Relax, Poppleton (My false history crisis)

In one of my favorite Poppleton stories by Cynthia Rylant, Poppleton’s friend Fillmore takes him out on a boat for the day. Poppleton is all kinds of nervous about this and Fillmore spends most of the voyage saying, “Relax, Poppleton.” To my kids’ dismay, I have adopted this as a mantra. I pull it out whenever people seem to be getting themselves worked up into an unreasonable knot – relax, Poppleton.

They love it.

(Not really.)

Spring planning mode means school is on the brain for me, which is definitely a happy state of being. The kids are growing, the grass is growing, and I am planning. It’s the best.

In the course of this, over the last few weeks, I found myself worked up into a knot about history. Years ago, I decided I would use Susan Wise Bauer’s The Story of the World series as a history spine, proceeding with one volume a year for four years, and beginning in Jack’s first grade year. We’ve mostly done this, and we really do love it. But when Oliver was born, we got behind in Volume 2 (behind….the schedule that existed only in my head) and so, as we’re finishing up our third school year in this prescribed cycle, we are not even quite halfway through Volume 3.

What to do?! Like I wrote about in my lengthy and dull post on schedules, once I commit to something in my head, I feel bound to it. Enter false crisis, where I almost threw the baby out with the bath water. Here’s how my thought process went:

Could we just sort of fly through the rest of Volume 3 in order to be ready for Volume 4 by the time our next school year begins later this summer? Of course, this would mean skimming through things like the American Revolution. Should we skip Volume 4 entirely, or maybe do mostly skimming on THAT end? Bauer herself says that Volume 4 is rather heavy – the world wars, mass genocide, and prevalence of dictators in the modern age don’t make for easy story-telling. These are things you want to navigate carefully with children. OR. Should we just start over again with ancient history, putting aside the 4-year cycle in favor of a 3-year cycle? CC will be on world history (with a good bit of ancient history thrown in) next cycle; should I forget SOTW and base all of our history stuff off of our CC history sentences and timeline? Or maybe just pull pieces from SOTW to fit CC?

Crisis! (But….an almost enjoyable one. Let’s be honest.)

I talked about all of this with (or, to) Kurt. He made an admirable attempt to nod in important places and said vague supportive things. I think he was intensely relieved a few nights later when I declared my crisis over. And probably a little baffled as to what it actually was in the first place.

I can have such a hard time remembering that the schedule is all in my head and that this (our elementary survey of history) is supposed to be fun. I remembered what The Well-Trained Mind has to say about the purpose of history at the elementary level: it ought to be delight-centered. History tells a story. I am not trying to teach them all this stuff. I don’t expect they’ll remember all of it or even most of it. I’m trying to engage their imaginations, and form their moral imaginations through the complementary study of history and literature. My own goal here isn’t the acquisition of facts, although what facts they do acquire make excellent mental pegs that ought to serve as a solid foundation for future study. If I’m trying to actually teach them anything, it’s that the world is big, old, and not centered on them.

Years ago I highlighted this excerpt from The Well-Trained Mind:

A common assumption found in history curricula seems to be that children can’t comprehend (or be interested in) people and events distant from their own experience. So the first-grade history class is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: first, himself and his family, followed by his community, his state, his country, and only then the rest of the world.

This intensely self-focused pattern of study encourages the student of history to relate everything he studies to himself, to measure the cultures and customs of other peoples against his own experience. And that’s exactly what the classical education fights against— a self-absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge. History learned this way makes our needs and wants the center of the human endeavor. This attitude is destructive at any time, but it is especially destructive in the present global civilization.

I re-read that whole section, and I read a few other articles, and I thought a little, and my knot straightened itself right out. I remembered my own goals and what I most value in the life I lead with my children. And- the thing I like best about what we do is that we share so many stories. History is packed with great stories, both true and fictional. Why read The Odyssey in first grade? Why ever not?! It’s insanely exciting. You’ll get no glazed-over stare from a 6-year old. Address it again when he’s 16 and he’ll remember – oh yeah, that was cool.

(I mean, I hope. Trying not to count chickens here.)

So I decided to finish Volume 3, “late”, and finish it well. No narrations, minimal (or no) map work, fewer library resources (because then I have to remember to request them and pick them up, and this makes it easier for me to postpone a chapter). I looked through the remainder of the Activity Guide, found a stack of stuff I knew I’d want to read aloud, and bought it all- 15 books total. Mostly chapter books, although there are a few picture books and one DK Eyewitness book (we love those) included. If the books are actually on my shelf and waiting, all I have to do is grab them and start reading. This is a good investment.

Then I wrote out a list with every chapter title from SOTW Vol. 3 and the books (if any) I’d be reading along with that chapter, so I don’t even have to crack open that Activity Guide again. There are a few picture books I do hope to request from the library along the way, and I’ve noted them, and if we don’t get to them it’ll be fine. We’ll continue this all through our summer break, but that shouldn’t feel burdensome. I wouldn’t have stopped reading aloud to them anyway, so I’m fine with this plan. We’ll still start Volume 4 later than I’d intended, but that’s fine too. Because of the nature of the material, we likely won’t want to spend as long on some of those topics anyway. But I went ahead and ordered both Vol. 4 and its Activity Guide, so I can do the same thing in the next months – figure out what books I definitely want to read alongside, and then just buy them. Ah! Freedom!

Once again, it’s helpful to remind myself WHY we are doing history at all. It’s incredibly clarifying. And so once again the task of pursuing a chronological study of history with my young children becomes the opposite of a burden; it becomes a gift. We are coming alongside the whole of the human experience and remembering. We are stirring our collective imagination through story.

