One lovely blog award.

Aw, shucks, thanks!! And it certainly goes on my list of things that I’m taking joy in- thank you so much, Sugarlump, http://thesugarlump.com/, for nominating me!  I can’t help but think we’d be good friends if we lived near each other, especially with our shared love for the South and disdain for raw oysters.

Okay, so here’s what I’m supposed to do:

  1. Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
  2. Post the blog award image on your page.
  3. Tell 7 facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 15 other blogs and let the nominees know they been chosen (I could only make it to 10. I have a MAJOR deadline this week with my editing/grading I do for the university I work for, and, well, I’m just running behind…)

And here’s the image…

So, let’s see, 7 facts about myself?  Yikes.  But here goes:

1.  I was born in Texas, but I’ve lived in 7 other states and two countries since I left Texas after college.  I go back often- it is and always will be home.

2.  I don’t like watermelon.  Or any melon for that matter.

3.  I speak French and Russian.  I learned to speak French in Montreal and Russian in Vermont at a Russian immersion program at Norwich University, where I got to meet Vladimir Lenin’s second cousin, who was something like 98 at the time.  I’m not making that up.

4.  I adore dogs, especially wiener dogs.  I have one named Annie Rose- that’s her in the photo.  We “rescued” her two years ago, but I think the rescuing actually goes both ways…

5.  I have a cat named Dora, named by my then-two year old daughter after Dora the Explorer.  Now that same daughter is 11, and is rather mortified by her naming choice.  I probably should have thought that one through a little better.

6.  I have to have some sort of creative outlet at all times, or I get a little crazy.

7.  I am NOT good at math (and I don’t particularly like it).  Thank goodness the Pilot and I share the homeschool teaching duties!

And now the list of other blogs I like:

1.   http://celiabedilia.com/floral-events-interiors/

2.  http://retireediary.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/six-attributes-garden-kenrokuen-garden-%E5%85%BC%E5%85%AD%E5%9C%92-in-japan/

3.  http://soulsbyfarm.wordpress.com/

4.   http://floridabehindthescenes.wordpress.com/about/

5.  http://seastrandsstudio.com/artists-bio/

6.  http://travel-monkey.me/about-kongo/

7.  http://thefulcrumchronicles.wordpress.com/tag/knobby-knees/

8.  http://survivalfarm.wordpress.com/2012/03/21/cucumbers-soup-salad-sandwich-and-pickles-cucumbers-can-do-it-all/

9.  http://frugalfirstclasstravel.com/about-2/

10. http://seasonsgirl.wordpress.com/about/

There.  Now that was great fun!  I wish I weren’t pressed for time so I could search for more, but I wanted to get this out in a timely manner.  And again, thanks.  Truly.  It made my week.

One perfect heirloom tomato.

Well, okay, so that’s actually all I’ve gotten so far.  But there are lots and lots on the vine!  Still green!  I can’t wait!! But yesterday when I went to water my garden plot, there was this one huge, perfectly imperfect pinkish-red lumpy tomato, tucked down at the bottom so that I couldn’t see it through the foliage until I happened to be down low looking for eggplant.  Amazing.  It grew and ripened there without my obsessing about it.  Like a little blessing that I didn’t ask for or try to control or worry about or… expect.  I am not, after all, entitled to a perfect heirloom tomato.

I’m thinking maybe there’s a life lesson here?

Taking joy.

I’m trying to learn to do that.  Take joy, I mean.  There have been times in my life when I’ve really struggled with it, when things looked pretty bleak even though the reality is that I have a pretty amazing life.  I think maybe that’s just part of the human condition.  But we have to fight against that tendency, because I think that really, God does in fact want us to be happy.  To take joy in His world and what He’s given to us.  And when we really look, most of us have so, so much.

Two things have helped me recently in my own personal quest for joy:  one- my son’s kid Bible.  I know that sounds odd, but it’s pretty terrific.  It describes this world as a “love letter” from God to us, and there’s just something about that image that speaks to me.  Two- Ann Voskamp’s book “One Thousand Gifts.”  The book is amazing.  The premise is that she is counting her blessings, making a list of one thousand different things to be thankful for.  She is a poet, truly, and I need to add her and her words to my personal list of things to be thankful for.  But early in the book, she says something that made a huge impact on me:  there is so much hurt in the world, but it doesn’t help God’s cause for us to focus on that.  In other words, yes, the world has a lot of things about it that are beyond awful, but by focusing on the good you can be part of changing it.  As she says, “Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering” (p. 58).  Or yourself, for that matter.

