Then a few weeks ago I attempted to do some writing. Just a little something to get caught up with our 100 Things TO DO this Summer. And I was dismayed to find that I was alone – my words had gone on vacation. Perhaps they panicked when they perceived the gargantuan journaling task that needed to happen; vocabulary never responds well to pressure, at least in my experience.
It’s an eerie feeling – sitting down to write and . . .
. . . nothing.
The words – or at least the right ones – didn’t come. The words that came said nothing – were merely black lines on white screen “paper.” I didn’t want to “write” them and so you surely wouldn’t want to read them.
And then I realized that if I wanted those lovely words to come back home, I needed to need them. You see, I think they were feeling a bit neglected, taken for granted.
As I have told all my students (or at least I hope I did!), in order to be a writer, one has TO WRITE –ideally every day. Writing, even for the best of writers, is work. It’s something you have to DO; it’s not something that one IS.
The many wonderful bloggers whom I read as often as I can are a wonderful example. Many of them (in fact, almost all in my Reader) are moms like me with children to feed, minds to develop, imaginations to engage, houses to manage, laundry to fold, some even with out-of-home jobs. And yet nearly every day they find time to write – they write beautiful reflections, give practical advice, provide encouragement. They just DO it! I could easily descend into jealousy and self-comparison – and have been tempted to go there many times. Instead, for their words and their discipline, I am grateful.
I don’t know if I can do what they do. Even last year when words and I were quite chummy, I didn’t find time to write here much. But I think that if continue to write – here, somewhere, anywhere – the words will come back. And if I don’t scare them away with great expectations, perhaps we’ll be comfortable together again, and they’ll stay after tea to help wash-up.]]>
This year we’ve been incredibly blessed with quite a few very nice summery days – even in June! However, the last day of school (and therefore the first day of summer) was not one of those nice days. With options like swimming or the zoo sounding a bit too soggy, our “100 Things to DO” list came to the rescue along with Kids Bowl Free.
Kids Bowl Free is something we heard about last year, but I hadn’t taken advantage of what is really a great deal and quite simple. You register your children at the website (linked above) and they send you weekly vouchers for two free games of bowling every day of the summer for each child! That’s a LOT of free bowling! The shoe rental is not included and you do have to put up with some email “encouraging” you to purchase the family plan which would enable the entire family to bowl for free. If you or your family are avid bowlers, this may be worth a look. For us, I stuck with our coupons. And after the shoe rental and the price of my two games, it only cost $25 for the 5 of us (that and a $3 soda half way through when they were dying of thirst). Not bad for an afternoon of fun.
Several of the bowling alleys near us have “bumpers” for the little ones. You can see them in the pictures – railings that pop up during the kids’ turns to save them the frustration of gutter balls. (They didn’t have these new-fangled contraptions when I was little!) Our bowling alley also had light balls – 6lbs – for the little ones to use.
Even with the bumpers and a “light” ball Abby had a bit of trouble getting the ball all the way down the lane. After the second time we had to call the attendant to rescue her ball that had stalled halfway down, I “helped” her a bit.
Jacob, our perfectionist, was continually perturbed that he couldn’t do as well in reality as compared to Wii bowling.
The frustration at his difficulty was compounded by his little sister’s success. A strike on the second frame!
But ultimately I think everyone had fun. I did!
(I keep looking at this picture and thinking it’s me – weird.)
Two games of bowling with five people actually takes quite a long time and requires no little amount of patience waiting for one’s turn. Abby found several moments of entertainment in the hand dryer – enough to last to her next turn anyway.
Hopefully the weather will shape up so that we won’t have to resort to our free bowling coupons too often this summer, but it’s nice to know we have them just in case. Maybe Papa can take them next time.]]>
As summer was approaching, our lessons coming to their end, I found myself both looking forward to long days with nothing much to do except read and lounge poolside AND dreading the whining when the kids realized that no, the TV would not be on all day and no, they could not play on their personal gaming device for hours on end and no, I will not tolerate the “I’m bored”s!
