Monthly Archiv: May, 2015

My Young Professors

Getty2 compliments of openculture.com

Getty2 compliments of openculture.com

With school coming to an end, my young professors are in high gear hoping to reach me with course curriculum reviews before my brain shuts down for summer.

Boy two was a mess on Monday. Nothing was fair. Injustice was large and everywhere. He found me alone later. “I think the problem is I just didn’t get any time by myself yesterday. It was all fun but there was no time by myself.”  He was right. Three hours with his head in “The Princess and the Goblin,” by George MacDonald and he was fine. (So go and do likewise was the review piece I keep forgetting.)

Boy one is a fine young man . . . with whom of late I have become the chief head butter. 99.5 percent of all the times he is not just difficult but impossible, he feels hurt or misunderstood. Addressing those feelings fixes things almost immediately. On the other hand, carrying on about the uncrossed t’s and undotted i’s until he gets it right has not. Soon I will print out this paragraph and have it tattooed on my forearm where I can see it. Although since I work like this too, it is funny that I should ever forget it. (We two are card carrying black belt gold star premier members of the Best Defense is a Good Offense Club.)

Girls ages nine and six (who never really notice money) have been counting and recounting it in stacks nightly. This is due to a WEEK LONG Garage Sale at school to which they have had ongoing un-parentally-supervised visits. I convinced Girl two Thursday morning before school that she didn’t need anything more. Then she convinced me she wasn’t buying anything for herself, but for poor Boy one whose school wasn’t even having a garage sale. She came home two dollars poorer with jewels.

What did you get for Boy one? I asked.

What? Oh, nothing. Don’t worry, I can make him a card.

The evil garage sale is framed as a fundraiser for latrines and mosquito nets somewhere. I’m guessing that’s a ploy to keep the results of their psychological study pure. Someone has obviously paid them to find out how many trinkets it takes to torture a lone housekeeper in a colony of Neanderthals to death.

The weekend looks to be deliciously void of learning experiences. The young professors are off for their second Camping with Dad adventure. I’m hoping to hunker down and work on my neglected children’s novel. The taste of summer is in the air. The delight bordering on euphoria is not just about camping. The kids can’t sleep at night with all the light singing through the windows every evening that there are still trees to climb. When the light finally falls it’s the noise of country nights that thrill me. A thousand choirs of crickets, hundreds of croaking frog soloists, and scores of birds scheduled with different songs for different hours. On and on in the dark it goes requiring nothing of me. I smile that the noise of the kids in the morning will seem quiet by comparison.

My dreams are of lettuce soon from the garden, canoes on the river, and a mentor for our beekeeping pursuits.

 

compliments to gang10-little-rascals-pictures-public-domain-httpgreenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com_-e1412352044365

compliments to gang10-little-rascals-pictures-public-domain-httpgreenbriarpictureshows.blogspot.com_-e1412352044365

Baptisms of Pentecost

wind

wind photo compliments of morguefile.com

Being overwhelmed feels like sensory overload. There’s too much stuff in your head. You crave space, quiet, nothingness. When at last the grace of quiet comes, you awaken not to the nothing you envisioned, but to a myriad of somethings.

I found I could save a trip last week if I simply stayed put after a doctor’s appointment and picked my son up straight from school. That left a few hours so I drove to the library. I saw a bench overlooking the water and sat down with my lunch. Across the river I saw man/boys in school uniforms squatting together in a circle. There was a stick which turned out to be two sticks which turned out to be fishing poles. I wondered where you could put in a good word for the man/boys toward future quests for education and employment. They would, I believed, make better humans for having fished on their lunch hour, than having either strutted somewhere for the women/girls or studied. After that I noticed the way the balsamic vinegar had soaked in just enough to make the cherry tomato halves on my fork spectacular, but not enough to make them something other than tomatoes.

On the tractor, I discovered a third color of trillium on the property. The white and pink are the same species, I learned. The red are not. Hanging laundry, I saw a gray tree frog attempting camouflage along the cracked paint of the hand railing. We found each other curious.

