Spring Fever

It turns out that Spring Fever is real. 

Centuries ago, it was the name for land scurvy and cured by consuming lemons, limes or oranges, Dr. Greg Swabe wrote for Knox Pediatrics in 2018. The disease “involved fatigue, malaise, easy bruising, bone pain, hemorrhaging of the scalp and gums, and poor wound healing….their vitamin C levels became depleted during the winter months with no available fruits and vegetables for consumption.”

As a Californian, I realize how I take things our short winter and access to fruit for granted. “It’s like you live in another country,” my Minnesotan friend told me after we discussed the 30-degree weather on her side of the world after I showed her photos of my garden.

View of the garden in spring

The modern notion of spring fever involves restlessness, an increase in energy, vitality and even appetite. This is the Spring Fever I recognize. The absolute desire to say, “The school year is over! Bring on vacation!”

Today I paused and watched a hummingbird visit the new pale pink geraniums a friend brought over when we gifted them a leg of lamb for Easter.

This morning while my son plodded through the sixth to last lesson of math for the school year, I filled my bucket with water, stuck my clippers in my holster and headed to the flower garden, ready to harvest to my heart’s content. I planned to cut just enough to arrange six jar bouquets. By the time I finished gathering from my mother’s roses bushes, all counting was off and I harvested to the full, enough for ten bouquets and then some. 

We decided to hold a yard sale, quite a last-minute decision, but why not? Air out the garage, pull out pieces that would be very good for others but have ended their season in our care. A spirit of generosity pervades my pricing rather than the urge to make a few extra bucks. “It blessed us,” I think, “let it bless someone else.”

We attended La Boheme this week for a joyful operatic experience, connecting with a community of artists and opera lovers one meets only by getting out and meeting people, becoming a regular. I admit the opera itself is quite tragic but the quality of the production makes it a pleasure to watch. To see grief on stage, so well-acted, stirred my heart. Rodolfo presented that moment of grief. “Live! Live!” he cried out in Italian. My heart moved within me. 

Today a familiar car pulled into our driveway. A friend bought her son to music lessons when ordinarily she works in the evenings. We sat in the sun, in a midcentury patio set I recently purchased from Miss Potts Attic, surrounded by roses bushes, drinking sparkling wine and talking about the deep things of life: grief, motherhood, all the painful things and all the consolations.

Spring fever? How can we focus when the flowers the blooming, the breeze is blowing, and bowls of red ripe cherries from the Monroe Family Orchards sit on the counter?

cherries ripe in spring

The pleasure of the outdoors calling us outside. This year’s Spring seems longer than last year, which seemed so brief. Is it the time together, the time spent delighting in traditions that are not only mine but yours or ours shared together? Is it the festivals, the farmer’s markets, the sheer joy that people seem to be experiencing outdoors? 

Still, I know spring has not come yet for everyone. 

For me, these are the moments to look away from the pains that haunt us, the sorrows we carry, to something so full of joy and promise, that it aches to be recognized. March was a difficult month. April was the transition, for me, into this new spring. That joy does not make the other things disappear, but it balances it out. There is a lot of darkness in our world, but now is the time for poppies. Now is the time for Spring.

Arbor Day and Earth Day

Earth Day

Space image of earth
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Earth Day was April 22. It is an annual event, begun on April 22, 1970, to demonstrate support for environmental protection. 193 countries now celebrate it. The official theme for 2022 is “Invest in Our Planet.” 

Arbor Day

Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

April 29 was Arbor Day, a secular day of observance which encourages individuals and groups to plant trees. It is celebrated every year on the last Friday in April. An estimated one million trees were planted on the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872.

The Difference between the two

In the “Difference Between Earth Day & Arbor Day,” Jann Seal explains at eHow.com that Arbor Day is the grandparent holiday of Earth Day. Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring,” 1962, inspired the movement towards Earth Day. Seal writes, “Arbor Day’s purpose is to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees, to make the world greener and healthier. When comparing Arbor Day and Earth Day, one must take into account the fact that both have an end goal of improving conditions on our planet. Arbor Day is community-oriented, with projects focusing on making your lawn and yard more attractive to wildlife and informing large corporations of the necessity of clean air and how replanting our forests can benefit the nation. Earth Day expands on the philosophy of Arbor Day and is now a worldwide project with aims to protect the rain forests and to understand and accept climate change”.

