Thursday, April 22, 2021

A Little Bit of Charleston in Spring

This month has absolutely flown by for me.  I cannot believe it's April 22nd; I feel it should still be late March. 

We had a joyous and beautiful Easter and were thrilled to be able to attend two church services *and* go to my in-laws' house for Easter dinner--normal things that we were not able to do last Easter!  We got home from Charleston the day before Easter.  That was an epic trip full of touristy sightseeing.  My Dad said that there was an old movie called "If It's Tuesday, This Must be Belgium" and that's what the week was for him, because I had organized all sorts of different excursions.  I didn't realize I have an inner cruise director, but apparently I do!

We hit the Lowcountry during the azalea bloom. This is taken from my Dad's front porch; the live oak is my favorite tree in the world, which generations of my family have climbed in over the years.  

It was a beautiful week.  Cold, for Charleston in the early spring, but beautiful!

April has been about getting back into some school work, having our porch ceiling replaced (the old drywall (!) ceiling was torn down and replaced with beautiful blue tongue and groove boards!), having our yard expanded and a new fence put up (Finn is outside right now taking staples out of the old fence so it can be demolished), and planting a few evergreens: six sky pencil hollies, five blue star junipers.....

I just looked back at my list for spring.  I probably need to jump on a few of these things--I need to sew Annie's dresses, try to read some more, knit my baby cousin a hat, clean the children's rooms (I keep putting this off!)....BUT I have accomplished most of my school planning for next year. :) 

I am eliminating social media (I have a Facebook account and Instagram) for a couple of months, at least, and I'm looking forward to that, too!

Finally: aren't these beautiful verses from Whittier?  If you're a gardener like I am, you'll appreciate them!

"Give fools their gold and knaves their power, 
Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall, 
Who sows a field or trains a flower
or plants a tree, is more than all."

So true.  Happy spring!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Sandbox

 Today I spent most of the day outside, which makes it the best kind of day in my book!  The weather was mild enough for gardening, so I worked on a project that I have needed to conquer for years--pulling the wire grass out of my children's old sandbox. I was feeling quite sentimental while doing that today. I was envisioning Finn when we built it for him, as a birthday present. He was 3. He loved flags, and so my husband included a flower bed to the side with a flagpole centered in the middle.  Finn sat and played in that sandbox for hours, and ran the flag up and down the pole dozens of times. While I was pregnant with Annie and constantly nauseated, I remember him sitting there playing happily while I sat, open and unread book on my lap, and tried to just stare at one thing in order to fight the nausea. Later, when she was a toddler, they would play in the sandbox together.  That's where they learned certain rules of etiquette, like: don't throw sand.  And share your toys!

A little while later, my husband decided to build a play set for our children.  He designed it himself.  Two swings, one slide, and a very cool "clubhouse" that was centered over the sandbox. Slowly, the sandbox fell out of favor because the swings and slide and clubhouse above were so appealing.  Slowly, I allowed the wire grass to invade it, thinking I'll get around to pulling the weeds sometime....

That time was finally today.  Now the sandbox is actually a sandbox again; there was plenty of sand beneath all that grass! It's cleared-out.  While I was working I thought I would add some soil and plant grape hyacinths in it. Then I pondered grape hyacinths and Siberian irises.  Then I considered lavender.  Now that it's all cleaned out, though, I have to say I feel so sentimental. It's a sandbox again. It's the same sandbox, the same sand, where my children sat and played, their tiny little voices chattering and giggling.  Looking at it gives me a pang of sentimentality that I didn't expect.  I don't know: am I ready to say goodbye to that sandbox?  Am I ready to plant it with flowers and usher it into a new role in our lives?  

Finn turns 14 in a few months.  It has been 11 years since he was that little 3 year old, enchanted by a flagpole and driving his trucks through his sandbox.  In less than 2 years he will be allowed to drive a car.  I remember when he turned 5, I cried because he seemed so old!  5 was the age a child went to school!  I try not to think too hard about the passage of time because it is so bittersweet.  My children are supposed to grow up. I want them to grow up!  And yet, when I stop to think about it, or to look at the sand in that sandbox, my heart cracks just a little bit. Sometimes it cracks a lot.

