Thursday, November 28, 2019

Consider the Lilies: A Week of Feminine Clothing, Fall Edition

Back in the summer I challenged myself to wear dresses for a whole week. I loved it!  

As summer came to a close and fall descended, I began to wonder whether I had a sufficient autumn wardrobe.  I didn't want to spend money on anything new if I could help it, but I knew that I really did not have enough clothes to wear dresses every day. In fact, I wondered if I had enough clothes, period! So I decided to pull out my cooler weather clothes and take stock for a week, before deciding whether or not I truly needed to buy anything else. (Although at the end of the summer I did purchase new jeans--because the ones I bought last fall were too large--and a rust-colored sweater.)

The whole exercise reminded me of Matthew 6:28-29: "And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

As it turns out, I really didn't have any cool-weather dresses.  So most of my wardrobe this week consisted of wearing trousers.  However, I tried to make the outfits look nice and feminine, even if I had to wear jeans!

Day One: On this day I homeschooled my children, and then took them to Spanish class, where I took a walk while they were in class. (Thus my tennis shoes and vest!)

Day Two: I am not even sure what I did this day!  But I love this striped swingy top, I think it makes jeans look a lot more feminine.  When I had to leave the house, I paired it with a wool scarf that my parents bought me in Scotland.

Day Three: A dress! This was a Sunday.  I wore a summer dress that I'd purchased for our trip to Disneyworld in May, but I wore it with a red wool Ralph Lauren sweater (thrift store, $3) and a scarf. 

....and this is how it looked when I was doing a few kitchen chores and felt chilly: an apron and a cashmere sweater (a castoff from a neighbor!).

Day Four: I believe this was co-op and ballet day for us.  I wore this sweet top which is essentially a sweatshirt (very cozy) with a peplum-ish border with....

...the most darling rickrack trim!!  I wore it with a pearl necklace that came from my grandmother.

And when I was at home, I wore it with my pink polka-dotted birthday apron

Day Five: While I was at home I wore a green summer dress with a black cashmere sweater (another castoff from a neighbor) and one of my favorite vintage aprons.

When I left the house, I paired it with a wool tartan scarf.  I love this scarf!  I think this came from a grandparent at some point.

Day Six: This is the sweater I purchased in early autumn, along with my new jeans. I wore them with my April Cornell apron at home.

And when I left the house, I wore it with a crocheted infinity scarf that I bought at a Silent Auction fundraiser at our church a few years ago!

Day Seven: My striped swingy top, covered by a navy blue cotton sweater that I've had for years, and worn with a blue necklace that was my grandmother's. 

And I wore it with my vintage apron at home. I love how an apron can make a jeans-and-sweater outfit look so feminine. 

I was pleased with my fall wardrobe after trying it out for a week, and it convinced me not to spend any additional money on more clothes for autumn!

I  did decide that I wanted to purchase a couple of dresses for winter weather (because the grey and green dresses I wore here are very thin, and not at all suitable for true winter), so I did that a couple of weeks ago. I'll show those in the winter edition! :) 

 And I'm still trying to decide about footwear: the only non-athletic winter shoe options I have are calf boots!  I'm trying to find a shoe that will be comfortable and will look good with skirts or trousers.  

It was a good exercise for me to wear my clothes and find satisfaction with what I already owned.  I am something of a minimalist, and we try to be thrifty and careful with our money, so I didn't want to purchase anything extra that I wouldn't need.  It's also such a blessing to look back at this and see how many things were gifts, or inherited: a pair of black pumps, a couple of necklaces, two pairs of earrings, two cashmere sweaters, a vintage apron, black trousers. 

That makes me feel like one of the "lilies of the field," and it makes me feel grateful. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Every Morning with Finn

Here is a short clip of Finn practicing piano (though you cannot see him, since I keep my children off the public internet!). This is my daily backdrop during morning chores. I love it!

(If the link has expired, you may visit my Instagram page and look under the “Home” stories.)

Happy Monday!

