Tuesday, December 25, 2012

This Christmas Morning

This Christmas, Santa came to our house, possibly near midnight when we heard a thud on the roof.   I woke up at my usual 5:30 am, to a deep silence.  Ozzie followed me downstairs and had a peek under the tree.  Smelling a mesh bag of dog bones, he gently lifted the bag in his teeth and carried it over to the rug.  While the coffee dripped, I sat down to wait.  Usually, this never happens.  Usually, Elliot or Emily, or both would be jumping on my bed and waking me from a deep slumber. 

This year was different and the same as Christmases usually are.  This year was different because I decided to be happy, no matter that Emily had to go back to her life up north.

There's too much good to celebrate in life to spend a single moment moping about loss, goodbyes and long distance family.  I took a shower, ate a cookie for breakfast, and still, Elliot slept on.  It was a quiet, foggy sunrise before I heard his foot stomps in the hall.

"Merry Christmas!!!!!!!" he said while pounding down the steps.

"Merry Christmas Elliot!" we said, giving hugs and smiles.  He made a bee line for the corner, where Santa had indeed left a few packages to open.

"This is the best day of my LIFE!"  he said, ripping open a box with a Lego The Clone Wars Video game for his Xbox.  Then he jumped on his go cart, a German Kettler Car.  A go cart is Elliot's dream come true!

There were many gifts to open under our tree this year, and lots of surprises.  My mom is continually generous with all of us, sending a big box stuffed with beautiful presents.  Richard enjoyed his big box of kitchen tools including a food processor. I was thrilled to find a gift card for Barnes and Noble....just in time to start rebuilding my library!

Emily also had many gifts to share with us, and lots of fun activities.  We made the most of every single moment. 

Every Christmas seems to come and go so fast, and just when I'm beginning to make the holiday a part of daily life, I have to start thinking of the ordinary calendar once again.  But for now, Richard has the rest of the week off and we plan to really relax and enjoy the every day blessings.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I'll be back again after the New Year.

 Peace to you my friends,


Friday, December 21, 2012

Comfort and Joy

Today there are desperate people living daily with severe anxiety, depression, addiction, and a multitude of painful challenges.  I'm becoming more aware of this troubling society as I spend time outside of my usual circle of internet haunts.  I'm disturbed by television news and the internet.

Disturbed and afraid.

This expanding perspective has granted the gift of gratitude for being me.

Just me, the way I really am.

And while I am feeling good about my situation in life, I realize that the practice of writing is an act that constructs an identity.  What I write here effects the shape and shadows, the light and lines of my soul mass, if souls can contain weight or form.  Writing is a fluid act of creating me.

I have a mind, and I'm training it to obedience and purpose.  It is serious business, and I am a serious person. On another level, writing is an act of letting go.  It is a way of being open, of letting something flow and fall through me.

 I am also lighthearted and humorous and can be incredibly silly in real life.  But sometimes that never makes it to the page.  I hope to include that part of me more often. 

    As a writer constructing the soul mass, I have often thought of leaving the internet entirely for a long sabbatical, perhaps for the rest of my life.  I sometimes wonder:  what good is it really contributing to the quality of my life?  Shouldn't I be out in the garden, in the woods, on the lake?  Then I remember that I am developing within a loving community as well as a troubled society. I don't want to write by myself in a room of my own, or on a grassy hill with no one to talk to. I need the nurturers, the spiritual guides, the seekers, the positive, loving kind people who are also human and fallible.  I need those kinds of teachers for my mind and heart the way my body needs healthy nutrition and plenty of sleep, fresh air and exercise.  Sure, those kinds of writers do exist in the library on a shelf, but they are rare.  There is a lot of serious intellect on those shelves, not a bounty of thoughtful people sharing the goodness of ordinary daily life in a grateful way.  The library is not blogland.

I need living friends whose act of writing kindness uplift my life and help me to carry the kindness outward into the three dimensional world.  I need their energy of goodness.  It is one of the best gifts I receive.

Merry Christmas to all of my wonderful, vibrant, loving and kind friends here.  Peace and blessings of comfort and joy.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

May There Be Peace

The Peace Quilt by Elizabeth Graf

Today I'm sharing the work of fine artist Elizabeth Graf.  Her colorful, evocative work is available here:

In the spirit of sharing calming messages in a time of uncertainty, I'm following the example of artist Eric Carle, who posted this message with a beautiful collage today:

"May there be peace for children everywhere.  May there be peace for all."

 Eric Carle

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The One and the Many

Perhaps this isn't a time for words.

Perhaps this is only a time for silent prayer, for the families and all of those affected by random evil and deadly bullets.  Words of strangers cannot fill the void left by the loss of a child or family member.  While research has proven that the prayers of people unknown to cancer patients has a positive effect, I wonder if the prayers of our nation and the world will have a positive impact on the families enduring the tragedy in Connecticut.  I think about being one person in a world of many who suffer, and it seems impossible that anything I do or say would have an impact or change a single thing.

But I'm going to keep praying anyway.

I spent yesterday in a happily ignorant state, not having turned on the television or the computer.  It was a "ninja mission" day.  Elliot's mission was to shop for toys for children experiencing homelessness.  While the unspeakable act was happening, I was standing in an aisle in Walmart while Elliot carefully worked out his decision.  He was frustrated by the price of toys, commenting on the fact that some of the items were "fake" Lego, or cheaply made junk.  He wanted to give something really, really good, and I was feeling emotional thinking about how seriously he was taking this responsibility.  I watched him push little buttons on action figures, take some items off the shelf, check prices and ask questions. He fully understood that his choice would affect a child's Christmas morning.

  In the end, he chose two folding scooters, thinking about the hours of play he enjoyed on his own scooter.  When we arrived at the IRC building (a day center for people experiencing homelessness), a man with white hair approached us in the parking lot, beaming a smile, carrying a plate of baked goods.  He addressed Elliot and said "Thank you so much for coming here today and bringing toys for the children!" (Was this man the REAL Santa in street clothes? He introduced himself as "Skip" but he was jolly, a little round, and wearing red.)

 Inside the building, we were surprised to see that the walls had been freshly painted a beautiful shade of calming green.  As Elliot explained to the receptionist that he was bringing gifts for children "ages five to 12", he received more warm greetings and gratitude.  On this visit, both of us felt a little less intimidated and more comfortable. Repeated exposure grants the gift of familiarity.  We recognized faces and understood the atmosphere a little better.

  On the ride home, we resumed a discussion about fear.  Elliot said that he no longer feels afraid at the sight of a homeless person, because he is helping.  Giving has equipped him with a path to courage.

I don't have any answers when it comes to the occurrence of violent rampages in our nation or terrorism in this world.  I am often afraid, and left a good job in the heart of a dangerous neighborhood because of my fear.  So it is incredibly important to me that I am able to share the truth of my fears to my child, but in such a way that he understands the importance of hope, and how to take action in the face of fear. 

Individually we are one, together we are many.  Today my action is to pray with the many. 

Dear God, take this world into your loving hands.  We need you more than ever.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Living Inside of Time

Life-long learning means that sometimes I find a huge gap in my education that needs to be filled.  How did it happen that I somehow missed ever knowing the name Ruth Gruber?

