Friday, September 17, 2021

Portrait of My Mother

After my grandfather died, my aunt and uncle, who lived down the gravel lane from me, purchased my grandparents' house from the family trust.  My aunt and uncle moved out of their farmhouse (which was originally my great-grandparents' farmhouse--are you confused yet?!) and their son and his wife moved into the farmhouse.  In other words: there was some house-shuffling here on the farm last year. 

My aunt and uncle had an enormous amount of work to do sorting through the 80 years' worth of stuff that my grandparents owned.  Because I am the oldest grandchild, a girl, and live on the farm, and also because I am well-known for my sentimentality, I've gotten some special things over the past few years. 

This photograph of my mother was in her former bedroom at my grandparents' house. This was taken when she was just out of college, I believe.  A freshly-minted young lady with a degree from Mary Washington College in Virginia.  She had that same beautiful smile her whole life.

When I looked at the photograph closely, I could see that she was wearing a little twisted gold and emerald ring (her birthstone), which I still own today.  It's barely visible in this photo; I had to look very closely to identify it.  But that's the one that sits in my jewelry box to this day!

I passed this along to my sister, so she'd have this luminous beauty looking over her each day. 

 My mother had more grit, grace, optimism, openness, positivity, and straight-up joie de vivre than anyone I've ever met in my life. Twenty years gone. I wish everyone could have known her. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Happy Things in September

 We are wrapping up our third week of school (well, Finn will have work to do on the weekend, but I'm ignoring that reality) and enjoying the absolutely perfect September weather here! Summer gets very hot and humid--not as humid as Charleston, I'll grant you, but still hot and humid--and somehow right before Labor Day the tide turned and suddenly we are in the midst of warm days, crisp mornings, cool nights, and very low humidity.  So perfect!  A bonfire is nice on evenings like this; keeping the windows open at night lets in refreshing air and not sticky sludge.  It's wonderful. 


Although I am hit with Autumn Fever, I'm not able to sit on the porch or do yardwork all day (which is what I'd prefer).  Things are busy.  It's okay--it's my season of life! I know this and embrace it.  I remember the season of life with little children, when they took 1-2 naps per day, we took leisurely walks and played outside a lot, I sewed and knitted, and I could go for days without getting in my car to go anywhere!  Those days have passed and the season I'm in now involves lots of time in my car, lots of time waiting to pick a child up from practice/class/rehearsal, and lots more executive functioning skills.  Good thing mine are pretty strong. 

{our basement lounge, aka the movie-watching space, aka the place where I read to Annie!}

Now that the weather has turned, I seem to be turning back to my books, even though I don't have much time to actually read.  I like to read in bed right after I tuck my children in at night, but I'm often so very tired that I get a couple of pages into the book and need to turn out the light and go to sleep. My days begin early!  But here are a few things I'm really loving right now:

*A Gentleman in Moscow (Amor Towles) on Audiobook

*A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens) on Audiobook (Finn and I are listening to this together as part of his literature for the year)

*good walks in the crisp, non-humid air

*Almond Butter Brownies: I don't know where I got this recipe, but I'm loving it! Almond butter + an egg or egg substitute + cocoa powder + maple sugar + chocolate chips + salt...I'll post it here sometime.  I make them on Friday evenings (that's today!) to give to Annie before her four hours of ballet rehearsal on Saturdays.  She's a rather delicate eater in the mornings, so I need to tempt her into getting some calories, because four hours of ballet is intense and she needs her energy. These brownies are enough like dessert to interest her at 7:30am, but not unhealthy as a pre-workout snack! 

{these aren't the brownies, but this is my flourless chocolate cake. SO GOOD}

*A variety of random books that I picked off the bookshelves at the library a week or two ago--it's just fun to walk through the library and get whatever jumps out at me.  I did that in college all the time, and it was one of the highlights of my collegiate experience.  Why not continue it now? 