So I decided to be proactive. I decided to make a list. A list of 100 things to do this summer! This is not a novel idea; not at all. What I didn’t realize was how difficult it would be to come up with 100 things!
I began with the basics: going to the pool, going to the lake, having a picnic, going to a splash park, taking a trip to the zoo, and the like. Then I asked the kids what they wanted to do. Not surprisingly, they came up with things that cost money – get ice cream, go out to breakfast, go out to dinner, go to the aquarium, etc. Not bad ideas though and definitely doable. They also came up with great stay at home treats like bake bread, make fruit-juice popsicles, and several fun crafts. But when we had spent several days brainstorming, we still only had about 30 things.
Then I brought in the big guns: I solicited ideas on Facebook! And not surprisingly got some excellent suggestions – wash the car with LOTS of bubbles was one I would never have thought of. Still, we were short by almost 50. So I went online and found a great list HERE of “100 Free Things to Do with Your Kids this Summer”, which rounded things out.
We finally had our list. Here is what we came up with:
1. Go to the Aquarium
2. Learn a new card game
3. Get hot dogs at Costco
4. Go to a Mariner’s game
5. Have an End of School party!!
6. Wax Resist Painting
7. Go Bowling
8. Have dinner out
9. Make stained glass hearts
10. Make homemade taffy
11. Make a mosaic flower pot
12. Put on a talent show
13. Got to Paint Away
14. Build bird houses
15. Got to the Lynnwood Pool
16. Paint a Pointillism picture
17. Blow bubbles
18. Make homemade lemonade
19. Write a progressive story
20. Go to Powell’s Candy
21. Make homemade trail mix
22. Build a FORT
23. Go to a splash park
24. Go on a PHOTO walk
25. Make sun-catchers
26. Make fruit juice popsicles
27. Go on a hike
28. Get frozen yogurt
29. Go to a concert in the park
30. Shrinky dinks
31. Make a soda bomb
32. Go to 7/11 on 7/11 for slushies
33. Draw silhouettes
34. Play in the sprinkler
35. Go to the Farmer’s Market
36. Go to Jetty Island
37. Make salt clay
38. Go to Pump it Up!
39. Make a rope ladder
40. Make peach pit rings
41. Find the International Space Station
42. Ride a Ferry to an Island
43. Read 3 Big Books
44. Make glass bowls
45. Make a tree swing
46. Go to the Pacific Science Center
47. Make garden markers
48. Go to 31 Flavors
49. Make God’s Eyes
50. Family game night
51. Wash the car with LOTS of bubbles
52. Make cloth book-covers
53. Go to Pike’s Market
54. Make Art Portfolios
55. Get Coke’s at Big Al’s
56. Make friendship bracelets
57. Play Go Fish
58. Go Blueberry Picking
59. Make wind chimes
60. Go on a scavenger hunt
61. Eat around the World
62. See a movie
63. Go to Cold Stone
64. Go Canoeing
65. Make homemade Ice Cream
66. Build a sandcastle
67. Sign up for the library reading program
68. Go to the zoo
69. Make a turtle calendar
70. Make orange birdfeeders
71. Make comic-books
72. Roast marshmallows
73. Have a picnic at the lake
74. Take a road trip
75. Collect rocks
76. Make paper chef hats
77. Do face-painting
78. Make homemade butter
80. Have breakfast out
81. Make tin-can stilts
82. Get $1 fruit smoothies at McDonald’s
83. Have a dance party in the family room
84. Have a BBQ
85. Paint wishing rocks
86. Pick blackberries
87. Go swimming
88. Go to a farm
89. Skip stones
90. Make a toy box
91. Finish a puzzle
92. Make batik book bags
93. Fly a kite
94. Make homemade jam
95. Play Frisbee
96. Bake muffins
97. Bake homemade bread
98. Make t-shirt dresses
99. Have a camp fire
100. Kids cook day
Some of these activities are specific to our Pacific NW locale (e.g. go see a Mariners game), but you could easily adapt them to your home town (check out your local baseball time – semi-pro games are often quite fun (and a lot cheaper!)).
