Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In the middle now

I think I might be in the middle now.

I just read a book I liked.  Called Sheepish by Catherine Friend.  A woman and her partner decide to farm.  Make funny, entertaining,  heartbreaking mistakes in the process of changing everything in their lives at once.   Learn new things.   Cultivate a love of hard work, simplicity, gratitude.  Adjust to a new life, separately and in relationship together.

The author also talks about finding herself in a new stage of life.  Describes a dis-ease she feels, a lack of focus, a heightened emotionality.
She hypothesizes it comes from being in the middle of her life.  I feel that too, lately.
Also, I've literally lost some ability to focus, and must wear reading glasses now.
I liked my near vision.

Our children are more independent now, which I  do love.
There are some new challenges brought on by adolescence.
We've reached out to some of you about these struggles.
You've given helpful advice:    Don't over- react.  Keep talking about stuff.  Listen.  Love.
Also, hugs are good for the soul.  And to know if cigarettes or alcohol are on board.

Eli is turning 15 this month.  It terrifies me that he might someday drive a car.  He makes interesting (bad) choices sometimes, and gets injured.  A lot.  I've read those fascinating studies about the teenage brain.  I know that behavior is normal.  It does help to know that.

But often I feel my two important roles as parent working against each other.
First,  I must love my child so well that he feels:  confident/ built up/ accepted no matter what.
Second, I must help prepare/ teach my child to function independently in the world.  This involves teaching skills, but also  correcting/ nagging.  (Teenagers are terrible housemates!)
I find it hard to do the two things at once.  

My kid is not a huge sharer, or talker about his day.  I get my information in a diffuse way, by being around mostly, by sidling up, in brief conversations that happens around a book we've both read, or bad cable TV we watch in a hotel.

We were in New York this week at Ben and Katie's wedding.  It was a sweet time, with a lot of the family together in the same place.  Katie's family is loving and welcoming, and as excited about Ben as we are about Katie.  It's good to see that Ben has that around him.

One of my favorite things about the weekend, was discovering that our kid loves to dance.
Seeing Eli enthusiastically shaking his booty on the dance floor was deeply, surprisingly reassuring.
I have been worrying.  And seeing him surrounded by folks who love and know him, looking so handsome and tall in a tuxedo, LOVING doing something, not concerned with looking silly, sweating and confident in his body, creating moves in the moment, engaging his family…. It was good for me.







Thursday, August 22, 2013

Walk our loop together



 Sled dog in training












 Catching salmon in the style of the bear.

 Salmon Run

Eli and beluga spit pranks





 BBQ cricket



Summer's officially done.
Eli started San Rafael High School, and the girls, Davidson Middle today.
They all seem ready.  I miss them a little.  It's felt okay being busier, getting everyone prepared this week.  But I've been reminiscing about the past months--
We had adventures these last few months.
Our Swedish family came to town for Felicia's Redwood graduation.
Eli went to camp, and me too, for a couple weeks, as a camp nurse.
We spent a month in Auburn.  Our goat girl Una was born.  We went often to the river to cool off.
We revamped our garden there and hauled lots of manure.
I started a beginning rancher course, and organic farming course, a permaculture design course.
We took a gorgeous cruise down the coast of Alaska with family and friends.
Thank you Mama and Papa for that.
We had some health scares in our family.  I think everything will be okay though.
I haven't worked much at Kaiser.  That will have to change.
The girls and I made a deal that if things get to feeling stressful, we will walk our loop together.
It's a good start.



Monday, February 11, 2013

Still keep doing it anyway

Friends,

I've missed you.  And the process of documenting our lives in words and photos.

Something sad happened.  My last remaining beehive died out.  

 Here it is in it's heyday.  You can see the comb and bees inside through the little plexiglass window Joey installed.  One can sit that close in the little chair and look in.  They were pretty gentle bees.




I'm enthusiastic keeper of honey bees, but it might be many more years before I do it well.  Interesting how you can be bad at something you love to do, but still keep doing it anyway.

When I was younger, and had more pride,  this was harder for me.  I gave up on swimming when my sister got faster.  I wouldn't sew, because most things I made were unwearable.  It's been freeing to give that up.  I have more fun.

To honor the memory of the bees, the girls repainted the old hive and we collected what we could of wax and remaining honey.  I've rejoined the Marin Beekeepers, and swarm season is coming.  We'll try again.




