Sunday, December 11, 2011




round offs

back bends

walk overs

back handsprings


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Empty Bowls

Last night the kids participated in a bowl making session for Empty Bowls, a project that brings all ages together to create clay bowls, led by a pottery instructor, which are then sold at a banquet with the proceeds going to a local ministry that feeds the hungry. I was really thankful for the opportunity, since Virginia had pottery on her "to learn" list at the beginning of the school (i.e., doing life) year. And I had really hoped to do some volunteering in our community, especially during the holidays.

First, they were given clay to press onto a mold.

Lots of busy bowl makers

Once they had a good, smooth layer of clay, they could use a variety of objects to press in different textures.

The bowl is removed from the mold and can be smoothed with water.
Everyone could make their own, unique design. Virginia added a flower to hers, another girl made alphabet shapes to stick to the bottom.

Luke kept Reuben and Seth occupied by having them pose for pictures.

The world is a stage.....

Miriam inspects the finished bowls. I think she is pointing to the one she made, and Virginia's is the one in the middle of the pan beside her with the flower sticking out. Reuben's is down at the far end.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fall....and stuff

We've been having lots of fun this fall. So much fun, that I haven't had any time to blog about it all!

We kicked off the first day of the season with an equinox party and bonfire at our home. A few families came from a new "homeschool" group called LATTE, which stands for "Learning all the time, everywhere". It's really a planning center for events and activities and is particularly suited to our autodidactical approach to education. The group was recently started by a friend I met at the local farmer's market, and it's been a wonderful way to incorporate the kids' interests within the local community. Leslie heads up the children's table there at the market with activities and crafts each week. She brought materials to our party to make fall garlands and apple stars. The kids all had a great time collecting leaves, twigs and acorns to thread onto the garlands. Then we enjoyed a hot dog roast and s'mores over a cheery fire for supper. And last of all, we skyped my friend Lauren in Australia to meet her family and see what their brand new spring looked like in the southern hemisphere.
The kids are all growing, especially Jude, who has gotten quite chubby and quite too big for his newborn sized clothes. Here he is at his first trip to Grandma's. Big sister Virginia snapped this picture, as well as the one above of the fire in the wood stove. She experimented with several settings before she found one that captured the dancing flames just right. She does a lot of experimenting these days. You might stumble on a perfect, rectangular patch of new grass on the bare patch under the old swing set, a half finished model of a lego fire truck, and many bracelets with various arrangements of beads strewn about the house. Especially since my friend, Kelly, and I coordinated a jewelry making class with Kelly's girl scout troop led by two local artisans, whom my girls had gotten to know a bit at the farmer's market. Both Virginia and Miriam made lists of the things they wanted to learn this school year, and jewelry making was at or near the top for the two of them.

Miriam is the little mama to her brothers and loves to have them accompany her on endless pretend trips to the market and real picnics that she packs up for them to take outside. This morning she drew a calendar with illustrations in each box for the chores they had to do each day. When I asked her why she only had "feed the cat" for one day, she informed me that that was the day they would visit Virginia and help her feed her cat, but they did not have a cat to feed every day.

Reuben is funny, and impatient. But you can't blame him too much when he is stuck in the middle and sometimes needs a little extra drama to get attention. We are all learning to be patient with each other. He loves super heroes, drawing monsters and dressing up as a fireman. We took a tour of the local fire station in his honor with the LATTE group. At four, he is proud to make himself snacks, which he learned by watching his sisters. Trail mixes are his specialty, but chocolate milk from scratch (a spoonful of sugar, a spoonful of cocoa, a spoonful of hot water, mix, then stir in milk) and a cup of tea are, well, also his cup of tea.

Seth is quickly leaving his babyhood behind. He's grown into a stocky boy with a bright mind and lots and lots of words. He is our earliest talker and has opinions too, which he never hesitates in sharing. He is also the loudest and largest for his age, which sometimes makes the two year old mood swings a bit challenging. In a matter of seconds he is the loving big brother who makes the baby coo and smile and the charging bull/screaming banshee who didn't get his way when Mama refused to let him ...wave a sharp knife in the air, pound the baby, flood the kitchen, play with fire, you get the idea. But he's almost always in the mood for a cuddle. They all are, and I'd better get as many in as I can before they think they're too old. (You are never too old from a mama's point of view).
We've also been enjoying the harvest. I let the garden go while recovering from the c-section and new baby days, but was grateful to still harvest some big sweet potatoes (which were so good, we ate them all already), a few acorn squash and some beautiful, colorful ears of Cherokee popcorn. I've been gathering acorns, too, soaking and drying them, and grinding them into flour, and making oodles of muscadine jam. It's hunting season too, and our neighbors have given us a generous portion from a buck they shot here in our neck of the woods. I made some stock with the bones and used it to make some warm, hearty stew with local veggies from the farmer's market, herbs from the garden, and some tender meat that was stuck to the bone. And I have steaks and roasts in the freezer for future recipes to try.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Biblical Worldview?

