Saturday, April 11, 2015

Spring Clean-up, Body and Soul

I haven't posted here in a couple of weeks because I've been hanging out at my other blog, The Accidental Crossfitter. I have been on a month-long journey of reclaiming my healthiest eating habits using the Whole30 method. It seems that whenever I seek to discipline myself in one area, other things seem to come into focus as well. I wrote this post recently to express some of my thoughts about overall fitness, and realized that in fact exercise is only one part of the equation.

I have read two books this month that have impacted me tremendously. The first was the one I needed to read to understand the Whole30 process:

If you've never tried a clean eating challenge or are searching for a way to reclaim your physical health, I cannot recommend this book and website enough. It is clear, to the point, and infused with tough love to get you and your health on a path to having a better relationship with food. Don't think me strange, but I had a hard time putting this book down. I had read Rob Wolf's The Paleo Solution before, so this information was not new to me, but the presentation of the information was fantastic. It was a great reminder of why we chose this way of eating a couple of years ago. As time has passed and we've allowed ourselves to become a little slack, it was a great kick in the pants for us to get back on board.

The second book that I read that had an unexpected but very welcome impact on me was The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I think I and every other person in the US may have read this book this month, and if they haven't yet, they will soon, so it's not a big, original thing. It did, however have the effect of punctuating a conversation my husband and I have been having for several years, and that is the desire to de-own, de-clutter, live lighter. I have been interested in minimalism for a long time.

I used to live a very minimalist lifestyle--everything I cared about needed to fit in a backpack and once I arrived at my destination, a small, very tidy bedroom. It was a nice life, but did not include my husband and kids. Just me, my blue jeans and boots and a few favorite books. I loved the life, but I would never trade what I have now for the life I had then. I do feel, however, that as a family, we are very tied down to a rather large house and a whole lot of stuff--the trappings of a middle-class American lifestyle that seems nearly inevitable. But this is not what I value, and it never really has been. I recall a conversation with my roommate, sitting on the balcony of our tiny apartment, filled with 20-something vim and vigor. I stated that I found the idea of a house, mini-van and 2.5 kids appalling, and I would never, ever live that life. Well, I should have known then what saying "never" gets you, because here I am--and I really like my minivan. That said, I would happily downsize.

So this happened this week...

Every. single. item. came out of our closet and was placed on the bedroom floor. We evaluated everything. The kids did the same. When all was said and done we filled 9 contractor sized bags and three white trash bags of clothing, and discarded at least 4 four more bags of stuff and took it to the dump. What remained was what we actually wear and really like. There is space in our closets and space in our drawers. Everything is off of the floor, and there are clean surfaces. I cannot believe how much lighter and better I feel. 

Suddenly I find myself on the Pinterest boards pinning every quote to do with minimalism and living simply. I find myself plotting the next purge, the next reform. I mean to get back to that lighter life, with time for travel, time for people, and money in my pocket to spend on experiences, not stuff. I mean to lighten the load and not look back. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Starting Whole 30

The Accidental CrossFitter Writes Again!

It's been nearly a year since I blogged about CrossFit, but I decided to live-blog my Whole 30 food journey, starting today.

I need to rein things in, clean things up, and I'm starting with food. If you are needing some help getting started with what to eat, Whole 30 is a great place to start.

If I get to eat like this every day, I think I'll survive the month!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Change of Seasons Part 3: Five Lessons I've Learned Using Tapestry of Grace

Has it really been four years since we started this journey? 

We are now well into our fourth year of the Tapestry of Grace curriculum. We started when my son was ten and is now 13. We are now finishing our last units in the dialectic level. We are beginning to get our feet wet with some of the rhetoric level work, just to see what it's like. My daughter was six when we started and is now 9. She is now in the upper grammar level work and will do a full year in that level next year. Depending on her reading level, we may even dip our toes into some of the dialectic material.

It just so happened for us that we began TOG in year three, which is the Early Modern history cycle. It was a great place to start, because we covered all the familiar U.S. history, and the literature and discussions were very accessible. We started out with an ambitious attempt at doing a co-op with several other families, which, for a while was very fun. Then burn-out set in. That said, I'll share with you the lessons I've learned using Tapestry so far, but as you read this, know that I have never communicated with Tapestry of Grace on any level about promoting their product. Ever. I am simply a satisfied customer, and I get emails from readers. I thought this might help.

