these ordinary things: vacation

“Because being a homemaker isn’t about being extraordinary.  It’s about seeing the ordinary in a conscious way.  A way that leads to gratitude, joy and understanding.  A way that helps me create an environment in which my family can become more human everyday.  If you are moved, I invite you to share your ordinary things by replying below or leaving a link.”

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John and I gave ourselves the gift of a short vacation last week: three nights on the Pacific shores of La Jolla, California.  Two days to vacate the course of our regular lives.  To forget the housework and papers in need of correcting and be free of the questioning and self-doubt that are destiny’s best friends.   Two days for new parts of the world to awaken in us what we hadn’t realized had fallen asleep.

We were lucky to do it there, where saltwater, earth and tides come together to make a place for pelicans and sea lions, palm trees and scurrying crabs.  Where arid plains and sky piercing rock are nowhere in sight.  And then, not even one full day into our trip, the report from home was dismal.  One very sick kiddo, another two close on his heals, and us 1000 miles away.  In seconds we were whisked away from this coastal haven.  Sucked right back into the questioning and self-doubt.

There are magical far away places that allow us a respite, it’s true.  But as far away as we go,  the course of our lives persistently knocks on the window of the rental car.  So we make a choice.  Pause, take a deep breath, be present.  Notice the way the surf sprays over the rocks and the sand–once shells– beneath our feet.  Or, we follow the sucking force, the anxieties of feverish children in need of a Mama or  Papa at their bedside, and we allow ourselves to be not quite transported but stuck in between where we are and where we want to be.

It’s that choice that allows us a vacation, be it miles from home, or standing at our own kitchen sinks, elbow deep in dishwater.  The choice to turn off the voice that wants us to believe that there is so much more to get done, to worry about or brood over.  Not enough hours in a day.  But there is, lots of them.  So many to fill that, sooner or later, we all need a vacation.

(Kiddos are all on the mend, as well as hard working grandparents.  Now all that’s left is to get Mama back on her feet.)

these ordinary things: the corners of life

Because being a homemaker isn’t about being extraordinary.  It’s about seeing the ordinary in a conscious way.  A way that leads to gratitude, joy and understanding.  A way that helps me create an environment in which my family can become more human everyday.  If you are moved, I invite you to share your ordinary things by replying below or leaving a link.

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“The ring rounds off the corners of life,” read the words of the Sacrament of Marriage in the Christian Community.  Late last month, John and I celebrated our seven year anniversary–our “change of teeth” anniversary as I’ve been calling it.  Over the past six years, my evolving mama body has prevented me from wearing my wedding ring, but when I tried it on two weeks ago, I realized it just about fit.

It is odd to wear it now, when it had once been so odd not to.

Over the years I’ve wondered from time to time what people might think seeing John and I together, he with his ring on, and I without.  Of me, three kids in tow and no ring on my finger.  But, as a Chinese acquaintance once said to me, “A married couple should not need rings.  The world should be able to see that they are married by the way they care for each other.”

And it is true that the ring softens the challenges of community of life.  It reminds us how we chose to be together, out of our highest intentions to honor each other, and promised to call upon the greatest humanity in each other.  The little things, that we sometimes think are so important, they fall away when we glance down at the rings on our fingers.

Again, thanks to our dear friends at Devil’s Thumb Ranch, we managed a short getaway.  Since we usually travel back east in the summer, it has been several years since we’ve made it to the mountains in wildflower season.  I had forgotten how lovely and diverse they are–tiny blossoms collected together in explosions of color on the mountain slopes.

We also stopped off at Hot Sulfur Springs on the way home for a good soak.  Always a bit of a feeling of rebirth after climbing out of those healing waters.  If only we could follow it with a long nap instead of a long drive home!

his first paying job

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If you haven’t yet gathered as much, I can tell you that our eldest child likes to work.  If it includes power tools, even better.  After “Mama,” “Papa” and “no,” his first word was “pry bar.”  His second was “nail.”  Shortly after that we were called upon to decipher the meaning of “wood wadder.”  Weed whacker!   Now five years old, he really does use the weed whacker more than anyone else in the family.  (This picture is actually a couple of years old.  I tried to capture a current one today but he insisted that there would be no weed whacking at all until the grass was completely dry.  How little I know about the rules of proper weed whacking!)  Lately he’s also been insistent upon spreading his landscaping work to his school playground, which he has pointed out is in serious need of attention.  A key part of this equation seems to be that the other children in the class will not be able to be there since he is the only one allowed to use a weed whacker.  I suppose he’s likely right about that one.

