"The flow of creativity feels like an avalanche of joy and wonder. Being open to that possibility creates connections with everything." - Feline Dreamers

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Elements, Part 3: Fire

The element of Fire lights the darkness of our outer and inner landscapes. It is in the faraway light of the stars, the life-giving warmth of our Sun, the Moon’s mystical reflection, the sudden flash of lightning, the friction of flint on steel, and the spark of passion in the belly. Fire’s direction is South and its time is summer at high noon. The colors of Fire are bright and vibrant: red, orange, yellow, gold.

We wouldn’t be here without Fire. The Sun brings us the warmth our bodies need, and feeds the plants that provide us with air to breathe and food to eat. The inner Fires of our amazing bodies allow us to digest and metabolize our food so we can fuel our physical existence. Since ancient times, Fire has been acknowledged in our myths as a sacred gift.

Fire is spiritual energy. Its heat brings us the things that fill our lives with joy. We feel desire for a beloved, expressing our love with passionate acts and sexual ardor. We are driven by our yearning to create, to bring to life something new and unique. We take pride in our contributions. We reach our for connection with All That Is, thrilling to our part in the divine dance of life. We smile and laugh, taking pleasure in the pure fiery energy of living.

When mishandled, Fire reminds us to respect its gifts. As individuals, we may fall into rage or obsession, burning with energies out of control. Those among us with fiery tempers are both admired and feared, sought out and avoided. Walking the hot coals of our inner Fire can require delicate balance. Around the globe, we feel the effects of our quest to harness Fire in the form of electricity and transportation without regard for the messes we leave behind. At the same time, we reap the benefits of technology, sharing new ideas and delivering humanitarian aid. Humanity is still in the early stages of learning to balance our use of Fire.

The tools of Fire are the fire-starters, that which we use to light a physical flame. This might be matches or a lighter, flint and steel, a magnifying glass to capture the Sun’s rays, or simpler tools like sticks and string. We use our skill and will to spark the blaze that will keep us warm, light our way, and remind us of the potent powers of Fire.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cake of the Month: March

Well, then, here it is: the Cake of the Month for March. It's called Spring Fever Cake with Dark Chocolate Butter Frosting. I designed it like an egg decorated for Spring, though my cake decorating skills are still a bit primitive. I think it gets the idea across, though. We celebrate Spring Equinox, also known as Ostara or Eostar, but of course this cake would also be good for an Easter dessert.

I did some research and based the cake on a basic pound cake, although I adjusted it some. It came out great - moist and delicious. The frosting tasted very chocolatey and yummy, but its melting temperature was too low, as you can see in the picture. I think I'll either add more sugar, or maybe use half butter and half vegetable shortening.

If you'd like the recipe, leave a comment or get in touch another way. Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Embodying Acceptance

For about a week I’ve been mulling over my previous post, Releasing Self-Judgment, and collecting my thoughts on the feedback and questions my new online friend and blog sister posted as a comment. It’s been really cool how she and I have been finding such rich material in each others’ posts lately.

Wild Zen Mama writes: “I struggle in relationships in my life, and I think my relationship with myself is the key. How can I find peace and joy with my relationships with others when I have yet to find it with myself ("flaws" and all)? Or in your case, are there ways that you accept others that you can apply to accepting yourself? I would be interested in hearing any insight you have on this.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I’m generally an accepting person. I take people as they are. Unless they really push their views on me, which I don’t appreciate, I’m open to learning about them and I trust that their path is their own and thus right for them. Quester and a friend of his were recently discussing trust. His take was: “I trust people. I trust them to be as human and flawed and creative and changeable as I am.” I agree.

Part of it is about control. I recognize that I can’t control other people, nor do I want to. I believe that people have different truths and that diversity is a valuable thing. Sharing our paths is fun and enlightening, but I have no desire to tell someone what should be true for them or how to live. Including, and perhaps especially, my kids. I know they have to figure it out themselves. So, why don’t I give myself the same latitude?

Perhaps it’s the notion that it’s part of our job as humans to “control ourselves,” to “master” and “discipline” ourselves. Yikes. That sounds kind of creepy. But, a lot of times, that’s what we do. We try to control our way of being with diets and goals and schooling and long lists of things to accomplish. Our intentions may be wonderful – to feel healthy and fit, to achieve a long-cherished dream, to Do Good Work – but what about the effect on our tender psyches?

