Friday, September 30, 2011

Loved the soft, pretty light of this morning.

Thankful for excellent insight into how to
organize something I was trying to manage.

Loved running into my niece on campus
(a student of the honors college)
and having a lengthy chat with her in the sunshine.

Loved the story Michelle told me about Roman.
He met a boy who speaks only Spanish.
He said the boy seemed shy and quiet.
So Roman walked up to him,
and in a very friendly six-year-old gesture,
blurted out his entire Spanish vocabulary:
"Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis,
siete, ocho, nueve, diez."
The boy just stared at him with big eyes, Roman said.
And Roman was pleased about being so very bilingual.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

This Morning. . .

This is how my life looks now. Some of it, at least.
But don't worry. I won't focus only
on my school books and school if I post here.

Up early. First things first. Coffeee and "Seek ye first the kingdom of God. . ." Then on to the treadmill with some notes to study. I found I can't study while running, but I can while walking, so I mix it up, adding some hills (inclines) to the workout, too. I've almost got the tech-stuff down entirely, so I guess my brain has a bit of flexibility left in it!

I've got some reading to do, then it's off to the laundromat to dry my clothes (my dryer plug does not work in this old house).

But, first, I really liked a story in my devotional this morning. It was about Paganini. He walked in front of an audience and realized he didn't have his own violin. Thinking there was a mix-up, he went backstage to find his own violin but found it had been stolen. He returned to stage and said that he would show the audience that music was not about the instrument itself--he would show them the soul of music, and he played his heart out to wild appreciation from the audience.

Then these words followed: "It is your mission, tested and tried one, to walk out on the stage of this world and reveal to all earth and Heaven that the music is not in conditions, not in the things, not in externals, but the music of your life is in your own soul."

Love that!

Have a lovely Wednesday.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Second Sunday Post--Miso Soup. . .

This one's for you, Kate.

The other night I was hungry but I didn't have a lot of time to cook, so I made miso soup. Miso soup can be as basic as heating 1 c. of water, pouring it into a mug, and stirring in 1 t. of miso until it is completely blended into the water. The broth is simply drunk from the mug and is a common, comforting, and nourishing way of enjoying miso soup. And there are all kinds of ways you can go from there to make the soup more complex. I'm sure recipes abound online.

There are several colors of miso, starting with white, which is the sweetest and mellowest type, ranging to dark brown, which has a much stronger taste. I've used them all. Currently I have white miso in my fridge. I actually make two miso spreads (one with tahini and one with almond butter) for toast or crackers, too.

When using miso, it's important not to stir it into broth or soup that is very hot because miso is full of beneficial live cultures (I'm sure you know this) that are killed by heat.

The miso soup I made recently was really basic. I heated what was probably about 3 c. of water, dropped in a Rapunzel brand natural vegetable broth cube and stirred to dissolve it. Then I added a big handful or two of chopped cabbage, a sliced carrot, and a sliced 1/2-onion and cooked the vegetables until they were tender. I removed this from the heat and squirted in some lemon juice and maybe some nama shoyu. Then, when the soup had cooled just a bit, I stirred in about 3 barely heaping teaspoons of miso until it was dissolved. That's it. And it was delicious.

In the journal where I keep my made-up recipes, I wrote down instructions for a similar, but slightly more complex, miso soup that I made about 2 years ago. It was the recipe for the exact soup that is pictured in the photo above (taken from my Gathering Up My Comforts blog). That recipe is below. If you can't read my writing after clicking on the photo, just ask, and I am certainly quite willing to type it out! :-)

Autumn Sunday Notes and a Recipe. . .

Last night’s tasty, healthy, easy dinner:
Tempeh with Veggies, Mixed Rice, and Peanut Sauce.
It also happens to be vegan.
From my brown recipe notebook.

This morning I was up early-ish, but not as early as I like to rise. I drank a glass of water, counted my many blessings, and plopped on the living room floor for some quiet time. I really like sitting on the floor, so I am loving having this new, cushy rug. And my low-slung, antique tea table is perfect for this because when I sit in front of it, it’s the same height as when I sit on a chair at a regular table.

After quiet time, I hopped onto the treadmill. Yes, the treadmill. I adopted it from Aaron yesterday, who wanted it out of his apartment. We brought it here last evening, and then I made the dinner pictured above (the recipe will be at the end of this post; and, by the way, Kate, if you see this, I haven't forgotten the miso soup--I'll add that later today). After eating and cleaning up my mess, I spent the evening puttering around while listening to the Oregon Ducks football game. (Go Ducks! Yay Ducks!)

Oh, but I was talking about the treadmill. Since my fall term schedule is not going to allow me to easily go for a walk during the day, the treadmill might come in handy. Problem is, being on that thing is painfully boring. It’s sort of frustrating to walk and walk and walk and never get anywhere or see anything new! Just the same old walls, and they never get even an inch closer.

So, I am going to attempt to take up jogging again to shorten the amount of time I need to be on that machine. I commenced this morning, and forced myself to jog slowly and stop early in order to fend off feelings of spite for the treadmill and for jogging. I’ll just take my time and build slowly because what’s the hurry?! And we’ll see how it goes. I’m thankful to have a way to move (besides the aerobic routine I do two or three times a week in my living room), but I’ve got to figure out something to do while I’m on the treadmill besides watching the numbers change on the dashboard (or whatever it is called) because that is not exactly inspiring or motivation-building.

Anyway, after drinking my post-treadmill-workout green smoothie and taking a shower, it was off to church. I picked up Aaron, and as we walked down the sidewalk together to the entryway, we were both struck with a happy feeling of autumn. The sky was grey, and a blustery breeze picked up the earliest falling leaves of the season to send them dancing and skittering in the air and along the ground. I got so caught up in the feeling that I wanted to join the leaves! (When my sister came into church, she exclaimed about the nice fall feeling outside, too.)

Church was wonderful today, as usual. And I saw my friend Sue, who said she has been reading my blog, so if you see this, Sue—Hello to you! :-)

My niece and nephew came home with me after church because their mom, brother, sister, and a friend were going to nearby stores and would stop by here to pick the kids up when they finished shopping. I didn’t have much to offer my niece and nephew to eat but a banana. Then I popped the few kernels of popcorn that were left in the jar (must buy more today), and it made enough for a little snack, and that was good enough! (You’ve gotta have some kind of snack to eat when kids are over, you know!)

