Sunday, June 25, 2017

how I'll teach my children to pray

When you are very small and very resistant to sleeping when society says you should, I'll stand holding you in the dark and sing Bible camp songs I've forgotten I know. From the depths of my sleep-deprived desperation scripture set to music will pour out of me and become the fabric of your bedtime memories. Years after we've put this ritual behind us I will catch you humming these tunes under your breath as you create masterpieces with markers at the kitchen table and I will realize the magic of the psalms all over again.

Mama: O God of what we've forgotten we know
Children: Hear our prayer.

Anytime we hear sirens I'll remind you to pray for the helpers. We'll go through the list of first responders. We'll cover doctors and hospital staff. We'll pray for peace of mind and clarity in decision-making for families of victims and you'll ask questions about fire trucks and how accidents happen and I will answer you while silently thanking God that it wasn't us that called for sirens, it wasn't my babies needing the helpers. 

Mama: O God of my selfish gratitude
Children: Hear our prayer.

There will be perfect moments when everyone is in a good mood and the perfect song is playing and you are stirring biscuit dough in a bowl that belonged to my grandmother and we'll have to stop stirring and join hands even though we are covered in flour just to sway sillily because dancing is how we celebrate perfect moments and it is darn sure how we pray.

Mama: O God of kitchen dancing
Children: Hear our prayer.

I will hike you up mountainsides and into deep forests. We will wade into rivers and plunge our bodies into the ocean. We will watch sunsets and howl at the full moon. You'll complain about the bug bites, the steep inclines, the temperature, the boredom, but onward and upward we'll go, exploring every nook and cranny of our spaceship home. We will learn how life works (in spiraling patterns), where beauty can be found (everywhere, if we look hard enough), how wonderfully and fearfully made it all truly is. You'll thank me for it someday. I'm thankful for it already.

Mama: O God of creation, of wonder, of all things great and small
Children: Hear our prayer.

I will cry. You will see me do it. It might be tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes when I listen to you sing along in the car to a song I love. It might be silent shoulder heaving at the kitchen counter because I am overwhelmed by all the things I fear I've failed to conquer in my life. You'll watch Papa hold me as my body laments all the world I cannot save. At least once in your life you will catch me screaming in the backyard, overcome by injustice and tragedy, as if all of humanity is mine alone to bear witness to. This is who I am. This is how I pray.

Mama: O God of the canaries in the coal mines,
Children: Hear our prayer.

I will fail you. I will forget to pack your lunch. I'll be late to pick you up from swim practice. I will yell at you for no other reason than I am tired and you are nearby. I will be sarcastic when you are seeking sweetness. I will misinterpret your emotions. Sometimes I won't even realize these shortcomings. Other times, I am embarrassed to admit, they will be intentional. My relationship with you will give me ample opportunity to practice asking forgiveness, making amends. This is how we love each other, this forgiveness and amend-making. This, too, is prayer.

Mama: O God of second chances, of mercies anew every morning
Children: Hear our prayer. 

My body grew yours. We are connected in the way all things are connected. These gossamer threads of being link us backwards and forwards to the stardust we came from and the stardust we will be again. Your very existence is my connection to what is, what will be, what came before. The life in me honors the life in you. Uncle Walt reminds us we are verse contributors in this play of life. Let's make our verse beautiful together. 

Mama: O me! O life! O God of poetry and stardust!
Children: Hear our prayer. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

the dishwasher

my name is wendy. I'm a homesteader and I use my dishwasher. daily. sometimes twice a day.

it is hard for me to pinpoint exactly when we officially became homesteaders. was I a homesteader when I lived in an apartment in a city and walked my pregnant belly and my toddler half a mile to the community garden to deposit our compost once a week? were we homesteading when we taught our foster kids how to plant tomatoes beside the driveway every spring? maybe I wasn't official until I baked my first loaf of bread from scratch or botched my first batch of cheese. did the homesteading life start when we moved to the country and hung up a clothesline? when my husband finally started listing "farmer" as his full-time occupation?

the "when" of a homesteading journey can be a little tricky. there isn't a checklist to go by or an official act of initiation in this game. and everybody's definition is a little bit different. I can think back to my ambitions when we first started being the weird ones in our extended family. those ambitions certainly did not include using an electric dishwasher on a daily basis. we were going to live off the grid, in the woods, off the land, in the moment! it was going to be hard and satisfying all at the same time. and once we started, it was going to be full steam ahead, no turning back, carpe the homesteading diem!

