Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Jack Pumpkinhead from Oz is Visiting

Evening television has been silent in our house lately.  We're wrapped up in the magical world of Oz.  Last night, we decided to create a hands on learning activity for our literature unit.  We love the neurotic Jack Pumpkinhead character and his "parent" Tip.  With a lot of help from Richard, whom Elliot calls a "genius" for his ability to take a few found materials and transform them into just the thing we were all imagining, we now have a storybook character proudly standing in our back yard!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Gift of Passing Time

I used to carry on my shoulders a bag of anxious desperation.  While there is a seemingly permanent stress knot at the base of my neck and left shoulder, I'm learning how to manage the pain and the feelings of anxiousness that arise with each new and unexpected set of expectations.  It's not often I speak about the particular challenges related to managing the multitude of tasks that one accepts when they adopt a more independent lifestyle.  The value and the wealth that arises from choosing home education and handmade industry have enriched my life more than any other regularly paid job.  But it involves much more activity than I was prepared to handle at the start.  Thankfully, though the blessing of adaptation and an open mind, I'm now enjoying a more vigorous engagement with life and my community.

How did I get here?   To this place where it just feels so right to be doing exactly what I am doing, stress knot and all?  In the beginning of this blog I wrote extensively about my uncertainty of a career path, and figured that one day I would be back in the workforce wearing a professional wardrobe, doing lots of important stuff.  Making a monthly salary.  Impacting the community and adding value.

Thank you God, for the grace you have given us.  For the gift of this time.

I have a gratitude that runs deep for this sacred gift of passing time. For this is a time when I took big leaps of faith and kept on living while also carrying fear.  Despite the insecure risings of uncertainty, I will always remember with fondness the daily blessings of family togetherness and the opportunity to experience life on a deeper, less pressurized, level.  We now have time to engage in the things that we find fascinating and satisfying.

It seems odd to me that as a child, my favorite subject was reading, but I did not read many of the classics that I'm now enjoying with Elliot. What grace to have a second chance!  We have dived into the pastoral and the fantastical worlds of  E.B. White, Mary Pope Osborne (Elliot's favorite series), Johnny Gruelle, Lewis Carroll, A.A. Milne, C.S. Lewis, Tolkein, William Kotzwinkle, Felix Salten, and Michael Morpugo. While I read most of these aloud, Elliot is currently reading aloud to us the second book in the Oz series by L. Frank Baum.  We've tasted daily poetry and fallen asleep with magical characters left hanging on the page, awaiting our return.

Mixed in between my enjoyment of the classics I missed, I'm also discovering a development in my own literature tastes, which seem to be departing from fiction and more into paths of wisdom and philosophy.  I'm reading Rilke's Letters at the moment, which are complex enough to satisfy the seeker's need to climb, revealing at the summit a landscape of  bright and beautiful meaning.  For those who would appreciate it, here's a passage from The Wisdom of Rilke, edited by Ulrich Baer:

Rilke writes,

     "I have by now grown accustomed, to the degree that this is humanly possible, to grasp everything that we may encounter according to its particular intensity without worrying much about how long it will last.  Ultimately, this may be the best and most direct way of expecting the utmost of everything---even its duration.  If we allow an encounter with a given thing to be shaped by this expectation that it may last, every such experience will be spoiled and falsifed, and ultimately it will be prevented from unfolding its most proper and authentic potential and fertility.  All the things that cannot be gained though our pleading can be given to us only as something unexpected, something extra: this is why I am yet again confirmed in my belief that often nothing seems to matter in life but the longest patience."

This longest patience is a willingness to let things just be the way they are.  To let people be the way they are, including yourself. When you are unable to give yourself lots of money or the "right" career, you can simply give yourself an appreciation for the passing of time to enjoy all the extras that arrive as gifts.  The gifts that are arriving seem to keep showing up without my effort to shape some sort of professional image or conventional package.  I cannot tell you what I am anymore.  I love to write, but am not really a writer by trade.  I love to create, but am not what a critic would call an artist.  I love to think and contemplate, but that habit sometimes lands me in trouble, especially when I think I've found a solution for some problem.  Very often I don't understand fully what I'm meant to do here. Time keeps passing, falling through my fingers, and no matter how much I'd like to cling to these years, they are fading fast.  Maybe this is why life feels so fresh and good.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Happiness Jar

For my birthday this past spring, I asked for an empty jar.  This jar was to be the start of a mindfulness practice in which I would pay attention to the happiest moment or experience from each day, write it on a scrap of paper and drop it in the jar.  During a particularly dark time over the summer, I stopped making daily entries.  But now I'm finding that the heavy oppressive clouds are clearing, and I've resumed the practice once again. I thought it might make an interesting post to share some of the entries as we head into the weekend. I hope you enjoy!

