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Mama Mondays: A Look Back.

Almost 10 years ago: She’s 2 years old and he’s 3 months old.


Last week: She is 11 years old and he is 9 years old.

In the top photo, #4 is “reading” to #5. She has memorized the book from me reading it to her about 367 times a day.

In the bottom photo, #4 is helping #5 read. From the second floor, I hear him sounding out words. I peek over and she is there patiently helping him.

There is nothing more sobering and calming than looking at photos of your kids when they were little especially if you have teenagers or young adults. Looking back is an amazing way to gain perspective, to stop for two seconds to see what has stayed the same and what has changed so much you can’t even believe that was your story.

Over the last few weeks, I have been in love with my blog again. I am reading the posts with equal doses of gratitude and nostalgia. I look back to gain perspective of how far we have travelled, how life led me to where I am, and for some clues.

More on the mystery later.

I have fallen deeply in love with reading my story, our story even though there is a little gap.* It’s like re-living a life that I know I lived but it’s incredible to be able to be reminded of the details through some of my more astute observations.

I can’t describe to you what it’s like to read about the fears I once had, the risks I took, and now to come out on the other side. I can read these posts and almost hear my unease and uncertainty with motherhood and then with homeschooling. It was all and still is a grand experiment.

“These handwritten words in the pages of my journal confirm that from an early age I have experienced each encounter in my life twice: once in the world, and once again on the page.” 

― Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice

I do have my handwritten journal for my eyes only but this blog also serves this purpose – to encounter my life again and again, reading between the lines and counting the blessings with the perfect vision of hindsight.

I read and remember the overwhelm, the confusion, the hilarity. I remember the triumphs and the crushing defeats too. There were so many days when I made mistakes and failed terribly only to be welcomed with forgiving arms to try again.

Some are hard to read like this one.  It was the beginning of seeing the future a little, of imagining a time when we would no longer travel as a pack of 7 all of the time. Right after that, I read this one where I finally said the real goodbye.

And this one when we left our old house for the last time had the tears streaming.

Some posts make me laugh like the one when we found out #5 was a boy.  

Or ones that both make me laugh and also remind me of what’s important like this one on focus.

Some posts make me cry at the amount of wisdom bottled up in a child like this one where I learned so much about life in that moment.

Some posts remind me that life is just a continuous cycle repeating events in the most ironic ways like this one when I injured myself similar to my husband’s recent knee injury.

Some posts were series that I worked hard to write: homeschooling, homeschool planning, parenting adolescence, and motherhood.

Others were creative projects: 42 days of gratitude, 100 scribbles that morphed into my Book of Hours project, my prompts on Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto, my MAYbe project, and my handful of love notes (I never quite got to 100).

If you read through these series and projects, you will notice a few things:

  1. If there is a large theme, I like to break it up over several days and try my best to be as specific and detailed as I can in suggesting courses of action.
  2. I love creative projects that marry writing, reflection, and visual arts.
  3. I complete my creative projects that I set out to do on this blog. I offer a ton of resources, suggestions, points of exploration and connection.**
  4. I share for selfish reasons. I believe we are all here to walk each other home as Ram Dass says. Through sharing personally here, I have had the pleasure of meeting so many that helped guide and walk with me along the way and I fully give them credit.

Back to the clues that I alluded to at the top of this post. At first I searched through my posts for nostalgic reasons, and then I stumbled on one that made me stop and get excited.

One post made me stop as if I wanted to thank this woman for writing this down. How did she know? How did she know she would one day sit where I am sitting right now? Seriously, I have to thank myself for writing it down.

“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” 

Anais Nin

Encountering myself and the message from 10 years ago threw me for a loop but also made me realize why I did it, why I showed up here, why I laid it out without thought to the “why” only that it had to be recorded. Reading this post gave me the advice I needed to hear and inspired me to do something to push my comfort zone (again).

Looking back, in the end, helped me appreciate today and guide me for the future. Take a moment and look at some old pictures, journals, and letters. Can you look at it ALL with gratitude?

***

NEXT blog post: The post that gave me an AHA moment and the mystery I solved in the process…

*There is a gap in my writing – Feb 2011 to Sept 2013. Those posts were deleted when we forgot to pay for the web hosting. We were able to save them on a hard drive but I haven’t had the time to load them back onto the blog.

**Two exceptions have been the 100 love note project which in the end became too heavy to write because I wasn’t at my most witty and humourous in the midst of upending our life, nor did I post all of my MAYbe creations in the MAYbe journal but I did give 31 days of prompts and project ideas, I do complete my projects.


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Loving the world.

I was looking through my daughter’s Book of Hours/Poetry Book. I found a poem she had copied that was also in my Book of Hours.

“Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver – #3’s Book of Hours
“Wild Geese” copied on the page on the right in my Book of Hours.

Mary Oliver passed away and we loved her poetry. I wrote how she deeply inspired me in this post about my real work. 

From a very early age, poetry filled my days. Once I had children, I made sure that I added poetry to our everyday life. Amidst the mundane tasks of washing dishes and changing diapers, I read poems to my children.

As they learned to write, they copied little verses about the sun or a rainbow. Now as teenagers they have their own poetry books that they copy from, that they read when they need to love the world or simply find their place in it.

Mary Oliver’s poems always hit the spot. When my kids needed a poem to soothe or to just feel the beauty of words, we would first turn to Mary. My kids grew up in Ontario and in the woods. They understood the language of the moose, the wings of the moth , the blue iris, and the maple tree. She spoke the language of ponds and rivers that they waded in. To us still, her poetry is home.

Actually, I find her spirit through many of my posts – how to love the world is a recurring theme. When my eldest daughter turned 15, I had a panic attack. She was about to embark on her first trip abroad without me. How was I going to do this? How was I going to be ok with letting them go?