The simplicity of Arbor Day is appealing. Plant a tree, do good. Some approaches to Earth Day that might lead one to think our very presence here on earth is a danger. The risk exists of distorting the order of understanding of what our role is here on Earth. Do we need to protect the earth from ourselves? If so, it feels like there is nothing we can do. 

Some could easily argue against Arbor Day. Plant a tree? Another non-native species? Another plant to promote the 1950s value of a well-trimmed lawn and ornamental trees?

Either side of the aisle can make complaints.

Although, I venture to guess the average citizen does not spend many minutes dwelling on how they are different. But let’s consider it.

What can we do?

Marry the two. 

Plant. Plant a lot of plants. But also learn about the earth and how the blue planet has an internal organization and a blueprint indicating what works best in a given spot. Appreciate the regional differences. As you appreciate them, learn about them. There may be small changes we can make to nudge our landscapes in a direction that is not only better for the earth beneath us but requires fewer additional resources to maintain. Less cost, more time, and a unique kind of beauty.

See yourself as a steward.

You have control now, but generations will follow after you. The ground and its ecosystem is a thing that exists apart from us. Rather than master it and make our will with it, we might learn from it and see how we can engage that natural balance to create a more fruitful land. 

I began gardening just five years ago. Three years ago we moved to the wild untamed land into which, I suspect, copious amounts of chemicals were poured to limit the growth of unwanted vegetation. The soil is poor, but being California, we can work with it and make things grow. 

We added compost, which allows some cover plants to grow to minimize dust. We mowed but allowed the clippings to fall back to the ground to feed it. I grew flowers. The first year, so many were affected by powdery mildew that I armed myself with supplies approved for organic gardening the next year. 

The spring began with ladybugs. When the weather warmed, I began spraying against mildew. Gardening groups and advice websites advocated spraying every two weeks. The ladybugs disappeared.

There has to be another way than just endlessly pumping out more products, I thought. On Instagram, I learned about the project called regenerative farming, the idea that we can plug into the way the earth naturally works and end up with a healthier balance that relatively maintains itself.

I’m allowing the self-sewn sprouts of new perennials to grow. I spray aphids with water but not much else. I am letting go of my expectations around dahlias. We will see what happens. It’s a new experiment for me, but it seems to make sense. 

Arbor Day and Earth Day.

There’s always something new to learn.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Solidarity

I wrote about Lent as we prepared for Lent, as we were in the midst of Lent, and now, as you read this, for Christians, it is the Easter season. The liturgical season of Easter lasts longer than the liturgical season of Lent, and with good reason.

Times of fasting must give way to times of feasting, lest we lose our understanding of what life is all about.

Life is not meant to be low, sad and dreary, but it often is. Life is not meant to be full of pain, loneliness, and suffering, but it often is. Life is not meant to be hard, toilsome, and without reward, but it is often is.

That is the condition of this world. We see it over and over again as illness crosses borders and fills hospitals, as wars begin and continue, as the news continues to tell us what devastating things take place inside and outside our borders. Closer to home, we see the world in pain held within the hands of our community in the grieving families, the struggles to make ends meet, the sorrows of those who see our children suffer or ask for help because they cannot buy groceries this month.

Even as we find goodness and joy in the season, that does not mean that all those difficulties have disappeared.

They have been transformed.

They have been filled with meaning. It is a reminder that this darkness is not all there is.

I sat back on Holy Thursday, asking myself, why do I feel this heaviness in my heart? I thought of the word, “solidarity.”

Solidarity, according to Merriam-Webster means, “Unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards.”

Whatever your belief system, there is something to this solidarity. We can have solidarity with others incidentally through those shared experiences. HYBS families have solidarity as they take kids to practice, and haul their wagons and water bottles for a day in the sun to support and celebrate their child’s involvement in a town and family tradition.

At Passover, Jews have solidarity as they observe Passover around the world, whether with family or separated, they are united. Continuing the tradition connects them not only to each other across the world, but to past generations, to the Israelites freed from slavery in Egypt, and to future generations to come. That is the power of tradition. By religious and cultural practice, they join in something bigger than themselves.

And we can choose something similar.

By considering the mundane difficulties of our usual day, by taking the pain of crisis or sorrow of grief, and choosing to pause, holding it in our mind, and then turn out thoughts to those who suffered in the past, those who suffer now immensely, whether by war, grief or illness, we can choose to unite our suffering with theirs. It is a spiritual choice. It will not show up on paper or tax returns, but it will alter how we live our lives, either by putting our suffering in a new light or reminding us that we are not alone. We are not the first to walk this path. We will not be the last. We connect with those living now, with those who have gone before us, with those who will come after us.