Soon, the shoppers arrived, and for just a little while, my house was full of people and buzzing chatter. It’s always so nice to have friends and family come by. A home is made for people.

And now it is quiet again, and I’m finishing my cup of coffee. The wind has picked up, and rain has begun to pour. It feels cozy in the house, and Sunday is a good day for being inside and feeling cozy.

I hope your day is as pleasant as mine.

And now, the recipe:

This is really quick and easy to make if you have pre-cooked rice and peanut sauce on hand. If not, it takes 50 minutes to cook whole grain rice and just a few to mix the peanut sauce.

Here are the amounts I used and how I cooked the dish. This made around 3 servings. I would have used more veggies but I’m cutting back to save money, and I can do this for some meals because I get plenty of vegetables over the course of the day:

~1/3 c. red bell pepper, chopped
~½ large head baby bok choy, leaves separated from stem; leaves julienned and stems chopped
~2 shallots, thinly sliced (1/2 medium yellow onion would work)
~1 medium to large carrot, grated
~6-8 oz. tempeh, cut into bite-sized pieces
~1 ½ c. cooked rice (I used a combination of short grain brown rice and black Chinese Forbidden rice
~peanut sauce (recipe follows)

Peanut sauce (use your favorite; mine is a bit tangy because I like it that way; amounts are approximate—I don’t measure): Thoroughly mix 1/3 c. peanut butter, 2-3 T. rice vinegar, 1-2 t garlic-chile sauce, juice of ½ lime, 2 minced cloves garlic, 1 t. toasted sesame oil (or so), 1-2 T maple or agave, 1-2 T. shoyu.

Saute tempeh over medium heat in a neutral tasting oil, browning first one side and then the other, til golden. Salt lightly and remove from heat.

Now add more oil, if needed, and sauté all of the vegetables at once (minus the bok choy leaves) until crisp-tender. When the vegetables are ready, lightly salt them, and then add the bok choy leaves until they begin to wilt. Now add the tempeh, and heat through.) Toss in the cooked rice and, again, fry, stirring, til heated through. Stir in the peanut sauce until it is warmed and the dish is nicely mixed. Serve.

Bon (healthy) appétit!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Five Things for Saturday. . .

~Right now I’m sipping away at a really, really fine cup of coffee. And this coffee is truly (and literally) a gift! (Thank you to you-who-knows-who-I-mean!) The sun shines and the air is lovely warm, so today’s coffee is happy-coffee rather than cozy-coffee (cozy is what coffee is in early dark morning or when it rains; there’s also meditative-coffee for morning quiet time; and there’s convivial-coffee for drinking with scones and conversation when family gathers). I’ve been out and about town this morning and have conquered a chunk of items on my list. Are you like me? Does it feel really good to cross items off the list or put a check mark in the box beside it? I happen to like making little boxes next to each item on my list and making that satisfying little checkmark.

~I’m really liking my routine of getting up early (usually at or before 6 a.m.), taking some deep breaths and drinking a glass of water (often with lemon juice), opening blinds and windows, sitting on a floor pillow on my living room rug for quiet time, standing up to stretch and move, turning on the music and exercising, making myself a green smoothie, taking a shower, and getting started with my day. (Whew, that was a mouthful.) Until Monday, there’s no real pattern to my day—just bopping through my to-do list, which can be a really pleasant thing if I want it to. It always feels really good to accomplish a lot during a day if I do it with a smile on my face, remember to enjoy all of the people I encounter, and determine not to rush or press through the list just to “get it over with.” We might as well make the effort to relax and enjoy each thing we do, right?

~I have to say, where is my mind? Really. I have that long to-do list for today that I mentioned, but nothing on it is time-consuming or difficult, so it shouldn’t be too tough to accomplish enough of it if I set my mind to it and move along methodically. Problem #1: I am not particularly methodical. Problem #2: It’s me we’re talking about. Problem #3: When I drove away to tackle part of my list, I left my mind at home, in addition to a few other things. After hitting every stop light just as it turned red (there are few things more satisfying than hitting green lights all the way to a destination!) on the way to the university and finally parking my car near the bookstore, I realized I hadn’t brought my student ID with me, and not sure whether or not I would need it, I headed back home. I ran into the house, grabbed my wallet, drove back to the bookstore area, and started looking for a parking spot, when I remembered, “Oh, dang! I took my parking meter quarters out of my bag yesterday!” (Why? I do not know!) So, I parked in the closest non-pay parking spot I could find, which was, of course, a long way from where I was going. I walked into the used bookstore that is a block away from the university bookstore to see if I could buy my course-books there, when I suddenly remembered, “Dang! I left my glasses in the car!” Not wanting to walk all the way to the car and back, I asked an able-bodied bookstore worker to help me because “I can’t read a word without my glasses.” She was cheerfully willing and truly helpful, but I couldn’t get what I needed there, so I went to the university store where an equally cheerfully helper took my list and handed me the books I will be using this term. I walked out into the sunshine with a bag of reaalllly expensive books, thinking how nice people are, and headed back to the car. Parking far away turned out to be actually sort of nice because it was just so perfect and lovely outside that the walk was enjoyable.

Unfortunately, not a great photo.

~You want to know the cookbooks I’ve been looking at most in recent days, don’t you? Well, here they are, from top down. Elizabeth David’s book contains three of her classics in one volume. She was a master cookery writer from England, and this book is literary and enjoyable! It offers a true understanding of food and cooking from cultures around the Mediterranean.

Culinary Artistry is super-nice to have on hand for someone who loves to cook and improvise and make up their own dishes. The book alphabetically arranges most foods that are commonly used in cooking and offers a list of the ingredients that match well with that item. It’s a great resource! I use it all the time.

Vegan Soul Kitchen is an excellent book. The food is delicious, nutritious, and straightforward. Nothing elaborate or complicated here—it’s just good, down-to-earth, healthy cooking.

Super Natural Every Day is a book I don’t use all that often, but everything I’ve made from it has been right up my alley, taste-wise, so I will probably find more and more recipes from this book that become staples in my kitchen.

I think The Food of Spain by Claudia Roden is a masterpiece. I love Claudia’s books for the excellent writing and delicious recipes. She makes me want to cook everything in them and immerse myself in the culture she writes about.

And at the bottom of the pile, see that attractive, thin brown journal? That’s my recipe book. It’s a collection of things I’ve made often from the books of others, but, mostly, it’s stuff I’ve created myself and liked. So, there you have it (and I had the gall to include myself with these other masters of cooking)!

