Giddy Springtime

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There were warm spells all winter, but this is indisputable, this surprise of blooming fruit trees, medians filled with crocuses, the juniper pollen billowing across the valley like smoke from a forest fire in the Jemez, and all night rains falling gentle as can be over the blossoming city.

There are baby chicks in the bathtub peep peeping and tomato seedlings to carry out every morning into the sun. There is a little girl who plucks the tiny roma sprouts and taps the dirt off the root threads and pops it in her mouth, and another girl turning seven in just days telling me long stories like the Goose Girl over dinner, which she calls Odious Beans.

In the midst of all this I am learning to meditate. For years I’ve thought to myself  it would be a good thing to do, especially if I ever got cancer or was a stressed out corporate executive. Since I was neither of these things (thanks be), I contented myself with reading books about mindful parenting, zen gardening, and writing with a wild mind. These things have a way of accumulating over the years, and let’s just say that when I heard about a class in Mindfulness Meditation and Stress Reduction for Parents my turn on the Zafu had come.

Did you know that it turns out the point of meditation is not to roll on waves of bliss while sitting in the presence of God after all, and that actually there is no point except to be aware of the breath. Or so says my teacher. In fact, one source I have seen calls the rolling on waves of bliss a side effect of relaxation and suggests you ignore such “odd sensations” and go back to following the breath. I can just say it’s a good thing I never read that particular yogi before beginning my practice! Nonetheless, it is lovely to be breathing and sitting still with or without waves of bliss, because it’s spring.

There is one pleasure I’m anticipating most of all: Peeling the row cover off my south wall garden to see what greens made it through the winter. With luck there will be speckled romaines, red oakleaf, rainbow chards, and kale. This garden hasn’t been watered, much less glimpsed, for months. But I know it’s there, rising in the long light and warmth of the days. I know this because I can see them pushing the row cover up, my little kales and chards and romaines.

I’m feeling a whole lot like those greens today. So much has been slow growing under cover for the winter, for my seven years mothering, for each of these good thirty-three years I’ve had. And the cover is lifting. What will be revealed?

I can almost feel the giddy wave of springtime bliss pulling me under, so I’ll rest now and watch the miracle of every breath coming and going, and surely there is something of God in that. That, and the greening trees.

After Candlemas

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I heard yesterday morning about a tradition of hanging a prayer cloth from a tree for Brigid to bless as she passes by on her day. Candlemas was one of the busiest days I have seen this winter, but in the midst of rushing here and there I grabbed a bit of yellow calico from the scrap pile and paused long enough to unfurl a scrawled prayer across it. I hung my prayer flag in the peach tree, where the sun and wind can lift the words to the spirits, who I now and then remember need to be fed by our praise and thanks. My words were simple, for once, as they spiraled across the cloth, taking their time, but in the end asking just one simple thing:

May we be blessed, and through our lives, Bless.

First Seeds

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The little girls have fevers. I leave them asleep on the sofa, and plant peas amidst the winter greens.

The last letter from Granny arrives on Equinox. “No more thinking, no more writing. Keep the tea herbs close.” She will die that first night of spring.

Every planting season the worries of drought or calamity fall silent as my hands begin to work. Warm soil, bees in the early-blooming apricots, cisterns brimming at last with the late snows of winter.

Was I thinking to forgo the garden?

By the moon’s transit, it is not a fruit day, nor a leaf day. Still I slip the tomato seeds, the kale and lettuce, into a wooden flat on the window sill. The girls stir. “Stay close,” one says. Birdsong. Buds. The long light of spring.

I unfurl the hose and open the tank, watch the captured rain in its release. When the snow comes in April, it flutters over plum blossoms. The heavy skies are pierced with light.

Gentleness, open me. The seeds are just beginning to rise.

First Egg


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My chickens have begun laying once again. A small miracle, that evidence of cycles and fertility and the gift of the seasons bringing us back to ourselves and our purpose.

We are still chickens when not laying, of course.We are always ourselves. And somehow, in the fallow, dark months, we become even more ourselves.

Then one day, an egg in the nest.

And everything you’ve always known is the same, only now you know it anew, perhaps more truly. And though it is a new year, you keep at the familiar rhythms of your sweeping and forgiving and mending, your mothering and being, and occasional prayers. You remember poetry, and all the unspoken everythings. You go more slowly. Ever more slowly.

