Monday, January 30, 2017

Winter Morning

Waking up early is always worth it for me, but especially when, after a couple of hours of darkness, I get something like this.

I love that certain slant of light from the east as the sun splinters the sky over the mountains. Everything is beautiful. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Christmas Hair

I checked a book on hair out of the library recently and was inspired to do some Fancy Hair on Annie for Christmas.  Isn't this beautiful?  

This was right before we left for church on Christmas morning.  Annie's dress has a beaded waistline in front and an organza overlay on the skirt.  The next time I do this little hairstyle, I'll tuck something into that at Easter, perhaps?

Having a little girl is so, so much fun!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Favorite Snacks

My children aren't big snackers most days (they eat very well at meals!) but I do like to offer a mid-morning snack most of the time, and on some occasions we need an afternoon or evening snack also--typically if we have an evening activity like ballet or our scouting group, and our dinner is either unusually early or a little late. I'm trying to come up with a few more snack ideas.  Our requirements are preferably gluten-free (Finn eats some gluten now and I can't even tell you how much easier my life is because of that), whole foods, and reasonably healthy.  Here are the snacks we typically have:

*cheese slices
*nuts (sometimes nuts mixed with rice chex--not really a whole food!)
*popcorn (always with a side of cheese or nuts)
*apple slices with peanut butter
*banana boats--half a banana, sliced lengthwise, spread with a nut butter and topped with a few mini chocolate chips
*Larabars (on grocery shopping days I usually allow a Clif or Luna bar)
*gluten-free pumpkin-chocolate chip muffins
*on occasion, smoothies (w/ peanut butter/banana/almond milk/spinach)
*gluten-free gingerbread (yum, more like dessert) topped with nut butter or yogurt, depending on the child

I'd like to try homemade granola. I don't think Finn will eat it, but Annie would.  Annie likes yogurt; Finn does not.  And I have yet to find a good homemade granola-ish bar recipe that suits Finn.  I know this makes him sound very picky,  He is a little picky, but I roll with it because he eats so well of so many healthy foods (fish, chicken, broccoli, oatmeal, eggs). I think his issues are texture-related. In any case, I don't make a big deal out of it because in all honesty I think I'm fairly particular myself. (I never thought this until I visited a friend and she was amazed at my eating habits. Ha!)

So I'm casting about for some new snack ideas to freshen up the list.  Fresh fruit is always nice, but this time of year all we can get are bananas, apples, and citrus--everything else is pretty yucky.  And Finn and I don't really eat citrus....wait, did I mention we're the picky ones?

If you have any favorite snack ideas to share, I'm all ears!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2016 Reading List

Nancy Kelly at Sage Parnassus publishes a "Reader's Journal" every year and it's such a wonderful idea--to keep track of books we've read and books we've loved. I enjoy seeing other people's lists and generating ideas for my future reading!

My list does not include the Bible, my devotionals, or our *many* school books....or any of our family read-alouds.

My top recommendations are: 

The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis): A fascinating, witty, and convicting book.  I read most of the book poolside during the summer and had to stop and read, then re-read paragraphs as the real weight of the words sunk into my soul.  Did I mention convicting?  The genius of Lewis shines through in these imaginary letters. I will absolutely re-read this book again.

For the Children's Sake (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay):  I had dabbled in this book before, but not read it cover-to-cover until 2016.  It's wonderful! In fact, a friend asked me for recommendations on books to help her better understand the Charlotte Mason method of education.  Obviously the best books are Mason's own, but that's a little overwhelming to a newcomer.  Macaulay's book is the one I recommend.  Her gentle tone and comprehensive overview of the way a Mason education feeds a child's soul were spot-on, and she never loses sight of the fact that Charlotte Mason's approach is distinctly Christian in its perspective--and to that end, that children are respected.

The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery): I finally pulled my mother's copy down off the shelf and cracked it open.  I wasn't prepared for the whimsical philosophy contained herein; I couldn't believe I hadn't read this before!  A singular book that I really enjoyed.

The Blue Castle (LM Montgomery): I'd read the Anne books and--MY FAVORITES--the Emily series, but had never heard of this one until a friend told me about a while back.  Boy! It was fantastic.  Classic Montgomery--stodgy old relatives, glorious descriptions of the natural world, a wonderful ending.  And the heroine's name is Valancy Stirling--which is, obviously, fabulous.

Children, the Challenge (Rudolf Dreikurs): I honestly don't read many discipline books, but this year I dabbled in a couple.  I liked this one because it seemed so logical, humane, and reasonable. I don't agree with everything in the book, but it's a lot better than a few others I've skimmed--either bizarrely draconian *or* too permissive.  I thought this book struck a solid balance between parenting with gentleness and respect and, well, letting them learn the hard way.  (Which is often the best way.) I don't subscribe to any particular parenting methodology, because I think any method, when followed mindlessly, can go completely askew. I just thought this book was worth reading and owning, and I'm sure I'll refer to it again.