Yesterday, while I was making supper, John and the kids were out working in the yard.  Mattheus ran into the house, elated and puffed up with pride and holding up a folded dollar bill in his hand.  He exclaimed, “Mama, look, Brian gave me money!”  And indeed our next door neighbor Brian had.  Apparently, Mattheus had noticed that the grass under Brian’s hasn’t-run-for-sometime car had grown quite tall.  So naturally, lover of weed whacking that he is, Mattheus went right to work.  Brian noticed and came out to thank our industrious five year old and pay him for his work.  I cannot speak to the exact revelation that happened in Mattheus’ mind when Brian handed him that dollar bill, but I can assure you there was one.  I’d hoped we could hold out on the lessons of finance for a bit longer, but Mattheus has already told me about all of the weed whacking he is planning to do to increase the money in his new mason jar bank.  Knowing him, he’ll have a business plan drafted before the week is out.

these ordinary things: blossom

Because being a homemaker isn’t about being extraordinary.  It’s about seeing the ordinary in a conscious way.  A way that leads to gratitude, joy and understanding.  A way that helps me create an environment in which my family can become more human everyday.  If you are moved, I invite you to share your ordinary things by replying below or leaving a link.

DSC03357I sat on the playground at church yesterday.  Above my head, the crab apple blossoms had opened into luxurious pink petals that fluttered to the ground in the spring breeze.  Petal Fairies, Mattheus would call them.  I watched the petals fall, and I watched my children play, and I suddenly realized that we speak so often of a child blossoming and unfolding in their own right, but we do not speak of them bearing fruit.  For bearing fruit is what happens after many trips around the sun.  Bearing fruit is a conclusion, the end of a cycle, the passing on to the next generation, or the intentional nourishing of others. Children, instead, open themselves to the world and seek out what life has offered them, ever receiving what will one day make them complete.

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DSC01930Epiphany dawned warm and light-filled.  The natural world joined us in our Holy Nights–dark, cold, snowy days of frozen water buckets and a frost bitten rooster.  Our animals are not used to such adverse weather and so they spent many days hunkered down in the barn.  The Araucanas left their roost long enough to feed and fly back up to watch the hazy white sky shift to grey and back to black again.  And so did we pass much of our Christmastide, alternating between snuggling in and going stir crazy enough to bundle up and venture outside for 10 or 15 minutes.  At which point the youngest of us, who does not yet sense the value of mittens, sent us back into the warm house with red noses and “told!” fingers.  Mattheus stood apart in this, winter baby that he is, and rolled and frolicked and cavorted with a levity he rarely displays.  He even convinced John to bury him entirely with snow from head to toe – twice.

DSC01535DSC01647DSC01801DSC01793DSC01798DSC01807DSC01884DSC01876DSC01812DSC01709DSC01764DSC01788DSC01726DSC01710DSC01729DSC01677As we emerged from this holy slumber to the day to day, the world too, rejoiced at the arrival of the Three Kings, with rushing gutters and overflowing rain barrels, children up to their knees in mud and picnics in the sunshine.  Mattheus rejoiced specifically upon finding the King’s crystal in his slice of cake.  He is sort of ruler of all around here already, but for one day he gets to do it without any reminders that this family is an equal opportunity organization. Lucien did not lament the lack of crystal in his slice.  Instead he found a few specks of almond on the bottom of his cake and exclaimed, “look, I have TWO treasures in my cake!”  For once, Mattheus did not correct him.  I think he was too busy parading around in his crown and constructing his throne, palace and stables for the royal horses.  Opal just grinned at the supper upgrade from porridge to cake.  (Almond flour and agave cake, but still cake.)

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Underlying this revelry, there is a sincere reverence flowing from each of us in our own way.  Together with the Kings, we find gratitude in the fulfilled promise of love and light, of finding our own way, of transforming and forgiving.  It is with all of these forces that we look forward to another circle around the sun.

Truthfully, I always anticipate the Holy Nights with excitement, but as the days pass and all that I am questioning remains unanswered, I begin to feel a bit melancholy.  But then, Epiphany arrives and I realize that a change has happened, not in the clarity that is thought, but in the fuzziness that flows deeper within.  It is not in a resolution or in a richter scale realization (I’ll refrain from saying epiphany), but there is a newness that I can never quite pin down.  As the year passes I see the seeds planted during this time begin to unfold and become answers.  No wonder this moment in the year is such an exciting time for many.

And about those resolutions, well, I have seen others around me feeling a similar impulse as we welcome this New Year: intentions of how instead of what.  It seems I have a way of getting swept up in the what: cold weather gardening? bees? new paint? tree house? those slippers? that quilt? study this or that? woodworking workshop?  It’s hard when there are so many exciting things in life to pick just one to do at a time.  But all of this what often results in stress for me and losing sight of what is important, so I’m opting for how as I begin a new year.

