Me: "Who has the best seat in the house, me or daddy?"

Adam: "Well, Daddy's is nice, but yours is best. Your's is squishier."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Different Kind if Christmas

It was the same ornaments, the same lights and village, mostly the same traditions.  All but one.  One really big, unfortunate, it-totally-got-away-from-me tradition.

The whole gift giving thing started out innocently.  In fact, I remember vividly that for our first Christmas, Guy and I had a $20 budget.  Not $20 each... $20 total.  I remember Guy managed to find tennies for me for just $5, leaving him five whole dollars to splurge with.  I don't remember what he bought me, but I do remember being impressed.  It must have been chocolate.

As the years and the babies piled up (because that's what we do with babies around here, pile them), and as our meager income grew to meager-plus-twelve-cents, we found ways to provide Christmas for the family, and in the years since, present buying has gotten a little out of hand.  Not that we have ever spent very much on "a" gift, since there are ways of finding things like coloring books and small games for a pittance.  But once we got used to giving more here and there, so too, on the receiving end, the kids got used to getting more.  More to unwrap, and play with, and wear.

A problem that comes along as children get older is that you can't get away with shopping at the dollar store anymore.  Then there is the planning, remembering what you got for whom, and in the day or two before Christmas, pulling it all out and assessing "where you are at" with things.  Comments like, "Well, we didn't get as much for Ellie as we did for Tessa", or "We spent more on Ethan than we planned" were often uttered.  We found ourselves saying things like "We HAVE to get so-and-so" this or that.  Or, "We didn't get enough stuff" for this kid or that.  Stuff.  That's what it was, but we were so used to the status-quo, and we knew for years that we were not proud of the way we were handling Christmas, but it wasn't easy to change.  There was dual guilt; guilt that it was all too much, and at the same time, not enough.  Not good enough.

I was resistant.  I made excuses.  I told Guy that because we seldom get things for the kids during the year, Christmas was my opportunity to pamper them.  I argued that at Christmas we gave them many needed items.  I swear I have the only kids on the planet that love getting new underwear as a present. I had lots of reasons that we couldn't change the way we did things, even though a part of me knew we should.  The bottom line was, I was afraid to disappoint them.

I overheard Guy talking to his sister on the phone in November.  He told her he would like to do things very differently in the gift-giving department, but he didn't exactly have wifely support.  When I heard him say it, I knew it was time to change.

(to be continued)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Let it Rain, Let it Rain, Let it Rain

Oh, my schedule is something frightful!
Though the season's so delightful,
The stress has gone to my brain,
Let it rain! Let it rain! Let it rain!

Well, we hope there's no sign of stopping
(though I've done almost no shopping)
the drought has been such a strain,
Let it rain! Let it rain! Let it rain!

When I climb into bed each night,
my to-do list just grows while I snooze,
Though I'm glad there's more rain in sight
I'm tired of wet, muddy shoes!

Oh, my fire is quickly dying,
and the year is now goodbye-ing
Join with me, one last refrain...
Let it rain!
Let it rain!
Let it rain!!!!

I had full intentions to continue with posts while I did the play and my sale this past month, but each time I found myself with two minutes to rub together, there was always something else screaming for it's turn in the To-Do line.

Now that the play is over, I am in a massive game of catch-up.  Laundry, house work, school, Christmas, did I mention laundry?  Someone was complaining to me the other day about how busy they had been lately.  I had to giggle.  To me, getting caught up on your TV shows is not being busy!  Jus' sayin.

The play was amazing.  You may recall, if your life has been boring enough to read this blog for a few years, that Ellie and I were in a musical almost 4 years ago, when Jonah was a wee tot.  This past month we participated again.  The play, Savior of the World, was actually act one (taken from the New Testament book of Luke), dealing with the events around the time of Jesus Christ's birth.  It was such a sweet delight to be involved, and I grew to cherish a few new relationships there.  I forgot how much I love standing in the wings, watching the play from behind heavy black curtains, exchanging hushed whispers and smiles with interesting and talented people who I might never have had the opportunity to know had it not been for this event.  My favorite part, besides having the privelege of re-enacting the sacred events of Christ's birth, was having the chance to spend so many hours with my girls.  I don't often stand quietly hugging on them for 10 minutes at a time, but I got to do that many times in the final weeks of the play.

My role was as the mother of Mary, and my part had me frequently on stage with Mary, played by Dawn Setters. What a sweet time we had, both on and off stage. There was one moment, during the wedding scene, where I am helping Mary to put on her veil. I suddenly imagined helping Ellie to put on her wedding veil a few years from now, and my eyes flooded with tears. It wasn't fair to do that to Dawn, and try as I might I couldn't stop the tears from welling up. I wept through that scene, and could barely sing the group song. Thankfully, I had no lines at that time. I don't know how actors can tap into those feelings and manage to control the outcome. 

