Monday, March 30, 2020

When Schools are Closed: Things to Do at Home

Our public and private schools are now officially closed through the end of the academic year.

As a result of this, several friends and family members have contacted me with questions.  These parents are now in totally unchartered territory.  And the territory that they are in is truly much harder than actual homeschooling, for three reasons: first, they need to try to implement the school curriculum at home, which means they haven't chosen it (homeschooling parents spend time picking the curriculum that is the best fit for their lifestyle/child's teaching style/parental teaching style/etc); second, there's a sudden, enormous change in the daily family dynamic and rhythm; and third, and quite notably, all of this is being done in isolation! 

As a result, I have encouraged my friends to give themselves and their children a lot of grace.  It's a very new, challenging situation.  Everyone will take a while to adjust! And that is okay.

The other advice I have is to create a loose, flexible routine for the day so that there's some predictability and consistency to what you're doing, but not rigidity.  More on that here.

I tend not to think of what we do as "homeschooling" because it really looks so unlike a classroom.  I have always thought of it more as "home-based learning."  Each day is unique.  We have a great deal of freedom to move at our own pace and decide how to structure our days.  I do think sometimes people picture me standing at a chalkboard with my children in desks in front of me, with their pens and paper.  In reality, homeschooling for us almost never looks like that. And it's okay if it doesn't look like that for you, too, if you are newly tasked with teaching your children at home.

If they have online assignments and work to do that the school gives them, then it's great to let them move through that at their own pace.  But I've heard from several people that now that their children are home, they're racing through assignments.  My cousin told me that her daughter finished an entire week's worth of schoolwork in 2 hours on Monday morning!  This doesn't surprise me, since learning at home is so efficient.

So if a child finishes all her schoolwork by 10am on Monday, what in the world can you do for the rest of the week? Especially when you can't really go anywhere?

Here are a few resources I've shared with friends who have asked.  I will update this from time to time as I think of more. Most of these are geared to elementary and middle schoolers, but some may be useful for high schoolers, too. 

MATH:

*Khan Academy is free and has math for all levels.  You can easily see what concept/skill each lesson presents, so you can jump around and practice various skills at the child's pace. 

*Right Start Arithmetic Kit: this is a very reasonably-priced kit that introduces number sense and the abacus.  This would be a great math supplement for elementary schoolers. 

*Right Start Fractions Kit: for an upper elementary or middle school child who needs extra help understanding fractions, this kit is well-priced, and extremely helpful!

*Hands-On Equations: this is a strong introduction to algebraic concepts.  It is a little higher in price than the Right Start kits.  I own this and Finn and I plan to use it sometime in the next few months!  I imagine that Annie will join in, too. 

*Life of Fred books: these are a fun math supplement; they're math books in narrative form (with practice problems at the end of each chapter).  Quirky storytelling about a math genius named Fred who is 5 years old and teaches college math, it's fun and engaging, particularly for the child who prefers words to numbers.  

*GAMES!  Skip-Bo, Snap-it-Up, Shut the Box, etc.  There are many math games out there, and some you can play just using a regular deck of cards, if that's all you have.  Games are a fun way to learn math.  Right Start has a math card games kit, too. 

HISTORY:

*Story of the World (especially on audiobook, told by Jim Weiss!) or any of the Jim Weiss titles listed here: https://welltrainedmind.com/c/history-geography/jim-weiss-history/?v=7516fd43adaa

*Liberty's Kids videos: I laughingly called these a "homeschool kid's rite of passage" not long ago.  (These may be available for free somewhere else, but this is the link I have.)  They're videos on American history, and my children seem to like them.

*For the older student who enjoys diving deep into history, I love Genevieve Foster's books. (Again, you may be able to find them for much less somewhere else, but this is the easiest link to all of them!)  You could pick one historical period that most fascinates your child, and order one of the books used online. If you're like us, your libraries are closed!

SCIENCE: 

*The best and cheapest science is simply observing the natural world.  Take a magnifying class and binoculars, if you have them (not necessary) and go out into the yard.  Look at flowers. Identify trees.  Watch birds.  You can make simple birdfeeders to attract the birds, and then learn the difference between a finch and a sparrow.  You can also take a sketch book or blank paper out with colored pencils, and draw or sketch what you see.  Observation is the foundation of science!