I have a big problem with the term, The Biblical Worldview. It assumes that whatever reality or truth is out there, we somehow have to justify it or connect it to the Bible. As a Christian, I think this is a shabby use of scripture, which consists of particular books written by particular authors with particular intentions. What if I believed that the literary forms are also inspired? Then I would have to take Genesis as myth/poetry, gospels as testimonies from individual perspectives, epistles as letters to particular people and Revelation and prophets as apocalyptic metaphor and social commentary because these are the types of literature they are, and were originally received as. I think it is the product of Roman imperialism and Greek philosophy that seeks to totalize and universalize the sacred texts, then distill them into dogmatic formulae. I think that is not only a shabby way to read them, but also a lifeless, dull way, and, well, irreverent. "One ring to rule them all" type of thing.

Part of the emphasis of the Reformation was that the Bible applies to all of life. But that does not take into account that the "all" in life, such as humanly created institutions, and theologies that support them, are not in themselves Biblical, nor did they even exist in Biblical times. In particular, the Dutch neo-reformed theologian, Abraham Kuyper, propagated the idea of a pillared society, upheld by the various institutions of family, church and state, and many smaller ones. This is the way the Christian dominionists in the USA view society, by trying to take over each of these "pillars" for God. It's just another "manifest destiny" if you ask me. Fascist to the core. I mean, what if we went and applied the Bible to the Hindu caste system. Does that make it "biblical"? Hell no. You can dress up a skeleton in different clothes, but it's still a skeleton. And it's still dead.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I Am Sick of Hearing About the High Calling of Motherhood!

Kenya 2010 Planting Vetiver Grass

Don't get me wrong, I completely agree that motherhood is a high calling. So is fatherhood. But, like so many catchy phrases, it is often used to mean something beyond it's face value. It's often a coded way of saying that motherhood (and read between the lines, cook and cleaning lady) is the only appropriate employment a woman may have. This is a relatively recent myth, perpetuated among a certain class lucky enough to live on a single income, because throughout most of the world, and throughout history, mothers and fathers have had to work beyond their houses. But the world was much friendlier towards having children accompany their parents. Mothers would wear their babies to the fields or forests to farm and gather, and they would be in the company of other women and children. When boys were old enough, they could accompany the hunting parties with the men. In these hunter gatherer societies, however, home was the village, and much time was spent together in community life: making tools, preparing food, singing and telling stories around the fire. They were also mostly egalitarian. Although, for practical reasons, men and women had some separate roles, the aged and elders of both sexes shared their wisdom and helped make important decisions for the tribe.

I don't want to give the impression that I naively believe that hunter gatherer societies had a perfect life. But as we move forward in time, it is good to remember what we may have lost along the way in our scramble ahead. And to think about how we can get some of it back. The modern exaltation of the nuclear family has its drawbacks. It isolates women from their communities, families from their aging parents, neighbors from one another, and people from the land they walk on together. By having one or both parents work long hours away from their children, the current corporate economy also contributes to the breakdown of both family and community life.

I think the remedy must go far deeper than keeping mom shackled to the home. Mothers, as much as fathers, have a multitude of gifts they wish to share with the wider world. And fathers, as much as mothers, need lots of time to spend with their children in order to develop strong relationships and community values. And the land! The land is so tired of being trampled on, built and cemented over, and polluted by our mindless consumption. If you don't believe me, take some time, go into the woods alone, and just listen. Quiet all defensiveness, and just listen. Look at every detail. It does not take rocket science to figure out that if you keep extracting from a limited resource, and do not return what you take, the resource will run dry. I don't need any politician to tell me that.

