Thursday, February 23, 2017

Breaks and Treats

Today I'm in flip-flops and short sleeves. In the mountains, in February.  What?

My house needed some attention, we need to take a big trip to the library and post office in town, and the weather is downright balmy, so what do you do in that case?  Call off the schoolwork! 

The only "school" we are doing today are math facts flash cards and piano practice. Of course, Finn read Life of Fred in his pajamas this morning for nearly two hours--just because that's what he wanted to do. And I'm sure after the library trip, he'll spend a couple of hours with whatever books he finds. In the in-between time, the children are getting their vitamin D.  (And Finn decided to advertise to teach a math class. Annie took him up on it.  He's teaching Annie basic math.  I just heard him say "we probably won't do subtraction problems until you're 7.  Well, maybe we'll do some.  Uh, well, we'll just see how you do."  Ha! Works for me! :))

I am doing lots of laundry, some tidying, and drinking tea.

This is the pause that refreshes.  I don't keep a hectic pace with my life, but we do have obligations and responsibilities to fulfill.  We do have places to go and things to do.  And sometimes we just need to relax and enjoy a free day.  (I know Sunday is the day of rest, but a mother with children's not totally restful!) I'm glad to have a day to catch up on mailing stuff, managing the voluminous library check-outs, running to the bank, cleaning my bathroom, and so on.

Tomorrow looks similarly relaxed, as my husband is taking the day off to work on the chicken coop, and if he's off, we don't do school.  Instead the children will have another free day, and I will organize the basement...I hope!!!  And tomorrow night my husband and I plan to go to the hip new Italian restaurant in the city for our belated Valentine's celebration.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Goals for the Year

Now that my father's surgery is over and he's back home in Charleston, life is starting to feel more routine again for us.  I'm so grateful for the nearly-two weeks he and spent together and for the care I was able to help give him.  We had wonderful conversations and just a lovely time--in spite of spinal surgery.

This September I turn 40. FORTY.  I can't believe it because I still feel 20.  But the calendar and the math tell me it's true!  So I've been reflecting on my goals for this last part of my thirties. 

I delayed thinking much about my goals for this year--even though we're over 7 weeks into the new year.  I did decide early on that 2017 would be the year that I read through the entire Bible.  It's funny because I only developed that goal after flipping through one of my Bibles and finding a two-page plan for covering the Bible in a year.  It was imminently doable: half or a whole chapter of the New Testament plus two or three chapters of the Old Testament each day.  I can handle that!

Another goal I decided to make was to keep my entire house as uncluttered as possible.  "As possible" is the key phrase here because, you know, life happens. I'm not going for perfect--I'm going for that place that makes me feel content and balanced. I've always been pretty good at keeping our main room tidy, staying on top of the kitchen, and keeping our bedroom neat.  But my vision has expanded! (Especially since my youngest is now six!) The method I am using to meet this goal is just to tidy the clutter every day.  Simple, right?  Sort of.

  In January I was very conscientious about keeping my children's rooms tidy (with their help, of course), and picking up the schoolroom and family room (den? TV room? I don't know what to call that space) daily. But you know what happened, right?  Surgery happened.  When I left town, my husband cared for the children.  He did an amazing job, but didn't enforce tidying--which is fine!  But I saw how quickly a child's room can turn from Neat as a Pin to Pit of Despair.  

So this week one of my goals is to get their rooms back to a workable place so the daily tidying can be instituted once more.  I may even take "before" and "after" pictures because they are just so satisfying.

In addition, while I was gone and then once I was home again (but working on caring for my father), the schoolroom became messy.  The table is covered in stuff. I don't even know what it is. Craft stuff, books, projects, etc....evidence of fun! We've been doing school at our dining room table because I've not had the time to face the schoolroom--but I plan to do that this week and then get back to keeping it tidy! I'm happy to say that the family room is still quite neat.

Another goal I have--and here's where I join the ranks of millions--is to lose weight.  I am not sure how much weight I want to lose, as the scale seems sort of arbitrary (I build muscle *very* easily, which weighs more than fat).  I think I should lose at least 10 pounds, and perhaps 20.  I'll probably just go by my pants size!  In any case, my primary goal is to get back to the point where I can start jogging regularly again.  My pregnancy with Annie caused severe damage to my lower-right back, and anytime I jog I live with excruciating back/hip pain for a few days.  I suspect that losing pounds will take pressure off that weak area and may make it easier for me start running again. I LOVE to run, and I miss doing it. 

