Sunday, December 29, 2013

Overheard on youface: 
"im going to cover stacys mom only im going to replace stacy with henry/riley because henry/rileys mom has 100% got it going on"

Monday, December 23, 2013

I was called Ms. Sherrill the other day. It took my breath a way. I looked over my shoulder for my Grandmothers. I almost started crying.

It was an older man from the south who mistook me. Or perhaps he was being kind? We'd been introduced an hour earlier and discussed our mutual heritage in this state.  We were talking about old family names and history and our connection. On his way out of the house, after hugging everyone goodbye and walking through the door he tossed Ms. Sherrill over his shoulder. It was his intonation, accent, and timing, as much as the name that threw me, "Goodbye Mz. Sherrill!"

How many times have I heard that named called in greeting and goodbye? A million? Only thousands since the day I was born? My Grandmother and my Great Aunt were both Ms. Sherrill. Both have been dead a long time. I haven't heard that name called through the air, alive to the very moment of now, in fifteen years. Unexpected, it cut me deep as it rooted me through matriarchy into history. It was one of those moments we've read about where someone calls a person's true name and they suddenly know who they are. A shocking revelation while simultaneously mundane. Of course, I am Ms. Sherrill. Like my mother, my sisters, my aunts, my cousins.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

New York
Guy Fawkes Day

Dear Adlai,

Back from Camelot, and, reading the papers, not at all sure it was wise. Two first impressions. First, a creeping, all pervading nerve-gas of immorality which starts in the nursery and does not stop before it reaches the highest offices both corporate and governmental. Two, a nervous restlessness, a hunger, a thirst, a yearning for something unknown—perhaps morality. Then there's the violence, cruelty and hypocrisy symptomatic of a people which has too much, and last, the surly ill-temper which only shows up in humans when they are frightened.

Adlai, do you remember two kinds of Christmases? There is one kind in a house where there is little and a present represents not only love but sacrifice. The one single package is opened with a kind of slow wonder, almost reverence. Once I gave my youngest boy, who loves all living things, a dwarf, peach-faced parrot for Christmas. He removed the paper and then retreated a little shyly and looked at the little bird for a long time. And finally he said in a whisper, "Now who would have ever thought that I would have a peach-faced parrot?"

Then there is the other kind of Christmas with presents piled high, the gifts of guilty parents as bribes because they have nothing else to give. The wrappings are ripped off and the presents thrown down and at the end the child says—"Is that all?" Well, it seems to me that America now is like that second kind of Christmas. Having too many THINGS they spend their hours and money on the couch searching for a soul. A strange species we are. We can stand anything God and nature can throw at us save only plenty. If I wanted to destroy a nation, I would give it too much and would have it on its knees, miserable, greedy and sick. And then I think of our "Daily" in Somerset, who served your lunch. She made a teddy bear with her own hands for our grandchild. Made it out of an old bath towel dyed brown and it is beautiful. She said, "Sometimes when I have a bit of rabbit fur, they come out lovelier." Now there is a present. And that obviously male teddy bear is going to be called for all time MIZ Hicks.

When I left Bruton, I checked out with Officer 'Arris, the lone policeman who kept the peace in five villages, unarmed and on a bicycle. He had been very kind to us and I took him a bottle of Bourbon whiskey. But I felt it necessary to say—"It's a touch of Christmas cheer, officer, and you can't consider it a bribe because I don't want anything and I am going away..." He blushed and said, "Thank you, sir, but there was no need." To which I replied—"If there had been, I would not have brought it."

Mainly, Adlai, I am troubled by the cynical immorality of my country. I do not think it can survive on this basis and unless some kind of catastrophe strikes us, we are lost. But by our very attitudes we are drawing catastrophe to ourselves. What we have beaten in nature, we cannot conquer in ourselves.

Someone has to reinspect our system and that soon. We can't expect to raise our children to be good and honorable men when the city, the state, the government, the corporations all offer higher rewards for chicanery and deceit than probity and truth. On all levels it is rigged, Adlai. Maybe nothing can be done about it, but I am stupid enough and naively hopeful enough to want to try. How about you?



Friday, December 20, 2013

 My neighbor's house lights.
My dog, Jackson, waiting for his friend, Walter, to be let out to play. He waited a long time.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

10 Simple Things You Can Do Today That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science

Read the article, its great. I've lived all of them. I recommend all of them:
Exercise some.
Sleep more.
Drive less.
Your relationships matter more than your goals.
Get outside.
Be of use, helpful.
Plan fun things. (Choose happy thoughts.)
Practice Gratitude. 

