Remind Me To Enunciate

speak clearly lest you be misunderstood

I don’t normally chat about my movie preferences without being asked, but recently a neighbor walked over with our Netflix envelope in hand.  It had mistaken arrived in his mailbox. I thanked him cheerfully, saying we still get DVDs mailed because my husband and I watch a lot of foreign films that are otherwise unavailable.

That innocuous sentence instantly wrought some sort of reaction. He turned his head ever so slightly to the right, his eyes looking up as if confused. I’m pretty sure his nostrils flared as he took in a deep breath. Then the charming older gentleman said carefully, “I didn’t know those were available on Netflix.”

Something was indefinably weird about our conversation but I had no idea what it might be. I assured him, in a far more cheery voice than usual, that we’re particularly fond of films from France, Denmark, and Sweden.

There was a long pause. I’d uttered two sentences about our fondness for foreign films and he was reacting as if I’d revealed a highly personal secret.  He looked at the plain red envelope and said nothing. His discomfort must have been downright contagious because I tossed in one more sentence, hoping to find some closure to the topic so I could say goodbye and retreat. I said, “Some people really hate subtitles but it’s totally worth it.”

Understanding broke out on his face like a rash. A red rash. He said, “Oh, foreign films.”

Then my face turned red. I speak with what we in upper Ohio consider to be no accent at all and it didn’t occur to me that he’d misunderstood. But he had. He thought I’d said my husband and I watch a lot of porn films.

The moral of the story? Enunciate!

(If you’re feeling kind enough to ease my embarrassment, please share a tale about a misunderstanding you’ve reacted to or caused…)

We Could All Use a Good Laugh

 

laughter is the cure, global understanding

“Sound of Laughter” by Hersley

We’re primed to practice the generative power of laughter from our earliest years. As babies interact with their mothers, their laughter quadruples from three months of age to their first birthday. Interestingly, mothers laugh nearly twice as often in these interactions. By a baby’s second year, they laugh nearly as long and often as their mothers do, meaning the more mom laughs the more her child laughs!

Some scientists believe laughter was a precursor to language itself.  As neuroscientist  Jaak Panksepp explains,

“Neural circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain, and ancestral forms of play and laughter existed in other animals eons before we humans came along with our ‘ha-ha-has’ and verbal repartee.”

Throughout life, from childhood on, most of our laughter comes from social interactions.   Studies tell us we laugh 30 times more often in the presence of others than we do when we’re alone. Since laughter does so many good things for us, body and soul, it motivates us to spend time with the very people who make us happy. What a lovely feedback loop — instigating, reacting to, and inspiring more laughter  —- bonding us to each other through delight.

Smiles are contagious.

Kindness is contagious too.

So is laughter.

Laughter can even become an epidemic.  In 1962, three girls started giggling in  Kashasha, a small town in what’s now Tanzania. It spread to 95 students in their school, lasting for hours. Within two weeks, similar laugh attacks infected kids in the nearby towns of Nshamba and Bukoba. It continued to spread, closing 14 schools before quarantines were enacted. It took 18 months before the epidemic slowed.

(In rare cases, you can laugh yourself to death.)

I am serious about all sorts of issues and will discuss them with you to death (a worse death, I’m sure, than death by laughter).  But I’m also an unrepentant guffaw-er. I’m pretty sure this is a genetic condition, my very polite mother was also prone to fits of hilarity.  Like her, I am capable of laughing normally, but sometimes I end up shrieking and cackling.  Controlling such laughter is just about impossible. Once, as a teenager, I was swimming across a small lake with my friend Kathy. As we swam, we started laughing about how funny the other person looked swimming. Weakened by glee, we got to the point where we could only dog paddle in place. Seeing the other person dog paddling, wide-mouthed with laughter, made us laugh all the more. Soon we were barely able to keep our heads above water. After gulping too many mouthfuls of water, we finally staunched our laughter until we somehow managed to get ourselves onto dry land. There we lay exhausted, aware we’d nearly drowned, laughing again.

I mostly laugh about my own awkwardness (plenty of material there) like falling , eating a mouthful of dirt, and accidentally snorting in a stranger’s face.  Snorting, by the way, got me laughing crazily the other day. For some reason Olivia was snorting with joy as Sam tossed her on the couch and for some reason that snorting set me off. I was trying to video this, but you can barely hear her snorts over my ridiculous shrieks.

