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December 2017 Adventures in Homeschooling

Last year we began homeschooling Lucy (8), Hattie (6), Beatrice (3), and Arlo (1). We’re including this on our Giants & Pilgrims blog as all our family adventures seem to impact our art & music so much! Also, we just like sharing the stories. So we’ll be sharing posts on the themes we’ve been covering each month and calling the adventure “ABACUS”! Our hope is that these posts will help spark creative direction and inspiration for your family as well as giving us somewhere to be document and record our experiences.

Cardboard Fun:

With all the Christmas shipments (and a couple of new tool purchases for art projects), we found ourselves with an awesome stash of large cardboard boxes.

As well as revisiting this favorite book –

We made all sorts of fun structures.

A castle with multiple rooms and a draw bridge –

A gingerbread house –

Handmade Gifts:

We had a lot of fun making homemade gifts this year. For grandparents, the kids designed and made wood cut out paintings. It was neat listening to them decide what image to make for each person. A fish for grandpa ed because he loves painting, a pie for grandmama because she is the queen of pie making, a girl with a dress for grandma DiDi because she loves buying little girl’s dresses, etc.

As part of our science club, we made bath bombs. So easy and fun! Next time I want to try hiding little surprises in the middle!

Bookclub! A Step back in History…

Our homeschool bookclub is turning into this magical much anticipated event. This month we read Benjamin West and his cat Grimalkin by Marguerite Henry. A historical fiction story about the father of American painting.

We experimented with making our own colors our of clay and charcoal, made quill pens out of turkey feathers, and practice life drawings of cats.

We feasted on homemade porridge at the “Door Latch Inn”

And even tried Peas with Honey (a funny reference from the books)

And learned how to play Blindman’s Bluff

Some Tinkering Engineering Play:

Hydraulics, robotics, and engineering. What a fun world we live in. So many cool topics to explore and neat things to make. And so thankful for grandparents gift subscriptions, uncles sending cool robots, and libraries sharing their resources.

Homemaking & Home Baking:

We have started having one day a month of learning about simple home making skills – how to fold laundry, how to iron, things like that.

We didn’t make huge batches of Christmas cookies for neighbors this year because our kitchen was torn up for most of December (an unexpected dishwasher replacement) and an expected and much anticipated new countertop and backsplash!

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But when it was finally done, we broke the new kitchen in with a glorious sugar cookie explosion of awesomeness with the help of Grandma DiDi.

Snapshots of Christmas Goodness:

I love this time of year so much it makes my heart hurt. Here are a few moments from December that I want to remember.

   

New Years Eve:

Instead of heading to KS this year, we had a little staycation (and played ALOT of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey) and then had a fun night with friends on New Years Eve

Happy New Year Friends! May your 2018 be as fresh and beautiful as these paper whites, but hopefully not nearly as stinky.

September’s Adventures in Homeschooling – PART TWO

This year we began homeschooling Lucy (7) and Hattie (5). We’re including this on our Giants & Pilgrims blog as all our family adventures seem to impact our art & music so much! Also, we just like sharing the stories. So we’ll be sharing posts on the themes we’ve been covering each month and calling the adventure “ABACUS”!

To read the first half of this post, go here.

READING AND WRITING:

Here were our reading books for the month:

The One and Only Ivan for fun (it was so good), and Columbus as our history story (we are going through this series in order). We really enjoyed both books.

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We have continued with our morning Tea Time and book reading on the front porch. It is so lovely, I’ll be sad when it gets too cold to continue.

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Speaking of books, I am learning that sometimes you have to go with the momentum. One morning I had planned on having the girls do a couple of pages in a math workbook. They had other plans. They were super wrapped up in playing with their calico critters. I never want to interrupt play, so we brought the two together. The girls made tiny math books for their Critters. It was pretty sweet.

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This picture is a another funny example of learning to let things happen organically. I was trying to work on Harriet’s letters with her and she (and I) kept getting frustrated. Finally I gave up and let her go play with Beatrice. Not two minutes later I look over and she is copying the words from these puzzles.

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Tim devised this fun matching game for Harriet’s alphabet work using alphabet pretzels.

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We have been doing a weekly letter writing session – thank you notes, pen pals, love letters, etc. A lovely repercussion has been that the girls are starting to get lots of mail back. Which they LOVE.

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One day when we needed to get out, we did a scavenger hunt at our library. The purpose was to get the girls familiarized with how to find books on their own and use the library computers. It was really fun.

