Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Snap Shot Squared

There are nine of them. They come together every other Tuesday and sit at the dining room table with paper and pencil. They listen and write and create and think and rhyme and discover and discuss and encourage and suggest and laugh and read.

After an hour of intense mind exercise, they dash out the door and head for the trees and the playhouse or the pool or the trampoline or the barn. They scream with delight and chase and run and tromp and eat and go. 

These are the members of Writing Workshop. For over a year, we’ve focused entirely on writing. As they read their stories to each other, I thought it was time to try a new project. After taking a series of twenty photos, they narrowed their pictures down to five, then one. They divided their picture into inch squares. Finally, they picked one square. 

They each chose their own way to recreate their square. They used material, beads, pencils, water color, bamboo sticks, and oil paint. 

Finally, we put it all together. And with that, we were ready for our first art show. I’m not sure we knew exactly what we were doing, but when it all came together — their work, together, on display told a story. Like their stories they have been creating, this time - without words - just a snap shot squared.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Celebrating 100,000 Miles

 We didn't know who we were, we didn't know what we did
We were just on the road - On The Road-John Denver.

We are ramblers. We even kept a Vanagon way too long so that Amelia and George Wilder could pretend travel . It didn’t even run well enough to make a trip across town, so eventually we towed it to a garage where it waited more years. We thought we would put the work into it to put her back on the road, and ride her back west like we had done — over and over. 

When we let go of the van, it felt a little bit like letting go of the traveling dream. We still traveled all the time, but it was always a familiar north and south route and to family and in the Subaru. The Subaru was our constant companion and friend. Cars, in our family, are family.  But then we didn’t fit. It was cramped driving across town, and travel was straight up uncomfortable with three kiddos sardined into the back seat and a dog and luggage stacked in the back.
Finally, the moment of truth arrived. We needed a bigger vehicle. We were on a camping trip with some friends. We met them in the Subaru. They had a minivan. As our stuff fell out, off and around the Subaru and as I stuffed it back in and clambered about, I spied their van's space and grace. I drove it from one side of the campsite to the other and the following weekend, I went straight to the Toyota Dealership.

It felt a little weird driving our Toyota Sienna van. It was extremely clean and very new. We put the first miles on it. I was afraid to drive it because every mile would wear it in. Every time a child got in it would be sandier and dirtier. In seven years, my kids had never thrown up in a vehicle. I knew that was over. And it was. 

We drove it carefully for a few years. Eventually, we worked on the wear and tear at a speedy pace. We streaked the back with chlorine bleach stains, we got sick, we spilled lemonade (maybe even worse than milk), we did sand and red clay and greasy french fries and added a fourth child. Car seats, motorcycles (yes, for real), strollers, bicycles on the back and the in the middle. Dogs. Loads from Lowe’s. Feed for the pigs. Gasoline for the tractor. Splashes of all natures. Water spills. Water stains. Rips in the seat - from a motorcycle of course. 

Finally, we pointed it west. It was time to ramble. We went to Colorado and within months decided to go again and then on to the far western corner of the country, Washington. We went all over. We did south to north and north to south like professionals. The kids always up for another adventure. 

On our last trip out west, we listened to John Denver's songs of the west -  "O Montana Give This Child A Home," as we drove with the "wild Montana sky" over our heads.  We heard "Growing Up A Kansas Farm Boy." as we passed through. And we all had "a Rocky Mountain High." Among his songs, we discovered, On The Road. He sings the story of a family reaching 100,000 miles in their family car. As it turns over the sixth digit, the family pushes the car a mile as an offer of gratitude and service to the car that had shown them this great country.

A few months after our 8,000 mile family adventure,  we neared 100,000 miles. For several weeks, dinner conversations and trips across town slowly moved towards discussing what we were going to do when five zeros were showing. We drove the van carefully the week leading up to our sixth digit. The kids kept close tabs on the added miles. Saturday morning, we packed a lunch to share with friends at a lovely bird sanctuary twenty miles away.  We loaded up in the van and headed down the road. With fourteen miles to go, we were ready. 