Last night, sitting in my thickest socks, drinking tea with a blanket and a head cold, I watched the brilliant Ruth Gruber in a documentary of her life called Ahead of Time.  While I leaned closer to hear the mind blowing story of her life, my heart leaped at several points, the first being the moment when she tells her father that she doesn't want to be a secretary or a teacher, but a writer.  The second was when she described this concept of "living inside time."

During my journey with the Religious Society of Friends, I've discovered the benefits of waiting, patience, sitting, and silence.  But this concept of time was new to me, even though it made perfect sense.  Today, as a way to open the workweek, I want to share a passage from the introduction of Gruber's book Inside of Time.

     "It was on my first trip to Alaska during WWII that I learned to live "inside of time."  I might be sitting in a place like Nome.  I would send a radio message to Anchorage for a bush pilot to pick me up and fly me to Point Barrow.

     The answer would come back--- "See you Tuesday, WEAPERS."  "WEAPERS" meant weather permitting.  Tuesday came.  The next Tuesday came.  Then the next, but no bush pilot. Usually it was the weather.  Or the pilot was sick or on a binge.

     Until that fateful voyage, I had been a restless fighter against time. If the elevated train from my shtetl in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Manhattan was a few minutes late, I screamed at it under my breath like a longshoreman.

     Now, instead of sending my blood pressure rocketing, I began to use the days and weeks of waiting.  Wherever my lap was became my desk.  I could fill more pages in my notebooks, send more reports to Harold L. Ikes, secretary of the interior---for whom I was working as field representative and later as special assistant---and interview more people, especially the Eskimos, whose serenity and affirmation of life I so admired.

     Time was no longer my enemy. Now it enveloped me, liberated me.  Living in a magical circle of space and energy helped fuel my love of words and images, the tools with which I would later fight injustice."

This new teacher in Ruth is a gift to me.  I'm learning that my impatience is not helping me to accomplish anything.  And to have a new concept of time as we head closer to Christmas is such a blessing.  I vow not to get caught up in the mania of trying to create some kind of magic in our house, when this season really is about the coming of Christ the Lord.  I never feel ready for this. 

This expectant, waiting time is a challenge. I want to have peace in my heart and not stress.  I've learned how to use anger as fuel for creating good things and see my complex emotions as sparks for transformation and forgiveness.  The next step is to use impatience as fuel for learning how to live inside of time.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Colors of My Daughter's Room

The following is an original poem I wrote today, with plans for later revision.

The Colors of My Daughter's Room

I watched her walk under the arch,
Saint Louis in the spring,
That gateway to the West.
The sound of suitcase wheels
scraping concrete,
rolling away,
following tennis shoes.

Then at home there was a space.
The one I tried to fill by starting

Roll up the posters.

The colors of my daughter's room
Change with her absence
When I have hope 
Of her return.

We share a past
One walked away
And someone stayed.

The tone I spoke
A sound that flashed!
Let go of longing the past

Walk into now
With older eyes,
The child grown.

Pink curtains stay
Because I compromise
This new condition
Of my liberty.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Our Clarence the Angel

Every time we make the seventeen hour journey to Richard's family farm in Missouri, I return home with a fresh perspective on faith and life's purpose.  This past Thanksgiving, we spent a week visiting our loved ones on a fifty-three acre farm, with rolling hills and spectacular sunrises.  The air was cold and windy.  Out on that landscape, I woke up to my life.

And the sheer beauty of being alive.

Sometimes the past can be a complicated mess of confusing emotions.  Painful memories surface, yet those memories don't stop the human spirit from healing.  I learned about unconditional love this week, and it made me cry.  

Then, on the ride home, Elliot was stricken with a fierce stomach cramp that made it painful to walk.  For several hours, he suffered in the back seat and we worried.  Then we prayed.  We prayed mile after mile for Elliot to be relieved of his pain, then stopped at a truck stop for medicine.  On the way back to our car, we were stopped by a man who struck up a random conversation.  This man claimed to be a doctor, and told us never to underestimate our child.  He said that when he was a boy, he told everyone he was going to be a doctor, then grew up to attend college and achieve his dream.  The story he told about being a black college student in the south during the time of integration was gripping.  He captivated us with his story, and while he spoke, the world around us faded to the background.  I was aware that I needed to attend to my son who was having an urgent issue, but felt prompted to be patient a little while longer and listen.

While the man spoke, I noticed that it was unusual for a doctor to be dressed in a suit jacket that was frayed and worn, with a rumpled flannel shirt underneath.  As the conversation came to a close, he mentioned the word "Savior" and sent us on our way.  When we sped up to enter the highway, I asked Elliot how he was feeling.  He said, "I'm completely healed."

Richard and I both spoke aloud our suspicions that the black doctor was really an angel in disguise, sent to help Elliot and to give us hope and encouragement.  He reminded us of Clarence from It's a Wonderful Life.

The thing about faith is that you don't have to prove it to anyone. You just believe. 

We came home to find everything just as we left it, but somehow we were different.  We were more appreciative, more excited to be sharing this life together as a family.  When I looked at my desk top computer I realized that in that box, I also have a little home here on this blog.  I didn't miss the new project on Wordpress, and came home with no impulse to start over somewhere else.  I live in an older home in real life, and maybe because Blogger is an older internet home, that's what makes it feel better to me.  I'm not concerned about looking fresh or being taken seriously by critics. I only need a space to write what's in my heart and not worry about whether or not I appear to be a professional.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The World's Best Blogging Friends

Do you ever go though phases where you're emptying closets, repainting rooms, sorting drawers, and then suddenly look in the mirror and realize that the long hair just has to go?

I'm at that crossroads.

I want to dye it dark and cut it short.

Will I feel naked or liberated?

I don't know if I'm brave enough.  I feel like cutting my hair and also this blog.

Here I am standing at the edge, wanting to make a big leap into fresh air.  While I might be ready to graduate to a new writing space, what will this mean for the connections I have been blessed with here?  Does moving mean I have to say goodbye to people who I truly care about?

Besides painting rooms in my real house and clearing the clutter, I'm also experimenting with a new blog space on wordpress, but it's in its infancy and not ready to reveal. There's a new idea percolating in my mind for a bigger writing project, but Knees and Paws still feels like home. It's difficult to stop walking in the comfy shoes and break in new boots.

This week it's Thanksgiving. Truly I am thankful for my life and this journey.  Every year it feels better to be alive.  I am blessed with the world's best blogging friends. Each one of you have enriched my life by your posts and comments and by sharing life through these windows.  Here I've found an extraordinarily positive community, and because of you, I've made a shift in my perspective.  With your loving attitudes, I peek above the clouds and discover so much more beauty that I could see from my hole in the ground.  I don't have control over the people whom God chooses to place in my life, and I'm glad that I don't.  There's something completely wonderful about discovering the magical kindness in the hearts of people all over the world. 

For those who visit and comment, for those who visit and stay silent: blessings of abundance and peace to you this holiday season!  It's a time of compassion and sharing, but also stress and tension.  I hope to take things at a slower pace so that I can really contemplate my interactions with people, and my drives to give gifts.  I hope to find a place of peace about what I can afford, and what would be thoughtful, meaningful and not wasteful.  I also will be practicing a new approach to conversations, focusing on the present moment or the future.  The past is connected with happy memories for some and angry, painful experiences for others.

And in a last side note, I'm sending good intentions to the misguided spammers who have stopped by, and the hackers to my email account.  May you have a change of heart and spend the rest of your life making the world a better place!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

At the intersection of frugal simple and rich abundance

I find myself standing at the intersection of four roads: frugal, simple, rich, and abundant.

