Monday, December 26, 2011

Dogs are not allowed on the couch.  Which, by the way, is MY rule. 
Do we both look properly shamed?
Dear Boy decided to make a stop motion video.   Way cool.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

 One of those unforgettable once in a lifetime gifts...  

Friday, December 23, 2011

I am knitting socks for each niece and nephew in the family for next Christmas.  Yes, I am getting started BEFORE this Christmas.  Because I'm smart, committed, and determined.  Because this feeds my self fashioning Molly Weasley fantasies.  And because I am finally accepting an important truth.  Knitting, as all art, is bound in part by the quality of materials invested.  

I'm very frugal and open minded.  I look for the best cheapest yarn and I can find (in thrift shops, Walmart, Hobby Lobby, etc.)  And I feel artistry should transcend or transfigure this best cheapest yarn into beautiful serviceable goods.  Sometimes that happens, or near enough.

Earlier in the month I accidentally on purpose ended up in my favorite local yarn shop.  Where, on a whim, I purchased a $26 ball of yarn.  Absurd!  Hello!  $26 yarn?  Well guess what?  Its worth it.  I'll skip the many reasons.  Trust me or suit yourself, but quality materials in the right hands improve results.   My only problem is justifying such an expensive hobby:  make it practical.  $26 is a very reasonable price for a gift.  Voila.  I can knit my fill with luxury yarns and finish my Christmas shopping for next year all in one whack.  At the same time I am supporting small local designers of yarns and small local merchants.  (Fight the power!)  Its all good.

Its morning.  I've fed all the people who are awake.  I've cleaned chicken boxes, collected 9 eggs, tidied the kitchen, made a cup of hot tea.  I'm on the couch with my luxury yarn, "2-at-a-time Socks" by Melissa Morgan-Oaks, and the "Be Mine" pattern page 49.   All is calm.  All is bright.  The pattern is difficult enough to engage my full attention, easy enough to be relaxed about it.   I'm two inches of fingering weight yarn into two socks - four inches of knitting, on line 9 of the stitch guide.

Then I encounter a mistake in the pattern.  I'm knitting with $26 wool, here.  There can be no mistakes.  I am using a pattern.  I've already invested a fair amount of time.  I'm following instructions!  I am doing it all right but its coming out wrong!  There should be a word for the kind of wrong born of doing it right.  Which happens in life more often than one might expect.  Whatever the word, it is often necessary to leave the directions, break the rules, and go rogue (defined by many as wrong) in order to be right.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Okay, wow, so we have always loved "A Christmas Carol."  Last night Darling Husband and I watched Peter Zemeckis' version.  And at first we were aghast, but not in the right way.  At first we thought the movie was all wrong.  In fact, it got horrible reviews, was soundly panned.  I see why.  It is no charming glad tiding for children.  A Christmas movie not for kids?!  What was Peter thinking?  He was thinking Cartoon Noir.   He just marketed to the wrong audience.

Peter Zemeckis was thinking like Dickens, who never set out to write a charming movie for children.  In his own words, "I have endeavored in this ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea."  He set out to write a redemptive but scary story.  Which he did, because he is a genius.  And Peter Zemeckis is possibly the first movie maker honest to the task, or honest to the scope of modern sensibilities.  The movie is SCARY.  I jumped and cried, "Oh My!" at the visage of Marley.  The Zemeckis version is, to use the phrase of my children, "Totally NOT for kids."

But it is moving and forthright.  And I'm grateful for the lesson.  Which, its true, I must learn again and again and again.  Reaching to keep Christmas in my heart.  Because life will flat wear your ass out, if you aren't careful, mindful.  Mindfulness is the lesson, yet another iteration of love, peace on earth, good will.  So grab a nob of nog and settle in for a long winter's animated production not for kids.

As the master said, "Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yesterday the kids had a friend visiting from down the road.  They spent about five hours outside in chill balmy drizzle sipping hot cocoa and slowly roasting pepperoni over their fire on a rock.   First they roasted forage from the yard, mostly wild onions, I think.  Later, way past dark, we took them all out for pizza.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kid 1) Just when I think I've found the perfect phrase for saying: cruddy bubbles, of course.  Then you go and introduce tinted balm.  Tinted balm is really good for saying.