We’re planning an incredible adventure for this fall, which gives me a tremendous amount of excitement- so much that I can’t even fully wrap my head around this whole thing yet.  But what I’m beginning to realize is that I have to be able to grab hold of the joy in the mundane and everyday and quit depending on the big adrenaline shot to do the trick, which I must confess to being guilty of.  It’s easy to be happy when you’ve just arrived in Country X and you’re thrilled and everything’s new… not so easy when my ordinary Georgia suburban house is dirty (again) and the kids are cranky and I’m cranky and then the dog pukes… sigh.  You get it.

My big epiphany moment came last year, in a lovely little town in France called Nyons, where we had rented a townhouse for two weeks.  I arrived in a funk:  I had just finished my master’s degree and my Plans For My Life meant a fabulous and fulfilling job at once.  Of course, that didn’t happen, and this dream I had had for so long was now completed… what on earth was I going to do now??  Being in southern France should have cured me real quick.  Only it didn’t.  And to top it off, it rained for the first week that we were there.  Now, how pathetic was I?  In an 800 year old townhouse, in a medieval town center in a beautiful town in France with my family- in short, nearly everything that I love the most in the world, and I couldn’t get over myself?  Sheesh.  But the first sunny day was actually on a Sunday, and I took some time to go for a walk around the old town center, just me and my camera.  The photo I’ve posted is from that day.  I walked for a while, up steep staircases and through narrow stone passages, and tried to soak in the beauty of it all.  And finally, I started to come out of my mood.  Thank goodness I didn’t waste the ENTIRE two weeks feeling sorry for myself.

If I can’t grab hold of joy in a place where the vineyards are lush and the houses are ancient and the lavender is blooming crazy, where can I?

The epiphany was this:  it isn’t the place, or the situation, or who I’m with or what I’m doing that have the power to make me happy.  It’s me.  By focusing on the joy.  By taking the joy.

I’ll probably have to relearn it a few times.  Or a few hundred.  But I’m working on it.

Voskamp, Ann.  (2010).  One thousand gifts.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan.  (p.58).

Other people’s stories.

It’s summertime.  We finished our required 180 days of homeschool.  More important to me than that mandatory state requirement, though, we came to a good stopping point in what we were doing at the moment, and also to the point of really needing a break.  We worked pretty hard this winter and spring, and though we had a lof of fun, we were all ready for some lazy summer days!  And so the kids are sleeping in, and I get my quiet mornings with my coffee and my stack of books and my laptop all to myself.  For the entire winter and into spring, I’ve picked up books to read for myself.  I’m an avid reader, so for me to get lost in a good book doesn’t take much.  But a strange thing kept happening:  not one  single book that I picked up was capable of holding my attention.  Nothing.  It was a serious reading dry spell.  I read a lot, but pretty much everything I read was of the variety which have pictures, and we read them together as a family.  I love those books, but I’ve really been needing more.  And as soon as we got settled into our summer rhythm and we got past that trip to Texas to the grandparents’ house that we were jonesing for, I’ve gotten it. And then some.

Does anyone else read more than one book at a time?  Or is that just me?  Well, I can’t help it.  That’s what I’m doing right now.  I’ve already mentioned “The Healing” by Jonathan O’Dell and how profound it was- strong women, healing, midwifery, slavery issues- so many deep topics and it made me think and feel and cry.  I love that.  And on top of that I learned some history through a story that I couldn’t put down.  At the same time, however, I’m reading two other books.  One I read in the morning, during my quiet time alongside my Bible and my wonderful little Sarah Young devotional book.  It’s called “Celebration of Discipline” by Richard J. Foster, and it’s pretty incredible.  It is not light reading.  However, if you’re looking to take your spiritual side to a new level, this is a good choice.  This book deserves its own, well, book about how much it has impacted me, not just this little paragraph.  I mean it- it’s a life-changer.  I’ve been working through it for a while, because I have to absorb everything he has to say slowly.  Lest I miss something, or forget.  And when I finish it, I’ll probably start over, because it’s that good, and because I probably will miss something and then forget.  That’s my morning book.  And then at night, when I’m not in the grips of a novel I can’t put down, I have another I’m slowly working through (I’ve zoomed through 3 novels in a week- I am gluttonous and have no self-control when it comes to a good book.  I have to scarf it all down at once.  The 3 were the already mentioned “The Healing,” another called “The Orchard,” and finally a book on WWII called “The Postmistress.”  All were delicious.)  The one that I’m slowly working through and savoring is Ann Voskamp’s “One Thousand Gifts.”  And wow.  It’s another life-changer.

