Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Today I Didn't Save the World

Parents across the globe will tell you that having children is an incredible experience. Children bring joy and fulfillment that you can't find anywhere else. And it's unique in that you don't know how it is until you actually have children. Parents of all walks will also share that parenthood is so, so hard... but totally worth it.

Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking about all the things I'm not. Causes I'm NOT helping. Music I'm NOT making. Money I'm NOT bringing in for my family. Social groups I'm NOT a part of.  It's really pretty easy to name plenty of activities I'm currently sitting out as I devote my life to my home and children. And there are many, many days when I go to bed at night asking myself the question, "Self... what DID you do today?" and I can't think of one success in the entire day.

Today I emptied the clothes drier onto my bed. The clothes are still there. Today I washed dishes, but they all became dirty again and are still in the sink. Today I needed to mop, and I did--but only one room. I didn't get to the rest. Today I was supposed to have the girls copy down their 8's in multiplication, but that didn't happen because we had visitors drop by. Today we were meant to go to a restaurant for dinner for a fundraiser for our church, but I couldn't get the kids to put on their sweaters and shoes when I asked. (We did eventually go, but it took some raising of voices.)

My day was full of a lot of little failures. I sorted the dirty laundry, but didn't get my whites load washed--it's still on the bathroom floor. We were supposed to do the second half of our Ancient Rome lesson, but it just never happened. I tried to record a song while all four girls were occupied in a different room, but it didn't turn out before my time was up. I went to change the cat litter and emptied it before I realized we didn't have any refill litter--so I lined the boxes with paper towels and my house smelled like cat pee for the rest of the day. Because we went out to dinner I didn't even cook --and we had leftovers for lunch. And I yelled. I yelled kind of a lot. Nobody seemed to be listening to me. The first time I yelled was when Greta was scaring Elka by doing this thing we call "monstering." She wouldn't stop when I asked her gently the first three times, and even kept on monstering as my voice became more and more firm until finally I yelled, "STOP IT!" and she ran out of the room sobbing. Her not listening was my failure. My yelling was another.

So.... what DID I successfully do today?

I peeled and cut up four apples for my girls and their friends and they snacked happily.

I taught my visiting friend how to knit. (To be fair, she already knew how; I just refreshed her memory.)

I took yesterday's pot of leftover mashed potatoes, onions and green beans, added some chicken broth and ham, and served the kids a pretty yummy soup for lunch. I think that was inventive. That could be considered a success.

I read "There's a Bear on my Chair!" too many times to count, among other story books, to adoring little fans.

I played with Ingrid, making a little setup with two plastic pigs she lovingly named Shady and Sunny. And we laughed and snuggled and it was nice. That was a success.

I did eventually get all four kids dressed and out the door at 5:00 to meet Martin at the fundraiser night at Culver's. It took some big doings, but it happened. Success.

I cultivated creativity through drawing time and free writing with the big girls, and wrote out phrases for Elka to copy and practice her letters. Those don't feel much like successes in the big picture, but they were small successes that can build up over time to make a successful person.

I did wash their dishes and clothes, even if the jobs were never finished.

I said "yes" a lot and in return heard Greta improve in her mandolin playing and Anja build bravery when she went out to the car by herself.

I apologized to Greta for yelling and to everyone for being short tempered about them not putting on their shoes when I'd asked (a bajillion times.) I helped others apologize when feelings or bodies were hurt. And I forgave when I was the recipient of an apology. I fed my growing girls nourishing, healthful foods and indulged them just a little bit with dum-dum rewards.

I gave them a safe, loving home today, one full of music and creativity and plenty to eat and a mama who listens to their super-sized ideas.

From someone looking in at my life, I would probably be labeled a "not very successful person." And it's true that I have many, many failings, both big and small. But how is success measured? Is it measured by what you get done? Is it measured by what you gain for yourself? Is it measured by what you give? At this point in time, my life's success is definitely measured by what I give. And when looking at it that way, I'd consider today and overall win.

I gave them my attention. I gave them answers. I gave them love. I gave them me.

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Surprise! We have recently acquired a roommate!

It's a pretty good setup, really. The roomie happens to be my best friend, who has moved around a lot over the past decade and after quitting her job in New York, has decided to move back here to her hometown and bunk up with us for awhile until she gets herself settled. She's the share-all friend, the kind I don't clean up the house for when she's coming over. She likes my children and my husband, and really is like a family member--she spent last Christmas Eve with us, having a sleepover with our kids and shared in our Christmas Morning. Together we sit up late drinking coffee and watching cat videos and laughing uncontrollably at funny cat-themed internet memes. We scroll our Facebook feeds from opposite ends of the kitchen table saying, "Did you see X got married?!" and "Oh my gosh, are you following this huge argument on X's Facebook feed?!" or, "OH EM GEE YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS CUTE CAT PICTURE!" It's just like being young and free, staying up late, carb bingeing and doing boring things together.

The only problem is, while SHE might still be young and free, I am a tired, haggard, old parent. And nothing has made me realize this more than having a shiny, young roommate.

It specifically has been made clear upon the entrance of the dating scene to our home. Recently she had a "first date," for which I tagged along because it happened to be an acquaintance of mine. I was sort of their ice breaker. It was fun! We had beers and appetizers at a bar at four o'clock on a Sunday! So young and free of me! But then it got to be about 6:00 and I remembered that Martin was home with all the kids and I hadn't left them with any dinner prepared and if I didn't get home and feed them soon, bedtime would be later than ideal and then they'd be tired the next day... and it was a good reason to excuse myself, which had been my plan anyway, so it didn't have any impact on the outing... but it made me think.

It made me think about how very different parenthood is from non-parenthood. Not in a good way or a bad way, just in a different way. Very, very different. And suddenly I'm reminded of all the things I don't do anymore, all the things I haven't really considered doing in ages. Today we walked down Main Street, past a little coffee shop that I've never been to, and I thought, (for the first time, because I walk by this place all the time and never think twice about it!) "Look at all those people, sitting on the patio having coffee on a Sunday night. Wow. That sounds like a really nice time." And then a few steps ahead there was a couple deciding where to eat, and they mentioned the pub across the street, and I thought, "I haven't even taken notice of that pub in months. People eat there! Regularly!" It's really incredible--there's a whole society functioning outside our door that we are simply not a part of. It's crazy! Do you realize that some people go out to eat every night? And do you realize that whether they eat out once a month, once a year or three times a day, they never have to make a call ahead to the establishment to make sure you don't have to be over 21 to enter? !!!! This is ridiculous! These people, these others, are on an entirely different playing field of Life! And I'm not even in their ballpark!

But it's not just outside-- My Roommate's dating escapades, employment, and sleep habits have also enlightened me to my own home life and the very stark differences between Mom Life and Non-Mom Life. We'll start with sleep. And from now on we'll refer to My Roommate as Fifi.