Kid 2)  Yeah, tinted balm is good for saying.  But my new favorite is breaded chihuahua.

Kid 1) Oooooooh breaded chihuahua, that is really good!

Who are these people?  And what are they talking about?
One of the great disappointments of my life was growing up to learn that Rock-n-Roll, most of it, is meaningless.  I thought all those lyrics and all that pomp MEANT something specific to each song.  Meant something beyond the obvious emotional rompouswhompus and beyond sex.  All that Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Rock machine do da.  I thought I would understand the incomprehensible lyrics when I grew up.  So sad to learn, they are mostly empty.  There are exceptions, yes, but mostly vapid yapping.  Really? Really.

Which is on par with my disappointment over Christmas.  As a child I put effort into the feeling of the season, I strained to feel the warmth of the star.  I heard the message from every corner of our society:  A child was born, a King, love has saved us. I didn't feel exactly saved by love but assumed understanding would dawn with ascent into adulthood.

Sorry to be so jaded and all.  But who isn't disappointed, a bit, just a little bit?  You start to wonder as you grow up.  When is the turning point, the dawn of reality?  Finding out Santa isn't real was more of a warning, foreshadowing.  Is it when you learn Jesus was not born in December, that that whole story is just a story, as manufactured as the poignancy in Robert Plant's voice when he sings about a girl so fair lost in Mordor?  Or that most of the ritual of the season is co-opted from Pagans and most likely for political or financial gain?

The best thing you can say for vapid social construct no matter which holiday or song, it does offer huge latitude for projection.  There is room in the season, as in art, to wrangle your own meaning.  The trappings and expectations, familiar sights smells rituals, pin down a place for us to layer continuity over the chaotic truth of change.  Life is always changing and chaotically so.  Which is scary and difficult at times.  We wish it were only partly true, let somethings change and somethings never change, please.  Well, it all changes.  But enduring custom changes slowly anyway.  And as I was saying, you can imbue it with your own meaning.

Which is good, as long as you are actively choosing meaning.  Because what happens most of the time is simple mirroring.  If your family is dysfunctional, so will your holiday be.  If your family chooses love as the enduring thread of continuity through time, then happy day!  Hey, its just like Paul McCartney said, "In the end, the love you make is equal to the love you take." I think that's pretty much what Jesus meant as well.  And in that way, I suppose, the season works.   If your family is not so enlightened, choosing love so consciously, then maybe take a cue from Florence and run fast toward consciousness.  (Run for your children!)  At least, I think that's what she means?   Aren't all these songs about moving and choosing your way toward love or away from chaos or at least toward meaning?  I hope so.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Darling husband spent the weekend carrying his ipad around the house in a snuggly so he could listen to jazz constantly.  And he cooked.  He made french bread, spaghetti sauce with homemade meatballs, shepherds pie, and pecan sticky buns.   Yeah!  We ate like royalty.  And watched a bunch of movies.  And napped.  And I finished "The Silk House" by Alex Horowitz which was a rather jolly gavotte.  Actually, not so jolly a premise but a thoroughly fun read.  And we got to hear Donald Davis telling holiday stories that made all of us, even the children, belly laugh. All in all, a perfect weekend.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Washington Post recently published an article called The New Domesticity which asks us to consider, again, if it isn't somehow detrimental to women in general and feminism specifically for women to be spending so much time returning home to raise their babies, their food, and the quality of family life.  The question itself is simplistic, sexist, and outdated.  We should be asking why our society doesn't value children and why our society seems almost determined to keep fathers away from their families.

It would be appropriate and helpful to parents if children were welcome and incorporated into what we call normal adult life in western society.  But they aren't.  It would also have been intensely neato if nature had arranged biology such that Dads could breast feed their infants interchangeably with Moms.   But mammals aren't made that way.

And its harsh and I apologize in advance for this.  But you will never hear an "attachment parent," a mother given to exclusive breastfeeding, nor any locavore suggest that staying home to take care of children and properly feed a family is anything other than an act of appropriate and necessary love.  It is helpful to believe all women and all men can equally share in every aspect of successful career building, hand raising each child as individuals, and figuring out a way to wrest some decent food out of our profoundly ill and dangerous supply.  I don't see how that's possible in our society today, but feminism could be asking how to attain such a life.  And learning from families that come close to managing such equality.