We’re also planning to take the list with us when we visit California next month. In fact, several of the items were planned especially for that trip!
When I did the math, I was a little intimidated because there are not 100 days of summer. There are (from when our school ended) about 75, which means that we will have several days on which we will need to do more than one things. But even so, as we’re starting to cross things off, I am resisting letting the list rule over us or dictate our days. It is a tool, one I hope to use often; however, if by the time school begins again in September, we can say that we have had a full and fun summer, but we haven’t done everything on the list, it will still be a successful endeavor!
I hope to document some of our adventures and crafts here as we check them off so check back to see what we’ve been up to up here.
Here we go! Yay summer!]]>
The blank page, silently waits, offering no encouragement, no suggestions; it will not begin the conversation. Scarily intimidating – especially for the young writer, who has not yet learned to trust themselves to say anything worth-while – the blank page is not friendly.
As I prepared to teach Beginning Poetry Workshop at our homeschool co-op, I reminded myself of what it felt like to be there – to be a tween or teen and have expectations thrust upon you in the way of a blank page and an assignment; what it felt like to be shown brilliant masterpieces sculpted by literary gods and goddesses, and then asked to approximate their genius; the desperation felt when I looked into my tool box and found the equivalent of a simple ruler and a small hammer, which were adequate enough for spelling sentences and history reports, but were hardly up to the task of something like POETRY! Where even to begin?
Thirteen students had signed up for my class. I knew a couple of them outside of school before the class begin, but I knew nothing about any of them as writers. And yet, writers they already were. I knew from my experience teaching English in public high school (9 years ago now!) that they would all come to the class with different skills, wide ranges of ability, and oscillating levels of confidence.
We needed to start writing right away.
First though, I needed them to think about poetry. What it is; what it’s not; what it’s about; what it looks like; what it sounds like; what it says or doesn’t say; what’s great about it; what’s hard about it? Though on the first day of class it was a bit difficult to get them talking, we brainstormed and came up with a list of their answers – constructing our definition of POETRY.
I needed to play a bit with this definition.
We began with Lord Alfred Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” – a beautiful poem, and one which I assumed would confirm many of their ideas about poetry – for better or for worse. It has meter, it has rhyme, it has a romanticized setting. Yes, they confirmed; this was poetry! As I read it aloud, my voice rising and falling with the iambic quatrameter, I could feel some of them slipping away.
I needed to wake them up! What better way than to sing them awake with Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing” – the mechanic, the carpenter, the mason, the boatman, the shoemaker, the mother – all singing in Whitman’s strong verbed, noun-forward, long lined style, but without rhyme, without meter, without fantastical romance – but most definitely with something to say! Was this poetry? Yes, they said; this was also poetry – lofty of subject and tone! But could you write a poem about that stain on the couch? … a dog-eared book? … socks?
Pablo Neruda did in his “Ode to My Socks.” This lanky poem sings the praises of hand-knitted, transmogrifying, other-worldly socks! Is this poetry? Again, yes – even though Neruda is writing about socks, the way he writes about them – the metaphors – makes it poetry. And it looks like a poem and sort of sounds like a poem, so … it must be a poem?
But what if it doesn’t sound like a poem? What if it doesn’t seem to be saying anything more than, “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold.” When William Carlos Williams, doctor by trade, poet in spirit, first published and read “This is Just to Say,” people asked him, “Is this a poem?” Can something so simple be poetry? He said, why not? Why can’t poetry encompass simple, homely, ordinary things? And if you think about it, the poem does say a lot more than is written – as poetry is wont to do. This poem challenged a lot of preconceived ideas about what a poem could or should be.