It was a very sweet blessing to be inviolved with the production so close to Christmas. It has prepared my heart in a tender way to remember the birth of Christ, and to hold tight to the reasons we celebrate. I'm reminded of how I felt after the birth of each of my children; I couldn't help but be reminded to feel grateful both for the new blessing in my life, and for the many blessings that had come before. 

May we hold tight to our blessings, and freely express out gratitude to God, to our families and other dear ones in our lives for the gifts we have been given. 

I know why she smiles

Besides doing the musical, our family spent the month of November preparing for my 4th annual open studio sale.  This year I was joined by a few new folks, and as usual,  we had a great time.  The weeks leading up to the sale were a string of sleepless nights making art, and the days before it were a blur of studio prep.  We gut the room, removing all signs of home-schooling, art-making and general family-destructo-living, and try to pretend that the studio always looks that great.  The night before the opening of the sale I had all of my kids, and even Malcolm (our neighbor and part-time resident teen) crawling around on their hands and knees scrubbing the studio floor.  I wish it looked that tidy all the time, but my creative juices flow with a little bit of chaos around me. 

We were incredibly blessed to do very well this year with the sale itself.  I am so thankful to everyone of you who came to do your gift shopping here.  It is because of you that our family has Christmas.  It is such a joy to see folks take home items that I poured time and love into.  It is especially rewarding when someone falls in love with a particular item.  I know, in the grand scheme of things, all we really need in this life is food and shelter to survive, but I know that beauty in the world around me, particularly in the space where I spend most of my time, brings me imeasurable joy.

There is a story taken from the time of the Nazi invasion, when Hitler had his armies pillage and loot the greatest museums in Europe.  Country by country, they invaded reverent spaces and stole precious paintings, sculptures, pottery and other relics.  A few countries, seeing the invasions coming, had time to hide their art treasures.  In France, the Louvre sent hundreds of it's master works of art to be hidden away by simple farmers in country cottages.  The Mona Lisa spent some of her time in hiding, I read, behind a wall panel in a small country house.  On Christmas eve, for one special night, the family would bring her out of hiding, and admire her.  For some time, it said, because curators began to worry about damage that the storage box might cause, she even hung on a bedroom wall in the cottage "so she would never be alone".  

As a maker of art (though of course, not of Louvre caliber!), I imagine that the Mona Lisa was never so much adored as she was during those years.  Of course, while she hangs on public display, she can be admired by the elite and wealthy of the world, and thousands may get a distant, crowded glimpse of her after waiting in a tight, dreary line for a few hours.  But just imagine what it would have been like to have her's be the last eyes you saw as you drifted off to sleep in a tiny country bedroom; to have her's be the first smile to greet you in the morning.  She must have delighted in being so well loved.

I will never paint a Mona Lisa, but each time someone cradles one of my little pots in their hands, with that look on their face that seems to ask, "How did you know to make this for me?", every time someone walks through my studio with a little painting pressed to their chest, a satisfied smile on their face, I have a sneaking suspicion I know why the Mona Lisa smiles.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Train of Thought

We headed out early
Thursday night for the final rehearsal of the play that the girls and I are performing in.  We have been rehearsing for months, and were excited to finally be getting close to opening night.  It was raining, finally, and none of us who have lived in drought-stricken California could complain.  Of course, rain means that everyone instantly forgets how to drive.  We took it slow.  Malcolm, the neighbor boy who had agreed to run the spotlight for the show, sat beside me, and we chatted cheerfully as we drove along the freeway headed down town.

After we exited the freeway on 65th and turned right, I began to merge over to the left for our  next turn. The traffic was moving at a good speed on the busy road, but suddenly came to an abrupt stop. I pressed the brake, but instead of feeling the thick resistance of the brake pedal under my foot, it just felt like I was pressing into an air bubble.  There was no resistance, and like nightmares I have had of being in an out of control car, we surfed forward as the tires simply rolled freely.  I pumped my foot into the brake trying to get it to respond as the car in front of us got closer and closer, but I felt the brakes only lock up as the car moved as though it were sliding on black ice.  But there was no ice here, we were just not stopping.  Finally, I pounded the brake into the floorboard with all my might, and a grinding sound echoed through the car as we jerked abruptly to a stop just inches from the bumper of the car in front of us.

What a relief!  My heart pounded, and as a rubber smell filled the cab, my mind switched from deep gratitude that we hadn't crashed, to concern over the possibly damaged, certainly malfunctioning brakes.  I asked if everyone was alright.  I even flashed for a moment to worry over the folks in the car ahead of us, wondering if they had seen the near miss and become frightened.