Gratitude is a fascinating little paradox and the most interesting thing to happen to me this year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I love you Santa Claus. 
Santa lives in seclusion, surrounded by animals, crafting. I can relate. Once a year he enjoys giving away all of his toys just for the fun of it, because children rock, and acts of love are a good thing in this world. Our culture needs the archetype of Santa, a spokes person for the deeper kinder side of masculinity. Santa is Rambo not. Maybe this new Pope is on Santa's side?

It gets complicated, doesn't it? As we sat happily painting, Dear Girl was cracking me up. She was talking back to the Christmas carols. Elvis sang, "Santa Claus knows we're all God's children, that makes everything right...Santa Claus comes tonight!" She responded, "For some more than others, I guess." The dark truth from such a bright mouth is funny.

And sad. Every year I wrestle with Christmas. I thought I might skip wrestling in 2013. I'm trying (really trying, Santa) to keep my eyes pinned on gratitude. Doing so helps make the season a lot brighter, more earnest, simpler. Gratitude allows me to lift my head out of my own butt. But what do my wondering eyes see? Other folks struggling, staggering irony, and my own feet marching along with the boy drumming as the god of capitalism prods us further in.

Watching a very dear friend back peddling, searching for meaning, trying to pin down what is truly important and right this season, it hit me. The issue of Christmas is similar to the issue of school. We were raised on it, our culture says its almost mandatory, nearly holy, our hearts quietly but relentlessly object, and pulling away is much easier said than done. Both are founded on myth. Both are well intended. Both are broken institutions. But don't blame Santa. Its not his fault.

"Then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus.
He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time.
Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus.
Christmas Eve was the time when everybody was unselfish.
On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together,
stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy.
And in the morning you saw what that had done."
~ A Little House Christmas Treasury 

Monday, December 16, 2013

We picked up some "paint your own" Christmas decorations from the craft store, a super easy fun little craft project for the season. Anyone who loves coloring books would enjoy these. I treasure some that my aunt painted in the 1970s. There are fewer choices these days, and forget the little markers included in the packaging. But if you've already got your own paint, this is a fun way to pass an evening. Christmas music, Dad making lasagna in the kitchen, and all was right for the night.
 My girl painted one of her Christmas trees ombre pink to red. It may be my favorite.
But I love the detail in both of them. I did the reindeer.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thoughts on well intended criticism:
Granny was always telling me my husband needed a vasectomy. Well. I thought what would a woman with no children know about a house full of wild babies, and children and teenagers? I think that about your dad: What would he know about homeschool or a life as free and safe as your sons?

Monday, December 9, 2013

I bought this card for myself in 1984. Back then Mary Engelbreit was a lot edgier. I've kept it all these years, finally framed it last year, and I set it out at Christmas time. I think this woman looks like a perfect mother. I've always kind of aspired to be this sort of mother. Vague, I know. I can't articulate why she's the one. But she is the archetype for me. I think they're going out to call the cows in for morning milking. Clearly. They are all wearing milking books.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

 With a lot of hard work,
 and two runs to building supply,
 these guys got the roof finished and a stout north east demi-wall up.
 We moved in the square bale feeder. Its nice in there. And DRY!
 With about 8 hours to spare ahead of an approaching ice storm.
 Take a bow, guys. The new barn is looking AWESOME! LOVE the skylights!

Friday, December 6, 2013

We never got around to reading stories in the park yesterday. But we did have a bunch of interesting conversations. One struck me, most especially. A mom with 3 kids, two of them teens, ages 14 and 18, said she thinks kids who are unschooled can be generally trusted to make sound safe decisions regarding their bodies. This is not a normal sentiment in our society. And it created some cognitive dissonance for me until she explained further and a light bulb went off in my heart.

For my generation, we were, most of us, put in school as very little children and we stayed there through college. Competition with one another was the backbone of our moral training. We were subjected to an unremitting stream of unworthy authority who taught us both, distrust of adults and disregard for our own judgement. John Gatto has written about unworthy authority: "The Six-lesson School Teacher." Our society has insanely low expectations of children in general and teenagers especially. We have these expectations after observing the results of 100 years of compulsory schooling. In which we unintentionally teach children misbehavior at every level, beginning with horrid examples from adults. The upshot of our long march through school is internalization: we now have to live with the petty distrustful competitive bastards inside our brains. PDCDs, for short.

