Storytime

With so much in our daily lives that is ever-changing, one thing I do try to keep consistent is beginning each school day with storytime. The three of us sit together on the sofa or on the porch, reading various types of stories together.

Some of our favorite things to read are:

These are just a few selections that we return to time and again, but we love to read a plethora of different fiction stories, or books on history and science as well.

We evolved as Storytellers. A good story, whether true or make-believe, speaks to the inner reaches of our spirits.

“Story telling is the most ancient form of education. It is about the remembering, making, and sharing of images that bind together time, nature, and people. Stories, like the sacred plants, are medicine and food come from the Earth. They remind us that we do not stand alone. Through them we live in the body of coyote and crow, tree and stone… In this way, we confirm our relationship with all of creation.”

Joan Halifax

There is hardly any other experience when I feel so close and in tune with my kids than when we are cuddled and sharing stories. I hope it is one of those things in their education they look back upon and cherish.

A Personal Birthday

Yesterday my four-piece family and I celebrated my son’s 10th birthday.

  
I can’t believe how quickly he has grown – the way his feet are as big as my own and the way the top of his head reaches my chin.

I can’t believe the body of knowledge his brain contains about so many things – he is and will forever be a walking encyclopedia.

   

He is interested in and passionate about many things, one of which is “towers”… Basically tall structures. So to celebrate his momentous birthday, my husband took the day off of work and we drove north to explore country roads in a quest for new towers for J.J. to draw and photograph.

When my husband came up with the Quest idea, we weren’t sure if it would as interesting and fun to J.J. as we hoped, but he was more excited than we had expected and it turned out to be an amazing experience we shared as a family…

  
One our son will likely remember for the rest of his days.

That is the best kind of birthday.

New Horizons

I am being brave and finally taking on my creative alter ego that I have published under secretly for some time now.

Olivia Coy Wilkins provided for me a safe haven to express my words without worry of judgement from friends, family, and followers. And for a while it felt fresh and new and fun to have this secret persona that was just for me and any followers gracious enough to follow my work… I was free to post anything, of any nature, without concern.

But now…

Now I am ready to bring all of that work to you.

I am ready to be responsible for my entire body of work — even the pieces with a darker nature.

I am also ready to take on Olivia Coy Wilkins as my complete creative self, as it is a name I chose for my Self, for many different reasons.

I grew up as Rachel Lyn, at times feeling stifled by the expectations of those around me, which was so often at odds with what I wanted for and from myself. When I chose Olivia, I felt fearless… It felt full of intention and purpose — it was freeing.

I hope to always be challenging myself and reinventing how I express and identify with my Self. I hope I never lose the drive to experiment.

I will slowly, but surely, be bringing all of Olivia’s work to this blog, and will be working toward organizing all of my content so that it is easy to navigate and choose what you wish to explore.

And…

Let us all celebrate the need, desire, and drive to create in all realms.

Let us all be who we wish to be.

 

Is There A Way?

For about the past six, maybe seven, years my husband and I have had humble, yet grand dreams. We want a homestead.

It seems this is a dream shared by many these days, as prices of everything keep going up and up, fossil fuels are being depleted and our usage of such energy has made global climate change threaten our very lifestyles (if not also our lives), and the norm in western society is based upon a disposable culture — disposable goods and relationships.

If one were to go by the plethora of blogs, YouTube channels, websites, forums, etc that are out there right now, it would seem that buying land and starting a homestead is a relatively common and easy thing to do. Sure, these individuals had to face their own struggles and came out on top in the end… But my question is: HOW??

How in the world did they manage it?

Were they…lucky? Better at finding good, reasonably priced land and managing the steps in order to get there?

My husband, Nathan, and I had (what we thought) was a good, comprehensive plan toward our ultimate goals. We researched, and researched, and researched. But then we jumped into a big (and expensive) project that we thought was a grand idea…at the time. Now, in the dead of winter (which is always a difficult time emotionally for us), we are questioning everything we have worked on and toward for the past year.

As we do more research into the particular laws that would affect us on our journey, we are finding that what we had originally planned, and already invested a great deal of time and money into, may simply not be possible.

If we were more financially fortunate, most of what we face would not be a problem. But that is not so. We are but a single-income family of four…which creates many restraints.

The realization that our dream may not become what we wanted, or that it may be dead altogether, is a striking realization that is difficult to handle.

Then again… Are we selfish and spoiled Americans to believe, to expect, that we deserve to have our dreams come true? Is it selfish and spoiled to want the kind of life we have been working toward? We are not searching for luxury — the exact opposite is true. We are going out of our way, in reality, to make things harder for ourselves so that we can live a life of principle.

