Poetry & Words, Homeschooling

East of Eden Book Club Hosted by the Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Hello, friends! Late summer finds me here, back in Tennessee after my summer wanderings. School books are stacked up again, pencils are sharpened, and we step into the rhythm of lengthening shadows and lingering sunsets. Here and there a leaf drifts by as if to whisper what’s next, on the wings of the wind.

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East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

“A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to.” -John Steinbeck

Sometimes, as homeschool parents, our world can end up being all-consumed with education, can’t it? Especially when we’re entrusted with the education of quirky, out-of-the-box, outlier kids, we can easily spend all our spare time chasing down solutions to help our asynchronous students thrive. This is definitely true over in The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community, the closed Facebook group that’s an offshoot of this blog. We spend a lot of time discussing giftedness, education, curriculum, and our kids in general. I love the support homeschool communities can provide. I’ve learned so much about various homeschool helps for gifted and twice exceptional kids.

But do you know what else is essential for success?

Our own wellbeing, as homeschool moms. We need to fill our reservoirs, too. If we’re stressed out, frazzled, expended, and flat-out exhausted, we’ll find it a whole lot harder to pour in to our kids, and lean in to this whole homeschooling craziness.

We think nothing of spending hours tracking down the precisely perfect literature list for our kids, but then somehow allow the stack of to-reads on our bedside table to languish. We make sure our students spend time digging in to the nuanced treasures hidden in stories, knowing it will enrich and edify, but then we scroll through social media instead of paging through a classic. (Or am I the only one?)

Online Book Club for East of Eden

Reading is really a wonderful kind of literary, thoughtful, continuing education. This fall, won’t you join us as a group of us from The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community pick up John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, lingering over four chapters each week?  I’m planning to pick out a brand-new commonplace book, too, and jot down passages which stand out to me.  (Everyone’s favorite Sarah Mackenzie explains what she keeps in her commonplace book.)

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

I’m naturally an overly-speedy reader, so keeping a pen and commonplace book handy as I read forces me to slow down a little more. As I wrote in a recent piece called Five Rewards of a Reading Lifestyle,

“Sometimes the nuggets of truth in a written passage are readily apparent; other times, the nuances require a little deeper digging before they’re visible. This is analogous to life; the profundity of life will not always shout to us from the surface, but is often

  • hidden away in quiet corners,
  • glistening in the shadows,
  • camouflaged by the everyday,
  • waiting to be discovered.

Reading teaches us it’s not always the flashiest or the loudest moments which are the most precious. In quiet searching through the written word, we are rewarded deeply.”

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

And as a writer, slow reading spurs me on to write, every single time. Yet like Steinbeck, “I find it difficult to write about my native place, northern California. It should be the easiest, because I knew that strip angled against the Pacific better than any place in the world. But I find it not one thing but many–one printed over another until the whole thing blurs. What it is is warped with memory of what it was and that with what happened there to me, the whole bundle wracked until objectiveness is nigh impossible.” -Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

I can’t wait to open East of Eden and travel west — walking figuratively through the West Coast again, seeing familiar places through new eyes, and stretching myself through intense plot and characterization.

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Join us, September 2nd, as we dive in to all 601 pages of East of Eden!

so you can chime in during our online discussions.

If you don’t have a copy of the book, ThriftBooks has several copies for around five dollars. (Click through to ThriftBooks from this page, and get 15% off your first purchase. Overly obvious disclosure: this is a referral link.)

Alright, ready? Mark your calendars for September 2!

Download the East of Eden Book Club schedule 

In September, the air smells different. Septembers are charred. The earth is dried and shattered into thousands of immovable pieces. I can always taste the wildfire in the air in September, that deep mix of ashes, burned pine resin and dust. No one else talks about it, but I think there’s a hint of pollen and petals in it too — that faint scent a rosebush gives off at the end of a long dry summer, when the blooms are slumped into disfigured, twisted crepe. I’ve always loved the way everything in September aches for the rain, looking forward to the washing that’s around the corner, even when everything is in ashes.” -an excerpt from my in-progress memoir

East of Eden Book Club hosted by The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community

Poetry & Words

The Place Where Time Can’t Find You

A Place Where Time Can't Find You

Everyone needs a place where time can’t find you, where the landscape swallows time the way the water gulps up the shoreline every second of the day. This corner of the world is detached from time, wholly present, endlessly still, yet always in motion. The water sees to that.

It’s good to disappear sometimes.

It’s good to be suspended in that ethereal space between perpetual motion and perpetual stillness.

As bloggers, our livelihoods are attached by a fragile string to algorithms and engagement and content. We feel a constant push to be active, to be relevant, to be on top of the ever-raging onslaught of consumer habits and user trends. We photograph, we edit, we caption, we package, we sell. We ride the waves of Instagram stories and live streams and pin boards and tweets.

