More than one way to get there

Over the past couple of months, I have been exchanging letters with an old friend of mine. She and I have known each other for almost thirty years. Especially in our adult lives, we have connected through sharing the things we are reading and learning about. We both get very excited about our learning and all the ideas that are churning in our heads. This particular exchange started with her reaching out to me to share her experience of converting to Catholicism. Joy does not really begin to touch on the feelings she is experiencing around this transformation, but I was hearing a lot of joy and enthusiasm. She wanted to send me some materials to read so that I could learn more as well.

There were times during the exchange when I felt that my friend had reached a point where she believes there is only one right spiritual path. This brought up some old feelings for me around conversations I have had with loved ones about education, child rearing, nutrition……anything that I find important and hold strong opinions about. The moment of distress for me is always the point at which I am offered the point of view that there is only one right way. Sometimes I even accept this view for a time. For a moment, or sometimes for weeks or months, I can hang out in this place, wondering if the way I have chosen is the one right way. I may reexamine all the possibilities, I may revisit the research, I may observe carefully for a time.

When I believe that there is only one right way, I am in misery. I feel tense and scared. Sometimes I feel righteous and sure, also judgmental. Sometimes I feel despair, sure that I have completely blown it and there is no hope. When I continue to read, observe and process, I always, always come back to believing that there is more than one way.

As I read about my friend’s spiritual path, even though it differs from mine, I can relate to her search for answers, and to the benefits she enjoys through her spiritual growth (the peace, joy, and connection). As I talk to my friends whose kids go to school and those who homeschool, I see that it is possible to raise well-educated, healthy, kind, happy children through either path. As I talk to homeschoolers and see the enormous variety in homeschooling philosophy and methodology, again, I see that there are many successful paths. Whether mothers are breastfeeding, child-wearing and co-sleeping or bottle feeding and sleep training, I hear love and a desire to do what is best for their babies. As I hear people talk about their love of vegetarianism or the Paleo diet, again, I see that there is more than one way to eat and enjoy good health.

And I tell you what, I just relax a whole lot once I can see that again. I still have the constant day-to-day struggle to sort out what is best for me and my family in this life, but that is a lot less stressful without the pressure of believing there is only one right way.

Back to school: On the road

My husband and I have been talking about an extended RV trip for so very long that I can’t remember exactly when or how the idea struck us. I just know that we have been talking to each other about this for a long, long time. We have talked to everyone we have ever met who has either lived on the road or taken a big adventure and asked them many questions about how it works. We’ve read about it. We’ve thought about where we’d want to go and what we’d want to see. We’ve talked about how we’d pull it off. So much talking and researching and thinking and planning!

This summer, everything lined up just right. The opportunity to be away was there. With a little nudge from family to come visit up north, we began planning. My husband and I spent several weekends looking into all the things we could do in the area and made a 5 week plan: three weeks to explore Michigan with a week to visit family and friends on either end of our trip.

And what did I do then? Well, of course I bought books! I found some books related to the places we planned to visit and the things we planned to see and do while we were there. I put them all in a bag and made room for them in our teeny, tiny living space.

Then, as the temperature was getting to be over 100 degrees everyday in TX, we started driving north!

Michigan

Warren Dunes, Sawyer MI

When I was growing up, we went to Indiana to visit family every year. A favorite thing we often did while in the area was to visit Warren Dunes on Lake Michigan. A family tradition I wanted to share with my kids:

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the trek up the dunes,

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the waves,

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and building in the sand.

The Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI

My daughter who aspires to be a “building wife” when she grows up, loves to watch Innovation Nation. She wanted to see the Henry Ford Museum, especially the Rosa Parks bus and the Wright Flier. We got to see both and so much more! We spent half a day wandering around and could easily have spent several days to see it all.

