A List of Things That Went Well

Because it’s good to remember that things do go well…

  • My Sunday afternoon walk with my son. It’s not often we do something just the two of us, and the girls were both willing to be left at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. On our walk we talked about lots of things, from toads to rivers to Tolkien.
  • Calico Captive. A new chapter book is always a bit of a risk, especially if I haven’t read it before. This one is exciting! We are enjoying it. Excellent way to learn about the French and Indian War.
  • Dinner. Sometimes I really stress out about how to please everyone. We don’t like the same foods. Today Dean had a bowl of leftover casserole and a sandwich-spread sandwich (not sure what else to call that). Eddie had a whole pile of leftover mashed potatoes doused in applesauce. The girls and I ate cheesy bread (bread, butter and parmesan cheese toasted under the broiler), reheated roast beef, carrot sticks, and apple slices. Sounds like a lot, looks like a lot on the table, but it was really just right. No leftovers except a little beef and carrots.
  • The Sassafras Twins Zoology book. A new science curriculum I bought a few weeks ago. Very fun! A storybook of zoology with workbooks to fill in as we go. The writing gets to be stressful for the youngest one, so then I go ahead and write what she dictates.
  • Spelling for the middle girl. All of a sudden she’s spelling words correctly. How did that happen?
  • Long division for my son. He hated it until he got to the pages of word problems. Go figure. He likes word problems.
  • Reading improvement on all levels. Very noticeable improvement in out-loud reading for all three children. Now if I could only get the middle one to read to anyone except myself…
  • Not drinking Mt. Dew. I’m doing well on that one. I crave it, but not to the extent that I’m making excuses to go grocery shopping. I do eat more, though. Pretzels just disappear.
  • My devotion book which involves reading from four different places in the Bible each day, a short devotional, and a prayer in which I can insert names of family members. That’s going well. The prayers are especially valuable as I don’t normally think the same things that are written. It’s nice to pray a different, challenging sort of prayer.
  • Homeschool co-op. It has only just begun, but so far, so good.
  • Ideas for myself. I’m not going to say my own stability has gone well, but I do occasionally have ideas that seem like winners. This post, for example. I may start that painting that I promised myself this year; I went so far as to clean off the painting table. Now that I have WiFi in the house, I can more easily use my Kindle ereader, which may just inspire me to exercise (and read) on the treadmill more often. I notice if I’m alone and not stressed out by people talking loudly and arguing and talking nonsense and requiring correction, I can coax myself into doing something positive. I can’t avoid the above problems in my family, though. So I wonder how to best deal with that. It’s good that I notice these things now. I will not notice them later.

The conclusion: most of the things that went well are about school. Yay! School is going well. In fact, the only part of school that does not seem to be going well is geography for the girls. I’m not crazy about the book I bought last summer, but my son does use it and enjoys it. With the girls I have resorted to sneaking geography into their Five in a Row curriculum.

The other conclusion: There are big black areas in my life that have to do with relationships and home life. I’m tempted to ignore them right now. They’ll be there, though. Here’s hoping I can cope better than I have been.


Escape in the Homeschool

Escape… from everyday life, from drudgery, from normal days of school, from people we spend too much time with, from our own minds… This sounds a little on the scandalous side, as if I might be talking about drugs or some other addictive habit. But really, I’m talking about stories, imagination, and art.

Life can feel constricting sometimes. Long division problems creep up to get you. Copywork stretches endlessly down the page, no matter how much you write. Your mother keeps turning the pages while you’re reading out loud, and you don’t think it’ll ever end. And then there are the boring moments when nothing you could play with seems interesting. For homeschool mothers, there are those loud confrontations you wish you could run away from (except you can’t, because you’re supposed to stop them, train your kids not to argue without being argumentative yourself).

Escape is necessary for sanity. Some days require more of it than others. Lately, our read-alouds have been excellent for escapism. We’ve enjoyed The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. We escaped into colonial times, into a yummy fantasy, and into the underground world of super-intelligent rats. Much better than staring out the window at melting snow!

