The Ethereal Experience: Writing Implements

On a Tuesday morning with a good cup of coffee in a quiet room with the door closed, a woman has her fingers tapping away on the keyboard.

There has always been something to me about the feel of the pen gliding on the paper. Not just any pen, the right pen. It has a certain feel.

Same with pencils.

I one time heard a person say she had never met a pencil she didn’t like. But I have met many a pencil I didn’t like. If you try to sharpen it and it crumbles in the sharpener, it is not a good pencil. If the pencil has one of those decorative plastic sheaths that jam in the sharpener, that is not a good pencil. If you have an eraser that smears and stops and you have to push hard to try to get it to move, and it doesn’t do a smooth job of erasing or cooperate as you rub off the mistakes, that is also not a good pencil. Once a pencil has lost its eraser, the pencil is no longer good as a pencil in its most practical form. Personally, I have opted for Ticonderoga pencils and no others because I can always trust them to be the pencils that I need them to be.

Also essential to pencils is a good pencil sharpener. “One that really cuts.” One King John would ask for instead of a pocket knife—if Father Christmas had ever loved him at all! I have purchased various pencil sharpeners for $5 or $6 and felt so disappointed with its performance, only to be surprised that the generic 20 pack for $1 at a random five and dime store just over the Iowa border cuts it, literally, and keeps me coming back each time I need a pencil with a sharp point!

Colored pencils, well, that’s another topic for another day, but suffice to say Prismacolor is the best I’ve tried, and it’s what I see myself sticking with for the foreseeable future. Lyra pencils have also made an impression through our exposure to Waldorfian education.

Pens are a little trickier. Paper Mate pens you can’t go wrong with for an everyday writing pen. RSVP gel pens are usually pretty good. Atlantis pens are okay, and for a while I really liked them. Zebra pens were my favorites for a while, years before that. Then I met and fell in love with TUL pens. I really like TUL pens. Sometimes they run out, and you have to replace the gel cartridge. That’s the only downside. A close second in my mind are Foray pens. They dance across the page when I use them. They also come in multiple colors. I love color! Sometimes I will pick up a pen randomly and the way it feels on the paper says Yes! to me so loudly that I have to use it. It feels good. It feels right. It’s like a symphony playing in my head, the way it feels in my hand.

Sometimes I have wondered about those super expensive pens that are kept in the locking case at the office supply store. How do those pens feel? Do they look nice and feel heavy in the hand and seem impressive to the other person across the desk, but when you pick it up to write does it feel like it should be thrown in the trash? Does it scratch instead of glide breathlessly, flowingly, like a dance? Does a $100 pen feel like a $100 pen? What then? What if the pen you paid so much for to look impressive writes like trash? I would certainly hope not.

Such pens we generally see as being in some place such as a high-end lawyer’s office, perhaps, or some other high-level executive, where impressing is part of the package. Yes, they do spend money where they don’t need to. Luxury is the point. This wouldn’t be in a non-profit organization. A pen like this might be a gift. Certainly, the President of the United States has good, maybe expensive pens. (I think I thought of this when I watched West Wing, and then noticed it when the next inauguration event was followed up by the new President signing all the multitudinous papers that kicks off his career in the White House.)

I read a book or an article about someone who was transforming into a minimalist and who was noticing how many pens she had. Why did she have so many? Certainly, she didn’t need that many. You can only write with one pen at a time, after all. And once she had cleaned out the myriads of things that she didn’t really love, want or need, she realized she didn’t have to search for a pen any longer. She knew where it was. So, she opted for a total of two pens. She could, after all, always buy another when the pen actually ran out. I like the minimalist idea of having fewer things of better quality.

So it follows that if you are actually trying to accumulate only what is of really good quality and only have as few things as you can actually keep track of and love, maybe you might spend a frivolous amount of money on a good pen, just for the sheer enjoyment of the pen. You might actually care about getting your pen back, or your expensive, engraved pen might track you down for a crime you’ve committed if not returned. (What movie was that???)

It’s not just pens. It’s also the keyboard. An old typewriter takes lots of muscle for every keystroke. This is a fun and nostalgic experience, and by today’s standards, you’re lucky if you get to try it—these dinosaurs are hard to find. But this is not ideal for every writing event. An electric typewriter is an improvement on the experience, and can be a very helpful tool. For five months of my working life as I set out in the work-world, I had the fun experience of having a working electric typewriter that I used for typing up proposals. Couldn’t we just use a computer? I wondered. Then I realized that it was because there was a form letter the company always used and you could physically adjust the paper to get the script in exactly the right place on the page.

You use a computer and you have a shabby keyboard, and it ruins the whole experience of using it, and even interrupts your train of thought. A smooth keyboard in good working order will feel smooth to use. Each keystroke will feel good, and then you’ll forget about the feel of the keystroke and think instead of the words you are forming and stringing across the page to express your thoughts and ideas.

A screen that has an image that wiggles is distracting indeed, and hard on the eyes. One computer I used once actually made me feel nauseated, it was so bad. I finally understood that the settings could be changed and it was a little better after that.