So this begs the question…

Do we keep fighting against society? Do we surrender so we don’t wind up stressed and depressed all the time, trying to fight for our dream?

Or would surrendering end up making us all the more stressed and depressed?

What is best for our children?

They have dreamed right along side us this past year as we put things in motion… How could we look them in their beautiful blue eyes and tell them that we give up?

Thinking about all of this, I can’t help but say to myself: It shouldn’t be this hard… It shouldn’t be so hard to buy land, grow our own food, build our own house, produce our own goods and clothing… Here, in America – the Land of the Free, it should not be so hard to try to work toward a dream of freedom in the deepest respects and live a life of self-sustainability. 

But that is how things seem at the moment.

I always thought, naively, there would be some way to make things happen. My optimism always won over feelings of despair. There must be a way…

Now I’m not so sure.

A Little Hair Loss

When J.J. was 8 months old, I interviewed for a job at a Children’s Home just a few blocks from my house. I had never worked in such an environment before, but I went into the interview feeling optimistic and idealistic…I went in there feeling like I could change not only children’s lives who lived in the home, but the whole world. Despite my young age and small size — and the troubles those two things can be subject to — I was hired. I was to be a Child Care Worker in the younger girls’ cottage —  an authority figure in a place of residence for about 15 girls between the ages of 9 and 15. I was simultaneously exhilarated and terrified. I had no idea what these girls would think of me, and I didn’t even have a year’s worth of experience being a parent at home…how would I carry any authority with these young girls I have yet to meet and who had already met so many hard times in their short lives?

I wanted to do it, I felt I was called to do it, I felt I needed to do it. I remember walking into that cottage on my first day of work to fill out paperwork. There was a young girl, aged 10, we’ll call her Hallie, that was arriving to live in the cottage that same day. She looked so scared and so sad…I was ripped apart by her situation. Problems at home, negligence and mistreatment on the part of her parents landed her in this place that was far from home and, let’s be honest, far from home-like. Every piece of her belongings had to be searched and scrutinized, admitted or discarded. I couldn’t imagine having my life being put in the hands of strangers like that, no matter how well-meaning they might be.

Anyhow, the girls in the cottage quickly took a liking to me because I was closer to their age than any other lady that worked in their cottage, and, as it turned out, they liked me because I was new and they had the chance of taking advantage of what I didn’t know quite yet about how things worked. I was somewhat surprised by all that I was involved in and responsible for — I even had to distribute medications, while thoroughly documenting everything given, to the girls. I was astounded by the long list of medications given to these poor girls who likely wouldn’t need them if they had been born into a more supportive, loving, and healthy home life — sleep aids and behavioral medications were given out to almost every single girl.

As my last name is Monk, the girls assigned to me (with my disliking) a nickname — Mrs. Monkey. It annoyed the hell out of me, but I let it go since it was the least of my problems to handle while at work. There were many problems on a daily basis, which you can only imagine when you are handling children with such deep-rooted issues of one kind or another. Once during my short employment there a girl ran away, luckily she didn’t get far before the alerted police picked her up at a nearby Walgreens. On another occasion, a girl threatened to kill herself. And on still another occasion, one of the girls smeared feces on the mirror in one of their shared bathrooms.

I didn’t have grand notions of long-term employment when I got the job at the Children’s Home, but once I started working there I was strangely hooked. Even though I went to work scared about the evening that lay ahead almost all of the time…afraid of how the girls would act…of what they would do… Despite all this, I took on extra shifts whenever I was able. I got paid decent money for what I did, but that wasn’t entirely my driving force. I wanted to be there for the girls.

My employers informed me that they would pay a portion of my college tuition if I went back to school for social work, and seeing as my original major was psychology, I was completely fine with the switch. I began to see myself working there, going back to school, and eventually being a social worker for the Home in the future. I imagined myself making positive changes and having a great impact in these children’s lives and giving them a chance at an entirely new and better life.

It was not to be.

After being employed for only three months, to the day, everything changed. It was a normal Sunday at work, but it was my very first Mother’s Day. I think it was about half-way through my shift when one of the girls, we’ll call her Cassie, got upset. And I mean no disrespect when I say that when one of these girls gets upset, you watch out. Recalling the events now, I can’t remember what exactly caused things to go so badly…I think it was a simple fight between her and one of the older girls. Cassie was only 12 when this happened, but she was taller, bigger, and probably stronger than I am. One of my co-workers addressed Cassie in an effort to diffuse the situation, and instead of listening and attempting to calm down, Cassie grabbed ahold of my co-worker’s hair and began to launch a full-out attack.

