Sunday, July 31, 2011

Little Pups

Hi friends!  Today I'd like to send out a big thank you to Janel for sharing this customer appreciation photo with me.  I was delighted and surprised to receive it!

I'm already thinking of fall (so I can shed this Hippie image)

It's the eve of August and the sun is like a god, dictating and bearing down on us like a not so benevolent ruler. It's no wonder that the Egyptians elevated that bright ball of gas as the supreme deity called Ra.  So far there's no sacrifice that appeases his force of power over our heads.  But God is merciful because after three weeks of sweaty living in a home with a  broken central air conditioner, the Happy Hoppins Family (that's us) are sitting in complete comfort.  The unit has been serviced and saved.  We have been spared a $7,000 bill.   That is why right now at this moment the house is back to a state of comfortable clean.  One day, just for fun, and to celebrate the accomplishment of a clean house, I put on my swim suit and a handmade sundress and sat outside with the children and their friends while I made a craft and watched them swim.  Richard took one look at me said that I'd officially become a hippie.  My girlfriend, who watched as I turned my hand dyed t shirts into a woven rug, agreed.

Later, while I was alone, I looked in the mirror and wondered if that was true.  Have I become a hippie? 

I don't feel like a hippie.  I don't partake in the smoking or eating of natural herbs (although some days...boy do I wish!)  I like folk music, rock and have to admit that Judy Blue Eyes by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young is one of my favorite songs.  I'm a pacifist...which means that I oppose war, but I'm also learning how to be a better pacifist at home and not engage in heated, loud arguments with my family members.  I'm a pacifist but if you catch me on a bad day, you might think that statement makes me a tiny bit hypocritical.

I have a handmade business and I like to grow food in my little garden.  The bugs ate most of it, so I still do shop in a regular grocery store and not a whole foods organic type market.  My kids have eaten pretty much anything they like.

I like to take a shower every day and I also shave my legs.  (Emily says that this alone makes me not a very good candidate for hippie status).

I once wrote a letter to congress pleading that money for World Hunger efforts didn't get cut out of the budget.  But I've never marched on Washington for any reason.  I have visited D.C. in the spring and it was so lovely that I plan to go back, at least to see the flowering cherry trees given to the U.S. from Japan and to visit the Natural History Museum.

I like to make art, or at least my version of art, which may or may not be REAL art.

I've stopped coloring my hair (a picture of my graying progress will be revealed sometime next month for those who've been following that bit of info).       
I only wear makeup if I feel like it, but lately, I really could care less.  Blame it on that sun god, Ra.

Perhaps that will change when fall comes and I can assume my trusty northern girl image who wears jeans and hiking boots. 

Friday, July 29, 2011

For Desiree

Recently, someone I admire and care about asked me to share a few words about The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakerism.  I'm shy about doing this.  But because Desiree asked, I'm going to try to explain my new faith practice, and how I came to this decision to worship with Friends.

I'm shy about trying to explain this because I really do not know enough to be an expert.  I graduated from Guilford College, which was founded by Quakers.  It was only after leaving school that I began to attend "Meeting For Worship."

In my childhood and for most of my adult life I was a practicing Catholic.  I never would have expected this of myself as a young person.  That I would discover a completely different way to worship and experience the divine working in my life.

This choice did not hit me like a lightning bolt.  I didn't wake up one morning and decide all of a sudden to change my religious practice.   In fact I was so comfortable with my usual routine of going to Mass on Sundays that visiting other churches made me feel lost and alone.

I feel I must apologize here, because there was an event, actually a series of events that I cannot write about here that influenced my decision.  Something very damaging happened to someone very close to me that affected my entire life.  In addition to that, after my divorce I wasn't feeling very "cozy" sitting in Mass anymore. 

Still, I kept attending our Catholic church, thinking that it was what I must do.  Then Elliot, who was three years old, piped up from his car seat one Sunday morning and said,

"I don't want to go to the Caffowick church today.  I want to go to my school church.

Now, if I was truly obedient and committed fully to being a Catholic, at that time I would have told my son that he has absolutely no choice in the matter.  I would have said that where Mommy goes, he must go.