~Three colorful things I like in my kitchen. Vintage potholders, handmade cloth napkins, and vintage dish towels (which are not pictured). I use all of these daily. The potholders are cute, have character and history, and work great. The napkins were made for me by my daughter Michelle as a Christmas gift one year—they are my everyday napkins. Love them! I also love the towels and thought I had a picture of them, but I can’t find it. The towels are kitschy, colorful, fun, souvenir or calendar towels, all made of linen, and they work much better than the cotton towels I used before. 

Well, now both the French press and my mug are empty, so it’s time to move along to the next thing. Have a happy Saturday

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hanging on to God in the Dark. . .

One day last spring, I sat in a college classroom chatting with a fellow student while we waited for class to begin. We’d gotten to know each other over the course of the term, and for some reason she really took to me and began to tell me about her life. On this day, she told me about being diagnosed with cancer a few years earlier and how it plunged her into depression. She said that something really good came out of it, though:

“It finally did away with the last vestiges of the Christian faith I was raised in. I came out of that cancer battle knowing that either God didn’t exist or that He didn’t care about me because I was alone in my suffering! I got through that time, and I learned that I didn’t need that crutch of religion. That I am a strong person who can fight her own battles. It made me free from the oppression of religion, and that is a wonderful thing.”

As she spoke, I knew I would respond, but I wasn’t sure how. I wasn’t about to begin a discussion of apologetics and defend my faith! It seemed silly and unloving to do so when she was sharing her honest heart, and I don’t know how to do that anyway. I wanted to speak to her honestly, in love, of God’s goodness and the reality of His existence. But the teacher was setting up for class, which was scheduled to begin right then, so I didn’t have much time. I was aware that others around us were listening, which meant I was essentially responding to them, too.

All I had time to say (generally, because I can’t remember the exact words) was, “Oh, that’s really interesting because my experience was exactly the opposite! I’ve been through some very painful trials and have suffered hard losses, and while there were certainly some dark, difficult times when I couldn’t sense anything of God and I sometimes had questions and doubts about Him, ultimately, I believed He was there. And as I held on to Him, light eventually came again, and it came brighter than ever. By hanging on to my belief in God through those times, my faith was strengthened. Like you, I was changed by my suffering, but in exactly the opposite way. I became more certain than ever that God is real and loving and good.”

“And,” I whispered, smiling, as the teacher called us to attention, “I’m really happy you don’t have cancer anymore!”

“Wow,” she whispered back. “The contrast of our stories is so interesting.”

We never talked about it again. I could go on about whether or not she ever did really have faith or know the Lord, but that’s really beside the point of what I want to say this morning (and beside the point of anything, really). I got to thinking about faith and trials and darkness when I cheated by reading ahead in my devotional this morning. For tomorrow’s portion, there is a passage by C.H. Spurgeon that says:

“Our faith is the center of the target at which God doth shoot when He tries us; and if any other grace shall escape untried, certainly faith shall not. There is no way of piercing faith to its very marrow like the sticking of the arrow of desertion into it; this finds it out whether it be of the immortals or no. Strip it of its armor of conscious enjoyment, and suffer the terrors of the Lord to set themselves in array against it; and that is faith indeed which can escape unhurt from the midst of the attack. Faith must be tried, and seeming desertion is the furnace, heated seven times, into which it might be thrust. Blest the man who can endure the trial.”

Before going further, I need to respond to that last sentence, “Blest be the man who can endure the trial.” I’ve been through some tough things, but others have suffered much, much more. God knows what we can bear, but He doesn’t leave us alone to bear it. What He really knows is where our faith will break, where we will stop clinging to Him and flee. He is willing and able to get us through anything, but He stops where our faith will fail. We are stretched, but He will not allow the one who looks to Him to be overcome. And the enduring? It comes from Him. It’s not about our own resolve but about the faith He gives us. He will give it to us in abundant measure, but we seem to need to be stretched for it to grow.

Our trials prove whether or not our faith is real. And, for the one who never really did know God, this ends up being something of a gift because it takes away the pretense of faith or the rickety props of mere religion. It strips us of all that (frees us!) so that we are now wide open, unhindered by our religious notions, to seeing who God really is. So I think my classmate was right. She was freed. It was a gift. And I hope that now she’ll find the God who loves her enough to die for her—the one who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And means it.

But I said I wasn’t going to get into that. I don’t know if I would have thought to have related the story of the woman in my class had I not run across some loose papers in a box yesterday bearing some quickly, very messily, scribbled thoughts of mine that coincided with today’s devotional and reminded me of my classroom conversation.

The papers told part of the story of my struggle to hang on when God seemed far away in the midst of my struggles. I want to share those jottings here because we all go through dark times (if you haven’t yet, you will), and we all have our faith stretched and tested, so that, as the Bible says, it can be proved genuine. Have you had times when you doubted or wondered if God was real or if He cared about you? Did you wonder if He really was in control, or if He was powerless to do anything about your situation? Have you doubted He was listening? I have.

Here’s what I wrote. It starts sort of abruptly and reads somewhat stilted throughout because I didn’t initially write this to share with anyone, and I want to leave it unedited:

When the battle begins, I am ready for it. I think I’m surrendered. I proclaim high ideals and trust. And I humbly mean it. I know that my hope is in Him.

And the war comes. And I pray. And I feel so buoyed and strengthened. I praise God. I am hopeful. I know He is victor!

And the fight continues, day after endless day. My feelings of conviction do not strengthen me anymore. I face the hard fact of battle. It is relentless. And God does not keep me floating victoriously above it. I’m in it. He’s there, too, but this is not so easy anymore.

And the battle, the struggle, goes on and on and on. And I become weary, begin to doubt. Where is the victory? Where is the glory? Where is God’s honor? Why do I hurt so?

And the battle goes on. Relentless. Hard. And I grow even more weary. Faith is tested. High spiritual ideals are smashed. All of my “readiness” is long worn away.

Now I am at the bottom. There is no end to this. This is not fun. It is not easy. I do not feel in any way strong, ready, or victorious. I have no battle charge left in me. I do not know what God is doing, and it does not seem to matter.

A choice: Will I trust Him? Will I walk on, believing that, in spite of all appearances, all lack of apparent victory, with no feeling whatsoever of battle-readiness or even battle-willingness, He is God? Even further, do I believe in Him at all? Is He really there? Is He paying attention? Does He care? Does He love? Is He really Sovereign? Even in my situation?