Have I been limiting my thinking, my writing, my creativity because of frugal living and simplicity?

While gaining control over compulsive spending and debt, I've noticed that my home and clothing have begun to look plain.  My choices for decoration do not truly reflect what I really want to be immersed in.  The same conflict has occurred in other areas of my life, such as in our home school.  I want it to be a rich and vibrant place, full of interesting things to immerse oneself in.  I want it to be rich in poetry, art, science, music, great long stories or simple fables.  I want there to be colorful paintings on the wall, like the kind inspired by Marc Chagall and Franz Marc.  I want poems to be read and written every day.  I want there to be so many books laying around that it becomes a buffet, a feast for the imagination.

I want it to be a place for making things, like handmade Christmas gifts inspired by Hans Christian Anderson.

I want to keep writing deeper, more complex thoughts and not stop just because what I was initially thinking would fit into a status bar.

For example, I recently realized the potential for re writing an entire academic paper about Genesis.   All these years later, I finally have an interesting thesis statement.  Dear Becky Gibson,  I'm sitting here with my hand raised to offer my thoughts that the garden of Eden is a metaphor for childhood.

Too late, she is retired, and I no longer feel the need to be graded.

  At the time of the assignment, I felt like my head was a dense brick where no sensible, clear thoughts could move.  Back then I was standing at the crossroad of single motherhood and food stamps.  I collected cigarette butts in an apartment complex to pay my rent. I had bigger problems than trying to write deep probing thoughts about classic literature or scripture.

  Now things just seem to flow out of me like a river.  I could be writing for real, for serious pursuit.  Some days I feel like that.  I'm in this place of rich inspiration.  I no longer stand in the middle of the stacks at the library and find myself unable to make a choice.

 I used to stand on my porch and smoke and ask that great frustrating question:  Is this it?

I want to tell that person on the porch that there's so much more!  There's so much more in every moment, to do and to be and to think about and to make.  Don't limit yourself because you think you don't have enough money or time or patience or solitude.

Make one little thing and just keep on going.  The thing you made on the sewing machine will turn into a thought you can keep writing about.  The painting that you worked on yesterday will turn a whole room into a new space.

Just keep on going, there's so much more.  I want to tell that young woman on the porch feeling bereft and lost that there will be so much more, like going to see Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend perform your favorite songs while you stand in the arms of the love of your life.  I want to tell that person who decided to let go of her wishing to be a professional that Hans Christian Anderson escaped a dreary life by telling stories to children and making art.

I want to tell her to stop comparing herself to everything and everyone else and be who she really is, totally flawed but kindhearted.  To keep that part of herself even if she abandons all those pursuits that once made her happy.

Keep thinking about new things and old things and imagining what if.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Grandiose Notions

In my youth, writing was a career path that only the extremely intelligent, imaginative, well educated, gifted, inspired people dare travel. We didn't have self publishing, and mostly wrote longhand in paper notebooks or typed our thoughts on a typewriter.  To be a writer meant that you first spent agonizing years writing and crafting a manuscript of value, nervously sharing it with a trusted friend, then knocking on many doors, searching for an agent, praying that your first lines would be read by an editor sitting in a high rise in New York City.  During months of no response, you felt certain that either your manuscript was

 A. Never Read, or
 B. Quickly scanned with a smirk of distaste and thrown in the trash, or
C.  In the process of being rejected by an official letter to try again next time.

 Years later, I discovered that many people carry an unspoken desire to be an accomplished writer.  Many would-be writers start out dreaming of being published, discovered as a new and brilliant talent, instantly famous and constantly traveling for research and book tours.  Remember how Ralphie in A Christmas Story imagines the teacher's response to his essay?  I was am like Ralphie, a big dreamer, always hoping for gold stars and praise.  Like Ralphie, I often have to deal with reality after my grandiose notions are crushed like pop cans in a parking lot.

I admit that in my young adulthood, I fantasized about being interviewed on Oprah for writing a book that influenced millions.

Grandiose notions are a way to escape the dull gray days of winter and the boredom of kitchen work. As a child, I remember mentally recording domestic scenes as if I were in a movie based on the story of my life.

"There, in the brown and yellow kitchen, Jenny stood over the plastic can, peeling long strings of carrot that never landed squarely on the pile of trash, but draped over the sides like limp, wet socks on a clothesline.  Her father, who missed his true calling as a French chef, commented on the sloppy job performance."

It was fun to imagine that people would be watching this scene in a dark theater, munching on popcorn, totally entranced by a child peeling carrots.

In my final semester of college, my writing tutor, who was a poet, asked me what I planned to do after graduation.  I sucked in a big breath and let out my secret desire.  It came out like a squeak:  "I um, was, um, thinking about writing, err something like that..."

This poet, who later became my friend, said that I would know if I was a writer if language fascinated me so much that I read everything, everywhere I went.

  He said,  "if one day you find yourself intently reading the tag on a mattress, you are probably a writer."

God bless you, Doug, for encouraging me without adding an impossible criteria. You didn't know that I had just been told by my intimidating professor and academic advisor that I was more of a "reader" than a "writer." 

Many times I've heard that on the road to sustaining oneself, you must focus on the things you do best, and the subjects you like the most.

I started out like that.  I thought I was best at caring for children, so I became a licensed child care provider.  I thought I was best at cleaning, so I became a housekeeper.  I thought I was best at reading, so I became a librarian.  I thought I was best at being a mom, so I got married and started a family.  I thought I was best at gardening, so I became the manager of a garden center.  I've never been great at taking criticism or being rejected, so I never became a writer.  Grandiose notions got in the way.

Writing is more than being interested in mattress tags.  It's about thinking with your brain exposed to someone else.  Doug forgot to add that I needed to first be okay with that part. Writers have to be brave enough to show their minds and hearts. They have to relax and realize that the whole world is never going to even know that you wrote something. Or care.

Lately I have not been here, practicing my craft.  I haven't been visiting my fellow writers.  Life has been so full of things that I have avoided recording the carrot strings of daily living.  I often wonder if my blog is dead.

Then I remember that it still lives as long as I want to keep writing.  And relating to people on a deeper level than can be achieved in face to face conversations or in status updates.

For me, being a writer is now more about practice than results.  I just keep going on with it, never sure if it matters to anyone.  I'm okay with that.

It's just me, peeling long strings of carrots. 


Thursday, November 1, 2012

Elliot's Ninja Giveaway! Free Vinyl Graphics

This week we are excited to announce that Elliot's Ninja Art: Helping the Homeless One Ninja at a Time has received vinyl decals for vehicles and we're GIVING four of them away!  

If you would like to help people experiencing homelessness and join Elliot's mission to raise awareness and provide needed items, please leave a comment or send an email message to Jenny at kneesandpaws@yahoo.com. 

The graphics measure 10" x 10" and come with instructions for application and removal.  They are easy to apply and can be removed by using a hair dryer.  If you'd like a totally free way to spread kindness this holiday season, sporting this decal helps us spread awareness and continue Elliot's mission to give.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Swing and Sing! This is the meaning of life.

 When carrying the worry-bundles in my "parent" backpack, I often forget that a teacher-mom must equally be a learner-mom. Every single day, I must remain wide open to the lessons my children offer.  