Oh the irony that staying home to hold and feed your baby is radical.  I might even call it The New Radical Feminism.  And I believe my husband, who is heavily invested in a full time career outside (woefully far outside) our home, would agree.  And we both wish we could each share with perfect equality in every aspect of the other's life.  We work together to share our burdens and our time with the children, which is not always easy but does seem to be working.
Who has the most important job in this picture, the mom, the dad, or the baby?  All three of us.  Feminism has "a long way to go, baby" and might be better served with some new questions.

Friday, December 16, 2011

We've got some building to do around here.  We need a goat hut to keep the rain off the goats we are planning to buy.  And we need a boat.  Rather, we want a boat and we need the skills to build one.  It occurred to me years ago that if my kids left home with all the information in their heads and hands for building a home, I would consider our homeschool a success.

Somewhere along the way I quit needing to imagine an endpoint on which to pin our results badge --our grades.  Yesterday my kids were out with their Godmother.  My son looks like he could be her son, actually.  And someone asked them how they are related.  She hesitated, they are related by love, as thick as anything.  My son replied, "We are as awesome as she is."   

My quiet demurring 13 year old son pipped that right out loud, and to a stranger.  He must have been full of the joy of her company.  I know he meant only to compliment her and the bond we all share.  But I think he hit a perfect note of confidence in himself, assertion, and willingness to engage.  Forget an exit grade.  I'll call that success and we'll keep learning together.

But I still want a farm, a boat, for the kids to build their own tiny houses, and for all of us to collect the tools and skills we need to accomplish these goals.  If my goals seem meager, they are intimidating to me.  I feel challenged.  I'm noticing a hesitancy to begin.  Which is, perhaps, the best reason to have left my cow behind on someone else's farm.  Its time to push through fear and get busy with some next level investment in time, resources, energy, tools, and reward.   And the kids are on board, starboard if we refer to the ancient meaning --the steering side of the ship, in control of their own rudders.  My goals are aligning with theirs, awesomeness. 

We have a farm, life skills, habitation, satisfaction, and self reliance to gain.   Compared to a gpa and class ranking, I think we're on the right path for good graduation.  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The kids took these pictures.  I think they are brilliant and I thank God for my life with these artists.

Yesterday they introduced me to a new game, a game our son invented.  Its called "Delayed Communication."   This is how you play.

Player 1)  Speaking directly to Player 2, "Hi, how's it going?"
Player 2)  Long silent dramatic pause with no eye contact........."Uh, hi.  Yeah."
Player 1)  Speaking directly to Player 2, "I just read a great book."
Player 2)  Long silent dramatic pause with no eye contact........."Huh?  Really.  Okay."

Repeat until Player 1 feels like punching Player 2 in the face.  Or calling a therapist.  Or, possibly, initiating an eating disorder.  Quit the game and go play something much more fun, hopefully involving costumes.

Wow.  Sometimes life throws up a perfect mirror.  If you are supremely lucky, you'll catch an honest glimpse of yourself.  Perhaps, after your retinas heal from being scalded by the light.   I participated in this game for two or three rounds.  Then I stared at the kids a few seconds.  They were completely innocent, without any dapple of guile what so ever.  I almost wept with gratitude.  And I told them I knew where they got this game.  "Delayed Communication" sounds a whole lot like one person trying to talk to another person who is busy on a computer.   They responded with vague smiles, gentle nods of realization, and shrugging, they ran off to play another game.  I sat scrawling stern mental notes to myself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Running as a leopard, innocent as a blob, silent as a vampire bat, stalky as a tiger, and with a cool hat!"
 The Sneak Around Game
I've been chatting online with a woman I met in a homeschool forum 8 years ago.  For 8 years we've been discussing our lives, our experience as mothers, and our struggles to figure out the homeschool thang.

This week her job brought her to my town.  So we got to meet in person.  Which has been an unexpectedly lovely wonderful and easy experience.  Well, I expected her to be lovely and wonderful.  I already knew that.  I didn't expect the easy part.  Or that I would trust her effortlessly and naturally.  I am not one bit shy but am deeply introverted and comfortable with silence.  So I wasn't sure how our nice quiet key tapping friendship would translate into real.  I didn't know no translation is necessary.  Its all real.