What if it never gets easier? What if this is the 100-year-war—a big one? A hard one? And there are 40 years left of my life? Am I willing? Do I believe? Is there any beauty? Love? Goodness?

Can I have joy in the midst of the war? Victory over my self? Will God do that? Can He develop my faith? Can He give me joy and strength?


From the humbled state where all is gone and my faith shakes, when I am reduced to doubt and questions once again, He strengthens and encourages, but it’s not once for all. It’s day by day, minute by minute. . . that’s how He works.

Psalms and coffee. (Dorothy Day: "My strength returns to me with my morning cup of coffee and reading the psalms.”) No joke. My strength returns. Without it, I’m empty. Discouraged. Battle-weary. Unable to fight. Unwilling. Apathetic.

Daily He arms me with strength. Daily, it is Him.

I thank Him for the struggle. I thank Him for the low place. I think I can’t bear more, but I trust Him. Either He is who He says He is, or He isn’t. I will believe Him, and I will trust Him to help me in my unbelief.

It’s all about Him. There is no fight for this battle left in me. No battle-charge. Just a willingness to walk straight into it every day, trusting in His love and goodness. And I can’t even be willing without His help.

Lord, help me!

: : : : :

And here I am now, probably a year and a half or so after I wrote those words, still on a path that is not always easy, that hurts often, that is somewhat lonely at times, and I still sometimes find myself in the dark, but I am also deeply and richly blessed. I have so much! And God has proved Himself to me again and again. Many, many times He has given me an especial, overwhelmingly sweet sense of His love and nearness. This is a gift that is given in the dark.

God is faithful, and He does love us. Amy Carmichael once wrote that God entrusts us with the unexplained. Faith keeps going. Don’t give up. Look to Him! He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.

I wish I could make everyone know, make everyone believe. But all I can do is say is what the Bible says, and what I know to be true--that He is there, and He loves you, even in the long, silent dark.

Blessings to you today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"My main and constant feeling is that of life.
It is quite difficult to express it in words.
Maybe the closest to that feeling is the word wonder,
the perception of each moment,
each situation as a gift (rather than obvious, evident).
Everything is always new, everything is not simply life,
but encounter with life, and thus a revelation."

~Alexander Schmemann
from The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann

: : : : :

wherelings whenlings,
(daughters of ifbut offsprings of hopefear
sons of unless and children of almost)
never shall guess the dimension of
him whose
foot likes the
here of this earth
whose both
this now of the sky.

~e.e. cummings

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Want Creative Kids? Leave 'Em Alone. . .

Oops. I got sidetracked from what I meant to post today by an article I came across last evening. This is just a bit of opinionatedness coming out, and you are welcome to disagree with me. :-) I suppose all you really need is the title of the post, but here's more, if you're interested:

Take children from their natural "work" of self-directed play and exploration; sit them in a chair and confine them to about four square feet of personal space for much of the day (during the most important developmental years of their lives); ask them not to speak unless they raise their hands and are granted permission; insist that they keep their minds solely and fully on the task that has been assigned to them; teach them always to color within the lines, and correct them that the sky is blue when they veer from this truth; tell them there is one right way to solve a problem and reward them with superlatives and gold stars when they find it; tell them where to sit, where to stand, when to use the bathroom, when to speak, when and where and how to play, and so on and so forth.

Do this, and we will certainly greatly hinder the innate creativity of the children in our care. We may even succeed in suppressing or killing it entirely.

And having achieved this, but never supposing that the loss of creativity has anything to do with children being schooled, we innocently and earnestly scratch our heads and wonder why they have become increasingly less creative as they’ve grown older.

We are astute enough to recognize that creativity is important—that this is what sparks invention, great art, literature, and music, and all kinds of beauty and innovation, as well as an ability to think well and solve challenging problems—so, we put our best adult educational minds together to imagine and devise ways to help our children develop the important skill of creativity.

We study it, analyze it, dissect it, ask how our great thinkers, inventors, creators, and leaders thought and worked, and then we develop exercises that will nudge (or require) our school children to begin to think like those creative minds. We write curricula and develop programs, and--voila!--we have very poorly, ineffectively, and likely incorrectly, attempted to capture what would have been natural had we left children alone.

Children are innately creative. Really, in light of the fact that we are made in the image of our Creator, is this any wonder? We are made to think and act creatively.

Children easily and naturally develop creativity through self-directed play. Children choose to play only at what is interesting to them, and we all know that when something interests us, we are able to apply a great deal of focus and energy to that endeavor. As they play, children solve problems and set challenges for themselves at the perfect level of difficulty. They like to stretch and reach (they are bored otherwise), but the goals they set are also attainable (if they are too difficult, children will simply reset them without grading themselves or feeling like they have failed). Upon success, after a sufficient amount of “practice” at that level, children set the bar higher. Then higher. And higher. And all along, they think critically and trouble-shoot creatively. They develop ideas and new ways of doing things. They think “out of the box” (to use a bit of jargon).They are intensely focused, they are highly motivated, they are having fun, and they are highly successful.

During play, children also learn naturally to appreciate beauty. Their senses are attuned to the world around them—to the wonders of nature, to the strains of a lovely composition in the background, to what is beautiful, interesting, or appealing. They soak it in subtly and constantly and gain a deep appreciation for what is lovely. They begin to develop tastes and preferences that are all their own, and they apply this sensibility to everything they consider and do.

Children behave in play the way we only dream they will behave in school.

All you have to do is look up “play and creativity” on Google or Google Scholar to see that research shows the two to be powerfully linked. But when scholars and educators realize that play is an important key to the development of creativity, they don’t think, “Oh, that’s easy. We’ll let the kids play, just like they did from the minute they were born.” Instead, we say to these school children, “Quit playing around and get back to work!” And, as we speak the words, we are devising strategies to make school more playful and spending huge sums of money on programs that will incorporate (teacher-guided) play into lessons.

Does this strike anyone else as ludicrous? How about this innovative idea instead: Just let kids play. Let them at it! And stay out of it.

When looking up a certain book on the internet last night, I ran across some ideas about creativity that seemed to be presented as eye-opening. I scanned the article for its supposed new insight, but all I found was what parents of kids who spend long hours at unstructured, self-guided play already know. Each of these suggestions seems obvious because they occur naturally within true play, especially in a home environment that is established to encourage play and learning.

