Monday, February 23, 2009

Twa bonnie wee Ring Bearers

Here are some more pictures of our bonnie lads. In our dear friends' wedding this past December. Remember all those kilts we made? This was the occasion: the marriage of our dearest, and one of my longest-standing friends, Pat. Or Uncle Otter, or Patter, as the kids call him. Paul was the best man and they entrusted our bairns with the rings.
But losh, man! Dinna they leuk fine?

Ezra looked as if he were'nt going to venture up the aisle. Gibbie had set himself to it. But at the last minute, a tear still tracking down his cheek, I put a ring in Ezra's little fist and his other hand in Gibbie's, and they walked right up, with all those eyes on them! Ezra had a whole outfit, but he has some sort of internal promise he's made never to wear a vest, and enough tears were shed over putting on the kilt, I was happy just that he was wearing the kilt, socks, shoes, and any shirt. Angela, the lovely bride, understandably requested that he wear a shirt, if possible. If you look closely in the picture of Ezra and Gibbie starting down the aisle, you can see the glimmer of the ring in his hand. After the ceremony, Ezra offered no objections to any of his clothing, and played like a broonie.

(Gibbie's cooperation and spirited enthusiasm is fitting, as he is named after Sir Gilbert Galbraith, the sometime broonie, sometime hero of a highland romance writ by our beloved George MacDonald, one of the very first books my beloved and I read together! A good man will go to the trouble of learning to speak a brogue to read a book with the woman he loves!)
Gibbie, who was sooo happy about his outfit and his role in the day, "I just can't wait for the wedding, Mama. I'm so exciting for it!" just "danced his heart out" for the rest of the night.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Our trip to Children's Hospital

We've all had a cold going around. Gibbie had a screaming ear infection. Paul and Ezra and I had sore throats. It seemed we were all getting better, but then Ezra got worse. It changed from sleeping a lot and coughing miserably to complete listlessness and shallow breathing. I consulted with our doctor/ friend/ neighbor who said it looked and sounded like he had pneumonia. We went in to the clinic, where everyone was very concerned. The doctor had a great bedside manner. He was quiet and watched Ezra intently. They did xrays and checked the levels of oxygen in his blood, which weren't high enough for peace of mind.
He gently explained that Ezra would probably do fine at home, but that labored breathing is very tiring for children and advised that we head down to Children's Hospital "very quickly."
I've not had many emergency room experiences, but they seem to normally entail a lot of waiting. Boy, did they whisk him into a room quickly!
He was so tired and had so little energy that he barely protested anything they did. It's strange-- I'm used to having full control over every little thing that happens with my little ones (I know you laugh, parents of older children!) but in the hospital, they don't ask permission for everything--you've given permission for them to treat and they largely just tell you what they are doing, if there is time.
Pretty soon we were given a private room. Ezra slept and nursed and I watched as his oxygen levels rose reassuringly. It was rather peaceful. About two dozen people came and went, all nicely explaining things and trying to examine him without scaring him; there were just so many different people! The whole experience was completely new to me, and made me realize how healthy and fortunate we have been. No one in my immediate family was ever hospitalized, and my kids were born at home, so my only hospital experiences had been as a brief visitor. I noticed a piece of equipment in our room donated in honor of a child cancer survivor, and paid silent homage to children and parents who have spent so much time in those rooms.
I noticed at one point, everyone who came into the room suddenly had on a face mask and smock. I guess they had to because of an alert put on our room for risk of whooping cough contagion. (for any worrier-readers, be assured; ezra doesn't have whooping cough.)
Our room had a lovely view of the Cathedral and the James J. Hill house, and some lovely sunshine; familiar sights which somehow made me feel more grounded. I just love seeing the Cathedral with it's cross atop all lit up reassuringly at night, as if to say, "there's still a light on here."
It seemed like an age passed before morning came, but bit by bit, especially after he woke up and had some juice, Ezra started to perk up. He told me at one point that there was a lion-cat going around the room and had some other diverting news, which I think was his way of entertaining himself.
He wished to see papa, and Opa, and Gibbie, and mused that maybe Opa would come to Ezra's next birthday dressed up in a Lion costume! Of course, he desperately wanted all his tubes off. Not long after Paul arrived, he was joking around.
Many thanks to everyone who prayed and sent supportive thoughts and phone calls, to Oma for taking Gibbie in the morning, Opa for lunch, Dave for the cheering visit and thoughful gifts of food and elephant. Special thanks to Super Wendy for being so great about everything; medical help, childcare, car-sharing, kid-made cards, Ezra-delighting gift, and the delicious follow-up recovery meal!
Paul commented that, if I didn't have any complaints, Children's must be a stellar hospital. I must say, as one who has gone to some length to avoid contact with hospitals, Ezra was treated with great respect and care. It was more welcoming than I thought a trip to the hospital could be.
As to any lingering concerns, Ezra is "out of the woods," breathing quite normally, and generally running and jumping around the house as though he had never done otherwise. (though we plan on staying nested in here, recuperating for a while to get completely well.) He said when questioned that he liked his tubes, which I'm quite certain he did not at the time. I think during the miserable parts he was so hazy he doesn't remember them; his most vivid recollection so far is the fun "cat, chick-egg bandaid" (garfield, for the rest of us) they gave him when they took out his IV. Thank God for health and healing. Thank God for friends and family. We have so much to be thankful for.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Libby Jane's Rough Guide to Simple Living