And then I introduced my class to e.e. cummings! The poem I shared with them was this:
Four words – loneliness (a leaf falls) or (a leaf falls) loneliness. However, written out plainly, these four words lose all movement; the words cease to create the full image. Was this crazy code poetry? If this was poetry, then what couldn’t be?
And that was exactly the question I wanted them to ask.
Mid-February may be too late for New Year’s resolutions, but I suppose it’s never too late to move from inaction to action. And so I’m here putting my writing shoes on.
I tell the students in my Beginning Poetry Workshop that writers write. Someone who writes, who wants to write, will and does write – and often. People who want to run a marathon, don’t just pick up running shoes one day, step out the door, and run 26+ miles. When Pheidippides attempted to do just that – running from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek’s victory over the Persians – he died.
While I, who am in no way a runner, personally believe that his death is the moral of the story (i.e. don’t run 26+ miles in a row), I am glad that no such fate awaits those of us who neglect to pick up the pen (or keyboard as the case maybe). There may be individuals out there who could, having never written much of anything before, pick up a pen and compose an outstanding poem or story. Most people – by which I mean I – need to train by exercising my writing muscles much more often. Which is exactly what I’ve been telling my students … and then not doing myself.
In some ways writing is like any skill; once it’s learned, one doesn’t forget how to do it. However, when a skill is not used regularly, it becomes increasingly difficult to do it well! The litmus test for me this time was not a marathon of writing, but the (seemingly) simple and short haiku. While I have successfully composed some poetry, along with my students, from week to week, attempting to write haiku has proved beyond my current ability.
Part of the difficulty is that in preparing the lessons on haiku for the class, I’ve discovered the beautiful complexity that is the haiku tradition and structure. Gone for me is the simple 17-syllable poem about nature. In its place is a still-short, but not necessarily 17-syllable, two-image separated with a “cutting-word,” season inspired, non-telling, simply-showing, lightness-imbued study of a moment.
What haiku is requiring of me is a facility with words that is currently out of reach for my flabby, inflexible writing muscles. I need just the right word to capture the motion of the river and another to show the contrast with the so-still stone in the current. And while I can do it (sort of) with unlimited space and syllables, trying to do it in 17-ish makes my brain feel like it’s attempting a full back-bend, when recently I’ve barely been taxing it with touching its toes.
So here I am. And I hope I will be here much more often.
For inspiration, I’ll leave off with some of Basho’s haiku that has inspired and challenged me:
hoping the flowers burst
out in laughter
a wine up
of “mountain-path mums”
drink it up
from a treetop
emptiness dropped down
in a cicada shell
and fittingly …
sadly spring winds cannot open
a poem bag
Here are some great websites that have opened up the wonders of haiku. Be warned … for better or for worse, haiku will never be the same again; for me, it has been made impossibly wonderful!
In the Moonlight a Worm
Haiku Writing: A Lesson for Beginners (the background is terrible, but the content is good!)
The word “warmth”, unlike the word “hot” or “tepid” or even “warm”, conveys so much more than temperature. Warmth speaks to us of comfort and refuge, full tummies and full hearts, things handmade and the hands that make them. Warmth speaks of home, especially in these winter months when sunlight is scarce and the weather makes our homes that much more necessary and we are grateful for having them and their comforts.
Last week, we had the joy of welcoming my youngest sister Sally and her son Ethan (8 months) into our home. They were escaping the 80degree “winter” days of Southern California in the hopes of finding some real winter up here in Seattle. We were even prepared to drive to it if winter weather didn’t come to us. But nature provided and answered the prayers of my season-deprived sister by bringing her and us our first snow of the season – and Ethan’s first snow EVER.
It wasn’t much (compared to the 18 feet that fell in parts of Alaska that week), but 7 inches here was enough to close pretty much everything and prevent us from doing much more than playing outside, warming back up, snuggling, playing in the snow some more, and then cuddling together with noses in hot cocoa & good books and sleepy babies on our chests and hot bubbly sauces on the stove and soft yarn flowing through fingers onto needles and pink-with-cold noses & toes in warm bubbly baths – a full week of warmth!