But photographs don’t last, here, in this empyreal place. Oh, photographers have tried: these deep-ridged trunks and these limestones cliffs dissolve into silvery liquid depths on the developers’ trays — but then fade again, swallowed by time. And as I stand here, I put the camera back into my bag, reverently. This moment exists so deeply outside of time, that to photograph further is to crush the gossamer wings which bore me here.

Few things are constant. Grace, the tide, His omnipotence, eternity. These rocks of chalky white have not always stood sheer, have not always born sturdy roots of cedar red. But they have outlived me — and outlived Instagram — a thousand times over.

A place which swallows time also swallows up egotism, and vain ambition, and leaves only perspective behind. Existence is not dependent on audience. Performance is not dependent on audience.

The water in this bay does not stop faithfully sweeping up shore, the cliffs do not stop holding up the trees, the sun does not stop feeding chlorophyl green for mere lack of audience.

What is the reason you picked up the pen? What drives you to tap away at a keyboard and scribble fragments on napkin shreds in the wee smalls? Were you born with the incurable drive to find the one shareable Facebook meme that will allow your analytics to exceed last week’s numbers — or were you born with a story inside you?

I see the story in these cliffs, in the sky, in the tools left in the white clay dust beneath the crumbling foundations, in the iron anchors sinking, in the blackened chimneys still. And through this dimmed glass, I see.

The beat of my soul pulses to a rhythm composed  by all the unphotographable places I’ve stepped inside. These northern cliffs, that impenetrable eastern curtain of iron, the southern mountains edging closer to the Equator. My heritage, my culture, every place my footprint has pressed. This is my soul, my heart, my life, my story.

I can’t iron this all out and square up the edges to place it neatly into Instagram. You’ll never see it there. But if you listen quietly, you can hear it, in a place that swallows time.

You have this, too. It’s not just me.

You have moments you can’t contort into a photograph. These are your illuminated treasures. Pull them out of the ash. Hold them up to the Light. You are a blacksmith. The fire refines. And these words are molten in a way photographs will never be.

Lift up your tools, face the fire, and write.

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words, Travel/Moving

On Moving to Tennessee

Sunset comes in like a whisper, hushing the robin’s monologue, stretching and bending the shadows until, at last, nothing speaks save the skies. They breathe deep navy words — slowly, confidently, and silence settles down. The lamp glows warmly, inside, and I pull my legs up over the pine bench and settle down into the posture of writing as the last remnants of Jasmine rice and watermelon dissipate into the air.

I don’t know what Tennessee smells like, yet. Florida was a cauldron, with thick air pressed closed to the ground, rippling intermittently through the Spanish moss and magnolia. And I miss the sea-salt air of the Atlantic, with its tangled seaweed and glinting jellyfish tossed up in the surf. California, too, brought me scorched pine-resin September skies, rich sweetness of strawberries wilting in the thin dry air, and a whiff of tar along the freeway as I sped toward the windswept Pacific cliffs of Bodega Head, drinking  juniper and cypress into my lungs.

But I don’t know Tennessee’s signature scent.

I walked through the plant nursery last night, ivy tumbling at my feet and ferns bursting from their swinging baskets. I buried my face in the mint and lavender, and ran my fingers through the Irish moss. This one smells like the coast, I said, and that one is pure ocean. But what’s in this new landlocked soil that’ll unfurl its leaves and wind its way around my heart?

Cedar in the air will bring me to the pebbled shores of the Great Lakes, every single time.

And the syrupy incense of wisteria rewinds me all the way to Taborska Cesta, Ljubljana, where I can still see the trail of ants parading up the vine.

But what

years from now

will bring me back here when I close my eyes?

Life in Photos, Poetry & Words, Travel/Moving

Nashville or Bust

Oaxacaborn is moving to Nashville!

We’re moving, friends, in a whirlwind.

Josiah was laid off last fall, and now, suddenly, he’s got a new job in Nashville.

The cloud is moving. [1]

Seven years ago this month, I held a one-way ticket to Orlando, stepped on a plane with a (very!) infant Aveline, and touched down in this subtropical land where palm trees sway and hurricane winds rage.

Eleven years ago, I packed two suitcases, took my last $600 out of the bank, and started my life over in California..again.

Fourteen years ago, I climbed up into a Jeep and drove away from the golden valley, drove away for days and days, until the radio crumbled into static and everything slowed, frozen in time and ice.

Eighteen years ago, we’d all driven that path in reverse.

Twenty-seven years ago, we escaped war.

Exodus and genesis.

My life has been wave after wave after wave of exodus and genesis. Exodus: the departure; and genesis, the rebirth.