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USS Edson, Bay City, MI

USS Edson, Bay City, MI

We stopped to visit the USS Edson. When my husband paid for the tickets, he was offered a tour guide. Who could pass that up? Our tour guide was an older gentleman who was retired Naval Reserve. He had so many stories to tell! He told the kids about living quarters, the little lockers for personal items, the timed showers, the food. His stories really helped us imagine life aboard a Navy ship.

Tawas Point State Park, MI

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This may have been my favorite stop for this trip. The little beach at this state park was a lovely, lovely place to pass a few days.

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It was never really warm enough that I would have wanted to get in and swim, but the kids were more than happy to swim, build sand castles and look for treasures on the beach.

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St. Ignace, MI

We stayed at St. Ignace several nights. There are a lot of historical sites to visit. We spent a day at Colonial Michilimackinac. They have people dressed in period clothing available to tell you about each part of the village. About every 15 minutes there was a different demonstration (shooting a cannon, firing a musket, a children’s tour, etc.) in addition to just walking around and seeing the various buildings and exhibits.

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We didn’t think we wanted to go over to Mackinac Island, but we were so impressed with Colonial Michilimackinac that we decided to go to the island to see the fort.

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There were exhibits in each of the buildings, as well as guided tours and demonstrations several times each hour. Also, they had a children’s room with dress up clothes and interactive exhibits. A big hit!

Each afternoon after sightseeing, we went to this little park in St. Ignace right by the water.

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The kids had hoped to swim, but the water was ice cold. Still, an incredible view and a great place for the kids to play (or draw).

Sault Ste. Marie, MI–The Soo Locks

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Well, we made it to the Canadian border! A long way from central Texas! We got to see a ship go through the locks and explore the little visitor center. We had burgers and fries at a little diner by the water.

JB Wells State Park

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We thought we were going to have a few more days on the beach, but the weather got pretty cool and rainy. So we ended up spending a couple days playing at the playground, reading, and drawing. I got to take some long walks with my big kids and hear all the things they are thinking about, while the little kids played at the playground. We could see and hear the water from our campsite. We had a cool breeze and some comfortable camp chairs. It was a relaxing way to end our time in Michigan.

All in all, 5 weeks, 9 states, 4,000 miles! I thought we might be tired of driving, of living in such a tiny space, but we hated to see it end. We are already thinking about a next adventure.

Reading goodies

For the kids:

Paddle to the Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling- a story of a journey through the Great Lakes region

Under Michigan: The Story of Michigan’s Rocks and Fossils, by Charles Ferguson Barker

From the Childhood of Famous Americans series: Henry Ford, Amelia Earhart, and Wilbur and Orville Wright

Once on This Island, by Gloria Whelan: historical fiction set on Michilimackinac during the war of 1812

And some favorites from my own reading:

A Man Called Ove, by Fredrick Backman

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrick Backman–Both books were wonderful! I would have a hard time picking a favorite.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

The Giver Quartet, by Lois Lowry

Bullying

When I decided to homeschool, it was not to protect my kids from bullying, or from anything really. I just like sharing life with my kids, and I thought I could handle the job.  However, I did consider it a nice side-effect that they would not have to deal with bullying and other types of school-related unpleasantness. I have to think I wrote it off somewhere along the line as something we would never have to deal with.

However, here we are now, and very unexpectedly we DO have to deal with it. So, it is with great surprise that I am now learning and thinking about bullying. While it is true that much of what is written about bullying describes bullying in the school setting, of course bullying is not limited to schools. Bullying can happen to people of all ages and in a variety of settings. It is possible to find quite a bit of information about bullying in the workplace, which indicates it happens to adults as well as children. However, all of what I found about bullying as it relates to homeschoolers is that it doesn’t happen in the world of homeschooling.

