Bush Medicine Exhibit

I had for some time been wanting to get to the Bush Medicine exhibit at the University of Melbourne Medical History Museum. It isn’t in the central business district, though, so I was wary about tackling the trip on my own. I waited until I could get company. Last week, that finally happened!

Flyer describing the Bush Medicine at the University of Melbourne Medical History Museum

Last Friday, Rod and I and our friend Amal and her daughters caught the train into town, had lunch and went to the exhibit! I had a blast!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I wasn’t disappointed. The exhibit is a small one  – the museum comprises a single room in the medical library – but it was very interesting. Continue reading

Ghost in the Machine

What happened on August14-16 2018?

I need to give a little background to give this incident context.

I have had high blood pressure for many years.  I soon tired of experimenting with this drug and that only to find that they ceased to work after a while and robbed me any quality of life in the process.


I got to the point where my normal, untreated blood pressure was scarily high at 190/120. To medically smart people, that is stoke level BP and I was seemingly fine. I remember being asked more than once if I was feeling alright and would I please take a seat.

These days I have my blood pressure regulated by medicine which should (and most likely has) extended my life considerably. I have learned to live with feeling cold all the time and the fatigue that means I have to sleep for a couple hours in the afternoon. By taking my medication at night I was able to minimise the cognitive effects of the drugs.

A couple of months previous to the August 14 incident I had begun to aggressively treat my blood pressure (my previous regimen worked for most of the day but wore out towards the end.) I had opted to take yet another drug rather than split the dose of the ones I was taking. It was that action which triggered this event.

I drove my blood pressure too low and started to experience symptoms of a stroke I had previously had! Remember that my pre-treatment blood pressure was scary high, and by driving it relatively low I brought on this problem. This is what they refer to as a ‘ghost stroke’… a stroke I have already had (and done the hard work of recovering from) came back to pay me another visit. The way I understand it, the new pathways that I had developed to re-build after the stroke were starting to fail because they could not get enough blood.

What was it like? My wife will attest that it takes a lot for me to go to the hospital. I would tell anybody who would listen that it was as though the ‘work arounds’ I had done to walk again were failing! So, off to hospital I went. The staff at Geelong Hospital were stellar. I was seen immediately and I stayed in two nights while they worked out what was actually happening. (Unlike my experience in the US, I did not have to pay a cent for this, I am very grateful to live in a country with national health!)

The title of this post comes from the old science fiction writers and musicians of long ago and refers to a machine which eventually develops a mind of its own.

A stroke, and a ‘ghost stroke’ are a lot like that, where the brain develops a will of its own and we have to do our best to rein that in.

So that is what happened, an old stroke came back for another visit! Lucky me!

I am currently in the process of working out how to best regulate my blood pressure and still have some quality of life. I have now split my dose of medication and look like being able to reduce it slightly! The one medicine I do not ever remember trying on its own turned out not to have negative cognitive effects. I now take half of it during the day

Four steps forward and three backward is still progress, and I am still here to talk about it!

Why we eat the way we do (updated)

“You still won’t live forever, you know!”

Yeah, we know. What we eat or don’t eat won’t allow us to live forever. There isn’t even any real assurance that we’ll live a moment longer, regardless of how we eat.

So, why are we so careful about what we eat? What makes it worth our while to seek out high-quality, locally grown grass fed meats and eggs, and organic, locally grown bio-dynamic vegetables? Why do we eschew “healthy whole grains”? Why won’t you find “normal” processed foods on our plates? Continue reading

How to write to children

I have written before about the importance of letters in developing a relationship with grandchildren you can’s spend as much time with as you’d like.

Several people have asked me how to get started.  Most people don’t write letters these days and many people have received only a few on which to base their ideas, so I thought I’d write briefly about how to get started. Continue reading



I have been a student of herbs since, oh, 1984 or so.  They have intrigued me since the days when I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder’s children’s books at my elementary school and was fascinated when the family picked raspberry leaves to make tea.

To my very 1950s/1960s ‘suburban child’ mind, the idea of eating wild things that never passed through the grocery store – much less the factory –  was a revelation!  (I know my Dad kept a garden, but I don’t remember making the connection that he was growing *food*!)

Continue reading

About Team Smiffy

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I am slowly making my way through a “How to Blog” class, called Blog with Pip. The assignment I am tackling today is from week one: write (or update) your About page.

I’ve been blogging since 2003, but I have never had an About page. I suppose that’s, in part, because I have never known exactly what to say on such a page. I’m not a niche blogger, I write about whatever is on my mind, and as a person with several competing interests (which fact will, I know, limit my blog’s traffic) I am unlikely to focus on one thing long enough to become one. I guess that doesn’t preclude introducing ourselves, though.

So, here goes:

Team Smiffy comprises: Rodney, an Australian astrologer and stroke survivor, and sometimes posts about stroke and its aftermath Jack, a homeschooled teenager who loves chess and karate and sometimes posts assignments under duress, and Misti, a mid-life immigrant to Australia from the Detroit area, the primary documentor and lead photographer here at Chez Smiffy. The family is completed by Magnus Kat-sperov, a chess loving tuxedo cat who almost never posts, but does often feature.

three people peeking from behind trees

Team Smiffy, from 2017

We live in a small region city not far from Melbourne, Victoria in Australia.

I’m supposed to tell you why you should read Chez Smiffy. I don’t know. I think of this blog as a sort of “one way penpal relationship”.

You may find recipes for things we like to eat, photos of recent craft projects, notes about happenings in our lives, thoughts about  gardening, health and wellness, and homeschooling a teenager, and the results of my photo walks and photographic experiments. If you search back a ways, you’ll find a lot more of all that.

I originally started blogging as a kind of “text baby book” when Jack was very young, inspired by an old friend who has been blogging a baby diary for many years now. I love her blog (but it’s private, so i can’t share it) and was inspired to do the same.

As Jack got older, my blogging started to expand in content, and I enjoyed being able to go back and read about and re-experience what our life had been like.  I also enjoyed keeping in touch with far flung friends, when I dropped in.

Why should you read Chez Smiffy? I don’t know, but if you find the mad ravings occasionally interesting, you’re very welcome here.  Feel free to drop us a note, either in comments or by e-mail.

Click here to contact us.

Diabetes as a gift

Posted by Misti 01 JUNE 2010 at 9:22:00 PM

It’s not every day you’ll hear diabetes referred to as a “gift”.

But in the same sense that the dilapidated Victorian mansion inherited from a long lost spinster great aunt would be, diabetes is a gift, albeit a ducedly inconvenient and expensive gift in our current world.

