Wednesday, December 31, 2008

They're here...

Change always comes bearing gifts.  ~Price Pritchett

Oh my goodness, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself!  The seed and hatchery catalogs have started to arrive and it's like Christmas morning all over again.  I know that I must restrain myself and use the reasoning side of my brain in order to keep things in check. But the dreamy, romantic side of my brain is simply having a field day.  It's simply remarkable that, in the midst of a frosty winter landscape which shows no life at all, I can full well imagine our grounds bursting with green, dancing with blossoms and oozing delicious edibles.  I'm allowing myself the pleasure that pouring over the pages and pictures provides.  I'm not sure what I enjoy more, the pictures of lush vegetables in full rainbow color or the lovely descriptions of feather and fowl.  Who wouldn't want the following arriving at their doorstep??

"PURPLE PERUVIAN--A treasured, traditional variety from the Andean Highlands.  Unique purple skin and glowing purple flesh, the most extreme purple available.  This variety is ideally used for roasting, then cut open to reveal the stunning color.  Hard to find."

"ROMAN CANDLE--Spectacular smooth iridescent yellow fruits that are 2" wide by 4" long.  Very meaty with nice flavor.  One of the few pure-yellow banana-shaped fruits available to gardeners.  Great for making salsa base or tomato sauce."

"MOON & STARS--The medium-sized oval dark green fruits are covered with pea-sized bright yellow "stars" and usually one larger "moon."  The fruits have sweet pink flesh and brown seeds."

Purple potatoes!  Yellow tomatoes!  Melons whose rind looks like the night sky!  If I'm not careful, I will have to make eating a full time job once these babies are in the ground!
And then there are the chickens.
There are the Bantams, with names like Brahma, Sultan, Blue, Belgian Bearded d'Uccle...
or the the Rocks with names like Black Australorps and Rhode Island Red.  Each variety sounds better than the last and soon I find myself scheming to make fresh eggs a cash crop for this family.
And I haven't even begun my goat search in earnest, yet. 

After some of the initial excitement and euphoria begins to calm down I'm struck by the place of amazing privilege from which I pour over these catalogs.  I'm not acquiring a flock of chicks out of necessity, as if my year's supply of protein depended on it.  Rather, I'm choosing to because I can. Understand this, John and I are consciously deciding to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle within which we are more fully involved in our food production and sustenance.  But we don't have to do this.  Our culture doesn't immediately demand that we do this.  In fact, our culture looks upon such choices as "quaint" and as some necessary link to our agrarian past that others continue for the sake of posterity.  And that, my friend, is privilege. But I believe that our culture should embrace such choices in a bigger way.  Not that everyone must get "back to the land" or else.  Obviously, cities are an important part of our culture and survival.  However, it shouldn't have to be all or nothing.  If we are not in a place to pack it up and move to the country, we should be better about supporting those who are already there, growing food and raising animals in ways that honor creation and provide for numbers greater than themselves.  

Now, a confession, put forth in the spirit of full disclosure.  I am no better than anyone when it comes to this.  I talk all big about supporting the local food movement and making conscious decisions regarding our food and such but the ugly truth of the matter is this... I've been grocery shopping at WalMart.  Yes, folks, it's true.  The person who used to "consciously reject" MalWart, the place to buy useless crap, is now realizing that I was so easily able to do that because I lived in an urban setting where the WalMarts of the world were restricted to the suburbs, too far away from me to justify the savings.  

And now, here I am.  Stuck in a conundrum.  How do I adjust to a new job situation that demands strict budgetary decisions in the midst of an increasingly ugly economy?  How can I make the best choices regarding nutrition and wholistic living patterns with less money than we had previously, when we weren't as concerned with the consequences?  Seriously, what is a person to do when every food item put in the grocery cart costs, at minimum, 25% less, if not 50-75% less, than other options?  I suppose one obvious answer is--EAT LESS!  Point taken.  But when it comes to what is required, what should I do?

That is why John and I want to move towards growing more of our own food so that we aren't continually put in the situation where we are forced to compromise our values because we have no sustainable alternative.  But it won't be easy.  We don't yet know how to can or preserve food in order to make what we grow in the summer last until the next crop becomes available. Is a root cellar simply a romantic throw back to the past that would only be more trouble than it's worth?  Do I really believe that we could keep fruits and vegetables through the winter?  Am I willing to do it?

It's just so interesting that what goes around always seems to come around, again.  What is most frustrating is that we don't have any close models with whom we could  apprentice and absorb all of this information.  Sure, my mother has memories of going to her aunts' farm in the rural South, ages ago.  But she was a young city girl and those experiences were more like summer camp.  In fact, after she recalls the fondness of her memories, she then recalls the experiences via the voices of her aunts, and those stories are retold with a bit of the bite and harshness that colored those incredible women's experiences.  

As John and I attempt to move in these new directions we will, ironically, be mostly forging new ground for ourselves.  But our hope and prayer is that we will honor those that have gone before us--those who grew their own food and raised their own animals because that was the natural order of things, those who did such things from a place of necessity, not a place of privilege.

Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things…I am tempted to think…there are no little things.  Bruce Barton

Monday, December 29, 2008

Love comes in all shapes

"Childhood is the world of miracle or of magic: it is as if creation rose luminously out of the night, all new and fresh and astonishing."
Eugene Ionesco

I've just finished putting the boys to sleep.  I'm not sure what happened along the did bedtime morph into this incredibly long, drawn out routine?  When Aidan was younger, even while he was still nursing, I could place him in bed awake, whisper goodnight and walk away.  I suppose things started changing when August came along.  Putting two kids to bed is an entirely different story, especially if they are in different stages of nurturing.  So what had once been very efficient and routine suddenly became, well... not so efficient and routine.  Then, when August joined Aidan in the "Big" bed, I suddenly became a central (literally, me lying in the middle of the bed) part of the whole going to sleep thing.  Now, the boys simply don't go to sleep unless someone joins them.  

I have found that, rather than rant and rave about how it is high time that they learn to go to bed on their own or that they should be less dependent on me or whatever other argument I could put forth about how this is ridiculous, it is much better to just succumb to the arrangement.  Note that I did not say easier.  No, that would be the definition of passive parenting, in my opinion... finding the easier way through a situation rather than a better way.  No, I have not found lying down with my boys every night to be easier.  But what I have found, especially after tonight, is that it is richer.

Aidan has always been a little lover and I fear the day that I am no longer his Sun.  His deep affection and loving admiration for me knows no bounds and I am, for once, not foolish enough to let that go by without complete and utter relish.  After a day of lavish compliments and long, thoughtful looks in my direction, his day is complete just to be tucked in very deliberately and then gently snuggled.  He falls asleep in record time.

August is simply full to bursting, all of the time.  He is animated, whimsical, fully of energy and alive-- all day long.  For anyone who lives with such a person on a daily basis, you know full well that such energy doesn't simply turn off at the end of the day.  August must lull himself to sleep with varying degrees of energy expenditure, each one a bit smaller than the one before, so that eventually he simply falls asleep.  These "expenditures" range from large movements of his arms and legs to more intimate overtures, like patting my hair or cupping my face in his hands.  
And from just that loveliness is where I have just now returned.  As I lay there with Aidan quietly snoring towards my back and August caressing my face with his pudgy, yet slowly lengthening hands, I couldn't help but marvel--
marvel at the gift of darkness to hide my imperfections
marvel at the quiet that comes only at night and manages to stir my imagination
marvel at the magic that two boys can work on my heart.  

I am so much richer in heart when I leave my boys' bedroom each night.  The way that each of them choose to love me at the end of their day is so very unique and so reflective of their personalities.  And, by some miraculous twist of fate, their uniqueness is spun from some of the same fiber from which I am spun and thus, the dance goes on, day after day.  I give to them, they give to me.  I love them, they love me.  Oh, I humbly pray that this miracle of God-spun grace and loveliness that weaves anew in me everyday would never end.  I will die the richest person in the world if it be so.

"Truly wonderful the mind of a child is."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

When I get a little money, I buy books;
and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.
 ~ Desiderius Erasmus 1466-1536 ~

So in the midst of all of the hullabaloo...  the new job, the crazy month of October where we lived part time in Jefferson City while we looked for a place to settle into, the acquisition of our stuff from storage that we hadn't seen in almost a year, the ceaseless unpacking and repositioning of said stuff... in the midst of all of this, the boys and I have managed to ease into a pattern of learning that does have it's more formal moments.  I hesitate, because our idea of "formal" probably still looks very much unformal to those whose school experience wasn't at home or, if it was at home, had an experience that more closely resembled a traditional school setting.  For us, our more formal moments are simply the times when we are focusing on acquiring the skills in which Aidan simply needs my help.  The current focus right now is Reading.  We are using a book titled Phonics Pathways and it is perfect for us. It is simple, straightforward and proceeds at a pace that has Aidan reading sentences early on.  My reading background was heavy on phonics and I must say, it has served me well.  I don't remember being taught phonics in terms of drills or flash cards or anything of the sort.  I just know that I know the concept.  Dictionary phonetic spellings make perfect sense to me and I wanted Aidan to have that skill.  The interesting twist in all of this is that Aidan is naturally a whole language kind of guy.  When left to his own devices, he does not naturally lean towards trying to sound out words.  Instead, he is scanning the page for clues and such, hoping to figure out the words by way of context.  I'm hoping that between his natural tendencies and the phonics training he will come out of this learning phase with a good base on which to build his reading life.  I've always believed that once Aidan could read for himself, we would never see him again.  I hope that belief holds true.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A new beginning

The best things in life are nearest:  Breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of right just before you.  Then do not grasp at the stars, but do life's plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things in life.  ~Robert Louis Stevenson

Well, it has been way too long since I last posted and so very much has changed.  I'm not quite sure why I stopped posting.  Perhaps it was because I kept feeling that maybe, just maybe, we were on the cusp of change and I wanted it all to fall into place before I did any more documenting.  But that was faulty thinking.  I now realize more clearly that life really is a culmination of all the little moments that make up the day.  And though it may seem that some of those moments are incredibly mundane or aggravating or uninteresting, they are all part of what is thrown into the mix that I eventually hope to look back on and claim as good, indeed.  So rather than belabor the point and rant on and on about how lame I am for not writing, I will simply pick up the metaphoric pen and start again.