I don’t want to skim over the Pharaohs, Marco Polo, the Cherokee, Japan’s shoguns, feudalism, Mohammed – you can’t even start a list like this because it’s nearly impossible to finish.

It’s all worth telling.

All the Details of the Things

We have two (!) weeks left and we’ll be at our 36 week mark for the school year and winding down big time. Virginia doesn’t mandate a certain number of school days but I still think in terms of that 36-week year, and most curriculum seems to be sort of geared toward that as well. We’ll still have some math to finish, but that’s all.

There’s a serious sort of exhaling happening around here.

It was a good year. It was the year I homeschooled with a baby and I did it. We did it! We started at the beginning of July and I wondered how in the world we’d do it, but little by little my new responsibilities found rhythms and now that we’re in April, I might even say we’ve had our best year yet. So many things fell into place this year (practical-type things) that have felt more haphazard in years past.

Here’s a bit of what’s new, what’s worked, and what I’ve learned:

Couch time is revolutionary. 

Couch time (aka morning time or whatever you want to call it, only ours happens after lunch so…) has been hands-down the best habit I’ve implemented this year. Everybody lands somewhere in the living room, Oliver bustles around doing his baby business, and we do some of my favorite things. We practice our poetry and other memory work, and we read aloud. I’ve gotten so much reading aloud in this year and from a great variety of sources, and couch time is why.

We read from Story of the World, Telling God’s Story (what we use to teach Bible), fairy tales, picture books related to our history work, and wonderful children’s novels. Some favorites this year have been The Sign of the Beaver, Caddie Woodlawn, and the Ramona series. We usually have two going at once – right now we’re reading The Green Ember by S.D. Smith and The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright.

Charts on clipboards = finally a system that works!

In past years I’ve not quite managed to find a way to keep track of what we’re doing or supposed to be doing….I’ve done it, but it’s never seemed quite….right. This year I bought each boy a clipboard and made up a chart for each detailing their work for the week. I print a new one out and fill it in each weekend.

To help make the process even smoother and quicker for myself, I made up a master chart of math lessons for each boy  – basically just a blank table that I filled in, after flipping through my Instructor’s Guide to see what textbook and workbook pages (and sometimes activities) needed to happen in what order. It takes me an hour to fill in a whole table’s worth of lessons, but then it lasts me at least two months. Each weekend I cross off what’s been completed (that way if we didn’t get to something I’m never ‘behind’) and fill in the next few days worth of work.

It’s such a little thing (and it might not make much sense typed out) but it’s made a huge difference in my weekly planning chore!

Stuff that works, stuff that I can’t figure out, and new stuff.

1. Life of Fred

I finally figured out how to make Fred work! We’ve always liked Fred, but in the past I read the chapters aloud and it became just one more thing to do and…you can guess how that ended. With Fred on a shelf. But a few months ago I sucked it up and bought the rest of the elementary series (10 books in all; we already had 4), handed each boy a spiral notebook, and added “Fred” to the independent work section on their clipboard checklist.

And the heavens sang. The boys LOVE Fred. Quite often they’ll work through more than their 1 required daily chapter. I don’t check their work at all. Fred really can be done independently – after the “your turn to play” section at the end of each chapter (hence the notebooks) there’s an answer page, complete with explanations (and rabbits’ trails).

I’m going to keep up with Fred. Jack will do the intermediate books next year (Kidneys, Liver, and Mineshaft) and then maybe jump in to Life of Fred: Fractions after that. I’m so very happy to have finally figured out how to use a resource that I knew we loved!

2. Latin

Latin’s not working. Latin is my Achilles heel (ancient times joke….). Is it me? Or is it Latin? I tried Prima Latina this year and just couldn’t get it working. So we jumped back to Getting Started With Latin. Which I think I do prefer, only…I wasn’t consistent at it.

There is one remaining category of school-ish things that I haven’t found a great spot for in our day, and that’s what I call table work – stuff we all do together at the table. Couch time is golden, math and independent work are like clockwork, language arts with each boy fits right into our mornings….but. Table work! This category includes Latin, Greek roots, and Story of the World map work. So inconsistent! Oh well.

CC fills in a bit of the gap here, with Latin and geography memory work, but I do love looking at the maps as they used to be in correlation with whatever it is we’re reading about. I guess a little will have to suffice!

3. Poetry

My best impulse purchase of the year was definitely Andrew Pudewa’s Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization. I have LOVED it. The kids have loved it. We’ve memorized 20 poems together, and it’s been so easy and fun. We’ve completed Level 1 and will move on to Level 2 next. (All levels are contained within the same small spiral-bound book….so very many wonderful poems. Worth every penny. I did not buy the CD.)

I’ve gained such a deeper appreciation for poetry and the power and talent of the poet. The language is so creative and beautiful, even in silly poems. These poems have entered our family culture and I fully expect to have my grown children burst out with Ogden Nash’s “Celery” when my old and wrinkled hands are chopping veggies for soup.

Great Expectations

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Years ago, when I thought that homeschooling was ‘school at home’, it held zero appeal for me. I didn’t want to do it (the very idea made me queasy), and I wasn’t even sure it was a good idea in general. But then I experienced a huge paradigm shift. I got my hands on the Sonlight catalog and discovered literature-based education. And then I read The Well-Trained Mind and discovered classical education. And then I read all kinds of books (Free-Range Learning, The Core, Project-Based Homeschooling….), and blogs, and talked to people and found Charlotte Mason, unschooling, leadership education, the CiRCE Institute, and mash-ups of all of it till it felt like a feast, and I realized that education is not school. And school is not education. School is a system. Education is a life. It’s a posture and a habit. It’s curiosity, resourcefulness, community, intuition, communication, empathy, persistence, creativity.

