Driving from Arizona to New Mexico we stopped in a small town to stretch our legs. We'd traversed already a lot of ground. So many miles of the same kind of terrain--the type of terrain where a cow needs a whole acre to graze just to find enough little blades of grass to survive.
The town had no trees. None. Coming from a landscape architecture background, I am always curious about what grows where, and how a place could be made more beautiful by the world of plants. How could an entire town not have a single tree? Don't these folks know how a tree can change the soil, cool the ambient temperature, absorb pollutants, increase property values, and provide habitat for a broader variety of animal and insect species... I mean!
We left town. I spent about an hour devising how sometime in the strange future I'd go to the town council and propose some change. Trees would save them!
As we continued to travel north, the more I looked, the more I noticed that in New Mexico, folks just live right in the dirt. Walk out the back door and step straight into the dirt. Do the people take their shoes off when they go indoors, like in Japan? Or do they just traipse across the kitchen floor in their boots, stomping dust into the tiles, where it changes the color of the grout from off white, to dirty brown? Why don't they surround their homes with trees to provide shade? Where are the front yards with blooming perennials, mulched to keep the moisture in... Where is the picnic table or fountain in the backyard? The lawn for the kids. The swing hanging from the cottonwood?
At the same time we're driving north, my mind is criticizing the usage of a word that folks are employing more and more... "curate." Have you noticed it too, this word, curate?
Just like when I was pregnant and suddenly I noticed pregnant women all around me, this has been a season for me being triggered by social media curation, "curators" of color, style, aesthetics, and the word is everywhere--used in instagram posts and on blogs, and it's seriously bugging me.
...because we are not museum pieces.
And because words have power.
Even pre-teens these days talk about their "aesthetic." Of how they present themselves to the world. I had a conversation with young girl about her instagram grid, and how she's only willing to post dusty, atmospheric images because she's cultivating an aesthetic that incorporates her clothes, her accessories, even the music she'll share on spotify. She's ten.
We have moved into an age of exhibitionism that hasn't been possible until now. We used to show up in person--all of us--where the friend next to us could see our shoes to our balding heads--where pimples were exposed--our wide hips or knobby knees visible. Those features were difficult to hide. But now?
"Curator." Someone in charge of an exhibit.
"Exhibit." To show publicly, especially for purposes of competition or demonstration; to display something for public inspection.
We traveled all over northern New Mexico. Pecos, Taos, Espanola, Santa Fe, Chimayo. I noticed more trees in the wealthy areas where the houses were much bigger--where the walls were taller, where there was an undercurrent of money and fancy, curated interiors. Places that could be photographed and end up in a magazine. I fought with myself not to like these places better. But they were easier for me to understand and didn't challenge my western worldview... I noticed that about myself.
I'm a critic. As an editor, I'm a critic. As a writer, I am a critic. But because of this training, my critical mind has creeped into criticizing other aspects of life--I fight this urge--to watch a movie and then want to pick it apart. Or listen to a homily, and edit it in my mind while the priest is still talking...
So there I was, criticizing New Mexicans for not "curating" the landscapes around their homes. And there I was, criticizing people for "curating" their social media accounts. What in the world? Man, I have some serious work to do.
So, I'll write a short homily just for me. I'll edit it, too.
Jane, I'm glad you care about words. (...just please don't care too much about how other people use them...)
Jane, maybe living in the dirt is something you should try? It could be the thing that saves you in the end. But I also think that if you move to northern New Mexico, it's okay if you plant a few trees. (...just don't tell anyone else that they should...)
Jane, clearly you need another cup of tea.
I believe we are ever-evolving into who we're meant to be. I am constantly uncovering new parts of myself as I walk one day to the next and experience one thing after another. In our community, we recently lost a valuable friend, who really hit his stride late in life. Father Jon-Stephen, we miss you, and I am inspired by your story.
When we first moved to Santa Barbara over twenty years ago, Father Jon was an assistant pastor, and frankly, he wasn't that good at his job. He was unorganized, didn't like the day-to-day stuff of the church, and was often somewhere else when you wanted him. But a few years into the early 2000's Father Jon found his way. His love for the underserved blossomed as he began a homeless ministry, was ordained a chaplain, started working with the mental health services in our town, and joined a foot patrol. He had a poet's sensibility and a servant's heart--he saw beauty in each and every human--and released from his work behind a desk he sprouted like a young tree, spreading himself over so many who needed shade and prayers and covering. If you're fifty, or sixty, who knows what may come next for you. All of your first fifty years could have been the foundation work for a powerful relay race during your second half of life.
Father battled several ailments as he moved into his early 70's and, from my earthly perspective, we lost him too soon!
We mourn and joyfully celebrate the forty days after his passing today, and because were fortunate enough to witness his coming to life over these last twenty years I didn't want to miss this opportunity to write his name in print and share his giant grin.
The Japanese maple still needs trimming. New chamomile has been planted. Many of you are buried in snow. Zuko is half asleep, facing the open front door, the sun highlighting his beautiful red curls.
I just pray you're well. This past year has brought such heartache to so many--to many who are dear to me--and I wish peace and beauty and healing would descend. Would not filter down, like a light, airy, Colorado snow, but would be hurdled from heaven in the type of dunking that you can't run from. An-almost violent show of love.
Just wanted to say hi. I'm working on picking up my phone when I don't want to. I'm challenging myself to pray for really hard things. And I'm accepting the menopausal, sleepless nights and getting to know lots of saints as I pray for my children at 2am, my friends at 3am, and my neighbors at 4. Typically I'm back to sleep at about 6am, which isn't at all convenient!
How are you, anyway? It's February, going on March. Of 2021. Can you believe it?! I'm just not tracking time very well anymore. I move from my office, where I spend so many hours editing and sometimes writing, to the kitchen for dried apricots and more tea, to a walk around the block. I guess lots of saints have become holy by just moving from their little hut to say hi to the guy next door, to pray in the chapel in the woods, and then they do it all again. I really do want to someday grab a little bit of holiness. I pray that I'm on the right road.
Last news. My husband is fully vaccinated (cause he volunteers at two different hospitals); my parents are half way there, and Zuko could care less about any of it. The birds, too. They whistle their way past all of the pandemic talk. They have recently befriended a scrub jay, and all they want is to be in coversation with the jay. They squawk one thing and the jay squawks something back. It's loud--it's probably about how they'd love to share a meal of peanuts together---not sure--but it's very charming. And meanwhile little towhees bounce around at the bottom of the parakeet's cage, not caring much that they've crossed the line into the house, and snitch all the seeds that Wafer and Wasabe have kicked out of their bowl.
I think I might go to the beach this afternoon for a walk.
Love to you all! Please feel free to write in the comments how you're doing, and if there's anything I could send to you--a letter, a book, a prayer...
Over ten years ago now, my oldest son was just beginning 8th grade and was seeking more independence. We encouraged him to walk or bike the two miles to school to allow him more space and responsibility. It all made logical sense, in theory, but when I kept thwarting his attempts at independence, by picking him up mid-route, or coming up with some after school plan to run errands together, I realized why. It was when I was in 8th grade that the most horrific thing happened in my life. A close friend was killed after walking home from school to an empty house. It took relating the entire event to my priest, something I had never told anyone aside from my husband, for me to work through that old terror, wound, and sadness, and move past my inability to allow my son the additional freedom that was appropriate for his age and emotional growth.
While reading through Healing Your Wounded Soul: Grieving from Pain to Peace I recalled this moment of struggle and then healing from years past. The author of the book, family therapist and Orthodox priest Father Joshua Makoul outlines how, in psychology speak, I had “transferred” my own experience of trauma and placed it upon my son. With grace and patience, using layman’s language, Father Joshua walked me, the reader and someone who has never been to therapy, through all sorts of potential psychological blocks and hindrances, where my past could be holding me back from finding peace and a fuller unity with God.
Thankfully, aside from this one horrible event that happened in my life in 8th grade, I am grateful to have survived childhood in Los Angeles in the 70s and 80s with very little trauma hitched to the bottom hem of my flared, then straight-legged jeans. Most of my friends had terrifying sob stories. Divorced parents, sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol instead of dinner… I still marvel at how many bullets I dodged. I was an LA anomaly—a young athlete— with an intact family who went to church.
Fast forward to me in my 50’s. Sitting in my backyard during a pandemic reading this book! What an odd time we are living through, yes?!
Though I didn’t have a series of giant “Aha!” moments while reading Healing Your Wounded Soul, I was struck again and again with its purpose—of highlighting potential struggles that may live inside our heads and hearts that might be keeping us from deepening our spiritual walk with Christ. I found myself setting the book aside again and again to work through the concepts that were being presented. It created in me a deeper sense of compassion for those who have survived profound personal traumas, and it made me so grateful that this sort of resource is now available. It is a book that guides the reader back in time. It asks you to examine elements of your life, through the lens of Orthodox Christianity and the tenets of human psychology, considering past experiences that may have left you unhealed and wounded. We have all endured sadnesses and grieved losses. We have all wounded others or been wounded ourselves. We are all in need of healing—and have endured events that have led to shame, guilt, or a loss of trust. Through Father Joshua’s straightforward, yet loving words, we learn how old pain disrupts our present life, and how to go about rooting out that pain so that we can ultimately move closer in our union with God.
And, I am just as appreciative of what the book does NOT do. The book does not lead the reader to become a mini-psychologist, ready to diagnose a friend or neighbor. Instead, the information leads one to be less judgmental toward those who are still struggling with trauma. I found my heart opening a little more toward those in my life who didn’t dodge quite as many bullets as I did.
Finally, being a mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I was especially aware while reading the book of the traumas that my own son has suffered. I have spent the last many years trying to create a healing space for my child—a home where he can laugh and learn and be himself. Where he can grow in his strengths, and slowly work on his weaknesses, and eventually become the young man God has called him to be. I outlined almost an entire chapter that caught my attention and caused me to pray right there on the spot. Father Joshua writes:
We would do well to think on the effect we have on the lives of others. Do we truly grasp the impact we all have on each other? Every act, every word, every gesture, and every interaction are stored away in some part of our mind. Indeed, all of us are memory makers. Everything we do in the lives of others is stored away in their memory. Is this not an awesome responsibility? None us is perfect; we all make mistakes. However, so often when we continue our lives having forgotten our error toward another, the other has not forgotten it. Whether we like it or not, we are responsible for those memories. Is this not a wonderful and terrible power?
As Dr. Albert Rossi writes in his endorsement of the book, “I would recommend this book to all wounded souls, that is, to everyone.”
Hello dear friends! I just realized that I wrote to you all in May, but forgot to post my thoughts to the wider world. The post just went live. How odd to read what I wrote three months ago--I guess my forgetfulness speaks to the state of mind most of us had back then. Distracted, a little thrown. Maybe even spinning in circles.
Today is different. Many of us have been on real journeys of hardship during the stages of this pandemic. Some of us have lost jobs, and friends or family during this time. Some of us have protested. Some of us have fallen to pieces and been put back together again. Some of us have retreated into ourselves and found really good, interesting things there.
As for me, it's hard to know where to begin. I'm grateful for a thousand things, so I guess I'll share a little.
Backyard fire pits. My parents live in the same town as we do, and we see them every Sunday. They're in their 80's. At the beginning of quarantine we isolated, just my husband, son and I (and the amazing #ohzuko) but we quickly realized that my dad, a flaming extrovert, was going to die prematurely if he didn't have people around. So we started seeing them each Sunday in their backyard, sitting around their fire pit, and have kept that up all this time. I am grateful that they have remained healthy, and for all the good moments we've had around the fire.
Saints. Did you know that St. Cyprian also endured a terrible plague, helping people in his city when they were sick? And that St. Spyridon felt more comfortable wearing his shepherd's clothes instead of his clergy cassock, so that's how he dressed most of the time despite being a bishop? I've been editing three books for kids--each one about saints--one is a colleciton of 101 of saints; one is a graphic novel about Saint Katherine; and the third a middle grade novel about Saint Phanourios. Digging into their lives during this odd time in history has been the perfect remedy for any anxiety that has surfaced in my own life. Talk about sickness, isolation, starvation, and struggle! (Two million Russians died of famine between 1601-1603 when St. Juliana of Lazarevo was alive...) The saints went through it all. To top it off, my husband and I commissioned two icons of Saint Maria of Paris to be painted back in January. The iconographer, who lives in Italy, worked through the awful time of Covid in his country, and then with Italy closed down, the icons were quarantined in his studio until just recently. Fascinating that once they were shipped, they traveled first to Germany, where they spent a couple of days, then finally made their way here. I believe that the saints and angels have been working overtime this year. I'm grateful that they lived inspiring lives, which encourages me in my own...
Audiobooks. Almost every evening after dinner I head out into the neighborhood and walk for an hour. I started this habit mostly to get away from the house to feel a little less confined. I've listened to everything I could find of John O'Donohue, plus The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Pushout by Monique W. Morris, The Year of Less by Cait Flanders, parts of Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman, Fertile Ground by Laura S. Jansson, and am currently listening to Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke and The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. My primary style of learning is not auditory so I grab maybe 80% of what I hear, but I've enjoyed this time of movement and learning, and listening to John O'Donohue speak with his heavy Irish accent was a balm.
The beach. I'm grateful that our beaches never closed, and that during the worst of the weeks of isolation, we were able to be at the shore and breathe. For those of you who didn't have a body of water to stare at, I honestly wish that I could pick you up and plop you by the waterside. I pray you've had moments of respite, and if you haven't, I pray many days of beauty and peace are in your future.
Work. I've worked more over the last few months than I have since my kids were little and I was on the job 24/7. For many years I've homeschooled, and only worked part time. This summer, I've been able to get a significant amount of work done on many big projects and it's been a wonderful distraction. My routine of prayer, exercise, family, garden, tea, and work--rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, has kept me sane--away from binge watching television and scrolling through the news. I'm grateful that my eyes have held up, but I am transitioning to fewer hours as school begins in about ten days.
The weather, plus Jaime and his crew. Being stuck at home, during these months of isolation, has been offset by projects. We have had gorgeous weather that has allowed us to have the doors open every day for months and months. We've been saving our pennies over the last few years, and decided that now was a good time to finish our backyard. We've had a plan ready to implement, turning a weed patch into a patio, so we hired a friend of a friend, who helped us make the small space we have outside into something functional. The project is now complete, and I'm grateful every single night as we carry our dinner plates to the back patio and sit in the fresh air next to our beloved lemon tree.
Grace. I don't know what my son would have done without his cousin Grace. Being alone for months on end with your lame, old parents, isn't the ultimate way to spend your 14th year on this planet. Okay, he's lucky we aren't lamer... But after the inital lockdown, we pulled Grace into our "quaranteam" so that our son wouldn't have to only be online to talk to friends. Grace, we love you!
Learning. I've learned that people really like the word "pivot." I've learned that I'm a really great hermit--truly, send the husband off to the market cause he needs to see people. I'm happy just sitting here, typing away. I've learned that if you wait too long to harvest chamomile flowers that they fall apart into a tiny little pile of pollen and seed. I've learned somehow I can manage to have a hemming project, a quilting project, a gardening project, a photograph project, a basket-making project, a fruit canning project, and a dog-grooming project all happening on the very same day, in the very same house! My husband says he's just fine with all my little piles of things popping up everywhere, but is he actually telling the truth, or just being nice?! The biggest thing I've learned. Ready? I've always thought that when I am old and frail, that I will spend my days like they do at the monastery, praying from dawn till dusk. That is my hope. But I've learned that if I'm going to get there, then I need to be in training now. That I need to develop some serious habits that will put me on that path. So I have a 50-year-praying-plan, and by the time I'm 100, maybe I'll be a miniscule prayer warrior mama (who has lots of projects all over the place). Pray for me, will you? If I'm going to live a bunch more years, I want to live them right.
Share what you're up to in the comments!
Written in Quarantine
Around the block! Have any of you made it any farther?
About to start on another batch of masks since they seem to be in our future for a long time to come. I finally figured out the pattern I like the best, and spent two full days sewing back in April and distributed the masks I made to lots of friends and family. The Star Wars fabric was everyone's favorite. Besides masks, I have some linen arriving from Lithouania and will be hemming a new tablecloth in the days to come. Note: I think this blog post is going to be really boring.
With my husband home, and all travel at his company suspended for the rest of the year, I am only eating two meals a day or I'd be gaining a thousand pounds right now. He loves to cook and share the food, so I have tea in the morning, a healthy brunch, and then we have a nice dinner in the evening outside on the patio. When quarantine started we were all worried, weren't we, that food might run dry? (I wondered if it might finally be the moment when we break into our disaster preparedness stash, which I refresh each September...) And yet, besides the lines to get into the stores, not much has changed. The American overload of stuff is still available. There was a part of me that hoped that some of our supply chain would be impacted so that we, as a people, could learn some new habits. Like not eating as many potato chips as we usually do. But maybe things are different where you are? I'd love to know if you're expericencing something different.
With all the hours I've invested into the garden these last two months, you'd think our front and back yards would look amazing. But somehow everything is still a mess and I continue to wander the neighborhood looking at other people's yards for inspiration. Since we lost our giant cedar tree last November, many of our plants that were shaded by it are failing. I keep weeding our walkways just to keep my hands busy. Being creative right now almost seems impossible! I'm hoping I have some blasts of real originality soon.
The Chronicles of Prydain. I'm on book four. It's a little adventure story for kids that I've read before by Lloyd Alexander. I read a chapter before going to bed so that I have fun dreams about quests and being brave and stuff.
I'm also reading two books on politics--. For a long time I've been trying to figure out how my values relate to the current political landscape. The more I try to figure it out, the more I realize I just don't relate to politics! Ha. And yet, grudgingly, I'll keep trying...
...My son do school with his headset on. I like to put cut veggies or nuts or fruit down next to him when he's on a school call. Cause he'll just eat whatever I give him mindlessly when his mind is busy elsewhere. I should try pickles--thanks for reminding me. Maybe he likes them now?
...The dog lounge on the wood floor, no longer worried that we might leave him alone in the house for a few hours.
...The light filter through our Japanese maple tree that sits outside our bedroom window.
...Avatar the Last Airbender. Every night, two episodes, with tea.
Re-reading all that's here, I suppose what's revealing itself is that I'm in a holding pattern. I'm moving from one task to the next, gladly, with an easy, quiet acceptance. I'm not anxious about what's happening outside my front door until I dig in and really read the news. Therefore, I don't read the news much. There have been few ups or downs these last many months, just a lot of work, a lot of laundry, a lot of weeding. I'm grateful that we've been healthy, and fed, and have been sleeping well (with crazy dreams!). Our life probably doesn't look like yours. If you're needing a boost, and see something that I'm doing that might help you, please send me an email (email@example.com).
Just yesterday, a friend with three young boys was asking me, her eyes hyper-wide open...
What Am I Going to Do?!!!
Now that so many families are suddenly home--from work and from school as we wait out the spread of the coronavirus, there is the question of how to sanely spend 15 days together with our squirrely kids! We chatted for a few moments, and finally she asked, will you send you a list? So this is for all you Viktorias out there. A quick list to hopefully help you make it through these weeks of not only being at home, but schooling at home as well.
If you include the kids in making a plan for how your days should look, they will more likely abide by what's decided. And maybe even post a few of your decisions on a wall so you can point to them throughout the day to remind them that you decided these things together. From experience, I've learned that routines help keep everyone sane, and that it works to break up the day into big blocks, with tons of play in the middle. Homeschoolers know--you can get an amazing amount of learning done in a pretty short period of time. So maybe something like this?
Get up, have breakfast, and be ready for school at nine.
Turn on some background music. Classical, or acoustic, to keep the mood up. Turn on your diffuser and pump in some oils--lemon, wild orange, peppermint, etc to get the senses brightened. Spread the kids out if they're going to talk, or have them work together if you know they prefer to be in company. It'll take a few days to figure out how it works best in your home. Whatever's been sent home from school--packets, workbooks, whatever--have them do the task that is most difficult for them (whatever requires the most concentration) first thing in the morning.
Snack/water time and then a short dance party. Put on a few favorite songs and dance around the house.
Second block of school work. Depending on the age of your child, this might be 10 minutes or it might be an hour, but have this be your second session of schooling for the day that requires focus. After this it's all play!
Lunch time, play time, hang out time, whatever. A couple of things. Set up a couple of spaces (and talk about this with the kids). A space where they can make a mess and you won't get upset with them, and where everything is cleaned up before dinner. A second space where You want to be, where they shouldn't make a mess, and maybe they're not even allowed in that space? Maybe that's your bedroom, or a corner of the living room. And lastly, a space of their own, where they can be alone and won't be bothered by siblings. Everyone needs a place to retreat to if they're going to be together ALL day long.
Quiet time. The whole house is quiet. Whether that means naps, reading, listening to audio books while drawing, watching shows or documentaries, or playing quietly. The one rule here is not to disturb one another. You can even set a timer and place it somewhere public so they can keep track of when the time ends.
Make sure you're sending your kids outside even if it's freezing, raining, muddy, etc... Even if it's just out on to a balcony, get them outdoors so they can breathe fresh air and get a different viewpoint. Try to loosen up on the dirty floor thing--or the dirty clothes thing--and have a place where they can dump all their wet or soiled clothes. Figure out ways for the kids to be kids and not get in trouble for being outside and rummaging in the yard.
Again, use music. Turn on a fun upbeat song, and have everyone clean up to the music.
You may not have enough schooling ideas for your kids. Perhaps you have a Type A child who wants to keep a school schedule and playing all day makes them grumpy. Here are some projects that you might consider.