After ten months of searching, John was offered a job with the Attorney General's Office of Missouri.  As much as we were thrilled with the opportunity and knew that we had to accept it, we were slightly disappointed at its location.  Jefferson City is where we now call home and although it is proving to be a perfectly lovely town, it is further from St. Louis than we were aiming for when looking for employment and places to settle down.  But we, and everyone who is dear to us, knew deep down that this was where we were to go.  So we took the leap and we now find ourselves the proud owners of an 1836 limestone and wood frame farm house on the outskirts of Jefferson City, Missouri.  I think its funny that it was the modern phenomenon of Craig's List that led us to this forever old house, but it only makes for an even better story in our history.  We fall in love with the house over and over again, despite its draughty corners and squirrels in the attic, and we look forward to welcoming our friends and family into its fold.  Our latest entertainment is dreaming about the Spring, seed catalogs, cold frames and greenhouses made from recycled windows, goats and chicks and geese (to scare away the fox, according to Aidan), small kitchen herb gardens and landscaping for wildlife in general.  I'll have to muse more on that later.
Anyway, I hope I will find myself meditating and composing thoughts in this space on a regular basis.  And my other hope is that it will provide another place for me to connect with folks on a deeper level than Facebook can provide.  I'm glad to be back.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Fishing with Dad

Yet another benefit to unemployment—fishing. John’s been itching to go fishing for quite awhile now and, although, trout season opened months ago, it’s been hard to imagine fishing in the cold weather we’ve had until recently. But since we have been having more mild temperatures more consistently, John was ready to get started. Since it was going to be just him with the boys he decided to go to a park close by that has a nice size lake (fortunately for us, there are several of those near us). That way, if the going got rough, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to come home. Both John and Aidan were successful but August, not so much. When I asked John why he thought August didn’t catch anything, especially since he had told me about all the fish that people around them were catching, John’s response was, “Well, you have to keep the hook in the water long enough to catch something.” Fair enough. Evidently, August was more interested in catching the baby ducklings that were waddling all around rather than in fishing. Each to his own, I suppose.

The bird that you see pictured is a black crowned night heron that stayed perched above the boys as they fished. Kind of a haunting figure, to say the least.

And the egg next to Aidan’s hand is one, of many duck eggs that were littered all around the edge of the lake. Evidently, it’s the birthing season for the mallards.


I’m beginning to find that, as much as I enjoy birdwatching throughout the entire year, the migratory periods are incredibly thrilling. The surprise of seeing a bird that you almost never get to see is just so much fun. We have had two of these recently here in Missouri. The first was a few mornings ago when my dad sent Aidan in to get me with the message that there was a bird outside that my dad had never seen before. That was enough to get me moving because there are few birds in the world that my dad has never seen before. Out in front of the house a small bird had mistakenly flown smack into the window and was sitting stunned on the sidewalk. When Aidan and I joined dad outside, the small bird actually let my dad pick him up and hold him in his hand. We were able to get right up to him and examine him at close range. We knew instantly that this was something out of the ordinary because he looked so different from any other bird that we were accustomed to. About a minute after my dad picked him up, the bird flew to a little tree right next to the house and just sat there on a limb, obviously gaining back some strength but also not ready for any extended flying. It was then that I ran in and grabbed my camera. I was able to get some fairly decent pictures of him but they don’t do his beautiful colors justice. He was the sweetest little bird. His size was a little larger than a wren, but not much. He ended up hanging out on that tree limb for about 30 minutes or so and then he finally flew away. Before we started looking in the bird books my dad and I both ventured a guess as to what he was. We both, probably not surprisingly, guessed that he was either some sort of a warbler (because they are common migrators) or a vireo. It was helpful having the picture of him to compare with the drawings in the bird book. I am very proud to share that we were right in our educated guess. What you see above is a common yellow throat warbler.

Our other migratory spotting has been a clan of rose breasted grosbeaks (we’ve now counted three pairs, male and female) that have essentially hunkered down in the backyard and proceeded to eat continually of our bountiful supply of safflower seed for the last three days. They must have one long leg of their journey left that they are beefing up for. That’s fine with us because they are beautiful to watch.


We recently made the rounds to some garage sales. Now, we are not “regulars” in the garage sale world but that might just have to change. We set out with the intention of finding the boys some warm weather clothes since all of our non-winter clothes are in the back of our storage unit, completely unreachable. (Yes, I was being very optimistic about how long we would be in our temporary living arrangement and thus I didn’t think through the fact that we would need to have access to our stored clothes) Anyway, we set out with that goal however we were quickly derailed. First of all, August has been begging for a soccer ball and we have said off and on that we would get him one “very soon.” Well, soon turned into later and he was not letting us forget it. So, we picked up a real leather soccer ball for 75¢. But then we stumbled across a microscope set that came with all but two or three pieces of the very extensive accoutrements. It was $4. Trying to take on the attitude of a veteran bargain shopper (since I’m still practicing) I quickly determined that $4 was most definitely too much to pay for a garage sale microscope. For crying out loud, weren’t people trying to get rid of this stuff? They should be giving it away! I put it down and walked away. But as I walked around looking at the endless piles of crap, I never really took my eyes off of the microscope. If I momentarily got distracted by a macramé plant holder or a 1970’s magazine collection and I saw anything that resembled movement in the direction of the microscope, I found my heart rate increasing and my palms sweaty and I would find an excuse to get closer to the “too expensive” microscope. At one point, when I tried to let go of the whole idea of the thing and I imagined someone else taking it home, I almost let out a yelp of heartbreak. This was getting ridiculous. I marched over, picked up the microscope triumphantly and announced to Aidan that we were about to purchase our first piece of science equipment. “Cool!” he said. My earlier feelings of triumph escalated to a full blown coup when, later in the day, while looking through one of his catalogs, Aidan found the exact microscope that we had purchased price listed at $70! The exact microscope! Yea for me!

