I love foraged flora. I am always bringing home the perfect branch or other find for display. Illuminated foraged finds to wish us all a Happy Winter Solstice seems a fitting way to stop and reflect.
What if we chose to view what was happening in our lives as a discovery expedition? Explorers never really knew what was at the end of the road, but it was the journey that kept them intrigued. Does your life intrigue you?
I have a confession to make. A conversation with Ben Hewitt, helped me start writing again. As I unschool myself, I am learning how to write without an agenda. It is freeing and terrifying. The best advice he gave me was stop trying to be strategic with my writing. How do we let go and let it become what it will be? I have no idea, but I am intrigued to see what happens.
The process might be much like the nature walk I took with the boys yesterday. As we walked, there was a crunchy texture underfoot, so we stopped to investigate. We found seed pods, fairy hats, pecan bursts, and many other treasures dropped by near by trees. Trees understand the cycle of letting go so much better than us mere humans. They freely drop what they no longer need, or what needs to be released. It is the cycle of discovery and growth.
Investigating our finds bound for our craft basket at home, Austin remarked that the pecan bursts looked like flowers and Jackson thought the pods would make great people with drawn on faces. Creativity at work. You can see the wheels turning right in front of you.
Next we walked over the hidden magic bridge, and as we peered over the edge we saw the work of beavers. The river was damned up just under the bridge. Although we did not see the presumed beaver family, I heard a long tale of intrigue, antics at nightfall, and underwater acrobatics that was happening just beyond our view. Each time simply responding, “And then what happened?”
What did I see when I peered over the bridge? I saw the banks and rock formations covered with mosses and delicate native ferns in the most beautiful shade of bright green. It made me wonder if that was by design. Lining the banks with its bright color, so that at nightfall the creatures could see the waters edge. I saw the changing flow of the river as the beavers made their home. I wondered how the conversation of all the wildlife would go. Move that thing, we can’t get by! Or would it be more like, thank you for stopping the flow I am tired of swimming up stream. Creative thought is contagious.
At some level I wish for a place where the boys can explore these places on their own, but I would have missed these experiences. I am grateful to be a witness, guide, and a student for now.
I see what is becoming with no idea what to expect on our next expedition. Mine in writing and theirs in the world. That is my gift for the new year given by two creative explorers.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
When did you stop playing? Do you know the moment when you began to question whether you were really creative? I remember the college English Professor who had a profound negative effect on my writing. I stopped writing for anyone other than myself.
I still love to write. I love the stories that unfold, even if I don’t know the rules. I am brave when I write, but lately self-doubt was creeping in. My interests were changing and I did not know how to shift my interest on my blog.
About a month ago, I walked into the boy’s room as Austin was drawing this beautiful scene above in markers on his dresser. It is not a fancy dresser, but a cheap IKEA Pine dresser. He looked up at me and stared. I took a breath and then did one of the smartest things I have ever done as a parent. I said, “That is beautiful! What else can you draw?”
He beamed and told a story of a secret village and villagers. He and his brother have now drawn all over their dressers and pine beds, and I love it. Every day a new story is unfolding.
I honestly don’t know why I was not upset that he drew on the furniture. I saw something in his face when he looked up at me, waiting on my reaction. I cannot explain it. I just knew he needed me to be proud, not frustrated.
Where does confidence in something come from? I think it comes from validation, sometimes from a someone else and sometimes we have to find it ourselves.
We began homeschooling for Kindergarten in September, but I had no idea what I was doing. I had all the tools, but zero confidence. I did know what is expected by cultural norms. “Send them to school already”, was dancing through my head. I began to get frustrated as we dove into homeschooling. Was I teaching them enough? Is this the right thing for them?
I had a conversation with a friend and homeschooling mom of three. She was in a shift in their journey. Her oldest was in middle school, her youngest was having trouble with phonics, and she was having doubts. I was having doubts too, but we realized our doubts were about stories we were telling ourselves about what education should look like. She is back in the grove, and as a confident as ever.