Also, use this time to let your kids really fly in those areas where they are strong personally, or academically, and minimize the time they spend working on things that are difficult. These days at home, when there is so much uncertainty, is not a time to challenge your kids and try to have them catch up if they're behind their peers. Let them shine, build confidence in those things they're good at, and know that home is a safe place where they can both learn and play.
Practice handwriting. Look up a fancy font, print it out, and have the child try to copy it
Write a short story, poem, or card
Watch documentaries. There are thousands of them out there, on so many subjects like the youtube channel of Nat Geo Kids
Research an animal, city, or person and have them write (or dictate) ten facts about it
Study a language. Download a language app like Duolingo, or Mango Languages (often times free with your library card) and start to learn French, or Hebrew, or Greek!
Practice handstands, shoot baskets, or engage in other physical or athletic moves that are building hand-eye or body coordination
Khan Academy math (or other subjects) (Every now and again I go and work on 7th grade math!)
Pull out a bunch of materials, paper, tape, toothpicks, etc and ask them to build something specific. A dinosaur, or a house, or flower.
Make bird feeders. Tie a ribbon on one end of a pinecone. Spread peanut butter on the pinecone then roll it in birdseed. Hang it from a tree, They could also go outside and record anything that has to do with bugs, or birds. For example. Chart how many birds they see and hear in a certain amount of time. Bring bird books and look up the species. Hunt around for nests or other signs of bird activity. And check out the Cornell Lab for awesome bird calls and other resources.
Draw a maze or make a crossword puzzle
Origami, or make paper airplanes and then have a flying contest
Learn to tie specific knotsNote: Your public library is an amazing place. Check out all the free books, movies, and documentaries you can download, stream, or borrow...
Once they've finished their school work, do your best to keep screens out of their hands until later in the day, and even then, monitor that they aren't spending hours on them. Just minutes. And think about keeping most toys put away, and pulling out different things each day. Kids tend to play more when there is less clutter, and if you suggest toys by placing them in their way and not having much else to choose from, then I've learned that oftentimes they'll play for a longer period of time, and at a deeper, more imaginative level.
Play dress up!
Pull out the playdough
Coloring books and painting
Blocks and other building materials. Magnatiles, K-nex, Legos, etc...
Train sets. (I used to play for hours with my 3-year-old)
Shadow puppets in a dark room or hallway
Pull out the beading supplies
Give permission for them to dig a hole in a corner of the backyard
Have them compose songs--on the piano, the harmonica, just by singing, and give a concert after dinner
Think about play spaces they have and recommend additions. Make curtains for a play house, build a bug habitat with scrap wood, decorate a fort with a paper chain
Write letters to faraway friends
Board games! Puzzles! Cards!
Bring them into the kitchen to cook and bake with you
Blow bubbles, sidewalk chalk, play with water balloons, jump rope, hop scotch, marbles...
Nerf gun wars
Walkie Talkies are one of my favorite things ever
Consider a paid cleaning list. A whole list of extra chores and what you'd pay to have them done. Cut the hedge, wipe down the baseboards, clean out the car, wash windows, etc...
Facetime with friends or relatives. Since so many of us are being isolated, save some time for connection. Give the kids a time limit, but let them talk with their friends from church, or school, or sports to check in on each other
If you're really struggling and having a grumpy time of it... think about packing your kids into the car and taking a drive. Even if you can't get out of the car, find a place where there is a view, a park, or the beach, or a place that feels serene. Roll down the windows. Turn on some music. Changing your physical space often changes people's spirits, and a breath of fresh air can alter attitudes.
Here are some other links to articles and ideas for you and your kids.
A great list of activities for babies through preschoolers
If you're an Orthodox Christian like we are, then take a look at Orthodox Pebbles, a fun website for kids with lots of downloadable materials. Also, Ancient Faith Radio has a podcast of many audio recordings of children's books that you can download or stream.
Please add ideas in the comments! Peace, love, and good cheer to you all...
With so many ways to watch TV and shows--plus the addition of YouTube celebreties commenting on video games, and young folks showing us how to apply makeup, and then add the amazingly vibrant documentaries on anything from Japanese tea making to the odd habits of a wild turkey.... It's easy to sit in front of a screen for hours and just veg out, isn't it?
Because I'm a list maker, I started brainstorming things to do in the evenings that would easily accompany our evening, herbal tea-drinking habit.
Here's my list (which my friends on Instagram helped me build). Feel free to add more ideas in the comments!
Lots of you are already amazing board game players, and I salute you! Board and card games are the best. When my parents were remodeling their home they started a Gin Rummy tournament that lasted a year. They still talk about those evenings of competition, keeping track of who was up and who was down, and grunting at the bad hands, laughing when things got really out of control. We are currently learning to play a board game called Tokaido--I would love to hear some of your favorites...
Pull out your flashlights--or light a small lantern--put on your woolies, and head out into the neighborhood for a walk under the stars. Maybe you'll spot a racoon, or the Big Dipper--or both! If you don't want to wander, you could set up a telescope on your front steps, or simply sit and listen to the nighttime sounds. Then come inside and make that pot of herbal tea to warm you back up.
You can all find your own cozy spot and put some quiet music on in the background, or maybe find a family friendly book and read aloud as a group, taking turns. I spent one summer in my 20s reading out loud (to myself) all of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. It made that summer extra memorable.
Whip out those tambourines and harmonicas. Find the maracas. I made all my kids take music lessons--and some day they will thank me! My dad's favorite evening is still an evening with my mom playing the piano and all of us singing Oh Susanna and Silent Night.
Gather your prayer ropes, light some candles, fire up the incense, rearrange the icons, pull out some prayer books or an akathist, and pray together.
All you really need is a wall, and the will to kick your feet into the air. Make sure the area is clear and see who can stay up the longest. Or... turn on some fun music and dance around the house. You could even make up your own line dance that you could then share with others later on. At our last big family get together, my daughter coreographed a dance that we all learned. It was ridiculous, and a wonderful way to pass a bunch of hours together.
Find a table where the puzzle can be worked on over several days. Make sure everyone joins in, and not just those avid puzzle-doers who have quick eyes and quicker hands!
When was the last time you pulled out some paper and wrote a long letter to a faraway friend?
Nuff said. Having a salt soak before bed sounds like a dream.
Paint, Knit, Crochet, Whittle, Weave, Draw, Color, Sculpt, Sew, Mend... Put on an audio book or some Christmas music and create something with your hands. Maybe even make some holiday gifts for others. I'm at the end of a sewing spree, and am heading back to both my pine needles and some yummy yarn work soon.
Extra Credit 11. Do research--whether it's for the spring garden, or your next camping trip to see the Redwoods. 12. Learn a new language. Spend some time each evening learning to speak Arabic, or Swahili, or Yiddish. I spent a year learning Finnish, and have now moved on to Japanese! 13. Prepare food for the next day. I like to mix my bread for the next day during the evening so that when things get busy on that following day, I'm already half way into the process! 14. You could write a book! I know from experience, you just need to write one page at a time. 15. Organize a pantry, closet, drawer, or cupboard. Getting rid of uneeded things is such a great thing to do before the holidays.
Other ideas? Write them in the comments.
Remember when I spent a year learning Finnish with my son? En voi kuvitella sauna ilman olutta. My shining moment--being able to recite that phrase.
Well, we don't have a trip planned to Japan, but what is life without learning? Through our public library there is a free online resource called Mango Languages. My son has done a full year of French through the program and has progressed nicely, so I decided to try their Japanese. The lessons are in short 10-minute bits and I'm enjoying the new sounds. I studied Japanese briefly many years ago from an old, wisened man named Goro Yamamoto, who was an instructor at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA where I lived. Mostly I just wanted to be with him because he was one of those compelling people filled with light. I like that I'm thinking of him more these days...
Permaculture is a contraction of two words--Permanent Agriculture. It's about creating a habitat that reflects the seasons and habits of nature as closely as possible. It's about creating a man-made system of farming or agriculture or even urban gardening that requires as little work from an intervening human as possible. I've been intrigued by growing edible foods for a very long time... Anyway! I'm currently reading my third book out of four that I checked out of the library on permaculture and am learning new things! Gaia's Garden is a terrible title, but maybe it's my favorite book so far. It's nice to tilt your head when you read something new and consider how much more there is to know.
I'm also in the middle of two books that I pick up every couple of days to encourage my spiritual journey. Reading about the lives of both Mother Gavrilia and Father Nicola Yanney has been inspiring. They lived lives of sacrifice for others--something that I'm aiming for in my growing-old age! I am 54, people!!! How can that be? I didn't know you could still do handstands in your 50's, but you can... Mother Gavrilia was a God-listener. She spent her days tending to others (working with lepers even), with little care for where she was living, how she might be fed, and having few possessions. She had a favorite tree that she liked to say hi to, which I appreciate, and she inspired a giant flock of people throughout her life. Father Nicola was an immigrant from Syria who traveled to Nebraska in the 1890's to escape the extreme struggles in his homeland. His life is worth reading about--here is a short documentary about him if you're interested.
Graphic novels? For the last ten years I've been reading hundreds of them in preparation for writing one myself, and so I could know as much as possible about the genre as I begin to edit and produce them through Ancient Faith Publishing. This last year all my reading and hoping paid off when we released our very first one--The Cross and the Stag. It was such a delight to work on with the author/illustrator Gabriel Wilson. He's a talented young artist. Anyway, I just finished a graphic novel based on the life of Proust that I didn't care for (at all), and then this one about Audubon, who is a fascinating artist, dreamer, adventurere worth knowing about... This version of his creative life is worth every turn of the page.
What else? Perelandra? I signed up for a book club with author Nicholas Kotar, but I keep falling asleep while reading. It's me. Clearly. Not the book.
Do you have any inspiring reads to share? Good middle grade? Memoir? Non fiction? There are so many books in the world--how do we go about choosing?!
Last week I made my annual trek through Chicago and out to Indiana where I got to be with all the amazing Ancient Faith Ministries people. We talked about books and podcasts and ate salads--and I ran down the dunes by the lake. Plus, my room had a balcony and there were a thousand frogs outside in the creek who serenaded me endlessly! Glory. THEN--I drove to Michigan, where I spent the weekend with a friend who was my jumelle, my twin, when we lived in France back in the 80's. We ate croissants back then, but this time we mostly ate soup and drank tea--cause we aren't 19 any more. Friends. Friends! I wrote this in another place, but I wasn't the best friend to her. I've learned over the years how to respect a human. God, I pray I've learned! Oh, Lord, help me keep learning! Our time together, scootering through Manistee, and dancing with her two daughters, was all about renewed friendship, and reconnecting once again.
We finally had some summer heat, which means our giant pine is letting go of spent needles. With the pine needles dropping like rain, I collect about 1000th of what falls and weave with them most evenings. I'm looking forward to working through the fall and winter and making all shapes and sizes of baskets.
Marinated carrots! We love Mexican marinated carrots and have purchased them for years. By making them ourselves we can assure that the ingredients are good quality, plus I'm weird about my love for canning things. I'm now processing canned jars in the instant pot, since it uses way less water. Email me if you'd like the recipe at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our beautiful cedar tree has died despite my repeated hymns and hugs and prayers... It's the third cedar that has succombed to the long drought in our neighborhood, and we are putting off a lot of work in our front yard since we know so much is going to be destroyed when the tree is pulled down. Feel free to grieve with me! We may try to have it milled, and save some of the wood... we'll see. In other news, fall hasn't reached Santa Barbara yet. Blackberries are still ripening, figs are on the trees, and the herbs are giving it their all!
Finished. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene, and Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy to gear up for the new Ancient Faith Book Club podcast starting on October 7th. Oh my goodness, they are strange books! In other news, I've been doing some reading on the natural world. I loved The Hidden Life of Trees, learning more about how trees communicate with one another and even how they help each other out when things get tough... I finished Sepp Holzer's book on Permaculture in the Dallas/FW airport during a long delay, which makes me want to sow sunflower seeds and grow mushrooms in a corner of my yard, and I also read Braiding Sweetgrass, a memoir of sorts, which inspired me to think more deeply about the idea of taking/buying/using only what one needs and always sharing not only the surplus, but even the necessities. Lastly, I'm in the middle of Apostle to the Plains, a fascinating look at an immigrant-turned-priest who faithfully served the growing Syrian community in the mid-west back in the early 1900's.
I just became a tea master! There is an online learning platform called Udemy that I discovered a few years ago. Basically you pay a few dollars and then you watch videos made by people who are passionate about a certain subject. I found a couple of courses on tea, and now I'm a (lowercase!!!) tea master. (Also, did you know that most tea comes from farms that are giant monocultures and that use an extensive amount of pesticides? More on this another time, but if you can find and purchase organic tea, please do.)
I grew up in a home with a revolving door. I had three siblings, but I don't think I could even name all of the people who stayed with us for a month, or a summer, or a year, or more. I loved that about our home. That others were welcome--and though my mom says she doesn't have the gift of hospitality, I would say
The Proof is in the Pudding, Mom!
My husband and I have been talking about hospitality a lot these days. Not sure why, but living in our little home--our sweet tiny space that we love, in this beautiful community--our one heartache is that we just don't have space. We have folks over for dinner. We offer up my office for sleeping when we can, but we would like to do more. We would like to have room for two people, or five, or thirteen! We'd like to feed them, and do their laundry, and send them home with kumquat marmalade.
I'm curious about your thoughts on hospitality. There are so many beautiful traditions around the world, and I fear that here, in America, with our phones, and our binge watching, and our Career Goals, that we're losing out on Giving. On Hosting. On Loving through the small actions of a clean room, and a hot cup of coffee, offered with two hands, to guests in the morning...
The callas are in bloom. The lemon and kumquat trees are burdened with fruit. The loquat is oddly shedding its leaves, and we just lost a beautiful upright rosemary. One of my great loves, living in Colorado, was the garden downtime in the winter. But there is no growing downtime in Santa Barbara. Things just keep reaching for the sun, and when we get rain in the winter (we got so much beautiful rain this winter without any disasters!) our little yard simply sprouts weeds. It's like those seeds have been scattered in every crevice and corner and in one big shout they all shoot for the sky! Most days--these days--you will find me at some point planted flat on my bottom or on my knees, in my favorite scrappy blue jeans, digging up dandelions, grass shoots, and baby palm trees.
Just finished. A baby blanket made with lace alpaca wool for a dear young friend.
All vegan these days. Have you tried the Oh She Glows Cheerful Chocolate Smoothie? Because my son is 13, and growing about an inch every other day (just bought ANOTHER new pair of shoes) and he is hanging in there with our current vegan-ness, I am always keeping an extra smoothie in the fridge for when he's hungry. This smoothie is pretty great. 2 cups almond milk (we use one almond and one oat), 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, 4 pitted medjool dates, 1/4 cup avocado, pinch of sea salt, three ice cubes, then blend.
Have you seen Spyridon's Shoes by Christine Rogers? It's the latest book that I edited and helped produce for Ancient Faith Publishing and it's a beautiful, inspiring story. In other news, the book on confession that I worked on with illustrator, Nicholas Malara, got stuck at the printer and has been there for ages. I've decided not to be mad at anyone (or I would have to go to confession!!!) and got news that it will be shipping at the end of the month to our warehouse in Chicago.
One of my best friends growing up was afflicted with Cystic Fibrosis. I've been writing a book about her for forever, and I'm finally nearing the end!
Ancient Rome. My homeschooling son and I are being tutored by my oldest son, who lives in Seattle, and is a history guru. Every Friday we chat online about Roman legends and supposed truths and the expansionist regime of the Roman Republic (and Empire). We are about to read Shakespeare's Julius Caesar aloud, which should be super fun.
We live in a very small house, on a very small lot, but it's plenty big for all of us, including #OhZuko, whose birthday it is today! We have been doing some work to our 1937 home (new windows soon!), and won't be traveling this year, because we are especially dreaming of putting a new patio and outdoor dining table out by our lemon tree so we can utilize every tiny inch of our little space. We'll see!
Hope you're all well on this beautiful Monday.
...because there is something holy about fixing a belonging that is broken, instead of throwing it away...
Breakfast at eleven...
because I'm actually hungry.
Last June I traveled to Pittsburgh for a work retreat. My son and I had just wrapped up another year of homeschooling, and I was ready for a change of pace. I planned a weekend to myself--to write, to celebrate making it through sixth grade (sixth grade!) before the retreat began. So I booked a room at a small hotel, away from the center of town, with no car, and intentionally planned on writing stories, and maybe I'd even read, or just sit on the bed and stare at the ceiling.
It was a wonderful weekend. I paced, I wrote, I did sit ups and handstands. I sat on the bed and stared out the window at a leafy, Pittsburghy tree. A couple of times I went downstairs just to see what was what.
I usually don't eat much when I travel, and this trip was no different. In fact, I didn't eat at all the first day while on the road. No power bars. No coffee. Some sparkling water on the plane. And when it came time for dinner I realized I wasn't hungry. A whole day of no food, and not one pang. This made me think.
Why am I not hungry?
So I kept not eating--it was easy to do since there was no restaurant at the hotel, no stores nearby, and I only had a few power bars with me. I drank a lot of water, and had some hot tea. By the end of the second day, after a four-mile walk, I finally felt it. Dinner would be nice.
We are so saturated with stuff, aren't we? With T-shirts from Target, with fancy water bottles, with more toiletries than we could ever use. Our minds are saturated with sound bites, with movie quotes, with bizarre knowledge about Star Trek. And our bodies are fully flushed with food and fat. Even my skinny body is fat--fat with too many layers of too many chips, and the memory of food, even when I'm not hungry. This weekend away restarted something I'd almost forgotten. I'm checking in better now, listening to my body more closely, asking it, "Are you really hungry?" And once I get to the yes, I go to step two:
"Do barbecue potato chips actually qualify as food?!"
And lastly, more seriously, what other sorts of hungers and non-hungers have gotten confused within me?
I bet you've figured this out better than I have--I would love to hear your thoughts...
Today is our last day of homeschooling this year. So I am celebrating by giving away some books!
Next week everything changes. My son will be spending each morning sailing down at the Santa Barbara harbor, and I will be writing writing writing! This is the most exciting thing that I can tell you. More exciting than getting a puppy, or traveling to India. We have finished another year of homeschooling and now I get some time to myself to write. Celebrate with me!
I have so much stock in my cupboard (105 books, I counted!). A whole line up of beautiful books, and it's sad to see them sitting there, not being read by children. I would like for you to do one of two things, or both if you want.
Here are the books. I've linked each to Amazon so you can read reviews, and you can always pop over to my website because I post tons of information about each book, including audio readings, teacher plans, and interviews with the illustrators!:
In the giveaway, I will randomly choose three of you to send books to.
I'll close the giveaway on June 12th, midnight Pacific time. Sound good? In the event that you don't like kids books anymore, and you might just want to tell me a joke, or what you'll be up to this summer, the comment box isn't far off and I'd love to hear...
The giveaway is now closed. I actually didn't wake up at midnight on June 12th to choose a winner, I waited until the morning of June 13th, because, 1) we had a Romanian-themed dinner at our house (with real Romanians!), which means I spent the day baking bread and cleaning so I was la little bit tired, and 2) sleep! The final details are in the last comment. Happy reading this summer!
...because December and January were strange times here in Santa Barbara... But now it is almost June, and I still have only sent one card out!
I write up a school list for my son every day, and always add something unexpected. Like,
If it's on the list, he complies. So I often also add,
It's spring in Santa Barbara and our backyard fountain is a busy place mid-morning. Birds are drinking, bathing, snacking on loquats. They wait their turns on the giant cedar out front, or on the branches of our backyard fig. My son sits and stares at the fountain, and his (fancy new GShock) wristwatch counts down the seconds. We only have this little patch of nature to cultivate, but we are grateful for it. Yesterday he heard four separate birds chatting with their friends.
Do you like holidays? I love holy days. Theophany, Christmas, Easter. But I'm not such a huge fan of Mother's Day and Labor Day and some of the other made up days that we've incorporated into our calendar. Earth Day? For me, it's every day. Actually, truthfully, the Earthiest of all Days for me is the day after Halloween, when my son and I scour the streets of our neighborhood, picking up trash so that the candy wrappers don't get swept into the storm drain and out to sea (we pick up hundreds and hundreds of wrappers). But I am a fan of getting kids to read books, so in the spirit of pascha, and spring, and the earth being an awesome place, I want to recommend three of my favorite nature books for you to find and read to those bright-eyed, spunky, ready-to-run people in your life.
Swirl by Swirl. In the pages of this smartly designed book you'll discover some of the many spirals found in our natural world. The text is clean and concise, using just the right words for each image. Wonderful for a toddler who is learning about shapes and the natural world--great for a preschool or kindergarten teacher to pull out during a nature unit--and for the older child, there's a back spread that has additional information.
Celebrate the Earth. Perfect for 3-7-year-olds. The bright, colorful illustrations are easy to interpret and visually appealing. The portrayal of the Psalm is masterful, and the text is soul nourishing. A nice story to read and reflect on before bed...
The Curious Garden. This story shows the power of one boy's work, and how, in time, that work can spill over and change a whole community. We see young Liam bring a whole city alive through his small, daily efforts. The illustrations are masterful--some pages are worth staring at for a very, very long time. Perfect for school aged children who are entering that phase of seeing beyond their small world of family and friends...
Any nature books for kids you'd recommend?