Lest I forget to mention, paper is another thing. Shabby paper is also hard to use. Once I purchased a pile of spiral notebooks for the upcoming college semester. I was dismayed–and at moments slightly enraged—to find that the paper tore with just trying to erase it. It was poor quality paper, almost like thin newsprint despite having lines. I found out then, too, that there is wide ruled paper and college ruled lined paper. I can see the use for wide ruled paper, but I find I prefer college ruled. Opting for a slightly nicer notebook over the cheapest one, maybe the one brought out of stock from last year that has deteriorated in inventory from one back to school sale to the next, makes for a better experience in note taking.  A good notebook, think Moleskine brand, over the knock-off look-alike feels like a good notebook. Certainly, you can be selective. A Five Star brand spiral notebook for simple notetaking in a required prerequisite class will be a better option than a Moleskine for such a class. Likely, you will pass the test and decide eventually, or if you’re organized, immediately, to toss the spiral notebook. You thank it for getting you through the class, getting the credits, carrying you through the semester, and happily recycle it.

The Moleskine is a good commonplace book: the one where you write down in an orderly way the ideas you encounter as you read through worthwhile and enjoyable books in your back yard by a campfire, in your living room in the warmth that guards you from the winter outside, in a coffee shop on a rare or intentionally-scheduled-in Saturday afternoon, on a park bench on a sunny day while the children are occupied by the swings, until they interrupt you.  You can come back to this book to remember the nuggets that fed your soul. You want to keep your commonplace book because you treasure it. The Moleskine notebook is a good choice for this selection.

A good stationery feels like good stationery, and you feel good sending a note on the luxurious paper. But if you can’t afford good stationery, there is still variety to choose from. You can select stamps with different designs instead of the one standard issue (think 1950’s), adding still further to the enjoyment of the ritual. All these little things can make letter writing a luxurious event, and even one you look forward to. Who can I write nice words to just so I can experience nice paper and pens?

One thing I’m very afraid of when allowing my kids use my laptop is that they will press too hard on the keys and the keys will lose their smoothness and become hard to push due to misuse. Like a car door that has to be slammed precisely because it has been slammed so many times that now that is the only way it is accustomed to closing, when, had it been treated nicely and gently, it could still have been able to close with little more than a tap of the hand, lovingly, gently, appreciatively.

So apparently, there are many things I feel viscerally about when it’s simply how a functional thing feels as I operate it.

And when all of these things are smooth and working in good order, the writing process can open up easier and allow for train of thought to follow train of thought because I’m not distractedly thinking of frustrating and irritating things keeping my mind away from thought flow. The writing instruments should never be a distraction to one’s craft.

Writing can be a ethereal experience not only for the ideas you form and the words you create, but also for the medium through which you choose to experience it.20200224_152231860_iOS

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Crisis Schooling

The world over, the majority of families have children home. Schools have closed. Some people are calling it school at home, and some people are calling it homeschooling. But it really is not homeschooling. It is Crisis Schooling.

We aren’t able to go through our day in the same routines we are used to. Parents feel it too. Parents feel not only the responsibility of their chil(dren)’s school assignments—whether overseeing it, or taking it on entirely—but also the usual responsibilities parents usually carry. On top of this is the isolation that we feel.

Zoom calls are great in so many ways—what would we do without them right now? But it’s not the same as seeing a person in person. We might even miss being able to give a hug to a good friend, and to get a hug in return. Even just hearing another human voice from outside our family’s walls in real time is therapeutic these days.

This year was the first year that I sent any of my children to a brick and mortar school. Then the schools closed. I told my husband that it feels like a cruel joke. We finally send our struggling learner and then he is sent home away from the environment that had become so helpful to him.

There is one major difference between now and when I had been carrying his education alone. I can call his teacher, put the phone down next to him and walk away. She isn’t able to spend hours with him, but she is able to spend minutes with him. She keeps reminding me of what I know intuitively: learning won’t happen when he is shut down, connect with him instead.

This has taught me a major lesson: although the circumstances were different, when we had been homeschooling him before, so often we had been crisis schooling. The crisis was a different one, that of a struggling learner and a mom struggling to understand what her child needed most; however, it was crisis schooling because so many days the ability to get through lessons fell apart and we would have to change the scenery and do something altogether different.

We were good at finding and doing things that had a learning component. Families who homeschool tend to be very good at this, and a lot of parents—homeschooling or not—are, even without realizing it. We would read out loud, build Lego or build with cardboard, or go to a museum, listen to an audio book and color, or start singing silly songs together, watch an educational show, or go outside. Of course, we can’t physically go to a museum right now, but we can watch museums online.

One very important thing happened in changing what we were doing. We connected. We weren’t fighting over how to get through spelling or math. We were finding the things that sparked the internal curiosity that fosters learning. So much learning is done not at desks with paper and pencil (it happens that way, too) but through hands-on activities, through connecting and doing things together, through exploring the spark that is already there and running with it.

My son who is home is currently into Bey Blade tops. He feels like he shouldn’t have to go to school any more, he just wants to be able to play tops and have a paying job related to tops that allows him to buy more tops. There are many learning opportunities that tops include. The engineering that allows them to spin the way they do. The physics of how they spin. And, a side bonus is that little bit of Japanese culture that might come through when he’s watching the Bey Blade show, which can Segway into further exploration. Several times recently, he has spent a moment telling me about his tops that easily turns into 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and longer if I let him. Often at bedtime! He understands a variety of nuances about how the tops are designed to do different things. He is learning while he does this.  It’s not the conventional learning we usually think of, but it is learning nonetheless. More importantly, I am learning from him! This is one of the greatest gifts that comes with parenting—what we learn from our children.

