Monday, April 30, 2012

Planning for a Homecoming

In a few days and one month, my daughter, who is no longer a baby, or even a child, or even an adolescent, but who will be an adult (Diane, here I emphatically insert a double EEEEK!) is returning home after four years away at school with her dad.  I have no idea how long she plans to stay with us...a month, a summer, a year?  I know she is fiercely independent like me and really wants to be on her own.  What better way to prepare for this event than by practicing some survival skills in the wilderness?

I'm so excited I could pop.

We are planning to embark on an eighty two mile hike.   In a location that is one of the most wild and free places I've ever truly loved.

At first we discussed taking the mountains to sea trail in North Carolina, but it's not completely finished yet and I would like to avoid roads through cities and towns.  So instead of trying to get to the beach by foot, we will begin there and stay there. I'm not sure how many days I can handle of this....

We might return weary and with an aversion for sand and sun.

It's a risk I'm willing to take.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

How and Why We Learn to Write

If the board game Candyland is a map of our homeschooling journey, we are in the molasses swamp.  For the first three hours of our school day, we are working through workbooks on spelling, writing, language arts and word lists.  Every day, Elliot arrives at the table just a little bit later, and drops his pencil just a few extra times.  He is already developing more resistant blocks to the subject he enjoys the least.

So I begin every day by asking him deeper questions about how he thinks he learns, and why he thinks this stuff is important, or not important.   He says he must learn to write and spell to avoid being a homeless man.

I'm not sure who put that in his mind, but I told him that as long as I am living, he will never be homeless, unless of course, I am homeless too.  I did mention that law enforcement officials claim that there is a direct correlation between the number of men in prison and the number of boys who have not learned to read and write by the third grade.

It's tough to inspire a boy with so much stuff going on in his head to sit down and concentrate on the basic building blocks of written language.  There's so much he could be doing! Climbing trees, playing LEGO, chasing Ozzie outside or watching his favorite cartoons.  And frankly, there's so much I could be doing during that time too, like sewing or exercising, gardening or blogging.

It's hard to really get excited about this stuff, especially when progress comes in increments.  Gradual improvement is happening, so slow as to be barely noticeable, but it is happening.  But before it happens, I usually have to ask Elliot directly "how will you learn?" and "why do you think this is important?"

Maybe learning to write is important for the simple reason of appreciating great stories.  For the past week, every day Elliot has anticipated our read aloud sessions of Charlotte's Web.  Last night, we read the final chapter.

And after last night, I'm convinced that Wilbur is the most tender-hearted character in all of American literature.  While I read the final chapter, so many things were playing in the back of my mind.  The story of little Brooke and her cancer battle, the loss of my father and grandmother, the miracle of meeting my very best friend and soul mate and the birth of my children.  So I cried while I read, and Elliot put his little finger tip on my cheeks to wipe the tears.  It was so hard to get through the words, but I kept going:

       "Charlotte," said Wilbur after a while, "why are you so quiet?"

       "I like to sit still," she said.  "I've always been rather quiet."

        "Yes, but you seem specially so today.  Do you feel all right?"

       "A little tired, perhaps, But I feel peaceful.  Your success in the ring this morning was, to a small degree, my success.  Your future is assured.  You will live, secure and safe, Wilbur.  Nothing can harm you now.  These autumn days will shorten and grow cold.  The leaves will shake loose from the trees and fall.  Christmas will come, then the snows of winter.  You will live to enjoy the beauty of the frozen world, for you mean a great deal to Zuckerman and he will not harm you, ever.  Winter will pass, the days will lengthen, the ice will melt in the pasture pond.  The song sparrow will return and sing, the frogs will awake, the warm wind will blow again.  All these sights and sounds and smells will be yours to enjoy, Wilbur---this lovely world, these precious days..."  Charlotte stopped.

      A moment later, a tear came to Wilbur's eye.  "Oh Charlotte," he said.  "To think that when I first met you I thought you were cruel and bloodthirsty!"  When he recovered from his emotion, he spoke again.  "Why did you do all of this for me?" he asked.  "I don't deserve it.  I've never done anything for you."  "You have been my friend," replied Charlotte.  "That in itself is a tremendous thing.  I wove my webs for you because I liked you.  After all, what's a life, anyway?  We're born, we live a little while, we die.  A spider's life can't help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies.  By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle.  Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that."

