Sunday, November 28, 2010

No Regrets

Matty in his fleece carrier, six months old
I was talking to my husband as I absentmindedly flipped through one of the many catalogs that have come this holiday season.  This one was a catalog devoted to all-natural, non-toxic, wooden toys for babies and kids.  I spotted a picture of a little girl carrying a doll in a sling, and I considered if I should get one of those for my daughter.  After all, it's what she knows and experienced as a baby herself.  Every baby should have the privilege of being carried close--I loved wearing my babies and miss those days.

Then I started thinking of all the times I heard "oh, I could never do that..." and "aren't you worried that..." and "blah, blah, and can't wait until they go to school," and "blah, blah, blah and then I'm cuttin' em off!"  These comments were usually directed at my choices to extend breastfeeding, wear them in a sling, let them sleep in our bed, or keep them home and teach them.

I talked to a mom recently who told me all the glories of her career.  She talked about how great one of her bosses was because when he wanted her to work overtime he let her bring her baby to the office with her.  As her story continued, with every adventure and opportunity that she praised, she also admitted that she feels so guilty when she is around moms like me and my friend who was hosting the event, who is also a stay at home mom.  She says she works herself to exhaustion when she gets home from her job running her kids around to all their activities and "being there for them" in that way, but really, she misses out on so much, and it makes her sad.  What could I say, really?  I wasn't going to start a mommy war--this wasn't what it was about.  But I honestly felt sad for the woman because no matter what turn the conversation took, it always came back around to her justifying (to herself--I was saying nothing) why she has made the choices she has made.  I felt sad that she could have such regrets already and that she seemed to have no plans or intentions to make a change to correct those regrets. She really didn't see--or perhaps didn't want to see--an alternative. 

I think when I had children I reduced my thinking to the least common factors--what elements are absolutely necessary to raise my children to be healthy, thriving adults?  Children need touch, so I carried them in a sling.  They need nourishment, so I breastfed them and am a little nutty about nutrition.  They need rest and exercise and play, so we limit evening activities, have them in bed at a decent hour and arrange active play dates for them with a variety of friends.  They need parents who care about them and listen to them, so we are present for all of these things so our children know that they can count on us to be there, no matter what, as long as we are humanly able. And all the while I teach them to trust God over everything else.  Doing all this, not to mention caring for my husband and the household in general takes all of my time and energy. 

We women seem to stress so much over our "calling"--all the "shoulds" that we see around us. We look to Jesus as our example of ministry, and indeed that is what he is, but he was a man.  He was the son of God.  He was out in public preaching, teaching and healing.  Consider that we are women, and the women he praised were Mary, who sat at his feet learning, and the repentant woman who wept at his feet.  Consider that the maternal nature of God is best expressed in Jesus' words when he said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!" (Matthew 23:37)  He models for us the tenderness and protective nature of a parent, and a willingness to save them from themselves and their sin.  When I read this, I consider that my children are my calling, first and foremost.  I am to model for them the peaceful nature of Mary who desires to sit at the Master's feet, and in so doing gather them under my "wings" and protect them from the world.  In this place I can minister to those who witness this, and as we open our home, it becomes a testimony to them of peace and security in Christ.  I have to believe that if I am fulfilling my first calling to my children, God will use that to minister beyond my boundaries, and I will have no regrets.
Luke 10:38-42
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.  And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me."  But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thankful

Bluebirds are a personal symbol to me of God's faithfulness
I have attempted twice this week to post an entry for Thanksgiving, but everything I put down seems so trivial and lame.  Yes, I'm thankful for my sweet family, and morning coffee and kitties and...I thank God every day for these things.  I have absolutely nothing to complain about in my life--we have enough money, clothes, food and shelter.  Our children are healthy and our marriage is peaceful.  All of this wealth, however is so temporal--it could vanish tomorrow in the blink of an eye.  It is not in these things that I find my peace.

What I am thankful for is the growing understanding that God is sovereign over all things, that his mercies are new every morning, and that he is faithful, even when I am faithless.  Moreover, his intention is to save us and bring us back to himself, not to abandon us to the grave.  He blesses us with life, and life abundant at that!  It is for this that I am thankful...

If you read this and do not know the peace of God in your life, please know that our God hears the cry of every heart and he runs to the rescue of every one who calls on him.  "Lord, I want to know you--reveal yourself to me..." is a prayer he will never refuse.