I’m not arguing for not having goals. I’m advocating for a gentler approach. I want to accept myself fully in each moment. Even if I don’t feel like doing yoga that day, or I’m grumpy, or I pig out on junk food. I want to accept that I’m human, I’m doing my best and that I mean well. I want to look at my life as a whole, to see all the love and creativity and laughter I share with the world, rather than focus on what I might have done “wrong” at the end of each day. Then I’ll find the peace and joy in simply being (and most days, I do). It will ripple outward from me, to my loved ones and my surroundings, and on out into this beautiful blessed world.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Releasing Self-Judgment

I've been focusing on self-love and acceptance over the past couple of months. It's been going well, overall. I mean, there are still ups and downs as I learn how to love myself. If you're someone who hasn't struggled with this, self-love sounds very simple. On the other hand, if unconditional love for yourself is a new concept, or has been an ongoing challenge, you probably know what I mean.

One thing I've been noticing over the past few days is when I move into self-judgment. Over the years of hanging out with friends with philosophy degrees, I've learned not to entirely condemn the idea of judgment. We need to be able to use our judgment to discern what we value, fine-tune our ethics, make wise choices, and discover our preferences. What I'm talking about is the negative connotation of the term: making our love or approval conditional, contingent on some action we may or may not take.

To use a common example, there's exercise. When I choose to do my yoga routine or take a long walk, I've noticed that I feel good about it. On one level, there's the release that my body and emotions experience, the actual "feeling good" part, which is natural and enjoyable. But there's another level. I "feel good" about myself, as in "feeling virtuous for having done this thing I should do." It feels like a false boost to the ego. It's like I've absorbed, on some deep level, the punishment and reward system so prevalent in our culture.

The reverse is true as well. If my mental to-do list includes something like writing an article or doing the laundry, and then my day proceeds in a new direction, I may feel like I've failed in some minor way. Usually the emotions are easily worked through and I move on, but what I'm questioning now is whether I can get rid of this layer entirely. I've somehow trained myself to listen to that inner critic, but I think it's time to send it home. This week, I'm working on not only noticing the impulse to judge myself, but also mindfully releasing it. It feels like a sigh of relief. Ahhhhhhh...

Thursday, March 17, 2011


I'm just about finished reading "The Teenage Liberation Handbook" by Grace Llewellyn, and I can't recommend it enough! (Quester asked me if I wasn't a bit too old for it, and my answer was an emphatic "no!" and a big smile). It's such an amazing book. I already had a similar philosophy, that if allowed the time and space to learn, kids (and people in general) will learn amazingly well by pursuing their passions. But the book has propelled my interest in self-education to a new level (not just for my kids, but for myself as well - can I unschool my Masters' degree? Oh yes indeed). The voices of the teens and parents quoted throughout the book are just so inspiring.

Here's just one of many amazing quotes, this one written by teen unschooler Kim Kopel, who describes herself as "self-educated."

"I began to see that so much of this pressure to go to college, get a 'good job,' be successful, and so on, was based mainly on fear. 'Do this, or this will happen to you.' 'Go to college, or you'll never be able to get a 'good job' and support yourself.' And so forth. No one expected me to go to college because I thought I'd find a life worth living there, or that it'd be a place where I would mature as a person. They expected me to go because I'd end up a social reject and would starve to death on the street if I didn't.

"Something inside of me snapped at this realization. 'That's it,' I said to myself. 'I'm not going to run my life on fear; what point is there in a life in which you do things because you're afraid of what will happen to you if you don't? How can you ever be happy if you live on fear - there will always be something else you have to do to keep something terrible from happening to you. I'd rather starve to death and be rejected than be afraid forever and never have a moment's peace!'"

Last night we had our Maine Wholeschoolers' Midyear Review, a sort of talent show put on by the kids in the group. Each participant does some kind of presentation on something they've been working on or a topic of interest. We've been doing it for several years. Now that the kids are all in the double-digit age range, and many of them are teens, the show has gotten more interesting, and the kids' projects more self-directed. The kids in the group are mainly unschoolers. Last night we saw presentations on some of their passions (ballet, drumming, sports, making paper airplanes, art), reports on subjects of interest (owls, The Gettysburg Address), and a performance (guitar and vocals) of a song one of the teens wrote. It was wonderful to see the kids up there showing what they love to do.

