Thursday, July 30, 2015

Those Who Sow with Tears

{A Psalm of joy in the midst of hardship.}

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations, 
'The Lord has done great things for them.'
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev. 
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

--Psalm 126

Monday, July 27, 2015

A Summer Hiatus

This summer has felt suffocating and I have decided to take an extended break to re-orient myself into autumn.  

Feeling overwhelmed is tough stuff.  The factors vary from situation to situation, but this summer my 'factors' have included a husband working excruciatingly long hours, two trips, multiple projects at home that need(ed) to be completed, events to attend, and so on. We have been too busy, and I need to take some time to reflect on how to apply the brakes and slow things down--or to prioritize the must-dos. Today  I was reflecting darkly on all of my failings and suddenly felt guilty about many circumstances well beyond my control.  This type of negative thinking is not healthy or normal for me, and it's an indication that I need breathing room and a fresh perspective.

 My maternal grandmother, who lives up the hill from us on the same farm, is now under hospice care as the Alzheimer's that has picked at her for years begins to sail away with her mind and body.  

My excellent husband turned 40 yesterday.

How, then, shall we live?   I need to embrace the season and its limitations--and embrace my own limitations--and narrow my focus even more.  I can't do everything.  

Choosing to live with joy means choosing to live well in the midst of the difficulties.  It means choosing to live in kairos time, and not hyperventilating over the chronos time. So that is my goal as I step back in this season. I can't change most of what is happening around me, but I can shift my perspective to embrace the moment, give myself and my family the compassion we need, and live in joy. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Glorious Flight: Louis Bleriot

My children love The Glorious Flight, the picture book story of the flight of Louis Bleriot, who was the first person to fly across the English Channel.  If you love to speak in a French accent (I do), this book is perfect for you.  But even if not, it's a wonderful read.  Louis Bleriot gets the flying bug after he crashes his car into a vegetable cart because he's distracted by an airship flying over his small village.  The book shows the various incarnations of his "aeroplane" and features some wonderful, wry humor. His arrival over the white cliffs of Dover is cause for celebration!

Bleriot's legendary flight was made 106 years ago today!

The Soul and Spirit of the House

"Their house....was a gigantic, rambling three-story affair with gabled roofs, numerous chimneys, a screened porch, and a large balcony overlooking the spacious garden where the children played.  They dug caves and climbed trees and put up tents.....

"There were animals in the house proper as well.  One room in the house became a zoo for the children's pets, which included rabbits, guinea pigs, turtledoves, squirrels, lizards, and snakes, and a natural history museum for their collections of birds' eggs and mounted beetles and butterflies.  The two eldest girls had another room set up as a dolls' house, and on the first floor the three eldest boys had a workshop, complete with a carpenter's bench.

"Their mother presided over the well-appointed home; the staff included a governess, a nursemaid, a housemaid, a parlor maid and a cook.  Upstairs was the schoolroom, with desks where Paula taught the children their lessons....

"Paula Bonhoeffer had memorized an impressive repertoire of poems, hymns and folk songs, which she taught her children, who remembered them into their old age.  The children enjoyed dressing up and performing plays for each other and for the adults.  There was also a family puppet theater, and every year on December 30--her birthday--Paula Bonhoeffer put on a performance of 'Little Red Riding Hood.' This continued into her cold age, when she did it for her grandchildren.  One of them, Renate Bethge, said, 'She was the soul and spirit of the house.'" 

                           --from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Eric Metaxas)

Friday, July 24, 2015

George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster

We recently checked this book out of the library.  I immediately fell in love with it and have purchased a used copy which we will use for school this year. 

I learned more about Catherine the Great in an hour of reading at the auto-repair shop this afternoon than I did in all my years of school (including the year of Russian Literature I took in college). At one point a man came in to ask us a question while we were all engrossed in the dramatic tale of the coup d'etat which resulted in her ascending to power shortly followed by her husband Peter III's assassination.  Wow!

I love the drawings in the book and the way Foster weaves together so many historical figures.  It's a brilliant way to create a readable, gripping narrative.  

Happy reading!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Mulching Week 2015

My goal is to weed and mulch for five hours two to three hours (I am so sore!!) every day from today through Saturday--if that means two hours in the morning and three in the evening, so be it!  I am using my watch to keep track, and I'm working around other commitments this week: two art classes, two swimming lessons, a haircut, a massage, dinner with friends, a trip to the zoo, a church meeting, preparing for school, finishing a sewing project, and two different outings with friends.  And oh yes, I babysat a friend's three children this morning, too!

It is so very hot, and today I'm working in full sun.  But I'm plodding along because the end result is always so pleasing.  My husband is working against a major deadline, so this is my first experience with solo-mulching!