So, when my daughter and my son each had these difficult experiences, I wasn’t sure what to call them, whether “bullying” was even the right word for it. I’ll have to admit, even I was not completely clear on the definition of bullying. When I think of bullying, I picture the big, tough boy who stands on the corner physically threatening smaller kids, calling names, stealing lunch money, etc. Yes, this does describe bullying accurately, but the list of bullying behaviors is longer and broader than I imagined. My mental picture of a bully is more typical of boy bullies. Girls bully too, and they do it very differently than boys. They are more likely to hurt each other through relationships, using backstabbing and gossip to exclude the target from the group. This kind of bullying even has its own name: relational aggression. Girl bullying is more sneaky and less likely to be noticed by grown-ups.

Bullying is a tough thing to talk about, for kids and grown-ups alike. Given all the time I spend with my kids and all the opportunity we have for connecting conversation, I really thought my kids would feel like they could talk to me about anything. And I think they do, but it isn’t as simple as that. They didn’t want to get their friends in trouble. They didn’t want me to have a negative opinion of their friends. They wanted to manage on their own as much as possible. In some cases, even though they felt terrible in the relationship, they weren’t entirely sure they’d been mistreated. Only when they reached their emotional limit was I fully brought into their confidence.

Now we are having open and specific conversations. We are talking about bullying: what it looks like, how to resist pressure to participate in it, and the importance of speaking up for someone who is being mistreated. I found that we couldn’t talk about bullying without also talking about healthy relationships, how to recognize unhealthy people/relationships, and when and how to walk away from someone. We are talking more about kindness, because while my kids seemed very clear about kindness to others, they were less clear about setting good boundaries in relationships and not tolerating unkindness toward themselves.

For more information about bullying and how to talk with kids about it, I found this book to be a good resource. For information geared more toward girls, this is another good resource.

Reading goodies

  • Forgiveness continues to pop up in unexpected places. A friend lent me a book about an immigrant family from Norway. This excerpt from a sermon described in the book really grabbed me. To me, it means Let the hurt stop here. Let go of the story and cause no more harm to yourself or others by letting it live through your internal and external rehashing.

“When you forgive you must destroy the evidence and remember only to love.” (First We Have Coffee, Margaret Jensen)

  • For more on forgiveness, check out this and this, both sent to me by my dear friend.
  • Feeling lots of love this month for all the Waldorf inspired books on my shelf. Sharing saint stories with my third child, and by now all the stories feel like old friends to me. Reading fairy tales with my fourth child, and finally feeling like maybe I could actually tell these stories rather than read them. Trying some new stories with my second child for US History and Geography and have especially enjoyed Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl.
  • When I first made the trip to Taproot for a Waldorf home-educator’s conference, I never dreamed I would walk away with a circle of friends that I would keep up with for years, nor could I have imagined how much my children and I would benefit from the conversations I have with these women. Jean is a mother further along in the homeschooling journey than I, and my children and I benefit tremendously from her ideas. Reading her blog posts is the next best thing to being with her and Barbara at Taproot. I look forward to seeing her posts in my inbox. Always interesting and inspiring.

Reading goodies and the Renaissance

  • My 12 year old and I have been learning about the Renaissance together. We started out looking at what was happening in the world of science. A friend loaned me The Story of Science: Newton at the Center, by Joy Hakim. We liked this enough that I would like to order the study guide that goes along with it to see if we like it as well as we liked the book. We moved from science to art, reading both Michelangelo’s World, by Piero Ventura and Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer, by Robert Byrd. We have several Piero Ventura books in our library and have loved them all. I also happened to have several (what I call) coffee table books lying around that have Renaissance art as well. They turned out to be good resources for us.
  • My girls and I just finished Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George. This book really grabbed us. I read myself hoarse more than once.
  • We are revisiting the Inkheart series, by Cornelia Funke. Much as I love to read, there are not too many books I am willing to read more than once. This series is good enough to read repeatedly. So suspenseful!
  • I did not go so far as to take another book vacation, but I did very happily spend some time lost in Mitford through Jan Karon’s Mitford series. Such a sweet, inspirational story!
  • Two recent blog posts that are making the rounds in homeschooling circles that I thought were exceptional: How a homeschooling mindset changes everything and Homeschool This.
  • My mission lately is homemade gluten free bread. I made 7 different recipes last week. I tried recipes with yeast, recipes without yeast, various gluten free flours and flour mixes, and gluten free sourdough. Once, I got to gluten free sourdough, I didn’t feel the need to look any further. It is simple and easy, it rises every time, it’s delicious, it’s light, it has a wonderful flavor and texture, it makes wonderful toast…..the only downside really is that it disappears too quickly.
  • Also, crocheted baskets! I made a small one and a few bigger ones. A good afternoon project and a really cute and useful finished product.

