Native soil…


Children have this strange way about them of seeming both ancient and brand new. It is strongest when they are tiny babes in arms, but they never really lose it; I can catch a child of mine deep in thought and he seem a thousand years old, and then he’ll turn and seem younger than his chronological age. It’ll always take your breath when it happens. The intensity of the responsibility of shepherding such a soul can take your breath too.

I find that we are entering into the first days of autumn quite weary, all of us. In some ways, this makes no sense. We’ve had a an exceedingly quiet summer with very few medical challenges. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense for us to show all the strain and weariness–we’ve finally been able to stand still, all of us. We are no longer being bombarded with one piece of bad news after another, no longer having a sibling disappear into the hospital for days on end, no longer scrambling. It is only now in the last month or two that we begin to realize just how intense the battle was.

The children are all grieving and healing in different ways in a way that drives me to my knees in prayer daily. I can live in my adult brain for a while and speak to myself about the challenges I am facing and help myself process through what I am seeing and feeling- and I forget that children don’t know how to do that unless we teach. It has been an intense learning curve, yet again. I am listening and I am sorry (for)… are daily said here. We are learning new paths. I think the saddest part of our American culture when it comes to grieving is that we force the punch line far too soon, and I am reminding myself of this when shepherding my children. There is no straight line to healing, and healing isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. Their pain is not trivial, either. It is very real. It may not match what an adult might consider painful, but that does not make it any less so. I find I have to consult with that ancient wise little girl in my own head often these days, have her remind me of what is to be a child.

I find myself contemplating what my native soil is now. The storms of the battle dreadfully uprooted so many things; it is disconcerting. If I feel off-kilter and struggling to find a new center, how much more so my children? One of the saddest things for me in regards to all that has happened is that due to the intense pressures we were under, I had no time to mark or grieve or process or transfer a child’s last passage from babyhood into toddlerhood, and another child’s passage from toddler to child. We didn’t have time.  It’s gone now. I’ve felt the lack of it, and both children have too. These milestones and rituals are important; they help us fix our compass for the next stage of the journey.

I had barely stopped breastfeeding Ellianna by mere months when all her troubles began. She is our youngest and of course there is some unconscious spoiling we all do, but it is not helped by the fact that she is so small; in physical appearance (due to her illness) she looks about three and a half. She is a full head shorter than children of the same age. I find myself constantly having to remind myself that she is not a toddler- she is an incredibly whip smart kindergartner, and I should shepherd her as such. Josiah was barely beginning kindergarten when it all began, and he is now seven.  I find myself contemplating how I might help both them and myself re-calibrate and mark this transition now, because I think it would be a healthy thing for us all. We won’t ever pass this way again, either as parents or as siblings, (unless we adopt or foster at some point, but that doesn’t seem in the cards for us at the moment), so how best to honor it? It is something to think on.

If there is anything my children’s grieving process is teaching me, the lessons I want to carry home to that little girl child tucked deep in my soul- I want to remember their resilience and their patience. Kids have this way of grieving loudly, openly, and in such a way that makes you think that they’ll break their hearts at it, and then half an hour later they will be joyfully laughing over some joke their brother told, just as loudly and openly. But kids don’t see a dichotomy there. They can be sad and happy and one does not preclude the other; it dwells and comingles equally within them. They are so much more resilient for it- they aren’t forcing their feelings, their grieving, their joys, into prescribed boxes- they just live it out. Josiah has taught me joyful patience. How many times has he undergone something physically painful, seemingly endless, and he waits quietly and joyfully? Always waving a hello to the nurses with a bright smile, always finding something to giggle over. There are certain things he cannot do, must watch his siblings do, he on the sidelines, and he doesn’t look after them longingly. He plops down and starts inventing worlds in the dirt with his cars. I am learning to plop down with him. He seems most ancient in those moments- he that has learned a lesson few adults can master.

This is the secret parents know. We are given the awesome responsibility of shepherding these souls for a time, but the greater reward is how much they will teach us, in return.