Sometimes I wonder if escape is somehow unchristian. You know, we’re supposed to live in this world though we are set apart by God. But isn’t death the ultimate escape? And aren’t we called to fix our eyes on the goal of eternal life? We are not to fix our eyes on the things of this world. True, the above books I listed are things of this world, just not things of our particular household. I don’t think any of this makes escapism bad. As in all things, we need to keep our motives in check. I think it’s a good idea for me to balance out my fiction escapism with Bible reading and devotional-type reading.

I learned that some books are the opposite of escape: books that cause me to examine my life closely. I really have to balance those out with escapism, or I get too upset with my failures. I wonder if that’s a key to healthy homeschooling: balance out the close examination of schoolwork with plenty of leaps into imaginative work. Sounds good to me.

The Unhurried Homeschooler

Sometimes you just need a book about homeschooling that you already completely agree with! The Unhurried Homeschooler by Durenda Wilson (2016) is a book I can back up. Listen to this:

Keep in mind that a child’s attention comes and goes. Sometimes kids become energized from our excitement about starting school, and they dive in and surprise us with how much they learn and how quickly. Then their enthusiasm wanes… but that’s okay… As parents, we have to remember to remain calm in this process. Resist the urge to freak out!

— from page 27

I think I spend my life resisting the urge to freak out. I also like this book because the author talks about how simple and uncomplicated her homeschool is. As the kids grew, she slowly added more work, facilitating their interests, but always getting the basics covered. This is encouraging for me. I usually plan more than I do, and that could lead to a guilty, freaking-out feeling, but usually it doesn’t. I know when we’ve covered the basics. I know the kids are always learning, no matter how much school we do.

I’m glad I found this low-key homeschooling book. It’s like a nice big breath of encouragement.

Incident at Hawk’s Hill

School goes better with read-aloud books. We get our other subjects done, too, but the read-aloud books are the heart of our learning. Sometimes the books are assigned from our history unit study, and other times I pick books somewhat randomly from the library. The book we finished today was one I’d never read before, but it was in the Newbery Award section of the library, so I gave it a try.

The book is Incident at Hawk’s Hill by Allan W. Eckert, 1971. I’m not going to pull a quote because it’s all so intimately intertwined. In fact, if I had to describe this book in one word, it would be “close.” This is a psychological thriller for children. The reader becomes psychologically close to a female badger in the prairies of Canada, and the reader also becomes psychologically close to a small six-year-old boy who gets along with animals better than humans. There are parts where the closeness is almost too much. When a character is stuttering with emotion, it’s pretty difficult to keep myself from crying as well. And when the contents of the badger’s lunch is described in great detail, it’s gross. Yet, I’m not complaining. It’s a unique book with great characters, and even the villain isn’t two-dimensional. Plus, it has lots of great nature lore, and it could be read for science class. I know much more about badgers now than I did before.

Hmm. I wonder which book we should read now?

The Kitchen

The Kitchen by Carl Larsson, 1898

Here’s a bit of loveliness to cheer up a gray day.

I read an article about teachers who choose to practice self-care are then happier and better able to deal with the emotional-social drain of their teaching job. I imagine that applies to motherhood and homeschooling as well. In Charlotte Mason terms, it’s called “Mother Culture.” The crisp lines, bright spaces, and homey details in this painting are my self-care for the day. It doesn’t have to be complicated, right?

End of the Year Post

Most Memorable Adult Novel I’ve Read in 2017: Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh (2017). I can’t recommend it to everyone, but for those who like being transported to dangerous places (like Africa) and sympathizing with beautiful people who are misunderstood, then this is good.

Most Memorable Non-Fiction I’ve Read in 2017: Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie (2015). It’s really encouraged me to take time out to think things through, to realize that I’m the type of person who likes to think and reflect and read, and to be okay with that kind of a teacher in our homeschool. And to be okay with quiet learning progress (and not noticeable strides in progress).

Most Memorable Children’s Read-Aloud in 2017: Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink (1935). Why haven’t I read this aloud before? We did it in one day. It was that good.

My Favorite Post I’ve Written in 2017: Mr. and Mrs. Roussel. I even wrote a story based on it.

