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Some sort of weight has lifted from me this past week.  A dark cloud no longer looming, or insert some other metaphor here to imagine the rolling away of darkness and the lightness of something new.  Fresh air, I can finally breathe properly, I am not thinking about all those THINGS I was always THINKING.  Well, maybe thinking is wrong…more like chewing, ruminating, and rolling in.  With the FB gone, and now the constant email checking…I am seeing things differently, more clearly.  Time seems to move more organically, not dictated by the machinations of some device.

I’ve been reading two books that are extremely inspirational to me in this move towards simplicity and authentic living.  First, “The Last American Man” by Elizabeth Gilbert.  http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/thelastamericanman.htm  Granted, Eustace Conway lives in a teepee, and eats roadkill…I don’t know if I would want to go that far, but his way of life, and his passion for getting people reconnected with nature is awe inspiring.

Also, I finally bought a copy of “In Celebration of Simplicity” by Penelope Wilcock.   http://www.amazon.com/Celebration-Simplicity-Penelope-Wilcock/dp/1854249126

I have been obsessing over her blog ( http://kindredofthequietway.blogspot.com/) for a few years now, and now was able to read this lovely little book of hers.  Really, I would have to reprint her book here to share all the amazing quotes…and that’s certainly not kosher.  But I have gleaned so much wisdom from this little book.  One of the quotes she puts on the side was so affirming of what I have been thinking and moving into:

“Everyone who winds life round a core of machinery – physical machinery or social machinery, lie schools and institutions and global corporations – is affected profoundly, and comes inexorably, I believe, to be a servomechanism of the machinery he or she excessively associates with.”  -John Taylor Gatto

I don’t think I realized how much being tied to my computer and iPhone was creating irritation in me.  I was irritated with my children, I was consistently making them wait while I “just finished” this email…it’s IMPORTANT!!!…I’m getting you kids some sheep, I have to look up how to take care of the goats, paying a bill, making arrangements for YOU to have some friends over, blah, blah….  This multi-tasking with a machine at my side turned me into a bit of a Borg.  Armed with a “Smart Phone”in my pocket, I morphed into a part human, part machine; not realizing how much of my attention and communication was being compartmentalized into that little device.  When someone (read, one of my children) would come and demand that I short circuit my connection with it, you better believe I had to fight the rising irritation.  I was already so overstimulated by that fast mode of communication, my brain racing alongside, that the simple act of my child needing me to turn to them became the burden.  I had to try and fit them into the sticky web of my over-cluttered etheric life.  Well, as you can imagine, this didn’t work.  My children and I have been a bit at odds with each other.  I am imagining that this is often when people send their children to school and myriad activities, because “I need my time”.  I don’t buy that.  I want “my time” to be “our time”, a shared life lived alongside one another.  Sure, it’s nice to have the glass of wine with a girlfriend without children around, and I don’t plan to stop doing that any time soon.  However, those are treats.  I don’t need their constant companionship with me siphoned through devices and screens while I am actually living the REAL stuff of life.

So, this week, the sheep and the chickens arrived.  So many well-meaning people have said to me “wow, slow down, you don’t need the whole farm at once!!”, but I am finding that having these animals creates a natural rhythm to our days that without them is hard to muster.  We HAVE to get up and feed/water them all in the morning.  After dinner, we all go as a family, and reverse order the process.  Early morning, and then early evening, are such peaceful times to be outside, especially in such a beautiful and quiet place as this.  It’s hard to want to go and check out on the computer after using your body to take care of your animals, your children and husband by your side.  Sleeping is easier, eating feels better.  Wow, environment really does make a difference.  Living in the suburbs of our CT ranch house, it was hard to make such a natural rhythm occur.  It was easier to avoid it if needed.  I could stay in pajamas until 10am.  Here, I would embarassed to be seen in a tshirt and underwear walking out to the barns, so I get dressed.  Coffee comes after movement and work now, and it tastes better.  I don’t need 2-3 cups throughout the morning.  Children are a joy outside helping with chores first thing in the morning, whereas an early morning with paper and coffee sitting in a comfy chair turns them into Great Interruptors.  Once we;ve spent the morning in communal work, they actually want nothing to do with me while I have a short morning to myself.  We are all fed first thing by this common life.  The animals, the barns, the pasture have given that to us.  Giving up the email and facebook have begun the clearing process so we can actually walk in it.

Here is “Ferdinand’s Chick”…he loves it because it has a tuft of hair on its head.  He laughs everytime he sees it.  I told him to hope it’s not a rooster, because if it is…it will likely end up on our table…

Here is Sweet William, a mini Nubian whether.  He stops when anyone comes near because he loves to be hugged.  Really.

These are the Nigerian Dwarf kids, Hitty and Little Lucien.  We’ve been feeding them a lot by hand, so they are getting more and more used to us.

Ah, the sheep.  Having only been a theoretical farmer until now, I had always thought the sheep would be more gentle.  I had visions of them sitting in my lap, coming to petted, etc…but these 4 sheep aren’t having any of it.  Only one will cautiously eat from my hand.  When we got them, The Tall Man didn’t back the van into the gates of the barn like the former owners told us to do.  He thought he was a sheep whisperer, and they would just follow him.  Well…they ran a quarter mile down the road, and we had to literally lasso them and wrangle them back to the barn.  That was also the last time I dealt with animals in flip flops.  Really bad footwear choice.  Now, I prefer the goats…..but the sheep will be great for their fiber, and their grass eating/manure making skills.

We got 14 three week old chicks, boys and girls…one of them is obviously a bantam hen, it is teeny tiny compared to all the others.  Already we have named it Columbine, and that little chicken better be a girl, because it’s the only one right now not in danger of being the food eventually…

Ferdinand took my iPhone one morning when I was looking, and took some pictures.  I am surprised at what he captured and how.  Maybe he has some aptitude…Here are his best shots, which I am calling Wall Street Journal and Antique Children’s Shoes on Floor:

OOO…I just noticed on this larger screen, that Ferdinand’s little feet are in the shadows, mirroring the shoes.  I need to find a photo contest for him!

One night last week, The Tall Man came home wanting to try the authentic Fish and Chips Shop in Bennington.  So, we went, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal and time together.  In the corner of the restaurant in an old English phone booth.  The iconic red kind.  No longer a phone inside, I actually had this conversation with my children. “What is that big box?”  “Well, when Momma was little, people only had phones in their homes, we didn’t have the kind that come with us wherever we go, so if you were out and needed to call someone, you would use the phone in one of these boxes…”  My children are really VERY sheltered, I don’t think they know that video games exist, they don’t know commercials, etc…but man, do they know cell phones.  Also at this restaurant, they had a few shelves of Australian/English treats that we can’t find here.  I left happy with a jar of vegemite, oh, soooooo happy.

We had a surprise outing this week.  We had to drive something over to our landlord’s house in Arlington, and we ended up taking a stop at the Lincoln House and Hildene Farms.  I am going to be spending a lot of time there so I can study their cutting garden.  The back yard of the mansion is a small hedge-lined cutting garden.  I would love to do something similar next year, and then sell the flowers at Market.  However, my aesthetic would be a little less “formed”…

Lastly, The Tall Man and I have for the first time in a long time (ever, maybe?) been talking together excitedly about our new life, all the things we want to do, and our plans for our future.  He’s always gone along with my crazy schemes, eating my bread made from freshly ground flour, proudly announing we are homeschoolers…  But, he still had a few reservations, “I just want them to be a part of team sports” or “as long as they go to college”.  This would require a much longer post, for another time maybe, but I am not wishing either team sports or college on my children.  Call me crazy, but it’s true.  I say all the time, I would rather “graduate” an 18 year old from my homeschool with only 6th grade math, but an unquenchable love of learning, an understanding of how to make their own food, and to be good, honest people who love G-d and don’t get wrapped up into the trappings of this consumerist and materialistic world.  Now, the chances of my kids having only 6th grade math are slim with with their engineer father, but you get the point.  All of a sudden, my husband has his eyes open, we have finally come too a place of complete agreement, and a shared vision for how we want to raise our children, and what kind of grown-ups we want them to be. 

One of the things we were remarking on just last night was that we feel this is the first time in our 13 years of marriage that we have actually had REAL community.  All within a week, we had myriad neighbours come to help us, and offer help.   The farmer from Mighty Food Farm ( http://mightyfoodfarm.com/ ), on the same property as us, loaned us a chicken coop to use until we could build our own, so we could have laying hens.  She also basically GAVE us 14 chicks, and will help us learn to slaughter some when the time comes.  The local handyman, a 32 year old Western MA boy (my favourite kind of boy, which is why I married one…) who lives off the grid down the road loaned us his brooding box for the chicks.  We met a wonderful family, who own Longview Lambs ( http://www.longviewlambs.com/ ), just down the road.  Although the husband is an ER physician by trade, they raise lamb for meat, and have a meat CSA.  The husband came to help us with our sheep fencing, and brought a roll of his own fence to set up for us, until we could get our own.  While he was helping set it up, the wife called me and invited us to dinner.  We went, and met their two children, and they made for us a feast of leg of lamb “from the last of last year’s lambs”.  We drank wine, had a wonderful time of touring their pastures.  Lots of talk of doing a homeschool-y waldorf-y circle type thing in the fall.  Talks of sharing a pig to raise and ultimately put in the freezer.  Already friends, it’s amazing.  We are invited to a party at the house next door the Saturday, the one where we’ve been invited to swim whenever we want.  We will never starve, never be without help, and it seems we will have real relationships, all of us tied in directly to this community, none of us commuters. 

Lastly, for my un-Plain and un-simple side of me…I finally went and dyed the gray hair I was growing out “just to see”.  I’ve never made it past chin length with the gray before freaking out…didn’t make it there this time.  Hair is still long, so the long gray roots were making me feel old, drab…a terrible vain thing I hold onto.  But, I needed some light coloured hair to go with my farmer tan!

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This week I have been taking Janka Fairy to swimming lessons at Kennedy Park in West Hartford.  The draw to go there is that the lessons are only 35 dollars for two weeks worth, and there is a sprinkler park right next to where The Fairy takes her lesson.  I can watch My little swimmer in the water, while the boys play in the sprinklers.

There are also a lot of local camps, run through the public schools, that come to the park.  Today, a large gaggle of them, dressed in matching green shirts descended on us while we played in the little adjoining playground.  They were accompanied by two counselors, women in their 40’s or 50’s.  These women were alternating talking on their cell phones, texting, and yelling at the kids to “hurry”, “get over here” and “stop that”.

Several of the boys were playing with my sons, treating them sweetly like little brothers, helping them on a swing or seesaw.  I began to chat with them and ask them about their camp.

Apparently, today (Thursday) is Field Trip Day.  On this particular day, their excursion was going to be to Hometown Buffet, then to a movie.  At summer camp.  Did I miss something?  I don’t remember camp ever being like this….spending time eating at restaurants and going to movies….  They also told me that they can “do basically whatever they want” at camp, and that they don’t really have any activities.  I am hoping this means they have free play, outside…but I have a feeling it might mean that they are just “basically” supervised while they are shuffled around to one controlled environment after another.

Their counselors weren’t engaging with them in any meaningful way, so the boys and I showed them how to make Fairy Houses.  We talked about how the fairies fly around every night looking for a place to rest their heads…and that it’s every child’s job to build houses for them wherever they can.  Even though at this park there was more garbage than leaves and sticks, we managed to forage some acorns, a few twigs and dead leaves to erect a small fairy house in the root of a large elm.  We even broke the “natural materials only” rule, and used a discarded bottle cap as a “sink”.  Perhaps urban fairies must make use of discarded garbage in their homes, as that seems to be a local resource.

People often ask me if, as a homeschooler, I am going to “use” the resources available at the public school…if I am going to follow their curriculums, keep my children “up to date” with what they do there, let my kids join their sports teams….  I think this question has it all backwards.  From now on, I am going to think about what we can give, as a homeschooling family, to children who are herded off into institutional “educational” settings.  Perhaps we are uniquely positioned to show these children how to look at their environments in a different and more magical and deep way…instead of as a mere destination for an “activity”.

I am going to hope for more circumstances where my children and I can share our way of life with others who would not otherwise experience it.  I am hoping that at least some of those children we met today will continue to build fairy houses wherever they go, and teach other children how to do the same.

I am completely obsessed with all things Plain.  I own “secret bonnets”, once hidden safely away in a drawer, now proudly worn by my five year old daughter.  I have white aprons for “Baking Days”.  I even own some near-cape dresses, made to my specifications by women who make Plain clothes for the great UNplain masses.

Religious dress has always fascinated me, in all of its incarnations.  Through my many turns in and out of various religious expressions, I have come to love the idea of dressing in a manner that says, “I belong to Something/Someone Else”.  I am a daughter of the King, and I want what I present to the world to be emblematic of that.

Here’s the trouble: as a girl who will sit and watch American Idol while wearing a bonnet and apron in secret, I have to be realistic about who I am inherently.  I am not Amish, and I am not called to being Plain in that beautiful historical Quaker Way.  Having a woman in a bonnet next to me at Meeting (it’s happened ONCE, and she was visiting from some fantasy Quaker land far, far away) is overwhelmingly wonderful.  But I will most likely never be that woman in the bonnet sitting next to you.  I do, however, have a distinct style that is borrowed heavily from Orthodox Judaism, anthroposophy, Mormons, Russian Orthodox, and a small sprinkling of Islam and Old Navy. I don’t think that it could rightly be considered Plain in the orthodox sense, but I approach it in a Quakerly way.  I allow G-d to speak to me about what He wants from me, and I follow H-s leadings, never fearing what he wants from me.  I want to be as authentically ME as He made me.

I first started thinking about my manner of dress long before my Quaker Days as an Evangelical, when I read an amazing book, called The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer.  Her husband is the creator of L’Abri in Switzerland.  In it, she speaks about how since we are made in the image of The Creator, it is our birthright as followers of G-d to be CREATIVE.  We can express “art” and “creation” even in the smallest details of our lives.  This includes how we dress.  See how G-d clothes the lillies!  At this time in my life, I was still wearing trends and very modern clothes, without a thought to thinking about if G-d would be pleased with what I wore.  I began to open my heart to seeing my dress as a way to express G-d in my life.  This is why I do not include only muted colours in My Plain.  I do wear colours and patterns, as He clothes H-s Creation.

I have to admit that I place modesty above Plainess.  I think in our present day culture, and this day and age…just to dress modestly is Plain in a sense.  Even children have a hard time finding modest clothes in a mainstream store.  I cover all of my parts.  I wear skirts and dresses….or at least a long tunic over pants.  It’s my personal conviction that when women wear pants, the eye goes STRAIGHT TO THE PANTS, no matter the figure of the woman or the cut of the garment.  So, the skirts-only thing isn’t about not dressing like a man, which G-d condemns…but a personal choice based on keeping private the parts of my body I would like to keep private.

So many Islamic “hijabi” blogs speak about how dressing modestly frees them as women from having to meet certain societal expectations.  They don’t have to look sexy, or thin or stylish.  Men (and women) can really look at them for who they are inside.  This idea speaks to me deeply, and has helped my move towards dressing modestly.  Shukr Online has long skirts that you absolutely CANNOT find in regular stores.  My “Islamic skirts” are one of my more recent favourite things to wear in the summer.

In the Mormon world, where adherents wear “temple garments” which cover them from knees to shoulders, there has begun a new and unique industry.  Women who wanted to be able to wear contemporary clothes from mainstream stores, but couldn’t find things modest enough to cover their garments created a line of “layering” shirts.  These jersey shirts come in a variety of cuts and lengths, and can be worn alone, or under mainstream clothes to make them more modest.  They have recently branched out in skirts, dresses and swimwear.  My two favourite Mormon clothes sites are:  http://www.shadeclothing.com  and http://www.layersclothing.com  I always wear these layering clothes, to cover a bustline, or under something sleeveless or see-through.

On to Judaism…my years in Orthodox and Messianic Judaism gave me a love for headcovering.  In Orthodox Judaism, the woman begins to cover upon marriage.  I see it as a wedding ring that you wear on your head.  To save your hair just for your husband is a beautiful and precious thing.  Many women wear sheitls (wigs), but the Modern Orthodox style is to wear a variety of tichels (scarves), bandanas, chaponnes, berets and doorags.  Because I also believe in the Messiah (and therefore the New Testament), I also take seriously 1Corinthians11 which tells women to cover their heads…”because of the angels” and as an outward sign of submission to our husbands, and therefore to Christ.  G-d has called me to cover, and I have recently taken it on more full-time.  I do let my hair hang down, but I always have something on my head….as a reminder.

My children are being educated (at least in large part) in Waldorf Education, which is based on anthroposophy.  In anthroposophical philosophy, there is a lot of importance placed on the “archetype”.  As teachers (which I am as a homeschooling mother), we are to present ourselves as much as possible as an archetype.  We can be the archetype of “Mother/Madonna”…working calmly with our hands, while we gently hum and escort our precious charges through transitions from one activity to the next.  We preserve the dreamy wonderland our our children’s lives by approaching them gently, completely open to them.  We want to “hold” them with the arms of our love and spirits.  The archetype of Mother provides a spiritually rich and warm domestic environment, where the children feel safe and at peace inside of themselves.  I feel this falls so much in line with Quakerism (but more on that in another post).  All kindergarten teachers in Waldorf Schools wear long skirts and aprons.  Some even wear kerchiefs on their heads.  They wear this “uniform” because it helps them to represent the ARCHETYPE.  It’s a mantle of Madonna.  So…even though as a mother to three little ones, I can in no way access this archetype with any great regularity…I find that dressing in this manner helps me a great deal.  On really stressful day, where I feel like I am going to pull my hair out and call my husband at work crying from him to come home, I may even “amp it up” with one of my secret bonnets and a prairie dress….all the while chanting “I’M ACCESSING THE ARCHETYPE, I’M ACCESSING THE ARCHETYPE”.

The Tall Man likes me in modern clothes, so I don’t wear the prairie dress and bonnets out.  G-d calls me through my Dear Husband as well, and I want to be sensitive to that.  I want to be the bride that is desirable to him, not just follow my own fantasies without care for the one who should mean more to me than myself.  So…I dress in modern clothes, in that they cannot be placed in a particular historical era.

My Plain also encompasses what materials things are made from.  As much as possible, I try to buy things used, or make things out of other used things.  I have a great jersey skirt I made from used t-shirts.  I make most of my children’s clothes in this way.  I use only natural materials, using the resources that G-d gave us in a responsible way.

Sometimes I become muddled and envious.  I want something that I see in a magazine, or I wish I could look like a good friend who does not stay up at night praying about what she should wear (oh, to be so unburdened….).  However, I bring these temptations to G-d, where they are levelled to the ground in H-s Great and Magnificent Presence.  I am willing to be on a journey with My Messiah on this one…and to watch H-m slowly unfold H-s will for me moment to moment.  I remain open to scratching all of these ideas and putting on a cape dress at any point…when He tells me to!  Until then, I will continue to pour over those great blogs of women who dress in a True Plain manner, while I sit in my Mormon shirt, Islamic skirt and Jewish doorag.

I’ll post some pictures soon, maybe a little gallery of examples for the curious folks out there…or maybe as inspiration to those who feel called to adopt a more “Plain” style of dress.  Ultimately, I know that PLAIN is not just about clothes, but it is an approach to life.  If I were to immediately say, “Forget it, I am throwing out all of these clothes, and I am only going to….(insert rules here)”, I would give up.  Trust me, I have done it.  I want to always look first to my heart, to see if I have sufficiently removed all of the obstacles and distractions that prevent me from hearing G-d’s Voice.  I desire first an uncluttered and Plain spirit, one that is singly devoted to G-d.  The clothes should reflect that, and hopefully give reason for people to wonder about why my heart swells with gratitude and love for H-m.

*caveat….I have never been a Mormon or a Muslim…after reading this post, I realize it looks like I really have been in a ton of religions!  🙂

Although my children rarely if ever watch the television, mommy can’t resist the box so well herself.  In my latest “be-the-grown-up-I-want-my-children-to-grow-up-to-be” journey, I have finally decided it’s time to kick the television.  All this Waldorf Education and giving my children a protected REAL childhood, apart from the influences of a rapid flicker rate is good…but then sitting every night in front of the same thing I think is bad for my children….not so good.

“OH, but you only have three weeks left of So You Think You Can Dance”!  “Who will win Hell’s Kitchen” this year”?!  “What about all those great On Demand Movies, Intervention….oh my gosh, that means you’ll miss the new season of Big Love, Dollhouse, The Office, Project Runway”!!!!  my brain protests.

The trouble is, once I am in front of a television, I can’t seem to turn it off.  I can’t fall asleep in front of it either, it wires me up, and makes me keep searching for “something else”…”there has to be SOMETHING interesting to watch”.  Since our move to this little house in Glastonbury, the TV has been moved to my bedroom.  As Tall Man snores in front of it, I stay awake until the wee hours, catching snippets of Lifetime Movies and cooking shows.  I’ll even read in front of it.  What a waste of time.

I think that the only thing to do, that will drastically change my relationship with this electronic beast, it to get rid of the cable/channel reception altogether.  I don’t know if I can convince dear husband to trash the box outright (maybe some movies on DVD…with a clear start and end), but to make it inaccessible would be a step in the right direction.

Some of the many motivating reasons to kill this thing are:

-a study (sorry, no footnotes here….google it!)  showed that your metabolism while watching television is actually slower than when just sitting and doing nothing.  Add to this the large amount of adrenaline and cortisol watching telelvision produces in the body (the flight or fight hormones).  So, your body is completely slowed down, but has coursing through it very powerful hormones that makes your body think that it is in danger.

-brain waves/patterns of synapses firing while watching television are identical to those of someone with severe depression.  So, it mimics depression.  You think that you need it to feel better, but actually makes you feel worse…going back again and again to the same contraption that sucks your time and energy, and literally changes you physiologically.  This seems to be a very insidious addiction.

-Neither of the above points have even touched upon CONTENT.  So, it doesn’t matter if you are watching a show about Mother Theresa or Hitler.  It could be porn and violence, or bunnies and angels…it still has the same physiological effects.

-Once your body and mind are put into this semi-hypnotic state, commercial television then makes suggestions that your brain readily accepts.  How much of what we television watchers believe, or how much of what we perceive to be reality is actually a suggestion that has been placed in our minds through this very powerful medium?  How much would we change if we were to stay away from it entirely for an extended amount of time?

If you have never seen it, watch the 20 minute documentary The Story Of Stuff:

http://www.storyofstuff.com/

You can watch the whole thing on their site.  This is another compelling reason to reevaluate our televisions, and our posession entirely.

Okay, I think I have convinced myself…now to get rid of it before I fall asleep again…..

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