Finding Grace, Going Slow

Simple days, as ever.

Re-reading Mitten Strings for God and Simplicity Parenting.

These books just make me feel so good when I choose to forgo the many holiday activities going on, to not go overboard with the homemade gift thing, to not stay up till 3 am making an Advent calendar, to not go to the Holiday Faire, and all the many other things I Just Say No to.

Because that means there is so much left to say Yes to.

Yes to having time. Yes to being with my children, unhurried and unstressed.

Yes to walks in the snow.

Yes to letting things grow in their own way–our traditions as a young family, the beauty and meaning we find in celebrating the seasons and their festivals in the simplest ways.

Yes to creating out of inspiration and because the spirit fills us, not a sense of obligation.

~

 Of all the things I might think up to do, it’s what I feel, the richness within, that is most meaningful.

Things take on a depth and richness when I have time to enter them more fully.

There is a space for creativity to blossom, and to be received in a way that bears fruit.

For me, Advent is a time of quiet, and of making.

Keeping the computer off at night, sitting and entering the deeply creative space of crafting gifts. It reminds me of the girls in their play–intent, absorbed, and ultimately being nourished on the soul level. Finding meaning in our work of play and life.

This is grace.

Oh, there is so much to be grateful for!

Take care, friends. Wishing you slow days and nights, quiet joy, and the peace of stillness. What are you saying no–and yes–to these days?

::

PS Along these lines I was recently inspired by this post on Advent from Renee, and this one on Finding Time from Heather.

Days of Wonder

The glorious days of Autumn have been full in their simple way.

What do you say when old friends ask what you are up to and all you can think of is laundry and roasted chickens and the new bonnet you started knitting, and somehow, it just doesn’t seem like it will translate? I haven’t tried this yet, but next time I might simply say something like “Oh, just keeping the rhythm,” letting the unspoken “of the universe intact” part be merely implied.

To you I can also add that I’ve been occupied with finding balance in this complicated world, returning again and again to center in the midst of plentiful distraction. Finding gratitude for the great struggles I go through in my ongoing “birth pangs” of motherhood. Just as our children experience tension and disequilibrium in their growth, I’ve learned to see my own hard times as a catalyst for wonderful growth. (Thanks to posts like this one at The Parenting Passageway for bringing me back to myself once again!)

Sewing real jersey woolens and making recycled “sweater pants” is a fine way to stretch my fledgling skills as a seamstress. Thanks to Mama Ash Grove for the inspiration. Also, amazingly, I’ve just found my way back to writing after a long rest. I had to completely let go of my expectations of myself, of the half written novel draft started years ago, of the ordinary moments not celebrated in insightful poems. I trusted that for the time being, my creative work was in the mothering, the homemaking, the singing and cooking and knitting and yes, my journal and this blog a bit. I let go of my identity as a “Writer” and embraced my life as a mother and it was a great relief, a weight lifted from my shoulders. Happily, the two are once again converging as I spend all my quiet moments of late pouring out stories of our days, turning them into something artful that feels soulful and satisfying. Another reminder of the importance of how the fallow times inevitably give way to new growth and fecundity. 

See. Everything ripens in it’s time.In the meantime, I’m really working to bring the last light of the season with its brightly glowing trees inside. To light my inner fire, to blaze the spiritual fire that will carry us into the “season of light” coming round Solstice time. And yes, I’ll be singing and cooking and tending my girls as best I can. Learning just how the waist band on long underwear should be shaped, maybe getting a few lines down on paper now and then, learning (again) to say no to too much “fun” away from home, and hopefully putting the garden to bed with a few thick layers of compost and manure and mulch and a planting of winter rye .

In other words, just keeping the rhythm of the universe intact.

As are you, my friends!

Ordering the Stars: Housekeeping Rhythm

A friend of mine shared this story: She read in a book by a Waldorf early years teacher that whenever the children starting getting too wild or disruptive, the teacher slowly and methodically went about putting the room back together. Folding silks, placing dolls in their cradle, stacking bowls in the kitchen. And the children magically settled, finding their center once again. My friend said that when she read this, she realized that it perfectly described her own state of being–when the house is a mess, she feels impatient and irritable. When it has come back together again, she feels peaceful and easy. I couldn’t agree more!

But where is the Waldorf kindergarten teacher coming to my rescue? Why, up on the fridge in a rainbow colored chart, of course.

