Yucky lemonish

“How does the potty work to flush because it looked hot!” – Emeth, after flushing the toilet while the power was out. I had told him that we could still flush the toilet without electricity, but that we needed electricity to get hot water. So naturally, if the toilet water looked hot, one would wonder how it could flush.


“Have you ever licked your scab before? It tastes kind of yucky lemonish.” – Emeth

Electricity for dumb dads, and curious boys.

We gave Emeth his electricity set yesterday. Here he is, just after getting the motor to turn the fan. Sweet smile of satisfaction. Talia, reaching her hand in to feel the breeze.


I think I enjoyed it as much has he did (if not more), and learned some basics about electrical circuits that no one ever explained to me. Or if they did, my eyes glazed over because I couldn’t conceptualize it abstractly. It’s a little embarrassing how little I know and understand about electrical circuits, but what a fun way to find out!

For the record: my dad did try to school me on this stuff. I at least absorbed some woodworking basics, which I’m very thankful for. But growing up, I was far more interested in video games and music. I appreciate that my parents deferred to, and even encouraged my interests (particularly music) at the time. But interests come and go, and it’s never too late to learn some of the basics.

For example, take the term, “short circuit.” It is what it sounds like. Yet I’ve heard that term all my life, and it wasn’t until yesterday that I understood even a whisper of what it means. Or the concept of limiting electrical current. Or a fuse. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. Last night Emeth proclaimed, “I love my electricity set!” Me too, bud.

And what a fun way to connect, father and son.

We even did this cool experiment where we reversed the circuit on the motor, so that the fan blade went in the opposite direction. The fan sits freely on top of the motor (without snapping on), so once it hit top speed it took off. My jaw dropped further than his.

By experiment #14 I felt like my own light bulb went on.

Okay, so I still couldn’t install a ceiling fan or an outlet in the wall without supervision, but I am content with these small beginnings. Our juices are flowing.

I’m wondering what it would’ve been like if, when I was in school, I had the opportunity to try stuff like this out. To just sit with something – a circuit board, pipes, parts, wood and tools – and be allowed to tinker. To make mistakes. To electrocute myself. To start a fire.

This is pretty low voltage, and adult supervision required – and all the experiments are explained and pictured in wonderful detail – so I don’t know if that’s possible yet. But this circuit board does afford him the opportunity down the line to put his own circuits together. To experiment with different placements of integrated circuits. To learn how different set-ups effect the flow of electricity.

There are more advanced sets, too. I guess we’ll see how far his curiosity takes him. He’s a boy that needs to know how things work. We’re looking forward to nurturing each of our children’s individual creative drives.

A season of sowing

The children are with my parents, and Rachel and I have the morning and afternoon to ourselves.

Last weekend we did the same thing. We are getting spoiled. Two nights, three days to just brain dump, re-organize, and re-calibrate.

We need these times, though.

Today we went to Talula’s Garden at Washington Square in Philly for breakfast. Cold, honey-glazed, mustard chicken with a side of beets and goat cheese, garnished with some combination of spices that was delicious, but we couldn’t quite pin down. Though a fennel seed did find its way out between my teeth an hour later.

Then to the thrift store. Rachel is washing her purchases now. T-shirts, pants and a sheet for both wearing and sewing. Some for the kids. Some for her to experiment with piecemeal clothing projects.

We are entering a new season. Fall always seems like a new beginning to me. A time to start fresh.

I was listening to a podcast interview with Alexander Shaia in which he was talking about how the early church read the gospels in the following order: Matthew, Mark, John, Luke, and how this order corresponds with the seasons. (If I remember correctly: Matthew – Fall, fallowness; Mark – Winter, moving through suffering; John – Spring, joy and new life; Luke – Summer, maturing). He mentioned that in some cultures fall is the beginning of the cycle, and that we in America often think of Spring as the beginning for obvious reasons. To these other cultures, Fall is the beginning because it is a season of rest, dying, and fallowness. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies…”

So, maybe this feeling of Fall as beginning has some intuitive beginnings.

*      *      *

We feel we are at the end of a season of purging, getting rid of, and de-cluttering, and at the beginning of a season of adding. Filling our home with opportunities. Asking one another: What do you love? What is life-giving to you right now? What do you want to pursue? We are trying to listen to and observe our children. What gets them excited? What are they fascinated by and interested in?