The method I'm using *for now* (February, March, maybe April) is to keep track of my caloric intake and macronutrients.  I already basically eat whole foods and try to avoid refined sugar and flour, won't touch soft drinks, etc.  So it's more about calories than nutrition for me. After I get a little kickstart, I'll transition away from the counting....because I find it boring. But for a few months I think it will be useful. 

And finally, I think my goal this year is to enjoy my family.  My children are doing what children do: growing like weeds.  I am acutely aware that each day with them is a gift.  I want to enjoy my time with them--reading books, taking walks, doing art projects, etc.--and keep our schedule open to those things that really serve as memory-makers.  And I'd like to be sure our evenings and weekends have plenty of margin for spending time together as a family.  

That's it! I'm keeping my goals attainable and reasonable--but trying to focus on the things that will reap the most benefits in this season of life.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

In Praise of Fancy Nancy

Am I really about to write a blog post about Fancy Nancy? The day after writing about Shakespeare and Plutarch? Well, yes!

My daughter trotted home from the library one day with a couple of Fancy Nancy books.  If you aren't familiar with them, they're picture books about a little girl named Nancy Clancy who loves everything fancy.  She is growing up in a family that is, as she says, "plain."  

The first time I glanced at one of the books, I immediately set my mind against it.  First of all, there are sneaky definitions of words--Nancy will use a "fancy" word and then say "that's a fancy word for ______ in a parenthetical."  I thought that was annoying.  Second, I thought the books were probably just "twaddle"--the phrase used ubiquitously in homeschooling circles to describe books that are not very meaty or substantial.  

But we brought the book home and I read it to Annie.  And I fell in love with it! 

First, Nancy herself is pretty endearing.  She's unique.  She loves what she loves.  She loves fancy, girly things and her little ensembles are adorable. 

Second, and most importantly, I LOVE Nancy's parents.  Although they are "plain" (Nancy notes that they don't even get sprinkles on their ice cream!), her parents are fabulous.  They honor Nancy's individuality. When she becomes interested in art, they take her to an art museum, let her have a backyard Jackson Pollock-style painting party, and help Nancy and her friends put on an "exhibit" (hanging their pictures on a clothesline).  When Nancy decides her family needs to be fancier, her adorable parents let her give them "fancy lessons," and then they all go out to their favorite pizza joint for dinner--dressed to the nines, like movie stars. When Nancy decides she wants to get a "fancy" dog and not a plainer one, they let her dog-sit the neighbor's papillon--which causes Nancy to realize that a tiny dog like that really isn't right for her family (even though it's fancy). I fell completely in love with the way her parents respond to Nancy.   

Because, you know, not all parents would respond to her that way.  Nancy could instead hear these things:

Artists don't make money.  
Jackson Pollock was weird.  He didn't create real art. (I actually am open to debating that topic because I'm really not a modernist, but that's another discussion for another day. The question is: what's real art, right?)
No, you can't make a mess in the backyard with paint.
Because I said so.
You cannot get a small dog and that's that. 
No, we aren't going to go out to dinner dressed like this.
I don't have time to set up the paints for you.
No, we don't want lessons in how to be fancy.  Go do your homework.
No, you can't wear a tiara to the grocery store.

And so on.

Now, I'm not saying that children should have carte blanche on what to do or wear or where to go all the time, but Nancy doesn't run the show in the books.  She just has all sorts of ideas and inspirations, and her typically parents go with it! (In the dog book, they didn't get the dog she wanted; her parents were correct that it was the wrong breed--but they were open to letting her learn *why* it was the wrong breed.)

I enjoy seeing the differences between Nancy and her parents and seeing how they respond to her in each story.  It's refreshing and sweet.  So if you have a little girl who is kind of fancy (I sure do)--you might like Fancy Nancy, too!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Leontes, Horatius, and Ecclesiastes

Today at our co-op I taught Shakespeare, as usual, and then taught my first class of Plutarch.  When co-op was over I came home and had a cup of tea and some eggs.  You know, to stop my brain from hurting.

I loved it, though.  All the unintentional connections!  My high schoolers and I talked about King Leontes and what triggered his murderous rage (jealousy).  We talked about what made Horatius take over dedication of the temple of Jupiter, which was supposed to be done by Publicola (envy). We talked about the temple--which was built, and destroyed, and re-built, and re-destroyed, and re-re-built, and re-re-destroyed.  I told the class it reminds me of the author of Ecclesiastes, saying all toil is meaningless. Which then leads us, of course, to the questions:

what really matters? what should we build, if not temples that can be destroyed? or is building destructible temples a worthy investment of time and money and energy?
if it's not, what IS a worthy investment of time and money and energy?
what should we worship? what do we worship in our culture?  
do you ever experience the "flip of a switch" from rational being into a jealous or angry person?