So let's work together to re-imagine and recreate a new kind of economy, and a new definition of home. Let's treat the earth as God's house, which was made so that we would all dwell together as one family. Remember that the holy city with streets of gold comes down to earth, and it is a metaphor of the Bride, the people of God, who are living stones built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. We are that city. Let us open the gates wide and invite others to sit down and eat together at one table, each sharing with all the gifts we have been given. Let's practice an economy of Jubilee, where debts are forgiven, slaves are freed, and the land is returned to the laborer. Let's equip all with tools not for building ladders to reach the top, but true tools for conviviality.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jude's Birth

Jude Thomas Harding joined our family August 2 at 6lbs. 3oz. His birth was a lot different than the other four. After he had gone over a week past the due date, I realized he was stuck in a transverse lie, and knew I was going to need some help. I was planning to check in at the hospital, but also consulted a couple midwives to see if there was any way to get him turned. I went to a chiropractor and got the Webster technique done Monday afternoon on August 1. I thought he may have shifted position, and I also began to have a lot of contractions, so after dinner I went to a birth center an hour away to have the midwife who delivered my first child check us out and see if he could be delivered there. She found him still lying transverse and counseled us to go to the hospital. It was late at night but we were admitted. There was an experienced Dr. there who was able to turn Jude with an external version. Very painful! I was thankful to have not only Luke there with me, but my priest, Jenny, to offer prayers and support. And that my kids were in the very best of hands, since my mom had come earlier in the day. I knew we had a lot of people praying for us.

Next, we were transported to labor and delivery. My water broke soon after and it had meconium (new baby poop) in it, which was not uncommon after a version, since the baby can be somewhat traumatized from it. So I had to stay on the bed for the rest of the night hooked up to the moniter. Labor progressed very slowly, even with the pitocin they gave me. Jude was head down, but he stayed suspended several inches above the pelvis. Several times that night after very strong, painful contractions, his heart rate would drop and we would have to struggle to get it back up with uncomfortable positions and oxygen. By morning the contractions had become unbearable. I would only contract along the bottom of the uterus, as if my body was trying to keep baby up in there rather than get him out, and it hurt like hell. They finally gave me something to stop the contractions and I got a few moments rest. The shift changed during this time and the new nurse got things going again, but with less pitocin. Jude's heart rate dropped again, and it took longer to get it back up. When the new Dr. came in, we both agreed to a c-section. I was exhausted and knew we needed to get him out of there. It turned out that the cord was wrapped twice around his neck and was stuck by his head. This time, I was not at home in my birthing pool, reaching down to draw out my baby's soft head, feeling the ears, cheeks and face slowly emerge, and it was not Luke's and my hands that caught our little one when he came sliding out. This time, I could see nothing, my body was numbed from the chest down, and my arms were tied down. But I heard his first cry, and knew he was going to be alright, that everything was going to be okay. And I would shortly have my baby in my arms, which is what I had so desperately longed for since I reached full term. We are so thankful for a healthy baby boy with a very big appetite who already sleeps for a 6 hour stretch at night! Luke's version of Jude's birth can be read here.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When Children are Neighbors

Public shaming is a disciplinary tactic common in the classroom setting. Most of us have probably experienced it at least once. The teacher finds a child guilty of some negligence or disruption and rebukes her in front of the whole class. Dunce caps may have been discarded, but the chorus of derisive "Ooooooh's" from fellow classmates, combined with the disapproval of an adult that the child tries so hard to please certainly carries a similar emotional weight. The pink splotched cheeks, the jaw clenched to prevent tears (which would only add to the shame), the downcast gaze- these are all outward indications of the turmoil within. With knotted stomach and a monstrous lump in her throat, the branded heretic returns to her lunch, now tasteless, and with great effort tries to put on a show of not caring. She musters a smug look and forces herself to chew and swallow as if nothing had happened. But inside her brain a firestorm is raging as she struggles to understand why whatever she did was so unacceptable when she intended no harm. And gradually she internalizes that the teacher must be right and that she is, herself, unacceptable. Is it any wonder that, given the way we treat our children, that the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any other country?

Part of the reason for this disciplinary method is the religious background of this nation. The Calvinist doctrine of Original Sin once prevailed and it was interpreted in such a way that parents and teachers assumed that every infringement of "the rules" was due to an inborn propensity to rebel. And it was their job to beat it out of their children. When I was a child I can remember how offended I felt if my motives were thus dictated to me, knowing in my heart that I had not acted out of rebellion, but simply out of ignorance or forgetfulness of what was expected of me. I had a deep and lively faith and love of God, and was hurt when those who did not know my heart would not believe me. I wonder if parents and teachers really think about the golden rule when disciplining their children. I know I forget it far more often than I care to admit. But I believe we should always assume the best in others, especially our children, if that is how we wish to be treated ourselves.

