You Know You’re Really Into Waldorf When…

…A light hearted look at how far we can go–not that I, or anyone I know has, ahem.

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  1. You cut out screen time for your small children, then recorded music and stories, then picture books, then talking too much to them at all.
  2. If you must say something, you sing it on a pentatonic scale, or get the message across with a nursery rhyme.
  3. You replace all the plastic toys in your house with natural toys, then replace the natural toys with homemade toys, then replace the homemade toys with sticks and stones.
  4. Your children wear three layers of wool in any month containing the letter “R.”
  5. Not even your closest friends and family know what color your baby’s hair is because they have never seen him without his hat on.
  6. You get into celebrating seasonal festivals like the lantern walk because they seem earth based and groovy, but before long start alarming your husband with the annual family Christmas Pageant, not to mention the pictures of angels and the Madonna hanging in your children’s room.
  7. You use regular easter egg dye to dye play silks and yarn; your easter eggs will be colored with onion skins, spirulina, and beets, thank you very much.
  8. Your child thinks cd’s are “rainbow mirrors” left by fairies.
  9. You do not flinch when telling fairy tales to your five year old that involve wicked stepmothers requesting the heart and liver be cut from her step child’s corpse. In fact, you consider such stories “soul milk.”
  10. When a good rebellion is in order you sing the ABC song to your two year old, read picture books featuring animals dressed as humans, and serve fish on chicken day. Even Waldorf mamas need to get wild!
  11. You go from thinking that Waldorf is extreme and rigid, then intriguing and mysterious, then common sense. Not that you know how to sum it up quickly for the curious mother at the park, though. If you had to, you might say something like this:

“Waldorf” is not something that happens at a special school, or when very expensive toys are present, or when certain rules are followed. It lives in the hearts of caregivers who strive to be worthy of imitation, who respect childhood by not imposing adult thinking onto its dream like qualities, who protect their children’s senses from over-scheduling, media, and consumerism, who honor play and imagination and movement as the foundation for genius, and who feed their children’s developing bodies, minds, and spirits by offering them the right stuff at the right time—soul milk, yo. And that’s just the beginning, because if there is one thing I can say for sure about Waldorf, it’s that it is imbued with layer upon layer of meaning. Yes, it can be annoying, threatening, and a little, well, ridiculous. But if there has ever been a larger, sweeter onion to peel the layers back on, I have yet to find it.

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Got any other good ones about what Waldorf is, or how to know when you’ve gone too far?

Gardener’s Guide to Marriage

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A little more snow came our way, and I was sent alone into the mountains to see how a half foot of powder felt beneath the old skis. Well, they still glide, I found. The forest is still lovely. And as I flew along the pristine glory of it all, I was still in the pissy mood I’d left town in.

I’d been fighting a bit with The Man of the Place the last few days. We’d been sick, sleepless, grumpy. I was a little perturbed, in fact, that he had insisted so emphatically that I take the skis and go. If there was something to not be perturbed about, I didn’t know it. Every word we spoke was another hot piece of kindling for the imminent marital immolation.

I wanted to break out of the cycle. I knew we had to, and had faith that we would (we’ve been at this 15 years). I just couldn’t seem to remember how. As I skied along, I reviewed my nice long list of insightful points to make, rational arguments to show that I was, in fact, quite right to be perturbed about the socks left on the floor, the incessant music making when the dusting needed to be done, the long naps when my list showed other things needed doing. Or whatever it was that started this fire. If it was even my fault, which I was sure it wasn’t. And now I had proof!

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This being a powder day in the mountains, my thoughts mercifully wandered. I began thinking of snow melt, and springtime, and the garden. And then I thought of how in the garden, you’re not supposed to battle every bug with soap sprays and neem oil or boxes from the nursery filled with ladybugs. You are, in the words of Carole Tashel, not meant to struggle against natural forces much at all, but to “focus your efforts on enhancing unstressed plant growth: improved soil quality, proper watering, companion planting, preventing stress, etc.”

And Ding Ding Ding went the wise mind of the girl moving as one with her skis through the forest with snow falling all around. I didn’t have to win the fight! I didn’t have to come up with the magic bullet that would end all fights forever. I didn’t even have to fight. Instead, I could direct my efforts at enhancing unstressed growth. On love, on kindness, on respect. I should focus, as Eliot Coleman puts it, on the “insusceptibility of plants rather than the killing of pests…an approach that is plant positive rather than pest negative.”