Lesson #1: Don't try to be this guy on the first go-around.


There is so much in a week of Tapestry--so many books, so many cool craft ideas, so many discussion points, literature pages, writing ideas--the list goes on, and you cannot possibly do all of the things in one week. It is difficult when you start out at first to pare down the material. You paid for this whole big thing and you're only going to use the core history reading and the literature that week? Yup--that's right. BECAUSE you will come back around to it again. If you don't control your need to be super-mom, you won't come back to TOG because burn out will set in.

Lesson #2: Tapestry is a bit addicting.

I said in this post when we had first started that it appeared to me that TOG had longevity for its users. The initial cost outlay seems a little steep in the moment. However, since I purchased the digital edition, I own the rights to all the updates that they make until my grandchildren and great-grandchildren graduate from school, if for some reason I decided to homeschool them for my kids. Something tells me I won't sign up for that, though. Even so, I have now purchased every year plan and will not have to pay for any more TOG curriculum for the next 8 years, which I expect is how much longer I will be using the program. That means I will have ultimately paid once for curriculum that took me through 12 years of schooling two children, from elementary through high school. Now that we have nearly completed all four years of the cycle, I feel excited to get back to the first cycle that we did and, with more experience and knowledge under our belts, tackle the material again and from different angles. It will be interesting to see how much my younger one remembers (who will be 10) and how much more critically my older (who will be 14) will handle the content. Looking ahead, the content for high school is plenty rigorous and will be more than enough to cover all the history, geography, English literature / language arts, government, philosophy, and worldview, and art / music appreciation. Unless the Lord directs me otherwise, I plan to stay with Tapestry of Grace for the duration. It does not feel repetitive, and continues to challenge a student at an appropriate level as he or she develops.

Lesson #3: Tapestry is best done with a few friends or a co-op.

We have worked both ways--with a co-op and without. For the first year we were the guy above and we did a full co-op that met in our church, packed lunches and did sewing projects. Did you hear me? Sewing projects! With many kids and moms who hauled sewing machines in and wow. I was tired at the end. Since I was the overly ambitious coordinator of that group, I had to step back and evaluate for my family what was best. My little one was pretty overwhelmed in the group, as was I. My son loved it, and so I had to balance both of their needs with my stamina level and my ability to sustain a reasonable work load for a whole school year. The following year we met with just a couple of families every other week and added Apologia science to the mix. It was lovely. But not. quite. enough. So the following year we went back to every week with the same smaller group. Also lovely. Last spring our little group underwent major changes. One of our families had another baby, one family decided to put their older girl in Christian prep school, and we had a death in the family. This lead to major changes for the co-op this school year (2014-15), and our little group went their separate ways. We have been doing a tiny co-op with my daughter's sweet little friend for science, but have not really been tackling TOG in the same way, and I cannot deny that I miss it, even for her at the lower level. My older son has been keeping up with the Tapestry work, but without friends to meet with and have discussions, it has not been as rich or challenging. Good, no doubt, but just not the same. In January we made the decision to meet again, with just one of the girls from the former group, and once again, the content is richer and better and both students are really enjoying Tapestry once again. 

Lesson #4: If the Shoe Fits, Wear It.

I get emails from readers asking if I think TOG is a good fit for a particular family. First of all, that is a very personal decision, so I don't know. I have heard people say that Tapestry is overwhelming or too much work for them and they couldn't possibly slog through it all. See Lesson #1 of this post. I can't really imagine not recommending Tapestry. My daughter started when she was six. It was a good fit. She learned a ton, and had fun doing it. My son started when he was 10. He learned a ton and had fun doing it. Four years later we're still using the curriculum, learning a ton and having fun. I suppose it all depends on what you're looking for. TOG isn't an all-in-one curriculum, but it's a lot-in-one. Here is what it won't do for you:
  • math
  • science (though science could easily be scheduled to cover topics that correspond to the particular period in history that you are covering)
  • spelling
  • foreign language
  • grammar (though if you use Writing Aids, some grammar is covered)
  • for myself I supplemented writing in the early years, as I didn't find the Writing Aids to my liking. I find it very useful in the dialectic / rhetoric years.
Also, if you feel like you need scripted lessons, it does not provide that, but it does provide excellent discussion guides and teacher notes so that you can confidently lead your students in socratic discussions. So if you are wondering if this is a good fit for your family, I can't see why not, but ultimately you will be the judge of that. Check out their free downloads and give it a test run.