This post is from a brief presentation I've been asked to give at our church on simple living. I volunteered to bring my solar oven and talk about it for a class on "creation care," and Jack Oughton, the teacher, asked me to prepare a little list of things our family does to live more gently on this earth. So, here goes:

1. Enjoy the gifts of creation.
-We savor good, fresh food
-We relish being outdoors
-We enjoy using handmade and lasting things in our daily life rather than disposable and mass-produced stuff.

-We find enjoyment is often a good path "greening."
2. Biblical. Our desire to take care of the earth springs out of our driving commitment to follow God, and is completely concurrent with the teachings of the Christ, (as well as running throughout the Old an
d New Testaments.)
3. When I notice a wasteful area of our life, I often am able to find a bet
ter solution simply by pondering, "what would an Amish person do to meet this need?" I also read a ton of books, which is how I love to learn. All these practices have been put in place slowly in our lives, as we notice and change one thing at a time. Once we get used to doing something, it is no longer difficult. This list has not been a big undertaking, but rather a summary of the pleasurable path we've walked as we seek to follow God in our daily life. We make changes gradually, phasing out or up; instead of throwing away a perfectly useful plastic thing, use it as long as possible, but plan to replace with a more sustainably made and repairable alternative when it's useful life is over.

-bake our own bread. Everyone I know seems to wish they could bake bread. It's really not that hard, and there's nothing like fresh bread!
-cook from scratch. saves a lot of money! There is a learning curve to cooking, but it's so
worth it!
-drink tap water! totally healthy and green
-joined our local coop (everything at the coop is largely local and sustainably raised, so we don't have to worry about reading labels all the time)
-buy in bulk (cheaper, no waste of packaging, fresher grains than prepackaged)
-buying organic and local as much as possible (we started with animal products. being high on the food chain, meat and dairy carry heavier toxin loads. buying expensive meat help
s us to use it carefully, and after the expense of that, buying organic veg was easier! with veg, we first started org. on the "dirty dozen", which are the fruits and veg that carry the most pesticide residues: berries, grapes, peaches,etc.)
-eating seasonally and locally. (not buying strawberries in January from New Zealand--this is costly in terms of the fuel used for refrigerated transportation around the world and leads to craziness in all kinds of ways) for seasonal fruits, we try to buy a lot when they're in season here in Minnesota and freeze, can, or dry them. Freezing is sooo easy; not as hard as one might think.