Friday, November 1, 2019

Oral Cancer: Surgery

Earlier this year I decided to write a few posts on oral cancer.  I know it seems like an odd topic, and 2 years ago I wouldn't have had the first clue about it, but now that we have been through it, there are many things I think it would have been good to know in advance of treatments. 

The first post is here, and it's primarily about awareness.

In this post I want to write about surgery, because surgery is frequently the first line of treatment for an oral cancer. The idea is that you want to physically remove as much of the cancer as is safe, possible, and practicable, and then move into radiation and chemo treatments. 

I will re-iterate again what I mentioned the first time around: if you or someone you love is diagnosed with oral cancer, find a good comprehensive cancer center and go there.  That is, by far, my #1 tip. 

My husband's first surgery was a shorter one (it was supposed to be four hours, but it was six). The surgeon removed as much of the cancer as he could, aiming for clean margins around the tumor, and then "patched" it with a beautiful rectangular skin graft from my husband's right thigh.  Because a PET scan had indicated that the cancer was only in his mouth, and the few lymph nodes the surgeon removed from his neck were free of microscopic cancer, everything looked great. 

But it didn't work.  In two months the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes and--we found out after his second surgery--burst out of them and encroached upon his hyoid bone and jugular veins, as well as soft tissue around the lymph area.  The second surgery, at the University of North Carolina, was extensive.  It was 11 hours long. My husband had to have a tracheostomy (which, due to the location of his cancer and the fact that his mouth didn't open wide enough, was a "wake trach" done right before he went under).  The surgeon removed 30% of his oral tongue and 50% of the base of his tongue before removing all the lymph nodes in his right neck, part of the hyoid bone, and part of the jugular vein.  Then he rebuilt my husband's tongue with tissue taken from his arm (a most impressive 12" scar!). 

His recovery from the first surgery was fairly easy: one night in the hospital, a liquid diet, no real pain, and rest for a month or so.  My husband was back to eating and drinking basically normally in no time.  Two months after surgery, he ran in a 10-mile race....and beat his surgeon, who also ran.  :)  

The second surgery was a different beast. We spent six nights in the hospital.  He couldn't talk for several days. He had a nasal feeding tube which was extremely uncomfortable, and the surgery triggered excessive mucus production which prevented him from sleeping for more than a few minutes at a time (not an exaggeration; I was there, and I would time him).  It wasn't safe for him to take any sleeping medications because of airway issues due to the tracheostomy, so all we could do was try melotonin, which didn't work.  It was miserable, but he was as patient as a saint.  After staying in ICU for a couple of days, he was moved to a regular room, and he began a walking regimen around the hospital floor. I steered the IV pole.  Later, after he was unhooked from the IV, he could roam farther, and he got several comments from people who stood and marveled at this guy with a HUGE arm scar with 42 staples, neck scar, trach tube, Hoka running shoes, and hospital gown zooming around.  (Seriously--if he can exercise in that condition, I have no excuse not to workout!) We walked miles each day!

He was never in pain from the second surgery, which surprised us. (Of course he was on pain medications in the hospital, around the clock, which certainly helped; after he got home, he was able to quickly quit taking them.)  But he was extremely uncomfortable and exhausted.  The exhaustion was the worst part; the second worst was getting the trach tube cleaned out twice a day. But he weathered it all with grace. He eventually proved that he could swallow, so he was released from the hospital and came home to a diet of soups and smoothies.  Amazingly, his physical recovery took off, and a couple of weeks after surgery he was digging a new patio flower bed for me outside! Within 4-5 weeks post-surgery, he was back to what seemed like full functioning. 

And then radiation hit--but I'll cover that next time. 

Oral cancer surgery is obviously performed on a delicate area of the body whose function is essential.  So functionality is bound to be compromised.  The tongue is heavily involved in "tossing" food to the back of the mouth and clearing the mouth of any post-meal debris; without its usual agility, swallowing becomes more laborious.  But we were pleasantly surprised at how well my husband seemed to get back into eating after surgery, and how his speech seemed to improve as well.  The first surgeon we had did not recommend a second surgery because it was too extensive and would cause too much long-term functionality compromise, but our surgeon at UNC shrugged that off (this is why going to a comprehensive care center is so essential!), saying that surgery itself really wouldn't end up with long-term function impairments.  And he was correct. 