On a typical night, my two youngest daughters go to bed at 7:00. Sometimes it's more like 6:30, sometimes it's more like 7:30, but it's in that general vicinity and if it gets to be 8pm and one of them is awake, that's grumptime. Following their bedtime, I get a good two hours with my older daughters. Usually they read or play quietly for about an hour, then we start bedtime routine which includes bath/shower, together time either drawing or playing a card game, read aloud, then prayers and bed. I am fortunate that bedtime in our house has finally gained "routine" status and goes down relatively smoothly every night. After they are down for the night, it's grownup time in the kitchen! Party! We usually make a pot of coffee, sit around gossiping about people, complain about various past and present employment, and review and compare our Instagram feeds. Wild times. Then we all retire around midnight.

Okay, here's where the differences begin. To my beloved Fifi, nighttime involves getting into bed and falling asleep. Sometimes she has too much coffee and feels anxiety and can't fall asleep right away, or sometimes she struggles with insomnia and I understand and respect that. But generally speaking, her night is: Fall asleep. Sleep all night. Wake up in the morning. That's the way a typical night for Martin is too.

This is my night:
Get into bed. Get out of bed and make sure all the doors are locked. Get into bed. Get out of bed and make sure all kids are in their beds and breathing. Get into bed. Get out of bed to get the cats out of the bedroom before they wake the baby. Get into bed. Fall asleep. Wake up between one and three hours later because Ingrid is crying. Move to her (small) bed and nurse her back to sleep. Fall asleep in her bed. Wake up one to two hours later when Elka comes into my bed. Snuggle Elka in our bed while she talks to me and complains about being hot and finally asks me to move back to her bed with her, and also, can she please have a glass of water? After water and lot of fussing over blankets, go to sleep with Elka in her bed. Approximately one hour later, Martin stumbles in to tell me that Ingrid is awake again. Leave sleeping Elka in her bed, return to Ingrid's bed. Nurse her back to sleep. Some time later, wake up to see Elka is back in our bed again, she is sleeping but the cat is pouncing all over her feet and I can't get the cat off without waking up Ingrid. Find various toys in Ingrid's bed and throw them at Martin's back until he wakes up and I can tell him to get the cat out of the room. Cat gone, everybody is back asleep. At some point around five every morning, I end up in my bed with Ingrid on one side and Elka on the other in a very uncomfortable position. This is basically how I end my night. At 6:30 or 7:00, they both wake up and being done with me, they have Martin get up and fix them breakfast, and I get my one, blessed, solid hour of sleep during which I know I will not be interrupted.

(Last night was even more extreme with Greta, Elka AND Ingrid taking turns being awake for ungodly amounts of time. Our middle-of-the-night happenings last night included two separate sessions of apples and milk, coloring, and doing mazes. And thanks to the time change, I even got an extra hour of being awake with them!)

You can see that my Mom Nighttime is very different from Fifi's Non-Mom Nighttime. It's a lot of taking care of people and tending to needs. Much like the rest of my existence.

So, it's no surprise that another obstacle I've run into in regards to Fifi's dating life is that I'm always meddling. In some ways having a single friend living with us is what I imagine it would be like to have a teenaged daughter. Fifi has been dating--let's call him Mo--only for about a week. She had a spontaneous second date with him on Halloween, where they handed out candy to trick-or-treaters on our porch, while we trick-or-treated in our usual neighborhood where we know lots of people. After some hours of not hearing from her, while we were driving home, I texted her, asking how it was going. She didn't respond. I started to get nervous. I didn't know this guy THAT well, what if he was actually an ax murderer? I texted again: "he didn't murder you, did he?!" Still no response, and suddenly I was mildly freaking out that I was going to arrive home to a scene much more gruesome than had been advertised.

Of course, they were just outside sharing wine and Kit-Kat bars. She hadn't seen my texts, so deeply had they been looking into each other's eyes (JUST KIDDING!) and all was well. But then he came over again on another day, and I was trying to tidy up quickly, making sure he didn't get the impression that my poor roommate is forced to live in squalor (which, let's face it, she kind of is,) and when he arrived, I offered them coffee and water and I occasionally offer dinner, and why do I feel the need to do this? because I AM A HOMEMAKER, DARN IT, THIS IS WHAT I DO. But Fifi is not my teenaged daughter, she's a grownup(and not my daughter at all)! She can offer her own guest a glass of water! I do not need to meddle!

Also, this arrangement has made me more aware of my parenting, or more accurately, of the fact that I'm surrounded by children twenty-four hours a day. Until recently, it wasn't as clear to me that this was the case. I mean, I was aware, obviously, but I wasn't aware to the full extent of reality. Interrupted conversations, scoldings, violent outbursts from certain daughters. The crying--so much crying! And why doesn't anyone ever wear clothes?!? All these things are blindingly clear to me now, whereas before they had just been background noise. (Literally and figuratively, haha.)

I've always been a pro at putting off grocery store trips, but now when Fifi says she needs to go to the store and I say, "me too!" I realize that I'm putting it off because the idea of taking four children to the grocery by myself makes me nauseous, so I wait until times when Martin can go with me, or better yet, without me, on his lunch breaks. Fifi is putting off her grocery shopping for all the reasons I used to. Sometimes I miss those reasons. (And sometimes I don't.)

Generally speaking, it's the whole having a social life that is the most noticeable change in the way I view my world. It's been years since I've noticed the extent to which I have no life outside my children. And it's not that I don't get out, it's just that everything is so painstakingly planned. I have been playing music quite a bit lately, and it's great! But it's a much more involved process nowadays than it was in my beginnings, when I all I had to do was make sure I was paying attention to the time so I wouldn't be late to a gig. Now I need to secure childcare, which sometimes involves Martin taking off work early, which makes me feel guilty about playing out, blah, blah blah... and the whole time I'm gone, I'm hoping that all goes smoothly at home, that nobody gets hurt, nobody is sad, nobody is fighting too much, everybody is eating their dinner. More blah, blah, blah. And after the gig, there is no lingering, there's no going out for drinks, there's no staying for dinner. And it's okay, because I love walking in the door to four little voices saying, "Hi, Mama!" and jumping on me and asking about where I've been and what songs I sang. And it's okay because I enjoy playing music out even more than I used to before children, because it's no longer what I do every single weekend--it's a fun treat!

Still... no matter how completely awesome it is to have my four girls (and it IS completely awesome, super duper completely awesome,) there's a bit of nostalgia that strikes when I notice young people who are clearly not tied down by kids and I realize just how much my life has changed over the past nine years.

But, you know what? There's something all the people of the non-children group of society don't have. And they can't take it from us, either. And I feel it's really telling of how kind of ridiculous our life is at the moment, that Martin brought it up to me tonight, while discussing this blog post, in the form of a question: "You know what they don't have, right?" And we were both able to answer in declarative unison: "Chuck E. Cheese."

Saturday, October 22, 2016

When You Only Get One Life (eat meatballs and buy banjos)

I am aware that even though I really, really like cats, I am not actually a cat myself. Because of that, I only have one life. One! Not nine! Just one. Sometimes this makes me rejoice because, well, just look around you. This place is pretty freaking cray cray. But sometimes it makes me sad, because (eternal reward aside,) this is the only chance we get. The only chance to have earthly adventures, make connections, have somewhat irresponsible, while not immoral, fun.