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Birthdays:

We have two girls with September birthdays. We have a tradition around here (see all the past ones here) where the girls and I work together to design them a birthday invitation/postcard. Here is Harriet’s this year –

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And Beatrice’s –

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Some birthday ideas worth stealing/using again –
My mom came up with this awesome little treasure hunt using picture clues. Each clue was only partially drawn and the kids had to figure out what the image was in order to find their next clue.

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As part of Harriet’s party, we drew a giant chalk maze on our outdoor patio. Later (not pictured) the kids drew their own obstacles in it to make it trickier.

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Probably my favorite gift the girls got is this really neat one player game, called Camelot Jr. –
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MAKING PROJECTS:

Lucy’s using an old reading book from Tim’s mom’s second grade class. We have been having fun coming up with projects around each story. This month was tree houses, camping with star gazing (in other post), a planets science kit, and cactuses. Here are some photos of the tree houses. I used to do a similar project for Architecture when I taught middle school. You just find a good “tree” stick and plant it in a can, fill the can with rocks, and then start building!

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SEWING:

These projects were more mama-made and kid-enjoyed, but I had SUCH a fun time making them I couldn’t not share.

Two clothesline baskets for egg collecting –

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And two very colorful capes just for fun. This pattern was so easy and straight forward.

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Well, that’s all for September! Thanks for coming along for the ride!

An Update on Beatrice & on Us

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How’s B doing?

A few weeks ago our 1 and a half year old, Beatrice, caught a stomach bug and threw up all night and the next day. The following day she had four seizures in about 20 hours.

After the third seizure Betony and I found ourselves driving to the Children’s Hospital emergency room at 4am. We watched an incredible moon-setting and sunrise on our drive. I remember humming a hymn and Betony praying. I’m sure we were quite sleep deprived as we cried and felt so much fear for B.

They let us know at Children’s that this was actually normal; that when a child is coming out of a stomach virus it can cause a seizure or cluster of seizures to occur. We’d never heard that.

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Since then the CT-SCAN, EEG, and EKG have all come back normal. We are watching to see if B has these continued problems after stomach bugs or it also could be linked to her getting really upset and holding her breath.

The important thing- she’s doing great and feeling better.

We are so relieved.

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How We are Doing 

This medical emergency actual came at the end of a really difficult month for the Coons family. While readying everything for Easter (I’m a church worship director) we found out two big things: the pastor I work for was leaving so my job’s future was uncertain and we were pregnant with our 4th child. In the midst of this uncertainly and these hard discussions is when B had her seizures.

So everything has somewhat come to a halt for us. All our energies have gone towards these big things: Making sure Beatrice is okay, coming to grips with a new future and processing having a fourth little one, and vocational questions. (Another good update: it looks like I’m remaining at St. Andrew, continuing the work of the church service we’ve started but also getting involved in other areas too!)

When this year started we decided we were going to choose a theme each month and let that guide our exploration of belief, the subject of our next music & art project for Giants & Pilgrims.

This month’s theme we’ve chosen? Re-awaken. After so much to process, figure out, and re-imagine, we are simply letting ourselves re-awaken to dreaming the new future. It feels a little like we’re just about to leave a holding pattern.

We are taking our time and I, personally, am beginning to feel those great warmths of hope and optimism.

An ending note: We’re SO thankful for all of your prayers and well-wishes and calls and encouragements and Facebook comments during this time! The care and concern for Beatrice and the Coons family was so tangible. It was humbling.

Thank you.

Here’s to this May being about “re-awakening”.

February Practice and Process: “Balm”

(image is from a Chinese cloisonné painting factory we visited in China 2008)

In creating our new project, Bellwether (an art series and album due winter 2016) we’ve decided to share what we’re doing each month before it’s released.
We’re calling these posts “practice and process“.

They will detail the spiritual/life practice we’re doing,
give a look at our in-process art that we’re creating in response,
and then include a whole host of resources and activities! (like the new desktop wallpaper, book/music/movie lists, recipes, explorations for kids, etc. This is so as a entire family we can engage in this year’s exploration of “belief” we’re calling Bellwether. 

FEBRUARY Theme: BALM

February is in the heart of winter, close to the edge of a hope for spring. And with Valentine’s Day sitting in the month we’ve often treated February as a time to put into words the way we feel about the ones we deeply love. It’s a way to warm up the cold. We’ve chosen our theme of “balm” with some of these lines drawn.

Practice:

The very definition of balm is “something that has a comforting, soothing, or restorative effect.”