That’s right, a housekeeping schedule. For a long time, I was consumed with just the basic daily maintenance of our home: dishes three times a day, sweeping, laundry, tidying up the detritus of an active family. I still do those things day in and day out, but each day there is a little something extra that I focus on.

Monday is kitchen day. Aside from giving extra attention to things that pile up during the week, I set the timer for ten minutes and do a single task like clean the fridge or organize a cupboard. Sometimes I mop, or deal with the mess under the sink.

Tuesday is for the living room and entry way. The special focus of this day is “dust and declutter.” I rove around the house with a wet rag and a box, doing just that. I straighten the bookshelves, tame my knitting baskets, put the cds back into orderly piles. Sometimes I sort the hat bags, sometimes I sweep down the cobwebs.

Wednesday is bedrooms. Usually one needs more attention than the  other, so it gets it. More dusting and decluttering, sweeping the rugs, changing the sheets, putting away any clothes that have been piling up (and getting rid of the excess).

Thursday we do the bathrooms. Sinks, toilet, tubs, mop the floor with a wet rag, mirrors, wash towels. This has been majorly helped by having a spray bottle of vinegar solution and box of baking soda in each bathroom. Duh!  I use old cloth diapers for washing everything down with.

Friday is “studio” day. That would be our huge desk on the north wall of our main living space. I enter receipts into our budget, pay bills, tidy and declutter the mess, straighten the bookshelves and the disaster brewing down below where my fabric and sewing gear is stowed.

Over the weekend we do some version of a home blessing–vacuum, empty trash, do what was forgotten during the week, and often some bigger organizational work that involves everybody.  Or sometimes we just let things go, secure in the knowledge that it’s gonna get done soon enough.

:: I work fast and try to get the daily chore done by ten. If it’s not in the stars, it’ll happen for sure next week.

::My three year old helps me work while sister takes her morning nap.

::I love this routine because it tells me when to stop. If it’s time for the park, I stop myself.

::People before things. I am getting better and better at remembering this, at letting the house be messy and not falling apart myself. Strange to actually be embracing disorder, but sometimes that’s how we choose joy.

::Simplicity and de-cluttering are my secret weapons. If I am grumbling over picking up the same toys all the time, I simply move them out of our home or into storage. If my bookshelves are bursting and unsightly, if there are too many cups to wash, if the pen cup is stuffed so full it’s impossible to get a pen in or out–get them outta here!

Our house is not super clean, ever. It is a lively, creative space, with lots happening. Every day, though, we give extra attention to at least one part of it, and this makes the whole place feel loved. It is such a balancing act–embracing the abundant messes of family life, knowing how much to let slide, and when to get things back on track. It is an ongoing evolution–one of growing children, parents, and the space that contains us and our days together.

Ordering the Stars: Home is the Heart

Here is our family’s “mission statement.”

What we strive to practice daily, as best we can.

Whenever there is a lot going on, when life is overly full or times are tense, this is how I find my way back to center.

I’m getting ready to share a bunch of stuff on rhythm and housekeeping and the like, and it’s good to pause and breathe, to give thanks, and to stay connected to what spiritual homemaking is really all about:

Love.

And all her many faces.

Growing into Motherhood

Has anybody else been following the beautiful series over at the Parenting Passageway of women’s stories of growing into motherhood? They are just filling me up with encouragement and appreciation–sustenance for this incredible journey of raising small children, and being transformed in the process.

I’ve been a mother for a scant three and a half years. My journey has taken me though a harrowing birth and a healing birth, the blissful times  of tending an infant with my heart and arms and breasts, and the confusion and anger and lack of understanding I felt when my sweet baby started having tantrums! biting other kids! shrieking at strangers in the grocery store! It was then that my real growth started happening, when I actually began to grow into a parent, and not just a mother. The birth pangs of that still-emerging parent continue, but I have learned to welcome them, to dive into them with the same gratitude I learned to feel for the contractions that brought my daughter into the world.

In the spirit of this journey, I thought I’d share a little story.

The other day I read this sweet interview about mindful parenting. At the end were 12 really wonderful exercises for mindful parenting. Great! I printed them out, put them up on the fridge, consulted them often, and proceeded to have the worst day of mothering in recent memory. I was yelling and irritable, impatient, and totally out of my center. Or maybe that should be totally self-centered. I knew it and still felt powerless in the face of it. Though I laugh ironically when telling friends the story of my attempt at mindful parenting, I really don’t think of it as a failure. Sometimes we grow the most from the hardest moments, from seeing the worst in ourselves.

