Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Comfort Food

I love comfort food:  potatoes, cake, pastries, chocolate, Italian everything, aged cheddar, homemade from scratch white bread, ice cream, baked apricot brie with crackers....

I could go on.

And on.

I love food.  I enjoy preparing lovely dinners worthy of candle light, cloth napkins and dessert.

But I have to stop doing that. Cooking big, satisfying meals and spending a long time at the table.

There's only so many miles a person can run to balance this trend towards eating for comfort and luxury.  So I've adopted a new attitude.  It's based on a single word "reduce" and it is intended to help me be extremely satisfied with a lot less.  During this time of "reducing" I'm learning that training myself to eat very small portions is the key to altering my overall lifestyle.  So far I'm down four pounds, which makes me feel great. I was hoping to lose more than that after 25 days, but I'm going to follow Elliot's advice and stay positive.

Reducing is working.  It's working also because instead of running to the kitchen every time I feel a little emotional disturbance or experience stress, I remember that there are other ways to find comfort in life besides food.

Like listening to Mozart's Concertos for the French Horn in my re-made, recycled chair that Richard helped me alter into a swing.

Or building a terrarium in a bottle.

And taking a walk in the woods.

I'm learning that while I'm reducing, it's important to keep asking myself what brings pleasure to my heart.   Sometimes it's as simple as taking a hot bath or a nap.  Solitude helps too.  For me, eating, especially over-eating, is a social activity.  Lately I have been avoiding restaurants like an ex smoker avoids parties or bars.  I'm very nervous about our upcoming trip to Las Vegas because by nature it's a culture of excess.  Once a plate of food arrives, I'm not sure how I will navigate sitting at the table for the duration of the dining experience without over-indulging.

Maybe I will just order strawberries.  Strawberries saved my life during the months I was breaking my nicotine addiction.

It's not easy to turn this ship around, and so far I don't need to buy smaller pants.

But maybe on this journey to finding new or reclaiming old pleasures of the heart I might.  It's the kind of journey that no one can see, the kind where a battle is being fought on the inside.

We have a cousin in Richard's family with a health condition that will not allow her to eat for the next 15 years.  For this young woman, nutrition now comes only through a bag.

I have been praying for her and thinking of how extremely difficult this journey must be, when the world around her goes on eating, consuming, advertising, cooking....

It's actually incomprehensible to me how she manages to choose life over eating, every single day.  Her name is Rachel, and any prayers you might say for her are much appreciated.

Thank you friends, for always being a wonderful support for me, and for Elliot and Richard too.  I have felt uplifted by your visits here and count you among those who bring pleasure and joy to my heart.  If you are also battling an inward fight, or taking on a challenging journey, I'm sending positive intentions your way.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Welcome Ms. Volz and Students!

Good Morning!  Today I'd like to extend a warm and enthusiastic welcome to Ms. Linda Volz and to each student participating in the High School Economics Classes.  We are delighted that you are interested in speaking with Elliot this week about his small business, Elliot's Ninjas: Helping the Homeless One Ninja at a Time.

I would like to share some background of how and why Elliot chose to begin a business at the young age of seven.

Several influential events happened before he began this journey.  The first was our family's decision to try home education as a path to help Elliot learn in an environment that was suited to his particular gift of elevated awareness.  From the time he was very small, Elliot was acutely aware of his surroundings, whether sitting quietly in the living room playing Lego, or hiking on the wooded trails near his home.  Small movements and little sounds grab his attention.  This habit of awareness, combined with curiosity, made a traditional classroom a highly distracting environment. It was extremely challenging to sit at his desk and focus on completing his assignments while other students played games nearby.

 A heightened sense of awareness for his surroundings was the first factor that played a role in the development of his business.

In the weeks and months following that decision to home school, Elliot made his family aware that he was noticing a problem in our city.  On the corner of many intersections, people were standing, holding cardboard signs that said "HOMELESS, PLEASE HELP!"

This started a discussion.  Elliot wanted to give the only dollar in his Spiderman wallet to a man he saw near our Post Office.  I did not stop the car or allow him to give his only dollar.  I think at that time, he thought I was a mean, uncaring person.

So I tried to explain in simple terms how giving money to panhandlers is often not the best way to help.  It's not the best way to help for two main reasons.  The first reason is that not every panhandler is actually homeless.  The second reason is that cash is often converted into debilitating substance abuse, which destroys the life of the addict.

