Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Marathon Month

No: not a real marathon.  (Although 11 years ago at this time I was deep in training for a marathon!)

We're having a marathon month: an unusual phenomenon which involves travel every weekend for an entire month. It all started with the eclipse trip, which was wonderful.  That weekend my aunt and uncle's church had their annual picnic; the worship service and picnic were nice, but the best part was that Finn bravely decided to ride in a tube behind a speedboat.  With strangers.  And he'd never even been on a speedboat before, much less had been pulled by one.  I won't go into all the reasons this is a major milestone for our boy, but let's just say that sometimes I have a nice "parenting gratitude cry" in random situations, and that Sunday, I shed a few tears on a speedboat. 

This past weekend we squeezed in Finn's birthday camping trip, which was also wonderful. We went to a local state park and enjoyed 4-ish miles of hiking each day--which is pretty good considering Annie is only 6, cool lake swimming, s'mores at night.  It was all quite idyllic until bedtime, which is when I was subjected to sharing an air mattress with Annie.  It was a rough night.

Fortunately my husband is always looking out for me and he had brought the electric kettle, so I was able to survive the next morning with a couple strong cups of Yorkshire Gold by the fire.

This weekend we plan to visit my father and stepmother in their mountainhouse. They're only out of Charleston for a week or two, and we don't want to miss our window!  The Blue House is always fun: poking around the yard, visiting the Amish store, playing music, napping.......

And after that, we're heading to a family reunion and then on to my alma mater for a few days. 

It all feels like a whirlwind, and we also began school last week. So we're packing, traveling, or unpacking (or laundering!) a lot, and when we're not, we're getting back into the school routine.

And Thursday morning, a dumpster gets delivered to our back yard because major demolition begins soon on our deck and patio.  I'm curious to see how well we focus on William Cullen Bryant and Greek history with a jackhammer out back.....

It's all part of the marathon month!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Total Eclipse

Sometime in my late teens or early twenties, I read Annie Dillard's essay "Total Eclipse", which is about the eclipse she witnessed in the northwest corner of the country in the late 1970s.  That essay stuck with me for years and years; sometimes I'd dip back into the book and read it again. 

So earlier this year when I realized a total solar eclipse was cutting its way across our country, and that totality would cross South Carolina, I kicked into gear: thinking logistics, contacting relatives for advice, making plans, ordering glasses. My aunt and uncle in upstate South Carolina offered to host us; they live in the path of totality, and we adore them, so that was the perfect solution. 

I had heard several people say "well, it'll be 90% [or 95%, or more] totality here, so I'm not traveling....that's close enough."  From the essay I did not think it was the same thing...but now I know from experience.  

On Monday afternoon I witnessed the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my entire life.  And, as I told my children, I've seen many amazing things.

 I was completely prepared (had read the science, read the essay, knew what to watch for) but nothing could have prepared me for what we witnessed. 

How can you possibly describe it?  

The partial eclipse was interesting in its own right; we stared up at the sun as it slowly disappeared into a thick crescent, and then into a thin one.  Observing the way the sunlight changed was neat.  

But the moments before totality were like nothing else.  The light became weird, silvery, almost eerie.  It was surreal. The air seemed to shift.  The streetlights came on, the cicadas began to chirp...around 2:30 in the afternoon. My skin seemed different: almost like the light in a photograph's negative, or in an old memory. 

Finn and I watched the asphalt on the street in my aunt and uncle's cul-de-sac, searching for the elusive shimmering shadow bands, and we saw them.  That was weird; they were shadows from nowhere, phantom shadows, shaking shadows. 

But when totality hit I was demolished.  I remember staring at the shadow bands, and suddenly things got dark and my husband said "is this it?" and I looked up.  And I definitely gasped, and maybe shouted.  

The deep, dark blue sky surrounded a black circle with the stunning corona glowing around it: truly, like nothing I've ever seen in person.  I shook.  The air was electric with awe.  We could hear others in the neighborhood shouting, and someone set off fireworks a few streets away.  There was an orangey-pink sunset at  all horizons.  My heart raced, and I desperately tried to look, look, look everywhere, before it all disappeared. Everything was a blur: we were all chattering, exclaiming. 

I was filled with both an overwhelming sense of wonder and a heart-wrenching feeling of being totally humbled.  I remember thinking--please, please, let heaven be like this. 

It ended too quickly.  Finn and I saw the shadow race away from us and then we had to put our eclipse glasses back on.  Soon the light returned.  The streetlights went dark again.  The day settled back into itself, business as usual: chatting and sipping lemonade on the front porch swing, reminiscing over photo albums, salmon for supper.

But it took a long time for me to stop shaking.  And I still have tears in my eyes when I think about it. 

My husband, who is impressed with almost nothing, immediately said "we're going to see the eclipse in 2024."  I agreed; I desperately want to see that again.  

The heavens declare the glory of God; 
the skies proclaim the work of His hands. 