First: go outside and swing.  Swing with abandon, with the wind in your face.  Defy gravity.  Swing up to the sky, touch your toes to the edge of the moon. 

Then, take time to learn how to sing.

For a week or so, I really thought I was getting better at this teaching journey.  I had a big plan for a month long project called Moon Journals, in which we would practice nightly observation, then create nature/art journals to record the process.  I checked out lots of books, spent a day with Elliot making home-made musical instruments to score poems, brought out the art supplies and planned.  It was a properly fleshed out unit study.  And it was working beautifully for the first week and a half.  But just now, as the moon is full, I am ready to let go of this plan.  Or at least relax my expectations.  It's difficult to maintain interest in any one thing for 28 straight days.

We've just said goodbye to my mom, who drove over 700 miles and through mountains for her annual visit.  We enjoyed every single day she was here, brightening up our lives with her love.  She was there with us when we said goodbye to our library friends.  She joined in our moon journal project, sitting in the dark with us on lovely warm evenings surrounded by Elliot, Ozzie, Annie, Richard and I.  We plugged in the strings of lights on the back porch and wrote creative thoughts about the moon together.  Together we shared what we had written, which infused the writing process with a warm, accepting, supportive feeling.  This is what I hope Elliot will experience more as he develops his writing skills.  I hope to teach that we write not to produce standard, acceptable sentences with proper punctuation, but to connect with others in a way that is different and somehow deeper than spoken conversation.

After a weekend of swinging emotions, I woke up to Monday.  I had just said goodbye to my mom, which is always difficult and sad.  I was full of worry as she was driving through a winter storm on the western edge of Hurricane Sandy.  I was also feeling a little lost because there seemed to be so many goodbyes last week.

My mom's visit began the day after my best friend's mother passed away unexpectedly.  So there was this hyper-awareness in my heart about us being temporal and how I've lived too far away for so long.  I've missed a lot of my mom's life. 

  Then there was also a little loss because the busy work season is over.  I closed up shop because there's no more time for last minute shipments to make it by Halloween, but anxious customers will still make demanding requests.  So there's a suspension of  daily routine.  Surrounding this vertigo, the news reports of the hurricane seemed to squash my usual drive to move through the day with purpose and activity.  It was like I was in a holding pattern, caught in a mix of goodbyes and what-ifs and wondering if New York would be as devastated as New Orleans.

But for a child, ordinary life is still happening.  The child is still engaged in activity and needs to have structure and a reliable routine even when things feel out of whack.

Sometimes it happens that Elliot is interested in learning something that I did not plan. When I am open to letting go of work and school and just "being" who I am, Elliot steps up and leads the day.  After lunch, while he played with Lego clone troopers, I turned on some music.  When he called me from the next room, I tuned off the speakers.  Then he said, "why did you turn the music off?  I like that song."

It was Heart of Gold by Neil Young.  I had it on my playlist on Spotify, so I played it again.  Elliot started singing along, so I printed out the lyrics.  I grabbed the harmonica, and soon we were deeply involved in listening and learning the notes and words.  When Richard came home, he brought down his guitar and for the rest of the evening we worked on learning the song together.  While the wind howled outside and the screen door slammed, while the Hunter's Moon was obscured by Sandy, we jammed.

I've been holding on to life as I know it with white knuckles; that's why change becomes such rough emotional territory.  Today I'm breathing out, looking forward to joining together with the family band.  In all the changes, I'm getting on the swing, raising my feet to the sky while singing.  Maybe my feet will touch the moon.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Our Library Closes Part 2

We live where the sidewalk ends, where the City stops and the County begins.  One mile from our home there is a beautiful lake (our city's reservoir) and a marina.  For the last few years our mobile library named "The Reading Railroad" has sat in semi-retirement at the edge of the woods, overlooking the lake.  On our weekly visits we weren't thinking about it's retirement.

We just enjoyed our Thursday visits, assuming it would always be around.  Since the beginning of our home schooling journey it has been a highlight of our week.  How wonderful it was to know we could walk through the woods or take a short drive to browse the shelves and chat with the librarians. We took it for granted that we'd be able to continue this way for years.  At times I did wonder why it never moved from it's spot at the lake.  I wondered why was it not being driven around to other places, to meet other children who might not have regular access to books.

For many years it was a truly mobile library, making trips to local child development centers all over the city.  Then it was parked and opened only one day a week.

When you notice the condition of the Reading Railroad, it looks brand new.  This is not a case of a decrepit, rusting, uncared for bus that belongs in a junk yard.  

It must have been an object of desire for someone with political power.  They must have been thinking, "what can we do with this vehicle?"  As if it wasn't doing enough by opening the world to people of all ages through books and literature, music, movies, and personal friendships.

As if it wasn't doing enough by helping children to learn to love reading and books.

For some person at a board room table, on paper they couldn't see the child who used to avoid books gradually come to look closely at the shelves, gaining the confidence to say to himself, "I can read this one!" At home, this child was inspired to find places around the house to be with the books, delighted to find interesting stories and information. He discovered how the words began to make sense, how they created images in the mind and brought emotion and feeling to the surface. 

The library sends out emails titled "Raising Readers" every month.  In those emails, there are tips to help parents.  Honestly, I never read those emails.  The tips are not really the answer to bringing a non reader into the world of books.

If you want to teach a child to love nature, you don't show him an animal in a cage.  That is not natural, that is captivity. If you want him to love nature, you take him outdoors.

 If you want to teach a child to love books, you don't bring a book to him and say "read this."  You take him to a library and let him browse in wonder.  Then you introduce him to people who care about children and books.  The answer to raising a reader is exploration of the stacks combined with trusting relationships.

When you are a small child, facing this great big, enormous challenge of learning to read, the people who are guiding you can make or break this journey.  When your kindergarten teacher is impatient, and when your first grade teacher sends home a backpack stuffed to the brim with unfinished work, a feeling of  "I can't do anything" sets in.

Remember this picture?

This workload was sent home in first grade as homework to finish over the course of one weekend.  Elliot sat for six hours a day trying to get it all done.

All of his recess time was taken away during the week to keep up with his daily work.

His teacher gave us a deadline that if things didn't improve by Christmas, specialist help would be the next avenue.

We weren't going to wait for that.

Elliot DREADED school.

At home, he wasn't even interested in stories anymore.

I cried myself to sleep the night I knew without a doubt what we were going to do.  I cried big, heaping sobs thinking about taking Elliot's education into our hands. I didn't know if I would be enough.  Now I know that I'm not enough, and that is as it should be.  Children need healthy community for learning.

Now I look back on that turning point when we withdrew Elliot from public school and rejoice.  We are living such a beautiful journey together, and we have found support in our community.

We needed people to trust along the way.  People who wouldn't be critical or overbearing, but who were gentle, encouraging and understanding.  We needed people who were there on a regular basis to offer support in a non-threatening manner.  We found them at the Reading Railroad.

We are so thankful to have Geneva Headen, Conductor of the Reading Railroad, as our friend.

When Elliot is visiting the library, his first steps are taken toward Geneva.  He's there with his books to return and they both fall into an easy conversation.  Her warmth, her gentleness, her kindness tells a child that this is a safe, good place to be, a place where you belong, where you are welcome.  Geneva is a friend to all of us, including our dog Ozzie.  On times when we've walked through the woods and brought him, Geneva comes out to greet him.