This year, the happy moments were simple experiences that filled my heart:

Making my first quilted hammock for Emily's birthday gift. (She cried when she received it and told me that it meant more than any other gift she'd received).

Reading a love note from Richard that said "you wow my soul."

Visiting an old friend who I had not seen in a long time.

 Richard came home from work and asked Elliot what the best part of his day was.  Elliot said, "When you came home."

A bike ride in a rain shower, under a full rainbow.  Everything glistened in a mix of droplets and light.

Driving Richard to work early in the morning.

Sitting in our swing chair with Elliot while the sun warms our faces on a crisp autumn day.  Ozzie and Annie are at our feet.

Watching a lecture by Meng Tan about happiness, compassion and his quest to create the conditions for world peace in his lifetime.

A day at the water park with Elliot...riding the runaway raft ride while he tells me to "yell really loud!"

Walking through the woods to the lake, feeling the warm breeze and listening to the gently lapping water at the shore.

Date night at McCoul's with Richard.

Remembering to simply lay in bed in the afternoon and listen to music.

Summer vacation in Michigan: camping on the shores of Lake Huron, swimming in the cold waves, basking in the sunshine.  Riding to 7 Eleven with Emily for fountain cokes after dark, overhearing a local man tell a story that ends with the line "Well, I guess it's time to go home and finish drinking!"

Sitting outside all day with Elliot while he rescues an injured baby dove.  After dinner, it flew away.

A long run at sunset.

Elliot reading The Wizard of OZ aloud to us.

Blog friend visits (multiple entries in the happiness jar).

Elliot's birthday party.

Discovering forgotten money.

And there are many more, but this post is getting rather long!  Have a great weekend friends!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Heart Wind in October

The leaves are turning, falling, floating, and I am too.  This month I'm experiencing a gentle lifting, a release and a drifting expansiveness. Perhaps it's simply experience and exposure to more people through taking big leaps of faith.  I feel a heart wind carrying my soul; instead of struggle and conflict, it's completely effortless to simply live and love.

If ever there was a year to remember in our home education, it's this year.  I want to remember every single day of  Elliot's fourth grade.  This year, we joined a science co-op that is so popular and filled with so many children that we stay all day.  Elliot has many friends to share this incredibly wonderful "Science Friday" experience, which began when a high school science teacher converted a large house on a big rambling property into an alternative education haven.  The property has a large yard for running, a hobbit house, woods, a pond and trees with swings.  Inside, every room is dedicated to experiments, labs, creative projects and presentations. No one lives in the house, which came to this brilliant and loving teacher through an inheritance.  Parents from all  over pack up their children and picnic lunches and begin arriving at ten, some staying until three.  It is a social event, a hands-on learning experience, and THE highlight for all who attend.   The feeling of being surrounded by the families who share this journey lifts our souls.  The lonely feeling that we started with is now a memory.

Recently we were invited to a birthday celebration for a girl with a large family.  As Richard and I are also blessed with large families, being in the midst of this vibrant, joyful group helped us reconnect to a part of ourselves that we often supress while living out of state.  Celebrating milestones with multiple generations of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles was a regular part of my life growing up.  It's no secret that I often feel isolated and detached from the loving people who helped to shape my perceptions and values.  The loving energy that surrounded us during the party helped to heal the absent feelings of losing my "tribe."  I fell in love all over again while I listened to Richard talking with the great grandparents.  He brought out their stories and funny, unexpected lines that had everyone laughing and feeling good.

