Thursday, October 28, 2010


Beauty is a need, not a luxury. It took me a really long time to realize that and I'm not sure why. I think it's because like most modern day city dwellers, when I thought about "beauty" I associated it with something that could be purchased and owned. A beautiful dress or beautiful things for my house, even a bouquet of flowers from the Farmer's Market. When money is tight (which it perpetually is) it's hard for my practical side to justify purchases that don't have immediate and concrete value.
The problem is that when I am starved of beauty, I am starved in spirit. I get listless, restless and a little depressed. Then I rebel, and usually that involves thoughtless spending that doesn't actually make the problem any better. A cup of coffee while I'm out running errands or a dinner out because I'm cranky and don't want to cook. I'm impatient and occasionally, unkind.
The reason I have associated beauty with purchase and posession, I think, is a longing for permance, a reminder that my soul is made for an eternity this world just doesn't offer. Beauty is a source of hope, comfort and inspiration as I tread on the sometimes difficult journey towards home. It's a gift from God to sustain me on the path, and it doesn't come with a price tag if I am willing to accept it as it comes, in nature, in a gift from a friend or a in a new point of view. Seeking it and recognizing it instead of forcing it. Trusting that tomorrow will bring a different sort of beauty and new experiences that bring me ever closer to home.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Home as Sanctuary- Nourishment for Body and Soul

I've been meditating on what it means to create a sense of "sanctuary" in the home. As I said before, with a large family full of tiny children, it's not going to be a quiet, contemplative atmosphere. I don't even think I'd want that. I love the adventure and life that young children bring into a home, the unbridled creativity and humour.
No, if it's going to last, a sense of sanctuary has to be based in reality and it has to be durable. It has to leave room for people to be themselves. We need sanctuary the most when life is the most chaotic and difficult, when sanctuary is the most difficult to maintain.
I think the building blocks of sanctuary are these; nourishment for the soul, nourishment for the body, and of course, a strong connection to God, the sustaining hand that holds us through all of life's ups and downs. Healthy, delicious food shared with people we love, fresh air, rest, prayer, affection, creativity, beauty, selflessness, rhythm, routine and tradition are just a few good things that come to mind. Some of them, many of them, actually, are good for both body and soul.
With this in mind I have decided to start simply by working on cultivating beauty, nourishing my family with good healthy foods, getting outdoors for some fresh air every day, rain or shine, giving real time and attention to our creative endeavours and spending more time in prayer both for myself and with my family.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Year of Hospitality

Last Saturday was the beginning of a new year for me, my 32nd (or is it my 33rd? Yes, I suppose it is.) and with it the beginning of a new intention. This year is to be my Year of Hospitality.

I've been praying and meditating on this theme for a month or so now. It's a departure from my usual pattern, which is to choose a virtue I struggle with and spend a year cultivating it. Hospitality is actually something of a spiritual gift for me, but it's something I feel called to make better use of. This year, instead of just focusing on personal growth I am embarking on a larger project, to sow the seeds of hospitality in my home and community and watch it grow.

I've settled on a four part plan for this year, each part of which I will elaborate on further in future posts.

1. Create a sense of sanctuary for my family. This includes myself. In order to have something to give to the world, we first need a space where we can be renewed and uplifted. I'm not naive enough to think that with three adults, three kids and another baby on the way I'm going to create some kind of quiet, contemplative environment where we can all meditate on the mysteries of life. Four kids under seven years old and under is nothing if not a recipe for a busy house. What I do want is a space that feeds us, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

2. Invite others into that space. I want this to be a place where friends and family, especially the kids' friends, feel welcome and comfortable. As a friend pointed out to me, all kids really need a neighborhood of moms and dads. That is something I grew up with and the benefits of it have been huge in my life. I want to pay that forward.

3. Spread that sense of "home" into the larger community. I talked last winter about my plans for strengthening my community and since then a lot of progress has been made. I think as this process unfolds some really amazing things are going to happen.