 Here's the patio flower bed, which is where my beloved hostas live--this was the fruit of my Saturday labor. I'm about halfway through with this truckload of mulch.....

Getting there!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Simple School Planning (Charlotte Mason-style)

Our school year (Finn in third grade, Annie in kindergarten) starts a week from tomorrow, and my planning is done.  The evolution of planning amuses me: when Finn began kindergarten I created elaborate weekly plans with an equally elaborate filing system. 

Each year I simplify more.  Keeping the end goal in mind is helpful.  So this year after overthinking our schedule to the point of feeling confused this summer, I boiled it all down!  Our daily work is to read the Bible and pray together, sing a hymn, read a poem or read some Shakespeare, narrate from two of four books (2 books on Monday/Wednesday, and 2 different books on Tuesday/Thursday, alternating between history, history tales, literature and nature studies), have Finn read one chapter aloud to me from a biographical book, do copywork, and do math.  I created a booklist for Finn and we just work our way through it.  Annie's 'booklist' is actually just a series, the My Book House set that belonged to my grandmother!

Our daily work also includes chores, piano practice and nighttime read-alouds--Wilder's series for Finn, and Beatrix Potter for Annie.

In addition we'll do gardening, art lessons, swim lessons, nature studies, geography, composer studies, picture studies, poetry, Shakespeare, but not at the same time!  These will be woven into our year as we progress.  I find that I'm a better teacher when I keep my schedule simple and focused, and I don't try to cram in too much at once.  Nancy Kelly wrote that you should "keep cutting back until there is peace in your home," and that's the advice I'm following!  

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sudeley Castle: Garden Inspiration

Ten years ago today we were celebrating my father-in-law's birthday in the Cotswolds! Exploring a castle, enjoying the gardens, dinner in a pub...not a bad way to celebrate a birthday.

Sudeley Castle is romantic and the gardens continue to inspire me.  Every time I look at these photos I am enamored by the lush beauty we encountered around every turn.  

I'm dreaming of beautiful gardens--today I spent five hours spreading mulch in our back patio garden.  The weather is hot.  I hope to weed-n-mulch all week, but am glad that tomorrow is Sunday so that I have an excuse to sit on the patio and sip iced tea.  My goal is a lushness that rivals Sudeley. One of these days.....

This was my favorite garden at the castle. 

Wonderful memories!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Let Them Alone

Finn is heavily into ants these days, spending hours observing their behavior and attempting to create his own ant farms in Mason jars, that I thought of this quote from Home Education by Charlotte Mason:

For the evil is, that children get their knowledge of natural history, like all their knowledge, at second hand.  They are so sated with wonders, that nothing surprises them; and they are so little used to see for themselves, that nothing interests them. The cure for this blase condition is, to let them alone for a bit, and then begin on new lines.

Yesterday at the pool on a rest break he spent 20 minutes intently watching tiny ants carry off bits of his rice chex snack.  A child who is engaged in observing the world is a child who is easily entertained!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

An Inspiring Space for Learning

I am currently setting my sights on doing some re-organizing in our schoolroom before we begin a new year, and I just saw this post about a Charlotte Mason-based school in Pennsylvania and how they created a peaceful, inspiring space for learning on a very small budget!  I love that the classroom is not at all institutionalized, but has a homey, natural feel with plenty of character.  I would love to learn in that classroom!

For now I am spending my mornings focusing on de-jungle-ing my flower beds, but soon (and on the first rainy day!) the schoolroom will get my attention. The mailman and UPS man have faithfully delivered new books several times a week for the past couple of weeks.  Exciting!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Gluten-Free Bridal Shower

Last weekend my mother-in-law and I threw a bridal shower for a dear friend's fiance.

 She is gluten-free, so I had a good time planning a party menu featuring gluten-free foods!  Here's what we had:

Greek cucumber cups

Caprese sticks (drizzled with a balsamic reduction, bien sur!)

Salmon spread

Chicken salad

Gluten-free crackers (or phyllo cups, for the gluten-eaters)

Carved watermelon full of fresh, seasonal fruit (my father-in-law carves these--he even adds the flowers himself; cute)

Instead of a cake we served a smattering of little gluten-free treats--

Dark chocolate-covered almonds

Chocolate truffles

Almond-crusted mini-cheesecakes

Nutella dip

White chocolate-amaretto dip


Gluten-free chocolate graham crackers

My mother-in-law made 'wedding punch' and we also served Pellegrino to the low blood sugar types, like me, who can't drink punch!

