'm going to share a recipe that my family enjoys.  I learned how to make the potatoes because my dad loved Julia Child.  Her recipe for these red potatoes will be a hit every single time.

The official recipe calls for boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but here I've substituted legs due to the stock in my freezer.  I began by coating them in flour that was mixed with a teaspoon each of:

Minced garlic
Minced onions
1/2 t coarse ground black pepper

And frying them in olive oil. While the chicken sizzled, I quartered the day's harvest of red potatoes taken from our garden.  Once these were of uniform size and shape, I placed them in a pan with

3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
chopped fresh garlic to taste

The potatoes must be turned occasionally, but the addition of olive oil to the butter prevents the butter from over browning or burning.    The key is patience with these.  A steady, medium low temperature will produce the best results. I had some fresh rosemary from the herb garden and so added a sprig near the end.  They are ready when the centers are soft and the skins are wrinkly and crisp.  Drain them on a rack or on paper towels before serving.

While the potatoes are browning, sautee sliced mushrooms (I used baby bella) in a spoon of butter.  When they are beginning to soften, add a mixture of chicken broth and two teaspoons of flour for thickening.  Let that bubble and simmer until a nice sauce is produced.  Near the end, add a pinch of basil.  This sauce is nice served over the chicken breasts.  I did not use the Marsala wine because our store did not carry it.  3/4 cups are recommended if you have some on hand.  Just give the wine extra time to reduce.

I also love green beans, and so I heated these just before setting the table.  I would have loved to use fresh or frozen, but here again I needed to use what was on hand, straight from a can.

We also had some left over artisan bread and chocolate cake from our father's day dinner.  They made for a well rounded meal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A boy and his frog

Elliot found this frog in the creek that runs behind his grandma's house.  After playing with him for a day, he returned him safely to his natural environment.  Afterwards, Elliot kept talking about the frog, wishing that he could have one for a pet.

Today, we decided to clean out our mini pond in the back.   Normally we don't need to do this, but it was so full of soil that our fountain was clogged.  So, we emptied it.  Two exciting things were discovered.  First, the fish had grown to three times their size.  And second, when we were nearly at the bottom, we saw something splashing in the murky bottom. 
It was a small frog, just like the one at grandma's.  While I rinsed the fountain, he held the frog in his hands and said, "today I'm the luckiest boy in the world."               

Identity crisis

I am in the throes of a vertigo inducing identity crisis.  I'm sure it will pass? As I acclimate to being "home" again.  Maybe it will pass.

I don't know how to explain how overwhelmingly insecure I am right now.

I think it's quite possible that this has come from seeking too many things online.  

That somehow in attempting to create work for myself and an income for my family, I stopped listening to the still, small voice.   

If I'm not really meant to do this, then what? 
I feel old, overweight and useless.  What in the world was I thinking?           

Who am I really?  And why do I continually create situations for myself that involve struggle and doubt?

Maybe this has come from reading my father's resume when I was home.  I'm still thinking about it a week later.  While we were sustained comfortably by his career as a supervisor at General Motors, we were also sustained by his farming.  My dad was an award winning gardener.  His resume shows his life's circle, with a beginning and and end in farm work.  One job that he left after retirement was working at an automotive dealership.  He actually wrote: "left due to boredom and low wages."

Which is the kind of line that gives me an out. 

If I choose that.

Here's the cycle of thought going on now:
What did I seek when embarking on the road of  academic achievement?  Was it only for my inner curiosity?

I might go back to working the soil.  Return to the basic existence of growing.  In fact I want that so much that it hurts a little inside.

I was once a manager in a beautiful garden center.  When it closed, I was completely bereft.  Since books had always been a comfort to me in times of insecurity and stress, I sought them again and returned to school.

I suppose the internet has now replaced a great chunk of my book reading.  And I am tired.  Tired of all the face booking and twittering and even, yes, blogging.  I don't mean that I'm tired of the people on blogger, because my friends here are wonderful.

The trouble  is that I want so much to be able to commit to something wholeheartedly and believe in it to the very end.  There is no security in this endeavor so far.  It is entirely whimsical, playful experimentation.

Is it time to attend to something a little more....serious? 

Or natural?

What does that line in scripture mean for me..."this too, shall pass?"    

Perhaps I can construct something with so many complex little fragments and fit them together in the jigsaw puzzle of my life.  Maybe I can make my life... a poem.

She is

here for a moment

certain of her death

wanting to live

to work the soil

to pull the weeds

to feel the sun

and wind.  To hike the paths and to kiss her man.