Hard Times in Paradise (David and Micki Colfax): Many homeschoolers have read or heard of the book Homeschooling for Excellence, but I thought this one was better!  It's really the story of how the Colfax family eked out a home and a livelihood on the side of a California mountain.  This book illustrates the family life (hardworking, stubborn, cooperative, democratic, cohesive) that catapulted three of their four sons into Harvard with almost no formal educational experience.  Fascinating! (Plus, it made me value my running water and roof so much more.)

Here's my list.  The books with an asterisk are my most-recommended reads!

1. Learning All the Time--John Holt
2. Hard Times in Paradise--David and Micki Colfax*
3. Teach Your Own--John Holt
4. That Hideous Strength--C.S. Lewis*
5. For the Children's Sake--Schaeffer*
6. Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching (applicable sections)--Richele Baburina*
7. Home Education--Charlotte Mason
8. Blue Castle--LM Montgomery*
9. Go Set a Watchman--Harper Lee
10. The Christmas Bride--Grace Livingston Hil
11. The Screwtape Letters--C.S. Lewis*
12. Surprised by Hope--NT Wright (I've read and digested about half)
13. Anne of Ingleside--LM Montgomery
14. A Room with a View--EM Forster (I'm not done yet; I lost steam)
15. The Little Prince--Saint-Expuery 
16.  The Alchemist--Paulo Coelho
17. Parenting by the Book--Rosemond (skimmed)
18.  Better than Before--Gretchen Rubin
19.  Parts of Shakespeare After All
20.  Christmas at Fairacre--Miss Read
21.  Daring to be Yourself--Alexandra Stoddard
22.  The Adventure of Living--Paul Tournier (parts of it)
23.  The Substitute Guest--Grace Livingston Hill (a perennial read--I shouldn't really count it, but I did read it again this year!)
24.   Children, the Challenge (Dreikurs)*
25.   Parenting with Presence--Stiffelman (skimmed)
26.   Upside-Down Brilliance--Linda Kreger Silverman* (parts of it)(this is a wonderful book if you have a visual-spatial learner, or think you do!! it truly made me see Finn with a new set of eyes)

Last year's reading list is here!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Respecting Time v. Managing Time

Last fall I had the opportunity to take "Living Education Lessons" with Nancy Kelly, who writes at Sage Parnassus.  When Finn was a toddler and I researched various educational philosophies, Mason's was the one that resounded with me.  Charlotte Mason wrote about the inherent personhood and dignity of each child and the vital importance of relationships, and her method flows from those basic principles.  Somewhere along the way, I found Nancy's blog and knew I had stumbled upon a gem.  Nancy has spent years studying Charlotte Mason's methods of education. She writes thoughtfully and sincerely, and she clearly understands Charlotte Mason's methods.  Nancy offers a consulting service and I've happily taken advantage of her mentoring!  So when I realized that her online living education lessons would fit right into my schedule last fall, I decided to try them out.  We met once a week during the fall, read from Mason's volumes, discussed teaching Shakespeare, the importance of the Holy Spirit in our homeschools, and so much more.  At the end of the "term," Nancy asked us each to write a reflection paper and read it during our last session.  It was so fascinating to see what others had gleaned from the class and our readings!  We all had different perspectives and responses, and a couple of them were quite moving.  

Mine was a surprise to me: it had to do with time.  I am copying my reflection paper, in full, below.  And I'm continuing to ponder these ideas as we gear up to begin our schoolwork again. Mason's ideas are rich and are worth a slow ponder! 

*          *         *

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us that “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under  heaven.”  During this “Season 2” I’ve encountered great book recommendations and enjoyed pondering some of Mason’s basic principles. But the thing that triggered my watershed moment was an off-the-cuff response Nancy gave in our last session when discussing balancing homeschool and domestic obligations.

She said when her children were young, she was with them doing school until it was done.  “And so,” she said, “we didn’t always have the greatest lunches, the house wasn’t always as clean as I wanted it to be, the laundry often got piled up, and it doesn’t matter, right?....That’s just the phase of life and the relationships are more important than the swept floor.” (emphasis added)

What made this simple reflection into a watershed moment for me?

I’ve heard this idea from various mothers over the years, so it wasn’t completely new.  What was new was that the timing was right: I’d been pondering scheduling, particularly Mason’s notion that what doesn’t get done in the assigned period of time—just doesn’t get done.  This, in turn, intersected with the instruction Mason gave to her teacher trainees: “The children need your utmost freshness of mind and energy, so do not sit up late preparing lessons; what you seem to gain in preparation you lose by tiredness next day.” I could see that Charlotte Mason herself appeared to realize the many limitations of our lives.  Just as we shouldn’t drag the math lesson on indefinitely and exhaust a child, we shouldn’t stay up late doing our work and exhaust ourselves!