This month we are

  1. exploring what service looks like for our family. We want to start being restorative in an intentional way. For us that looks like partnering with a local charity called “Turn Around Bikes”. They restore donated bikes and give them to people in need. Honestly, since having children we’ve had a hard time being consistent and feeling effective when it comes to giving of ourselves in this kind of way. We’re open to getting better at service. Furthermore, it’s our hope to instill a great sense of compassion in our children. This is at least a first step.
  2. For our second spiritual/life practice we’re setting up a table altar like we did last month. This time before dinner we’ll be praying for people in need of “balm” or some extra love and care. Then on Mondays we’ll be writing and mailing postcards, sending that love out in words.

Here is a really cool free printable postcard designed by our friend Kyle Steed, if you’re needing a great design:

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Process:

Tim is working on recording a song called “There is a Balm in Gilead” this month while I’m gathering ideas and paper tidbits for the overall series.

Resources for “Balm”:

FEBRUARY Dates to Take Note of:

February 7th – Superbowl 50 (with the *ahem*, Denver Broncos! Bake these, I promise you won’t regret it.)
February 8th – Chinese New Year (year of the monkey!) – We love to celebrate by ordering Chinese takeout and reliving our China trip 🙂
February 9th – Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday – we love to listen to this sweet mix curated by Starbucks
February 10th – Ash Wednesday
February 14th – Valentine’s Day
February 15th – President’s Day
February 17th –  Random Acts of Kindness Day
February 28th – The Oscars

Local: Greeley, CO events:

February 5th (and up through the end of the month) – Soundscape a group art show at the Atlas Theater that pairs music and art (right up our alley don’t you think?)
Soundscape Art Poster
February 27th – Tim and Charla are opening for the lead singer of Everclear at the MOXI theater!
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Let me know if you have other fun Greeley events I should add to this calendar!

EXPLORATIONS:

Here in Greeley, CO we have had just buckets and buckets of snow. We haven’t seen the ground since December 1st. I don’t even remember what it looks like. During winters like this, I think the best possible plan of action is to find a warm tropical greenhouse to visit. Usually we make a trip to the Butterfly pavilion. This year, I am thinking we are going to visit the Orchid Showcase (Jan. 8-Feb 22) at the Denver Botanical Gardens.
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Participate in Turnaround bikes workshops this month and other service related activities.

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Make a visit to the Cranford Cove to get a new selection of looseleaf teas to enjoy this month.

Speaking of tea, the girls and I are planning a lovely Valentine’s tea party with lots of tiny delicacies, fancy china, and, of course, hats and dresses.
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ART:

Spend some time digging into Picasso’s works and share with the girls.
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Their are some really fun art activities in this book.
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Make all sorts of homemade valentines

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READING lists:

Here are some of the kid’s books I have on reserve at the library this month. I was looking for books that deal with Compassion. I would love to hear your recommendations if you have any.

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes, Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton, The Lion and the Mouse,  and A Sick Day for Amos Mcgee

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I am also reading The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane out loud to Lucy. It is an absolute favorite of ours. The themes are nested in kindness and compassion and the journey of self-discovery. It’s a good one for adults too.
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Mary Oliver poetry books – these are ABSOLUTELY balm to my soul.
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As a little personal “balm” against the dreariness of February, I love to order my garden seeds. (my favorite is Baker Heirloom Seeds – just reading their catalog is therapeutic)
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LISTEN:

Oxygen by Willy Mason. The video is only ok, but the song is so good.

This Great Valentines Mix curated by Personal Practice

ABACUS: “Letters” Project Round UP

(Above image is from a Greeley mural created by Wes Bruce.)

The theme for this month’s Abacus project is “Letters” (ABACUS is our creative home curriculum centered on a theme). I am excited to share where we have been going with it!  To see the whole list of projects we came up with (and resources!) check out our original post, here.  It’s been a lovely way to spend February.

The first thing we did was to get out all sorts of lettering sheets and make a poster for the month with all our ideas and plans. We had a fun time experimenting with different fonts and styles. I got pretty into this too and had a great time addressing all our valentine envelopes with different fonts. Ridiculous, I know. But so fun.

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Here are a couple of awesome vintage charts I found that you could print out and play with. Ah, the lost art of lovely handwriting.
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Lucy wrote a letter to her first pen-pal.
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We haven’t had a chance to set up letter writing stations around town yet, but we’re planning on doing it soon! We are also still hoping to take a visit to the local Post Office and have a tour (we did go and pick out some stamps on our last etsy mailing errand).

We started illustrating our own animal alphabet book. Its destined to be a classic.

