Friday, July 19, 2013

Giving Children Something Real in an Imaginative Way

Our children are drenched in entertaining media, yet one truth remains: children love to play and imagine but they also crave what is real.  They don't wait for the "realism" stage of their artistic development at age nine to be intensely captivated by the natural world.  Tiny children want to examine bugs and touch, smell and taste fresh vegetables from the garden.  They want to play in mud and run barefoot in the grass.  At the same time, they want to wish on stars and climb on the tops of puffy clouds.  Engaging and interacting with all that is seasonal, temporal, biological is what they love the best.  Pretend is important.  Play is essential.  But direct contact with what is living, breathing and changing lights up something inside us, no matter our age or intelligence.  In a climate of virtual imagery, what is real becomes sacred and magical.

In the tiny space of ten years, the Greensboro Science Center has grown from a setting of indoor labs and a small petting farm to include an outdoor zoo with tigers to an impressive and stunning aquarium. This magical new addition has become the hot spot for families in the Triad.  This incredible learning environment sits adjacent to The National Military park and is within biking distance from our home.  This year we bought a family membership and have been richly rewarded with each visit.  Elliot has benefited from direct contact with a variety of creatures and the long conversations he has with scientists and keepers.  Here are a few shots of our recent visit:

The Greensboro Science Center gives our children something real in an imaginative way.  It teaches through curiosity, wonder and feelings.  It celebrates our desire to be close to other species while technology seems to separate us further.

We are thrilled to experience the gift of this learning environment so close to our home.  I've overheard some visitors comment on the small size of the Sciquarium, but having lived here for a decade, I know what it was like in it's humble beginning.  What they have done with this limited space is phenomenal. 

And so it happened that while we were simply living here, often completing our our daily chores with a mundane attitude or quietly sitting with our books, someone was building something incredible behind the scenes.  During our trips to the grocery store, the library and the park,  we were not expecting what was on the horizon.  We weren't thinking of the waves of wonderful that could come into our lives through no effort of our own.

The power of positive intention is evidenced in the beautifully real experiences that continually arrive as gifts.  We didn't have to work for them, but the gifts are still coming.  Every day there are new seeds of hope and promise and growth all around us.  Contemplating this, I'm reminded of Fraz Kafka's popular quote:

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Saturated Summer Color

The sun is out and so we are enjoying the smashing color of our blooms and garden that the daily rain has provided.  Usually by this time of the season, the grass is brown and the garden is shriveling.  It was a rough month of heartache and rain, with sweet moments that popped out like rare patches of blue sky.  I am learning how to recognize my emotions as they come and go.  Just being aware of their presence and the effect they are having on my relationships is making a positive difference.  Knowing that hard times are temporary and allowing myself to trust in God's plan for our lives has been a gift inside the pain.

I am happy today.  The sun is shining and I'm always happy when the sun is shining.  I'm happy today because even though the excitement of the party has faded and we are returning to the ordinary day, things are just a tiny bit different.

Dread has melted into comfort.  Richard wrote a love note and left it on my desk before riding his bike to work.  His sweet words changed the way I usually approach my day: with hot coffee and a trip to the monitor.  Instead I went outside to greet the morning and our little black cat.  It was bound to be one of those days that gives the heart a vacation.

I have decided to train my thoughts to seek positive ideas.  I have decided to relax and enjoy the daily, ordinary beauty that saturates my life in each temporal season.

Elliot harvesting green beans on a summer morning.

This is my new favorite summer drink: a mixture of sweet tea with all natural blueberry lemonade.

Blessings to you, my friends!  I would like to dedicate this post to my good friend Thisisme at Southhamsdarling.  She loves a beautiful garden and a sunny day.  My thoughts and prayers are with her as she faces a serious health crisis.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Building Community, One Birthday Party at a Time

Our neighborhood gets friendlier every year.  And so do Elliot's birthday parties. For years I have wanted-wished-hoped-prayed to live in a community where I feel a sense of belonging and community support.  Having that kind of loving community is not something anyone can buy, no matter how much money you have.  Living in the "right" neighborhood for some people means belonging to a homeowner's association, surrounded by iron gates, manicured and landscaped lawns, and free access to a pool.  For us, living in the right neighborhood means that people make an effort to reach out and build lasting friendships.

Every year, we say we are not going to host another birthday party.

And every year, when June starts to feel like July, we start sending out invitations with only a vague idea of how it will be accomplished.

Today there are glowing embers of this year's celebration in my heart.  If anyone claims that we spoil our son with these annual parties, I would tell them that we celebrate for all of us. Our small family resides in a little pocket of a large city that sometimes makes us feel anonymous.  With no relatives less than eight hours away, we need our friends and neighbors.  A boy who is home educated and on his own much of the time needs the company of his friends.

We prayed for a break in the wet, soggy humid monsoon.  We used our power of intention to imagine a dry afternoon and evening.  We stayed positive and we were rewarded!!!