When things fall apart, we can learn from it. It is okay to tell our children, “You are teaching me so much. I am learning so much from you.”

While we are in this weird place, be gentle on yourself. I don’t know your exact circumstances of how your family is fairing during this time, but give yourself lots of grace. Connect with your kiddos. And don’t forget about you.

I love the analogy of oxygen mask parenting. If we don’t put on our own mask first, we won’t be able to help others. It could be as simple as getting dressed in the morning, or eating a healthy breakfast. It might be a bubble bath after the kids are in bed, or some side hobby that is floating your boat right now that you sneak in somewhere within your day. It might be eating chocolate. Whatever it is, you are important and taking care of you is important.

I notice that there is a lot out there about parents helping their kids during this time, and that is a big part of it. But what about just helping you? Sometimes you need to go in a room alone and not have little people in your space for a little bit. Sometimes you might need to sit outside and look out into space. You might need to journal, or read something different than what you usually read, or watch a show that might even be outside your normal routine. It’s almost like this time we’re in, in all it’s crazy weirdness forces us to have to do something weirder than our ordinary to be able to process it. I don’t know if that’s a fact, but maybe.

In time, things will start to go back to life the way we knew it before. What will you take with you from right now into that back-to-normal future?

If you can take with you a stronger connection with your kids, that is a win.  If you can take with you a better understanding of your own needs and ways to meet them, that is a win. You might discover something else that might also be a win. Maybe it’s something as simple as asking the elderly neighbor if there is anything you can do to help him or her, even if it is ordering groceries on amazon for your neighbor. Many elderly people don’t know how to navigate the technology. Maybe it’s having a conversation with the neighbor at a safe distance to give him or her some connection. Getting outside of ourselves is therapeutic also, for ourselves and for the person we are helping! Helping a neighbor is a great way to learn. Learn about kindness, and meeting basic needs.

Right now, it is not about the academics. It’s not about getting our kids into the best college, or what they’ll do when they grow up. Who knows, maybe something they take with them from right now will help them in what they do when they grow up. We don’t know what thing will spark unconventional learning that they will then carry with them, perhaps to a job that isn’t even created yet!

Right now, it is about surviving, existing, and feeling human connection with what people we can so that we feel can just feel okay.

Whatever it is that you find is helping you and your family right now, keep at it. We’ll get through this! Even just in taking care of you and connecting with your kids, or helping somebody nearby, you’re doing better than you think!

One Practical Tip for Successful Read-Aloud Time

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We are sitting snugly in our warm, cozy school room.

Outside, the Winter snow and wind is whirling around, but we are snug in in our warm, cozy school room. We are gathered up around a book. I am reading. One child has a coloring book and some good colored pencils. The other one is making a creation out of a quiet construction toy.

The story is mesmerizing.  We are reading Japanese Stories for Children. This is an old treasure from my grandmother.  We are caught up in “what will happen next?” Will the beaver turn into a teapot again? Will the merchant become rich from putting on a circus with the beaver?

But as I read, my words start sounding mushed together. I Realize I’m thirsty and I haven’t come quite prepared. I am distracted.

“Sorry kids, just a second,” I say. I put the book down.

I take a quick restroom break, put on some lip balm, slather my hands in hand lotion, and get a drink of water.

I come back.

The kids are now rambunctiously in the middle of some unrelated game they have made up and they are anything but focused on the story we were in the middle of.

Forget about the beaver! Forget about the merchant! Forget about the circus!

Now I have the frustrating task of redirecting these two darlings and bringing them back to the story, and they are far more interested whatever it is they have engrossed themselves in.

I have redirected them many times, and I do again, but it’s just that much harder trying to pull them back into the story that had only minutes before captivated them.

I begin reading, but the focus has been broken. Although the story had been so intriguing, it’s not quite the same, we have to pick it back up. The game they had reverted to is probably more prominent in their minds than the story. I begin reading again. One word at a time. The focus adjusts like a pair of binoculars. It’s not the smoothest transition, but gradually, we come back to the story, and again we are listening as the merchant makes his fortune as the beaver performs for the circus.

I have lived this scenario hundreds of times. Perhaps you can relate.

I have finally learned a most important key action before beginning to read anything aloud is to take a minute to get comfortable. Take a restroom break, put on some hand lotion and lip balm, and drink a glass of water.

It can help tremendously to bring a fresh carafe of water when you sit down to read. Keeping lip balm, hand lotion, and tissues handy handy when you read helps you refresh as needed.

Taking care of these simple creature comforts can help you keep reading seamlessly. 

Finally, remember to take the occasional breaks that help keep everyone comfortable and renew focus when you switch to a different task.

REALITY REEL Grand Entry versus Real Life

 

When we turn on the TV and watch home improvement shows and “reality” television, we are shown grand before and after shots.
Here is a house before the renovation, here is the house after the renovation.
This is a room before a professional interior designer came in and staged the room, and here is the glamorous “after” shot.
Here is a woman who wears clothes out of necessity but doesn’t really know how to put an outfit together, and here she is after a couple professional fashion designers have spent a week revamping her wardrobe–and her ideas–of how she ought to be dressed. Certainly, she looks better and feels better once they have worked their magic—for several thousand dollars by the way.