It might not be a fit if:
  • you are not interested in Christian content. It's loaded with it. It's called Tapestry of Grace, folks. That means that the focus of the whole curriculum is how God's hand has been working in and throughout all of human history. There will be Bible.
  • you need a scripted curriculum. Some moms who are not yet comfortable in their roles as educators desire a curriculum that tells them exactly what to do. That is fine, but TOG is not that. Now, please don't email me for a recommendation because I do not know what curriculum will do that. I only know what I use.
  • you are mostly focused on STEM or really hate learning history. This program is very geared toward the humanities and demands a significant amount of time toward that end. If you desire to weight your child's education toward a STEM-heavy program, TOG may not be the right tree.
  • you are Catholic. I could understand where a Catholic Christian might need to supplement the curriculum, especially in year 2. Our family is Anglican and it was very nice to spend an afternoon with one of our priests, dialoguing about how our church and doctrines fit into the Reformation and church history. For Catholics this would be even more challenging...I might even bark up a different tree.
It may be a fit if (and these would be true for our family):
  • discipleship is foundational to your educational philosophy.
  • you have read The Well Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and agree with it, but have trouble implementing its concepts.
  • you desire a classical base to your child's education.
  • you think the concept of using history and / or literature is a good foundation for a lifetime of learning.
  • you would like suggestions and reading lists for the scope of history that needs to be covered.
  • you have no idea what to do for crafts (me) or, you enjoy crafts and the more the better (not me)! (smh)
  • you enjoy engaging your kids in socratic discussions.
  • you enjoy learning and are filling gaps in your own education as you teach your children.
Lesson #5: Get Organized

I won't lie--Tapestry of Grace requires a bit of organization. It is worth time spent in the summer and winter breaks to get the reading lined up for the term, set up a calendar of what will be covered when, and do some reading ahead of time. They have a number of online resources available to help you plan your school year. It is also worth it to set up books on reserve as far ahead as your library will allow so that every one else in your town who is doing TOG doesn't also reserve them in the same weeks (or if they do, you beat them to the punch!) It also helps to be able to delegate household tasks, cooking and cleaning, as well as to eat a healthy diet and work out regularly. Just kidding, sort of.  This is all good stuff, but there are weeks when the train will get completely derailed, but it's fine. REMEMBER!  It will all be covered again later and one week missed or delayed is not the end of the world. That said, a bit of planning ahead of time will minimize those occurrences and will leave those "less-than-optimal" weeks to sickness or life events that cannot be avoided. 

All in all, Tapestry of Grace is a phenomenal program, but I wouldn't call it "plug and play." There is a bit of settling in and tweaking that goes along with using it in a way that suits your family. Give it a try, give it time. TOG is like a lake that, even though you can see the other bank from where you stand, is very deep and very rich in the crossing, and you find that the journey is more rewarding than you anticipated. 

I hope this has helped answer some of your questions about Tapestry of Grace. If this didn't do the trick, feel free to email me, or check out their own reasons to love the curriculum.

Has He Ever Steered Me Wrong?

Very early in our homeschool journey, I adopted the following verse as one of our key verses for our family:
Psalm 144:11-12
"Deliver me and rescue me from the hands of foreigners whose mouths are full of lies, whose right hands are deceitful.
Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace."
Throughout the nine years that we have been homeschooling, I have prayed continually and fervently for the Lord's guidance, wisdom and provision. God has answered my prayers 100% of the time, with clarity and peace. He has never left me in the dark concerning the next step, which curriculum I should choose or what decisions I should make about staying  home vs. going to a brick and mortar institution. He has communicated his answers to me through that deep inner peace that cannot be explained in human language. Every time I have come to a point of feeling anxious, wondering if I was doing okay by my kids or comparing myself to other moms who have the appearance of having it all together, I have been comforted and reassured, and even chastised by his constancy. 