Psalm 34

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together!
I sought the Lord and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant,
and their faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him
and saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!
Oh fear the Lord, you his saints, 
for those who fear him have no lack!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

National Aquarium in Baltimore


Thanksgiving week is meant for resting and eating and giving thanks, not "doing school."  I think it's odd that because the school calendar has to have kids in school for a certain number of days that they actually attempt to have school in this week.  People are focused on traveling and cooking, getting through airport security unmolested...stuff like that, not getting homework done.  We called it a week with one field trip to the National Aquarium.  I was hoping for some wonderful photos of the kids gazing at fish, but it's just too doggone dark!  All aperture priority photos turned out blue, and all non-flash photos turned out blurry, no matter how hard I braced the camera.  These are the "best" of my horrible photo day.  Anyway, it was a wonderful, relaxing day.  Molly hardly said anything all day until she got home and told Daddy all about it.  She sat in the kitchen and just jabbered at him for about 30 minutes.  She's decided she no longer wants to be a horse trainer, but rather would like to be a dolphin trainer.  Oh, and apparently she thinks her dad should retire from his current job and become a shark feeder or dolphin trainer at the aquarium.  Wouldn't that be exciting?  "My dad is a DOLPHIN TRAINER!" Life doesn't get any better than that when you are five, does it?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week 11 in Review: Who Likes Shakespeare?

This week was a delightful surprise.  I discovered that my son and daughter really like Shakespeare.  I read them both his life story and we listened to the rendering of Macbeth that is in Story of the World (which we've heard before, but this was more interesting because we had more background this time).  Matty is looking forward to memorizing some lines, making a lapbook, and listening to more of the stories of Shakespeare next week (or the week that follows, depending on what happens with the holiday week.) Matty has requested that we actually go see a Shakespeare production at the theater in town.  Well...YES!  Why don't we?  We may have to wait to go until the summer, at which time they will be putting on The Merchant of Venice, but nevertheless...

He is also zipping along in Math.  I have heard so many mothers bemoan the woes of teaching long division, but thankfully, he GETS IT, and LIKES IT.  Go figure.  He is not my son in this regard. On the other hand I am all puffed up with pride that he is deeply embedded in the Hobbit.  After the first long and rather laborious chapter, he got into the story, loves it, and now he can't wait to finish so he can get to the Lord of the Rings. We'll see.  I may have him wait a bit on that.  He's only 9.

Molly learned  how to add on the number line this week.  She still really seems to be enjoying math, so we'll go with that for now.  I also had her helping me count out ribbons for ornaments to be included in a craft project that we're heading up at church.  We needed 25 ribbons in each ziplock bag.  Let's just say it's a good thing I double-checked her bags, not to mention that the job took quite a while...but she got a lot of counting practice!  Her reading is coming along so nicely, as well.  In order to entice her into a new reader I promised her she would need to read only one page a day...that lasted for about a week, and now she zips through an entire story at a time.  Thankfully, that gamble paid off. 

December 3 is our last Classical Conversations meeting before the holidays.  I am so eager for this break.  I always appreciate a chunk of time to reflect on what has gone well and where I need to make adjustments for the next term.  We kind of operate on a semester basis, and usually we take a break from Thanksgiving to Christmas.  Already I'm beginning to process what I need to change.  The first is that I need to remember what is REALLY working.  Starting the day by reading about the topics we are covering in our CC memory work is the highlight of the day.  Geography is going great, as well.  No fancy curriculum, just tracing the maps that correspond to our memory work and review, review, review.  Lap books work, but we need to not bite off such huge chunks of information, and I need to set the parameters better for what gets included. 

Most of all I'm still learning how to rest and not strive, but more than anything to listen, first to the Lord and then to the children, as they express their needs in various ways.  It is so easy to try to push through my agenda, but pushing only results in push-back, and little progress.  I want very much to be in the flow of the plan that God has for their lives and enable his working in them, rather than be a hindrance.  It's not always easy, but the more I stay in this place, the less I want to take up my old plan!

Psalm 32:8-10
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;  I will counsel you with my eye upon you.  Be not like a horse or mule which must be controlled by bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.  Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. (ESV)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Fall 2010 Curriculum: What We Like

I'm always reading the Well Trained Mind forum's K-8 board where moms talk constantly about their curriculum choices, what they are tweaking, what they trying, what they are ditching.  I have learned a lot from this forum, have participated in many of the discussions, and chosen, tweaked and ditched a few myself.  This semester we have landed on good soil, and our curriculum choices seem to be working and are very enjoyable.  Here's what made the working list this so far.  Note that Classical Conversations is our spine, and we are following along with that for history, geography, science, Latin, and grammar.  We are supplementing the history and science at home, as you will see below.