As you can see from the pictures, both of the boys were very excited to get busy with the equipment. Aidan made it very clear to August that this was his “chemistry set” and that he had to be very careful if he was going to use it. “In fact, I will tell you what you can and can’t play with. There are some very fragile things in here and I don’t want you to break any of it, “ saith the new science nerd, Aidan.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blog Problems

For some reason I am not able to upload pictures to my blog. And since all of my blog entries that I've been working on depend on a picture, I'm going to wait to upload the rest of my entries until this problem is resolved. Thanks for your patience.

Early morning reading

This is quickly becoming one of my favorite sights these days. Many a morning, usually right after breakfast and while I’m drinking my second cup of coffee, the boys will slip out of the kitchen and busy themselves with a quiet activity of some sort. I might peek my head around the doorway and find them looking at their wildlife cards or setting up a game of checkers. But more often than not, I find them looking at books. And usually, they are sharing a book and Aidan is “reading” the story to August or, as is the case with his nature magazines, explaining the pictures and concepts to him. It’s wonderful to see Aidan reinforcing what he has learned by turning around and sharing that information with August. There is something about this time of day, too, that just lends itself to this gentle and patient interaction between the two boys. Almost a “golden hour” of sorts.

And I am so thankful.

Thankful for the gift of being able to ease into our days with routines that are quiet and calm, not hectic and frenzied. Thankful for the gift of time that allows us the opportunity to determine what we do next rather than being directed by another’s imposed schedule.

Such is the gift of unemployment, I suppose. And, believe me, I am daily looking for the gifts that lie hidden within this time of waiting and watching. Since the boys and I have had the pleasure of John’s presence for the last four months we have also had the unique opportunity to weave the patterns of our days together. I’m growing awfully fond of having John with us and it will be a huge adjustment when he is away from the house for large chunks of time during the day. It has caused me to think about how this time of transition is having a big impact on my understanding of our family’s approach to homeschooling. Although the plan has been for John to be the primary wage earner while I take on the bulk of the homeschooling responsibilities, our experience of being together a lot has caused me to stop looking at it as so cut and dry. As our days play out I find that it’s not always that I will be this pivotal figure that will make things happen. When we are simply living, things are happening. Our choice to homeschool is really becoming a lifestyle choice. The incredible truth is this: the four of us really enjoy being together and in that togetherness, we also manage to engage in both individual and communal activities. So we find ourselves, more often than not, trying to figure out how to fashion our days so that we can be together as much as possible.

One would think that all this togetherness would be enough to drive a person crazy. And there are moments when that is true. But most moments find me incredibly grateful for all that I have been given. May it only continue to be so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Why we need a creek

If there is magic on the planet, it is contained in the water.
- Loren Eisley

So, in all of our musings about what kind of house we might want or where we might want to get some land, the boys and I have held fast to one small prayer request:

“God, wherever you lead us, please give us a good climbing tree.”

Our appeal is pure and simple. We just want to climb. And perch. And gaze at the clouds through the leaves. And daydream. A tree fit to hold a house or fort would be an abundant gift. And two trees in close proximity that would allow for the hanging of a hammock—paradise!

Well, today, the boys and I came up with one more request, if we might be so bold.

“One more thing, God… a creek would be fantastic!”

It started with our visits to various natural areas. The draw to the water was undeniable. And the need to throw things into said water, irresistible. I began to realize that if my boys could just have access to water, they might never ask to watch television again. It has now become one of my requirements for where we settle down.

Today, we tried to satisfy our hunger for a water source by going to the park near my parent’s house. This is the same park where we had our awesome sledding adventures earlier in the year. It’s a wonderful park, with a great playground, lots of open fields, a winding path throughout, and a “creek.” I use the term loosely, since it is mainly a large storm drain that is fed by the surrounding neighborhood’s gutters. But I believe that, originally, there was some natural flowing of water that took place near and around the existing “creek.” To my boys in their current suburban setting, however, it is definitely a creek. And when you climb down among the bushes and rocks and flowing water and block the nearby houses from your view, you can imagine that you our smack dab in the middle of Mark Twain National Forest. That’s what we did this afternoon.

This is what we observed:

*Newly arrived Catbirds drinking from little pools of water

*Large boulders and smaller rocks in the creek bed, chock full of fossils

*A mama squirrel carrying a baby in her mouth in order to relocate her to a new nest

*A Red Tailed Hawk land on a tree just above the above mentioned squirrel nest strategizing how to steal that new baby squirrel (the mama squirrel was able to keep the hawk at bay)

*A daddy cardinal singing his heart out—the boys have now learned his song by heart and can recognize it just by hearing it

*That creek water in the middle of April is very cold—but it is still worth it to “accidentally” slip your foot into the water so that you can just take your shoes off and get wet with abandon

It was a good day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wetlands for Kids Day