-I love wild foods and incorporate the unused produce of our city's boulevards and waste lands as much as possible into our diet.
-Fermentation Wild Fermentation by Sandor Elix Katz or The Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes. We enjoy eating homemade: -pickles, bread, yogurt, simple cheeses, saurkraut, vinegar, cordials, all made and preserved via simple fermentation.

: in the winter, with kids, with cargo, plan trips
-bus: plan ahead, bring a book, work, water, snack to redeem the time
-a great time to pray
-a great way to meet neighbors. you can't love them if you don't know them
-an excuse to to walk a little more
-no worries about parking
-live by places we need to go:
we are grateful we have been able to live close enough to bike to work, school, church, and most stores and places we go. This has in part been possible by turning down some possibilities which would preclude biking. Biking a lot is so enjoyable, great for our health as a family, and saves a ton of money. Even with two children, in the summer, we have sometimes only used our car a few times a month. This is easier in urban areas

-for food
-let the garden take over the lawn
-plant perennials and fruit trees
Wendell Berry says that growing food, and eating it is the single biggest positive thing a person can do for the earth, farmers, ourselves, and the economy.
-outdoor living

Don't Buy Stuff- if we buy used, we don't contribute to the demand for more mass production.
-lots of stuff we want we don't need, and many things actually don't contribute to happiness or the good of others
-as an artist, I make planners and notebooks out of discarded paper, rugs from rags, clothing, repair discarded furniture--lots of this stuff is simple and anyone could learn how.
-plan ahead for gifts -with planning we can make good choices about gifts, and find the "perfect gift". Often this is homemade, or even bought new. I find, if we haven't planned ahead, we may over-give and over-spend to compensate for a gift that feels like it's not "enough" because we think it's not just right for the recipient.

-learn from others
-share resources
-know neighbors
-support one another

Laundry and Cleaning
-homemade cleaning products. Most household- things can be cleaned with household items: baking soda, soap, vinegar. If there's interest, I could share some recipes. All very simple and cheap. For us, these have entirely replaced brand-name glass cleaners, toilet scrub, etc.
-buy dish soap in bulk at the coop
-we don't use the clothes dryer. Weather permitting, we line dry our clothes outside. In the winter, we use a w
ooden drying rack indoors, which helps to humidify our dry air. "Delicates" and "unmentionables" are dried inside for privacy. Diapers get white again out in the sun, without bleach. We use non-chlorine bleach, when necessary.


-we try to buy used or fair trade or locally made.
-we repair clothing to make it last longer.
-favorite clothing th
rift stores in St. Paul: Unique Thrift on Rice Street, St. Vincent de Paul on W. 7th, Salvation Army on University. Thrift stores actually have a much wider selection of clothes than conventional ones because every item is unique. Most of the clothes at these stores, I find, are in great condition. also saves a ton of money.
-new, but more ethic
ally made: Zimmerman's on Grand sells sweatshop-free clothes.
-we use clothing until it wears out, or give it to thrift stores or friends who can use it.

-we've been delighted to find that everyone at church passes clothes around all the time! We hardly had to buy baby, toddler, or maternity clothes.

Reducing Consumption
-we have gradually eliminated lots of disposable products from our lives, as follows:

-paper towels: rag bin (use for clothing worn beyond use or giving, wash separately from clothing, as for cloth diapers. this is a small amount of laundry. Our rags are not bought, t-shirts and towels make the best rags. Bathroom cleaning rags can be kept separate from kitchen rags by marking)
-paper napkins: clo
th napkins. homemade or thrifted. cheap, beautiful, just toss in the laundry as needed.
-Kleenex: handkerchiefs. make sure to get soft ones! (all cotton or linen)
-feminine hygiene: The Keeper, Glad Rags, homemade. Cheaper and less toxic. My youth leader tipped me off to these in response to my query in high school! wash with bathroom rags or diapers.
-finding altern
atives to battery operated items.
-deodorant, shampoo, lotions: Lush (at Macy's in the Mall of America, or online makes these products in solid form, without plastic packaging. They are more expensive, but last long enough to make up the cost and more.)
-bring our own tap water in
water bottles when we go out, to avoid the cost and waste of buying drinks in disposable containers
-bring a travel mug for coffee drinks to go. some places may even give a little discount when you don't get the throw-away cup
-we bring silverware and cloth napkins with us when appropriate to avoid throwing away disposable cutlery. To-go Ware, glass jars, Tupperware is widely available at thrift stores and garage sales


-cloth diapers. not as hard as you think. saves a lot of money. If washed at home and line dried, no more waste than flushing a toilet. also, re-usable wipes, tossed in with dipes.
-forgo battery powered toys
-plan ahead to bring a picnic lunch or snacks
-use the bike trailer, weather permitting. our family mini-van
-lasting, versatile toys, rather than plastic
-home-made toys
-go to the library a lot, read aloud instead of tv.
-teach kids to play an
d live in the outdoors, thus to care for and love it.
-help with/ have their own gardens
-teach them to care for our th
ings so they last

-use library, buying on
ly books we know we will read again and again
-digital music or LPs, live music
-watch tv less (tv make
s us want more stuff.)
-spend time outside instead of at the mall/ in stores, shopping online
-vacation locally

-support local businesses, coffee shops, restaurants, instead of big chains. (great way to make friends too!)
-invest in non-material treasures (maybe even eternal ones)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Birthday Soup

For Gibbie's Fourth birthday, he decided to put on a show of the story "Birthday Soup" from the book
Little Bear by Elsie Homelund Minarek (illustrated by Maurice Sendak). He spent a lot of time thinking about the details of the performance (curtains, costumes, etc.) and working on his lines.

Here's the final product, recorded live at his birthday party:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Thankfulness and giving

Even in a good life, even in a life beautiful and full, a lot of things are hard. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that this life is indeed beautiful and full, because it doesn't always feel that way. We must keep our eyes on the author and wellspring of our peace. But here is something I am thankful for today.

Sitting in church, I try to do this delicate dance of keeping the children quiet while lifting my heart to god, being open to the words of the service while helping them to understand what they may of the songs and prayers, why we are there while keeping them from noisily kicking the pews or running around in too distracting a way. I do this mostly myself because Paul is up in the choir loft, doing his job and playing music, hopefully leading us all into heartfelt song. Sometimes Grandparents or Aunties are around to lend a hand but this morning, it was myself and Gibbie and Ezra.
To help me do all these things, I sometimes bring some special quiet toy or favorite object, certain colored pencils and snacks.
This morning, Ezra spent the first songs sitting next to our snacks, which I try to judiciously dispense so that they help carry us through the whole service. He sat next to the little bag, whispering, "me sit by apples and stuff."
He and Gibbie shared an apple, passing it back and forth taking bites during readings from the bible.
Later, during another quiet stretch, he sat again next to the snacks, with his hand on the wrapped chocolates. We got these chocolates, beautiful little chocolate bars wrapped with pictures of Australian animals, from some Australian evangelist friends of ours who visited a short while ago. Ezra just wanted to have his hand on the chocolates while he waited to get one. He said, "Hedgehog," and "Me love chocolate."
At the part of church where you can put an offering or prayer request in the plate I gave something to Gibbie to put in. I've talked to the boys about how all we have is from God, and about why we give to Him and the Church out of what He's given us, but I wasn't ready with it when the plate passed. He took our little offering and ran down the aisle to put it in the plate.
As he returned to our seat, Ezra stood up and before I could stop him, picked up the bag with our last two Australian chocolates in it, and, holding it in both hands, carefully walked all the way down the aisle to the back of the church. The people who pass the plate had passed it all through and were standing in the back with the plates, waiting for the end of a song. Ezra went up to one of them and stretched up to put his little bag on the plate. The usher smiled at him and Ezra came running back to me, beaming. "Me give to dat guy," he said, with a look of total happiness.
When the song was over, the ushers brought the plates to the front of the church, where an acolyte, or helper kid in a red robe, takes them and brings them to the priest, who says a quick prayer, offering them to God with thanks. Before he said, "All things come from you, O Lord," I saw him glance, surprised, at the colorful packages in the ziplock bag on the plate.