For Matty (age 9) and Molly (age 5) together:
Classical Conversations
Story of the World, volume 2
Apologia Astronomy
various read-alouds and audio selections to complement our studies in these areas.  We especially like recordings by Jim Weiss, who also reads in the Story of the World audio collection.


For Matty
Math Mammoth 4A and 4B
Writing with Ease 2
MegaWords, volume 1
Getty-Dubay Italic handwriting book C (and soon D)





For Molly
Math Mammoth 1A
Pathway Readers
Explode the Code book 2
Getty-Dubay Italic handwriting book A and soon B


We also make lap books, which incorporates a lot of research, writing and planning skills.  I find this to be a very useful tool for synthesizing information, as well as practicing good summarizing skills, good handwriting, and also incorporates a creative / graphic layout element to the final project.

I have found Classical Conversations (CC) to be a tremendous help in keeping us on track and holding us accountable to getting memory work done.  I am a person who is typically extrinsically motivated, and so having the external factor of a weekly meeting with other families, a goal to work toward with Matty (he would like to try for "Memory Master" this year), and a skeleton of topics on which to build at home, we are having a very successful school term.  I can compare this to last year, in which I took a break from CC, and while it was a very good school year, I often found it difficult to set goals for the children and meet them on my own, whereas this year, each week I have a goal to work for with them.

Story of the World is a continual HIT in our household.  Everyone likes it, not just the students.  We listen to it obsessively in the car, wherever and whenever we go somewhere, no matter how short the ride, and when we need to review a point we pull out the books at home.  I use primarily the audio recordings, because it helps to fill in the gaps and expand on points that the CC history memory work leaves open.  It also helps to give that context which is lacking in the memory work, which my rising dialectic-stage son needs.  (He is the question-man...it can be exhausting.)

Math Mammoth is another shining star in our curriculum.  I find that (for us) this program just. makes. sense.  I love how Maria Miller, the author, incorporates thinking strategies and mental math in every operation that is taught.  It is very affordable, and does not include a lot of extras that must be purchased.  I can use whatever I have on hand to teach a point, and can trust that each point is taught thoroughly, almost to the point of exhaustion for my boy, sometimes.  I will sometimes have to work through some of the more challenging lessons with him, but thankfully, Dad has stepped in and seems to have a real knack for explaining math to the kids...so I LET HIM.

Apologia Astronomy is the third book we've done in Apologia's Young Explorer series by Jeannie Fulbright.  We like it--the writing in this particular volume is a little "young" for Matty, but good for Molly.  He is getting plenty out of it, though, and it is great for Molly to feel like she's really understanding the science that we're covering.  It works well for us right now, because we are currently covering Astronomy as the science topic in CC, as well.

Week 10 in Review: Releasing Control

An incredibly wise friend and mentor of mine has seven children and has homeschooled all of them.  She once told me that if you have one good day of school a week, then it's been a good week.  Suffice it to say it's been a good week. 

My favorite parts of this week were me stretched out on the floor reading about Leonardo DaVinci and Martin Luther, or listening to Jim Weiss recordings (to complement our history studies), or playing "five went hiding" with Molly.

I pray constantly that the Lord will give me wisdom about how to teach the kids, and this is what I constantly find:  the best weeks are the ones that are most laid-back, where it seems like I have to wonder what we did.  It is in these weeks, however that the kids seem to internalize something or latch onto something that they learned.  While we were listening to Jim Weiss's "Masters of the Renaissance" recording about Lorenzo DeMedici, we heard about an attack that was made on Lorenzo's life while he was in church on Sunday morning.  As we listened, Matty was playing with his electricity gizmos.  I wasn't paying much attention until he told me to pause the cd, and showed me that he had taken a Lego man with two swords (a.k.a. "Lorenzo DeMedici") and attached him to the top of a motor.  When he flipped the switch, "Lorenzo" would spin and the swords would chop down his attackers.  Someone once told me that when children play and act out what they are learning it means they have internalized it.  Well, Lorenzo has done a lot of sword fighting this week, and Matty has asked to include him in our next lap book.

I have to remember this lovely week when I begin to stress, thinking that I haven't done enough or that I'm falling "behind."  I need to continue to draw on the wisdom that comes from the times when I am restful, because everything in the world strives against that state.