This past weekend John, Grandpa, Aidan, August and I visited the August A. Busch (Yes, Aug-Dog’s namesake!) Memorial Conservation Area to participate in the Wetlands for Kids event, sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and Ducks Unlimited (DU). The event aims to “introduce children to various aspects of the natural world.” For us, most of what we saw was not our first introduction, but we could still enjoy ourselves and learn some things along the way. We saw live birds of prey, snakes, frogs, and turtles. We watched retriever dogs demonstrate their fetching abilities and we sampled some delicious fried catfish caught right from a Missouri river. The boys explored a mock beaver lodge and finally (and to the boys great delight), they got to muck around a lakeshore with nets and look for creatures (we netted two little peepers). Just before we left home, I decided to bring their rain boots and an extra pair of pants. It has been so rainy and I figured there was a high probability that mud would be rampant. I didn’t realize that wading on the shore of a lake was a possibility, so when the opportunity presented itself and I whipped out their boots, well, it made me look like the most prepared mom in the world! (What’s the saying… you can fool some of the people some of the time…?!) I was just so glad for the boys that they could just stomp on in to the muddy mess and not be distracted by the damage they were doing to their clothes. Okay, I was glad that I wouldn’t be distracted by the damage they were doing to their clothes!

If you look at Aidan’s head in the picture you’ll notice the free hat he received when registering for his Ducks Unlimited Greenwing membership. He and August both got one and boy, were they excited. I guess we can officially live in the country now since my boys are the proud owners of camouflage hats!

My digital camera

These pictures aren’t recent, they are from our last snowstorm in March but I forgot to post them back then. I wanted to share some of the beautiful photos that my camera enables me, who has no photographic training whatsoever, to take. There are certain buttons I can push and certain angles that I can position myself in that will then, miraculously, cause shots like these limbs covered in ice crystals to emerge. All from my beloved little digital camera that I dropped on the driveway--which popped off the button you must push in order to take pictures—which now requires me to push a toothpick into a teeny exposed hole, where the aforementioned button used to be, simply in order to be able to take a picture. Amazing.

I still want a digital Canon Digital Rebel XT. But that's another story.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Well, this year, we decided to give natural dyes a go for our Easter eggs. It was fun researching what items might lend themselves to various colors and we decided to keep it simple. We chose yellow onion skins, beets, spinach, blueberry juice and coffee. We put the onion skins, beets and spinach each in its own saucepan, covered it with water to about half an inch over the bunch and then brought it to a low boil for about 30 minutes. The only uncooperative ingredient was the spinach so, after about an hour of boiling and simmering and still no real color, we added some tumeric to make a yellowish-green color. The onion skins and beets fared beautifully. The blueberry juice came from a can of blueberries that we planned to use in muffins, so we simply strained off the juice and kept the blueberries. We didn’t do anything to the juice but add some water to thin it out. And the coffee dye was made by simply dumping old coffee grounds into hot water. We then placed all of the dyes into separate stainless steel bowls, added our eggs and then placed them in the refrigerator overnight.

The next morning, we pulled the eggs out of the dye and were pleasantly surprised at our final product. In the picture above, going clockwise and starting with the dark orange colored eggs, you see the results of the onion skins, blueberry juice, beets, coffee grounds and the spinach/tumeric mixture. By far, the most visually interesting were the blueberry eggs. The way the different eggs took the dye made for very random patterns with an almost etched appearance, in places. Perhaps the most surprising color was the orange from the onion skins. The picture doesn’t do its richness and depth much justice but they were truly beautiful.

When reflecting on the experience I kept trying to figure out why I enjoyed these eggs so much. They looked nothing like eggs I’ve dyed in the past and, in fact, differed greatly from colors that we traditionally associate with Easter. But then it came to me. The colors of these eggs were so satisfying. I think there was something magic in pulling out a color that was hidden within these foods I see on a regular basis. It was like watching a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis after having watched the caterpillar spin itself away. Of course, the caterpillar had an allure and color of its own, but lurking within was beauty unknown. Perhaps there is something of a lesson for me among these revelations. What beauty lies within me, untapped and unknown?

“Earth’s crammed with heaven.”

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Kite Flying

"Today is the day when bold kites fly,
When cumulus clouds roar across the sky.
When robins return, when children cheer,
When light rain beckons spring to appear.

Today is the day when daffodils bloom,
Which children pick to fill the room,
Today is the day when grasses green,
When leaves burst forth for spring to be seen."
- Robert McCracken, Spring

This past Friday provided a most typical March day. Full of the kind of sunshine that foreshadows the sweetness of Spring while also staying true to its roots—full of wind. We knew bad weather was coming so we took off for a really neat park less than two miles from my parents’ house. Laumeier Sculpture Park is large with walking trails throughout. The trails lead you to sculptures of varying sizes and styles, all placed in a natural setting. The picture above is one sculpture that I particularly liked. One of the neatest features of the park, in my opinion, is its accessibility. The majority of the trails are paved and all of the sculptures have a miniature version set on a pedestal with Braille descriptions. Aidan thought that was pretty cool, himself.

We went to one of the bigger, open fields and attempted to fly our kites. We found that we have been spoiled over the years by flying kites at the beach. That isn’t work at all. The sea breezes pick up your kite and take over. Our experience here was, despite the gusting March winds, sustained wind is your friend when kite flying. Otherwise, you are running, a lot. Oh, well. We got the kites up for a little bit and then just proceeded to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. And the sculptures.