I’ve needed some life changing.

I guess I could safely say that the reading dry-spell is over.

 

 

Blake, S.  (2010).  The postmistress.  New York:  Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Foster, R. J.  (1998).  Celebration of discipline.  San Francisco: Harper.

O’Dell, J. (2012).  The healing.  New York:  Doubleday.

Stepakoff, J.  (2011).  The orchard.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press.

Voskamp, A. (2010).  One thousand gifts.  Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan.

Strawberries

Strawberry picking in Georgia in May.  My daughter and I had a wonderful time picking these berries.  And what berries they were:  these were like nothing I’ve had in a long time.  Certainly not like what you get in the grocery store that have been bred for toughness, not for taste.  No, these were like the essence of strawberry- juicy, tender, and sweet.  And ripe that very day.  So we ate as many as we could, and the next day, we made jam.

You know, it’s the simplest things that often bring us the most pleasure, if we can just take the time to slow down and let them.

We picked back in May.  But then, the other day, as I was putting the jars of preserves in the pantry, I set them on my kitchen table where the morning sun was streaming in…

Berry picking with my girl on a beautiful spring day in Georgia.

Preserved strawberries, gleaming in their jars, in the morning sunlight.

It really is the little things that can make us the happiest.

Summer food!

Ah, food.  One of my favorite things.  I love to read about it, to grow it, to cook it, and especially to eat it.  I have been called a foodie before, and though I’m not entirely sure that applies, (what does that really mean, anyway?  Is it a compliment?  Or not?)  I do love the good stuff.  I’m enamored with zucchini that still have the pricklies on them that you have to wash off before slicing, and oh, those long skinny Japanese eggplants make me HAPPY.   And fresh herbs that you pick and are surrounded by their smell as you stand in the midst of them?  Pure joy.  So, what I’m getting at is that I especially love cooking in the summer.  Don’t get me wrong: I can get pretty excited over winter food too.  I love cooking up a homemade stock or simmering something really filling and nourishing up in my adored Le Creuset pot too, but right now,  I want fresh and light.  I absolutely love going to the farmers’ market nearby on Saturday morning and seeing what they have that I get to get to figure out how to prepare the following week.  I figure when you get the good fresh produce, it’s really more about doing as little as possible, about not getting in the way of how amazing it already tastes, right?

When we were living in Northern California, we ate outside for nearly every dinner during the summer.  Partly we did that because the weather was incredible in the evenings- no humidity in the Sierra Nevada foothills, no bugs to speak of, the day’s heat had finally broken, and we had a great back yard.  It was also practically motivated, however:  we didn’t have air-conditioning and we avoided heating the house up at all costs- NO cooking inside if you could help it.  But, I kept a few tomato plants in the back corner, and when they got plentiful we’d pull them off the vine and I’d turn them into salsa right there at the table.  Dice a few onions, some cilantro, some peppers if I had them, lime, salt, pepper, the tomatoes, and voila.  Fresh salsa.  To say that the Pilot loves this is an understatement:  he LIVES for this.  This year, in Georgia, I’ve rented a community garden space and put in some tomato plants (not the same as walking to the back corner of the yard, but it will have to suffice. Sigh.)  My husband is already asking when he will be geting fresh salsa…  and I can’t wait either.

My obsession with story.

It’s not exactly an original concept.  I’ve heard my amazing mother talk about it for years.  She based much on her research for her PhD on the idea of story, specifically as related to teachers.  Again, not real original here.  But in the last six months, the idea has become incredibly important to me.  So important that I have, at least in part, based my kid’s education on it.  You see, we follow the Charlotte Mason philosophy in our homeschooling.  And really, it’s a central idea to her philosophy.  “Living Books?”  Aren’t they, in many ways, about teaching through story?