If you've been talking to someone for 8 years, you know them.  (Unless one of you is intentionally false.)  What is happening here online is not something other than the real world.  Its a different portal into the real world.  And my over riding feeling as I sat next to my friend for the first time was a need to physically touch her.  I kept wanting to put my hand on her arm or maybe just one quick little brush against her cheek to make certain she's really really real.  The way you might test the sheen of an apricot or the fuzzy leaf of a plant you've never seen before.  Her voice, her style, her responses were all familiar.  Comfortingly familiar -- as any old friend.  But encountering her physical self was kind of like having a beautiful fairy from the inside of a snow globe wake, shake itself, and fly right out of that globe into my living room.  Bizarrely wonderful magic, as is real life.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I have no cows, now.  Very Sad.

So, there have been changes lately.  Changes are always signified by blog silence.  If I can't say something, I tend not to say much of anything.

How is it possible I have no cows?  I gave my last cow back to the farmer who owns the farm where I've been working the past three and half years.  I can't have her at my house.  And its time for me to leave that farm--past time.

We're looking into options:
1) keeping a couple of dairy goats here
2) renting out this house and moving to a small farm
3) finding a job in another city

Like I said, big changes.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I have a friend who is getting her Phd in education and child development.  (She fully supports unschooling.) Yesterday the topic for her dissertation was accepted.  (Too bad it isn't unschooling.)  We were more than delighted to celebrate with her.  With a waffles!
Heirlooms, if you have small children, make some.   If you have small children, it goes without saying that you are drowning in paper, of which almost all should go forthwith and without guilt into the recycling bin as soon as those little angels are asleep.  That much paper lying around will cloud your judgment.  And its a fire hazard.  Heirlooms are not fire hazards.

If your heirlooms are made of fabric, store them in your linen closet.  Textiles like to live where we live, not in the basement or the attic and not in plastic tubs.  Which probably also goes for the rest of your heirlooms.  Really, the only thing in your attic should be a secret private studio space with natural lighting (once you throw back the spooky looking old hinged shutters on the belfry), a fan, an overstuffed chair (exactly one), a sturdy table, and a locked cabinet full of art supplies and good liqueur.  In the shadows you can stash that old rocker you've been coveting from the antique store the next town over.  Yeah, the one you know you shouldn't buy but can't help wanting.   Very occasionally you might want to share your attic with a friend. Mostly not, but maybe occasionally.  That's your friend's place to sit.

Basements are only for preserves, aging cheese, and scaring children.  Duh.

This morning my friend said to me, "When I'm unpacking decorations this season if I don't say 'Oh, I've missed you this past year' when I pick up the next thing, its going straight to the thrift shop."  How inspiring and awesome is she?  Very.  Thanks friend.  I've been ruthless with clutter in other areas.  How did I miss noticing the morass of holidailia?

I have two tin (wooden) soldiers.  I bought them raw for a dollar when we lived in Texas and I haunted Hobby Lobby because it was the most interesting place in town.  The kids painted them and by some miracle, I mostly resisted the urge to touch up their work.  Back then I couldn't imagine the wabi sabi of life with children and their relentlessly copious constant art work receding from the shore of my living room.   I was drowning in the stuff.  Now, its precious.  I wish I'd bought more raw wooden characters for them to paint and fewer rolls of newsprint.
This holiday season, make some heirlooms.

And get rid of the junk mucking up your space.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


My kids, ages 11 and 13, still play. A couple of their games are long running.  "Pez" has been going on for years.  "Bunny" is fairly recent, invented sometime this summer, and not to be confused with, "Bloody Bunny," who made an appearance in "Magic The Movie II".  

Most of their games no longer involve toys.  This weekend my son and I crawled through his room with a flea comb and flame thrower, restoring light and peace to an otherwise feral and scary terrain.  We put up his Legos because he is done with them.  Which basically concludes the toy themed portion of life in this house.  My daughter sent her dolls away last spring.  (I cried for a week. Jenna, I miss you!)  We have toys, mostly toys I'm saving for grandchildren.  But my kids are over them.   Which is weird for me.