She is the kind of person who makes you feel good inside.  We love her.  Thankfully after the Reading Railroad closes, she will be working at another branch location so that we don't really have to say goodbye just yet.

We are also thankful to have met Sandra Cramer, who volunteers an entire day every week to help.  Sandra is also a gentle, trusting soul who is easy to talk to and approach with questions.  Elliot relies on Sandra to help navigate the stacks, and she walks with Elliot to search for books of interest.  For the last three weeks, Elliot has been totally engrossed in the Geronimo Stilton series because she pointed it out to him.  We have Geronimo on audio cds, on DVD, and in chapter books.

On the last day of the Reading Railroad, all three librarians will be together.  We'll get another visit with Carolyn Powell, and have another chance to say thank you to all of these beautiful people who have made such a positive impact on us.  They probably didn't even know how much they mean to us.

So we want to say thank you to Geneva, Carolyn and Sandra, for every kind word, for your constant, regular presence, for your generosity and friendship.  Thank you also for supporting Elliot's Ninjas and purchasing paintings to help people experiencing homelessness in our community!  That was such a great experience for Elliot to share his mission with you.  I was totally awe-struck by the level of trust that has been established between these women and my son when he shared his project.

We are not ready to say goodbye to our friends and the Reading Railroad.

Not ready at all.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When The Pieces Fall into Place

While the leaves are making soft landings, things here are falling into place.  Over a year ago, while brainstorming all the things I wanted to do with my Knees and Paws shop, one idea for an add-on product stuck with me.  I wanted to create a light weight "pet house" for kids who loved to play puppy.  Two weeks ago, while standing in line for fabric, I struck up a conversation with a customer who was crafting her own version of a playhouse for her three year old granddaughter.  I asked her all kinds of questions about the structure, and how she planned to build the internal parts.  Her idea was to use PVC pipes.  This wouldn't work for me because I don't want to worry about shipping that kind of bulk through the mail.

Then, just this morning, my good friend Corinne posted a status about making handmade gifts for her children for Christmas and asked her friends for ideas.  In the comments, someone posted a link to a McCall's pattern for a play house.  So I went to Amazon and conducted a search myself.  Minutes later, I ordered a pattern for a playhouse that fits over a card table.  It was the perfect size and shape that could be customized into a pretend "pet house."


So today I'm inspired! And excited!  I plan to host a big Christmas giveaway here on the blog that will include one of the pet houses, a set or two of Knees and Paws with assorted toys and accessories.  I am so excited to have something to work on after the Halloween rush is over.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Where the Sidewalk Ends, Our Library Closes, Part One

It is with a heavy heavy heart that I write these words.  Elliot and I have to say goodbye to our library at the end of this month.  It feels like amputation.

It feels like amputation because the City of Greensboro has decided to repurpose the bookmobile, The Reading Railroad, into a mobile nature education classroom which will be run by the parks and recreation department.

Many of my loyal readers understand how much I value nature and especially the importance of connecting children with as many natural encounters as possible.  For goodness sake, we named our home school "Learning Free and in the Wild" because of Elliot's love of nature biology.  His transition from traditional public school was influenced by the fact while he was in school,  he was only allowed fifteen minutes a day to play outside, and only if the weather was warm, clear and dry.

I believe in the necessity of a child's exposure to their natural surroundings on a daily basis.  We have spent entire days hiking trails during the Audobon Society's Big Back Yard Bird Count and identified over 300 birds in one afternoon.  Elliot hiked Stone Mountain in North Carolina when he was five.  He was tired, and he complained, but he finished.

Our son loves the natural world and is deeply concerned about it's protection.

Our sadness is in no way diminished by the idea of a new mobile classroom that aims to teach nature to children through books and caged animals.

I say, if a child wants to learn about nature, take him OUTSIDE.

There are over 90 miles of trails within the city limits, some of which connect to the Mountains to Sea trail that spans over 1,000 miles.  There are ten large parks, and numerous neighborhood parks.  There are three large public lakes, and several private lakes.  In this city, every child has room to play outside and experience nature on a daily basis.

If you have ever visited Greensboro or live here, you might say that the city and its surrounding areas look like a garden, part manicured and cultivated, part wild natural wilderness.  It's a place that you can connect with people while also finding solitude in nature.

Even in the inner city areas.  Even downtown.

In contrast, there is one Central library, and six branch locations.  Several of the branches, including Central library, are in locations that only the brave soul dare enter.  I can speak from direct experience having worked at one of these branch locations near the Coliseum and lost my job triggered by the event of a gangster pointing a semi automatic weapon at the staff and teens in search of his target; after which I took a medical leave of absence and returned later to discover that my position was terminated, no matter that I had a doctor's note stating the legitimate reason for my absence, which included stress from the assault incident in which a homeless patron attempted to strangle me to death for closing the building. While I worked at this location, I had to call the police nearly every single night for gang related activity. I lobbied for security and it was REPEATEDLY DENIED.

 Yes, there was grounds for a major lawsuit.  No, I did not follow up on that, but decided to take my career into my own loving, caring hands.

Yet that history has not taken from me my love of books, my love of libraries, or the devoted people who work hard every single day to share the world through literature and words to all people, regardless of their status or situation in life.

I care about libraries in the way I care about my family, about my church, about our nation.

Deeply. In a committed relationship sort of way.

So to just say "cest' la vie" and "au revoir" with a tissue at the corner of my eye is not my style.

I'm touchy, angry, and sad.

But mostly, despite that the mobile library here in my area was a portal to the world of books for Elliot and I in our home schooling journey, I will miss the people.

I will miss Carolyn Powell.

If ever there was a woman with a heart for all children, genuinely interested in their lives, it is Carolyn.  She has made a PROFOUND impression on Elliot, who struggled with reading and writing in his early years at school, but who is now bounding through chapter books and sitting for long periods, completely engrossed in the world of words.   While he sits on the bench in the Reading Railroad, he's so involved that he arrives at the counter saying "sorry it took me so long."

One day last month, before our weekly visit to the Reading Railroad, I purchased a box of  Entemann's donuts for Elliot as a reward, and he decided to share them with Carolyn and Sandra (a faithful volunteer...stay tuned for the next post to meet Sandra and Geneva, the other wonderful librarian) , with no prompting from me.  If you knew Elliot personally, you would know that a donut is more precious commodity around here than LEGO.  He doesn't even like to share donuts with me!  Carolyn has made such an impression on my son that she feels like a part of our family.  She has helped Elliot to feel great about being at the library, about books, about himself.  And I appreciate her because she makes me feel good too; more connected to society...homeschooling can be lonely for moms.  I have looked forward to our Thursday library visits more than big field trips or the rare moments of solitude I'm afforded at the Y during a work out.  I appreciate her open friendship, her knowledge, the way that she cares.  This is our library, this is where our sidewalk ends and our journey into friendship and the world of books begins.  You can't find this online, in a brick and mortar branch location, or at Central.  This is personal, intimate, needed, LOVED.

Please stay tuned next week for part two, to meet Geneva and Sandra.  We plan to stay connected despite this transition.  The last day that the Reading Railroad is scheduled to be open is Thursday, October 24th.

But this will not be the end of our relationships, or our love of books.  Despite erroneous, corrupt, misguided politics, no one can take that away.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Instincts

In the early darkness, in the cold, I've put on the flannel sheets and gone to bed early with a very fat book called Women Who Run With the Wolves by Estes.  I checked it out at the library not because I'm a feminist but because it contains old stories from oral tradition.  One of Estes' interpreted messages that I feel conflicted about is the idea that women should remember to listen to their instincts.