If that was what homeschooling could be, I found myself wanting to do it badly. Gone were my nightmarish visions of endless worksheets and lesson plans. I had landed on the key to the exploding homeschooling movement: the homeschoolers I know aren’t trying to replicate the classroom experience in their kitchens in pajamas. They’re aiming to do something completely different; they see education as something completely different.

Homeschooling is no longer something only for the ultra-religious; it belongs to hipsters, working parents, entrepreneurs, urbanites, homesteaders….you name them, and I bet you can find a subset of them who meet in parks on Tuesday mornings and herd their kids into museums on Thursday mornings.

*****

Thus began my journey into unlearning most of what I thought I knew about education…which was really only about modern classroom education. I get a lot of oh, you were a teacher…THAT’S why you can do this and it makes me want to pull my hair out. The truth is that you can be a dynamic conduit for your child’s education without having the (very real) gifts and training it takes to be a dynamic and effective classroom teacher. They’re apples and oranges. And like anything else in life, when you’re driven toward a goal you pursue it. You find mentors, you consult the experienced, you read books, you bounce ideas off of a  variety of people, you listen carefully, you find your support network, you’re not afraid to change course when necessary. You never act out of fear. You’re eager and humble and you are getting an education of your own. 

As a former classroom teacher, I had a lot to unlearn if I wanted to stay faithful to my vision of a holistic family life where education could become both natural and intentional. I have tremendous respect for classroom teachers. I know what they do day in and day out and during evenings and on weekends; it’s one of the hardest jobs. Teachers are underpaid and bear the brunt of complaints from both parents and administrators about much that is not at all within their ability to control. I had some great teachers; I know some great teachers. (My bestie has been expertly wrangling middle schoolers for 14 years…I am certain middle school teachers get extra chocolate in heaven.)

But teaching is a broadly distributed gift, and has been since the very beginning of everything.

*****

Even after my paradigm shift, I’ve found that some things are easier to let go of than others.

{Easy to ditch: traditional textbooks, worksheets, busywork. Most of what we do looks more conversational than instructional. And except for the annual standardized test required by Virginia, we don’t test. Not math, not spelling, not history – not anything. I am super sensitive to this one; I learned how to perform for good grades very very early in my own school career. I aced high school and graduated magna cum laude from college because I understood how the system worked; it was made for kids like me. Even in courses I found really interesting and/or useful, my main goal was always the letter at the end of the semester. But I’m pretty sure I missed the point. I don’t want grades to enter anywhere into my kids’ motivation right now.}

I don’t give the boys assigned reading and I struggle sometimes with wondering if I should. Even though they’re only 9 and 7. Even though they’re bona fide bookworms. I’ve got a home library packed with fantastic children’s literature – classics, modern classics, beloved favorites, new series. I have full bookshelves in multiple rooms and baskets holding the overflow. We have constant library fines. (Oh.my.gosh.) Books of all sorts are scattered and piled haphazardly all over the house. It’s a beautiful literary mess. Maybe if they weren’t reading very much, or were reading mostly the equivalent of literary Twizzlers, I’d feel the need to step in. But I don’t. Except I kind of do. And that’s my conflict. (When I talk about it, it seems silly and the answer is obvious.)

I also don’t require them to do anything with what they’ve read – no book reports, pictures drawn, etc. They just read. Despite all this (readers! I have life-long readers! if I were still in the box-checking paradigm I could CHECK THAT BOX!) I wrestle with the false idea that you must formally respond to something to consider it absorbed (never mind pretend play, building and craft projects, and Lego creations that arise out of the stories they read and hear). For years we’ve been practicing the gentle habits of copywork, narration, and dictation. They can both write and compose a beautiful sentence. But I don’t require much of them in this arena yet. There’s time. And there are trees to climb and forts to build.

*****

This week I decided to do something new and ask them both to read our abridged version of The Three Musketeers, which goes along with our history discussions for the week. I pulled it off the shelf and called them over to show it to them. Before I’d even opened my mouth, they beat me to it. “Oh, I’ve read that!” said one enthusiastically. “Me too!” chimed in his brother. “It was cool.”

Okay.

*****

I’m still figuring it out. I’m not an expert and I’m learning as we go; each year I’m faced with a new set of circumstances. In six weeks we’ll wrap up this current school year, and next school year I’ll have a 4th grader, a 3rd grader, and a kindergartener! (And a toddler, heaven help us. And him.) Every spring I kick my evaluation into high gear. It’s one of my very favorite things to do.

What’s working? What isn’t? Where might we dig in a little deeper? What do we want to prioritize? What kind of life are we building here together as we do this? What’s the state of our moral imagination? What skills really ARE necessary, when are they necessary, and how can I deliberately build in opportunities to practice those? Where might more independence be appropriate? Who are these people, and who are they becoming? Who can I find to help them along the paths that they are on? What books am I going to buy? (That’s the best question!)

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the past few years is this: for us, everything is school. Rather than being suffocating, that sentence is liberating. And that’s what I just didn’t understand years ago.

My firm belief is that homeschooling isn’t the end-all-be-all; many of us have strong callings elsewhere. But I also think homeschooling is part of a really important and very broad movement that encompasses quite a number of nontraditional methods of education. The creatives, innovators, academics, entrepreneurs, parents in their living rooms (maybe everybody but the bureaucrats?) are doing what they do best and rethinking what education is and what it’s for, and then practically applying their conclusions…and I think it’s exciting, and can ultimately only be beneficial to all of us. Whatever our positions within the smorgasbord, we can affect good change.