When Finn turned 10 I made a video collage of photos for him set to music--Dar Williams' song "The One Who Knows."  He and I sat and watched it and cried our eyes out.  (Annie and my husband laughed at us.)  But oh, this song makes me cry. 

Sometimes I will ask the moon

where it shined up you last

and shake my head and laugh and say

it all went by so fast.

I have tried hard over the years to be present for and with my children. I mean, I homeschool them!  I'm with them pretty much all the time!  I've tried to observe them, to pause and enjoy little moments every day, to treasure up the tiny things (like how I am sitting right now watching Annie engrossed in a book, so intently reading, and so expressive--something big must be happening! Oh, now she's must be something funny...).  Even so, the truth is--it all goes by so fast

What shall I plant in that sandbox? Or should I even try to replace it with anything?

 Because right now it just holds my memories, and they are so precious to me. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

In the Greening Spring

Annie and I sat on a quilt outside this morning, warm sun beating down upon us, and we finished The Trumpet of the Swan.  The last chapter is called "The Greening Spring," and it could not be a better fit for today!

 Although it's not technically spring *yet,* spring is springing here at long last.  What made this winter so long?  The fact that we got a good amount of snow?  Or the fact that it was an unusual winter due to covid-19?  In any case, I am more than ready for spring this year.  

My daffodils and tulips are up, but not budding yet. The pin oak is still bare, but the red maple is fuzzy with its earliest buds. The birdsong is more intense and the squirrels are clearly more active.  We noticed robins today--a sure sign that winter is fading!  This afternoon, because we have no activities planned and no appointments to keep, I am planning to spend a few hours working on de-wintering my flower beds: raking, trimming, tidying.  I bought myself a pair of Felco pruners (and a scabbard!) a couple of weeks ago, a special treat. I use my pruners virtually every day during spring, summer, and fall, and my old Fiskars had about had it.  I was gnashing my teeth trying to cut out branches of the silky dogwood last fall when I promised myself that I would not start the 2021 garden season without a pair of nice, new, Swiss-made pruners.  

My parents and husband are now fully vaccinated (parents because they are the appropriate age, both with some health risk factors, and husband because he's classified as a frontline essential worker) and we are heading to Charleston soon to take the Trip That Didn't Happen last year.  Last year I had planned a historical tourist extravaganza for my children, who have been to Charleston plenty of times, but have never really done many touristy things because we are usually busy visiting family and attending holiday parties! We were set to go in May, but the covid virus threw a real wrench into the plans.  Last week I decided on a whim that we should go.  Soon.  Now! The azaleas will be blooming soon and I haven't been to Charleston during the azalea season in about 7-8 years!  There is one week that my husband can be off of work this spring, so we quickly planned to head to the coast that week. I'm so glad it will work out.  My children are beyond excited.  They love Charleston, and Finn in particular is happy because he is deeply into architecture these days, and part of the touristy plan is a pretty comprehensive architectural tour. We won't have time to go everywhere, but we can knock out a few of my own favorites.  He will love it. 

I recently looked back at what I'd written earlier this winter about my goals for before-the-forsythia-blooms:

-Knit a hat! (DONE! I adore it! I learned to read from a pattern chart and I learned a few new techniques.  Photos to follow sometime!)

-Read copious quantities of books. (Definitely have been doing this.  I think I've knocked out a couple dozen so far this year.)

-Write. (Yes! I did it.  I finished the novel I was writing. Now I am cooling my heels before I begin to rewrite it.)

-Figure out 9th and 5th grades. (I've done a lot of this!)

-Exercise as many days of the week as possible. (Yes!)

-Homeschool diligently. (Yes, mostly!  On nice days the school may slip a bit, but I'm not worried about that.  We're having fun. :))

-Be kind and loving to my family.  (Yes, I do think I have done that well...but I'm not going to cross it off the list!)

So the forsythia hasn't bloomed yet, but it will within a few weeks.  Now I can think of a few more goals.  Let's say these are the things I'd like to do before Finn turns (GULP) 14 years old in June. 