I flew back up the trail, blissed out by the snowscape, the excercise, the revolutionary applications of gardening genius to marriage.

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I decided to leave the neem oil spray in the shed when I put my skis away that afternoon. Something had shifted and I found myself on the other side of the fire, able to be affectionate and loving and not burning with my need to be right. I could be love-positive rather than bicker-negative. And so I was able to shine with that light of love, and, most wondrously of all, to be received.

And there it was, rising from the ashes: the shared heart — this garden– that has been built from our long togetherness.

You know what? It’s okay to have a few bugs! It’s okay to have weeds! The permaculturists remind us that the problem is the solution, that the weed makes good tea and the bug is a messenger. We can welcome these things not as the End, but as part of the forces of life.

The work we are given to do as partners in relationship–not just with our beloved, but our children and community–is simple. We can feed the soil, nourish it, offer the many small gestures it needs so that it may be fruitful and generous in return. Build it, rejoice in it, give thanks for it. It all turns on affection.

Now if we can all just agree that I’m right I’ll be quiet.

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If you receive this in your inbox, as I think most of you dear readers do, did you know you could just hit reply to leave a comment? Very painless, and likely to produce a positive feedback effect of slightly more frequent writing on my part, maybe even once a month! Plus, I like to know who you are, and to be able to follow your adventures, too.

Words from the Willows and Other Wise Women of Winter

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After a grouchy week I went down to the river by myself. It was dry, but beautiful. I sat quietly amongst the dry leaved willows, shoulders tense and brow furrowed with whatever angst I was carrying around. After a while I heard my voice say out loud, “What do I need right now?” Sometimes I manage to remember that bad moods and behavior are a symptom of something that needs attention–be it in my children, myself, the crazy world. Usually the answer is something along the lines of “love.”

This time, I was pretty sure the answer was going to be something more like, “I need time alone! Time to write, time to sew, time to clean the damn house!” But those familiar whines were drowned out pretty quickly by these five words:

“I need to let go.”

Really? Again?

Yes. And it’s not just the willows giving me this message.

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My friend Becca wrote these amazing words about motherhood during the fall, and they moved me then and move me now. She writes:

“I work when I can, paint when I can, try to keep up my relations with family and friends, try to keep a house and little garden, and often these things fall short.  Mostly I am a mother.   I learned this new role hard way, the way only a new mother can learn things… by trying to be my old self and to be a mother at the same time. With those expectations came many disappointments.  I guess I eventually realized that it might be better if I just tried to be a mother first and the other things would fall in where they may.  As soon as I relaxed into this new reality of myself, I began to relax and enjoy motherhood. ”

Her words are simple and eloquent and come from a deep-heart place. I am so grateful to share this mothering journey with her.

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I have also found a new friend and companion in  The Mother’s Wisdom Deck. An old friend illustrated it, and two souls that feel kindred to me wrote it. They make no bones about the complexity of motherhood, and created the deck to, as they say, “shed light—and beauty—on the deep soul work that mothering entails.” My mothers’ circle is currently using this book/deck as our guide; each of us takes a turn leading the monthly group around a theme we draw from the pages according to what moves us on a personal level, and then bring it alive for each other.

This recent post on their blog, Mothering With Soul, speaks to the grief and sadness I feel during this dark time of year–Demeter’s season. It is a beautiful reflection on the loss inherent in mothering. While this story is about childbearing losses, even when our children are healthy, we mourn the loss of our former selves, or the child we imagined, or ourselves as the ideal mother.

“All of my losses have shown me this incredible gleaning underside, if I am willing to be curious, to to see the vibrant underworld, hidden from sight. In the height of grief, there can be no digression from its unrelenting presence, but when the grief settles, one can explore, with new urgency, what matters most.”

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Follow it up by reading Teach Your Daughters Wailing: The Power of Mourning Women. It will make sure you never choke back tears again!

What wise words are finding their way to you, these day?

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These pictures are from a Thanksgiving hike in Arizona, by the way. Posting unrelated images with your Deep Thoughts is a side effect of only blogging once every 8 weeks or so. See you in February, she signs off with a grin!