And on Thomasville Highway, the main artery from Florida to Georgia, the van reached 100,000 miles. I wasn’t sure if we really had it in us right then, right there. I thought we might look for the next quiet dirt road, but George was driving. It was on. We pulled to the side of the road. I moved to the driver’s seat to steer, Amelia, George Wilder, William, and George headed to the back of the van to push. And push they did. There were ant hills all over and hills to push up and hills to run down. There were cars whizzing by north and south.

Seven times people stopped to help us because, of course, they were under the impression that our van wasn’t working properly. Contrary! Seven times we smiled and cheered and said we were celebrating and didn’t need help and waved them on mainly so that they would move out of our way as to not interrupt our pace. The last man to stop couldn’t stop laughing. When he turned to sprint back to his car to get out of our way, his body jiggling with laughter as he waved us onward.

George sang out, children giggled and pushed some more. It was getting quite warm and the hills seemed higher and longer, so they loaded up. I was sure we were done, but they all were sure that we were going to push the car across the border from Florida into Georgia and one entire mile. And we did.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


Picture this. Because I don’t have one, because it was too awesome to stop for one. 
I teach a writing workshop to a group of kids between the ages of 7 and 12. We meet once every two weeks and embark on different writing adventures. We’ve created poems. They wrote stories with animals for characters. We’ve explored the personal narrative and we’ve written object essays. 

I decided to introduce our workshop to writing news stories. Look at your newspaper. Look at your news screen. There are not very many stories that are respectable or decent enough to share with children. It is really almost impossible. There is death, destruction, and more death. And if it isn’t death it is a scandal or political. But, this week, SpaceX was the news as they prepared for today’s rocket launch.

I would like to personally thank Elon Musk for being wealthy enough and brave enough and smart enough to send a gigantic rocket into space today. 

I found some interesting news stories about this “experiment”. This wasn’t fake news. It is very real news. It is scientific, it is crazy, it is informative, it is brave, it is smart, it is history, it is progress, it is questionable. My favorite question at workshop was, “Why didn’t he send an old beat up car that doesn’t work anymore instead of a perfectly good car.” Followed by, “What will he drive now?”

After dissecting news stories for the who, what, when, where, why, how, and some quotes, and a lead and a headline, we spent time working on our own news stories - “Something happened to grandmas car”, “Our car is about to turn over 100,000 miles and we are going to push it that 100,000 mile because there is a song about a family that did this”, “It is spring,” “the Eagles won the Super Bowl,” “Squirrels ate the squirrel feed we made,” “My dad just received $500 worth of new tools from a company that could not replace his battery for his nut driver,” and “Friend struggling with appendectomy recovery”. I am so impressed with their ability to find news. And I would so much rather read these stories than the current offerings. 

As you can only imagine, an hour of sitting and doing this leads to some squirms, so we set the kids loose to play. Within the hour, the launch that we had just read about was set for take off. 

I called the kids inside to stand around my 8x11 inch laptop screen to watch the launch. A launch that wasn’t necessarily set to actually succeed, but hopefully. Elon Musk himself said, It will be a great rocket launch or the best fire works display.”  Fifteen kids shouted down the count down. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Lift off!”  And the rocket launched and worked and it was incredible and it was beautiful and scientific and crazy and informative and brave and smart and history and progress and questionable. They cheered and shouted as it succeeded! Suddenly they had the thought that, because we are not too too far away, they might be able to see it. They ran outside and FOUND THE ROCKET SHOOTING THROUGH THE SKY!!!! 

I remember like it was yesterday, January 28, 1986. This day, I was in 4th grade. We knew the shuttle, loaded with our heroes, was headed to space. We knew it was going. Then we knew it didn’t make it. Our entire school gathered and cried and sat in silence in our chapel and prayed. We were in shock. We didn’t know what to think or feel. It was a disaster. It was not good. 