*We like Planet Earth and Blue Planet videos (we own the DVDs of both).  They are so fascinating! I am sure there are many interesting science videos out there; we rarely watch TV or movies, so I'm not really in the loop. 

*Tinker Crate kits can be fun, although they are a financial commitment.  Finn has enjoyed building a few of these. 

*Some people love Magic School Bus videos! My children have never gotten onboard with them (ha), but some children really do love them. 

*There are all sorts of kits and things at Carolina Biological Supply. We will be doing a dissection kit sometime soon--much to my children's disgust.  (I used to love dissections as a child. We'll see how they do....)

ARTS:

*Drawing videos.  There are loads of step-by-step drawing and painting videos on YouTube, all for free!

*Drawing books: we like these books for the younger set, and I LOVE Lee Ames books for slightly older students. 

*Picture study: this is a Charlotte Mason standby.  You can print out a picture (or purchase a set; I like the portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason, because they are high-quality prints). Have everyone look at it carefully and quietly for a few minutes, and then turn the picture over.  Then everyone describes what they saw!  This develops skills of observation.  After you finish, display the picture on the refrigerator or somewhere else, for everyone to enjoy. 

LITERATURE:

*Audible is now offering some free children's audio books.

*Shakespeare: read this Midsummer Night's Dream picture book, then watch this free (and clean!) version on YouTube; older students may then want to dive into reading the actual play (I like the Folger editions, available on Amazon, but you can find the original script online, since it's in the public domain--I just avoid "modern translations", as they can be unsavory)

*for older students (and adults), check out the American Shakespeare Center.  They've had to close down for now, but taped several performances that can now be "purchased" (at a very, very reasonable price) and watched online--they're calling it "BlackfriarsTV"! My husband and I saw Henry IV, Part 1 there last year, and so we're going to get "tickets" to Much Ado and Henry IV, Part 2! Here are more details.

*read-aloud time: now is the perfect opportunity to read through an entire series of great books, like Narnia or the Little House on the Prairie books.  We are reading through Little Women right now, and after we finish, my son is on a mission to have us read Jo's Boys and Little Men, and we'll probably read Eight Cousins as well!  I made a list of all the good books on our shelves that we haven't read, and am hoping we can read through many of those this spring!

FOREIGN LANGUAGE:

*We love French with Alexa on YouTube.  She is so funny! My children enjoy her videos.

LIFE SKILLS:

Don't overlook these!  Isolation days are perfect days to learn:

*laundry (sorting, washing, drying, folding--and in our case, bringing things in off the line!)

*baking (we've enjoyed rolls, cinnamon buns, and loaf bread, and I plan to have my children bake brownies later this week)

*cleaning (learn to wash dishes or clean a bathroom!)

*gardening/yard work (I'll admit that this is my favorite domestic task, and spring is the best time for it, so my children have learned some gardening skills--and even more botany as a result of my obsession)

*cleaning windows, organizing, dusting, etc.....this is the perfect time for a big "spring clean"

*sewing, knitting, cross-stitching, etc: if you or your children have ever wanted to try to learn one of these skills, this is a great time. YouTube is full of tutorials.

CHARLOTTE MASON:

The Charlotte Mason Institute has created a free "emergency" curriculum for people who need some supplemental things to do with their children.

FRESH AIR/ACTIVITY:

*Absolutely essential for my own well-being, I know my children do much better with a lot of fresh air as well.  We take walks up and down our country lane, do plenty of gardening (well, I do; my children play), and sometimes shoot basketball outside.  My children spend hours running around the yard, swinging, riding bikes, etc.  As the weather warms, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, sprinkler-playing, etc all become appropriate, too. Sometimes just reading a book on the front porch does us all a world of good, and we can do that even if it's raining.

This season of life won't last forever, and I'm committed to embracing it and enjoying the enormous amount of margin we gained by having all our activities cancelled.

I hope this helps anyone out there who is trying to figure out how to navigate life now that schools are closed! 

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Cast Your Cares (and Make the Bed)

Spring is here!

I have not gotten to take any photos of it yet, but spring has truly arrived: the daffodils, forsythia, quince, and hyacinth are all in bloom. My cute little snowdrops are also blooming.  Yesterday I spent several hours clearing our garden space to prepare it for tilling (it's time to plant potatoes!) and hunting for asparagus (they're not up yet).  I'm almost done with my March flower gardening, too: all I have left to do is get the winter stuff out of one flower bed area, and prune my roses this week.