Homemaking Lost and Found

Well, since I gave up my big plans to organize the revolution and save the world (it’s a long story, but let’s just say my friends and I settled on starting a facebook page instead), life has been rather quiet, the kind of days where you can’t think of anything much to report when someone asks you what’s the latest. The garden is in at long sweet last, so at least there is a bit of watering every day to be proud of. As a recovering type A uber mother, this is in so many ways a sweet victory for me–pulling back, returning to center, letting go.

So I was surprised to find myself feeling stifled. If I couldn’t organize the revolution and save the world, I wanted to write, I wanted to sew, I wanted something more. But I wasn’t doing any of it. I was just muddling through the days with a growing feeling that something was missing. Here’s the funny conundrum that is my life: I don’t want too much, and I don’t want too little. Maybe I was wrong and things can get too simple. Surely there is a way to get a good nights sleep and also have a stimulating and productive inner life. Right?

Well, maybe sometimes. Life follows its rhythms of fallow and fertile, whether we remember to embrace it or not. We go sometimes so far into one polarity, like simplicity or hyper productivity, that it spits us out into the polar opposite. And from there we have to slowly watch the next seed begin to grow, to accept the mystery that will be its flowering.

I’ve known that something new would slowly emerge for me to lift and carry as I walk through the ordinary days of my life. As Kim John Payne reminds us to tell our bored children, “Something to do is just around the corner.” I knew it was coming. I just also knew I didn’t have will forces to make it happen. Write something? But there was no muse. Sew something? But there was no time. Think of something else? Sigh.

My dad used to tell me, “If you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything.” I knew I had to wait, however impatiently, to trust that guidance and direction would come. And that’s what I resolved to do. I reminded myself  that doing nothing is the best way to be receptive, to be that empty vessel from which all possibility is born.

Still, I was taken by surprise when something did start to happen. A thread of life came beating into my slightly discontented world, but it wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t a poem or handmade dress (which I had now latched on to as the gold standard of That Which I Must Do). It was a burst of renewed energy for my ordinary work of homemaking.

While looking outside myself to find myself, I had turned my gaze, even if almost imperceptibly, away from my home.

While expecting that I should be doing something Worthwhile, I forgot how worthwhile the work I do every day is. And not just worthwhile in the cosmic sense of childrearing as an act of grace, though it is all too easy to forget to put our faith in that simple truth, but worthwhile in the sense of it gives me meaning.

I won’t describe the very ordinary scene of my epiphany, which came while writing a menu plan. I’ll just say this:

Homemaking isn’t what we do while waiting for something better to come along. It isn’t biding our time, or settling for less. It is the source of our creativity, not the stealer of it. Meet it with purpose and passion, and behold the keys to the kingdom.

Now if you’ll excuse me while I go water the garden.


Head, Heart, and Hands

Thinking that no matter how simple I think my life is, there is always room for still more simplicity. How even when I have dedicated myself fully to this work of homemaking, I can be tempted by ambitions and the big ideas that seem in alignment with the values I believe in, seem worthy and good, and yet are not right for this season of life. They are too much, too soon, and pull me away from my center, rather than growing out of that grounded place where I try to live. Thinking that sometimes I just have to go along for the ride, and enjoy finding myself back where I started, wiser and with renewed commitment. That said,  I should add that sometimes it is the right time to stretch and take on more. Perhaps the indicator of whether or not something is in the flow or not should be how much sleep one loses over it. In my case, big plans were scrapped for simpler ones, and my how sweet the sleep is these days!

Feeling grateful and relieved when I remember that who I am and what I’m doing is just right. It is enough. In fact, it’s amazing. Feeling blessed and connected by the small rituals of the day: pouring dish water into the garden by hand, several times a day (thank you Erin for reminding me that sometimes the smallest acts are the most meaningful); singing the songs that the little one loves best; and every so often, spending five minutes in something kin to stillness, save for prayer and thanksgiving. I’m also feeling so relaxed, in this moment, about motherhood. I’m both grateful for  all the work I’ve done to reach this place, and wondering why I had to take it so seriously, to make it so hard. I came across this quote in an interview at The Wonder of Childhood:   “The parents are working hard. If they aren’t working hard to make the money, the parents are working hard to be PERFECT.” Gah. Just as our children are blossoming in their time, growing into themselves in their lovely way, so are we. Time to take it easy, mamas! Sit back and watch your garden bloom.