Then, in only a moment, I became aware of the fact that we were stopped directly in the middle of the train tracks at rush hour.  I looked down the tracks toward the light rail station about a block away.  I thought I could see a light of some sort, and quickly focused on trying to get us off the track, but the car ahead was much too close to maneuver around.

The girls began to panic.  "Mommy!  That's a train!  I think a train is coming!"

"Mommy? Mommy! Please go!  Please go!!!" Tessa began to cry.

I knew this wasn't a great situation, but trying not to over react, I noted aloud that the train was now stopped at the station.  I knew we had time to clear the tracks because the crossing gate had not even closed yet.  As soon as I thought it, though, red lights began flashing, bells clamored right above our heads, and the long stripped wooden arm began to lower over the top of our car.  The girls started screaming and I laid on the horn frantically, contemplating whether I could plow the car in front of us hard enough to give us room to clear the tracks.  I glanced one more time behind me as the train headlight got bigger and bigger, and I saw that little Tessa would be hit head on.  At the screech of my horn the cars in front of us pulled ahead far enough to allow me to clear the tracks, and I whipped our car out from behind the car ahead of us, and sped up the empty lane for a few car lengths, just so our spirits could feel safely distant from the train that now passed behind us, filled with unharmed and oblivious commuters.

My hands shook as I drove extra slowly the remaining mile to the church along surface streets.  Tessa was crying, and Malcolm laughed nervously as he proclaimed over and over how close the train had come.  My own mind flipped back and forth between minimizing the event - telling myself that it only looked like it had been a close call - to inflating it into a scene from a Hollywood action film.  I talked to the girls to calm them, but inside, I wanted to cry too.


A few hours later, I found myself standing in the wings off stage.  I had long since shaken off the scare of the train, the play having demanded my full concentration and focus.  My main scenes were now passed, and I waited with Ellie and Tessa there in the darkness, surrounded by wavy black curtains, for a coming scene in which we would join a chorus of angels.  During the rehearsals we had usually been apart, as I rehearsed my scenes and they learned the parts for the "towns people".   But now, with all of our parts well ironed out, we waited confidently, the monotony of dozens of rehearsals behind us, the nervousness of opening night still a day away.

Tessa walked up to me and wrapped her little arms around my waist on one side, and Ellie joined suit on the other.  Tessa, lit softly in her white gown by the blue glow of a tiny nightlight, looked up into my face and sweetly whispered, "Mama."  It was a statement, a quiet version of their daily bellow of "Daddy!" each time Guy comes through the door after work.  It says, "You're here.  You're mine."

It took me a moment to call my mind into the present.  I was busy listening to the lines being spoken on the other side of the black curtain, and my train of thought was onto the next scene we would do, on to my cues, the music...

In that moment I became aware, quite suddenly, of how tiny Tessa was.  And Ellie seemed to have sprouted up several inches as I realized how much she must have grown lately.  Then I remembered the train, and the scare, and the blessing of what didn't happen that night.  How blessed we were, and are.  My mind rolled along an alternate reality for just a few moments, wherein we had not gotten the car to move.  That was as far as my brain would allow the thoughts to go.  It was just too hard to imagine the ripples that a rock that size would have thrown into our little pond.  Instead, I just held them tight, and pressed my cheek to their heads.


Stay tuned for previews of my
 Coming Open Studio Art Show!
  Five days to go!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Dry Spell

"Water water, everywhere
, nor any drop to drink!"

In other words, like the ancient mariner, lost at sea (man, that dude comes up a lot for me lately), I am adrift in a sea of projects, so much so that it looks, here, as though I am doing nothing at all.

But I promise.  I am.  Busy bee, that's me.

I am getting read for my annual Open Studio Art Sale!  Year four, and really working hard.  My sale is the only way our family can afford to have Christmas, so it's a pretty big deal to me.  All other worthy and partially completed projects have hit pause (don't lose faith in me, Ellen!).  I am working till about 2 am each day, and when we aren't doing school, I can be found in the studio (except when I'm at rehearsal, but more on that later). The children are raising themselves for the next few weeks.  I wish them very well.  Don't ask me about my house.  I will just get crabby at you.

There have been a few glitches this year with my sale.  I really have focused a lot of energy on pottery, since people seem reluctant to pound a nail in their wall to hang a painting (it's a little hole people, not a remodel!), but bringing home a pretty little vase or bowl seems less intimidating (if you decide later it was a mistake, you can just stick it in the bathroom cupboard to hold Q-tips and floss, right?).  I was so excited and nervous to fire up my kiln for the first time!  I loaded it three levels deep with shelves on pillars, and then unloaded it (oops, forgot to put in the pyrometric cone plaques - little cones of clay that melt at a certain heat so you know when your kiln is hot enough), then reloaded it, then unloaded it to move all the support pillars (it turns out that to peek in to actually SEE the cone plaques, you probably shouldn't block the peep holes with supports), then LOADED IT.  At one point, because I was holding it wrong, as I leaned over with the largest, most beautiful bowl I have ever made, the weight of the bowl snapped the edge I held, sending it crashing down on top of two more bowls, breaking all three.  The lessons in patience go on and on.  But finally, I was all loaded, thrice and for all.