You see, you can break things up into little, disconnected pieces, facts, bits, for people to learn.  And they can memorize them and spit them back at you, and then depending on what type of brain they have, they will either retain those pieces and be very good at Trivial Pursuit, or they will promptly forget them.  Either way, not doing anyone much good.   Or you can give them the same pieces, only this time they are connected to the whole.  You can give them those ideas, and you can make it interesting and fun while doing it.  And that’s been my goal while teaching my son and soon my daughter.  I like to think I’ve been modestly successful.  I suppose time will tell.

But I’m not only un-original because my mother and because Charlotte Mason thought of how useful teaching with story could be.  No, this whole idea, when you think about it, pretty much dates back to those times when humans weren’t even writing stuff down.  Think about that:  how long, really, have we been teaching through story? And how many have done it, and by how many different names?  Aesop’s Fables- weren’t those meant to teach us stuff?  Go back further:  oral traditions that were the only way of passing on EVERYTHING cultures had to know- how to act, where to live, what plants would kill you if you ate them-  some pretty important information.  And then here’s a biggie:  the Bible.  It’s a lot of things, but it’s also an amazing story that can teach us so much if we choose to listen and absorb what we hear.  I’d say that Jesus was really quite good at teaching through story, wouldn’t you?  So no, not my very own super-cool original idea at all.  But I’m so glad I glommed onto the concept, because you know, it really is a great way to teach people, in particular my own children, what they need to know.  And they might just have a good time while they’re doing it.

It’s funny how when you become interested in something you start seeing it everywhere.  I just read an incredible book called “The Healing” by Jonathan O’Dell.  It was so good, so beautifully written, that I wanted to e-mail the author at his website when I finished it to thank him.  Maybe I still will.  But the part that really struck me was his Note to the Reader, at the very back of the book.  He states, “If you want to destroy a people, destroy their story.  If you want to empower a people, give them a story to share.”  I think that perhaps there is a power behind story that I’m only just beginning to grasp.  And I find that pretty exciting.

It Simply Isn’t Done That Way.

Fast forward through that whole dating part of our lives to when we married and subsequently became parents to two wonderful kiddoes…  You may have already gotten the impression that the Pilot and I do things a little differently.  Or if not, you will.

One of our children was born in Mississippi- there are lots of hurricanes to hunt down in the Gulf of Mexico, and hurricane hunting was what the Pilot was doing at the time.  The other was born in Northern California, the gorgeous part past Sacramento and into the foothills, near Lake Tahoe.  Two very different locations and two very different though equally wonderful children.  But when we became parents, people said to us, “Well, that will end your traveling ways.  You can’t travel with children.”  You know, the whole, “It simply isn’t done” sort of attitude.  I hate that.  I also don’t listen to that.  My immediate reaction is, “Oh yeah?”  And so we haven’t done it THE WAY IT IS DONE.  We have continued to travel with our kids, and had just as much fun if not more.  We took them to Norway when our son was 18 months old- a blast.  The Caribbean a few years ago.  France repeatedly.  And it’s all been fun.  Mixed in, naturally, with the not so fun stuff that you always have, even sitting at home, when you are with kids. But mostly pretty incredible.

And speaking of THE WAY IT IS DONE, we’re about to really mix things up here.  Blow that one right out of the water.  You see, I’ve already mentioned the homeschooling thing- we pulled our son out of public schools because we needed to, and now that we know we can do this, we’re going to take on our daughter as well.  I mean really, there are loads of other folks out there doing this very thing and doing a fantastic job of it- why should we be any different?  We are, I like to think, reasonably intelligent people after all.  But, just to keep it interesting, we’ve decided to spend part of this next year in France.  Yes, indeed.  France.  It was supposed to be Italy as well, but the military keeps changing it on us so who the heck needs them to decide anyway?  We’re just going, where we want to be for this fall, and hopefully our kids will come back from this crazy adventure speaking French with some slight degree of fluency.  That’s the hope, anyway.  And while we’re there, we’re going to read lots of books about places and then… we will go SEE those places.  Places with layer upon layer of history and amazing stuff that has happened…  layer upon layer of yes, story.  

Because that is my obsession these days.  The story of it all.  And man, won’t this make an interesting chapter in ours?

I told you we were about to get to the good part.