Here's a little of what's been happening in our lives since I last wrote.  In photos.










We moved house.


The girls returned to Auburn perform in The Hobbit.  We said goodbye, for now to the baby goats, who all found excellent homes with loving children.  And we said goodbye, for now, to some sweet friends.



The garden harvest was pretty good.  The hot of Auburn grows tomatoes, peppers, eggplants (yellow), tomatillos, pumpkins, and cucumbers well.
 
We took a long road trip to Hornby Island, British Columbia to stay with Bill and Susy in their lovely cabin there.


Halloween was sweet.  Joe was Miami Vice guy and Sophia was Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter.


Eli has loved being back at Davidson with old friends.  


He decided he really wanted one more year at Camp Newman next summer, and so got a job walking dogs to finance his portion of tuition.  Thanks to his grandparents who will also contribute.  I've pledged 2 weeks as camp nurse to offset the rest.  


He's also now decided to attend San Rafael High School in the Fall.

Gretchen had a birthday and had knee surgery.  We decide to join the YMCA together and have been swimming together.  She's still fast.

Omie was hospitalized around Thanksgiving.   
I flew home to Alabama to be with her.  
She told me she thought she might die, but wasn't quite ready.
My parents arrived from South Africa while I was there.  I'd been missing them a lot.  

We had some great country cooking while home.  
Sadly, the Tiny Diny had closed!  I drove through the night from New Orleans to get there for breakfast, and nearly wept to find it boarded up.
What I'm missing the most lately is Southern Gulf of Mexico seafood-- specifically
West Indies salad, fried crab claws, gumbo, and Oysters Bienville.  
I've been afraid to eat it all since the oil spill.

Omie is back on her feet, and as spicy as she ever was. 
 Fried Green Tomatoes and iced tea, y'all.


Don't be jealous.
This was MY Thanksgiving.

Most folks know I'm working less these days, having switched to 'per diem' status at Kaiser.
Health benefits are gone in favor of a higher hourly rate.  I don't HAVE to work every other weekend anymore.  As a result, I'm sweeter and happier, I think.
I bake and sew and garden more, but still dislike cleaning and other forms of housework.

I continue to have crazy ideas and dreams.
These have included  moving to a goat dairy in Petaluma to make artisan cheeses.
Joey said "not now."

I contacted the owner of a local empty lot in hopes of convincing him to let me transform it into a community garden.  
He didn't go for it either.

Our year away helped me appreciate a spouse who'll say yes to my dreams as often as he dares.
In smaller ways he continues to say yes.
We'll live in Auburn this Summer, and have baby goats again then.
We're expanding our garden here and there to satisfy my need to grow food.
He tolerates my yarn and fabric purchases.



And I go skiing and to LA beach ultimate.




Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Epilogue: 3 Months Later

Today is Yom Kippur: a day to slow down, reflect, atone. After services last night, we drove up to the yurt for a day away from school and work, back to our home away from home.

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write with some of the perspective gained from our re-entry. Understandably, the most common question I get regarding our time away is: “what is it like to be back?” In short, it feels good. We’ve established and cultivated our roots for the past 16+ years in San Rafael for many reasons! We have deep family ties, meaningful work, a wonderful community, a sweet home, access to great culture, geography, history, weather. While I miss the freedoms of last year, it has not been hard to come home.

Of course, last year has had an impact. While I can’t speak for all of us, it is my observation that we are all changed from our experience last year. I believe the kids have a heightened appreciation for time and place. Having been away for a year, they seem to actively appreciate school, their friends, and their free time in a more complete way than before. A challenge is remembering to appreciate the family and home, too—not just take it for granted having been so easily present with each other all of last year.

Juliana may be taking the transition hardest as she craves more of the literal and figurative space we had. It can be hard to carve that out in busy lives and on small pieces of suburban land. But it can be done. We’ve transformed most of our San Rafael yard to garden and we continue to be regular visitors to the yurt and its surrounds.

I am happy to be home. I get to see my people so much more (with the exception of my immediate family). I can ride my bike from place to place, the kids can be more independent, there is more opportunity to play ultimate. The transition back to work has been mostly painless so far. I enjoy my colleagues and students and I am passionate about what I teach.

Nevertheless, I do feel somewhat different at work: more relaxed, I suppose. I have steadily been moving that direction over my career as I have amassed a growing arsenal of experience and become more and more fluent with my craft. But returning this year I have felt a subtle, though noticeable shift. I attribute it to a new perspective gained as a homeschool teacher. As homeschoolers, we learned all the time—even without a specific regimen. The challenge was simply being open to it where we were.