But as I got closer to the big church on the hill with the stained glass windows, I found myself driving past it with no longing to go in.

Perhaps it was a disobedient act of defiance, but it didn't feel that way.

So Elliot and I went to our first Friends Meeting.  The Friends allowed him to play downstairs in the classroom that he was familiar with, while I enjoyed sitting upstairs.  I mean, I really enjoyed it.   After the message, the entire congregation sat in silence for thirty minutes.  It was absolutely the most peaceful experience I'd had since being a child.  I felt so comforted in the silence. I didn't feel ashamed of who I was or an urgent need to repent, confess, or to change.  I felt good.  And happy.

So I kept going back.

And the more I went, the more I learned.  I learned that Quakers have no official creed, but that they have social and religious testimonies.  The Friends (people who attend Meeting for Worship) are seekers of the Light (another word for God) and they believe that the Holy Spirit is accessible to each individual without intercession from a religious leader.  Even though the Spirit is available to each individual, they believe that our individualism will be brought under control and we will be gathered into community that seeks to know and live out the divine will.
The New Garden Friends meeting where I attend seems to fall into the category of Universalist Liberals, because by their example they say that Quakerism should not be limited to a Christian or Western understanding, so that they may be open to interfaith dialogue.

The Social testimonies that they agree upon are Community, Peace, Simplicity and Equality.

They also agree that all of life has the potential to be sacramental.  That God's love can be experienced in every aspect of life.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Perhaps I shouldn't be writing today

Perhaps I shouldn't be writing today.  My head is swimmy and pounding.  So please excuse the disjointed use of language.  It's like writing on a ship at sea.  I'm not sure why I'm having headaches lately.  The last time one came on I spent an entire day on the bathroom floor.  I thought it was the flu.

The trouble with feeling this way is that I don't want to stop doing the things I have planned.  Elliot and I are scheduled to work at the library, I need to buy groceries, I have an order to fill and a new art project to start.  My house is spectacularly clean and organized and I want to enjoy it...because it never lasts.

Especially not as long as this scavenged find...

Last week we found a salvage shop in downtown Greensboro that is my new favorite place to visit. Since this discovery, I have decided not to fix up my home with new things anymore.  I've decided to make new uses for the beautiful old.  Last week Richard and I walked into a wonderful old brick building downtown with three stories and enjoyed every minute of unexpected sights.  I love going downtown.  And I loved being in this historic building with the dusty old smell and artifacts from homes that were scheduled for demolition.  We filled our car with an ancient baker's table that we plan to restore and use as our center island.  It is the missing piece that will complete the restoration of our kitchen.  Above it we'll rehang the iron rack that was made by our neighbor Tom, then add a few copper pots to catch the light.   Richard has plans to sand the wood top and put new legs on the bottom. 

We've also had to put in a new floor in the dining room.  Our new dog and cat made sure to help us achieve our dream of having a wood floor, since they forgot to take their bathroom needs outdoors.
Slowly, our home is returning to order and comfort.

Monday, July 25, 2011

If you were here

If you were here I'd invite you to sit in my newly redecorated wicker and have a glass of icy lemonade or tea.  We'd probably only sit there for thirty seconds as it's hot enough to melt your eyelashes here.  So, the new cushions I made from an old sheet and some pillows will have to stay empty for now.  The cat will enjoy them tonight and tomorrow I'll have a good long sigh at the tufts of cat hair all over my new creation.  It's the first time since we've lived here that I have matching cushions...a feat accomplished by allowing myself to make what I wanted to see. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Today I hold Norway in the light and offer a time of silence on this blog.