So while I'm reading along, I'm thinking, what she really means to say is to remember to listen to the still small voice, to emotional prompts, to intuition, to feelings, to preferences, to things that bring peace.  In my interpretation she's really saying to to be aware of feelings of conflict and not ignore the repelling or offensive jolt.  The one little word instinct caught my attention. 

 Instincts are not something we need to listen to, because by definition they must:

  •  be automatic
  • be irresistable
  • occur at some point in development
  • be triggered by some event in the environment
  • occur in every member of the species
  • be unmodifiable
  • govern behavior for which the organism needs no training.

Honestly, I would have a very difficult time trying to separate the things I do that are instinctual from the things I've learned to do.

Except maybe eat and sleep.

So I'm having a little argument with the writer in my head as I read along.  I do enjoy some of Estes' insights so far, but it's really dense and full of jungian psychology.  I admit that I have trouble with the discipline of psychology because it requires me to imagine that I have such a thing as a subconscious.  If it's subconscious, then I've not experienced it directly, I'm only consciously aware that it exists because I have been told that it exists, or that it theoretically exists.


Have you read this book?  Should I keep slogging through?  Was is worthwhile?  Did it change you or help you to be closer to your inner self?  Perhaps I'll scan through and just read the oral story portions.

If you haven't read this, but are reading something else right now that you love, please share!  I'm returning to the habit of books and trying to spend less time online.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Meaningful Weekend

I recently had a light-bulb moment that has given a deeper meaning to the sometimes frivolous activity of playing around, dabbling in a business. My etsy shop Knees and Paws is my creative outlet, but one day soon I want to pay bills and be successful at it. Within a week of reading Emilie's Wapnick's Renaissance Business manifesto, I was able to construct an over arching theme: Building on the
Theater of Childhood Imagination. I was so excited when this rose to the surface, because it helped to smoosh together and make sense of the various items I create. But I still needed a name change (this is still a hoped for dream), and a more concrete explanation. I still have no idea how to squeeze what I do into a concise phrase that would be worthy of a vehicle decal and have people immediately understand it.

What I really mean to share is that suddenly I realized the deeper meaning behind all of this silly creative stuff that ends up in my shop. I am not a foolish ding-bat lady who makes cat ears for a living. Here's what I REALLY do in my shop:

Almost every item in Knees and Paws was first an idea in the mind of a child. The process begins with the child, in the place within their imagined desires. The resulting product is a manifestation of their wishing.

I create things for play that children dream into reality. "Building on the Theater of Childhood Imagination" means that my shop is an ever-evolving collaboration between the playful-artist child who longs to experience what their imaginations feel like, and the skilled, constructivist creative person with tools and resources (parent-buyers + me).

The resulting products stimulate new or more expressive forms of live action role play and deeper conscious dreaming.
On the flip side of this exciting revelation, the season of Halloween is my bread and butter.  I could spend 365 days a year making black cat ears, paws and tails and sell out in the first few weeks of October.  But I did not do that this year.  I wonder if I will be financially intelligent and forecast for success next year, making cat ears and pink unicorns every day.
Instead of working all weekend transforming two yards of black faux fur into paws, ears and tails, we took a road trip with our friends to the mountains for an apple festival.  This morning, instead of sitting down at my sewing machine, I made Amish Apple Cake, which is loaded with sugar but absolutely delicious.

The pace of my business success slows as my experience of family, friends and nature becomes deeper and more appreciated.  I savored the hike we took yesterday morning in the woods with our dog, even though we had to walk amidst the racing runners of a trail marathon.  Later that day, I enjoyed the mountain views and cooler fresh air, people wandering, and the scent of food cooked in the open air.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Spiritual Mirror

     Last night before drifting off to sleep, Richard said, "I've been feeling reflective lately."

And I responded, "Me too.  The rain does that for me."

It makes me slow down and rediscover the stillness that I often disturb by throwing too many pebbles into the well.

Photo by Steve Corey

After he said this, I remembered our recent days of rain and this thought arrived:  A single raindrop has a three dimensional reflective property. 

Millions of water droplets split the light into rainbows when colliding with golden rays of light.

Too much of anything becomes weary, and days of cloud cover can bring me down.  But thinking of a single drop, reflecting everything around it, multiplied by a million, a rain shower suddenly becomes a complex spiritual mirror showing us the inner life that a day full of hot, bright sunlight might wash out.

Outside my bedroom window, the pattering of steady rainfall on the maple leaves is the sound of a creek tumbling over rocks.  The sound washes away the worry and the mind chatter, bringing my dominating, language forming machine to rest.

Sitting at the open window, a freshness pervades my senses.  The scent of moisture calls for deeper, slower breathing.

What can we see in a single drop of rain?  Our world reduced to a tiny, reflected image:  a swirling motion picture show.

Is this how God sees us?  Through a veil of shimmering rainfall?  Is this how we see Him?

My longing to return to that still, quiet place inside calls me to return to the woods, to the field, to the mountain and the river.  To open the door and walk outside in the rain.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Scary Halloween Story: Jenny does the MATH

Happy October Friends!  In the spirit of all things spooky and scary on Halloween, I have a nightmare on Knees and Paws street to share.  Cuddle up with a blankie, light the candles and think brave thoughts...

Long ago, in the time of yore, when I was in seventh grade, I became stricken with a math phobia that clouded my life.  This phobia extended to a habit I developed of never remembering a person's phone number, as it just flew out of my brain as soon as my ear received the string of abstract numerals. 

If anyone were to imprison me as a hostage, the way to terrorize me would be to seat me at a desk and order me to complete algebraic formulas, long division and timed multiplication tests.  Then, when I've made a mess of the paper with my tears and smudged eraser marks, check everything wrong with a big red pen and never tell my why I miscalculated.   Write a big fat F at the top with a frowny face and make me feel like I'm permanently defective, a lost cause, an unteachable wretch.

In those days I never would have believed that one day I would pass my Praxis exam on the first try, one point above utter failure in math.  It was a major victory, which helped me to actually look at my check book once and a while.

My husband is a gorgeously handsome, loving, affectionate, intelligent, spiritual guy who knows how to kiss...but friends, he can do the math.  I depend on him for that.

 Through his complete understanding of all things mathematical, I have gradually released my firm grip on numeral aversion. 

So, three years after starting my Knees and Paws shop, I did some math!  I don't mean the kind of math where you check the bank account figures and either breathe a sigh of relief or grab a box of tissues and go back to bed.

This week, I found a formula for pricing an item and figured out the actual real numbers behind a set of products that I offer.  It turns out that my prices are closer to wholesale than retail.

Here's the formula:

Note: For a handmade item, labor is 10.00 per hour minimum.

If it takes me one hour to complete a set of cat ears, paws and tail, the basic black cat costume accessories set adds up to the following:  (warning: the following contains graphic images of NUMBERS!!!)

Time per hour + 2 (cost of materials) x 1.1= wholesale price.  Wholesale price x 2= retail price

So here we go:

One half yard of basic black cuddle plush (not faux fur, I mean the economy version) on sale works out to 6.50.  Thread, satin, headband and poly fill bring up the material cost to 8.50.  Packing materials cost 1.50, making a beautiful round number of 10.00 for materials.