Others searched, desperately, for hope in times of darkness. Others sought purpose when to continue felt futile. And if you are suffering now, you can too.

This may be a strange Easter message

But the reality is that times of celebration do not make the experience of suffering disappear. Those who grieve recognize the struggle to be in the moment of festivity but carry something much deeper, perhaps darker, in their hearts.

We hope that times of festivity show us, not that all is glorious, but rather a promise for the future, that one day, our suffering will be turned into joy. That those who mourn will be comforted. That those who hunger and thirst will be filled.

Solidarity. It is more than sentiment. It’s a movement towards unity, understanding and care for one another that could change the face of this land.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Dried Orange Ornaments

Eight oranges were bagged and decanted into a wire fruit basket.

Gathering my supplies, I cleared space next to the dish drainer for my husband to put the dehydrator out of the way of other kitchen activities. I set before me a chef’s knife, a cutting board and a basket of oranges. My daughter stood at the opposite side of the counter watching with eager anticipation. “Can I help you dry the oranges?” She asked.

“I’m not really sure what you can do,” I answered with a downbeat.
Slowly, I sliced the oranges an even width laying them on the plastic perforated trays of the dehydrator. I leaned across to examine the settings, turned the dial to “Fruit 135”.

Within an hour the sweet citrus smell permeated the living room and kitchen, greeting children leaving their rooms to fetch a book or newcomers to the house. We dressed in carefully chosen outfits and changed our shoes to attend the Christmas parade. I gathered my camera supplies, notebook and pens, prepared to do the work I love best outside the home.
When we returned, the flesh the orange slices felt tacky to the touch. I turned it off for the evening. “I’m sure it will be fine,” my husband reassured me, “what could happen overnight? They’ll dry out?”

The next day resumed the drying activities.

At 135, it took about seven hours

When they were done, I called the eager young lady denied her opportunity to craft the previous night. I taught her to use her forefinger to tie a knot. With antique-style shears, I cut beige upholstery thread to relatively even lengths, threaded a needle, pierced through the orange windowpane pulled the string even on each side, and set it beside me for my daughter to pick up and tie.

As she finished, I went to hang them. The ends of string above the knot were too long. I called my son to cut the ends. He delighted in the opportunity to use Mother’s sharp scissors and participate in the craft. Another daughter helped me hang the newly fashioned ornaments on a small pine tree in our room. She loaded her fingers with loops and carried them off. Her elder sister, the first crafter mentioned, redistributed them around the tree, creating visual balance across its boughs.

We finished the tree and swags of greenery hung about the dining room.
With the same spool and scissors, I measured the length for a cranberry garland. The younger daughter collected not-quite-ripe kumquats. One, two, three cranberries, then a kumquat. The elder moved the group down the thread as I impaled the next.

We were calm, joyful and eager for the festivities to come. The slow moments, the quiet collaboration, the simple skills required to bring the decor to life with natural elements transfixed us. I marveled at the beauty of the oranges, the beauty of creation.

a needle and some thread does the trick

“Will we get to eat them?” The children ask, each in their own turn.

“Sometimes after Christmas,” I answered.

We do not save them. They are passing, like time itself. The oranges represent the traditions shared with us stories like “An Orange for Frankie” by Patricia Polacco, and the inclusion of oranges or mandarins in a child’s shoes for St. Nicholas day.

“How are you preparing for Christmas?”

A preacher asked his people. “If your answer is Christmas shopping or decorating, you might be missing out on the riches of the season.”

I am not so sure. It was a slow moment that brought us all together, all at peace. I knew the task; I knew who could participate in it and they each delighted in it. The oranges represent the delayed gratification so necessary to the well-ordered life. This season of life does not allow me to throw all the decorations up the Friday after Thanksgiving. Rather, we move, weekend by weekend, candle by candle of the Advent wreath, closer and closer to Christmas.

Thus it is not the task itself of decorating, but how we go about it, and whether or not we choose to enjoy it, embracing it as a good in itself, with riches beyond what we could possibly anticipate.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Reflections on Marriage and Henry James’ “The Golden Bowl”

Can an outsider break this bond?

