Thursday, September 22, 2016

Snippets of September

When I'm not blogging (which is the majority of the time, obviously), here's what we've been doing:

*reading Shakespeare.  Today Finn disappeared into his room with one of our Shakespeare retellings; he resurfaced an hour later and reported that he'd read "Romeo and Juliet."  Watching Shakespeare, reading Shakespeare, playing Shakespeare.....we're a little obsessed.

*Slowly decorating the house with autumnal things. Painting the brown terra cotta pot where the fern lives. (It's white now.)  Buying white and orange pumpkins.

*Some of us have been watching football.  I'm not included.

*Throwing a Japenese-themed tea party, just for the children, last Friday.

*Quizzing each other on the countries of the world and their capitals (Finn is an autodidact and is becoming a master at this).

*Spending long minutes and sometimes hours each morning down the lane at my aunt and uncle's house.  They're on vacation and we're in charge of the morning shift for their dog and three cats.  We walk down after breakfast.  My aunt left toys on the enclosed porch--loads of old Barbies and accessories from the 1980s, a toy grill with tons of food, and books!  So I sit and read while the children play.  Sometimes I play, too.

*Feeling cranky over a lawnmower that will never run again.   (It's only 5 years old! We've had it repaired multiple times!  Friends, do not, under any circumstances, purchase an Ariens mower.)

*Drawing a Marimekko pattern onto white denim with a Sharpie....I'm going to turn it into a pillow for Finn's room.

*So much Yorkshire Gold tea.

*Enjoying the first two sessions of our tiny Charlotte Mason co-op, where we do nature study, drawing, cartography/geography, recitation, hymns, Shakespeare, and for the older students, Plutarch--all in a neat three-hour afternoon with six other families.  By the end of it I am ravenously hungry and need a nap, but it's uplifting and enjoyable.  Today I recited Robert Frost's "Fire and Ice."

*Sewing a bright yellow jersey jacket for autumn.  I'm not sure how I look in bright yellow--but it was 100% cotton, on clearance at the fabric store, and I wanted to test the Alabama Chanin jacket pattern, so I couldn't resist.  Next up: a purple ensemble.

*Watching "Pride and Prejudice."  Annie says things like "capital!  oh, capital!" and "make haste!" There is much speculation about whether Elizabeth Bennet will marry Mr. Darcy.  There is much disdain for Mr. Bingley's sisters.  Every time I watch the series, I pick up on more humor, nuances, and bits I hadn't noticed before; I flat-out love it.

*Practicing piano.

*Taking care of our new cat, Alice.  She's very snuggly.  And she sheds.

*Spending wide open hot days at the pool, where we're the only family around until after school lets out, and even then it's not at all crowded.  Having an entire pool to yourself is quite delightful.

*Reading lots of books. Right now alone I'm juggling The Alchemist, A Room with a View, a couple of parenting/homeschooling books, The Adventure of Living, Anne of Ingleside and Shakespeare After All.  I have different books for different situations: the thin book that fits nicely into the pool bag or purse, then book on kindle that is perfect for reading after everyone is in bed and the house is dark, the hefty book I read with a highlighter on the sofa in the afternoon........there's a book for every occasion.

*And last but not least--praying.  The need is great right now.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Don't Berate A Child for Being Human

Today I had to run a quick errand on the way to the pool.  I was in a slightly cranky mood...some combination of tiredness and lack of patience and desire to just get to the pool already

We went into the phone company, waited for a few minutes, got the item we needed, and left.  During our wait, Annie and Finn sat on some plush chairs and watched a television show about animals....behaving so sweetly.

Less than five minutes down the road, Annie asked "WHERE IS MY BARBIE?"

As it turns out, she'd taken the Barbie into the phone company office and had left it there.  I turned around to go back and I will admit that I was not gracious.  I felt so inconvenienced!  I launched into a stern lecture that involved phrases like "this is why I don't like for you to take toys into places" and "when we own things we have to be responsible for them" and even "now we'll get to the pool later because the traffic is worse because school is letting out."  Right around the time I was griping about the pool and school letting out, I caught myself.  In fact, I literally clamped my hand over my own mouth and then said "I'm not saying any more."

Because I realized that I was being mean.  To a 5 year old.  Who simply forgot her doll.  Because she's a human.  And did I mention she's five?