*Mary Oliver's poetry, anytime I feel a little overwhelmed

*Working casually on Finn's high school transcript. I'm starting this process *now* so that I don't feel panicked in 3 years, and I know the Polly of 2024 will thank the Polly of 2021 for doing this.  Interestingly, all told, he'll have about 10 credits-ish by the end of this year. That's almost half of the required credits for public high school graduation in our state! 

{a cup of tea + a bit of transcript work = energizing}

*Still knitting a cardigan for my cousin's baby, who lives on our lane, who will turn 1 next month.  Trying to knit this by his birthday. I have picked up the habit--why did I never do this before?--of knitting while I sit with my children during schoolwork.  They often don't need me there, but I want to be there to keep them on track and to answer questions, so knitting is the perfect activity during school time. 

*Thinking about what to do for our kitchen backsplash after our new countertops are installed (suggestions?! I'm thinking either beadboard, because it is so warm/casual, or some sort of marbled tile, but I'm just not sure yet--the tile might be too "shiny" and cold for me!) and kids' bathroom renovation, which I hope will be begun in the next 2-3 months.  Our contractor is going to take the room down to the studs: a total overhaul. I am very excited about this!  The bathroom needs it.  

*My Dad's pathology report came back negative after his cancer surgery, so he officially does not need chemo!  I am so very thankful for this. He won't have to suffer the horrific effects of chemo and all that those treatments entail. It means he'll probably move to his house in the mountains in October and stay until around Thanksgiving, so I hope to get to see him often. Then he'll be back to Charleston for Christmas, and we will go down for New Year's! 

{a quilt top that I found in my Grandma's things.  One day I will make it into a real quilt! But not today....}

*I turn 44 in 2 weeks.  I feel exactly like I am 19 years old, except I need more sleep!

Thursday, September 2, 2021

Schooling and September

 Our second week of school is nearly done and I am here to tell you: I'm tired! My body has slept through my alarm clock for two days in a row.  Yesterday I was up around 6:30 (after sleeping through the earlier alarm), but this morning I wasn't up until 7:45 --!! I'm giving myself plenty of grace, because clearly if I need rest, I should get rest, instead of pushing myself for no good reason. Although we will still do a little school tomorrow and Monday, I am thankful that we have a four-day-weekend coming up (my husband is off from work). I'm ready for it!

Finn is getting into the swing of his two online classes--Honors French 2 and Honors Biology. I'm incapable of teaching the former and not interested in teaching the latter, especially after seeing his textbook!  Although I took AP Biology, went to Summer Governor's School for Biology in high school, and planned to major in Biology in college (spoiler alert: I picked philosophy instead), I don't consider myself a great resource as a teacher for Finn on this subject. It has been 25 years since I studied biology seriously. He needs depth, because that's the kind of person he is! I was ruminating this week about how some kids have clear likes/dislikes in high school, so you can sort of cater the experience to them.  Some children are obviously not going to be scientists; others are obviously not going to be English professors, etc.  I do not  have that yet with Finn. He loves every single subject with a passion and depth of curiosity that is astonishing to me. It's wonderful, yes, but it's also daunting!  Perhaps in another year or two he'll have a better idea of what he loves the most.  Although I did ask him this week "if you had to decide right now what you wanted to study in college, what would you say?" And without missing a beat he said "linguistics."  Interesting--and not at all surprising, for this boy who has been teaching himself Chinese all summer, and who is taking French and Spanish (yesterday after his first Spanish 2 class he was glowing, 'ohhh, it was WONDERFUL!!! to be back in class!!'), who checked a book on Thai out of the library, and who can read bits and pieces of Arabic and Russian, and knows more about the roots of languages than I could ever know. 

So. We'll see!  But in the meantime, I'm just so thankful that I get to homeschool him, that we get to spend the next 4 years *together*, that he exists and is my son.  