Today, there were no humans on that rocket, and — it made it. It was successful. It wasn’t a disaster. A crew of children sat and stared and smiled in amazement. They watched the boosters simultaneously land back on the launch pad and laughed at the shiny red car playing a crazy song they don’t know. And instead of mourning a disaster, we celebrate and dream.

Monday, February 5, 2018

She Keeps Us On Our Toes

There are no words to explain. I'll just let the outfits do the talking. Every day is different and her own creation. She has a system for her combinations and dresses herself so there doesn't seem to be much of a reason to dissuade her. She keeps us on our toes.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Time To Get Uncomfortable

Today. I loaded up my kiddos and headed towards the seed store to buy potato starts for the garden. We love visiting Gramlings in Tallahassee. Gramlings is a garden store housed in an old warehouse. The roof is rusty. The floors are old strong wood and the doors are always wide open. We head that way a few times a year to reload on seeds. The guys there are so nice and helpful. They weigh out our seeds, scoop them into brown paper bags, label and tape shut. The cash register is old but they have a visa machine just in case. 

We drove at a stop and go pace through town. As we got closer to the capital, we could see there was a lot of activity. Even a helicopter in the air. The first thing we saw were piles of police. Straight faced, lined up in rows. We were at a red light for a minute and I saw a minute too much. 

White angry people holding signs screaming and spitting in a rage — ranting that this was their land - that they built it. Their signs said “Florida Sovereignty”. On the other line of police men, there was another crowd of people holding signs in other languages, signs that said “Chill Out.” Others said “We all belong here.” Another, “NO KKK” I couldn’t believe what I saw. My kids were confused. They weren’t sure what to make of it. I literally choked up when I opened my mouth to explain. I thought I might throw up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. People wringing out rags of hate, people, confused by poverty and pain and pushing it in the wrong direction. I was still dumb founded when we walked into the seed store. 

I couldn’t really see straight or think straight. The kids were pulling at me to come pick the potatoes. One of the guys asked if I was okay. I told him I was a little shook up from driving past the capital. They nodded sadly with understanding and quietly helped us. 

And as we stood there, a tall African American walked into the store. He was totally content and happy listening to music and went straight to what he was looking for —a chemical free pesticide. He bought it and went on his way. 

He probably didn’t even know about the rally. He’d arrived and left from the other direction. I had a deep desire to run up to him and hug him and tell him I was so happy to be in the store with him and so happy to stand there with him. I wanted to know his name and hear his story. I wanted to take him to lunch. Maybe I should have. And really, I looked around and I wished I had a big picnic blanket and a basket full of food and I wish I could have invited all of the people in the store to a picnic right there on the old wood floors. I wish I could have gone and invited all the protestors to a picnic. Because then they would meet each other as people with stories and lives and families and talents and ideas.

After we had our potatoes, we played at a nearby park for over and hour. When we drove back by the capital, the crowds were bigger and louder and messier. My kids were uncomfortable and sad and concerned. They were concerned for the police men and the young kids and they asked when they would stop. They asked if their throats hurt and if they were hungry. At lunch William kept listing all the things he saw there. I was amazed at all the details they took in. The trumpets, the megaphones, the signs, the screams, the photographers, the people in a hurry, the people stopping. 

I wish they had not seen that scene because I wish it wasn’t happening. I can’t believe it is happening. But, because we did, and because it is happening, I can’t silently sit and fume. I want to plead with all of you to walk humbly and show mercy and look to see how your life segregates, how your life divides. I know mine does even though I think I’m not, I do. It is comfortable to take care of myself and to be with people like myself. I can think I'm so great because I wasn’t protesting and holding a sign full of hate, but silence isn’t loving my neighbor. 