 And when Wilbur learns that Charlotte will not be returning to the barn with him,

   "Wilbur threw himself down in an agony of pain and sorrow.  Great sobs racked his body.  He heaved and grunted with desolation.  "Charlotte," he moaned.  "Charlotte! My true friend!"

Wilbur often thought of Charlotte.  A few strands of her old web still hung in the doorway.  Every day Wilbur would stand and look at the torn, empty web, and a lump would come to his throat.  No one had ever had such a friend---so affectionate, so loyal, and so skillful.


For me, this is what literacy is about.  To feel something deep and personal through the phenomenon of great storytelling. 

It's like prayer.  When I pray for myself, the spiritual feeling is flat.  But when I pray for the good of someone whom I've come to care about, the prayer has a certain vibrant purpose and energy.  I end up feeling intense emotion through the prompting of a story that contains a deep experience that attends to fact that everything we are doing here is temporary, including the beauty we see and the pain we feel.

And I don't know how to explain that when we sit down and face the workbooks.  But I think, maybe someday, Elliot will understand.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Birthday Love

As some of my friends are aware, Richard's birthday eve arrived and I still had yet to pick out a gift, or construct a plan for how we would celebrate.  Elliot wanted to give his Dad a big party.  I wanted to do something big too.  But Richard likes simplicity, and evenings of peace at home.  So in honor of that, we stayed in and grilled a nice meal.  My mom ordered a box of gourmet cupcakes from Maxie B's which he loved, and Elliot sang the birthday song.  And just a few hours before, we still had no gift.

It wasn't that I was completely broke.  The first time I was ever with Richard on his birthday, I gave him a pair of socks and a cd.  This year, I was doing a little better with the budget.  The problem was that I had not been thinking far enough ahead to shower him with abundant surprises, material or non material, like video messages from his family and friends, or something equally meaningful.  I did not make reservations at a nice restaurant or take him out to the movies.  I did not write poetry or make him anything handmade except for a card.

I even forgot to put the candles on his cupcakes.

But he was completely surprised when he opened his card.  Inside was a gift certificate to a brand new resort in our area.  I discovered that with any purchase of a spa service (such as a massage or facial), a person can enjoy everything from a sauna, whirlpool, fitness center, steam room and pool for the entire day.  What a bargain! I could afford one of the services so Elliot and I dressed nicely and made our way to the next town for an impromptu field trip.  Even though the Grandhaven resort is intimidating, we did not feel insignificant or out of place as we walked in a gave ourselves a little tour.    Elliot said he felt like he was going back in time as he walked past the enormous stone fireplaces and climbed flight after flight of stairs in the lobby.  We walked down lush carpeted hallways, past board rooms where meetings were taking place, past a little cafe, and down to the spa.  We peeked in through a crack in the door and knew that this was it!

We were very excited to share this gift with him, and indeed, Richard was very surprised!  But when it was all over, I know in my heart what made Richard's day.  It was this hug...

And this song.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Spiritual Adoption

My grandmother brought 15 babies into the world, twelve whom survived into adulthood.  I was never able to meet her in person because she died of cervical cancer when my father was fourteen and the youngest baby was two.

I have felt the comforting love my grandmother since I was a girl.  I don't know how or why, but I feel that she knows me and has provided encouragement along the way.  Like her, I have this tendency to want to be surrounded by children.  When I was young, I wanted to teach.  I often thought that I would fill up my home by adopting or fostering children in addition to having my own babies.  But I also knew that having a large family comes with hardships, challenges and sacrifice.  So I put as much of that mothering instinct into all the children I've cared for since I was thirteen.  I enjoyed a decade of nanny years and especially relished the privilege of  being a mom to my two children.  At the moment, I'm also experiencing some severe parenting growing pains.  Emily will graduate from high school this June and Elliot is talking about finding his childhood in a box of superhero costumes.  More and more, I'm experiencing an empty arm and empty lap syndrome.

