To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

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Sinusitis and Love

Sinusitis is no fun at all, guys. Seriously. I thought my occasional tyramine-intolerance migraines were bad until I had to deal with daily sinus headaches.

Ho-ly smokes.

I think I’m over the worst of it now, I’ve still got some pressure and pain, but I ate a tiny piece of jalapeno this evening and my head pretty much exploded and then I felt so much better. Not cured, but on the road. Thank goodness.

The downside to sinusitis (aside from constant pain, of course) is that I haven’t been able to accomplish much of anything for the last almost-three weeks. The upside is, I’ve gotten quite a bit more done on my niece’s baby quilt, since resting on the couch with a quilting hoop and Netflix was about all I could manage. If I’m very diligent, I just might get the quilt done in time for Christmas. Which would be excellent, since she turned a year old last week.

(In my defense, I am quilting in one-inch squares, no pattern to follow, no lines drawn in (the fabric is light-colored and I didn’t want to leave pencil markings behind), no stitching lines to follow, just me measuring and pinning every. single. line. as I come to it. If I’d drawn the lines in or was following a pattern, I’d have had this finished ages ago. I’m slow, but not usually that slow.)

I am, despite the burst of productivity on Miss M’s quilt, glad to finally be able to start getting some other stuff done. I set up the sewing table to work more on Halloween costumes today – I would be finished with the underdress of Joy’s medieval outfit tonight if it weren’t for the fact that the sewing machine noise keeps Gracie awake so I have to quit once they’re in bed. I cleaned the kitchen earlier today, and made a delicious, healthy supper. It doesn’t sound like much, but considering what I’ve been getting done, it’s a lot.

And just in time, since we’re having company join us tomorrow for dinner. (eek!)

Not a lot of writing done of late, but I’m seeing light at the end of the tunnel for From the Shadows, and even a hint of hope that I might be able to finish the first draft of Magic in Disguise by the end of the year. I confess to feeling some discouragement that my wretched body seems determined to throw a monkey wrench into all my plans, all the time (if it’s not one thing, it’s another, she said in a gloomy tone to rival Eeyore’s), but I am determined to not let it master me.

Because in the long run, what’s a few extra weeks, or months, or even year? Am I suddenly going to lose masses of fans because I didn’t publish the sequel to Magic Most Deadly exactly one year after the first book? Or are people going to forget all about me if I’m not churning out books steadily? Is my value, my worth, going to drop if I don’t publish on a regular basis?

(The answer to all those questions, by the way, is no.)

And you know, a few weeks with constant pain has taught me a lot, even as it’s eroded my plans. Plus it’s given my husband and kids a chance to show their love for me in practical, tangible ways, like Carl making an absolutely delicious supper Saturday evening because I couldn’t move my head, even though he’d had class Friday night and all day Saturday. Or the girls playing quietly and nicely with each other several afternoons without me having to ask, just because they saw me resting on the bed and knew that Mommy was hurting again.

I dunno, as important as writing is to me, moments like that are even more important in the long run. Maybe not to me as a writer, but to me as a person.

So there are my ramblings from the last few weeks. What’s new with all you?

Restored and Ready

We have safely returned from our camping extravaganza! And now my morning coffee isn’t half as good without my uncle brewing it for me in his french press over his little camp stove, and I find myself turning around to make a joke to my cousins only to remember they aren’t here way too often.

On the other hand … sleeping in a real bed is glorious. Having my clothing and hair not stink of campfire smoke is bliss. Reading books on my Kindle via a bedside lamp instead of a flashlight is lovely.

Camping was fun, and returning to civilization was sweet.

I didn’t do any writing, and very little reading, while we were away. I hadn’t planned to, knowing that our time was going to be taken up with camping stuff and family stuff, so it’s not like I was surprised or disappointed. In fact, I think it was good for me, because when I saw the email from Amanda of Fly Casual on our drive back home, with a rough mock up for the cover of the sci-fi novella I wrote, all kinds of creative juices bubbled up fresh in me.

Of course, those all went toward Ooh, we should really take Laura’s advice and turn the novella into a novel, which wasn’t exactly in the plan – I was supposed to come back and be inspired to finish Magic in Disguise and Wings of Song. Oh well.

Be that as it may, I am working on ways to expand the novella (titled From the Shadows), Amanda and I are talking about the cover, and yet with all this, I’m still thinking about MID and WOS. And while thinking isn’t writing, it does make the writing go much better.

So yes, a good vacation all the way around.

I came home to a letter approving our education plan from the school district, and we are going to start school again next week, and while the kids are less than excited, I am pumped over our plans for homeschool this year. Lego and Art club at the library, a new homeschool group meeting weekly, lots more of Mummy reading aloud and the kids being creative, a simplified schedule, field trips to explore nature at many of the local estates and farms … I know that plans go by the wayside as soon as real life starts, but I also know that the better the plans are, the better things go even when chaos hits.

It’s been a wonderful summer, and I am so looking forward to the fall.20140816_104637 20140816_105152 20140816_113302

(Pictures not from camping – I barely turned my camera on while we were there – but from a recent trip to a local estate whose gardens and forest trails are open to the public. This is one of the top spots on my “field trip” list.)