I immediately remembered all the times *I* had left items somewhere, as an adult.  Once I left my cell phone at Finn's art lesson.  At this very moment I am not entirely sure where our checkbook is.  These things happen because we are human.  My husband hasn't dressed me down for misplacing the checkbook (and I'm fairly sure it is my fault and not his!).  The art teacher didn't give me a stern talking-to on keeping up with my stuff and not leaving things at his place.  Why not?  Because we are adults!  Because we understand that these things happen!  And because we know that preserving a relationship is more important than expressing our judgment or disappointment.

Why is it so easy to forbear with an adult and yet so tempting to scold a child?  If my husband had been the one to leave something at the phone company office, we would have just turned around to get it.  I wouldn't have griped and moaned and complained.  So why did I feel that I could do that with my child?  I do not wish to raise a child who feels shame when she misplaces something or forgets something, and yet my behavior today, if repeated throughout her childhood, could easily lead to that.

Lesson learned!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Entering the Woods

One of the enjoyable things about homeschooling is that I get to learn alongside of my children.  And the newest thing that is occurring is that I'm falling in love with Shakespeare. The breadth and depth of his genius was not known to me before now; I'd had a brush with Romeo and Juliet in high school, and another with Macbeth.  Nothing in college--only references in other classes, and going to see a few Shakespeare productions.  And of course, I read his sonnets!

 This morning I had a watershed moment--one of those wonderful dawnings of consciousness that strips back a layer and reveals something new.  (Don't you love these? I live for them.) 

I read something online where a woman felt unsafe in her home and removed herself and her four children from the home in the middle of the night.  And the responses she got included questions of her perception of the situation, invalidation of her fear, etc. 

And at the same time I'd been deep in thought over "Midsummer Night's Dream." I'd been thinking about the tension in the play between civilization and the woods.  In the first part, we're in Athens and things are "orderly"--but the order includes egregious rules, like a father being able to choose his daughter's husband or else have her put to death.  In the second part, we're in the woods.  And that's the interior life of confusion and identity-stripping, of reorganizing perceptions, of struggling.  And the confusion of this interior life ends up allowing the characters, when they do emerge from the woods and go back into civilization in the end, to a new order that makes sense, with identities appropriately restored.  And I asked my friend: why do we insist on living in the first act of the play and not going into the woods?  Why do we do this?

And when we are invalidating the fear of someone and insisting that All is Probably Fine in her marriage (even though she left in the middle of the night with four young children, a strong indication that things are not fine), we're stubbornly clinging to Act I.  We don't want her to go into the woods because, I guess, it would mean we might have to follow her and the woods are scary.  In the woods, we don't have the normal constructs and rules that order our lives and that make us feel protected. It's disorienting.  But if we don't go in, we can't emerge on the other side with the world ordered in a manner that merges the exterior life with the interior life in any kind of meaningful way.  

And Shakespeare did all this with wit and poetry while writing in iambic pentameter!  How could I not fall in love with him?!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Planning a *Peaceful* Charlotte Mason-Inspired Day

School starts for us on Tuesday!  I am looking forward to this new year.  After a planning frenzy of looking through resources, pondering history rotations, buying books, and even creating a detailed timetable, I started interjecting the sanity: cutting the massive booklist down, down, down....and reverting to index cards (I came up with this system last year!). Then I just wrote the routine down on a piece of paper, along with dot symbols to correspond with the index cards for each chunk of time.



This year our 3-hour school morning is divided into three one-hour chunks.

First, morning time. 

Second, table time.

Third, book time.

Morning time always starts with prayer and Bible and a song.  Then we will choose three index cards--conveniently, that means each of us chooses one--from the morning time stack (these include geography, poetry, French, Shakespeare, composer study, picture study, family read-aloud, etc.).  We will do whatever reading or subject is on those index cards, then tuck them away in a "finished" stack. 

Around 10:00 we'll transition to table time, which is very straightforward: math for both children, followed by language arts (copywork and dictation/grammar for Finn, and handwriting and phonics for Annie). We do these every day. 

Around 11:00 we'll go to book time.  This is where each child gets to choose one index card, and this is the challenging work: history, literature, or natural history readings that need to be narrated, along with Annie's kindergarten readings from My Book House

Then it's time for lunch!