I embraced that our style is really an unschooling style, but the person being ‘unschooled’ is me. The boys only know their experience. Their only truth is what is happening to them at this moment. They have never been to a formal school. It is the purest view of learning you can have. Everything they try is new. There are no stories attached.
As parents, we have to be able to embrace the organic process of learning, because our children already have. They will teach us so much, if we can only trust them. They have no plan, and that is the lesson.
Yesterday, on my way into the grocery store I saw a dog rescue group. Although we cannot adopt another animal now, I stopped to say hello to the dogs and their saviors, and drop a few dollars in for a donation. It was not much and I just explained that even though I could not take a dog home, I could support the ones who could.
I began talking to who I now know is the mother of the founder of this rescue group. I told her that I would like to adopt a therapy dog and a family member, for my coaching practice. I was once saved by a dog, so this story is near and dear to my heart.
That is when I understood why I was there. Her daughter, a beautiful tall red-headed teenage girl was terminally ill with a heart condition. She had been angry and mad at the world as you might imagine. Her mother was homeschooling her, and could not get her motivated to do anything.
Then something changed. Her daughter wanted to adopt a dog, and not just any dog. A pit bull puppy that had the exact condition that she had. The dog had been given 2 months to live. She wanted to be that dogs light in the world for the little time it had. These are my words, not hers. She felt drawn to this dog, which was a seven hour drive away. I spoke with her mother who was glowing as she told the story when her daughter chose herself.
The daughter started Roman’s Rescue to continue this work, after the dog that had been given two months to live. Roman lived for ten months. Ten months of joy, love, and gratitude for being chosen. This animal needed to be chosen, but his guardian did not. Terminally ill as a teenager, she chose to do something with the time she has on this earth. She chose herself.
Shouldn’t we all do that?
I am reading James Altucher’s Book, Choose Yourself. The preceding story of Roman’s Rescue is a living example of Choosing Yourself.
This book is about Choosing Yourself in the new world of work and life. We are in the most exciting times in history. We can live how we want, where we want, choose our families, and choose ourselves. The book is not a feel good story of fluff, rather a practical way to begin to rethink this jobless economy that is really a recipe for freedom.
This past week the boys and I visited Wisteria Suri Alpaca Farm that is a mere 12 miles from our home, for a tour and activities like spinning fiber into yarn. As we entered the gates of the farm we were greeted by two beautiful white Great Pyrenees and a very spunky Australian Shepherd. We entered and paused to give the dogs time to get to know us and to welcome us, before we touched them and spent our time saying hello.
The farm owner and host commented how glad she was that we had such a nice calm energy. The animals had a busy day, and looked happy to see us despite their day filled with earlier visitors. We were able to meet some younger, timid, Suri Alpaca males and then a host of adult female Suri Alpacas.
As we moved throughout our visit, I noticed the beautiful wildflowers covering the ground between the limestone rocks. Nature has a way of growing where it falls, there is such a great lesson in that for our lives.
We stopped to handcraft bird balls filled with Alpaca fiber as a gift their Grandmother’s neighborhood birds in building their nests. Since we downsized, we do not own the trees in our neighborhood, which is hard to explain to a five-year old. Why is a question heard often in our home. I explain this is a temporary stop on our life adventure and they seem to accept that and move on.
Our host Keiko asked about my work, and I told her a little about my writing and my working exploration into nature connected psychology and EcoArt Therapy. I was explaining how easy it is for me to explore my work, as they boys experience nature together.
I realized as we spoke how hard it can be to welcome families to her farm with the distractions children experience today. Many do not know how to immerse themselves in nature, and ask for permission to enter by simply pausing and saying hello. It is something they learn by doing, and with our over scheduled society that can be difficult.
We talked about how my children knew from the modeling they have seen their whole life to enter an animals space and let them come to you. I am a nature lover and that is a natural part of my parenting toolbox. Nature has always been my prescription for peace in our house, lots and lots of outside time for everyone is paramount around here.