Fourteen years old.

My spring things, to do before Finn turns 14......

-Sew 2-4 dresses for Annie, using this pattern, the 1780s Portrait Dress.  She is obsessed with it! I have already traced the size she needs.  She's 10, but she's pretty tiny in girth, so the 8 will probably be the best fit.  I'll likely need to lengthen it, though. 

-Read! Read, read, and read.  It will be harder to read in summer, I think, with all the gardening responsibilities, so before that gets going full-force, I hope I can read a lot.

-Possibly knit another hat, or a pair of legwarmers for Annie for ballet, OR a baby hat for our new little baby on the farm, who is growing so quickly and is so darling that I cannot resist him. He is 5 months old now!

-Clean and reorganize Annie's room. (Not my favorite task, but one that must be done. And then I'll try to be better about having her keep it tidy.  That's hard for me.  I like the rest of my house to be really neat, but I do tend to turn a blind eye to my children's rooms, unfortunately.  Anne is a girl who loves her things: clothes, toys, hair do-dads, books, papers, pens, trinkets, name it, she loves it.)

-Clean and reorganize Finn's room. (Ditto, although Finn is easier; he's a minimalist male, and basically owns as little as possible.  This will mostly be recycling papers and basic cleaning, which he can do.  Easy.)

-Finish up the 9th and 5th grade school planning so that I don't have to do any of it over the summer!

(Oh! To that end, if you have an online high school science curriculum recommendation, please pass it along to me Finn has been going through an Apologia textbook this year, but it's very general--it's a middle school book--and he wants in-depth teaching; he's not super satisfied with the way certain things are explained in the text.  We would like to move to an online format with a supporting text, so that there is a person doing some "teaching." I am considering Honors Biology through The Potter's School or Honors Biology through Pennsylvania Homeschoolers.  Help!)

-Do more reading aloud to my children. This is sort of ridiculous because I read aloud to them every morning during the week (we just finished Padriac Colum's The Children's Homer today! I hated the first half, but loved the second half), but I want to be more consistent with reading aloud at lunchtime and bedtime. 

-Prepare the flower beds for spring/summer--stay on top of the spring pruning, etc.  This shouldn't be hard, as gardening is one of my favorite activities in the world. 

-Keep homeschooling, exercising, and being kind. :) 

...and that's more than enough!

Spring fever has obviously hit me full-force. :) And I love it!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Organizing in 2021: The Refrigerator

 This year I'm going to post about organizing once a month.  Last month I talked about the most essential, for me, item: my planner!  This month: the fridge.

Here's the deal: most normal people probably don't worry about organizing their fridge, or they don't care, or they don't get bothered when it's crammed full or you have to hunt for something.  I readily admit that I may not be normal on this point.  But it does irritate me to open the refrigerator and find that I have no idea where the item I need is!  It's inefficient for me to spend a minute looking for something every time I open our refrigerator.  I mean, really.  Do you know how often I open that thing?  I should keep track.  

A lot.

Anyhow, I had indicated to my family what goes where, but that's hard to keep in one's head, particularly if one is a child. 

So a few years ago, I labeled my refrigerator shelves.  Ahhh!  

The day I took these photos was a day in which I'd done a large shopping trip.  My refrigerator is almost never this full. 

I printed labels and stuck them to shelves.  Game changer. Sometimes the fridge is like it was in these photos: packed, and I have to make allowances for putting something somewhere else. But in general, we know where to place things and where to find them. Since my family cannot read my mind, labels are helpful. 

Top right shelf: nuts/seeds.  I like to store these in glass jars, but I've gotten away from it.  We always have a lot of nuts on hand: pecans, almonds, sliced almonds, pine nuts, cashews, peanuts.  

On the top left-hand side there are salsas, relishes, jams, pickles. 

The middle shelf is for proteins--tofu, meats, yogurt, eggs.  (And, on this crowded day, cauliflower and strawberries. Ha!)