It leaves us feeling as though the only way we can lead lives that are really worthwhile is if we can afford a new house or a renovator to come through and make the latest “in” improvements, then to have our own personal interior designer come and stage our homes, and our own professional fashion designer at our beck and call—even before we know we need these people—to anticipate our needs and desires, and make our lives look lovely. Then, and only then, can we live wonderful lives.

But this is just not reality.

We are busy people doing good in our circle of influence every day. The good that we work is often mundane, and even can feel inane.

If we went through our day taking pictures of the reality of what our lives look like, a mountain of laundry here, a pile of gathered up clutter that needs to be sorted and put away there, our lives feel anything but glamorous. We can even feel like we are bad at what we do. If you were to take “before and after” shots of what actually happens in real life, we could see that there is a myriad of good we are impacting, albeit often unnoticed and thankless.

This little child whose nose you have just wiped for the umpteenth time will not know to thank you. By the time she is old enough to realize she ought to thank you, she may very well be a mom caring for her own two-year-old with a cold.

This is a “before and after” picture of the kind showing you serving the immediate needs for a precious little being who would be helpless without a person caring for her.

You can send her to daycare, and a daycare worker can wipe her nose–and a score of other noses (they will all share the same cold)—but in the end, if you are her mom, you care about her in a way that is different from the daycare worker. You wake up in the night with hopes and dreams and worries for her that the daycare worker doesn’t have.

If you are the daycare worker wiping a score of noses, you get a paycheck for wiping noses, and you are also working good. You are empathetic to the way this small sweet child feels when the snot just won’t stop dripping and making her lips chapped. You care for her to ease the effects of the symptoms. Your work is also important.

All this is done in insignificant moments. Generally, we don’t go through our day taking a snapshot of each “before and after.” But what if we actually did? What would it look like? What picture would it give us of just how much we accomplish on a daily basis?

Here is my bathroom sink. It has had some use. Sorry, it’s gross. Who wants to see that on the internet? Here it is after I have cleaned it. Much better. This is good that I have worked in 5 minutes of concentrated effort.

But don’t we come to the internet to bow at the altar of feeling good? Isn’t that why we scroll for hours through Instagram—so that we can see perfection around us? We look at this perfection until we realize that we have to step back into our own mayhem and correct some of the chaos. (Some of the chaos, that is, because it will never all be corrected. Our work is never done!)

Yet, we walk away from this altar that promises perfection and walk away feeling far worse as we listen to the internal dialogue of self-deprecation.

“If only I had gotten my Master’s or Doctorates degree before leaving the portals of higher education, I could pay someone to make my life look like better and feel better. I will never be good enough. I don’t even know why these kids and this house are mine. I feel like I suck at this being-a-mom-and-homemaker (or fill in the blank) thing that I’m doing.”

Maybe your dialogue sounds a little different. But we all have it, and the poison that it works is insidious.

Suppose you were to take a snapshot of your floor with all the crumbs, and then sweep and mop, or vacuum, and then take another snapshot, you will have a “before and after.”

If you take a snapshot of your kitchen sink and counters, set a timer for 20 minutes and work on the mess until the timer goes off, take another snapshot, you have another “before and after.”

If you were to take a snapshot of the child’s nose before and after wiping it, each time, you would see how many times you helped the child feel comfortable.

If you were to do this all day, you would see good you have accomplished all around you.

Suppose you walk into your son’s room. You notice his bed is unmade, his clothes are on the floor and the toys are mixed together in a heap on the floor. You take a few snapshots.

You go get your son. (In the scenario in my head, he is six). You talk him through the steps of making his bed. He knows how, he just needs a little encouragement, and maybe a little help smoothing out the wrinkles. Then you ask him to pick up his shirt and pants from yesterday and put them in the hamper. You turn on his favorite CD (for him it’s Smithsonian Alphabet of Space) and together you sit on the floor and sort out his toys.

You have a timer set of course, if that is helpful to you. You take a picture after each step is completed.

You put some toys in the bins and he puts some toys in the bins. He puts a lid on a couple bins, and you put a lid on a couple bins. You stack the bins onto the shelf or in the corner, wherever they belong. Now you take a couple more we-finished-this-room snapshots and head to the dining room for a snack together. You give him a big hug and have a thank-you-for-cleaning-your-room celebration.

You give him credit as if he did it because the encouragement is contagious and will pay a small dividend the next time. Each small dividend will add up to bigger dividends eventually.

The “before and after” shot of this last scenario cannot even be encapsulated in a single photograph because what you taught him in those minutes will last much longer than this fleeting minute, and is too big to be caught on film or digital media. You are helping him build habits toward responsibility, and are building your relationship with him in the process.

One woman, instead of writing a to-do list writes a have-done list at the end of the day, listing out what she did throughout the day, and crosses out all the items at the end. This idea runs in the same vein. It is seeing the wins. It is seeing the beauty we create on a day to day basis.