She hurts inside because her daughter is almost an adult.  It is the almost that hurts.

The resume a line of slash marks

nanny/ mother/ cook/dishwasher/cashier/ housekeeper / laundry/ driver/ buyer / spender/ grower/landscaper/maintenance technician/ artist/ writer/ reader/ thinker/ believer/ friend/ lover/ daughter/ sister/ neighbor/ volunteer/ teacher/ speaker/ over achiever/ inventor/ owner/seeker/ dreamer/ runner/hiker/ traveler/armchair naturalist/ musician/

I am a jumbled-up mixed-bag of a person...which either makes me somewhat interesting or completely neurotic.  I can't just pick one thing.

Someone once said that a Naturalist is a generalist in the field of science.

I am just like that.  A generalist.  Generally good a lot of things.

But there is this one thing that I hold... just like my dad who wrote on his resume under the column "interests."

"Family. First and foremost." 

  When you're a mother, it's important to be generally good at a lot of things.   

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Senior Picture Photo Shoot

My brother Ken and I recently worked together on Emily's senior pictures.  I felt honored to be included as I have no formal training in photography.  While I enjoy collaborating on projects with my brother, this day was made even more memorable because Emily brought her best friend Alexis to the shoot.    These "on location" shots are taken at my old high school, which reminded me what it felt like to be entering that significant, exciting, final year of school.  I remember feeling like the future was an expansive frontier, full of exciting possibilities, adventure and freedom.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

With New Eyes

If I expose the bones of truth, you would see that the R word is what helps me to live 700 miles from my home state.  This word is not resume, resources, relief, regeneration or restoration. 

It is resentment.

Not towards a specific person,  place or thing.  The resentment is like a cloud of ambigous junk that rests in the back of my mind, ever present, sometimes buried, sometimes popping to the surface like noxious perennial weeds. 

I remind myself to set this burden down.  I know when it creeps it's way into my heart and how difficult it is to redirect my thought patterns.  Meditating on present blessings seems to work better than anything else I've tried. 
And this time, I was able to visit my Mom in mid-Michigan, while also taking a few days to travel to Ludington, a small northern town on the shores of Lake Michigan. Mom was able to join us there, and together we enjoyed this remote paradise.  After 102 degrees in North Carolina, we appreciated the cool breezes, miles of beaches, sand dunes, inland lakes, magical forested hiking trails, camping, shopping and everything in between.  I decided I could live there.

Today is the final day of our trip.  I could stay longer.   Here are a few photos of our vacation "up north." 

If I were able to shop in this grocery, it would be a pleasure and not a chore.  I loved the open, airy feel of the place.  For the first time, I could shop without feeling like a mouse in a maze.  I resisted the giant dougnuts in the back.  But I'm still dreaming of them!

While walking around town, we enjoyed beautiful historic buildings and delightful little shops.  If one wanted a further adventure, the ferry behind this statue will take you and your car across the lake.

Yet while the developed areas were lovely, Richard and I were captivated by the wilderness surrounding the town.  I did not take my camera on our hikes....but if you can imagine what a trail in Colorado looks like, or the beaches on Key West (exept with colder water), then you'll understand why we loved it.

And as I prepare to return to my other "home" in the south, I realize that the physical place where my resentment begins is really just a place.  The resentment stays deep within, following me to new locations and exiles. Realizing this helps me to set it adrift in the sea of letting go.  And remembering that my absence hurts my loved ones....that helps me to put things in perspective.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

This is where I'll be

After reading Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, I have become more aware of things that trigger uplifting feelings.  These triggers are fleeting, but add to my over all sense of contentment.   If I've learned anything from Rubin, it's that happiness is a process that continues through appreciation for these moments, while exploring them on a deeper level.

I've also learned that for me, exploration and discovery are things that bring happiness.  Even if I'm simply discovering more about my habits.  My routines, while making me an efficient machine,  tend to lead to a lifestyle of a mom who is going through the motions on a functioning, low-level, basic existence.      

I wake up, walk downstairs, kiss my handsome and kind husband, make coffee, fix an English muffin with honey or peanut butter, and wander to this corner and sit in front of this screen.           And write little things.

And read.    

This makes me happy overall.  But just this morning I realized that the sun is up earlier, making for a beautiful light blue sky.  The air feels fresh at this hour and the cat is friendly.   My little sun deck feels comfortable.  Birds have begun their singsongs.  It is the most peaceful, pleasant hour to be outdoors in this oppressively humid southern state.
Which means that I might have to change my routine.  Set another time for blogging.
Which is difficult because once Elliot is awake there are too many distractions for written thought.