Domestic work--especially work that is quite physical--is one of the best foils to anxiety, in my experience.  There's something therapeutic about pulling weeds, burning brush, baking bread, cooking supper, folding laundry.  Restoring or maintaining order is powerful. When the entire world is way beyond our control, it's good to remember that we can make our home nice!  Set a table, light a candle, eat a simple bowl of soup, clean up.  It really does help. 


There's a lot of bad news Out There these days and I don't know anyone who hasn't been already affected in some way by the COVID19 virus.  Our own lives have downshifted significantly as all our activities outside the house have been cancelled, but I'm enjoying the change immensely because suddenly our days feel free and wide (although we are spending them all at home!).  My husband still has to go to work, at least for now. We are grateful that our income has not been impacted yet, because we have friends whose incomes and businesses have already destabilized significantly. Strangely, this time reminds me a little bit of my husband's cancer treatment recovery period--a 3- month period when we mostly stayed home and quiet.  It was one of the sweetest times of our lives, although he was extremely sick for a couple of those months.  But there wasn't the underlying, global anxiety that we face now as coronavirus cases rise and the economy tanks. 

And on a very personal level, we are (finally! the testing shortage situation is no joke) awaiting COVID19 test results for a very close loved one.  I dropped groceries off at this person's house today and we FaceTimed this evening, because since their return from another country (with many cases) two weeks ago, we've not been able to see them. We miss them, and they miss us!

I am known around these parts as someone who does not worry.  It's true; in general, I don't.  At a time like this, I think the best things we can do (other than conscientious hand-washing and good hygiene, and of course staying home as much as possible for a little while) are--

praying to God for peace, healing, and joy

and

making things nice for ourselves and our families.

It doesn't take much to make things nice: a lit candle, a quiet time of prayer before bed, fresh laundry, good (even if it's very simple) food, a nicely-set table, a neatly-made bed.  In our culture I believe people tend to scoff at these as unimportant, but they're life-giving!  

Back during my husband's recovery period, every morning after he got up from his fitful night of Not Sleeping, I aired the bedroom.  I changed the pillowcase, aired and then made the bed, and sprayed the room with my favorite air freshener scent. I cleaned the bathroom, cleaning out and sanitizing the suction machine he had to use for his mucositis. I got everything spic-and-span, and tried to keep a little bouquet of something in the bathroom and bedroom--I recall a lot of sage, since I had a lot on hand at that time in the flower beds!  Just the tiny ritual of taking a few minutes to get the room nice and airy and clean made such a difference.  And, even better: it costs very little, or nothing, to do these simple things like making a bed, opening a window, cleaning a bathroom.  But it does a lot for morale!


So I encourage you to just do whatever tiny, inexpensive thing you can think of this week to make life a little nicer for yourself and anyone within your immediate sphere of influence.  Pray about your worries and anxieties. 

"Cast your cares on the Lord
and He will sustain you;
He will never let 
the righteous be shaken."

-Psalm 55:22

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Pantry-ish Menus for Days of Isolation

God remains sovereign, even in the midst of pandemics.  

Here are the dinner meals I have planned for a couple of weeks as I prepare to hunker down at home (mostly) with my family--they are meals that I can make with ingredients I have on hand in the pantry, fridge, or freezer, which keep well for a longer period of time:

*red lentil soup & biscuits

*spinach quiche, roasted carrots, & bread (homemade crust; eggs from our chickens)

*16-bean and ham soup and homemade rolls

*black bean soup and cornbread 

*salmon burgers (from canned salmon), fresh or frozen broccoli, roasted sweet potatoes

*tex-mex cavatappi (beef + cheese + cilantro + salsa + pasta)

*spinach squares (a sort of egg/flour/spinach combo) and homemade rolls or roasted carrots and cauliflower

*chicken enchiladas (from frozen chicken)

*homemade pizza 

*tilapia, roasted potatoes, and steamed or frozen broccoli

*cuban black beans and rice; veggies 

*chili with cornbread; salads 


For breakfast I generally eat either eggs with veggies or Greek yogurt.  I'll make buckwheat pancakes, waffles, or baked oatmeal for my children. For lunch I always eat a salad and will continue to do so as long as I have access to fresh vegetables; my children will have leftovers from dinner, grilled cheese or PB&J sandwiches, homemade pizza, spinach squares, or quiche. And I always try to give them fruit at lunch. My husband usually has leftovers for lunch. 

