Monday, June 30, 2014

the gift of work

A farmer depends on himself, and the land and the weather. If you're a farmer, you raise what you eat, you raise what you wear, and you keep warm with wood out of your own timber. You work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You'll be free and independent, son, on a farm.” ― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farmer Boy

My grandma used to say that a lot of people were unhappy because they hadn't learned to enjoy their work.

This, from a farmer's wife who was still gardening and preserving and baking and sewing and hosting-- and smiling-- the summer she died, two years ago. (We just finished our last jar of her green beans the other night. And just like that, an era is past).

I think of her often, especially as I work.

Sometimes- well, all the time- I am nostalgic for the simple life she lived, when creating a home and raising children and working with your hands was everything and enough.

It was the most creative kind of work-  to make the most of what you had. To create beauty out of the limitations life gave you. There was a freedom and satisfaction to their way of life; however poor they were also rich.

They raised children on a dairy farm and they worked hard. From the time my dad was very young he woke before sunrise to help milk cows, and came home from school to milk. He used to love telling stories from his childhood, and it would seem that there couldn't possibly be a happier childhood.

We are almost finished reading Farmer Boy. I am fascinated by the work- the endless, creative, physical work. I envy the satisfaction that must have come from the hard work of farming- preserving food to last the winter, churning the very finest butter, growing the very best pumpkin.

I understand now that work, physical work, is it's own kind of therapy. It seems important to give my children the gift of hard work.

My kids do chores, they all know how to clean a bathroom, but we don't work hard-in-the-fields-all-day hard.

So much of work now is solitary or sterile, requiring sitting, lacking touch and growth, rhythm and season.

This podcast: On Igniting a Love of Learning in Your Students at CiRCE Institute mentions that many kids play video games because it is their only form of accomplishment.

This struck me. What do we give our kids to accomplish?

How can I give my kids the opportunity to work hard work, and the satisfaction that comes with it?

One of the opportunities of homeschooling is for kids to find their own little cottage industries, to begin early earning money and responsibility.

My kids are still young, but I want them each to find something they will accomplish next year, in addition to school work. Ideally something which requires working with their hands. (Last year we renovated a dollhouse. It was a small project, but enough to get us through the winter, and I think provided some element of satisfaction and accomplishment).

This is what I am thinking about today, as I work. (We are busy preparing for grandparents to visit. I may have done one or all of these in the past week: meticulous cleaning tips for the OCD person. Ha.) 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How we are finding rest this summer (our non-schedule schedule)

Rest is the theme that found me this summer, I wasn't expecting it. But for me, rest is not about letting the kids fend for themselves and the house fall apart. That would stress me out. 

I am by no means an expert at scheduling. I shun schedules. However one daughter needs predictability and, alas, I am learning to appreciate routine too (becoming set in my ways. ahem).

So I share this only because it has been working well for us, and I enjoy learning how other moms plan their days. Like I said, not an expert.

I decided there were five main things I hoped to accomplish with the kids this summer. (I often look back to Ann Voskamp's Seven Daily Rungs- which is so lovely and inspiring. Maybe one day we will work our way to that). For now, these are the five blocks of time I aim for:

1. To work
2. To read
3. To learn
4. To play
5. To rest.

The first three happen in the morning: 

The kids have their daily habits: teeth brushing, make their bed, etc. Then they are to ask me for a chore. I prefer that they ask me rather than keep a weekly chore schedule because each week is different (let's not go crazy with the schedules mmkay?).

At some point in the morning we read aloud. Maybe at breakfast, maybe on the couch after chores. We might listen to an audio book in the car if we are running errands. 

I'd like a bit of learning to happen in the second part of the morning. Two days a week our learning time is swim lessons. The other days we may spend anywhere from fifteen minutes to two hours at the table writing, practicing math facts, or doing copywork (we are focusing on science using the Magic School Bus books). It depends on what the kids, and I, are up for that day.

(To keep a record of our learning, at the beginning of the summer we went shopping for new pens and notebooks. Each child has a notebook, and all learning over the summer is kept in one notebook. At the back we record all scripture memory, books read, and skip counting learned.)

Afternoon is for play and rest: 

We choose one fun activity to do each day after lunch, which may be going to the pool or a playdate or may be as simple as setting out the paints or sprinkler. Then, by three o'clock, we are ready for quiet. (Me too). (I've found waiting until 3:00 is the best time when my 8,6, and 4 year old really are ready for quiet).

It is summer, days will change, but within an ordinary week our days are pretty predictable too:

One day is a cleaning and laundry day. The kids expect extra chores on this day, and our fun activity will most likely be something simple at home.

Two days a week are outside days. We have swimming lessons in the morning, and might go back to the pool or to a park in the afternoon.

One day is for friends or going places.

One day is Mom's Choice. I usually pick garage sales. Last week I chose to not leave the house all day. It was grand.