Miss Mary had the answer:

“Spring”

Somewhere    
a black bear
has just risen from sleep
and is staring

down the mountain.
All night
in the brisk and shallow restlessness
of early spring

I think of her,
her four black fists
flicking the gravel,
her tongue

like a red fire
touching the grass,
the cold water.
There is only one question:

how to love this world.
I think of her
rising
like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against
the silence
of the trees.
Whatever else

my life is
with its poems
and its music
and its glass cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness
coming
down the mountain,
breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her—
her white teeth,
her wordlessness,
her perfect love.

I was entering the “Spring” season of parenting a teenager – a beginner with fresh fears and anxious thoughts. But if I could start to ask the question How could I love this world? Maybe I could slowly release them, acclimatizing myself by looking at my own beliefs about the world. And maybe this unknown, this mystery of the world, is a “dazzling darkness” where the light is waiting to find it.

It is not the menacing darkness of monsters in the deep waiting to devour but the darkness where life grows and incubates waiting to be born.

If I don’t love this world, how could I possibly trust it to take care of my children?

And as we travelled further down the road of homeschooling, I also shifted my intention to how I can nurture and protect their love for the world because that is where they will feel safe and comforted, like in the words of this poet who asks for their astonishment and to be determined to save the only life they could save.

The questions became more urgent. Who did they need to be in this world to save themselves so they could save it? How could I teach them to pray when I forgot how to?

And then this…

“The Summer Day”

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

And this is the question I ask them where the answer won’t be swift or the same as we explore together the world and deepen our love for it…

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Thank you Mary Oliver. Thank you for the words that demanded us to look at this world closely through the eyes of the snail and to step back and see the total landscape from the backs of wild geese.

***

“When Death Comes”
by Mary Oliver

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measles-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

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The First Day of “School.”

Yesterday my kids all woke up early on their own. They got dressed, fed themselves, packed their bags and brushed their teeth (or so they told me).

I watched my son tuck and untuck his shirt several times before settling on “tucked” and he put on his favourite sweater and pushed up the sleeves. Just as I was about to ask what he was doing, he turned to me with excitement.

Him: “Is this what it feels like?”

Me: “Is what feels like?”

Him: “The first day of school.”

I smiled. He has never been to school. Actually, my youngest two children have never been in school. Yesterday was the closest thing to it for them, hence, the meticulous choosing and arrangement of his outfit.

Seven months ago, I had a vision. A rather BIG one. I really wanted to ignore the vision but I couldn’t. I had a responsibility to share this vision so I had I reached out to other families who might be able to see what I see. They were intrigued. We all reached out to other families who again might be able to see what we saw, and they too were intrigued.

And yesterday, that vision that was in my head, that vision that I had to somehow describe to other families less with words and more with my heart, the vision where I couldn’t nail down the details of how it would work, the vision that allowed me to see other children feel as free as my children, the simple vision was this:

I simply saw a circle of families that came together to create with love and who are connected by trust in their hearts.

Introducing MORPHO – a community space organized by families.

Some kids homeschool. Some kids don’t. Some have big families. Some have small families. Some speak one, two, three, four, and even five languages. Some have babies. Some have teens. Some were born in Costa Rica. Some were not.

What we all have in common is this vision – this vision of another way of learning and sharing, an opportunity to create what works for your family.

My family and another family arrived at the space early to organize some of the day’s opening events. There would be games, crafts, and time to get to know one another.

I had a chance to walk through the space of this former alternative school. I walked in and out of the classrooms. It felt like a blank canvas. It felt like these rooms held possibility and potential. They were all “rooms of requirement” – they could be whatever we required: a library/quiet workspace, a free play/art room, and workshop spaces where one could share any skill, talent, or information.

The vision was becoming clearer – I could see members of all ages reading together, working together on projects they envisioned too, creating together, making mistakes together, learning together. Each of these rooms were intended to be spaces where people could flow in and out and where anything could be learned.

But they were empty still and furniture needed to be moved and floors needed to be swept. (My specialty.)

I began to get nervous. Would anyone show up? Did I imagine all the gatherings leading up to this moment? Did I imagine the anchor families who first believed in this vision? Did they still exist? Maybe everyone had cold feet and just didn’t believe in what this could be.

We all moved tables into the open area where we set up a craft station and a place to sit and meet all the families. My kids set up the “demo” craft – a Morpho butterfly of course. My 11 year old (#4) took a blank sheet of paper and drew her vision of the school and listed all the things that she wanted to learn and to do. My 13 year old (#3) and a 15 year old friend organized the “family scavenger hunt” – copying down the instructions in English and in Spanish.

I figured that once all the families had a chance to walk around and feel the space, we could organize the rooms according to our needs. I wasn’t going to decide what went where or set everything up. This wasn’t a ready made package to be delivered all prepared- this was a place where we were going to shape and form it together.

That was the theory if people showed up. Gulp.

As families started to trickle in, I exhaled. We hugged each other in excitement and wonder. We truly wondered what this was going to transform into, how our families would transform, and how our ideas of learning would also transform.

After most families had arrived, we formed a circle. This was not a hierarchy. Each family held a space necessary to the function and organization of this learning space. We would meet and discuss and model to our children how to solve issues with a compassionate yet direct focus.

One of the first things we did after we opened the space with a circle was play a game – “Everybody’s IT.” It was an epic game. It was the perfect beginning of our non-school year – a multi-aged activity based on laughter and fun. It was more than fun.

There was pure joy and delightful play – the essence of childhood and the foundation of true and lasting learning.

Next was the family scavenger hunt where your family had to find other families that fit a particular criteria on a list: families that had more than two boys, families that liked ice cream, families that has at least one dog, etc. You couldn’t use the same family twice so you would have to introduce yourself and ask the questions.

Some adults naturally headed to the kitchen to cut up some fruit to share and the kids meandered over to the craft table where there were already some teens crafting. Other kids, teens, and adults stayed on the field to play.

Families signed up for organizing duties and we all hung out.