My classes are only half an hour long, so we didn't reach conclusions.  We just generated the questions.  And those questions are the invitations to further thought. 

For them, and for me. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Winter Lemonade

This afternoon my father drove away in his truck to his mountain house (about 1.5 hours away) where he'll stay for a couple of nights before heading back to Charleston (about 5 hours away from his mountain house).  I KNOW he's so glad to be heading home, to be independent, and to be healing well!  I'm glad for him.  We had a wonderful 12 days together.  In spite of all the medical hubbub, he and I genuinely enjoyed our time together.  We did not exchange a single cross word the entire time we were together (except for one night when he kicked me out of the hospital room because he was so worried that I would be going back to the hotel too late....he made me call him as soon as I was safely in the room!  Once a protective father, always a protective father! Even then, there were no cross words.  He just ordered me to go, and I did.)

I heard stories I'd heard before, and new stories as well.  Stories of him hitchhiking all over the South in the 1960s and 1970s, and all of the adventures he had. Stories of his first white Christmas. Little tidbits of his life. So fascinating. 

Anyhow, I'm exhausted--but I'm staying up too late just enjoying the fact that our little family is "just us" again.  Plus, I am trying to wrap my head around Valentine's Day--all I have is that I'll make heart-shaped pancakes in the morning! (Tuesdays are a very busy day for us--we're gone all afternoon for lessons.)  Back before the surgical storm hit, I did purchase some special Valentine candy at Target, so I'll leave those out for my children tomorrow.  This evening I began the process of "post-guest-tidying" which is mostly stripping beds, reclaiming little corners of the house, and washing towels, but it will take a few days to get the house back to normal.   

I was very grateful to spend so much quantity and quality time with my father. It was my privilege to look after him during this time.  I don't think we had spent so much time together like that in many years!  Sometimes life hands you lemons but you do get lemonade.  

And I'm still sleeping in every day!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

February with my Father

A week ago today, my father and I left in the morning to drive to a city in another state for his pre-op appointments, because he was scheduled for spinal surgery on Friday morning.  

It was a poignant experience, because twenty-seven years ago my parents took me for spinal surgery. I was 13 years old.  I had worn a back brace for scoliosis since I was about 5, but the brace wasn't enough to halt the progression of my severe spinal curvature (my spine is a backwards "S").  I had a spinal fusion using bone from my hip, and an instrumentation which placed fiberglass rods on either side of my spine.  I can only imagine the tension my parents felt that morning in October as their child was wheeled off for an 8-hour surgery on her spine. 

(There's a whole backstory there, too, because that was the first time I really felt God's presence and protection in my life, and it was a formative experience for me. But I'll save that for another time.)

So of course it was my privilege to care for my father.  We got up at 4:00 on Friday and had to be at the hospital at 5:45.  By noon he was out of surgery and in recovery, his neurosurgeon had given me a positive report, and I went to go find lunch and make phone calls and send texts.  He was in the hospital until Sunday, but had a slight complication.  So on Monday morning I called the doctor and we were slated to go back on Tuesday morning.  After four (!) hours of sleep Monday night [I just couldn't sleep well] we got up, once again, at 4:00 am.  Fortunately, and hallelujah, the complication appears to have resolved itself.  I was THRILLED!!! to learn that!

The morning we were to leave home, last Thursday, my father's online devotional was, he said, "very timely." It was this one, which is about the author's experience when her 13-year old daughter had spinal surgery for scoliosis.  My father and I smiled at each other.  Another wink from God--I love them. Timely indeed.

So now my sister is here with us for a few days (with a major toothache, poor girl!), my father is still recuperating here for a while, and I'm finally home to stay!  It's wonderful to do things like laundry and washing dishes and teaching school. I'm not getting up early yet--I'm sleeping in until 8:00 this week intentionally--and I'm not back to a "normal" schedule. We're staying flexible as we help my father recover and enjoy some time with him and my sister.  But oh, it's lovely to be home, to see him improving, to spend time together.  (All the time in the hospital and in the car gave us time for a lot of uninterrupted conversation!) And it's a privilege to have the freedom and flexibility to care for my father during this time.  I'm so grateful for all of it.