As always, I look toward the family to tell me what qualities of self I have yet to develop, those which are still rough around the edges, what some might call shortcomings.  When I hear Mattheus dictating to his siblings in a scarily familiar voice, I realize that I still haven’t found that hairline difference between authority and authoritarian.  As I register the distracted nod of my head and mumbled affirmation of my voice as Lucien continues to rattle off part thirteen of a 20 minute story, I realize that I have neglected attentive listening again.   I encourage all three of my children to forgive the hurt feelings of a shove or unkind word, but lie awake at night while the imperfect moments of the day swirl round my head.  The next morning, when I look across the breakfast table I wonder how Opal can possibly be careening toward two.  Where was I when she stopped being baby and became toddler?  Not present enough, I guess.  More likely navigating the storm of often colliding people in this little red house, wondering how I will summon the courage to meet it all.  And there at the eye of it all, a partner who is patient, accepting, forgiving, striving.  A fact I have become so used to over the years that I all too often take it for granted.

Rightful authority, listening, forgiveness, mindfulness, courage and gratitude.  You could add patience to the mix too, I suppose, and with that the slowness that is the elixir of life for young children.  And, lastly, some semblance of accurate observation, both of myself and others, that I may continue to perceive the world and act accordingly.  I think that about does it.  Too ambitious, I know.  As usual, it is likely that my spiritual eyes are bigger than my spiritual stomach, if you will.  In fact, I may have just made about as many how resolutions as a person can work toward in a lifetime.  But, eight capacities, twelve months–maybe I need a few more!  Hmm, might actually be onto something there.

Settling upon some structure, some (blog) projects to help me cultivate these capacities, well, it’s still swimming around a bit.  They’ll surface soon enough, and then, what an exciting year it will be.

Wishing you all courage to embrace the excitement of the coming year, whatever it might bring.

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all tucked in: outside

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DSC00659DSC00671DSC00747DSC00666DSC00664DSC00670I’ve been quiet this past week on the blog.  Partly because a weekend away from home equals about a week of catch up.  Partly because I am still feeling out how much blog is too much.  I am loving writing and connecting with new friends, but at times I realize I am dreading turning on the computer and that’s when I realize that I need to rebalance blog life with real life.

Mostly I have been quiet because winter arrived in full last Monday, and demanded much of our attention.  It came late this year–we usually have a heavy wet snow fall before Halloween.  It comes off the mountains and dumps a few inches overnight, only to be melted within 48 hours by the warming temperatures and high altitude sun. But, this year winter held off, and when it did come, it was not holding back.  We woke up on Monday morning to mild temperatures–we had to take off our hats and mitts and jackets by 10am.  At about 11:30, a single arctic gust of wind blew across our property and through the trees (Smelling of cow manure from the stockyards northeast of us–a sure sign that the wind is blowing just right for a storm.  Brings a different meaning to the phrase “smells like snow.”)  Within 10 minutes the blue sky was gray and we were headed inside to warm up.  It really does happen this quickly here in Denver, where the weather is so volatile it still surprises me after eight years.  But it was unchanging this time.  Instead, we settled into a week straight of below freezing temperatures, such stretches that only occur a few times a season here.

All parents know the trepidation of looking ahead to a week of mostly inside activity!  But it still doesn’t tamper with the feeling of healing that accompanies the first snowfall.  Something about the gray-white quiet and falling flakes puts to rest the struggles of Michaelmas–the topsy-turvy feeling of transitioning from summer to winter, from out to in.  At last we are given full permission to return to the deepest corners of our homes and of our hearts.

This year, the first snowfall coincided with Martinmas and our lantern walk at school–festivities that acknowledge the gifts of selflessness and compassion for others.  Many people see it as a call to cultivate the strength of your “inner light” as the darkness fully descends upon us, as if, if we do not build up this strength, the world around us will easily snuff it out.  I sense the truth is this picture, but I have always felt that Martinmas is a time of celebration–an acknowledgement of the inner light that has already, hopefully, carried us through Michaelmas and refused to be extinguished by the Dragon.  I experience Martinmas as a time to recognize that our inner light is always burning, all we have to do is seek it.  This gesture of seeking is subtly different from cultivating, but to me, the distinction makes a world of difference.

DSC00712DSC00710This strength of our inner lanterns carries us into winter, which on a farm is about resting, and dreaming of next season.  For us on the farmlette,  this generally means problem solving the challenges of a family of five’s needs on a very small property.  Where could we squeeze in another bed–how sturdy do you think that roof is, Dear?  How can we get a little more sunlight to the spaces we do have?  Do we really need a lawn?