The bottom left hand area is for leftovers.  I don't like it when I completely forget that something exists in my fridge, so I check the leftover area for lunch ideas, little dinner add-ons, snacks, etc., which cuts down on food waste. 

On the bottom right shelf--veggies.  We have too many veggies, usually, and they take over most of the bottom shelf.  But this is where I put boxes of spinach and spring mix (I buy a large box of both every week) and any other veggies that will onto the shelf. In the drawer below I keep other veggies--always carrots, onions, plus cilantro, peppers, zucchini, etc.  

The bottom left drawer is for fruits. 

I have a wide drawer at the bottom which I just LOVE.  That's where I keep the cheeses, extra butters, and any other "overflow" proteins (on this day--pepperoni for homemade pizzas and tofu....). 

Top left bin of the door holds the butters. 

{not sure what's up with the sad little section of real butter there, but this is real life! I didn't scrub the fridge and make it pretty for these photos!}

On the top right part of the door I keep my jars of yeast as well as my little container of essential oils. 

On the next shelf I keep things we consider condiments: sauces, dressings, tahini (technically a seed butter, but it works here!), red curry paste, ketchup, mustards, etc. 

And the bottom shelf holds the milks!

The old adage "a place for everything and everything in its place" really works well for me with the refrigerator.  I value efficiency in the kitchen, because I make pretty much every meal we eat from scratch. Cooking is quite time-consuming for me, and I don't want to spend extra time hunting down things in the refrigerator.  My family knows where things go, and they are good about putting stuff back into place (generally). If I open the fridge and see something out of place, I just shuffle it back to its rightful spot, but because we've used these labels for years, that doesn't happen too often.  I'm not a taskmaster about it.  The whole point of organization is to make life easier--not to drive my family crazy. ;) 

So that's it!  An organized refrigerator is a joy to the family chef.  Truly!

Saturday, February 27, 2021

A Path to Plutarch, Part Three: Teaching Plutarch

 This is the second in a short series of posts I plan to write about teaching Plutarch.  

My first post was about why we even bother teaching Plutarch.  

The second post was about how to begin, including which retellings or beginner stories I like, and how to prepare less experienced students for Plutarch.

Today I will discuss the way I teach Plutarch once my child is old enough to read the North translation.

{a few farm scenes to break up the post: I loved the Christmas lights and snow combo!}

First, a few words of encouragement!

I think that most books teach themselves, if we let them.  You don't need a doctorate in ancient history in order to explore Plutarch with your students.  There are some preparations to make, yes, but going back to college isn't one of them!  In some subjects, it truly is okay to learn alongside your student. 

Also: don't overthink it, don't overcomplicate it, and keep it sustainable.  Anything we do must be sustainable, whether we're homeschooling, exercising, setting up a schedule, or whatever.  If it's not sustainable, it won't last.

The first thing I like to do when preparing to teach one of Plutarch's biographies is to dive into a retelling of that life.  I mentioned last time that I really like Plutarch's Lives for Boys and Girls by W.H. Weston.  This book contains selected lives, but if you're reading a life that is included in this book, I think it's a great way for you, as the teacher, to become familiar with the overall narrative and the character of subject.  But if you're ready to dive right in, simply read the biography you are planning to teach--in the North translation! 

I like to use the Anne White study guides.  You may find them for free here (find the life you wish to read, then click on "study guide with text" next to it), but they're also available for purchase in book form here. One thing I like about these guides is that Anne White has broken each biography down into a dozen or so lessons.  She includes a bit of vocabulary, helpful notes, and some useful questions. She has also already made the "suitable omissions" Charlotte Mason mentions, so you don't need to worry about running into something that is beyond the pale for your 12-year-old to read.  

{Finn's birthday last year}

As you read, take note of important characters mentioned and places described.  I like to find a few maps with these places, and keep them in a page protector in my binder for easy reference during class.  It really helps everyone to be able to see where things were happening!

You may also need to look up and make notes on the pronunciation of difficult names. I stumbled my way through about a year of teaching before it dawned on me that I should prepare my pronunciation ahead of time.  And I took four years of Latin in high school!  Even so, it's great to brush up on how to pronounce tricky names.