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

The Golden Bowl by Henry James is unlike anything I have ever read. It feels like an academic read, the kind you read in graduate school, challenging, brilliant, and long. It centers around four main characters whose lives are tangled together as they sort through their relationships to live the life meant for them. A daughter and father, beautifully close, must cope with her marriage. A wife and husband must separate from old relationships to see each other, first and foremost. A former lover reemerges in a man’s life intending to be with him regardless of his marital status. A girl and her friend reunite while the friend plays the part of the friend a little too perfectly.

Charlotte marries Maggie’s father but keeps her eyes on Maggie’s husband. Maggie keeps the familial bond with her father unchanged even as she delights in married life and motherhood. The husband, Amerigo, begins with good intentions, but his passivity steers him wrong in the face of a determined woman.

The author takes us deep inside the reflective thoughts of the characters who employ more thought than action on the pages of the book. I cannot recommend it to everyone, but I do believe it is a masterpiece.

In the end, I was surprised to realize this book is so much more about the transition to married life and the challenge of breaking old bonds than it was about the bad characters doing bad things, sinning against the innocent.

The Tasks of Marriage: Separating from the Family of Origin

“I think it will be good that you move to Virginia,” a mentor told me as I prepared for marriage and the aforementioned move for graduate school. She explained that it would be an opportunity to turn towards my new husband, and he to me, away from the family and friends we knew so well. Isolated in that way, we would learn the heart of married life, which is to travel together on this journey.

We are a people made for ties, made for connections and bonds. Whether our commitment to work, to friendship, to aging parents, to nieces and nephews, we are made for relationships.

When that one such relationship comes along with its public declaration of marriage, saying, “I will be for you and you will be first for me,” then everything must readjust. Judith Wallerstein, author of “The Good Marriage,” identifies nine tasks to a successful marriage. The first begins with separating from the family of origin as one of the foundational tasks in making a marriage successful.

Adjust then Readjust

The successful marriage readjusts again if children come along, and again and again, as the space of relationship makes more space for more children or contracts back as the children grow and leave home or when the curves of life put the entire balance of life into question. It is always adjusting, always changing, always asking the question, where do we fit? Do we fit together? How can we fit together with these new challenges?

Whether we realize it or not, an answer arises and we begin to shift our weight to adjust to the arrangement we have fallen into. This is risky, especially when the demands of life make it harder and harder to give primacy to those primary relationships.

Therefore, we must take the time to think about it, and after thinking, to talk, and after talking, to make plans on how to get it right, straighter and in better order. That is the thing I learned from 12 years of marriage, my reflection for this year’s anniversary, and it will likely be the lesson I have to learn again in six months or a year or ten years. We have to keep learning the most important lessons over and over again because each time we learn them, we lay those lessons deeper into the foundation of who we are.

And sometimes, it happens that we are in a worse place. Then, we learn them from our rock bottom, from our weakness, looking with forced humility at how fragile we are. The more painful part of growing happens. Wounds will have to be healed and bonded, restored, but each time, when we follow this path, when both parties aim to maintain that relationship, the successful marriage come back stronger and more bonded than ever, and that is how it lasts forever.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Moments of Wonder – Better than Clicks

Our moments matter.

I look out the window to check on the garden and anticipate its blooms for the day, making a plan for the early hours of the day. Opening the window, I think of the potential cross breeze now that our bed is pulled away from the window on the adjacent wall.

As I was approached the large window, I see Black Widow between the glass and screen. Not to worry, pest control comes regularly to keep these little creatures from entering our humble abode. Still, we must not let the moment pass. I call the children over to give them the opportunity to examine it and what appears to be its former mate up close, safely behind the glass, before my husband crushes the life out of it. We enjoy the moment even if it leads to the “heebee jeebies.”

I try to take stock of these moments.

The moments are fragments of time woven together to create a tapestry of how my children see and understand the world. My response to the world around us shows them what they will perceive as a standard in the potential ways to proceed.

Homeschooling means the environment I create for them is the one they know best.

Homeschool room in the living room with fall decor

They do not have access to technology or social media. After watching “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix it became clear how our society could become as polarized as it has. The more you search for something, click on something, look at something, the more the algorithms tailor the content you are shown on social media or through Google to that which has attracted your attention in the past. The more you see something, the more normalized it seems, the more it seems a regular part of the world on you inhabit, the more freedom you have to express the ideas that were previously spoken of more carefully, tactfully, cautiously.