I was surprised that Gibbie wasn't upset that Ezra had given away our chocolates, and Ezra didn't seem to want them back.

For these children I am so thankful. May they always find the delight of giving their best treasures to our Best Friend.
All things come from you, O Lord. Of thine own have we given thee.
Pictures: none from this morning: the beautiful mushroom we found last fall at Glendalough State Park. two pictures of Ezra playing at a coffee shop; and the kids at home in our latest, but already defunct, homemade playhouse. Ezra called it his "Oma house," and it recently met its demise, being put to rest in the recycling bin this morning.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Real Play

I've been meaning for a while to post a short series of thoughts on education. I can't make any promises about future posts, but today I'd like to share ideas from For the Children's Sake. I feel the title of this book sounds nostalgic, perhaps shrill? Nevertheless, most of author Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's ideas is in line with our developing vision of education; liberal in the classical sense, respectful of the spirit and intellectual capacity of the child, nurturing of health in body, habit, relationship, and sense of wonder. It is the growth of wonder that I believe must be the heart of all true education.
So, a snippet: these will be the words of Macaulay, quoting another educator I have enjoyed exploring, Charlotte Mason.

"I would think that as a good a place as any to start is the concept of play. After the child's needs of love and nourishment are provided for, the child plays.

"There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that children's play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work. We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.)... But organized games are not play in the sense we have in view. Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry fort, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.

"She goes on to say that if we do organize their play there is a

"...serious danger. In this matter the child who goes too much on crutches never learns to walk. [or, I would add from our time, the child too much in the exersaucer may never learn to crawl]

"This is a point which needs to be considered further. Play seems so natural (just like anything which is attuned to reality). The phrase 'child's play'... ought to mean that quality of spontaneity, imagination, wholehearted concentration, and joy which should mark all children at play.
but one of the saddest things I know is to watch [older] students look at a group of children, involved for house in satisfying play, and comment, 'I've never seen children playing like that.'

"No? Then weep. "

What does it take to foster real play? Macaulay, I think, is right when she says that education is a life and an atmosphere in the home. If, in the home, kids see people busy, playing, working, making, reading, discussing; if one's ear in the home is not bombarded with the noises of electronic toys, squallings of unhappy children, with either the threats, bribes or unheeded entreaties of adults; if the home is a peaceful, beautiful place; if children are loved, known, listened to, and, when necessary, corrected; such kids will work. Such kids will play!

Reading list of books that have helped me as we shape our family's educational philosophy:
-Grace Llewellyn (Teenage Liberation Handbook, Guerilla Learning)
-The Well-Trained Mind: this book, outlining suggested curricula for a classical trivium may seem the opposite of unschooler Llewellyn as it offers a rigorous, systematic approach. I'm glad to know I've found it for times and areas that we may decide we want that.
-Charlotte Mason: many echo this, but she is a champion of whole books, of real and living books, of being out in nature, of telling stories, of growing virtues like a garden in the light of love and gentleness.
-Maria Montessori: "Understanding the Human Being" helped me attend to my kids as infants in a deeper way. I love the series of pamphlets called "Montessori speaks to Parents," and have learned much from her writings about observing my children and about the developmental needs of people.

The picture above is from last fall at Glendalough--a great state park we visited and highly recommend. They have gnarled oak groves, lots of waterside trails, and prairie restorations. That's the day before the first snowstorm.