My friend Adrie, whose beautiful story of growing into motherhood is at Carrie’s today taught me to think of mothering as practice. “Practice, and all is coming,” she learned as a student of yoga. My job is not to be a perfectly mindful mother, or any of the other ideal standards I might hold myself up to on a given day. It is simply to practice. Practice being mindful, practice speaking gently and holding my center in the midst of a three year old storm, practice keeping my home orderly in a genuinely cheerful way,  practice being kind to my husband instead of always right, practice keeping my heart open and present to the small and large tasks of raising two small children. Practice love.

As I practice, I develop self-discipline. With luck, that practice turns into a striving for self-awareness, then greater empathy, then emotional presence. And on and on as new skills are integrated and adapted as needed.

In the Steiner inspired book Natural Childhood by John Thomson there is a wonderful breakdown of the parent’s journey as we learn to relate to our children. Imagine it as a stairstep, in which we go through these different levels:

Unconsciously unskilled–you don’t know you don’t know.

Consciously unskilled–you know you don’t know. (This is the most frustrating step!)

Consciously skilled–you know you know.

Unconsciously skilled--you don’t know you know.

As you practice these skills, you move up the stairs. But it’s not always linear; on a given day I might be on any of these steps. Sometimes it’s two forward, one back. Ultimately the hard days are the best practice. They ask us to put all of our will and determination and prayer into our mothering. Into our lives. But as we strive, we grow. And that is the gift our children give us.

Practice, friends. All is coming.

::

What have you learned from your time practicing motherhood?

::

ps, no infants were harmed in the above photographs!

Ordering the Stars: Home is Where You’ll Find Me

So today is the day I spill my biggest secret about Ordering the Stars: Spend more time at home. Spend more time at home, and your home will be taken care of and it will take care of you. That’s it. The foundation of homemaking as far as I can tell.

 

Of course, as with most simple truths, it took me awhile to figure this out.

There was a time, oh a little over three years ago, when I feared becoming a housebound mama. I recognize the look of panic in the eyes of newly pregnant friends worried about what life could possibly hold without a job and yoga class and afternoons scavenging at thrift stores. I knew I wanted to be a stay at home mother. Just without the staying at home part. Wouldn’t that be…isolating? depressing? a failure of modern expectations of socialization?  Our days would be busy–children’s museum, library, playdates, park. Definitely the thrift store. We would be freewheeling gals, my baby and I, out with the sling.

Sigh. I’ll just glaze over the hard lessons I’ve had along the way and say that I’ve changed my tune.

I’ve come to see that a home-based, rhythmical life is good for my children. To my surprise, I’ve found that it is also really good for me. I learned that if the only thing I had to do in a day was serve dinner by 6, the day flowed easily and inevitably became productive in unexpected ways. If I was in and out all day, on errands or playdates, cooking dinner became a stress. And the house, inevitably, a mess. We’d spend the whole next day recovering—that is, so long as nothing was scheduled for then, too.

I know that for new mothers, it is one of the big transitions of life to go from being out in the world to a more purely domestic life. I think it helps to have some vision of why you are home–I’m the first to admit that I’d get bored quick without my side-line gig of changing the world through Radical Homemaking. I do declare it’s the finest home entertainment system available.

Perhaps something magical has happened over the years and I now reside in the mother’s version of a zen retreat center—simple days are enough for me. They offer me the universe in a grain of sand. Chop wood, carry water. Wipe bums, sweep the floor. That’s right, Dorothy: surrender.

I’m not a recluse. We take walks around the neighborhood almost every day, to parks, and friend’s houses and the market. But somehow, that feels like home to me. If we can walk there, it’s part of our kingdom. The mantle of home is still around us. We do spend about 1/3 of our time out in the world, at playgroups and the like, but I try to balance such days with many more servings of quiet days at home. If we are out one morning, we don’t go out again in the afternoon. If we are out one day, we generally stay home the next.

It’s like breathing: in and out, give and take, busy and quiet. Try it. It feels good. And have you noticed that many of the mothers that seem to have it all together–the ones that seem to get an obscene amount of baking and sewing and storytelling done, not to mention have plants that are watered, are the ones who spend more time at home than away from home. Just saying.