I observed the irony of tractors. Going places in cars drives me to distraction. Driving a tractor in circles in a field makes me peaceful and reflective. I turned off the computer and noticed the feel of a pen in my hand. Watched my handwriting, sloppy and unpracticed across the page, breathe in and breathe out. It’s slower on the uptake. But no amount of pen clicking on the lined notebook page could interrupt the space of now with the distraction of the internet.

I realized that my husband had been talking about tea. I noticed his focus. Unlike his placement of personal possessions, his approach to iced tea is highly systematic. There is a perfect amount of lemon; he will find it. A perfect number of spearmint leaves. A perfect temperature at which to leave the tea bags for a specific amount of time. Like a beagle on the trail, he is on it. I noticed it was to my preferences that he is measuring the standard of perfection.

These were my first whispers of wind and fire. My personal invitation to Pentecost.

The Spirit descends when we’re looking and when we’re not. Spirit that is. Blood in the veins. Wind in the grass. Creek water in the rush of spring. Soul food at a well worn kitchen table. Black gold compost for the garden. Morning’s light for another round of unremarked upon photosynthesis to feed the world. Spirit that drives through time like a second hand on a watch. Ignored by all but track stars, yet insistent and unremitting in it’s creation of minutes, hours, time. Spirit with the earthy rich sounds of a woman with her eyes closed and her hands open as she sings. She’s black singing to an all white crowd who doesn’t get it. She’s known fear and sadness and could yell about it, but opts to sing instead about deliverance. Because it’s bigger. And they need it.

Because the one thing you can say for certain about Pentecost is that it comes.

 

Last Week’s Twelve Steps

2015 winter spring cat

The numbered items are the original twelve steps as published by Alcoholics Anonymous (thanks to Wikipedia).  In bold are the adjustments required for last week’s program. I don’t know why I find the AA story so inspiring but I always have. My borrowing is about respect and admiration not belittling. Hopefully that translates. :)

The real deal/Michelle’s Re-appropriation

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

We admitted we were powerless over the chaos of commitments – that our lives had become unmanageable.

  1. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Tried to believe that a Power greater than ourselves was interested in restoring us to sanity

  1. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Made a decision to turn everything over to the care of God (whom we tentatively hoped could understand the parts of us we don’t).

  1. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Refused to engage in anything remotely related to further fearless moral inventories of ourselves.

  1. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being that for a little while, we no longer cared about the nature of our wrongs.

  1. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Were entirely ready to have God make a path through the crippling ocean of life’s small irritations. (Until then, character defects would have to wait.)

  1. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Humbly asked Him to remove both the irritations and our shortcomings – with major hints that currently one was exacerbating the other.

  1. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Made a list of all obligations we might escape as well as dreams that might not be worth the cost of admission.

  1. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Backed out of things except when to do so would actually injure  others.

  1. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

Continued to refuse further personal inventory except where doing so proved helpful or hopeful.

  1. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Sought through prayer and reflection to improve  conscious contact with God, who although endlessly impossible to understand, is still the best rock in the storm.

  1. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Having had an emotional recharging as the result of these steps, we tried to write about it, and look for ways to implement increased best practice in all our affairs.

———–

Based on renewed hope and energy, I’m saving the above steps for potential re-use in the future. :)

 

Sheep solutions plus justice

 

pregnancytestkidney

As mentioned before, Violet had her lambs and is happily wandering the pasture with her little flock of three in tow. Lily gave birth to four, so far bright and hearty lambs. Daisy on the other hand is a source of debate.

What if she’s not pregnant vs. She is definitely pregnant

Waiting another few weeks would undoubtedly solve the mystery, but I’m not that patient. I am a problem solver who spent the weekend working out the details to our solution.

Beginning today, the children have been divided into teams (Boy one/Girl two vs. Boy two, Girl one). Each team is equipped with 3 pregnancy tests. They work on humans, why shouldn’t they work on sheep?