As we are navigating the waters of online classes and my expectations for Finn this year, I also have little Annie tagging along.  She is really the best.  She gets her schoolwork done quickly, reads voraciously, writes little stories, helps around the house, knows where to find everything, is often my right-hand-man :), and has a "friendship" category in her school planner where she can write down what things she is doing with her friends each week. She's definitely my extroverted, social child. I just love her! My goal with her this year is basically to be sure we get plenty of time together to read aloud, sew/make things, and talk.  Academically, 5th grade is really a piece of cake!  I want this year with Annie to be about making things, reading books, and spending time together.  She's at such a great age for relationship-building!

Today is September 2nd, and my husband and I were both in high spirits last night because of it.  He loves autumn.  From Labor Day weekend until Christmas, he's so happy. He loves the long Labor Day weekend. He loves the leaves changing, the crisp weather. He loves pumpkins, cider, and running or hiking in the fall air.  I like to think he also loves my birthday (September 25th) and our anniversary (two weeks later, October 9th).  :)  He loves dressing up for Halloween, carving pumpkins, traditions. He loves Thanksgiving and all the Christmas festivities.  In 2018 he was so sick, he missed the entire autumn. I think that gives him--and me--a heightened sense of joy every time it comes around again!  And it has felt more autumnal here this week, too.

I've always loved autumn because of the beauty (we're in the mountains, and it really is lovely in autumn), my birthday, the start of school (when I was a child, school began the day after Labor Day, and I loved starting school!), all the harvest goodness--pumpkins, spices, etc.  In fact, I love autumn so much that back in 1998 I changed our planned wedding date from July 24th to October 9th, because I couldn't bear not to get married in autumn! 

I think this weekend I will put out some fall decor. I need to de-summer my flower beds, but right now I still have a project looming: painting our kitchen cabinets! I haven't really touched them in several weeks because we went on vacation, and then school started.  But I need to get the cabinets finished so that I can move on to a few other projects around the house.  It's incredible how much paint can change things.  My cabinets went from dingy and grimy to bright and clean.  

Happy September!

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A 1780s Portrait Dress for Annie

 Annie and I have been eyeing Sensibility's Portrait Dress for a while now (I've actually been eyeing it for years). 

I finally decided to make a wearable muslin of it in a thrifted yellow floral fabric.  We chose to fully line it with a white cotton sheet, and use the white cotton for the sleeve ruffles and the sash. 

I've made a few dresses in my day, but I was a little confused at times with this pattern.  I also made a few minor, yet sloppy, errors.  On the whole, however, I was very pleased with it! My favorite thing?  The fully-lined construction which hid all inside seams (except for the armscye). This makes it so comfortable! And it feels very *high quality* even though it's simply made from thrifted materials. 

Annie is ten and a half years old, but quite slim.  After measuring her, I cut out a size 8, but cut the skirt length to fit size 10. It was just right. 

My goal was to have the dress finished in time to wear to Williamsburg, for obvious reasons! It's as close to a colonial style as we could probably get.  She loved wearing this "around town." I wish I could show you her face--she's so sweet.  So happy! 

The dress fastens with hook-and-eyes, which set my teeth on edge sewing them.  Annie and I spent no small amount of time in Tarpley, Thompson, and Company (the clothing store in Colonial Williamsburg), obsessing over the details of dress construction.  We decided to make the Portrait Dress again, but this time: *make a shift to wear underneath *fasten with ribbon ties (the girls' dresses in the shop were fastened this way!)  *create an underskirt  *create slits in the side seams for pockets *sew pockets (back in the day, the pockets were independent of the dress--you just tie a band around your waist with your "pockets" hanging down, and reach through your dress to access them)

Don't look too closely--there's a bit of sloppy construction here.  And the sash turned out way too short! But no matter.  She's a happy girl. 

I am going to make another iteration of this dress using fabric that I have in my stash, and then we will cut into the 3 yards of reproduction fabric we purchased at the shop in Williamsburg. Annie chose it: blue and white floral.  We also purchased a long matching blue sash.  I will make the back ties out of the floral fabric, so they blend in with the dress, and the ruffles on the sleeves will also be out of the dress fabric.  Oh!  It will be a delight to behold. 

I love Annie at this age: so refreshingly confident in what she loves, so un-self-conscious in her enthusiasms, so dear.  