This past week, we traveled. My sister-in-law was getting married in Boston, and we planned out a week of adventuring around that one big, joyous event. We drove out east overnight Thursday and arrived mid-afternoon at Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, where we had rented one night in an airbnb beach house. Off-season made the price excellent and we had so much fun in our less-than-24-hours on the beach, it was just delightful. We had never been to New England, and the coast was so beautiful. It was warmish, enough that we could take off our shoes and socks, get a little bit wet, but not swim. We climbed on the beautiful rocks, chased waves, dug holes, found shells, and made a funny sand hippo. We got our morning coffee and pastries at a little seaside coffee shop the morning after an evening dinner at a fun little restaurant/bar just a few blocks from our rental.

From New Hampshire, we drove south just one hour to Boston, where The Happy Couple had generously booked us a room at the Hotel Buckminster. The timeline sent us directly to the home of our (at the time almost-) brother-in-law, where we had drinks and the two joining families met and mingled. It was very nice! From there, to the rehearsal, then on to the (fantastic bbq) rehearsal dinner. And the next morning.... up and getting four flower girls and myself, a bridesmaid, ready with the bride and other bridesmaids and flower girl before the big, beautiful wedding, which was tremendously beautiful.

The reception was a blast; Greta had the time of her life.

I think it helped to curb the sadness of the wedding weekend ending that we had planned to spend Sunday exploring Boston on our own before driving through the night to Virginia where my brother and his family lives. Boston was great. We visited Boston Common (such an interesting history!) and the Boston Public Gardens, where we saw a girl busking with her stand up bass, playing and singing jazzy songs. We'd never been to Boston and it was fun to see, though we are definitely not city mice.

Of course, the visit to Virginia was great. Nine girl cousins combined, friends and family, wine and good food for two full days. It was just what we needed to cap off the trip, too; by the time we were driving home, we couldn't do another all-nighter and stopped at a hotel (a very odd Holiday Inn, decorated like a lodge belonging to a kitschy grandmother and a big game hunting grandfather. Taxidermy and raffia scarecrows everywhere. Really weird.) The drive home was somewhat terrible. Driving in the day with four children is a lot different than driving through the night with them while they all sleep soundly in the back. We made a lot of stops. One was to an IKEA for meatballs and a few things we actually needed, and another was to Moore's Music Emporium, where I bought a pretty delightful little banjo.

I have been wanting a banjo for many years. I had one for awhile, but Toddler Greta broke it (sadly, and by accident) and before it was ever fixed, it was stolen when our old house was robbed. And this is the part of my story about life and how I think it's ok to act irresponsibly sometimes. It's easy for me to think this way because I am a Youngest Child, and it's easy for me to find support in this way of thinking from my husband, because he is a Youngest Child too! (they say that Youngest Children should never marry each other... I can see why this is true. BUT.... we have LOTS of fun.)

When we began planning this trip back in the spring, we were broke as a joke. We intentionally didn't book ourselves a hotel room anyplace because we didn't have the money for one. We just waited and waited, hoping something would fall into place, planning to take our tent and find an open campground nearby, if we needed a place to spend the night. During one of our better paychecks, we put away a chunk of money in a coffee can and hid it in a cabinet. That was our trip money. And we planned our trip entirely around that very small budget.

But evidently, while we aren't very good at being responsible, we ARE good at being thrifty, because we never exceeded our budget! Not even close! That was why, on the trip back home, we decided it was worth the money to make memories by going to IKEA when the kids were all being completely crazy and we couldn't make it four more hours in the car and remain sane. And that's why, just across the river from Wheeling, West Virginia, we stopped into Moore's Music Emporium, located down the street from the Sunoco station where we fueled up, and I walked in and bought a good banjo for a good price, and then we had live music for the drive home.

Now we're back home. We're still broke, but now we have better band practices because we've added a banjo to the mix. Even with buying the banjo and going to IKEA for silverware and succulents, we didn't spend our budget! But even if we had, it would have been absolutely worth it for the memories of playing Orphan Girl while driving down the I-70 and the memories of being so humiliated by my children when they were screaming in the kitchen marketplace area at IKEA, and hollering about how they hate lingonberry everything, and then the memories of a never-ending drive from Cincinnati to home as we tried to dodge tornadoes moving through the area. No regrets! Because we only get one life! And honestly... sometimes that's a big relief to me.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Best Kind of Gathering (costs nothing!)

It works out to being about twice a year that my friends and I gather for a Saturday Morning Clothing Exchange. The email list that goes out advertising the exchange is I think the same one as a pretty interesting sounding book club, to which I've always been invited, but have never even read one of the books, though my intentions are always very good. One time, even though I hadn't read the book, I almost actually went to the meeting! But I chickened out at the last minute in typical me fashion. Ha, fashion. Because I'm really blogging about a clothing exchange and just got sidetracked thinking about the book club. Lol.

We take all our castoffs (and our husbands' castoffs, and some homewares and some kids' stuff... basically anything we need to get out of our life) to the home of someone generous enough to host us, and we separate into piles: tops, pants, dresses, shoes, men's, scarves, etc. Then we rummage through and try to be polite about it, even though we are all totally wanting to take home everything that everyone brought for ourselves. I'm not very discreet about my desire to revamp my entire wardrobe at these things.... I dive in face first and only come up for air when it's time to use the dressing room. (which is a bathroom, because we are at someone's house.)

These things are SO FUN. Often we all bring a little breakfasty pastryish thing to contribute and we have coffee and since we are surrounded by piles of clothes there's plenty to talk about, right off the bat. Naturally, we first talk about purging possessions, simplifying our lives, (it always goes back to the KonMari method,) and from there we move into the reasons we've got all these clothes to get rid of, which is usually due to the realization that we're never going to lose the babyweight. There's no awkwardness, because people hauling in loads of castoffs and breakfast pastries are natural conversation starters, and it's a diverse group so we really have plenty to talk about.

At the end of the morning, all that's left (which tends to be a lot) is donated; the one who volunteers to take it decides what center it goes to, and all that stuff is out of our lives forever, thankfully. Not that I have EVER gone home with less than what I brought, as good as my intentions for that outcome may be. No, no, I come home with OODLES of new things to wear! This time, I got a new dress!

I pretty much stopped wearing dresses (almost) nine years ago when I started breastfeeding because they are just so impractical. But now that those demands are fewer, I feel like I can pull it off again. And this one has buttons down the front, just in case.

Some people just come to visit, with no intention of taking anything home with them. This time we spent the last portion talking about the books that will be assigned for the book club in the months to come. Sometimes we bring kids, sometimes we don't. It's all very loose and leaves me feeling filled up with good social juice, and at the same time freshened by letting go of some possessions and acquiring some new bits for my drawers, which always feels good, especially if they were free.

If you're looking for more ways to be social with a purpose, I'd highly suggest this sort of gathering. I'm already looking forward to our next one! 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

On This, the First Day of Autumn

Happy Equinox!

Aahhhhhh, the autumn equinox when the calendar officially tells us that it's Fall and we are therefore granted permission to drink as much hot chocolate as we want and add spoonfuls of cinnamon to everything with wild abandon. I know, some people live for this time of year. Leggings, chunky knit scrarves, boots, a pumpkin spice latte always in hand. Crunch, crunch, crunch. Mmmm, Fall.