How could a deadly disease be a gift you ask? Continue reading

Why this homeschooling family favours public schools

Posted by Misti at 8:26:00 AM 03 MAY 2010

We’re avid home schoolers. (Yeah, like that surprises anybody…)

Sometimes I am surprised, though, that people assume that being an avid homeschooler automatically means that we are “against” public schools.

That’s not the case at all.

Actually, we almost always vote yes on education millages and more resources for the schools. Public schools aren’t the best option for our family, but we consider them to be of critical importance to our culture on the whole. I wouldn’t want to live in a place where education was reserved to the wealthy and well connected or even reserved to those whose parents had a burning love for knowledge.

While I do think that all children could, theoretically, benefit by the advantages of well done homeschooling, some families don’t have the resources to dedicate to keeping one parent at home educating the children, some families don’t *want* the responsibility for educating their children, some families don’t have the ‘culture of curiosity’ that makes homeschool successful, and some children will, unfortunately, find school a blessed respite from completely dysfunctional home lives.

Public schools offer the opportunity of a basic education to everybody, regardless of who their parents are or how much money they have. Homeschooling was the original form of education, it’s true — but the only people who were being educated were those whose parents had the education to share and the luxury of time to share it or the resources to hire a tutor.

Today, every child, from any neighborhood, who is sufficiently curious and determined can get a basic education and learn what they need to know to continue to pursue education on their own terms.

Honestly, the public schools have made the current popularity of homeschooling possible. In the days when homeschooling was the norm, it was only the wealthy who had the basic education they needed to educate their own. In other families it was likely that both parents would have been illiterate. Thanks to the public schools, now any parent who is inclined to homeschool is probably well enough educated to learn what they need to know to teach their own children.

Public schools offer a reasonably uniform standard for education across an entire community, so that one can reasonably assume most people in a community will have a basic understanding of the essentials and will understand what they need to know for society to operate efficiently. That basic education of the majority of the citizenry has allowed developed countries to lead the way into the 21st century.

Public schools offer the to the community a citizenry armed with the tools with which to inform themselves, so that it is harder to “pull the wool over the eyes” of an entire community. An uneducated population is entirely at the mercy of those who speak well and can rouse a rabble. Educated citizens are still susceptible to an emotional argument, but with a basic education, a few can check the facts from which a loyal opposition can be born. This helps to keep our leaders honest.

There are many reasons to be thankful for public schools, and we would not like to live in a society where they were not supported and valued.

Progress on my big garden!

For a bit over a year and a half, I have been “planning” a project.

The garden boxes I inherited from Wenche

When Rod’s mother, Wenche, died, I inherited her garden beds because I am the closest to an avid gardener left in the state.

I’m very excited! But I am also daunted at the prospect of moving them. They are BIG. They contain heaps of soil. And we don’t drive or have the muscle power we once did.

The first step was to borrow feed bags from friends who have livestock and so bags to spare for a while.

The next step was to move the soil from the boxes into bags. Of course, over the year and a half, the dimensions of the challenge grew and grew in my imagination until it began to feel like moving the Panama Canal.

However the friends we had asked for bags delivered them recently,and it was time to tackle the first step.

Headed over to the old neighborhood

Jack and I loaded the bags into carrier bags, grabbed a shovel and started walking.

It’s about an hour’s walk to sister Karen’s house, and just about the same by bus.

As a teenager, Jack wasn’t keen on the spectacle we would make climbing aboard a bus laden as if to bury a body. My concerns were more prosaic – I was busy the day before and hadn’t managed anything resembled my proscribed walk.

Work underway – Karen paused to document the eff

The bags of soil accumulating

In due course, we arrived at Karen’s. She was prepared with a hot kettle and we had a cuppa before we tackled the day’s endeavor.

Karen astonished me by joining us at work! She could so easily have claimed the matriarch’s privilege and supervised, but she’s a trooper and worked as hard as us younger folk. (Truth be told, Karen and I are much closer in age than either of us are Jack, who moved the lion’s share of dirt.)

After an hour and a half, we had moved 16 bags, or a little more than half of the soil in one garden bed. That tells us that we have another 5 or 6 hours work and need another 30 bags before we can move to step 3 – arranging for the young folks who garden in the neighborhood to bring the beds and the soil to our new place.

progress so far

Jack is busy for the next two weekends, so Karen and I have a few weeks to nurse our sore backs before the next time, but I hope to work a bit longer so that we can finish in two more sessions. I will clearly need to buy some bags since what our friends could loan to us were far from enough – but now I have an idea how many more we need.

I just keep reminding myself that step 4 is the fun bit…planting the new garden!  And then harvesting the produce – that is the real payoff for the effort.


Reading: an advantage of being retired!

I think spring may finally be here!  We’ve been needing fewer and fewer blankets each night and fewer layers during the day! I’m ready! I enjoy winter and I love bundling up, but by the end of it, I am ready to lighten up a little. I’m also enjoying the sunshine. It’s still be rainy, but in between showers, the sun comes out and occasionally the breeze is even warm! Bliss.

From last year’s family reunion in Adelaide Bridget, Makita, and me.

I’m currently reading an interesting book, Dark Emu:Black Seeds by Bruce Pascoe, (2014) which endeavors to disprove, using the notes, letteres, and records of the first Europeans to arrive, the myth that the “pre-contact” aboriginal peoples were simple hunter-gatherers with no sense of land ownership or stewardship. According to the notes of the invader/explorers, they found on their arrival, a very sophisticated agricultural/aquacultural community with established villages and trade routes.

The agriculture and the settlements were systematically destroyed by the invaders, both accidentally through the devastation sowed by their ruminants and intentionally by the settler who pulled them apart to reuse the materials.   That there were few signs of the previous inhabitants within 60 years was very convenient for those who were determined to “find Terra Nullius” and claim it for European colonization.

The author is of Bunurong, Tasmanian and Yuin heritage, and the book has very clear political intentions, but the case he makes is very convincing. I was hoping for a rather more “story-like” book because I had heard about what an excellent speaker Mr Pascoe is, but Dark Emu is very academic, well footnoted, and, though short, it’s a hard slog to read. Next up, I hope to read The Biggest Estate on Earth’ by Bill Gammage (2011).

From the family reunion in Adelaide last year: Mikey, me, Jack, and Joel

I am also planning a trip to Melbourne to an exhibition about Indigenous bush medicine.

Have I mentioned that I LOVE being retired? Caring for Rod is a pleasure and it leaves me so much free time to learn about everything that interests me!

If only it didn’t also make it so hard to travel…

Moving to Australia – the planning

Planning our move to Australia started almost as soon as Rodney and I were married. The original plan was that at the end of five years, I would return home with Rod. Of course, that was before we knew that we would be a team of three when the time came, and having a baby was both more expensive than we had planned for, but also meant that one of us had to be home to car for the little tyke, so the move took almost three times as long as we planned. But knowing that it was coming, the planning started immediately.