Still need some inspiration to spend more time at home? This blog post from the smart folks at Simplicity Parenting says it all quite simply (as one would expect from them). And this one (and many others like it) from The Parenting Passageway have hugely influenced me. But I’d love to hear from you: How do you keep busy and inspired and content in the home? What do you do when you’re not?

This Thing Called Rhythm

So I took my advice and chilled out. I really needed it. The house did kind of fall apart. My grocery list was once again limited to milk and chocolate. We ate beans all week. We swung in the hammock and I didn’t even try to identify the birds singing overhead in the apple tree. That blurry picture up there? That’s one of Maida asking, “If I grow hair, do you promise to never brush it, either?”

And then this cool thing happened: equilibrium.

I cleaned the house, slowly but very surely. Made the menu plan and re-stocked the pantry. But I was still on the chill track. I took a nap with the girls, read a book in the middle of the day. Left the diapers overnight in the washing machine.

Balance finding its way to the center again. For a moment, at least, on it’s way from here to there and back again.

When I began studying Fertility Awareness, the first thing my mentor taught me was about cycles. You may have noticed that women operate in a wholly cyclical way. There is the really big cycle of our fertility across the lifespan: first infertile as girls, then the fertile, childbearing years, then the post-menopausal infertile years. Then within the childbearing years we have cycles of infertility then fertility and again infertility each month (or so).

In other words, fertile phases follow fallow phases.

Our creativity waxes and wanes, too. We need the quiet, inert times to rest, all the while gestating ideas that will in their turn be manifested by our hands. The seasons guide us in this, as well–candles on the table in winter, flowers in summer. Inward, outward. Doing, resting.

And so it is with all our extreme eco ways, our plastic-free times, our hanging-laundry-on-the-line times, our never-going-to-drive-again times, our never-buy-anything-new times. Have you noticed? They come in fits and starts, forward and back, forward and back. All the while there is momentum. However small or large, whatever direction it is going, each step brings us farther down the road from where we started.

I promise.

We go through phases of inspiration where we DO and exhaustion where we DON’T. And they are neither triumph nor failure. This is simply life, unfolding in the rhythm it was meant to.

Now, for men, fertility is a different game. They hit puberty and Boom! producing 2,000 sperm a second pretty much till death, at which time the rate declines a bit. And it’s that incessant model of fertility that drives our culture. We are taught to be productive pretty much all the time. Write a book? Quick, write another. But you know, other cultures don’t buy into this. They do things like take siestas.

Which is just what I did today after a marathon round of de-cluttering. As I napped I fantasized about putting all my scrawled pages of journal entries and too-big-to-be-a-blog-post ramblings into a free e-book called Manifesto of an Extreme Eco Housewife.

But fortunately I don’t have even a clue what an e-book is, or how to make one. So I went back to sleep.

Keep on keeping on, friends. We’re doing fine.

Ordering the Stars: Chilling Out

I’ve been thinking a lot about homemaking, these days. About being a woman and a caregiver and a creative soul. To be doing this fabulous, lively, engaging, and yes, tiresome, never-ending, unpaid work. I’ve been thinking, in particular, about how fulfilling it can be, how much of a chance there is for personal growth–what some call inner work. I was thinking about how conducive it can be to living ecologically, to learning new skills, to discovering new passions. And also reflecting on the sacrifices involved in it. There is much that I have had to let go of in order to be fully present for my family (For example, among things on hold for me are a half-written novel about a tree-pruner in 19th century New Mexico). There are days when I struggle with this sacrifice, and days when I celebrate all I have gained in its stead.

And yes, I was also thinking about what makes it work for me, the nitty gritty everyday sorts of things that help our family thrive. I started working on this little series of posts I have planned called Ordering the Stars. And then, boom, I was struck by this lightning bolt.

My housekeeping prowess that I was bragging a bit about?  It’s not my de-cluttering, or personal growth, or menu plans, or some profound philosophy that I can credit. Okay, it is all those things, a little bit. But here’s my real secret, for better of for worse: It’s that I’m, um, driven. A doer, a manifester, a highly enthusiastic, more than a bit competitive, rising star in the type-A Uber Mother universe.

Sigh.