Laughter’s contagious nature is more evidence that we humans are connected across all so-called boundaries. I’m writing about laughter today because my family has had a tough time lately and so has our country and so has our world. So I’ll leave you with these timely words by dear soul and wise sage, Bernie DeKoven. who writes in a post titled “Play, Laughter, Health, and Happiness,”

Playing and laughing together, especially when we play and laugh in public, for no reason, is a profound, and, oddly enough, political act.

Political, because when we play or dance or just laugh in public, people think there’s something wrong with us. It’s rude, they think. Childish. A disturbance of the peace.

Normally, they’d be right. Except now. Now, the peace has been deeply disturbed – everywhere, globally. And what those grown-ups are doing, playing, dancing, laughing in public is not an act of childish discourtesy, but a political act – a declaration of freedom, a demonstration that we are not terrorized, that terror has not won.

A Frisbee, in the hands of people in business dress in a public park, is a weapon against fear. A basketball dribbled along a downtown sidewalk, is a guided missile aimed at the heart of war. Playing with a yo-yo, a top, a kite, a loop of yarn in a game of cats’ cradle, all and each a victory against intimidation. Playing openly, in places of business, in places where we gather to eat or travel or wait, is a gift of hope, an invitation to sanity in a time when we are on the brink of global madness.

Yes, I admit, I am a professional advocate of public frolic. I am a teacher in the art of fun. I hawk my playful wares every time I get a chance, with every audience I can gather, war or peace.

But this is a unique moment in our evolution. America is no longer bounded by its boundaries. We are tied into a network of terror that crosses national divisions…

And I believe that we have far more powerful weapons than any military solution can offer us. And I believe that those weapons can be found in any neighborhood playground or toy store.

Like for play, laughter is also a political act, a declaration that fear and terrorism have not won. Incontrovertible evidence that there is hope.

May laughter’s gifts lift us all, together.

Spinning Straw Into Gold

laughing at adversity, it's all good,

Anne Anderson Wikimedia Commons

Annoyances seem to come with lessons built in, at least around here.

I trundle down the basement steps clutching piles of wet jeans so I can hang them close to our wood burning furnace, saving a bit of propane our clothes dryer might have used.  That seems like a farce when we discover a fitting on the propane tank has been leaking, letting hundreds of dollars worth of gas drift away in an ecologically irresponsible manner.

We have fresh milk, butter, and cheese thanks to our cow Isabelle. We avoid calculating if we’re actually saving money this way, but it’s obvious when it costs us. Like now, when we couldn’t harvest a single bale of hay last summer due to flooded fields. These days we have to buy each mouthful of hay she eats in exchange for the food she provides us.

What I can’t grow and preserve myself, I like to get in bulk from a natural foods co-op. It helps us afford organic food. But not when I find grain moths in my 25 pound container of buckwheat groats. Guess the chickens get buckwheat added to their diets and my kids won’t have to complain about pancakes the color of wet cardboard.

Sometimes I’m tempted to indulge in a Rumpelstiltskin-like tantrum. I don’t want to hear about the money we need to fix a tractor. I don’t want to clean a pile of dog puke or stay up late to meet another deadline or deal with unspeakably stinky laundry. I’d like the straw of everyday annoyances to turn into gold.

But then I pay attention.

Right now two of my sons are sitting by the fireplace talking and laughing with their father. My daughter is coming in from the barn, snow melting on her hair and on the bucket of eggs she’s carrying. The small dogs are wrestling at my feet while our old German shepherd rolls over to avoid watching such unruliness. It’s all perfect — exactly as it is. My socks still have holes, the window molding is unfinished, there are muddy footprints by the door. But none of that matters.

This is golden.

A 2012 throwback post from our farm site

Perfectly Good

"Perfectly Good" by Laura Grace Weldon

 

Perfectly Good

The chair broke years ago

leaving jagged oak

at its topmost edge.

Repairs never held and

here my youngest son sits

his face lit from within

like all God’s children.

If I could I’d fashion everything broken

into a greater whole, forming

a bridge to his highest possibilities.

Instead he eats supper

with sharp wood bristling at his ear

and when I suffer it aloud

the boy says, “It’s perfectly good.”