I like Fall, too. I don't adore it the way I used to, thanks to a few pretty miserable winters, but I can still appreciate it. I haven't had any official “tests” done to confirm this, but I've got this suspicion that I'm actually genetically part lizard, because I just love the summer heat. LOVE IT. I bask in it. I love the heat and everything else about summer except for mosquitos. But Fall is good, too. I guess.

Tonight to celebrate the Equinox, despite the temperatures here being in the 90s, I made potato soup and baked spiced apples. Sounds pretty fally, doesn't it!? And since I don't use real recipes, I thought I'd share my “recipe” in quotations, for both. 

First up:

Five Pound Potato Soup

Five pound bag of potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks.
An onion. If you don't have an onion, a handful of green onions will do. If you don't have those, use chives.
As much garlic as you love.
Carrots, maybe four? Peeled and chopped, or peeled and shredded.
Broth to fill the pot
Milk to finish
Chili Powder (optional)

Sautee the garlic, onion of choice, parsley, sage, salt in butter. After it smells good, add your chopped potatoes and carrots, stir up. Cover the ingredients with enough broth or stock or water with boullion, that you expect some will boil down by the time the potatoes are soft. Your end goal should be a thick, goopy mixture when you take it off the heat.

When you've got that, (this takes occasional stirring and mushing of the potatoes so you can tell when they're really done,) you set it aside to cool for a few minutes before adding the milk. Then you add the milk, really just enough to make it more liquidy and creamy.

Note: I like my potato soup to also have broccoli and plain yogurt in it. However, MY KIDS HATE IT THAT WAY, so I make it more plain, like above. But you can add plain yogurt to thicken it (not too much or it's too tangy and tastes like you already ate it once, if you know what I mean) and you can clearly put in some broccoli to make it more healthy and, let's be honest, more delicious. I freaking love broccoli.

There you go! You can add shredded cheese too! I try to make cheesy biscuits or cheese bread when we have this soup because my kids (seriously! These troublesome youngsters!) don't like cheese in their soup. Whatevs.

Now here was the real star of the show tonight:

Equinox Apples

An apple per person, peeled and cored. Don't be afraid if you don't have an apple peeler-corer-slicer; I just use a knife. Make sure you leave a little bottom so the insides don't seep out. Place the apples in a bakeable dish; I use a cast iron skillet.

Stuff each apple with about a tablespoon of butter.

Make the mixture:

Brown Sugar
White Sugar
Vanilla extract

My exact measurements of the brown sugar were “what's left I in the bag,” which I dumped into the bowl, and added the other ingredients proportionally to that. It was VERY spicy to just eat plain, but once it was baked with the butter, it was the perfect amount of spice. The white sugar could probably be omitted; I used it because I'd put in too much vanilla at the end and needed it a touch sweeter, but since my initial measurement was what it was, I obviously was out of brown sugar. Sprinklings of the rest... maybe half a teaspoon of the spices?

Mix the mixture well until it's made evenly crumbly by the vanilla, then spoon about two spoonfuls into each apple's center, over the butter. Two spoonfuls was about right. I have made them in the past when I've thought “more is better” and it's turned out gross. You don't want to spice-out the apple flavor!

Bake at 350* for about half an hour. You can test the apples as they bake by sticking them with a fork to see that they are “tender crisp” or whatever the term is for “perfect baked apple” or “perfect steamed vegetable.” You don't want them soggy, but you don't want to have to use a knife.

These were really spectacular for our little fall celebration tonight. Thursdays are ballet night for Anja, and everyone goes together to walk over to the ballet school to pick her up while I finish up dinner at home. When they got home they were greeted with a pretty yummy smell! And an even yummier meal. I call tonight an autumnal success, despite the actual outside temperature!  

Friday, September 16, 2016

Today I Will Write!

It's Friday. Fridays are special days here because they have been designated “Mama's Day of Fulfillment.” Martin doesn't work on Fridays, and we've arranged a nice routine where he takes the girls someplace for awhile during the day so that I can work on my music stuff, write, record, etc. It's a nice way for us to take advantage of what is actually not an ideal situation—we wish he were working on Fridays, but it is what it is, and I can't complain about having time to myself.

Originally, the plan was that I would have the entire day to myself. (Ha! Laughable!) After the first Friday of this deal, we quickly learned the complete ridiculousness of that statement. The day has since been amended to be about two hours of time for myself, and it works out well that way. Over the past few months I've used that time to get a lot of recording done, as well as starting this blog up again. But somehow, every week, this simple plan proves to be almost impossible. Since it's fresh in my mind, I'll just recap this morning.

4:00am -
Somebody is in my bed. She is awake and very wiggly and getting kind of loud. She's not going back to sleep. The person in the toddler bed next to me is being woken up by her. Awesome.

4:30am -
I have moved to the toddler bed with the two year old and the four year old. It's crammed and I have to keep my arms above my head due to where they are situated, but I * think * they are both asleep.

5:21am -
I realize there have been two kids fighting over me for awhile and begging me to get up. “When will it be day?” “When can we wake up daddy?” “I have to go pee pee!” “I have to go pee pee, too!” Take both girls to the bathroom where I realize they don't have any intention of going back to bed, no matter how good I make it sound.

5:35am -
Wake Martin, hand him the reigns. Go back to bed.

7:30 -
I get up and send Martin back to bed. Kids are insane. Candy Land is everywhere. They've already eaten two breakfasts. We're almost out of milk. They just keep laughing and zipping around and asking me to do stuff for them or with them and where is my brain and where is my coffee?

8:30 -
Two big girls wake up. Greta's daily drama of getting dressed goes down relatively smoothly, although she gets mad about not having the perfect shirt so she yells that she's going to wear “stinky dirty underwear.” Anja is in a surprisingly good mood and continues on her sewing project from yesterday. Get out the second half of yesterday's watermelon for breakfast. Nobody wants it after Ingrid spits her seeds back into the main bowl instead of into the “spit bowl.” Ingrid is also anti-spoon. She will need a change of clothes and a bath.

9:30 -
How many breakfasts does one family need? I take a shower and wake up Martin, get the homeschool day moving. Three kids are fully clothed, a miracle! Martin is eager to get them out the door for their fishing trip. I tell him to quickly run his errands first while we do school.

10:00 -
Martin leaves to run errands. Homeschool starts well. I make mental note of how many times I've washed the same bowls just this morning and my count so far is 4. Spoons too. Math takes a downward turn; Greta cries. She begs me to make hot chocolate and tells me subtraction is horrid. She isn't throwing her math book though, so that's a plus for today.

10:15 -
There is “a smell.” Greta and I search the house (which, in the course of the morning has come to look like a victim of some horrific straight-line winds) for dog poo-poo, but find none. Greta becomes hysterical. She makes a face mask out of a washcloth and toilet paper, but I can still hear her sobs through it.

10:30 -
We've learned about the Liberty Bell, the real Plymouth Rock and have sung the National Anthem, all punctuated by Elka and Ingrid asking completely unrelated questions like, “how do I color the fish?” and “How do I color the ball?” and “Where is my [very specific and no other will do] orange marker?” The mystery smell is still present.