Thus women feel freer to talk about household chore distribution, babies who do not sleep, pregnancy woes, and the desire to work or not to work. And thus others find a place to voice their political ideas, to find a political community they may not otherwise have found, for good or ill.

The moments matter.

We affect the environment we live in.

There are many sources fighting for our attention these days and in diving in, the environment we live in begins to distort into something that is not a true representation of the people who live around us, but a magnification and exaggeration created by an engine selling advertising space.

The end of “The Social Dilemma” is quite dire. The only viable solution seen by the documentary interviewees, early influencers of social media, is regulation of the companies that survey our usage. The other solution, less discussed, is to turn off the computer, store the iPad, turn off notifications and put away the phone.

The distance from these noise-producing objects creates silence for our minds. Our minds are searching for occupation. What we need in this world is not more noise, but more wonder.

I call the children over to see the Black Widow. We discuss the nature of her name, which only one child knew before. We can simultaneously not want to know this Widow well and wonder at its creation.

In the act of wonder, I sit back and behold, I marvel, I observe and I learn.

The act is not flashy and will not bait the clicks, but it enriches my heart. We share a moment as a family. The moment passes. The Black Widow is killed. We go about our day.

Until we see a caterpillar.

Almond orchard at sunset

Sick of 2020? Take this Medicine

It is September.

Online I observe sighs of relief as decor and craft enthusiasts bring out the pumpkins, the harvest colors, and scents of the season. Like Christmas time, autumn is filled with sensory triggers that invite us to take a moment just to be.

How does this work?

Our bodies are wired for habituation. The more we experience a sensation, the more normal it is to us, and eventually, the less we sense it. We hardly notice our clothes after a while, unless they fit uncomfortably. That special flavor coffee or pancake or cocktail ceases to feel so novel after it has been indulged in regularly enough. Then our brains begin to look for something new. Something new reads as exciting because of its newness. It initiates firing throughout the brain as a novel stimulus.

And if there are past positive mental associations with this stimulus, we get a dose of nostalgia. Nostalgia can work as something spontaneous and unpredictable. I have a thing for wooden kitchen carts because my grandmother had and used one throughout my childhood. I have it now in my office. One day I hope to have it in my kitchen. Or nostalgia can be created intentionally, as when stores play Christmas music, hang tinsel and twinkling lights. Less commercially, I read of individuals delighting in the change from August to September because this means bringing out fall things and fall things feel beautiful, good and comforting to them.

Festive fall table setting with pumpkin soup bowls

It is a return of tradition.

Golden yellow living room with "Beatus Autumnum" banner

It is a season rich with unique elements that we only allow ourselves once a year. I grant that other than pumpkins and a dusty harvest, it is somewhat manufactured here in California’s Central Valley, but nevertheless, plenty of us indulge in it as we do listening to songs about snow in wintertime.

With our brains noticing all these new smells when the past smells were simply neutral and unnoticed, or warm color palates replace the bright palates of summer, there is a movement within us to pause and delight in this change.

Maybe this is not for you. Maybe instead, it means the annual moment to mock all things pumpkin spice. That too acts as a tradition.

The risk is in having it neither way.

The risk is letting one day pass into another and never stopping to savor or let your senses feel the thing that is different right now at this moment.

Being mindful of the present moment is a calming moment of silence for our more frequently agitated brains. Technology bombards us with an overload of sights and sounds, but being virtual, without taste, touch and smell, it lacks the realness and, I believe, stresses our systems out. You may have felt that after one Zoom meeting too many.

This year in particular, after so much uncertainty, after hope that things would be better, anger at the current state of things, fear at the potential fall out if we do this thing or do not this thing or if others around us do it or do not do it, after the strain of distrusting our neighboring, wanting to see our neighbor against, stressing over whether or not we or our neighbors should wear masks, facing the inability to control the situation before us, wondering if today it is even safe to breathe the air…after all this, to settle into something familiar, to look at the past rather than the future, may be the medicine we need right now.

Festive fall shirts that read "Beatus Autumnum"

Because we do need medicine. Whether or not a vaccine prompts political leaders and health experts to open the doors to normal living, we need to find a salve that will carry us forward without breaking us.

And for many, right now, it’s Fall.

Black kitten
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Is HomeSchooling the Right Path?

For me it is, right now. How do I know?