Many, many thanks to Jennie Chancey (the owner/designer of Sensibility patterns) for making beautiful historical sewing so accessible, and making my little Annie's vision come to life! Maybe her mother needs an Edwardian walking skirt.....

Friday, August 27, 2021

Summer Maelstrom

 The past few weeks have been a true whirlwind, and I'm only now taking the time to stop (for a few minutes!) and update my blog. So. Much. Has. Happened!

In early August, my father was diagnosed with colon cancer.  This was a blow.  His mother--my beloved Grandma Polly--died of colon cancer in 1997.  So of course there's a sort of familial fear.  But fortunately, thank God, thank God, it was found early. (My grandmother's was only found after it had spread to her liver and lungs.) He was quickly scheduled for surgery, and that happened at MUSC in Charleston last Friday. He was released from the hospital on Monday. To our great surprise, he was eating real foods less than 24 hours after colon removal and re-sectioning.  Excellent!  So far, he's doing great.  His surgeon is confident that he got all of the cancer, with clean margins, and now we await the pathology report.  If it comes back showing that the lymph nodes they removed are clear and clean, then he will not have to have chemotherapy, which would be the greatest blessing and would absolutely make my year.  Chemotherapy is so hard.  I just pray, pray, pray he can avoid it.  We are hopeful! We should know in another week or so. 

I finally decided to give away my antique upright piano, and mentioned it casually to my neighbor, who mentioned it to a few of her friends.  Well--one friend wanted it! (if you've ever tried to give away a piano, you know this is miraculous. No one wants pianos anymore, which is so sad!)  This is a beast of a piano: ivory keys, weighs more than anything you've ever moved (truly), just an incredible instrument that is something like 125 years old.  However, having two pianos in a house that is 1700 square feet seemed excessive.  This was my piano from infancy; after my Grandma Nina died, my grandfather really wanted Finn to have her piano, because we have such sweet memories of them "playing" on it together. Grandma's piano was moved down here several years ago and resides in our living room; the old piano resides in our basement/schoolroom, primarily because it cannot be moved up stairs! I always joked that it would convey with the house.  

In any case, I found a sweet Mennonite lady who wants it!  And we lined up to have it moved the night before my family was supposed to go on vacation. In order to get it out of our house, we literally had to move every stick of furniture in our basement (schoolroom, sewing area/laundry room) except the sectional sofa.  But that night we got our first rain in weeks, so we had to cancel the moving.  But there's no reason to move the furniture back into place, so it's all shuffled right now, waiting for the big move--which is supposed to happen this evening.  (I told her to send no less than six strong men.  " At least," my husband confirmed.) Suffice to say we've been doing schoolwork at the dining room table this week, and I cannot WAIT to get my basement back into order! 

We began school "lite" on Monday, since that's when Finn's online classes began.  But lo, the learning curve was real.  The software wasn't super-intuitive, and we had some tech issues on Monday.  I spent an hour on the phone with my husband, who was chatting with the tech support, before we got it all figured out.  Finn placed into French 2, and is brand new to the online class format, whereas his classmates all took French 1 last year and know what they are doing!  But we're learning quickly.  And his teacher told me he has a "beautiful accent," which is true.  :) We've had to learn how to find assignments, navigate the group v. moderator chat, change our keyboard settings to be able to use French shortcuts, and a myriad of other random things that were quite foreign to us, little homeschoolers who typically just read books.  But it is all sorting itself out, and I'm confident that Finn will do well.  He came out of his first Biology class yesterday beaming and thrilled.  "I LOVE THIS CLASS!!!!!" he enthused.  

He's also loving his history readings, and we began listening to A Tale of Two Cities together on Audible.  So we're off and running, and Spanish begins next week. 

Finally, my family enjoyed a very nice "just the four of us" vacation last week.  I'll post more on that soon! 