Meanwhile, I’m carrying on with an abundance of curiosity, research, prayer, and a loaded Amazon cart, along with optimism that we’re not ruining our kids.

Isn’t all that stuff universal to parenting?!

On Immunity

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When we lived in our little blue house in Kentucky, with family snugly around all of our corners, anxiety wasn’t my struggle. When my kids got sick, I hated it, just because you do, and I was exhausted, because you are, and I wished I could zap the germs away for my babies because that’s what you wish. But I wasn’t overly anxious.

I wonder now if it was the reassuring presence of my own mother that gave me mental and emotional space to mother my own children gently though each illness. She mothered me while I mothered them, and the world kept spinning, and everyone got well again eventually. Long nights spent at the bedsides of croupy toddlers, trips to the ER, vomiting marathons- it all passed.

A week after we moved to Virginia, Sam got a typical winter bug – cough, fever, etc. Kurt was about to head out of town, and I barely knew how to get the grocery store. I didn’t even have a pediatrician, much less my mother’s wise eyes and competent hands. The anxiety hit me like a truck. As that early winter of 2013 continued, Jack had anxiety-driven stomach aches, due no doubt to the emotional stress of moving. People continued to get the regular childhood illnesses, and I felt like I’d swapped skins  – I’d stopped being the hey-you’ll-be-fine mom, and I became the mom-who-calls-the-phone-nurse-all-the-time.

When I had my gallbladder attack 3 weeks after Oliver’s birth and wound up in the ER hooked up to machines and cradling my infant, my anxiety expanded from the well being of my children to the reliability of my own body, something which I’d previously taken for granted.

After Oliver had a bad reaction to his pertussis vaccination at 2 months and spiked a dangerous fever, I had to force myself to stop taking his temperature. The urge to confirm his health came without any symptoms on his end, and I realized the absurd extent of my anxiety a couple of weeks later when I found myself nearly in tears during a phone call with the nurse, who was patiently asking me why I’d taken my son’s temperature. I didn’t know.

For the next few months I lived in dread of any of us getting sick. I knew that for my own mental health, we just needed to get sick. Well, that’s done. We’ve been sick- we’ve had it all, and we’re fine.

But there’s this seed of anxiety that remains in me too, because my littlest and most vulnerable can no longer have the pertussis vaccine, and I live in Charlottesville, which feels like it just might be an anti-vaccinating mecca. I mean, I don’t know. But take a look around and you’ll know what I’m saying.

*****

When I read Amazon’s description of Eula Biss’ book On Immunity: An Inoculation, I knew I wanted to read it. By page 10, I knew I was going to fly though it. There’s this:

When my son was an infant, I would hear many variations of “All that matters is that he is safe.” I would wonder if that was, indeed, all that mattered nearly as often as I would wonder if I could keep him safe.

and this:

A trust- in the sense of a valuable asset placed in the care of someone to whom it does not ultimately belong- captures, more or less, my understanding of what it is to have a child.

Biss explores not only medical research but social psychology and literary criticism in this short (150 pages) but beautifully written discussion on what immunity means, whether it’s something we can actually achieve, and whether or not we are, when it comes to infectious diseases, our brother’s keeper. At the heart, whatever our stance on vaccination, we seem to be motivated by the same desire: to protect our children from invasion of the foreign ‘other’. Her fears are universal, her own stance is definite (vaccines save lives), and her tone is compassionate. I doubt this book will change anyone’s mind if they have decided against vaccination, but I did feel like it was the most interesting and least inflammatory take on the topic I’ve yet read.

As for me, my inner libertarian will keep me forever opposed to mandatory vaccination, but it’s still the best choice I know to make for my own children and for the most vulnerable in my community.

*****

This book also served as another gentle reminder to me that ultimately, control does not belong to me. It’s a lesson I’m learning slowly. Guarantees don’t exist, when it comes to health. My own body has proven itself unreliable; my children will continue to get sick; the fears I battle are common to mothers everywhere. And yet, the resources I have to combat illness are not only vast but privileged. I know that. I’m a work in progress.

And the main rule I have set for myself to combat anxiety (besides prayer) is this: never, ever Google it. I will drop my laptop in the lake before I type symptoms into a search engine.

Right?!

I put on my big girl pants and made a schedule

In January I took a nosedive into reading and podcasts revolving around efficiency, goals, and entrepreneurship (favorite podcast: EntreFamily, favorite book: 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam). I don’t have specific entrepreneurial ambitions right now but it really interests me. And I’m beginning to realize that what I do all day IS MY JOB.

Although nobody pays me for it…..so….that’s too bad.

For all of 2014, I flew by the seat of my pants. In the season we were in, there was no other way to fly. Life happened, baby happened, school happened, traveling happened, but I felt so scattered. I hit my lowest point in September, started to see pieces of my life settle into recognizable patterns by October, and by the time January rolled around I was reasonably rested and ready to wrestle the remainder of those pieces into a thing that made sense for each of us.

I bought a fancy planner (from erin condren) and color-coded pens. This planner is my match made in heaven simply because of the way each weekly spread is organized. It allows me to separate stuff in ways that are already intuitive to me but difficult to do when confronted with big empty spaces. No longer is my Target planner (still heart you, Target!) a scribbled mess of giant rectangles; now I can look at it and see at a glance what I need to do and when, what meals I’m making, what food prep tasks are for any given morning, afternoon, or evening, where I have to be and when, what my meal ideas are for the following week, and what Kurt’s schedule looks like.