I checked and triple checked to make sure everything was in order.  I nervously pushed the on switch, and then parked my booty on the cement floor to see the show.

Ever watched paint dry?  Yeah, it goes a smidgen faster than firing a kiln, only you don't get that fume-induced euphoria.  After a while my ol' lady butt asked why we were sitting on cement, and I decided that the mosey-in-and-out method of kiln watching better suited me.  All went quite well until it was time to switch to high-fire (begin suspenseful music, here).

Click.  Off.

Blew a breaker.  Popped it back on.  Lather, rinse, repeat x 2.

It turns out that my kiln isn't like my jeans.  Even though my tush is a definite 14, I can squeeeeeeze into a stretchy 12 if I'm slightly dehydrated and had a lot of fiber the day before.  But no amount of greasing the zipper and hanging upside-down off the bed will let you squeeze 30.5 amps through a 30 amp breaker (wow, not just TMI, but TMI with visuals.  You're welcome).

The solution?  Well, the short answer is an electrician and $500, but the truth entails many trips to a ceramics studio 12 miles away and the loss of several pots in transit, because, well, I don't pack well, that's why.

So what looks like the Blog Sahara Desert is really an underground river, moving fast and hard (or a tornado, by the look of my house).  I'm here somewhere under two coats of glaze, a pile of wool, three layers of candle wax and a stack of beads, but I promise I will post as soon as I get my first load back from being fired.


If you are interested and live locally, the girls and I are in a musical production that opens this weekend and plays through December 5th, called "Savior of the World".  It is the biblical account of the birth of Jesus Christ put to lovely music and with an awesome cast.  I am honored to play the mother of Mary.  And my girls?  Well, they are the best "towns people" you ever laid eyes on!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Doorways and Sacraments

Ruth called the other day.  It happened to be Pregnancy and Infant-loss Remembrance Day.  It also happened to be the day, four years ago, that her own little Rhys left the world on the day he was supposed to be joining it.

I look at Jonah and imagine her little guy being almost his exact age.  It feels like, "Didn't this just happen?  Can it have been that long?", because being that he was a baby when he left his family, my mind pictures him as still being one.  Then I look at Jonah and realize how long four years really is.

Ruth told me that she wanted to come throw pottery.  She had never done any before, but it was beckoning to her.  I think pottery does that for a lot of people.  It certainly does for me.  I got her started with wedging the clay; kneading it in a circular fashion to homogenize the texture and press out air bubbles.  She said it was very therapeutic to work out her feelings on the clay.  I laughed; my mom always said the same thing about kneading bread dough.  Mom always said the madder she was, the better the bread.

 I gave Ruth a beginning lesson, then let her go for it.  I stayed near by and helped along the way.  Though Ruth hadn't cared if a finished product would be had at the end of the night, we managed to get a little crooked bowl out of our efforts.  I had her make a flat, organic shape for the top of the bowl and cut a hole in its center to create a flower vase.  It might be nice, I thought, to have when this day comes around next year, and each year thereafter.  She can take that little vase she made with her own hands and place flowers in it to honor Rhys.

When we were done, Ruth and I sat on the studio stairs together, which is pretty much the worst place in our house to sit, as it blocks the doorway to the rest of the house when you plunk yourself down there.  We talked and nursed our littles and did the mom thing, which often feels more like the traffic cop thing.  Our chatting drifted from topic to topic; our kids, our lives, Rhys.  Never too long on Rhys;  I think there are some places in a mother's heart that, after a while, are not fully entered too often.  We stand at the doorway and look inside, but we don't really go too far in, and we don't stay long.  Maybe you can call it healing.  I think it is more that you realize that there will always be a place in there that hurts.  That some wounds only close, but never quite heal.  It is a pain you know will likely always be waiting.

We looked down at out feet and laughed at the clay splatter there.  I don't really know why, but it felt sacramental in some way.  Like the whole night and the talking and tears and pottery could be distilled into that one image; our clay splattered feet.  I took a picture.

We took the long journey from the house to her car; long because of how much chatting we do along the way.  The kids ran up and down the sidewalk in the dark giggling and chasing each other.  We always take forever to say good-bye because it is so hard to figure out where to pause the stream of story telling and commentary to pick up on another day.