4. Expanding that neighborhood good will and kindness to the world at large. Maybe we can "adopt" soldiers to send care packages to, or raise money to build wells in third world countries. I want my family and community to see everyone on earth as "neighbors". In this digital age, that is more true than ever before.

I have an excellent feeling about the coming year.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Now We Are Six

"Can you believe I'm six?!" I've heard that sentance at least a hundred times today and no, I cannot believe she is six. In honour of her sixth birthday Miss Cheyenne wanted to make a chocolate layer cake with purple frosting. Yes, there is purple frosting under all of that. She and Bella spent the whole morning decorating it themselves. Not fans of the minimalist school of cake decorating, obviously, but I think it's a job well done. It makes me happy, anyway.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Stephanie Saves the World Part One

Image courtesy of / CC BY 2.0
'>Nasa Space Center

Thanks to my recent foray into local (micro?) politics I'm doing a lot of daydreaming about what the world would be like if I were Queen. Wouldn't it be fun if we could take this broken economy and turn it into something cool?

Not that anyone necessarily cares, but here are a few thoughts I've been having.

First, after reading Shannon Hayes' article in the Simple Living Newsletter I am really enamored of the concept of Radical Homemaking. It's a concept I have practiced for years, but never had a name for. Essentially the idea is that radical homemakers (and these are both men and women) see the family as the central unit of life instead of the workplace. In many cases both parents work at home and the home is, in a sense, a microbusiness, not just a place where consumer goods come to die. There is cooperation and interdependence as all members of the family use their extensive domestic skills to keep costs for the family's needs low and, in some cases, to produce goods and services to support the family. My favourite quote from the article, "she who doesn't need the gold can change the rules" succunctly encapsulates my feelings about Simple Living.

While the article seems to focus largely on farming families (my friends the Dervaes' of Path to Freedom urban homestead are an excellent example of this, it seems to me that there are a wide variety of jobs that can be done from home.

It has always baffled me that there isn't more talk of telecommuting in "green" circles. Even more than public transportation (which I love beyond reason as I hate driving) telecommuting has the potential to not only reduce the number of vehicles on the road, but to change the the communities we live in for the better. Telecommuting, in effect, reduces a vast redundancy of resources.

From the business side, telecommuting greatly reduces overhead, eliminating the need for huge office buildings that need to be lighted, heated, cooled and plumbed.

From a government standpoint, it lessens the need for ever larger roadways, since a large number of vehicles are off the road and rush hour bottlenecks are no longer an issue.

From a worker standpoint, telecommuting, at the very least, eliminates driving expenses, reduces wardrobe expenses, shaves the nearly four hours per week of commute time the average worker spends in transit and allows greater flexibility in the home.

The communities in which people live benefit because people are home more and have more ability to invest in the place in which they live, and people have greater flexibility in choosing where they live when they are not tied down to a specific location for work. I think this has the potential to really revitalize neighborhoods and smaller communities, possibly creating smaller, more connected walkable and bikeable communities and making public transportation within a community a much easier and less expensive to implement. Community services and small businesses would likely have much more support in this model of community too.

Anyway, that is Step One of my daydream and from my vantage point, my community is getting ready to take hold of that vision, or one similar to it, and run with it.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Strengthening and Greening My Community

I live in a really wonderful neighborhood. It's an interesting place, built in the 1960s, in part by my own grandparents. The idea was to create a community by essentially building a neighborhood set in the middle of a park. The houses were, at the time, luxury townhomes, 1500 or so square feet at the smallest and 2500 square feet or so at the largest. The neighborhood shares use of two pools, two tennis courts, a basketball court, a volleyball court, a playground, two duck ponds, several formal gardens and quite a lot of walking paths. It's a lovely place to live. It's in a tiny first-ring suburb (I can walk to Minneapolis from here) and convenient to everything and it's in a fabulous (and very tiny) school district.