Swiss Chard

I just had to take a picture of this beautiful vegetable. The striking red stems burst with so much color that they simply can’t contain themselves, spilling their joy and lifeblood into the leaves, as well. Color is playing a more important role in my enjoyment of vegetables and these days, it seems the brighter, the better. The Halloween orange of the sweet potato…ahh! The verdure of spring asparagus…heaven! And my new favorite vegetable, one that I couldn’t stand to have pass before my nose as a child, the blood red/purple beet…simply looking at its beating center makes me happy, truly!

I long for the days when these vegetables are a part of my own landscape--for the summers when the sunburned red of tomatoes will fill my window sills or when the lovely mix of inky black compost and summer squash coat my kitchen sink.

These images, both of my present and future dinner plate, fill my heart with a contentment that is new to me. When I muse about what life could be like for John, Aidan, August and myself—simple country living, growing our own food, living and learning together—I feel so grounded. As if I am being pulled closer to the dust from which I came while simultaneously being nudged from above into a life groove most befitting my true self.

May I only be worthy of such a calling.

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.

One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery,

and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Snow Day

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Robert Frost

Remember, I said Spring was coming soon. Obviously, it’s not here yet.

March seems to be roaring in like a lion, that’s for sure. Yes, the weekend was unseasonably warm but it was also incredibly windy. It’s apparent, now, that the wind was the harbinger, not of spring, but of something else entirely.

As the picture indicates, we received something around 9 inches of snow. As it fell, you truly felt as if you had woken up and found yourself inside a giant snow globe (thank you Leah for that perfect description). The flakes were huge, heavy and dense and most of all, they were relentless. Some areas even experienced thunder snow, which is a weather phenomenon that is remarkable to behold. We watched with wonder as each hour passed, and we began to believe that it might just snow forever. We ventured out on two different occasions, both of which involved shoveling the driveway. This snow, unlike the last storm, did not make for great sledding in our yard and the roads were not yet at a stage where we felt we could drive to the great sledding hill. So instead, we just all kind of did our own thing in the snow.

I always just love to stand and listen. The quiet that the snow ushers in is of an almost holy quality and one that I revel in, every time. After awhile, the birds got used to me being there and they would venture back to the feeders, within feet of me. At one point, you could see the tracks from the bunny that lives under my parents’ deck, but then they disappeared under the continuous accumulation. This was a snow day to the umpteenth degree.

We finished off the afternoon with some homemade snow ice cream, made by John. It was delicious!

Spring has 16 more days before it is required to show up. We'll see.

A day at the park

Earth, my dearest, I will. Oh believe me, you no longer
need your springtimes to win me over - one of them,
ah, even one, is already too much for my blood.
Unspeakably, I have belonged to you, from the first.
- Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, 9th, 1923

This past weekend was so beautiful that we decided to take the boys out to Susan Park. This is a St. Louis County park that has a very large fishing pond as well as a couple of barns that house an assortment of farm animals. We were able to get a good look at several horses, one of which was the biggest yet friendliest draft horses I’ve ever seen, cows, Shetland ponies, sheep and a couple of goats. One of the goats was so pregnant that when you viewed her from either the front or the back you could watch the kid/s moving within her belly. AWESOME! I tell you. I then realized that it was about this time, twenty years ago, that I spent a week at Heifer Project in Arkansas at the height of the goating season and was witness to dozens of goat births. I still point to that week as the seed that grew into my calling to midwifery.

The boys were drawn to the water. They spent most of their time throwing things into it, fishing things out of it or jumping over rivulets of it. Aidan, at one point, leaping as he ran, told me that the air was “like heaven.” Amen, brother. It was good to soak up the sunshine, feel the wind on my cheek and know that spring is coming… soon.

Maple Syruping

I’m a little behind on posting, so please forgive me for this delayed blog.

Last week we did, what I guess you could call, our first “official” homeschool activity. Even though we are not doing anything official, in any capacity whatsoever, resembling homeschooling, this was an opportunity that we absolutely didn’t want to miss--especially since it is so dependent on the season. Another added bonus was that John was able to attend with us so it was truly a family event.

Missouri has an incredible Department of Conservation that is very committed to education and has wonderful programs, for all ages. It was one of these programs, named one of their “Homeschool Specials,” that we attended—Maple Syruping. As a family, we have always been partial to real maple syrup on our pancakes and waffles and, although it is clearly more expensive, the authentic taste is beyond compare. So, we were very excited to be able to learn all about the process and hopefully be brought closer to the source of our beloved sweetner.

The demonstration was held on one of the Conservation Department’s numerous natural areas, which are protected by law and maintained by the Department. It was only a 30 minute drive from the house which was wonderful. We learned how to identify sugar maples and that cold nights and warmer days make for the best harvesting of sap. Our particular morning was certainly cold. The previous night’s low was 24 and by 11:30 or so, it was just barely 32 degrees. The rest of the week would bring warmer temperatures though and we couldn’t help but think that it was definitely “sugaring” weather.

We then walked over to the “sugar bush” which is the area where the tapping of the trees is most numerous. There were probably about 10-12 trees with buckets hanging from them. We were all asked to go retrieve a bucket and from all of our buckets we only managed to yield one gallon of sap. The sap looks like water, thin and clear, and in fact, is about 97% water. Because of its high water content, it takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. We were then shown the process of boiling down the sap over an evaporator. It is an incredibly labor intensive job, taking about an hour in the evaporator for every gallon of sap you are boiling. I have a whole new appreciation for this product and I no longer feel that the price is exorbitant but rather it is reflective of the time and energy invested in the glorious finish. It makes me wonder why it doesn’t cost even more, honestly.