I’m thinking of Emeth. His endless flow of questions about outer-space, electricity, building materials, building methods, animals and their place in the food chain, habitats. Digging deep into the “Why?” and “How?” of everything.

This can sometimes be frustrating, especially when I’m trying to move him along to whatever the next thing is, whether important or not. Sometimes I am merely frustrated by my lack of understanding of these things, and my inadequate answers. He is okay with, “I don’t know,” for a response. But what I’m realizing is that these are opportunities to take notes. To ask him questions in order to understand what makes him tick.

So we bought him an electricity kit. (We haven’t given it to him yet. We plan to this afternoon.) We look forward to seeing where this guides him in his thinking and understanding of the world around him. A small thing. But a start.

*      *      *

It seems to be a season of feeding desires and interests. Investing in materials which can serve as the basis for their learning and education.

Rachel has shied away from formal curriculums for sometime now, not always able to articulate fully why these do not resonate with her. Yet has hesitated to seize her ideas and act on them.

So that’s what last weekend became. A time to decide: what will we choose to invest in for ourselves and these little ones?

Today was a little bit more of the same. We also feel the need and urge to have creative outlet, but due to time-constraints,  we often feel stuck in those little moments of quiet we get after the kids go to bed, or before they wake up in the morning.

So, recently inspired by some Pintrest posts, Rachel decided she wanted to delve into sewing again, but this time a simpler approach. Use pieces from the thrift store and piece them together. Clothing that doesn’t have to be perfect. But at least be comfortable and enjoyable to wear.

Which reminds me of an article I recently read in Taproot Magazine, Issue 8 :: Reclaim, called Back in Time, by Meredith Winn. She is a photographer writing about learning the collodion process. Invented by Frederick Scott Archer, “It became the most dominant photographic process used between 1851 and 1880. He set a new tone in the world of photography by publishing his discoveries openly (and knowingly) without first obtaining a patent. This was his gift to the world. From such humble roots, wonderful things continue to grow.”

She goes on to say that it is a process which leaves much room for error. “Shifting my mindset from digital to analog leaves me contemplating happy accidents such as sloppy pours, silver flares, fingerprints and the swirl of developer. I believe the mystery (and acceptance) of imperfections in this process truly adds to the beauty of the finished plates.”

Social media and modern day advertising prove the digital world to be an unreal representation of real life. In this day of Photoshop, we compare our outsides to other people’s (often Photoshopped) outsides. Does this leave us feeling less? Less human? Less perfect? Less worthy? When I shoot on collodion, the mask is removed. Tintypes embrace the imperfections. In contrast to Photoshop, collodion somehow seeks out imperfections that reflect our individual beauty to remind us that we are all perfectly and imperfectly human.

– Meredith Winn, Back in Time, from Taproot Issue 8 :: Reclaim

Maybe that is it. We are entering a season of accepting imperfection. Purging was our attempt to rid ourselves of distractions and things unnecessary. Things we at one point in life said, “I would like to pursue this,” or “This piece could be used for this or that function,” then later decided that hobby or piece of furniture had run its course, and is no longer useful to us. And in getting rid of it, trusting that it will find its way into the hands of someone who can breathe new life into it.

Now we try on new ideas. New hobbies, new (or used) pieces of clothing, new recipes, new books, podcasts, educational material for the kids. Attempting to enter these new things with less calculation. No thought of hard ROI. Allowing ourselves be sparked by an idea. To run with it. Till it either takes flight, or falls to the ground. But in falling to the ground, trusting that in its death – in allowing it to die – it will come back to life in a new way, and we will be lead to the next opportunity.

“There is a season for everything,” the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes.

“A time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew.”

And so we take time now to build up, gather, seek, keep and sew.

*      *      *

While at the thrift store I found several books that looked interesting, either on recommendation (Franzen), or reading the jacket, or exposure to other books by the same author (Sedaris, Bryson). I haven’t made time, nor been in the mood, to read lengthier novels, though. This partly may be due to listening to audiobooks for a season while I drove to work. I finished several larger books, all without having to look down, straining eyes and neck for hours on end. An activity I used to find thoroughly enjoyable, losing myself in its pages.

As I stood scanning text, however, trying to decide which to keep, which to discard, I reckoned with myself. “This is not a season for reading these kind of books. I’ve been enjoying articles, the newspaper, Taproot. Reading in spurts. I don’t have time for projects that require long stretches of concentration. And that is okay. It is a season.” So, to my surprise, I put them all back.

