Crumbs

IMG_0309

We set about our Saturday aiming to get some yard/farm work done.  There was no excuse, really, for the lack of work we actually accomplished, though the weather was balmy and perfect for such endeavors.

Somehow it just seemed like we should sit and sip coffee and tea on the deck instead.

So that’s what Ben and I did.  He rubbed my feet and we laughed with the kids and just generally sparkled in the sun, accomplishing nothing but love.

We had asked the big boys to fold up some tarps, and that’s about all we collectively accomplished that day, and even that was completed after a good half hour of playing with the wind.

A ‘wasted’ day like that has bothered me many times.  The unending list of repairs, jobs, tasks and home management details that curls around my mind like a python rarely produces the joy and peace that I crave.

It’s good to get things done, but it’s also good to not be a slave to the do-list.  And the kids know it too.  When we’ve pushed too hard, for too long, the troops begin to fall one at a time, like flies.

It gets ugly.

Yesterday after a church service, friends spontaneously invited our family (of ten, I remind you) over for a pizza lunch.  Can I tell you how much I loved stepping into their lovely, lived-in, un-vacuumed home?  It is clearly a place of peace and beauty, but the sink was full of pots and the toys were everywhere and there were splatters on the table.

It was perfect.

For me it feels like a sacred gift to be let in to someone’s real life, because it’s so rare anymore.

Crumbs really do exist in reality and being a slave to them is miserable; sometimes, it’s best to let them fall where they may and just play instead.

The Block

I’m convinced that the primary source of exercise that has helped keep me mobile during this pregnancy has been the constant, unremitting tidying that goes on here.  Notice I didn’t even say cleaning?  Tidying alone must account for 75% of my day, I’m sure of it.

Bend, pick up, sort out, put away.  Repeat.  Over and over and over all the live-long day.

See that little bowl of spilled raisins on the floor by the fridge, the library books all over the carpet, the omnipresent limp puddle of a sweater that seems to crawl after me wherever I go, the carrot peel stuck to the tile, the jar holding Wooly Bear sitting on the stairs, the costumes sprawled in the pantry (what?)?

I like a tidy house, I prefer a tidy house, and I’m even committed to leaving each room a little better when I leave, but there’s always a thing or two that I just can’t seem to touch.  My knees refuse to bend, my body just says, “no”.

Take, for example, the block in the above photo.  It’s been sitting there for two weeks, just getting kicked around the otherwise perfectly clean hallway (if we’re not counting cobwebs).

Like three seconds would take care of it and the hall would actually be entirely clean.

I’m sure there’s a weighty metaphor to be gleaned from this, as there are a lot of things like that block, things that I could and should just deal with but I don’t because of some mental stall-out.

But, sometimes, honestly, it just feels good to be a Mommy-rebel and leave the block.

Joining the Family

IMG_0286

Yesterday, I began pulling out some little newborn clothes, thinking it best to begin easing into preparations for baby’s arrival (about six weeks from now).

Somehow, it was quiet, and I sat on my bed sorting the little white jammies and hats and all I could think was, “I can’t wait.”

I can’t wait to hold, kiss, smell and surrender to this new little life.  I don’t fear the crazy chaos of the newborn stage anymore, the wakeful nights, the cries and fumbling through nursing.  I’ve experienced it enough to know that it doesn’t last long in the light of eternity.

All I could think was, “Wow, what a blessing to be given this opportunity again, to launch the life of a new soul in this amazing universe.”  I am humbled by the immensity of the task.

And then my dreamy musings took a hit this morning…

I suspect it was because everyone was bitten by a mad squirrel in the middle of the night.  {And by everyone, I mean, mainly the little kids.}

It is crazy here today, a rollercoaster of screaming and nutty arguments, kids colliding into conflict at every turn.  My energy reserve is low, as I spent most of last night thinking about how nice it would be to actually sleep, and all I can sort of do is sleepwalk through the day, reading books, making up craft ideas, settling disputes, picking up the piece of cucumber stuck to the bottom of my foot, etc.

But, this too will pass.

And our baby will come and join the fray and we will love each other through it all moment by moment, day after day.  Even these wisps of crazy are the threads that weave the beautiful artwork of our family. I wouldn’t trade it.

Outside of Normal

Auden assures me that he will look after Poppy just fine, “I will babysit her for you, Mom.”

On the trampoline.

I know many parents would be horrified to possess such a danger device in their yard, let alone allow their tiny babes on it, but this is how we roll.

Life outside of normal, I guess.

I’m reading a beautiful book called Home Grown that is just the poetry I crave at this time of year.  Ben Hewitt describes how he and his wife are raising their children outside of the culture, and their journey resonates with me deeply.