Forgiveness

For the past several months, “forgiveness” has been on my mind and I have been looking for as much information as possible about what it means and how to go about arriving at this place called “forgiveness”.

Do I have to be asked for forgiveness before I begin the work of forgiving?

Do I have to be in relationship with a person in order to be able to forgive?

Is forgiveness for me or for the other?

Is it NECESSARY?

For a long time, I said to myself, “I don’t even have to think about forgiveness until I’m asked for it”. That way of thinking just left me nothing to do with my hurt and anger. Those feelings are big and heavy. So I decided I had better get at least a little curious about forgiveness.

I read some articles (which I won’t even bother to link because they were so ridiculous) to the effect of “Forgiveness in so-many easy steps”. They were good for a laugh, but just not consistent with my experience and not helpful.

I went looking for books on forgiveness, and I’ll have to say, I didn’t find anything very good. I’m sure good books on the subject are out there (because I am pretty sure most of life’s answers are in books). I just didn’t happen to find them.

But then I found helpful thoughts on forgiveness in very unlikely places entirely by accident. It is such an important piece of the human experience, that I found threads of it everywhere! When reading a bedtime story to my children:

Forgiveness, reader, is, I think, something very much like hope and love, a powerful, wonderful thing.

And a ridiculous thing, too.

Isn’t it ridiculous, after all, to think that a son could forgive his father for beating the drum that sent him to his death? Isn’t it ridiculous to think a mouse could ever forgive anyone for such perfidy?

But still, here are the words Despereaux Tiling spoke to his father. He said, “I forgive you, Pa.”

And he said those words because he sensed that it was the only way to save his own heart, to stop it from breaking in two. Despereaux, reader, spoke those words to save himself. (From: The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo)

Right there in a children’s book, pretty much all my questions answered. Forgiveness is powerful and wonderful and ridiculous (I had suspected so) and it’s for ME. It isn’t a gift to the other. It isn’t about letting the other off the hook. Rather it is letting myself off the hook, preventing my own heart from breaking. Big, huge wisdom in that children’s bedtime story.

A friend recommended Jan Karon’s Mitford series for a fun read. It is fun, and very, very sweet and wise. Father Tim, the main character, is an Episcopal priest in the small town of Mitford. As he takes care of his flock, he has a great deal of exposure to people who are suffering. He even talks quite a bit about his own pain and his process of forgiving his father. It struck me that Father Tim is in his 60’s and has been carrying around his hurt and anger for decades. Though his father passed long ago, Father Tim still finds himself unexpectedly heart-broken over and over again and having to work through his thoughts and feelings yet again. This reminded me of what I already knew, that forgiveness can take a long, long time and that it is not a straight and direct path. Hurt and anger pop up over and over again. Even when you think you’ve worked through it and you are over it all, there it is again and there is more work to do.

I also decided to look in some of the books I already know I love in case there were some goodies I had missed back when I wasn’t thinking about forgiveness.

From Anne Lamott:

“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…” (From: Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
(From: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith)

Ah, well…..yes, forgiveness as a giving up, a letting go. Letting MYSELF go from the nightmare. Stop poisoning MYSELF.