11:20 -
Must make lunch! Plan on mashed potatoes and HALLELUJAH, find the smell in the potato basket! Martin arrives home from errands, shocked to find the girls not ready to go fishing and Elka still naked. Serious hunger meltdowns are happening. (How?!? THEY JUST ATE.) I find yesterdays' lunch in the fridge and warm it up instead of bothering with potatoes.

12:00 -
Martin is taking the girls fishing, dammit. Three girls are excited. Greta is not. Greta doesn't like the way her sandals feel today. Tears. She wants to wear her Friday socks, but we can't find them. More tears. After thorough search of the house, I remember that the Friday socks are in the dryer... but the load is still damp. HYSTERIA. Greta says she hates fishing and hates her Friday socks and hates everything. (Actually she only says, “don't like” because somewhere during their short life, the girls have gotten it in their heads that “hate” is a bad word and we aren't allowed to use it.) I realize that nobody actually ate their lunch because they were writing stories. Quickly peel and slice four apples and grab a sleeve of graham crackers for their fishing trip snack. Hugs and kisses, and they are on their way, with Greta hollering out the window as they drive away that she promises she WILL NOT HAVE A GOOD TIME AT ALL.

12:30 -
Everyone gone. The house is quiet. I have so much cleaning up to do. School books everywhere. Lunch everywhere. Rain clouds of parmesan cheese must have moved through the kitchen when I wasn't looking. I know the litter boxes upstairs need changing but I am seriously afraid of going up there because, even though I cleaned up the toys yesterday, today it is again begging to be declared a federal disaster zone. Pick up some scattered Little People toys. Decide it's better outside where I can't see the mess, and move my workings to the porch for the afternoon. Begin this blog post and wonder if Greta is having fun fishing.

I bet she is. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Devastation Caused by Misused Quotation Marks

I have a confession to make:

Sssshhh... don't tell.

((i love reading the comments on news stories.))

It's terrible, I know. Everybody knows the unwritten rule that you just don't read the comments. Good things rarely come from the arguments in the comment sections, and I think the news stories are the worst.

But, no matter. I'm in love with the high I get when I read the comments section of a news story. ("high" as in "high blood pressure.")

So, yesterday I was reading a news story, I don't know who published it and I can't actually remember what the point was, but I *think* it was about the severe weather that recently moved through our area and the fact that in a count of 9+ tornadoes including one EF-3 that leveled a Starbucks among other damages, not one person was seriously injured and nobody was killed. I think that is just incredible. Obviously, everybody else thinks that too. Somehow in the comments, if I'm even remembering this correctly, the conversation of the local disaster tied into the recent, terrible earthquake in Italy (my family there is all fine, in case you know me personally and have been wondering. They are north of where it struck.)

In the comments section, a woman (I think her name was something like Carol, so I'll just call her that) said, "In Italy they found a 10 year old girl "alive" after 17 hours of being trapped!" Everybody was amazed and rejoicing in the comments afterward.

Everybody, that is, except Jane.

Jane replied, "Why did you put quotation marks around the word alive?" People at first ignored her comment, somebody eventually said something along the lines that, sure, the quotation marks were misused but it didn't matter since everybody knew what Carol was saying.

Jane did not think it was okay. Jane evidently has serious problems with the misuse of quotation marks. She kind of went off the deep end. People assured her that it wasn't a big deal, but she believed it was. She even started name calling. One name I remember was "dumb," but there were others. Carol herself even responded, saying that she didn't know the quotation marks were of consequence, she was just so happy the girls was alive, but Jane just would not let up.

I couldn't help commenting. I wanted to say more, but instead, I settled with saying, "Jane, you're mean." I didn't really want to get into it on there. But my brain kept going.


My brain was saying, "Jane, how deeply does this misuse of punctuation affect you? Does Carol's incorrectly placed quotation marks around the world "alive" mean that everyone you love will soon be "not alive?" Does it mean your son won't get into the college he's really hoping for? Does it mean financial disaster, perhaps even ruin for you? Is your dog going to get mange because of this? Will your pen-pal in Switzerland stop writing to you? Will your half and half go sour and curdly long before the stamped expiration date on the carton? Does your computer screen explode when it comes across misplaced quotation marks? What is it, Jane? Why the heck is this such a big deal to you?"

My brain was saying, "Geez, Jane! Give it a rest!"

It reminds me of when people really get after the commenters who can't seem to figure out that caps lock button. The poor commenters probably don't even know it's there. They are typing and words are appearing on theirs screen, and sure, they are all big letters, but what they are saying obviously doesn't match the capitalization, and who really cares about the etiquette of computer type when clearly this is a person who isn't shouting, and whose issues are not related to anger, but rather to technological incompetence?

For crying out loud, people! I know there are ways to do things. I know there are correct spellings, punctuations, grammar rules, and a whole freaking language concerning internet lingo, manners and faux pas. But really, do we have to get after people for every little thing? Even if it is a pet peeve, even if seeing misused quotations is like fingernails on a chalkboard to you, PLEASE.... just keeeeeeeeeep scrolling. Chances are, addressing the mistake is just not worth it.

However, I have to admit, if people stopped being jerks in the comment sections, how would I get my entertainment? Maybe I should really tell Jane thanks!

Parenting in the Age of Judgement

I think we can all agree on one thing when it comes to parenting: it's hard. When you become a parent your status of being changes from Comfortable Individual to Person in Charge of Another Being. It's kind of scary. And that's just the first hour or so. After that it's sleepless nights and endless bottles or aching breasts (or both!) and so much crying, all while you're trying to adjust to your fresh loss of individuality. Two-year-olds will be two-year-olds, simultaneously the most incredible and most exhausting creatures on the planet. Three-year-olds are pretty much the same, except with a bigger vocabulary and longer legs—so they're faster. Then there's the endless worry that comes with being a parent. Are they getting enough green vegetables? Are they going to be ready for kindergarten? Do they need glasses? Are their teeth getting brushed enough? Are they safe? Are they healthy? Are they succeeding? Am I doing this right? And that worry just goes on forever.

According to my own mother, parenting these days is just no fun. Moms worry too much nowadays. We stress about every little thing until parenting—which is hard enough to begin with—is just robbed of all it's natural joy. I think she's absolutely right, and I can see why it has become that way.

We are living in an age of Judgement, especially among parenting social circles. Admitting that there are some really terrible and abusive family situations, and leaving those to their own realm, it seems to me that parents are not safe from criticism these days, no matter what methods they use, philosophies they live by, no matter how much they think they are doing the right thing for their children. And if a mistake is made, no matter how small—LOOK OUT.

Parents look at other parents and they pick out all the ways their peers are doing it wrong. All the way they are damaging their kids, all the ways they aren't giving their all... just thinking about all the different ways parents criticize each other makes my head spin. But a big thing lately seems to be reporting those parents they deem “unworthy.” A child seen playing basketball in his backyard is deemed in danger because his parents aren't home. Any child farther than an arm's reach from his parents is being sorely neglected. Children in general are no longer allowed to do things like ride their bikes or walk to school or camps because of the incredible danger that those activities pose to the kids.