I bought a new brain dump notebook (Target for the win this time!). I used up my old one more than a year ago and then kind of forgot to replace it. A place to dump all of the ideas, notes, things to come back to, recipes, etc. makes a huge difference to the state of my brain. It’s like Evernote, except on paper.

I love paper.

I also thought and wrote through broad and specific goals for each of the roles I occupy right now. (I found a great template for this in the little ebook Tell Your Time by Amy Lynn Andrews –  cheap, brief, highly recommend!) I wrote out a general schedule for our Monday through Friday. It all seemed kind of hopeless when I started, but soon I started to see patterns and places where we could make adjustments and make our time really work for all of us.

Here are some things I’ve realized about myself:

  • For better or for worse, I can resent being told what to do….in a subversive, passive aggressive, introvert-y sort of way. No schedule will be the boss of me! Routines, YES. Love routines. Schedules? Never.
  • I respond to stuff that’s written down. To-do lists are very very effective for me. So are written schedules….which is why I don’t make them….because I don’t want them to be the boss of me. Circular self-destructive reasoning much?
  • I’m a morning person. So are my kids.
  • I like knowing THAT things will happen, therefore I need to have some idea of WHEN they will happen.
  • I already knew the important role aesthetics play in my peace of mind, but carrying that a bit further- I’m really motivated by equipment that I love: if I like it, I’ll use it. A good pen matters. I inherited my mom’s Dyson and it’s a vacuuming game-changer. When we moved, Marilyn bought me a cute broom. (GO BUY A CUTE BROOM if you don’t have one!) My fancy planner with its practical brilliance was a good use of money. I love writing stuff in it. I love checking off stuff in it.

And now let’s talk about the kids. One of the most significant benefits of homeschooling is the opportunity to let my kids be, to a certain extent, the bosses of their own time. This means plenty of time to march to the beat of their own drum: play outside, build Legos, be consumed by whatever book or project tickles their fancy AND this means learning time-management skills when appropriate and suffering the consequences, whether those can be categorized as benefits or the opposite. This has been really interesting to observe in the boys; they are wired so differently from one another.

And here’s the crux of the whole thing:

I realized that in order to teach them time management, I had to be fair. They had to know, generally, how our day would look. They needed to know when they’d have the opportunity to work and when they wouldn’t. They needed to know when I’d be available to help them and when I wouldn’t. They needed to know that they’d have the time to get to the things that are important to THEM (like riding bikes and building forts), as well as the things that are important because Mom says so (like math and folding laundry).

So. Routine morphed (casually) into schedule(ish), at least for the first half of each day.

Someone asked me recently if it was hard having four kids. I said that the number of kids isn’t hard -although the people who tell you that 3 is no different than 2 or 4 is no different than 3 are LIARS (at least in the first year or two)- but having kids in different life stages is challenging. How to balance the needs of my baby (regular naps, plenty of time to crawl around and explore) with the needs of my big kids (focused time with me every day, sports, activities, co-op, playdates) AND the needs of the household in general (meals, laundry, cleaning, etc.)??

It’s a job. 9 years into this, I realized that I needed to start treating it like one. I love it and I know it’s where I’m supposed to be right now, but warm fuzzies don’t get me through the days feeling like I’ve done this well. 

So when I took what I knew we had to do, looked at what was already working, and thought through the other things that were sort of floating around as do-whenever-I-remember-them, I came up with a pretty satisfying Monday, Wednesday, and Friday routine. (Tuesdays and Thursdays we have other commitments to keep.) For most of our priorities, I can pinpoint a time that works really well, and there’s still plenty of space for living slow, for taking our time, for maintaining flexibility.

It’s imperfect, and there are still puzzles to solve. Like errands- inevitable, necessary, even fun (weekly library visit!), but errands are such a challenge for me. Other than quick runs to our smallish local grocery, all other errands involve a minimum 30-minute one-way drive…now that we have a baby, hours in the car equal ruined naps and NOBODY WANTS RUINED NAPS.

I still have some goals for the year that don’t fit into any obvious place, but I’m okay letting them sit for a bit. I’m encouraged by the progress I’ve made in the essentials, and I think I’ll eventually figure out when to do the other things that are important to me, too.

Writing it all down was a huge step in the right direction.

*****

If you have made it to the end of this record-breakingly dull post, you can uncross your eyes now. Good job!!

fiction (or, my second favorite form of cheap therapy)

(The first being a journal + a pen.)

I’ve been gravitating toward nonfiction in recent years but I still read a lot of fiction. I’m kind of particular about my fiction, though not in a literary way. Fiction is pretty subjective and personal, isn’t it? I like good writing, and I also like a satisfying ending. I like redemption. I’m not big on despair. Dystopian isn’t my thing. I realize I probably miss a lot of really well-written books this way, but I’m okay with that.

And I also think I learn just as much from fiction as I do from non-fiction, only through the underrated yet powerful medium of story. The fiction I read as a child greatly influenced my interests, even up to the fiction and non-fiction I read today. I think that’s so interesting, and keep it in mind as I choose read-alouds for my kids. I’m interested in what kinds of things my two independent readers gravitate toward- they both enjoy what we all read together, but they have such different tastes when it comes to their choices in fiction and reading on their own.