Art Friday: Do it for the process (again)

I shared this short video on social media the other day of my sketchbook. I had originally hoped to do a painting a day in September, my birthday month, but between traveling and other concerns it didn’t happen. I did manage to sketch most every day, and that is quite a milestone for me. I keep thinking about this quote from Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Dear old hills…


I remember the first time I ever passed through the Appalachians. I was eleven. I was born in the shadows of the towering Rockies, living nestled in the suburbs of Denver. My dad had joined the Navy when I was eight, and we had led vagabond lives since- first one house, then another, as he completed his training. The training completed, he headed out on his first assignment. We, in turn, returned to Colorado for a time, to visit with family, to tie up many loose ends, and begin our new Navy life in earnest. We drove across the country to head to the new place on the East Coast. The endless, monotonous flatlands of Kansas lulled my siblings and I into sleep as my mother drove. Missouri and Arkansas didn’t make much of an impression on me, except for when we crossed the mighty Mississippi River as we crossed into Tennessee. We’d manage about a state a day, finally pulling in to collapse into sleep in some hole in the wall motel off an exit. Tennessee itself took a very long day and I remember drowsing through most of the afternoon with heat and boredom.

She shook me awake not too long after we passed through mid-state.  Look, Joy. Look at the mountains in the distance. I distinctly remember being pretty annoyed at being woken for what, in my eleven year old mind, looked distinctly like foothills. I told my mother so, in annoyed, sleepy voice, and she laughed. I was under-awed by those ancient and bowed mountains, covered with green. They had no granite peaks, no snow caps, no startling thousand foot drops, no aspens. They weren’t mountains. They weren’t home. 

I wouldn’t remember much about the Appalachians for many years, except for the occasional times we passed back through them on our way out West over the years on vacation. I preferred the more northern route through West Virginia and Kentucky, Ohio, when we did go, because the mountains were higher there. It wasn’t and couldn’t be my beloved Rockies, but at least the views were better.

My teenage years were very restless ones. I had lived on the East Coast for nearly ten years, but I was still an outsider. The rest of my family adapted well to the new challenges, or at least, they seemed to. I felt rootless. I would pay very little attention on those long car trips, always aching to cross the Colorado line, always straining my eyes to watch how the land would begin to fold slowly, and then more suddenly and shockingly, as we made the trek into Denver and back out again, headed for my Grandparents. Those mountains were my home.

Until they weren’t anymore.

It happened all of the sudden, the last family trip we took together before I would head off to college.

There was a ridge on the outskirts that I loved topping that last night of travelling. We always seemed to get into Colorado late in the afternoons and would be hitting the outskirts at twilight. It was always a beautiful sight to me, the twinkling lights of the city, the gray green foothills behind, the sun setting behind those dark sentinels of granite. It was how I knew I was almost there. Until the last time. The last time, we made that curve, topped that hill, and the scene laid out below was alien. Denver had quite literally moved up the foothills, obliterating them- there was no divide between urban and wild anymore. Everywhere there was dust, as years and years of drought had taken toll. The aspens were scraggly, and the Rockies had this horrible scarred appearance to them, shorn and naked as they were of vegetation that particular year. I kept telling myself I was too old to cry, they were just stupid mountains, but oh I wanted to, so badly. It was such a shock. It had also been many years since I had been there, and I realized in a rush that Colorado would likely never be my home again, and it hadn’t been for quite a few years. I just hadn’t realized it until that moment.

The years that followed that Colorado trip were some of the scariest, most tumultuous years of my life, as it is for all teenagers that are turning adults faster than they can keep up with it. I would make some disastrous and not-so-disastrous decisions in those years, all fueled by the fact that I felt I had no ties, no roots. I can see that all now. It’s always easier to see the reasons, looking back.

I would eventually find myself tucked into another fold of mountains- the Appalachians- when I began college. I resented them for it, for their rounded, smoky, blue-ness. I’d occasionally beg my friend turned boyfriend turned fiance to drive me up to Sam’s Gap in North Carolina so that I could gaze out over miles and miles of quiet peaks and imagine that they were just a bit rockier, a bit grayer.

When the whole world would crash down around our shoulders, my husband and I would make a long looping trip up into the Highlands that straddle three states, all hills and valleys and winding mountain roads. We’d drive and talk and breathe and stop and just stare at the majesty laid out below us. Before I even realized it, those mountains became more home to me than any home I had known previously. Now, my roots lie deep in those ancient hills. My children were born under their stars. There is a piece of wilderness there that has been woven into my blood- I’ve made love in those hills, I’ve buried a child there. The dirt and the cosmos of the place echo in my veins. I may not be there right now, living at a river delta on the East Coast, but my soul walks those hills every night as I sleep. My ancient hills. My home.