In March I traveled to Bucharest, Romania to help lead a conference for children's book writers and illustrators. Over twenty talented authors and artists attended the event, and I got to talk about one of my favorite things on this planet--creating picture books for young children.
The children's book market in Romania--at least from what I've been told and what I experienced--is primarily made up of translated books that were first published in other markets. Some of them are translated well, some of them poorly. Many of them do not reflect the unique population or culture of the people in that country. And those books that are written by Romanian authors tend to be for an older child--for a child who can already read independently. So there is this lovely little void, ready and waiting to be filled with books for very young children, written by Romanians themselves.
For two and a half days, I was a teaching, mentoring cheerleader. We talked together about child development. We went over the key factors to consider when writing for young children. We dissected really good books, musing over what makes them connect to the young child. We investigated negative space in art, in music, in speech, in book design. We considered the current market, and brainstormed ways to move forward...
I am so glad I went. It was one of the hardest things I've done in a long time. Not because of the content. Talking about picture books was easy and energizing, but preparing for my time away, right on the heels of a natural disaster in our community, required all of me--my physical; spiritual; emotional; and psychological self...
After the last session of the conference ended, I was thrilled! It couldn't have gone better. It was worth traveling half way across the globe to be with such beautiful, gifted people. Before I returned home I had two days to spend in Bucharest with my friend. We toured the city in the snow, ducking into churches to warm up and soak in the prayer, flagging down taxis to speed us across town (I posted a few photos and thoughts on my instagram page...). We visited an artist's home studio, drank tea, ate traditional food, toured Ceausescu's private home, and bought Pascha gifts. I would love to return in the fall some day with my family, and tour into the mountains and down to the sea, and soak in the loveliness that is Romania...
So much has happened during these few short months of 2018. I'm hoping I'll have time to digest some lessons I've learned before any new exciting events come my way.
It's really hard to be creative in the midst of disaster.
Post fires and floods all I really wanted to do was talk to friends and family, clean my house, pray, and find ways to help my neighbors. Looking forward felt impossible. I found a way to work during this time, but it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. For weeks and weeks I had this horrible fog over my heart and very little available creative energy.
It is possible to go an entire week on 14 hours of sleep and not die.
I didn't sleep on the plane, or when I arrived in Bucharest. I slept two five-hour nights when I was there, but that was it. I didn't sleep on the way back, but instead chatted with a three-year-old for the entire return flight to LA because his poor mom was trying to quiet his one-year-old brother who had an insistent scream. When I arrived home I didn't have jet lag. I just went straight to bed and that was that. I think I had secret sleep angels who watched over me the entire week while I was away.
The Istanbul airport is not for the faint of heart.
A delayed flight meant missing a connection, which meant making new arrangments in other parts of the airport. I probably walked seventeen miles (slight exaggeration) zigzagging through the Istanbul airport in the middle of the night. I pulled a man's hand out of my purse. I got lost three times. A nice fellow named Mert came to my aid around mile fifteen. I finally holed up in a private lounge (best 30 Euro decision ever) and drank tea while I read for many long hours.
Talking about kids books makes me happy.
You know, sometimes when you do things for a long time you forget why you started doing that thing in the first place. I love kids. I love talking to kids in airplanes for 14 hours. I love writing books for kids. It's good to be reminded.
Lesson Number Five
Romanians, who live in Romania, are brave.
The people of that country have been through the ringer. From being a soveriegn kingdom, to being communist, to moving toward democracy, Romania has quite the political past... The people are warm hearted, welcoming, and gentle, but I also noticed that they are distrustful, and avoid being the one to say or do something different. So many countrymen have fled for a variety of reasons. The struggle of staying, and trying to put a country back together, is real... The Romanians who remain are brave to the core.
For those of you who have been praying for our community during this really stretching time of fire and flood here in Santa Barbara, thank you. I have been up and down, sick and healthy, sad and joyful every day, almost every moment for weeks. It has been tiring. But it feels like it's finally time to share. Probably for my own healing more than anything else... So feel free to just move on.
It seems like an eternity since my son and I were at Saint Barbara's Monastery in Santa Paula on their feast day, December 4th. We passed the day singing, staying out of the wind, talking with new and old friends, and drove home so happy to have been there. Two hours after we left, the Thomas Fire broke out, starting only a stone's throw away from the monastery. Thankfully everyone there was able to evacuate quickly and move out of the fire's path.
Somehow, the monastery buildings didn't burn--though their land did, and many homes and businesses nearby were lost.
The fire moved across the foothills and we watched its progress, our family becoming more and more concerned as the fire spread into Santa Barbara County. The first day that our city was filled with ash I drove around with the windows down, not realizing the hazard. I got sick from inhaling the ash the next day. Many people left town, but we stayed. We drove out of town to purchase two large air filters to battle the smoke. For several days we didn't go outside. We listened to helicopters and airplanes making their water runs all day long. Fire engines were parked in all the hotel parking lots. I can't now remember how long it was that we stayed cooped up...
Right before Christmas the fire hit its zenith. It was a Saturday night. The wind was whipping the fire into a frenzy, and it felt like anything could have happened. Everyone's eyes were on the approaching orange glow, wondering how quickly it would make it into town. Our cars were packed, ready for evacuation. We knew where we would land if we had to leave. So many people offered us refuge.
But with over 8000 firefighters working on our behalf, they halted the fire as the weather began to shift. By morning we felt as though the threat was diminishing. And it did. They halted the fire right as it was exiting the Montecito hills, and entering Santa Barbara. They stopped it just a couple of miles from our home.
So. We celebrated Christmas! Everyone breathed a sigh of relief. We were so very thankful that we didn't have to leave, but equally saddened by all the devastation many of our neighbors had endured. So many were displaced and lost their homes. So many lives were disrupted. And we were all fatigued. I remember that there were a few days mixed into that crazy time when I just curled up in bed and listened to the news for hours on end. I had very little capacity for getting things done besides cleaning (which seems to be my default during a disaster), and though I had planned on doing a fair bit of book writing over the holidays, being creative simply wasn't possible in that time-of-tragedy brain of mine.
And then the rain came. They predicted flooding, and ordered some to evacuate and others to keep watch. We woke to the sound of torrential rain at 2am and sat there wondering about others, knowing our home would be safe. And the next morning we heard the news. Homes below the fire burn were washed away. People were stranded on roofs, and in trees, and swept away with the flow. The freeway was ten feet under, drenched in mud and debris. A baby was plucked, still alive from the mud. Boulders the size of houses had washed down the river beds, wiping out bridges. Battered cars were flung down the streets and landed at the water's edge. We were in shock.
They described streets in nearby Montecito as a war zone. Streets that we drove daily, places that we knew by heart...
So, here we are on the other side of disaster. Almost three weeks have passed since the rains. Twenty-one lives have been lost. Hundreds of homes are gone. The community has rallied, the freeway finally opened. Two people are still missing. It's been a lot.
I ask your good thoughts and prayers for our community. We hear new stories every day, of people who scrambled to their rooftops with their pets, who trudged through the mud to save a friend, who found a precious item washed up on the beach and located the owner.
At the start of this year, for whatever reason, I decided that my son and I would add disaster preparedness to our school work. Such an odd thing to "study." I don't know what prompted me... But school started and there were the hurricanes, and then more hurricanes, and we watched from afar and learned about emergency food storage. And then the fire in Santa Rosa happened, which we watched from a little closer, and we studied ways to shelter. And then disaster came close. And though we felt slightly "prepared" for the events that came our way, I'm still wondering what the underlying lesson is that I'm supposed to learn. I do know that my love for this community has deepened, and that I feel a desire to better know the people that I pass on the street, and I want to serve more than I ever have. When you're pushed to just think only about survival, things shift. And though I haven't yet unpacked all that has changed within me, I trust that it will be revealed over time.
That's the scoop! I pray that all of you are well, enjoying this beautiful new year, and I look forward to whatever this new normal will be for our community. Memory Eternal to those who are gone. Sorrow and strength for those who have to rebuild. And so much gratitude for all who kept more disaster from happening...
...because a couple of years ago my son and I spent a whole year dying napkins from plant material we found in our neighborhood. Do you remember? Orange, blue, pink, yellow, grey, green. Yarrow, eucalyptus, oak galls, ivy, indigo... And I wanted a linen tablecloth to match. To go with the napkins. And I couldn't find one that didn't cost a million dollars. And then a yarn store in our town went out of business, and there was all this natural linen--70% off! But not enough in one color.
I like stripes...
I've been working on this "tablecloth" for a year or more, and I've been frightenend of the project because I could only imagine it being very very very ugly once it was done. Too many stripes. Strange color combinations. But I'm stubborn, so I kept going.
But now that it's done. I kind of like it!
It feels like me.
I'm preparing for:
In 1989 my husband and I were newly married. An earthquake struck the Bay Area, collapsing freeways and stunning the world by shutting down the World Series baseball game. Our apartment was only a few miles from the epicenter and we lost everything breakable except one hurricane lamp that miraculously withstood all the shaking. And when I say everything--I mean all of the crystal and china that you recieve when you're newly married and 400 people celebrate with you at your wedding.
In 2009 the Jesusita Fire came within a 1/4 of a mile of burning down our home. We evacuated for several days, taking with us many of the wrong items. I remember standing at the kitchen sink and only wanting to clean. Clean a house that was about to be burned... Looking back, I realize I was a little bit paralyzed by the nearing flames, and cleaning allowed me to remain calm by doing a familiar task... After the earthquake we made a list, and taped it inside our pantry cabinet so that if there's a next time, I will choose packing over scrubbing the floor!
Two years ago my husband and I decided to finally prepare for a disaster. Like really follow the guidelines of the experts. I bought him an emergency radio for Christmas :) This fall, after not doing much beyond buying the radio, I've incorporated these efforts into our homeschooling routine and we're finally getting things done! I'll be sharing more about this as we continue, but for now, we are about half way "prepared." If you've been thinking about putting together some sort of emergency kit, my advice is to get it on your calendar and start doing something about it. John Ronan and I are working on it every single Friday, so I keep a running list on my computer of what we've done, what we've purchased, where things are being kept, and what we still need to do. Each week I update it so it's completely current.
One thing that is just about complete is a meal kit of food for five people, to last three days. John Ronan wrote up a meal plan, counting calories and looking at serving sizes, and we went shopping over several weeks to various stores. All of the products have an expiration date of 2019 or beyond. That way we can replace things each year, around September or so. We are keeping this food in two boxes that are light enough for me to pick up and get into a car. Here's some of what we've purchased:
2019 box of food (3 days, five people):
Pistachios, raw almonds, peanut butter/ jam, several soups (lentil, chicken, clam chowder), canned salmon, tuna, canned french beans, 3 bags of jerky, many protein bars, jars of salsa, tea, lots of oatmeal packets, several plastic fruit cups, gummy bears, cans of tuna, six dehydrated camping meals. We still need crackers and mayonnaise, small coconut oil, olive oil, salt, pepper, and another spice or herb mix. And boxed milk. And chocolate pudding :)
If there is a disaster and we are able to stay at home, then we also have access to a large pantry that I keep well stocked with lots of whole grains, canned jams, etc... What I learned in that first earthquake is that kitchen cabinets with food in them need closures--or else they may bounce open and then all the food inside crashes to the floor. I don't think I'll ever forget cleaning up that kitchen floor in 1989 that was a mix of oils and vinegars and spices and sharp glass and sugar and pickles and molasses...
I'm also preparing for...
The print book about St Brigid that was first published in 2009 has been out of print for a couple of years now. Since I get so many requests for this book, I collaborated with Father Zechariah, the illustrator, and we re-launched the book through Amazon's Createspace. The print book is now available through Amazon here in the US, in the UK, in Canada, and in Mexico. And the kindle version, which has never gone out of print, is least expensive through Orthodoxchristianebooks.com. If you aren't acquainted with Saint Brigid, now's the time. Her story is one of courage, kindness, and love.
This is the time of year when I get many emails from folks requesting signed copies of my books for Christmas presents. I enjoy signing and sending books, but I only do it until about the tenth or so of December so I can then focus on our own family preparations. If you're interested in purchasing a signed copy of any of these titles: The Man and the Vine; The Woman and the Wheat; The Life of Saint Brigid; The Hidden Garden; Sweet Song; When God Made You; The Suitcase; or A Book of Questions, send an email to email@example.com and we'll get that going!
Lastly, I'm preparing for...
I'll be writing today, and gardening, and building with magna tiles, and brushing the dog, and probably working on my linen tablecloth that is almost fully edged. I'll be going through some things in the garage with my husband, which will probably lead to a cup of tea this afternoon. I'll be setting up my classroom in the chapel at church this evening, then vespers, and then dinner around our very scratched and very loved dining room table. Enough of preparing, it's time to just be, and do, and clean and pray, and try to soak up this moment.
Prayer. Tea. Tea. Prayer.
They are somewhat intertwined in my life. And just like I have prayer books, and a space for prayer, and implements that help me pray... I have tea books. And a tea drawer. And six tea pots, and four water kettles.
Wait, I have FOUR kettles for boiling water?!
Right now, my favorite is a whole leaf green that is fresh, herby, and slightly sweet tasting that we purchased in Finland. But some others that I love, and almost always have on hand are pearl jasmine, coconut green, genmaicha, and a hachija tea that I buy from a local Japanese market.
I'll make a cup and take a break from my writing or helping with homeschooling, and sit outside on the back steps and sip. If it's an afternoon when I'm driving around, I'll brew it and put it in my thermos to drink at horseback riding, or in the car at group therapy, or in the studio at piano... Earl grey. Sometimes I'll go with an aged black, cake pu'er, which has a fermented, smokey flavor that I love. Or I'll warm up some of my homemade chai masala that I keep in the fridge.
I'd say half the time, we simply pick fresh mint leaves from our backyard and boil them for a mint infusion. On the other nights, when we want something that sends us more toward sleep, we brew a blend that we buy locally. Always, we make a giant pot of this herbal tea, and each person usually drinks at least two small cups. There's something really lovely about an evening tradition where everyone joins in.
Speaking of everyone! What is your favorite tea? Please share, because there are plenty of opportunites for another cup (and prayer) somewhere in my day! And in case you're an avid coffee drinker, I dare you to take a look at the Bellocq website and not start to shift--at least slightly--in your thinking...
We studied Finnish all year. We saved money for longer than that! I have always wanted to travel to Finland, to see the place where two girls, who had a fairly profound influence on me when I was young, grew up. Raija lived with us when I was ten. Leena when I was thirteen.
Here's some of what we saw (and, yes, we stayed in log cabins, and took saunas--some of us were even brave enough to jump in the freezing lakes [naked]--and we ate pickled herring)!
Places where people pray:
So many lakes:
We even stopped in Reykjavik, Iceland:
And visited Estonia for a day:
And tried to take a family photo (third time's a charm).
We realize how fortunate we are to be able to safely travel across the world and see these beautiful things, and travel safely home again. I had very few expectations of the trip, and came away feeling like the people who live there are pretty fortunate! (Of course we visited there when all was warm, and blue, and lush, and friendly...) If you've ever been to Finland, I'd love to hear a story or two of your time there.
A long time ago I studied languages in Europe. French, Italian. Spanish. So much romance! I was a fearless traveler. I dressed so I could jump over fences and run from bad guys. Here I am, 19, on a balcony overlooking Aosta, a small town in Northern Italy where I was a gymnastics coach for the local team. Being an athlete, and able to speak several languages, I was a confident teen and twenty-year-old. But I also spent a lot of time singing to myself as I walked through the streets. I made up melancholy songs--I remember some of them still.
Funny how things move in circles.
Many years later I have a daughter who is that same age. And she and I are alike in many ways. Last summer, at 19, she bought a ticket to Europe, and traveled there alone, with her red ukelele so she could sing to make money, or sing to make people feel happy, or sing when she felt lonely. She drank a lot of coffee, and met a lot of people, and came home and wrote a whole bunch of songs. Strawberry Hair is one of them, and it's sort of her story and my story wrapped into one. We all get wrapped into each other. I love that about family, about friends, about community.
How all of our stories are intertwined...
...because I like always having a shell in my pocket. Just one, in case I meet a talkative (or shy) (or in between) four-year-old. They're fun to give away.
But then, there were so many on the beach. And they were all so different. So beautifully unique. Each one its own little universe.
So I took thirteen shells.
Was I being greedy,
Because of all the rain this winter, the next few months in California and the surrounding deserts aren't going to be dismal. Hurray! We've had five years of dry and dismal...
My son and I met up with a family to explore the Carrizo Plains last Friday and though it took hours of driving to get there (I kind of went the long way round in the morning,) and it took hours to get home (drove my handy Subaru on a real dirt road!) it was worth it. Parts of the drive were so fragrant with blooms it smelled like honey was being harvested. Because there were so few people out in this part of California (which is the strangest thing!), and because the landscape was flat-ish, and rocky, it definitely felt moon-like. Except with wildflowers. It reminded me of parts of Wyoming. Anyway, right now the yellow blooms are prominant; there will be fields and fields of blue and orange, as well as yellow as we move toward summer.
I wish I'd had a guide when I was there--to help identify the names of the flowers. I love the botanical names of things. We definitely found yarrow (achillea), fiddleneck (amsinckia), and baby blue bells (nemophila menziesii). I would love to know the name of that little yellow fairy flower above? Anyone know?
I may take some time this spring to go through two blogs that I found that are learning tools for folks like me who are weird about knowing the names of things. Are you like that too?
Hope spring has come to you as well!
It's book season around here, meaning... Books are going on sale. Lesson plans are being invented. New books are being birthed. Library visits are happening. Stories are being researched. Dogs are given treats for being book promoters. Books are headed to press. Interviews are happening. Blog posts are being written. Proof. I'm writing this blog post all about book stuff. Some of it free!
Goodness. No wonder yesterday all I wanted to do was weed the garden.
Just a few announcements and then I'm back to the weeds!
If you've been wanting to purchase a copy of When God Made You, a little bird told me that tomorrow it will go on sale for a lot of money off. They even sent me a picture as proof!
And speaking of When God Made You. I wrote up some lesson plans that you might want to pass on to teachers and other teachery sorts, who like the book. It's there on the website, but just in case you're hoping for a link, then Voila!
With the launch of The Suitcase (just got my copies today in the mail!) there is a giveaway of two books on Goodreads. The giveaway is taking names until the 27th so pop on over now for your chance to win.
If you are more in the mood to buy the book, then you can get a copy directly from the publisher, or Amazon, or your local bookstore. I'm sure they'd order it for you. Independent bookstore people are simply some of the nicest...
Off to the weeds! Or maybe I'll just go sit by my pretty calla lilies and have a nice hot cup of tea...
An idea that has morphed over time....
I pick up a shell or two when I'm at the beach, and often have one in my pocket to give away.
This little sheep purse holds just a few tiny things. A smooth rock, a tiny wooden cup, a dog's tooth, and several shells. I change out the shells and rocks from time to time, and when a little person needs something to keep them occupied, out comes the sheep purse.
I sometimes sit next to the child and marvel at how they manipulate, consider, and finger the items.
But most times it is a quiet work that can keep a four-year-old busy for longer than you'd think!
The spring rain;
A little girl teaches
The cat to dance.
--Haiku by Issa
It is March, can you believe it? We are already more than two months into 2017, lent is underway, and I feel so grateful for more things than I could ever mention. I just turned in my taxes, so I can especially say that I’m grateful to be done with that!
In 2016, two children’s books, When God Made You, and A Book of Questions made their way into the world. One thing I have learned over the years is that I sincerely appreciate all of you who have supported these stories once they’re published. As you know, there is a lot of written material out there, circulating, spinning through our lives. Sometimes it’s good material, sometimes not, and sifting through it takes effort. My writing life is not just so I can play with words, but has turned into a ministry of sorts (you can ask my husband, and my tax guy!) and I hope that you find the stories I write worth the effort… I know that I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do this work…
Anyway. Promotion. A necessary something.
I have one more book to announce to the world, and then I think there will be a lull for a while. This email is to invite you to help me launch one final children’s picture book, The Suitcase, about to be published by Paraclete Press. I am looking for some wonderful word-of-mouth chatter, and several honest reviews to help propel the book forward. So here’s the scoop.
If you’re interested, I am looking for thirty people to be on my launch team. Ten have already signed up, so I have twenty spots left. Here’s what it entails:
Please let me know if you’d like to be a part of this team by simply emailing me firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m excited to see this book come into the world. The story is close to my heart.
The Suitcase. A story about giving.
Here’s a tiny bit about it:
As young Thomas shows his family the items that he has packed into his suitcase after hearing a stirring homily at church, they marvel at his inventiveness and loving heart. Thomas is traveling to the Kingdom of Heaven, and he knows what it takes to get there! Along with his suitcase, Thomas and his family figure out a way to accomplish the almost impossible goal that Thomas is so excited about.
Talking points about the book
So, let me know if you’d like to be one of the thirty to review the book and receive a free copy.
And just in case you’re in a searching-around-the-web mood…
Here is the book’s page for preorder on Amazon.
Here is the book’s page for preorder on Paraclete’s site.
And soon I will have a page up on my own website with a teacher’s guide, some information on the illustrator, and more behind-the-scenes goodies.
Sending you love during this beautiful time of year.
Great Lent is (almost) here!
And though the grownups are usually the ones more excited about leaving bacon behind and reading spiritual books so they can take one more step up the mountain, well, kids are a little more spiritual pliable since their minds and hearts aren't so habit-bound. I think kids are the best, and such natural seekers and learners and teachers. How often will a child change her mind about how she sees the world--after she reads a story of another child who chooses to be brave?