If you have more than one student, I think it's imperative that they each have their own copy of Plutarch.  

When beginning a lesson, set the stage by briefly recapping anything you've read before, or--if this is the first time you've read the biography--somehow set the stage by discussing the setting, the era in which the tale takes place, etc.  When I taught Coriolanus, it was quite interesting for us to record his lifetime on a timeline and compare it with Julius Caesar's lifetime.  So often we think "ancient history" is all clumped together into one crumbling era, but Coriolanus lived several hundred years before Julius Caesar.  In order to emphasize this, we compared life in the 21st Century with life in the 17th Century.  Granted, the Industrial Revolution seems to have sped things along, but still.  The changes in fashion, in the world, in politics, in country borders...a lot can happen in a few hundred years. 

I believe it is imperative that you (the adult) read the text, and your students follow along in their own books.  Plutarch is tough.  It's going to be tough for a student to read the text in an engaging way, pronouncing everything correctly, and still understand enough of the story to narrate it.  You read; they read along.  It just works better this way. Read with as much expression as you can, and if that means you need to practice reading ahead of time--do it! It's worth it to inject interest into the story.  (As you grow accustomed to reading Plutarch, this pre-reading will be unnecessary because you'll become more "fluent.") And I do think the students need their own copies!  I began Plutarch by reading aloud while the students in my class listened, but it didn't take me long to figure out that they probably needed the visual assistance a text can provide. My own son has an auditory processing delay, so I am sensitive about this issue.  Once I provided all the students with their own copies of the texts, the narrations took off!  

{we get lots of rainbows around here}

A few tips on narrations: do not expect too much from your students at first. Read short chunks and have them narrate bit-by-bit.  Also, listen attentively! It goes without saying that narration time isn't the time to zone out or check your watch.  The student is working hard when he or she is narrating, and they deserve your full attention. :) 

I know that opinions vary on this point, but if I'm getting absolutely nothing out of a student, I'll switch gears and ask leading questions, or employ the Socratic method. I suppose this is part of my legal training!  I find that once I can draw a little bit out, some discussion can begin--and yes, I count thoughtful discussion as *good* quality narration.  I believe discussion implies some assimilation and ownership. 

You may also employ alternative methods of narration: try a drawing narration, or an acting narration (the latter is especially popular with middle school boys and battle scenes...ask me how I know). 

I keep a running character quality list in my notebook or in the back of the book we are reading.  During each class, I write some of these qualities on the board, and as we read, I welcome students to add to it.  Some of our best discussions spring from looking at these lists.  You can also have students add important dates (such as crossing the Rubicon) to their Book of Centuries, if they keep one. (The Book of Centuries is essentially a timeline of history--on steroids. This is the one we use! I have a copy and Finn has a copy.  Annie will receive one either this fall or next fall.) 

Next time I'll write a little bit about teaching Plutarch in group settings. 

*               *             * 

And in other news: today I finished the first draft of my first book. (Well, the first book I've written since I was 12 years old.)  I printed it and it's sitting in a respectable pile of papers at my side, 94,000 words and ready to be edited.  

I can't believe it!

I finished my book!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

On Cultivating Beauty

 "Though I love pretty things and special touches (small as the honey scent of a beeswax candle, large as the curvy porcelain legs of a porcelain sink), like the rest of the world, I have tended to view such things as unnecessary extras.  They are indulgences.  They are not strictly necessary and should be doled out with caution, like special treats.  Surely only an incurable romantic would choose old wooden windows over modern vinyl.  But what if beauty is one of the greatest gifts I give my neighbors and my guests? What if my own choices give others the permission they need to forgo the plastic jug, to light the special candle, to sit quietly in the afternoon with milky tea in a bone china cup? I believe beauty reflects the truth about who God is and what this world is all about.  What could be more important than cultivating beauty in little ways and large, however I am able?"

-Christie Purifoy, Placemaker

Friday, February 19, 2021

On the Intersection of Money + Contentment

 Don't ever let anyone make you feel badly about living within your means.