Add to this activities, the last bits of pool time, ordering new countertops, a job change for my sister (a wonderful change!), and multiple doctor and dental appointments, and whew. It has been a month! I'm thankful for the opportunities and the commitments, and try to always keep my heart focused on what matters most, and feel genuine gratitude for a full and healthy life.  Finn has four years left at home....I'm soaking it all in.  I know it will pass by in the blink of an eye. 

Fifth Grade for Annie

We began school this week--ow, my head hurts.  The learning curve for Finn's two online classes has been so steep!  Annie's schooling is so much more my speed! Here's what she's doing this year:

*Math: She uses Horizons. I love it for her! It's really perfect for us: colorful, spiral, easy to teach, and challenging enough without being overwhelming. 

*Language Arts: this year I decided to try to inject a bit of formality and use Learning Language Arts through Literature. I wanted something that would be, for lack of a better way to put it, "open and go," but still a gentle approach. So far I love, love, love it.  It's not full of nonsense busywork, it's based on quality literature, and it just fits us very well so far. I'll give another update after the first semester or so!

*History/Literature: Annie picked Early American History to study this year.  We chose Beautiful Feet Books, but I purchased the "old" version of their Early American history, which is quite different from the new version they just rolled out this year. I am not sure why they made these changes, because the "old" version has some great books! In any case, this week I got so busy with Finn's needs that Annie volunteered to read the books herself--I'd planned to read aloud to her.  That's going great!  The readings so far are perfectly-suited to her level and she's narrating very well after she reads.  I'm so thankful. 

*Handwriting: we continue to try to tame Annie's handwriting into legibility with A Reason for Handwriting ("transition" level, so she begins cursive this year).

*For science, I divided Jean-Henri Fabre's Storybook of Science into weekly assignments, and we are reading through that this year.  She will do a drawing narration in her science notebook (it's from Riverbend Press--I love their notebooks!) at least once a week. 

*She will do a simple geography workbook to practice map skills--it will probably only take about half the year. We won't even start this until sometime in September. 

*Annie is taking an upper elementary Spanish class for fun--same wonderful teachers Finn has.  

*Annie's best friend is homeschooling this year, so I'm hosting a three-hour "book club" for the girls once a week.  My vision is to do poetry, Shakespeare, and a book discussion together, then work on crochet/knitting, and then they can play.  Once a month or so I also hope to do some sort of seasonal activity, and I am going to ask each girl to bake something as a treat to bring once a month as well; I'll bake a treat on the weeks I don't assign someone baking. 

*We continue to do "morning time"together--a prayer, a hymn, Bible readings, read-aloud, Shakespeare, poetry, a bit of Plutarch, artist and composer studies, etc....but not all of it, every day! Just the first four every day, and then a bit longer on Fridays for Shakespeare, etc.  This may be my favorite part of homeschooling. :) 

*Annie and Finn are both doing a robotics club/competition this fall. 

*Annie has been accepted into a local ballet company, so ballet will consume a lot of time: two 2-hour classes per week, plus four hours of mandatory rehearsals on Saturdays.  And we live 35 minutes from the studio.  But although she's only 10, she is super-focused on ballet and I want to support her in this.  She has been obsessed with ballet since she saw "Swan Lake" as a toddler! This is her sixth year of classes, and she's an extremely hard worker.  I'm thankful that she has this opportunity, even though it does mean a lot of sacrifice and work (50 hours of parent volunteer time?  yes) on my part as well. 

*And finally, violin lessons!

Annie is our social, extroverted child, and I'm pleased that every day she will have *some* sort of social outlet: book club, ballet, Spanish, ballet again, robotics, ballet again.  (Finn is a bit more like me: happy to curl into a ball and read a book for days without talking.) Her actual schooling is very simple (math + a bit of language arts + reading lots of books), which is perfect for her and for me.  

So far this week she got all of her work done easily by noon, she spent several hours with one friend at the pool on Monday, then she spent several hours with other friends at the lake on Tuesday, attended hours of ballet and robotics, and has plowed through several novels.  I'd say Annie's fifth grade year is off to a great start.  

It is a joy to spend my time with my children, and such a privilege to homeschool them. I am so grateful for this life!