Then we went home. The kids were exhausted. They chilled and chatted and everyone was too tired to even have dinner. By the time I remember to ask my son how his first day went, he was fast asleep. My good friend – who is one of the families that also believed in this vision -messaged me and said she loved seeing my son’s face, how happy he was and it reinforced her belief in this project, this experiment. He really loved it, she said.

I am asked to define this project. I am asked what this will look like. I am asked about structure and schedules. I can tell you what I see and what the ideal schedule for my family but I can’t speak for you or your family. This works only if every family takes personal responsibility to create their schedule, ask for support, and find creative ways to participate. Each family and each member needs to define this for themselves.

I love the Morpho butterfly. There is one that flies across my deck every day. The caterpillar completely liquifies itself inside the chrysalis before the butterfly emerges. But the Morpho is special. In their vulnerable chrysalis stage, they protect themselves from predators. The chrysalis of this butterfly emits a repulsive ultrasonic sound when touched, which drives predators away.

We are in this stage right now. The chrysalis. The precious potential. That look on a child’s face when they are on the cusp of learning – joy made tangible. We know this is a vision that may not fit yours or it’s difficult to understand because of its unique form.

When I am asked about whether this will work or whether my children will learn what they need to, I will say with pride and for our protection, “I don’t know” because these three words seem to repel everyone that wants something I could never satisfy – a definite answer.

Sorry, we are busy living the questions.

***

Special thanks to all the anchor families who initiated discussion on the possibility of this space…it was an amazing planning process and a deep practice of trust and collaboration.

And a big thank you and heartfelt gratitude to all the pioneer families who signed up and showed up ready to imagine, to clean, to play, and to create. You are all my heroes.

And for those curious or interested, we are working on our website and I will post a link soon…for now, check out our FB page:

https://m.facebook.com/centrocomunitariomorpho/


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Mama Mondays: Accepting An Unfinished Life.

“I’m not finished yet.”

My 9 year old pleads with me for more time to finish a drawing but we have to go.  We have one car and we have to drop off his big sis early at her job and then head to trapeze class for the rest of them.]

I give him a sympathetic look and tell him, “You can finish that later or bring your notebook and when there is a spare moment, you can work on it.”

With a big family, compromised have to be made and sometimes projects are stalled or have to be put on the back burner.

To the outsider, our life looks unfinished, incomplete and chaotic.

But finished lines are overrated. They can be a momentary high before having to make the descent back to the starting line of yet another race.

This is the definition of parenting – accepting work in progress as the status quo.

Well, yes, it seems chaotic on the outside because we are often seen driving and dropping off kids at activities, birthday parties, workshops, etc.  Actually, we have been moving slower since moving here and especially since we decided to opt out of school. But we also have FIVE active children so I have accepted that life won’t slow down much more until they leave the nest.  I assure you that there is an underlying rhythm to the busy-ness of our life that makes it completely relaxed as part of what I call “Big Family Parenting.”

And about the unfinished and incomplete aspects.  I really don’t think “there” exists.  A so-called finished line.  Even death isn’t the end depending on what you believe.  It really has to do with perception.  

We had the option to continue to rent and delay moving into the house.  This option was recommended by a lot of people.  People without five children who were finished with renting other people’s homes and who craved a space to call their own, a space they were ok building around themselves.  But it would be their space. 

Yes, there are rest stops and pause buttons to hit.  But then we move on.  

Up until the moment we decided to sell our house in Toronto, we were playing Tetris with the bedrooms as the kids grew up.  The “Master” bedroom was too big for just the two of us so we blew out the closet and moved the three oldest daughters who all had growth spurts into that room. We were and still are adapting our life to what we need and as we grow inside and outside.

(Throwback picture to 2015 when I decided to have our first days of our school year on top of a hill…)

This is our very first time building anything and especially building in the jungle of Costa Rica.  We knew that finishing for the sake of finishing could mean making decisions that actually don’t fit our family.  

Before we moved into our off grid home, a close friend who had moved out of our old city and had just spent her first year on her new piece of land, gave me the greatest advice:

Don’t do anything with the land or the house.  Don’t even paint. Try to live without furniture.  Don’t plant.  Don’t do anything.  Live, watch, and be.  It will take a full year to really feel what you need and how your family fits with the place.

This has been the best way to really embody a slow living and slow learning movement.  

We took her advice and mixed a little travel in there (a mama and dada need to all their kids together sometimes).  It has made so much sense and helped my children adjust to life here and for the land to adjust to us.  I have sat on my land and watched it recover and heal from the building process.  I have heard it say, “Thank you for your patience but please wait a little longer.“

We have watched the subtle seasons change and flowers bloom where we didn’t expect and watched the bees and butterflies return. We have witnessed where the rain – oh so much rain – has carved and collected and pooled where we would have planted a garden.  

Even as I sit and look out on the land, it isn’t finished.  It gives me comfort to see the new life growing from where our tree fell in January or to see our snake fruit trees thriving finally.

We painted before moving in and regretted it.  We had to make a quick decision while we were in Toronto because there was a dry spell and I didn’t have time to test the paint in different angles and watch the light mix with the colour as my friend had advised because light changes throughout the day and the year. 

I have loved watching the changing light living mostly outdoors.  While we love the paint colour and how the light reflects off of it when you enter the house, I am not in love with the same colour on the outside of the house.  The bright side is that it has made us start thinking about a family mural project.

We have lived with mattresses in the bedrooms and hammocks in the living rooms.  We bought two black outdoor lounge chairs as soon as Chris and I realized it was hard to enjoy our morning coffee in a hammock with two big dogs wrestling under us.  Our most recent purchase has been two bright yellow bucket chairs that are comfy and most of all, pretty.  I especially love the shadows they make.

Our family movements have also changed as the kids have grown – physically, emotionally, and spiritually after the move.  We slowly learned how we like to cook together and eat together. We thought we wanted a picnic table with benches for dining.  We realized we like to have back support to lean on.  There is something about feeling supported while you eat. And we have found we need a bigger table than we originally imagined.  Like I said, the kids have grown and the bigger the kids, the bigger the friends too. 