Yes. Yes they do. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Planning for Peace: The Big Picture

August is here already; in our area, the schoolchildren are already back to school.  My little homeschooled children are not doing lessons yet, but we will soon.  

After everyone goes to bed at night, I sit in my quiet living room with the windows open. I can hear the cicadas in an enormous chorus outside in the dark. Their sound rises and falls together; I can't figure out how they coordinate themselves.  Underlying the cicadas' chorus is the seemingly inexhaustible chant of the katydids: katy did, katy didn't, katy did, katy didn't....

So far, no crickets.  I always know fall is coming when the crickets begin chirping!

 I often hear the lowing sound of cattle. Occasionally I hear coyotes yipping.  More rarely I might hear a Great Horned Owl (always a joy!). One night I heard a bobcat; believe me when I say that'll make you jump out of your skin.

So in this peaceful setting, I'm planning our school year. It's the first year I'll have two true students, as I consider kindergarten sort of "optional fun". 

There's plenty to do: printing lesson plans, making sure I have books ordered, creating a schedule. We're using an actual curriculum this year for the first time, so I'm learning what I'll need to know to implement it. At night I sit in my husband's chair with the laptop open on my lap, a can of Perrier at my side, and the cicadas singing outside. 

 August seems to invite a flurry of slightly-panicked planning in homeschool mothers, but I think we can save ourselves the trouble by remembering the end goals.  What's the end goal to your homeschool?  I mean, really? 

For me, it has always been that our schoolwork will help my children become the people God created them to be.  That's it! (That's also the goal of my housekeeping!) And I want this to happen in an atmosphere of peace, happiness, and mutual respect. I don't think my children can flourish in an atmosphere that feels rushed, strained, stressed, or chaotic.

This is a freeing approach to education, I think, because it helps me separate the wheat from the chaff. It means my primary planning goals do not include covering all the bases, creating the perfect schedule, or finishing every book. 

I do create the schedules and checklists and printouts and binders and all the trappings of homeschool that we will use, and I genuinely enjoy much of this planning, but I do it all with an eye to what will bring peace to all of us. How have I learned this lesson?  From experience, of course: I've gotten overwhelmed by those trappings before, and realized that they distract me. 

 It's worthwhile to do a little less in order to relish more.

The schedule is the end result of a process that begins with our passion.  The schedule is the by-product, the guide, the help.  It's not what stokes the fire. Consider this:

"Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Gaugin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills.  They loved the range of materials they used, the work's possibilities excited them; the field's complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules." (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life)

At the root of any good schedule is the caring: the powerful heart for the work we do. 

So as the cicadas ring in my ears, and the laptop glows in front of me, I craft my plans. If a powerful heart was good enough for Shakespeare, it's good enough for me!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Morning Glories Conquer the Porch

The morning glories have conquered the porch. This is *maybe* one-fourth of the glorious tangle, and they're climbing the columns now.  The porch is magical.

They all came from one little morning glory Finn brought home in a cup last year.  I trained the sprouting babies up the porch rail this spring.  

The cherry tomatoes are also volunteers. We get them each year in the front flower bed; apparently they originally came from some heirloom tomatoes we ate and a seed found its way into the dirt in front of the porch. They are among the most delicious tomatoes I've ever had and I look forward to them every year. 

I love sitting on the porch in summer.  It reminds me that if I make space for the unknown, I can end up with something beautiful. 

Friday, August 11, 2017

An Ankle-Length Back-Wrapping Vintage Apron Embroidered with a Singing Chicken

Yes, for real!

Some time ago I acquired lots of yards of sturdy red fabric at the thrift store for a few dollars.

The fabric reminded me of a vintage apron pattern I already owned, McCall's vintage butcher apron pattern.  

Around that time, we'd recently acquired our chickens and I was learning how mucky and gross chicken chores are.

Also around that time, I had an itching to embroider something. 

Behold, the ankle-length apron featuring a singing chicken!

Sometime I'll try to get a better shot of the embroidery, but I'm working with a six-year-old photographer. 

It's the funniest thing I've ever sewn.  I love it. 

And sure enough, it keeps me totally covered and clean when I'm tending the chickens. 

On a related note: we got our first eggs this week!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Spa Week for the Story & Clark

My living room has looked like this for two days.  And will continue to look like this until our piano tuner returns sometime next week (I hope). 

It's a conversation piece, alright.  But it's not going to stop me from hosting friends tomorrow!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sunday Morning

My husband excels at many things (most things, really; did I mention the 15-mile track workout he did last week?  where he ran the last mile in 6:16? did I mention he's 42 years old?!), but one of my favorite things he excels at is cooking.  He doesn't get the chance to do it much because he's so busy, but every Sunday morning he makes me a beautiful omelet full of spinach, mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, onions, etc. and topped with avocado and sriacha. 

I feel completely pampered.  And grateful.