Priorities and Stuff

16 May

The thing about moving is that so much of what you currently own may or may not work in your new home. So, you start thinking about all of things that you will need to buy. And if you are getting more space, you will need to get more things to put in it. This is the place where my mind is right now.

And I am glad that I had the opportunity to read Hokoki’s “An account of my hut” when I was in college because re-reading that and reflecting on our tendencies to become attached to our worldly things, even when we are aware that this is not the way to live, has kept from robbing a bank and taking all of the cash straight to Ikea. I have come back to this piece so many times in my life. Now is that time again.

In general, the past, present, and future history of human beings is a product of the mind.  If there is no peace of mind in possessing the elephant or horse, or the seven wonders or treasures of the world, it is meaningless to have palaces and buildings of many stories.  Now I dwell in my tranquil residence.  It is only a ten-foot hut, but I love it.  When I want to go to the capital for something, I may feel ashamed to go in the appearance of a beggar, but I return feeling sorry for the people I see there, who are so caught up in and preoccupied with wealth and honor, so busy doing things.  If you are doubtful about what I am saying, look at the situation of the fish and the birds.  Fish are always in the water, yet they don’t become bored with the water.  If you are not a fish you probably can’t understand that feeling.  Birds hope to live in the forest.  If you are not a bird, you probably can’t understand that motive.  My feeling about my tranquil residence is of the same kind.  Who can understand this if they haven’t tried it? 
    [35]    My life, like the waning moon, is about to finish.  The remaining days are few.  Soon the Three Ways of the Hereafter will begin.  The acts of my whole life may be criticized.  An important Buddhist teaching is not to form attachment to anything of this world.  I now feel that it is a crime to begin to love this hermitage so much.  I have also persisted in the silent life here, that may become an obstacle to salvation too, perhaps.  Why am I wasting time speaking about this worthless happiness with so little time remaining?  This is not the thing to do.



15 May

I feel ish-ish about a lot of things in my life.

I am a doula and homebirth midwife’s apprentice who feels gratitude for the occasional c-section. Natural birth-ish?

I am christian, happily married to an athiest, and i celebrate the solstices and love a good sage smudge. Christian-ish? Pagan-ish?

My approach to my children’s educational journey is the same.

And like all other parts of life, the loudest voices are the purists, the evangelicals. I always feel a little on the fringe.

I just can’t relate to the radical unschoolers or the uber-organized curriculum junkies. No judgement. Just not my cup of tea. I look forward to bedtime. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my children. My kids have the majority vote in what and how they learn. Doesn’t mean I don’t care about their future.

We do have a few textbooks that we use. Doesn’t mean that we do “school at home”. If my kids sleep in, stay in their pjs all day, and choose to while away the day making up games and building forts, it doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.

I have swung from both of those extremes at various times in this journey. I think we all start down this path by reading books and online articles, we choose a position and go with it (radical unschooling! classical education! charlotte mason!), and then…. it just falls to wayside as the nuances of daily life takeover. We take a little bit of this, a dash of that… and what we have left is an organic life soup, perfectly suited for us, that one may never find in any recipe book.

We do just what makes to sense to us, for our kids, in our house.

This past school year was the year of theater, book clubs, and woods exploration.

We will do a lot more of that next year. No regrets.

We have other goals for next year, too. The children would like to celebrate all of those weird little holidays that happen nearly daily throughout the year. Pancake day. Talk like a pirate day.

We will be reading A Little History of the World, Lies My Teacher Told Me, and A People’s History of the United States. We will be joining the Chicago Architecture Foundation and taking advantage of as many of their walking tours as possible. Time to take advantage of the amazing history of our adopted city!

We have several big awards that we are working towards in our Girl Scouting. I am so excited to see the girls setting these goals and making them happen. My oldest is now a bonafide paid babysitter saving for a Girl Scouting trip abroad.

More volunteering. Less television.

So, yeah, more structure than perhaps one might expect in unschooling. But tons of space for downtime, personal projects, hobbies, fun, reading.