Today, I feel more strongly than ever to focus on loving my neighbor as myself. This will not go away unless we fight back by knowing and loving and not dividing. We must protest this hate with the way we live our lives and it isn’t going to be comfortable. I’m ready to get uncomfortable! 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Epic Adventure - The Final Stretch

It is NOT a hop skip and a jump to Colorado Springs from Arches National Park. And there isn’t much in the in between. We tried to stop for dinner at a lovely park on the Snake River, but the mosquitos showed no mercy and the heat beat down. The best move was to move, so we did. Eventually, exhaustion won and we started looking for places to camp hours short of the Springs. If you want to camp at a camp ground in Colorado in July, book it now, because every single one will be full when the warm weather arrives. 

I phoned a long time friend from my childhood that now lives in Gypsum and asked her for some advice. She led us to a camp ground with one site available. We grabbed it immediately, set up camp, and the sun beat down and the mosquitos were right behind it. We decided to find a place to eat dinner. Our cooler was empty as was our morale. We looked like people that had been on the road for nearly 48 hours, but that didn’t stop us from waltzing into the restaurant and mowing down plates of delicious Mexican fare. 

While we ate, a random rain shower snuck behind us into our camp ground and left a nice neat layer of damp on every thing. It was late. The closest laundry mat was 30 minutes away. I loaded up our wet bedding and just started driving. This wasn’t exactly the glamorous glorious camping experience I had signed up for. George, however, signed up for everything the day he was born. He signed up for awesome and he signed up for blizzards and heat and drought and rain and flat tires and broken down cars and music shows and planting gardens and fixing everything and doing anything. So, while I drove in a quiet van towards hope, he stayed with the children and made awesome out of nothing. He is just that good. 

After pouring my mothers heart out to the lady behind the counter at the laundry mat, she finally agreed to let me just dry the bedding in her driers. And of course I didn’t have quarters, so she gave those to me as well. I could tell she didn’t really want to be nice, but she was sure not going to let darling children from Florida sleep in wet sleeping bags. While my clothes dried, I cleaned out the van. It was past due. And while I cleaned, I came up with piles of quarters! I was so excited to repay her. I’m pretty sure she let out a sigh of relief when I brought her my clutch of quarters. 

Finally, we were sleeping soundly on dry bedding. And the night was glorious. Fully rested, I woke up before the crew, slipped into running shoes, and headed down a paved path following the Eagle River as it cut between high hills on either side. The rising sun silently cast colors man cannot repeat into the water and up the mountain side. 

Now, we were dirty, but rested and ready to find the Borders at their camping site outside the Springs. 

We drove up and up and up. We drove past the presidential mountains, we passed valleys, we drove over high ridges back down and back up. And finally we found the Borders waiting on us in a cool summer rain. We dug to the bottom of our bags for all the warm clothes we had packed and layered them on. The children immediately began constructing forts in the woods and we got to sit and chat with Martha and Jim for hours while sipping on warm hot chocolate. We were not in a van. We were not in the heat. We were in a glorious place with family and it felt just right. 
After food and music and stories and plays and forts and ducks and sleep, we went back to Martha and Jim’s house to finally shower and pack for the final push home. 

It was after dinner. Our plan was to drive into Kansas and camp there. We lasted longer than we thought. With the time change, we were still wide awake at 9 p.m., so we drove on and on. Finally, it was time to find a camp ground. We located a state park near the interstate, and started to drive down down down steep roads towards a lake bed. We could not see anything. It was darker than the inside of a cow. We were quite unsure of our choice, but didn’t really have any other choice but to set up the camp and sleep. 

Morning arrived. George was up before the rest of us. As we woke from our slumber, he was hyper with description of this place. It was absolutely glorious. We had camped right in the middle of Kansas, on a beautiful lake with high soft rock walls stoically guarding the water. We made breakfast, and went to explore a bit. All of us ended up swimming in the lake. It was cool and refreshing and quiet.

Giddy with our find, we loaded up one last time to plow through Missouri and keep aiming East and South. 