And of course I got out all the Pema Chodron books, and wouldn’t you know they all said exactly the right things? I couldn’t quote them all. I will say it again because I could never say enough times, I highly recommend keeping When Things Fall Apart on the bedside table and reading it again and again. My particular take-aways from re-reading my Pema collection are the ideas of leaning into difficult feelings and being curious about the human experience of grief, anger, forgiveness, etc. Rather than trying to fix things when I experience hard times, I am working on just paying attention and learning about this piece of the human experience. Also, I am learning to appreciate ALL of it, because it all comes together to make life rich.

I am not so sure anymore that forgiveness is a destination. I think it is a practice, one that I will be called to repeatedly and forever. My reading confirmed everything I have learned from experience.  Sometimes I will be in a good place and other times I will feel like I have made no progress at all. Though the practice is hard, I feel committed to it because it is important, heart and life saving work FOR ME and there are times I experience an opening, a softening which just feels easier and lighter.

Expectations and holiday cheer

My only criteria for having a successful holiday is that I remain a sane and likeable person throughout. I start holiday preparations early. I keep them simple. I set the expectation for myself that holidays are not about the gifts, the decorations, or the food. They are about creating connection and good feeling. I keep in mind that my family is going to be exactly who they are on that day, just as they are every other day. Maybe the best self will show up, maybe not, we cannot know. But there is not any reason to believe that all will be perfect: the decorations, the food, the gifts, the people. It will be what it is and I will enjoy whatever it is, because…..why not?

So, this season, I thoroughly enjoyed the Thanksgiving holiday. All four days. I did not begin any Christmas preparations in the middle of Thanksgiving. I just fully enjoyed the first before even thinking about the next.

At the beginning of December, we got out the advent calendar, the stockings, the nativity set. We read Christmas books at bedtime. The kids played with their nativity set. We made plans about what goodies to bake for Santa. We began crafting, making gifts for our friends and family. We spent a week or so in blissful creative mode together, loving every moment. It felt really good, like a little taste of holiday cheer.

Then there was a week that it seemed every morning when I woke up to check in with the world via email or facebook, I would be in tears. A mama friend received a cancer diagnosis. A friend’s infant son who had been ill his whole life, passed away. A friend, a single mother, lost her job two weeks before Christmas. A friend going through divorce, facing Christmas as a single parent for the first time. Reading the news, which I can just barely stand to read even on good days, became entirely unbearable that week. I became overwhelmed with sadness and found myself saying, “No fair! And seriously, at Christmas time?”.

Which reminded me that it isn’t just in my little corner of the world that small things may not be perfect for the holidays. It’s everyone, it’s everywhere, and sometimes it’s really big things. Holiday cheer……it is real, of course, but there is so much more.

This year, this season, I am feeling this complicated jumble of grief and sadness and “no fair”ness and hopelessness and hopefulness and gratitude and compassion and love. It’s a lot all at once. It really is. But if I can hold it all at once, all of it, it is a full and rich experience. True to life. True to every season, holiday or otherwise.

Sending love and warmest holiday wishes to all! See you next year!

No poo update

I have had so much fun learning about no shampoo hair care! Considering that I am learning how to do almost nothing to my hair, I have to laugh at how much I read about this. And truly, there is quite a bit to learn, play with and figure out in order to be successful at it. It’s just fascinating to me that this works!

I started my no-poo journey using baking soda and apple cider vinegar. I did experience a transition phase where my roots were greasy. It wasn’t bad enough that anyone but me noticed it and it only lasted a couple weeks. I wear my hair back most of the time anyway, so it was really no big deal. I also noticed some flakiness. I have never had dandruff or flakes, so I had to read about this. This is how I understand it now. If you notice large flakes and a dry scalp, that is dandruff. Small powdery white stuff is from a buildup of sebum or perhaps even the buildup from your shampoo/conditioner sloughing off slowly. So because my roots were oily, I was having a buildup of sebum. I know it sounds kind of gross. Maybe you are wishing I hadn’t mentioned it. But I don’t want people to freak out and give up if they notice this sort of thing. It’s no cause for a freak-out. It really will pass.