We have our preferred seating when we hang out: some like hammocks, some like the bucket chairs, some like the reclining lounge chairs.  But now that we have a small sofa/futon for guests in the den where the kids like to cuddle, we want a sectional on the main floor to really sit beside each other.

Our kitchen needs have changed now that our kitchen is outside. 

We prefer less gadgets and appliances.  My 11 year old is researching how to build an effective solar oven to take advantage of the hot sunny days.  Don’t get me wrong – a fridge and a washer and dryer are still on my wish lists but a trip to Toronto to see my child who couldn’t come here has always been worth more to me this past year.

In this slow way of noticing and being aware of our needs, the kids have been involved from the beginning in building this house.  Chris and I created our last home together and made most of the decisions for furniture and decor and functionality.  When we initially hired our designer, Hai Phung Tran, we told her we wanted the kids to have a real say in how this house was designed.  She was more than willing to include them and included their input in the designs which is why we have a spiral slide and hobbit door between rooms. (Thanks Hai!)

I like to think in terms of scale and completion – there are the larger works of art in progress where I may keep adding or editing. I have made peace with these unfinished works while I focus on smaller completions:

Did I read my child a story today?

Did I tell this child how grateful I am for their patience?

Did I spend some time hugging and laughing today?

Did I make a mistake and admit it and try to mend it?

Did I do my best – whatever my best was for today?

Did I stop and rest and take a breath before taking another step in this unfinished life?

***

What can you finish today? What can you leave unfinished and be content?

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25 Things I Hoped For.

Hope.

In Spanish, the verb “to hope” is esperar.  It also means “to wait” and “to wish.” I love that in this language, this anticipatory feeling is encompassed in this one word.

10 years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled “25 Things I Hope For.”

I re-read this and was blown away about how these hopes have translated into dreams coming true or simple enduring facts of life that I take for granted now. When you read these, imagine you are holding a handful of seeds about to be planted and you can fast forward to the future to see what kinds of trees grew from them. Some seeds don’t grow into what you expected. Regardless if what I hoped for came to reality, these are all the moments before the miracles that unfolded over the last decade.

I have reposted it here with some of my current reflections on these past hopes and I have written the updates in bold.

***

March 2009

25 Things I Hope For:

  1. I hope my kids will always want to hang out with me even if they don’t have to. Check.  In fact, they tend to curl up on the fetal position and snuggle into me whenever they see me alone, no matter how big they are or they want me to tell them a story or listen to their stories.
  2. I hope I will never lose hope. Check. 
  3. I hope #4 will one day sleep in a bed other than my own. Check…unless Dad is away then they all take turns “keeping me company.”
  4. I hope, if nothing else, my kids grow up to be compassionate and grateful. Check.  Although there are lapses, they are above average compassionate and grateful people.
  5. I hope she never lets anyone take away her sparkle. Check. #3 shines differently – she is able to dazzle us with her words and insights now and less with her twirls and show tunes.
Nobody puts baby in the corner.

6. I hope my extended family will remain close (and that forgiveness doesn’t mean you say it’s ok, it just means we can all spend Christmas together finally). Half-check.  The deaths of my grandparents shifted things a little and we also didn’t go to Toronto for Christmas this year.

7. I hope my girls will always respect and love who they are, and that they are worthy of being treated with respect and love. Check.  I realized that I am their role model for that and the way my husband treats me and the way I treat myself will always be their standard that they measure everything against.

8. I hope that I will never be able to drive Ever-Patient away once and for all because of my momentary lapses of sanity and rationality. Check.  Personally, I think he finds my momentary lapses of sanity and rationality cute which is why he still sticks around…or maybe it’s because I have him stuck in the jungle with me – my latest example of a lapse of rationality.  We will reach this milestone this year: 25 years to LIFE…and no possibility of parole.

9. I hope my parents – my mother, my father, and my step-father – are happy. Still hoping.  I know they miss us and things have changed just in the last year but I have also learned that I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness but my own.

10. I hope this one will learn to take risks. Check.  She has three jobs where two of them she has to speak Spanish.

Little Miss Comfort Zone.

11. I hope the girls outgrow High School Musical very soon…or Mama will have more momentary lapses in sanity. Sadly no…so I just banned it from ever being watched in my presence again.

12. I hope the girls NEVER outgrow family time in the basement. Sadly I outgrew it…it was tough to say goodbye to that house and basement. This was a heartbreaking time in our life. They often talk about those days in the basement – the days when they were all little and I set up everything there so I could lay on the sofa with the newest baby while they played dress-up, or played in the play kitchen, or did their arts and crafts.  It was a room where we would have family sleeps on a hot summer night or fold laundry together.

13. I hope I never have all the answers. Check.  I am not even close but I have learned to LOVE asking the questions.

14. I hope, 40 years from now, I can look back and say I lived a life that I am proud of. I can look back 10 years and say I lived a life that I am proud of.

15. I hope these yahoos look out for each other…always.The Gang. Check.  These cousins still hang out and talk.  I am so grateful my cousins and I nurtured these relationships as they were growing up.

The Gang at 12, 10, 9, 8, 5, and 3.
Now they are almost 22 years old, 20, 19, 18, 15, and 13.

16. I hope I never lose sight of what is important.  (Whenever I am bothered by something, I ask myself if it would still bother me so much if I knew I only had a month to live.  This is a good way to maintain a little perspective.). Check.  It has become a lifelong practice.

17. I hope Ever-Patient and I are BFFs….and ever and ever and ever. Check.  Still BFFs. But not the BFFs that call each other up to go for dinner but the kind that you can be your shittiest self with and they say, ”Bring it on. I am not going anywhere.”

18. I hope to one day fit into my size 24 skinny jeans. Not a chance. I think after #5, my hips have made this hope an physical impossibility.

19. I hope to complete a triathlon…one day.  (Completing this would probably help in fulfilling hope #18.). Nope.  I am still afraid of swimming in open water which I have learned to accept.  But I have completed a half marathon and hiked the West Coast Trail.  