Get the egg basket down from its hook. Soon enough it will be full.

Get Real :: Educating the Littl’uns

The real education teaches us to

be whole human beings.

Be concerned with this: that you,

your marriage, and your home

teach health and balance

and truth.

Any further discussion merely

augments this basic course.

–Vimala McClure The Tao of Motherhood

We supplement this core homeschool curriculum with three days a week of Pre-K for my 5 year old. Next year she’ll go full time. There are days when I am filled with gratitude and relief to drop my daughter off at her cozy classroom and know that it’s not my job to memorize Briar Rose and lead the watercolor activity. And there are days when I mourn this, and wish that the responsibility fell squarely on me. I’m someone who thrives on purpose and intention, and so I sometimes feel like a slacker mom for letting someone else bring forth all those riches on my behalf. But mostly I feel liberated. 

Serendipity opened up the door for my daughter to attend her school (my husband also teaches there). But I admit I also read one too many French Feminist Critiques of “natural mothering.” While they mostly piss me off big time, something in me around my willingness to homeschool shifted. Nothing big, just a feeling that it might not mean I’m an inadequate mother if my girls go to school. I wouldn’t be surprised if some phase of my children’s education ended up being home based learning–
I myself was unschooled for high school. As we navigate this journey, I’m going to pay close attention to all the signs and arrows pointing us in unexpected directions along the way.

There were a few years there when I planned to homeschool, and in fact did homeschool in the eager way of a new mom. If only I knew then that my two year old didn’t need circle time or painting time or enrichment beyond the good life we led: taking care of the home, taking time to be outside, taking time to play. Rather than focusing on my child’s education, I slowly learned to focus on my own. For no matter where our children spend their days, it is who we are, and what we bring them in our day to day lives that nurtures them as they grow into themselves. 

A few favorite posts from the blogosphere for fellow over-thinkers on the school question:
I love this post from Beth on How I nearly lost my shit trying to keep my kids in the ideal school. I forgot to mention in my You Know You’re Really into Waldorf When post that if you work three jobs and live in a basement to afford tuition, or opt out and homeschool your brood, then you’re REALLY into it. And that’s okay, if that’s what makes you feel good. But you know what, it’s also okay to send your kids to a less than ideal school. They all have problems. Channel your inner French Feminist and just do what you gotta do.

So You Can’t Afford Waldorf School? Ah, even if you’re into it, it might not be in the cards. There is so much you can still do! Eileen lays it all out.

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This is the latest installment in the Get Real series, in which a handful of bloggers reflect on different aspects of their homemaking and mothering and life. I am looking forward to reading their insights on education, and their own paths on this journey. One more week still to come!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/
http://www.shivayanaturals.com
http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/
http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/
https://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/
http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/
http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

Get Real: Work Edition

What is the work I do each day, here in the life I have been given to live?

There is one task that guides all others: to create in my home a microcosm of the world I wish to inhabit. And so each day I take up the jobs of nurturing children and self, husband and community. I strive to use resources wisely, and reverently, and to give thanks and offer prayers to the holy ones.

I work to sweep and wash, so that there is order and beauty all around us. I work to make small things from scratch: a meal, a dress, a poem, a song, so that we are nourished body and soul. I work to understand the mysteries, and to honor them. I work to listen to the inner glimmers of my inspiration, to let them gestate and, in their time, be born. I work slowly, each year with stronger faith in the eventual unfolding of my dreams and destiny. I work with a compass in my hand, following it in the direction of wholeness.

And how do I do this work?

I do it by trusting in the cycles of life, which sometimes guide me to rest and be still, and sometimes move me to create and build and work harder than ever before. I do it by eating eggs for breakfast, and by getting a good night’s sleep. I do it by being curious, and by following one interest to the next, even when it brings me back to the place I started from. I do it by letting go of my ambitions to be the best, or famous, or rich, and exchanging them for the ambition to be present and in my integrity. I do it by being a little on the type-A side.

I do it imperfectly, with many small failures that, when I persist and practice, yield unexpected success. For though I have faith, I a still delighted when the spinning wheel gives yarn into my hands, when I don’t lose my temper, when the seeds I plant take root in garden soil, when the children follow my guidance, when my beloved community of friends gathers at night and our laughter fills the air.