But they still play.  "Bunny" is hidden in the house.  Until someone in the know finds and re-hides him.  You must never speak of Bunny.  Its a silent game.  If you happen to be a clueless adult, you may have cause to wonder.  Suddenly Bunny is there, hanging off the attic string, peaking around your Christmas decorations, occupying secret nooks and dark corners, living inexplicably trapped in a lantern.

Toys are mostly gone.  Can games be far behind?  How weird is that?  Life without "Spidey Head Baby Head, Little Elfie, Elvian, Battleaxe, The Beauty Game, P In The Wormhole (short for Puppy), Bittle, Suzie Heat, Guess The Kid, The Bored Game (subtitle: Don't Trust You At All), Hoof Care, Zip Line, Bronco, Daring Dot, Hammock Racing, The Witch Broomstick Thing (which doesn't count), Shadow Pack, Bouncy Tree and the Earth Ship Game, and Pez?  Say it isn't so!

It isn't so, yet...

Friday, December 2, 2011

"To say thanks in a kind of way." ~Russell
I tell the children often.  And its so true.  One never ever knows what's around the corner.  Who would have guessed such lovely folks would drop into our lives?  Out of where, from whence?  Four months ago a couple from South Africa touched down in South America and started traveling north east.  They landed on the farm where I work.  Then ended up living in our house, all too briefly...   We talked and laughed and questioned each other.  We worked out life together, just for a while.  They cooked, told so many stories, offered Shiatsu (seriously!), art, love, perspective, and awesome new food.   All during a rather hectic time.  Which reminds me, when you really need them, I've noticed in this life angels will arrive.  You can't predict angels but they exist and they arrive on time. 
We went to the local Life Sciences museum yesterday.  Our group of five, ranging in ages from 11 to 45, were completely enthralled by the resident entomologist.  He brought out a tarantula and a scorpion for us to hold, if we cared to hold either.  I mean, he walked them out into the room for our little group.  It was very casual and spontaneous --no huge retaining wall or desk between us, no performance. He black-lighted the scorp to point out her awesome blue green glowing tinge and the eyes on her back.  He talked about their new and aggressive Bird Eating Tarantula which will eventually grow to be over 12 inches in diameter.  And then he got interesting.

He started talking about spiders.  I was under the impression our area has two poisonous spiders: Black Widows and Brown Recluses.  He dispelled such a notion.  He said, if I understood him correctly, that first of all, False Recluses are poisonous.  And secondly, that we've only discovered 10% of insects or arachnids on the earth.  So no one really knows all that much about what spiders we have or don't have in our area.  He spoke for a while about the similarities between venom and saliva: both digest cells, carry toxic bacteria, and have enzymes for destroying flesh.  He said if we had stingers our saliva would be considered venom.  And, apparently, only about 10% of adult humans are sensitive to Black Widow venom.

I tried to ask him if perhaps insects were evolving into new species faster than we could find them.  I'm not sure I asked my question well, or that he understood it. But it didn't take me too long to figure out he was hedging against my use of the word "evolve."  He said, "to evolve means to change" and kind of blathered a bit.   Suddenly a light bulb went on and I asked, "Every person in this group believes in evolution, so, do you think bugs are evolving quickly?"   That sorted him.  He said evolution is as slow for bugs as it is for mammals.  (I think he said that.)  But he predicts that spiders will eventually evolve to have only four legs.

Russell asked if any spiders, as with sharks, were done evolving.  Which is to say, perfect.  Mr. Entomologist did not address that directly, only blinking a bit dubiously in silence.  Then he said scientists have detected a creature they believe is at least twice bigger than Blue Whales.

For review:  Blue Whales are the biggest animals believed ever to have lived on the earth.  Their hearts are the size of Volkswagens. Blue Whales are bigger than any dinosaurs.  And scientists believe there is something living in the ocean at least twice as big.  They've never seen it.  But they've heard it.  They call it The Bloop.

We left arachnids and went to the butterfly house where my son walked around with a huge butterfly perched on his finger.  Until it hopped off his finger onto my nose.  That was cool.  We also saw bears, wolves, lemurs, and a few really cool displays.  Including an interactive map of the world.  Its round, tilts north, south, east, and west, and scrolls in and out with a spin.  So the South Africans in our group led us on a world tour.  Which was way cool.