What? Are we serious? How has it come to this? I find it hard to believe the world is really that much more dangerous than it was thirty years ago, when my generation and all those before me were allowed to roam free. It's talked about a lot on the internet these days, how it doesn't seem like that long ago that the parents of today were kids with a lot more freedom and individuality. We were allowed to do things independently, learn from our mistakes, problem solve, find out who we were and who we wanted to be, without a parent constantly holding our hand. I would prefer to give my girls the same upbringing, but it seems like that is pretty frowned upon these days.

Earlier this spring we moved back to our old house right across the street from the public library. Anja and Greta are now 8 and 7 years old, and the posted age to be allowed unsupervised in the library youth department is 6. I had always imagined them walking over to the library on their own, and as adults having great memories of doing so.

How foolish of me!

I talked to one of the youth librarians who told me the rules about kids in the library, and I told her where we lived and that they were going to start walking over on their own sometimes because I felt like they were old enough to do so. Independently, I made the rule that they were never to go without the other, that they were just to check out books and come back home, not hang out there for long spans of time, and that they were to be on their best behavior, remember their manners, look out for each other, etc. Typical parental rules that really are only stated as a technicality because I should hope they would do all this on their own without being told. The first day I let them go they were SO EXCITED. They packed our library bag with books to return, and set off. Now let me be clear here: I could see them until the moment they entered the library. The building is across the street, the entrance is less than a block down. I sat on the porch and watched until I saw they had safely made it into the building. And then I sat on the porch, watching the door, waiting for them to come out. I was nervous. I knew they would be fine, I knew they would be perfectly behaved, I knew they would find their books, check out, come home, just as I had told them to do. I knew nobody would snatch them because I was WATCHING THE DOOR, and I knew they couldn't possibly get lost because they go to the library almost every day and know their way around. What was I so afraid of then? Well, I'll tell you: I was afraid of judgement. Honestly, I was afraid someone would call the police. I was afraid I would be labeled negligent. I was afraid that allowing my school aged children to go to the library alone would somehow lead to all of my children being taken away from me.

Doesn't that seem a little extreme?

It should seem extreme, but it turns out it's not so far fetched at all. Since then, I have heard of many, many stories of well-meaning parents having their children taken away from them because they were “left alone” or rather, allowed to be alone. Children older than my own. Children even better prepared than mine were, with a cell phone and house keys. Somewhat recently, a friend of mine had the police called to her house by some passersby because her baby was crying inside—crying because she put him down while she was getting dressed. I know her to be an excellent mom, the farthest thing from negligent you can imagine. But in the eyes of the world, putting your shirt on is next to abuse, if your baby makes a racket about it.

Such a big day of going to the library by themselves for the first time seemed worth the commemoration of a social media post. It was interesting, the responses I received. Most applauded—for the girls being so grown up and independent, for me allowing them to stretch their wings. But some didn't. Some offered to go with them if I couldn't. Some advised against letting them go alone because it was dangerous. In general, the response I got was a mixed bag. I thought the negativity was unfortunate, though I didn't take it personally, but it spoke volumes about the parenting norms of the day.

And the parenting norms these days instill fear and judgement.

One of the reasons I was so desperate to move out of the city three years ago was fear. I was anxious all the time, afraid of the police showing up at my door during any one of the many fits from my babies, toddlers and preschoolers through the six years and three children we had in this house. Many, many times, instead of addressing a toddler tantrum with comfort and redirection, I reacted with anxiety and fear, doing everything I could to quiet the tantrum as fast as possible, before anyone noticed. My fear made me parent in ways I didn't agree with. I have often found myself even shushing their happy screaming in the backyard, for no reason other than I don't want someone to think they are in trouble and send “help.” It's one of my greatest fears that someone might suspect me of negligence and snatch my kids, and I feel that the fear is not unfounded; the more I read the news, the more I see that it happens way too often without good reason.

Now that we are back in this house, my anxiety has spiked again for all these same reasons. While my life can often look like a collection of serene Instagram photos (and sometimes it is,) it's often all four girls screaming at each other at the same time. Sometimes it's loud and unpleasant and I'm sure that everyone on the block can hear them. But I deal with it the best I can, aiming for gentle but not permissive parenting. I succeed sometimes. Sometimes I don't. But you know what? Whether I succeed in my parenting style or not, I will be judged by others no matter what I do. Because we don't just judge other parents when we feel they are endangering their children—we judge them for everything.

Gentle parenting is criticized for being permissive. Having strict boundaries and disciplinary followup is criticized for being too rigid. Bottle feeding is criticized for being unnatural. Breastfeeding is criticized for being sexual. Homebirths are unsafe. Hospital births are intrusive. Natural birth is overrated. Cesareans aren't birthy enough. You can't win.

On the one hand, I guess it's nice to know that I'm a failure no matter what. I can march forward with confidence, knowing that the path I'm choosing is best for me and that nobody else will think so. On the flip side, however, there's that relentless nervous feeling I'm constantly battling, worrying who is judging me and if the judger is someone who will take action, or mind their own business in the end.

Parenting is tough. From start to finish it's so hard, but so rewarding. I wish we could stop stealing the rewarding aspect from one another and show more support to our peers in the field. It's not a competition. Yes, we all have different viewpoints. That's what makes us individuals. That's what gives flavor to the world. It's special. And raising unique individuals as unique individuals is what will continue to keep the world an exciting place, where not everyone thinks alike, where everyone has experienced different things, or experienced the same things differently. I worry that by taking the joy of adventure and individuality out of our childrearing, we are covering up the variety of our future generations. Let's let go a little bit. Let's let our kids spread their wings a little wider, fly a little farther from the nest. Let's assume healthy risk in parenting—and view others' healthy risks without judgement—so that we can help our little people to grow into really great big people. Let's support our kids and our peers in the raising of an awesome future. Our kids are destined to be the grownups of the world someday, the ones running this place, so we truly are all in this together. Let's do better.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Day I Took my Own Advice

We are now one week into our homeschool year. Anja is a third grader, Greta is a second grader, and I started our year as a homeschool instructor one hundred percent lacking in motivation. Our first days back were rough. Nobody was feeling it, nobody wanted to buckle down and learn, we couldn't find our groove... I felt like I was failing, big time. I told Martin—we take this homeschooling thing year-by-year, child-by-child and maybe this is the year that they need to go to school. We struggled through the first week of math review... tears over addition and subtraction they learned half a year ago was suddenly causing them endless anguish. Five full days went by with the same schedule on each day of my planner with almost nothing actually getting done. We didn't learn the St. Michael prayer. We did the cursive workbooks, but we didn't follow up with the full Geography lesson I had planned for each day. Poetry? None. Copywork? Zero. We did take a nature day on Friday, which was very successful and educational, but I count that as my single success of the week. Other than that, on the Train of Success, I was riding on the caboose. 