Even fashion designers, home renovators, and interior designers work through stages that involve mess. The pictures they show us through TV only shows us final products.

The pictures we see on social media shows us the beautiful parts of other peoples lives, but there is mess beyond the edges of the pictures. Some people may even have homes that look beautiful much of the time, but that is still not the whole picture.

I have cleaned houses for retired people and business people. These people’s homes often look immaculate, sometimes even when I walk in before I begin cleaning. But what is missing? Those who are retired no longer have children at home. Those who work and pay for a housecleaner may have chosen to not have children, or do not have children yet.

The houses of those who have children houses have a different look. They have picked up the toys and put them away or in a pile out of the way so the cleaning can be done, but the toys come out when the cleaning is not happening. They may be people who send their children to out-of-the-house activities much of the day, or may have good structure in place with their children, being themselves structured individuals.

Individuals who pay for housecleaning services are often people who are not still in the season of working hard to get their job or business off the ground.

While these clean houses look nice and feel nice, it’s still only part of the picture.

We all have struggles and triumphs. Sometimes people may live in beautiful space, yet there may be emotional struggles or a family member with poor health beyond the edges of the proverbial picture.

Some people may have a cleaned-up home, and kids who behave well, and are not struggling in their marriages or emotionally. If that is how their life is, they are fortunate. But these snapshots are them. They are not you.

Your life has beauty and meaning in its own individual way. Comparing is all too easy. Look around and see, notice—really notice, all the things you do. The season you are in right now will look different from other seasons. You matter. You are important. What you are doing matters and is important, even though it doesn’t always feel like it.

More Beautiful Now

Water on RockBefore my husband and I were married, we took a class in Classical Greek for a year. I am not fluent in conversational Greek, but I can sound out Greek words, and I can translate Greek with the appropriate tools at hand. This morning, I was referring back to a book written in Classical Greek. Inside, I found a picture taken of us at my husband’s sister’s wedding.

It is fun running across an old picture of you and your spouse from days long past. When my husband came in the room I said, look what I found!

I said to him, “One thing I am sure of: I am more sure of being with you now than I was then.”

He replied, “You are more beautiful now than you were then.” I looked at him doubtfully. “I mean it,” he said. “I really do think you are more beautiful now than you were then.”

A while later, I was reading a chapter from the book Loving the Little Years. It was comparing mothering to being in a rock tumbler. The analogy was more real to me reading it just then because I have been reading a high school level earth science textbook to my 9-year-old daughter.
I keep asking her, “Do you understand this? Are you enjoying this?”
Yes, Mom!” she keeps reassuring me.
“Okay then, if that’s how you feel about it, I’ll keep reading it to you.”
“The words aren’t as hard with you reading it to me,” she told me over dinner this weekend.

A benefit of reading this book out loud to her is that I am gaining understanding of the subject that I didn’t have when I was in high school and didn’t really care about earth science.

Our most recent chapter was about weathering, how rocks can be worn down by rain, wind, by plants growing between cracks in rocks, and by animals digging through and between rocky places. The effect is that the rocks change, break apart and have rough edges worn down. A rock tumbler produces the same effects, only faster than nature usually performs these tasks.

Then I put it together. When I became a mom, I was kind of thrown into it. Yes, I chose it, but when a second child came much sooner after the first than expected and would have anticipated, all of a sudden, my life was thrown head-over-heels into a roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs, meltdowns, snotty-nosed faces, handprints on the walls, scribblings in my Greek books, and all kinds of upheaval. All the beautiful and nice things I arrange and try so hard to keep orderly get messed up in my wake as I frantically try to keep it all together until finally I’m a mess because it’s impossible with two toddlers and then another infant vying for my attention and wreaking havoc on my sanity. They’ve grown into elementary age children, and they still manage to do these things in different ways. Making rude faces or cutting remarks when I am trying so hard to make sure they understand some important lesson. When they find a way to play when I’m cleaning up the kitchen, making supper, tossing a load in the washer, and wiping the puddles on the bathroom counter. Don’t they know how to do any of this? I could go get them and tell them to help. Never mind, I can do it faster. Why does it feel like I do this alone so much of the time?! (I’m still learning and growing. I have to remember to stop what I’m doing and ask for help. This is a slow growth process for me.)

The beauty my husband sees in me now that had not been formed yet when that picture was taken has much to do with the weathering that has worn down my rough edges through the day in and day out of putting aside my own wants and desires to meet real and pressing needs of my children.

Time has passed and there are many things that have become easier. The kids can pour the milk on their cereal, brush their own teeth, use the bathroom on their own. They don’t cry for me in the night like they once did as babies and toddler. The challenges I face with them now are much more about giving them morals and building character—things that are still pressing, just in different ways.

In the moments of these wearing down processes, I don’t see myself becoming more beautiful. Very often, I can’t even see it for myself the way others can see me. One thing I do know, I’m far less likely than I once was to jump out of bed and let my voice escalate when I am awakened by loud noises jarring me from peaceful sleep. I have now gained the ability to hear in my head what I’m about to do, take a mental breath and temper my voice to a whisper as I walk out of my room and say to a child playing loudly with Bey Blades in the next room, “Please take it to another room and close the door. People are still sleeping.” This approach has prevented many angry outbursts that are unnecessary. This is just one triumph.