On Tuesdays we have art and piano lessons in the afternoon (at art, I'll read fairy tales to Annie and do a little extra phonics work with her); every other Thursday we have a Charlotte Mason co-op.  So on Mondays, Wednesdays, some Thursdays, and Fridays our afternoons are free.  Finn will practice piano, the children will do Quiet Time, and they can also choose 1-2 index cards for the afternoon (if they aren't already engaged in something....or we aren't going on an outing).  The afternoon cards include math games, handicrafts, extra read-alouds, baking, etc...the fun "extras" that shouldn't be "extras" at all!

I created the right number of index cards to correspond with how many times I want to do a subject in each week.  So for instance, we want to do French three times per week.  So I created three "French" index cards.  When we do French, that index card is tucked away, and we continue working through the cards during the week until they are all finished-then we start the stack over again.  

I love this plan because if we take a day off or someone gets sick, it doesn't throw off the carefully-crafted schedule; we just pick right back up where we left off! It makes sense to me, it allows my children to have some say in what they do each day, and it creates a predictable routine. I want enough flexibility to say "yes" to interesting field trips and experiences that may arise during the course of our school year. Education is, after all, an atmosphere, a discipline, *and* a life.

On Fridays we aren't going to do "school"--we all do a Friday Freewrite together (this is not at all Charlotte Mason-y, but it's something I love to do with my children, so we do it!) and then choose from the afternoon index cards, get together with friends, go on an outing, work on a project, clean the house, or pick from my "What Should I Do?" sheet.

The "What Should I Do?" sheet is just a handwritten list of various things that are fun to do, that maybe we forget to sometimes do, and that I want to remember to do!  On quiet rainy or cold afternoons it's nice to have ideas. This is where I put the crystal-growing kit from the grandparents, or the documentary we want to watch, or board games--that kind of thing.

I feel peaceful and ready....now it's time to clean the house! 

And I will add one more thing: the "plan" is good and well, but what really helps me is keeping a little running list (on a private blog that only I see) of what we've done.  Last year Finn became obsessed with squirrels and the Titanic; one year it was jellyfish and Pompeii.  He becomes an autodidact at that point.  I record these things, along with as accurate a booklist as I can keep, so that I can look back on the year and feel amazed at all he learned....sometimes because of my plans, and often in spite of them! 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Rascal, by Sterling North

A couple of nights ago we finished reading Rascal, Sterling North's memoir of the year he had a pet raccoon.  He was 12 years old and his brother was away fighting in WWI, his mother had died several years before, and his sisters were all grown up.  Sterling and his father lived in a true bachelor pad, complete with a canoe-under-construction in the living room and an enormous Saint Bernard rambling through the house.  It's a wonderful read-aloud: hilarious, tender, beautifully-written, informative, elegant, wistful, and evocative.  I fell completely in love with and so did Finn.  

I found his dry erase marker rendering of a raccoon family today. And he's already started reading it again to himself.  


This is the perfect book to read aloud.  I am particular about the books I read aloud to my children; they have to be so well-written that I'm not constantly editing in my mind.  (It happens, unfortunately.)  North's book is masterful.  I never wanted to edit it; I believe it is just right.  

Read this book while the leaves fall and the soup is cooking on the stove--it's perfect for autumn!



Monday, August 22, 2016

Summer Frenzy

August is a flurry here.  I haven't intended to take a break from my blog, but it has happened. I'm not even going to list it all, I'm just going to say the obligations right now are heavy and my schedule is epic (and so is the laundry situation, alas).

Once school begins for us, things will quiet down a bit.

In the meantime, I have a sister's apartment to help unpack and organize, school to finish planning, a semester of teaching Shakespeare to other people's children (ie, not just my own) to plot out, many domestic tasks to tackle, a new cat to foster........

Friday, August 12, 2016

Summer Sabbatical

I took an unintentional summer sabbatical from blog-writing because our calendar caught on fire. The flames have died down now. 

The children and I went to Asheville, North Carolina this week!  One of my dearest friends had a baby in July and we went down to help.  I got a lot of baby-holding time, and cooked a lot of meals, and washed a lot of dishes.  I also learned to light a gas stove!

The crepe myrtle was still in bloom. 


We arrived home at dinnertime this evening, and Mr. Polly had dinner all ready for us.  There was a blue heron in the pond and the cattle are in the pasture behind our house.  I'm so happy to be home!