I had literally just finished my training a few days prior on how to handle such situations, such as how to properly physically restrain the children in case of a physical assault on another person. I hadn’t imagined that I would have to use my training so soon…

Without leaving time to even think, I approached Cassie and my poor co-worker, trying my best to release Cassie’s hands from my co-worker’s hair, as I was trained to do so. In probably less than 30 seconds I succeeded…only to have Cassie grab ahold of my own hair.

Cassie pulled and dragged me by my hair into an adjacent room, ironically one with mats on the floor where we had the girls go when they were in need of time alone to diffuse possibly violent behavior. I grabbed at her hands, unsuccessfully trying to pry them free from my hair as she also bent down in a craze, trying to bite my scalp. I have no recollection of how long it took before two other co-workers were able to get Cassie off of me and into a hold where she wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone else or herself. I just remember, after much struggling and screaming and crying, I was suddenly free. I quickly scrambled to the furthest corner of the room and waited the few minutes it took to get the “bouncers” of the Home to come and take Cassie to, essentially, a locked cell until she could be calm enough to be returned to the cottage.

After that I was required to wait in my boss’s office in the cottage until I gave my statement about the events that transpired — all the while crying hysterically and pulling clumps of hair from my head that Cassie had pried loose.

Luckily there were enough people on staff that day so that I was able to go home without finishing my shift… Unluckily, I had walked to work that day. I had to call my husband to come and pick me up from what turned out to be my last day of work at the Home. I hope I never have to make that sort of phone call to my husband ever again! How unsuspecting he was…trying to prepare a lovely dinner with flowers and wine to celebrate Mother’s Day when I was scheduled to leave work a few hours later in the day. Nathan had to drive the few blocks with J.J. to pick up his hysterical, disheveled, and mascara-smeared wife. Immediately he demanded that I quit my job, and I concurred. Strangely enough, despite the horrific events of that day, I felt a sense of loss at the thought of leaving the Home.

I did indeed leave my job. I was called in to speak with one of the social workers the following Tuesday. The cottages were all well-equipped with security cameras, so the whole altercation was on film. The social worker told me that in all her years at the Home, she had never seen an attack quite so bad before, especially from the girls. She was kind enough to understand my emotional inability to return to work. I felt an enormous sense of relief, as you can imagine, that I would no longer face the fear of being attacked whenever I went to work.

That three-month experience taught me a lot, though I still get a sick feeling in my stomach whenever I drive past the Home, which as I said, is only a few blocks from my house. I still wish I could have helped the girls more…and I hope they have all grown up into better lives…though I know, for some, that is unlikely.

It took a great deal of time for my hair to fill the thin spot where Cassie’s hands held tight. Looking at me now, you would never know the hair I lost, nor the internal scars I developed. It is something I don’t often think about any longer, yet there are moments when it causes me to pause and contemplate what became of the girls who called me Mrs. Monkey.

Meditation Challenge – Week One

The Meditation Challenge is off to a great start. I have meditated every night except one (my family and I got home late from celebrating a family member’s birthday) and it has really helped me wrap up my days with peaceful reflection, and at times, helpful revelations.

To begin, I honestly didn’t know much about meditation or any specific techniques, so I have largely just been sitting cross-legged on the floor in the dark after the kids have gone to bed and the house is (finally) quiet and calm. The first two nights, this immensely helped me sort through the events of the day and my actions, reactions, and feelings about them. On the fourth day, I was feeling out of sorts — not stressed, but not exactly calm either. I didn’t even know where to begin to sort through my thoughts, and decided to try a “Guided Meditation” video on YouTube. I’ve done these sorts of relaxation exercises before, and they have really aided me in times of great anxiety. So a simple 20 minute video helped direct my thoughts and actions so that I could go to bed feeling much more relaxed and at peace than I felt prior.

Last night I decided to try Zazen Meditation (which literally means “seated meditation”) for the first time. I found helpful tips to begin on Zen Mountain Monastery‘s website. Basically, you choose from a variety of ways to sit (preferably on the floor), you place your hands in a specific position called “cosmic mudra”, close your eyes and count your breath — inhale, one; exhale, two; inhale, three and so on — up to ten. Once you reach ten you start back at one and continue on. Zen Mountain Monastery says:

“The counting is a feedback to help you know when your mind has drifted off. Each time you return to the breath you are empowering yourself with the ability to put your mind where you want it, when you want it there, for as long as you want it there. That simple fact is extremely important. We call this power of concentration joriki, or spiritual power.”