All day we drove and drove through Missouri. That is all Missouri offered us — a good interstate. We decided to stop in Georgia instead of push on to Florida. What a treat to visit with George’s cousin John and his family in Chattanooga. It helped us ease back into humidity. We stopped in at George’s parents to do laundry. Now our trip was complete. We had started this journey at my parents cabin in Spartanburg, SC and were finishing by telling our tales to George’s parents in Georgia. The six hour trip home felt like a hop skip and a jump and it felt like an eternity. 
And there was our house. Our beds. Our chickens. Our pigs. Our kitchen. Our washing machine. Our showers. They were waiting just as we had left them. 

It was Epic. It was an adventure. And you know what — we will do it again. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Epic Adventure Part Six

Washington felt totally unreal and real. It felt like I could wake up at the Kingston house and just step into life as it was 16 years ago but now we had FOUR children and nearly a lifetime to separate us from this place. 

Where to start? We just jumped in. We called Scott and Heather McMinds’ as if we were still living life side by side. When we were just fresh married and not sure what to do with ourselves, we house sat for snowbirds and worked and went to school, so we weren't really setting up house, which meant sometimes we were twiddling our thumbs .

"What do you want to do?” we would say to each other. We'd call Scott and Heather and either ride our clunky motorcycle or Vanagan over to their place. They were 13 miles away. Out in the country. But, it is still the most beautiful drive ever. It drops from the hills to the water front of Seabeck Washington. The water meets the mountains there. Green mountains and fog and clouds and a fishing town and bald eagles. Then it climbs back up into the pines and rolls to their house back in the woods. 

Scott and Heather were new parents then. Austin was two. They were the people we watched and said, “We can do this, and that is how we will do it!” Heather was doing parenting and work, so I would say, “I’ll make dinner if we can come.” She never said no. They never tired of us (or at least they never let on). They were so constant and cool and consistent. 

They still are. Just the same. They even let me cook! And Austin, now, at 17, is awesome of course. Plus there is Cami, Amelia’s age and just as awesome. They let us jump right back into their lives. We went to their lake house and in the magical warm sun, did the lake for two straight days. Boat, water, sun, food, mountains. Heather’s laugh is my favorite laugh ever and Scott and George just dove right back in to intensity and hilarity and that was joy to us. They were not as crazy and daring. That is all that changed. Wait, they did take a solo boat ride…I’m pretty sure there was some shenanigans happening then.

After wearing ourselves out on the lake and soaking in Scott and Heather, we thought we would find our way through the Olympic National Forest. We visited Dungeness Spit, Merimere Falls and Lavender Farms. We saw such beauty. So much so that we were totally late for dinner with our dear friends the Kuskes. 

They’ve added three boys to their crew and our kids fell right in just like we fell right in with Tyler many moons ago. 

Six days passed in a flash. It was too fast. There are things that I’m missing and missed doing. It was a whirlwind. 

We left Washington via Tacoma Narrows bridge and headed straight to Mount Rainer National Park. The entire time we were in Washington, the sun shone bright and warm. The kids thought it was paradise. We tried to explain that that was not normal. They were not buying it. As we drove East, the rain fell. The cool fell. The clouds fell. They saw it with their own eyes. And as we drove through Rainier, we begged time to stand still so we could hike for days, but we didn’t have time and we said, “WE MUST COME BACK!” 

And like that, we were in Oregon. Through the night into Utah. And at sunrise, we woke the kids to drive into Arches National Park. Glory. Only Glory. And heat!

In the span of 24 hours, we had seen the windy pines and volcanic mountains of the far west and the rosey red desert boulders bursting from the earth in Utah. Mad tired and glad to stop and walk, we took the kids to the arches. We walked through giant walls of dry rock. The heat beat down on us, and pushed us back into the van for more miles. We were on a mad mission to make it to Colorado to meet George’s sister for a camping adventure.