But, grownups. We read those same stories of bravery, and change comes so s l o w l y.
I've been collecting spiritual books for Orthodox kids for too many years to count. Here are some of my favorite stories--stories filled with potential inspiration when it comes to Lent...
This short book for toddlers and older is all about a life spent in pursuit of prayer. Whimsical, sweet, and soft like a song; I love this book.
A brand new picture book for toddlers and older about a little girl who loves to pray. Her loving spirit is contagious, and this book is a delight.
A very sweet picture book for toddlers and young children that encourages them to hear God in all things.
Learning to pray in church, now there's a worth-while lenten goal! This book is written even for very small children, and is designed to help a child follow along and enter into the Divine Liturgy.
There aren't many prayer books out there for young, independent readers. This one encourages the child to think like a young saint and engage in the spiritual fight! It's a training manual of sorts, for elementary-aged kids, which includes a guide to confession.
A large, picture book-format prayer book filled with icon-style illustrations and prayers for many different occasions. There is additional text in the back of the book that explains, for older children, more about the prayers and the reasons for them.
Written for teens and adults, this is the story of Princess Ileana of Romania, who eventually became Mother Alexandra. A wonderful story of a role model who models perseverance, faith, and prayer.
Hear Me is a prayer book specifically written for young people who are high school-aged or older. Filled with inspiring prayers, a guide through confession, and a topical section that focuses on anger, loneliness, persecution, anxiety, depression, peer pressure and other themes that face young people as they mature...
A beautiful book for toddlers that teaches them the power of making the sign of the cross over themselves and how that helps them enter into prayer, giving, and being thankful.
An introductory book for young children that explains the symbolism found in icons, introduces readers to several saints and their stories, and encourages children in their faith. From God to You is a follow up book, and just as informative!
A classic picture book that subtly tells the tale of Christ's death and resurrection through the journey of three trees.
This is one of the Potamitis Publishing Paterikon books. They're tiny and amazing. There are a million of them now (exaggeration--maybe around 60?) and so worth looking into. Each one tells a short story of a saint, or teaches a bit about a feast; and there are coloring books too! This one is perfect to finish off Great Lent!
A story of St Mary Magdalene and how she bravely shared her faith (and why we celebrate with red eggs on Pascha!).
This is my very favorite children's Bible. Written with a distinctly Orthodox Christian viewpoint, if you start in the middle of the book, around page 90, you can follow the path of Christ, from his birth to the cross as we traverse lent and head toward Pascha!
Written for both children and adults in mind, this book features all of the feasts of the liturgical calendar. It highlights traditions, includes hymns, Bible passages, quotes from the Fathers, etc... A perfect handbook for the many feasts that we enter into from Annunciation through to Pascha!
A picture book for all ages, especially those who are 5-10. It takes a child on an inward journey, into the heart, encouraging him to examine that inner garden and see what is planted and growing there.
A children's picture book that is quite long, but entirely lovely. In the book, we follow St Euphrosynos from the time he is a child to his life as a saint. This is one of the only saint books I have included in this list and there are certainly many, many books on saints that teach about prayer, humility, sacrifice, giving, and love. All of them completely appropriate for Great Lent! This book in particular highlights a humble man and his search for holiness.
A ridiculously adorable book for young people about a little boy who learns to call on the SuperHolies during his time of need. Prayer, Patience, Goodness, Self Control--you know! All those virtues we wish we could employ every minute, every day...
A deeply spiritual story about both humility and sacrificial giving. Wonderfully told, beautifully illustrated, see if you can track down this book, or its prequel, The Quiltmaker's Journey for a read during Great Lent
This sweet story could be a read-aloud, or is perfect for independent reders. It's the tale of a dog and a boy, and is set at a charming monastery that has a children's garden and a stable of farm animals. A little adventure, a little prayer, and a lot of love are found in these pages.
A favorite of middle grade readers. This is an adventure story where a young boy learns to move from a self-centered worldview, to one of holiness, giving, and love.
Lent is all about turning inward. I love Great Lent! Here are a few other blog posts you may want to check out that focus on lenten reading for kids.
If you have other favorites that you'd like to share, please list them in the comments!
My husband works in Seattle even though we live in Santa Barbara. So, every now and then, since homeschooling and our eleven-year-old are very portable, we move the whole shebang 1000 miles north.
I've made it a habit when we travel to try to connect with folks that I have gotten to know online. Maybe I'll make a point to meet with a work colleague who helped produce a book with me, or someone who has championed my stories over the years, or perhaps I'll meet with someone who shares in one of my loves (reading, writing, gardening, baking, kids, etc...). These face-to-face meetings--even if they're just an hour at a coffee shop--change things. Suddenly, someone who used to be a profile picture is a living, laughing, scarf-wearing human. Sometimes when these meetings happen, I'll look at them and almost see a tether between the two of us--a thread that is joined by time, and space, and beating hearts. Suddenly we are not just words. We are wrinkles (or not!), and we are warm, and we sip our coffee, and we are so completely three dimensional, and we are NOW, and we are communion. We are not just "friends." We were already a part of the whole--a part of being sick and well, a part of being old and new--but when we are side by side we are actually in communion, breaking bread together, drinking, sharing words...
I was thinking today, imagining in the (near) future, a time when most work and learning will be online. A time when Amazon delivery people will be threading through our streets like little ants. A time when therapists will have a mental health pyramid. We will need just enough face-to-face interaction in our lives to keep us mentally stable, and if we get that, then the other hours of cruising Facebook, of watching riveting television series, of posting pictures on our Instagram pages might be (somewhat, grudgingly,) allowed. But if we have too little of that real life human awareness and contact, then our eyesight will diminish, our mental capacity will waiver, and our concept of reality will fade into pixel dust...
I'm an introvert, so I really could live inside a turret and drink tea and watch movies and write books all day long. Thank God, though, that I'm old enough to have learned. Real people are amazing! They are living, walking, images of God Himself! They are complete, unique, amazing creations, and I'm glad I know a few of them. I'm hoping to know more. In this time of bizarre divisiveness, and political and personal unrest, I recommend that you travel to the next county over and meet someone new. Someone that you thought you knew, but until you see them up close, you realize that you only knew the middle paragraph on the fourtieth page of the entire book.
...because we have become a people who are overly dependent on technology, on food, on being entertained, on having things...
In 1804, when John James Audubon needed to get from Mill Grove, PA to New York, and didn't have the money for hired transport," he walked through the winter snows to the city--a distance of some 150 miles, which he covered in less than three days..."
150 miles. On foot!
Are there ways we can train ourselves to be more independent and not at the mercy of our circumstances? Even though we're grown ups, we can learn new things, start new habits, and teach our children to be problem solvers by being problem solvers ourselves.
Let's be brave. I just learned how to change the belt on my vacuum cleaner, and suddenly I am not dependent on Bob's Vacuum Service any longer!
At the end of every calendar year I do a fair amount of reflecting. I look at my goals from the year--review the lists (I love lists) that I've created in my bullet journal, and begin a new plan for the upcoming year. I'm still mulling a few things over, still deciding on how to rearrange some of my life's puzzle pieces... Mainly, my writing.
Two and a half years ago, when I pulled my son out of public school, my whole life shifted. I knew I was giving up my writing life so that I could invest more in a living, breathing human. It was a good decision; we've seen so much beautiful growth come from my efforts. It's big work, though. Really big, creative work, and I am exhausted at the end of every day.
So most of 2016 was about John Ronan. He's eleven now, and absolutely, undeniably adorable.
2016 also meant for me:
Head lice. I seriously started 2016 with lice. No one else in the family had it, and I think I cried when I found the first nit in my hair at about midday on January 1st. I slept in my son's bed for two weeks, washed my hair with shampoo drenched with tea tree oil, blew dry my hair until my head burned every single day. I wore my hair up, and ran my sheets and towel and blankets and pillow case through the hot dryer every day. And vacuumed. I didn't do anything else. No combs, no special shampoos. It worked, so that's why I'm telling you, but I'm hoping we never, ever encounter head lice again. Especially on the first day of a new year.
The release of two picture books. When God Made You was released in March and A Book of Questions was released in May. Feels like so long ago! That was a busy time, but so fun to see a project all the way through to completion, and then hear from children that they like the words!
I read several books this year, a few novels with John Ronan but most were grown up books that I read alone in the evenings. I struggled through The Idiot, completely enjoyed Laurus, and Jayber Crow, and was fascinated by And God Came In. I finally finished Kristin Lavransdatter. That was a feat. This year was my first time ever reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, and I would definitely recommend A Year Without Mom, a touching graphic novel written for kids. All in all, I read about twenty books (not counting picture books). That's a lot of extra curricular reading since I wade through about a novel's worth of words every couple of weeks in manuscript form as an editor.
I wear glasses almost all the time now.
But I am not complaining about the glasses! I love my job as a children's book editor and this year I edited and helped produce four books for Ancient Faith Publishing: When God Made You; Hear Me; Goodnight Jesus; and Shepherding Sam. And I'm working on another four that will release in 2017, plus ready to contract another batch that will be published in 2018. :)
In 2016 my son and I finished up our dyeing projects! That was a blast. We fiddled with oak galls, sycamore, coffee, cochineal, and indigo.
I played a whole lotta monopoly. Please don't make me play any more in 2017.
With my daughter at school in downtown Los Angeles, our family had a chance to explore beyond the traffic and visit museums and hang out in Japantown where we like to buy tea and eat ramen. We were also fortunate to visit Arizona, Mammoth, and the Seattle area a bit, plus I got to go to Wisconsin and Chicago for work. What the heck! What a year filled with gifts and blessings and good things! Have you looked back on your year and realized how many good things came your way?
My hair grew very long this year. My garden is a mess. Our dog is adorable. And I'm making pine needle baskets again after a short hiatus...
My brother and his family moved to town this summer!
Then my sister and her son just moved to town last week!
Sunday night family dinners are going to be something else!!!
And I'm learning Finnish. Hei! Moi! Kiitos!!!
Hard things happened too in 2016. At home we are constantly both at war and in harmony with autism. And when I look at the world outside my window, sometimes I cry. People are frustrated, some are unstable--mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. Some are running from ruin or war. Whole countries are collapsing, and many people around the world are living without warmth and clean water... Sometimes I will pass the night in prayer, just hoping that we might bend, and allow God's mercy to heal the world. But we're stubborn. I'm stubborn.
Here's to a new year. May 2017 be one free of head lice! May you fight to achieve your goals, and see the good things that undoubtedly will come your way.
Happy New Year!
Well, maanantai is long gone, but since Mondays are my very favorite day of the week I didn't want to leave out the grand ending to my Finnish weekdays... After any weekend of family and church get togethers, on Monday, I am ready to get things done.
This Monday was perhaps a little different since school is out. I spent several hours writing, which is unusual during this season of homeschooling. What a gift. And sometime around noon, I put a mitt on my hand and played catch with the boy... And later in the day I pulled out my current Tunisian crochet project and pointed myself at this wall and stitched away...
I'd say one week of daily blogging is enough. I'll see you again soon, but for now I have a middle grade novel to conquer. And here are a few last things that I'm thinking about...
Wish us luck!
Sunnuntai. Sunday musings
Somedays you think there won't be any traffic when you're traveling to LA at noon, but you're wrong. There is always traffic.
[Loud] music to the rescue.
Then, MADELEINE! She has bangs. That's why I brave the traffic. To see that sweet face and listen to all of her plans for now and for later and to cheer her on. Someday I will write a post about why my husband and I are not discouraging her to be a "pop star," which is one of the weirdest things to think and write and admit, ever...
Rain. It was a gloriously rainy afternoon and evening. But after counting four major traffic accidents on the way home, I'm thinking folks have forgotten that rainy roads and 80 mph do not mix. (Have you all forgotten?!!!)
Coming home is always the best. Safe. Warm. Everyone asleep and looking angelic.
That was my Sunday, folks. Hope yours was amazing!
Just because some people can get their acts together by November 15th, and have their Christmas books out, and a pantry filled with fasting foods, and a wreath on the door, and their Christmas shopping done.... (Ha, who is that person?!)
(I'm not sure we should even try to live in that magical world.)
My son and I made an Advent wreath today. We washed out the glass candle holders. We gathered greens from the yard (bay leaves, succulents, and nandina berries). And then simply placed all the materials onto a large round plate. Every year we use different materials to create the wreath.
And we've also made a short list of some things we can do to give during this season of almsgiving. Here are our meager thoughts, and we would love to hear yours!
That's our list for now. We'd love to add to it if you want to share.
Anyone else excited that it's the weekend?!
So, John Ronan and I put on the piano guys and listened to a little Christmas music while doing math this morning. Friday is our art day, and cookie day when we think of it. But instead of cookies, today we sauntered off to a coffee shop and drank decaf, and read about the Wyeth family. We're studying the artwork of Andrew Wyeth all November. It was quite the moment when we both stumbled on the Helga Pictures. :)
Tomorrow we're making an advent wreath for the table, and in between we've brainstormed several ways to give during this time of almsgiving. One way is by giving slices of cucumber to our dog (he really loves cucumber). Obviously, our interpretation is wide and all-encompassing! We'll share that list with you tomorrow.
Today is a quick glimpse into our world of homeschooling. Every now and then I have a lot of editing work to catch up on, so I write out all of my son's school work on the chalkboard, and he and I sit side by side for most of the day, working, getting up to stretch and hug the dog, and dance, and eat, and such... Today was one of those days. We've only done that three times so far this school year, but I may plan for it more often. I find that he's exceptionally motivated when I'm not helping! Ususally I'm right in the midst of all his work between 9 and noon (because it's so fun to learn new things, don't you think?!!!).
Almost all of what we study, besides doing Khan Academy math on the computer, sits right here in this stack. Finnish, sketchbook, nat geo, journaling, Psalms, literature, history, art, Life of Fred... Everything else you can find at the library and the beach, in the kitchen, at the natural history museum, or just by sitting in the dirt, admiring the sound of the wind...
Thursday afternoons is horseback riding, and Toby is proving to be a "sarcastic" horse. Just two months ago John Ronan had three volunteers flanking both him and Toby, but last week and today he's riding alone! What a gift that he has this opportunity... Here's Toby trying to yank the reigns from John Ronan's hands. Equine sarcasm.
And here is Toby being perfectly respectable...
Tomorrow is Friday, which means (among other things) art and cookies!
Until then, friends..
"Beauty orders the heart." --Frederica Mathewes-Green
"Beauty is always a personal encounter; any beauty is a mediator between man and God..." --Newly elected Bishop Irenei of San Francisco
"We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it." --C.S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory
With Wednesday close to being over, I send you love, and wishes for a Thursday filled with beauty.
Last Tuesday most of us voted. And last Wednesday so many of us freaked out. (!!!)
Now it's a new Tuesday. It's November 15, and for those of us who are Orthodox, it means that Advent has begun.
Guess what Advent means? It means something new is coming--an arrival, a beginning, a birth. I am NOT talking of politics. I am talking of a new you, and a new me. And the fact that it's time to prepare for Christmas! We are forty days and counting...
So get out the paints, bring in the tree, turn up the music, and let's prepare for something that has real meaning. Let's prepare our homes, and give more, and open our hearts, and pray more, and generally, let's just be awesome people to one another.
Happy tiistai, friends!
I'm getting older, you know? I've been a parent for over twenty years now... And when it comes to educating kids, we've tried just about all of the available options. Public school, private school, church school, homeschool. Just haven't quite gotten to the outer extreme of unschool--but I have to admit, I might be on my way.
This fall, I'll be homeschooling our littlest--he's ten now, and in fifth grade. He's smart, and curious, and has a fascinating brain. He's adventurous, like I am, and so we're a pretty good team. I feel fortunate to have this time with him, and he says fairly often that he feels lucky too.
I used to think that the best sort of educated kid was the one who listened to classical music, who read beautiful and poignant literature, who could tell you all sorts of cool things about the ancient world, and maybe even pass the national Latin exam while still in grade school. I still kinda think some of this is important, and it certainly won't harm your child if he or she is pursuing these things, but I've come to see education from another vantage point.
As individuals, we are all constructed so incredibly different. Some of us learn beautifully through reading text. Some of us become creative thinkers while rock hopping. Some of us need to use our hands in order to sift through our thoughts. Others of us are masterful with oral language, but see only blurred lines while trying to write on paper... I think we should push our brains to do the things that don't come easy to us, but... I believe we should dedicate the majority of our time doing those things in which we excel. And maybe, as parents, more than anything we choose to send into the lives of our children, we should teach our children to love.
I am homeschooling my son so that he can learn to love. And love in all the ways possible. To love himself--to recognize those gifts imbued in him, and learn to use those gifts. To feel comfortable with who he is--so he can understand his own strengths and weaknesses and work on being his own person instead of mimicking those around him. To love others--to develop a sense of compassion for those he encounters, accepting others just as they are. To serve others, even those he doesn't appreciate and like. To love creation--to explore the beauty of the natural world, and learn to be responsible for it... To not hate.
Though some children seem to love more naturally--to be more selfless than others (I know, I was a pleaser)--this active education in loving fits all types. Doesn't it? It doesn't matter where your kids are going to school--it doesn't matter what grades are on their test scores (as long as they are working hard--I'm a BIG believer in working hard...) All of our attention as parents should be on love. Giving love. Modeling love. Teaching love. Encouraging our children to love more.
I know, this totally sounds like a blog post from the 60's! But some messages are timeless.
What does this have to do with Finnish? Ha!
Next summer we are planning a trip to Finland. I've longed to go since I was a little girl, when Raija Rauhamaa came to live in our house. She brought with her salted licorice, a fascinating language, cigarettes that I flushed down the toilet repeatedly, and a contagious laugh. I wrote reports on caribou and the Lapland, and the older I get, the more visiting there seems important. I believe in learning foreign languages (despite Google Translate) and so instead of embarking on Spanish, or French, or Japanese, or Russian--we're diving into Finnish, because, in the end, why not?! We don't have to follow the classical music/ancient history/national Latin exam model. We are Jane and John Ronan, and we are going to Finland.
And maybe the year after we'll go to Japan. Who knows? Why not learn twelve languages? So that we can love more people, in more places.
Mammoth in the summer. Forests, lakes, ski lifts that zoom you up thousands of feet. My favorite coffee shop ever (cause there are tables galore for spreading out to write...). Yosemite not far away (don't go in the summer--it's a zoo). This was our first trip to the Mammoth Lakes area ever as a family, and we feel fortunate that we were able to make the trip...
And if you have a boy and a dog who like to swim...
Happy end to summer, everyone!
Rotating through several families, every few weeks it's my time to bake loaves of prosphora for church. Yesterday was my day.
The early morning was spent walking the dog, preparing breakfast, starting laundry, stretching, and trimming the lemon tree. It's still not fully trimmed because once I begin baking, I give my full attention to the six loaves, barely leaving the kitchen for the next couple of hours.
I always begin with music. This time I was lucky, and had the house completely to myself (except for the dog, who made himself comfortable in "his" chair)--I set Pandora to my Arvo Part selection and began with a background of choral and liturgical music to help transport me a step closer to a place of prayer...
With the dough already through the first rise (that's what was happening when I was out chatting with and working on our beloved lemon) I start the molding process. Since I bake two full batches (three loaves in each batch) there is almost always something to be doing, with only a few breaks over the next couple of hours. When I do have an extra moment I heat up a cup of chai, find a book, and sit on the floor next to the sink. If I leave the kitchen it's certain I'll forget some major something--I know myself well enough, and have baked long enough, that I don't trust my trips to the backyard, or to the front porch, and definitely don't want to get sidetracked by my writing. (I once forgot to pick up my toddler from preschool because I was in the middle of some really lovely sentences! Oh, my...)
When the loaves are cooling, I say a prayer of thanks, breathe a long sigh of relief, change the music to something more upbeat, and clean up for vespers. It's one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday. I plan for it, and am thankful it doesn't come each and every week, but when it's my turn, I give my full attention to this lovely act of service and prayer. What if we lived every day that way--as an offering, prayerful, intentional?
I was relayed this story several years ago by a young acquaintance, and even if it is legend, even if it's no longer true (or never really was true), it's worth repeating.
The young people gather in the evenings and make food together. They pass the time, eating and drinking, watching movies, playing games, and in conversation...
But the odd thing is--my acquaintance said--when someone speaks they leave space between speakers. White Space. Blank Space. Empty moments. Pregnant pauses. They allow a speaker to finish, the words just spoken finding time to be digested, and then the next speaker chimes in with their thoughts.
Can you imagine? I teach a class of fourth to sixth graders once a week. Our time together is often a raucous bellow of one speaker fighting for air space, and another one sulking, and a third poised to chime in. And some in the circle never speak, because it's just too much trouble. So I tell this story every year, to inspire them toward something different, and we work on it All Year Long!
"You just interrupted me!"
I don't know. I feel as though our American ethos needs some mending. I feel as though all of our easy-ness, whether it comes to our daily chores, our stomachs and how we feed ourselves, how we dress, or how we speak, could use some thoughtful attention. We need white space. We need pregnant pauses. We need prayer. Whether that means hanging the clothes on the line instead of throwing them in the dryer, sitting outside with our cup of coffee to hear the birds chirp before we speed off to work, or simply listening to that person next to us with our full attention. So much attention that we wait, we wait some more, we think about their thoughts, and then we offer our own.
Maybe if we thought of speech as humble offererings? ...