Keeping certain things on hand is helpful: rice, dried beans of various types, chicken stock, salsa, flour, salmon, and tuna in the pantry; in the freezer, it's nice to have chicken, sausage, or beef (I only have a little chicken and a tiny bit of beef, but will try to acquire a little more beef from my cousin tomorrow); in the fridge, I like to have yogurt, milk, butter, cheese, carrots, some other fresh veggies and fruits (spinach, broccoli, and cauliflower usually keep well), and eggs.  

I am not hoarding food, and I absolutely refuse to "buy out" what the stores have, because I think that removes foods and supplies from other people who may need it just as much or more than I do. I'm just planning ahead to stay home from the shops for a couple of weeks--but not more than that.

 I trust that all shall be well, and that this too shall pass!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Thinking about Eighth Grade

I blinked and my toddler was suddenly about to turn 13. 

(Seriously, it does feel that way to me these days.  I'm getting very sentimental!)

Finn is in 7th grade this year, and so he has one more year of "middle school" before he hits high school age.  This seems unreal!  I remember when he turned 5--I couldn't believe it, and I cried because he was getting so big.  Five seemed old, since that's when children start school.  Now we're staring down adolescence!

This is the time of year when seed catalogs arrive and we start thinking of the garden, and the time of year when I start thinking of next year's schooling.  In reality, the past few years, everything has felt very fluid, without real stop-and-starts spots.  But even so, Finn and I have put our heads together to discuss what 8th grade might look like for him next year. And we're getting really excited!

He is quite set on learning to be fluent in at least two languages by the time he graduates from high school, so he'll continue with his French (he has had a tutor for a couple years now) and Spanish (he's taking an intro class this year, but next year will take Spanish 1 for a grade).  

He's also quite set on becoming a Really Good pianist.  In my mind, he already is! His playing astonishes me now sometimes.  But he'll continue piano--which takes up a chunk of time each day.  He practices faithfully, and is increasing his practice time and getting more serious. His spring music festival (a judged performance) is coming up this month, and this summer he will be participating in a week-long piano intensive sponsored by a nearby symphony orchestra.  He told me yesterday he'd like a Bosendorfer, or if that's not possible, a Steinway. Grand piano, of course.  I tried not to laugh too hard.  I love his big ideals and dreams!

So around those things we have to build the other things. 

He requested a class on the classics and Greek/Roman myths, so I'm designing that.  I'm pretty excited about it, too!  I took four years of Latin, so I spent time translating the Aeneid from Latin--it'll be so fun to read it *in English* with Finn.  And we always read two of Plutarch's lives each year.

He began a science curriculum in the middle of this year, so we'll just finish that up, and then probably study the history of science in more depth to complete his 8th grade year.  It's very textbook-y, but my husband (an engineer) wanted to introduce a bit of that, and Finn and I have actually enjoyed it so far.  To be honest, Finn is a textbook-loving human being sometimes, and I say: if it's engaging, then it IS a living book to him!

Annie will be taking state history with a friend who will be teaching a group of elementary homeschoolers, so Finn and I will do some American history--with a focus on our state--so that he can tag along on the field trips and enjoy/appreciate them. We'll mostly explore history through literature, so this will be history *and* literature.  

He's a grammar whiz (which I find baffling; although I'm a writer, I hate grammar), and so we'll pick up with Analytical Grammar.  (He completed Junior Analytical Grammar last year. LOVED it.)

As always: Shakespeare. My favorite!  He has actually requested an in-depth Shakepeare class for high school sometime, so I'll design that later.  For now, he's reading his ninth play...so in some ways, I feel he's already done a lot of Shakespeare.  I estimate by the end of high school, he'll probably have read 20-24 plays.  That is staggering to me; I never actually thought Shakespeare would be such a huge part of our homeschool (since I'd only read Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth in high school, and nothing at all in college or graduate school), but we've loved this part of our school life. 

We'll probably build writing into these other subjects, and/or he'll write on his own.

We read the Bible every day, but I don't get very formal with that.  

We may try to do a "running clinic" together for PE.  I may sign him up for a 5k, and use the training as our gym class!

And finally, math: just continuing on!