In other words, motherhood had become yet another product-oriented job. As in, how productive can I be? How clean can I get my house, how beautifully can I celebrate festivals, how strictly can I stick to the all-important rhythm, how gently can I parent (a wild banshee), how little plastic can I use, how well can I keep to a tiny budget while still shopping at the most expensive market, how quickly can I lose the baby weight, how fully can I keep my old hobbies and passions alive while doing all the rest of this?

Now, these are all worthy things, wonderful things to guide ones work as a mother. I think in some ways we need to have high expectations of ourselves, to have a vision and to strive towards it. And yet in motherhood perhaps more than any other undertaking, it is possible to strive and strive towards an impossible ideal. To never be quite as good as we think we should be. I could go on and on about how much I enjoy this season of Motherhood–it is challenging and provocative and engaging work. But it’s not a job. It’s life. I’d prefer to just be living it.

I keep wondering how to slip the word “surrender” into this post, so I’ll just say it here. Surrender, Mama! Chill out! Have Fun! Do it cause you love it, not because you saw it on someone else’s blog. It’s okay!

If we need to strive, how about giving ourselves goals that are nurturing and real? To shift it from a How Much kind of quest to a How To kind–from a product to a process. To be guided by questions like, How can I be present in this moment? How can I show love  to myself, my children, my partner? Or, What does it feel like to soften into this journey, letting it take me where it will? Or, would it really be the end of the world if I just chilled out?

::

PS–You know what’s cool about all us type-A mothers out there? We have this great safety valve built in that keeps us from being perfectionists: our kids! Three cheers for quirky little beings not interested in conforming to our agendas.

::

Happy Mother’s Day!

Ordering the Stars

Sometimes, my little daughter Cora seems to want to order the stars where to sit in the sky. Move over! She’ll shout at them (in this metaphor). No, There! It’s something to behold. At first this troubled me. Lately, it inspires me. No, we can’t always get Mars to move closer to Cancer (though if we are patient, it eventually will), or get a little friend to share her stroller. But we can shape our homes, and ultimately our lives, to reflect the beautiful order of the world.

Since Maida was born, I’ve had the odd experience of becoming the best housekeeper I have ever been in my life (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much). Odd, because I always expected the opposite to happen once the number of children in our home doubled, which we all know really means quadrupled, in that weird exponential way–2 to the power of Baby. Some days things are the mess you might expect, but it’s not as often as I ever expected. (In case I sound heroic, let me disclose that Baby Mae sleeps a lot, making it possible to get all sorts of things done.) But I’ve found that in order to be a peaceful mother, I need an ordered home. One that “runs itself” and takes care of us while we take care of it. For me, having a home that takes care of me means that it needs to be a creative home. A tidy home. A frugal home. A low-impact on the earth home. A simple, uncluttered home, based on simple, uncluttered systems.

I realize that I am at a point in my life in which I am Wholly Mother. My body is softer. My mind a little slower. My arms or lap often occupied, my hands always busy. It is strange and wonderful, and I am quite surrendered to it. That is partly why, I think, our home is running so smoothly these days. I have been guided to this place by many examples–from my childhood, my mother friends, and also lots of wise voices from blogland. I want to add my voice to that chorus now. For the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my fabulous! revolutionary! Simple! Secrets to Being a Super-Organized Extreme Eco Housewife (Now that You Have Two Kids). This is kind of a re-take on my first Extreme Eco Housewife post–which has some great ideas, by the way. But I have been through a year of serious growth since then, and want to share some of my discoveries about some of the more internal parts of keeping house–the subtle, unseen things as well as the functional, menu-planny type things.

Please come along, and please oh please, share your secrets along the way.

::

ps, if you are wondering what’s up with my blog header, that’s secret #1–getting a head start on the fall decorating! Our Christmas tree is still up, too. Just kidding.

Birth Triumphant

I’d like to introduce my daughter, Maida Rose.

(We say it May-da.)

She was born in the first minutes of January 24th.

She’s lovely.

::

And I just have to tell the world that after laboring for 26 hours, I pushed her out, hollering and powerful as any warrior mother and it was great.

I give thanks to the Great Mother for keeping my faith strong, for sending us allies that helped us to birth naturally despite the odds, for guiding us on this journey towards VBAC, and for my own wise body that knew just what to do, and only needed a chance to do it.

Praise Be!