In this home atmosphere it doesn’t even occur to us to tell kids to do something creative (as the “Forget Brainstorming” article—linked above—warns against doing) because, when they play, they already are. Likewise, we don’t need to tell them (or lure them) to get moving because, again, they already are. We don’t need to encourage them to take breaks or switch things up because this is how kids roll when they play. All of this research is innate to them. We don’t need to worry about reducing screen time because it has already made sense to us that screen time keeps our kids from many good things, so we’ve addressed that. The part about exploring other cultures? Well, what did creative people do before they could watch a documentary on China? As long as our kids are around a variety of interesting, diverse people and we are listening to their stories and learning about them, I don’t think we need to overstress this. Follow a passion? Well, isn’t that what kids do when they play? And never fear! The interests and passions of childhood become more sophisticated (and look more scholarly) as kids grow older. Ditch the suggestion box? Yeah, well, we never had one of those, either.

You know me. I’m a mostly unschoolish type, so it probably seems natural for me to say “just let a child play and everything will fall into place.” I do think play is powerful, but I don’t think play alone will make everything come together for education or life. (Again, it’s about that atmosphere, and play is part of that—a big part.) I’m also not saying that a child shouldn’t learn to listen well, sit still, pay attention, focus on the task at hand, and finish the work he is given, but a schoolish structure should not overwhelmingly dominate his time. I don’t know about you, but if I were to err, I would err on the side of allowing too much free time because I found that when my kids were deeply engaged in life and play, free time became very serious, creative, and (I cringe to say it) productive, “work.”  

Creativity demands time and freedom for a person to play in his own way, from early childhood all the way into old age. I believe that true play is good work, and the development of creativity arises from this.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Late-Afternoon Improvised Daybook. . .

What I've Been Doing. . .

Lissy enjoying NC Wyeth's art at Portland Art Museum.

I’ve been to Portland to visit the members of my family who live up there—Aimee and Josiah and their sweet little girl and Melissa. Melissa and I went to the Portland Art Museum together. She was tickled to see an NC Wyeth illustration (The Great Train Robbery) because Wyeth is one of her favorite illustrators (possibly the favorite?). I own a book with the collected correspondence (maybe just with his extended family) of NC Wyeth, which I love to read. This is the book where I got one of my favorite “kindred spirit” quotes: “Canned life is not agreeable to me.” Yep, I’m with you there, NC!

Franciscan Monk in the Garden of Gethsemane.
John Singer Sargent

 We all agree that this William Bouguereau portrait subject
looks like a cross between little Liya and Michelle!

Seeing a painting in real life, as you know, is so much more striking and wonderful than seeing even an excellent print of it, so we stood and looked over Wyeth’s oil painting for a long time. Another one we both loved was John Singer Sargent’s Franciscan Monk in the Garden of Gethsemane.

On the way back home, Aaron and I stopped off to see Michelle and her three little ones and were greeted with squeals and hugs, which is always nice. The kids showed us all of the things they’ve been doing and pulled out their favorite books for us to read together. Roman showed us the little “mounting board” (a piece of cardboard) where he has been pinning the insects he collects. I love to see this kind of thing! Michelle was busy with her usual projects. She is one of those people who gets things done! Very creative, artistic, and undaunted by any challenge that presents itself. I love to see what she’s been up to when I visit. Today she had the bookcase she built several years ago lying on its back on the floor. She was removing molding so she can replace it with something that looks more substantial. I’m sure it will be wonderful when she's through with it.

Fading flowers, but they still looked sweet on the kitchen window
sill when I walked in the house today.

I arrived back here early this afternoon, and when I came into the house, I realized that this place really and truly, finally, feels entirely like Home. I stepped in the door, took a deep breath, and smiled, “Ahhhh. . .” as I walked through the house, dropping bags and suitcases in whichever rooms  they belonged. I lifted blinds and opened windows to let in today’s really nice fall breeze, admired the feeling early autumn light brings into the house, turned on some music, and enjoyed being back home. The house felt bright and cheerful.

Outside. . .

Breezy, warm weather. Dry  leaves are sprinkled across the front lawn. The large maple in the front yard hasn’t changed much, but the green of the leaves isn’t as vibrant and fresh as it once was, and the leaves almost make a crinkling noise as they rub together in the wind.  It has been wet and drizzly in Portland the last few days, and I assume it was the same here, but today cleared up entirely to welcome blue, sunny skies. On the drive home, I spotted a flock of geese flying overhead in their migratory v-formation. I wonder if they’ll stop by the area where I used to live? It is a magnificent place to live for birdwatchers.

 In the Kitchen. . .
 Stray tomatoes on the kitchen counter this afternoon.

In Portland, Aimee—my vegan daughter—oversaw all food and cooking, and the girl can cook! She’s also extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and makes sure she gets everything she needs from her diet. I love eating Aimee’s food! We went to our favorite food cart, Native Bowl, while we were in Portland, and we all had the Alberta Bowl with, as the menu description says, “ grilled tofu (amazingly tasty!), house-made fire breathing dragon sauce (with sesame and sriracha!), jasmine rice, shredded cabbage, carrots, and scallions.”

All I’ve eaten here at home today, so far, has been popcorn! I make popcorn three or four times a week. I always pop it in coconut oil and then toss it with salt and nutritional yeast. At first I wasn’t sure I liked the nutritional yeast on the popcorn, but now I don’t like eating popcorn without it. The taste really grew on me, and Aaron said the same thing happened to him.

Reading. . .

I lounged around for awhile perusing old magazines.

Not much because who wants to read when visiting family (especially when there’s a cute little grandbaby around)?! But I did read Palace Walk every evening. I’m moving slowly, but steadily, through the book. I sort of regret mentioning it here, though, because I’m afraid it could be offensive to a lot of people. I don’t know if this falls in the category of reading, but I picked up a few vintage Better Homes and Gardens magazines to browse this afternoon. Reading through these is quite entertaining because household and cooking tips seem so obvious, silly, or dated, and in the case of the recipes, often extremely unappealing.

In one of the magazines, I casually glanced at an ad of a college girl in her dorm room who was holding something small in her hands, up near her face, and my immediate thought was that she was texting someone. But I immediately laughed because I knew that this was impossible—when the magazine was published, in 1957, there was no such thing as a cell phone. The girl was actually reading a little book, I think, and what a novel idea! This made me realize, once again, that being alone or having quiet times in our days are no longer givens. Solitude is now something we must carve out, make room for, insist upon. What a loss.

A Few Plans for the Week. . .