By Emily Dickinson 1830–1886
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
The possibilities of a new year are exciting! They can also be daunting, I suppose. But it is this spirit of possibility that inspire resolutions – promises of how this year will be different, better, more. I am not immune to this spirit, nor would I want to be. I’ve even come up with a little list of goals I’d like to work toward this year; things I’d like to do.
They’re actually quite bland goals aren’t they – whoop-di-doo — nothing too exciting, several are hardly even measureable. They don’t really speak to what could be.
For that – even to begin to think of dwelling in Possibility – I must abandon that which limits me. Too often I limit what may be – for me, my marriage, my children, my friends, my work – with excuses: that’s just how I am, what I know, how I was raised, what I’ve always done, how it’s always been. But, as I was reminded in Confession recently, only God knows who I truly am; who I can fully be; the Possible me.
The only true resolution I can make then is to attempt daily, hourly, moment to moment to dwell in Possibility – to gaze through the numerous Windows offered to me; to walk through Doors, superior of opportunity; to find refuge within the impregnable and everlasting House that his His church; to welcome all fair Visitors as guests sent to teach me; to have all this as my Occupation; to dwell in His Possibility. Maybe then I can begin to crawl my way toward that better me; not a skinnier, more in-shape, more organized, better rested, richer me. But the someone who God means for me to be … I don’t even know who that is.
Daunting. Intimidating. Terrifying. Because I know I will fail; again and again, I will fall on my face. And I will have to get up and try again. I will speak when I should be quiet; I will be quiet when I should speak; I will be hard when I should be soft; I will allow myself to become anxious and preoccupied and lost in the details. It would be so much easier to stick to my little list of prosaic goals and hide behind the walls of what I’ve always been.
However, Possibility, as Emily describes it (forgive me, she will always be Emily to me; not Miss Dickinson or E. Dickinson, or Aunt Emily, but a fellow Emily), is not a terrifying place to dwell. Her tone is joyful, expectant, triumphant. To dwell there is to wake with anticipation of the day, not with dread; to welcome each task as an opportunity, not a trial; to be grateful for the chance to get up and try again and again, not to be anxious. Possibility is joy – a gift from God; itself a way of seeing and feeling His love for us. For with Him all things are Possible.
God help me to be who You made me to be. Help me to dwell in Your Possibility and through You, spread wide my narrow hands to gather Paradise. May God help, bless, and have mercy on us all.
Let’s start with the poems, shall we? I found these very different reflections on “Joy” while looking for something to add to Poetry Wednesday and accompany my “the way I see it” photos. They just happen to fit into what I was going to say about how I, or rather my children – specifically Josie – experience joy.
By William Blake
"I have no name:
I am but two days old."
What shall I call thee?
"I happy am,
Joy is my name."
Sweet joy befall thee!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while,
Sweet joy befall thee!
By Claude McKay
There is joy in the woods just now,
The leaves are whispers of song,
And the birds make mirth on the bough
And music the whole day long,
And God! to dwell in the town
In these springlike summer days,
On my brow an unfading frown
And hate in my heart always—
A machine out of gear, aye, tired,
Yet forced to go on—for I’m hired.
Just forced to go on through fear,
For every day I must eat
And find ugly clothes to wear,
And bad shoes to hurt my feet
And a shelter for work-drugged sleep!
A mere drudge! but what can one do?
A man that’s a man cannot weep!
Suicide? A quitter? Oh, no!
But a slave should never grow tired,
Whom the masters have kindly hired.
But oh! for the woods, the flowers
Of natural, sweet perfume,
The heartening, summer showers
And the smiling shrubs in bloom,
Dust-free, dew-tinted at morn,
The fresh and life-giving air,
The billowing waves of corn
And the birds’ notes rich and clear:—
For a man-machine toil-tired
May crave beauty too—though he’s hired.