A day away from the Santa Barbara beaches. A needed excursion out of the house... With two boys--one with an awesome playlist on his phone, the other so excited about an adventure that he packed beach umbrellas, coolers filled with drinks, boogie boards, and beach blankets all himself. Loaded up, we headed to Jalama, a state beach a little over an hour away.
We spent only the morning there, before it got too busy, when all the surfers were out in the water. We ate burgers at the grill, played soccer in the sand, threw a lot of rocks... We admired the huge globs of natural tar, and of course got some on our feet. Getting away, even just for a few hours, visiting a new place--it's one of the things I love about summer...
Ever heard of the Socratic Method? Neither had I... Till my kids went to a classical elementary school.
Of course I had heard of Socrates--at least there was that, but I graduated with 986 other seniors from a public high school in LA--there wasn't a lot of Latin or Ancient Greece in my world.
But, hey, we aren't too old to learn new things, are we? By way of my children, I learned all about the trivium, about being schooled at a round table through the art of open-ended questioning, digging deeper and deeper into a subject until you pull up the roots of things...
Somewhere along the way I wrote this book--it started out differently, when my daughter asked about dancing on the moon. And then the story morphed, as most stories do; it took shape, it got silly, and then it found a publisher.
For those of you who have wee little people in your midst, or who know wee little people, why not take a little jump into the Socratic Method? The text is short, and fun, and the illustrations are adorable. Plus...
It's better than a giveaway. Since it's a giveaway for Everyone! Here are the details:
It’s already free to anyone who has Kindle Unlimited, and some other book subscription services too. Plus, I think some library systems have it on loan… If you have access to an e-reader, would you download the book and read it to your child?!!! (Or, have your child read it to you! Or, if you don’t have a child, just read it to your dog, or your toast, or your next-door neighbor?) It’s free to you, and I’m trying to figure out if I’m interested in publishing any more of my stories with publishers who target primarily digital markets, so having your support, and maybe hearing your comments at some point would be a huge, enormous, incredible help! Yes?
Every kid has questions. They are also the inventors of VERY interesting answers. In A Book of Questions, kids are led through a pint-sized Socratic exercise in questioning the nature of the universe. Paired with whimsical illustrations, these questions are sure to get kids thinking, and coming up with new questions of their own.
If you had to get only one book, I would suggest you pick this up for your kids, homeschool, classroom or day care.
This book is one of those books that are filled with amazing illustrations. Each page brings kids to a new experience. Rather then reading a story, this book takes kids on a journey helping build thier brains to think on a much higher level. From basic daily questions to funny and silly questions, the kids and adults can sit and have great conversations.
I am all into getting kids to observe and think. A Book of Questions is a book that offers kids a fun read while thinking.
A Book of Questions is available via:
Amazon (Ebook--free on July 7, 8, and always free for Kindle Unlimited Folk, otherwise it’s $3.99)
Barnes and Noble ($9.99—paperback)
Read more about A Book of Questions, and why I wrote it, on my website...
Feel free to forward this email along to anyone you think might like a new free children’s book on their e-reader, or who might want to purchase the paperback… Thanks as always for your support of my work, and if you happen to read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts about your experience!
Coming to the end of the school year, my son and I had already attempted all sorts of dyeing projects together. Eucalyptus bark, fig leaves, and oak galls are just a few of the natural materials that we tried. In April, we made a list of the strange things we hadn't yet experimented with but had considered:
Nasturtium flowers, indigo, moss or lichen, red onion skins, coffee grounds, dandelion root, beets, and sour grass. We chose three projects; this is what we got!
We literally hammered stems, leaves, and flowers into a pre-mordanted fabric. It was strange. I liked this process way more than my son. I thought this would be the highlight of his year (in the dyeing dept), getting to be a little dramatic by using a hammer, but he petered out pretty fast, and I happily finished the project with zest. After the transfer of color, we (I) rolled the napkins and tied them with cotton string. I follow a woman on instagram who dyes this way all the time, so I tried to mimic her work. I then simmered the bundled fabric in oak tannins, and let them sit for a day before unwrapping. Big reveal was the intense color of the sour grass petals. Very bright yellow...
It's a sad fact that even though I like coffee, I can't drink it. My system is hyper sensitive, and being awake for 72 hours in a row after an accidental cup (oops, sorry, forgot you wanted decaf!) is not fun. My husband, however, is an addict. With permission, we emptied our cabinets and freezer of all our old coffee, and made a strong brew, which the little one wanted to try. The orange cup from France came off the shelf (bordered by the two undyed napkins), and he got his first taste of probably the worst coffee ever made.
Once the napkins were dyed, rinsed, and dried. We popped one into my purse, went to our favorite coffee spot, and treated ourselves to proper coffee. The latte colored napkin took its very first field trip!
We waited all year before embarking on indigo. I knew it was a tricky dye to work with, and that there were some extra chemicals involved, so I wanted us to have a little bit of experience under our belts before this adventure. Making indigo dye from scratch is tricky business. First you need to grow the plant, then harvest and ferment it (kind of like tea), and then process the fermented leaves into a dye mixture (watch this awesome video!). Instead, I bought dehydrated dye mix from a supplier, and made the indigo dye vat from the crystals. Even at this point there was soda ash and another strange chemically thing to add in.
Handling the dye is altogether different, too. You have to be extremely gentle while working with the liquid dye, careful not to mix in much oxygen. So we read the instructions carefully--four or five times over. In the end (after a very dramatic color change when the napkins came out of the dye vat green, shifted to a shimmery purple, then eventually landed on deep blue), our napkins came out very indigo-looking--and with leftover dye in went a t-shirt, and a few other garments that needed a boost of something new. I'd say this was the most fun and rewarding dyeing experience of the year.
So that closes out our year of homeschooling science, folks! I can pretty much say that I enjoyed every minute of it--and the student, well... he's ready for some airplane launching and microscope gazing... :) In the meantime, we have a tablecloth to dye, because look at all of these amazing napkins we need to put to use!
...because when I say I'm going to Chicago, I'm really lying. I'm really saying that I'm going to Wisconsin; to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to a retreat center that has a lake right outside my window and so many birds chirping, and horses in the pasture, and geese. There are even geese. And chapels in the forest. And when I listen to the birds, and look out the window I am so thankful that it's not Chicago, even though Chicago has its moments--its very nice moments. But Kenosha, I love you, and I have already done three handstands in the loft when no one was looking. I'm soaking it up folks! This retreat comes just once a year--a needed break--a needed renovating of the heart and mind and soul, and good work stuff to accomplish. And in a few days I'll be in the real Chicago, and that will be good, too. Just a different kind of good.
Cheers, friends, there's a lake to stare at!
We rented a teeny little house, packed our bags on Pascha afternoon, and headed to Seattle on Bright Monday. Ten days in Seattle. I was hoping for some rain, but, seriously, all we got was Santa Barbara weather!
We visited with my oldest son, Andrew, who is adorable, and is already a much better writer than I am. Walked through the Japanese gardens and the Flight Museum. Saw The Jungle Book. Drove off to the Olympic National Park for the weekend where we bathed in hot springs, hiked to a waterfall, ate breakfast in Forks, played on the beach, and said hello to a very large tree. We also got to hang out with the most awesome little people at St Katherine's Orthodox Mission where I was invited to read When God Made You and watch them all make art... and Seattle is just a diverse, fascinating, beautiful place--a good place to homeschool on the road. I feel so fortunate that we were able to go, and that my husband who commutes 1000 miles a few times each month got to just stay put and drink tea in the morning with me...
Hope you're all doing well.
Sending my love!
Our lives take twists and turns, and sometimes the way we would choose to shape our days isn't exactly what ends up happening--sometimes laundry stays heaped in the pile, sometimes an emergency pulls us away from our work... I write these two lists in my journal each year, so I have a constant reminder of how I might prioritize my time and my energy each day. It's especially poignant right now, during Holy Week, as I seek to be intentional with my time and actions...
This second list is more practical; it fits into my daily life when I'm not thrown a bucketful of curveballs...
Today I've started the baking, have loved the little one through math, I've vacuumed and prayed,
but the garden, and a healthy lunch, and that book tucked over by the chair in the corner? And will I get to my writing, or have a chance to greet someone with a smile and a kind word? We'll see...
During the month of March, John Ronan chose to explore the color red for our natural dye experiments. Looking through the lists of potential plant materials that are available in our area, we stumbled on two that seemed practical.
You know, (actually you probably don't know) I studied landscape architecture in my twenties, and learned to identify quite a range of plant material. Granted, I was living in Northern California then and the plants found there are wildly different from what is available in these southern parts. However, sycamore trees are pretty easy to guess at. When we pulled into the parking lot where John Ronan takes swimming, and I noticed that all the trees lining the creek there were of the sycamore variety, we rooted around in the fallen leaves together and picked up shed bark, plus we peeled some loose skin off of the trees as well. After our fantabulous success dyeing with eucalyptus, I was excited about getting a really wonderful red from the sycamore.
I would love for someone to look at my pictures here, and really tell me what tree bark I was dyeing with!
Because the red never came. A slight peachy color was boiled out of the bark, and then we added iron to half of the batch, just to see what in the world might happen, and a grey appeared. Once rinsed, we had two very pale but lovely napkins. I'm not complaining--they just weren't red.
Cochineal is a reliable source of red. Also known as carmine, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120, this natural dye is made by grinding up the dried insect (which makes its home on the prickly pear), and is used in all sorts of food stuff that you eat. If you're a vegetarian, and don't know about cochineal, you might want to do a quick search so you can avoid foods that contain this red dye. It's interesting, as I type, I'm aware that all of the dyes we've made so far have been from plant material. Probably because I didn't harvest these bugs myself, but instead pulled them out of a bottle, I didn't think much about the live bug that this dye comes from. But now... Now, I'm thinking. I don't even kill the spiders that come into our home. I name them, then cart them outside. I doubt I'll work with this dye again, despite the deep and lovely color that comes from it.
We simmered the ground cochineal, then split the batch, adding lemon juice to one pot. That pot turned orange.
We simmered the napkins in the dye for an hour or so, then let them cool. Because the colors were so vibrant, and vibrant colors are hard to come by in the natural world, we decided to split yet again the plain dye (the one without lemon juice) and add iron to see what might happen. Not surprisingly, we got purple.
But everything changed when we began rinsing the napkins in our ph neutral mix. They all devolved to pink--almost to the exact same pink. I'm wondering... if I had doubled the amount of cochineal used, perhaps we may have come a bit closer to red. I'm also wondering, if I had added some tannins, maybe the color of the mixes may have deepened... Hard to say. What we can say is--that we missnamed our month. Red was no where to be found.
But the year isn't over yet, friends. We're onto some wild experimenting in April and May, and I'm sure the results will be just as strange and unexpected as they've proved thus far.
It's about an hour's drive from our home. Figueroa Mountain is one of our favorite day trips--especially when there is snow. We fill a thermos with hot chocolate, run around the house trying to locate snow proof clothing, grab the boogie board, and away we go. We'll even take the kids out of school to spend an afternoon there--snow is rare in these parts and worth ditching school for!
But this time of year, especially after a winter that included a wee bit of rain, the California poppies have seeded themselves all over the mountainsides. The wash of blooms is spectacular, and it's just silly to stay home and see pictures of it on the internet. If you don't live near me, find a Figueroa of your own and explore!
Happy adventuring, friends!
This was my staple when I recently got the FLU, and for pretty much any time I need a healing, warming drink. (The flu stinks, by the way, but you already know that...)
Squeeze the lemon juice into a teacup and add the honey. Boil the ginger, simmer, strain into your cup. You could add a little more water, and add a second teacup to the mix, sharing your brew
with a friend.
Not pictured...By Dostoevesky. It took me a century to read this book, because it was mostly painful... I finished despite the very long conversations the prince and his "friends" were having. Holy smokes--Russians are crazy. They talk a lot and hardly ever DO anything. But the point of the book, the essence of the book, was thought-provoking; the very idea of a man with no guile, a man who is swayed so little by the whims of the world intrigued me. I'm still pondering this one...
Super cool cookbook that my mom purchased for my husband at Christmastime. Minimalist, lovely, yummy ingredients. I'm enjoying the journey of this lovely book, and giving my husband recommendations of what recipes he should try!
If your family fasts during the year, then this book is a good one to peruse. Lots of useful information, along with recipes. I don't cook much in our home, but it's a great resource and I'm reading it through, page by page.
A novel by a Russian historian, following a man from birth to death. Funny, fascinating, full of both joy and sorrow--I'd recommend this book over The Idiot any day!
Finally, I kind of understand this term! I'm a very visual person, and enjoy the Japanese rural aesthetic. I'll probably read a book about Japanese tea next, knowing me...
I joined a new writer's group, and a woman in the group, Robin Yardi, just had this book released. I raced to our local bookstore, picked up this copy, and my son and I will be diving into this starting tomorrow!
I read a little bit of this book at a time and let the wise words of Dr. Albert Rossi sink in. Enjoying it immensely.
We just finished A Wrinkle in Time. A classic. The little one and I took turns reading aloud, and it never disappoints. It's such a wonderful book for eliciting lively conversations about a whole variety of themes. We continue to make our way through Abbot Tryphon's Morning Offering; I've read When God Made You about fifty times since February!; we just finished an article in the National Geographic about latex harvesting that was eye-opening, and I picked up one of my son's Timmy Failure books since he flies through them and I wanted to be in on some of the jokes...
Enough about me! I'm wondering what's on your shelf that you'd like to recommend. Share, please!
During the month of February, the little one and I tried our hand at making natural grey dyes. There were many ideas online to think about, but only a couple we could expect to find locally. All month I hunted for black walnuts, since we have a few trees in our neighborhood, but being out of season, we came up empty--I even offered to gather rotting shells from under backyard trees, maybe that was creepy of me since no one gave me the thumbs up?!
However, we had great luck with a dye made from oak galls, acorn tannins, and iron from a rusted vise.
Oak galls have long been used as a source of tannin, ink, and dye. The gall is actually made by the oak tree, to protect it from an egg-laying wasp, and you can find them throughout our area, distributed on the forest floor, under and around oak trees.
The little one and I took our breakfast to a nearby park that is filled with oaks--so we drank hot chocolate and gathered galls and acorns, and let the puppy roam. I love homeschooling!
Later we smashed up the galls with a giant stick the puppy had carted home, we boiled the mess in a pot, and things were looking very un-grey with the first napkin, so we found a vise in the garage, split the dye bath and added it to the mix with a second napkin.
This was my first time adding iron to any of our dye mixes, and really you shouldn't just put a rusted anything in the dye mix, especially with cloth present. But I'm working with a ten-year-old boy, and we wanted to see some magic color transforming happen. The move paid off. Very grey. Very awesome. We like the rust stains.
Knowing that oak galls used to be one of the main forms of black ink, we simply boiled down our dye to see what might come of it. According to all the recipes, we were missing gum arabic, and the mix was supposed to cure over a couple of weeks, which we didn't find out until later. Oh, well. We pulled out other inks, and played with a glass fountain pen. Super fun for a Friday morning...
On to March, and red!
...because for Orthodox Christians it's still Lent, but for all my friends who are celebrating on March 27th,
I used to cringe any time my parents would say that we were headed to the desert. I grew up in Southern California, near the beach. Heading to Palm Springs for vacation, most of the time in the summer, wasn't my kind of change. We had a swamp cooler for air conditioning, and I was always sunburned. And fainted. Bleh...
But later in life I married a young man whose entire, enormous family lived in Phoenix. You know, love. I guess I loved him more than I hated cacti!
Now, in my wisened middle age, I've learned to say no to Palm Desert in July, and yes to Scottsdale in March! Plus, I still love my husband, and maybe it's because of him that I've done an about face--now I stare at the wide swaths of natural desert beauty and simply marvel.
The varied textures are what catch my eye and tug at my heart... When you look past the spines and thorns and gravely ground, you find such ingenuity and beauty...
So here's to early March, to blooms and thorns, and the promise of spring. Wherever you are, I wish you well!
When God made Duncan, he made a Builder, a Fixer, and a designer.
Duncan is ten (and look at that peek inside of the church!).
When God made Malcolm, He put a big appetite and made me fast. And put a video game disc in and a joke and a hug. And hobbit feet.
Malcolm is eight (wearing a hat & headphones, and his feet are amazing!).
When God made Ciara, He made me kind to others and love fashion. He made me love drawing and making stuff out of paper. And my cat Pasha.
Ciara is six and is giving a lady the wallet she dropped (thanks for acting on your kindness, Ciara!).
When God made Bonnie, He made me with a twirl, because I love twirling and dancing. And singing. Then He made me dance and hop, hop, hop! And don't forget run around in circles!
Bonnie has a rainbow over her head, and she is four (and she runs around in circles and loves to twirl! I'd love to twirl with her)...
A friend sent along these amazing drawings that children in her Sunday school did. If you have a child (or children, or maybe you!!!) would like to write a profile about what beautiful things God was thinking when they/you were created, or draw a picture, or do both, I'd love to share them here. You can send them to email@example.com.
If you're interested in When God Made You, I'd love to send off a copy or two or three. Just mention one beautiful thing in the comment section. Any word, any thought, and I'll put you in the drawing.
I'll choose on Friday, March 11th, so that gives you plenty of time to think of beautiful words and write them here, and for you to tell all your friends, cause maybe I'll give away lots of books!
I'm still trying to make time in my busy week to read at least a little each day. I have to carry books everywhere with me to do that, since much of my free time is when I'm away from the house, but it's worth it. Here are some of the books that I've encountered lately.
OK. Most of you know this story from your childhood. Somehow I got through elementary school without reading much at all. I believe I spent most of my time upside down, or on roofs, or in trees--so this was a first time read for me. The little one and I endured the typos (this edition was just packed with typos), discussed what it would be like to live an ultra rural life, I almost threw the book in the trash when the protagonist cut down a giant sycamore to catch a racoon, but the overall themes of the story--of love, of dedication, of self respect won the day. We cried and cried and cried and cried at the end. Seriously, we took turns reading and sobbing...
Pretty much every day we incorporate a reading from Abbot Tryphon's devotional book. The entries are short ( a page or less) and thought provoking. These readings are a lovely part of our routine.
While reading Letters to Children, a book filled with notes that C.S. Lewis had written over his life to young people, I came across mention of this book, a biography about Joy Davidman, whom Lewis married in his later years. Her story is like a novel, filled with personality, intrigue, and twists and turns. If you're a Lewis fan, this might be something for you to consider finding...
I'm loving this book, but am only mid-way, so I'm saving my review for next time!
I read a lot of children's literature to keep tabs on what's happening, and I'm attracted to stories that feel a little out of the ordinary. This fully illustrated short novel gives the reader a glimpse into city life back in the Soviet 90's. It's more pictures than words, and a wonderful invitation into someone else's life, but with plenty of common themes for the reader to hold on to...
This classic picture book was hard for me to track down at the library, but I finally did it! Maybe one of the most compassionate, most subtle, yet poignant books about bullying that I've ever read. As an editor, I found that I wanted to pull out my red pen in some places, but overall it's well worth the library search and several reads.
We have a subscription from my in-laws for this monthly magazine, and for such a long time we haven't read them. They just pile up. How awful of us! Anyway, I decided to incorporate some reading into every school day, so now we are tearing through articles on walruses, on giant sequoias, on the slow death of our pine forests... It's been fascinating, and though we don't read every single essay or story we are reaching out into the world and learning all sorts of new and fascinating things. Do you have a pile of these magazines in your home, too? My pile is shrinking, since once we've read through an entire issue, we give it away. :)
A book I've long been wanting to read... However, it's waiting for me to finish The Idiot...
Other books I've dug into recently are: The Gospel of John, When God Made You! Ha, I've read that a few times lately... Also, some other really fun picture books (whenever I go to the library, I grab at least five or six of the new picture books and then after I read them I plant them strategically, one at a time, on the couch. They always get read, that way, and sometimes more than once): The Postmouse's Rounds (adorable!), Now and Ben ( a clever story about Ben Franklin's many inventions), Mesmerized (also about Ben Franklin), North Woods Girl (lovely...), and we just started reading aloud A Wrinkle in Time.
Curious what you've been reading! Feel free to let me know in the comments.
When it comes to my writing career, I don't mind making a little bit of money. I've poured in hours and hours and hours of writing time, of critiquing, of slaving over words, of reading about writing, of writing about writing. It's a career, and typically when you work, you get paid for your efforts. It's fair...
But when it comes to my handwork--to knitting, or crocheting, or sewing ridiculous Star Wars-themed napkins, I do it for fun. I do it to relax, to pray, to enter into an activity that both slows my body and stimulates my mind. Same with this new hobby of mine--weaving with pine needles.
(Okay, those photos are mostly about tea. But who doesn't love tea?!!! Notice the trivets and coaster...)
What's fun about the weaving is that not many people do it! So it looks unusual, unique. It's not that hard, really, at least at the level that I'm working, but it's different, and the end products are interesting, useful, earthy...
Many people over these last several months have asked if I might sell the baskets that I'm making. What?!!! No! I'm just a beginner. Selling them seems preposterous. Half of what I make is lopsided! I don't gather the needles from my backyard, soak them, sew them, to earn money. It's about the learning--the journey--doing something new.
My mom has a friend who is an absolute kick. She is a very accomplished woman, verbose, opinionated, cultured. She travels a lot. Somehow she got a hold of one of my first little baskets, and just thought they were the most amazing things. She said they should be under glass at the Smithsonian. Ha! I made several small baskets and sent them her way around Christmas time, saying all I wanted in return was for my daughter to have lunch with her. Instead I ended up with a $100 bill stuffed into my little orange backpack (plus she hosted my daughter for lunch :)). And she thought that wasn't even enough...