Unexpectedly, I had to begin talking to my son, at age seven, about the dangers and consequences of substance abuse.  I thought that much of what I was explaining might be incomprehensible to a seven year old, but he really does understand.  He understands that sometimes people can get hooked on things, like too much video games, or too many sweets, and it's very very hard to stop once you have developed an addiction.

But Elliot still wanted to help.  A desire to help was the second step in the formation of his business.

Several weeks after our conversation about money, panhandlers and homelessness, we went out to dinner at a cafe in Downtown Greensboro.  As we passed the library, we met some men standing on the sidewalks, aimlessly chatting.  We said hello and continued on to dinner.  By the end of the meal, we noticed that Elliot was wrapping up his dinner roll in a napkin.  I asked him why he was trying to save his bread, and he said, "I just have a feeling about that man we saw near the library.  I think he might be homeless."

It pulled on our heartstrings to see our child wanting to give.  At the same time, while the man we said hello to on the way in to the restaurant might have been homeless, he was not advertising his condition or asking for help.  We then had to explain that it would be insulting to give a person on the street your dinner leftovers.  It would be assuming too much and might lead to conflict.  But we agreed that Elliot's desire to help was a good thing, and a reason to act.  We told him that since he felt so strongly about helping people, that he should come up with a different way to help, and we would support his effort.

One day, while watching cartoons, I gave him some squares of watercolor paper and paints.  After painting for a while, he mentioned that he enjoyed making art.  Enjoyment of creating something with his hands was the third step in the formation of his business.

Knowledge was the fourth step.  He also knew of, because I have been operating a shop to help with the costs of home education.  He wondered if he could have his own Etsy shop and if that could be a way to help raise money to help homeless people.   With the money he would raise from selling his art, he could shop for needed items like tents, sleeping bags, nonperishable foods and other essentials.   After having help setting up an email account, a paypal account, designing a graphic and listing his first paintings, Elliot was the owner of a business with a heart.  And lots of ninjas.

After sharing the opening of Elliot's Ninjas with our friends and family, he sold nearly all of his paintings in one weekend. He decided to sell each painting for 3.00 each, which was just enough to purchase more watercolor paper, stamps, envelopes, while reserving 1.50 from each sale to put in the fund for helping people.  With each painting sold, Elliot includes a handwritten thank you letter. Every customer loves his letters!!!  Gratitude is the fifth step in Elliot's success.

 Once he had earned his first fifty dollars, we searched for an organization to partner with, and discovered Street Watch.  Street Watch is a group of volunteers who help unsheltered homeless people.  They publish a list of needed items such as tents and sleeping bags.  The founder of Street Watch invited Elliot to deliver the supplies he purchased directly to those in need.  Thus it happened that Elliot was able to visit a tent city and meet the people he wanted to help. It was an experience we'll remember forever.  Reaching out to other organizations and making connections was the sixth step in Elliot's success.

A few weeks later, a local homeless advocate found his Elliot's Ninja Art shop on and sent a reporter from the Greensboro Voice to request an interview with Elliot.  The Greensboro Voice is a non- profit newspaper published for and by people experiencing homelessness.  Our local news station, WFMY News 2, saw the article and sent a reporter to our home.  On the sidebar of this blog, you can watch the first and second interviews.  The second interview happened when an unexpected development gave a surge of hope and energy to Elliot's misson.  A local properties owner saw one of Elliot's flyers and was so impressed that a small boy was trying to help a big problem that he opened up apartments to people in need.  After these events, I learned that printed media is often more powerful than televised news, or even the internet, which is a sea of scrolling and soon forgotten text.

Today, nearly a year after he began his business, Elliot is encouraged to keep painting and keep helping people.  Even when a month goes by with no sales, he still paints and finds a variety of opportunities to give. Over Christmas he was able to purchase scooters for homeless children, and on Valentine's Day he supported local homeless artists at an event hosted by the Interactive Resource Center, which is a day center where people can come to take showers, do laundry, use computers and connect with advocates who help with job and housing placement.  Through all of this, Elliot is learning that small acts of kindness make a difference.

Elliot once wrote a letter to a teacher in Texas who purchased several paintings and shared the story of his mission with her students.  In the letter he said, "the whole idea of homelessness horrifies me."