My Own Dancing Star

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Saturday was Joy’s first ballet recital. She started taking lessons in November, and they quickly became the highlight of her weeks.

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“I love to watch her smile when she dances,” her teacher has told me after lessons sometimes. “You just can’t teach that.” After the recital, she said it again: “Even on stage, she didn’t look at all nervous, she just beamed. You can tell she loves it. It makes me so happy to see it.” Other people, too, commented on how much she glows when she dances.

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I asked her, as I parked the car at the school before the recital, and it was just the two of us, if she was nervous. She looked at me as though I were a little strange. “No,” she said, it apparently being the most obvious thing in the world.

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She had so much poise in the dance itself, and even afterward, despite the crowds and the noise and the newness of it all. She posed for picture after picture with the family, with her friends, alone. She never stopped smiling. When I think of how far she has come from the little girl who was crippled by new situations, by loudness, by crowds of people, by fear, it makes me want to weep with thankfulness and delight. She’s a different kid than she was even a year ago. She’s still unique, still Joy, but so much of a healthier, happier Joy than she used to be. I am so glad to see it, so privileged to be her Mom.

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She’s looking forward to a summer of fun at the beach and park, but she’s also already counting down the days until ballet starts up again in September.

Oh, THIS Is Why I’m Tired

Got up at 4:30 this morning to take care of Grace’s latest coughing fit. Two nights ago she was up almost all night hacking, so I was happy enough to hand her over to Carl after 15 minutes today and collapse back onto the couch (where I’ve been sleeping while she’s been restless, easier to tend her needs without disturbing Carl) to get a little more sleep if possible.

Woke again at 9, mildly horrified at having slept so late, but glad I was able to catch up on the missed sleep from Monday night. Walked into the girls’ room to wish them “good morning,” only to be confronted with a scene from a horror movie. Blood on the carpet, covering Joy’s nightie, splattered on her comforter, and a guilty expression on her face.

“I tried not to pick my nose,” she said before I could utter one word, “but it’s just too hard.”

I buttoned my lips and hauled her into the bathroom, where we took care of the bloody nose, and then stripped the bed and her and threw all the blood-spattered items into the tub to soak in cold water. Trimmed her nails, and was scrubbing at the carpet when Carl got back from his meeting with a professor.

Made Grace, who was coughing again, some hot lemon-honey-ginger-cayenne pepper, then got both girls some food, and now, at 10:00, am finally ready to start thinking about breakfast myself. After which I will need to go commandeer the washing machines on our floor for an hour. We’re meeting some new friends at the playground after lunch today, and this evening I’m supposed to go to Bible Study, and we do need to fit school in at some point today …

I guess, really, it isn’t that surprising that I’m so tired all the time.

Far From Ideal

You guys might or might not be good for me. I spent a ridiculous amount of time this weekend coming up with the perfect combination of first and middle names for the third-daughter-we’re-never-going-to-have. All the talk on here about names … Carl laughed himself silly when I saw me scribbling out the list.

*blushes*

Anyway. On to this post.

I have this ideal family life, in my head. It’s not even so unreasonable. It doesn’t involve children wearing white dresses and running through fields of wildflowers with nary a grass stain to be seen, or me standing at the sink washing my glassware to sparkling cleanliness with a chipper smile on my perfectly-made-up face. It’s actually pretty simple. It is this …

I read stories – many of them – out loud to the children every day. Some are picture books, some are longer chapter books.

We go on walks outside every day. On days when it’s warm enough to hold a pencil without your fingers falling off, we take drawing supplies so the girls can draw any bits of nature that catch their eye.

We don’t necessarily do art projects every day, but when we do them, they inspire great bursts of creativity and the girls revel in them. Mamma does not grit her teeth and wince over the mess.

We do school according to schedule, and it’s never haphazard, or forgotten because Mamma got distracted.

The kids work with me in the kitchen when making food, and it does not drive me to distraction. I can assign them clean-up chores, and not forget to remind them to keep up with it.

Our home is filled with music and laughter and friendship all the time.

And I am not so dog-weary tired all the time that it’s all I can do to plod through my day.

It doesn’t sound that impossibly, does it? OK, maybe the bit about me not losing it over the inevitable mess that comes with any kind of art project. But the rest of it? It’s simple. It doesn’t require any Herculean bursts of strength to accomplish. Lots of other families do it (I know, I know, comparison is the thief of joy and all that … but it’s true). So why is it so hard for me, for us as a family, to live that sort of ordinary, peaceful, simple, happy life? What is it about me that makes me so tired all the time that I can’t seem to get much more than the basics of life done in a day? I get almost-enough sleep these days. I’ve eliminated as many outside stressors as possible from my life, which were what used to suck all my energy from me. I eat mostly-right, and while I don’t specifically exercise, I do my best to stay somewhat active. I’m not depressed, thank God, anymore. The kids are 4 and 6, a pretty awesome age, past the baby-and-toddler stage, not requiring my attention every second of the day, requiring all I’ve got just to keep them and me alive.