A few weeks ago, on a particularly difficult day, my husband turned me out of the house and sent me to the coffee shop at the park, where I ran into an old friend and neighbor. We sat by the fire for about an hour with our organic herbal tea chatting about the neighborhood. There is so much potential here for both building community and reducing our environmental impact. Even as it is, the houses here use a lot less energy than the typical house in our area. My house, for example, is built into a hill. Two of my six floors are underground, insulated by the earth. Two sides of my house are insulated by my neighbor's heated spaces leaving only two sides of the top four levels exposed to the elements.

The homeowners association has taken steps in the last few years to reduce the number of chemicals it uses, opting for environmentally friendly products for salting the roads and making other similar changes. All organic materials collected by the groundskeepers; leaves, branches, grass clippings and such, are taken to the local compost site to be composted. Clotheslines are encouraged.

We do have some community events (the more we can do right here, the less we tend to drive) like our National Night Out (which routinely wins awards), our neighborhood book club and our monthly coffee hour, but when I talk to the neighbors I can hear them hungering for more. The wonderful things we already do feel like just the tip of the iceberg.

I've composed a list of ideas I plan to take to the board.

Community Builders:

-Create a neighborhood website, blog and facebook page. We could have a craigslist style section for classifieds where people could post things for sale, things they want to give away, services they have to offer. The blog could have announcements, an online version of the neighborhood newsletter (to save paper) and possibly minutes from the neighborhood meetings.

-Neighborhood wide participation in the National Wildlife Federations Great American Backyard Campout. We could pair with the park and have some outdoorsy activities like canoeing, nature programs and marshmallow roasting.

-A neighborhood prayer and meditation group. My friend, who is a spiritual director, came up with this one. We're planning to alternate meeting at people's houses, and in the summer in the gardens.

-A neighborhood exercise group. We could walk or swim in the summer and snow shoe or cross country ski in the winter. We could also possibly put together a yoga or pilates class outdoors in the summer or join the yoga class at the park.

-A group to bring meals to sick, injured or post-partum neighbors. It's always good when a community can pull together to help each other.

-Lobby the city to bring back the puppet wagon! The puppet wagon, which I know for a fact they still have in a neighboring community. The puppet wagon is a big truck with a puppet theater cut out of the side of it. It travels to various parks around the city putting on puppet shows for kids. When I was a kid Peter Krause (from Six Feet Under) was an actor for the puppet wagon. While it's doubtfull there's anyone of that caliber still working on the puppet wagon, it's still a classic good time.

-A chess club or card club

-A Mommy and Me coffee hour. There are lots of moms of small kids here. We need to get to know each other better. I'm envisioning us meeting at each others houses, outside or at the coffee shop at the park.

-A neighborhood garage sale.

-A Handmade Holidays craft boutique. This area is home to more crafters and artists than you can shake a stick at. It would be nice to have an easy way of supporting them.

-Potluck Christmas party at the park.

Green Initiatives

-There is a big lawn on the East side of the neighborhood I've been itching to turn into a community garden since I was about 6 years old.

-Lobby the city for more frequent recycling pick-up. Every other week is not cutting it, and I suspect people throw things away just so they don't have to find storage for all that recycling.

-Recycling bins at the pools and playground. Make it easy for people.

-Neighborhood composting of household organic materials.

-Negotiate with a CSA to provide drop off at the HOA office. If we got enough people together we could probably make it worth the stop. There is already a group of people who go in together to buy large boxes of sweet corn in the summer to split. Why not take it a step further?

-Apparently we already have a neighborhood book swap. I found this out the other day when I went to the office. I've lived here on and off for decades and I never knew that. I think it should be better publicized.

-Offer classes on weatherization and other simple techniques for greening our homes.

-Work with the architectural control comittee to come up with a list of improvements that can be made to houses for the purpose of making them more environmentally friendly that are deemed acceptable by Architectural Control. Things like skylights for passive solar lighting, solar panels, and passive solar greenhouses.