That's enough, and will provide several high school credits, a year early. He hopes to get most of his credits out of the way by the end of 11th grade so that he can do whatever he wants in 12th grade. I think this is a solid plan!

I just can't believe my toddler is planning his high school career. 

Mothers of little ones: don't blink.  Truly!!


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Saying Goodbye to Bosco

On Sunday we had to stay goodbye to our old and faithful friend, sweet Bosco. 

He came into our lives 15 years ago as a scrappy, filthy stray dog that my sister rescued on the side of the road. 


He was the perfect family dog: loyal, sweet, good-natured, patient, devoted, gentle.  He never, not once, showed any signs of aggression or even annoyance at our children, even when they were little toddlers.  He just followed them around and wanted to be near them wherever they went.  He ran miles with me when he was younger.  His whole life he walked miles up and down our lane with us.  

As he got older he developed issues: Cushing's disease, incontinence, deafness, arthritis, probably a touch of dementia.  We decided that as long as he was eating and seemed happy, we'd just carry on.  In the past couple of months, as he worsened,  I found myself caring for him more and more in a hands-on way: carrying him outside to use the bathroom, coddling him more, etc.  

Two weeks ago he seemed worse, so we took him to the vet.  We got antibiotics and additional pain medications, and decided our goal was to keep him comfortable.  We knew he'd outlived his life expectancy by a couple of years. So I fed him all sorts of delicious goodies: canned food, tuna, cheese, treats.  He slowly began to limit himself to only a few types of foods.  The antibiotics seemed to help him perk up.  I went back for more after a week, because he seemed to worsen.  The entire time he was on pain medications and seemed comfortable. Friday he ate like a champ (for a 16-year-old geriatric dog in his last weeks of life), but on Saturday the tide had turned.  I stayed up with him all night on Saturday, tending to all his needs and staying right at his side, and on Sunday we knew we had reached the point of no return. 

Oh, the tears.  

We buried him in a far corner of the farm with the prettiest view of the pond and the woods and the mountains.  On Monday Annie wanted to pick daffodils and place them on his grave, so we did that.  

We are slowly recovering from this loss.  When you've had a pet for 15 years, he really does become a part of the family culture and community.  The house feels so quiet now, and the amount of free time I now have is astonishing (I don't think I realized how much energy and time I was pouring into all of his needs!).  I miss him. I have never been a true "animal person" but I've always been a Bosco person.  He was just the type of dog you couldn't help but love--such a dear personality. 


Rest in peace, you gentle soul.  We love you. 

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Reading Goals

I don't have too many "goals" for the new year, although I have a purpose: to try to live slowly (even when life feels so fast!).  In the past, I've not really made a big list of books I want to read--but this week, catching up on blog reading while sick, I was inspired by Sarah's post with her ambitious list. I thought--why don't I make an ambitious list, too? And of course, variations and deviations are expected, but---as Sarah points out--it's a guide!

I went downstairs to our schoolroom, where most of the books live, and jotted down some titles that jumped out at me.  I started with books we have here, on hand, plus a few of Sara's recommendations.  I tried to focus on fiction since that is my area of weakness; I tend to read a lot of nonfiction, but not fiction--although I love fiction books. I think I do this because I can dip in and out of nonfiction more easily, but with some self-control, perhaps I can do the same thing with fiction.  :) 

So here's my list--and I may add to it over the coming year--

Fiction

Wuthering Heights (Bronte) (I am a huge fan of the spooky kind of romance of Jane Eyre, so I think I'll also like Charlotte's sister's book. I almost feel I've read it before, but I'm pretty sure I haven't. At the same time, I have had this experience before: thinking I haven't read a book, and then realizing halfway through when scenes come back to me that yes, in fact, I have.....)

Peace Like a River (Leif Enger) (I read part of this book a few years ago and never finished it!! which I shall remedy now)

The Brothers Karamazov (Dostoevsky)(This was inspired by Sarah, who said she just loved it, and I love Dostoevsky, so....)

Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)(a gift at my wedding shower from a friend--it was a book wedding shower, long story--which I've never read, but I've seen the play!)

The Girl with the Pearl Earring (which my mother-in-law loaned me a few years ago and I still haven't read....)

A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles) (Thanks, Sarah!)

The Little Prince (a classic! to read again, perhaps with Finn)

In This House of Brede (Rumer Godden) (another Sarah recommendation)

Jayber Crow (Wendell Berry) (because I love Hannah Coulter!)