In the school setting, learning can feel different. The routine is so defined and there are so many learners that there isn’t the same freedom to be independent and open to learning as it comes. The focus often shifts to the nuts and bolts of the process. Students and teachers alike get caught up in the routines more than the end goal: filling out the worksheet instead of learning the concepts, for example. While completing worksheets can be important, it is not ultimately the goal. I’ve known this a long time and have always held to the educational philosophy: “make learning REAL.” I design my curriculum with that in mind. But his year I notice a slight shift. Instead of “making learning real”, my focus has become: “learn”.   It is a subtle, hardly noticeable change, but it feels important. I hope it will stay with me. I think it makes me a better teacher.

In addition to the wonderful memories, one of the lasting gifts of the past year has been the opportunity to look at our lives from a different vantage point. That perspective is so incredibly meaningful. It gives freedom, too. When I am surrounded by a busy Saturday of soccer games, a stack of laboratory reports to grade, or other craziness, I am pausing to recognize to moment; to see this is where I have chosen to be. I am striving to be brave enough to make changes if it is not where I want to be.

Having had more literal freedom last year, I feel as though I have a recalibrated barometer with which to assess and remind myself how I am. I hope it stays with me. When its clarity fades, I will continue to seek opportunities to reexamine my living; to stop to smell the roses. I hope you will find ways to do that as well. The roses smell good!

Over the summer I wrote a new song which I am happy to play live on request. It was written and is sung in the flavor of Flight of the Conchords.

Livin’ in a Yurt

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
You may wonder what I do there.
I’ll tell you ‘cause I like to share.

We usually eat
Something fermented for dinner.
Out in the chicken coop
We’re looking for a winner.
Everyone is knitting
Right where they’re sitting.
Out in the garden
The weeding is starting,
But use only your hands.
‘Cause at the yurt, all’s organic lands.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
Some folks wonder: “Is it a tent?”
I tell them: “No it isn’t.”

Compost my trash,
Subsist on heirloom,
To minimize our footprint,
The children share a room.
Crap in a bucket,
Cloth on a loom,
Get a mycologist,
To find and gather a mushroom.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
Some folks wonder: “Is it a teepee?”
I tell them: “No, I can’t take it with me.”

Dry clothes sustainably,
Odor my pits with patchouli,
Commune with a duck,
Drive a big ol’ truck,
But to minimize the irony,
I do it only periodically.

I found myself livin’in a yurt.
I eat goat milk ice cream for dessert.
It’s a round house, yeah.
It’s not canvas, no. (Why do you keep asking that?)
It’s a wood cabin, man!
Why so obstinate, damn?

I drive the streets in a Prius:
Rural town, no subway or bus.
Maybe I’ll dig a sweat lodge,
Built a barn with lumber hodge-podge.
Kids in 4H,
Sewin’ a skirt.
That’s just me,
Livin’ in a yurt.

I’ve found myself livin’ in a yurt.
Round walls, yes, but floor above the dirt.
You may have wondered what I do there.
I’ll told you ‘cause I like to share.
Well-fed, crafty, alert,
Livin’ in a yurt.

Joey
from the Stewyurt on Yom Kippur, September 26, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Do you miss us?

If you are reading this, it is quite likely you have seen us more since you have read about us less. 

It has been almost two months since we have had the time, access, and inclination to write.  Tomorrow I go back to school to work on my classroom.  That seems like finality in relation to our special year.  Back to regular life.  It's not bad.  But it is less blog-worthy.  So, before it gets normal,  one final(?) blog entry.

The first month since we wrote was mostly about moving.  Some other cool stuff went on, too.  Then we got Eli out of camp (a month of fun and socializing that he loved) and headed north.  While the trip was a vacation, it also had a flavor of our winter southwest homeschool sojurn: we were together, seeing new places, learning, packed in a car.  Rosie came along too--all of us in the Prius for over 2000 miles (we managed nearly 50 mpg, which was nice). 

We saw friends in Arcata, Portland, and Seattle, visited Victoria and Olympic National Park.  The focus was ten days with my parents at Hornby Island in Canada.  It is a beautiful place that is part nature preserve, part intentional community, part resort, part relaxing getaway, part artistic hub, part hermit enclave.  There was lots to do and lots of not doing.