And then radiation hit....

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The takeaways from this are: 

First, head straight for a comprehensive care center (I can't say it enough); 

Second, oral surgery is extremely daunting, but if it is performed by a skilled, experienced oncology surgeon, recovery and functionality may be much better than you might expect; 

Third, the worst post-surgical issue my husband had was lack of sleep, but he's also a tough cookie. His sleep issues did improve once we got home. Expect mucus production to be surprisingly high--a disgusting after-effect.  The hospital had a suction machine he was able to use, but you can't use it while you sleep; therefore, we barely slept, because he was suctioning the mucus constantly.

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The day we got our second opinion at UNC, I cried (sobbed) all the way home--and we live in another state. I could not believe the extent of the surgery UNC was recommending and I was absolutely terrified.  But after MUSC (in Charleston, SC) confirmed that extensive surgery was the standard of care, and we accepted that, I braced myself.

The truth of the matter was that the surgery is only one day, and the recovery--at least for a 42 year old man--wasn't nearly as hard as we thought it would be.  It was, without a doubt, the right thing to do, but it was hard for us to come to that decision at first.  It actually took an incident of what I believe to be divine intervention (a "coincidence" that was just too coincidental) for us to believe that surgery at UNC would be the right thing.  And it was.

Next time I'll just offer some tips for surviving a week-long hospital stay.  I am sure there are plenty of people who have endured much longer hospital stays who will have even better advice, but I'm just going to offer what I know, based on my own experience, in the hopes that if some scared wife is googling "oral cancer" in the middle of the night, she may get a little bit of hope here. Because there is hope!


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Autumn Means Sage and Pink

For me, autumn is about the colors sage and pink.  (But I do still put out orange pumpkins--on our deck!)

I took this photo on an 8-mile hike with my husband on our 20th anniversary weekend "staycation."  Moss and leaves, so beautiful to my eye!

On the porch, this translates to lots of cream, with bits of sage and pink.

I took this grapevine wreath we had in our garage and added some pink flowers....I am not good at wreath-making, but I can do something simple like this! And I like the simple look better anyhow. 

The pillows I used here this summer were patterned with blue and green. I covered them with neutral covers and I love, love, love how it calms my eye when I look outside. 

Peachy and white mums, galvanized buckets (we've had them forever), sage pumpkins, the asparagus fern, and the old guard dog.  I think I'd like to put new shutters or something around my front windows, but I'm not sure what yet.

I am trying to read out here as much as possible before the weather gets cold....I just love the colors of the porch in fall. Simple and pretty.  The porch is old and nothing to write home about, but it's not hard to make it into a cozy spot for tea drinking and chatting with a child.  The other day I couldn't find Annie, and she was out here with a book!  

We're all loving it....even old Bosco!

Monday, October 28, 2019

Occupation: Homemaker

Last week I was filling out a form at the orthodontist's office and was writing down all the pertinent information that they need in order to treat my children, when my pen hovered over "occupation."


My mind raced to all the interesting professions my friends are peaking in right now.  We're at an age where most of them have worked in their chosen field for 15 years or so and they're hitting new heights in their careers.  My good friends are now tenured university professors, published authors, partners in law firms, licensed psychologists.

My pen paused, hesitated, as my mind raced through the list of occupations my friends have, occupations for which they are getting paid (very well, in nearly all cases).  Occupations that present a specific identity to the outside world.  

Then, as my pen continued to hover, I thought about my own occupations.  I do not earn an income, although my earning potential as an attorney is in the six-figure range. I do not attend lavish social functions, which was part of the job when I practiced law in the private sector.  I am not making a name for myself in the legal world.  I haven't practiced law in any official, paid capacity in over 10 years, and I do not wish to start again anytime soon. I also write, but I wouldn't really classify that as an occupation for me.