My PDCD has been repetitively smacked down by the simple honest pure trusting love of my children. Love as I've never known it before. A love, apparently not at all unique to my kids, but rare in our society. For example, I constantly suspected my son of lying to me when he was a toddler, and also of intentionally hurting his little sister in small meanspirited ways--the sneaky grabbing of toys, bullying, etc. You know, all the "normal" big brother stuff. Of course, I was projecting my PDCD onto him. Poor kid. He's never lied to or bullied anyone in his life.  I've tried to clear my twisted perception as fast as I can. But it still comes up in yucky ways.

I said to my friend yesterday that parenting teens is difficult because you want to them to be a little bit afraid, cautious is what I really meant, but also confident as they increase their independence. How can you teach fear in a healthy way? That is the moment she sparked a darkened light for me. She said that in 18 years of unschooling she's observed that children who are well loved, who have never been subjected to unworthy authority, who have never been forcibly separated from their own authority--who, in fact, have been repeatedly taught respect for their own authority, who have been taught through implication their selves are invaluable, irreplaceable, unique, and free, because they have been treated as unique invaluable irreplaceable and free human beings--these children don't choose to harm themselves. WHY WOULD THEY?

Let that sink in a minute. Self destructive behavior is insane. Its what caged animals do. Its what kids raised on false aphorisms, null morality, hopelessness, and chronic disregard do. If adults who have consistently proven themselves any combination of false, lame, dense, incomprehensible, selfish, and uncaring tell you what is good for you, what is important, or what has meaning, why would you trust them? You would not trust them. What if these adults spent 13 years teaching you your own judgement is suspect. What to do? Struggle forever, is what. My friend says she still wrestles with the candy bar on the table. "I know its not good for me but..." Sound familiar?

Any human can and will make mistakes. I'm not saying unschooled kids are robotically self controlled or successful. But consider a child who has grown up surrounded only by people who love them personally, who have their best interests at heart. A child who generally mostly feels happy, optimistic, safe, and free. This is not a portrait of self destructive insanity.

Don't teach fear. And don't allow unworthy authority any purchase. Just love the children. Education should always come back to love.

"None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impregnable to change. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people; there is no right way. There is no "international competition" that compels our existence, difficult as it is to even think about in the face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our nation is self-sufficient. If we gained a non-material philosophy that found meaning where it is genuinely located -- in families, friends, the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy -- then we would be truly self-sufficient"

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A friend of mine from New Jersey spend the day with her kids in NYC, yesterday. She took this picture. Even blurry, you can see exactly what it is with no explanation. Yes, the original collection. Roo is missing. They say he was lost in an apple orchard. My heart aches in the sweetest way.
I'm up before dawn to have coffee with my husband before he leaves for work on most days. Sometimes I've already left for work, myself. Today our state is blanketed in fog. My husband has left, the children and dogs are still asleep and I'm sitting next to our lit Christmas tree. I have an idea to take "A Christmas Memory" by Truman Capote to our homeschooling park day and read it out loud for the mothers or the teenagers or everyone. And I'm not sure why, but I opened it up and started reading out loud to myself this morning. I've never done that before. Maybe I should say I was reading to the dogs--they are here on the couches with me. But they are asleep. I read the whole thing out loud. I paused to cry twice because the story always moves me the way it invokes a less used world and true love. I had to whisper my way through the ending and then stop to weep. Real weeping with tears soaking into my nightgown and scarf. I'm getting too old for this story. I could not possibly read it out loud in public. I'd never make it through. But someone else maybe could? So I'll take it along, just in case the mood arises.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Yesterday we participated in a mock parade to help train these oxen, Breis and Fryer. They are going to be in the local parade in two weeks and need some practice walking in line and also being off the farm. We paraded two and half miles, down and back, which took about an hour and half. In this first picture you can also see the red covered wagon where we were riding with Leonard and his team of Percherons: Jake and Jim. The ox driver is my boss, Allison. She's awesome.
 Lester Ray was in the lead with his Percherons: Dream and Misty.
See in the foreground how cockeyed Lester's green wagon is sitting? While turning the parade around we went off road and the slope of the ditch knocked his wagon box off its seat. Leonard asked my girl to hold his horses, 'Just hold 'em and say "Whoa!" real loud if they start moving' so he could help Lester re-seat the wagon. He might have asked me to do it, being the older fatter stronger one, but I'm out there standing in front of Dream and Misty so they don't bolt either. You can just see my blue skirt behind their legs. All was set right with no more trouble. Breis and Fryer did a great job on the road. And we had a great time in the mock parade. Can't wait for the real thing!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My whole life is a gift I unwrap everyday. 
 And every December we unwrap a new piece of Santa's Playmobil Workshop. 
It ain't the season till the shop is up and running.
 Wonder what piece will be added this year?