Well, I've thought this through. I don't want the pressure of selling anything. I want to weave when I feel like weaving. I'd like to experiment, when I feel like experimenting... But it's obvious that there are a few people out there who wouldn't mind having a basket, or a trivet, or a coaster or two made from the pine needles that drip all year long from our massive Canary Island Pine. I'm super happy to share, so here's the deal.
I am going to start a running list of folks who'd like a pine needle something. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll put you on the list, and I'll send you a finished woven something, when and if I make one! No pressure on me. You all are the first to hear, so send in your name. I'll wait and post this to other forums in a day or two, waiting until those of you, who might be interested, have responded...
And in return, once you receive the package, I'd love for you to donate something to our church's building fund. We are raising money to build our church temple (right now we worship out of our fellowship hall), and it'd be pretty cool if some of that money came from the prayerful work I do when I'm weaving pine needles, stich after stich.
In your email, please let me know these things:
As for payment. I'll let you decide. I really don't care if you send in $5 or $500. I don't! I really don't. I'll leave that part up to you. But just to give you an idea--it takes me about two hours to weave a coaster or a very teeny basket, and it takes about 20 hours to weave a super large trivet... I'm happy to work for a buck an hour. If you don't believe me, then you don't yet know me...
When you email me with your info, in return I'll send you information on how to care for a pine needle basket/coaster/trivet, etc (not that there's really anything to say--just don't give it to your puppy, cause he'll eat it, like mine did...) and I'll let you know how to mail a check or make a donation to our church's building fund.
What do you think? Does this seem like it'll work? I'm up for revising every word of this if you have better ideas. In the meantime, here are some pine needle weavings that I've done--that might help describe size, threads, shapes, etc.
Cheers, friends! Please ask questions, or make other awesome remarks in the comments below.
The image above is a large, flat pine needle weaving that spans a little more than 12 inches across. It is sewn with a brown hemp thread.
Above left is the same large flat weaving as the top photo. And above right is a small v-shaped basket with brown hemp thread, and a trivet with beige and brown variegated hemp thread--plus some pine needles and the beginning of something new... This trivet, and the trivet shown way up top in the tea photos that is made with a deep blue upholstery thread, are about eight inches across.
These two crazies... Above left is a flat weaving, and I simply experimented all the way through. I wove in lavender stems, grass stalks, japanese maple twigs, and bright pink mohair, using upholstery thread. Had fun with that one. Above right is a basket. These photos can be so decieving. It's one of the larger baskets I've made, about 8-9 inches across the brim, and rising maybe 4 inches, using lots of bright colored hemp thread.
In the basket above left, I used a light brown upholstery thread, it is v-shaped, and is probably 2-3 inches high and 4 inches across the brim. Above right are three coasters (all about 4 1/2 inches across), one small basket, and one trivet. All the trivets I make are between 7 1/2 to 8 inches across. All the thread used on the above right photo is hemp thread--lime green, light blue, and brown.
Above left--four little coasters (about 4 1/2 inches across), all for a friend. Black hemp thread with colored centers. I like the way they turned out. Above right--the white hemp is awful, but I was trying to make a little globe shape, and it worked! I've made about four now, of various sizes... The rim of this basket is green, only because I used green needles instead of brown. They will eventually turn to brown...
Above--a coaster that decided to turn into a little shallow tray, and a little basket. These were some of my first weavings. Hemp thread...
Various sizes, all flat. Wow, my stitching is so much better now! Also from more than a year ago. All hemp thread.
Once you start buying beeswax candles, there's a lovely leftover bit of beeswax that begins to pile up. You save every extra hardened drip of wax, in a little bag, tucked away in a wooden drawer... You do not throw away beeswax!
And then one day you notice that your cutting board needs some care. That your favorite spoon, made of olive wood, could use some conditioning, and to top it off, it's winter, and your hands are AWFULLY--HORRIBLY dry.
This recipe is for you! I don't think you can run out and buy this most awesome, amazing wood balm. Can you? If so, it's probably expensive. I keep mine in a glass mason jar, along with my other cleaning supplies, and it takes just a tiny bit of time to make.
Heat the beeswax in a double boiler type of pan, or simply over very low heat. Heat s l o w l y, until it's melted.
Pour in the olive oil, also slowly, stirring as you go. If the beeswax hardens a bit, no worries, just leave the low heat on until it's all melted and happy to be together. Stir.
Once both the beeswax and oil are melted together, turn off the heat, and stir with a wooden spoon.
Stir about every five or ten minutes as it's cooling. It will change from melted liquid, to a lovely, moussy-texture. Once it's cool-ish, take a rubber spatula and transfer the balm into your glass jar and close with a lid. Spread the residue from the spatula onto your hands, just because you should...
That's it. The balm will stay good for ages.
As a side note--this is the varnish that I put on my pine needle creations. I simply heat the balm back to a liquid, paint it all over the baskets or trivets, then bake the balm into the needles in my little oven. It seals the needles and helps make the basket water-resistant, and once it's baked, there is little residue left, just a naturally lovely, handmade creation...
Despite December being dominated by Advent and Christmas and all that that means, the little one and I were able to do two natural dye experiments during the month.
Orange, orange, orange! I love orange. I'm weird that way...
My parents have a sloped openspace on their property. It's sort of a buffer between them and a nearby road, but we've found several ways to make this space useful. The first is that we set up a small archery range on the only flat area so we can practice being archer/elves. The second is that it's filled with eucalyptus and oak trees, so we've pulled out some of the dead wood for firewood, and this last time round, we collected a whole huge pile of eucalyptus bark that had peeled from the trees.
Because so many of our dye baths have been weak in color, I decided to completely stuff our pan full of bark, to see if that would help deepen the color. We added tannins to both dye baths, too (pomegranate in one, acorn in the other) and alum was added as well...
Hooray! It didn't turn out quite orange, more like a burnt rust. But lots and lots of color--just what we had hoped!
We've done enough dyeing now to know that the added tannins are making a real difference in color absorption. But as a last test, we dyed one napkin in alum/carrot dye, and the other in alum/carrot/acorn tannins... As predicted, the one with the tannins was decidedly more orange flavored. Not quite orange, more of a light peach. Carrots obviously don't make the best dye, but they were fun to chop and play with!
January has been declared a no-dye month, since we have started some new classes, but February will be GREY to encourage rain clouds to come and stay...
GAH! It's here...
This new children's book, which I'm SO excited to see in published form, has traveled quite a long journey from idea to publication. Like most illustrated books, it takes a team of people, financial resources, and time for the book to make its way into the hands of a child. Having written this story when my big kids were little, it shows that the publishing world is a lot about patience...
Which is a lovely segue into the reason for this book. I truly wanted to write a story that explored, in a 32-page capsule, how we are all unique, endowed with such different gifts and virtues, such individual preferences--you love pink and are naturally patient, and I am crazy about orange! Why?
There's a little more about the backstory of When God Made You here, plus you can now order a copy HERE! The book is in the warehouse NOW, and why not get a tiny glimse into the actual pages of the book--you know, what it looks like with the words, and how Matt, my friend the art director, did wonders with the fonts and the layout?
Holy smokes. Wasn't expecting it to be ready so soon...
Of course. This book would be nothing without Megan Gilbert. If you know her, you know she's a first-rate artist, a pleasure to work with, and crazy professional. Her depictions of these lovely children that I first portrayed only in words, are outright magical...
My hope for this book is that the kids who read it will understand both their neighbors, and themselves better. That they will have another nudge toward knowing that they were made with a purpose, that they are LOVED just for being who they are. (Even if who they are means having a bird on their head all the time!)
Lastly, if your kids are interested in either writing a profile about themselves, or drawing their own portrait, with your permission we'll be collecting these images to post on the When God Made You facebook page, and maybe on a page here on my own website. And it doesn't just have to be kids! Feel free to send me your own writing or illustration as well!!! I wrote my own. Here goes:
Prost, Kampai, and Cheers! Here's to the New Year and all the adventure it will bring!
...because we taught our dog all about Saint Nicholas, and now
Merry Christmas Eve to All!
More books! It's been a busy reading season for me. That seems to happen when creative juices are flowing. I bypass a lot of visual media when I'm writing, but the consumption of music and books increases.
Here's a taste of the books that have been on my shelf, in my hands, and hopefully making their way into my brain!
Since I homeschool the munchkin, I get to read aloud with him every day! Not such a bad deal, right? We are batting 1000 when it comes to The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. So far all three of my children have gobbled up these books--even the boys--even though the main characters are Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty. Just goes to show that awesome writing poo-pooh's the supposed boy/girl divide. Even if you don't have kids in your midst, these books are for you.
Finally read Stephen King's bestseller, which highlights his early life, his thoughts on writing, and how he continues to crank out one novel after the next. Pretty good stuff in this book, especially for those just getting started, and if you're needing a good dose of colorful language, then have at it!
Why have I never read Catcher in the Rye? I was intrigued by the stories of Franny and Zooey by Salinger. The dialogue is dynamic--so raw, like technicolor, not muted in any way. Thankfully these two pieces are short, because they're exhausting. If you're familiar with the Russian classic The Way of a Pilgrim, you'll be interested to know that it makes quite an unexpected showing in these two stories...
by C.S. Lewis. I'm a huge letter-writing fan. I once wrote over 300 letters in a four-month timespan. I'm not sure why this book was housed in the children's section of our library, because it's unlikely a child would be inspired by this collection, but I'm glad I found it. The most beautiful discovery in this small volume was that C.S. Lewis asked the kids he wrote to--to pray for him. I like that.
by Jaqueline Woodson. Such a lovely, lyrical story of the author's childhood, which spun between both North and South. A wonderful middle grade read, and absolutely stuffed with hope.
Other books I've read recently are: The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, Nooks and Crannies by Jessica Lawson, Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier, and I'm just beginning Becoming a Healing Presence. I keep track of the books I read, oftentimes writing mini-reviews (because I have a poor memory for facts and details), on Goodreads.
Would love to know what you're reading right now, even though you're probably baking Christmas breads, scolding the dog for eating another ornament, and wrapping socks--like I am!
The natural dye experiments continue at Chez Meyer. November was a bit of a crazy month, with several trips to LA, which zap the life out of me, except I get to see my daughter! Here's a glimpse of the experiments we were able to fit in between traffic jams.
In Santa Barbara, since most things grow year round, ivy can be a menace. We have one side of our yard, where we are constantly battling the ivy hedge, trying to keep it trimmed so that it doesn't trail onto the ground and propogate into more, and more, and more, and MORE ivy. So, trimming ivy to chop and boil was a delight.
And doesn't it figure that this ivy that I care so little for, not only gave us a lovely yellowy-green dye, but that it surprised us with the most beautiful aroma while it was on the stove? Truly, I think I learned a little lesson that day...
We tried to add some iron to the mix by soaking our rusty red wagon with water then letting it sit.
But the dog kept drinking it...
Both napkins were simmered in alum, but to continue to see whether the added tannins really do make a difference, one napkin had just the alum and ivy dye, and the other napkin was steeped in a triple concoction of alum, pomegranate tannins, and ivy dye. The pomegranate tannins definitely help to make a deeper color...
We didn't really get a green, but close!
To make tannins from acorns. I simply collected acorns from the pavement in the parking lot where my son goes swimming, put them in a large mason jar, filled the jar with boiling water, then left them in a sunny spot for about ten days. I strained the liquid, and put it in the fridge for future dyeing...
(The acorns started to sprout in the water so we took them to my parent's house and planted about thirty seeds into the ground. All we need now is rain to encourage our new oak forest! My son is very hopeful that he'll get a treehouse out of the deal.)
Napkin One: Pre-simmered in alum, then acorn tannins and artichoke dye
Napkin Two: Pre-simmered in alum, then artichoke dye.
Note: We didn't strain the artichokes cause we were both feeling lazy, so dumped the napkins in the pot with all the chopped leaves, etc. Please be smarter than we were...
Apparently, we are very good at making yellow dye!
On to orange, all through December!
A long while ago now, I made my first little crocheted tote bag using a pattern from Attic 24. I purchased a myriad of colored wool and worked away during a three-week road trip with my family. Since then I've added cotton lining to the bags--I also felt the bags so they're easily washable, and just move from row to row, deciding on size as I go.
Recently I worked up four more bags, since my stash of wool needed to be thinned.
They're pretty cute, and they're useful, but what I didn't realize is that they're EDIBLE!
Especially when you name the red and white one, which I was just about to give away, Peppermint.
Our dog, Zuko, who is evidently still very much an eight-month old puppy, stole this sweet bag from the clothesline, ate part of the handle, buried the bag in the dirt, then proceeded to gnaw on the clothespin, which my son pulled out of his mouth just before swallowing. Zuko is a certified glutton, and will be punished with prostrations. That dog seriously will eat anything that isn't a porcupine.
I made him pose for this picture.
So instead of giving away Poor Peppermint, which I intend to somehow mend, I'm happy to give away the other three, if anyone's interested. I know Peppermint is the very cutest--I totally agree--but don't blame me, blame it on the DOG! :)
Details about the giveaway are in the comments.
...because sometimes it's worth it to get your feet wet, your nose sandy, and simply frolic in the waves...
It's not often that one turns ten!
And even though I'm Disneyland Averse--because of too many trips there when I was little, plus it's so often hot in Anaheim, and I am completely lame when it comes to hot--we took our fella there on his tenth birthday.
It was not hot. It was awesome!
Except Space Mountain was closed... :(
We brought John Ronan's very best friend, who is the perfect kind of crazy; he's up for anything.
We also stole Madeleine away from her classes at USC.
I bet y'all have been to Disneyland a thousand more times than we have, which means, you're probably broke! Goodness, that place is expensive.
But worth it--for this...
The color experiments continue!
October meant purple--because that's what the nine-year-old boy chose. We had some good fun over the course of the month. And our napkin collection doth increase!
Three boxes of blackberries later, (two for dye and one for munching) we had a pot full of very purply/pinky-looking liquid. We continue to experiment with tannins and mordants, from pomegranate rinds, and alum. This round, the big excitement was when both napkins, after sitting in the dye pot over night, came out of the pot--one pink, and the other bright pink, but when washed in a ph neutral soap and our sink water, which has some salt in it from our softener, the colors turned one napkin purple while the other remained pink. THEN, the sun turned the purple to a bluey grey, and the pink to a muted mauve. So. Many. Changes. All in one blackberry day...
We were after purple, remember? We read that by adding salt to red cabbage dye, that the odds of getting purple were better, so our (very stinky) dye mixes had all sorts of things happening. Tannins, extra doses of salt, alum, etc. We thought the blackberry change from pink to purple was cool, but goodness, we were dancing up and down in the kitchen when our purple turned to green, right in front of John Ronan's eyes. The rinse cycle can be exciting, folks! Since I was unprepared, there are no photos, but strong remembrances of screams. :) Red cabbage dye yielded two napkins--one minty green, and the other a beautiful pale blue.
This day was just silly fun. Trying to make purple paint from black grapes and blueberries. We boiled things, ate things, painted things. We aren't the greatest tempera paint makers yet, but every test is good learning, and this time we were inspired to make pancakes to go with the blueberry sludge, so there's that!
Off to November's green. :)
...because there's got to be a lime-green, vespa-loving little someone out there who wants this, right?
Details of the giveaway are in the comments :)
...because I don't think most people understand that our ONE tree could make a million pine needle baskets
Every evening I read. And oftentimes when I hit a low, and need some tea, I'll pick up a book for a half hour in the afternoon... We go to the library about three times a week!
It's essential as a writer and a creator that I am consistently learning new things and experiencing life from a variety of angles. And reading is a big part of my life. Much of my reading comes from my editing job. Lots of submissions--always words around me. Thank goodness it's one of my very favorite things to do!
At home, here's a smattering of what I've been diving into lately.
We have several of these small Tove Jansson paperbacks now, and they are adorable. The Moomins are some of the silliest creatures around, and in this edition Moomin builds his own house, then gives it away. I buy these books to add to my own collection, that's how strange I am, but I will let my kids read them--if their hands are washed and the ice cream bowl is in the sink.
You can see by the size of the spine that it took me a while to read this modern-day classic. 1300 pages long, it follows the life of one woman, from childhood to death. I still have many thoughts churning in my head about this book--it will take me a long while to digest, but I loved it. I loved traveling back in time (1300's in Norway--I'm on a bit of a Scandinavian kick) and sympathizing with her many decisions, watching her turn from joy, to sorrow, to joy again. This edition, the one translated by Tiina Nunnally, is the one to look for...
John Ronan and I are taking turns reading through this Tolkien wonder (for the second time). I can't get enough of the way he uses language. And the story's not bad, either! Oh, Bilbo. I do love you and take comfort, knowing you will return to your hobbit hole and your afternoon tea...
It was the feast of Saint Romanos on October 1st, so this book came out and was passed around! Is it weird that I read my own books?
Two books that I'm referring to often as the little one and I continue exploring color together this year. Today is purple cabbage dye, (and the doors are flung open because the house kind of smells stinky) so I'm using a recipe from the natural dye book. Did you know that adding salt to the water will make the dye more blue (cause of the alkaline) and adding vinegar or lemon to the water will make the dye more pink (cause of the acid)? Of course it all makes perfect, logical sense, but it sure is fun to have it happen right in front of you...
Other books I've read recently are: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Voyage to the Rock, Rules, Anything but Typical, Mockingbird, Jane, the Fox and Me, The 13 Clocks, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Rosie Project, and A Long Walk to Water. I keep track of the books I read, writing mini-reviews because I have a poor memory for details, on Goodreads.
A few upcoming books on my shelf are: Brown Girl Dreaming, Morning Offering, and maybe Franny and Zoey? Still deciding.
Would love to know what you're diving into right now...
Have you ever had a dye pot on your stove?
At home we are exploring color this year--mostly color that we can pull right out of our backyard or kitchen. So here's September Yellow.
We chopped fresh leaves, and dyed one napkin just in fig leaf dye, and the other we combined pomegranate tannins (from pomegranate rinds), and the fig leaf brew. That one actually worked and held the color!
We smashed nasturtium flowers and combined them with an egg yolk and water to make a lemony-colored paint. We also mixed ground turmeric with the same tempera mix and made a gritty, but deep orange-ish/browny-yellow paint.
Oak trees are common here in Santa Barbara, and their acorns are filled with tannins, which help bind a dye to fabric fibers. We gathered acorns, hammered the shells, crushed and ground the acorn meat, then rinsed the tannins into a pot to use later. Easy peasy, plus the hammering part was super fun.
We ran around our yard chopping yarrow leaves and gathered both dried and fresh flowers. We simmered the leaves and flowers in water to create the yellow dye, then added alum, a mineral mordant to one pot, and our acorn tannins to another pot. The alum/yarrow pot turned lemony yellow, while the acorn/yarrow pot turned a blotchy brown.
And here is September's yellow, nicely folded, and ready to meet October's purple...
Fourth Grade means so many new things for our family.
My husband has taken a new job. If you can believe it--he is a Sometimes Commuter between Santa Barbara and Seattle.
My oldest son is getting his first working experience post college.
My daughter moved to USC, and is singing her ginormous heart out.
And the little one and I are embarking on fourth grade together--no private schools, no public schools--just the two of us setting our sights on lots of adventure and learning.
Despite all the swirling in circles because of these changes, and the recent heat that had me contemplating a move to Finland, I am crazy-excited, feeling awfully blessed, to be a fourth grader again!
In case you're wondering what homeschooling looks like in our house, right now. Here goes:
8-9:30: Morning prayers; Life of Fred; Gospel reading; cursive
10-11: Drumming; sketchbook; then science notes, editing, foot races with the dog, or updating book logs
11:10-noon: The Hobbit; vocabulary.
After lunch: Independent reading, free time (Minecraft--my archenemy), and off to the beach, or the natural history museum, or the library, or to a coffee shop... (And that's when I get my work done...)
Fridays: After math, etc... we do science, or take field trips. Right now we're exploring making our own yellow natural dyes and paints during the month of September.
Things will change as the year progresses. We will add subjects, and subtract subjects, except for reading, writing, math, and running mad dashes around the yard with the dog. Those few never change.
Hope your start to the 2015/2016 school year is going swell.
Do you remember when you learned to skip rocks, ride a bike, sprout a seed, or do a handstand?
One of the gifts of having little ones around is getting to experience all these firsts again.
The experience of course is not ours, it's one step removed, but still so very lovely...
...and I can't speak Finnish, but it's not too late to learn, is it?
I know I'm a bit of a simpleton, but I think God had handstands, gardens, bicycles, hot tea, traveling to distant lands, and skeins and skeins of yarn on his mind when he was knitting me together...
Long ago I was pondering this question: What was God thinking when He made me? Not in the sarcastic sense--I'm happy he made me! But how does making someone work, not from a DNA standpoint, but from a Creator/Creation, spiritual viewpoint.
In response to this questioning, I did what I like to do when I'm trying to work something out; I wrote a children's book. First, it started by trying to imagine what collection of thoughts, things, gifts, colors, elements, etc... went into the making of my own children. I wrote this about Madeleine (whom I nicknamed Brigid) when she was about seven:
When God made Brigid, He gathered cheeriness and fireworks and pink fizzy candy, then trapped them in a silken purse. For three long days He shook the purse and added one by one a speck of dirt, a quiet sphere of blue, and a seed from the tallest climbing tree. Then God placed the purse across Brigid’s shoulders, breathed His sweet breath onto Brigid’s tiny toes, and said,
What I love about this profile is how accurate it still rings, and yet how Madeleine, now 18, has also outgrown some of the imagery. I am not God--I can not foresee her road, nor know her as completely as He can. Only He could write her story perfectly.