Galileo's Daughter (Sobel)(my Dad gave this to me years ago and I never read it)

Daddy Long Legs (a book I read in high school and loved)

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)(my best friend Allison highly recommends this one!)

Persuasion (Jane Austen)

Drama

The Importance of Being Earnest (Oscar Wilde) (I read it in college; time to read again)

Of course, Shakespeare: I'm reading Coriolanus now and hope to see 2-3 plays in person (undecided as to which ones yet), and then I get to read another play in the fall!

Nonfiction

Seasons at Eagle Pond (Donald Hall)

The Death of Adam (Marilynne Robinson)

Bulfinch's Greek and Roman Mythology (Finn is really into Greek mythology right now due to Percy Jackson books, and this would be an interesting add-on for me; I studied a lot of it during my four years of Latin in high school, but it has been years.  As  a Christian, we are finding it pretty fascinating to read the Greek and Roman myths and discuss them!)

Mere Christianity (CS Lewis)

The Creative Habit (Twyla Tharp; a re-read) 

Splendor in the Ordinary

The Life-Giving Home (Sally Clarkson)(maybe) 

I want to read A Severe Mercy, but I need to wait until we're further along in the remission process.  My heart is still too tender for this now. 

With one or both of my children--not counting their school books:

Anne of Green Gables, per Annie's request!

Little Women

The Narnia books (they've read them once already, we are on Prince Caspian now, working our way through again)

The Golden Goblet (set in ancient Egypt--our current nighttime read-aloud)

Nory Ryan's Song

Sarah, Plain and Tall 

The Little House books--we read through at lunch

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Door in the Wall

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

My Side of the Mountain


....I don't know how many of these I'll read, or how many new ones will be added, but it's fun to have a loose framework for the coming year!

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Bleak Midwinter

The pace of our winter lives have been slowed a bit this week by a cold I somehow caught last weekend.  I've been tired and a little puny, but it's not that bad, and--more than anything else--I am just so grateful it's not the flu!  Around here, entire schools have been shut down for days with the flu.  So far no one else in my family is sick, and because Finn has a leading role in a local community theatrical production right now, I am praying he stays well!

The pace of our winter lives has also precluded me from doing much blog posting, although I am writing a fair amount away from the blog.  I'm developing a weekly habit of escaping to the local coffee shop, ordering my skim milk latte, plugging in my earbuds (and listening to the Little Women soundtrack--the Thomas Newman version!), and writing for a few hours.  I am working on a story....a story that is falling into chapters, so I think it is a book. 

Our children are in an interesting stage of life--a stage I never actually thought we'd encounter. I figured we'd be immune to the "living out of the car" scenario so many people seem to encounter as their children age.  When my children were little, we had such long, lazy days at home, and I couldn't imagine having a life that involved leaving the house nearly every day.  

Well: here we are. 

I stack and schedule activities so that we don't leave the house more than once a day (ideally; rehearsals have thrown a wrench into that, but since the theatre is 5 minutes from our house, it's not that bad!), and I schedule everything except our co-op for after lunch.  This helps, but the truth is, I still drive a lot!  My children have things that engage them, activities that capture their attention, and so I'm in a phase of life where I'm supporting those interesting experiences, while also keeping things running at home.  And I am the consummate homebody: I am so good at staying home, and I love staying home.  So supporting my children in this way is also stretching me a little bit. But I'm grateful for the opportunities that they have, and the learning experiences.  And I'm also grateful that the routine breaks during the summer!

Although it's not the bleakest of midwinters, we are very definitely in MID-winter right now: loads of gray skies, rain, chilly weather, and wind.  (Would it just please snow already?!)  Fortunately we are halfway through winter and spring is on her way: less than 6 weeks to go!

*           *          * 

I'm sitting here this morning with my second cup of coffee (this one is decaf), thinking of all the things I want to do once I feel better.  Ironically, I finally purchased a Fitbit fitness tracker on Monday (great sale!) after years of using an Omron pedometer strapped to my waistband.  It's a little ironic because after I bought it I immediately came down with a cold which has precluded any real exercise!  My goal this week is to get 7,000 steps a day, and since I'm not well enough to walk in the cold damp outside, I just do my chores (I can get a fair amount of steps working around the house) and walk laps in the warm, cozy basement. It will be so nice to feel better so I can go for real walks again, go for a run, use the elliptical trainer, etc!