Once children have moved on from the baby stage, during which a large part of their thinking is devoted to simply learning the mechanisms of how to live in space and to make sense of sensory information, they gradually begin to understand about relationships and how their actions cause responses among their peers and caregivers. Though even before they are born, babies are deeply perceptive of emotions in others, especially in their mothers. And their first textbook is the human face, which they try to mimic and understand as soon as their eyes can focus. As they grow to school age, the desire increases to be instrumental in shaping the world around them, as well as being involved in the lives of the people around them. They are very anxious to prove themselves to the adults closest to them.

I think that as adults, we often take for granted the customs and manners we have adopted through the process of socialization. We sometimes seem to think that children should simply know which behaviors are appropriate and which are not, and when they act out of ignorance, we assume they are being intentionally rebellious. We get frustrated when children simply don't "get" what is obvious to us. For instance, if a child is making rude sounds at the table, even though this is not a sin in itself, we make it into a sin by virtue of them doing something we told them not to. We thus make the parent the arbitrary definer of sin. Why not rather ask the child to be considerate of others and explain that most people do not want to eat around people who make those noises while they eat? I suspect this appeal will, in most cases, be all that is needed. If the child still will not cooperate, then it is probably clear that he is being intentionally selfish. But the approach "obey without question because you are under our authority" treats the child more like an animal to be trained, rather than a thinking, human being with a soul capable of moral choices.

There are, no doubt, times when children do intentional wrong. Often, though, this is in retaliation. Again, we should try to assume the best. This does not mean that wrong or socially unacceptable behavior should be ignored. But, as in the illustration above, we first need to strive to communicate with them, before we discipline.

And we should not use the tactic of public disgrace, either in the school, the home or any institution. We so often forget that even though our children are children, they are no less our brothers and sisters. Thus, if we are Christians, we begin with "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you...." (Matthew 18:15)

"Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all." He took a little child and had him in his arms and he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me." (Mark 9:35-37)

Note: The image above is by the Spanish artist, Francisco Goya, and is part of of series done in 1797, 1798 entitled "Los Caprichos". Goya described them as depicting "the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilized society, and from the common prejudices and deceitful practices which custom, ignorance or self interest have made usual."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Enjoying Our New Location :)

About a month ago the four of us Nathans moved to Jacksonville, FL. We are enjoying all the sunshine so much! Everyday the kids play outside and soak up some good vitamin D. The other day we finally made it out to the beach and had a nice picnic lunch there. Simon even took his afternoon nap on a towel in the sand. Lacey never stopped playing the whole time. It's so nice for my kids to be able to be outdoors so much. We built a sandcastle, then I got to lie back and read my book for a while :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Just Built!

No, it's not a wigwam, though I had considered that as an option. My goal was to build a chicken shelter with materials we already had on hand. Thankfully, I managed to find enough scrap lumber around the property to complete the job. So this shelter is made entirely with recycled materials and hand tools. I didn't spend a red cent.

Among my sources for salvaged wood was an old goat shelter that we found in the woods a couple years ago. It looked like it was thrown together with scraps as well. It was covered in vines and brambles and was falling apart, but some of it was still intact. I took it apart, toted it across the field and was able to use a good bit of it, though the ends and edges of the wood were rotted and had to be trimmed, and the pieces of tin roof needed a few minor patches with caulk. I was also able to straighten and reuse some of the nails, though I must admit that I used up Luke's stash of leftovers first.

Other sources of wood were an old shed door, a pallet, and a free standing nesting box Luke had made several years ago. The nesting box was missing a back, so I put a hinged flap on it to allow for easy access (the hinges were also from the old shed door). Now all it needs is a latch for the flap and a paint job. Maybe I'll find some paint to salvage too.

I really had a blast making this, and am so glad my dad took the time to teach me basic carpentry skills when I was a little girl. It brought back many fun memories for me as I recalled everything I learned from him whenever I would "help" him with a project. Especially when Virginia stopped playing for a little while to come and hand me nails as I needed them. She can drive a nail pretty straight herself, and once built a ramp so she could push her bike up into the shed. I'm looking forward to seeing what else she and her sister and brothers come up with.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Best Fresh Bread Hack Ever!