Looking at the list I’ve compiled, it’s obvious I gravitate toward a place (Europe), a time (the first half of the 20th century), and a genre (mystery). Here are some of the books I’ve loved and some authors I turn to again and again, as well as 3 books I want to read this year:

{Stand Alone Novels}

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All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

I’m reading this right now, so maybe it’s not kosher to include it in my favorites (what if the ending is awful?) but I already know I’ll read it again. It’s beautiful. France and Germany, World War II.

The Emperor of Ocean Park by Stephen L. Carter

This modern novel is a mystery, but more than that it’s book about family, race, law, politics, education, and faith. Masterful. Complicated, because all of those things are complicated. I absolutely loved it.

all of Kate Morton’s novels (new one coming this year!)

These are the sort of novels that totally suck you in and leave you so satisfied to have entered into a great story. She’s written four (I think) and they all take place in Great Britain in and around the time of the two world wars, so you know these are exactly up my alley.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

Okay, so this isn’t a stand alone novel. I know. But it’s the only one in the series I’ve read, and it could stand alone. It was a book I passed by for years because romance novels aren’t my jam, but I have to say that I absolutely could not put it down, and I’ll probably read it again someday. An epic portrait of a marriage. (With time-travel! I’ve discovered I can really get into time travel as a plot device. Huh!)

The Time in Between by Maria Duenas

This novel takes place in 1930’s Spain and Morocco during and immediately following the Spanish Civil War, and including the years leading up to World War II. It swept me right in and left me knowing more than I knew before I began.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Time…not exactly travel….bending? Difficult to explain; a weird but fascinating plot device. Great Britain, World War II. You’ll either roll with the premise and love it (I did), or get really annoyed by the constant starting over and throw it across the room.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

Scotland, 1950’s. The kind of story I can get lost in happily.

{British Mysteries}

This is its own category in my head, and probably my favorite category at that. I started reading Agatha Christie in junior high and never looked back. The authors/series below are my favorites but I also like Ngaio Marsh, Jacqueline Winspear, C.C. Benison, Ann Granger (Mitchell & Markby), Jill Paton Walsh, Anne Perry, Rennie Airth, and Elizabeth Speller. Some of these overlap with my WWI/WWII fetish.

(If you love this genre too, you MUST watch Foyle’s War from the BBC. In my opinion (for what it’s worth!), this is among the best period dramas they’ve done, easily equal to Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife.)

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The Ian Rutledge & Bess Crawford series (separate series) by Charles Todd

I like both of these series; one takes place after WWI and one during. Rutledge is a police officer; Bess Crawford is a war nurse.

The Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mysteries by Deborah Crombie

Modern British detective novels are usually too dark for my taste, but these buck the trend. Maybe because they’re written by an American? That said, they’re thoroughly rooted and researched and -other than being a touch lighter than others in the genre- feel genuine.

The Lord Peter Wimsey novels by Dorothy Sayers

Those featuring Harriet Vane are my favorite; Gaudy Night is the best of the bunch. Dorothy Sayers was a fantastic, literate, and philosophical writer. I’ve been slowly chewing my way through a non-fiction work of hers called The Mind of the Maker for the past year, and her essay The Lost Tools of Learning is widely credited with inspiring the modern classical education movement.

anything Agatha Christie

I’ve read them all multiple times over the past 25 years. I usually forget who-dunnit, so this works out okay. Some are serious, some are silly; she was a master at the craft. The Secret of Chimneys lands in the outlandish category; it’s got a touch of P.G. Wodehouse that makes it a lot of fun. Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None might be her most famous.

{Authors worth mentioning}

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Lisa Samson

A “Christian writer” (gah!) who is different than all of the others. Her characters are beautiful and very flawed; The Passion of Mary-Margaret might be my favorite.

Helen MacInnes

MacInnes was a prolific writer of spy novels, beginning in the early days of WWII, all the way up through the early 1980’s. Her husband worked in intelligence and her insider knowledge is apparent. Some are a bit more of a stretch than others; I don’t love them all. While We Still Live is my favorite. It centers on Poland as the Germans invade in 1939. It’s pretty tragic. But tragedy is balanced by courage; that’s what earns it a spot on my favorites list.

Alexander McCall Smith

He’s smart and thoughtful and writes out the small with such gentle, respectful craft. If that doesn’t make a lot of sense (I’m not sure it does), pick up a book and see for yourself. He has several series; there’s no bad place to start.

P. G. Wodehouse

My friend Kristy gave me Life with Jeeves several years ago; read what Kristy hands you is a life rule I learned in high school when she gave me The Scarlet Pimpernel (“My grandfather says you must read this if you want to be literate”; yes ma’am I will, and I did, and you probably should too). So, Jeeves: I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. I tried to read parts out loud to Kurt but couldn’t manage it and finally just handed him the book; he enjoyed it too. Medicinal literature: it’s real.

{Favorite Series}

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The Anne of Green Gables books and the Emily of New Moon books by L.M. Montgomery

Two very different heroines; Emily is a darker soul than Anne. I recently reread the Emily books and enjoyed them so much more than I did when I was a teenager. My favorite Anne books are Anne of the Island, which is all about Anne’s college years, Anne of Ingleside, in which she has a bunch of small children, and Rilla of Ingleside (WWI; so tragic!). (By the way, those links are worth clicking on just to see the gorgeous variety of new editions of these books! Makes my mass-market paperbacks look kinda….meh.)

The Mitford books by Jan Karon

These books have taught me more about working out an imperfect faith and loving my neighbors than any other books, ever. We (Kurt and I) discovered them shortly after we got married and they’re one of the few series we have in common (the others being Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, Flavia de Luce, and Charles Todd’s Rutledge books). Jan Karon is really a masterful writer.

The Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley

A precocious 11-year old chemistry expert solves mysteries in 1950’s Great Britain. Really? Yes. These are so wonderful. As a heroine, Flavia is funny and slightly tragic, an absolutely perfect mix of wise-beyond-her-years and still, at her heart, 11. “Put her at the top of the list!” Kurt is saying to me right now (as he finishes book 7).

The Zion Covenant Series by Bodie & Brock Thoene

I started reading these during the ninth grade when I was supposed to be in Sunday School. (Guess what, Mom & Dad? I skipped and hung out in the church library instead!) These books solidified my decades-long fascination with the events surrounding WWII. I’ve reread them several times since.

Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling

I love these books so much. I’ve yammered on about them incessantly. Enough already.

{3 books I want to read in 2015}

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Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

I’ve only ever read Emma (love) and Pride & Prejudice (really love), which seems weird to me. I want to add this one to my Austen roster this year. And this post made me think I might like it more than I imagined.

Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather

17th century Quebec. I’m (kind of randomly) developing an interest in Quebec; the history grabs my interest and imagination. Plus, Willa Cather! Sold.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

I read Hannah Coulter last year (or the year before?) and found it hard and gentle all at once. Wendell Berry is a beautiful writer and a wise soul.

*****

I’m always looking for recommendations, so send your favorites my way. And apparently, GoodReads is good for more than just keeping a reading log….this is brand-new information!!! (quote!) Find me if you want!

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I get up at 6 every single morning; I set my alarm. I blink my way downstairs and through the steps of making coffee and then I collapse in a giant chair under a quilt I made or an afghan my mother made. I pull out my journal and write things in shaky early morning handwriting like, “I’ve got to start going to bed earlier.” I blink for awhile and then keep writing. I pull out my current morning book and my pencil (pencil for books, pen for journaling) and start reading, writing, and waking up.

I don’t do this for any sort of lofty reason. Not to learn more or write more or read more. There is actually exactly one reason I pass on one more hour of precious sleep. If I don’t start the day like this, I am a dragon.

It’s a legitimate reason, folks.

It’s time I guard pretty intently. If people wander down, I point them right back up. My alarm goes off and I am up right away, not willing to give up a minute of the only time in the next 14 hours where I will be by myself and unburdened by tasks.

One morning a couple months ago, almost before I noticed, Sam silently crept downstairs and established himself under an afghan, with a book. He didn’t speak a word, just smiled at me. His dimple and twinkle eyes did me in, as they have since the very beginning of Sam, and with a whispered good morning and an explicit instruction not to speak to me at all, I let him stay.

Early bird, I murmured at him, twinkling a little right back.

He joins me now about half the time. He tiptoes silently around the corner and whispers tweet tweet to me, then settles in with his own book and blanket across the room. Sharing his company, I have discovered, is just as calming as sharing my own company. He gets it, and we are happily quiet together. Sometimes I look up from my thoughts and gaze at him and try to memorize him right now, in this moment. One morning I took his fuzzy picture with my phone on silent. It didn’t turn out very well. These are moments I must memorize in other ways.

It goes against my parenting logic. Isn’t this my time? What about the others? If they wake up early, am I going to (heaven forbid) let them ALL sit down here with me? (A thousand times no.)

Parenting is such a weird mix of well-thought-out resolutions and tiny moments that politely scoot those resolutions to the side and whisper,

tweet tweet.

2015 in Books (or, if you need me I’ll be reading)

Here’s the thing: I’d read the back of the lotion bottle if it was the only thing that presented itself. This is not, unfortunately, hyperbole. A lack of material or ideas is not my problem, but follow through can be.

I’m usually reading at least four or five things, a mix of fiction and non-fiction. This year I’m trying for a little more directed approach. Below are a bunch of books that I’m either currently reading or really do want to get to; I think writing them down and actually planning to read them will help me remember and get some good stuff in.

PicMonkey Collage1Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren F. Winner

Lauren Winner provided my introduction to spiritual memoir more than a decade ago, and I think she’s one of the best writers in the genre. She’s wicked smart, thoughtful, and unflinchingly honest; she develops her themes beautifully. This book comes out in March and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

I’m currently about a third of the way through this; Kurt and I are both listening to it via Audible. It’s such a fabulous story and I’m really enjoying it; I love narrative nonfiction. Bonus- it’s read by Edward Hermann of Gilmore Girls fame, and his voice is just lovely.

Holy is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present by Carolyn Weber

Another spiritual memoir that comes highly recommended.

Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity by Jen Hatmaker (updated edition)

I think Jen Hatmaker is one of the funniest and most grace-filled people I’ve read. I read her book 7 a few years ago and just loved it. This was written before that one but was recently rereleased.

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On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss

I think this book sounds fascinating. In Amazon’s words:

Upon becoming a new mother, Eula Biss addresses a chronic condition of fear—fear of the government, the medical establishment, and what is in your child’s air, food, mattress, medicine, and vaccines. She finds that you cannot immunize your child, or yourself, from the world. In this bold, fascinating book, Biss investigates the metaphors and myths surrounding our conception of immunity and its implications for the individual and the social body.

We vaccinate, and I’m incredibly grateful for modern medicine. But I also do weird things like make my own yogurt (and next week- elderberry syrup!), so I’ve had a lot of exposure to the concerns of anti-vaccinators. As a parent of a child who has experienced a vaccine injury, I understand that no choice comes without risk. But this is truly such a surprisingly emotional area of parenting. I’m not interested in entering the debate, but I am interested in understanding the reasons the debate exists.