“Having chosen such an unconventional path in both the manner we educate our sons and the way we pass our days, growing most of our food and remaining close to our home, there are times it feels to me as if my family’s voice is lost in the crowd, and it can occasionally feel as if we occupy a lonely space.  I do not mean ‘lonely’ in the sense of lacking meaningful personal relationships, but in a broader cultural sense of living out-of-step with so many common goals and expectations…”  (p. 21, Home Grown).

{Side note: We grew some stubby carrots this year, some raspberries (though the chickens enjoyed them more than we did), a few tomatoes and a load of kale (until Ben, unintentionally, felled a tree that squashed that garden), so I wouldn’t say we exactly grow our own food, but the rest of the above sentiment resonates strongly.}

Selecting a pace and priorities that are different than the dominant goals and expectations of the culture is an exercise in enduring loneliness at times, sometimes a lot of the time.

Although, as much as this has been true of our journey, I am finding that these unconventional choices are also the path to a profound loveliness that I’ve never before touched… it’s taken all these years to discover it.

There is something gentle and quiet about the freedom to slow, to make, to experiment, to search out, and to dwell in the process of it all together.  Oh, the constant proximity to each other is a challenge, but once we accept that as part of the package of our life, we begin to stretch into new strength, and new dreams with each other.

This is a kind of true wealth I only used to dream about; now I know it’s real.  The potential for this kind of ‘connect’ exists in reality!

This grace-filled place of joy is hidden under much pain and loneliness and oh, it is a perilous journey to get here, but so very, very worth it.  To paraphrase the words of a pioneer woman, whose name I now forget, “How can so much joy be packed into one small life?”

This is How it Goes

He walks up to me; so much man packed into that eleven year old body, and says, “Mom, can you get me some books about finances and money management?  I want to study this stuff now, while I have time, so that when I’m older I can just apply the stuff.  I know when I’m older I’ll want to be learning about other things.”

Later on in the day his sibling saddles up to me and asks if she can make dinner.

Yesterday, two of them spent an hour making muffins together, ‘opera singing’ the entire time, while I diced peppers in the other room.  They even cleaned up.  Miracle.

Sometimes, I wonder how we got here.

Because there have been so many grueling days on this journey, so many questions and fears in the process of building a family.  I’ve done so much wrong.

And, when it comes to homeschooling, really, I am a failure.

I just don’t really jive with schooling (even in the home) anymore.  I think what works for us about *homeschooling* is that there’s really nothing school about it.  More accurately, we’re *home-homing*.

We just do stuff together in this safe and wonderful and messy place called home.

I am not the only teacher and the children are not the only students.  Though, as the parent I do have a position of authority, one of my main roles in our family’s development is that of fellow student.

Some stories, to explain:

As Duke launches into new realms of interest in music, composition, art, and politics, I join him, finding books and resources that are interesting to both of us.  We share the learning in common as we figure out how to use Adobe Photoshop, dive into Richard Mayberry’s fantastic books about economics and history, or study what it is to worship God in song.

The other day I couldn’t stop chuckling, as, on the way to the library the big kids peppered Ben and I with questions about politics.  The 45 minute drive unleashed a civics 101 course completely at the urging of the children.  To be honest, I think I had been thinking about an ugly building before they brought up the topic.  But then I found myself answering question after question till the itch was satisfied.  I didn’t impose on them knowledge that was irrelevant to their need at the moment.  They simply saw election signs and wanted insight into their environment; the motivation was theirs.

As Dorian sets to work on another plane model, writes the next edition of his monthly newspaper, bakes up a giant batch of fresh granola, or writes his own variation of our national anthem, I join him.   We usually discuss the pros and cons of this or that while I wash the dishes.  He recently asked me to look for books about Christian pilots, two themes that are very important for him.  I find one and end up reading it myself.  I couldn’t put it down.  And it’s a book I never would have read had my son not brought it to my attention.

Sunny recently got into soap carving.  I thought it would be the death of me, finding those soap shavings everywhere, but I did end up surviving.  She has also listened to the unabridged audio book “Pride and Prejudice” many times.  She loves it, and imitates the voices, much to our dinner-time amusement.  So now, Ben and I and the big kids are watching the BBC series a bit at a time, loving it.  Oh, Mr. Darcy…

I tell these little stories only to illustrate how interesting ‘little’ people are and that the journey of learning is awesome when we join them on it.  Learning is a joyous process when the boxes are thrown out; there’s no ‘teeth-pulling’ in the process.

I think *home-homing* works so well for us, because I totally suck at caring for curriculum and rigidness in my own learning process.  I am a terrible ‘teacher’ and am not interested in investing a lot of life energy into paper-work processes and textbooks that I find generally unsatisfying.  I want to touch real stuff and the kids do to, so we’ve got a lot in common when it comes to learning.

I think as parents we are all wired differently, and so our educational expression will look different, but the point I’m really trying to make is that we have freedom in this process.