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Ninth Grade for Finn

 High school! Finn is going into high school! This feels overwhelming sometimes until I realize that high school should just be a natural continuation of all the learning we've already done, and that that learning--which has felt casual and organic much of the time--has been oh-so-sufficient.  I don't place much stock on standardized tests, and I never tell my children their scores.  I just send them to the school board and move on.  But this year Finn's scores truly blew me away.  It made me realize I can just Not Worry so much about "where we are" because where we are is fine!

More than anything else, I just love that he enjoys pursuing knowledge for its own sake. He's not much of a fiction reader, which has surprised me.  But he loves learning languages (this summer he's learning Chinese for fun), loves reading the encyclopedia, knows more geography than anyone I've ever met, etc.  He's becoming the person God created him to be.  He cares about the world, he asks great questions, and he's genuinely curious about life.  I love this!

So this year my goal was to provide opportunities that will foster his interests while not burning him out.  I looked at our state's advanced diploma requirements and sort of formulated a plan based on that--while still honoring what Finn is interested in doing. 

So 9th grade for Finn will be:

*Pre-Algebra/Algebra transition --we use Saxon and love it for him. I had worried about him being "behind," but my husband, who is a math nerd and engineer, strongly said that we need to focus more on building a strong foundation, and that he thinks Finn will be just fine to take the SAT.  I trust my husband's judgment on this point more than I trust anything else, so I'm not going to worry about it!

*Spanish 2--a continuation of the Spanish 1 class from last year. This is an in-person class taught by an American friend who spent part of her childhood in Mexico, and a lovely lady who immigrated from Venezuela a few years ago and barely speaks English.  It's wonderful and a huge, huge blessing for us. 

*Honors French 2 through The Potter's School (online)--Finn has never done formal French, just studied on his own over the years as well as worked with a friend who lived in France and tutored him.  They would read bits of Harry Potter in French, discuss grammar, etc. We decided it was time for a formal class, so he took and aced the placement test for Honors French 2.  I'm so excited for him. 

*Honors Biology through The Potter's School (online)--this is a subject we both wanted to outsource. I love biology, but don't want to teach it.  He's VERY excited about this course!

*Beautiful Feet Books Early American and World History pack--I let Finn pick what history to do for this year, and he picked this one. I'm happy because it is heavily-based on Genevieve Foster's books, which we enjoy so much!  This will provide his history and part of his literature for the year.  I chose a few more books for the year to round out his literature selections, and we'll do a combination of reading them and listening on Audible.  I'm actually keeping this subject as light as possible because I know he'll be pretty busy with his other classes. I seriously doubt we'll finish all the readings (it's a lot), but I'm hoping to get through about 3/4 of it this year. We will be reading the same books and having discussions about them--fun!

*Morning Time: this is where we do Shakespeare, Scripture memory, Bible reading, poetry, hymn, etc.  We will do this each day as a trio for half an hour or forty-five minutes before Finn tackles his other subjects. 

*Piano!  Piano is a huge time commitment for Finn. He practices a lot--and it shows because he plays beautifully.  So I count this as its own subject because it truly does take the same amount of time as, say, math. He loves piano theory in particular, and is focusing more on that this year. 

*Annie and Finn are both participating in a robotics club/competition this fall on a team that is led by a friend of mine.  It's an extra commitment, but they really seem to enjoy the team aspect and the problem-solving.

*PE: Finn and my husband are hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail for "PE" this year.  Once they finish the sections they are doing, we'll come up with another "PE" activity--probably perfecting his swimming strokes, or golfing, or tennis lessons.  I am focusing PE in high school on things that I consider life skills! Finn isn't really an "athlete" and I don't think he'll do any team sports. We may also do a 5K running clinic and/or a resistance-training clinic together, and eventually I'll have him take a CPR class, and I'll teach him a practical first-aid/basic nursing-type class. But we'll do all that over the course of 3-4 years--not one! :) 

And that's ninth grade for dear Finn! 

Next up, fifth grade for Miss Annie......