Having known real deprivation, I had developed a tendency over the years to save everything.  But knowing that I was going to be moving everything I owned across the planet at some point, sooner rather than later, it was time to start the paring down of my magpie’s nest, which was a huge project. Although I was at it for over a decade, that was not really quite long enough.

http://www.mudpuddlephoto.com/ A man and a woman sit on a park bench

Rod and Misti,  2011

Every time I cleaned the apartment, I created boxes of treasures I didn’t need anymore to go to the charity shop.

When we bought a house and moved, the process went into high gear and, amongst other things, I moved along hundreds of books that I didn’t need anymore. About half of the boxes I packed went immediately to charity.

I think that deciding what to take and what to leave behind was probably the biggest effort we made.

Next most challenging was figuring out how to pay for it all. Continue reading


I have recently been complaining that I rarely get to see nature now that we live in the suburbs.

In our yard in Michigan the squirrels and the rabbits and occasionally the chipmunks would entertain us for hours.  We even occasionally saw deer! And we could easily drive to a wooded park to see more wildlife if we got the yearning.  Here we mainly see dogs on leashes and domestic cats.  The wildlife we see is pretty much all avian.  They are interesting, but I miss wildlife.

In the last couple of weeks, things have gotten more interesting.

a cat sitting at a table

Magnus, a familiar critter

I’m still not seeing Australian wildlife, like possums and koalas and wallabies, but nature has been doing its best to entertain me. Continue reading

Adventures to the big city!

It’s been a very exciting week!

We live in a regional town of almost 200,000 people. About an hour away is a big city of about 5 million souls. In the years we have lived here, we have had cause to visit the big city perhaps once or twice a year. It’s fun, but I always found it very intimidating.

At the bus stop on the way to the station

This week, we had cause to go into the big city twice in a few days.

On Saturday, we went into the city to visit the nearest IKEA.

There may be other places to get what I wanted – lightweight, child safe photo frames that don’t cost a fortune – but I know that IKEA has them. (I once worked in an office a block from IKEA – I have a pretty good idea what they have to offer.)

Rod came along as our native guide.  The trip mostly involved travel, with a stop for coffee along the way and then a father’s day dinner while we were in Melbourne, at the one restaurant we can safely eat at. Continue reading


26 FEBRUARY 2010

Why Classical Education?

One thing that working closely with people on different educational paths than our own does for me is that it helps me to crystallize why we have made the choices we have.

I feel strongly that we are on the right path for Jack, though I’m sure that what we’re doing when he’s 16 will look very different than what I would imagine now. What we’re doing could best be described as a Charlotte Mason inspired ‘Classical but eclectic’ education.
Still, working with unschoolers and Waldorf proponents and people with still other priorities has me pondering *why* I feel that we’re on the right path for Jack.
It’s certainly not that I disagree with the objectives of my unschooling friends. Cultivating Jack’s curiosity is very important, and nourishing his belief in his own ability to learn and find out what he wants to to know is critical.
I don’t disagree with the objectives of my Waldorf-loving friends, either. Nourishing Jack’s spiritual nature and helping him to remain a whole, healthy person is also important.
My friends who are leaning toward “school at home” have some valid points, too. Knowing what he will need to know to make his way in the world and support himself and to share a common knowledge base with his peers will be important, too.
So, why do I think that studying art history and technique is just as important as gluing cotton balls to paper to make a snow man? Why do I feel that studying world music and classical music is just as important as singing “I’m a little tea pot”? Why do I feel that studying classical literature and reading living books is so important? Why does an in-depth study of history seem like the absolute best thing on which to base everything else? I have been pondering these questions for months — even years.
Part of it, of course, is just who we are as people. Rod and I are both people who love to think and explore ideas, who are thirsty to know how the world works, what makes people tick, and all that has come before. Jack has inherited that love and is a pretty cerebral little guy. His mind is as thirsty for these things as Rod’s and mine are. This method would absolutely not work for some of the children we know, and it wouldn’t be the best fit for many of the children we know.
For example, after a visit to the DIA, Jack spent a lot of time pondering Jesus’ death. He wanted to know who killed him, of course. And he wanted to know why. Then, he became curious about how it was that a god could die. We talked about the dual nature of Jesus, being a god, while also being a human. Then we discussed that Jesus was not the first god to die — we talked about Osiris and the oak King and the Holly King. We talked about how gods who die are always reborn. We noted that it seems to be that gods die and are reborn, while goddesses seem more eternal, as far as we could remember, and that perhaps goddesses represent life itself, while gods represent living things. That lead to Persephone and Pluto — Persephone didn’t actually die – -but she does spend time every year in the underworld. Far from being bored by our stories of the gods, Jack’s eager response was “And what else?”
Rod and I have discussed how we both felt frustrated by our ‘loosey-goosey’ “make it up as you go” education of the 60s and 70s. Education in those days was all about “relevance” to the child’s experience and we both felt, even at the time, like there was so much we were hoping and expecting to learn at school that was never addressed or even acknowledged.
We have both noticed our lack of fluency in the elements that make up ‘the great cultural conversation”. We encounter references constantly, in our reading and in life, to things that we don’t really understand. One can follow along well enough without understanding those references, and one can even reach the point of becoming so familiar with them as to no longer notice that we don’t actually know what they mean, but every so often, not knowing the story, we misinterpret the meaning and come away with a very different understanding of the conversation than was intended. When we have made the effort to seek out the information we are missing, we have been astonished at the sudden depth and richness that can be revealed by a simple phrase.
In making the collection of those references a part of Jack’s education, we not only help him to be better able to participate in the greater cultural conversation, we also help ourselves!
Our goal for Jack’s education, then, is to help him to get a thorough understanding of the world he lives in. Not just the 21st century, western society, but where humans started and all that we have accomplished over time. We want to help him see what extraordinary creatures we humans really are!
Given the example of humanity’s development–from a hunter-gatherer whose lifestyle wouldn’t look too unfamiliar to a bear or a wolf–to a creature that can escape the bonds of gravity to go exploring our celestial neighborhood, how can he not learn to believe in his own potential?
To help him to see how we have developed so many forms of musical expression over our existence — to help him delve to the depths and soar to the heights with a broad variety of expression from simple drumming to the ornate symphonies — can’t help but give him a better appreciation of his own talent and to understand that beauty doesn’t look or sound just one way.
Seeing and hearing the best of what humanity has developed, in all of its multitude of guises, will also help him set his sights for his own achievements higher. He may never paint like Millais, compose like Bizet, or write like Shakespeare — but knowing that such heights are possible can help him to set his own sights higher than he would if his own scribblings were his only measure. What he is good at, he can stretch to be great at. What doesn’t come to him easily, he can see what more there is to learn.
To set him loose to figure it out for himself would seem akin to asking him to plan and prepare his own meals without teaching him to hunt, gather, shop, and cook, with no knowledge of nutrition or kitchen chemistry. He would probably find something to eat and be quite happy with his choices, but he wouldn’t eat as richly and as well as he would if we spread a banquet before him and offered him abundance to choose from. He won’t find everything on our intellectual banquet table equally appealing, but he may well develop a taste for some of it as he matures. At least, he will be aware that it’s out there.
Classical education, approached correctly, can also help to nurture the spiritual side of a child. Nature study, while it prepares us to explore science, can also help us to find the stillness at our center as we sit with nature and observe. Reading beautiful literature and poetry can bring us to a deeper understanding of the human condition, and what all people have in common and how we differ. Listening to beautiful music can stir the spirit or bring tranquility by turns.
There’s far more to say, I know…but I found this unpublished from two years ago because there was just so much more to say — so I’ll press send now and return to the ideas if I get a chance.