I am surprised by how content the kids have been (so far). They seem to be enjoying a good balance of work and play, and they like knowing what to expect. From out of this rhythm, we are enjoying a summer that feels pretty darn close to restful. 

p.s. The non-chart chore chart: I wanted the kids to be able to earn a little money, and to keep track of what we learn, without a complicated chart or systems which I would fail to keep. At the beginning of the week they each get a notecard. When they do extra chores (the "paid chores") they need to remember to put a sticker on their card. They almost always remember, and at the end of the week each sticker is worth a certain amount of allowance. Personal responsibility = no bookkeeper (me)

Monday, June 23, 2014

from rest

There is a new and unexpected theme of my summer: Peace. Rest. Sabbath.

I did not see this one coming.

Even now I am wondering if we will sustain this. The first two weeks of our summer have been consistently this.

It has been happening several times a day- an invitation to rest. I can't explain it. I just come upon it, out of the blue. The kids will be playing happily. Work is done. And there is a pause, like a quiet voice inviting me to rest a bit. 

The kids feel it too I think, just a good, steady, quiet, pace. 

I thought and prayed a lot about our summer. I wanted it to be intentional but not over-planned or controlled. I thought of this summer as an opportunity to teach the children Sabbath. How to rest. The enjoyment of good, lovely, meaningful things. To be content with a quiet life.

What I didn't expect was that I would learn these myself.

Truly, sometimes our Good Shepherd makes us to lie down in green pastures.

Maybe it is a shift in my state of mind or the ages of the kids or the circumstances we happen to find ourselves. Maybe I am learning how to rest in the goodness of God.

p.s. It all started with this podcast with Andrew Kern by Sarah Mackenzie on Teaching from Rest-- so good! 

(I just purchased Sarah's Teaching from Rest series- will be sure to write a review)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Some favorite podcasts

School's out and we fled to the country for a few days. My parents live in the most beautiful little valley on earth, where every single night the sunset is glorious. Does the sunset change in different places? I don't know. But you really need to come and see for yourself. Just show up and sit on their porch around nine this week. They won't mind.

I got to sneak away for a night with Jim to Pittsburgh. He went to a conference, I sat by a window and read Mary Oliver for an afternoon. It was glorious.  

With all of the time in the car lately I've listened to several good podcasts.  I'm really just beginning to listen to podcasts since I got an iphone a few months ago. Now that I've found a few I really like, I love having them in queue to listen to in the car or while folding laundry.

Here are a couple favorites:

Probably my all-time favorite podcast: Andrew Kern on Teaching from Rest
Inspiring beyond homeschool, one of the greatest sermons I've heard as well; what does it mean to be made in the image of God, correctly ordering our soul, filling our minds with good and beautiful things- and how this flows into teaching/living from a state of rest. Beautiful.

I love the Circe Institute: cultivating wisdom and virtue. Useful for homeschool, but inspiring in all pursuit of wisdom and virtue. A lot of great resources on the site, the free audio library is rich.

The Life{in}Grace Podcast by Edie Wadsworth- really great stuff here. I especially like A life in beauty and A life in faith.

The Read Aloud Revival by Sarah Mackenzie-  good practical inspiration for homeschool and reading together

NPR books podcast

The New Yorker fiction podcast

Sunday, June 8, 2014

there is only this

(Two roads diverged in a wood and I . . .
curled into the fetal position and cried)

I stayed home from church this morning because I need to make a decision, and as with all decisions I think and over-think and decide and undecide and talk and overtalk and study my enneagram and think about my tendency to dissociate then go clean the house and bake something and rearrange the furniture and finally just sit down and read a book and hope the decision will go away.


(Sometimes you J-types out there really make me crazy because I have no idea how you can arrive at conclusions so quickly.)

But every decision, conflict, anxiety brings me back to this:

Everything, everything depends on abiding in Christ.

I can't follow enough rules, or please enough people, or know my personality well enough or make all the right decisions. There is only to abide in Christ.

Walking anywhere with the children, this is what I know will happen:

Sam knows the traffic rules and thinks she knows where to go, and so she tries to lead the way, always ahead.

Annie is wandering behind, at her own pace, nearly unaware of the rest of us.

But Josie has this little quirk which I love and that is to be always holding a hand. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, I know her little hand will be reaching for mine. She teaches me what it means to abide in Christ.

I could teach Josie all of the rules of traffic and street-crossing and stranger danger, and teach her all of the appropriate responses and directions I know to give; but I'd much prefer that she hold my hand.

Legalism assumes she knows the way and follows the rules, not Christ.
Liberty follows, but according to her own pleasure.

Abiding in Christ is to walk holding onto him.
It is to say in all things, Jesus, Come in
It is to say, in all things, I can do nothing apart from Christ
It is to say, in all things, I know nothing apart from Christ

Before abiding is repentance

Repentance and Abiding in Christ is the only answer to any decision.

Friday, June 6, 2014

What am I working on?

Last week Corinne invited me to participate in a blog tour on creating and writing, which is a lot of fun. Thanks, Corinne, for the chance to write on a topic I love, and something other than homeschool!