 

This was the mantra of my childhood.

Spoken over fat and gristle

left on my plate till I forked those last bites

in my reluctant mouth. Invoked with each

hand-me-down, though Jennifer Kling’s

mother always made me wear suspenders

at her house to spare her

my sagging trousers. Implied

in a fistful of stubby No. 2 pencils

my schoolteacher father saved

from the classroom trash can,

the same ones my mother darkened

her eyebrows with each morning.

 

Today my son helped with yard work

at my childhood home, then stopped

CSI-faced, to hold up a dark loamy figure.

My mother dismissed it casually,

“Oh, the overcoat in the azaleas.”

Her father’s moth-eaten wool coat,

good tailoring still apparent in the shoulders,

was too good to discard, but perfectly suited

to smother weeds forty long years.

 

Standing next to her in the doorway

I knew identity as something

broader than a name.

This is who we are.

Resilient enough

to chew the fat, hitch up our pants,

and raise our brows— smoothing the way

for our children the best we can.

I grew up missing my grandfather,

yet all the while his coat

lay right outside the window

arms spread wide,

keeping a place for flowers to grow.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

Find more poems in my collection, Tending. 

Making Whole

reconnecting,

The garment is worn out. There are only a few stalwart threads stretched across, warp without woof, and its fibers are surely too frazzled to hold up.

A reasonable person would have tossed it out or torn it into rags. But here I am, strangely peaceful as I thread the needle hoping to weave these strands back into a whole fabric.

Before drawing my stitches across the expanse I realize its boundaries must be reinforced. I sew a merry line around the edge, reinforce it with another line of stitching and then another. The jagged edge looks a bit like the borders around a state or map of a continent. Sewing is a contemplative endeavor and this small task gets me thinking.

I’ve never been great at establishing boundaries. By the time I was nine years old I read every newspaper and magazine that entered our house. My parents cancelled news magazine subscriptions because my childish reaction to what I saw on those pages was too raw. I still read about suffering in the morning newspaper. I still asked questions about  war, poverty, prejudice, cruelty, and greed — unsatisfied with answers like “God’s ways are mysterious.” I wanted to understand how grown-ups could let these things happen, how they couldn’t see. I wanted to understand all the way down to the mystery itself.

As a much smaller child I had a recurring nightmare. The dream was too large to describe, but I’ll try. In it could see life on Earth from a vantage point far above. Cars hurried along on roads, people lived in closed-off rectangles, everyone urged onward by a desperation that — from my dream vantage point — was tragic and absurd. They couldn’t hear me but I wanted to shout “It’s not real!” I’d wake up nearly gasping with horror.

Slowly I’d muster up the courage to run through the dark hallway to my parent’s room. My mother slept through any disturbance. Only my father would wake. He’d get up quietly, take me to the bathroom, and tuck me back into bed. On the nights when my misery wouldn’t go away, I’d brave that dark hallway again and my dad would let me sleep between them. Their bodies, heavy with sleep, helped to calm me.

Sometimes my father would try to parse the dream by asking me about it. I’d cry, “Everybody thinks it’s real, but it’s not.” And he’d try to explain it away, the way he did with my zoo dream, where animals burst from their cages to live behind garages and in back yards —- sadly unable to get back to their real homes. “Their cages are strong,” he’d say. “And they’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” His words didn’t help. His presence did.

I’ve been a grown-up for a long time now. I spend too much time rushing around in my car and busy in my own rectangle as if this is what’s important, no greater  perspective in sight.

But my task right now is to stitch across the threads. Draw what’s pulled apart back together. Appreciate the needle’s strength and the thread’s purpose. Imagine it can be made a whole fabric. In a larger sense, there’s no other choice.

beyond boundaries

Baby Choreography

infant choreography, imitate your baby

This is hard to admit because it sounds entirely weird, but it was such a powerful experience that I now look back at it as a sort of ceremony.  Give baby choreography a try if you too want to step into an infant’s world.

Let me explain.

First time motherhood confounded me in a way I could not, still cannot, put into words. The new life in my arms astonished me. I’d never before looked so many hours at one face, day after day. I’d certainly never been simultaneously exhausted, enthralled, and overwrought for weeks on end. All the ways I knew to understand another human being were muddled, beyond what the heart knows and the eyes show. So I asked my body to teach me how brand new Benjamin perceived his world.