Book review: The English Wife

Part murder mystery, part Golden Age/Victorian historical fiction, The English Wife by Lauren Willig, was an excellent read. I found myself caring about the characters from the very beginning and was easily pulled into their lives.

I’ve already sent the book back to the library (it was overdue) so I may have the timeline slightly off, but to begin with, we get a surface introduction to the main protagonist, Janie, and the enchanted lives her family seem to live in Golden Age New York as they prepare for Janie’s brother, Bay and his wife’s, Twelfth Night party to celebrate the completion of their new home, a replica of the estate Bay’s wife grew up on in England.

Continue reading

Rules for Sane Mommies

18 OCTOBER 2009

Rules for sane mommies

As I was cleaning up today, I was also pondering how my standards have slipped since I was a single woman living alone. (For a very brief period before I married Rod, my friends actually teased me about being a “Marth Stewart” type!). But I also realized that my standards pretty much had to slip if I wasn’t going to make myself and my family nuts!

That got me to thinking about all the ways our standards, our assumptions about ‘how it ought to be’, have to slip if we’re to stay sane while our children are young.

There hasn’t been much time for introspection lately, so in leau of anything really profound, here you go:

Rules for sane mommies

1) It doesn’t have to look like you just cleaned, so long as it doesn’t usually look like no one *ever* cleans.

2) They’re going to blame you at 14 anyway, and as long as you actually *were* trying, they’ll forgive you by the time they’re 40, so you may as well do what you have to do without feeling guilty about ‘always saying no”, or insisting they eat their greens or whatever it is that gets you feeling like a bad Mommy.

3) Playing with your kids is fine, but it’s important to realize that they will have many friends over their lifetimes, but only one set of parents. You can play with them if you want to, but if you don’t want to, save your energy for parenting them.

4) Shouting “You’re driving me crazy!” isn’t a good example to set for your kids. However, if you save it for times when they really, really, *are* driving you crazy, it does send a clear message.

5) Kids don’t like rules for rules sake, but they do need rules. Being reminded all the time to always put their toys and shoes where they belong may not be fun and may not foster creativity or self esteem, but it does mean they will be able to find them when they want them — and no one will break their neck walking across the floor and possibly break the toys! (And knowing where their shoes are may, indeed, foster self esteem.)

6) There isn’t enough time to do everything, and childhood is amazingly short. You tell your kids what’s important to you by what you make time for. Spend some time thinking about what you’d like them to remember, because once they’ve grown, there are no “do-overs”. Which is more important, listening or cleaning the bathroom? A hug or being on time? reading together or an immaculate lawn? That isn’t to say you shouldn’t clan the house or rake leaves, but it is to say “think before you rush past your child’s outstretched arms. All too soon, they stop asking.

The art of letters

13 AUGUST 2008

Posted by Misti at 8:38:00 AM
I write a lot of letters. Perhaps 10 or twelve a month. Most of them are social, a few are business letters or letters to politicians.

I receive far fewer, of course. Only two or three of my recipients are regular corespondents.

Every so often, one of my kids will point out to me that letters are “out of style” as a means of communication, and they will point out that they hang out on messenger looking for me and in a pinch, they drop me an e-mail.

And it is true. I do get a chance to chat with them on messenger reasonably frequently and I do get the occasional e-mail from them.

So, why do I persist in writing letters and sending them off into a vacuum?

I guess a large part of it is that I understand letters to be important. A lot of what we know about history, we have gathered from people’s letters. Some of my favorite historical novels are written in the form of correspondence.

Phone calls are good in their place. They’re immediate and can be intimate. Certainly the sound of the voice of a loved one is not something I would want to forfeit. But a phone call is ephemeral — you can’t pull a phone call out and read it over and over again. A phone call won’t be there for your heirs to read and come to an understanding of who you were 100 years after you’re gone. And a phone call may not come at the right time, and so it can be hurried, interrupted, or cut off abruptly.

Messenger, the same. I enjoy the immediacy of it and it certainly makes it easier to communicate regularly. I don’t know how I could have survived Jack’s first year without messaging. I was at work from the time Jack was six weeks old, and I would have missed his most of his firsts, except that Rod kept me posted all day with quick messages. It wasn’t as good as being there, but i didn’t feel cut off from what was happening and, ironically perhaps, I was better able to focus on my work because i felt “in touch”. But I couldn’t pull those messages out today and read them over and over again and they certainly aren’t there for posterity. And messenger means you have to be at the computer, something I find I don’t have much time for these days.

E-mail is a little more immediate than a paper letter, and certainly quicker to write and send. It’s also easier to save to reread. But it can’t put you in touch with everyone. At least not yet. Letters can reach anyone who has an address – – not everyone is online and people who don’t receive much e-mail don’t check their mail often, so it’s not a reliable way to keep in touch.

Letters do take a few more moments, a little more trouble, than a quick e-mail. Nothing says “I was thinking about you” like a letter in the mailbox, precisely because it takes a moment to pull out pen and paper – – maybe a few minutes more to handcraft a greeting card — it takes a few minutes to write legibly whatever is on your mind. It takes a slight effort to get a stamp. All of those moments add up to an unspoke message that the person receiving the letter matters to you. Matters enough to think about them and take a bit of trouble for them when you don’t have to.

You can tuck in a tea bag or a photo into a letter and make it “a moment together” when you can’t actually be together. You can take the time to say what might not seem important in casual conversation. You can record the days of your life, to be read and reread by someone who cares about you and if you’re lucky you can read the ‘record of days’ and the important thoughts of someone you care about. You can even forge a deeper relationship, even with someone with whom you share four walls.