When I got back into the house I tidied up the studio and assembled her little vase, and then sent her a picture of it.  That night when I headed off to bed, I washed my feet and legs, and it seemed more important than usual, like wiping tears from a child's face, or the dust from the picture of someone you will never again see in this life.  It felt almost sacred.

At Rhys' memorial, his father, Steve, asked everyone there to take a challenge.  He said he didn't want his son's legacy to be a tragedy.  That he was awestruck by the number of people that had found them after sometimes years without closeness, to reestablish a connection and offer love and support.  He said that is the legacy he would like Rhys to have; that because of him, lost family and loved ones would be reunited, old wounds healed, hurt feelings forgiven.  He asked each of us to seek out someone in our lives that we had lost closeness to and, in honor of Rhys, reconnect.

You know what the nice thing about a legacy is?  It goes on and on.

Wouldn't it be lovely to share in Rhys' legacy in your own life?

Standing at the doorway,  I'm remembering our four lost little ones. 
They were not stillborns like Ruth's, but in my heart they were our babies.
Some hurts do get easier with time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I counted this year and figure it has been 16 years since we started "doing ARTrails".  It is our annual pilgrimage, my once a year communion with Art (plus cheese, grapes, crackers) and nature.  Art, with a capital A.

When I was a small girl, one sure way to get my attention was to utter that word.  I knew I wanted to be an artist almost as soon as I could tell which was the front side of my underpants (which actually took a disturbingly long time).  In fact, for me, my only 'life mission' that predates that of Artist is that of Mother.  I have been blessed to become both.

I have always painted and sculpted -since high school, and on since Guy and I were married, now going on 20 years- but honestly, I have done more art in the past 2 years than in the prior 18 years combined.  Up till recently I had let myself believe that having children precluded me from doing much art, and to be sure, having SMALL children did, but now that the larger cretins can mostly wipe their own butts, and even help with the wiping of smaller butts in the vicinity, I have claimed a certain amount of midnight oil to grease my artistic wheels.

Going to ARTrails is my Mecca, it is my holy pilgrimage.  And I mean no blasphemy in saying that.  Art fills my soul the way music or nature do for other people.  I marvel at the scope of the human imagination and the skill of the human hand.  I am blown away at the things artists think of, and how they then execute those ideas.  I am inspired, I am in my temple, my chapel of candles and sweet bells.  I have, (I will say it) been moved to tears by art.  Not snot-dripping-down-my-chin tears, but more than misty eyed, for sure.  Because Art is the very act of creation.  It is the story of the universe, from the beginning of time, and it is the story of God.  From the first man that knew to  grab a cold coal from his spent fire to sketch a bison on a cave wall, to the child that is so bold as to try to capture his small human experience in a time capsule of paper and crayon, Art has brought people and cultures and time together.  It is for all who have eyes or hands to feel with.  And no matter what you say, no matter if you think you can't make art yourself, I think there is art out there somewhere that each person could see themselves or their lives reflected in.  Art imitates the very act of Divine creation, and as a child imitates his Father, the artist in a humble, hopeful act, echoes God.

And going to ARTrails, seeing the art an inch from my nose, laughing and talking with it's creators, is so moving and enriching for me.  It makes me believe I can become better; better at Art, and then, knowing that is true, I believe that I can simply become better at whatever life asks of me.  I come away filled with energy, ideas and resolve.  I am renewed.

Cheryl at Nichibe Pottery 

This year's pilgrimage was not without its less savory moments.  We took the Littles and the Middles, leaving the big boys at home.  That meant a whole day of telling Jonah all the things you tell a rambunctious 4 year old boy when in a studio full of blown glass.  It had its very stressful moments. On the flip side, we got to spend the entire day with Francine, which is like Christmas.  I got a private lesson from generous and kind Cheryl at Nichibe Pottery to help me with my first firing to take place this week (more to come on that!).  And just before driving home we saw sweet Willow, who is a woman that deserves a post all of her very own.  Our two baby girls played together, really played, and it felt like a full- and gorgeous -circle moment.  It was also the first time Willow had met Natalie, since Nat had been in the NICU when Willow was at the hospital as my doula, and out of respect she had decided she would not see my baby before I got to have her with me.  She said she wanted to meet Natalie with me holding her in my arms.

Well, that night she did.

Even though Jonah was a poop all day, Francine loved on him sweetly.

Hugs goodbye are always hard.

Tired baby, and full tummies at Jalisco's in Santa Rosa.  Yum.

 How I love this place.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Let me take you on a little tangent

Last night we had donuts for dinner.

My kids told our neighbor all about it when they took a bowl full of donut holes over to say thanks for the cup of milk we had borrowed to make them.  When Doug told his wife, Betty, of our sumptuous supper, she refused to believe it.  It just didn't sound like something I would do.  Well, I do now!