I used to have a slight wave to my hair, very slight. I wish I could show you a before picture, but I am the one taking the pictures usually and I can’t find a picture with me in it! My hair also had a tendency to be dry and maybe a bit frizzy. I almost never wore it down because it would get in my face and annoy me.

When I began no-poo, I started having lovely waves. It is darn near curly! Without residue from my haircare products, my hair feels much lighter, dries faster, feels softer, and looks noticeably better. I no longer need any products to keep it from frizzing because my hair is now coated in natural oils (and don’t say “Eeeewwww!” because I promise it is not at all gross). It lays nicely and stays out of my face. And I LOVE that it smells like nothing! No flowery scents in my face all the time. Just nothing.

I found my curls picture-worthy, so I can share them with you!

Is that not exciting???

Since curly/wavy hair is a new thing for me, I started learning about how to care for curls. I bought some micro-fiber hair turbans and tried plopping. I’m not sure how I got so far in life without knowing this nifty trick.

So, it has been a couple months since I ditched my shampoo. Several weeks ago I decided to also ditch the baking soda. I read a lot about water only hair care and I figure if water is all that’s necessary, why not do the easiest, simplest thing? I experienced another transition period, much shorter and easier than the first. My roots got heavy again. I panicked a little. It just seems reasonable that it can only get worse. How on earth could it get better without using something to strip the oils? Like magic, it does get better. Everything I read said it would, and it did. My body just figured it out. Amazing.

I am still getting to know my hair in its natural state. It is completely different. It feels soft. It looks shiny. When I brush through it at night, it doesn’t get all frizzed out like it once did. It just gets soft and shiny. It even separates back out into nice looking waves on the second day. When my hair is wet, I can feel the oil in my hair and I can see it bead up on my shower comb. That is definitely a new thing to get used to. I feared that it might be tangly and difficult to comb, but it has not been. I worried that it might smell bad, but it doesn’t smell like anything.

The routine I have settled into is to do a distilled water/apple cider vinegar rinse about once a week or so. Otherwise, I just do water only rinses about every 2-3 days. Not because my hair is dirty, but because I like to refresh the curls and wear my hair down more often now that it is so lovely. After my shower, I do my plopping. Ten minutes later I take it out of the towel and I’m done. Each night before I go to bed, I do my scritching and preening with my boar bristle brush. My oldest daughter and I brush each others’ hair. It has been a sweet time with her each evening.

If you are interested in giving this a try, follow my links! These are some of the best resources I found on the subject. Also know that this takes some persistence, patience and tweaking. Tweaking because every person is different, so you will need to get to know your own body and do what works best for you. Patience and persistence because your body will take some time to adjust to your new routine.

 

Stories

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how the stories we tell about ourselves shape who we are, shape our experience. As I listen to people talk, I often can hear “their story”, the same theme over and over again.

“I was left out”.

“It wasn’t fair!”

“Someone took advantage of my kindness”.

“It didn’t live up to my expectations”.

There are as many stories as there are people, of course.

If I can hear others’ stories, I know I must have my own too. I sit and listen to the stories that run through my own mind so I can find where I am stuck, where I need to let go or open up.

I found a couple of lovely quotes in my reading lately that relate to these ideas:

It’s a hard thing, sometimes, to accept that other people feel as strongly about their stories as we feel about ours. A hard thing, but also an essential one. Every so often, it helps to remind myself that a world with only one story might be peaceful. But it’d also be pretty damn boring. (From Ben Hewitt’s blog post Pretty Damn Boring)

What makes us miserable, what causes us to be in conflict with one another, is our insistence on our particular view of things: our view of what we deserve or want, our view of right and wrong, our view of self, our view of other, our view of life, our view of death. But views are just views. They are not ultimate truth. There is no way to eliminate views, nor would we want to. As long as we are alive and aware there will be views. Views are colorful and interesting and life-enhancing—as long as we know they are views. (From Norman Fischer, on tricycle)

And of course, Byron Katie is an author to check out if you want to read and think more about stories.