Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Finding Beauty

Less than a year after her death, I find myself living just 2 hours away from the town where this lady spent her childhood. Where she grew up, learned to be who she was. Where she took us several times a year. Where she and my granny filled our heads with stories of people we never knew, but whose lives had touched theirs. And by this touching, they became a part of us, as well.
It has taken me these few months to prepare myself to go there. I knew the journey was coming, and I knew that I needed it to come. I needed to do more than just drive by this town, catching a glimpse from I-70, and saying to the air, "That was my mom's hometown." I needed to go, to feel, to remember. I needed to listen to the whispers of the past and to say goodbye. I needed to go back in time so that I could move forward.
I wasn't sure where to start. The place is small, though, so there aren't really many choices. The prettiest spot in town is the cemetery. It also happens to overlook the family farm. A fitting place to start listening to voices from the past, I thought. I was the only one there, and as I wandered around looking for the names of people I knew and people I had never known, I was struck by the beauty and the peace. 
We engrave "Rest In Peace" on the headstones of our loved ones, but it is our hearts that are often left searching for that peace, or even, that piece, that is missing in our lives once someone has gone. There is a vacancy where someone once resided in our hearts. It is uncomfortable to be empty. Hungry. Longing for something that we cannot have. Just one more...something...with that person. One more phone call. One more day. One more chance to say, "I love you."
As I walked the hill behind the Old Stone Church, looking at names, I was able to have "one more" with my mother. I listened as she told me again the stories of the people whose names were written there. I shed tears as I remembered. I shed more as I knew there were so many that I failed to remember. I smiled upon seeing people whose names were "Dicey Boot" and "Friend Roy." My heart was full for the family who so lovingly cast their daughter's grave marker...backwards. And I was full of good feeling as I saw the grave of a woman I had never met, but who has a cake named after her. The recipe for "Carrie Butefish Cake" is scrawled in my granny's cookbook, and it was her favorite. It was nice to finally meet you, Carrie.
After several hours of resting there, I was truly able to see the beauty of the place, the day, and the lives that had touched mine, directly and indirectly.
I moved from one cemetery to another, of sorts. The house my granny was a girl in with her brothers sits on the edge of town, a monument to a time that has moved on. I drove down the overgrown lane, climbed out of the car, and trespassed through the weeds to take a look.
I was only in this house once, when I was just a girl, right before it went for auction along with everything in it and the half of the family farm that it sat on. Each time we visited the town, we would shake our heads at the state of decay of the old house, and we would wonder at the lack of care from the new owners of the property. It always made my mother feel sad as she remembered happy times there.
For me, it has always served as a monument to history. It reminds me of the importance of preserving what we can, placing value on things that are otherwise worthless. Teaching our children to do the same. However, it also screams that this world is temporary. Time is marching on relentlessly. We cannot cling to the past. It will decay in our hands. We must look toward tomorrow.
Looking toward the future and feeling more light-hearted, I headed into town. I remembered summers spent visiting here. It was a time of innocence. My brother and I would ride our bikes to the market, money shoved into our sweaty socks, to buy a treat before heading to the playground. Happy memories broke as I saw that the park was much unchanged in the past 30 years. The same shiny metal swings were there, ready to burn the legs of any child desperate enough to swing on a sunny summer afternoon.
Nostalgic, I climbed the ridiculously steep stairs to the top of the slide. The same slide I had gone down again and again. Then I did it. I had to. I burned my butt sliding down that thing. It was worth it, just as it always had been.

Even though I was the only one at the park that day, I swear I heard the laughter of a couple of kids, visiting from out of state. I had found another something beautiful there at the playground.

The last few hours of my day there were spent finding beauty. I found that there is beauty in the harvested wheat fields.
I found that there is beauty in a patch of sunflowers growing in a ditch by the side of the dirt road that leads nowhere you thought it did.

I found that there is beauty in catching a glimpse of the creek in whose waters you waded as a child and upon whose banks your mother and her brothers started their arrowhead collection. There is beauty in the pain. There is beauty in the remembering. There is beauty in the past and in the future.
 "The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs." -Norman Maclean

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It's the bomb-diggity

When you homeschool year-round, like we do, there is no ceremonial cleaning out of the desk and locker on the last day of school. There is no saying "goodbye" to a former teacher and eager anticipation of who will be your teacher during the next school year. There is no big revelation of which friends will be in your class, and there is no supply list telling you how many boxes of Kleenex and how many pencils you need to bring on the first day of school. There is no first day of school.

School just is.