20. I hope I will continue to document both the banal and significant details of my life and that by reading all of it in the future, my girls will understand the source of their neuroses and complexes. Check.  I am so grateful I have documented this journey for my girls and my son.

21. I hope my kids will finally give up on the idea that we will one day get a dog. Eyeroll.  We have three dogs and two cats.

22. I hope she will slow down the whole growing up thing.  It’s KILLING her father. Nope.  Ten years feel fast when we look at her today and this picture of her entering her double digits.  In a few months, she will turn 21.  So many more hopes for her as she enters adulthood.

At this moment, her feet were the same size as mine. Now three of my daughters have a bigger shoe size and two are taller than me.

23. I hope for peace. Check.  I wake up every morning and sit on my and feel at peace.  

24. I hope to have a deck and a finished backyard for the summer…which would be a fantastic birthday and anniversary gift (hint hint EPO). Check.  See above…I spend almost all my time on our deck and “backyard.”

25. I hope that jean jacket and flip flop weather arrives soon.  I hate socks. Check. I live in the land of flip flops and summer forever.

There you have it.  (Although some of these hopes sound more like desperate prayers.)

***

You may have noticed that the above hopes don’t mention our son. Well, he wasn’t even a thought…yet. I will have an updated version of my current hopes this week.

What are your hopes? And if you haven’t written them down yet, what are you waiting for? Plant those seeds. They’ll need time to grow.

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Power.

I have to admit that when I saw her FB post, I was envious.  I coveted the very thing that was finally in her grasp.  I told myself I was happy for her and her family.  She was very generous with sharing her boon with us. She knew how I felt as she was in my position longer than me so there was no “rubbing it in” and I was trying hard to be happy for her because she does deserve this wonderful gift.  

But still.

Enter the green eyed dragon.

I wanted what she had as soon as I saw that picture of that glowing light bulb in her house.  I too wanted to flick a switch and have my light turn on.  I wanted to have ice in my drink.  I wanted to batch cook again and freeze meals.  I wanted to have leftovers in a fridge.  I wanted to not have to go to the car to charge my phone.  

I wanted to watch Netflix. WAH!

We take for granted the little things that electricity affords us.

We use the term “power” when we talk about electricity.

“My power is out.” “Do you have power yet?” “When will you have power?”

It’s an interesting thing. The word “power,” at its root, means “the ability to act or do; strength, vigor, might.”

Yes it’s true. We can’t do a lot of things. Sigh.

Last year, I did a whole block on what power means with my then 14 year old as she enter another 7-year cycle. We used Mary Beard’s book “Women and Power,” “The Mother of All Questions” by Rebecca Solnit – particular her essay entitled ‘A Short History of Silence’ – and “Muscle and Bones” by Charles Kovacs.

We have to be more reflective about what power is, what it is for, and how it is measured. To put it another way, if women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is power that we need to redefine rather than women?” 
― Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

– Mary Beard, Women & Power: A Manifesto

The feeling of power is also related to the feeling one has when they stand up straight. The posture they assume. (This is why we also studied anatomy and physiology.) How you move in the world is definitely related to whether you can or can’t do something.

Reframing power in this way, I know that I have been able to do so much more this last year without electricity.

I have learned so much about myself and my family living without it: how candlelight changes the mood in the evening and we all tend to speak softer and it inspires contemplation and more compassionate conversation; how planning meals for a large family is an art so we always have just enough since we have nowhere to put leftovers; and how grinding my coffee beans every morning at 5:00am is no longer cute for me.

I have also learned how low the bar I have set for the kids’ wishes just like how I would be the best mom ever if I bought them a large hot chocolate to share – split 5 ways so that means each of them only got a sip in the end – when they were little because I NEVER bought them treats.  I had no idea the bar could be even lower than it is now.  I hear them say things like:

“You know, when we have a fridge, I just have to do one big shop at the market.”

“Oh and laundry!  We could do it when we actually need it!!”

“I miss cold drinks.”

You get used to it especially when your closest neighbour is in the same boat.  You share tips and tricks on how to keep your cooler colder a little longer or which solar lights work best.  

Then one day,  you take your dogs for the morning walk and the sound of her vitamix without a generator reminds you of what she has and you don’t.  There’s also the litres of bone broth that you make for an ailing husband and then you forget you don’t have anywhere to store it.

Back to slouchy posture.  

Thank goodness for her generosity – I can store the broth in her freezer and because she is the best neighbour in the world. We also save money on food as nothing goes rotten in the back of the fridge. In fact, we stay very present when it comes to food, what we can and cannot do in various lighting scenarios, and what constitutes how we live.

We don’t depend on power.

Let me rephrase that.

We don’t depend on external power.

Standing tall with my shoulders back is a choice. How I define power is also my choice. Questioning current power structures at large in the world – yup, my choice.

I am leaning into the relativity of this word more so than a static definition. Our independence of electricity this past year, as we celebrate our 1-year anniversary without it today, has been an exercise in relative power. What I can’t do translates into a what I can do.

This is the thinking one has to take on when living in the jungle.

I source a different power. A more reliable one. The power of creativity and resilience. The power of team work and community. The power of choice.

**Shout out to our community for having each other’s backs navigating life in the dark – literally.

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Why we don’t homeschool anymore. Part Two.

Yesterday I promised to tell you more about why we don’t “homeschool” anymore. Mostly, it’s this narrow definition among a feast of possibilities and my kids called me out on it.

I also have teens who hate being labeled and consistently tell me how they won’t do anything “school-y” even an online “accredited program” because then they can’t learn what they want to learn, read what they want to read, or create what they want to create. And when probed about what to call what we do, they retort, “We live our life.”