It's the kind of feeling that creativity doesn't help with.  Usually I can navigate problems by sitting at my machine.  I'm not sure that this feeling is really a problem that I need to fix, but more of an awareness.  I'm not financially or emotionally ready to adopt a child or even foster one.  My life is full-to-busted overflowing with responsibility and activity.  So instead, I've decided that it's enough to spiritually adopt.  I can afford to adopt as many children (or adults for that matter) as I feel called to.  I could even spiritually adopt a whole country of kids if I wanted to.

This week I've spiritually adopted a girl named Brooke Hester.  I became aware of Brooke and her story through our friend Shelly.  I know that if you have time, you will want to read more about Brooke, a girl who is battling stage 4 neuroblastoma and who makes blossom headbands for other girls who have lost their hair from treatment.  Today I've just learned that Brooke is able to go home to her temporary home at the Ronald McDonald House in New York after receiving an intense chemo treatment.  To read her story, you can visit Brooke here: 

Have you ever been unofficially or spiritually adopted by someone?  Felt the influence of someone's good intentions for you without being able to see or hear them?   Or have you spiritually adopted someone without their knowing?  In a way, I feel like our blogging friends have all adopted one another...and it feels good to have this kind of connection.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Slow Dream

In a recent post, I shared one of my tactics for slowing the vigorous march of time.   This idea that time can be flexible is intriguing.  I wonder: is time like putty, a medium we have the power to manipulate?  Is it not what we thought it was?  Perhaps those old spreadsheet time management tools can be thrown out the window for good. This question is still fresh in my mind as I work on a secret project for a special someone who has no idea who I am. While I work, I'm newly aware of something so important that it's difficult to express.  I feel like a person who has just come a little farther out of a dark cave and into some very bright sunlight.

The slow dream is the one you remember on waking.

I am building a slow dream.  When I wake up in the bright sunlight I can see that I have two healthy children, a healthy husband...and I even have healthy pets!  That miracle alone is enough to send my heart soaring.  Every day we spend like this is incredibly precious and wonderful.  So it does not matter to me that when I work, I have interruptions and difficulty finishing a simple project in a short period of time.  It might take three days to finish because in the meantime, we're doing school, shopping for food, cleaning the house, caring for friends, caring for pets and having surprising adventures.  Sometimes, we even go kayaking.

I admit that I have struggled with certain issues, like Elliot's progress in regular school.  From my perspective now, that issue seems like such an insignificant thing to worry about.  Last night, I heard Delilah's call to "slow down and love someone" on the radio and I knew without doubt that Richard and I had made the right decision to bring Elliot home for his education.  We can slow down and love him, and build his foundation for learning, nearly every hour of every day if he needs it. 

The call to slow down and love someone also applies to the little home business.  I can slow down and love it too.  Slow dreams take a long time and a lot of care and patience.  I could save money and ship my idea off to a manufacturer in China, but it's just not my style.

 And so I might have started a small project several days ago, only to have to put it down because we need to talk about how the word "could" sounds like it should be spelled "cud," but cud is something a cow chews, and could is not even a thing, but one way to ask a question.  I love that I can discuss language, books, science, math and art with my son while we go though this life together.  I enjoy watching him take a play break to go out and ride his scooter while the morning is in full swing, the sky full of light and the air fresh and dewy.  I love that he is free to explore and not stuck at a desk all day. Yesterday, during one of his explorations, he found a box of old stuff in a cabinet.  I asked him what he found inside the box and he replied

"my childhood."

The box contained a collection of old superhero costumes.

I told him that his daddy has a theory that we put memories in physical objects, and that's why when you touch something you used to play with, a memory will surface. With that thought, he went back to the box to look for his old blanket. 

What is your relationship with time?  Do you have tools that you use to manipulate it?  When you want to remember something, are you able to store it somewhere or expand your experience of it in some way?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Seal of Approval

Hi Friends,
I'm just stopping by to share an update on Where There's a Will, concerning my challenge to share Knees and Paws with children in recovery.  I'm happy to report that our package sent to the Children's Cancer Recovery Foundation was received and passed inspection with flying colors.  A thank you letter arrived this week, with a stamped signature from the Founder and CEO, Greg Anderson.  What's even more exciting is that our basket of puppy love will find it's way to a child who needs to be uplifted.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

While I Wasn't Looking

While I wasn't looking, Elliot's legs grew so long that when he sits on the couch, his feet touch the floor. 