Our last stop was at a picnic table topped with two trays of waffle pieces. Everyone was instructed to sample a piece from each tray and to try and identify which one was dribbled with real maple syrup and which one was clothed with the imposter (aka, Mrs. Butterworth’s). I knew right away but I waited to see what Aidan had to say. He guessed the same as what I was thinking and when I asked him how he knew which one was the real maple syrup, he responded with, “Because it tasted good!” That’s my boy! August, on the other hand, was so pumped to be having waffles in the middle of the day that he just smiled continuously while he munched.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Night Away

Well, John and I decided to take advantage of the grandparents' offer of overnight babysitting and we stole away for 19 hours in order to celebrate our 14th dating anniversary. This anniversary has always been special for us and we usually try to do something special in order to mark it. This year, because it was so last minute, we ended up using Priceline and we got a 4 star hotel room for a VERY good price. As it works with Priceline, you don't know exactly where you will be staying until you purchase the hotel room that meets your specifications and the price that you are willing to pay. We ended up with a room in downtown St. Louis at the Hyatt at Union Station. Although no longer used as a train station, the building has been restored to its original glory and it is a shopping and restaurant center for tourists and residents alike. It was really beautiful, somewhat glamorous, and simply wonderful to get away.

Weaning Day

In ancient writings, the word 'wean' meant 'to ripen" -- like a fruit nourished to readiness, it's time to leave the vine....Weaning was a joyous occasion because a weaned child was valued as a fulfilled child; a child was so filled with the basic tools of the earlier stages of development that [he] graduated to take on the next stage of development more independently. - The Baby Book, Sears and Sears.

Well, we finally arrived at the big day. August's last day of nursing was February 17. He claimed to understand that we would not nurse the next day and he was very excited to have his special cake. In preparing him for his big day, Aidan chimed in to tell August how he, too, had celebrated his weaning day with a cake. (Aidan was 3 years, 4 months old when he weaned--August, 3 years, 2 months old) It touched me so much that Aidan remembered that day and that he would take it upon himself to encourage August in this big step. It was a very big brother thing for him to do. In the second picture above you can see August looking at his brother with an expression that is an equal mixture of pride and admiration. I hope Aidan caught some of its magic, like I did.
Now I have to come to grips with the fact that a child of mine is not dependent on my breasts anymore, for the first time in 5 1/2 years! This weaning process is just as much my experience as it is August's. I was definitely ready to "leave the vine" and I trusted that God would give me the insight to know when it was best for August to leave. So, although it wasn't child led weaning, I do feel like it was relationship led weaning. And you should see this little guy now. He seems to be emboldened by this experience and is showing himself to be even more of an independent guy than we already knew him to be. I will miss the nursing, really I will. But I am incredibly excited about this next phase.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Singing Bird Will Come

If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.

Chinese Proverb

The above picture doesn't indicate such but on this morning we had the freakiest snow shower I have ever witnessed. Some described it as a "snow tornado" as the wind would blow first one direction then in a completely different direction a moment later. It certainly made for an exciting show first thing in the morning. And just as quickly as it blew in, it blew right out, with sunshine on its tail. At its thickest, the snow created a near white out.
In my parents' front yard there is the most interesting flowering tree that, when bare and covered in snow, provides a beautiful contrast in darkness and light. It was on this tree, when the snow was falling at its fiercest, that this cardinal lighted on the deepest branch. And as the snow blew and swirled and threatened to cover the world, the cardinal began to sing. And sing and sing and sing.

Birds sing after a storm; why shouldn't people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?
Rose Kennedy

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Slight Detour

“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a gift of grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful man knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

--From Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side. Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

Leave to your God to order and provide; In every change God faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake to guide the future, as in ages past.

Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake; all now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.

--Be Still, My Soul

It truly is an amazing thing, putting your faith in God. My journey of faith has seen many twists and turns, ups and downs, questions and answers. And the last year and a half of my life has been no exception. Making the decision to move to Missouri has involved much deliberation, discussion and debate. And ultimately, much faith.

I am now beginning to understand, in a new way, why the Lord can be trusted.

This week we learned that my mom has breast cancer. This, we absolutely did not see coming. Why would we have? True, one of the big factors influencing our move was my parents’ known health concerns (my dad’s heart and my mom’s Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, or CLL) but those were, for the most part, issues that weren’t life threatening. Their health concerns were more issues related to general aging and they simply served to remind us that life is short. We wanted to make sure that we could enjoy time with my parents while they still “had their health.” Of course, by moving closer, we would then also be in a position to be more fully involved when and if their health required assistance from others.

Now, suddenly, everything seems to have been put on fast forward.

But I am so grateful.

Grateful for our decision to go ahead and move before John had a job lined up, even though, in some respects, that could be viewed as unwise.

Grateful for my parents’ willingness to take us into their home, despite the close quarters and many sacrifices required on their part.

And simple gratefulness for the everyday minutia that, at times, can seem stifling, but in hindsight, is a comfort and a joy.

Throughout this journey of the past year and a half, when we didn’t know when we would actually move or where we would stay when we got here or where John would work or… the list goes on… I have clung to a verse from Acts 17:26b that reads:

“…and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”

But I think I need to add the verse from the hymn above to my daily mantra:

Leave to your God to order and provide; In every change God faithful will remain.