It is a part of our day-to-day, breathe in, breathe out routine. Some days we breathe a little more or a little better than others. But it is there. Every day. Supply lists and school shopping are really just trips to the grocery, department, or craft stores.

Surprise! I'm your teacher...and yes, both of your brothers are still in class with you this year. So play nice.

I love this model of education. I love that we can take a day off whenever we need it, but we thrive on our daily routines.

As summer crept on, though, I realized that the boys were sliding into first grade without even knowing it. Without the big shift in teacher, classmates, classroom, and curriculum, without even a big summer break, there was no obvious transition from kindergarten to first grade. In a sense I like the seamlessness of this. I like that there is no artificial stoppage of learning and no major change to interrupt what progress is being made.

However, we live in a society that is full of boxes and labels, and the boys are having to field questions from grocery store clerks about their schooling (have I mentioned that people in Kansas are way too friendly? it gives a whole new meaning to #nofilter...but that's a post for another day). They were being asked what grade they are in, and they were still saying "kindergarten" because we haven't had any sort of last-day-of-school clean up (unless you count moving states).

So, what do you do when you are a homeschooler with no summer vacation and no major curriculum changes and you want to transition from one grade to the next?

We put a sign on the door.
 We gave awards certificates.

We ate cupcakes.

And we launched them down a grassy hill without training wheels.

So now, when they are asked what grade they are in, they can say "FIRST!"

Shorty, who was born right around the cutoff date, could be in kindergarten or pre-k, depending on which state's rules we want to follow. He's sharp as a tack, but doesn't like to follow directions. So, he has chosen to call his grade "cuckoo-kindergarten." It works for me.

They still look puzzled when people ask them how they spent their summer break. Sigh. I need to teach them to answer "year-round schooling is the bomb-diggity."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Less is More, part deux

So we've moved.

Most of the boxes are unpacked, and this place is starting to feel like home.

There is a lot that I miss about our old home, and the green house. I can't deny that moving here didn't excite me. Leaving our friends, family, and church didn't excite me. Kansas didn't excite me. Wichita didn't excite me. The street where we live didn't excite me. The house itself didn't even excite me much, even though it was on the official "approved" list I sent the hubby when he went house hunting.

finding our house is like playing Where's Waldo
I did add this crazy guy to the front stoop for some character (and a "landmark" of sorts)

The old place was full of charms. I loved the old woodwork and leaded glass. I adored soaking in the claw-foot tub. Nothing brought a smile to my face like walking or biking to the grocery store, the bookstore, the custard shop, the children's museum, the neighborhood market, our church, the theater, or any number of stores and restaurants on Main St. There was a bike trail just a block away that was perfect for teaching the boys to ride as well as having a ride myself. We were close enough to the city that we could head downtown any day or night and enjoy all that St. Louis has to offer (and I personally think that is A LOT), but our neighborhood didn't feel like suburbia. I had grown up in one of the neighboring communities, so my life was full of people who had known me all my life as well as new friends. Our lives were full.

Two days ago, the youngest observed, "Mommy, we don't have any friends here, do we?"

We don't have turn-of-the-century details. We don't have a bike trail, a big city, anything within walking or biking distance, easy access to local shops and restaurants. We don't even have backyard neighbors. The view from the back porch is vast and empty.
cloudy sunrise panorama from the back door
But, maybe, less is more.

Maybe not having our days so full of people to hang out with, things to do, and places to go is just what we need right now. Maybe we need to slow down, be still, and know that He is God. That He is Good. That he is Love. That His timing, His plan, His story for my life is better than the one I would choose to tell for myself.

Maybe what I need is to sit on the back porch, sip my morning coffee, listen to the chorus of crickets in the emptiness behind the house, and count the thousands upon thousands of gifts He has given me.
sitting on the back deck

Maybe what I need is to forget about play dates for a while and focus on playing with my boys, truly engaged and enjoying them. Soaking in their laughter as they play with each other, my husband, and me. With me.
two views of "the big room"

Maybe what I need right now is not another girls' night out, but a date night in with the man of my dreams playing games and talking into the wee hours while the crickets chirp and the children snore.
the boys' room

"Less" in this way is hard for me. I am energized by those around me. I love parties and plans and doing doing doing. Every day would be an adventure if it were up to me. This next adventure is going to be one of inward focus, of a slower pace and quieter days. An adventure of allowing the men, big and small, in my life be the ones who energize me.

I am ready.