Friday, July 22, 2011

When Children Give Pennies to Mommies

            Thirteen of Bernadette’s children survived past the age of four.  Then, it was common to have a large family, yet uncommon to hide tiny sons and daughters in pickle barrels when the social workers came.  If it was a crime to have a big family and to be poor, then Bernadette was a criminal.
            Instead of doing hard time for bringing thirteen babies into a life of poverty, she died of cervical cancer when the youngest was two.
            Before her death, the babies who survived despite unmet needs and wants grew sturdy bodies, intelligent, witty minds and loving hearts.  They worked in nearby fields for produce and pennies.  The household had a mason jar for days when children gave pennies to their mother.  She saved every cent for hard times to come and for birthday cake, which needed to be baked every month.
            I am Bernadette’s granddaughter.  I live in a large house on a leafy street with a fresh, green lawn.  I have two babies, one who is seventeen and mighty, one who is seven and still open to believing in magical stories.  Yesterday, he came to my workroom holding a single penny.  Looking up from my sewing, I watched him drop the coin on my table.  “Here’s a penny for you, mommy.  A penny for you.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I love you

When was the last time you heard these words?  Perhaps it's been a little while since you've read them. 
I love you.

I love you because you are wonderful in every way.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bubbles of Happy

We had a great week.  A full week.  A week of learning about Japan.  A week of fellowship and F/friends.  Our hearts are floating like bubbles of happy. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

On talking and writing

      Something is happening inside.  There is a pulling sort of feeling to open myself to other people and to trust in the journey of living in a community.

Under the excuse of motherhood, housekeeping and building a handmade business, I have sequestered myself in solitary confinement.

As a result I have developed an aversion to sharing my thoughts in conversation with people, hiding behind a stoic mask of self preservation.  Conversation between two people can be like a duet; one voice working with another.  On the other hand it can feel like a solo performance with a silent (and nodding) audience.

After reflecting on my experience with teaching in the summer program, I realize that my solo performance as a writer is an attempt to engage in conversation, a way to connect with friends while working and teaching at home.  On one level there is a beautiful satisfaction in this.  Yet it does not compare to being fully present in the three dimensional world, engaging in a living, breathing vocal exchange.

I am learning that it has become more difficult to express myself in spoken conversation and easier to express myself in writing.

Which has probably been true for most of my life.  I remember that every one of my significant relationships began in writing.    A card I sent to someone I met two years ago turned into a close friendship that is alive and energetic today.  

So this understanding comes with a challenge for me.  To keep speaking out.  To talk to people.  To be open to more opportunities for sharing in life.  If you read this blog regularly, you know more about me than my neighbors and some members of my family.

Perhaps it's because you listen so well.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

This week I am a teacher (pt 2)

I'm not sure if I'm alone in this, but my immersion in language and community makes me crave hours of solitude and an engagement in art.  Art requires me to think in a way that does not require words.  Perhaps that is why I hold on to my work developing Knees and Paws.  Working at my machine is a healing therapy, restoring me to a state of peaceful being.

I have another passion besides art.  Teaching is a dynamic experience that fills up all the missing holes in my soul.  Today I received an outstanding compliment from the director of the Summer Program.  This compliment was in reference to guiding the students as they engaged in conversation with a Japanese visitor.  Our class, normally boisterous and free spirited, entered the room with quiet respect and asked thoughtful questions. They shared their experiences with Japanese culture in a way that promoted a deeper discussion.   The children wanted to know how people in Japan respond to natural disasters.  They were interested in the language and pop culture.  They raised their hands and waited for acknowledgement before speaking.  They were polite and thanked our visitor before leaving. 

In my mind I kept thinking "WOW!" How did that happen???
Nine boys, ages 6-8, and three girls.

Later, I found myself easily handling their active, rowdy need for fooling around in class.  I abandoned my self imposed worrying about keeping them all on task 100% of the time.   I was able to have fun and enjoy them as individuals.  I especially enjoyed seeing Elliot engaging with his "old" friends while reaching out to make new friends.  

And this morning I was asked why I'm not teaching in a school.  I didn't know what to say.

I can only say that when we find the right learning environment for Elliot, I intend to be open to that path as a profession.  I promise myself that I will be open to it despite my old fears.

I've also just learned of a fantastic Charter school that focuses on Environmental Studies.  It is a middle high school so we'll have to wait until Elliot is in sixth grade.  The school is free, in a town called Snow Camp in the mountains, 45 minutes away.    So there is a light shining somewhere that we might follow.........