I guess I don't have to tell you things didn't quite work out the way I'd envisioned. our needs changed, our visions changed, heck, the world around us just seems to keep changing. but even if the "hows" and the "whens" are hard to nail down, the "whys" of this life are still crystal clear to me. and the "whys" we have settled on leave room for me to use my dishwasher.

we homestead for two main reasons: to make our life slower and simpler, and to prepare ourselves for having to undergo major lifestyle changes as the world around us changes. we want to enjoy our day-to-day as a family (and as individuals, too) and we also want to have the skills we need if there suddenly is no more electricity or if buying food large scale is no longer an option. I want to have the skills I need to keep my family safe, warm, and fed if the grid were to disappear tomorrow. I want to know we can eat from our own yard if there is a natural disaster and food deliveries to local stores stop. so we homestead not only to provide a slower pace of life for ourselves, but also to practice for whatever may happen next.

here's how I justify my dishwasher under those "whys" of homesteading: I know how to wash dishes. I have mastered that skill through years of practice both as a kid and as an adult. I know that my kids would not be emotionally rattled if our dishwasher was suddenly removed from our lives. and in the day-to-day realm, it makes our life simpler to run a load of dishes through the dishwasher than it does to wash them by hand. I get more time to play chess with my son and to draw with my daughter as the dishwasher hums along in the background. all the time I am not washing dishes by hand can be used to whip up a pot of soup for supper, collect kindling in the yard, or read up on peak oil cozy by my wood stove. to me, the dishwasher is a keeper for those very reasons. and if the dishwasher goes kaput tomorrow, we probably wouldn't pay to have it fixed. we can certainly live without it. but for now, electricity is cleaning my dishes.

the biggest lessons in homestead for me haven't been the skills I've accomplished or the food I've preserved or even the relationships I've forged through this lifestyle change. the most important lessons for me are the internal ones: learning to detach from an intended outcome and just see what happens, learning to be gentle and kind to myself as I figure things out, granting grace to myself and my family as we all learn together. and sometimes that grace requires a little help from my dishwasher.

wendy and her homesteading family live on the tippy top of a mountain just outside of brevard, nc. you can read more about their adventures at

Thursday, October 20, 2016

just around the riverbend


In 2005 a boy I'd known for only a few months invited me to go on a backpacking trip to Wyoming with him. I'd never been backpacking. I'd never been to Wyoming. He promised me he was practically an expert. So (mostly because I was 25 and ready for adventure) I checked out some books from the library on how to pack for a ten day trip and called a friend to borrow a tent. She loaned me her KELTY Riverbend 4. I had no idea one should not backpack with a 4 person tent. I didn't know how to set it up. I knew nothing about ground covers or rain covers or stakes or bear bags. All I knew was I had a plane ticket and a tent, so I was ready.

Spoiler alert: we survived. There were some questionable situations for sure (like the time a bear wandered around outside our tent for two hours while we sang Christmas carols because our guidebook said to make noise) and some memorable moments (like the night a moose ran through our campsite just as we were finishing supper). I became an expert at putting up that sweet little (too big) tent. I learned all about hanging our food bag and staying hydrated. We did nine nights in Grand Teton National Park. By the time we left we were both backpacking experts. And I knew that boy a little better, too.

One of the best things about extended time in the woods like that is all the free form thinking that happens. On our last day in the woods that boy asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I answered right away that I wanted to spend my time working in foster care. He went off for a little walk by himself and when he came back he said, "Okay. Me, too. Let's do it." So we flew home and became licensed foster parents together.

Of course we took kids camping. Teenagers that had lived in the Western North Carolina mountains their entire lives and never been into the forest at all had their first camping experiences in that KELTY Riverbend tent. I was such a pro at setting it up I made it look easy to all those first timers. Lots of tears were shed in that tent. Lots of time was spent with headlamps aglow, trying to convince little people that sleeping outside was actually fun.  Some of those kids actually believed us and the ones that still weren't so sure made it through all the same.

After a while that boy and I got married, realizing our adventurous life together was shaping up to be pretty good. The friend that loaned us the tent gladly gifted it to us permanently as a wedding present. We decided to hit the road for a while. After all, we had a tent; what more did we need? We went to music festivals and state parks. We camped in every season in all kinds of weather. We kept a piece of paper tucked into the side pocket of the tent with a list of all the times we camped: the date, where we stayed, who was with us. Our tent was the scrapbook of our life together.