Answered Prayer--Again...
On Wednesday morning during my quiet time I found myself again with my head in my hands earnestly seeking the Lord's heart for what he would have me do next year for my son, who will start high school in the fall. I asked him to show me clearly what I should do. I was feeling weary and stressed and wondered if I would be able to get through the next couple of days, as it felt like my calendar was all backed up with no margin--a place I never like to be, but often find myself.

My son woke with a cold that morning, and by that evening I could see that the calendar would need to be cleared so as to care for him, rest, and allow us all to recover, as we all seem to be fighting something. Thursday came without much to do, then, so I sat down and started reading about homeschooling through high school. Within a couple of hours I had a tremendous sense of relief. A plan had emerged, and it was very clear to me what course of action I should pursue to get the boy through his freshman year of high school studies. Even better, it became apparent that at the end of this academic cycle, he will already have completed most of the things typically covered in 9th grade and he will start with 10th grade material.

Today, as I have battled my own headache and sore throat, I have had the luxury of time and headspace to think through decisions for next year, talk things over with my husband who ended up taking leave today to work on taxes, and discuss scheduling with my friend who will co-op with me on various subjects. 

I can hear the Lord, in His quiet way, speaking to my heart... "Have I ever steered you wrong?"  
Isaiah 41:10
"Do not fear for I am with you, Do not be dismayed for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand..."

It occurs to me that my God entrusted these precious children to my care for this season. Incredibly, He loves them more than I do or could even hope to, in spite of the fact that my love for them often brings me to tears and leaves me feeling utterly undone. Why, when He loves them as he does, would he guide me in a way that would be contrary to their best interest or their God-given nature?

So here we go! We will take the plunge into the rhetoric stage years with God as my guide. Stay tuned. We'll be live-blogging the journey!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Week of Feb. 23: In Which We Are Crazy Busy

This week was busy. Between the gym, two co-ops, chiropractic appointments, snow disruption, music rehearsal, music lessons, skiing, and the start of the CrossFit open competition season, we have been running all week...but it's all good stuff. There was no time to reflect or think about much of anything deep this week, so I'll just give the rundown of our best moments...

The "LGs" (Little Girls) dissected flowers for Botany...

and labeled them...

and diagrammed them...

our family went skiing on Friday--conditions were perfect!

and our cheeks got very pink...

Both kids competed in the CrossFit Woodbridge Open...

Workout 15.1

40 lb. clean and jerk for my Little Miss!

All in all it was a good, but exhausting week. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Week of Feb. 16: In Which We Finally get a Snow Day

Finally. It snowed this week! I find winter to be a bleak experience in the absence of snow, and finally this week we got a sled-able amount. Is that a word? I don't care...

We even had plans to go skiing at one of the local ski resorts on Friday, but the temperatures plummeted into single digits and below-zero wind chills...We'll shoot for next week.

And isn't that the absolute joy of homeschooling? We can just decide what we do and when, and I don't have to write a note, check a schedule, make sure homework is made up--nuthin. We just go and when we do, we get the place to ourselves, practically. No lines, no crowds. It is this lifestyle that makes it very hard to choose another path. Sure, we talk about it sometimes, that maybe it would be better to go to school for x-reason or y-reason, but when we weigh the pros and the cons, the pros in  favor of homeschooling always win, and lifestyle is one of the heaviest factors on the list.

So with schools being cancelled and the government allowing Dad to be home to telework, we have had a very loosey-goosey school week. It has been week 7 of the winter / spring and it occurs to me that from past observation, we have the stamina to stay very focused on lessons for about six weeks at a time, and then we really need a lighter week or even a break. I have seen folks that schedule lessons for six weeks on, six weeks off, and work year round. I like this idea a lot and have considered it myself, but we have consistently been wildly unsuccessful at schooling through the summers, so I'd have to tweak that idea a bit.

All in all it has been a restful, snowy, very cold week. Next week we pick back up with our co-ops and goals. Happy snow day to all!