And yet, how lovely to seek to know each other. To see each person reflected by way of one's choices, preferences, gifts, and talents.
When God Made You is a children's picture book--to be published by Ancient Faith Publishing in early 2016. Megan Gilbert is the illustrator, and the image above is a small cropping of the cover art. I am SO excited about this book. I foresee lots of school visits, asking kids to reflect on who they are, and why they're so beautifully unique. I foresee conversations between children and those grownups reading to them--about what makes them special, about what makes them THEM! And I have my own work to do. I've only written the profiles of my older two children, and even though it won't be in the book, I need to get working on a paragraph that best describes my littlest.
Why don't you join me, and think about those around you that you know and love. I'd love to read your words, and celebrate with you the uniqueness of those in your lives...
We are all artists. We all cook, decorate, organize, write, hum, and fold. And some of us knit and sew, draw and paint, garden and build.
We all create.
I've been pondering this passage from A Mystery of Art quite a lot lately:
The most important work of an artist is not what he or she creates. It is in the work of being created by the grace of God. The primary focus of the artist is the working out of his salvation. What the artist creates or produces in terms of works of art is always secondary to becoming a work of art in reality. The spiritual artist continually repents his ambition and becomes the poem...
Becoming a poem.
Some days my poem is all scattered words, and haste, and shallow phrases. But on those days when I really pray--those days when everything I do is prayer? It's on those days when that poem transforms and becomes all beauty...
This last month has been an absolute whirlwind. Visitors, parties, celebrations, traveling, books, editing, puppy cuddling,
hiding under the covers...
I've been absent from this space, mostly because my computer was crashing, crashing, crashing, and so I was treating it like a nervous animal, worried to upset it in any way, hopeful that I might type and tap quietly enough to get my work done. Then I just went out and scooped up a new computer, because, hey, I'm a writer! And an editor! And an amateur photo mama who cries when she can't organize all her pictures.
My older two monkeys both stepped into a new world two weeks ago. I'm still numb.
Madeleine graduated high school, and is heading to USC to study music. She is already wearing Trojan flannel pants to bed, and has plotted out her room, and even purchased blue enamelware and a French press for her mini-kitchen.
Andrew graduated from college; he studied history, racing through the program in three years. He's staying in Seattle to work and be with his friends while they finish off their last year... He signed a year lease on an apartment so I'm tearful every time I think of him NOT coming home, but I'm happy too. I promise.
Just look at him; he's adorable.
It's odd having these young people become so grown up.
And of course, there's the little one, who I still get to have around for several more years. Thank God for that! He keeps me on my toes, plus I get to field all of his very cool questions like: Do you think Marie Antoinette really LIKED cake? These kids keep the stuff happening, the good stuff, the stuff that ends up in books. :)
Three cheers, and a few tears, to growing up.
Wishing you all amazing summers, folks.
...because Zuko is now a Meyer :)
When the road is closed
(and just look at that sign--it is REALLY closed) don't head home... Find another path!
We recently drove over the mountains to hike to a nearby waterfall after a rain. Water is such a novelty in California right now, we wanted to celebrate this rare moment by visiting the falls, but instead found the popular path closed. We almost hurdled the caution tape! (I confess to being way too adventurous at times.) Then, we complained, pouted, and almost drove away. But my husband and I caught each other in the complaints and started pointing out the beauty at hand. After swirling around in circles for a few minutes, examing the dry creek, and listening to the birds, a far better alternative appeared. A path we'd never seen, that led right up that mountain.
Spring was in full bloom--all around us. There was moss, and mushrooms, and dozens of wildflowers sprinkled alongside the trail. It was enchanting.
It brought to mind the Thanksgiving Akathist. Have you heard it?
I'm so grateful for these moments I have of being with those I love, discovering tiny flowers I've never ever seen before, trekking along new trails, breathing in fresh air after a rain... This hymn of thanksgiving is powerful and beautiful, just like the land when it's bursting with life:
Lord, how good it is to be Your guest: the delicately scented wind, the mountains stretching to the sky, the waters reflecting like infinite mirrors the golden rays of the sun, the airiness of clouds. All nature secretly whispers, full of tenderness, and even the birds and beasts bear the mark of Your love. Blessed is Mother Earth with her beauty which is transient, making one long for the homeland which is eternal and where in imperishable beauty, rings out: Alleluia.
Happy spring, dear friends.
...because the jacaranda bloom in Santa Barbara is coming to a close...
The Jacaranda Tree:
Indigenous to Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil...
The species came to California in the early 1900's.
In Santa Barbara, there are typically two blooms. One heavy bloom in late May, early June, and another in November/December. This year, because of the drought and odd weather patterns, the spring bloom came more than a month early.
In Pasadena there are more than 3500 jacaranda trees!
The trees drop sticky flowers and some think the mess isn't worth it, but I heartily disagree!
When I was a little girl living in Southern California, my parents purchased a home in the desert. It was off of Bob Hope Drive in Palm Springs. That house was on a cul-de-sac, and three other families we knew from Santa Monica also had houses there. The kids outnumbered the grownups by about five to one. We played a lot of Kick-the-Can late at night...
The house had a swamp cooler, and the cul-de-sac had a pool. Over the block wall was the desert, and in the desert there were snakes, and beyond the snakes were date palms. Pretty interesting stuff for a seven-year old!
However, I'm a redhead, and fair-skinned, and really am more built for the Lapland than the desert. In fact, if I'm dehydrated, and it's hot, I faint. I have a lot of fainting stories. I didn't really like our trips to the house off of Bob Hope Drive. The beach in Santa Monica was nice. The beach was always cool and breezy and didn't make my face flush red for days. And why did we always go to Palm Springs in the summer? Why not November?
So when I married a man whose family all lived in Arizona, in Phoenix, in the desert, I started making up names for the place. I called it the Arid Zone. I complained when there were June weddings. I added to the fainting stories.
But you know? I'm older and wiser now. I'm not 16 going on 17 anymore, and I've figured out how not to faint. I am admitting today, publicly, to all Meyers everywhere, to all desert dwellers in the universe, that spring in the desert is about one of the most amazing things going. If you ever have a chance to visit Scottsdale in March...
You Should Go!
...because I might have scolded my oldest however many years ago for getting his shoes all wet when we spontaneously decided to take a quick hike to the oak grove. Honestly, I can't remember--it's an awfully long time looking back--but it seems like something I may have done...
I like to bake bread (sourdough in the oven right now!) And I like to garden, and make things with my hands... And I love to travel.
But more than any sort of work, or hobby, I love to write!
Somehow along the way, I became both a writer and an editor of children's books. Maybe because I'm organized, and love being a cheerleader of others' work? Maybe because I can play with words all day long and never ever get bored? Whatever the reason, when it comes to producing a children's picture book for the Orthodox Christian market, I've helped generate enough books, and watched them take their place in the market, to know what typically works, and what doesn't.
I've set the stage this way so I can talk about you. Here are some things to know if this is an artistic path that you're considering:
and the power of Story...
The pine needles blow through my back door and land at my feet while I type. Our tiny little urban homestead is a trio of buildings all circling a giant Canary Island Pine. The tree towers over 150 feet above us, and we love its presence, despite the falling cones that endanger our noggins and the needles that we constantly rake and gather and heft into the green bin. The tree brings shade, and birds, and a feeling of permanence in this place.
We have a lemon tree, too, and many other fruit trees. We make lemonade, and plum jam, and eat our figs fresh for breakfast.
After trying pine needle tea, which is high in vitamin C and fairly awful, I finally have found a way to enter into the life of this tree. No longer am I merely an observer (there is a whole story that unfolds up there daily) and cleaner-uper of its ways. For once I'm actually celebrating the mess that season after season drops onto our little plot.
It has been a fun shift, thinking of pine needles as a tool for making something new, and maybe even making something useful--beautiful. But more than that, there's a joy in learning a new craft. A new way to use my hands, another learning curve that causes creativity to emerge and shift, and that touches other areas of my life.
And like knitting, or sewing, it's another repetitive art, where I can settle into a rhythm, and where prayer becomes a partner as I stitch round and round and round...
When I was a little girl my dad, who was a baker, opened up a restaurant. The first idea for the restaurant was for it to be a soup and bread establishment. And since they already excelled at the bread part, all he needed was a wonderful soup chef, whom he found! He was Greek, and used to sneak quarters and fifty-cent pieces into my pockets when I wasn't looking.
My mom hates to cook, so I was raised on soup.
(And bread of course!)
Eventually, with my father's creative whims, the small restaurant grew until we took over an entire city block and were serving some of the first cappuccinos in LA. Plus there was the gift shop, the wine shop, the pastries, the cake and the cheese shop. There was an outdoor cafe, and an upstairs Basque dining hall. I started working there when I was 12, and my last day was a few days before my wedding when I was 23.
Thankfully, despite all the changes, there was always soup.
My biggest regret, when the Pioneer Boulangerie closed its doors, was that I didn't corner the chef and drag every soup recipe he made out of him...
Over the years I have fiddled, and this lovely broccoli soup approximates the cream soups we once served. Cream of Broccoli, Cream of Asparagus--of cauliflower, and of celery. All. So. Good. You can make these soups without the cream, and you can easily interchange the broccoli with the veggies I've mentioned above. Maybe you have another variation you can share with me here?
Cream of Broccoli Soup
Place broccoli, potatoes, leeks, onion and salt in a soup pot. Fill with water (or stock or a mix of the two) until everything is just barely covered. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
Puree until smooth (I use an immersion blender. You can also put the soup in a conventional blender. Or use a hand masher; it will be chunkier).
Add the desired amount of cream. Add pepper. Adjust salt, if necessary.
Enjoy! If you've never made a soup, now's your time. Buy an artisan loaf of bread, pair the two together, and you are living the dream, folks! My dream, at least...
The only bummer about heading to Nashville with my daughter for her school audition last week is that I searched Santa Barbara high and low, for two months, for a new travel purse. I searched LA too. I never found one. I am a bag lady, and having the right purse is a priority.
It's so odd--this penchant of mine--because I really don't care about fashion, or clothes, and have no idea how to wear makeup, and often just sweep my hair up because I hate static... But purses!
Is it because of all the pens and notebooks, chocolates and knitting needles I can tuck away inside, making me feel like Jane pretty much anywhere I go?
Is it the promise of going somewhere? I do like going places.
Anyway, we headed to Nashville with my old clunky purse, which meant I was ducking into leather stores all over the city, but honestly... all I found were cowboy boots.
If you've never been to Nashville, then you should say yes next time you're asked to tag along. Parking is super expensive, and Broadway and Third reminds me of the Las Vegas strip, but other than that, it's a beautiful town. Music everywhere. Wonderful restaurants. Nice, southern people. Welcoming rental car attendants, coffee shop barristas, and college girls with puppies.
Being with my daughter is always an adventure. Just like I used to do handstands and cartwheels everywhere, she seeks out good acoustics and plays and sings anywhere she is allowed.
And if the puppies and the music aren't enough for you to plan a trip, I bet you didn't know there's a parthenon in Nashville! Oh, my.
A parthenon with fabulous acoustics.
With a giant gold Athena inside...
I am not making this up. One can not make up a giant, gold Athena. Nashvillers being as sweet as they are, they (the security guards) asked Mad to play her ukelele and sing in the room right beside their beloved Greek goddess.
It was magical--the sound spun all over that space, up, down, around, bouncing off those eight pounds of gold and her mighty shield.
Madeleine's audition and day at Belmont turned out just the way it should have... And we were able to see a show at the Ryman...
But if you don't finish your stay in Nashville at church, then I say don't go. After all that music, and food, and meeting new friends, our morning at St Ignatius Orthodox Church was literally the best few hours of our entire time in Tennessee. Like a balm, the prayer of that place still lingers inside of me...
so poorly reflects what's growing
Few saint stories have grabbed me like the one of Brigid. She was bold, fearless, confident, adventurous, compassionate... She loved her mother. She tended cows. She sang to her pantry. She traveled and created communities, and brought people together, all in the name of Christ. I would like to be like her...
Her feast day is February 1st (so soon!), and on the eve before--we Meyers always celebrate by weaving crosses and making Irish food. This year we are spending our Saturday driving up the coast to look at puppies, and then we will return to drink some Irish ale and eat shepherd's pie. I've already gathered pine needles for weaving. Won't you join me in celebrating?
If you don't yet have a copy of The Life of Saint Brigid, it's pretty cool that Ancient Faith Publishing is now offering her story as an e-book. If you have an e-reader, and a wee little child, well... !!!
Irish Rune of Hospitality
I saw a stranger yestreen;
I put food in the eating place,
drink in the drinking place,
music in the listening place,
and in the name of the Triune
he blessed myself and my house,
my cattle and my dear ones, and the lark said in her song
often, often, often,
goes the Christ is the stranger's guise,
often, often, often,
goes the Christ in the stranger's guise.
Saint Brigid, pray to God for us...
Masala chai. Perfect cure for those grey days when you're perturbed by the constant drizzle; for moments of being overwhelmed by too many toddlers and their lack of sharing ability; or for planning out future adventures while you write down how and when you might be able to finally take that road trip to Alaska you've always dreamed of.
I was given a typed-out recipe back in 1988 by some friends who were missionaries in India. We've been making and drinking homemade masala chai ever since, and if you don't like the pre-mixed, overly sweetened "chai" (which simply means "tea") that you find these days at coffee shops, then I am here to help :) (And if you do like it, well, maybe I can convert you?)
Masala Chai means mixed spice tea. There is no exact recipe, but these four components are always included: a strong black tea (such as Assam); spices (typical spices used are cardamom pods, ginger, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn and sometimes salt, saffron, cumin, turmeric, nutmeg or licorice...); milk (in India they use buffalo milk--you can also use almond milk as a replacement if you don't drink cow's milk); and a sweetener (such as refined sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, syrup or honey).
I love my spiced tea to have a bit of a "burn" in my throat and so my mix is fairly spicy. I make a homemade concentrate that I keep in the fridge and then simply mix with milk when I'm ready/needing/dying for a cup.
8 cups of water
3 inches of fresh ginger, diced
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons cardamom pods
1 tablespoon whole black pepper
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon whole cloves
6 tea bags or 6 teaspoons of strong black tea, such as Assam
2 tablespoons of honey
Bring 8 cups of water to a boil. While the water is heating, lightly pound the cardamom, cloves, fennel and whole black pepper with your handy mortar and pestle. Add dry spices to the water. Add diced ginger and cinnamon sticks as well. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover and let steep for 10 minutes.
Bring spiced water to a boil once again, add black tea, turn off the heat, cover, and let steep for three minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of honey (or more if you like it sweeter--I like mine barely sweet), stir to incorporate, then strain the entire mixture into a large bowl or pitcher or mason jar.
When making a cup of chai to drink, use one part tea blend, and one part milk. Either heat or pour over ice.
You can fiddle with how you like your blend, adding different spices or amounts--maybe you prefer to use dried ginger instead of fresh? Or perhaps you have a particular love for nutmeg? It's all fair game.
And if you want to see masala chai made with flare on the streets of New Delhi, then check out this video.
I do lack flare. I'm considering adding a little flare to the next batch...
Oftentimes there are subplots...
Cheers, friends. Have a great weekend!
It's hard not to romanticize this place that has been a distant part of my family for a hundred years. There is so much myth and mystery mixed with real life--that I hardly know where the legend leaves off and the real stuff begins. In a nutshell. My great, great grandfather left Les Aldudes, a valley in the Pyrenees mountains on the border of France and Spain, back in the late 1890's. So many young people left at that time--and he came to California and eventually made a life for himself there as a baker.
By 2005 my French Basque cousins had almost all moved away from the valley, seeking work in busier parts of France, and the house (for Basques identify deeply with their homes) went on the market. The nostalgic Californians (my brother, dad, and uncle), 100-years-removed, bought it.
Basques being an extremely loyal group, treat us like family when we return. I am the only one who speaks French, and few in the community speak English, which makes me the Official Translator when we visit. My dad's an extrovert; we often joke that my college education, which had a lot to do with France and French and chaussons aux pommes, keeps paying off in terms of real words. So Many Words!
One of my favorite memories of this home was when I was eighteen and studying French in Angers. I traveled there for Christmas to stay with my cousins and was stunned when I realized that presents had nothing to do with the holiday--just church, just family, food, and reflection. That has always stayed with me, and I had a small hope that my family and I could walk into that space once again, leaving behind the city's bustle and focus on stuff, and just come here and be...
Our time in Les Aldudes is always a reminder of life lived a different way--so close to nature. This trip we were able to pray a bit more deeply, to rest and laugh, and spend time each day in the hills.
Romantic as the house may seem, and it does have awesome bones, truthfully it's a bit like camping indoors--what with the wallpaper literally dropping off the walls in chunks, the carpet so thin we're always tempted to just peel it up, and a heater/hot water system that requires manual administration... Plus there's the one bathroom that has an awful brown/pink color combo going on, and the other with carpet actually on the ceiling... :)
But who cares about the carpet and the wallpaper? I don't. I just hope it doesn't take us another nine years to save our money to travel there again...
On second thought, even if it does, I'm glad that such a place exists, even if I can't often be there. I believe that prayers make this world a better place, and that beauty combats evil by the moment. Just the fact that Les Aldudes, wrapped this moment in frost and ferns, exists adds goodness to you and to me.
Our trip to Normandy was simple. It was the time in between England and the Pyrenees. It was the one place in France my dad has always wanted to visit. It was a short time of remembrance and reflection, another nudge toward understanding human sacrifice.
I'm not a historian, nor someone who enjoys the study of war; I don't believe in glorifying past battles, only learning from suffering, and hopefully making bridges from struggle to peace.
We stayed in Bayeux, which allowed us two experiences. Time to visit and pray in the cathedral, and a chance to wander Omaha Beach and visit the memorial of WWII.
We are away from Santa Barbara for these two weeks of Christmas break. Canterbury was our first stop--to see where our oldest son, Andrew, has been living and studying these past months. Here's a little tour of the place he called home...
Douglas. Always on the search for a fabulous meal, since he's a foody, and a great amateur chef. He was cheered by all the holiday parties that were in full swing in the various restaurants. Even though we couldn't get in to many places we'd read about, he liked that Christmas was being celebrated by people being together... (Salt, was awesome, though...)
Me. Tea. Always tea. So much tea! I love tea... :) Also, the English have crazy good manners. Manners matter. John Ronan, who struggles with social stuff, rose to the occasion! Bravo, little man. Manners didn't seem to matter quite as much late at night, when the men hung out in the streets singing, swinging their beers back and forth to their off-key melodies.
Andrew. He didn't trust English barbers. Which is why his hair was still bush-like upon our arrival. Canterbury, according to Andrew, is very much a college town and is surprisingly diverse. He'll miss the quirky shops, and the view of the cathedral that he could see as he walked to and from the town.
Madeleine. She liked the mixture of young and old, and felt that Canterbury is a place where people live well. She'd like to return and maybe even live in England at some point? She brought along her red ukelele and joined the other street entertainers for an afternoon. An extra thirty pounds in the pocket is always nice...
John Ronan. He liked this small city because they spoke English--because he got to buy four new books--because Louise, the innkeeper had nice manners and left cookies in the room.
My parents. They sum up the city as quaint, charming, cold, windy and alive. My mom said it felt so much like old England--she almost expected Tiny Tim to be walking the streets, and my dad says the cathedral is a must, plus he liked our innkeeper, Louise, who was so lively and attentive, and who cooked us very good and proper breakfasts each morning...
Off to France!
Every year, around the 15th of November when Advent starts in the Orthodox church, I amble out to the yard to gather greens and berries and dried flowers. These offerings from our little space of outside are heartily appreciated.
Some years I have made wreaths from the leaves on our bay tree.
Other years I have used a wire circle and have threaded acacia leaves from my parents' tree round and round it.
One year, maybe next year, I will make a wreath from pine needles. Because WE. HAVE. THE. BIGGGEST. PINE. TREE. IN. ALL. OF. SANTA. BARBARA! And that amazing, awesome pine tree comes with needles. So many needles.
This year we decided to make Advent wreaths with our Sunday school classes--purchasing grapevine bases, red burlap ribbon, votives and candles, and I brought in hundreds of succulent trimmings to help the decorating. Once home, out into the garden I went to add rosemary, pyrancantha, and a few more succulents...
Since we won't be home for the holidays, this wreath, and the one on our front door, is the extent of the decorating. We will be taking our Christmas cheer to France, and maybe we'll make a wreath there--from heather and other greenery that the mountain might offer? Who knows. It will be an adventure...
Sending you all lots of love and good cheer as we march through December. May you and your family and your friends enjoy a season filled with joy and reflection, peace and goodwill!
It's December, friends! We've been Adventing it up these last two weeks here at the Meyer home, but doesn't it seem more like the Christmas season once December arrives and the turkey has been put in the past?
So... my lovely publisher gave me the permission to give away three sets of my two latest books this one time. In case I'm confusing you, since I like to get carried away with words, it means that three different people will win a copy of both Sweet Song and The Hidden Garden!
Sheesh, I want to enter.
Just leave your name in the comments below, with a comment about anything you like, including where I can find a miniature labradoodle come the new year that won't cost me $2000!!!