I can't tell you all the nights I've spent curled up in that Riverbend tent with a dog on one side and that boy I married on the other. When we had a baby of our own, we took him camping. We figured that he could cry all night in the woods just as easy as he could cry all night in our apartment. We were right, and cry he did. But it didn't take long before he knew that tent as well as he knew his bed at home. When we moved to Canada to take another job in a residential group home with autistic youth with severe behavioral disorders, the tent went, too. More kids had their first time in the wilderness with the KELTY Riverbend as their shelter. When we road tripped back to the States, we stopped at as many National Parks as we could along the way. I can remember lying in Zion National Park, pregnant with our next little baby, looking up at the sky through the tent roof so in awe of the life within me and the life around me. Never have I been more thankful for the open-mesh design on the ceiling of that Riverbend tent.

Those two babies are now big enough to set up our Riverbend on their own. There are some places on that open-mesh ceiling that let in more bugs than starlight these days. We've seen more music festivals and national campgrounds over the years. The four of us barely fit inside anymore, but we've yet to let that stop us. The dog stays home more and more when we decide to set out on a camping adventure. Our kids go to a fantastic school where camping is part of the curriculum and they are always thankful that the Riverbend is quick and easy to out up and they can be back out splashing in the river in no time. 

This year marked ten years of marriage to that boy that talked me into backpacking so long ago. We decided to celebrate a decade of togetherness with a new tent. We've yet to make the purchase because neither of us is eager to let go of our "scrapbook tent" all the way quite yet. Last week went went on a class campout with our kids and next week we are off to a music festival as a family. Our tent usage isn't slowing down a bit, even though we are a little cozier every time we snuggle up inside. Our next tent will be a KELTY tent, no doubt about that.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

a better butter spreader

yesterday Cora came home to report that a classmate's mom had come to teach the class about birds. "she's an ornithologist," Cora informed us. after sharing all the details of the lesson Cora asked if I could come and teach her class. "what would you like me to teach?" I asked my inspired kindergartener. "you could show everyone how to spread butter!" was her enthusiastic reply.

it's true, I am an excellent butter spreader. my best friend is convinced that all people have a secret, under appreciated talent just waiting to be exploited. mine is butter spreading. at mealtimes there is a row of bread beside my plate as everyone waits their turn for me to butter for them, not too thick, without tearing the bread, even when the butter is too cold to spread itself nicely. it is nice to be appreciated.

it took a little reflection to not be stung by cora's assessment of my contribution potential in her class. I am not an ornithologist. there is no fancy title for the work I do. I don't really have a skill set that lends itself to lessons in a preschool classroom. and my day to day work probably isn't super noticeable to a six year old. I've been thinking a lot lately if I am on track or off track. I don't really have a career at this point. I'm hardly writing at all. I haven't gone back to school for that masters degree. 

but I keep getting the feeling that my work is broader than I give myself credit for. I was telling a friend the other day that it is easy to feel like having kids has pulled me away from what I've always thought was my calling. I'm not working in foster care or with teenagers these days. but I have a sense of this overarching commitment to hospitality and I'm doing that every day. giving tourists directions in the bakery, hosting epic potlucks at our house, inviting camp friends to come and stay, buttering bread for the masses. I don't know how to present that in a classroom, but I think this work is good and meaningful.

it is easy for me to get bogged down and feel the sting of all the sacrifice required to live this intentional life. having kids means less free time and less pocket money. living in the woods means crummy cell service and long drives to town. eating well takes time and effort and forethought. a balanced marriage means giving up time alone to make time to be connected. all those things are worth it, even taking the sacrifice part into account. my word for 2016 is wide. I just have to step backwards to see the wider view, the bigger calling, the overarching goal. and through that wide lens I see value in butter spreading.

as my final reassurance I would just like to point out that after Cora suggested that Eric come and talk to her class about plants, she giggled and said "or you could teach us about pooting. your really good at that, papa." victory in butter spreading, my friends. at least my hidden talent isn't pooting.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

study war no more

I can't talk about brussels. I can't talk about paris. I can't talk about anything involving the word terror, terrorist, or terrorism. no school shootings. no biological warfare. my heart just can't take it.

