People--more than things
Silence instead of chatter
Stretch, walk, dance, play ping pong
Pray a lot
Cook for someone
Hang out in nature
Chop the hedge
I'm sitting in a rental house outside of Abiquiu, New Mexico, in a shabby, purple velvet chair. My husband is cooking dinner (chicken with red chile, and broccoli) and the sun just set. The cottonwoods are glowing yellow in the remaining light--the leaves swishing to the ground... We are here for a week, just roaming. My husband wants to move from Santa Barbara and we aren't sure why. I especially am not sure why, but I like adventure, and am willing to cock my ear and listen.
Before we left for New Mexico it was the typical end-of-summer stuff. Beach days...
Harvesting the food/fruit that we grow. Writing stories. Homeschooling, laughing at our dog (who is afraid of flies),
me trying to be a better friend/daughter/mother/wife.
For the last few months, I have been spending a lot of time trying to support my youngest son in his desire to become a film scorer. He is on a mission to listen in real time, play, and record for his own use instruments from all over the world. Last month I arranged for a young man who plays the violin and the accordion to visit our backyard, along with a friend who plays all sorts of African drums. I am hunting down an organist to visit, and while playing O Susanna on the harmonica, we learned that our dog likes to sing along! I've listened to countless soundtracks these last many months while driving my son back and forth across town--like that of the video game, Ori. Suddenly I hear music differently.
Meanwhile, Covid is and isn't. It is, because we just had an almost near friend, younger than ourselves, pass away from it. Lord, have mercy. It isn't, because we sort of wear masks now, and go about life close to normally. What a weird dichotomy. It's hard for me to wrap my head around it all.
I am watching a Korean drama with my son, because the protagonist acts like a gentleman, and I want my son to know what a gentleman is. Are there even gentlemen anymore portrayed in the media?
And lastly, I can still do a cartwheel.
I hope I can do cartwheels for another 20 years. I am feeling like it's time to become an athlete again. I'm not sure what that means in real life, but between March and August I lost seven pounds. After a year or two of trying to get rid of this weird middle that was developing, I finally decided to track calories and increase my time moving. I did my typical stretches and exercises each morning before prayer, but then I added a long walk in the evenings. Careful of my calorie intake, which also pushed me to make sure that each calorie had the most nutrition possible, I started losing weight just a couple of ounces at a time. It took all of those months to get rid of that middle, but now it's gone and I'm thinking of either finding a dance class, or a martial arts class. I miss movement a lot. I miss being really strong, and able to leap and tumble and fly! Any thoughts?
That's the current state of things. Today I have a work meeting from our little rental house to talk about progress on an upcoming coloring book. Once it's done I'll lace up my boots and we'll head out to explore some more, crocheting while my husband drives, toting along a notebook and my field watercolor set just in case. Tomorrow we head to a monastery for evening vespers.
Hope you're all well! Sending love...
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.
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...
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 email@example.com
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.)
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.
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...
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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...
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!
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 email@example.com. 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.
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 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? ...
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...
Prost, Kampai, and Cheers! Here's to the New Year and all the adventure it will bring!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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