Today I'll close with a quote from Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture.  In a speech to graduates at Carnegie Mellon University, Randy said

              "We don't beat the reaper by living longer.  We beat the reaper by living well.  Find your passion.  You will not find that passion in money or things.  That passion will be grounded in people."   

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

This week I am a teacher

This week I am a teacher at the New Garden Friends Meeting's Summer Program. Elliot and 13 other children are in our class.  Yesterday was my first day.  I've had to spend less time here due to organizing lessons, which are all centered around Japan.   During the week, the students will have an opportunity to sing songs in different languages, taste traditional Japanese dishes, make art, read stories, play games and listen to a speaker from Japan who will discuss the affects of the Tsunami. 

In the past, my teaching experiences have come with a feeling of anxiety.  There's always an underlying sense that they'll look at me and see all the cracks.  The insecurity.  I've imagined that they can hear the little voice in my head telling me that I'm a boring idiot.    Perhaps they've heard everything already.  I have to admit there were a few moments that went like that...

Especially when I presented some beginning language lessons and one bright student rattled off a whole sentence in  Japanese which I didn't understand.  I failed to ask if anyone had ever been to Japan or studied the culture.  Note to self:  find out what they already know and go from there!

So today there is little time for writing.  I hope you are having a great week....

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Elliot's 7th Birthday

Hi friends,
I hope you are enjoying a beautiful weekend and that you are happy.  Our family is still feeling energized and uplifted by the success of Elliot's birthday.  It was a nearly perfect day of sunshine, laughter and love. I say that it was nearly perfect only because our families are so spread out that grandmas, uncles, aunts and cousins were not able to be with us. If you are one of those family members reading this today, know that you are loved and missed.   

It absolutely does not seem possible to me that Elliot is now a seven year old boy.  But days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into years.  And through all of those moments, our love for him keeps growing.  Just like it does for Emily. 

I'm not sure if Richard will read this.  In any case I want to say publicly that this day would not have been such a blast without his ingenuity and vision.  I'm sure I never would have thought to bring bags of soil and gems from the mine home to share with the children.  Or have the skills needed to construct a sluice and a concession stand.    After the last guest said goodbye, he said "I wouldn't have been able to do this without you, Jenny.  On my own I think of some good ideas, but when we work together on something, the results are fantastic."

Which made me feel great.  And I am extremely happy to be married to someone who listens to my ideas and helps them to grow into a reality.

Yet this event would not have been a success without our friends and neighbors who arrived with eager excitement and happy faces.  

Emily was our resident artist, generously painting some faces more than once!

Elliot with his friend Ryan.  Both boys share the same birthday.

Our friend Cae takes a turn at the concession stand.  The children called it the "confession stand"

Gems and crystals to take home!

Elliot only blew out half of his candles, then let Ryan blow out the rest.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Our friend Tom

 Crickets chirp in the pitch black night from beyond an open window.  The air is cool but Ozzie remembers the hot day and sleeps on the slate floor.  

I've been reading, running, sewing.  Taking my time with life.      

Returning to the habit of listening to "my" music.  Realizing that all this talk of "happiness" is good for me, but knowing all the while that I like sad, sorrowful stories and music.  If I had to only listen to happiness and bright cheery things I think I would go mad.           

I was an English major, after all.  Perhaps one of the most depressing things to study is literature.  I remember asking my professors when the "happy" stories would be on the syllabi.  They told me to seek elements of hope in writing rather than joy.    

Even the bible says that in knowing sorrow you will have wisdom.  Today I got a big dose of it.

 And I want to seek hope in this news.

  Our neighbor, Tom Norman,  has been given a grim diagnosis of cancer.    

Tom is a genuine, caring neighbor.  He served his country during WWII.  He lost his wife many years before we moved next door, a loss so deep that he mentions her with tears in his eyes.  Tom has a peach orchard and a fantastic garden.  This year he'll turn 91.    