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DSC00806DSC00887When we’re not dreaming, our winter energy turns to the animals, who need a little extra care during these cold months.  Eggs are collected more frequently to prevent freezing, chicken combs are watched carefully for frostbite and “balmed up” when necessary, and “the barn,” gets a little more cleaning as the animals spend a lot more time inside.  (I can only imagine if a chicken’s small brain had the capacity for contemplation, it would wonder why snow ever came to be.)  Then, of course, there is the carrying of buckets back and forth from the house, since the outside spigots are off and there is no running water in the garage attached to the barn.  Henny Penny, our white Araucana, and one of only two hens to have won themselves a name, is wondering why everyone is taking over her barn, which she retreated to after taking a vow of celibacy upon Rodrigo’s arrival.  Daffodil and Gypsy don’t mind the snow too much, as long as they have a dry warm place to thaw out their hooves at the end of the day.  They will hopefully go off to be courted by a Billy in December.  This will be our first experience in breeding, kidding and milking.  Daffodil was bred before she came to us and had triplets!  Are we crazy to breed them at the same time?  Possibly.

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Rodrigo has a new night time home since I last wrote about him. (We did end up with a neighbor complaint from the eightplex across the street.  Admittedly, I seem to have a blind spot for those folks, since they keep to themselves and come and go through the side of the building that does not face our property.)  Now he comfortably passes his nights in a large dog crate in our basement.  It’s clear he misses the ladies and is always grumpy when we collect him after dark, but with the cold settling in, I think he’s realizing the benefits of his prime spot next to the furnace.

DSC00782DSC00777With the crops in, the animals have full run of the garden and sometimes even the entire property.  They are thankful for the extra space, and we like that they are a little more present in our outdoor activities.  It’s not uncommon to feel goat teeth nibbling at your mitten and look down to realize that Daffodil has quietly sidled up next to you looking for a treat.  When she realizes wool is still not tasty, she walks away a bit disgruntled.

I don’t know anyone who says to themselves, “yes, barn chores in winter!”  but, I am really loving them at the moment.  With the boys off to school and Opal down for a morning winter’s nap, I have the luxury of moving slowly.  Of spending some quality time with the animals–especially the goats.  Of enjoying what defines winter here in Denver: sunshine that beams off snow a little too brightly, soft pale blue skies and crisp dry air that wakes up the nose and lungs.  I always appreciate that chores get me outside at the start of each day, but when I have the space to really be outside, it is so satisfying.  Often these quiet, fresh-aired moments in the barn yard are just what I need to still my heart before another day inside with the kiddos.

 

abundance

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John and I just returned from a weekend getaway at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Tabernash.  We take a few days every year to escape to this Eco-friendly resort nestled in a valley of the Rockies, with views of the Continental Divide.  Even during the off season (the few weeks when warm weather activities are out, the leaves are off the trees, and there is no snow to shepherd in the winter sports) the Rockies tower over you with some mix of magnificence and severity.  A friend of mine who lived at the base of Pike’s Peak for many years, once told me that she felt the mountain “knew her.”  I find this an apt description.  There is something active in these mountains, as if they not only pull us toward them with their force and upheaval, but also gaze down upon us, keeping their tallies.

DSC00448DSC00399  DSC00451It is only a few days, an hour and a half drive, but it feels like a big step away from everyday life of work and students, of home and children.  I managed to fit in quite a few things from my single stolen day list (I did spare the other guests the baroque arias), while John wrote poetry, of course.  Over delicious food and hiking and hot tub soaks, I was able to catch up, really, it cannot be said any other way, with my best friend.  “So, how’ve you been?!”  We can’t help but look at each other and realize with full clarity why and when and how it all began.  And be grateful.  For the space to leave it behind, and the joy that we carry when we return.

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We receive these few days at the Ranch every year from the owners, whose children are students of John.  I am to this day amazed at their generosity–they offer this gift to all the teachers who have loved their children.  But, I got to thinking on the drive up that maybe it’s not so generous after all.  Relax.  Hear me out.  It is, of course, deeply generous, but I doubt it makes a noticeable dent in their business.  In other words, if we gave this gift to someone else, it would be crippling to our household economy.  The owners of Devil’s Thumb, however, have an abundance of a resource that most of us do not.  And so a tiny thing to them, becomes a huge thing to us–I venture they have no idea how huge.  After a weekend at the Ranch, we take our renewed energy, restored inspiration and quieted hearts back to our everyday lives, and the effects ripple beyond us to our children, our colleagues, our friends and family.  All because someone gave a little bit of their extra to another human being, who could not have given it to themselves.

What if we all gave something of our own extra to others?  What if we all spent a little less time focused on getting what we don’t have, or being resentful of those who do, and put our abundance, whatever it might be, to work?

I for one, would feel a little more confident about facing those tallies the mountains are keeping.