Over the past few months, I'd been a bit concerned about my own kids (especially Dryst, as he's the eldest) and their motivation to pursue their passions and their education. I've had many conversations with other parents of teens about motivation, when to push and when to let go, and college preparation. Through these talks, and the reading I've been doing, and just spending time with my kids and their friends, I'm reassured. We're part of the wave of the future, when education will be considered a joy rather than a burden, and we as a culture will realize that the love of learning, when given the freedom to grow, comes as naturally to us at all ages and stages of life as it did when we were babies learning how to crawl and walk. Our family is self-educated - and thriving!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

An Unschool Update

"We tackle our schoolish sort of work in the mornings. It's quite possible to pack twelve or thirteen years of traditional schooling into about five or six at home by waiting for readiness and desire. Most children will buck a lot of sit-down work at eight, but seem to want it at twelve or thirteen. They know what they want to accomplish and are ready to do whatever it takes." - Shari Henry, in The Homeschooling Book of Answers, edited by Linda Dobson

We're certainly finding this to be the case lately, in our family and in the lives of our unschooling friends. Well, except for the part about mornings; our family is made up of night owls, so we do most of our academic work in the early afternoons, after lunch (or brunch, as the case may be). Anyway, for various reasons and as they get older, most of the kids in our homeschool group are now doing more formal schoolwork. Of course, they're still pursuing their own interests, learning through games, and active with various hobbies. I thought I'd give an update on what Dryst and ElvenTiger are up to, since it's been a while since I've done so.

Dryst, age 14, is doing Saxon math, which he mostly enjoys. We both like the way it progresses by adding new material and also providing plenty of review. He's using a computer program to begin learning French, which is going well. I'm re-learning along with him, and it's fun to play with the language together. Although he's a strong reader, much of the reading he does is magazines (he reads several, from cover to cover) and comic books. He's a good speller and can type well.

Dryst is regularly in touch with many of his friends, both ones he knows in real life and people he's met online. He plays a lot of X-Box, and for him it's about the social contact as much as the fun and strategy. He just got a new game, Dragon Age 2 for the PC, and has been exploring that. For the annual Maine Wholeschoolers' Midyear Review, he's putting together a presentation on "flopping" in major sports. We just signed him up for lacrosse, which starts next month (assuming the snow melts...) and soccer won't be long behind. He went through a rough time this winter with up-and-down emotions and some insomnia (mostly due to changing hormones, we think), but has seemed to even himself out recently. He enjoys music, sledding, and watching "That 70s Show" (thanks to Netflix).

I just started reading "The Teenage Liberation Handbook" by Grace Llewellyn, and I absolutely love it. I hope Dryst will pick it up, too, as I think it has many great ideas. I'd love to see him become more motivated at actively pursuing his passions. He wants to work with his Dad this summer, so we'll see where that goes. I have to remember that most everyone on my side of the family is a "late bloomer," and realize that he has the delightful luxury of "being a kid" as long as he wishes.

ElvenTiger turned 12 this winter. She has three close girl friends who she's in touch with regularly. She likes to knit, cook, and listen to music. She sings and makes up her own lyrics. She's always been very creative and artistic, and continues to draw, do crafts, and cultivate her interest in fashion. She's been playing PC games like Minecraft, Webkinz, and Dragon Age.

Her main type of learning is hands-on, so the academic work doesn't appeal to her much, at least on a consistent basis. ElvenTiger, if she had been in school, might have been considered "learning disabled" in terms of reading, or at least have been bullied into reading before she was fully ready. What we've discovered is that she has a different way of approaching reading, and recently she and I have both seen a lot of progress. She loves being read to, and has been devouring audio books. Lately, while helping a younger friend with his reading, she's realized how much she already knows. This confidence has led her to do more reading on her own, and be a bit more bold about figuring things out rather than just asking someone else to read it for her. An adult friend who has a very similar reading style to ElvenTiger also suggested turning on the captioning whenever we watch a movie or a show, and she seems to find it helpful.

Discussing books in her book club has also given her the confidence to realize that she does have the understanding she needs, even if she doesn't yet devour long chapter books on her own. She and I have been enjoying the library together, and her project for Midyear Review is all about owls. It's been great to see how excited she's been about learning new owl facts, and sharing them with family as she researches.