If you know me well, you know that I have the skill of tangents.  No, not the math ones, but the start-and-stop story-telling that is a bit like my mother's "Refrigerator Soup", a little of this, a little of that, all somehow coming together to make a nice, if not somewhat perplexing, final product.  Some folks hate it.  "Get to the POINT!"  they scream in their heads.  What can I say?  It's the way my brain works.

So buckle up.  Here comes one.

The homeschool model we follow (Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education or TJ Ed), is sometimes confusing if not down right frightening to a lot of folks.  There are a few simple concepts.  Kids are hardwired to learn.  It is what has kept us all from still being in diapers and sucking our thumbs as adults (well, most of us).  If we get out of the way and stop being academic bullies, kids will gravitate towards things that they want to learn, and in the process they will learn a bunch of other cool stuff.  If you push 'em, they push back (I think that's a science concept, isn't it?  For every lame parental action, there is an equal and opposite resistant kid reaction...), if you force, they stop learning the groovy thing you are trying to teach them and start learning how to hate learning.  Also, like that whole "If you build it, they will come" notion from Field of Dreams, if you inspire them, they will want to learn. 

In traditional schools, topics are separated.  Though there might be some amazing math concepts in the building of the pyramids, we are told to stick with the history on that one.  Math is for another hour.  With TJ Ed, we are encouraged to allow kids to go with the learning flow, to open up an idea and see where it takes us.  Tangential learning.  This is very hard from the conveyor-belt educational standpoint in which most of us were raised.  What happens if we never get back to the first topic we started with?  What happens if we jump around too much?  We can't just go all willy-nilly, exploring history and literature and other such compartmentalized topics without a map!  What if we get lost and DON'T LEARN ANYTHING?!?!?

Yah, that's gonna happen. 

So I have begun to embrace the tangent.  It started out small.  Tessa saw the word "albatross" in a book and asked what it was.  We looked up a picture, and compared wing spans with other birds. Then I remembered my amazing 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Clerkin, from Scotland, who had us stand each day and recite stanzas from "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner".  I still have them memorized. So I found a reading of it on YouTube set to old illustrations, and we listened to it, all 27 minutes of it! Then we listened to certain parts over again.  The girls were blown away by the dead crew becoming reanimated by a legion of angels as they piloted the ship back to land.  "Zombies!"  they laughed.  It was full of hard words and thrilling twists, and a moral that was not missed by the girls.

A few days later I mentioned on facebook my "Albatross Painting" that is long, long overdue and needs to get done so I can be relieved of the burden of it.  Ethan asked about why I had called it that, and Ellie told him about the story of the Ancient Mariner who killed the albatross and was forced to wear it around his neck as a reminder of his folly.  It was pretty darn cool to have her tell him what my reference had meant.

Then last week I was wanting to teach the kids about French Impressionism.  I began with the early influences of Japanese prints and, well, before I knew what was happening, the kids were all wearing kimonos and we were watching ancient Kabuki theater revival and practicing Kabuki Mie poses,  and coloring the traditional face paint of the villans (blue), good guys (red) and spirits (brown) on prints of 200 year old images.  We spent 3 hours watching dance battles, and even Jonah didn't seem to notice that, um, we don't speak Japanese.  We never got back to impressionism, which bothered me at first, but as the kids chattered away at Guy at the end of the day about our amazing school time, I was able to let it go.  Who cares what I thought they should learn?  They LEARNED!

Then yesterday I really GOT IT.  I didn't resist; I jumped into the River Tangent and let it carry us. We were reading a great book called Little Britches by Ralph Moody.  We read it a few years ago, but a classic can be a source of learning over and over as our lives change and we take on new challenges.  In the book, the boy talks about being picked up by a pack of cowboys and ridden home amongst their thundering horses, their revolvers flashing in their holsters, and how he was sure that was what it must have felt like in "The Charge of the Light Brigade", a poem his mother often quoted from memory.

You know what came next.

We read the poem, watched a little dramatization of it, and saw pictures of the few survivors of that fateful band of brave young men.  I never knew anything about that battle until that moment.  I guess I missed that one back in school.

Then,  back in our book, a neighbor feeds the boy homemade donuts.  Do you see where I'm going with this?

We measured, doubling fractions and then reducing them.  We did chemistry as we mixed milk and vinegar and watched the fats curdle.  We experimented with the heat of the oil and learned at what temperature the baking soda released the maximum amount of gas for the fluffiest donuts.

And then we had them for dinner.

When I was a kids my mother would make donuts about once a year and then let us have them for dinner.  

But that's another tangent.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

We've Been Here Before

Last week's beach trip was the same beach we went to on our last trip to the coast.

And of course we visited Joyce. 
 She took us to IHOP, our usual place.