While I wasn't looking, the climbing rose, once just a tiny single stalk of thorns and leaves, has grown to reach the top of the arbor.

While I wasn't looking, spring came along so fast that the strawberries at the farm are ready for picking.

In order to stop time from catapulting me into the future at such a violent speed, I made potato salad. 

This kind of potato salad has the power to slow time.  It slows time because it is a recipe passed down through my mother and grandmother.  It has the power to bring me back to those summer days in Michigan, standing in my grandma's kitchen.  When I make it, she is alive again.

It was the kind of April weekend when the pace of life slowed long enough to plant flowers and to dine alfresco at dusk, with candles and starlight, easing into the night with a blazing campfire.


   It was the kind of weekend for reading Charlotte's Web aloud and for listening to Elton John and David Bowie.

A little sangria mixed with ice, Sprite and a slice of orange helped me to celebrate spring's return.  I relish these moments in time when the sun's rays are not weak, yet not diabolical, when winter's dry static and summer's heavy humidity is just a memory.  

But is wasn't all perfect.  I managed to injure both of our frogs in the mini pond when changing the water and installing a new fountain.  I was careless with the shovel as I fished out some bricks.  Fortunately they seem to be recovering and now have a bubbly pond instead of a stagnant mosquito plantation. 

When one stops working long enough to enjoy nature, family and great weather, sometimes thoughts creep in.   I realize that I must accept Elliot's growth as a healthy, normal and positive event.  For the first time I allowed him to cross the street to take a basket of berries to our neighbor. (Of course I watched each step and held my breath!)  More and more, I have moments when I have to force myself to hold back instructions so as not to seem overbearing and protective.  It's vitally important for him to have confidence and to go forward in life without having approval from his parents every step of the way.  At some point we just have to live, experiment, and trust.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Multipotentialite's Dilemma (Part One)

Hi Friends,

Thank you for the warm welcome on my return. Reading your kindness felt like a trip to the soul-spa!

As promised, this morning I intend to share a little more about multipotentiality, a concept I'm studying through a brilliant writer with multiple passions, one of which is helping people. Emilie Wapnick is the creator of puttylike : lifestyle design for multipotentialities.   I hope after reading this, you will be inspired to dive into her writing. 

Through an Etsy Success email, I encountered Wapnick's intriguing story about taking mini-risks.  From that post, I was drawn into to a liberating concept that is changing the way I feel about myself on the inside.  As you know, one of the recurring topics on Knees and Paws is my dilemma of choosing the one path that will become a career that sustains me for life.  Simply choosing and committing seemed to be the first step and a requirement for success.  Like most of us dedicated to learning and growth, I really like the idea of achieving and feeling successful. I was the kind of student with my hand raised, wanting the gold star of academic glory. 

And now, five years after graduating from college, my diploma is a piece of paper stamped with the invisible stigma of finally achieving the specialist standard and then discarding the golden ticket degree that is supposed to open a door to that professional life.

Enter Wapnick and her goal to wipe out that stigma.  I'm going to crack open the door by sharing two comments from her readers on what it means to find a community at puttylike:

     "It means to legitimize the great worth of our multipotentiality in a world that just wants us to pick something."

      "I still do not have a great understanding of how to integrate my wide and sometimes fleeting gaggle of interests into a good life."  (but that is about to change)

What do we do with all of these "fleeting gaggle of interests?"  Have you noticed how I bound from one project to the next?  The  multipotentiality concept validates  people who are project oriented.  While this is helpful for home education and not stigmatized for children, it seems impractical for an adult to sink time and resources into each new and exiting idea, especially when these projects end up unfinished by specialist standards.  For the multipotentialite, the project is a way for us to explore and get what we want out of the process.  Boredom is a signal to move on.  We are like bees, moving from one flower to the next.  And while this habit bothers the specialists in our lives, we just can't help it.  I always felt bad for Elizabeth Gilbert's first husband in Eat, Pray, Love.  While she made a successful life as a specialized, published writer of books, she didn't have respect or much understanding for her husband's ever-changing interests.  At one point in the movie, she yells in his face:  "PICK SOMETHING!"