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Tim took a brisk alphabet-photo-walk with Lucy where they found all the letters in the alphabet.
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Speaking of photos, I have been loving participating in the annual Atlas photo a day challenge on instagram.
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Lots of mail has been made and delivered around here, thanks to these cute little mailboxes we picked up for $3 at target and customized.

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Been listening to lots of this album, as well as our ABC playlist (still to come).

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We started a little stamp collection by printing out some of these pages – http://stamps.org/userfiles/file/albums/2014-Issues.pdf and putting them in a three ring binder. Any time we got a letter this month with stamps on it we add them to our stamp “album”. Hattie (who’s 3) in particular has loved this.

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Lucy has been enjoying playing these typing games on the computer.

Tim spent a morning teaching the girls about addresses. I later received this sweet, sweet letter. Keeping it forever 🙂

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A “letters” tie in that I had not anticipated has been my set-design work for Frontier Academy elementary school. One of my close friends asked me to design the set for their show called “Knights of Dawn” (its from one of the Magic Treehouse books). We did a literary theme by constructing the whole thing from oversize pages of the text and old books. Lots of “letters”! 🙂 The girls have loved it.
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Finally, we did a whole “Secret Spy” day that was pretty epic. It involved “lasers”, a spy course, and a top secret code. Read about the whole thing here.
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Share your projects on our facebook group!

– See more ideas at: https://s28969.p27.sites.pressdns.com/abacus-letters-a-creative-curriculum-list-for-february/#sthash.l90fvSMi.dpuf

If you want more info about this whole Abacus project, start here.

To jump in and connect with other families and share what you are working on, join our Abacus facebook group.

Or, to connect see our whole list of Letters project suggestions and resources list, head over here.

Thank You Notes

My mother has always taken me to task when it
comes to writing thank you notes. I asked her to share her heart on this here in our November almanac.
Betony has also designed a thank you card you can print from home, if you want to let my mom take you to task in her thank you note challenge too.

On Thank You Notes

by Dianne Coons

“When I was a little girl, I have fond memories of my mother writing thank you notes at the kitchen table while drinking coffee with LOTS of cream.  I got to draw pictures for my grandparents, aunts and uncles, or family friends that were included in her letters.  I thought at the time it was much fun.

However, as I got older and had to write my own notes…it became a drag.  Mother was insistent!!  Today, I know why.

Yes, there is the email and a text, and for practical reasons (like letting them know you received their gift), it works great, but nothing takes the place of a handwritten note.

During this Thanksgiving month when we sit at the table and remember all the things for which we are thankful, take a minute to send a personal note to others and share why you are thankful for them.”
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October Theme: Remember

A poem for October. “Remember” is our theme for the month and all our posts here will play on that theme, for the most part. Fall is my favorite time of year and October my favorite month… so this should be a good time!

REMEMBER

October is a swan song

A last grand gesture of earth color and twilight
before everything sustained by light and warmth
fades into winter

The beautiful funeral is felt in
gray skies, falling leaves, and shorter hours

In the face of the Great Sleep
It’s best to

hope
and
Remember

to keep account of the memories of days
filled with vibrant greens and full hours

So we head forward
into the dark with a candle

and a recollection

Naming Our Children

One of my favorite things to ask new parents is why or how they chose their child’s name. I love hearing those stories. Speaking a name over our children has been something Betony and I have taken very seriously (and with some fear, too) and I’m always excited to share with friends and family how our girls’ names came to be. I feel like it not only tells the roots of their story, but so much of ours as well.

(Alongside asking why we give our children their names it’s good to also ask what meaning do you find in your own name? Why were your parents drawn to it? Is there someone’s legacy you are embodying? A biblical story? A piece of nature that holds a memory? It’s good to ask our parents such questions.)

So, shared here are some reasons why we’ve chosen these names for our girls. Actually, choosing Beatrice, Hattie, and Lucy’s names came from a collection of several reasons, that and they just “felt right”. I’d like to share pieces of those reasons here, for each child.


BEATRICE ELAINE DIANNE

The name Beatrice means “She who brings happiness, blessed”. When it comes to our children never have Betony and I felt such completion and blessing.

The name Beatrice also means “Voyager”, which since this little one has been to Iceland and back already we thought was appropriate.

And the “beatitudes” share a common root-word with Beatrice (again, meaning blessed). This poetry from a sermon of Jesus’ is all about how God is with the broken, hurt, and empty who are giving themselves to the world. (See Matthew 5). It’s a beautiful passage.

Elaine is the name of Betony’s mother. She’s been a wonderful presence of calm and peace for us and our family. We’re excited to honor her with the name-sake.