What is my occupation? Options swirled in my head: stay-at-home mother?  Homeschooling parent?  Teacher?  Housekeeper?  Laudress???

That blank space stared back at me as I thought of all the things I do every day. Little images of our daily life, as simple as it is, flitted in and out of my mind.  Hundreds of walks down our gravel country lane. Washing off the eggs from our chickens.  Fluffing up pillows. Rearranging a bookshelf.  Drinking a cup of tea and listening to the birds.  Washing countless dishes. Changing lightbulbs. Planting flowers.  Braiding my daughter's hair.  Cooking dinner. Mending clothes. Painting a piece of furniture. Washing the sliding doors.  My occupations.

I've been at these occupations for over 14 years now, after I left the full-time practice of law with no plan except to stay at home and be mistress of my own domain.  I had to learn everything from scratch. I didn't know how to do so many things.  I learned by doing, by making mistakes, by reading books, by praying, by reading blogs, by watching YouTube videos, by thinking, and by trying to learn what, exactly, I was after in the making of a home.

(The front porch in autumn.)

After nearly 15 years of it, am I at the peak of my "career"? Am I hitting new heights?  It's an amusing question to ponder.  By God's grace and practicing a lot of self-discipline, I've improved.....but I don't have a paycheck to show for it, or any public accolades. I don't even make a "career" out of keeping house, in any kind of Martha Stewart-esque way: I don't decorate my house impressively, don't bake intimidating cakes, don't do any sumptuous entertaining. I do the best I can, and am not looking for public approval of it.

As I sat there at the orthodontist's office, I thought of all of this, and wrote "homemaker" in the blank.  I thought of what a simple word it is, and how it barely scratches the surface of who I am or what I do, and isn't going to earn me any respect in the eyes of most of the world, but it's what I decided I wanted to do when I was in my mid-twenties. I wanted to make a home.  I wanted to learn what that meant. 

(Our simple, small living room, with the geriatric dog, the used furniture, and the coziness of home.)

I turned in the form with "homemaker" written on it, and I wondered at what in the world would have motivated someone as motivated as I always was for the first quarter-century of my life to leave the things the world (and some of my family) told me were alluring and valuable in order to do something so mundane that the people who *are* paid to do it are among the lowest-paid in our society.

I think it was love (of my husband, of the children we did not yet have, and also of myself, simply because the job made me sick and unhealthy) and a genuine desire to create a stable, healthy home life.  It had become clear to me that my long-term career trajectory was at sharp odds with my vision of home life.  Working 60 hours a week didn't feel like enough. I brought work home constantly.  I took files on our 5th anniversary getaway.  I knew it wasn't sustainable. 

And I deeply desired something I did not know well, because my childhood sometimes felt chaotic and disorderly to my quiet, orderly nature: I desired a steady, routine, peaceful life.  I had absolutely no idea how to bring that to fruition, I didn't understand how to manage my home, I had no experience, no background of it at all, no mentor. But this force within me knew I had to make the change. 

(Does it go without saying that I'm not insisting that a career and a happy home life are mutually exclusive? Of course they are not.  But the reality of the constraints of time and energy cannot be denied, and anyone who is realistic understands that life involves trade-offs.)

So at the orthodontist's office that day, as we sat and waited to be called back, I thought about all of these things. I sat there and looked at the children who were only figments of my imagination 15 years ago. I thought about our house, which is homey and happy.  I thought about the childhood my children are having--a childhood that sometimes astonishes me in its sweetness, innocence, and simplicity. And I was grateful to be able to write "homemaker" in that little blank space. It means so much more than I thought it did when I was a college student contemplating her future! 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Healing Homeschool Burnout

Over the past couple of months I haven't written much here, but when I have written, I've mentioned how strangely difficult things have been for me.  One of the issues I faced was that for the first time in my life, I felt burned-out from homeschooling. It was only the beginning of the schoolyear and I did not want to homeschool!! The very idea of it exhausted me and the thought of all of the activities I had to manage panicked me. 