The Favorite Thing I’ve Done in 2017: Got a job at BlogMutt, ghost-writing posts and articles for clients from all over the English-speaking countries. I haven’t made much (yet), but it’s a good feeling to be transferring some money here and there into my savings account. And I like the writing challenges.

Most Memorable Concept I’ve Learned at Church (or Bible Study) in 2017: The comfort God provides is often in our looking forward to our time with Him in eternity. Even among our friends and families, we are alienated. But God loves us completely and has wonderful things for us to come.

Best Thing about Homeschooling in 2017: The continuation of Five in a Row and not following an Ambleside Online schedule anymore. Oh! I also loved the Native America History Unit Study we did.

Favorite Game I’ve Played with My Kids in 2017: Labyrinth. Unfortunately, it’s no one else’s favorite game. Fortunately, I can easily play my left brain against my right brain:)

Weirdest Way We Spent Time at Home in 2017: Speaking names backward. My youngest daughter is Rehteah. Then comes Yluc. The oldest is Eidde, but the girls tease him and call him Drawde. Lucky me, I’m still Mom.

My New Year’s Resolution for 2018 (and I’ve given this some thought): Paint a picture, just for me. But I have to get it done in a year!

Happy New Year!

Christmas: The Good and The Wishes for Improvement

This Christmas I’ve tried not to overdo things. This means taking advantage of my kids’ natural holiday excitement. I’m not going for the 12 days of Christmas crafts this year (did that last year, and it was a fun memory, but not necessary to repeat). I’m baking goodies that we haven’t had in awhile but aren’t technically Christmas goodies. No advent calendar. It’s been kind of nice, and some unexpected great moments have come up, all on their own!

  • Dancing to Handel’s Messiah before bedtime. The first time I tried playing this CD the kids purposely moved to a different room. The second time we read a Mike Venezia book about Handel and then they requested to listen to the CD so they could dance to it. It was fun! I didn’t dance myself. That wouldn’t have been fun.
  • Nutcracker mania. This was unexpected. It began with a free art project I plopped into a hole in my homeschool schedule. We each painted a winter scene and pasted a marker-colored Nutcracker character on top. They are beautiful! Then we went to the library and checked out two different Nutcracker movies, one of which had an actual ballet on it as a bonus feature. And we checked out three different Nutcracker children’s books.
  • The kids shopped for each other at the Dollar Tree. This involved stealth and secrets. We all went into the store together. I accompanied them each individually to the toy aisle and hid their choices in an opaque bag while the other two hid out in the home products aisle. Then I sent them to the car (small town, folks… I wouldn’t have done this in Chicago) while I paid. The children were thoughtful and sweet in their choices.
  • I cared enough to enjoy a carton of eggnog. I’m the only one in my family who likes it. I allow myself one carton a year. Last year I was so bah-humbug I refused to buy my carton of eggnog.

And some things about this Christmas could still be improved upon next year. For instance, my husband bought me two gifts. One of which he apparently couldn’t wait for me to open. He told me several times beforehand it was a nosewarmer. (Whatever, right?) He made me open it a couple weeks ago although I told him I’d just as soon wait till Christmas. It was a pair of electric socks. They can’t go in the wash. You have to charge them up. I don’t know. My feet haven’t been sufficiently cold enough to justify getting the socks dirty yet. The other gift under the tree is apparently a Van Gogh print (except sometimes he forgets and calls it a Renoir). He talks about it constantly, teasing me, getting me to argue with him. I don’t even want it anymore and I don’t know what it is. Whatever it is will remind me of all those excess words between us. Bleh. I wish for no presents next year from him. Or at least a present with no words attached.

The other improvement is my own attitude toward Christmas at church. The kids’ program, the caroling, the advent sermon series… they are all good, but I find myself not caring so much. I wish for a better attitude, more focused on Christ. I kind of wish Christmas was always on Sunday, like Easter. And I wish we followed the Dutch tradition of gift-exchanging on Dec. 6, so Christmas Day could be church and feasting.

Well, Merry Christmas, everyone. It has its ups and downs, but it’s always about Jesus, who is always good and perfect and lovely, no matter if I am up or down.