I was listening a sermon by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle talk about Jesus withdrawing to lonely places be restored by his Father.  He talked about how we become addicted to the "high" that comes from being "on" and from being busy, and so we drink more coffee, sleep less, and move deeper into that addiction.  The addiction is twofold--one is the good feeling of being focused, busy, useful, productive.  This equals approval.  The second part of this is the reality that if one is quiet and restful, then one must be alone with her thoughts, and if there is not right relationship with God, this can be a painful proposition.  For me, I like the sense of being in control when I am busy.  Since, however, I have asked God to be the director of my life and actions, me being in control for very long is an exhausting proposition.  I now recognize that there is a fine line between disciplined routine and controlling busy-ness.  This week we maintained the routine, but I had to release some control, because we all were needing rest.  The time was redeemed with some delightful learning moments, concentrated into a couple of days.  It was, therefore, a good week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Narcissistic thoughts on Blogging

The "blogosphere" is a busy place, really.  I'm coming to think that it looks more and more like society in general than anything special.  There are your stand-out blogs, your average ones that are quickly overlooked, and the ones that make you think "on what planet did he originate?" I can walk down the street on any given day and have the same reactions, but now I can choose to burn fewer calories and have these thoughts from the comfort of my desk chair.  But really, one has to wonder what we are all doing here in this virtual society talking about what? And to whom?  Are we accomplishing anything?  Trying to prove something?  Hoping that maybe one day someone will read our blog and make a movie about our life?

A friend of mine once said that facebook is turning us into a society of narcissists, and I pondered that a while, until it hit me:  we already are a society of narcissists, but facebook just brings it out and displays it all in one place!  The blogosphere is kind of like that too, but I wanted to do a little narcissistic self-examination of why exactly it is that I feel compelled to write a blog?  It's not just a nice little hobby of mine, it's actually a compulsion.

I have always written, mostly journals and poetry, like about 6 million other doe-eyed girls in America growing up and penning their angst, fancying themselves to maybe someday become writers.  Then somewhere down the line I had kids, I grew up, and my angst went away, and I didn't have as much navel-gazing to do let alone time to bother, so writing a journal became less and less important.    Nevertheless, I am still compelled to write.  I still try to journal sometimes and it's just not the same anymore.  But blogging I love.  Even though I am no longer rife with angst, I still from time to time am overcome by these...thoughts...and feelings...and ideas that I need to think through to their logical end.  If I don't write them down, I will have no record should I somehow stumble upon something brilliant (wait for it...it may happen yet!) and the thoughts are things I'd like to discuss with others.  But since journal-writing is supposed to be a private endeavor it seems somehow creepy and presumptuous to shove my journal at someone and say, "Here, read this and tell me what you think!"  Likely I'd get a look of, "uh, okay..." and a dutiful response of "um...it's nice."  (Ask me how I know.)  So I blog.

Blogging can be compared to the old-fashioned art salons, studios and coffee shops where people would gather to see and be seen, to engage in open discussions about any and all topics, and sometimes to make connections that would ultimately bring a person into the limelight and propel them to fame (or infamy),  but mostly people just show up and then fade into the crowd.  It could also be compared to busking on a street with competition for attention on every single corner.  There's jazz, juggling, mimes, singing, drumming, and magic, all vying for the attention of passersby.  But still, we are compelled to perform.  And if we do it well enough you may stop by and drop a dime into the proverbial hat.  You may even bring a friend along to see.  And if you do, we bloggers are well satisfied.

But even if you weren't stopping by, I would still be writing.  The simple chance that someone may come along and read and drop a dime (i.e. comment) makes it a little less lonely.  Happy blogging...

P.S. to Wordless Wedenesday: Saw This and Had to Share!



No one is frowning.  No one is hurrying.  No one is raising a fuss and saying that it's offensive to someone or anyone...Some are openly worshiping in public.  This brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.

Wordless Wednesday: Cat's Eyes

Saturday, November 06, 2010

More Instructions by Matty


These are written by one 9-year-old boy who finds himself terribly funny.  I wonder if you will agree.