Dianne is my mother’s name. Along with my wife (and children) I consider her one of the most important people in my life. She’s strong, resilient, and non-stop-busy loving us and her family.

One Christmas I was reading Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit to Lucy while Debussy’s Claire Du Lune was playing. The wonderful memory has stayed with me as a father.

Shortening the middle names to E. D. and you get my father’s name. We’re planning on “Edie” (EE-dee) being her family nickname.

HARRIET ORCHARD

Betony’s grandfather, Harold “Hal” Snyder, was a wonderful man who passed away a few summers ago. He was a big-band drummer, a humanitarian, and a banker (Rad!). Harriet is not the true “feminine” version of Harold, but in our minds… sure it is.

Betony grew up on an apple orchard. It was a magnificent and magical place to be a child.

One of my favorite verses is from Psalm 1: 3-4, referring to a person planted by streams of righteousness:

“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers.”

And this picture of a tree firmly planted giving life-bearing fruit to the world around them- this has been one of the best pictures I’ve held to for my life.

In thinking of strong females in history, Betony and I thought of Harriet Tubman and Harriet Beecher Stowe immediately.

“Harriet! Harr-i-et! Hard-hearted harbinger of hagass! Beautiful, bemuse-ed, bellicose butcher.” -Mike Myers, So I Married an Axe Murderer… greatest 90′s comedy, ever!

“Harriet” means “home-maker”. If you’ve experienced the food and hospitality Betony gives, you can feel that value of ours in your soul.

Lastly, “Hattie” is a beautiful word to say aloud.

LUCY ISRAEL

My grandmother, Beulah Arnold, was a progressive, compassionate woman who’s nickname (from my grandfather) was “Lucy”.

Betony had a “Peanuts” shirt that said “Lucy” on the back when we first met.

Lucy, translated in latin, means “light”.

One out of every 15 or so people who meet Lucy quickly sing, “Lucy in the sky with diamonds!”. I wanted that to be the response in meeting my daughter: immediate song!

“O Israel, trust in the Lord!” is the chorus of a Waterdeep song that Betony loves.

Jacob “wrestles with God” and is renamed Israel. I speak this over my daughter: faith is not easy, it is something you will always wrestle with. And sometimes come away with a limp.

The Shape of Branches

Would any of you be interested in doing an online art show together? Read this and hear where I’m going with the “theme”. Then let’s make some art together!

The Shape of Branches

I haven’t fully unpacked this idea yet, but I wanted to share it’s  beginnings here. For years I’ve loved that you can find  the shape of branches in so many places. I’ve wanted to do an art show  with this idea or an album or something like that.  Here’s a short list below of things in life that seem to follow the branches pattern:

Trees, root systems, rivers, canyons, blood vessels, highways, genealogies, art & music genre developments, conversations, religions (Christian denominations), the Milky-way galaxy, evolution, nervous systems…

I find it fascinating that in the branches pattern there is always a tracing back to a source, a beginning. You see it all over: What started jazz? Go back further to ragtime and New Orleans music earlier. Major arteries have been identified in our bodies. Years are spent trying to find the “source” of various rivers.

Wrapped up in the branches pattern for me is the  mystery of God. What started this that started that that started this… All the way back to a true source  Like I said, it’s just the beginning of an exploration. I don’t know what will branch out from here.

Father’s Day Writing

There’s a strange story that I like to tell on Father’s Day.

When I was in 7th grade, I was duck hunting early in the morning with my dad and I shot my first duck. Our dog retrieved the bird and brought it back to the blind. I had wounded the bird but it was still alive, gasping for breath. I was uncertain what to do but certain I didn’t want to touch that duck. My dad stood up and quickly stepped on the bird’s neck, killing it and putting it out of it’s misery. It was a messy thing that fell on him to do to fix the situation.

Fast forward to a couple years ago. I now have my own wife and children.

We returned home one night to find blood and feathers all over our back porch. Our cat had mortally wounded a bird and was still toying with it.  My wife was horrified and uncertain what to do but certain she wanted to head inside with the kids. I agreed and, of course, obliged to take care of the porch. I kicked my cat away (Hard. You would have too). I quickly stepped on the bird’s neck, killing it, putting it out of it’s misery. I said a prayer and threw it into the river by our home. I swept and cleaned the porch.

It felt like a rite of passage, honestly. It was this messy thing that fell on me to do to fix the situation. I was glad to do it so my wife and kids didn’t have to.

And it made me feel like my dad.

I felt strong. I felt responsible. And I felt like I had entered a greater sense of fatherhood.

-Tim Coons