As I was painting window trim last fall--oh! so many hours of trimwork--this thought bubbled up into my mind.  

I'm not sure where the thought came from; I spend a lot of time deep in thought when I'm doing a task like painting. As I've spent time picking colors, I've looked at a lot of home decorating websites and blogs to see what I like, what other people use, etc.  And let me tell you: there's so much beautiful stuff out there.

Some blogs are just so polished!  The photographs are polished!  And the homes themselves are magazine-worthy.  The funniest thing about these homes, I think, is that there's usually the "sign of life" element thrown into the otherwise-perfect photo.  (Does this crack anyone else up?)

But then there may be sponsored ads and links to products that the homeowner uses and some sort of, let's face it, sales pitch to make you, the reader, feel that if you just purchased that tablecloth or that cutting board or that mug, suddenly your rather average, ordinary home life would be transformed into something polished and perfect as well. 

And often the owner of the lovely polished photos is somehow making money off of making you feel that your rather ordinary life just isn't quite *enough.* Sometimes the person is simply encouraging or inspiring, but sometimes they're just--well--selling their encouragement or inspiration.

There's nothing wrong with inspiring websites and photos. (Does anyone want to see a messy room with dishes everywhere and clutter and unfolded laundry?  I don't!)  But I do feel like there's something amiss when the "inspiration" makes the reader feel somehow lacking, and like purchasing something will fill that lack. When I see sites like that, I begin to smell a rat, so to speak.

{I also think that some people do truly need to make the extra money they can get from online work, and it can be helpful to their families, so I'm not making a blanket statement against monetized sites and "influencers."  But I do think that any website that constantly encourages people to spend money under the guise of "inspiration" feels a little disingenuous and that we must proceed with caution when we choose to consume them.}

The Bible says that "godliness with contentment is great gain." This passage in 1 Timothy is perfectly applicable and instructive.  

I have already made my case in defense of the ordinary life. I do not get onboard at all with "FOMO", "YOLO," or "bucket lists."  These things all imply that the lives we are given are somehow not enough.  Generally spending money is seen as the cure to this ill, but it's not. 

Money definitely matters and is vital to provide a certain level of comfort and stability, but beyond that, it's pretty much just a matter of degrees of luxuries. 

The curious thing about money also seems to be that the people who appear to have the most, often have the highest incomes and greatest debt.  Which makes their net worth lower, if we want to get technical.  (This book has lots of good information, if you're interested in it. But check it out of the library!) And consumer debt is an albatross and can cause huge conflicts in marriages. As in 1 Timothy, it can cause people to be "pierced with many griefs."

Maybe that's one of my motivations for writing here. I do occasionally ask myself why do I even have a blog? Back in the old days I used my old blog as a way to keep family and friends updated on the adventures of Finn and Annie, but that has shifted significantly.  Yet I still do want to keep a blog.  And I think this is why: to just encourage other people, with no strings attached.

So if you are struggling with envy, or feeling inferior, or not being Enough, based on what you see online, turn off the computer/phone, open the Bible if you are a Christian, put a pen to paper to work through your thoughts, and really analyze what is encouraging you and what is just making you feel badly about your own circumstances. 

I suspect that a lot of what we are "fed" via social media (it's called a feed!!) consists of people living outside their means.  

And if you're a person who is trying to live within yours, then don't ever let anyone make you feel badly about that.  You're doing the right thing. And your life may look messier and a lot less decorated and significantly less exciting or luxurious than the polished pages online would have you believe it should look. And you may have to say "no, I cannot afford to buy that" or "no, that's outside my budget." That is perfectly fine; there is no shame in living within your budget!  

So if you're being fed things that make you feel inferior, remember that we only digest what we allow ourselves to consume in the first place. Seek out the things that will make you feel more contented with your own life and more inspired to make your own life happy and lovely, and make you feel less like you're missing out on some nebulous, glossy, "ideal life." 

(Maybe next time I'll talk about "little luxuries," which are a nice antidote, in my mind, to this feeling of not being (or having, or doing) "enough!" Little luxuries can help cultivate a feeling of contentment!)