The kids have never seen these sticks. They’re getting three because I’m guessing they’ll use at least one stick to pee on themselves. But once we explain the importance, and especially once we  mention the reward, they should be good to go. The trick will be the need to have the sticks placed in the urine stream for five seconds. I began to worry for them. Should one hold the sheep while the other holds the testing stick? Should we find a way to restrain the sheep on a raised platform? Should they simply be on shifts lying quietly in the barn at night until the ewe forgets they’re there? . . . I was going a bit crazy until I remembered that this was not my problem; the kids can think for themselves. My part is to provide the testing sticks, the explanation, and the reward. How they get that five seconds of urine from an anxious, jittery, possibly pregnant sheep is something they can brag about in the future.

It’s not easy being the problem solver, team captain, chief cheerleader of unusual exploits. My heart is swelling with something somewhere between pride and satisfaction to picture one of them lying on the ground trying to baptize their stick and stay dry. There’s a lovely sense of primordial justice to the fact that this won’t be possible (the dry part).

Last night I realized that this little exercise needn’t be limited to our current crisis. Come August, September, even November, when there hasn’t been a ram in sight for ages (they won’t know the difference) they can be sent out as needed to check all the sheep. It ought to take hours of hit and miss attempts of catching and holding. There is nothing, I realize, to stop me from responding at will to a few weeks of feral behavior with my own little sense of fair play. It is a calming and beautiful thought.

Beginning with the commencement of our games today, once again, God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

Current ailments

photo compliments of morguefile.com

photo compliments of morguefile.com

In addition to severe hearing loss, my children no longer have interest in or aptitude for school, music practice, chores, responsibilities, basic personal hygiene, or conversation about any of the aforementioned.

Girl two has been the egg collector for ages. She has two modes right now.

#1. Going out to get the eggs after wailing, tears, and stomping (I see her veering towards the Charismatics when she’s older). On the way, she sees a sibling, a bird, or a bug, and forgets why she went outside. If you can find her after that and lead her to the door of the coop, she sometimes remembers to get the eggs.

#2. She wails, stomps, dries her eyes and heads to the coop. She returns a few minutes later with at least one broken egg, sometimes more. She cries and says she just isn’t good at getting the eggs. She suggests that perhaps it would be best for the sake of the eggs if another more skilled child were assigned the job of egg collection. She is shocked at suggestions of intentional egg breakage.

Boy two and Girl one are reading like there’s no tomorrow. A friend couldn’t quite get how I could be getting my son in trouble for reading. I’m not sure what there is to explain. Both of them hide (closets, bathrooms, small spaces) to read. Both expect that a good page trumps coming to dinner or responding to verbal commands. I have endless conversations with people who only appear to be in the room with me. I yell their names a foot from them, sometimes twice before they realize I am speaking. Boy two speaks (and works) primarily on Saturday morning because I’ve taken to using an after lunch library trip as a way to his heart. It’s a mixed blessing. I get to hear his voice for a few hours. Then he wants nothing to do with food, life, or people for the rest of the day. I am planning to call a no reading zone for a day or two this summer just so I can remember what it was like to have kids who talk to me about their thoughts when they came in from outside.

Boy one continues his preparations for law school. By my estimation, he will soon be ready to take on, if not the world, at least the ruling communist party in China or the mafia. I do my best to be a good training ground. An analysis of his time would look somewhat like this: Homework: 3-5%, Responsibilities: 5-7%, Recreation (soccer, music): 15% Verbal exercises (philosophizing, debating, honing socialization skills on the phone): 75%.

The lack of focus around here is maddeningly contagious. I myself have not had clear consecutive thoughts for days now.  When I can remember what the issue is, I ponder important questions slowly. Like is there a cure for spring fever? If so, what does it taste like and where do you buy it?

Awkward

2015 winter spring 263

Violet is on the right.

I have a thing for pregnant creatures. Nostalgia is undoubtedly involved (when one has peed on a stick and seen the positive sign ten times, one feels connected to pregnancy) but it’s the awkwardness that whimsically bedazzles me. Pregnant creatures wobble and waddle. They huff getting on and off their feet. They look like someone took and shoved them into the wrong skin. I relate to that. Awkward is something I don’t seem to be able to get away from.

In fact, there are times when awkward is the only bridge over troubled waters. This is the place I find myself in lately. When I’m not having a zen moment about this, it ticks me off. I’ve been backed into the awkward  corner one too many times. To heck with being chased around by that guy, I say. Today I’ll go out to meet him. Tell a story on my own terms that in its day was plenty awkward.