To finish cleaning and organizing the house before classes start next week. I need to buy my books, figure out the location of my classes, make sure my financial aid is in order, buy some supplies, get that bus sticker I keep meaning to get, check out a (free!) bike on campus for use during the school year, and a few other things.

I need to think forward to the holidays and make some plans because I need to start now if I’m going to get Christmas gifts done.

I also want to measure some unframed prints, pictures, and artwork and start looking at Goodwill for an eclectic collection of frames. I figure this is a good way to go since I can’t afford to have anything framed professionally, and I can’t afford new frames, either. There are plenty of interesting, vintage and modern, frames to choose from at Goodwill if I will just bother to take the time to look for them. I have some of my kids’ artwork to frame and some other things that have never been hung.

And I need to get my food plan set so that I can eat well during fall term.

I’m also intending to enjoy this fall weather! I pointed out to Aaron the formation of geese I saw while driving this morning, and I said that it is a crime not to pay attention to the seasons. There’s so much to see and notice, and it’s all lovely and interesting! There are deep spiritual lessons in the seasons, too, if we are paying attention.

This afternoon I am thankful to God for a safe trip; for truly wonderful, funny, interesting, smart, kind, generous children and grandchildren; for a car; for food on my table; for natural light; for friends who make my day when I open my mailbox; for so much love in my life; and for peace and joy.

I am a blessed woman.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Few Things. . .

Late summer fruit--peaches. These weren't as good
as recent peaches (the season ran late here), so I think
the last tasty peach has been eaten. Sad.

Oh, my. The second half of my speaking notes about "margin" are a mess. When I first ran across them, I only skimmed over the notes to get the gist of what I wrote, and I expected them to be clean-ish like the first half, but instead, they are a loose collection of quotes and jottings and too much repetition. I certainly hope that when I spoke at that brunch I was able to clean it all up and make sense of the topic!

I spent some time last night trying to put these too-messy-to-post notes into prose, and I made good progress (I'm nearing the end) but didn't finish. I don't have time to do so this morning, either, because I'm getting ready to head out of town for a few days to see my girls. There will be wi-fi at their house, and, depending on what everyone is doing, I might have a bit of time to post a thing or two (including the notes I'm trying to finish). If not, I'll get them done as soon as I return home.

At any rate, I can't wait to see my girls and do some things around town with them.

I've stayed home for the last three days to take care of some paperwork and get ready to start fall term classes. I've also been gradually gearing my life and home toward the autumn and winter seasons, not consciously, but naturally. For instance, it seemed natural on a recent cool evening to braise cabbage until meltingly tender and eat it with garlicky-lemony mashed sweet potatoes. Definitely delicious, and definitely not summer food. And when I was reading in the living room one evening, I got chilly, and since it's too early in the year to turn on heat, I brought out an afghan to wrap around me. Since I'll likely need the afghan again soon, it made sense to leave it on the couch.

As the seasons shift places, morning light in the house has gradually taken on a new feel. It is warmer, more mellow, and more fleeting. It's a cozy light that makes me want to bake something!

That is one cozy rug!
I snapped the photo when lighting was bad,
but click if you want to see better.
You can see my mess from typing my "margin" notes
on the computer table. And my coffee!
And a dish towel on the back of the chair. (?)

When I moved into this house in early May, these wood floors were cold! I didn't even like to come into the living room then, and since I don't want to spend this coming winter entirely in the kitchen, I've been looking for a really-inexpensive rug. I was hoping to find a sort of plush, light-colored shag. Normally I wouldn't go with a light color but this room is dark, and winter sunlight only touches the very edge of the room for mere minutes in early morning, so the room can use any brightness I can give it. I wanted a rug I could sit on and that my grandkids could play on when they come. So, I was happy when I found this fairly plush, cozy rug for an affordable (super cheap!) price.

Early in the summer, I began reading a book Aaron gave me for Christmas, but I didn't finish it. I've picked up Palace Walk again and am moving along in it really well now. The author won a Nobel prize for this book and the sequels that follow (written in the 1940's, I think). The book wonderfully evokes the atmosphere of its Egyptian setting and powerfully portrays the oppression of women in that religious culture. I love reading fiction, but I don't do enough of it, in spite of the strong encouragement from my son to do so (he thinks fiction is "truer" than non-fiction). :-)

And now I'm going to pack my things and get ready to leave. More soon!

(Hey! Does a new thing happen when you click on photos? It does when I click--it kind of opens up on its own, grey, transparent overlay--and I love how it looks.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I'm Thankful Today. . .

 Little Missy on the beach. The coast weather was perfect.
A few more photos are below, mostly of the kids.
I shot just a few, and most of them didn't work.

1. For a wonderful,  large, extended family who knows how to throw a really fun, relaxed party. And grills the best steak and just-caught salmon ever. And makes the "best crab cakes in the world" from just-caught crab (that would be Kim and me--the famous, super-popular tandem team of crab cake-makers). And knows how to relax and enjoy one another. All of this to celebrate a wonderful mother, but it was for each other, too.

2. For a quiet, peaceful home to come back to. Because I was ready for quiet. And it is peaceful here.

3. For a super-comfortable, cozy bed to lie in next to an open window that let in fresh, cool air on a morning when I felt dizzy and headachy and "off."

4. For a stack of good books to read while lying in bed. And I read for hours.

5. For the wonder of a perfectly ripe, so-delicious peach for breakfast. Oh, I love to eat food when it is in season! It makes cooking and eating fun.

6. That after three hours of frustrating attempts to rearrange my fall term schedule, it finally makes sense, and every credit hour now helps to fill a gap in my transcript. Yay!

7. For being part of a lovely group who celebrated the 50th birthday of a friend at a local restaurant. Three hours of delicious food (free! supplied by the husband of the birthday girl), laughter, and light-hearted conversation.

8. For this morning's toast with truly delicious blackberry jelly made this summer by my friend, Laurie. And for the peach jam (my favorite) that was put in the same gift bag with other fun kitchen items!

9. For flowers in vases that brighten the house with autumn color. Cool days portend the coming season and stir up thoughts of cheddar chowder and chocolate chip pumpkin muffins after a late-afternoon fall-leaf walk in crisp, breezy air (I will make this scenario happen, with others, if at all possible).

10. For my years-long (13?) email correspondence with my friend Laura, who is no longer Laura from Manhattan but is now Laura from Torino, Italy. Today I ran across files and files of looonnnnng, printed emails that went back and forth between us about books and home and family and food and cooking and nature and learning and spirituality and simplicity and prayer and everything that I've written about on any of my blogs. Laura is a kindred spirit, extremely intelligent and thoughtful, a deeply caring person, and a wonderful friend. I'm thankful to know her and her family.