I have a few things I’ve been going back to over the last several months. The Wisdom of China and India being the main text taking up those few minutes of reading time before bed. Before drowsiness. Before a child needs to use the potty for the third time. And it has been feeding me.

To satisfy the necessities of life is not evil. To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear…

This is the middle path… that keeps aloof from both extremes [of self-indulgence and self-mortification].

– The Buddha, The Sermon at Benares

As a solid rock is not shaken by the wind, wise people falter not amidst blame and praise.

Let each man direct himself first to what is proper, then let him teach others; thus a wise man will not suffer.

If a man make himself as he teaches others to be, then, being himself well subdued, he may subdue others; for one’s own self is difficult to subdue.

– Selections from The Dhammapada

To yield is to be preserved whole.
To be bent is to become straight.
To be hollow is to be filled.
To be tattered is to be renewed.
To be in want is to possess.
To have plenty is to be confused…

He does not reveal himself,
And is therefore luminous.
He does not justify himself,
And is therefore far-famed.
He does not boast of himself,
And therefore people give him credit.
He does not pride himself,
And is therefore the ruler among men.

It is because he does not contend
That no one in the world can contend against him.

The Book of Tao, Futility of Contention

One on one

I don’t know if it’s because we’ve simplified in our home, or because Talia is becoming more independent, but we finally feel like we’re in a place to spend some much needed one-on-one time with each of our children, particularly the older two.  It’s something we’ve desired to do for a long time, but have had difficulty getting past the essentials of food prep, clean-up, baths and bedtime.

Previously we’ve only spent one-on-one time on their birthdays.  This has put an awful lot of pressure on that one day, because it seems that with each day, another idea springs into their minds of what they want to do.  Then, come birthday, it feels like, “This is it!  We better have a good time!  We better make a memory!  Let’s pack it all in!”  Micaela and Emeth both wanted to spend their birthdays in the city, so we did.  But I found it distracting and difficult to connect on a more personal level.  Walking through busy streets, so much to look at, weariness from walking, hunger and thirst, and televisions in the diner while munching pizza.  Fun memories, to be sure, but the experience left me wanting more.

So, for whatever the reason, we feel ready to work toward making one-on-one time a habit.  As we talked about it with Micaela and Emeth, they were astir with ideas of what to do.  They started on a grand scale, but moved toward more realistic ideas as we talked.  For example, after having spent a half-hour in our bedroom with mommy, folding laundry and talking, Micaela proclaimed, “Mommy, maybe for my birthday we can go up in your bedroom and organize and play dress up with your dresses!”  

At first I laughed when Rachel relayed this.  “Poor, deprived child,” I joked.  But then quickly realized what a precious gift this could be, if we could do something so simple with each of them, while growing in our friendship, trust, and love.

After that evening, Micaela and Emeth began making ‘things to do with mommy and daddy’ lists.  Thrift store, dress up, build, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Knight Park.  Each item something that could be done in one evening.  

Wednesday was Micaela’s turn with mommy.  They went up in our bedroom and got out the blank stamp blocks and carving tools.  Micaela was so enthralled to get focussed time, mommy helping her with a certain technique, or how to execute an idea.  Answering her questions, and sharing in her joy.  It was simple, but several times Micaela expressed her gratitude, saying how fun it was to spend time together, just the two of them.

Emeth, understandably was ready (and has been for a long time) for some focussed time with daddy.  We agreed to Thursday night.  “Can you stay home in the morning?  I really want to build with you in the morning?” he asked me several times.  

Rachel said from Thursday morning till the moment I arrived home Emeth was talking about working in the basement with me to build something.  He was drawing plans for a toolbox, a house for his animals, and a truck.  He was asking if daddy could come home after lunch, and if he’d be home soon?  No?  How about now?  No?  Now?

Finally, the moment came.  I was home, and nothing was stopping that boy from directing my attention to basement, wood and tools.  We got our water bottles, strapped on our shoes, put on our hats and went down.

“Which one do you want to build?” I asked, looking at his drawing plans, having some difficultly making out what each was.

“Um… a toolbox!”  He pointed.

“How big?” I asked.  He put his hands in front of him, spacing them out, further and further.

“Um… this big!”  We settled on 10 and 7/8 inches.

Each step of the way I asked him about the details of his plans, not really sure what I was getting myself into, or whether I’d be able to execute it in the time we had, with the resources available.  The wood was warped, which made things a little tricky.  But he didn’t care.