So if I'm not here as often, this is where I'll be.
This is our covered porch which we use for our classroom and for summer evening entertaining.

I would love to have new furniture for the arbor, but haven't yet found a replacement.

Elliot's playground, a shady oasis from the hot baked yard.
This is the mini pond that Elliot helped me build.
We've had many wonderful evenings with friends around our fire.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

A letter to my blogging friends

Dear friends,

It's sometimes unacknowledged how much I appreciate you.
I not only appreciate you, but I'm truly grateful for your kind comments and steady presence. It's not often that I discover a situation in life where people follow the golden rule to "do unto others what you would have done to you."  If I were one to create an award button, I'd make one that says "Golden Rule Blogger." A golden rule blogger visits often enough to become a familiar friend.  Even when I haven't visited or commented on your blogs in the immediate past, I'll find that you have come here anyway. I know that for many of you there are long lists of people to visit along your blogging journey.  And I'm not really telling a story here.   Many times the posts I write are not intended for an audience but are written so that I can remember what this part of my life was like.  

For example, today Elliot said something in response to an idea I shared that I want to remember forever.  I want to remember that when he was six years old, we were watching our elderly neighbor water his garden on a 90 degree day.  The gentleman was wearing faded jeans and a straw hat. He was standing in the path of the sprinkler, getting himself wet to cool down.   When Elliot commented on this by saying "Mr. ____ is standing in his sprinkler!"  I said that every person has a little child within them, no matter how old they are.   Mr. _____  has a little boy inside who loves the water on a hot day, just like you."

After thinking about this for a little while, Elliot said "if that's true then I have a grown-up inside me." 
I enthusiastically said "Yes! Yes!  You understand! It's the "potential Elliot." The person you will be is already within."

I also want to remember that this conversation happened shortly after Elliot had his heart broken by a boy whom he thought was his friend.   

Which might have made him more open to seeing people of different ages as more compassionate friends than his peers. 

Our differences bring us closer together.  The pictures and stories that you share from your part of the world make my worldview more expansive than it ever was.  Your thoughts cause me to be more thoughtful and appreciative of things that I never stopped to notice. 


Saturday, June 4, 2011


Just when I think the shop is dead...

Someone loves something I've made. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Quality of Light

I'm learning about how to "see" the differences in natural light.   It's a great discovery because it helps me to appreciate cloudy days, shade and woodlands.  A hobby is not a waste of time if it helps you to appreciate the beauty of life on a deeper level.  Here are a few pictures of my efforts to capture a certain quality of light that appeals to me.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Homeschooling Dilemma Solved!

My friends have been asking about whether we plan to continue school through the summer months.  I've been torn on this.  I know how refreshing it is to the mind and soul to make a complete break from entrenched routines.  When doing nothing, things happen inside. 

I've decided to think like the folks who developed the Seven Minute Abs video series.  For each group of subjects, we will do one block of seven minutes of intensely focused and concentrated review. 

I am going to spend less time teaching. 

There is really so much to think about when a person takes on this responsibility.  I want to just be Mom for a while.       



Where did you go?

Here's the truth:  I am a northerner at heart.  I love snow and crisp fresh air.  I love rain showers and cool breezes.  I've even developed affection for cloudy days.

95 degrees is a little much for me.

It's so early in the year for this to happen, day after day.

And even if The Last American Man says that the weather is always doing what it is supposed to do, I'm having a hard time adjusting to the change.

I feel sensitive to change more than I used to.  It seems that I can spend a full day cleaning, sorting, arranging, refreshing, preparing a delightful meal and being on top of the world...
And have the next few days feeling like everything has suddenly moved out of place.  My order is wrecked.  The planet moved and shifted everything.

I feel this all the time.  Like I need to superglue everything into place. 

My mom used to say "I can never have anything NICE"

And I understand.  I have moments of NICE.  Moments when things are orderly, fresh and relaxing.  A flower that has not yet wilted in the vase.  A candle burning.  A breeze blowing.  A tablecloth centered and unwrinkled.   Dishes not piled.    Grass mowed.  Garden watered.  Toys picked up.  Fresh scents.


Why does everything seem to magically vibrate back into a state of mess?
Yet I am thankful...

My home could have been in Joplin.  Or Japan.  Or New Orleans.  Or New Zealand.  Or Afghanistan.

And it's really neat and orderly here^^^^^^

Which reminds me to embrace the chaos of living.

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