Double that, and we have 20.00

Add in one hour of labor  10.00

1.1= wholesale price    33.00

Double that for retail    66.00

don't forget the gas!      4.00 per trip to the fabric store.  If I'm purchasing multiple yards then the cost is distributed to approximately .50 per item.  Taxes in North Carolina come to approximately 5.00.

66.50 + 5=  $71.50

When selling on Etsy, the customer pays shipping, unless I offer a free shipping sale.

To California, this might be an extra 8.00 just using standard USPS mail, not priority.

 But this story has a happy ending.  I do what I do for the love of it!  Last time I checked, there is no formula to calculate love.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Little Warrior Within

Sometimes I wonder if all the painful spots of my life are a consequence of times when I couldn't control the little warrior within.  Here I am, living over 700 miles away from my mother and my daughter, and truthfully this bothers me.  In fact it's a sore spot that hurts if I bump into that inner bruise of homesick.

Yesterday's cool, rain filled day must have primed the pump on those emotions in the well.  Maybe it was the phone call from Mom last night, the one where I could hear tears arriving in her voice as she said good night to Elliot.  Honestly, if it was only possible to see him twice a year it would break my heart.

Then I looked at the handwritten letter from Emily on the table and wondered if I too will end up being that far-away grandma, sending care packages and love and feeling sad that I'm not there for weekend visits and holidays.  I thought the terrible thought that Emily really doesn't ever need to come back here to go to college because if she ever chooses to take on more traditional, accredited learning, there's always online degrees.  Maybe she misses us terribly, but never enough to want to make a life here.

And I might just sit here and grow a little grayer feeling lost and full of "there's no hope."

Maybe it was the fact that I was listening to some really sad Irish music, which I love because it is so beautiful and is such a perfect accompaniment to the rain.  It brought an epiphany to the surface when Delores O'Riordan sang "there's no need to argue anymore."  I guess after every break-up, this is true.

The epiphany was that while I have been learning about the Quaker faith and the value of pacifism, on the outside I look like a pacifist because I don't own any weapons and have no desire to go to war.  But on the inside, I have a little warrior who is heavily armed.

Maybe if the little warrior within would put down her weapons, life would change.

A question arose.  What if I made a conscious effort to refrain from arguing, in the way that a pacifist refrains from combat?  If I just refused to engage?  To only speak what needs to be said without throwing up the shield of "I don't agree," and just let it all pass through me.

I look back and remember that the little warrior within fought hard to be released from parental bonds, only to grow wise at the fireside, when the flames died down and the glow from the coals made it safe to scoot closer.  Closer to the ones I fought with, closer to the ones I love and miss.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bubble Art Project

Sometimes getting an education becomes a boring routine, even for kids who are learning independently at home.  So variety and self guided learning projects are very important for success in our homeschool. We have found that interdisciplinary projects such as a mix of art and science raises the level of excitement and engagement. This morning I was inspired to set up a hands on learning activity in our kitchen.  When Elliot saw the activity, he said "ooooh! Science!"  And though it is part kitchen chemistry, it's also a wonderfully contained mess of an art project. 

Bubble prints are simple, fun, and fast.  Here's how:


  •  White construction paper or watercolor paper
  •  plastic straws
  •  cookie sheets with sides
  •  acrylic paint, watercolor paint, tempera paint or food color
  •  clear liquid dish detergent (other colors work, but add a tint to the color of paint)
  • water 
  • small cups
  • newspaper or drop cloth


 1.  Cover work areas with newspaper or drop cloth

2.  Make the bubble mix in the small cups using half dish detergent, half water, and a few teaspoons of paint or food color until you are satisfied with the intensity of the color.  Repeat until you have at least three different colors of bubble mix per workstation.

3.  Place the cups into the cookie sheet.  Put a straw into the bubble mix and blow gently.  Let the bubbles flow over the edge of the container.  Remove straw.  Lightly grab the bubbles with the paper.  The bubbles leave a colored print as they pop.  Put the straw back into the container and continue until you have filled the page with as many prints and colors as desired.

The result is simple to clean up, just rinse everything in the sink. 

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Unexpected View

At five o'clock this morning, I woke up feeling funny, stuck in a giggly fit of laughter.  The memory of a moment we experienced yesterday at the zoo popped into my head and sent me into a snorting cycle of gasping for control hysterics, doubled in a ball of shaking hilarity. I kept telling myself to settle down, it wasn't really that funny.  Richard lay next to me wondering what was so entertaining.  Without joining in my laughter, his response was to dryly agree, "yes, I did overhear that. It was funny."  I guess at five am laughter like that is not contagious.  I'm sure you won't laugh either, as it would be too difficult to replay the moment as it actually happened in real time. 

Elliot and I sat down on a large wooden crate, glad for a place to rest and enjoy the experience of observing a group of chimpanzees.  While we observed the enclosure, we listened to the comments of the older couples that were sharing the small glass viewing area with us. Being suddenly aware of our fellow observers, I looked around and realized that we were taking up a lot of room as we sat on the crate. I moved our water bottles and scooted closer to Elliot.  Soon after making more space, one of the women came over to rest beside us.  A few seconds later, we all enjoyed watching the group of chimpanzees as they came very close to the glass. Someone mentioned that all the chimps sat with their backs facing us. 

And then Elliot and the rest of the group got a very intimate look at the backside of a chimpanzee.  One of the eldest chimps in the group stood up to expose a very saggy, wrinkly dark pink behind.  It drooped like a sack of loose pantyhose. It was a startling, alarming sight to an eight year old who is sensitive.  In an audible voice, he said

"Uggh!  How did that happen?"

And the woman behind me dropped a grape she was eating.  We heard her surprised chuckle, more like a guffaw, as the grape rolled in front of our feet.

I mumbled something about the natural process of aging, and we made our way out of the viewing area.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Rainbow Window

In the house on Brendonwood, mine was the only bedroom with a window that faced east.  On clear mornings, my pink room would glow with the morning sunrise.  One summer I spent a few dollars on a rainbow decal for this window, and after that, each sunrise also arrived with a rainbow reflection on my wall.  As the sun rose, so did the rainbow.

What a happy way to wake up on summer mornings.  Often, if it was warm enough, I might have the window open with a fresh breeze blowing in and twittering birdsong to further lift my spirit.  On weekends, there might also be an enticing, comforting aroma of pancakes rising into bubbly tender rounds on the stove.

The land around our house was a low lying valley, with heavy snows in the winter, abundant rain in spring, regular summer storms and cool and sometimes freezing autumn days.  When the yard wasn't covered by snow, the grass was deep, lush and kelly green with soft earth underneath.  Walking on it in bare feet was softer than carpet, and intensely aromatic.

Despite being a northern climate, in this area, gardens thrived in summer, and fall harvests were bountiful.  On Saturdays, I would look through the rainbow window and see my father working on the weeding or planting a row of corn.  I can see his blue jeans and the pocket with a white hankerchief he used to wipe the sweat from his brow.

Sometimes on summer nights, a thunderstorm would roll in.  I loved the sound and the energy of it, and would arise with the sound and open the window for a closer experience.  Lighting would light up the valley in white, then as it faded to black, I would feel blind for a moment. When it struck again, I'd be delighted by the sight of the wide land, the indigo sky and the dark outline of the trees.