While we visited with her back at her house, she pointed out that Natalie was playing with the coaster set on the table.  It is the same coaster set that, beginning with Ethan, each of my babies has gleefully played with on our Aunty-Joyce-visits.  She said she has often thought about the fact that she never uses them, but can't bring herself to get rid of them.  Too many memories of too many little hands.

And, also, while we were there, Natalie got her hands on Jonah's toothbrush.  
One of the kids rescued it from her pudgy little mitts, and she began to cry.

and cry.

and cry.

and not breathe.

and turn blue.

and have a seizure.

We've been here before.  If you have been reading here for a while you will know about Jonah's hypoxic seizures.  They started just before his first birthday and mostly stopped a year later, though he had a cluster of them last year for a couple of months.

Natalie's first seizure was only half a minute or so, whereas Jonah's had been a minute and a half.  There was no ambulance ride this time, no tests, second hospital, monitors or doctors.
We know what to do.

I held her, gently whispering, "It's okay baby, it's okay," till she came back,
till her eyes stopped rolling up in her head, till she went limp in my arms and dozed for a few seconds.

When she woke a moment later, an offended look came across her face.  She sobbed a little and I held her, rocking her, answering Joyce's earnest concern now with my own calm, "She'll be okay."

And I know she will.  We've been here before.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Circles in the Sand

There is a new clock ticking inside of me, not the one that used to say "Hurry up lady! Make a baby already!  Your eggs are lookin' like raisins in here!"  No, the cuckoo in that clock don't sing no mo'. This is a different clock that strikes a heavy, resounding gong with each of the kids' passing birthdays. It says "We are turning into grow-ups right before your eyes. Times...running...out..."

I wanna smash that clock with a hammer. 

I am starting to recognize that, as one day runs like a drippy nose into the other, the thing that keeps the days from blurring together is variety. While we have loved our big trips, Guy and I are thinking that day trips will be the key to having experiences more often that will create memories that don't seem to wash away with the monotony of days. 

So we jumped into September with two sandy feet. As we rounded up sunblock and sand toys, a certain teenaged somebody parked his tukus in a chair and dug in his heals. Sadly, a day trip with little kids and sand aren't what his adolescent heart considers to be fun. We left him behind. I was sad. 

Our day at the beach was not unique from that spent by a thousand other families up and down the California coast on this day. Sand in the chip bag, on the blanket, and between pudgy fingers. The day may never have stood out in my mind until Adam started his creation. 

It began slowly. He was sliding his feet in the sand leaving a circular trail. Soon it was a spiral 15 feet wide. Spirals are just magical to me, and he soon had my full attention as he left this one and began a new one nearby. I don't remember even getting up, but soon I was making one, and in a few minutes I looked across the way to see Guy had joined us as well. 

We quietly worked, sliding our feet as the sand mounded and furrowed in our wake. At times we passed very near each other as spirals expanded to each other's edges. Other times we were a hundred feet away from each other, and once, our three different circles closed in on each other as we found ourselves near enough to touch, almost crashing, and then leading us out and away again. 

There was such a pleasantness working away on this sand art with each other. The little ones admired, but didn't want to attempt it. It felt important and they were being careful not to step into it. 

The nature of this continuous merging and looping made it hard to stop, and maybe it's because we are all a little OCD that it actually took a rouge band of seagulls stealing all of our chips to break the spell. 

The final image was enormous and so, so beautiful. And the process made me think about parenting, and how that changes over time. How our involvement with older children takes on new patterns as they move in and out of our circle of influence.  How we hope that through their trials and difficulties, they will keep coming back around to the core truths we have tried to instill in them, and though they will leave our immediate sphere, we will always want them to come back around to their first nest.

It grew late and soon it was time to leave. We left our amazing creation behind of course, though I would have liked to roll it up like a Persian rug and bring it home with me.  

And I can. In my head, and in the feeling in the souls of my feet, and Adam's funny, busy smile etched in my mind. 

You know, spirals are a symbol of life, constant, ever growing and expanding, but never carving the same path as before.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The One that Didn't Get Away

Look back at your life.  Somewhere there is a person you knew when you were young that you adored, that made you a better person, that was larger than life, magical.  You meant to stay in touch, tried even, but life took you down two different paths and somehow they got away.

That didn't happen with Jackie.

It could have, easily.  She lives in Idaho.  College was a long time ago.  Life is busy.  But it is not so busy that Jackie and I have not managed to keep that tender spot in our hearts open for each other.  She is the one that didn't get away.  After our time enjoyed with Guy's sister, Kathi, we tootled on up the road a mere 30 minutes and were with Jackie and John and their girls and sundry animals for the last few days of our big trip.