Here’s why the term doesn’t fit us:

  • Most of their learning, especially for my teens and my young adult takes place outside of our home and now also takes them online or in the workplace and community.
  • I don’t have formal lessons anymore like I did when they were little which were really fun things I liked to present to maintain a rhythm in a house of many. I take my cue from my children.
  • I am not their only teacher. For awhile I was their main teacher and soon realized they are amazing teachers too.  Sometimes they just need me to break down the information into bite-size portions.  Sometimes I tell a story that I think may connect them deeper to a question that they ask.
  • I don’t use a curriculum anymore.  I use some curriculum notes I have as inspiration and then I customize pieces of it when a child gets interested in a topic. Sometimes I go deeper into a topic because it interests me and then they get interested too.

I presented a lesson on Paracelsus because he had some crazy ideas for his time as one of the revolutionary physicians during the Renaissance period. He epitomized the renaissance man in many ways.  He was also an alchemist.  And alchemists are generally the coolest people to my children.  My 13 year old finds the Renaissance such an interesting period, particularly when she discovered that the Islamic world was already ahead of the game when it came to some of the re-discoveries so I thought she might find Paracelsus cool too.

Anyway, as I did some reading before presenting her with a brief biography, I came across this quote of his:

“There is in each person, in every animal, bird and plant a star which mirrors, matches or is in some sense the same as a star in the heavens.”

– Paracelsus

Ahhh yes. This is the part I play.

In my family, we are lifelong learners and we teach each other and learn together.  But I have another role that I deeply connect to as I show up everyday as their mother, their guide, their facilitator.

I am a matchmaker.

I too believe that in each child there is a star, a light they are born with and that we are all born with, that matches a star in the heavens. I also believe that there are hidden gems in literature and in ancient wisdom and more obvious pieces in nature herself like in the mineral, plant, and animal kingdom that possess this starlight too.

#5: Mama, let’s celebrate the mineral kingdom by making these sculptures in our creek and see how long they stand strong.

You know when there is a match when your breath is taken away by the beauty of the dawn or the brilliance of a crystal or the curve of land that feels like home.  There is a match when you read a poem and your heart grows a little or breaks a little.  There is a match when you hear a story and it is as familiar as the smell of fresh bread or the tender pain of a paper cut.  There is a match when you see a mushroom with a bed of moss beneath it and you instantly wonder if a fairy made her home once there.

I am the one that matches these up for my children until they know this feeling well enough to begin to recognize the light in everything and make their own matches.  Oh yes, the sound of the sea.  Oh yes, the words of Emerson. Oh yes, the colour of that moth wing.  Oh yes, the rolling thunder so close it feels like it’s beneath my feet. Oh yes, the stories of creation.  Oh yes, the sparkle of dew on the tip of a leaf. 

Homeschool is too small a word for all of this.  Home-learning, worldschooling, unschooling and lifelearning come close.

But still not quite. I am not a homeschooler.

I am a preserver of magic.  I am a keeper of stories.  I am a protector of wonder and make-believe. I am a purveyor of curious treasures.

I connect the stars.

(Thanks for the mirror Paracelsus.)

***

You might be wondering, how do I practically do this?  How do I preserve magic?  What curious treasures am I talking about?  

Come along for the ride every week and I will post some topics on what our journey has been like transitioning our family learning and our family life here in Costa Rica.

I am also looking for a different definition of this assortment of personal family learning environments which is really just living life outside of school.

Calling all homeschoolers/unschoolers/world schoolers/alternative learners! I would love to hear your thoughts on this!


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Why we don’t homeschool anymore. Part One.

Almost 5 years ago I posted “our homeschooling story, part one.

I had gotten so many questions on homeschooling that I decided to write a series telling our story of homeschooling.

After reading it a few days ago, I felt that I needed to update it as our story has changed.

For example, here’s a snapshot of our life lately:


Yesterday I shared a story with my #4, who is 11 years old, about a golden eagle that she found fascinating, especially the part where the eagles used the air currents to spiral higher. She wanted to draw one after and she did and wrote about the secrets of the bird and then worked intensely on yet another dream catcher.

Then I helped my 15 year old, #2, with vectors and scalars because she is fascinated by physics and decided she is ready to go deeper on it in relation to engineering concepts. We also talked a little bit about the I Ching.

My son and my #4 helped me present a different type of physics presentation on acoustics to my #3, the 13 year old. She closed her eyes and they made different sounds that she had to identify. We talked about what the universe may have sounded like in the beginning and is there such a thing as absolute silence? Maybe tomorrow we will listen to a primordial sound meditation together and draw what we hear by letting watercolour dance on a page.

My #5, the 9 year old, drew of course. Then he walked the land, perched himself at his favourite sit spot and saw two toucans fighting each other and had quite the descriptive story to tell us after his walk.

Most times you can find them reading except #5 who isn’t proficient at it yet and prefers to draw. (Did I say he likes to draw?)

#4 read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho last week in one 24 hour period and promptly proclaimed, “I am on a quest to find my Personal Legend!!” And grabbed her journal and wrote. (An aside, she only learned to read last year when she turned 10 and has read probably close to 50 novels this year and has set her sights on reading 100 this year.)

#2 also spent some time this fall doing a free online “Architecture and the Imagination” open source course by Harvard and loved reading all things Rebecca Solnit.

And then one evening we needed some wild cilantro (or culantro as it is called here) to add to dinner. (Briefly, I have had a difficult relationship with cilantro meaning I don’t like it. But I do love the taste of the culantro growing on our land, it’s a different plant but smells the same.). #5 and I went on a mission to find it before dark. Of course, he knows every inch of our land so knew where he could find a patch.

Some days the kids are with their friend at the river jumping off the tallest branch of a tree or they are at circus class learning handstands and juggling. Some days they are practicing Spanish at their jobs, at the market, and with new and old friends. Some days they are enlisting other adults in our community to teach them things like how to bake in this climate.

Sprinkle in face time calls with our eldest when we are able to go get internet. She fills us in on her latest adventures in the world and we fill her in on our latest adventures in the jungle.

And last night, after the last solar light went out, I found a child on the slide under her blanket star gazing.