When just the two of us were alone, I set him on the carpet and lay down next to him. Then I imitated every single movement and sound my seven-week-old baby made.

  • Pursed lips.
  • Open lips.
  • Wrinkled brow.
  • Wide-eyed gaze.
  • Arms sweeping across the air.
  • Arms held tight to the body.
  • Feet and toes turning, flexing, flailing.
  • Arms and legs jerking.
  • Coos and bubbles.
  • Hands in fists.
  • Hands open, waving,
  • Side-to-side wiggles.
  • Long pauses of full-body stillness, with a wondrously calm facial expression.

I thought I’d indulge in this for only a minute or two, but I kept it up longer. Something about it transported me to my own bodily memory of infancy. I felt, from the inside, a sort of freedom from the physical template created by years of upright posture and acceptable facial expressions. I felt helpless, yes, but also expansively connected — as if my being didn’t end at the boundaries of my skin.

I got a message clear as spoken words that our bodies, mine older and his brand new, were temporal gifts. Our souls were the same size.

I got up from the floor humbled.

 

Originally published by Mothering.com. 

Be Pollyanna

Image by Healzo

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments

when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”  ~Thornton Wilde

 

The word “pollyanna” is defined as:

  1. an excessively or blindly optimistic person
  2. unreasonably or illogically optimistic

but the character by that name, in the 1913 book by Eleanor H. Porter (and in the 1960 movie version), is far wiser than this.

Pollyanna was the daughter of an idealistic missionary who, in his dying days, taught his daughter the “glad game.”  The game is simple. In a situation that seems unpleasant, even dire, find a reason to feel glad. It’s a courageous way to face overwhelming circumstances.

Pollyanna certainly faced tragedies. She lived in poverty with her parents and relied on the mercy of donated goods. When her parents died, Pollyanna was sent to live with her wealthy, disapproving aunt. The aunt decided her niece should reside in the stifling attic rather than be allowed to use any of the comfortable bedrooms that were available. When the girl opened an attic window to find relief from the unrelenting heat she was punished. But Pollyanna shared the glad game with anyone willing to listen. She explained to her aunt’s servant, Nancy, how her father started the game back when she’d hoped to find a doll in the missionary barrel.

“Why, we began it on some crutches that came in a missionary barrel.”

“CRUTCHES!”

“Yes. You see I’d wanted a doll, and father had written them so; but when the barrel came the lady wrote that there hadn’t any dolls come in, but the little crutches had. So she sent ‘em along as they might come in handy for some child, sometime. And that’s when we began it….The game was to just find something about everything to be glad about—no matter what ‘twas,” rejoined Pollyanna, earnestly. “And we began right then—on the crutches.”

“Well, goodness me! I can’t see anythin’ ter be glad about—getting’ a pair of crutches when you wanted a doll!”

Pollyanna clapped her hands.

“There is—there is,” she crowed. “But I couldn’t see it, either, Nancy, at first,” she added, with a quick honesty. “Father had to tell it to me.”

“Well, then suppose YOU tell ME,” almost snapped Nancy.

“Goosey! Why, just be glad because you don’t—NEED—‘EM!” exulted Pollyanna, triumphantly.

According to neuroscience, Pollyanna was on to something.

Being mindful of what we’re grateful for helps us pay closer attention to what’s beautiful and meaningful in our daily lives. There’s peace to be found in ripples of rain on a puddle, a neighbor’s smile, birdsong,  the smell of coffee brewing, a child’s hug.

According to research, the practice of writing a daily gratitude list boosts our sense of well-being and gives us a brighter outlook on life while also increasing our pro-social behaviors. An attitude of gratitude makes for happier kids and more satisfying relationships. Gratitude is correlated with more empathy, greater generosity, and less materialistic attitudes. It also helps us handle stress better, sleep better, reduces inflammation, and benefits our hearts.

The power of gratitude is so vast that it persists over time. One study asked participants to write down three things that went well each day, along with what caused them to go well, for one full week. They were only two percent happier that week, but follow-up tests showed their happiness continued to increase for six months afterwards. Symptoms of depression decreased even more, declining by 28 percent in that week and continuing to improve slightly over the next six months.