Once upon a time, I worked somewhere that required me to wear long skirts, nylons, and sneakers. With my future in fashion temporarily stalled, I was working in an industrial kitchen. Daily duties did not involve vigorous intellectual work outs, but I’ve never minded practical tasks, and I enjoyed the people I worked with.

The kitchen bathroom was a one seater tucked beside some chemical storage just beyond the food prep areas. Following a routine visit, I carefully washed my hands and exited to return for duties. Two feet out I encountered a shy male co-worker, visibly agitated and walking past me rapidly. His head was down. He  held a hand to the side of his head as if he was shielding his eyes. I found it strange, but he was such a goodhearted man that I forgave him his quirks immediately.

Other people’s oddities don’t feel that awkward to me. I smiled, shrugged and carried on. Which is when a friend of mine (who happened to be a nun) began tearing madly across the kitchen. Hair nets are encouraged in industrial kitchens; running is not. My friend sprinted in panic from the far end of the kitchen, past an aisle of stoves looking neither to the left or to the right. I stopped to observe. Interesting moments were not common in our line of work. To my surprise she ran straight at me, at last lunging for my side.

Unbeknownst to me, my conservatively long skirt was offering a whole new way of viewing me. On the side of me my co-worker had passed in such haste, the bottom of my skirt was caught up in the waist band of my nylons. Young nun friend gave it a mighty yank and I stopped sporting a most revealing new style.

The best metaphors are ones that really happen. I think that story works for my life about now. (Although where my sprinting nun will come from I still wait to see.) But back to the pregnant thoughts.  Before I could post the picture of the three ewes above with guesses about who was carrying what, Violet gave birth to four beautiful lambs in the dirt just outside the barn. Three survived, one did not. This is another true metaphor. Some things die. Yet on the other side of an awkwardness that cannot be bypassed,  other things are born so new, fragile, and hungry for life, that they take your breath away.

And so I trek a bridge I’d rather not.

DSCN1217

 

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Sighting Spring

Trillium (the white flowers in the back ground) are the provincial flower of Ontario.

Trillium (the white flowers in the back ground and the provincial flower of Ontario) are in bloom.

Trillium flowers are brief spring visitors.

Trillium are very brief spring visitors.

Not as common as the white trillium but found in our very own woods. Unlike the white trillium which has no other interesting names, the red ones are also called: American True-Love, Birthroot, Bumblebee Root, Ill-scented Wake-robin, Indian Shamrock, Purple Trillium, Stinking Benjamin, Stinking Willie, Threeleaf Nightshade,  and Wake-robin.

Not as common as the white trillium but found in our very own woods. Unlike the white trillium (which has no other interesting names) the red ones are also called: American True-Love, Birthroot, Bumblebee Root, Ill-scented Wake-robin, Indian Shamrock, Purple Trillium, Stinking Benjamin, Stinking Willie, Threeleaf Nightshade, and Wake-robin.   How could I not feel lucky to have these on our property?

Since we got the bees, I have a whole new love for dandelions.

Since we got the bees, I have a whole new love for dandelions.

The only thing missing here is the music. That grand cacophony of song the birds do to say the whole world is rejoicing that it's spring.

The only thing missing here is the music. That grand cacophony of song the birds do to say the whole world is rejoicing that it’s spring.

I got a picture of this one, turned around and . . .

I got a picture of this one, turned around and . . .

there was this guy, just landing on the pond.

there was this guy, just landing on the pond.

 

Happy Spring!

A conversation with God

Cover from 1920's issue . . . supposedly in the public domain but it might be good for business if somebody sued me.

Cover from 1920’s issue . . . supposedly in the public domain but it might be good for business if somebody sued me.

Dear God,

I thought you’d like to know that I’m purchasing a large stack of those god-awful women’s magazines that they have at the hair salons. For every moment I am awake during the night, I will pour through them for rubbish. The more scandalous, the better. In fact, I’m going to keep a highlighter on my night side table (right beside my prayer book). Anything particularly racy I’ll mark so I can find it more quickly the next night. When that bores me, I’ll read up on important things like interior decorating tips and fad diets.