We had an extremely relaxed weekend. Usually our weekends are spent running around, but somehow it ended up not that way this past weekend, and it seemed to be just what we all needed. A nice, relaxing reset for our tired minds. Today everybody woke up cheerful. We didn't even have a nutritious breakfast, but all the girls were being super kind to each other, and so willing to do their work! It was amazing! They helped each other through math and the older girls helped Elka with her alphabet and color-by-numbers. 

Then, just when I thought surely my luck was going to run out, we had a peaceful lunch all together, followed by more schoolwork, done with cheerful smiles. It was..... incredible. 

And I thought at the end of the day, how was that day so good? How did we make that day so much better than the past week had been? 

And I realized, just maybe, it was my own attitude. I started Monday feeling good because Ingrid, who had woken up at an insane hour that morning, had gone back to sleep around 8:00 and I knew that her little morning nap was not only going to make our morning easier, but it was going to make her super cheerful when she woke up. I was looking forward to her waking up, knowing how cute she was going to be. I was calmer and more relaxed in our lessons because I was in a better mood. Surely, the girls sensed that and were their good natured attitudes were a reaction to my own. I didn't nag them about anything. The morning flowed easily at it's own pace. We STILL didn't get our Geography lessons done. But I didn't worry about it... I willingly put it off until tomorrow and filled the time with extra reading time, which we all enjoyed. We started The Wind in the Willows and instead of staying inside to read it, we went to the porch where everyone colored in their sketchbooks as I read aloud to them. (I was tickled that Anja loved it so much. We tried starting it last year at this time, and she was not ready... this year, they love it!) It was a picture of how I envision homeschooling in my most lovely homeschooling fantasylands. It was really great. (Until Ingrid fell off the porch swing onto her head and I, in a rush to try to catch her [I didn't] flung Elka from my lap, causing her to fall on her head as well. Many tears, but even that turned into a cozy time of togetherness. I'm telling you, this day was magical.) 

Slowing down really worked. When Martin got home from work, we were all still in good moods. The girls had had a lot of time for free play that afternoon and had been very involved in their doll games. I was able to get dinner made and we all sat down together to eat. Martin gave them even more impromptu schooling. After dinner we took a family walk and when they asked if we could take our walk up to my parents' house, even though it was after bedtime, I realized that our days of walking up there were very limited and I said yes. 

It was a great day. I'm hoping that the rest of the week follows (I know it probably won't) and that we have a learning-filled week of happiness. This was just the change I needed to get me appreciating our choice to homeschool! 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

So, Annie, How's 'bout that Recording?

Way back in April I decided that my summer project was going be to record again. I was going to do it on the cheap, at home, solo, using just what I had--my own instruments, my own voice, my own computer--simple. While the disc I did so many years ago was fun, and I'm so glad I made it, it really opened my eyes to how much goes into recording, even on the local, personal level. Lots of time, lots of money, of which I currently have neither, haha. This time around I was hoping for something more raw.

Conveniently, our move back downtown had two immediate benefits to my recording: one was that I started writing songs like the olden times. For having gone close to three years without writing a single workable song, this breakthrough has been incredible. The second benefit was that it was soon to be tax return time. With our tax returns we bought a nice laptop computer, one that could handle the job of recording. With the help of a friend, I got a deal on a decent microphone and help setting my computer up with a recording app, and then I was set to go at my own pace, in trial-by-error style.

Surprisingly, I was able to achieve the sound I wanted pretty much from the start. (Turns out "simple" is not difficult! Shocking!) Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, time didn't come as easily. I was able to snag an hour or so here and there by taking advantage of "Special Daddy Time," but in general, my time is taken up by my kids, who even when they are not immediately needing me, are LOUD. IN EVERYTHING THEY DO.

Another thing happened as I got rolling on my own music, which was that I started playing out more often! It started just playing a coffee shop with Kim, but it has turned into playing more frequently with more people as a band, and it's been REALLY fun. But of course, with limited time, if I'm playing out more, I'm recording less.

Overall, I've been shooting for a twelve-track disc and as of today I have eight of those songs recorded in completion. Ten are my own originals, two are public domain, old folk songs. I'm happy with what I have so far! It's definitely simple, but it's a good feeling to supply everything needed to make a full song that's a step up from just guitar and melody. I hope to soon start making the recordings more presentable and then move on to learn about how to get them online for listening. And I'll have an actual, tangible disc made as well.

So that's where that project currently stands. While I definitely am having to push off my finish date into the fall, I'm pleased with how it's going and still excited for the finished product. Hopefully soon it will be able to be heard outside of my house!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Back to School means End of the Boho Summer

We started school today. At our kitchen table. With our shiny new markers and workbooks and curriculum for a second grader, third grader and kindergartener. We started with enthusiasm. And that enthusiasm lasted about twenty minutes. 

This was the passenger seat of my minivan last week: 

Mandolin. Wildflowers and herbs tied up with garden twine. Battered, vegan sandals made from recycled plastic. On my way to band practice.

And then this morning I was back at my table with my coffee, trying to navigate two different math lessons while simultaneously trying to teach the three-point grasp to my four-year-old AND smelling the oatmeal overflowing onto the stove burner. That doesn't account for the two-year-old, who was up half the night last night thanks to a blasted cat who knocked a glass off a table and shattered it, causing a big ruckus and by that action gifted us with a 2am-5am party with the toddler, which I really hadn't wanted to attend.

Back to the coffee.

I'm always on the fence about homeschooling. When Anja and Greta were preschooler age, I got a little twinge of sadness when I saw all the official back-to-school pictures on Facebook, people's children all dressed up in clean clothes with their cute ponytails and new socks, standing next to a chalkboard announcing their first day of school. At that time, I felt like I was doing my girls a disservice by keeping them home.

But that feeling didn't last.

Our very first year of homeschooling was rough; I never did find my groove, but the girls learned to read that year and so they ended up learning a lot, without a set schedule from me. They read--some on their own, and some as read-alouds-- all the American Girl series, and it prompted us to talk extensively about different times in history.

After that we found our rhythm, to the point where last year I felt undeniably happy with my homeschooling choice. I would describe last year as the perfect homeschool year. We worked hard, we learned a lot, and I closed out our year last May feeling proud of all of us and ready for a well-earned vacation.

And now that vacation is ending and I'm sobbing into my pillow because I already miss my beloved summer of constant music and backyard s'mores and going barefoot and sleeping in. We stayed up late every night. We walked everyplace. We never had a schedule (except for two weeks in June-July when we had swimming lessons.) We went to the creek so often and to the pool less often, but still a handful of times. We explored Celery Bog and foraged wild black raspberries and sorrel for snacks. We sat on the porch during thunderstorms, caught crawdads and lightning bugs and minnows. We fished. We frolicked. WE HAD SO MUCH FUN.

This morning was rough. The girls were all enthusiastic enough, but I wasn't. I could see straightaway that juggling all four of them was going not going to be easy, and that difficulty was going to be compounded by the fact that my heart just wasn't in it. It's not that I don't want to homeschool though... it's just that I don't want this season to end.

I know you can't appreciate summer without winter, I know all the poetic junk about the changing seasons and beauty in the year round and yadda yadda yadda... But I want this...

 and this...