I had to dive deeply into the root of it and think about what is going on, and what the solution is.  

As October comes to a close, I'm grateful to say that I think the storm has passed.  

This year I didn't take much of a summer break (my first mistake).  We also added more activities than ever, but they are things we genuinely value that I cannot teach--piano, violin, ballet, robotics, Spanish, and French, plus our weekly co-op.  (If you're wondering about the Spanish and French, it's because Finn has studied French for a few years and wants to add Spanish--so we did.  This is completely self-motivated.)

Once August arrived and I was surveying what our weekly schedule would look like, I got totally overwhelmed.  And we were also chasing down some physical symptoms so I was having medical tests done, which was distracting.  I simply wanted to organize closets and mulch flower beds, not teach math.  I remember sitting down with my husband a few weeks ago and saying I just don't know what's wrong with me--I cannot get my head in the game this year!!

He laughed. He loves sports analogies. 

I got some advice, prayed, got more advice, prayed more, journaled, and tried to slowly get to the root of my issues.  I don't want to homeschool solely out of a sense of duty, lacking joy in the journey.  I'm an enthusiastic, joyful person....but I wasn't feeling that at all.  So I took it seriously that I needed to heal this burnout.

One morning I was reminded of this verse from Hebrews:

"...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us..." -Hebrews 12:1

And I thought of how burdened I had allowed myself to be with expectations and distractions. I felt it was the nudge of the Holy Spirit to get me to consider what weights and sins were getting in the way of my patience and my "race."  Once I began to analyze this, everything started to fall into place. 

Here are the things that helped me:

1. I wrote already about simplifying, praying, and leaning on God. When I try to do everything myself, without spending time in thoughtful reading and thinking/prayer each day, my life unravels. So that's the first thing. 2 Corinthians 12:9

2. I went back to outsourcing a few things.  I use grocery pick-up at Kroger and Sam's Club, and organize those pick-ups after a day of errands. I am (admittedly) using some convenience foods for lunch sometimes--I have used an organic boxed macaroni and cheese, and a frozen organic pizza.  We don't do this daily, but sometimes it is helpful to have a convenience food on hand! And I've already mentioned that I have some help with housework.  What a blessing. I know I will not have housework help forever, and I still have plenty of housework to do on my own, but for now, I'm grateful for it.  

3. I went back to my practice of keeping a reasonable stock of freezer meals ready to to be baked or tossed in the crockpot.  This is so, so helpful for me on busy days.  We are frugal and health-conscious, and doing this saves money and ensures that we have quick, healthy foods to eat.

4. I decided to pick my top 3 priorities every day and focus on doing those things.  And I tried to let everything else go.  If other things fit into my day, then great! But if not, that's okay: I try to get those 3 things done, and that's it.  This will look different for everyone, but for me my daily top 3 priorities are: homeschooling/children's educational activities, Bible reading/journaling/praying/writing (these I lump together because they take different forms on different days, but it's the same idea: quiet time!), and exercise.  Most days I try to add in violin practice also. 

5.  I gave myself permission to relax. A hot bath at the end of the day.  A few minutes on the front porch with a book.  Puttering in my sewing room.  Cuddling with a child. It's all so simple, but when I get overwhelmed, I want to do more and not less!  But I need to relax. 

6. I began limiting social media consumption that showed pictures of people's gorgeously-decorated homes.  Sometimes this is fun.  Sometimes it is demoralizing. :)  

7.  I decided that even if I didn't have time to deeply organize various area of my house--I love to organize--I would create tidy piles and make peace with them, knowing I will get to them eventually. 

8. This goes along with #4, but I began to be sure to be alone inside my head every day. An extrovert might need to talk on the phone with someone else, but for me, I need to read, think, and process.  Having the mental space to do this for a while each day is essential to me. 