So that's my plan to launch this neighborhood into the 21st century. We'll see how it flies.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


Image courtesy of Svadilfari

Ever since my father bought my kids Rosetta Stone Latin for Christmas I have been fielding the question, "Why do you want your kids to learn Latin of all languages? Why not something useful like Spanish?" So here are a few of my reasons.

1. It's the linguistic foundation of the Western world. Note that the word linguistic comes from the Latin "lingua" meaning tongue of the land, language or speech and the word foundation from the Latin "fundatio" which is the past participle of "fundare"- to lay the groundwork for. Latin is the basis for a large portion of the English language

2. It's significantly more useful than the first foreign language my kids learned. That would be Welsh.

3. Latin is structured, elegant and succinct. It's not loosey-goosey and full of slang like modern day languages. It's a great tool for learning grammar.

4. Once you've learned Latin the rest of the Romance languages should come pretty easily. I plan to add Greek in a few years and then German. I figure that should give them the basics for most European languages. Maybe not the Slavic languages. I'm not sure. We may have to add Polish to the list somewhere down the line.

5. Learning any new language, even a dead one, helps you to learn more languages in the future. Just the process of learning it is valuable, and you know, if they are going to be super secret agent spies some day they're going to need to know a whole bunch of languages.

6. The only copy of Green Eggs and Ham I happen to own is in Latin. Someone has to be able to read me this great work of literature.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Second Place

This is our beautiful snow mermaid that took second place at the 1st Annual Martin Luther King Jr Day Snowman Contest at the park. What snowmen have to do with Martin Luther King Jr I'm not entirely sure, but it was a lot of fun and will probably become a tradition around here.
I was actually more pleased with the second place prize than I would have been with a first. I'll admit it, this is one homespun little snow mermaid and some of the other entries were technically speaking much better. Those, however, were made by adults, not little girls, and the judges clearly took that into consideration. Second place feels like a good, honest reward for a good, honest effort.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Road Tripping

It has been decided. This is the year the kids will meet their father's family. Yes. I said meet. Only the girls have ever met their paternal grandmother (Bella only once, in the hospital when she was two days old, which almost counts) and none of the kids have ever met their paternal grandfather. In fact, I have only met him once, on our honeymoon, camping in the Arizona desert.

Zach's family is a splintered one. I won't go into the details of his parents painful break-up when Zach was just a baby, but the result has been a family spread far and wide across this country. For years this has seemed like a huge obstacle. It's one thing to visit family across country when they are concentrated in one place, but quite another to manage the hassle and financial burden of visiting so many people in so many different places, especially with very small children.

The other day, while I was laying down to take a nap, it hit me. I need to start looking at this as an opportunity. All over this beautiful country of ours there are spare bedrooms, couches and floors waiting to be crashed on with willing, even eager, owners who would love nothing better than the opportunity to put us up for free and show us around their neck of the woods. How is that a bad thing?

So begins a year of grand adventures, starting in February with my first ever solo trip in the 6 years I have been a parent. My mom is using some of her frequent flyer miles to fly me out for a fun filled weekend with her, my sister-from-another-mister Kathy and my actual sister at mom's little bungalow in San Diego. We're going to hang out at the beach, drink margaritas on mom's porch, see the sights and, best of all, sleep in. The whole thing should cost me approximately $20 for a fast-food meal at the airport during my layover. Mom is footing the entire bill for this trip.

When I get home on March 1st I will have exactly two weeks before trip number two, a roadtrip to Arkansas to meet Grandpa Phil. Grandpa Phil is....there are no words. I have a soft spot in my heart for quirky, crumudgeonly old guys and Phil is the ultimate in all categories. As I alluded to in my last post, he is a one time farmer, one time carpenter who now spends his time prospecting for gold and diamonds. He lives on cigarettes and organic green smoothies and won't take any medicine that isn't Swedish Bitters. He's a history buff extraordinaire, an amateur geologist and an opinionated old coot. It's time his grandkids knew him.