This is not the first time someone has commented on their calm energy. They are not always calm as they are energy filled boys, but it is more of a reverence for the space they were entering, not unlike entering a spiritual place or a cathedral.
Quiet, slow, and with an open heart. One is more cautious than they other, and needs time to be open to the animals. I have been working with him over the years to let him know that what he feels is okay, and when and if he is ready to make contact he will. He can now verbalize his feelings and told me he was “a little” nervous.
We do a backpack carry when he feels this way, so that he can participate and feel secure. He has been able to embrace many animals now, but he has never been forced to be ready on some arbitrary schedule.
I am reading Ben Hewitt’s book, HomeGrown. Although our boys are not able to roam on open acreage, I am inspired by the idea that I can do my part in providing nature connected experiences even in our more suburban setting. This is a beautifully written book giving you a glimpse into what is possible. It also helped me with something I was struggling with and that is the idea of living in the present. We do not have to decide right now, what our children’s education must look like for the next 12 years. My husband has asked, “why do we have to decide today?” Their futures are their’s alone, and as I have always believed that, his descriptions of his boy’s days reminded me to breathe. We can take it day by day. That is the beauty and the eye opening process of a Kindergarten Gap Year.
This is how our “gap year” is emerging. They are learning to read, grow and be, but not based on a curriculum based on an age. They are twins, but just like other children and siblings are as different as two people can be. I do not want them to be labeled, ready for this or ready for that. I want them to celebrate their successes as they come organically.
Our experiment now has a name, the “Kindergarten Gap Year”. It really hit me when I turned down a consulting assignment to teach a reading curriculum to public school teachers. I have seen the organic process of my sons learning to read and none of it was as rigid as the tool I would have to present. I just did not believe it anymore.
Now, I understand that teaching twenty plus children requires a more assembly line approach, but that in itself makes me sad. Every child deserves the ability to learn organically in a place that feels safe, open, and trustable. A child should be able to say, “I want to play outside”, and for that to be celebrated and allowed. They should also be able to learn about something until they are ready to move onto something else.
Our first year into home education has evolved into a Kindergarten Gap Year. This time with them has been the most eye opening experience. The things you are able to observe as they grow and learn, would not be possible if they had been sent to school for eight hours each day. They are learning to read and write, but they are learning so much more and so am I
The movement of the dock beneath me, the sounds coming from the ducks and their bodies as they moved through the water. The laughter from the boys as they would cast their line. The sky as it changed from blue, to orange, to pink, to a beautiful deep dark blue. I noticed how the insects that were becoming more active were not bothering me. The most startling connection was as I sat, I could see the spiders coming out from under the layers of the walls of the dock. Beginning to repair their webs. I felt a connection watching their intentional work, as if it was choreographed. It was startling to me that I did not feel threatened or feel a need to move quickly from my observation spot.
This past week we took the boys fishing when my husband got home from work. We have always enjoyed being outdoors, but my “inner nature” project work has made it an intentional part of every day. One activity that had we omitted it, would make me feel as if we missed something that day.
I have been a little quiet on the blog, as I dove into new learning opportunities for myself and the boys. I am studying the practice of using nature connections as a part of a parenting and teaching tool box. It has created some wonderful experiences for all of us.
There is so much written today about disconnected family life, and the long-term negative effects on children. What has not been widely shared, is easily accessible activities that busy families can fit into their week. Our downsizing experiment has brought me a level of awareness about what is essential to our happy life, and our ability to opt out of a frantic life, and slowing down is a necessity.
Every day is not perfect, but every day has great moments of joy and lately more contentment for me. As parents today, we are all striving for the same thing. A happy, healthy child that feels loved. That can feel complicated in a life of longer school days, working, and a yearning for more time together.
I had a conversation with a husband and wife, successful business owners, and wonderful parents to their beautiful kids. The part that struck me was on two separated, isolated conversations they both mentioned, wishing they had more time with their kids. More connection time, beyond dinner, homework, and bedtime.