My tremendous sense of purpose as a homemaker–a human being blessed to be employed almost entirely in bread labor, or work that is essential to life, but not necessarily paid–comes from a feeling of having both a responsibility and an opportunity. I am given the gift of living this good life, and in return I work to do it justice.

And so each day, the world I make, and that you do, too, becomes more and more the world we all seek to live in.

*** 

This is the latest installment of Get Real, a series of posts being written by a group of amazing women bloggers. Each week, we visit a different topic related to homemaking and how it is we do it “all.” The collected wisdom that has been generated from our different but similar vantages has been such a joy to read, and I’m honored to be among them. Please do visit their posts this week!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/

http://www.shivayanaturals.com

http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/

http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/

https://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/

http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/

http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

 

 

 

 

Get Real :: Housekeeping Edition

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I can’t think of any other work in life that is more like Tai Chi than housekeeping. The home is a body, animated by all this energy flowing around in the form of people, movement, stuff, and the elements. There is a constant interplay between order and disorder. My job as head housekeeper of this joint is to engage with all that moving energy, and use my own life force to keep the energy of the house balanced. It is a constant ebb and flow.

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Something important is happening here, and I know better than to disturb it.

I’m not a natural at this. I love caring for my home. I consider it a spiritual practice and am deeply fed by the rhythms of it. And I also get tired of it. After all, it is endless. I’m philosophical about housekeeping because I know that while my idea of bliss is two hours to clean with no one underfoot, it will look like nothing happened within minutes of my family’s return.

Our house is as much a living entity as all the people who live in it, and it’s natural flow is towards disorder. While I work daily to maintain a certain amount of order, I do not delude myself that we aren’t just one very fun afternoon away from disaster at any given moment. No matter how constantly I clean, I am trailed by two busy little children, a husband, and of course myself, and together we undo all that is done. It is the ultimate in impermanence. I am at peace with this.

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As clean as it gets. No matter what I do, there’s always a mason jar on the counter with unidentifiable contents.

But enough musing! I have two time tested and much beloved secrets to keeping this ship afloat. In fact, I’ve already written about both of them, so I’ll just give the links and cross my fingers that you’ll indulge some Vintage Old Recipe. It’s good stuff!

As my friends know, I am religiously devoted to my housekeeping rhythm. I’ll update the original post only to add that last fall I got super angsty and wrote up a day by day breakdown for the month that tells me exactly when to do which job that might otherwise get forgotten in the general upkeep: mop on the second Tuesday of the month, organize the toy shelf on the fourth Wednesday, clean the fridge the first Monday, and onward ad nauseum. Those jobs sometimes happen when my calendar tells me they should, occasionally I do them early or skip them for a month. Sometimes the fridge get’s a little funky before it’s day to be cleaned comes, but for heaven’s sake, who cleans a clean fridge?

My other secret is the revolutionary Clean House 1-2-3 technique, which you can read all about here. Basically, less stuff equals less mess. Give it a go.

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How nice that you can’t see the collection of dusty ephemera on top of my dresser (out of frame). Or the collection of banjo and mandolin cases behind the chair.

In parting, I just want to mention a cautionary tale told by my friend’s mother who related to me with dismay that she spent most of her life “pledging the furniture.” Is pledge some kind of polish? I think about Dee when I feel not inspired but enslaved by the constant cleaning. That’s when I stop, make a cup of tea, watch the kids play without following them around with a sigh and a broom, and do some knitting.

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Where do you keep stray balls of handspun and seeds and, um, what is all that stuff?

The truth is, while we need our homes to be well cared for, we also need to plant the garden, make things with our hands, read stories to our children, go for walks, indulge a burst of creativity, visit a friend. The house will wait, life will not. I try to remember to live it. My home is most beautiful to me when it is filled with the good things we do in it. We live here, I remind myself. This glorious mess is a sign of all that our love is capable of.

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If mama wants to sew and the kids want to play, why on earth would I stop them? 

Get Real is a series of posts by a group of amazing women on a variety of topics related to homemaking. Please do visit the other blogs in the series!

http://plainandjoyfulliving.blogspot.com/
http://www.shivayanaturals.com
http://www.hullabaloohomestead.com/
http://ourashgrove.blogspot.com/
https://oldrecipe.wordpress.com/
http://thisblessedlife-aubrey.blogspot.com/
http://www.localgrain.org/fieldsandfire

You Know You’re Really Into Waldorf When…

…A light hearted look at how far we can go–not that I, or anyone I know has, ahem.