Everyone still checks the mail box, so your letter will arrive and be found. The letter may not arrive at the right time, but the envelope can sit in a pocket, a sweet promise of a moment together when the time is right.

You can share a letter around the family or amongst friends. That has been the case with letters that my grandfather wrote to his cousin when he was “away at the war”. Those letters aren’t earth shattering, but their homeliness has spoken volumes across the years to all of his descendants who have read them. One comes away with a sense of the young man who wrote them – -his vocal rhythms, what was important to him, the way he expressed himself. I cherish those letters.

And so, I write letters. Maybe 10 or 12 a month. I don’t know whether anyone reads them a second time or saves them. I don’t know whether my letters have the same impact on anyone as other peoples letters have had on me. It doesn’t matter, really. I write letters and I participate in the written conversation of the ages. I record my dailiness, I ponder things that are important to me, and I take a moment to focus on loved ones and try to forge a slightly closer relationship with people who matter a great deal to me.

In the end, to me, that is the art of letters.

Parenting perfection

“Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

 Robert Browning

15 OCTOBER 2007

The recent Venus retrograde (reexamining values) has resulted in a lot of people questioning the things that matter most to them.

In many of the blogs I read, I have read the concerns of conscientious parents beating themselves up for being human. It’s better than some of the alternatives, I suppose. The papers are full of stories of parents who if nature were just, would have been barren. But it’s so sad to see good, caring parents struggling with an image of perfection they think they have to emulate to be ‘good enough’.

Having born my first child 34 years ago, I have had a lot of time to ask myself what parenting means and what makes a good (or good enough) parent.

A few years ago, of course, I had the unexpectedly luxury of Jack’s arrival and a chance to try again. That set off all the questions about parenting and how I approach it again.

I’ve come to some conclusions that would have startled and maybe even angered my younger self. There are ideals I cherished deeply at the age of 20 that I have rethought. There are things I was adamant about with TJ and Corey that I am doing very differently with Jack and would do over again for my older boys if I could.

There is one thing I am, unfortunately, doing very much the same with Jack as I did with his older brothers. It’s a flaw of mine that I am not proud of and I do my best to overcome it — but unlike in my youth, I have decided not to beat myself up over it. Oddly, accepting it has made it somewhat easier to control; but so has the support of a good, strong partner.

I am cranky.

I try very hard to be patient and kind and tolerant, but some times that it is simply beyond me. I open my mouth and out comes something I instantly regret.

What’s worse, I sometimes yell when it’s not even warranted. It’s bizarre, really. Some days I can be patient in the face of great frustration and really naughty behavior. Other days, a minor oops will set me off. I don’t really know what the difference is, and I strive to be patient and pleasant always…but the reality is, sometimes the best I can do is notice quickly that I’m being horrible and stop and apologize.

I used to blame it on the children’s behavior — and then one day I couldn’t anymore. I began to see that my temper tantrums didn’t have all that much to do with the children’s behavior. Then I beat myself up and felt like a horrible mother. I did the best I could, and I tried always to stop and apologize when i caught myself…but the guilt was immense.

In my 20s and 30, I think I suffered the twin errors of holding myself to too high a standard and the complete inability to see where I was really making a mess. That’s not unusual, I think. In my late thirties and my forties, when TJ and Corey were teenagers and young adults, I had time and experience to really think about what I had tried to accomplish, where I thought it had gone well and where it had failed disastrously. I was very hard on myself for the things that had gone badly and blamed myself for their having such hard teen years. Some of it truly was the result of the way I parented them, some wasn’t. In the end, I am extremely proud of the men they have grown into. They didn’t make the choices I might have wished for them — but they are good men, contributing to their communities and very caring of their children and elders.

And that brings me to a very important point. I I say it a lot when discussing parenting: The one quality every parent on the planet has in common is that we are all human. We have different flaws, but we all have flaws — we are inherently incapable of perfection.

So … we can’t be perfect. We just can’t. It can’t be done. If we were capable of perfection, we wouldn’t need to be here. We’d be wearing ethereal wings or (not?) experiencing nirvana or something.

Shouldn’t we try? Well sure we should. (See the Browning quote.)

But even more important, we should realize that human children weren’t meant to be raised by robots or saints. Sure, it models how to be a saint or a robot, and they get only the best modeling.

…or do they? (This one dawned on me after living with a couple of people who had elders who modeled something so far beyond their ability to attain that they gave up and didn’t try to do anything — fifty year olds who had never held a real job and had no goals.)

One of the things that spurs us on to greater heights is the strengths we learn from our parents. Another is the urge to do better at the things at which they weren’t as successful. Which of us didn’t get a charge the first time we beat Dad at chess, baked something Mom said was “too hard” and had it come out right, or in some other way went our parents one better?

What if your kids didn’t think they could do you one better at something worthwhile? What if your example was so unattainably perfect at every turn that they couldn’t touch it in their wildest dreams? Would you really want to do that to your kids?

Granted, none of us is in any real danger of perfection, so this isn’t counsel to relax and stop trying, it’s just another way of looking at the inevitable mistakes we make.  We can use them to model for our children how to cope with the flaws that they, too, will inevitably have. We can’t work on what we daren’t look at or admit to. When we screw up, perhaps we are actually teaching our children valuable lessons in humility, on persistence, and on forgiveness.

We have to be prepared to admit to our children that we make mistakes, we must be prepared to apologize to them, we must hear them when they have a complaint about the way we’re behaving, because sometimes it will be whining, but sometimes their complaint will be warranted.

Interestingly enough, children seem to take it a lot better to be told they’re ‘out of luck’ when they’re being whiny because life isn’t fair if they also know that when we’re wrong, we can admit it. They are also quicker to admit to having made a mistake if they’ve seen us model how to own up to a mistake and seen that the world doesn’t end.

It’s been very empowering to look at my flaws as yet another parenting tool. When I snap at Jack for being four, I haven’t failed. I have been presented with another opportunity to model how to be a good person. Funny thing…Jack has started to hug me when I apologize and say “it’s OK, Mamma”. And he has started to apologize without being prompted when he does something naughty .

Now I wish I could go back and do it again — TJ and Corey deserved a lot more than they got from me. I had a tool I didn’t even know about.

How shall we dress the children?

26 OCTOBER 2007
How shall we dress the children?
Posted by Misti at 2:11:00 PM

I came across an article a couple of weeks ago that still has me scratching my head.
Granted, it was on the MSNBC site, and that’s the online equivalent of USA Today for it’s depth and sophistication, so I am probably giving it way more thought than it deserves. But still… they posed a strange question.

Sara with grandfather, Olof

Victoria Clayton of MSNBC asks us

“It seems more and more people are hopping on Frost’s bandwagon and marketing pint-sized versions of adult tastes. It’s down with Barney and up with the black CBGB onesies. Out with the primary colors and pastels and in with cool, contemporary children’s furniture.