Kelp battle between cousins.

Always looking for bugs.

Caught one!

Gone fishin'.

 Gone swingin'.
And loved it. 

Margin and Living Gracefully. . .

I've been sorting through papers again today (determined to finish this job before school starts a week from this coming Monday), and I ran across some notes I wrote for a talk I gave at a woman's brunch way back in 2005. The pastor's wife who invited me to speak asked me to talk about the importance of living with margin in our lives, so I did. As I read through these notes, I realize how quickly things continue to change, and while I may have worded my notes differently if I were writing them for this blog, I'll leave them intact (here and there, I did add a few words and sentences to this).

Because I think the message remains important, I'm going to post it as a reflection of my value system, which remains unchanged from when I put these notes together. I love Gift from the Sea, and I believe Anne's words in that book retain their power if we will heed them.

Because it's long, this is divided in half. I'll put up part two tomorrow, and that section could be called "Artfully Decluttering Life." :-)

Feel free to speak up and differ with me in comments! (I hope I didn't post this on my HDH blog! But, if so, it's just a visit to the archives!)

* * * * *

In her book Gift from the Sea Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes of her desire to live a life of integrity, of loving her family well, and of carrying out her obligations to man and the world as a woman, an artist, and a citizen:

 I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow from the language of the saints—to live ‘in grace’ as much of the time as possible. . .

I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from Phaedrus when he said ‘May the outward and inward man be at one.’ I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.

I mean to lead a simple life, to choose a simple shell I can carry easily—like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that my frame of life does not foster simplicity. My husband and five children must make their way in the world. The life I have chosen as a wife and mother entertains a whole caravan of complications. It involves a house in the suburbs and either household drudgery or household help which wavers between scarcity and non-existence for most of us. It involves food and shelter, meals, planning, marketing, bills, and making the ends meet in a thousand ways. It involves not only the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, but countless other experts to keep my modern house with its modern ‘simplifications’ (electricity, plumbing, refrigerator, gas-stove, oil-burner, dish-washer, radios, car, and numerous other labor-saving devices) functioning properly. It involves health, doctors, dentists, appointments, medicine, cod-liver oil, vitamins, trips to the drugstore. It involves education, spiritual, intellectual, physical, schools, school conferences, car-pools, extra trips for basketball or orchestra practice, tutoring, camps, camp equipment and transportation. It involves clothes, shopping, laundry, cleaning, mending, letting skirts down and sewing buttons on, or finding someone else to do it. It involves friends, my husband’s, my children’s, my own, and endless arrangements to get together, letters, invitations, telephone calls, and transportation hither and yon.

For life today in America is based on the premise of ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family demands, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, through magazines, radio programs, political drives, charitable appeals, and so on. My mind reels with it. What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives. It puts the trapeze artist to shame. Look at us. We run a tight rope daily, balancing piles of books on the head. Baby-carriage, parasol, kitchen chair, still under control. Steady now!

This is not the life of simplicity but the life of multiplicity that the wise men warn us of. It leads not to unification but to fragmentation. It does not bring grace; it destroys the soul.

Wow. Those are strong words. This fragmented life “destroys the soul.” And Lindbergh wrote this in the mid-1950’s. The life she describes almost seems quaint compared to life now, and in ten years, life now might just seem like “the good old days.” Lindbergh didn’t include television in her list, or email, or the internet, or cell phones (whatever is the latest do-it-all iteration of them), or Skype, or fast food, or stores that are open all night, or electronic anything and everything! We are now unable to escape, and we no longer have to wait more than a minute or two for anything! If someone wants us, they can find us. We complain if our fast food takes more than just a few minutes to be rung up and handed to us.

We’re hurrying faster than ever, we have too many choices for everything, emails pile up quickly in our inboxes, our cell phones ring or buzz, and we’re expected to respond instantly no matter where we are or what we are doing. Even at the top of Mt. Everest, it’s possible to conduct business via cell phone.

Our lives are more fragmented now and moving much faster than Lindbergh could have possibly imagined when she wrote Gift From the Sea. Technology has brought us many benefits, but it has also sped up our lives to the point that we can easily lose our bearing. As Christopher Lasch wrote, “The characteristic mood of the times is a baffled sense of drift.”

In 1992, Dr. Richard Swenson—in an attempt to convince people that progress has a threshold and that our “progress” might just be leading us toward an abyss—wrote a book called Margin. Margin, Swenson writes, is “the space between ourselves and our limits” or “the amount allowed beyond which is needed.” Just as a page of a book has margins—blank space around the edges—so we should have margins in all areas of our lives. But instead we often push ourselves clear to the limits, hurrying about, living on the emotional, physical, financial edge, rushing meals and relationships, scheduling too many activities, doing far more than we should be doing and never realizing why we are tired and don’t seem to have time to get the important things done.

I sometimes wonder if we have any idea that we have limits?! Do we feel guilty when stop and truly relax and rest? Are we always thinking in the back of our minds of some pressing thing that needs doing? Do we feel that we can’t or shouldn’t say no if someone needs us? That there’s always someone who needs to be helped or served? Or, perhaps, we like to push ourselves and stay crazy-busy. Maybe we think it’s fun, adventurous, or exciting. Maybe we’re the kind that wants to fill life with all of the living we can because there’s just so much to do and see and enjoy. Maybe we’ve gotten so used to busyness that we feel bored, depressed, guilty, or lazy when we slow down.

But Swenson writes, “We are not infinite. The day does not have more than 24 hours. We do not have an inexhaustible source of human energy. We cannot keep running on empty. Limits are real, and despite what some stoics might think, limits are not even an enemy. Overloading is the enemy.

“Some will respond, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ Can you? Can you really? Can you fly? Can you go six months without eating? Neither can you live a healthy life if chronically overloaded. God did not intend this verse to represent a negation of life-balance. Jesus did not heal all. He did not minister to all. He did not visit all, and He did not teach all. . . It is God the Creator who made limits, and it is the same God who placed them within us for our protection. We exceed our limits at our peril.”

In his book, Dr. Swenson lists and describes specific ways we are overloaded—activities, changes, choices, commitments, competition, debt, decisions, education, expectations, fatigue, hurry, information, media, ministry, noise, people, pollution, possessions, problems, technology, traffic, waste, work. And this was written before the internet and everything instant and electronic. Technology is developing at such a fast rate that what is new now will be outmoded, or even obsolete, in just a few short months.