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  1. You cut out screen time for your small children, then recorded music and stories, then picture books, then talking too much to them at all.
  2. If you must say something, you sing it on a pentatonic scale, or get the message across with a nursery rhyme.
  3. You replace all the plastic toys in your house with natural toys, then replace the natural toys with homemade toys, then replace the homemade toys with sticks and stones.
  4. Your children wear three layers of wool in any month containing the letter “R.”
  5. Not even your closest friends and family know what color your baby’s hair is because they have never seen him without his hat on.
  6. You get into celebrating seasonal festivals like the lantern walk because they seem earth based and groovy, but before long start alarming your husband with the annual family Christmas Pageant, not to mention the pictures of angels and the Madonna hanging in your children’s room.
  7. You use regular easter egg dye to dye play silks and yarn; your easter eggs will be colored with onion skins, spirulina, and beets, thank you very much.
  8. Your child thinks cd’s are “rainbow mirrors” left by fairies.
  9. You do not flinch when telling fairy tales to your five year old that involve wicked stepmothers requesting the heart and liver be cut from her step child’s corpse. In fact, you consider such stories “soul milk.”
  10. When a good rebellion is in order you sing the ABC song to your two year old, read picture books featuring animals dressed as humans, and serve fish on chicken day. Even Waldorf mamas need to get wild!
  11. You go from thinking that Waldorf is extreme and rigid, then intriguing and mysterious, then common sense. Not that you know how to sum it up quickly for the curious mother at the park, though. If you had to, you might say something like this:

“Waldorf” is not something that happens at a special school, or when very expensive toys are present, or when certain rules are followed. It lives in the hearts of caregivers who strive to be worthy of imitation, who respect childhood by not imposing adult thinking onto its dream like qualities, who protect their children’s senses from over-scheduling, media, and consumerism, who honor play and imagination and movement as the foundation for genius, and who feed their children’s developing bodies, minds, and spirits by offering them the right stuff at the right time—soul milk, yo. And that’s just the beginning, because if there is one thing I can say for sure about Waldorf, it’s that it is imbued with layer upon layer of meaning. Yes, it can be annoying, threatening, and a little, well, ridiculous. But if there has ever been a larger, sweeter onion to peel the layers back on, I have yet to find it.

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Got any other good ones about what Waldorf is, or how to know when you’ve gone too far?

Gardener’s Guide to Marriage

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A little more snow came our way, and I was sent alone into the mountains to see how a half foot of powder felt beneath the old skis. Well, they still glide, I found. The forest is still lovely. And as I flew along the pristine glory of it all, I was still in the pissy mood I’d left town in.

I’d been fighting a bit with The Man of the Place the last few days. We’d been sick, sleepless, grumpy. I was a little perturbed, in fact, that he had insisted so emphatically that I take the skis and go. If there was something to not be perturbed about, I didn’t know it. Every word we spoke was another hot piece of kindling for the imminent marital immolation.

I wanted to break out of the cycle. I knew we had to, and had faith that we would (we’ve been at this 15 years). I just couldn’t seem to remember how. As I skied along, I reviewed my nice long list of insightful points to make, rational arguments to show that I was, in fact, quite right to be perturbed about the socks left on the floor, the incessant music making when the dusting needed to be done, the long naps when my list showed other things needed doing. Or whatever it was that started this fire. If it was even my fault, which I was sure it wasn’t. And now I had proof!

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This being a powder day in the mountains, my thoughts mercifully wandered. I began thinking of snow melt, and springtime, and the garden. And then I thought of how in the garden, you’re not supposed to battle every bug with soap sprays and neem oil or boxes from the nursery filled with ladybugs. You are, in the words of Carole Tashel, not meant to struggle against natural forces much at all, but to “focus your efforts on enhancing unstressed plant growth: improved soil quality, proper watering, companion planting, preventing stress, etc.”

And Ding Ding Ding went the wise mind of the girl moving as one with her skis through the forest with snow falling all around. I didn’t have to win the fight! I didn’t have to come up with the magic bullet that would end all fights forever. I didn’t even have to fight. Instead, I could direct my efforts at enhancing unstressed growth. On love, on kindness, on respect. I should focus, as Eliot Coleman puts it, on the “insusceptibility of plants rather than the killing of pests…an approach that is plant positive rather than pest negative.”