And now, while the problem of homelessness still makes Elliot feel sad, he's feeling more empowered when he notices the panhandlers and their signs.  He knows in his heart that he's responding to that message:  "HOMELESS, PLEASE HELP!"

Elliot's first t shirt design.  He learned how to screen print this by watching a youtube video.

After his first big shopping trip, Elliot prepares for a visit to Tent City
After his interview at home, Elliot was invited to tour the news station.
Thank you so much for taking an interest in Elliot's journey.  He is looking forward to talking with you in person this week!

 Also, here is the direct link to Elliot's Ninja Art on Etsy:


Monday, February 11, 2013

Loving Richard

Loving Richard is a natural kind of thing, like breathing air.  I just know that I do, even when he's driving me crazy.

I'll always remember our first date, eating skinny fried chicken legs, spending the evening sitting cross legged on the floor, talking and listening to music.

He was (and remains) the coolest, most intellectual and spiritual man I've ever known.  He blew my mind and opened my heart that first night.  When he looks into my eyes everything else in the world fades away.  There was nothing but Richard on my mind and heart during those first months of bliss.   It was such an intense and overwhelming experience that when summer ended I was only dimly aware that time had passed, and I realized that I would need to begin talking to my family about the new man in my life.

Over time, each one of my family members came to love him too.

You see, it's natural to love someone who cares about others.  Who cares about little things that matter.

The world began to open up for me from that time of our memorable first meeting, when he saw me in a parking lot picking up trash for a living, and he heard a voice that said "there goes your wife."

The voice was right.  I didn't know that while I was picking up cigarette butts and fast food wrappers, my future husband was sitting in an old blue Mustang, getting ready to go to work.  He heard the voice while I walked in front of his car, carrying a blue plastic bucket and wearing a ratty old baseball hat.

How many footsteps did it take to get to Richard?  I know that each one of those steps seemed like random drifting, but were actually planned by someone who can see my life from a higher perspective.

I'm so glad I didn't doubt the plan.

He's a free spirit and so full of life.  It's still kind of like a dream to me that we get to share life together.

If anyone needs proof that I'm in love with Richard, this is a picture of me following him up Brown Mountain:



Saturday, February 9, 2013

HeART and Soul

Last night we spent an evening at the Interactive Resource Center's HeART and Soul celebration, thanks to Elliot's mission to help our local homeless friends.  At the event, people who are experiencing homelessness shared their works of HeART for the community to purchase.  While Elliot is still saving funds for tents and other needed items for the unsheltered people in our community, we all agreed that artists help other artists.

I doubt we could have found more beautiful or meaningful Valentine's day gifts if we had shopped at an upscale boutique.  

During the event, Elliot walked to each booth pretty much on his own, talking with the artists and visiting with a little boy he met during one of his visits to Tent City.  The boy's parents are volunteers with Street Watch and were instrumental in making that visit a positive and memorable learning experience for both of us. 

While in line to purchase our beautiful gifts, I had the pleasure of being reunited with one of my library co-workers (a spectacular children's librarian), who was delighted to see our family and learn about Elliot's project.  In addition to seeing my old friend again, I also was shocked to see a young Vietnamese woman whom I also knew from my Glenwood Library days.  I was shocked because she was one of the artists at the event.  I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that this was now her condition to be experiencing homelessness.   I do not remember her name, and I don't think she remembered me.  Please pray for this young woman who has a wonderful talent for creating complex origami, and who shares her knowledge with children at the library.  

I always come away from these events in our community with a feeling of tenderness for people; for the people who are having a tough time in life, and also for the care giving people who dedicate their lives to uplifting, to supporting, to befriending, to loving people no matter their circumstances.  

This Valentine's day means so much more than romantic sentiments.  It is a call to love, a call to friendship and kindness, a call for peace and generosity.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Mash-Up

I like things mashed up.  Like boiled potatoes and corn all mixed together.  Or avocado, tomato and onion in a bowl for dipping.  I like combining new finds that are actually old, with other even older junk in my house.  I've made a frugal lifestyle haunting resale shops.  Now that I've taught myself to sew, sometimes I am able to repurpose a scrap of fabric into something useful.  I enjoy the process of altering a room, especially when I begin to sense a difference in the amount of light or inhale a breath of warmer air.  The seasons change, and so does our interior.