9. I began reading books that aren't telling me how to be better at anything. I am a lover of non-fiction, and I always want to improve.  So a lot of my reading is focused on improvement: homemaking, homeschooling, health, faith, finances, etc.  But I also need to read books for the sheer pleasure of reading!  Fiction and poetry are the answers for me. I love to relax with a chapter of fiction and a few poems at the end of the day. It's the pause that refreshes!

10.  I created a checklist for each of my children's schoolwork and we are following it each day.  As it turns out, Finn and I both have personalities which do not like open-ended situations.  He wants a list.  He wants to know what to do.  He likes the feeling of getting things done. And so do I! At 12, Finn would rather spend hours doing schoolwork than having a "free day."  (Is this strange? I am not sure! He is my oldest, so I never know....) We implement it with flexibility, and I approach it with my usual minimalist mindset, but this has helped us both tremendously.  Having a written guide for the week's work is comforting for me right now! It makes me feel MUCH less overwhelmed than having a more open-ended approach to schooling. 

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We aren't going to quit our activities; we like and value them each too much. I have had seasons in life when we have needed to put activities on pause, but I had the strong sense that this was not one of those seasons.  For me, healing burnout has required focusing on my top priorities, keeping meals and routines simple, relaxing a little bit each day, and creating  more structure (although not more subjects!) in our homeschool day.

After a couple of difficult months, I finally feel like I've healed.  My enthusiasm and delight are back, and I don't feel overwhelmed and exhausted.  I think I'm back to running the race with patience--not with speed, or my own strength, or impatience--but with grace and a steady pace.  

Monday, October 21, 2019

Charlotte Mason Minimalism: Reconciling the 13th Principle with Real Life (Part 2, the Practical)

Earlier this year I decided to write a little bit about homeschooling within the parameters of the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy, but doing it in a minimalistic, simple way. I think this is a topic that is important to get "out there" because I know so many mothers who feel like utter failures because they aren't doing things the way Mason did in her schools.  Perhaps they aren't doing geography walks, or dry brush painting, or Plutarch, or whatever, and as such they feel a constant sense of overwhelm and under-achievement, while wondering if they're really homeschooling their children well, because their days simply do not look like the well-planned-out, beautifully-scheduled days we sometimes associate with Charlotte Mason. 

And I know all of these struggles quite well because I love and admire Charlotte Mason, but I have never, not once, successfully "done it all."  My homeschool does not look like a PNEU school. It looks like a home, with all of the seasons and issues and interruptions and distractions that accompany real home life. 

So how can we reconcile the 13th principle--the beautiful concept of the educational "feast"--with the reality of life? 

I have pondered this so much over the past 2 years; first, during and after cancer treatments, and second, this summer and early fall, as I experienced--for the first time ever--what I think has been actual burnout.  I am getting better now, and I'll write more about that sometime. (It had a lot less to do with school than it did with life!) But it certainly has caused me to re-evaluate (for what seems like the hundredth time) what we are doing, and how we do it. 

I think sometimes we, as homeschooling mothers, are quite narrow in our definition of what counts as school.  Loosening this definition is by far the most important practical thing to do in order to reconcile the "feast" idea with the reality of everyday life.

Much of what our children naturally do (when they aren't distracted by screens--so screen time limits are, in my opinion, essential!) falls within the "feast."  Sewing.  Working with clay.  Origami. Sitting down and watching ants busy themselves on a sidewalk.  Cracking open a book and getting immersed in a story.  Singing songs.

I still need--as much for my own sake as anything else--to be sure certain things are covered in a structured way, but I am also willing to let go of a planned, structured lesson if I see a child who is engaged in something worthy that I haven't planned at all.  When my children were littler, Legos and imaginative play definitely counted.

As children get older, of course the expectations for schoolwork increase.  I suspect all children are different, but so far my experience with a child on the cusp of the teenage years is that children will seek out and pursue educational opportunities that interest them, and the parent can shift even more into a facilitator role for certain subjects.