Tom plays a banjo with the Lonesome Strings.  When he goes out "pickin" he means that he's going to play a very special kind of music called high lonesome blue grass.  This type of blue grass is very old and unique, nothing like contemporary country music.  He has two sons, one who is an artist.   My husband, Richard is very close to him, and shared this sad news after dinner.

Our house is quiet tonight.    

So we will think of ways to be there for our good friend as he faces this next great challenge of his life.  I think it will kill me not to hear him fire up his noisy garden tiller at 1:00 every day.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Independence Day

We were up bright and early yesterday for Greensboro's Independence Day parade.   Richard and I were pleasantly surprised to discover that this event was relaxing and fun.
Uncle Sam leads
Elliot made the little blue felt hat on his Zebra.
Greensboro has a rich Revolutionary heritage and is named after General Nathanial Greene.
I love Richard more every day for the kind of Dad he is.  The loving kind.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My summer read

  In no particular order, I spend most of my time and energy on keeping our home, mothering, my relationship with Richard and developing Knees and Paws.  This summer I'm awakening to the fact that I forgot to put myself on the to do list.  There is no excuse, especially since Elliot is becoming more independent every day.

  Recently we've had beautiful weather. This has helped me to help myself. Several days ago we had a heavy rain storm that was followed by days of blue sky, low humidity and reasonable temps.  I took advantage of this by running in the mornings, possible again because Emily is available to help Elliot if an emergency arises.   These runs have triggered good feelings and deep relaxation. 

In order not to neglect myself, I've also made time to read for pleasure. This time I'm reading Be Happy by Robert Holden. I chose it because I like to examine my human condition through a scientific lens. It helps me remember that I'm much more complex than the reflection in the mirror. It helps me to avoid the trap of evaluating myself  in comparison to the media's standard of what is "good" or "perfect."

So far, one particular passage in the book has been a complete revelation.  I was surprised to discover that emotions are like messengers. Perhaps you already knew this.  Just in case it is helpful in any way, I'd like to share the following passage:

Fear---- wants you to know you are being way to independent and not trusting enough in life, God or others to help you.

Anger--- is trying to tell you that you keep giving your power away inappropriately in certain situations.

Stress--- is an invitation to change something.  You are being asked to make better, smarter choices.

Resentment--- wants you to see that you are in sacrifice, playing the role of martyr, and leaving yourself out of your life.

Guilt---- is a sign that you are out of integrity with yourself and it's time to be as God created you.

Exhaustion----is a message that there is a better way. It wants you to listen to your wisdom.

Envy--- is a siren that says, when are you going to see how beautiful you are?

Depression-- is a call for love.  It wants you to know that you need to love yourself and accept more love from others.

Wounds--- are invitations to practice forgiveness so you can set yourself free again.

Grief---- wants you to give yourself the gift of your own attention and to make sure you don't lose sight of what's really true.

Pain---- is a reminder to be true to yourself, to remember who you are, and to stick to your true purpose.

Anxiety----is a call for help.  It is asking you to be open to more help from everyone and everywhere.

Holden closes this chapter with a line that I love.  "And the truth is that you are not meant to do your life on your own.  That's what unhappiness is really trying to teach you."     

Friday, July 1, 2011

Preparations underway

Here's just a sneak peek at our preparations for Elliot's party.  We decided months ago to create a Gem Mining experience for the children. Elliot loves crystals and enjoyed his visit to the Rose Creek Mine in Franklin, NC when we vacationed in the mountains.  He had so much fun that we purchased several bags of soil mixed with gems and crystals to take home.  Richard will be setting up a mining operation in one area of the back yard. (I've just been informed that this area will have an above ground "tunnel" with lights!)  The children will also get to take home their gems and crystals.

Emily and I have been working on setting up a carnival style concession stand where we will "sell" hot dogs, treats and plastic trinkets.  Several friends have been sending in great ideas on facebook.  I asked what they would include on the menu.  So far my favorite suggestions are fruit kabobs and frozen grapes, but I think we'll also include pop corn and cotton candy.

It has been said that anticipation increases our joy...

Today we are having a blast working together as a family in anticipation for the big day.

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