That’s how we grow.

Dreaming of Pumpkins

IMG_8858

Before fully surrendering to the tempting allure of fall, we stole away for a couple of quiet days alone together.

I wonder if we truly snagged the last real days of summer bliss out there on the deserted beach.

Now that the clear, cool air is here, however, I am invigorated and excited.  A new season – always full of joy and anticipation – refreshes me and I am ready to dive in to new ideas, new growth and soon… new life.

Apple cider, pie, curried squash soup, roasted veggies, things fermented, even cheese and perhaps some spiced fall soap; the recipe books come out of their summer slumber and I am happy to read them like novels before I sleep.

Escaping Entrapment

I’ve been ambling through two excellent books that I highly recommend to anyone who is alive in our culture.  In Search of Balance and Contentment, by Richard Swenson M.D. are so articulate in describing the unique aspects of our overload-lifestyle in this day and age, as well as offering some grounded and encouraging insight on what to do about it.

“Every year the treadmill spins faster, yet another automatic consequence of progress.  If we stay on the default treadmill, the pace of our lives will accelerate continuously” (In Search of Balance, 65).

Practically speaking, it comes down to each of us determining to put on the breaks in our own lives.  If we all jammed the pace and stepped off of the treadmill, I wonder what kind of alternative community we could develop? 

For sure, we’d look weird. 

Our schedules would be different, our shopping lists would be different, our activities and priorities and entertainment choices would look wacky to most.  I’m pretty sure we’d feel uncomfortable sometimes, because we’d be saying ‘no’ to many good things in light of the better, more timeless things we hold more dear.

“Few things frustrate me as the absence of deep consecutive thoughts.  I crave the dimension of depth…  What will happen to a generation that has lost its concept of depth?  Life has evolved into an endless sequence of twitching.  How will we ever penetrate this present moment if we don’t stop twitching?  At the end of our lives we will discover that hurry was only a socially glorified form of perspiration” (Balance, 204).

That word ‘twitching’ is such an excellent descriptor.  I feel it happening to me on days where my ‘to-do list’ expands and stresses me out because I succumb to the endlessness of quotidian details, without keeping before me the higher purposes of it all.  Even organizing and planning can become distracters from the bigger things, if I don’t actively choose otherwise.

I long for depth, for thoughtfulness and insight and new ideas and prayer together and challenge and relational connect.  But, hurry/busyness robs me of all these things if I am not intentionally saying, “No” (it feels like) all the time.

“An imbalanced life implies stress, disharmony, and agitation.  A balanced life seeks serenity, calmness and moderation.  Speed belongs to the former, depth to the latter” (Balance, 207).

“[Children] need a decent minimum [of time, attention, focus] as well. ‘Time is not your friend; it’s your enemy,’ said Haddon Robinson, speaking to physicians about children and busy lives.  ‘If you don’t spend time with them when they are six, you’ll never get it back again’” (Balance, 191).

I see it with the children, the sped-up time lapse movement of their growth, the way they already rest on the lip of the nest.

I desperately don’t want to lose one more day to my own weaknesses, my own appetites for ease, my own patterns of speedy, hurried, over-scheduled living, and my own comfort in floating along with the pace of the culture (in general, my own ‘twitchy-ness’).  As I examine our family life I find there are many layers to this treadmill, most of which I am only beginning to uncover.

I want our days to expand with love, joy and discovery as we learn to set a different course on purpose.

“When Wendell Barry said, ‘We must achieve the character and acquire the skill to live much poorer than we do,’ he was not speaking about suffering deprivation but about escaping entrapment’” (Balance, 195).

I want to live like that: not trapped, but free.

Eccentric Reader

Never mind the nefarious history of government controlled education, the whole schoolish way of life is problematic.

Take, for example, books.

The world is full of them: wonderful, brilliant, fascinating, challenging, gripping intelligence and art printed on a flood of pages that have the potential to expand our thinking and impact the course of our very lives.  Yet, we’re at a point culturally where Captain Underpants is seriously considered a reasonable book for children to read.

Not only is the foolish twaddle harmful, but even the general schoolish approach to literature (read book and respond to canned questions and get the right answer) is harmful.

I love these words from one of my mentors, John Taylor Gatto:

“The school edition of Moby-Dick asked all the right questions… [But] Real books don’t do that.  Real books demand people actively participate by asking their own questions.  Books that show you the best questions to ask aren’t just stupid, they hurt the mind under the guise of helping it…

“If you think about it, schooled people, like schoolbooks, are much alike.  Some folks find that desirable for economic reasons.  The discipline organizing our economy and our politics derives from mathematical and interpretive exercises, the accuracy of which depends upon customers being much alike and very predictable.  People who read too many books get quirky.  We can’t have too much eccentricity or it would bankrupt us.  Market research depends on people behaving as if they were alike.  It doesn’t really matter if they are or not” (The Underground History of American Education, Page 51).