My mother-in-law loves an 'around the clock' shower theme so that's what we did.  I assigned myself 9am, and gave the bride a poem plus a few morning treats--two pretty coffee mugs, amaretto coffee, chocolate, nice kitchen linens, a lemongrass candle, and a magnetized pad of paper (for the daily to-do list!).

The bride was beautiful and happy, and it was a treat to throw a party for her.

Friday, July 10, 2015

How to be Kind and Gentle (To Yourself)

I recently found myself giving a Pep Talk to someone I love, and I was telling her that she needs to be kind and gentle to herself, and to treat herself to little treats.

"I don't even know what that means," she exclaimed.

Here are a few suggestions to anyone who likes the *idea* but isn't sure how to implement it:

*Make your bed each morning.  The simplest act, an act of self-care. If you are too busy to make your bed, I suggest taking the two minutes it will take and just do it each morning.  You will feel better!  A neat bed makes the world a better place to be.  This sounds trite but it's a deep spiritual issue.  Get up in the morning and do something nice; the you who crawls into a neat bed at night will thank the morning you.  Plus, every time you walk into your bedroom you will see a neat bed, instead of a tangle of sheets.  The power of making your bed cannot be overstated.  Just try it!

*Take a bath. For a cheap and healthy soak, get Epsom salts at the grocery store for just a couple of dollars. You can add a drop or two of essential oils to them to have a fragrant bath, or leave them plain.  Or you can go fancy (I love this bubble bath).  Or you can use an ounce or so of olive oil (really!) which is probably in your kitchen already.  Or you can just have a plain bath.  Take books, or a candle, or a magazine--something relaxing.  Don't read the newspaper!

*Bring the outside in--buy fresh flowers at the grocery store (alstromeria are routinely about $3-4 for a dozen and they last a long time!), pick a yard bouquet, or just get leaves, acorns, rocks and arrange them on a platter. Anything will work!  Just something pretty for a table, a little reminder that nature exists and is a pleasure to behold.

*Make a list of the exercises that don't feel like exercise and then do a few times a week.  For me this list looks like swimming, yoga, walking or hiking, and the elliptical trainer (if I can read or watch something good while I'm on it!).  I don't like aerobics, sprinting, or anything that requires coordination.  This morning I swam laps under a blue sky and when I did the backstroke I could see the beautiful moon looking down at me.  This is good.

*Sleep.  Go to bed an hour or two earlier, or take a nap.  Sleep always feels like pampering to me. And it's free!

*Rest. Rest is underrated in our culture.  There is value in sitting down and spending ten minutes (or more) with a a cup of tea, a book, some prayers, some deep breathing, some stretching, drawing.  Do something that will give energy for later but is not so distracting that you get lost in it (TV, Internet). You're looking for soul restoration here!

*Read something that will inspire you but not tell you how to be better at anything. I like poetry for this, particularly Mary Oliver's poetry.  She is good for my spirit.

*Write.  Write  a letter to yourself, or write in your journal, or just write a few pages of freewriting about anything or nothing.  Writing is my favorite way to get to the bottom of the issues that ail me and to find my way out the other side; I find it cathartic and healing.  It is good self-care to self-reflect.

I tend to think that if we practice kindness and gentleness to ourselves we will be more likely to be kind and gentle to the big bad world.  And this world needs kind and gentle people!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Vintage Theatrics

At a wedding last week my great-aunt thrust a bundle of photos into my hands to pass along to my uncle, who is 'digitizing' old family photos.  I looked through them in our hotel room and enjoyed all the typical photos of parents with children, mothers with babies, children with dogs.  

But I got a kick out of Aunt Pauline.  Oh, she was a character!  I was named after my grandmother, and my grandmother was named after Aunt Pauline, and Aunt Pauline was named after her get the picture.  

Aunt Pauline was a teacher who never married.  She passed along her collection of antique books to me, wrote me letters encouraging me to write, and she even wrote and self-published her own book about our family, which is a gem!

Here she is in a sort of  midsummer fairy's vibe (not her real hair!)--

and on the back of this photo was written "girls at home dressing up in the boys' soldiers uniforms."  My jaw literally dropped! 

Thanks to Aunt Pauline for giving me a laugh, once again. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Walk in the Light

"Walk in the light of your vision of God's will. If you do not, you will be a slave to ideas and views that are foreign to Jesus.  Our conscience must respond to the unveiling of a truth."

    -Oswald Chambers

Friday, July 3, 2015

Late June Sunset from the Deck

The sky was so majestic over my grandparents' house last week.

I had never seen a configuration like this before.  I wonder about the science behind it.   If anyone knows, please educate me!

And then there was a Yoda photo-bomb, thanks to Finn. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

That Which Dominates

"A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming."

--Ralph Waldo Emerson