And THIS... keep going. Sweaty afternoon naps, climbing trees, all meals outside, reading story books all day long without worrying about whether or not we can keep carrying and borrowing straight, or count by twos and fives and tens. It was a good, good summer and I'm sad to see it go.

Well, there will of course be external factors to move me along. Fall will arrive. That will get us more in the mood to cozy down with our school books and learn our multiplication tables over mugs of hot chocolate. We'll be traveling to Boston in October and that will be an incredibly fun and educational trip. There will be plenty of nature walks and animal science and outdoor time the year round, so I shouldn't be so down. And I love homeschooling, I really do. I love to see my kids thrive and be so creative and eager to learn. They ask so many questions, and because it's just us, we can get answers together right away. We can spend as much time as we want on one question, learning everything we can, because we have the freedom to explore within our learning. "Limitless Exploration Learning" is what homeschooling could be called. The other day on the walk home from Mass we turned off onto the Heritage Trail that runs along the Wabash River. We didn't go far, but we foraged and identified a lot of different trees and plants and read the plaques about the history of the trail and the bridges over the river. Yesterday we went to play at the creek and we talked about the Battle of Tippecanoe as we visited the actual battlefield and the memorial there. (We also made multiple trips into the Nature Center, because Anja is completely obsessed and can't stay out! We stayed watching the birds until they closed!) Homeschooling truly is a "learning all the time" endeavor, which is why people are attracted to it, and I just need to remind myself of why I love it and choose it for my family. Also, reading Jonathan Bean's "This is my Home, This is my School," picture book to myself today really helped. It made me realize that if I didn't live this sort of life, I would read a book like that and wish that I DID. (But I do! So all is well!)

See, just writing this out is making me look forward more to the school year ahead! I knew there could be some good in complaining on the internet.

A happy new school year to you all.

Friday, August 5, 2016


The girls and I had such a fun day today. We met up with our friends early in the morning and caravanned up North to where our other friends live and spent the day all together at the Indiana Dunes. I love the Dunes. We really only end up making it up there once a year, but every time we go, no matter the weather or season, we have a fantastic time. It's fun to be able to give my kids a beachy experience despite the fact that we are actually landlocked. It's also neat to be able to stand on the beach and see the city of Chicago in the distance. Lake Michigan is important to us more recently because of reading Holling C. Holling's Paddle to the Sea last year in our schooling. Today Greta found a little red plastic tomahawk in the water and she wondered aloud through many scenarios of it's origins, no doubt inspired by good old Paddle.

Between our families we had eleven children ages 2-9 years and it was a liiiiiiittle bit frazzling at times keeping track of everybody. But it was so worth it.

Even the drive up there wasn't too bad. It takes only about 90 minutes on the interstate to get from home to Lake Michigan, but today it started to rain so we took a back route through a small town. It was really beautiful; lots of homesteads and cottage-style houses, in what I feel like are some of the original “suburbs” of the nation.  (I don't know if they really are, but that's what my imagination says they are.) 

Yesterday Martin and I had been talking about cars and roads. We were wondering about the morality of driving cars. (I know, we sound like loons. But until we actually refuse to drive cars and believe they are wicked, I don't think we're completely off our rockers yet!) When you think of cars these days, it comes along with the fact that everybody's in a hurry. Everyone needs to get somewhere, and they need to get there FAST. It's so important for us to get places quickly that we will literally risk our lives and the lives of our passengers to make it happen. Today we didn't caravan back home—my kids were slow to get in their car seats and I was slow to leave, so our friends went on ahead of us. I decided to take the interstate the whole way back because I don't really know my way through the small towns of The Region, so I jumped on I-94. And I-94 WANTED TO KILL ME.

I kid you not, I was driving above 70mph and I was the slowest vehicle on the road. It was hands down the most stressful thing I've done in a really, really long time, INCLUDING having to squeeze a newborn kitten's head through a cardboard tube of washi tape after he crawled into it and got stuck. (that was yesterday. I seriously thought I was going to pull his head off, but he survived with no injury.) I can't even tell you how scary it was for me to drive on a packed, zoomy, ridiculous road like that. I AM A PEDESTRIAN, PEOPLE. I DON'T DO FAST DRIVING.

But that's not why I'm morally against cars. (haha! Kidding! I'm not really... not yet.) It's not because I personally am afraid of them. It's because I risked the lives of my kids to be able to have a fun day with our friends. Now, on the one hand, without a car at all, it couldn't have happened. However, I really feel that driving, like so much of the world, has gotten kind of out of control. The “progress” of speed in the vehicle industry is not necessarily a good thing. The “progress” of so many roads, while I realize they create jobs, allow spread out friends and family to see each other, etc., is encouraging people to spend more time in cars, to live farther away from each other, because—why not? Zip, zip! I can be anywhere I want in a flash! If we took life more slowly, we still could have driven to the Dunes today and had a fun, full day. We could have made it a three+ hour drive rather than ninety minutes and had just as great of a time. If we could just slow down.

While we were gone, Martin occupied himself by starting fires with bow drills and hand drills and foraging plants and stuff. He was going to go fishing, but decided not to because the creek he was going to fish in is labeled a 5 for fish eating safety, which translates to “DO NOT EVER EAT FISH FROM THIS WATERWAY OR YOU WILL PROBABLY DIE ON THE SPOT.” How gross is that? And how depressing is it that we as people of industry and progress have made it to be that way? Our “progress” on land had made it so that we cannot safely harvest food from natural sources. This does not seem right to me. This does not sound like progress.

I could, admittedly, live about an hour if I had to forage all my food and water. I can imagine myself going “hunting” and throwing a stick at a rabbit, then dying of a panic attack when I didn't kill it. (Or did! Really, either result would bring panic!) And if I didn't die of the panic attack, I'd just eat something poisonous. Plant ID is not my forte. Luckily, I married a guy who could live totally comfortably well into his old age as a hunter-gatherer. Except, it doesn't matter how much skill or knowledge you have if your edibles are not healthy to consume. There is a sign along the riverbank downtown that warns of sewage overflow in the event of heavy rains and flooding. That's disgusting. I generally allow my kids to eat sorrel when they find it. But when we find sorrel along the riverbank growing near a sign the warns of sewage overflow? Um, that's gross.

And that's not progress.

I don't even know what we can do about it. You can't really undo industrial progress. You can't surprise workers all over the planet by sneaking a wild edible pamphlet into their paycheck envelope and saying “good luck.” You can't just tell people we aren't going to drive cars anymore. I know so many areas of society are trying to repair the damage we've done, but I don't really see it being able to happen. Sadly.

I don't know. Maybe I'm becoming an extremist. Maybe I've been Earthing too much and all those electro-energy molecules are traveling from the soles of my feet up to my brain and turning me into a hardcore radical nature preserver of the worst kind. Maybe you'll see me in the bushes along I-94 sometime soon wearing clothes made only of leaves tied together with homemade nettle fiber cordage, throwing free-range eggs at cars.

Okaaaay, probably not. You'll more likely see me in the Aldi parking lot (where I park my fossil fuel powered vehicle) and trade me my cart for a quarter. But you never can tell what the future holds, and I think Aldi does carry free-range eggs.

Time to go wash the sand out of my hair.