But is it really cool for the kids? Are celebs and others just using offspring as the latest “in” accessory, instead of a big purse or a Chihuahua?

Face it. Kids much prefer a Dora the Explorer shirt than a Wilco or CBGB shirt”

Miss Clayton must be very young. (Actually, I suspect that Miss Clayton was more interested in creating a pretext for advertising the hip online kids retailer featured in her article than in any specific question she posed, but we’ll grant her the assumption of journalistic integrity.)

Since we began wearing clothes, children have mostly dressed like small adults. At the time that childhood was “invented” in the 17th century, there were no special clothes, books, games, toys, or roles for children. Once infancy was over, children were seen as smaller, less experienced people. (Not unlike those of us in portly middle age view our thirty year old peers.)

By the Victorian era, three hundred years after childhood was first perceived as a distinct period of life, we saw the romanticising of childhood. Children were dressed in special clothes that were meant to evoke innocence. A few years later, in the era in which I grew up, the mother-daughter dresses were all the rage, and children were very often dressed like their parents.

I can see value in both of these approaches — dressing children in children’s clothing, evoking the innocence of childhood, is a charming way of reminding ourselves (as individuals, and especially as a culture) that we had these children to cherish them, and that they need our protection. Face it, there are harried, stressful days when we could use the reminder.

On the other hand, dressing children the way that we prefer to dress ourselves sends them (and us) the message that we are a team, that we expect that they will grow up to value the things we value.

There are two related trends in the way we as a culture dress our children that Miss Clayton doesn’t address, and I think those trends are far more important to consider.

One is the trend to dress very young girls in a way that sexualizes them. The other is to dress our children as corporate shills. Both are alarming trends and both frighten me.

Do we seriously want to tell our sons and daughters that a girl’s most important role is that of sexual object? Have women fought for at least the last 100 years only for us let our daughters be typecast and trivialized again?

And on the other hand, do we really want to send the message to our children that the role they should aspire to is “consumer”? When we pay for the “privilege” of advertising for a mega corporation on our clothing, we elevate the importance of that product in our minds and in the minds of our children. (And, yes, I include Dora, Thomas, and every other character that every kindergartner knows the name of in this.) We send a subtle message that we can be defined by the products we buy. That’s exactly the impression that large corporations would like us to have, but how sad for us, how sad for our children, if we buy into that confining view of ourselves.

Is this what we have come to as a nation? Has corporate America not gone far enough in polluting our political and educational systems and undermining our national values? Should they now also own our children’s backs as billboards?


Bring on the the CBGB or Chicago Symphony Orchestra onesies and the t-shirts bearing political statements (of any persuasion), dress your child jeans, or overalls, or sweats, or gingham — in whatever way coveys the lifestyle and political views you prefer — but spare the children the sexy outfits and please, please lets keep the merchandising off our babies backs!

An old essay I came across…

22 JUNE 2007
An old essay I came across…
Posted by Misti at 8:30:00 AM
I wrote this back in 1999 — came across it this morning and thought you might be amused.

Blaming it all on Karma
by Misti Anslin Delaney (1999)

The Samhain morning murder of Ronnie Raub has a lot of people in our community thinking and talking. How, we wonder, could this happen in “our little family”, the community of pagans who we prefer to think of as “good” people and “like us”.

Domestic violence and murder go against everything that most of us believe. Nonetheless, Paul Raub – who considers himself a witch – beat his wife, Ronnie, pretty regularly, according to police reports, and now it seems he may have killed her.

Unfortunately, we in our little pagan community are just humans, and as humans we have the usual range of strengths and flaws. We’d like to think we have the inside track on wisdom, kindness, and truth. But really, we have only one of many paths to those ideals and it guides us only as well as we’re ready to be guided, just as the better known religions guide their followers only as well as those followers are ready to be guided. The wise will find the essence of truth and beauty in any path, and the unenlightened can corrupt even the most wise and beautiful of faiths and philosophies.

A long time ago, a non-witchy friend asked me how anything bad could possibly happen to witches, since we know how to use magic and we can call on our powerful Goddesses and Gods. This friend knew me in a time when everything that could go wrong in my life seemed to be intent on going wrong. (It was my first Saturn return — what can I say?) She was questioning the usefulness of my religion in light of the way my life was going at the time. I was poor, unemployed with no job skills, and the single mother of two rambunctious young boys. At some points I was technically homeless, though thanks to very, very dear people who went far beyond the call of the duty of friendship, I was never literally on the streets. I did cry along with my babies as they cried themselves to sleep from hunger on far too many occasions, when my friends didn’t know the situation.

Another friend of mine, a witch, lost custody of her children to the vicious man who killed two of their children “in utero” by beating her. She found herself wondering why The Goddess had turned her back and wasn’t answering her pleas to bring her children safely home.

So, why do bad things happen to good witches?

Well, why do bad things happen to anyone? People have been asking ourselves that since we first had the words to ask. That question may well be the whole reason we invented religions in the first place. And we’ve never found a deity or a way of life that would protect us completely – perhaps because, as Edith Hamilton once said “Man was not made for safe havens”.

Some people try to blame every tragedy on karma: “I wonder what she did to deserve that?”

That attitude always annoys me. Whenever anything horrible happens to someone in our community, whether it’s Ronnie’s murder or the loss of custody of our children, or just a string of really bad luck, at least one person is bound to wonder aloud what the victim did to deserve it.

That’s not so very different from the attitude people have long taken toward rape victims. What was she wearing, where was she, and what was she doing to invite this kind of treatment? Although it’s far from extinct, this attitude is changing toward rape victims and I think it’s high time we reexamined it in the rest of our thinking about tragedy.

Why doesn’t being a witch, one who knows how to shape reality, one who can call on the might of our powerful Gods and Goddesses, always save us from life’s tragedies? Why don’t the Goddess, our loving Mother, and the God, our strong, protective Father, protect us from the fateful “bumps and bruises and broken limbs” of this world?

I’m convinced that, in part, it’s because we’re not here to live a safe little life in swaddling clothes. We’re here to learn and to grow beyond what we arrive here as, and sometimes the learning is tough.

Just as a good mother lets her infant son take the occasional tumble as he’s learning to walk and lets her young daughter take a chance on falling when she’s learning to ride a two-wheeler, our Cosmic Mother lets us experience life fully, even with all its difficulty and pain. The experiences that what we survive make us who we are. Challenges toughen us to face greater challenges. Challenges that kill us also teach our greater self something… and death isn’t final; it may be a major cosmic bruise, but we know we’ll be back to go on learning.

Sometimes we go through hard times because we’re being taught what we’ll need to know to accomplish the task we’re here for. The greatest of teachers and counselors are often forged in the “fire” of tragedy.

Sometimes, as in major weather disasters, we’re caught up because we got in the way when the needful was happening. From the cosmic point of view, it’s not a disaster, but a readjustment. Yes, a few lives were lost – but in the grand scale they mean less than the overall balance. When the rivers flood, they bring nutrients back to the land; if we’ve been foolish enough to make our homes in the flood plane, then that’s just how it is. When a hurricane, tornado, or forest fire comes through, it tears up and destroys old growth to make room for the new.

The cosmos we live in is much grander than our frail little human brains can encompass. (That’s why Deities present themselves to us in the limited forms in which we know them!) There are forces at work in our world that we can only barely perceive. There is no more evil or malice in storms, floods, and fires than there was when I destroyed my toddler son’s “finger painting in shades of food” on the dining room table. He was heart broken, but it needed to be done. That he didn’t understand about germs and the basic necessity of cleanliness didn’t make me evil or the destruction of his art malicious.

Sometimes we go through hard times simply because we got in the way of someone else’s lessons at the wrong time.

Blaming the victim, though, even if he or she provably has a karmic debt, is never productive and is always cruel. I think it’s a defense mechanism we use to convince ourselves that we needn’t fear being victimized. We, you see, are “good” people. We’ve never earned the kind of karmic debt that would cause something like that to happen in our lives, so we’re safe.

I have news for you.

You just don’t know, can’t know, exactly what your entry in the Akashic record looks like. None of us knows for certain about anything prior to this life. And for that matter, we aren’t always aware of exactly what we’ve done and all of its results in this lifetime. Where karma is concerned, the only place we can make a functional difference is here and now. Maybe we racked up a lot of karmic debt in another lifetime, maybe we racked up a lot of karmic credit. Either way, we can neither know for certain, nor do anything to change it in the short term. From this moment forward, though, we can live with awareness. We can tip the scales for later in the direction of credits. But that won’t protect us from all life’s growing pains.

And bad things do happen to good, pure people all the time. Life’s like that.

Our magick lets us shape reality, but this isn’t Bewitched – magick takes time and planning and hard work in the real world. Sometimes things happen too fast for us to do more than hang on tight. Our magick, too, is always subject to the influence of other wills.

Sometimes it obviously works, and sometimes the results are subtler and to all appearances didn’t work or didn’t work out the way we’d planned.

The strength of our religion, beyond our deities and our spells, lies in its ability to give us a broader view in which to understand the events in our lives. That’s one of the main premises I use in my counseling. Perspective can make all the difference in how well we cope. How we interpret things makes the difference in how we see our options. How we see our options make the difference in how we react and in how quickly we learn.

As I said before, sometimes the greatest of teachers and counselors are forged in the “fire” of tragedy. So how do they survive and thrive and come out stronger where others are broken? They allow themselves to be transformed by the experience—they use the joy and humour of our way of worship to conquer the bitterness. They use their knowledge of the accumulation of many lifetimes of lessons in the growth of the human soul to get some perspective on their situation. And they know, deep within their hearts that without some bitterness, the sweetness of life would be meaningless. They refuse to be conquered by self pity and they ground and center and go on, either in this lifetime or the next.

a long, long time ago

Ronnie found herself in an abusive relationship. Why?

We can’t know. Did Ronnie somehow deserve to be killed? Did Ronnie Raub, at some karmic level, deserve all that she experienced? No, I doubt very seriously that she did. Or did she stumble into someone else’s cosmic lesson? It’s not our place to say. What was she supposed to learn from her killer’s betrayal? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s any of my business. Perhaps it was the payment of a karmic debt, perhaps it was a life’s lesson about learning to have the strength to leave an unacceptable situation, whatever the cost.

Whatever the situation arose from, Ronnie did a brave and dangerous thing. She determined to remove herself and her children from a violent relationship. That would seem to have resulted in her death … as is far too often the case in abusive relationships. (The most dangerous time for an abused woman is after she makes the decision to leave and within the first year after she leaves. That’s when most abusive partners kill their victims.)

If it was her lesson, does that mean that Paul ought to get off, even if it was he who killed her? Absolutely not! We can’t know what path Ronnie was walking, and we can’t know what path Paul walks. But murder has consequences and a part of a murderer’s path is surely to suffer the consequences of his or her acts.

But I firmly believe that Ronnie will be back, stronger than ever, to be an even greater teacher than she was in this lifetime. Her strength and compassion were obvious to all who knew her, and to many who knew only of her.

So maybe one life’s lesson that we should all be tackling is to stop blaming karma for everything that happens. We need to take responsibility for our actions, to accept what life assigns us and deal with it well (whether it’s a major lesson or just the way life gets sometimes), and to take proper action to help those around us when they deserve it, rather than judging them.

In the words of  American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: (paraphrased)

Give me the strength to change the things I can,
The serenity to accept what I cannot change,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

It seems to me a valid prayer in any religion.

A blast from the past II: More thoughts on the long distance grandma

16 MAY 2008  Posted by Misti at 4:17:00 PM

Still the Long Distance Grandma

I’ve written before about the challenges of having your heart walking around (in the form of your children and grandchildren) on another continent.
I continue to read everything I can get my hands on, and the ideas continue to be focused on the Grandmas who live 80 miles from the grandbabies and are fretting because they can’t pick them up from school or babysit for them a couple of times a week. I’d love to be able to record stories and then send the file and the book so the children can hear me read it to them…but I can’t read Swedish well enough and they don’t speak English!

I’d love to send a package of delightful surprises once a week — but that quickly becomes very expensive! (A fat letter can cost $4 — can you imagine how much a pair of mugs and some instant cocoa and a book would cost?!?!)

A few of the books do have some good ideas, but mainly it seems to come back to writing letters. If you don’t speak the same language as your grandchildren, then a translator is immensely helpful — maybe critical. Even though I speak a tiny bit of Swedish, as Bella got older, I felt more and more limited by having to stick with topics I knew the words for. My wonderful translator, Johanna, has been helping me since last June and after a year, I am starting to be able to “hear” how my “voice” sounds in Swedish. I can even pick through old letters and adapt phrases to send short notes between my monthly letters, which increases my ability to be “in touch”.

But after a year of chatting about the routines of my life, I find myself getting repetitive and I started to wonder what to write about next…I can only hold the children’s interest with planting a garden and canning and building snowmen for so long. I can discuss the books Jack and I are reading, but many of those haven’t been translated into Swedish and so they are of limited interest. And always writing about books gets dull, dull, dull. I write about some holidays … especially the ones we celebrate that Swedes don’t.

And of course, when I can get an anecdote out of Grandfather or Mamma or Pappa, I comment on that, but it’s relatively rare — certainly, I don’t have an anecdote to work with once a month! (If you’re a young parent, please don’t put your parents, your children’s grandparents, in this position. It may seem of limited interest that your child is on a ‘pirates’ kick or can name all the numbers up to 20 — but, honestly, it’s the stuff of life for a grandma!)

One thing I have carried away from all of those books on grand parenting, though, is the important role a grandparent has in a child’s life. We are the keepers of the family history and our traditional role has been to pass that along. Having a strong sense of history and a strong sense of belonging to one’s family grounds a young person, gives them confidence, and helps to protect them from the emotional battering that ordinary life can impose. I am not a psychologist, so I can’t speak to the long term effects of knowing their family story has on a child. I can say, though, that if you as the grandparent don’t tell those stories, who will? Will you allow your family’s stories to be lost forever?

I wasn’t able to share much of my family’s history with my older children. At 30, I really didn’t have much idea myself. In the decades since, though, I have been investigating, collecting, and recording those stories I can find. I started this new project of sharing my family history on Mother’s day this year by recounting just a bit about *my* grandmothers for my grandchildren. I also made a small “scrapbook” by folding a few sheets of paper and sewing them together by hand with great big stitches. Then I cut out the part of my letter that was about each grandmother and pasted it, alongside a few photos, into the scrapbook, with comments about what they were seeing in the photos. In November, when my babies will celebrate Fathers’ day, I will do the same for my grandfathers. Later, I’ll do a book for each of my parents. (I know a lot more about them) and eventually, I will tell the tales I have heard about other ancestors, so those stories aren’t lost completely. That’s a good start — but it’s only few letters and we’ll have covered what I know.

So, I kept looking.

That’s when I remembered The Remembering Site! The Remembering Site is a non-profit initiative that lets anyone create an online autobiography by answering a series of questions. It costs $25 for a lifetime membership, and when you’re done, you can e-mail your story, print it out at home, or you have have it printed and bound for a reasonable fee.

I started recording my memories there years ago to “someday” have printed as book for my children and grandchildren, but it occurred to me that the memories don’t have to be in the form of book! The site consists of thousands of questions that you can use as a springboard in telling your story, and those questions can be used just as easily as a springboard for letters! (I can even paste the contents of the letters into my biography and get the two goals met at once!)

Of course, the rest of the letter can be more chatty and less important and when there is something more immediate to write about, I’ll write about that — but those memories will make the letters worth saving! As the kids get older, the letters will mean even more to them.

I am feeling a lot happier about my ability to forge a real relationship with my children’s children… I still wish we could communicate more directly, but I am also working on that. Jack and I are studying Swedish using Rosetta Stone. So far I can talk about being under an airplane or over a horse…but eventually I hope to be able to use it to actually have a conversation. 😉

Homeschooling at almost 16

We have been slowly slogging through our Middle Ages and Renaissance homeschool unit since early 2015.

TJ’s daughter, Bella, 16

Each unit was supposed to last about one year or so, but between the challenges of adjusting to our move across the planet and Jack’s abrupt eruption into adolescence (and therefor, his passionate interest in his social life and his relative lack of interest in studies) and my waxing and waning energy for being pushy, it all went very, very slowly.

I have thought for over a year that we were ‘almost done’, as the stack of books grew shorter and shorter.

However it’s only in the last two or three months that Jack has begun to see the point to buckling down on his studies.

In the last two months, he has really been focused and has been seriously putting his heart into his work, and suddenly we have only one more book! We will tackle that tomorrow, just to have touched on it, and then I am declaring this unit done!

UPDATE: We’re Done!!!!  That means we *finally* get to dive into the final Harry Potter book and movies! We’re all pretty pleased about that. Continue reading

A Blast from the Past I (where the long distance Grandma started)

05 DECEMBER 2007 Posted by Misti at 10:31:00 PM

The Art of the Long Distance Grandma

The holidays are fast approaching and, being away from home, I have more time and fewer distractions from the realization that, yet again, I will spend the holidays without my older children, TJ and Corey (now 27 and 25). And now I will also spend them without TJ’s children, Bella and Oliver.

When TJ and Corey were growing up, I hated the holidays. I had never been particularly fond of them anyway, and so since Christmas is a BIG deal in my ex-husband’s family, when we split up, it seemed like ‘easy points’ to send the kids with him to spend the holidays.

But it wasn’t easy. Year after year, just as the intense focus on ‘being together and celebrating family’ would start, I would start packing the kids up to leave me again. It wasn’t long before rather than “not particularly fond” of the holidays, I came to hate them with a passion.

Once I met Rod, I started to feel a little more warmly toward the season. First I started to notice the real beauty of the Victorian holiday decor that was so much in vogue just then. Eventually, I even started feeling less antipathy at the music and traditions, and I even started to be attracted to some of them. Continue reading

Book review: Bird by bird

I just finished reading  Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. (1994)

It’s a memoir and a ‘how to about writing’.  I wanted to love it, but at least I didn’t hate it.See the source image

Lamott is undeniably an excellent and engaging writer and I came away with some fresh ideas about how to approach writing, even though blogging isn’t quite the same as writing fiction or even memoirs.

I also came away with the clear understanding that I wouldn’t enjoy Ms. Lamott’s company.

I find her view of the world angry, neurotic, depressive, and self indulgent. She’s also honest, insightful, encouraging and very clever with language which kept me reading.

I would recommend Bird by Bird to anyone who wants to be a writer, who finds cynicism funny, and is not put off by course language. Maybe even to people like me.

It was an uncomfortable read, but I got a lot out of it. I’m unlikely ever to read it again, though. However most people are not as dour and humourless as I am, and I am told that most people find it hilarious. With the good stuff *and* hilarious, it would be well worth the read.


My stationery find and what I’m doing with it.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Rod and I had been to an Op Shop and I had made a vintage stationery score! It’s a  complete set of writing paper and matching envelopes of a quality I have not seen for many years!

The basic stationery. I love the raw edge, but it could use some fancying up for children.

The paper is fairly heavy, and I love the raw edge! It’s not as clear as I would wish, but it’s a very pretty soft blue.

I bought it with plans to “fancy it up” a little for the grandchildren.

I have started that process.

I started simple for the youngest children.

I think this is certainly more eye-catching for a not quite three year old than the original would be, as pretty and sophisticated as it is.

As always, I started my project with the letters for the youngest children, on the theory that for the most part, they are less likely to notice imperfections.

As I get more practice, the imperfections will be less glaring and I can try for more sophisticated designs, which the sixteen year old is more likely to appreciate.

Anyway, I’m having a blast!