Later, I learned that Elliot's best friend Aiden told his mom that he likes our family so much he wished that we were part of his family.  His comment was so thoughtful that when I think of this boy, I just sit in silent awe and gratitude.  I once worried so much that home education meant that Elliot wouldn't have many friends to see every day.  The outcome I didn't expect was the deep bond that happens between home schoolers who have the opportunity to develop friendship over years.  Instead of being separated every year by shifting classes and teachers, they can learn and play together over the entire course of their time in school.   Aiden and Elliot appreciate one another, share similar interests and challenges, and also are the sweetest, kindest boys!   These two also connect with their unique sense of humor and delights us as parents to see them together.

Woven within the social events, I'm also riding a heart wind creatively.  Elliot is a huge part of new developments in the artistic department.  When he asks me to try to make something with him, I always say yes.  Making is a big part of learning, and because it's fun, we tend to invest more time and push the limits of our abilities.  This year is also exciting as Elliot is entering a realism stage in his art.  The details of his drawings and use of colors are starting to take on more complexity.

And costume making this year is also becoming more complex.  I'm allowing myself to experiment and to keep trying new things.

Many of you have already seen this one...but it is just another example of the expanding of our potential as we work together on projects.  I wouldn't have even attempted this if it weren't for Elliot.  He did most of the design and helped to construct it.  I want to remember this time when Elliot's imagination and potential grew wings and soared to new levels of achievement.

We are having too much fun to stop this crazy project based learning!  I hope you all are having a wonderful, uplifting fall season. Thank you to everyone who continues to share in our journey and continually blesses us with friendship and support. We appreciate you more than you know.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Looking Like a Kung-Fu Master, Feeling Like a Wimp

During my current renewed interest in fitness (which happens in sporadic bursts), I discovered the secret to feeling skinny.  The secret is to buy a pair of bigger pants and a baggy, comfortable shirt!  Instead of being a psychological trick allowing more permissiveness in my diet, the baggy pants help to switch on the positive stream of consciousness.  And positive is the way to go during increased effort at the gym.  Positive thoughts keep me going, and not just in the area of health.

This is how Elliot saw me last night, wearing my light gray baggy pants and lighter gray baggy shirt, hand stitching some feathers to an owl.  He said, "you look like a kung-fu master!"  

And my ego got a little jolt...was he talking about my creative skills?

Nope.  It was my ninja fashion sense for loose garments.

Last week, on a chilly Sunday morning, I walked into the living room in my big comfy robe with a cup of coffee.  Elliot felt inspired to comment, "That's CLASSIC!  You look like a professor.  With that robe!  Drinking coffee!"

I said, "Ummm, Elliot, I'm wearing a robe because it's cold this morning."  To which he responded,

"Do people even wear those things anymore?"


Colder mornings are also arriving with new challenges unrelated to fashion.  Like staring the car and hearing the desperate cries of a cat meowing loudly from the engine.

At the frantic "meeeeeeyowwwww!" I turned off the ignition and the meowing stopped.  This meant two things:  either the cat was able to make an escape, or worse...........

The worse was what I was imagining.  Elliot and I called for our Annie cat, over and over, searching the yard with a prayer in our hearts.  We also have five neighborhood cats who frequently visit.  I sent a text to Richard, hoping that he would once again be my knight in shining armor and come home to open the hood of the car.

While I waited for his response, I told Elliot that we must think good thoughts. I reminded him that positive intention is a power you can use to help you through all of life's challenges.  We prayed for Annie to be safe, then walked into the back yard and called.   And called.

Wondering what all the fuss was about, our little black kitty popped out of her hiding place under the deck, pleased by our attention and in perfect condition.

Relieved, yet still needing to do the grocery shopping, I walked back to the driveway and told Elliot that I was still unable to drive the car.  Could there be a mangled, dead cat wedged inside a fan belt?

 He responded like some kid who just naturally grew up without my permission.

 "Well, open the hood.  I'll look inside."

At that moment, Richard called.  I started bubbling and wubbling and whining about how much I did not want to open the hood, because the sight of an injured fur baby was going to turn me into a weak puddle, a mass of shaky, weepy, overwrought uselessness.  I am a total wimp when it comes to injured and deceased pets.  He said,

"Woman, open that HOOD.  It is YOUR responsibility not to be afraid.  Do not act afraid, do not put that irrational fear into our SON.  Open the damn hood.  There's probably nothing inside."

So, with shaky hands, I opened the hood.  And Elliot peeked underneath.