The husband was raised by a father who fished, camped, and hunted with his sons, and he now realized he had done none of those things with his own child. He wanted to, but honestly had no idea where and how to fit it into their life.
We all struggle with balance and lifestyle choices, and solutions are unique to each family. The parents giving up their dreams and livelihood would not help their children, but perhaps some easily accessible nature connected activities would serve both the father and the son. It might even create a momentum of more nature connections within the family.
We talked about the Texas State Parks program, Family Camp Out. It is a perfect way for a busy family to experience the great outdoors without changing their natural family rhythm. We talked about weeknight fishing trips, and where to do that in the area. Trading traditional dinner time, for a picnic and a fishing adventure. This father’s differences in raising his family does not have to be right or wrong, but the key is to find ways to nurture everyone in their household.
As you get to know your own families inner nature, take some time this week to connect with Mother Nature. Here is a simple, easy way to get started.
Go for a walk and be intentional about your goal of connecting. As you walk by or into a natural area, pause and listen. If you have children on the walk with you, ask them what they hear. If it is a safe place, sit and listen. Now close your eyes, and silently thank the natural area for its beauty. It is like knocking on a door before entering someone else’s house. It helps you switch from your daily busy world of thoughts and to-do lists, to a more mindful state of just being.
If your children are with you, know that they already sense how to do this. Children are always willing to say hello to animals in nature, encourage them to do what comes naturally. You can extend that by saying thank you to the breeze, or the warmth of the sun. You don’t have to say this out loud, if you are concerned with people thinking you have lost it! Nature does not use verbal language, so it’s not like it could respond verbally anyhow.
Now look. What do you see? As my children and I were on a walk the other day, we noticed all of the different grasshoppers and insects living in the grasses. Which reminds me of all of the levels of life. Things are always happening, whether we see them or not.
We even found some cucumbers growing along the fence of a construction site. A former garden or farm not willing to give up just yet, or maybe seeds dropped by a bird. These are moments that you can understand nature’s resilience in the face of adversity and it becomes a metaphor for life. “Where there is a will there is a way.”
It becomes a way to interpret the world without “talking about it”, which is a gift to all of us.
Just taking a moment to pause, listen, and feel your surroundings will welcome in the most natural of stress relievers. This activity can be done with a potted plant, but outside time is best to be able to transform your awareness into nature.
Will you take the time to seek a connection to the environment that surrounds you this week? Although going to the wilderness is always a wonderful way to connect to ourselves and nature, why not try something just outside your front door?
On this past Sunday morning, I was sitting at the table reading, waiting for everyone to wake up so that I could take a walk. As we were all saying good morning, my husband noticed a Hawk just outside the window, directly across from me on the fence. It was a sign for sure, and one that reminded me to get outside to begin my morning walk through nature. A reminder to step out and lead.
As I was walking, I did something intentionally, that for years had been just under the surface, but it is something I am learning to bring into my work. As I walked down a sidewalk flanked by nature that had escaped for now the bulldozing of new homes, I asked permission to enjoy this space from the very nature that inhabited it.
The breeze picked up, and the symphony of sounds slowly built into a beautiful melody almost drowning out the construction sounds nearby. As I stood there taking it all in instead of walking by unnoticed, I saw a tiny yellow bird, a finch I think. I would not have noticed it playing in the thicket of tall plants if I had not stopped. It was bouncing from stem to stem, having a grand old time. I then saw a larger bird, but only its shadow, mysterious and still as if watching me watching the small yellow bird. I said thank you and moved on my way. How much do we miss in our hurried lives?
The next time you walk through a natural area, put away your phone or headphones and listen. You might be surprised at what you hear.
As we celebrate our one year anniversary of intentional living, I am filled with the joy of having unearthed what was already there. Love of life, a gratitude of everything beautiful, a path to a livelihood in line with my true path and values, and the people I have the pleasure of sharing this small, but full space.
Wishing you all well on your journey. Where will it lead you in a year’s time?