We all have setbacks and triumphs. We all have our own struggles. Yours are just as real as mine even if they are different. Yet through the sum of all these things, we are becoming more beautiful as we are weathered and shaped into something far more wonderful than we ever would have been without this weathering process.

As you go through your day today, whatever you face, my hope for you is that you will remember that beauty is being shaped in you by the things that are challenging you. May you rise to each occasion hopeful and exuberant of what this is creating in you and what you will become through it.

Intentional Breaks in the Homeschool Routine

“A stodgy parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY”
― Roald Dahl, Danny the Champion of the World

Blue Bird
Slowing down provides time to create, to play. This is a picture I painted on such an occasion.

 

For a long time, I have been intrigued with the idea of scheduling one’s homeschool year six weeks on, one week off, providing intentional breaks. Unfortunately, I’ve almost always been stressing about what we’re not getting done that I feel as though I can’t take a break. Truly, a sign I needed a break. For a long time, I was trying to help a student who was struggling, I felt like I had to keep pressing forward, only to cause myself extra stress.

This year our routine is different because my one of my children is in school in a brick-and-mortar school. He is thriving. His confidence is growing. So many good things are happening for him.

I drop him off most days. I’ve fit in one month of working out consistently to see if it would help improve my health in the areas of sleep and headaches. It feels like it eats a chunk out of our school day, but I am resolved to try it. We get home and begin our school (academic) block between then and the school’s pick up time.

I told my other two who are still being homeschooled that we will do school on all the days that child is in school, and the days he has off, we will have off as well.

Today was the first day he has had off since we started.

Throughout the day, I have felt the sense of relief that today was a day off. I had some ideas in my mind of things we could do–an art project with chalk and egg tempura paint–if the day went that way. I held the idea loosely.

Instead we visited with grandma. We watched Minecraft idea videos, they played Minecraft, we watched episodes of Fixer Upper, and I knitted the final stitches on a boot cuff, only to have to rip out ten rows.

At the same time, it was still relaxing. I wasn’t worrying about spelling, math, writing, or anything else.

I made a nutritious supper, and sat down and ate it with my kiddos.

I swept a couple floors, wiped down a bathroom and gave the youngest a bath, then I told the chores that it’s not their turn.

I think it helped that I listened to a podcast about this topic just yesterday, and the ideas were fresh in my mind.

I played three games with my kids on the floor and read a story book we had never read before: The Pumpkin Runner by Marsha Diane Arnold.

We enjoyed each other’s company.

I wasn’t stressing over the must do’s.

That’s just it! That’s what intentional breaks do for us. Like any homeschooling parent, I am carrying the wellbeing of my children, the housekeeping, meal planning and preparation, addressing any health concerns, all the errands and appointments—as well as my children’s education.

Where does my wellbeing fit into it? Where does it fit in that my children experience mom having fun with them without the stress of having to finish all the lessons? Yes, homeschooling is fun at many moments, but not without me carrying the checklist on my shoulders.  My wellbeing suffers. Our relationships can suffer.

I picked up a book for a few minutes that I have been trying to read for my own health benefits by Dr. John R. Lee. Chapter 9 is called Tried Adrenals Equals a Tired Woman. The action points at the end of the chapter say, “Get enough sleep and play time.” Get enough play time. What a revolutionary idea! Yet our kids know how to play!

I know that I forget to play. I say, “I will do it when I’m done with___. “ And it never happens. Unless I schedule it in, or just stop what I’m doing. Our children even beg us at times to stop and do—fill-in-the-blank. So often, in following our child’s lead we can keep from being too stodgy. This evening it was my son asking me to go outside with him while he selected twigs for a craft project. Those were some of the best moments of the day with him.

The intentional breaks build in a space to address things that aren’t school related, which translates to lessened stress. Even more, it gives me down time.

It gives my children and me time to just be us, enjoying each other’s company. It gives us space for activities that are just for the sake of spending time together and being interested in each other and our interests. It builds morale. It fills our emotional buckets.

Even on school days, building in pieces of this is important. One day this week we took our school work to a local coffee shop. We sat on the coffee shop patio for most of our visit because the weather was warm and sunny. This one gesture—and the hot chocolate—gave my daughter the boost to try and to keep working when she would have felt like shutting down. She just needed something to look forward to.

I see myself growing and making progress as a mom, as a person. I’m learning so much from my children. They are, in so many ways, my greatest teachers. Having the one child in school and offloading the dynamics of his education into the capable hands of his teacher has given me perspective to see when I need to step back, or approach him differently. And now, this added bonus of build in days off.

I would like to say that I will take the break weeks we need for the rest of this year. It will take a little strategy since I’m juggling two at home and one in school. I know my tendency is to power though when I need to slow down. Yet, I am thankful for today. I’m grateful for the tangible evidence that a true break day provided.

If you can relate to this, I want to encourage you to see where you can fit in the down time you need, or to find help if you have a struggling student. It doesn’t mean that a brick-and-mortar school will be the solution, although it could be. Or it could just be taking break time, on purpose. Time for spending with your kids just as mom or dad. Time for you to take a step back in whatever way you need, even for a few days. Time to tackle a project that has been stressing you that will clear some mental space—as long as you don’t crowd out the relationships.