And in case you don't know much about either of these two books--here's a short recap.
Sweet Song is a Christmas story! Really, it is. It's about a miracle that happened to Saint Romanos on the eve of the Nativity feast! This book should be included in your Christmas reading for your kids. Saint Romanos is an amazing role model of humility, faith and gentleness. I just love how dedicated he was to Christ, and then how he used his talents to bless the world a hundred times over with his music.
The Hidden Garden is an every-day, all-the-time story. It's a story that I literally need to read every single week, because it inspires me to be a much better human, and to constantly, always, open my heart to love--to love others and to love Christ! This is one of those stories that was written despite me--and is loved by both children and adults.
(I like my other books, too, but they aren't in the giveaway!)
Hoping to hear from you. Feel free to share this post with your friends, and don't forget to buy books this holiday season for the little people in your lives. They don't have to be my books, but having a shelf full of treasured stories is such a gift to a child.
I'll be picking three winners on Wednesday, December 10th.
The winners are: Rebekah Johnson, Christine Dr., and Rebeca!
I lived in Italy a long time ago, and taught little girls how to be better gymnasts. I also learned to speak Italian, and just generally became a huge fan of mountain people and anything that had to do with living a simple life. I remember my first time returning to the States after being gone for so long. The supermarkets shocked me, and I refused to let my mom buy me anything for at least a year--consumerism was so palpable. Plus people spoke with their hands in their pockets. That was weird.
Recently, a story from long ago Italy resurfaced in my thoughts.
In Aosta, the town where I lived, I attended the wedding of a dear friend. During my ten-day stay, a gang of us decided to make the trip to Torino to the Ikea store. Something about a couch. And because they're Italian, a food excursion also needed to be tacked on to this errand. They'd heard of a festival of lumache (snails) that an entire town was hosting over the weekend. So Ikea first, then snails.
After the couch errand, which turned into a pillow errand instead, we ate and drank, and sopped up garlicky juices with bread. The snails were made in every way imagined--fried, baked, sauteed. We all just tasted, and talked, and walked, and enjoyed.
But THEN! Antonella got a tummy ache. The group was aghast. They rushed her to the nearest bar and sat her down, and fretted over her, and ordered her sparkling water and other digestifs, and offered their encouragment. They brought forth all their knowledge on digestion--the local remedies--should she stand, should she walk, should she rest? Should we leave?
She was not green. She was not throwing up. There was no fever, or sweat, or hives on her hands... She looked fine to me.
This story popped back into my mind several times these last couple of months as I have consciously worked on trying to remove some allergic reactions that I've developed over the years. Remembering how Antonella had listened so closely to her stomach made me realize just how out of tune we are with our bodies here in the States. Europeans are excruciatingly aware of their inner workings. For an Italian, good digestion is a crucial key to happiness.
I laughed then, but understand better now. To try to rid myself of morning congestion and other allergic reactions, I embarked on a diet that removed just about any food trigger one can ingest. For about 50 days I ate a very limited diet, and though I am not completely free of my allergies, they have diminished significantly. But better than that, I learned an Italian secret, to listen to my body, to care about my inner workings and treat my own person with more respect.
There were other, unintended lessons that I learned, which is why I'm writing this post. Because I want you to learn about your body too. I don't want children to have diabetes. I don't want to see my friends burdened with physical ailments that might be avoided. I want us to hear our own tummy's grumbles and react.
So that's the scoop, folks. Think about how you eat, where you shop, what you buy, and what your body is trying to tell you. Think about your kids, or other loved ones. Who knows what secrets may be in it for you?
...because I wanted to hike alone, just this once, to think and explore, and enjoy the beauty of this place this time of year. But, I encountered the sign about the mountain lions at the trailhead, and how you should walk in pairs, and I looked down at my 100-pound body, and realized I might be tasty (in a happy-meal sort of way), and it's a drought, and mountain lions are most certainly extra hungry right now. For me.
Fact: I am a chicken.
I slunk back to the car, drove to a populated, paved road that snakes along the train tracks and the coast. I walked there instead, and tried super hard not to chide myself out of enjoying the view.
Happy weekend, everyone!
Long, long ago. When my first born was still pink and pudgy, I took a class at a local yarn shop and learned the basics of Tunisian crochet. There were only four of us in the class: the teacher, myself, and two adorable octogenarians. Over the six weeks, I completed a sampler blanket, which still gets used from time to time when babies pop by and need cuddling.
There was something about the long hook--the stitching on, then stitching off again--that I loved. Like weaving... And so through the years I have continued to crochet this way--with one long hook, my sampler book as a guide, and my own imagination for patterns.
I've made sweaters and scarves, shawls and baby blankets. I've searched high and low for patterns on the internet. I've looked in shops across the country, but always without any result. So I've just made things up.
Recently I tumbled into a wonderful yarn shop in Cambria, California and told the shopkeeper of my love for Tunisian crochet. She waltzed me over to a shelf and showed me THREE books filled with patterns. I was stunned. But as I paged through them, there was that sadness that stirs when you realize it's just more of the same crochet-curse--awful, old-fashioned patterns that look like your grandmother might have whipped them up while watching soap operas in the 60s.
Anyway, it's not the 60's anymore! Introducing my latest shawl. Made from two lovely skeins of Madelinetosh Pashmina (merino, silk and cashmere!). Yum. I just sketched out a design, got to work, realized I switched hooks half way through, frogged, got back to work, mattress-stitched, edged, blocked, buttoned, and voila! Shawls are my favorite. Easy to throw across your shoulders when you're cold, and drop onto the back of a chair when it's no longer needed. And for my most recent project, I particularly wanted to make a shawl that could be tied in front so that my arms are completely free and ready for weeding, or riding my bike, or packaging up books to send to readers.
Here are some photos. Big thanks to Morgan, who snuggled into the soft pashmina and looked cute, and to Madeleine, who helped snap the pictures.
Here, I have the shawl fastened with a single button. Silly me, I forgot to tie the shawl while we were shooting, so unfortunately no photos of it being worn that way. Sorry...
If you are practiced in Tunisian crochet, or know someone who is, send them my way, would you? Only a few of us have made the trek, and I'm hoping to find a few more who have adventured along the same roads I have!
For a long while, the keys to the house in France have been buried in a basket in our junk drawer in the kitchen. Surrounded by rubber bands, measuring tapes, foreign coins, and packets of soy sauce, they have just been another idle, unusable item that sits and waits for its time.
It's a really long story--the story why my dad, my brother, and my uncle purchased the old family home in the French Pyrenees. Nostalgia is probably the best explanation--a strong sense of home, even though we're a hundred years removed. Kind of a romantic, immigrant tale. I'm not complaining!
It's just that France is so far.
The last time we traveled there as a family I was five months pregnant with our littlest. The littlest is now almost nine. But guess what?
We've saved our pennies for all these years, and now we're planning for two and a half weeks abroad. A few days in England, to gather the oldest who is studying there. Then across the channel to Normandy, then south. All the way south. As-far-as-you-can-go-south. And God willing, we'll be celebrating Christmas in Les Aldudes, a village of 300 beautiful souls, plus the sheep. (If you want to join us, here's a home for rent :) )
Those keys that have been in that junk drawer now hang from our baker's rack, in anticipation of old wooden doors, and unused locks. The heat will be turned on--the house will once again have lights that glow through the windows at night, and we simply can't wait.
Long ago, when I was just 18 and spent a Christmas with my French cousins who lived there, I had the most glorious Christmas ever. Two magical three-hour meals, the whole town crowded into the village church to sing, morning walks, and not one present under the Christmas tree. In fact, there was no Christmas tree!
Can you imagine?
We pulled into the parking lot and three deer startled up the trail. The children screamed--shouting at best friends across the bus. Did you see, did you see?!
The same enthusiasm flew from the front seat to the back bench--and in and out of the windows--when we had passed through the tunnel just mintues before.
Adventure! The enthusiasm of children. The discovery of new things. How they express their wonder so loudly, so plainly, with such contagion and excitement! I just love kids...
Nojoqui Falls is about an hour from Santa Barbara. The Chumash Indians lived in and around this beautiful forested place, and you can sense stories from other times as you walk along the trails and smell the goodness of the wood and the green and the earth.
We spent the morning there, kicking up the dirt, examining the seeping water where the falls will spill over and create pools once it finally rains. Please, Lord. Let it rain...
And then there were the grey squirrels following us from above. And the coffee berry seeds in the scat. And the bay trees which smelled heavenly. The stalagmites being created in front of our eyes.
And the hollowed out trees, ripe for exploring.
If you don't have kids in your midst to adventure with, I recommend you ask around and find some! Borrow a child, and take him straight to nature and let him explore. Give him a stick. Let her throw rocks. Bring a thermos of hot chocolate to share.
And good grief. Try not to freak out if a tarantula comes ambling across your path.
Above all, admire the beauty,
Hand work is hard for him. Pencils. Paintbrushes. Notes and notetaking. He struggles to control the lines. He gets exasperated. Frustrated. Mad.
Let's do something about it. Let's build you up, my sweet boy. Let's find a way for you not to struggle, but soar!
So all summer long after second grade had finished, every single weekday the cursive lessons came out. The book was opened, and he and I practiced. I practiced mine; he practiced his. Ten minutes, maybe one minute more. We were a sloping, curving, laughing, growling, handwriting duo.
Every grade is all about science, and language, and math, and visits to the library. Every student, every year has P.E. and gets to do drama with Miss Emma Jane. But only third-graders learn cursive. It's how every day begins.
And being frustrated with third grade because of loopy letters,
seems upside down,
If there wasn't white space on a page, just think what a jumble your brain would try to make of the words?
Have you ever noticed that when you're cuddled with your little one, and reading a story aloud, that if you slow the pace, and pause between paragraphs, that the story takes on a deeper meaning?
And what about all that clutter in my home? Is the collection of candles gathering dust on the shelf adding anything beautiful to my life?
Lastly, your teenager is telling you of a struggle. And all sorts of advice is bubbling up inside your brain. Stories of your youth, warnings of friends who went astray. This is when we all should put a muzzle on our tongues. Just breathe and let them talk. Just be, and embrace the silence. When white space is intentionally created, those things that are left on the page, in your home, on your tongue, immediately gain more substance.
sometimes the right thing to do
is to cheer them on,
or say nothing at all...
Madeleine made her way into the world with a splash. Born at home in a rush, her dramatic beginning was just a foreshadowing of an entire childhood painted by a natural zazzle, joy, and penchant for drama. It has been a delight to be her mama--we are almost exact opposites, she and I, so seeing the world through her eyes has opened me to all sorts of new paths and puzzles.
I grew up in Santa Monica with a brother as an actor, a grandpa as a prop master, and Hollywood all around me. I suppose in response to all of that glitter--because I'm an earthy kind of girl--we deliberately kept Madeleine away from casting directors and baby photo shoots. We knew she'd do well there, but we wanted opportunities to come to her through her own desires and choices, not through ours or any other grown up's agenda. By the age of 13 we couldn't deny that the performing path was finding her despite our shrugged shoulders. We prayed a lot, and let things unfold in a slow, easy sort of way...
Fastforward to 17 and that zazzled, joyful, dramatic child is still very visible, except she no longer wears pig tails or tattered princess dresses.
Watching your kids work hard, reach for their dreams, stretch themselves, make goals, and pray a lot. Well, what else is there when you're a mama? So today we're celebrating Madeleine. Because she deserves it. For two years, she and her duet partner, Erik Ireland Olsen, have been writing music, working on their sound, working on their sound some more, performing at small venues, soliciting criticism, recording, and re-recording. These two are no quitters. And this last week a major hurdle was accomplished--the release of their first EP, and a concert they orgnaized themselves to celebrate and show their stuff to the community that has supported them all these years.
Three hundred people showed up. Erik and Madeleine sang their hearts out and proved that they are more than ready for whatever that next step might be. Their website is in the works, and they are hoping to release yet another song come summer, and maybe put together a small tour. Right now Mad is back to the everyday high school mix, juggling tutoring younger students, applying at colleges, working on her own class assignments, making sure her room remains a GIANT mess, and generally just being an everyday, delightful young woman.
Bravo, Mad! I love you, sweet girl...
Summer is for tealights in the garden, for simple meals, and picnics at the beach. I hope you've been able to have some of those moments this past summer. For us in Santa Barbara, summer is at its best in September and October; we are still basking in warm beach days, but the cool nights (and the departure of the tourists!) mark autumn's entrance.
And in autumn and winter we light candles indoors, to lift our spirits, help lengthen the days and brighten the mood, and to send our prayers soaring toward heaven. And maybe even to accompany a bit of rain falling on the garden?
I just noticed last week that the bees are hungry for the oregano blossoms.
And the butterflies are spending much of their days on the yellow lantana out front. There is so much simple beauty to admire when you spend a whole day in the garden. Sometimes I dream of Syria, of Liberia, of Israel and Palestine, of the Ukraine and Iraq, and I wish I could just transport all those hurting people--moms and dads, children and their elderly uncles--and magically fit them into the little playhouse we have under the orange tree. I would bake chocolate chip scones for them and we would drink fresh mint tea. With the fountain running, and the mottled sunshine all around, and the view of the mountains, might that not produce peace and healing?
Here at home, my candle drawer is stocked full, ready for the rain, for cups of tea with friends, for midnight prayer sessions, and for the coming of another season. The bees teach us many lessons: work hard, be faithful to your family, and use your gifts as a prayer to make sweet and useful things.
I'm off to pray too...
...And the three winners are:
Therese, who wrote about her daughter beginning children's chorus. So fun.
Janet S, who is hoping to pass Sweet Song along to a friend's godson.
And Kh Leslee, who wants to read the book to the children at her church! October 1st--coming up!
(I love this spread of Saint Romanos enjoying the empty, early morning church...)
For those of you who didn't win. I'm sorry.
I will be signing copies of several of my books, especially Sweet Song, at an upcoming liturgical arts festival here in Santa Barbara. You will find me both on Friday, October 17th from 3-5 pm, and on Saturday, the 18th at 2pm in the hall.
Also, from now until the second week of December, I am happy to sign books and mail them to those looking for a gift for the holidays or some other occasion. If you're interested, send me an email at jane@janegmeyer dot com. All books (The Hidden Garden, Sweet Song, The Man and the Vine, and The Woman and the Wheat) are priced at $20 each, which includes media mail shipping to anywhere in the US. If you're abroad, then we'll figure out a fair shipping price together. The Life of Saint Brigid is currently unavailable.
Wishing you all a wonderful week! Thanks so much for helping me launch this new blog; a place where I hope we can learn and share together.
Why NOT launch this new blog with a giveaway? I'm already excited about the three new kiddos, or families of kiddos, who will get a glimpse into the world of Romanos the Melodist.
You see, Saint Roman is not really an everyday name. And yet?
He is so awesome! Just look at him running down the streets of Constantinople like a capital S Superhero...
I wrote Sweet Song to expose people to this amazing person of the past, whose life was defined by humility, prayer, grace, and an incredible miracle that changed the course of his life. It changed the course of our lives too...
Beauty always benefits everyone.
Check out one of the hymns he wrote, that is still sung (movingly, by Pat Tsagalakis) in churches today.
And take a virtual tour of the Hagia Sophia, one of the two churches where Saint Romanos served as a deacon way back in the 500's.
I've always wanted to travel to Turkey, especially after spending a year with several Turk students who exuded joy and broke out in song at the most random times! Having never been there, I was studying the geography recently of the ancient city of Constantinople--now Istanbul--which is divided by the Bosphorus Strait. This body of water is the only link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, so you can imagine the politics, war, and intrigue that have surrounded that place for centuries. Istanbul is unique, with its Asian side, and European side. I do hope to visit someday.
The feast day of Saint Romanos is right around the corner. On October 1st!
If you'd like to enter the giveaway, simply subscribe to my new blog (!!!), and then enter a comment on this post. I'll be choosing the three winners this Sunday, just in time to mail the books and have them to you before October 1. You can learn a bit more about Sweet Song, the illustrator, and its making, here.
This giveaway is for anyone, anywhere, but if you live abroad, the book may not make it to you by his feast day, since I'll be sending it to you by bicycle :)
I love children's books. You know that! I adore writing them, and fiddling with words that somehow, someday, might jumble together, form something legible, jump into a real book, and maybe even make it into a child's hands... Words are music for me, and I love all the melodies and harmonies that arrange themselves in a story.
As convenient as it might be, I am not an illustrator.
But who cares? If you get the urge to draw a stone house with a blue door, then I think you should do just that.
I drew a stone house. With a blue door.
I didn't know how. I just started fiddling. And humming, and since it was still summer, and the kids were happy, I went ahead and painted that house for FOUR hours.
I've noticed how I've become more fearful as I've aged. Guess what? Drawing stone houses, and trying to knit, and taking your kids on adventures to places you've never dreamed of visiting, and learning a new language--why not? Why not. Being uncomfortable as you learn new things builds character--it makes you humble--it makes you courageous! and it can be contagious, inspiring others to try and fail, and try again.
Happy weekend, friends...
"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all." Helen Keller
With a four-year-old in the house, there's a lot of laughter that fits into our day. He runs in circles and falls down from being too dizzy; we all laugh. It starts to rain on us as we dash into the grocery store, and we giggle at the raindrops on our cheeks and chins. At dinnertime, my daughter stabs her fork at a grape and it flies off the plate; we all grin, then double over in hysterics when she falls out of her chair as she reaches for the runaway... Simple humor is a healthy part of our days and keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. We enjoy being a silly family.
But lately I've been noticing that children's picture book writers are going beyond the simple humor that little ones seem to most enjoy, and heading down the windy road of satire and sarcasm. My four-year-old and I visit the library each and every Tuesday, and the first books we pick are from the just purchased/new-to-the-library stack; I like the fresh, crispy pages that are still smudge free, and it's fun, from an author's perspective, to see what today's editors are working on.
Feeling a bit perplexed by some of the recent books we've encountered, I did some research on the use of sarcasm in children. After several days of poking my head into a variety of studies, the conclusion seems simple, and apparently undebated. Small children do not understand, use, or appreciate sarcasm. One psychologist, Penny Pexman who has conducted research in this field at the University of Calgary, writes, \"Our study suggests that five-year-olds are beginning to understand the simplest form of sarcasm and are getting better at it, but still by the age of eight they really don't find it funny...\"
It appears that the age range of when children understand, and use this form of humor is the one aspect that is debated. Some studies state that children as young as three show signs of understanding sarcasm, yet other researchers claim that it isn't until adolescence that the full force of sarcasm can be reached. I can personally attest to the fact that both my 13 and 15-year-olds have sarcasm completely figured out, but my four-year-old—and the other preschoolers that I hang out with? Not a chance.
Sarcasm is a sophisticated form of humor. The word \"sarcasm\" is derived from the ancient Greek, meaning \"to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.\" Merriam-Webster defines it this way: \"a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.\" A study done in 1978 by Sigelman and Davis describes sarcasm beautifully.
Sarcasm is a language behavior that occurs when speakers' intentions differ from their actual verbal messages. That is, a speaker thinks or believes one way, but says something different. Typically, a sarcastic speaker cues their true intent with nonverbal behaviors such as rolling eyes, shrugging, smirking, a sneering voice, or other features that say, \"I do not mean what I say.\" Adults hear the message and see the nonverbal cues that contradict that message and realize the speaker is being sarcastic. Adults have learned to believe nonverbal cues over verbal cues when the two cues conflict.
So, the broad question I'm grappling with is: Why are editors pursuing this form of humor for picture books? I can understand the use of snarky language when it comes to easy readers, or middle grade novels, but picture books that are meant for toddlers through 8-year-olds? I'm baffled...
Instead of singling out books that have struck a questioning chord with me, I'd like to mention two examples of newly released picture books that, in my mind, really work humor-wise for young readers.
Too Purpley! by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Genevieve Leloup. This is a really silly, illustrative feast for the eyes about the various forms of dress one can choose (too purpley, too fancy, too polka-dotty...). What makes this book so fun, even for a little boy, is the young girl's companion, a pet turtle that is continually making funny faces or looking ridiculous. Kids get the visual humor in this book, that it's pretty silly to dress up a turtle in fancy or feathery clothes, or for a girl to wear an outfit that has stripes going in every direction possible. This is the perfect book for a 2 to 4-year-old girl who loves, loves, loves to dress up.
Waiting for Winter by Sebastian Meschenmoser is one of my favorite new books on the market. The artwork is superb, most pages being pencil drawings that are subtle and soft and whimsical, but the text is not subtle, it's even a bit boisterous, with a fair amount of exclamation points and outlandishness. The combination works and when the characters who have never seen a snowflake before try to figure out what one might look like, the humor unfolds, and... I just love it.
Some of my favorite funny books are now modern classics. Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby books are wonderful for giggles; I just love the story when Mr. Putter is zinging pears with a slingshot over his home and onto Mrs. Teaberry's lawn. Felicia Bond also wrote a very funny picture book, titled Tumble Bumble. There's really no plot line, just a lot of fun... And there's always Dr. Seuss and his over-the-top characters and their stories...
Anyway, my guess is that the newly released picture books that have a fair amount of sarcasm in the text will probably gain some attention from adult readers, but I'm doubtful that a four or five-year-old would give these books a five star review. But, you never know what might strike a chord in the mind of a little reader. I was astonished recently when my adventurous, very boyish, machine-loving, Tom Sawyer-like child discovered Mousie Love. A romantic tale ALL about two mice falling in love... He “loves” it. Go figure...