Even when going through overwhelming difficulties, being mindful of our blessings can retrain our brains to be more positive. Gratitude causes the brain to produce dopamine and serotonin, neurotransmitters related to pleasure and balanced mood. Focusing on appreciation tunes our minds to feel appreciative more often. As neuroscientist Alex Korb writes in The Upward Spiral

“It’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place. Remembering to be grateful is a form of emotional intelligence. One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.”

Unlike Pollyanna, we shouldn’t gloss over or ignore our difficulties. Research shows that consciously recognizing and naming our negative feelings actually lessens their impact on us, reducing our emotional reactivity to worry, fear, and despair. And there’s power in letting others know they’ve had a negative effect on us, even after significant time has passed.

Before things got better for Pollyanna, they got worse. A car accident left her in need of those very crutches and even her glad game didn’t save her from despair. But by then, her kindly ways had earned love from many people and the love they returned made the difference.

This week I am grateful beyond words. My oldest son had emergency brain surgery last week and after five days in ICU his prognosis is excellent. I’m grateful to live in a time and place when saving him is possible; grateful for skilled and caring medical people at Medina Hospital and Fairview Hospital; grateful for so many wonderful people offering their love, prayers, and help. Every single thing in our lives takes on a sort of luminous glow through the lens of gratitude.  As the mystic Meister Eckhart said back in the 13th century, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, that would suffice.”

Blessed By Weeds

natural weed control methods, benefits of weeds

Nature doesn’t appreciate the bare earth method we call “weeding.” The soil we count on to grow food and flowers isn’t just a blank medium for our use. It’s a fragile, complex, living system that’s home to bacteria, fungi, and other life forms busy beneath our feet.

Left alone, nature brings forth plants of all kinds that improve the soil’s ability to foster life. We call them weeds. They seem to spring up without reason other than to frustrate us. But nature has her reasons.

~Many of these plants boost the presence of mycorrhiza.  This beneficial fungi massively improves a plant’s ability to use the soil’s water and nutrients while providing protection from certain pathogens. Mycorrhizas are found in more than 90 percent of plant families but their presence is inhibited by too much fertilizer and can be destroyed by excessive digging, tilling, and soil compaction.

~Many of these plants help to break up heavy soil with strong root systems, aerating and improving drainage. This makes the ground a better home for the plants we prefer to grow.

~Many of these plants improve soil fertility. Two common categories of weeds are dynamic accumulators and nitrogen fixers. Nitrogen fixers are able to capture atmospheric nitrogen, and due to a symbiotic relationship with soil bacteria, these plants “fix” critically important nitrogen in the soil. Dynamic accumulators draw trace elements and other nutrients from deep underground and transport them closer to the surface

In places where soil is poor, the right plants to correct those particular deficiencies tend to spring up. In fact, botanists know that weeds are an indicator of soil properties such as pH and mineral levels. That’s nature’s wisdom at work.

Then we come in, gardeners and farmers, doing our darndest to get down to bare ground between rows of plants. Bare soil isn’t a natural state. The eroding effects of wind, water and sunlight wreak havoc on naked dirt. That’s where weeds pitch in, acting as protective ground cover by holding moisture and preventing topsoil loss. Think of weeds as self-appointed caretakers for vulnerable humus.

Weeds benefit more than the soil.

~In bloom, they attract natural pollinators such as bees, moths, and butterflies. They also provide habitat for many other helpful insects which balance out the pests you don’t want in your garden. Nature likes diversity.

~Plants we call weeds have been used for eons for food, oils, herbs, seasonings, and medications. Might as well celebrate dandelion season by frying up some dandelion flowers or making dandelion lemonade.  And during most of the growing season you can pluck some lambsquarters, plantain, purslane, chickweed, or other edible weeds to incorporate in your meals. (Identify them carefully and only pick plants that are not exposed to herbicides.) These foods are highly nutritious, and free for the picking. Weeds are the ultimate way to eat locally.

I want to understand the weeds that nature bestows on me. For example, I’ve learned to respect the fierce tenacity of thistles. Around here they can quickly grow taller than I am. And I can’t help but adore the beauty of those delicate flowers atop such a prickly stem.

They’ve visited most fiercely in our front flower bed, one that was mounded up from subsoil left when our septic system was excavated. Nature knows the soil there isn’t very hospitable to life. That’s exactly why thistles flourished there. I’ve augmented that bed with cow manure dragged from out back, stacked it with layers of straw and mulch, and pulled out as many thistles as  I can before my strength gives out.