Today was so much better than any day I've spent in the last two weeks.  Having the energy to turn on the vacuum cleaner for a little while led to a full day of housekeeping and redecorating.  Our classroom, which is really our dining room, was the focus of my energy.  We needed to reclaim the space for sharing a family meal, without packing away all of our learning activities.  If the books and games and puzzles were put away in a closet, I'm pretty sure they might stay there, forgotten and unused.  I needed to make a mash-up: a one room school house and a spring-themed dining room.

Our school name is "Learning Free and In the Wild" which I'm sure will be a name that inspires laughter in the admissions department of Elliot's future college.  We named it after a phrase used by Elliot's heroes the Kratt Brothers on the PBS Kids show "Wild Kratts."  At the close of every show, Chris and Martin Kratt remind viewers that animals should be left "living free and in the wild."   Another reason we chose this name is because we spend many of our educational days outdoors, exploring the wooded trails and lake near our home.  Wildlife biology is one of our big themes, and the subject which Elliot excels.  He knows more about animals in the wild than I've ever known, and mealtime is one of those times when Elliot becomes our teacher, sharing facts and stories he's learned from Chris and Martin Kratt, or from his observations outdoors.

So when I found a pair of pillow shams with a vintage wildlife print, I knew this was the perfect way to mash up the space.

Elliot made this ceramic bird house last year during his first pottery class.  I stuffed it full of dried rosemary and added some dollar store birds.

Emily is with us every day, in our hearts and our home.

The telescope was my dad's, and he gave it to us when we moved  to our house.  I have enjoyed  using it to see the moon and her seas and craters.

A good spot for reading!

I guess it's just that season when birds begin to nest!

Thanks to God for days of better health and a return of days with abundant light!!!!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Sick as a Dog

We now understand what the phrase "sick as a dog" really means.  It means having to use nearly a gallon of undiluted Simple Green on the bedroom carpets, and having to burn the living room rug in the outdoor fire pit.

Poor Ozzie!  He's been terribly ill with a case of the runs.  His illness makes us think we have been living indoors with a large cow.

Since I am also down with a virus, Richard has been the clean up crew. 

Have I mentioned before that his care for creatures great and small is one reason he has my heart forever?  When Annie cat was less than one pound of fur and fleas, he painstakingly removed every single one.

Then I learned a valuable bit of wisdom about myself.  No matter that I am not the direct cause of distress, when my husband is angry, I feel shame.   I always feel somehow that I am at least indirectly responsible.

He knows this about me.  So during the blitzkrieg of doggie diarrhea,  I was told to stay out of the way so he could be undisturbed in his anger.

Did I mention that on day two of Ozzie's illness, we learned that you are supposed to withhold all food for 24 hours? 

As of this morning, it seems that our sweet dog made it through the night without incident.  I'm still nervous about letting him come back inside.

The end of this story has a dash of irony...

During the clean up, I was in bed, feeling empty-handed and very useless.  So I picked up a project that I'd been meaning to finish that only required a bit of hand stitching:


Saturday, February 2, 2013

New Poems

Tonight, while cleaning out the classroom, I stumbled on Elliot's poetry notebook and realized that I need to keep his work somewhere safe, forever.  So besides placing them carefully on the highest shelf in the pantry, where they are likely to go undisturbed for another year, I am also recording them here.

I also have recently started to write a few of my own in spare moments or when a line falls down from somewhere and lands in my addled brain.  Those rough poems are now on a new page called "my poems" (in progress).

Whenever you are able, I invite you to peek at our poetry pages.  I hope to update these every few months, and will be sure to make a special post announcing the new poems.  Of course, no comments are needed, I really just need a good place to archive our work.

When we made the bold decision to embark on this road less traveled, I decided to believe in Elliot, 100%.  I decided to skip any sort of testing or consider a single psychobabble label.  I believed in value of waiting patiently for maturity to bloom, and held fast to my ideal that writing first involves inspiring a love of the game that is language.  You can't do that with worksheets, cut and paste, or flash cards.

  Learning to spell is the one challenge that has been a barrier to freely written sentences.  Luckily, we study poetry as a vehicle  for written expression.  Poetry is like an electric car.  When you run out of remembered-how-to-spell words, you can keep going for miles on images and feelings and not worry about punctuation, sentence structure or capitalization.

Elliot still considers language arts his toughest challenge.  He might have to use spell check the rest of his life. He'll most likely follow in his dad's footsteps and choose a path in technology.  But I know for certain that the writer in him is a seed planted, reaching for the sun.

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