This triggered the memory of a blog post Nancy wrote several years ago, so I found that and re-read it. (“Time Value,” November 9, 2011.) A student at Scale How wrote that at the teaching college “time was to be respected, given to the thing or person claiming it rightfully.  Then there would always be time, without over-pressure or distraction. This sense of time value was hard to achieve but it bore the test of experience during the two years’ training.  What an effort of faith it all was…it did not seem possible to find a moment for everything, yet if no time was wasted there was plenty of it and no hurry.” (again, emphasis added)

Nancy noted that this boils down to attentiveness.  She closed the post by saying “in other words, we need to be fully present for them. That’s more important than keeping a perfect house or schedule.”

As a recovering type-A over-achieving perfectionist who used to work in a career where I billed clients in 6-minute increments, I’ve found it difficult to give myself permission to turn off those “perfectionistic, do-it-all, and do-it-yesterday” tendencies.  I’ve hyper-focused on my domestic life (cooking, baking, cleaning, organizing, sewing, knitting, home improvement projects, gardening….) as well as my other interests (reading, music, writing, exercising…..).  And of course, homeschooling! On the surface I do think I seem fairly adaptable and laid-back—although I’m devoted to my checklists.  But I struggle internally with giving myself permission to not conquer the world.  Or at least…to not conquer the ambitious self-generated to-do list!

Last summer I read abook by Jean Fleming in which she wrote that our job as mothers isn’t to try to cram in as much as we can in any given portion of time, but rather to focus on the most important aspects of the season of life we’re in. In other words, we must narrow our focus. 

What I gleaned from all these readings and thoughts was that narrowing my focus, submitting to the limitations of this phase of life, and—most of all-- respecting time (rather than fighting against it, or trying to microscopically "manage" it in order to squeeze every efficient second out of our days...I'm guilty!) are principles that will give me permission to say no to the “endless succession of small things” (another Charlotte Mason phrase*) and to say yes to only the things which I can do with my full attentiveness and presence during this season of our lives.

Thanks, Nancy and Charlotte!

*The Story of Charlotte Mason, p. 160

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If you're interested in the Charlotte Mason method, here are a few of my favorite resources:

Sage Parnassus (short essays on Mason's philosophy; points to ponder; wonderful Shakespeare ideas!)
Charlotte Mason Help: hands-down the most practical CM website I've found; this is the site that convinced me to jump in with Mason's methods when Finn was tiny! 
Ambleside Online: free curriculum/book lists with an active forum (I do not follow their curriculum, but the book lists are helpful)
Simply Charlotte Mason: lots of resources; I like the picture study portfolios and the composer studies
The Charlotte Mason Institute: blog posts and conferences

Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling Series (Volumes 1-6)(by Charlotte Mason): by far the best books to read because they were written by Mason herself. You can read them online here, but I recommend having a paper version.  They're also available on kindle. 
For the Children's Sake (Susan Schaeffer Macaulay): a solid iteration of the ideals and principles behind a Mason education

Saturday, January 7, 2017

New Year Productivity

As always, the new year has ushered in a spurt of major productivity.  We were in Charleston for the better part of a week; before we left, we took down the tree, I deep-cleaned and reorganized the pantry, and I purged/tucked away many toys (our children's rooms are so much easier to keep neat now....I'm loving that).  Now I'm working on deep cleaning and re-organizing the basement, which includes the schoolroom, play/TV room, bathroom, storage/mechanical closet, laundry room, and laundry closet.  It was a mess. I'm close to done with the schoolroom and today I cleaned out the laundry closet.  You don't really know how gross a closet gets until you take everything out!  I went pretty wild and even mopped the floor with a bleach mixture.  Ahhh. 

Today I've also done hours of food prep in the kitchen because tomorrow afternoon we plan to have a little British tea party for Annie's birthday!

And also today: SNOW!  I couldn't handle more than 15 minutes in it (I was under-dressed, not realizing how low the temperature had dropped), but I got a good run down the hill on the inner-tube-sled. So fun!  My children, on the other hand, went out to play twice. 

My goal is to finish the basement completely before we start our new school semester.  The rest of the house is in pretty good shape and doesn't need much in the way of organizing.  We plan to start Tuesday, but I may delay our start by a couple of days in order to achieve the peace that a fully cleaned and organized space brings. 

When I'm not cleaning and purging and laundering and organizing, I'm watching "The Crown" (preferably on the elliptical trainer) and reading (in the bathtub!).  Very cozy indeed!