Every year, I ask the kids if they still want to homeschool. We have had this conversation for almost nine years. At times, my eldest expressed the desire to try different schools – an alternative democratic school and then a sports-focused high school. She never lasted more than a year. Her four other siblings always decide that they want to continue homeschooling.

Except this year.

This year my kids looked at me while we lay around the hammocks of our jungle home and said, “Mom, we don’t really homeschool anymore.”

I asked them what they meant and they said, “Well, it feels like it’s the weekend every day. We do our chores and then we go and do what we like really.”

They were right.

When you look up the definition of homeschooling, you find the following:

“The education of children at home by their parents.”

“…to teach school subjects to one’s children at home.”

I often have trouble using the term because it doesn’t define what we do anymore. I know it is the current most convenient definition for most families that opt out of the system, but it’s very restrictive term and has conjured up different images to people that hear it that don’t apply to most homeschooling families.

But my kids are right, we don’t really homeschool anymore.

Tomorrow a post on on why and what really is going on…



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Mama Mondays: PICK one thing to keep you sane.

Welcome to Mama Mondays.

I often get asked “how I do it” or more accurately, “how I did it” with five kids.  My eldest no longer lives with us but that also doesn’t mean that I have stopped being a mother to five, in fact, motherhood becomes more intense during certain transitions – for example, as you shift from mothering a teen to mothering a young adult or mothering children to teens or mothering toddlers to children, or babies to toddlers, etc.  

You get my drift. Motherhood isn’t a static pose.  It isn’t a one-size fit all flowy dress.  It’s a shape shifting thing that is very much alive.  I could never reduce it to simply “taking care of the kids.” 

Anyway, that’s a whole series of posts that I could share one day.  But on to a more important topic mamahood topic today.

Sweeping the floor.

My idea of perfection: a newly swept floor, my coffee, and my morning pages.

It’s my thing.  You can find me at home sweeping all the bits of mud, dog hair, ripped up paper, and dead bugs off our living room deck multiple times a day.  I don’t complain that I am the only one that chooses to sweep a dozen times a day. I do have something to say if you step through the pile of ripped up paper over and over again without thinking to grab the broom.  But If you had made the gesture of reaching for the broom, this would warrant a word of appreciation from me, and I would probably take the broom from you anyway since it’s my thing.

I don’t know when it became my thing.  I do know it was only my thing after I became a mom. And it definitely wasn’t my thing growing up.  Ask my mom. It was her thing.  

We often forget how habits are started when they begin out of necessity.  I am guessing this is what happened in my case.  I figure it was as simple as no one was sweeping the floor and no one listened to me passive-aggressively suggesting that “someone” should sweep the floor. Then I probably picked up the broom and did it myself.  

I have another hypothesis – I accepted it as my thing when I finished that first sweep and the floor was immaculate.  I still have that feeling of euphoria after I sweep although I know it’s always short-lived because before I know it, someone is prancing around eating something and spilling it all over the place or the dogs. The DOGS.

This momentary feeling of euphoria that led to it to being my thing is highly addictive. Imagine creating one spot in an entire life that wasn’t covered with a layer of garbage or filth that needed to be dealt with.  The floor was easy to maintain compared to other things I needed to attend to.

This act of sweeping could make several top 10 lists in my life: Things I do to avoid other things, things I do as meditation, things I do to distract myself from picking a fight or getting irritated, things I do to feel productive (because at least I swept the floor, right?), things I accomplished, things I am obsessed about.

Speaking of obsessed, my kids often look at me like I am crazy, as I pick up the broom reflexively even as the dogs continue to traipse back and forth in the house with muddy paws.  If I stopped to think about, I could see how one could think this an act in futility and foolishness.  We have an outdoor living space that is welcome to three dogs and two cats. 

And imagine my household ten years ago, 5 kids under the age of 11 – it was always a mess. Always. And then we homeschooled. Perpetual projects and experiments littered every surface – except the floor. I would pile things up on the living room couch, on the dining table, our kitchen counters, and on every horizontal surface above the floor. Then I would sweep.

I swept all the day because it was the one thing I could do to keep my sanity. I was never going to have a perfectly tidy house. Lord, I had 5 children and a husband. And let’s be real, I was never going to catch up to the dishes or the laundry. That was a fool’s fancy.

But I could sweep. I could sweep with a baby tied to me in the front. I could give a little one a mini broom and they could sweep (or pretend to) with me. I could sweep in minutes and enjoy one piece of tidy.

So I could live with the mess of a life or the complete chaos kids because I could always grab the broom and find peace in the action itself. Rest in motion.

I would give #4 a piece of paper to cut into a million pieces because at 2 years old, she really isn’t allowed with scissors. Then I could put the baby to sleep, fold a load of laundry, help with schoolwork, and start prepping the next snack. And of course, the pieces of paper dusted the floor like snow but I didn’t mind because you guessed it, sweeping was my thing.

When I look back and remember those early days of motherhood with littles, sometimes I just see the crumbs and the spilt milk. (Of course the spilt milk.) And I remember the sweeping. But I also remember how that broom helped me take a moment before I had an outburst. Sweeping helped me take a breath. Sweeping sometimes was the thing that jump started my energy and my second wind when I couldn’t move because I was so exhausted. I would sweep the dust balls out instead of under the rug. Lay it all out, dust balls and all.

I remember wondering if this sweep, make mess, repeat was all there was. 20 years later, I believe that yes that’s all there is. At the end of the day we tidy, make our messes, and tidy again. Sometimes we take on new habits or simply grow up so our messes aren’t as big or sometimes we grow up and they are still big and we are still learning how to sweep them up.

We make the mistake of thinking we can sweep everything up once and for all but then we our life trying not to make a mess and we miss out on walking in the mud and watching those little footprints make patterns on the floor or the crumbs that are left as one sister feeds another her new creation in the kitchen – a makeshift carpet of the bits of life – our life as a family who makes messes and has a mom who loves to sweep them.