I just keep singing to myself one of my my favorite camp songs because singing camp songs is what I do when I can't figure out what to do. camp songs or songs from musicals, but desperate times call for the campiest of camp, the oldiest and goodiest of them all.

(ps-have you seen these "playing for change" videos? every single one is awesome. I cry every time I watch one. big surprise, I know.)

I like to think there is no study of war here in my sweet little mountain town, that because we don't have subways or tall buildings we are protected and preserved. I like to think turning off the news on the radio is enough not to study war no more. I like to think that it is enough to be grateful that it wasn't me, wasn't mine, wasn't here, wasn't close. I want to shake my head sadly and move on with my day. it is tricky balance, life in this world. I can't unknow. I can't not feel. but I also don't want to live scared or small.

here is what I know: I don't want to study war no more. I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to glorify it, I don't want it to be part of who I am and what I do. that looks like lots of different things to lots of different people, I know. but for me it means laying down my sword (my sharp tongue, my quick to anger, my need to be right at all costs). but it also means laying down my shield, all the ways I try to defend and protect what I want to hold close. maybe for right now that means not listening to the news or getting caught up in all the "terror" so prevalent in the mainstream. it means being more vulnerable perhaps, but it also means living a lighter life, without lugging around all the ways I am convinced I need to work to keep myself and all I love safe. I'm gonna lay down my sword AND shield.

how do we fight the good fight? how do we keep on charging the enemy so long as there is life? sometimes it feels like our world is exploding just like spring is exploding here. my heart is exploding, too, but I want that explosion to look like the study of things far more beautiful than the study of war. I have gardens to grow, children to laugh with, friends to hug, stories to tell, rivers to swim, mountains to climb, seeds of peace to spread, lives to live. I can't be bothered to study war no more.

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. "How are we to live in an atomic age?" I am tempted to reply: "Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents."
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors - anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things - praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts - not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
~cs lewis 

"If this life is to be so painful and short and so stunning and expansive, maybe I ought to do this differently." yes. and maybe differently isn't so far off from what we already know to do: love each other. live a little lighter. say yes. hug more often. eat vegetables and play outside. dance hard to music in the car.  be kind. even to ourselves. even to each other. even on grumpy days. listen better. talk less. hold hands. sing and sing and sing. and if you don't know the words, I'm happy to teach you all the camp songs I know.

Friday, March 4, 2016

eat vegetables and play outside

I went away last weekend and when I got in the car with my family who had come to pick me up I asked jamin what he did all weekend. "mostly just eat vegetables and play outside." I love this response and I am trying to make it the answer to as many of life's questions as possible. how can I feel fulfilled and learn my true calling? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside. how can I help to combat climate change? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside. how should I raise my children to be the best humans they can be? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside. what would jesus do? mostly just eat vegetables and play outside.

that's really all the quippy, bloggy take on life I have these days. I am working a lot at the bakery here in town and serving as a caretaker for a woman who had a stroke a few years back. my kids are thriving in school. eric is tapping his foot for spring. I have friends dealing with heartache and change. I am trying not to get sucked in to political warfare. I struggle about where we should attend church as a family. I have a jar where I dump my tip money and I taped a list of all the things I want to save up for. the list seems larger than the jar's contents could ever be. we eat a lot of bread. I am equal parts eager for summer and worried about how I am going to manage it all. I am thankful to be healthy and whole and grumpy about being busy and grumpy. I don't always like the way I talk to my kids. I waver between wanting to think about adoption and wanting jamin and cora to move out already. I haven't been writing which feels bad but I don't feel like I have much to say which feels worse. but mostly things are good and fine and boring in the way that only seems boring because this is my daily life and boring can be good. and really only boring people are ever bored.

upon further questioning jamin admitted that there was some coaching (via eric) in his answer about his weekend activities. eric and I laughed about it later. when eric suggested this "mother-approved" statement, jamin was concerned about potential dishonesty so eric just told him he better work hard to make it a true statement. so he did. and knowing the backstory only makes me love it even more. don't we all need a little coaching on what to say in certain situations? and don't we all need a nudge to make the best answer also the truest answer? I think so.