As I travel on the inner journey, consciousness is like the night storm.  Sometimes I glimpse the meaning of my life and am thrilled by the beauty of what I've been given.  Then, in a flash, in the rush of now, and do, and let's, the darkness settles in and blots out the wow of what I was just experiencing.

During those years at the rainbow window, I struggled with all the normal growing pains of childhood, some that are better left covered under the gravel of forget.  Mostly, that northern, rural, idyllic childhood that my parents provided becomes sweeter for me with time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My latest obsession

After being blessed with a few sales, I made a trip to the fabric store.  It's a bad habit of mine, to keep recycling the profits into new materials.  But I can't resist a day in my little corner sweat shop.  Sunday was cool, rainy and the perfect day for uninterrupted creativity.  Well, I'm sure there were a few interruptions, but no one really wanted to cross the threshold into my world of flying fabric scraps, thread balls like tumbleweed, the air filled with floating plush fiber to find me, buried in my cozy mess.

After messing around with some really crazy long fibered faux fur, I got out the vacuum and began to assemble something that I wanted. 

If there's time, I might just make an alternate version of this for myself, minus the poodle ears and tail.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Six Homeless Families

One of Elliot's goals for his service project to "help the homeless, one ninja at a time" was to raise enough funds to bring at least one homeless person away from the street and into a safe, permanent home.  It was an enormous, almost impossible goal for a child of seven.  I attempted to explain the concept of how much money that would take, not to discourage him from trying, but to provide a realistic perspective.  At age seven, Elliot thought that maybe one hundred dollars could buy someone a house. His response was to use the first thirty dollars to purchase a tent.

Perhaps this is cliche', but with God, all things are possible.  ALL things.

Five months after opening up Elliot's Ninja Art  he has achieved and gone beyond that goal.  It turns out that it wasn't necessary for him to actually earn thousands of dollars, but to raise awareness in our community. 

Six homeless families are now preparing to move into six apartments. It didn't happen as a result of the television news broadcast and Elliot's interview, or the newspaper article in the Greensboro Voice.  One day we acted on the suggestion of Elliot's Taekwondo master to make a flyer.  We made several copies, and Richard took one to work.

Two weeks ago, I received an unexpected phone call from a gentleman at Richard's workplace who wanted to order a custom painting.  Our conversation, catching me by surprise, was brief.  Later, Richard came home and explained that this man was very interested in Elliot's mission, and also requested contact information for people we have met along the way who work to provide services and shelter to people experiencing homelessness.

This week, we learned that this man is the owner of an apartment complex with six vacancies that he is willing to open up for families on the street. 

We are continually humbled and awestruck by the events that have been unfolding through Elliot's project.  I once believed that in order to be successful, one had to land a respectable career, work hard, and continually earn more money to establish financial security.  I didn't expect that in order to be successful, one could simply encourage and support the blossoming of a child's beautiful idea.

  The one thing that helped me to avoid my imagined and long hoped-for professional life was the thought that I would have to make lots of childcare arrangements and hire help to keep up the house.  I'm learning to let go of that artificial and idealistic image, and accept that I am where I am right now for a very important reason.  I remind myself that I want to be here in my second hand clothing, with no important, demanding, exhausting, stressful job to do.  Even if some days at home can be just like that.

Time keeps moving along and hopefully I move and grow with it.  Last night while lying awake in the middle of the night, I realized that I have a habit of believing that life as it appears now, will stay the same.  A memory of Emily and I playing basketball in the dark on a clear fall night came into my head.  While we shared the magic of how the night sky can release one from inhibitions, from constant tasking, from the assumed roles we take on during the day, the kid in me came out to play. I didn't mentally forecast her move up north.  I thought we would always have time to shoot some hoops under the stars.

And now, I keep thinking that it will be like this forever, Elliot and I doing "school" in the mornings.  His handwriting forever the same.  His pencil dropping habit.  His lack of focus on things he really doesn't like to do.  I forget to forecast that one day, he'll be signing his name in a flash, grabbing the car keys and heading out the door.  My prayer is this:  please let him take what he's learning now about impossible dreams and God be a seed firmly planted.  Let it be a perennial or an evergreen.  Let this miracle of six families be a reference point for constructing big dreams in the face of so much reality.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sunshine and Poetry

The days of glorious fall have arrived in our town.  After a week of pressing humidity and rain that crumples clothing, curls hair and flattens the will to take our dog for a simple walk, we are feeling light, our bodies stuffed full of fresh air and sunshine.  The windows have been opened, the neighbors have come out to chat.  With a freshly mowed lawn, a trimmed arbor and a remade fire hearth we are celebratory inside.  Days like these arrive to change my mind.

Elliot and I have an outdoor classroom that we use when the weather is nice.  It's a screened porch that we've set up to include a large worktable, a chalk board and white board.  We keep the strings of lights up from Elliot's eighth birthday party, and plug those in every morning.  Yesterday, as we opened our notebooks and began our writing lesson, I could feel an overpowering pull within my soul to leave the porch and spend the rest of the day out in the yard.  Elliot felt it too.  After struggling with this feeling for another twenty minutes, I released my will and let the spirit carry us away from books and notebooks, out into the light.

I reminded Elliot of the importance of daily work to balance life, admitting that one of the big lessons of homeschooling is learning how to work around the house.  It would be perfectly okay to leave our books and work on some projects together.  While I know he would have rather hopped on his bike or spent the day in a tree, we compromised, with a play break or two when we needed to relax.

It was wonderful.  I enjoy spending time like this with Elliot.  He was very helpful and stayed by my side with a pair of clippers as we cut away the overgrown vinca vines and ivy that were dominating the arbor floor and making lots of hiding places for copperhead snakes.  While he worked, he kept telling me how he didn't like to cut the vines, not because it was difficult, but because he loved to have places in the yard that made him feel like he was in the jungle.  He said when he grew up, he would buy the house and let all the vines grow.

Then he sat underneath the butterfly bush, happy to find a secluded place he knew I would never ever cut down.  

There may be a time in life when Elliot decides to write about that memory. It was an experience he wouldn't have unless we followed that prompt from the spirit and walked away from the books.  I have forgotten to tell Elliot that writing is not only thinking, but thinking about our memories.  The way he felt when....

sitting underneath his favorite tree while yellow swallowtails and monarchs flutter on the blooms.

We began our school year learning to write and appreciate poetry.  I enjoy this part of teaching more than any other subject.  Although I am not a poet, it is the most enjoyable subject to teach, especially because there aren't many rules to follow, and a beginning writer doesn't have to write in complete sentences. I love it so much that I wonder if Elliot would be bored with me if I only taught poetry for the entire year.

We start with a sample poem, think about what's going on in the poem and try to pick apart the form.  I always ask what the poet is doing with the words.  How did they do that?  I also ask what the poet is trying to tell us. 

Here are a few of Elliot's poems.  He speaks them out loud and tries to write them as fast as they come out, but sometimes the words fly away before they can be captured on the paper.  So I take notes to remind him, as Eve Merriam does in Catch a Little Rhyme.


When I think about winking
I try to wink
but instead


You do not know my secret
I dash though the night
with my friend Flash
I dash with Flash 
to save the day
Monster Mash


Smart Jane farts loudly in a crowded elevator
and feels proud.

Jane let the fart fly in the White House Elevator
and President Obama smelled her very stinky fart.

That was not very smart.

In fact, some people think Jane is so dumb
she's hopeless.


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