Thistles are dynamic accumulators that work to bring up deep nutrients and their long roots break up poor soil.  Because they’re been actively improving the soil, fewer thistles appear in that bed every year, as if they’re completing a job started nearly 19 years ago. Other weeds are now taking their place, surely just as necessary.

But respect for weeds goes only so far. It’s not possible to grow peas, lettuce, and other delicate plants in a jungle of weeds. Besides, I am a low energy lazy gardener. Once summer heat rolls in I’m more inclined to hide in the shade with a book than sweat with Puritan righteousness in the sun.

So I have lots of experience with weed control methods.  (Other than chemical. I don’t go there.) Here are some thoughts on the matter.

  Hoeing. I’m not good at hoeing, although that may have something to do with using an antique implement that probably hasn’t been sharpened for decades. My hoeing technique also probably leaves something to be desired. Finally, the whole hoeing experience is impaired by having dogs out with me, dogs that like to dash after each other in wild canine exuberance which puts them right in the way of my hoe.

 Weeding. I’m not good at pulling weeds either but that’s the method I use most often. As I pull weeds, I lay their still-green bodies between the rows as a natural mulch. I tend to sit on the ground as I hand weed, and I happen to like how close that puts me to the smell of growth and the sight of tiny insects and an overall greater awareness of what’s going on in the garden. The size of my various gardens makes it impossible to do this well unless I want to spend many many hours a week on my butt pulling weeds, which I do until the blazing heat hits. Then I do so fewer hours with greater grumpiness.

 

 Landscape fabric or carpet discards. We were given reams of landscape fabric by a friend of a friend who used to run a greenhouse. It wasn’t easy to get between the rows and batten down with clips, but I covered it with heavy layers of grass clippings and it looked great. I was thrilled. It worked well until I pulled it off at the end of the growing season. The soil looked awful, cracked and strange as if it had boiled under all that black fabric. Rather than being soft and friable it was hard. I wanted to beg the dirt’s forgiveness. I was also rather bitter, as this was easy to use. It also has to be pulled up every year or it’ll accumulate so much biomass on its surface that plants will simply grow on top of it.

Years ago we tried using strips of discarded carpeting. I know, strange, but I read this back in some organic gardening magazine years ago. They claimed that carpet old enough to be torn out of a house doesn’t really have toxins to leach. Carpet kept down 100% of the weeds and, especially if it’s a bright color, gives your garden a Dr. Seuss sort of vibe. It was pretty darn amazing. But again, it has to be pulled up. And like landscape fabric, a great deal of biomass clings to the carpet and ends up being thrown out rather than becoming part of the soil.  Worse, I suspect it’s not really all that non-toxic…

 

 Newspapers and straw, or feed bags and straw. I read about the newspaper and straw method many years ago in Mother Earth News, and have been doing it on and off ever since. Basically you layer heavy, overlapping newspaper sections between the rows covered by straw or grass clippings. By the end of the growing season it’s largely biodegraded, becoming dirt by the next spring. I have a love/hate thing going with this method, probably because I’ve made all the mistakes possible. Too little newspaper, straw so flimsy that it doesn’t break into sections that firmly hold anything down. And the worst, trying to put down newspaper when there’s any breeze at all. One year I laid down quite a few rows and got the straw nicely set atop those papers but didn’t dampen it with rain barrel water because the sky threatened rain within minutes. Bad idea. That rain appeared only after heavy gusts of wind, meaning I was running around the yard trying to catch wind borne newspaper and stomping my feet in Rumpelstiltskin fits of frustration.

The past few years I’ve used heavy paper feedbags  which are even better than newspapers. We save livestock feed bags and also have our feed mill save us bags. Just cut open, spread out, cover with straw, and water. (Be careful to avoid feedbags with plastic lining! ) Unfortunately our feed mill is using mostly plastic bags, so I’ll be back to newspaper.

 

VLUU L200 / Samsung L200 Jeans, yes jeans. This is one of my stranger innovations. I got into the pile of jeans I’ve been saving to make a quilt (the kind perfect to keep in a car trunk for impromptu picnics). I slashed them apart, laid them between rows of emerging garlic plants while my kids laughed at crazy mom, then covered them with straw. They stay put well and biodegrade in about two years, although some heavy seams can be found here and there. Probably best to use between perennials. If you run across a cheap bolt of burlap or cotton fabric that should work too.