While the children filled our yard with a game of capture the flag, parents gathered under the strings of colorful lights and fell into easy conversation.  New friendships were made and old ones renewed.

Little girls squealed with delight near the bubble machine, and one four year old neighbor kept calling me "teacher."  Truthfully, her little face looking into mine and saying that name validated my childhood dream more than an official document or certificate. She kept saying "teacher, teacher...will you tell them to stop this game and start looking for fireflies?  Everyone should find some fireflies!"

Another little girl with a darling blonde ponytail asked me to help search for our cat.  I tried to explain that the kitty was afraid of all the children.  She was not put off on her search or dismayed by my explanation, stating in the sweetest little voice,  "but I'm nice!"

The magic of this celebration was amplified as we unplugged the colored lights and turned on the projector.  What could be more joy inducing than the sight and sounds of children gathered on a pile of blankets, eating bags of popcorn?  Friends who had previously said they would leave before the movie decided to stay a little longer.  I hardly focused on the actual movie, being fully engaged with the energy that filled this space in our lives.  As the movie came to an end with music, Elliot stood up and danced. His friends were shy and didn't join in, but Elliot will never sit still when there's an opportunity to dance. His free spirit and uninhibited engagement with life is what I admire most about my son.

In the morning, after sleeping for about six hours in the blanket fort, the four who spent the night gathered at the breakfast table.  I groggily made a batch of blueberry muffins.  While they ate in the next room, I asked "are the muffins yucky?"  They said "no."  Then Jack said "well, they are a little hard, but it's okay."
Then Elliot asked if anyone had seen the movie Bullet Proof Monk.  No one had.  Then seven year old Matthew said, "No, but I've seen bullet-proof muffins!"

We left some time for free play in the yard.  This is what they love best.

I am working hard, but happier than I have been in a long time!

Running to the deck...It's time for the movie to start!

This was magical.  I told Richard that building this outdoor theater and working to create this party was one of the most romantic and loving gifts I've ever received.

This is a canvas tarp!  Economical and so effective!

We watched Despicable Me. We can't wait to see the second one!

Elliot received a lot of handmade cards from his friends.  These touch my heart.  I plan to keep them all for him in a special book.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Especially for my big sister....

It's birthday week here, and last night we planned a quiet, small, just the three of us celebration.  Lucky for Elliot, his friends did not let his "official" day pass without fun.  And neither did Emily, who send a huge box of gifts.

This post is especially dedicated to Emily.  Thank you so much for your generous gifts to your little brother!  He was delighted with every single gift, and felt very loved.  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Rainforest Living

Elliot has a dream:  to one day be a wildlife biologist in the rainforest of Bali.  He would love to work in the tree canopy, studying the variety of interesting wildlife that live hundreds of feet above the ground.  Lately we are all experiencing what it would be like to live in an Indonesian rainforest, with daily showers and 88-99 percent humidity.  The only thing missing are some super tall trees to climb and unusual animals and birds.  If you have ever wondered how much you would love to live in this type of climate, visit the southeast!  We're expecting another month of this, including the day of  Elliot's birthday party, which is all set up for an outdoor movie!

I am grateful that we are not flooded.  I am grateful that we are healthy and that the air conditioning continues to work overtime.  I am grateful that I have a lamp with full spectrum light so that I don't slip deeper into the blues that come with days of overcast skies.  I am grateful for cool showers and fans and ice cubes.  I am grateful that we are healthy but I am also grumpy and struggling.  Things have not been so great here, and mostly this is because the loved one who is experiencing cancer has days left to live here on Earth and not months as we hoped.

We are devastated and grieving and crying.  It would be so much easier if this loved one were a mean, selfish and rude person, but the truth is that this person is gentle, kind, loving and caring.

We probably should not be going forward with birthday party plans, but it feels so unfair to stop the preparations.  Maybe the process of  making little gifts and stringing lights have helped us to stay in the moment and be mindful of the blessings of our own lives and our loving community of neighbors, friends and relatives.  I've often used creative projects as a way to help me process negative emotions and pain.  So if anyone wonders why I would make 34 handmade party gifts, you'll know that it's been raining every day for 14 days and heavy is my heart.

This is the area for the outdoor movie.  Richard created a super large screen from a canvas tarp that he will install on the day of the party.  We plan to cover the entire deck with tarps to keep the surface dry, and then lay out blankets and sleeping bags during the show.  We are praying for no rain past 8 pm!!!!

Paper lanterns with LED tea lights for party favors. 

12 sets of archery kits for the older children

Five felt crowns for the younger children
This year I failed to invest in annuals for our containers, so we made moss gardens with "leaf men" houses.  This is Elliot's stone creation.

I worried about my empty flower containers, but then was inspired to fill them with something  creative!

Tomorrow is Elliot's actual birthday, yet we are planning to celebrate on Friday.  He's very VERY excited about it!

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