whatever life is asking of us, let's all strive to make "mostly just eat vegetables and play outside" the truest, rightest, fullest, best answer. I can only think of good things happening if we do.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

rabbit rabbit

rabbit rabbit

i. when I was a kid in the dark ages before cell phones my parents had CB radios in their cars. my dad drove a little blue nissan truck that he had to fold his tall body into like an accordion. my mom drove a minivan. it was blue with a woodgrain panel running along the side. when we were in the car headed home after school or swim practice my mom would put out the call to my dad: “break, one-seven. how ‘bout cha rabbit dog, how ‘bout that one rabbit dog—you by the channel?” truckers would often answer her, surprised I suppose to hear a woman on their air waves, and she would talk to them too: “looking only for the rabbit dog. and I will remind you there are little ears on this channel, so thank you kindly for your consideration.” they would apologize and behave themselves and my dad would eventually answer “this is the rabbit dog. go ahead, little rabbit. what is your ten-twenty?” after all that preliminary action, he would ask to talk to me or my sister, bunny puppy number one and bunny puppy number two. we would grab hold of that speaker with the long curly cord and tell the rabbit dog what we had for lunch or sing him songs we’d learned at school. I am sure the truckers loved all that, too. we were the only family I knew who communicated by CB radio. no one has called me bunny puppy in a long long time.

ii. on the last day of every month we remind each other before we go to bed: “don’t forget to say rabbit rabbit when you wake up!” of course january first is an extra important rabbit rabbit since it starts the year as well as the month. who wouldn’t want a little extra luck going into a new year? I usually whisper my rabbit rabbit into the dark when I get up to let the cat out or someone calls from the other room to be covered up. jamin generally remembers on his own. but this time around cora made an executive decision for herself: “I’m not trying to say rabbit rabbit this time. I mean, if I get it, it is okay but I am not going to worry. it can be a good month anyway.” so wise, so willing to make her own luck. so ready to fight tradition and make her own way. she said it anyway yesterday morning. but she then reminded us she wasn’t worried about it. wisdom in five-year-old form.

iii. rabbit and kitra are home from hawaii. there were good things about being a household of four for two weeks, but it feels right to be full around here again, too. my kids are convinced that only rabbit can help them with certain projects, so jamin had been saving a jigsaw puzzle he got at a white elephant party and cora has a sewing craft that she is convinced only rabbit can help with. I wonder how they will remember this time, what their relationship with kitra will be like years from now. I wonder if they will always feel best in a house full of people or if they will live alone for years to make up for it. either way I feel sure jamin will have a puzzle table set up and cora will have a sewing machine on the ready and they’ll tell stories about how they lived with rabbit growing up, no not an animal a person named rabbit, and she taught us to eat with chopsticks and she made the best miso ever and she made our halloween costumes every year and she drove a little green car named mossy. 

iv. andrew, eric’s brother, is raising rabbits. he’s been talking about it for weeks now and a few days ago he struck up conversation with someone in the tractor supply parking lot (the guy was buying rabbit feed, so it was a logical leap) and of course because this is brevard the guy invited andrew to his house to see his set up and offered to be his mentor and sent him home with three tiny rabbits. we’ve held them and snuggled them and tried to ignore the idea that they’ll be stew in a few weeks. these rabbits more than anything say that andrew is here to stay. the kids love seeing him so often. cora climbs all over him the second he walks in the door. “I like having an uncle,” she says, “especially that it is andrew.” jamin loves the games andrew makes up and looks for loopholes in every imaginary rule. it takes jamin longer to warm up, but “wrestle maniac” has helped to break down those hesitancies. now jamin leans into andrew when they sit together on the couch and that lean is just as loving as cora’s acrobatic affections. 

v. I went back to yoga for the first time in maybe eight months or so. they are offering a thirty day challenge, and I can rarely pass up an opportunity with the word “challenge” in the name, so I got myself into the hot room last night. it amazes me what my body remembers. and because my body already knew just want to do, focusing my mind seemed much more possible. “let us begin again,” the teacher said between postures. it was upside down in rabbit pose that I heard it best: there is nothing left to do except uncurl and do it again. my word for 2016 is wide. wide open, wide eyed, wide enough to begin again. wide perspective, wide love, wide arms. wide enough for possibility. wide enough to explore. wide enough to be welcoming. wide for forgiveness, wide for adventure, wide for mistakes, wide for recovery. wide to try something new. wide enough to hold more than one idea at a time. wide for new territory. wide enough to see what happens.