Living books and the personal processing we do when we contact these ideas, drive us forward to ask new questions, our own questions.  This is imperative to real learning.

Gatto goes on to compare how libraries and schools are different.  For example, librarians are facilitators to one’s reading journey, while school-teachers wielding schoolbooks are dictators.

“The library tolerates eccentric reading because it realizes free men and women are often very eccentric…  Real books transport us to an inner realm of solitude and unmonitored reflection in a way schoolbooks and computer programs can’t.  Real books conform to the private curriculum of each author, not to the invisible curriculum of a corporate bureaucuracy.   If they were not devoid of such capacity, they would jeopardize school routines devised to control behavior” (The Underground History of American Education, Page 51).

So, I was reading through and contemplating these thoughts last night, when a friend sent me an article that touched on the same theme:

[Charlotte] Mason said that “wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education” (Vol. 3, p.128). This act of the teacher being a co-learner and not being the “fountain-head of all knowledge” or the “showman of the universe” is a foundational principle…

Mason said to “let them get at the books themselves, and do not let them be flooded with a warm diluent at the lips of their teacher. The teacher’s business is to indicate, stimulate, direct and constrain to the acquirement of knowledge . . . The less parents and teachers talk-in and expound their rations of knowledge and thought to the children they are educating, the better for the children” (Vol. 3, p. 162). A child is to “dig” knowledge for himself out of living books because what he learns on his own becomes his “possession” and is assimilated as opposed to “what is poured in his ear”(Vol. 3, p.177).

These thoughts greatly challenge my expectations of my children in regards to their reading/processing journeys.  Do I simply desire them to regurgitate answers according to pre-canned questions, because the busy work makes me feel better?

I suspect a lot of our cultural educational standards (the pat right/wrong answers, busy-work, fill-in-the-blank handouts) are aimed at making parents feel ‘safe’ that their kids are learning something, when in fact these methods are destroying the very heart of motivation in our children, including the critical thinking and personal development to be found in the unique and eccentric reading paths they may choose to pursue.

I am already finding that for my three oldest children there is no set reading-list that I can reliably follow for them collectively.  Each child is on a different personal quest, and I must work with them to discover the worlds and ideas and words that best speak to who God has made them to be.

This is learning outside of the box.  It takes an extra kind of effort, but it’s amazing to watch the children unfold, as they read books relevant to their journey.

Personally, it was when I was finally out of school and discovered the uncensored library experience again that my world began to expand in directions I never before knew existed.  Books have literally opened up new territories for me that I would never have discovered had I not dived into the history and politics, education, agriculture, home economics, and sociology found on those dusty old shelves.

Family Dinner Devotions

Last night at dinner, as Ben paused in the middle of our discussion about some of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, I helpfully noted that there was a wild turkey and its baby walking around just outside the window.

Ben, glanced over his shoulder and looked out the window.

Sure enough.

He jumped up (food on plate as yet untouched) and said, “Kids, let’s get ‘em!  I’ll circle around from the barn and you guys go out this door.  Maybe we can catch them!”

At which point every child, minus Poppy, followed his lead and scooted away from the table, cheering and whooping as they located shoes (or not).

And then I watched as Ben and the kids chased those ridiculous, bewildered birds all over the property, until the fowl had the sense to up and fly.

Everyone eventually returned to the table and dinner resumed.

Later, before bed, I commented to Ben that it never would have occurred to me to up and chase a turkey during the meal.

“That’s funny,” he replied, “It seemed like the only obvious thing to do.”

How to Kick-Off the New School Year in One Easy Step

Before there was school, there were babies, and before there were babies, there was passion, and before there was passion there was marriage, and before that was knock-you-head-over-heels-love.

And while education is important and it’s all the buzz this time of year, it’s good to remember that this whole ‘growing people’ ordeal was first born of love.

There was a time, when I lay in my husband’s arms and dreamed dreams of this stuff… little people, the music recitals, the soccer games, the meals together, the reading together, the slow-motion laughter of happy-family bliss.

(NB: Not included in those idyllic fantasies were the more practical certainties of chaos, noise, mess, and general stickiness that would accompany my future existence, hourly, as a mother.)

So here’s a gentle reminder to remember your man in these days of noisy preparation.

Because he is where your family-love story began; when you love him with a passionate-surrender-it-all-delight, you create again the space for love to do miracles.  When you connect and stand as a team, all the craziness of the season somehow dims and your heart settles as you face the noise together.

So, don’t put the babies before the man.

Water your first love first and the good things will grow; remember his steadiness and faithfulness, his diligence and sacrifice and consider it all while you kiss him and love him in the real and deep ways that God made you for.

(That’s the way to kick-off a great new school year.)