The exodus involves a period of parched land, a wandering, a time where it seems you’ll never land again. But after the night, genesis dawns, and all is reborn. The roots begin to make their way down the deep green soil, the leaves unfurl, and everything within creation looks up to the light.

This is the way of Life.

This the way of Redemption, and the golden thread that finds its shining way through all the twisted tapestries.

This moment, too, is part of that tapestry. This set of goodbyes. This set of all the movements one has to go through to complete an exodus. The last one, the next one,  this one.

Every one.

Every era.

Every epoch.

Every color, every twist, every knot, every cut — they’re all necessary. They’re all needed.

Now, we’re needed in Tennessee. The boxes are all stacked around me. I don’t know why yet, just like I didn’t understand why seven, eleven, fourteen, eighteen, and twenty-seven years ago.

But that’s not for me to know, yet. It’s for me to follow my God through the exodus, and await the genesis with open arms.

I’ll be there soon.

And then we’ll all sing, along with Johnny Cash,

“I sure found a place I belong…
Proud as we can be
to live in Tennessee…”

P.S. I took the above #nofilter photo while driving through Nashville during a cross-country move nine years ago (that’s right, the above litany of moves wasn’t a complete list). How wonderful, then, that I should stumble upon this photo again today.  Nashville or bust!

Poetry & Words

What We Lost When Blogging Became a Business

Before page-views were king, before influencers was common jargon, before the time of 5 Reasons my Words are Important Enough for you to Click, I might have opened a tab and written —

you’re impossible to me now
in a sea of lost Novembers.
the periwinkle fog has settled
over Paz, and the velvet chair.


the same black-winged bird who used to announce the dawn
now creeps
in step with time
leaving his tiny-lined footsteps behind.


i never saw beauty
in everything dead
in flattened grass, swollen rivers
and bridges, rusted red —

— when, of course, none of that was true. I saw all the beauty in the world, tumbled up with all the pain, in that breathtaking crumbling bridge.

I’ve been blogging for more than 15 years, and now, times are different. Now, they tell you, you have readers, and your readers don’t come for you. They come for themselves. Your readers are busy. Don’t waste their time. Don’t write unless you have something to offer. Your readers want suggestions, tips, lists. Don’t add to the white noise.

Sometimes, I can do that, you know. Sometimes I can deliver you an orderly Q+A on math or a list of resources for learning Chinese. I can even tidy up the thoughts I’ve collected about morality and epiphanies. I know how to sort my SEO and double-check my keywords and optimize and make it easy for you to pin and share and upvote and print.

But sometimes, I can’t. Sometimes I just write about death.

Sometimes there’s no pinnable image, no list of reasons why, no problem I can solve for you. Sometimes there’s just a tiny glimmer of light I want you to see.

There are two warring worlds here: the world of all the business-savvy ways to make my personal brand soar, and the other world where I quietly scratch my letters in the sand. “Perhaps I write for no one,” Margaret Atwood said. “Perhaps for the same person children are writing for when they scrawl their names in the snow.”

Perhaps I, too, write for no one.

Like Elinor Wylie, there are days I have nothing to offer but a set of scrawling words.

I cannot give you the Metropolitan Tower;
I cannot give you heaven;
Nor the nine Visigoth crowns in the Cluny Museum;
Nor happiness, even.
But I can give you a very small purse
Made out of field-mouse skin,
With a painted picture of the universe
And seven blue tears therein.

I cannot give you the Island of Capri;
I cannot give you beauty;
Nor bake you marvellous crusty cherry pies
With love and duty.
But I can give you a very little locket
Made out of wildcat hide:
Put it in your left-hand pocket
And never look inside.

“I think that almost everyone in the world is looking for something”, Lord Derby tells Michele in the award-winning book Red Sails to Capri.  “I had come to Capri in search of beauty….But [the ugly things] — if I have made you see a bit of beauty in them, Michele, I am very happy.”

Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) says he’s noticed “unembarrassed joy is getting rarer“. That’s sad to me. Isn’t joy of just as much value — of more value — than all the other things we come to blogs to find? Isn’t beauty and joy in in the middle of the ordinary worth it all?

I’m not crazy enough to think my words matter to the everyone. But maybe, these words matter to you. Maybe you saw a little peek of joy in the mist of the mundane, exhausting ordinary.

And if you saw a little ray of light — shining just for you and for no one else, then my words are enough.

“…tomorrow, dawn will come the way I picture her, barefoot and disheveled, standing outside my window in one of the fragile cotton dresses of the poor. She will look in at me with her thin arms extended, offering a handful of birdsong and a small cup of light.” -Billy Collins

Won’t you take this cup of light?