Our lives are becoming more complex all the time. Technology has changed our world from one that was family-oriented and community-based to one that is globally-oriented. This can seem exciting because it brings so much that is interesting and possible right to our fingertips, but is this healthy? There’s so much information, news, images, and video footage available to us 24 hours a day that we feel directly connected to those who suffer tragedies or disasters like the Asian tsunami or the London bombings. And while it seems important to have access to all of the latest world news so that we can be informed, pray, donate, or help, how much global news and information can we really handle? Might this “connectedness” to the rest of the world undermine our connectedness to our own places—our homes, our neighborhoods, our communities, our churches?  We do have limits.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh addressed this in Gift from the Sea, and, again, this was in 1955, before we had arrived at anything close to the global connectedness we have today:

Today a kind of planetal point of view has burst upon mankind. The world is rumbling and erupting in ever-widening circles around us. The tensions, conflicts, and sufferings, even in the outermost circles touch us all, reverberate in all of us. We cannot avoid these vibrations.

But just how far can we implement this planetal awareness? We are asked today to feel compassionately for everyone in the world; to digest intellectually all the information spread out in public print; and to implement in action every ethical impulse aroused by our hearts and minds. The inter-relatedness of the world links us constantly with more people than our hearts can hold. Or rather—for I believe the heart is infinite—modern communication loads us with more problems than the human frame can carry. It is good, I think, for our hearts, our minds, our imaginations to be stretched; but body, nerve, endurance and life-span are not elastic. My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds.

Environmentalist Alan Thein Durning wrote in his book This Place on Earth that after years of traveling the world as an environmental activist, he realized that the way to make a difference was to plant some local roots—to build a home and to become involved in a community. He discovered that it’s in building relationships in the places where we live that can make a real difference. He made the switch from global activism to local relationship building, believing that this was ultimately the best way to change the planet, and I think he is right.

Richard Swenson in Margin says “a frightful consequence of the dramatic changes of the last few decades is how rapidly and thoroughly the relational life has come unglued. . . Nearly all the indices of the scripturally prescribed relational life have suffered major setbacks over the last three decades. Marriage—worse; parenting—worse; the extended family—worse; the sense of community—worse; and one-another in the church—worse. And it happened seemingly overnight.”

“Margin,” writes Swenson, “exists for relationship.” God created us for relationship with Himself and with others, and lack of margin makes healthy relationships impossible. We’re too frantic to live, as Anne Lindbergh writes, “at grace” with others.

We’re too busy, and there are too many demands on us. Between our commitment at home, at work, volunteering, being involved at church or in Bible studies, shuttling children to sports and other activities, getting food on the table, cleaning house, keeping up with friends, shopping, staying beautiful :-), and all of the other million things we do, how in the world are we supposed to relax? Where’s the margin? Instead of margin, we’ve created fast food and fast service wherever we go. There’s drive-through service for food, for coffee, for getting an oil change, for banking , for pharmacy prescriptions, and on and on! So, with all of this quick service, where is our time going? Why do we rush ever faster?

My sister told me about a family whose children are so involved in sports and other activities that the family doesn’t get home in the evenings until 9 p.m. So, each evening they meet at McDonald's or another fast food restaurant for their family dinner. The dad said, “Well at least we are having dinner together!” And, yes, “at least. . .”, but can this be healthy?

I know how old-fashioned and out of touch it seems to say this, but whatever happened to a relaxed pace of living? Because I really believe that good relationships require leisure. Whatever happened to making time at the end of each day to set the table and sit down together to share good food and to talk over the events of the day or whatever is on the mind of each person at the table? Whatever happened to neighbors knowing each other and taking time to visit or help each other with work? Whatever happened to kids building forts or exploring the outdoors for hours, either in the country or in the suburbs or in a city park? Whatever happened to the long, lazy days of childhood when one could lie in the grass, stare at the sky, and wonder about whatever it was that crossed the mind? Whatever happened to hard work during the day and evenings spent together reading, talking, relaxing, resting from work (of knowing when to say, like God, “it is finished” for the day)? Whatever happened to a quiet Sunday of rest?

Remember when vacations were supposed to be restful and rejuvenating, and now we almost need to recover from them because they are so jam-packed with action? Whatever happened to family time—and not the kind of family time that happens in the car together as we shuttle back and forth between activities and commitments? Whatever happened to saying no? To know when to say “enough”?

I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing a sport or taking music lessons or eating a quick meal now and then, but I think we’ve gotten into such a habit of fast and furious, living and pushing every part of our lives to the margins, that we’ve lost touch with the most important things. Many parents fill every bit of their child’s time with activities because they are afraid they’ll be bored without them and then maybe they’ll get themselves into trouble. Children no longer learn to work through slow times during the day when they could develop creativity and self-sufficiency. Nowadays, children are often defined by their activities, and parenthood is reduced to shuttling children around and catering to their schedules.

People may say they enjoy their busy lives. Or, possibly, this fast pace has become so much the norm for today, that we may not think our speed is quick. We may not sense that anything is amiss. It may feel just right to us and quite enjoyable, thank you. I don’t know what to say to that except that possibly the pace is just right. I really can’t be the judge of anyone’s life but my own. But I do think that many busy people might not realize what they are missing.

Studies have shown in recent years that kids’ diets have suffered from too much family busyness, they are chronically sleep-deprived, they don’t have enough free playtime and solitude to learn to think creatively, and little ones are not even getting the kind of conversation that will teach them to talk. And if they aren’t getting the kind of conversation in baby and toddler-hood that will help them learn to talk, they probably aren’t getting the kind of conversation as they grow older that will develop deep and meaningful relationships. These are probably not concerns of most homeschooling families, but I believe it is true for everyone that too much structure and activity undermine family health, true togetherness, and peace and order in the home—all factors that profoundly affect our relationships.

In today’s world, creating broad margins is a very difficult task that requires great discernment, determination, and almost ruthless resolve, but I believe it is essential that we keep airy spaces in our lives. Harsh, narrow, and old-fashioned as it may sound, I’m with Anne Morrow Lindbergh—busyness and the constant, instant demands of our electronically-driven lives fragment us, and this does not bring grace, peace, order, or beauty but destroys our souls. And then what happens to our families? And to our communities? And to the world?