Unschooling and inertia have no business hanging out. Progress, momentum, growth, slowing down, speeding up, sidetracks, exploration, adventure, challenges. That’s what unschooling is… for us. I think we do that pretty well.

I know that most folks set goals around birthdays and new years. But for me, it makes more sense to set goals for times of actual life transitions. January 1st is just another day. Moving from one school year to another, after a summer of beaching and camping and hiking, is a huge transition for us. I am thinking of the fall and what it will bring.

We are also moving to a new house. Life has felt transitional since I packed our first box a few months ago. It will continue to feel transitional until the last box is unpacked, hopefully next month. In further transitions, we will no longer have a microwave or dishwasher. We are working on creating sustainable systems of home keeping that involve the entire family, feel fair and manageable, and keep our house tidy and clean daily. Of all of my goals, this one feels like the hardest!

De-cluttering (of sorts)

8 May

We are moving in just over two weeks.

Overwhelmed is an understatement. Although I know it will all get done because it always does and it has to.

I do not have that much extra stuff. Although we have lived in our current home for five years I feel that we have done a decent job of decluttering over the course of time and not accumulating an excess amount of junk.

However, what I have accumulated is a collection of objects that have been useful to me but that I don’t love and that don’t bring me joy. In fact, some of them are downright unmotivating to work with or look at.

Growing up, we made use of whatever we had. It didn’t seem that my mother put very much thought into whether she found our kitchen towels to be pleasing or our bathroom towels to be beautiful. Certainly, we had decorations that my mother enjoyed but much of what we owned was purely functional.

Perhaps I spend too much time hanging out on apartment therapy and design sponge and Martha Stewart’s website, but some things have really begun to bother me. And now that we are moving into our dream home, it seems like this is the perfect time to purge these things from our life and start fresh.

I am sure I could write a list but for today let’s just talk about kitchen towels. I am not even kidding you when I tell you how much I hate my kitchen towels and how old they are. I’ve had them for almost 15 years. I am quite sure they were either wedding or shower gifts. I would go so far as to call them slightly embarrassing.

Not only are they old (I was a mere 22 years old when I pick them out), they are stained and ratty and torn on the edges. Not all of them, of course, but at least one half of them are desperately in need of replacing.

As of this moment, they are relegated to the cleaning rag bin. I was surprised to find several cute microfiber towels at the dollar store today. I was planning on grabbing some at ikea (and may still grab a few more) but this was a nice surprise!

Three cheers for pretty towels!


(Out with the old!)


(In with the new!)

Tuesday hike and a poem written not by me

6 May

In praise of feeling bad about yourself by Wislawa Szymborska

The buzzard never says it is to blame.
The panther wouldn’t know what scruples mean.
When the piranha strikes, it feels no shame.
If snakes had hands, they’d claim their hands were clean.

A jackal doesn’t understand remorse.
Lions and lice don’t waver in their course.
Why should they, when they know they’re right?

Though hearts of killer whales may weigh a ton,
In every other way they’re light.

On this third planet of the sun
among the signs of beastiality
A clear conscience is Number One.



On macaroni and tomatoes, food legacies, and growing up broke.

3 May

The other night, my husband spent his evening watching the Tigers win their baseball game. Now, I will grant that he is not a picky eater and rarely complains about anything that I make for him. But…macaroni and tomatoes. He won’t touch the stuff. He didn’t like tomatoes at all until maybe five years ago. So, I can understand his lifelong hesitation to this most perfect of childhood comfort foods. So, when daddy is away, the macaroni and tomatoes come out. Hey, it’s better than cereal for dinner, right? 