When I was eighteen, I started feeling the aimlessness of my life. One day, as I was grumbling to God about the fact that I had all these great ambitions and yet all I was doing was working in the hardware store and not doing anything about those ambitions, it felt like he hit me upside the head with a 2×4.

“Then do something.”

I got home from work that day and immediately started researching colleges with good English programs. I knew that I couldn’t just sit around and expect life to change me, that if I wanted to achieve my dreams I at least had to start down that path myself.

I thought of that experience this weekend, as I was grumbling once again about my inability to get anywhere with my very basic daily life goals. Living with someone like Carl, who sees what he wants and then figures out how to make it work, and then does it, is very exhausting for someone whose natural inclination is to wait for God to drop life changes into her lap without her lifting a finger.

This isn’t the same situation as my decision to go to college instead of twiddling my thumbs waiting to be discovered by someone who would want to publish my wonderful books, though. I wish I could just do it, just go ahead and make the changes. But the problem here is that I just don’t have the energy to change. When I talk about being tired all the time … even forcing my brain to deviate enough to think about sitting down in the middle of the day and read a story to the kids is an effort, much less doing it.

I have a great schedule written up and posted on the fridge. It’s flexible, and basic, and pretty much the best daily schedule I’ve created since I started making schedules for myself however many years ago. And have I been able to stick with it once since the day I wrote it?

No.

I’ve written this entire post, and now I’m not even sure if I’m going to publish it or not. Because what’s the point? To have people metaphorically pat my head and say “there, there”? In hopes that someone will give me a magic cure, something that will make me suddenly able to do everything I want to do? Neither of those are what I want.

But I guess maybe I will publish it, not in hopes of being soothed, but because I strongly suspect there are others out there in the same boat as I am, and maybe knowing that they aren’t the only one floundering will bring them a small measure of comfort. And because sometimes, the very act of sharing one’s struggles can give one strength.

And because, frankly, if I’ve sat here for an hour typing out my frustrations, I don’t just want to hit “delete.” I have little enough to show for my days as it is, I don’t need to lose the few things that I do get done!

January School Days

We unintentionally took most of the month of December off from scheduled school, due to my grandfather’s death, our unplanned trip to up my folks’ for the calling hours and burial, and then, of course, CHRISTMAS. We’d planned to take the first two weeks of January off because of traveling, which did indeed happen. All told, though, it’s been somewhere between four to six weeks since we sat down at the table and actually did a day’s worth of schoolwork. So I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when Joy and I sat down with her math book this morning and she couldn’t even remember how to add up to ten without counting on her fingers.

We’re plugging away at it, though, and I trust that we’ll be back in the swing of things by the end of the week. I hope so, because I want to add “project time” to our school day soon – a time set aside for the girls to work on a specific self-directed project, with me available to assist and talk if they need it, but not in charge. I think first those will be finishing up some previously started and then abandoned projects, but then we will be starting from scratch. Much of our apartment rearranging right after the New Year was to give the girls a space dedicated to their project work – we have their little table and a desk set aside just for them now, right by the big window in the living room.

Gracie is almost finished with her Kumon preschool books. She can read “cat” “dog” “kitten” “woof” “meow” and “Biscuit.” (Can you guess what her favorite stories are?) With help, she can sound out most other basic words. It is just as thrilling to see her start to unlock the joys of reading as it was her sister. Never, ever gets old.

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Joy and I have learned about the desert and the woods as habitats; the difference between mammals and invertebrates; tackled bacteria briefly before deciding it was too advanced for first grade; and are now learning about birds. Science is her favorite subject right now. We’re partway through her Singapore Math 1A book. It’s a slow process, but since these are basic and crucial skills, I want to make sure she’s grasped them before moving on to the next level. We’ve made it up to Moses and the Exodus from Egypt in our Story of the World social studies book, and will be reading about the Phoenicians next. She’s almost finished with her handwriting book, which means it will be time to start grammar soon (she’s actually excited about this, because she’s started writing stories and wants to know how to use punctuation properly). We’d been reading through Little House in the Big Woods for school, but she reads enough – and at a high enough level – on her own free time that I’ve not been pushing that recently.

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Drawing, ballet, figure skating, knitting, weaving, winter walks, cooking … we try to keep up with all these “extra-curricular” activities, too. As well as getting together with friends outside of scheduled activities on a regular basis!

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We’re still mostly following a classical model, but we eased the pressure off of ourselves to adhere too strictly to the curriculum – aside from math, she’s already well ahead of most public schooled first graders, so I don’t think I need to panic quite so much about us being told she’s not receiving a proper education at the end of the year. Which was, honestly, my main reason for trying to do SO much. Our main goal, for both girls, is that they learn how to learn, how to think, how to figure something out if they don’t know how to do it, and how to take charge of their own education (eventually). Carl and I spent a lot of time over “winter break” discussing goals, methods, plans, curriculum, etc, and I think we’re both really excited for laying the groundwork over these next few years for the kids to grow into enthusiastic and independent learners.

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