I found the simplicity of it to be very alluring, and it was indeed a very nice experience. I loved that instead of trying to work through my thoughts, I was instructed to literally let my thoughts go. I counted my breaths up to ten, started back at one and then back up to ten….over and over again. I did that for 10 minutes, and by the end I felt more relaxed and clear-minded. I think I would like to continue with this particular method for the next week. It intrigues me that a practice which seems so simple could reap so many deep-reaching benefits for those who do it on a regular basis. I would really like to see if I could experience these benefits myself.

One thing I think will be particularly interesting is the thought of my exploring spirituality. I am not, nor have I ever truly been, a spiritual person. There are moments in life, usually when I am doing my yoga practice or successfully engaging myself in “present awareness” when I feel deeply connected to life and fulfilled by it…and perhaps other, more enlightened, individuals would say that is part of spirituality. I don’t really know. I just know that I am so un-spiritual in a mental sense that I feel uncomfortable when people talk about their spirituality with great fervor, whether it be Christians, Buddhists, or new-age spiritualists. It will be interesting to see if I could possibly reach such an “enlightened” state of being — or if I would even allow myself to. I am not interested in joining a particular movement or denomination, and frankly don’t believe in a creator of any sort, but I am interested in going through life with a heightened awareness of myself and being to engage with those around me in a more meaningful way.

I do feel like the meditation has, thus far, helped me go about my days in a more calm way. I feel like my interactions with the kids have been better, and some specific revelations regarding my relationships with them has aided in that. In saying this, I want to make it clear that my relationships with my children have not been terrible up to this point, quite the contrary — I am simply trying to change how I react to the stressful situations that arise daily with homeschooling a young boy on the Autism Spectrum alongside a clingy toddler that seems like she will never be ready to give up breastfeeding. Being home with them is amazing, but it’s stressful too, so I am trying to place myself in a better state of mind to handle the stress in a way that will preserve my good relationships with my children and maintain my well-being inside and out.

There is so much to learn on this journey of awareness and peace, but I will slowly but surely work my way through and hopefully find what works for me.

If you are joining me on this journey, what have you been trying? What have been your experiences, and do you feel like you seeing benefits from it? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Challenging Parenthood breeds Meditation Challenge

I think I need some help with centering and balancing my life and my emotions. Do any of you ever feel like that?

I stay at home with my children, all day everyday, and although it is an awesome job…it can be very taxing and stressful and irritating. Whenever I read blogs or articles from other moms that seem to have figured it all out and write these posts about loving the time with their children, I feel frustrated because I so often feel so far from where I should be as a mother. I mean, I’ve been doing it for 7 1/2 years now, shouldn’t I have mastered this gig?

I can just hear experienced mothers laughing hysterically at that last sentence.

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I seriously thought I would have figured things out by now…I sincerely, and quite naively, thought I would have a handle on J.J.’s Autism and have him on the fast track to a “successful” life. Oh, how arrogant the human mind can be. I have a hard enough time caring for my own mind, body, heart…how on Earth can I expect to help another master their own human condition?

Therein lies the great challenge of motherhood.

We mothers (and fathers)… We imperfect beings are responsible for our children’s entire lives and well-being. What an awe-inspiring and equally intimidating challenge that is.

This brings me to the “Meditation Challenge”. I think, and hope, I could greatly benefit from meditation. I have been doing yoga for more than 10 years now, but have not yet given meditation a place in my life. I have thought about it so many times in my life, during good and bad times, but when I sit down to try it out…I find myself feeling so anxious I cannot sit for more than a few minutes and I wind up feeling worse from the sense of failure from not being about to “accomplish” a blissful state.

Now, I’m fully aware that looking at meditation as something to accomplish is not at all the way to go about it. So, perhaps, my first step would be to change my perceptions about meditation, about relaxation, about slowing down… Because I certainly have a difficult time with all of the above. When there is so much to be done every single day, every single moment… I have great difficulty calming my mind and just being in the moment.

So, starting today I will begin attempting to meditate every day for the rest of November. I will try to do some research on perspectives and techniques and see what works for me and I will try to share my findings at least once a week.

Do any of you have any experience with meditation? What works for you? How do you feel when you do it? I would love to hear any tips, tricks, challenges, and stories you would like to share. If you do not have any experience with meditation, maybe you can join me in this challenge and share your thoughts!