Juliana and I dreamed while we were there.  As we return to our "old life" and with the perspective of our past year, we've been feeling thoughtful.  We want to have space to grow things, be near the people we love, find inspiring work, educate and support others, be close to the land, live sustainably, nurture our children.  It is exciting to think about how these dreams will continue to take shape in the years to come.

On our way back from Canada, we stopped in Auburn to harvest some vegetables from Juliana's garden and say hi to the goats (they are staying with neighbors in Auburn until we are able to bring them home next weekend).  Hasn't she done an amazing job?

The kids are glad to be home.

Thank you for following our lives this year.  Your interest and feedback have fortified and inspired us.

Joey 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Reentry Sequence Initiated

Starting countdown... our July 1st "End Day" approaches quickly.  But its finality has been muddied; the consequence of our melding worlds.  Our San Rafael renters requested an early end to their lease, so last weekend we returned and slept in our "old" home for the first time in nearly a year.  It was nearly empty--couldn't even find bags for garbage or recycling--but it was significant to be home again.  There is a lot to do there!

But we still have not left the yurt.  I remember frequently (and am glad) that we really won't leave at all!  We will share time in two homes.  As a clear example of this, the July calendar has become a checkerboard of existence in our two places.  To San Rafael to unpack, work on the yard, prepare for school, play ultimate.  Then to Auburn to rehearse for the girls' play, visit the goats, swim team, clean-up.  Then back again.  And forth.  We won't really settle back home until mid-August.  Even then, I'm sure we will itch to return to our yurt away from home.

In addition to the time in the old house, being back in San Rafael last weekend provided opportunity to reconnect with friends, family, and colleagues.  A common question was: "How does it feel to be coming back?"  In short, it feels good.  As I have said many times, we love our home and our lives there and we are so pleased about how this year turned out.  I am very interested, in a pre-self-reflective way, how this past year will alter our perspective back in our "old" place and jobs.

The kids seem to be pretty much done with blogging.  Sorry.  I'm not sure if this will be it for me, but there won't likely be a whole lot more.  I really would like to print the whole blog out since last August and have it bound as a family memento.  But I'm not sure if there is a way to do that without going to each entry and pushing print.  Even then, there are all kinds of menu bars and random stuff all over the page I would not like to have in the book.  If anyone knows a trick, please let me know!

I thought about looking into making an actual published book, too.  Juliana rightly says no one who doesn't know us would be interested in reading our indelicate prose and seeing a bunch of kids' school work.  And, unfortunately, I don't think any of us have the energy or talent to transform what is here into a cohesive, publishable work.  It has been an interesting year though. I do think others could benefit from our experiences and thoughts.  Does anyone have an idea about if and how we could proceed with that?  Maybe we just send interested parties here to the blog and let them distill as they will!

Life goes on.  We had a wonderful backpacking trip last week to Grouse Ridge in Tahoe National Forest about an hour and a half northeast of here.  The weather was perfect, the mosquitoes few, the terrain beautiful, at an appropriate challenge level, and there were lakes everywhere.  Backpacking is gear-intensive, but it was pretty easy this time and it was such a pleasure to be all together out in the woods to walk, see, swim, read, eat, sleep.  Simple.  Basic.  Wholesome.  Good.



We sent Eli off to camp for a month earlier this week.  In regards to our year together and "away from it all", it felt final.  It was hard to see him go.  I wouldn't have let him go so long had we not just had 12 intense months together.  Though he was very excited, it was hard for him, too.  He seems so much more centered and grounded lately: more willing to smile, offer help, swallow the complaint, show interest, admit he will miss us at camp.  He really enjoyed camp last year and I think it will be good for him this summer as well.  He will have a chance to be with peers--something he has missed some this year as a homeschooler.  I hope the self-grounding he established this year will pull him through 8th grade and beyond. 

Before the back-and-forth month of July, we have a solid ten days in the Foothills.  The girls have five goats entered in the Placer County Fair.  It was sweet to see them trying to be official and lead the baby goats around today.  The goats weren't too interested, but still showed well: two first places and a "Grand Champion" for Jubilee in the dwarf goat doe class.  The mama goats get shown over the weekend and next week we bring most of the goats to new homes.  In San Rafael we will keep two (Magic and Opal), Rosie dog, all the chickens, and the two ducks on a trial basis.






Hope to see you there, too!

Joey