I flew back up the trail, blissed out by the snowscape, the excercise, the revolutionary applications of gardening genius to marriage.

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I decided to leave the neem oil spray in the shed when I put my skis away that afternoon. Something had shifted and I found myself on the other side of the fire, able to be affectionate and loving and not burning with my need to be right. I could be love-positive rather than bicker-negative. And so I was able to shine with that light of love, and, most wondrously of all, to be received.

And there it was, rising from the ashes: the shared heart — this garden– that has been built from our long togetherness.

You know what? It’s okay to have a few bugs! It’s okay to have weeds! The permaculturists remind us that the problem is the solution, that the weed makes good tea and the bug is a messenger. We can welcome these things not as the End, but as part of the forces of life.

The work we are given to do as partners in relationship–not just with our beloved, but our children and community–is simple. We can feed the soil, nourish it, offer the many small gestures it needs so that it may be fruitful and generous in return. Build it, rejoice in it, give thanks for it. It all turns on affection.

Now if we can all just agree that I’m right I’ll be quiet.

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If you receive this in your inbox, as I think most of you dear readers do, did you know you could just hit reply to leave a comment? Very painless, and likely to produce a positive feedback effect of slightly more frequent writing on my part, maybe even once a month! Plus, I like to know who you are, and to be able to follow your adventures, too.

Words from the Willows and Other Wise Women of Winter

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After a grouchy week I went down to the river by myself. It was dry, but beautiful. I sat quietly amongst the dry leaved willows, shoulders tense and brow furrowed with whatever angst I was carrying around. After a while I heard my voice say out loud, “What do I need right now?” Sometimes I manage to remember that bad moods and behavior are a symptom of something that needs attention–be it in my children, myself, the crazy world. Usually the answer is something along the lines of “love.”

This time, I was pretty sure the answer was going to be something more like, “I need time alone! Time to write, time to sew, time to clean the damn house!” But those familiar whines were drowned out pretty quickly by these five words:

“I need to let go.”

Really? Again?

Yes. And it’s not just the willows giving me this message.

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My friend Becca wrote these amazing words about motherhood during the fall, and they moved me then and move me now. She writes:

“I work when I can, paint when I can, try to keep up my relations with family and friends, try to keep a house and little garden, and often these things fall short.  Mostly I am a mother.   I learned this new role hard way, the way only a new mother can learn things… by trying to be my old self and to be a mother at the same time. With those expectations came many disappointments.  I guess I eventually realized that it might be better if I just tried to be a mother first and the other things would fall in where they may.  As soon as I relaxed into this new reality of myself, I began to relax and enjoy motherhood. ”

Her words are simple and eloquent and come from a deep-heart place. I am so grateful to share this mothering journey with her.

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I have also found a new friend and companion in  The Mother’s Wisdom Deck. An old friend illustrated it, and two souls that feel kindred to me wrote it. They make no bones about the complexity of motherhood, and created the deck to, as they say, “shed light—and beauty—on the deep soul work that mothering entails.” My mothers’ circle is currently using this book/deck as our guide; each of us takes a turn leading the monthly group around a theme we draw from the pages according to what moves us on a personal level, and then bring it alive for each other.

This recent post on their blog, Mothering With Soul, speaks to the grief and sadness I feel during this dark time of year–Demeter’s season. It is a beautiful reflection on the loss inherent in mothering. While this story is about childbearing losses, even when our children are healthy, we mourn the loss of our former selves, or the child we imagined, or ourselves as the ideal mother.

“All of my losses have shown me this incredible gleaning underside, if I am willing to be curious, to to see the vibrant underworld, hidden from sight. In the height of grief, there can be no digression from its unrelenting presence, but when the grief settles, one can explore, with new urgency, what matters most.”

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Follow it up by reading Teach Your Daughters Wailing: The Power of Mourning Women. It will make sure you never choke back tears again!

What wise words are finding their way to you, these day?

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These pictures are from a Thanksgiving hike in Arizona, by the way. Posting unrelated images with your Deep Thoughts is a side effect of only blogging once every 8 weeks or so. See you in February, she signs off with a grin!