This is the one dish that makes me feel like I am 8 years old again. And it wasn’t my mom’s cooking. It was my grandmother’s. Every Thursday night, my sister and I would stay the night at my grandmother’s house. She lived just around the the corner. I always looked forward to Thursday nights, all the way through my senior year of high school. First, my grandmother would feed us. Usually, we started with an entire quart of dilly beans while we chatted. Upon our request, dinner was almost always macaroni and tomatoes. After dinner, we played cards. A game called Tunk usually. Sometimes gin rummy. Sometimes euchre if my aunt came around, which she often did. Then my sister and I would argue about who got to sleep with Gramma and who had to sleep alone. (Note: My gramma had the warmest bedroom.) Whoever won would read out loud to our Grandmother until she fell asleep. We must have read many books to her, but the only one I specifically remember is Scarlett, a truly terrible sequel to Gone with the Wind. In the morning, she would drive us to school in her giant boat of a Buick, which had soft velvet-y seats and always smelled super clean and felt like it was floating instead of driving. 

Out of curiosity, I did look macaroni and tomatoes up on the web and it seems that I was not alone in this childhood memory. But really, Internet, you’re doing it all wrong. It’s so much simpler than you make it seem. All you need is 1 pound of macaroni noodles and 1 quart of your grandmothers home canned tomatoes. Not stewed tomatoes. No other vegetables. No herbs. Maybe a little salt if your grandmother doesn’t add salt to her jars. And if you really must, a tiny pat of butter or margarine. I even go all the way outside of my personal habits and preference and buy regular macaroni, not whole wheat. (Also, my tomatoes are water bath canned, not open kettle canned. I strongly recommend you do the same!) Maybe that’s why my children, like me, love this dish so much. I now skip the slice of white bread with margarine but that was an essential part of the meal as a kid. I mean, I know how to cook. I know I could make this fancier. I could doll it up a little. But I don’t want to. It’s just so perfect as it is. I now can my tomatoes in my grandmother’s jars. 

The truth is that we grew up pretty broke. My grandmother was a single lady, working as a bookkeeper/cashier at a small grocery store. She saved every butter and yogurt dish, ran her straws through the dishwasher, and washed and re-used her baggies. She canned a fair amount of food, mostly to feed my sister and I it would seem. Tomatoes, dilled beans, pears, and peaches lined the basement walls. My mom waited tables most nights, which is why we would regularly stay with my grandmother. We could take care of ourselves: we could make eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, spaghetti, macaroni and cheese. We began cooking for ourselves once we hit double digits. But it was nice sometimes to let someone else cook for us. 

Early in our relationship, I couldn’t believe my husband when he hadn’t ever heard of macaroni and tomatoes. And what’s more: he seemed horrified at the thought! Stab me right through the heart, I said! How could he, who also admittedly grew up broke, claim to have never eaten this delightful meal? How could he grow up just an hour away from me and be so clueless regarding this food? 

As it turns out, growing up broke doesn’t mean eating the same foods. I grew up eating my grandmothers tomatoes, my mother’s fried pork chops with ramen noodles, and my own amateur creations. His mother made 5 loaves of bread at a time, ground her own meat into sausage, and his dad is famous in the family for his cheese goulash. This you will not find on the Internet. And, fair’s fair. It’s really the worst thing you will ever eat. He and his brother love it. It’s a cheesy, slimy concoction you spoon on to toast. It tastes like cheesy boogers. When they make this, I politely ask for the jam, thankyouverymuch. Did I mention the government cheese of his childhood? 

And the other night while on a date at a Korean restaurant, he had his first taste of Spam when he tried a bite of my budae jjiage soup. 

It’s just so strange to me. We grew up poor, in the same state of the same country, born just over one year apart. And yet, our families found such different ways to make it work. And also so strange that after 16 years of togetherness, I still don’t know everything about him. Strange and wonderful. 

Earth housekeeping

24 Apr

Things we have picked out of bushes, rivers, and lakes this week:

Broken glass
Bottle caps
Coffee cups
Dixie cups
Plastic bags of all sorts
Bottle and cans of beer
Dog shit
Foam noodles
Deflated balls

Really, humans. We truly are the most shameful species on the planet. Who walks around and says “I think I will just leave this piece of garbage riiiiiiiight…. here.”





A spring day so perfect

22 Apr

By Billy Collins

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room and table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.