Joy seems to be one of those things that is easily adulterated. We all begin as in Blake’s poem above – Joy is [our] name! However, we learn, as we age, not to fly to high on the wings of joy for fear of crashing. And so we moderate our joy, temper it with a healthy dose of reality, and so it loses its wonder – its purity – until it becomes something almost foreign and out of reach as it is for the speaker of McKay’s poem – who “may crave beauty too.”
However, I find that I don’t have to look far to find joy; I see it nearly every day in my children, especially my youngest two girls, who have yet to learn to pace themselves, and do not fear to soar high on the mighty thermals of joy. Their joy has not been adulterated; or rather, it has not yet been adult-ed – a much better word for their youthful freedom.
This summer was Josie’s summer. You know that summer – when a child suddenly comes into her own and she find that the world is hers for now.
And what better way to see joy –
cotton candy stickiness,
winding down and …
JOY at the State Fair!! A wonderland for anyone under 10; a challenging, if fun, day for the adults.
Once a year?
And just like you, Molly, I set out this week feeling quite confident that through my pictures, I could capture all that I do and that these pictures would somehow show – be evidence of – my work.
But really, my “to-do” list is just a list of tasks. Granted, they need to be done – the laundry must be washed, the bathrooms cleaned, the children schooled, the meals fixed, the baths administered … the jobs crossed off the list – DONE! This is the way our house continues to function. However, functionality is not truly work; it does not, in itself, bear fruit – it is a mechanical term. A cabinet that opens and closes and holds goods is functional; a car that is able to bear us from place to place is functional; a house that is relatively clean, whose inhabitants are relatively clean, well fed, and clothed is functional. But tomorrow the tasks must be DONE again – the laundry must be washed again, the meals prepared again, the house cleaned again.
True work produces; it bears fruit; its result is growth; its wages are priceless. One would never describe an apple tree that bears sweet fruit as “functional.” It’s work, as an apple tree, is to bear fruit – to grow each year and continue to bring forth fruit to nourish and delight an eager mouth and, more importantly, its Creator. So I too am called upon not merely to be functional (which is hard enough), but to bear sweet fruit. This is truly work!
Unfortunately, my fruit so very often is bitter and worm-ridden, rotting on the branch, poisoned by pride, narcissism, criticality, harshness, and anxiety. My work then is not so much the tasks on my to-do list, but the diligence of a loving nurturer who strives always to build up, encourage, strengthen, respect, reverence, appreciate – grow.
This work is, I find, impossible to do on my own. When I lose my temper and am sarcastic instead of temperate, it is Christ’s gentle hand on my shoulder that humbles me and directs my steps toward the offended who is in need of an apology. When my hand is a little too hard, the most Holy Theotokos’s tender embrace of her Son and my God shows me that softness is truly great strength. When whining and complaining drive me to tears of prideful frustration, St. Emmelia (mother to ten, five of whom are Saints) stands before me as a model of forbearance and bearer of great fruit pleasing to God.
Last winter, as I lamented my empty days without all my children, I thought that homeschooling again, while being beneficial to all, would also provide structure to my day – structure and schedule and to-dos that would provide functionality. But I’m finding that the true work I’m doing (and that which I believe I truly hungered for last year) is not the jobs that make us function, but the work that produces – that bears fruit.
So I guess I did have something to write about after all. And these photos are pictures of my tasks and my work as a mother and wife and child:
Teaching delight in learning (at least trying my very best to do so!).
Optimizing the functionality of our space and resources – new pantry!
Saying “Thank you” beautifully.
Trying so very hard to encourage and praise and demonstrate the joy of completing a task to the best of one’s ability.
The joy of finding one’s child immersed in a good book! You can’t teach this – it is gift!
Creating a space for everything so that everything might (someday please) be in its place.
Try as I might, I still can’t find anything redeeming about laundry; it just must be done and done … and done again.
I am thankful. So very thankful for the opportunity to do this work that God has placed in my hands. May we all be blessed with work that allows us the opportunity to bear fruit pleasing to God.]]>