This week, the baby decided nighttime sleep was overrated. As a result, my mental capacity for homeschool management waned. In this limited state, I called upon one of the overlooked benefits of schooling multiple children at home – making use of readers.

In high school and college, the local learning authorities on education told me, “if you want to really understand something, try to teach it to someone else.” This lesson gave me the boost I needed to initiate this experiment.

Unable to get my words straight that morning, I employed the help of my readers to act as teaching assistants for the day. Without me, their vocal leader, my readers learned why they should not use their music sheet as a prop while we sang the German folk tune, “Autumn Leaves.”

The eldest reader led story time at the end of our morning basket. My third-grade reader, more interested in reading independently than listening, read his history assignment on his own, answered questions orally, than went on to read the geography text to the first grader. The first-grader used her limited phonetic knowledge to read to the preschool student at nap time. The readers explained math problems, led the art discussion, and checked on each other throughout the morning. Remarkably, we finished most academic work in slightly less time than a normal day.

I was rejuvenated enough to conduct the drawing lesson, after which readers and non-readers draw for another thirty minutes before breaking for the day or finishing up their leftover lessons.

It worked

And it was a refreshing break. Throughout the day I overheard exchanges of banter, competition, comparison, help, excitement and praise over the diverse interests among my children. Sent out for recess, they have a friendship that supersedes the drama of intermittent friends because they know they are stuck with each other. We train them to work out their problems, to take the complaints to each other rather than us, to “use their words,” learn to apologize in a meaningful way, forgive, shake hands, and move on.

This hands-on education makes it possible, when needed, to pass the baton, and passing the baton teaches responsibility for the baton.

For us, it is working.

With all of life’s chaos and challenges, with sleep deprivation, personal weaknesses and imperfections, it is still working.

 It is a sign to me of the idea I have leaned on for several years now, parenting is not each individual moment, but the sum of those moments added together.

I am not defined by my bad days, and neither are you, whether with work, parenting or relationships. We are more than our individual moments, just as you are more than a bundle of traits. To know you is not just to know your favorite candle scent or coffee order, but to know what makes you tick, laugh, get offended and cool off.

When we can understand the deeper things that make us go, that is when we can begin to fully discern where is the right place for us, where we will best learn, where we will thrive and to read the bad days for what they are – simply a bad day.

What this means for you

I talk a lot about our homeschool days not because it is right for everyone, but because I found it right for us. On the path from the first inkling that we wanted to do this to four years later now that my heart is on board and fully engaged, I think there is some wisdom to be gained for other areas of life.

We may know it is the right path intellectually. Maybe not the most socially acceptable, logical or easiest path, but right for us right now. Time will tell. It either will work or it will not. If it does not work, it is okay to turn and begin a new path. When it does work, that means it’s time to celebrate.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

Navigate the Homeschool day

The setting

A fifth-grader, third-grader, first grader and preschooler began their school year in my house August 17. The fifth-grader dove into the myriad of subjects, well-rested from a summer of exploring the fields, imagining stories of fine and heroic ladies, horseback riding and adding braces and glasses to her ensemble. Despite the order of subjects presented, she continues to pursue math sooner than directed and to blow through her history books without consideration for the questions she must answer. The former may be from a sense of getting the worst over first. The latter from an aggressive love of reading.

The third-grader, less enthusiastic, is navigating the idea of the servitude that comes with a new and more challenging grade. Being rational, now that he is past the age of seven, as the days go by slowly does the realization grow that the quicker he works the more time in the day there will be for Legos.

There sits a first-grader, diligently copying her letters and stories, drawing solar systems, requesting coloring pages that include an [anatomically correct] heart and a brain, and reminding her mother-teacher that it is time for phonics.

A preschooler’s time is best spent in play, drawing upon the hard lessons of life and competition, to develop his sense of the world and how to move within it without hitting his head on doorknobs. Nevertheless, when I can put him off no longer, I guide him through his art book, shape identification and letter tracing.

Bouncing between all these is a chubby seven-month-old not quite sure why her mouth hurts, why her mother keeps setting her down despite her protests and who this punk four-year-old is who continually piles toys around her while she learns to crawl.

The Honest Fact

I was nervous about beginning this year, and I was right to be nervous. This is hard.

A Plan of Attack

When I know something will be difficult, the first matter I must address is my mindset. We used our first week to determine our ideal schedule and make changes. The day ended at a set time without or without completing all the subjects. More time may have been spent with me running back and forth from the printer than was necessary, but in a way, I needed to dive in and see what I was up against before I could concretize a plan of attack.