Once in awhile, amidst the meandering wanderings my many interests take me on the internet, I stumble on something really, really awesome, something so useful, easy and delightful, it's almost too good to be true. Thus it happened on a day when I was reading an article about how to make wigwams (more on that later) on the Mother Earth News web archives, I looked to the sidebar and noticed the link entitled, "Five Minutes a Day for Fresh Baked Bread."

The article shows how to mix up a big-ass recipe of dough, store it in the fridge and, voila, fresh bread items on demand.

I've made a few minor adjustments to both the basic recipe and the method. So here's my version, though I would recommend reading the article first to familiarize yourself with the process. There are some great tips to make your oven work like one at a bakery.

6 cups warm water (just above body temp is good)

6 cups all-purpose organic flour

7 cups whole wheat flour

2 T. sea salt

3 T. instant yeast for first recipe, then decrease to 2 or less for subsequent recipes.

Mix all ingredients just until flour is incorporated. Let rise till double. Store in the refrigerator, and whenever you need dough for something, sprinkle the top with flour, flour your hands, and remove enough for your project. Work in a small amount of flour as needed, but do not knead. Just shape and set on a well floured surface to rest for about 40 min. Bake in preheated 450F degree oven on preheated stone, sprinkled with flour, oats, wheat germ, corn meal, or whatever you wish to keep the dough from sticking. In the rack below, place a broiler pan or cookie sheet. When the oven is hot, slide your bread onto the stone and pour 1 cup of water in the pan below to create steam. This will make a wonderful crust.

The dough can be used for artisan bread, such as the French boule pictured, buns, bread sticks, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust, dinner rolls, stromboli, etc. When there is only enough dough left for about one loaf of bread, mix up your next batch, mixing in the remaining dough to act as a starter, including scraping the dough off the sides of your container. The more you do this, the less yeast you will need, and the more flavorful your bread will become. It will soon take on sourdough properties. One batch will keep two weeks in the refrigerator (although it gets used up long before that in our house).

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Three Kings Day Celebrations

As Episcopalians, we have always celebrated the Feast of Epiphany. Our family tradition has been to make King cake and display the three wise men worshiping the baby Jesus from the nativity set. And we take down the Christmas tree. But this year we decided to add something a little different, something to celebrate the beautiful, ever changing, ever blending, multicultural landscape of our locality. And so we adopted the Latin American tradition of leaving hay and water out the night before for the Wise Men, or rather, their camels. In the morning, the children expect to find a gift left by the venerable Magi. What could be better than homemade play dough? So this morning, each child found a bag of play dough and played to their heart's content, and Mama got to take a long soak in the tub. Then we all made King Cake together. Tonight we will see who finds the hidden treasure inside the cake.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tea in the Beaver's Hideout

We have been enjoying reading aloud together "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis, one of our Christmas gifts from Grandma Wright. This morning we read about how Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, and three of the children: Peter, Susan and Lucy, hid from the White Witch in a secret cave. The White Witch had cast a spell over the magical land of Narnia, which Lucy discovered by entering an old wardrobe in an ancient house, making it always winter and never Christmas. When their brother, Edmund, disappeared the night before, the Beavers knew he had gone to the White Witch to betray them. She had lied to him, telling him he could be a prince and eat Turkish Delight all day long if he brought his brother and two sisters to her. But she really meant to kill them, because of a prophecy that said that when two sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sat on the four thrones at Caer Paravel, her reign would be ended. Yet she was even more afraid when she heard that Aslan, the great lion, was returning to Narnia. It was to him, the true King, that the Beavers were taking the three children, their only hope to stop the witch and save Edmund. While hiding in the cave, they heard sleigh bells and were afraid the witch had come upon them, but their fears were soon quelled when they discovered their visitor was no other than Father Christmas. His coming was proof that the witch's power was crumbling. After bestowing gifts upon them all, "he brought out (I suppose from that big bag on his back, but nobody quite saw him do it) a large tray containing five cups and saucers, a bowl of lump sugar, a jug of cream and a great big teapot, all sizzling and piping hot. Then he cried out, 'Merry Christmas! Long live the true King!' and cracked his whip, and he and the reindeer and the sledge and all were out of sight before anyone realized that they had started.........So down the steep bank they went and back to the cave, and Mr. Beaver cut some of the bread and ham into sandwiches and Mrs. Beaver poured out the tea and everyone enjoyed themselves." (from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe")