Monday, September 5, 2011

Sturdy: Examining my yearning for property.

             My favorite spoon is a bit heavier in the hand than the others.  Its sturdiness is what I am attracted to.  I feel as though I could stir anything with it, even as I use it to delicately coax the leaves to move about in my teabag.   It is more dependable than the others and I am delighted when I reach into the drawer for a spoon and it happens to be that particular one – that simple Oneida Baguette.
            I’ve often referred to myself as sturdy and wonder if, perhaps, my affection for such a simple and solid spoon is a reflection of my own perception of self.  I’m no large woman, by any means, but I’ve felt an association with big bones and my body density certainly isn’t average.  I’m more solid as one might think, and it is clear when you look upon my offspring that we are a sturdy lot, theirs even more pronounced due to the sturdiness also contributed by their father.  He is stronger than most men of his size and he is not a small man.
            Submersed in conversation with a homeschooling acquaintance the other day, we came across the subject of housing. Not unusual for me, with my sordid accounts of dishonest landlords and my wearisome pining for a home to call our own.  She was German, this acquaintance, to which I much admired, having grown up there as a kid and feeling a bit as one must feel towards a kind foster family. It was a heath upon which part of my childhood was wrought and I, for a time, called it home and loved it as if it were truly mine.  Living in Europe this woman was accustomed to living in flats and found apartment living to be very comfortable and customary for her.  Having admired condos in LoDo, an upscale trendy part of downtown Denver, I agreed that apartment living must surely have its perks.  Living in an urban area, from my opinion, was surely one of its highlights, along with the freedom to up and leave at the end of your lease if the north wind took you somewhere riveting like Vancouver. In my mind I pictured myself tending a variety of potted plants on my little balcony, a little yellow water pitcher in hand adorned with the usual cliché of daisies.  I pictured my children peering over the railing, toes lined up on the little ledge of concrete that we called our own.  Our property would end there, though, and of course the rough slab was not ours by any means.
            Surely, this iconic apartment visual seemed tempting, as I currently live in a larger house with its suburban yard covered in grasses doomed to remain three inches tall and loose hedges that never look quite right, despite my attempts at grooming them.  I ponder on it, in square agreement with her.  From her standpoint, she could not completely understand the drive for one to own their home.  Intuitive as I am, I could glance from her direction and understand what she had meant, I saw her thought processes and, for a moment, they were mine.
            But later, as I stand in my kitchen holding my favorite spoon, my thoughts drift towards that conversation and my mind begins to wholly examine it.  How did this separation of belief form? She is from Europe and embraces apartment living, while I am from the United States and pine for a home that we can call ‘ours’.  Then it occurs to me and in my mind I review the past two hundred and fifty years of my ancestry, when this distinction branched away.

            A couple of hundred years ago many pivotal events began to shape my ‘sturdiness’.  My Swedish ancestors left that town where their lineage had been recorded for over a thousand years.  They took their skills, boarded a ship and set off towards an uncertain future.  It wasn’t religion that forced them to rally their courage and pack their things, it was opportunity.  There was a new world and it lay ahead of them, full of promise and a future worth the loss of everything, putting all of their hopes on the timber and canvas that would take them across the sea to a land they had only heard spoken of.
            My German ancestors disembarked onto American soil already in debt.  They were indentured servants and they would pay ten years labor for the chance they had been given to make a life for themselves here in this New World.  Scarcely would they complete their years of service before taking up arms and joining in a revolution to fight for this land that that had become their home.
            My Scottish ancestors, those who had survived the Jacobite rebellion and the subsequent thrashings, fled their country in search of a land where they would be free to use their family names without retribution and where they could own land.  These Scots were not soldiers or urbanites. They would be free to be farmers, not crofters as they had always been, toiling on a land that was never really theirs. 
            A hundred years later my Irish ancestors left a barren landscape where families were starving to death.  There was nothing to eat and no way to make money. They were destitute and desperate, and they were not coming to a land that was a blank slate, they were coming to a land that in many places was not welcoming.  The poor, hungry Irish came in droves and were turned away only to grow more hungry and poor, at least those that lacked certain – sturdiness.
            These people and their offspring spread across a still-forming map like wildfire.  They set off into territories teeming with opportunity and danger.  They sought land, along the way stopping where they could to try their hand, many staying and others continuing on, out to the west, to pioneer their way to a scrap of wide open prairie. 
            They invested in railroads, sold everything they had and gathered themselves up in covered wagons with crude maps, beat down the earth in runs for land and tore through the hills in search of gold. They plowed dirt never before farmed and they wrought homes from what the earth gave.  Women bore children in lone cabins to the sound of Indian drums, men scoured the countryside carving out fertile hunting grounds.  They had to be sturdy.  Those who weren’t able to make their living on the Frontier turned around and headed back to New England cities, finding their own niche there somewhere in the building of American industry and business.
            I come from sturdy stock.  Every familial line that has led up to me were survivors, those who pressed the ragged edges of the map in search of land, of opportunity, of a rich life where their children could roam across ground that they called their own. 
            I dip my favorite spoon into the honey that my husband harvested from our beehive in our little suburban backyard and watch its gold gleam sink into my tea.  I understand, now, that I can’t fight it.  When you combine all of the ancestral trails that have led to this moment, me and my favorite spoon, there are thousands of years of hardheadedness and willpower.  A hunger for something tangible, the dirt at your feet, solid earth to harness, to provide for you.  This is why part of the so-called American dream includes owning a house.  It is in our very blood.    

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Our Fall 2011 Homeschool Session Begins

Out with the lazy daze of summer and in with the organized determination of fall.

We rose early this morning to the first official day of classes in our house.

Here are our learning activities for today:

Math from the Center for Innovative Math Teachings.  We love this program.  Just reviewing last year a bit for now to sharpen their mental math skills.

Spelling Soup. The word for the day is Chemistry.

Assigned Reading: Alecia is plowing through The Borrowers and Zana is reading through The Best Book of Nature Stories, a Doubleday book from 1957.

To encourage having fun with math (a struggle in this household) we have been using the Cyberchase lesson plans along with a Cyberchase Episode. Today is Monkey Map.

We rotate our Science and History.  Today is Science day. This session we are doing Intro to Chemistry, so to get us started we are watching Chemistry: A Volatile History

I'll be updating eventually to post a review to our Chemistry documentary.
We're looking forward to a fresh new year!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Chapter 10

A clip from Brundelwain.  

Chapter 10,  Gaelochaven.
© 2011, Eleanor Raif

When the chicken had met its end and lay neatly plucked on the counter and the other foul were seen to, Aldyn carefully washed his hands and motioned for Alana to follow him. He picked up a glowing stick from the fireplace and they left the warmth of the dining area and entered the cold and unused sitting room again where Colin and Marcas were stacking up more firewood.  Aldyn picked up a few small pieces of kindling and Alana followed his broad shoulders through the door that led into the north wing of the house.
          It was cold and dark until he lit a candle on a table in the corner.  He set to work lighting the fire in the hearth, the smoke coiling up into the chimney that howled with the winter wind.
          Alana looked around at the home he had shared with his wife. She had wondered if it had remained completely unchanged. A few pots sat on a shelf, one held dried heather flowers long left to the spiders, one a collection of pussy willow branches in a similar state.  A little wooden box was displayed on a corner shelf next to a silver coil of metal which appeared to be a bracelet of sorts. There was evidence of a woman and it must have been Marion.
          “I’m sorry about the dust and cobwebs.” Aldyn muttered as he bent over the hearth. “Hopefully it will be suitable enough for you.”
          “’Tis fine.” Alana answered softly. “Ye aren’t here too often to care for it.”
          “Aye, well.  That’s not the problem, I suppose.  Blaire, she…she has offered to clean it up for me but I…I haven’t wanted her to for so long.  Things are…things are just as they were left.”  Aldyn was different now, something happened to him, stepping into this place so full of ghosts.
          Alana lit another candle she found and pushed open the door into the bedroom casting a glance back at him.  He looked up at her, then nodded, giving her permission to tread there.
          She stepped into the large bedroom and gazed in wonder at the intricate wooden bed before her.  At the head and foot were two beautiful swans, necks bowed gracefully to each other, wings raised as if they were taking flight.  She had never seen a more beautiful piece of furniture.  She ran her fingers down the neck of the one nearest her and felt the smoothness of it, it was impeccably well made.  The linens were clean it seemed, and the bed had been slept in recently. It must have been where he slept when he visited.  She turned to find a large wardrobe beautifully made as well. She opened the door and the scent of mint twigs and lavender poured out of it.  Marion’s clothes were still there, neatly placed.  She closed the door gently, with reverence, and set the candle down on the hearth.
          “What is it?” he asked, still arguing with the fireplace.
          “Did ye want to light this fire too?”
          “We’ll see if I can get this one going strong. May not need the both of them.”
          She peeked out of the shutters and saw that the snow had begun to blow.  The trees bent to the wind and flecks of white were dancing about wildly.  She shut them again, shivering.
          She returned to Aldyn and knelt next to him.  He glanced back at her and she giggled.
          “What?” he smiled.
          “Ye’ve got a smudge on your nose.” She smiled.
          “Oh,” he replied, rubbing it. “Is it there now?”
          “Aye, it is.” She smiled, then reached out a finger and rubbed it herself. “There now, that’s better anyway.”
          He sat back and drew his knees up. “I think I’ve got it started.”
          “Looks that way.” She gazed into the fire that crackled before them, eating up all of the kindling and showering the logs beneath with burning embers.
          “Thank ye for coming in here with me.  I have a hard time facing this place alone.  I thought if ye came I’d feel less…haunted.”
          She took his hand. “Of course, Aldyn.  Perhaps I could help ye tidy it?”
          “Perhaps.” He answered her quietly. 
          “The furnishings are beautiful. Wherever did ye get them?”
          “I bought them from a Norwegian nobleman.  I had seen a bed like it on my travels and I had hoped that I would find another.  Sure enough, the week before we were to be wed I met this man who was selling some things.  He had brought it here for his wife, she was a Scot. She did’na much like it.  I also bought the wardrobe from him.  They were a surprise for Marion on our wedding day. She loved them.”
          “I can see why. They are magnificent.  Ye were good to her.”
          He nodded. “Aye.”
          “She was fortunate, Aldyn, to have you.  Her life was short, and to…to be loved by someone like you, ye must have made her life something wonderful.”
          “I suppose I have never thought of it that way.”
          “Think how many people have lived and died without knowing a love like that.”
          Aldyn’s eyes met hers again. “And some of us may even be lucky enough to know it twice in a lifetime.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Brundelwain Editing

I have had so much fun editing my book lately.  My mind has been changed about it, at least the way I feel about sharing it.  It was so personal before, and it still is, but now I guess the change has been within. Being okay with those things that are personal to me, and sharing them.  Unafraid of judgement because I know that it will still be mine and personal afterward.  I began writing this book when I was still in my twenties, I guess it has been nearly four years ago. It has been on and off the shelf for me. I've put it away at times. Changed it.  Destroyed pieces of it. Reassembled it. Now I am just ready to move on and look forward to writing more stories.  I've more stories than this one in me, this one is just very special to me. I am sure every author feels that way about their first big piece, and I am no different.

I am working with right now. It has been a big help to me to have others read my work and review it. Authors and history buffs, readers and critics.  All reviews have been pretty good, though I would like to see more as the story progresses.

Its my next book that has pushed me to get this one out there. I think after a run on authonomy for awhile I will move on with self-publishing. It is so easy to get your stuff out there nowadays, in the world of one click publishing.  I am inspired by others while at the same time, I really just want to write.  Sharing that story with others is just an added bonus.  Unlike my other forms of expression, this is one I feel that I truly ought to share.  My art has been a tool for recovery, my music a tool for self-soothing. Writing - it has been a tool for expression. There have been times in my life that it was a release, that it was merely meant to put feelings into a collection of words. Now, it is to unravel a story that took its shape in my mind, with characters that came from some hidden place within.

I have just uploaded Chapter 9: Wolf's Teeth. 
In Ch.9, Alana recovers from her sudden illness.  She finds things greatly changed between herself and the commander.  She also struggles with the deep fears she has over the Lord of Breadalbane, to whom she is to marry in a few months time.  Dark tales are told by one of Duncan's minstrels, tales of the night, tales of wolf's teeth.

Excerpt from Brundelwain, Chapter 9. Liam tells a winter's tale.

"As I said, it was up north and it was a chilling wind out. I’ll be damned, though, if a woman had not wandered up to our camp…and I swear to ye, she was stark naked.  She hadn’t seemed to care, either. Donald and I kept offerin’ to give her our cloaks but she refused, only stared at us with these wild eyes and kept askin’ for somethin’ to drink. Well, I put a kettle to the fire, tryin’ not to stare at her, with her breasts all bare and…sorry, lass…” he looked to Alana, who smiled back, “well anyway, it was a might bit distractin’ for a man.  So, I gave her the last bit o’ the spirits we had, wonderin’ what we would do with a drunken naked lass on our hands, but I swear to ye, she took one sip and she started to changin’!  I swear to ye, she turned into a wolf right in front o' my eyes."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mellow Morning

It's hot.  I watered the flowerbed outside and every bug in the area showed up there with their night noise to get some moisture, and so here I am awake.  David left for work and all is quiet.
The perfect time of day to write.
I've been working on this science-fiction/spirituality piece lately. I don't know what it is, yet. By that I mean, I don't know if it will be a novel or an elongated short story.
Some pieces easily work themselves into a novel because the story flows from you with such force, as if it has been waiting so long to be told and it can not wait another minute, like a confession of truth. Some stories are merely elaborated ideas and are able to wrap themselves up within the span of a few solid chapters, and are given their due in such a frame.  Some of my favorite stories are short stories, and they are every bit as powerful as other stories whose pages number in the thousands.
It just takes a while to figure out which you are dealing with.

As many of them do, this particular story began with a dream, which at first spawned a painting.  While creating the painting I was replaying the dream in my head, curious about the characters in it, where they had come from and what they might be after.   One of the characters was easily elaborated upon and a few others were created as well. Story writing is such a natural event, it is like the blossoming of a mind, the unfolding petals revealing a mystery.
A first-time for me, this story refers often to an entirely made-up world. Complete fantasy.  I'm usually such a cut and dry, stick-to-the-facts kind of girl.  It's pretty exciting for me, really, but growing to love this one with the passion with which I loved Brundelwain, the book that ruined my novel virginity,  (as Sheryl Crow's  'The First Cut is the Deepest' plays in the background...) I will try to love again, but I know...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Social Distortion

Not the band. Me.

People often ask me about the 'social interaction' my children get, and if it is sufficient, being homeschooled.  Naturally, if I am with my kids, it is clearly a non-issue for us. My kids speak freely, unburdened by shyness or any lack of eloquence. They use complete sentences and have a vast vocabulary.  They carry on conversations successfully with a wide range of age groups and are often complemented on their maturity and vocal clarity. Homeschooling clearly does not inhibit social ability, though occasionally a very shy family will give rise to shy children. Whether it is a mimicked or a genetic behavior, I can not say.

I often wonder why people don't question the social environment of public schools. I myself am still struggling with my poor social skills at age thirty-two, and I was reared in a public school household. I've begun working, recently, and I am spending more time around people nowadays. It becomes quite obvious to me that my social skills are lacking when things like eye contact and vocal etiquette freak me out.  I mumble frequently, unintentionally, and I am often at a loss of words.  Yet, my vocabulary is complete and I am perfectly capable of communication in written form.
I have a lot of scars from years of a very poor self-esteem, elements of which still linger within me at times. Public school isn't completely to blame, surely, but I often think, why do we assume that children that come out of public school are socially balanced? I think it is a great misconception, a blind assumption.

I haven't come up with a good response yet when the occasional concerned grocery shopper questions the social consequences of our education path. I usually just smile and say 'it's okay, they get to play with other kids pretty often.'  The person smiles as if satiated, then goes on, never considering that maybe, JUST maybe, they might be better off right where they are.  Never ceases to amaze me, even after years of homeschooling.

Just smile and nod. Smile and nod. :)

Blog Drama

I have this new blog. It's really now my ONLY blog, incorporating my writing blog, homeschooling blog and personal musings blog. Because over the past few years they've been scattered and why? What's the point of various blogs??  Well. Homeschooling was to share that aspect of my life, and mainly for family. Writing blog was for my writing persona and the personal blog was, well, personal.  Did I mention I have trouble keeping up with things when they are complicated?? If you know me, I probably didn't have to.
Anyway, with my new Google account I kept getting frustrated, trying to 'sign in' to blogger, when I was already signed in to Google.  Then there is issues with who has access to my old stuff that I no longer want having access to my life.  If you know me, I probably don't have to explain that either. And I won't.

So, here it is! Fresh, clean, new blog, with links to the old blogs there on the side.  R.I.P. old blogs.