Thank goodness my husband is compassionate and shows appreciation for my multifaceted experience.  I think he is just a little bit smitten with the fact that I can write, cook amazing Italian meals and take apart a broken toilet and put it back together from the ground up.

If right now you're having a light bulb moment, I suggest that you bookmark Wapnick's free ebook, The Undeclared for Life Manifesto.    After my first reading, I'm bursting with ideas and making exciting changes.  I plan to read it again and am putting her Renaissance Business on my list of must haves.

Four days after thinking through this kaleidescopic lens, I now have a new tagline/mission statement for my shop (as written in the header.)  My next goal is to finally change the name of Knees and Paws.  I wasn't the person who named our invention, and neither was Richard.  It's bulky to prounounce, has too many words, and is terribly generic.  I've resisted changing it because I have trouble with titles and naming, and also because it will mean starting all over again with a new licence, bank accounts, facebook page, etc.  But it is my desire to have one word or two words that captures it.

So, one of my next steps is to brainstorm every day for a few minutes...searching for words that are non- generic and words that you can see, touch and feel.  According to Wapnick, practicing brainstorming sessions will prepare the mind to receive sparks of inspiration.       And receiving sparks of inspiration is a heady part of the multipotentialist lifestyle.

I'm going to close today's post with a picture of my Knees and Paws construction space.  It's my messy corner, but it makes me intensely happy to be in the middle of it...surrounded by my children's love notes, artwork, favorite quotes and pictures.  My home is starting to have another messy corner for my latest project.  Having those two spaces, plus my writing desk means that I am gradually allowing myself the permission to relax and accept my life as a creative.  In future posts, I plan to write more about creative spaces and the multipotentialite lifestyle.   If you are bored already, don't worry! I'm like the weather in Michigan...wait five minutes and experience the change!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hi Again!

Happy belated Easter to all of my awesome friends!  I've missed reading your posts and sharing my thoughts.  So today I'm stopping in for a quick visit to say I'm still here, still alive, still busy as ever but happy.

Things are going well.  I've implemented a new language arts program into our daily school routine and I'm loving it!  Elliot's spelling is improving, and best of all, he now understands how to store his new words into his long term memory.  I gave him a steep challenge, and that was to discover for himself how he learns and what it takes for him to reach the goal of learning to spell words effortlessly.  I explained the difference between short term and long term memory, and that each person has their own way of learning.   He discovered that if he concentrates with focus, he can store those words forever!  Learning how to do this will make his writing journey so much easier.  With the small daily action of intense focus on his words, he will fly!

I'm so thankful that I took some time to focus on this significant part of our lessons.

A strange thing happened while I was away from the blogosphere.  Nearly every day that I was away, people who I know locally stopped by.  Emily was also here for spring break and actually felt like she had to fight for time with me!  She said,  "Mom! You have too many friends!"   In fact I am a little weary from socializing, but I shall never take the people in my life for granted.

In other news, I am having a hair crisis.  I know, right...what a thing to write about.  Last year I made a promise to go gray naturally and to stop artificially coloring my locks.   This is about to change.  The problem is thinning. I finally decided to try minoxodil.  While I was researching this product, it was suggested that artificial coloring will help to give a thicker, fuller look.  Since I'm already using something chemical to alter my hair, I might as well do the deed and give myself some color.  Today I plan to have it cut.  Unfortunately I am a little vain and am tired of feeling bad because of my hair. 

There is one more development on the horizon, which I plan to write about soon.  I've discovered a new term:  multipotentialite.  This term has recently changed the way I feel about myself and is having a hugely positive impact.   Remember all of those posts about my identity crisis and how I could not align myself with my one true calling?  That dilemma is over for good.  I am free.  And you'll want to visit again soon when I explain in more detail...because I have a feeling that several of you are also mulitpotentialites.

I'm going to close for now with pictures of new items in the shop.  I'm now expanding to include matching play clothes!

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