It’s not that I don’t like the time together. Those sleepless hours in the middle of the night are oddly some of my favorite times with you. The problem is sustainability. I appreciate that you sent your son as a human being who also needed sleep. Perhaps . . . well, I’m just saying, I notice that he came as a single man.

Truthfully, if I never had those long hours in the night, I’d miss them. I’m honestly grateful. It’s just too much of a good thing. I’m not trying to start a fight; I’m saying please give me chocolate on special occasions only. I’m saying, well, I’m rambling. I’m sorry. It’s  easy to do when you’re tired. Deep breath. Focus. Main point. Retain. Main point. Rephrase with slow deliberate focus.

Dear. God. In light of the above. Would you consider a compromise position? One wakeful night out of seven? Two? You could take just as much time, but pack it into fewer nights. See where I’m coming from? I’m coming from the place where people need to sleep well for multiple nights in a row. Studies show this to be remarkably good for physical and emotional health, not to mention mental function and memory.

If I knew of studies measuring the impact of sleep loss on spiritual health, I would mention it. Still, I can pretty much guarantee that a steady diet of comparing my house, weight, hair, clothes, kids, and husband with the plastic people won’t be good for it. It’ll kind of be like waking me up to smoke or eat potato chips. Which are some other considerations if the magazines don’t do the trick.

We both know I’ll be suicidal after two nights of reading that stuff. So please. Please go for the sleep option before things get desperate.

Sincerely,

Michelle

Toward something good

photo thanks to Smadar at morguefile.com

photo thanks to Smadar at morguefile.com

When I stopped teaching, it felt like I was dying. The sight of math books, grammar DVD’s, or anything school related undid me. The label that told me who I was (teacher) wasn’t going to exist anymore. I would picture my sons, looking up at me as I led an assembly, and burst into tears. How could I quit before I ever got to teach one of them? How could I take away something they were proud of?

The months that followed were an excruciating relief. Relief because I badly needed rest. Excruciating because on the way to getting it, I realized things. My kids didn’t really care that I quit teaching. Turns out their pride in my accomplishments was a happy smile in a day, not a sustaining factor in their lives. They liked my improved availability.

Although I had put in hundreds of hours to non-teaching related helps to the school, nothing fell apart when I left. My students had enjoyed my classes, but no one’s education came to a grinding halt. That something I was an integral part of could be okay without me was “totally new information.”

I knew that I had been slowly bleeding to death trying to do it all. I didn’t know that with the best of intentions, I was choosing to die. Or that no one had really asked me to. I thought I was special to the people at the blood bank. I never realized that they accepted what I had to give because I was standing in the line to give it. That they weren’t even marking gold stars by my name for donor of the month. When I left, the blood supply did not even hiccup. Life went on.

A friend teaches kindergarten. If a someone’s mother has a baby, if chicks hatch, or something important happens, they make a poster. They always put “BIG NEWS,” at the top, and then tell you whatever it is. As I rested my body and spirit (something in my case that should have been done years earlier) this was all very big news to me. At first it made me feel small and depressed. With no official employment, not only did I no longer matter, but I had never mattered. (This is what it felt like.) The thing that I felt as vocation  and claimed as identity, teaching and school involvement, was gone. I was left facing the fact that I had not been as important to the picture as I thought I was.

An invaluable gift came wrapped in these painful discoveries. I found permission to rest and permission to wait. I wanted to write, but I was hesitant to go rushing off to join the hubbub of facebook likes and incessant small talk. I intentionally stayed back from the maddening crowds and focused on what I could learn in quiet, without promotions, recommendations, or commendations. (I would have been okay with some of that but since it wasn’t available I learned to make do. :)  )

I didn’t quit teaching five years ago to be noble. I quit because I couldn’t function anymore. Some days I miss it. More days, I’m glad. All the grief I felt then at walking away from something has  grown into the firm conviction that I was only ever walking towards something. Perhaps this is one of life’s secrets, that a little honest effort will suffice to keep the boat on course. We journey on a wide and forgiving river nudged gently along toward the good, when we know it and when we don’t.