Friday, November 05, 2010

This is Just So Cool...Had to Share

This link was posted today by Apologia Science. If you have kids, especially boys, you have experienced the joy and terror of water balloons.  Here you can enjoy them on a whole new level, and not get wet in the process!  This is the coolest and most original photography subject I've seen in a long while.  Enjoy.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Week 9 in Review: Basically Busy

yes...we do school in our pajamas.
This week was busy.  Plain and simple...but not in a bad way at all.  We went from school to activities to visits, to school to...you get the idea.  It was tough to fit in all the "lessons" with all the things on the calendar, but we managed.

Next week we dial down for the holiday season.  Time to master this new-found skill of baking bread.  No more gymnastics on Tuesdays, our last art class until January, and we begin to focus more on family and time for preparing for Thanksgiving and Advent.

It's a short entry, but I'm tired and looking forward to the weekend.  Life is simply good.

Life Is
Simply
          Good.

I could not be more thankful.  Or ready for the holidays.  Just a few more weeks.

Monday, November 01, 2010

On Baking Bread

We had the pleasure of hosting a Ugandan clergyman in our home a couple of years ago.  He was the humble priest of an Anglican parish who lived on a very small income.  He arrived in our home never having set foot in the U.S.  He did not know what to expect from us.  After a couple of days he told us that he fully expected to be received coolly and actually to be rejected by my children because he was black.  On the contrary, upon entering my door, my daughter climbed into his arms and my son hugged him.  I watched as he took in the environment and made silent and verbal observations about our way of life.  I remember his amazement when he saw our pantry, overflowing with food.  He made a point to talk to my kids about what it meant to be hungry, to not know where your next meal would be coming from, and to trust God for your food.  He said, "Americans have no concept of 'give us this day our daily bread.'"  Truly, we do not.  How those words implanted themselves into my heart!  I reckon that anyone reading this does not know what it means to be helplessly hungry, without assurance of a timely meal to come.

And yet, we still pray the prayer...what does it mean, "give us this day our daily bread?" For us as Americans, I believe we still need that prayer, something called "daily bread."  We go to the grocery store and buy bread in bags and keep it for many days without it spoiling, and then get irritated if we only have end pieces left when we want a sandwich.  No human hand ever touched that bread that we ultimately eat.  This is our legacy.  Our food, our machines, our convenience.

exhibit A
 I have been wanting to learn the art of baking bread for about a year now.  Last year I purchased wheat berries and decided to learn to mill and bake using them, and my success has been very limited.  I've done very well with muffins and quick breads, but my loaves of bread have been well, not unlike little footballs or bricks.  See exhibit A.  Believe me, it was worse than it looks here...I needed a hack saw to get through it and it was not like any bread I had seen before.  Over the summer, the thought of baking was not that appealing, so I abandoned the effort, only to have the desire rekindled with the cooling fall weather.  So I tried again and got bricks.  I didn't feel the need to take a picture.  I cried out on facebook about my lousy bread and a sweet friend who is quite good at baking bread offered to come to my aid and teach me.  In person.  At my house.  I had read cookbooks, read threads on forums, listened to advice from friends over the phone.  No one had shown me how to do this in person--until now...not that I had asked.

The first step was to offer her some tea and stir the soup I had made for dinner.  The next step was to follow the  bread recipe, and have her coach me as I worked.  As I expected, baking bread is more than recipe...it's a feeling.  She offered me tips and tricks that I would have never known, and when it came to kneading, we used our hands.  She was there to tell me if the dough was springy enough and ready for its first rise, she was there to show me what "punching down" really should look like, and taught me how to shape the dough into loaves...again, something that directions in a book just can't communicate as effectively as seeing it in person.  I could not have guessed it, but baking bread is so much more than recipe, it's a relationship. 

What my Ugandan friend could not see was that as Americans, we are starving.  We do need daily bread, but not in the way that he meant.  In our case, we have removed ourselves from so much that sustains us and keeps our hearts beating.  It is not a physical hunger nearly as much as an emotional and spiritual hunger--the starvation for the fellowship of others whose hands can come and touch our bread and let us know when it's ready to rise, whose experienced eyes can tell us "wait a little longer" and whose fellowship and encouragement can carry us through a day.  My dearest friends are those who spend time in my kitchen and I in theirs.  We fellowship over the art of cooking and blessing our families with sustenance.  This is the legacy I want to leave my children.

When my Ugandan friend left our home we blessed him, and we all wept.  We had broken bread together and shared life deeply.  We had found a brother.  When my friend left today, she hugged me and prayed a prayer of blessing over our home which nearly made me cry.  The bread was perfect.  It was blessed by prayers and fellowship and human touch.

Give us this day our daily bread...