Doing a lot of spinning on my Navajo spindle. After a year of thinking I’d never learn to use it, that perhaps when I was an old Grandma the time would be right, a friend sat down and showed me and within five minutes I was on my way. Amazing how something can be both so complicated and simple. And so dang fun to do while the children bumble around the yard like drunk bees. Also tending the gardens, planting and transplanting, watching for rain, reading about wishes and wabi sabi, revisiting an old writing project, setting the sourdough to rise, holding little ones, and accepting the mess that goes along with all this as a sign of a life well lived. Oh, and still searching for the last mitten or two needing to be stored…

What are your head, heart, and hands up to these days? I really wish you’d say…

Thanks for visiting and have a lovely day!

Confluence: On Creativity and Motherhood

Last month, my e-friend and mothering and soapmaking mentor, Renee of FIMBY, published a wonderful e-book called Nurturing Creativity: A Guide for Busy Moms. This little book is my cup of tea: inspiring, rejuvenating, down to earth, and only three bucks. It’s like manna, royal jelly, and super blue green algae all mixed up into a power bar for the creative soul. Yup, that nourishing. She writes, “My dream for this book is to tend the garden of your creative spirit.” And it’s true. This book is like a rich load of compost followed by a long soaking rain (or a week of sun, for those of you non-desert dwellers). While she was writing this book, Renee asked me and a few other bloggers about our experience balancing creativity and motherhood. She was looking for about a hundred words on some specific questions, but once I started writing I found I had a great deal to say on the subject. This the gist of it:

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Before I had children, I spent much of my time crafting poetry and fiction and nonfiction. In those days, I believed that writing was the most creative and important thing I could do with my time. When I was pregnant for the first time and just wanted to sit and dreamily crochet granny squares for a baby blanket, it felt almost like a waste of my creative energy. Shouldn’t I be doing something “real” like writing a poem? A good friend reminded me that however lovely it was, my poem would be virtually unread, while the granny squares would keep an infant warm. “How could that be a waste of time?” she asked me. Eventually I made peace with the question by writing a poem about crocheting a blanket for my unborn babe.

In the years since I have become a mother my creative life exists in the confluence of two streams that seemingly contradict each other. Out here in the West we have hot springs that send warm water into cold rivers. Imagine it as kind of like that. Except one of these creative streams has been Letting Go, and one has been Holding On.

Letting Go

The Letting Go Stream has been the release of my old ideas of what it means to be creative. No longer can I accept the idea that to be a writer one must write every day, for a certain amount of time. Or that I am only legitimate when I write a poem every week, or a few hundred words a day. As I let go of those notions out of necessity, I found that motherhood opened up a vastly more creative world for me.

How could it not, when every act in my daily life—from birthing and nurturing two daughters, to cooking our daily sustenance from simple ingredients, to keeping our home beautiful, to actively creating a positive outlook and being curious about the world around me—is a creative act. In fact, I have a hunch that while I might have to wait a few more years to complete my next book (and I feel the pull to do that strong as ever, even if it is simmering on the back burner), I will remember these years with small children as the most creative in my life.

Holding On

Because I am (like you) a complex creature, the other stream flowing through my life in the last few years has been the Holding On Stream. This is the one that reminds me that This Is It—my one life to live. Having a child and then another made me realize that I couldn’t wait to someday sit down and write a book—it had to be something I made room for and nurtured, or else I was truly at risk of losing my voice. And while it may not always be possible to have a regular, steady practice of writing, I can nourish my writer self by reading great writing, by keeping a freehand journal when I can’t work at the computer, by letting creativity not be defined as only one thing, but as a way of life.

It hasn’t always seemed this way. I have felt at times like I was sacrificing my writing self for motherhood (never mind that my first book was conceived at the same time as my first child, and born the same month as my second). I had a lot of old ideas about how much I should write and how disciplined I should be. Looking back I see that they did very little to motivate me, and a lot to hold me back.

While I was feeling guilty for not writing poems or chapters in my half-done novel about a tree pruner in 19th century New Mexico, I was busy with all kinds of other things. I embraced the domestic arts—things women have done for ages to bring creativity and beauty into their lives. Things that can easily be done alongside a child. I have taught myself to sew and knit, and make much of my children’s clothing. I sing and tell stories. I make toys: dolls, stuffed animals, books. I write Old Recipe. I bring together a circle of friends for a mothers’ circle each month. I have grown into a much more holistic view of creativity, and see it flowering in every part of my life as a homemaker. Writing continues to be essential food for my soul, but the diet has become more varied.