Phil lives near Crater of Diamonds State Park, according to their website, the only diamond producing site in the world open to the public, and a "rockhound's delight." I can only imagine the fun Cheyenne and Isabella, who count among their favourite passtimes, digging in the dirt and collecting rocks, will have prospecting for diamonds with Grandpa. the mapquest fuel cost estimator puts the fuel costs at about $200 round trip. Accomodations will be free, except for the one night we will spend in a hotel with an indoor pool for $60 and the $14 we're planning to spend to see an old Native American village.

September brings the family reunion in Indianapolis. Zach's mom has agreed to pay for lodging and gas. This reunion will be big. Zach's mom is one of seven kids, many of whom are already grandparents. Zach's grandma, my kid's great-grandma, will also be in attendance and we will stop on the way in or out to see Zach's 94 year old great-uncle Tom, who apparently still bowls a 250 average. For the record that is about ten times my bowling average, but we'll roll a few balls with him anyway for the fun of it. Nothing like getting your butt kicked by a 94 year old man to teach you a little humility.

Finally, we are traveling to Wyoming to visit Zach's uncle Ward. Ward rocks. Ward sends care packages periodically ranging from a bag of marbles and seven sizes of clips to two brand-new Radio Flyer wagons and a book on the life cycles of the rainforest. He has variously been a pilot, an airplane mechanic, worked on an oil rig and delivered newspapers and his only method of transportation is a semi truck. This will be our most expensive trip because we are staying at a hotel. The words, "I'd love to have you visit. I'll even try to find where I put all my guns so I can lock them up," did not inspire a lot of confidence and as a 72 year old bachelor I think he'll be less stressed out if we get a hotel. Still the meals will be home cooked (probably by me) and the fun will be cheap or free and Miss Cheyenne will finally get to see the city she is named for.

So that is the plan. For the cost of one of us traveling to some packaged resort in some warm and sunny place we get four different adventures and a lot of memories. If this works out we are hoping to follow this up with trips to California, Nevada (Tahoe area) and Alaska in the coming years.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Family Writing

Thanks to a link posted on facebook by my friend Anais of Path to Freedom, I have spent the day perusing The Girlhood Home Companion magazine website and waiting for my digital copy to arrive in my e-mail box.
I'm feeling particularly drawn to the idea of Family Writing, where members of the family record stories from their daily life for future generations. Today I started with a letter to my oldest daughter. It's not something I plan to give to her today or even next year. At the moment I think it would be good to pull together a collection of these letters for each kid for their graduation day or wedding day.
Dear Cheyenne,
It's 3:55 in the afternoon and I am waiting for you to come home from school. Your Dad went to pick up Bella from St John's and is stopping at the bus stop to drive you home. It's cold today, single digits with below zero windchills and I am planning to have tea with you and your sister in a few minutes. I think I'll heat the water in my Grandma Rosemarie's teakettle. I'm feeling nostalgic today.
I've spent the afternoon planning a trip for you, Bella and James to finally meet your Grandpa Phil. It came to me today, I think from the Holy Spirit, that it is time for you to meet your father's family. Further confirmation that this message was, indeed, divine came this afternoon when your father called your Grandma Elizabeth, who we have been somewhat estranged from for a few years, and received an invitation to Indiana this summer for a family reunion, expenses paid. I think you'll like Grandpa Phil. He's a real character. He's retired from farming and construction and taken up prospecting. He gets as excited about geology as your Dad does about electricity.
I worry lately that we are being too hard on you. You are my oldest kid, so we are always figuring these things out together. I apologize for all the mistakes I have made and will undoubtedly continue to make as a parent. Know that even when I discipline it is out of love.
You are such an amazing kid. Much better than I was at your age. You are smart, creative, outgoing and inquisitive. I just love that about you. You are nearly 6 years old now and on the threshold of being able to do so many fun and interesting things. I'm so excited by the possibilities I am afraid I may push you to do too much. It's just such a fascinating and interesting world out there and I am excited to introduce you to it.
The first five years of a child's life are focused inward towards the home, towards nurturing and safety. From then on, it seems to me, the focus is on ever greater levels of independence. I won't lie. I think as a parent my strengths lie more in the second stage. Like you I am very extroverted. I'm a person who enjoys being out in the world meeting new people and doing new and exciting things.
This week your new obsession is with the human body. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I haven't accidentally sent you to medical school instead of Kindergarten. Everyday you come home telling me some new fact, for example, that there are 206 bones in the adult human body. Today you learned about muscles. I asked you yesterday if you wanted to be a doctor, fascinated as you are by human anatomy. No. You'd like to be a cake decorator. A cake decorator well versed in human anatomy and Latin. You have no idea how cool I think that is.
Anyway, you are home now. Your Daddy is dishing up ice cream (only Daddy would think of ice cream in this weather) and it's time to put the kettle on. I love you Miss Monkey. Never forget that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

No Toy 2010

I admit it. The photo has very little to do with the post, but how cute is she.

Enough. It's a concept I've been struggling my entire adult life to get a handle on. It's a difficult one in a culture of advertising and competition where the center of our economy and our collective self worth revolves around the idea that there is no such thing. That's a hard lesson to undo and it's taken me years to get to the point where I finally think I am getting it.

Every year before the holidays I do a sort of informal inventory of the kids' posessions, looking to see what they have, what they use and what they might need. This year it became clear that the kids have reached the point of Enough.

Cheyenne and Isabella's room is a joyful little place. White wrought iron daybeds with pretty old quilts line either side of the walls, pillows and stuffed animals propped up for reading and snuggling and a basket tucked under each bed for books. There's a sweet little vintage school desk that holds their drawing pads and coloured pencil rolls as well as their "rock treasures" and other little baubles. There's a play kitchen with little pots and pans, play food and dishes, a doll bed and a miniature sized table with ice cream parlor chairs. There's a drawer in their dresser for dress-up clothes, one for doll clothes and one for Barbies and My Little Ponies. On their window seat there is a fully outfitted wooden dollhouse and a small basket of miniature animals and wooden snakes with baskets underneath for stuffed animals. There is a hook behind each of their beds for their mom-made nature walk backpacks and their binoculars and each of them have a wooden beanbag game they made with their Daddy. It's Enough.

Then there is James. How many times when the girls were 6 months to 18 months (the span of ages James will pass through in 2010) were they perfectly contented with nothing but a mixing bowl and a spoon to bang on it with or a box to explore?

It is with that in mind that we have instituted our No Toys in 2010 challenge. We want to put the focus on doing rather than on aquiring. The things the kids will really remember are our adventures; camping, daytrips, trying new and exciting foods, meeting new and exciting people and spending time with family and friends. That's the fun stuff.

For Cheyenne's birthday, the first birthday of 2010, she and her Dad are enrolling in karate lessons together and she and I are going to a "kicksledding in the full moon" event at the park. Grandparents will be paying for her summer knitting class.

As I was thumbing through the American Girls catalog, something I've daydreamed about having since I was a kid, it struck me. We spend a lot of money in this country imagining the fun and exciting things we could be doing. We'll buy the American Girl's doll a pair of cross country skiis instead of going cross country skiing or we'll buy Barbie a horse instead of going horseback riding ourselves. There's something a little off about that. Something I'm hoping to change for me and my kids.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year, New Discovery

Image from Betty's Pies

New Year's Day we had about enough of cleaning and organizing and moving and just being stuck inside the house, so we decided to go out for a little culinary adventure. We discovered, when driving around White Bear Lake, that Betty's Pies, a Northwoods institution, has opened a second restaurant here in the Cities. Of course we had to stop. And there we discovered something glorious. The Polar Pie Shake.

It is a piece fo Betty's famous pie blended with vanilla ice cream. So simple. So wonderful. Between us we had a Blueberry Cheesecake, a Butterfinger and a 5 layer Chocolate. Even James loved it. And now I know what to do when I have leftovers after baking pie. Because there so often are leftovers when I bake a pie....