Not much that we did merits a blow by blow account here, though staying up til dawn talking, and looking out upon the moonlit fields in every direction while visiting, perched on a pile of palates with six farm kitties vying for our attention were most definitely highlights (and for those of you who know that I don't like cats, you must understand that I don't like spoiled, city cats that live pampered lives and eat food from a can, begging to be pet, only to sink their teeth into your hand 5 seconds later when they feel "done".  No, my friends.  But country cats - thin, sleek and mouse fed, independent but grateful for the occasional pat on the head - are an entirely different story!).  

But there was one evening I will want to record, just to make super-sure it doesn't dim in my memory.  John invited us to go 4-wheeling.  It was summer-evening time, and the sun was low.  We drove out to the hills and took turns on the beasts.  When it was our turn, Jackie and I took the Ellie and Tessa on the backs of our quads and headed for a place Jackie called "the bone yard".  It was up a dirt road a good ways, and the setting sun cast a moody, pink light all around.  We turned off the main road to a side trail, and there on the ground we passed dozens of skeletons.  Bones of cows, sheep, deer, even horses, lay all around.  Some were poised as though they had just lain down to die right on the spot.  Others were pulled in half by coyotes.  Then there were the strewn bones that had been trampled, maybe by off-roaders like us, and lay like blanched confetti all around.  One cow, newer than the rest, still had they hide stretched over its frame, though it was sun dried and tightly pulled across the ribs.  It had a rope still tied to its hind legs by which it had been dragged. 

 It was a strange and other worldly-place, clearly created by humans, though we were the only souls around.  We got off our quads and walked carefully around the bone yard.  There was a sad reverence there, and a feeling in me of mystery and mischief all at the same time.  The girls were smitten by the wildness of the whole thing, and seemed a little awestruck that the mamas were the ones spearheading this venture into the unknown.  We explored, curiosity taking the driver's seat, looking closer at the remains, imagining the reasons they had gotten here.  We felt bold and brave, and left feeling changed.

We were met by slightly cranky husband-faces when we got back to the cars.  We hadn't realized how long we had been out.  The sun had set and it was getting dark.  I felt sheepish, a mischievous child caught in the act, and guilty that we were gone so long that we had swallowed up the remaining time.  Guy didn't even get to ride.  But honestly, walking around the bone yard with my girls felt so adventurous.
It may be my favorite memory from this trip, and that is saying a mouthful, because it was a trip full of amazing moments.  

The shirt says it all... crazy!


Bone Yard finds.

Road Warriors

Ellie and Gracie

Emma and Tessa

When it was time to say goodbye to Jackie, I tucked our precious time spent together into a pocket in my heart.  I cried, but Jackie was stoic.  I cried some more as we drove across the Idaho hills and into the Nevada dessert.  I hate saying goodbye to her.  Though she is one of the precious few friends I have held fast to, that doesn't make leaving her any easier.

For 200 miles she sent me text messages with reasons I should turn around and come back.  
All numbered.  They were most convincing.

I spent the next 200 miles making a list of reasons she should come visit us.  
My list was equally compelling.  I think it is her turn.

A few grey hairs between us.  
Ok, mostly me.

(shhh.  don't tell on me.  I took a picture of the boy. 
 I thought he looked very handsome)

Potty break...

in a potty with very confusing mosaics on the walls!

Yes, they were unforgettable.  

"...we're on a road to nowhere..."

Somewhere in the middle of "nowhere".

A monument made by a Native American chief in the dessert that was begun in the 1960's, and made ENTIRELY of junk he found in the dessert.

Don't ask me.  I have no idea.

We thought we would stop in Reno and go to an inexpensive buffet.  Ha, that is a very funny joke.  After choking our way through the casino to get to the restaurant (why on EARTH are people allowed to smoke in public buildings?!?!?), we took one look at the prices and walked right back out.  $15 for a kid's meal?  I think not.

As we left the building, a woman admiring the kids said, "They're beautiful".  I thanked her and said I thought so, too.  Then as we were walking away, she called out, "Keep them close to you."  Her look was intense and kind, and though I usually feel irked when strangers try to give me parenting advice, this time I could see clear to her heart.  She sensed these children's importance (like that of all children), and her words were less of a warning, and more of a wish.  Keep them close.  Not just to guard against the world and it's ways, the smoke filled casinos and the dangers, but close.  Close enough to be the one they turn to in times of need.  Close enough to make memories out of time spent together.

We left the casino-buffet and went to Johnny Rockets.
It was quiet.
We had fries.
And milkshakes.
And there wasn't much talking.
Everyone was spent...
all tuckered out.

Just like you, after reading about this trip.  
Thanks for hanging in there with me.  

Oh. my. cute. ness.

The world through Jonah's eyes.

Home sweet home.