I want to encourage you to enjoy your children without putting an agenda on them. Spend time with them. See where their interests can lead, even for a day. What games would they enjoy playing with you? What book is waiting to be discovered together? What hiking path is begging for the patter of feet taking a respite from the humdrum of check boxes? Take time to breath, the rejuvenate, to bask in each other’s companionship!

How to Get Your Ducks Across the Road (or, The Best Money I Spent on Science)

ducks.jpg

 

“Where’s your younger brother?!?” I asked my two oldest kids.

“I don’t know.”

“I bet he’s in the spare bathroom with the ducks!”

We race down the basement stairs, and sure enough, the kindergartner is holding a Mallard duckling and cuddling it.

Having never had pets before, we were all a little apprehensive of picking up and cuddling the ducklings.

We had four of them. We got them from a local feed mill, and purchased all the things we would need: a drinker, feeder, duckling feed, pine shavings, and a heat lamp. We put them in the spare bathroom in a Sterilite bin.

Every morning and evening we changed the bedding, filled the drinker, checked the feeder.

In the middle of the night, I would go down and check that the ducklings weren’t too warm–panting and out of breath–or too cold–shivering.
Sometimes we’d hear them peeping loudly, and went to check on them. Sure enough, they were thirsty. How these little creatures could drink so much water was incredibly fascinating!

These darling little creatures would huddle up together and bury their beaks under their wings. They were not yet feathered, and so they were unable to regulate their temperatures.

Each week they got a little bigger. They drank so much water. They ate through their food. On warm days we let them outside and walked around the yard with them.

One day when we took them outside, we could see color coming into their wings. Their feathers were slowly emerging, and color with it.

When we took a trip out of town, we recruited a neighbor to take care of them.

When we returned, they were bigger.

By this time they were jumping out fo the bin at night and we had to get a taller bin. Not long after, we started to keep them outside at night in the coop.

By day we let them wander, free-range, around the yard. Before dusk fell, they would come waddling up to the cage, or we’d have to round them up. We filled their water and their food, and tucked them in for the night.

In the morning, whomever was up first went outside and opened the coop door. We kept a wading pool filled with water. The ducks came waddling out of the cage. They puffed out their fronts and flapped their wings, and took a dive in the pool.

Observing these ducks up close, every day from the day we got them at ten days old until they matured gave us a completely different perspective on ducks.

We would read Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey, or as the five-year-old called it, “How to Get Your Ducks Across the Road.”

“Funny,” we mused, “the author says the ducklings said ‘quack,’ but they don’t quack until they are much older. They say ‘peep’ when they are little.”

Spoiler alert, this paragraph is a little sad. As they grew older, they sometimes exerted their own opinions. One night they did not want to go back in the coop. The next morning there was one fewer. We were diligent to put them in at night, but the reality is that there are predators in the area, unlike the modern movies that portray all animals getting along superbly. We lost two more ducks later. It was heartbreaking. We had conversations about this being the way the animal kingdom really is.

The weeks went on. We played with duck and took him on our adventures around the yard. Soon he was taking off on adventures of his own. Some days he was gone all day, and came back only at bedtime. Sometimes we went out to put him in the coop and he showed us he wasn’t done flying around–yet.

We taught him to eat from our hand, We sat outside and read to him. The youngest child chased him. If we were careful, he would let us come up close and talk to us in quacks. We watched him eyeing insects and stick his neck out to catch the bug in his beak. We had fewer ticks and mosquitoes than we ever did.

This duck was probably the one that had hypothermia once as a duckling. We nursed it back to health and warmed and cuddled it until it was well. I think it made a difference on making it to adulthood.

One evening, when it was time to take duck to the coop, we noticed that he had not returned, and there was still daylight. Ducks don’t come and say good-byes. The robins were leaving and heading South for the winter, and now it was Duck’s turn.

In the future, we hope to raise ducks again. This time we will know how to cuddle them when they are small. We learned from the ducks how to care for the ducks. Now we know how.

Amazingly, it is possible to be in love with a few ducks! And, it was the best money on science I ever spent!