Emeth would grab the next board, excited that he could carry it.  (They were thin and light.)  I’d measure, put the square on, and he’d draw the line I was to cut.  He insisted that I use the hand saw, since the electric mitre saw was too loud for his liking.  He’d then hold the end of the board while I sawed, taking his job very seriously to not let it fall to the ground.

He loved that there were parts of the process that he could do, and that he could experiment with the more difficult tasks of hammering and cutting.  He was not thwarted or discouraged by their difficulty.

What was so encouraging about all this is that not only did Rachel and I feel a real connection with each of them, but these have been things we’ve wanted for a long time in terms of schooling.  Some would call it ‘project based homeschooling’.  To us, it’s simply learning through living.  Our children coming along side of us, working together, and learning the practical skills of life: reading, measuring, fractions, hand-eye coordination, communicating, collaborating, creating, adapting.

Micaela is already getting excited for the Clay Fest next Saturday in Old City.  She seems ripe for this focussed, hands on time.  For the opportunity to engage her creative ideas and desires.  How will these moments shape each of them in the years to come?  What will they run with?  What will fall to the wayside?  I’m finding this to be one of the great joys of dad-hood.  Watching our children grow and develop, to take interests and hone their skills.  Seeing them try and not give up because they are not perfect.  Seeing them pursue their interests, not for the praise they’ll receive, but for the sheer joy of it.

Undertake difficult tasks
by approaching what is easy in them;
Do great deeds by focusing on their minute aspects.

All difficulties under heaven arise from what is easy,
All great things under heaven arise from what is minute.

For this reason,
The sage never strives to do what is great.
He can achieve greatness. (Tao Te Ching, No. 26)

[He] acts but does not possess,
completes his work but does not dwell on it.
In this fashion,
he has no desire to display his worth. (No. 42)

Cast your bread upon the waters

Jesus is, “…the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6a)  “…all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col.1:16b-17)

While knowing these truths about Jesus (or rather, that he is the truth), I still attempt to quantify him.  To store him neatly on the shelf, to pull out at my convenience.  To reduce him to logic, and his acts to formula, as though I could fully understand him and his ways with my limited mind.

But I cannot plumb the depths of Jesus Christ.  He is mystery, yet simple enough for a child to love.  He is unfathomable, yet near.  He is full of blinding light, yet bids us to look on him and be saved.  He is the word that lit up Mount Sinai with lightning, and whose thunders made the Israelites tremble, and he is the Word become flesh, saving us from our sins.

He is the center of all things.  Like the hub of a bike wheel, holding up and supporting all of the spokes that radiate out from it.  He is like the sun, shining his light into the darkest corners of the universe; the darkest places of our hearts.  Wherever we hide, his light remains, and if we only peek our eyes out and follow the light, we would see him.

I’m not quite sure where all that just came from, or why I’m writing about the mystery of Jesus when I intended to quote further from a book on tidying my home.  Maybe it’s this.  I find it fascinating when Truth is affirmed through experience, even if it is the religious experience of someone who (as far as I can tell) is not a follower of Jesus.

Jesus seemed to turn our natural understanding of things on its head.  Take the simple idea of provision.  His words are simple and clear on the matter.  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal…. Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  (Matt 6:19, 25)

My natural tendency is to hoard.  The thing about hoarding, which I’m still trying to understand, is that it doesn’t lead to more peace, security and comfort.  For me, it leads to distraction, discontentment, anxiety, and insecurity.  Hoarding feeds my desire to hoard, to stock up against the future, and this desire is never satisfied.

King Solomon put it more succinctly.  “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1)  The first several times I read this, I did not understand it.  But I think the following verse sheds some light on it.  “Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” (v. 2)

In other words, give freely, and it will come back to you.  Do not hold on to the things that are so dear to you.  Let them go, and you will find them returning to you just when you need them.  Give freely, for you do not know when you will lose them to disaster anyway.

In Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she affirms this truth, but from a  non-Biblical perspective.  She says,

Everything you own wants to be of use to you.  Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service.  Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy… and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now…  A piece of clothing might come back as a new and beautiful outfit, or it may reappear as information or a new connection.  I promise you: whatever you let go will come back in exactly the same amount… (p. 193)

This reminded me of Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38.

…give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

Jesus can even speak through a book on tidying my home.  I guess he has a sense of humor, too.