Consistency is king and despite the baby’s insistence on unpredictability, we have achieved some sense of normalcy with almost two weeks under our belt. I keep very busy. This is the first year I found our schedule better set by the hours of the day than generalized blocks of time. We begin at 8 a.m., break for lunch at noon whether or not the current subject is completed, resume instruction at 1 p.m. With a drawing lesson and drawing time and end the day at 3 or 4 p.m. End times depend entirely on the student’s age and willingness to engage in one’s lessons without great lapses of wandering into space.

My temptation is to plow through, like my daughter and her math lessons, not to get lost in the act of savoring, like my son and his drawing. But I knew in my heart that our mornings beginning with prayer, songs and stories, and our afternoons beginning with a drawing lesson, were linchpins on which our whole day rested.

But do I apply this to myself?

But I haven’t quite learned that for myself yet. My nights are irregular, or maybe, regularly rough, and I am trying to find that secret ingredient at 4 p.m. that will reset my mind and prevent me from turning into a gargoyle. I’ll let you know when I find it. I have a feeling that, like the balance I seek for my children, the tools for preventing my 4 p.m. meltdown will come from what happens earlier in the day.

Possibly and probably the list includes good sleep, good nutrition, a walk, and midday break away from the kids before the beloved drawing lesson. We shall see.

Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

This Hard Thing is Worth Doing

The Setting

I write this on Thursday, four days after the lightening siege, the aftermath of which we are still witness to.

Yesterday, a red sun rose as ash slowly sifted through the air landing on our flowers, our furniture and our concerns. I called my aunt to see if they were already evacuated. Light filtered through the smoke and harvest dust until the late morning, creating a yellow glow in each of the windows, moving our moods closer and closer to their edge. Though there was no smell of smoke, my head began to ache after the necessary time outside watering the garden and clipping ripe flowers.

Today the sky is a white mass, clouded over with smoke. The scent hangs heavy burning eyes and itching throats. Individuals rake the almonds away from the trees, sending tufts of light brown dust around their heavily clothed bodies and covered faces.

Though the window I see my husband move the last wheelbarrow of fungal-infested garden cuttings, which amounted to most of the annuals. I cut the plants down to their bases, above the nodes, hoping they will grow again. After a weekend of mental preparation, I found myself able to let it go.

We await news from family members, news outlets and the Cal Fire map. The governor declared a state of emergency. We seem to live in a perpetual state of emergency this year.

When the year began, I felt moved more and more to turn my gaze from facing out the windows, to inward where my children are.

Pressing Forward On the Journey

COVID or not, life must continue.

Smoke in the air or not, harvest must continue.

Headache or not, the school day must continue.

Just when we had made the most of outdoor gatherings, a haze settled in around us. Just as a sense of safety creeped in, the news headlines burst.

This time, with all its light-filtering distortion, is one moment of the journey, one chapter in the book, one season of our lives.

You Can Decide

With an external locus of control an individual sees the power of things as outside his control, it is done to him. An internal local of control means I am the agent. I can decide, not what happens, but how I respond to it, and my response to it changes the narrative. You can determine how this story will play out. The hero is the ordinary player in the story who faces a challenge, faces it bravely and continues his journey. He is heroic not because he is extraordinary, but because has found a way through extraordinary circumstances.

Four years ago, the business of my life felt like the global circumstances now, one crisis after another. Facing family illness and tragedy it was the same matter. What could I have control over? I could not stop the events we faced. Despite the temptation that inevitably comes with heartache, it does no good to look for who to blame. Guilt and shame have no place in crisis management. We must face the world as it is now, and decide what are we going to do about it.

You can Get Stuck

Opening our eyes, we look around and see the potential paths before us. I can waste time looking back. I can waste time thinking, “what if this had never happened?” I can waste time thinking, “what could I have done differently?”

Those thought exercises could be done as productive reflections to better whatever outcome comes next, or they could be done in a sorrowful mood, regretful, anxious, mourning what cannot be again. It is only then that they waste time.

You Can Be The Hero

What comes next for you as you walk through these extraordinary circumstances? How will you embrace your role as the hero of your story, carrying out your duty, faithfully supporting those who rely on you, making the world a better, more beautiful place? The answer to this question becomes your legacy, where even the lives that seem smallest are stories worth telling.