The engine was clear.

We celebrated with doughnuts.  I later asked Elliot why he wasn't afraid to look in the engine.  He said, "well I was a little afraid to see a bloody, dead cat.  But we had to do it anyway."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

One Year in the Making

This is my ode to slow.

Slow food is the kind I enjoy, from garden to table. Slow food taking time to release aroma and flavor in a crock pot or an oven satisfies the soul.  One loaf of homemade bread takes hours, from yeast activation to rising and baking golden and crisp, chewy and light with spongy cavities for butter to melt.  Fall is here, and I feel like slow.

A raw diet is probably best for fast weight loss, but lately I'm not craving crisp salads and lighter fare.  The food on my mind is a to-die-for molasses pumpkin bread with chocolate chips that Elliot made.  It's super moist and the spices compliment the semi sweet chocolate perfectly.  Technically, I think this bread could be classified as health food, especially if you omitted the half cup of sugar and used a flour alternative.  It's not health food for me, however!  One slice always leads to another.

Slow business is also the kind I enjoy, although it means that I reduce my "wants" and learn to live a frugal lifestyle.  I like my business steady and slow, and this season I'm feeling balanced and productive because I'm not over burdened by a rush of impatient requests.  I have a few custom orders in the works, just enough to keep me creating and improving my skills while able to manage school, home and family time.

Slow remodeling projects also bring more satisfaction.  One year ago, I repainted Emily's room.  I chose a very soft powdery gray for the walls, a base color of white for the big items like a comforter, dresser and trim, and decided to keep the pink curtains.  The process inspired a poem and helped me to connect to my feelings about what it means to live over seven hundred miles away from my daughter.  If I had a choice, I would rather her room be full of laundry and the flotsam and jetsam of a teen's life, because that would mean she's here with us.  But my daughter's room stays neat, all through the year.  In the beginning of the transformation, I had a very low budget for redesigning her room.  Perhaps it was a pointless waste...after all, no one was sleeping there...but it helped restore a sense of purpose lost.  How many parents long to keep supporting the growth of their children, years after they are needed?  The initial funds of two hundred were earned through my slowly growing business, and I used this for paint, bedding, a lamp and some mirrors. I scraped the popcorn ceiling and kept visualizing the end during the colossal mess of deconstruction.  When the bed was returned to the room,  I imagined a narrow white table to go on the adjacent wall, with a pretty chair for either sitting while working on a laptop, or personal care like hair and make-up.  I had an exact vision of  this area but had to leave it blank because once the budget was spent, it was spent.  The room stayed neat and pretty, although unfinished, for almost a year.

Yesterday, I woke up feeling happy.  We were enjoying a gentle fall rain, and I didn't feel like sitting in the house.  I decided to embark on a treasure hunting adventure, as Elliot needed a different chair for his Lego room. After hopping around to my favorite resale shops, a green chair for Elliot appeared, and so did the white table for Emily's room.  The table was ten dollars.  Feeling elated, like an archaeologist finding buried treasure, I bought the table and went home to set it up.  It was exactly as I had imagined it, minus a chair. Fueled by the success of this practice of intention, I drove straight to the fabric store and found the perfect chevron pattern in a sturdy weight (on sale!) to cover a dining room chair to complete the look.  I'm so excited about how the chair turned out that I might go crazy and cover every chair in the house.

I made my own pattern by measuring the chair.

The sunburst flower wall hanging is something I made with poster board and hot glue.  Thank you pinterest!

This dresser has been remade several times in the last ten years.  I found it standing next to a dumpster at the apartment complex where I used to work as a maintenance tech.  The metal sunburst mirror was a recent find at a consignment store.

One day, maybe we'll add new carpet.  This corner has some pieces that we saved from Emily's middle school days.  The pink curtains, white accent cabinet and silver jewelry box helped define the color scheme.  Adding black and white to the pink and silver helped the room to become more mature and bold.

It takes a long time when you are using the power of visualization and positive intention to get something accomplished.  When cash is tight, patience becomes currency.  Slow rooms, like slow food, are the best kind of rooms.  I have developed confidence by the process of slow...and a quiet knowledge that if something doesn't happen right away, it's because something good is in the process of arriving.  Or someone good, someone wonderful, who needs more time to arrive.