Like a Garden’s Seasons

Creativity comes from the joy of creating. It is a natural outpouring of a healthy life. And, it should not be a constant. Like the earth itself, our creative energy needs time to rest and lie fallow, while new seeds germinate and begin to grow. And so I accept that the creative spirit will move me when it does, and be ready to receive it when it comes.

While I go through long periods of not even keeping a journal, I also have intense phases of writing thousands of words a day. I no longer judge either of these times as good or bad. I welcome them both for the gifts they bring. If I feel especially in alignment with my sense of purpose when writing, I trust that the times in between are fueling that creativity in essential ways.

Eventually, the little seeds inside me go in search of light. I am filled with ideas and inspiration, and move naturally back into a rhythm that includes space for me to work alone.

And slowly, I find myself surrounded by handmade things. Slowly, I find new stories coming to life, new ideas that want to be manifested. I find myself in the midst of a beautiful and surprising renaissance, where every act is a creative act.

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To read my simple technique for making time to be creative, you’ll have to get Nurturing Creativity. Which I assure you has much, much more to offer than my little bit of advice.

To see a little of my poetry in action, leave a comment in this giveaway for a new poetry anthology I am included in.

And do tell me, how has the confluence of creativity and motherhood shaped your life and work?

Springtime in the Soul

When I first began to embrace the seasonal celebrations embodied in Waldorf festivals, I was a very ambitious little mama. Armed with my copy of All Year Round and a host of inspiring blogs, I dreamed of making every wonderful project I got wind of. I wanted to do all the crafts and projects at once, to sit down and industriously—but peacefully! Don’t forget the peaceful part—whip out what I felt were the requisite adornments for whatever season we happened to be in.

If it was spring, well, that meant a bevy of flower fairies, wheat grass growing in a basket, eggs died with baths of cabbage and beets and onion skins. Spring meant knitted bunnies, paper windmills and kites, crowns with streaming ribbons in pastel colors, and bright new dresses to sew.

In addition to all this stuff to do there was the songs and fingerplays I wanted to learn, new recipes to try out, Easter and may-day parties to host or attend, and birthday presents to make. Oh, and garden beds to prepare for planting and seeds to start. It all seemed so good, so beautiful and fanciful. With so many possibilities laid out before me I felt compelled, nay, driven, to give it my all.

We live in a world so concerned with productivity and material achievement that it is easy to give myself over to how important and urgent all this feels.

Indeed, all of these things on my to-do list are well and good. Each has its place in bringing beauty and richness to life, to the slowly unfolding days. But to really feel the season moving in my soul, I have to slow way down. Almost to a stop.

When I release myself from that expectation of constant doing, I am able to connect more fully with the inner gesture of the season. From that stillness, I have found that the impulse we all have towards celebration and creativity comes bubbling up naturally enough. Things will get done. Not every thing, but the right things.

And so I’ve learned to chuck the springtime to-do list. Indeed, the natural world is busily taking care of the details—providing the perfect back drop of returning bird song, flowers poking up from the snow, rain bringing thaw and trees bursting into bloom. My dear friend scoffs at the idea of dying eggs. “Our goose just started laying again,” she says. “What could be more magical than that?”

Don’t get me wrong—we will be dying a few eggs. You bet we’ve got a nature table up with a basket of wheat grass and apple branches that refuse to bloom hung with Easter egg ornaments. And this was the year I finally got around to making a flower fairy. These are the small rituals that manifest my inner experience of renewal and beauty. Sometimes they even lead the way, nudging me like any good symbol does, towards the truth that is sometimes unseen.

I am learning, though, that the simpler, the better. That less is so much more. That I can save things for future years. That sometimes, what seems like a lovely idea, is really a big stress. And that my to-do list, no matter how Waldorfy, rushes me through the days, not just of Spring, but this brief season of life with my tiny children. And so I am reminding myself that it’s not simply what I do or make that brings meaning to anything. It is what lives in my heart and fills our days with grace. Attending to that is all I really need to do.

Our very small children are inherently reverent, in awe of the world they have so newly entered, and still connected to the divine place they come from. We can join them in that grace with our presence.

No knitted bunnies required.