That's the basic update. I continue to do lots of research about homeschooling and unschooling, and keep up with new ideas and theories. I'm learning the balance between offering ideas and "pushing" them in certain directions. I'm blessed with wonderful kids, and a supportive community. And my own love of learning, which is just unstoppable.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A State of Grace

For my Elements Study Group last weekend, I created a worksheet on "Fire and Pride." The idea was to get us thinking about what we're proud of, and what it is that feeds the fire within. In this context I mean authentic pride, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from within and needs no competition or comparison.

One of the questions was: "What physical aspect of myself do I most appreciate?" To my surprise, one of my answers was that I am proud of my physical flexibility and grace. The reason I'm surprised is that grace wasn't something that came naturally to me. As a child, I was physically awkward and much preferred reading to playing ball. Gym class was a nightmare, as I was also shy and easily embarrassed at my lack of skill. I was chosen last for teams, or very close to last, many times. I stood there, red-faced, just wishing it would be over.

One of the most intense memories is when we were learning to play volleyball. Everyone had to take a turn to serve the ball. Do you think this short, shy, awkward girl could get that ball over the net? Not a chance. But I had to stand there and try repeatedly, everyone staring at me, until finally the gym teacher decided I was doing my best and took pity on me.

Yet in later life, I realized that I was capable of my own brand of gracefulness. I grew up near a lake, and I could swim well. When I first met Quester, one summer day we went swimming and I was surprised to find that he was tired way before I was. I also learned to dance that summer at a Grateful Dead concert. I mean really dance, flowing with the grooves and rhythms of the music. What a revelation! I also started hiking, and found the thrill of making it to the top of the mountain, seeing the view and knowing that I'd climbed all that way under my own power.

When I discovered yoga, it seemed like a natural extension of the new peace I'd made with my body. I began to frame things differently: I wasn't the opposite of an athlete, I just preferred non-competitive, individual sports. I found it fun to get out and be active, and the balance helped improve my overall physical health.

I also see this discovery of my physical grace as a metaphor for the larger concept of gracefulness. I was a very sensitive child, and the world was often too much for me. I became easily stressed out, and often felt like I didn't belong here. I am a classic "late bloomer." Throughout my adult life, things have gotten easier as I become more fully myself. I now have many tools to rely on when things get challenging, and daily spiritual practice that keeps me centered. I am living, much of the time, with grace, something I once wouldn't have believed possible. And I'm very thankful for it.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Baseline: Contentment

It's time for another writing exercise from the blog A Journey of Joy. Here's this week's prompt: "We thought it would be fun and interesting to write about contentment. I'm interested to learn what you think of contentment. Does this word have a positive or negative connotation to you?"

I have mixed feelings about contentment. My first internal response was that contentment is positive, because it brings to mind curling up with a book and and a purring cat on a cold winter evening. It feels a bit like equanimity, of being content with your life despite the external conditions, of sitting like the Buddha under a tree, peacefully content. But on the other hand, contentment can imply that we are just...settling. It can mean we're okay with the status quo, that we don't bother to create change or follow our passions or get really enthusiastic about something. Contentment can feel like sitting comfortably in the suburbs, taking things for granted, while the world goes on elsewhere.

I'm the type of person who appreciates contentment and keeping things on an even keel, emotionally speaking. But I also know the value of stimulus and change and progress. I have many friends who live more vibrantly, and can get more passionate, laugh louder and live bigger than I tend to do. But those highs can often bring with them deeper lows. That kind of radical up-and-down can make my stomach hurt - literally. I can't keep up that pace, or I get really stressed out, and that doesn't help me live a fulfilling life and contribute to the world.

What I came down to is that I enjoy contentment as an ongoing baseline emotion. It's where I like to reside. From there, I can soar upward into passion and excitement, and of course sometimes dip down into doubt, worry, or fear (it happens to all of us now and then). I think having a more secure foundation works best for me. From there, I allow myself to be inspired to stretch and grow when it feels right. I ask questions within the privacy of my own mind, and then go out and act on the answers, and discover more questions to ponder. Rather than reacting immediately, I prefer to contemplate first, and I'm content in the knowledge that my path will unfold in good time.

[P.S. For some reason I can't seem to post a comment on A Journey of Joy. I wanted to share with the author that I'm loving these prompts, and send her some links to my responses. If anyone knows Galavanter personally, could you please show her this post? Thanks!]