The Knitting Thrill

On a lovely afternoon in September, we head to the park. School has let out for the day. After driving to the school and picking up my oldest, we went home. The boys started wrestling in the living room and begging for screen time. “Forget this,” I thought. I rounded up the kids and went to the closest park.
Here the sun is shining, the temperature is warm but mild, and there is a light breeze.
As the kids head to the play equipment, I make myself comfortable on a bench. I brought a few books to read, one for fun, others that are part of my job. I should read the curricula manuals for tomorrow’s lessons, but instead, I pull out a zippered bag and take out my knitting.
A year ago, I had not picked up knitting needles in ages. My daughter said she wanted to make a finger-knit scarf. I explained to her that it would take a long time to finger-knit a scarf scarf, so I pulled out the needles again–actually, I just bought a new pair–and began working on a scarf.
Three scarves later, I decided I would make one for myself. I began exploring cable knit scarves, and patterns. Patterns were a thing I had always shied away from. It seemed like it would be hard to follow one. But in the process of making three scarves, some of the techniques became clear in my mind, and now I felt ready for the challenge. I came across a pattern for boot cuffs, and I began on a journey I didn’t know I could take.
If you are not somebody who knits, this next litte part might not make much sense, but bear with me.
In order to make the boot cuffs I had to make ribbing for the base of the cuff. When the ribbing was finished, I had to increase the row ten stitches before beginning on the design, so I had to learn how to knit front and back on a a single stitch to increase a stitch. For the desigh, I had to follow a set of stitches that were set out in specific order. Keeping track of which row was which proved tricky for the first three cuffs. By the time I began a fourth cuff for a third pair, the pattern was much clearer in my mind. The next three cuffs were a lot less difficult and came out a lot neater.
Overcoming the challenge of seeing what I was knitting in my mind’s eye, and the way the pattern flowed in my mind gave me a sense of exhilaration.
Then it happened again. Before I finished one pair, I knew what the next pair would be. I was at the yarn shop near the school, when a button caught my eye. I was here for a wooden button as the finishing touch for the third pair, and this button was close by. It was an etched metal button with a swan. “Emma,” I thought, and just like that, instead of spending One dollar and seventy five cents on two wooden button, I spent almost seven dollars so that I could have a pair of etched metal buttons with swans on them for a pair of boot cuffs for a dear sister. Before I had the finishing touches on a pair I was wrapping up, I had the next project lined up.
It must be this last element that makes knitting so addicting. In an age where handicrafts have become a hidden talent in a world where these skills have all but disappeared, there is a thrill that comes with making something by hand, giving it to a person who can see the beauty, and feeling the delight that someone is walking around wearing an accent that brightens up their wardrobe–and I mde it!
As I head into Autumn, I anticipate sitting by the fireplace, listneing to a good audiobook and knitting boot cuffs that will spread a little love and cheer to the dear people who receive them!Boot cuffs

Inspired by Wyoming

 

The summer morning air was cold. I climbed out of my sleeping bag, unzipped the tent and stepped out into the brisk air, and as I did, I watched my breath. One would not have guessed it was August. I settled into feeling awake with a blanket around my shoulders and made my way to the campfire shared by our tent neighbors, medical students who came out to observe the eclipse and climb the Tetons. The first thing we did was to make coffee, and snuggle by the fire with our warm drinks in hand, and the glowing light of the morning sun on the buttes beyond Wind River.

Waking up at a KOA, one in DuBois, Wyoming, (said Doo-boyce) and the other in West Yellowstone Montana, I experienced that wonderful sensation that although it was summer, the morning felt like a cold fall day. The weather warmed up as the day went on, of course, but each day began with cold morning air.

We returned home after our trip. August turned to September, our school year began, and before I knew it, January came with its sub-zero temperatures. Most of the time I stay in the house on those cold days. But as they say in Denmark, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. So I took my kids out sledding even on the coldest days.

Now it is nearly a year later, and when I step out into the cold December air, and look at the light, my thoughts sound something like this: There is still more light that we are soaking in outside on an overcast day than there is sitting inside in a well-lit room. There is more vitamin D to take in outside and sunlight in the morning helps reset our circadian rhythm. It may be cold, but even if it is only twenty minutes, sitting outside in the cold with a hot cup of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, there are benefits to be had. It’s a chance to slow down, to take in the beauty of today, and to catch up with my thoughts before I step back in to the demands in my life.

So take the time to go outside with your hot drink, soak in the sunshine—even if it is overcast, and enjoy happy thoughts in the middle of the business of your life!

Sledding with Hot Cup of Coffee

Yes, you read that right! This morning I went sledding with a hot cup of coffee in my hand. And it was marvelous!

Don’t do this if you’re a kid.

Don’t do this if you feel it is unsafe, because it basically is.

But I tried it.

I think I’m intrigued by the thrill of taking outdoor winter sports and turning it into another kind of adventure.

I held my cup between two fingers so that the cup could swing with the motion and  not spill. I was alone on the sled. I held the cup away from me over the snow. And the hill isn’t super big, and I’m an adult and can navigate the sled well.

It was fun being out in the cold with the cool air on my face and snow all around me (the meager dusting that we got, if you can say that is “all around me.”) and it is nice having a warm cup in my hands in the cold.

I went down twice. I drank a sip at the bottom of the hill as the sled slowed down.

It was really fun!

At the top of the hill, I sat down on the sled, my coffee in hand. The tree branches overhead creating a lacy shade. The dusting of snow   before me all down the hill.

With my other hand I pushed off, and away I went down the hill, the breeze in my face, the exhilaration of adventure, cold air and cold snow around me, warm coffee in my hand, the steam rising.

The speed of the sled on the snow, the thrill of experiencing the morning: coffee, pajamas, “baked potato” jacket, warm boots, winter around me. Down the hill I went, then sliding to a stop. Sip of coffee. Yum.

Happiness envelops me, a smile spreads across my face. Fun. Beautiful, exhilarating fun. Let’s do that again! And I do.

If only I could keep the coffee hot longer out in the cold. If only a little more snow. I could do this for another hour or two.

My boys are sledding down the hill too, not with coffee. The sound of their laughter warms my soul. I still feel like a kid inside when I’m out here sledding. And Coffee is cozy. Two cozy things, coffee and sledding, and it makes for an experience of its own!

 

 

All in the spirit of being cozy in cold weather!