As much as this move has been hard on many levels, I look at this picture and I remember why we made the decision that we did. “Hanging out” with Grandpa is now an everyday event, not just a seasonal treat. Although August and Grandpa have their differences from time to time—August being his strong willed self and Grandpa being set in his ways—they still have strong affection for one another. When I think about how far apart their life stages are I’m amazed that they are able to connect in as many ways that they do. But that’s the beauty of this little arrangement that we have. My dad brings to the table a lifetime of experiences, both good and bad, that make him an incredible source of stories, lessons and general magic. And Mr. August, well, he just can’t help but infuse every day with electricity and all around mischief and that just serves to help all of us take ourselves a little less seriously. I hope that moments, like the one captured here, are being tattooed onto August’s young brain. They are the stuff that dreams are made of.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Dancing Grandma

Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room. ~Kurt Vonnegut

I can't tell you how much this picture reminds me of my own childhood. There is my Aidan dancing with his grandma, but rewind the clock thirty years and that would have been me and my mom. I still blame my mom for my inability to master social dance as an adult because, although she taught me the jitterbug, the chachacha and the waltz, I was always the "male" to her female. When John and I took a short tango class it was incredibly frustrating because I kept stepping off with the wrong foot, not to mention I was always taking the lead. My grown-up problems notwithstanding, I loved dancing with my mom. She had a song for everything and she would sweep you up in her arms and twirl you around the kitchen while she sang. Now, watching her dance with my two boys, I see that she obviously just can't help but dance. What has been so neat to watch is how her complete lack of self consciousness frees up Aidan to find his dancing feet. And find it he does. We found him doing soft shoe with a cane the other day! What in the world? I hope the confidence he gains from letting his hair down with my mom stays with him for a lifetime.

We ought to dance with rapture that we might be alive... and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. ~D.H. Lawrence

Ahhhh, Lubley's

The above picture is one of the things that I hadn't thought about when weighing all of the reasons why we should move to St. Louis. But if there had been more serious doubts about whether we should relocate, a whiff of gooey butter pecan danishes or cinnamon twists would have sealed the deal, I'm sure. Lubley's, from which we purchased these delectable goodies, was first opened in 1937 in south St. Louis. But in the '50's, a new development in Webster Groves (where I grew up) got the attention of Mr. Lubley and he relocated the business. It is there that they have remained. We have visited them twice now and, believe me, it has taken great restraint to keep from going more often. Our last visit was on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday and, believe me, I left feeling fat alright. I'm sure this is exactly what the Church had in mind for the day before Lent.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Snow Snapshots

Winter Wonderland

In an effort to make our big move more enticing to our boys we went to great efforts to talk about all of the snow they would get to see and play in once we moved to Missouri. We really started sweating it when weeks went by with no sign of snow. And when we heard that Atlanta, GA got snow, well, the boys were about to pack it up and move back with or without us.
Well, this week the big snow finally came. Actually, the biggest snowfall in one day in St. Louis in 15 years. For three days straight, John, Aidan, August and I played in it in every way imaginable. Sledding was by far the favorite activity, but the boys also helped out with the shoveling, as well. We introduced the boys to the glory of a great sledding hill, not far from my parents house, and a new generation of sledders was born. At least as far as Aidan was concerned. He was relentless in his desire to master the hills and experiment with the different sleds that we had at our disposal. But August, our dare devil August who knows no fear, would have nothing to do with sledding. He was content to sit at the top of the hill and watch us have all the fun. Yeah, no sledding for August. And then we learned what the deal was--he was holding out for a snowboard. There were a couple of young boys who were attempting to navigate the bumps and drops of the monstrous hill and August was taking it all in. That's right. August was not going down any hill unless he was on a snowboard. That's our August. None of this pedestrian sledding business, no. Bring on the reckless, daring snowboarding. So, John found an abandoned, broken down plastic sled, cut it up just right, and fashioned August his own "snowboard." Now we have two snow bunnies. Too bad it's already starting to melt.

Finally, a post

Well, seven weeks later... a post. I've been avoiding this for so long because I felt like I had so much to say but it was too overwhelming to imagine getting it all down in a way that made sense, not to mention in a timely manner. But finally I've realized that I can't keep thinking about the great big everything and continue to compose only in my head all of the things that I want to say--and never actually write it down. The greatest novels are products of small, disciplined efforts, not explosive purgings, except maybe for those writers who are mad. And I am definitely not mad, at least not yet.
So, here I am. Not in the emotional state that I imagined I would be at this point, but nevertheless, I'm here.
"Here" is St. Louis, Missouri. In my parents house. It's kind of strange to be without a home of our own. Granted, we shared a home with one or more families for 8 years while living in community and, thus, did not have a home of our own that whole time. But living with your parents is a whole different ball game. And to be living in temporary quarters in the place you moved to in order to start a new phase of life is just, well, weird. I've had temporary quarters before, just like everyone else, but this is different than summer camp or college dorm room "temporary." It really feels like a holding tank. And just like it works when looking through the thick glass of any tank--everything just seems magnified and somewhat distorted. My emotions, my perspective, my well, everything.
So, I'm learning new ways of looking at things. I look at my parents differently now that we live life together 24/7. I now look at this city that I grew up in from the perspective of my experience in Atlanta. And I now look at our future with a new faith, one that is dependent on God for absolutely everything, not just the things that I can't take care of myself.
I'll keep you posted.