Like Emily, who is only able to visit once a year, at Christmas.  

This time away has been emotionally tough, but we've learned to keep loving, to keep in touch often, and to have faith that just because certain situations seem like they will never change, sometimes they do. Waiting is hard.   But it's not impossible. 

In the meantime, I might start a new project that could take a year.  I might just take a laptop up to that new space and write.  Maybe this room, which is one of two feminine spaces in the whole house (the other is my sewing/meditation space), is also meant for me.  I can simply sit in this room and feel the love and gratitude I have for the gift of being blessed with a daughter.

What kind of slow things do you appreciate in life?  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Who is the Teacher?

     Here's a big confession:  on this road of home education, I make plans to teach for the day, and usually end up being the learner.  Getting over myself and stepping back is becoming easier for me as we continue to journey by faith and purpose.  I often hear remarks of parents with children in traditional schools and their claim that "I'm not organized or disciplined enough to do what you are doing."  While we do have a structure, a loose plan and scheduled activities, and while we are committed to showing up for class every day, at the core there are strong feelings and a philosophy operating behind the scenes.  It is the philosophy and the feelings that drive the progress.

     The feelings that prompted us to take this leap were powerful.  We felt that the spark of joy and enthusiasm in our son was being covered over and squelched by the climate and the attitudes he endured while in the traditional classroom.  We wanted him to love learning, because he was born to learn and grow and to be excited about life, people, nature and God.  What we saw was a boy who came home with his life overly burdened and his head down.

    Children are born to learn.  This learning happens even when the instruction is poor or non existent.  What we wanted for Elliot was to learn things to enhance his enjoyment and success in life.  To develop an inner confidence in his abilities to meet challenges and not be defeated by the struggle, effort and patience it takes to learn complex systems like language and mathematics, science and art.  But more than that, we wanted him to be comfortable in being himself without overly negative criticism or harsh consequences when he made slow progress in difficult areas.  What Elliot was really learning in the traditional school was that he couldn't learn and was probably never going to learn.

    My only goal in taking on the role of Elliot's academic teacher is to instill an unwavering belief that he can learn and succeed and that he has a potential so great that none of us even knows the full expression of his life in this moment.  Whenever he experiences a block, the only thing he needs is to have patience with himself and a desire to keep moving forward.

     So even when I only have these feelings and the philosophy to proceed with the learning for the day, I discover that what's really going on here is that I'm not the teacher.

    Perhaps this sounds like sarcasm, so let me explain.  I have much to learn about the full expression of my own life.  I'm a recovering introvert who loves days of solitude and not much interaction with people out in our city.  Elliot, on the other hand, loves everyone.  He talks to people first without waiting for an invitation.  He just dives right in and brings out kindness and smiles and good feelings.

     Yesterday was a glorious last day of September.  We packed a lunch, a backpack full of books, flash cards, pencils, markers and paper. We donned helmets and rode our bikes to the Natural Science Center (which has an aquarium and a zoo), then studied on the picnic tables outside in the park with playgrounds and trees all around.   On the way there, Elliot greeted almost every jogger, walker and biker with a friendly "Hi! I hope you have a nice day!" or "I hope you have a very nice day!"

   Instead of being annoyed by his precociousness, every single person beamed back a smile and responded "you too Sweetie!!!"

   One young college student, who seemed absorbed in his phone looked up and said "thank you, Buddy!"

    As the afternoon rolled on, we headed home.  On the sidewalks we saw the lifeless remains of a squirrel, a bird and a cicada.  Elliot responded,  "we sure have seen a lot of death today."

  I countered, "but really we saw a whole lot of life!"  And he agreed.  There were children at the playgrounds and animals at the zoo, and two deer in the park he was fortunate enough to see in the clearing near the trail.

     So much life.  And all of those people to receive and return his positive, kind intentions.  

    Later, while in the grocery store, his openness carried on when he spotted a shopper with a large squash that took up half the space in the cart. At the sight of it he said,  "nice pumpkin!"  And so the chain of his bubbly young energy flew once again out into the world.

  Of course, I made room in our cart for one of those giant orange pumpkins.

     Elliot is my teacher.   This understanding lights up something in me that cannot be contained.

Search This Blog

Banner and button design by me!