Because it’s her thing.

What’s your one thing that keeps you sane when mamahood threatens to overwhelm?

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Does the world really need another blog?

I began my first ever blog post by asking this question.

This month I celebrate my 10th anniversary of blogging.

When I read that first post, I can see a lot of the same fears that I still feel every time I share a bit of my story. When I started blogging I really didn’t want to.  My husband thought it would be a hilarious read for our family and friends for me to write about what our life was like in our tiny semi-detached house with a growing family, particularly at this time when I tore all the ligaments in my ankle and was sidelined for 6 weeks with a 1 year old, 3 year old, 5 year old, and a very helpful 10 year old.

My kids when I started blogging – the four girls.
The five….one decade later.

After a decade of blogging, following other people and their blogs, and discovering so many random posts that have helped me find solutions to everyday and not-so-everyday dilemmas, the definitive answer is yes, it does.  But this is a short answer for a question that is not so simple.

We are inundated with information. My email inbox used to give me so much anxiety because I used to subscribe to so many cool people doing so many cool things which of course made me more anxious when I read about them because I wasn’t doing anything cool.  While I was reading all abou these cool people, I was probably nursing a child in the same yoga pants I had worn for a week trying to get my shit together to do one load of laundry – or at least re-wash that one load that didn’t get transferred to the dryer fast enough so now it smelled like wet dog. 

And of course there was no time to do anything cool because I was also spending a stupid amount of time sorting my inbox.

When we adopted the philosophy of minimalism as a family, I took a machete to my inbox. I subscribe to a handful of newsletters from people I resonate with.  People who are my people.  People who I would love to hang out with for coffee. Imperfect people who are doing their best and sharing their current best along the way.  My husband has his own people that he follows that also speak his language of protein, deadlifts, and email management systems. (Thank God.)

I realized that I don’t have to stress out trying to read all of this amazing information out there.  Read what brings you joy, what makes you laugh, what makes you stop and go, “I never thought about it that way.”  We all have strange preferences too and the beauty is that we can find that specific person that also loves to talk about whether Jean Luc Picard was a better captain than Kirk or how Comic Sans really should be deleted off of every font list. (Yes, you can expect future posts on both.)

I would prefer a world with an abundance of cool and interesting stories than one where I can’t find the diversity or can’t access a story that feels like mine.

And this is the point. My story is mine.

As Anne Lamott writes,

Yet, I get to tell my truth. I get to seek meaning and realization. I get to live fully, wildly, imperfectly. That’s why I’m alive. And all I actually have to offer as a writer, is my version of life. Every single thing that has happened to me is mine. As I’ve said a hundred times, if people wanted me to write more warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

Bird by Bird

The intersection of all of my experiences and my observations and the insights and connections that I infer, are particular to me. And that’s what I have always set out to do here. Writing for me helps me lay out the dots so I can connect them and then blogging is a way to say, “Hey! Look at the picture I created after connecting this and that dot!”

And that’s what we can do for each other. We can connect our dots and share them because maybe someone has two dots that they just haven’t connected yet. Islands that need to be bridged. Chasms that need to be crossed. We learn from each other.

Try looking up female biographies written by females in Ancient Greece or Ancient Rome.  Or ancient female historians and what they recorded.  Or original sources of women’s private art journals during the Renaissance.  Tell me what you find.

Nada. Zilch.  It’s like women didn’t exist.  We know they did because the civilization lasted for quite some time and we can find images of women rendered on vases for the home taking care of babies or of course, weaving.

I am not so arrogant that my little blog of writing will be an important story that is preserved for future women who specifically have a big family, live an unconventional life for this time and place, and who choose an alternative learning method for their family.  

But maybe.

What if there were a database of all of our stories and we could sort them on relevance – relevance to us?  I would love to be able to look up a woman’s journal from ancient times.  Did she care about those last 10 pounds (or 20) after having her third, fourth, fifth child?  Did she crave a room of her own, thus rendering Virginia Woolf’s narrative as a remix of an anthem that women have always sung through the ages?  But if we had the evidences of this journal to begin with, then maybe women would have had this room all along.

Being a part of Soul Seed Gathering and Soul Seed House is another step towards this collection of our stories. But maybe we can start now by having the courage to tell our own, to weed through all the things we tell to really see if we planted them in earnest or they were grafted onto us by someone else – old conditions of a belief system we no longer wish to support.

I want to know if another woman existed like me.  What did she experience?  How did she do it?  We are so disconnected from passing down wisdom from woman to woman that maybe we all need to just bombard the internet with our blogs.  I guarantee that you will resonate with a lot of our collective stories maybe not all, but the point isn’t to agree with all the stories.  The point is to have the freedom to write them and for others to access them.

So yes, the world needs another blog, another story, another perspective. 

And for me, the greatest thing has been able to look back through my writing and see how our life has changed, how I have changed. In this last decade, we went from four to five kids, we started to homeschool, I reclaimed myself as an artist, and my daughter moved out or from her perspective, we moved away…to name a few.

At the end of my first post, I wrote:

So finally here we are. My first post.  Here is what to expect from this blog: things I love, things that annoy me, grammatical errors, daily observations on my experiences as a mother of 4 girls, occasional four-letter words, things I create (which depending on available spare time-sigh-will be posted on an irregular basis), things that make me piss-in-my-pants laugh, things that I remember, run-on sentences, things I learn, mistakes I make, guilty confessions, my mommy adventures, dual personalities, and the oh so random…

Because really, this is my story.

(I apologize in advance for offending you and providing many-a-giggle at my family’s expense.

Tomfoolery and Shenanigans

And sometimes things don’t change. Expect all those things still when you come visit me here…but maybe I am a little less apologetic.

Thank you to all of who have been reading since the beginning – my husband and my parents really. And all those who have read a post or two since. Thank you to my children – my biggest source of inspiration and content. Excited to begin another decade of tomfoolery and shenanigans as we trade the snow for the sun and add random Spanish words along the way.


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