Not long ago my son and I were talking about how minimalistic his schooling seems to be. He's in middle school now, so we were trying to decide if we should we add more, and if so, what?  Then we counted what he does regularly, and it included over a dozen "subjects!" So we decided we're satisfied with the status quo at this time--although we are adding more formal science work.

In addition to widening the definition of schooling, as I mentioned above, here are my top practical tips for spreading the "feast" while still maintaining a feeling of minimalism:

1.  Keep a retroactive educational journal. (My favorite tip!) Lesson plans are fine (and I do use a checklist/plan for Finn, whose workload is heavier), but I often like to write down what we did in a day after the day is done, and then marvel at how well those things fit into "school" categories. Perhaps we didn't do dictation every day, but we did it twice during the week: well, that counts! Perhaps I hadn't planned on a nature walk, but we found a crazy-looking caterpillar outside and spent an hour studying it, learning about it, and drawing it.  That counts! Perhaps at lunch a child asked a question about what caused the Korean War, and we spent the next hour reading the encyclopedia and discussing what we've read, then applying it to other conflicts and current political situations.  That counts! (All 3 of those are real-life examples from my home!) I do not keep the journal every day, but I love reading it and thinking about how natural learning opportunities arise in our home.

2. It's better to do a little bit every day than to engage in any "boom or bust" activity. If doing school for 6 hours a day seems overwhelming--well, don't do it. (I can't do it!)  Through years of trial and error, I'm finding the things--math curricula, books--that we can do consistently.  I'd rather do an hour of school each day than hit the books super hard for a week, get exhausted, and then need a week to recover.  Whatever you do, make sure it's sustainable.

3.  Decide on the non-negotiables and focus on those, then let other things fill in the gaps.This will change from child to child and grade to grade. I pick 3-5 non-negotiable subjects that I want to be sure each child does nearly every day (and they are different for my two children), and keep those as a "spine" for schooling.  This may seem to be antithetical to the "feast" idea, but in my experience, having a  few non-negotiables that make you feel good, and then adding in other things, results in a wide array of subjects.

4. Keep planning simple.  I have written before about my index card system. It's so simple! I don't do this now, but it worked well for us for a season, and I've reverted back to it on occasion when I want a change.  I have little desire to create detailed lesson plans, so for Annie my approach is simply "do the next thing."  For our shared subjects (Shakespeare, history, picture study, etc) I just do the next part of the reading, or the next painting in the planning required. At 12, Finn now wants clear directions and a daily checklist, so I've started to fill out a table for him at the start of the week--and he fills out a lot of it himself for the subjects he manages on his own--but I keep it quite basic. It's essentially a "do the next thing" approach as well! Everyone will tackle this in a different way, but for me, less is more when it comes to lesson plans. It's the sustainability issue, once again--whatever we do must be sustainable.

5. Make curricula work for you, not the other way aroundNever be a slave to the curriculum, no matter how rich, beautiful, and good it is.  There's no homeschool policeman who says a child has to complete an entire lesson in 1 day, or do two dozen subjects, or finish by noon, or....anything!  The curriculum works for the teacher.  Using a curriculum in small bites consistently is worlds better than trying to tackle it all, getting stressed and overwhelmed, and bagging it. 

6. Don't look around.  Comparison is the thief of joy; I'm sure we've all experienced this.  There's a reason for that cliche.  When we look at what other people are doing, it's so easy to get discouraged!  But really, God has given us each our particular children with their own particular needs, and we need to put on our blinders and stay focused on what's in front of us, not comparing our school schedules or (please!!) children to other people's.......there's so much rich learning in every single day!  But we need to be able to focus and see it for ourselves, without reference to who is doing what out in Instagramland.

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I love to read about Charlotte Mason schools. I love looking at timetables and imagining how lessons went for children in those schools, and I love thinking about all the many subjects that are covered by a Mason education.  But in my own daily life, I have to implement this educational philosophy with flexibility and discernment. 

And if you're a bit of a minimalist, there may be a little more time in the day for drinking tea and reading!  That's a win in my book!