 

Garden, hopeful whack version. Weed whacking. I’ve been hankering after a small weed whacker for some time. I have a dreamy hope that, if I plant rows far enough apart, I can just cut weeds down to a reasonable height. I picture lawn-like strips between rows of gorgeous vegetables.  I haven’t tried this yet. Let me add that I have no known weed whacking skills. Chances are I’d accidentally decapitate innocent broccoli plants on my first try.

Thank you weeds. You haven’t forgotten your true value in our teeming, complex ecosystem.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, a weed is simply, “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.”

What do YOU do to live with and live without weeds?

 

An earlier version of this post appeared on our farm site

Make Storytelling a Family Tradition

importance of family stories

image: CC by 2.0 echoroo

“Language exerts hidden power, like a moon on the tides.” ~Rita Mae Brown

We began to tell stories not long after we humans gained the power of speech.   Stories gathered people together, giving them a way to remember their shared history, to transmit wisdom, to laugh and ponder, to awaken possibilities.

Stories were told over and over and listeners came to know them well. They participated through call-and-response, or by drumming, chanting, or swaying. The tale came alive.

We’re still a storytelling species. Look at the way children experience stories. They beg us to tell (or read) a particular story over and over, one that resonates inside where only stories can reach. Children incorporate stories into make-believe. Their favorite books may very well help to shape who they will become.

Particularly when they’re young, many children can’t help but get involved in the same ways their earliest ancestors once did. They instinctively call out a repeating phrase or yell a warning to a main character. They tap their knees in excitement, hum a tune, or otherwise accompany the story with movement. They feel the story. They become the story.

It’s important to read to our children regularly, but we can go beyond the printed page by making storytelling a family tradition. This has amazing benefits. In fact, it appears that children whose relatives share family anecdotes feel a stronger sense of belonging —- a quality researchers call  best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

Children enjoy hearing true tales, especially about themselves.

~Tell them their birth or adoption story including the months of anticipation, reactions of family members, the weather that day.

~Tell them stories of their earliest years––the way he used to cry at the sight of dogs until he finally worked up the courage to pet one and fell in love with all things canine; the time she made friends with another three-year-old at the airport and the fathers got to talking only to discover they had grown up in the same town.

~Tell them stories about their relative’s younger days. It stretches their imaginations to hear about Aunt Essie’s girlhood on the farm, Great-grandpa’s bout with polio, their own father’s youthful antics..

~Talk about family members who have passed away, as far back as you can. Help children imagine these people clearly— talk about what they loved to do, their favorite foods, and acts that were courageous, foolhardy, eccentric, or otherwise out of the ordinary.

Children also enjoy tales made up on the spot.

~Tell an ongoing adventure that features heroic young people who live in a make-believe world, perhaps on a quest to reach a goal. Plot twists and new characters can stretch the tale into months of bedtime stories.

~Tell stories together. One person starts a story (perhaps by putting unlikely characters into an improbable situation), then passes it along to the next person who adds more to the story, and so on. This is great to do on a long drive or while stuck in a waiting room.

~Ask kids to tell you a story. Our children can start seeing what goes on around them as story material — bringing the long tradition of storytelling into the next generation.

Beyond the content of any story is the ritual itself––that of telling, listening and enjoying together. This is something no commercial product can duplicate.

Gathering together to tell our tales is a tradition nearly as old as clustering around a fire for warmth.  As Ursula K. LeGuin says, “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”

telling family stories, how to tell family stories,

image: CC by 2.0 Jerry Kirkhart

Portions of this post were excerpted from Free Range Learning.

Fog is composed of…

Fog As Visible Dreams

Fog As Visible Dreams

 

Mysteries flicker under each tender eyelid.

Become mist. Pass through walls.

Crowd the street, stories in symbol

lingering over a neighborhood asleep.

 

Houses and mailboxes

walk toward my headlights,

ghosts stepping into form.

I see each thing clearly

only as it passes by.

 

Laura Grace Weldon

Originally published in Shot Glass Journal.   Find more poems in my collection, Tending. 

 

fog as visible dreams