Every four or five months or so, the pull gets too strong, and we load up and make the days trip, spend a week. Sure, we could go on a ‘proper’ vacation, but we’d rather go home. Rather be with those we love. Fill up the tank, so to speak. It’s usually a crazy jumble of things and not very vacation-y at all- helping friends move, helping aging parents fix house things they can’t anymore, those sort of things- but we don’t mind. We belong here and they belong to us and it’s home. Do we wish we could plan it better sometimes? Sure. But the harrum-scarrum of it is half the fun. We come home oddly refreshed, when you consider what we’re up to when we’re up there, and we can carry on for a while longer. Until we can’t anymore, and those mountains call us back with their beautiful, ancient, come-home song. Beautiful mountains that they are, bowed by age. I hope I learn their song well.

Art Friday: The Sketchbook

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Works in progress from the sketchbook this week. I’ve been on quite a wildflower bender lately. Some I have been sketching, then painting. Some are left as sketches. I have a feeling some of these are going to get some mixed media work, maybe some stitching. There is a prayer girl of Emily Croft’s that has been haunting me (in a good way) and that page of the sketchbook is going a completely different direction. Right now I am literally in the wildly wonderful and woolly position of having so many ideas and things I want to do that I can’t quite paint fast enough. Needless to say, I am not complaining.

Sometimes you write something more for yourself than anything else, and then this lovely thing happens where somebody else says, me too. Those are the writing moments I live for, and what Amy had to say in response to my post last Friday was just such a moment.

“Creating something is an act of hope. It means you are imagining a future where the thing you create will still be looked at or used or read, that it might inspire someone else. “- Amy Sorensen

John’s Take, Strike, and Speak has been the poem tucked into my pocket the last few days.  It’s such a hard lesson to learn, this. And he reminds me.

That time of year…

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Don’t look yet, but it’s that time of year again. I know! It can’t be, right? But it is.

I can’t help but compare this year’s beginning to all the years before. It’s such a sea change. The majority of my planning and purchasing were done very early in the summer (actually, before last school year ended). I had only to sit down for a day or so, mid-August, and tuck in specific plans to each child’s sheet. I’m using the wonderful editable printables provided by Jen Mackintosh.

The planning itself was simple and straightforward. Pulled mostly from Ambleside Online and from Memoria Press suggestions, I had only to decide on which literature choices for which child. The rest of the spine was already present from our work last year, and it was simply selecting the best supports for what we’d like to do this year. It is miles and miles from the frantic start of last year (which was probably a bit warranted, given the circumstances), and if I was honest, every homeschooling year previous to this one.

It’s a heart-level thing.

I was homeschooling for all the wrong reasons prior to them attending the public elementary school here. I can see that now, clear as day. I’m not even sure I can articulate why my reasons were wrong. In my heart, I meant right. But in the working out of it in the day to day, it all fell flat. The kids knew it, I knew it. My heart wasn’t properly in it at the time. It was, but it wasn’t. It’s hard to explain. I was striving under a heavy load without really stopping to consider if I was yoked up properly, does that make sense? A tremendous amount of spinning wheels and getting stuck in muddy, thick, ruts.

It made me dread the beginning of the year.

It’s the delight that tells me the yoke is placed properly now.

It is the delight that makes it light. We enjoy our work, we enjoy our explorations, and even when we are stretched with new concepts, we lean into the work instead of feeling like rubber bands pulled past their limits. And there is a tremendous amount of laughter and joy. Lots of Mama, come quick! See what I’ve found! Awe and wonder are our daily companions now. Sure, there is still the rough patches, still days that everything seems to go all pie-shaped, days when two kids just can’t leave each other alone…but even on those days, we are finding ways to pull together. It’s like night and day.

I have dearly loved Kyrie’s series on Homeschool (Un)planning, which articulates much of what I’ve learned since my last foray into homeschooling, and Kort’s article on Sustainable Homeschooling was just tremendous. We’ve been using the timer idea ever since!

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