In response to Shorty's statement regarding our lack of friends, I can answer, "Not many, buddy. Not yet, anyway. But we do have each other, and we are our best friends."
lest you think I have it all together, here is the door to my "office" -- an impassable mess

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Perfectly Imperfect

The boys are at an age when everything is a competition between them. I forsee many years of comparisons and contests in our future. One of the things they have been comparing recently is their height. Thing 1 has always been a little bit taller than Thing 2 and takes great pride in that fact. Thing 2 consistently strives to narrow the gap between them. And Shorty, well, he's hoping that one day he'll surpass us all.

Being renters and frequent movers, we have never had a wall on which we marked the growth of the boys. This past month we read The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.
If you haven't read this book with your little ones, I recommend it. It is lovely. Plus, there's a classic Disney animated short based on it.
Well, in the book, Ferdinand measures his growth on the trunk of a tree. That got my little men interested in being able to keep track of their growth. I agreed that it was a great idea to have a growth chart, but we needed one that we would be able to take with us when we move this summer and in the future.

I headed out to the hardware store and picked up a 6-foot-long plank of wood. We measured out 6 segments and each of the boys painted 2 sections in a very special color he had picked out all by himself at the craft store. Then they painted the lines all the way up marking the inches and feet.

The paint colors don't really coordinate. There are places where the paint is smeared. In other spots, the paint doesn't fully cover the wood. Sometimes one boy didn't stay within the "lines" very well. It is far from perfect. It may not even be beautiful.

It was exactly how I wanted it to be. If I had wanted it to be perfect, I could have bought a fabulous one designed by somebody who knew what she was doing. Just search "growth chart" on Etsy, and you will see. Some of my cousins even have a business making just this sort of thing. There is no shortage of amazing or adorable growth charts. If I didn't want to shell out the cash, I still could have insisted that the chart have a particular look that would perfectly compliment the decor. I could have picked out the colors, done the painting, and even some distressing or finishing touches to make it look just so.

Look at those faces. They are full of pride and the joy of having designed and created something all by themselves. Something that is uniquely their own. They would not look that way if they were measuring their growth on a chart created by someone else.

Isn't part of why I do what I do with homeschooling to allow them to learn who they are and how to express that? Isn't part of it to allow them to learn how to paint, build, and create?

It isn't about having a perfectly beautiful home. It's about loving the perfect imperfection that is our life and our learning and our growing.

It's about learning that it doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't even have to be beautiful. It just has to be ours.

Because aren't we all perfectly imperfect? Aren't we still growing and changing and learning with every day? Aren't there parts of who we are that are smeared, smudged, chipped, or even mangled? As we go through this day-to-day, year-to-year chaos that is growing up (yes, I think we are always "growing", never "grown"), we are never going to be perfect. There are many times we will not be beautiful. But we are loved by the one who Created us and who loves to see our growth.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Volcano Day!

As I have mentioned before, we have Field Trip Fridays in order keep me sane augment our curriculum. It is generally a blast. This past week, we decided to forego our field trip and have a sort of at-home adventure. Nolan has been the proud and patient owner of the Lava Rock Volcano kit since Christmas.
Every few days he asks me about it. I have to admit, the idea of exploding fake lava all over my house wasn't really exciting to me. So, I may have been purposefully delaying the Big Day.

I finally decided that the poor kid had waited long enough. We started out with the physical construction of our volcano. It required strips of plaster to be draped over a plastic form. 

 The floors, the table, our shirts...everything was covered with plaster dust. But it made for a nice-looking shape of a volcano.

While we waited for the plaster to dry, we blew some bubbles and had a little contest to see who could pop the most. It had nothing to do with volcanoes. It was a lot of fun.

Back in the kitchen, we donned our smocks and got out the paint to artistically design the rocky mountainous surface of the volcano. It was a meticulous labor of love for these 3 boys who love to create.

While we waited for that to dry, we went to the porch and worked on our portable growth chart. They each picked the colors for the 6-foot plank and are quite excited to start marking it up with their heights. No tears as we leave behind some house where we have marked their progress on the wall. We will just take this piece of wood with us wherever we go.

We waited until Grandad arrived before making the eruption happen. During the wait time, we read Vacation Under the Volcano by Mary Pope Osborne. The boys all love the adventures of their friends Jack and Annie, and we always learn a little something along the way.

Once he arrived, we got busy. First we got all set up with toy dinosaurs, the lava rocks, vinegar, and baking soda. It was difficult for little hands to squeeze the bottle, so Grandad needed to help out.

Mostly the "lava" flowed down the sides of the mountain, but occasionally we managed to get an explosion of lava that shot high above the mouth of the volcano. All in all, it was a great day. And now we have an active volcano that could erupt again any time. Be warned.

It's always a successful Field Trip Friday when some exhausted little boy falls asleep in a random place at a random time.
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