1. What am I working on?
I am writing a novel. It is definitely a long (long)-term project, and that is okay. 

I also write a weekly column for The Budget.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Without giving anything away, I would say that my novel is on a theme of Restraint. What would happen if a modern woman chose to step out of her anxieties and create her own life, if that life required restrained liberties and affections.

3. Why do I create/write what I do?
I'm not sure. I don't remember when this story began or what compels me to write it, except that each chapter seems to lead to another chapter. 

4. How does my writing/creating process work?
Ideas happen when I'm not looking for them. I will observe a person on the street and without realizing it I've woven a story about her life, I am at the stoplight and suddenly feeling such the weight I have imagined her day or her life to be; I want to tell those stories. Some ideas come to me from people I have known or books I am reading, my own experiences. Ideas never come while sitting at the computer. 

So I guess the process is, first some spark or glimmer which happens- I am incapable of producing- that speaks or moves me in some way, and I let that simmer in the back of my mind or maybe a few sentences or description in a notebook. Later at the computer it usually flows pretty easily, without a lot of thought. But it's just a sketch, moving quickly, it would be really embarrassing if anyone tried to read it because I don't try to polish or over-think at all at this point. By the time I go back for the first revision I have more clarity of where I am trying to go and a lot will change. I will revise it a third and fourth (and fifth) time before I present it to my writing group for critique, and even then it is still in the beginning stages.

For the past month or so I have been practicing "productive procrastination". It has a lot to do with our sitter being gone for the summer, and my brain filled with homeschool, but also my story line is just stuck at the moment. It doesn't worry me because I know the next view is out there, I am just in the weeds right now. This explains the boost in activity on this blog recently.

(real life beautiful)

I find there is liberty is trusting the creative process. It's a lot like faith; for me, it is faith- believing that there is enough light for the step you are standing on, and the next thing will be revealed at the right time. This frees me from the anxiety of never having enough time to write, being constantly frustrated by interruptions, etc. I don't want to live like that. I want to enjoy the writing process and my children and this season of life, and fortunately I'm not in a position where I need to produce produce produce. I've finally found a much more comfortable pace which includes enjoying my children and homeschool, and trusting that there is enough time to write the book, too. If it takes a lifetime to write only one book, but I have lived my "few live seasons purely, in the present*"? Well, that is all I want.

Be sure to check-out Corinne's lovely blog, and her instagram is great too. 

I tag Charette at Divergent Pathways, because she has been back at the blog a bit recently, and I would love to hear about what she is creating.

*Annie Dillard

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Why we choose to begin homeschool after public school kindergarten

"I decided to do it a little different," she said.

We are in the homestretch of kindergarten and nobody could be happier about that than me. (In the past week we were tardy three times. Can school just be done now please?) (Before this we weren't tardy the whole year.) (Pretty much)

Even though we homeschool, sending Annie to public school kindergarten was the right decision for her, and it was the right one for Sam two years ago. 

On this Art of Simple podcast, Susan Wise Bauer described homeschooling as simply taking charge of your child's education. You evaluate all of your options year to year, and decide each year how each child will best thrive.  This makes a lot of sense. Many things change from year to year; giving yourself the liberty to re-evaluate every year is liberating, and protects from eventual burn-out.

Annie's year of kindergarten could not have been better. It was good for several reasons:

1. Because of the cost in our area, we didn't send her to preschool. Kindergarten gave her the experience of a classroom and being with other kids, for free.

2. With each of our kids, about the age of six, I felt very much that they were ready for a break from me. In need of one, even. Both Annie and Sam have autumn birthdays, so they were almost six and just very ready by the summer of kindergarten to escape the nest, in a small way. Kindergarten gave them some space for independence.

3. It was a good introduction to education. It would have been difficult for me to suddenly require sitting and doing lessons, but because it was a new context they adapted very quickly to school. This made my job much easier starting homeschool, because the foundation for what school is and expectations for learning were established- by someone other than me.

4. The structure of the school environment was great for the kids, and me. I admit this is the area I struggle with most. I dislike routine, I much prefer change. School provided the structure that I fail to give. Annie is my most creative child, but is most in need of routine. This could have a lot to do with being six, but is something I will need to be especially conscious of next year, and discipline myself to stick to a pretty steady homeschool day. (More on this later).

5. Becoming a part of the community. This is to me the greatest drawback of homeschool, and if we ever decide to return to public school it will be for this reason. It was good for Annie to make new friends, and I especially love the diversity of our local public school.

In short, Annie thrived in kindergarten. Maybe I'm not a homeschool purist, because in fact I feel torn between two good options next year. I am glad to have Annie home again and to begin homeschool with her, but a little sad, too, to be stepping out of our little elementary school and the families and great teachers we know there.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

on sunday evenings the neighbor plays Dylan

on sunday evenings the neighbor plays Bob Dylan
which mingles with Adele a yard behind and 
across the street Chopin rises 
above where
wishwisp spirits
of flower circle 
up and up on ballads into
the wide soft everplaces 

while beneath 
the neighborhood 
roots of trees
reach and touch andhold
each other