But here are some things that we've been enjoying this winter:

*Tumtum and Nutmeg: such charming stories! Annie and I are giggling our way through them.

*Our goose down duvet.  I bought it for Christmas 2018 for my husband, who was incredibly cold after chemotherapy.  We both agree that it's one of the best purchases ever: it's like sleeping under a cloud.  I have a flannel cover for it for winter, and it keeps me so cozy.  (I also sleep in a thrifted cashmere sweater--I like to be *hot* at night--but my husband sleeps in a tee shirt and shorts, and he's plenty toasty with just the duvet.)

*Banana bread. I have the best banana bread recipe in the world!  I toast it and top it with almond butter, and have it as a little accompaniment to tea in the afternoon when I'm home. 

*A very, very tidy house.  My children are old enough to actually help keep the house quite tidy.  (Their rooms are allowed more slack.)  My children joke that I am a human Mrs. Tittlemouse, who was a "most terribly tidy particular little mouse" and it's so, so nice to actually have a tidy house after years of....well, not. It's not "perfect" because I am okay with real life happening around here, but keeping things super neat is much easier now. 

*My new pink Lands End slippers--so cozy.  They were a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law, and they're wonderful.

*Dreaming of warm weather: the gardening (I bought a Coolibar shirt specifically for gardening), the trips (I'm taking my children and husband on an epic sightseeing trip to Charleston, and last night sneezed and coughed as I researched possible beach houses for later in the year...), the hikes......

*Sleeping.  I let my children sleep as late as they like during this season.  And my Fitbit has tracked my sleep this week--proving that I, too, get lots of rest.  I almost always get exactly 8 hours a night--without setting an alarm.  As I get older, I've noticed that my body will sometimes completely ignore an alarm and sleep for 8 hours without my consent.  It's so strange!  But, I am a much happier person when I have gotten plenty of rest, so I am happy to be able to sleep.

*Tons of piano music every day: Finn practices a lot, and he's working especially hard right now in preparation for his piano festival in March.  It's the best thing ever.  I just love hearing him play--he has far, far exceeded my ability (I took lessons as a child). 

*A little violin music every day: Annie is learning!  And I am trying to practice a bit each day,too. 

*Fields around us getting green with the winter crops my cousin planted: a blend of oats, millet, sorghum, etc.  When they begin to grow they turn the winter fields a beautiful bright lush green. 

*Remission.  My husband continues to be in remission.  His oncologists have lengthened his leash a little bit: we had to return to UNC every 2 months, because his cancer was so aggressive and threatening, but in December we were told that we're allowed to go THREE MONTHS now!  His next checkup, with his surgeon, is in about a month.  Every visit that we tick off the calendar is one closer to complete remission.  Although some of his limitations from surgery and radiation will be lifelong, we are just so grateful for LIFE.  It is truly the greatest blessing.  My father recently asked if my husband's speech changes bother him at all (when half your tongue is removed and rebuilt, your speech changes), and I told my father that my husband has never, not once, even mentioned it. Just the fact that he can speak at all is such a miracle.  It's a silly cliche, but when you've faced that kind of giant, the little annoyances of life really completely pale and you become far less fazed by everything.  At least that's how it has happened here!

*Annie's metallic smile: she has had braces since last year.  She just turned 9, so she's quite young for braces, but her "scrambled" teeth (orthodontist's words) warranted some early intervention. Her smile just cracks me up; she's so cute. 

*Books: I need to add in some fiction, but right now I've been working my way through a few wonderful books:

-The Restoration of Christian Culture (John Senior)
-Mere Christianity (CS Lewis)--a re-read for a book club my church is hosting
-The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann
-Goodbye, Mr Chips (okay, that is fiction!)

And I want to make a "goal reading list" for this year!

*Coriolanus.  I had no idea who this guy was before we began reading him in Plutarch last fall.  What a fascinating, volatile character!  In some ways I am finding him more interesting than Julius Caesar.  We are nearly done reading about him in Plutarch, and just started Shakespeare's play based on his life.  I know I will love it!

(We read The Merchant of Venice last fall.  It was excellent.  Portia had some of the best lines of Shakespeare that I've read so far.  I think my enthusiasm was heightened because it features the courtroom scene, too.)

I hope your winter has glimmers of warmth and light!