The Gifts of Imperfection (with such a giant subtitle that I gave up) by Brene Brown

I might be the only mid-thirties woman left in America who hasn’t read anything by Brene Brown. Self-help is not a genre I’m drawn to (sorry, self) but the sheer volume of positive recommendations has earned this book a spot in the 2015 queue.

Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

I really like Anne Lamott. I feel like we would probably disagree about a whole lot, but she’s my favorite anyway and I want her to come to my house. She’s wise, smart, and funny. This book will go into the category of “books I read in the morning”, which is category with weirdly specific parameters in my head.

The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century by David Reynolds

I’m about 1/3 of the way through this one, and though it’s a lot of material to digest I’m finding it really interesting, and a little unexpected. I have to be in just the right mood to chew through this – it must be quiet, peaceful evening lighting, and my house has to be clean. ? I don’t know. It’s worth it, though; I’m learning so much.

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Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

I love Gretchen Rubin! Her writing is such a meat-packed blend of research and personal story. This is her newest; it comes out this spring. Sign me up. I have Happier at Home out from the library again right now.

In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K. Chesterton (edited by Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, & Aidan Mackey)

I’m reading this book right now, but very slowly. It’s my current morning book, and I hope to work my way through the whole thing in the next few months, one essay at a time. It requires quiet, exactly one lamp, a pencil, my journal, and a mug of coffee. You see? I already know it will be a book I re-read. Chesterton seems to see everything inside out, and my jaw keeps dropping, my pencil scribbling to copy his words.

How Harry Cast His Spell by John Granger

I absolutely love the Harry Potter books; they’re one of my favorite series ever. I think they’re deeply meaningful and am always interested in what others have found in the digging. Jack has been asking to read them so we’ve been talking about when we might let him dive in. Meanwhile, I’m interested in reading not only this book but another by the author called Harry Potter’s Bookshelf: The Great Books Behind the Hogwarts Adventures.

Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament by Peter Enns

I’ve been reading this book off and on for more than 2 years. I find it hard to digest (long chapters and an intense amount of academic information) but deeply interesting…..and then I forget about it for months on end. This is the year that I finish!

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Preemptive Love: Pursuing Peace One Heart at a Time by Jeremy Courtney

I heard a podcast interview of the author, who runs an organization whose aim is to obtain critical surgeries for Iraqi children. He and his family live in Iraq (whether or not they’re still there, I don’t know; the podcast aired before the ISIS aggression became so horrendous over the summer). I was so moved by what they’re doing.

The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown by Paul Taylor

I am kind of a sucker for social economics writing. Freakonomics, Malcolm Gladwell, Mara Hvistendahl’s Unnatural Selection. Is it a reliable genre? Please say yes. I think this one sounds super interesting.

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition by Karen Glass

Classical education is the primary philosophy from which we school, but I’ve always loved everything I’ve learned about Charlotte Mason’s philosophies as well. We incorporate the little I know into what we do as well – specifically nature study and the practice of narration. This book came out recently and discusses how the two philosophies actually go hand in hand. I’m really, really looking forward to digging into this.

Any Day a Beautiful Change: A Story of Faith and Family by Katherine Willis Pershey

A memoir on pastoring, mothering, and marriage. I feel like it will be delicious.

*****

That’s my list. What’s on yours??

And So

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I don’t have much to say in this space lately. I’m not sure if it’s the season we’re in as a family or if it’s a natural migration away from this tiny corner of the internet and the ways it’s served me over the past 8 (!) years.

I’ve been blogging for most of a decade, but almost never with a particular audience in mind. What started out as a vehicle to share our day-to-day with far-away friends and family turned pretty quickly into the random musings of my life in the trenches with littles. I’m so glad I’ve written it all down.

We’re in a different sort of season now, one that doesn’t lend itself to lots of public sharing, even on a tiny little blog. I’ve always blogged about what was on my mind, ranging from serious to silly to nonsensical enough that I should be embarrassed (see: letter to my broom). I’ve almost never linked to this blog anywhere except maybe a dozen times on my (very small) Facebook feed. I’ve never been interested in being read by people who don’t know me. (If you are here and don’t know me, you are so welcome, please don’t misunderstand! I wish we could sit down with coffee and I could look at your eyes and you could tell me who you are.) I have always been reluctant to expose my thoughts and more importantly my family to the big wide internet world.

Most of my kids are aging out of internet stories. Funny stories about small people are one thing, and stories that grow from the heart of my own processing of what it means to do what I do every day are another thing, but putting much that’s personal about my school-age children onto the open internet makes me feel squirmy.

So I find, more and more, that I really like writing about books. I like writing through my process of figuring out what works well for us in this particular season. I love writing about homeschooling and education.

I don’t always know if anyone cares very much. I mean that very matter-of-factly. And while that doesn’t make a difference, in one sense (I’ve never written out of any sort of obligation or to be heard by anyone; I write because it’s just what I do and what I’ve always done), I also feel like, when I am writing about these things, that I am writing into the void. Which doesn’t even make a huge amount of sense, because book posts and education posts have always garnered me feedback and led to further enjoyable conversations with lots of people. Which is as it should be; those are the things that lend themselves to discussion and I love those conversations. I want to keep talking about this kind of stuff, but maybe not in this context. ?

Morphing a blog about….whatever this blog has been about….into another sort of blog entirely doesn’t quite work. I don’t at all want to put my family blog out into the wider (mean) internet universe. And I also don’t want to quit the kind of writing I’ve loved doing here over the years – writing out our moments, weaving them into words and keeping them to remember.

So I’m not sure what to do. I’m not abandoning this place, but I can feel myself drifting away and it felt right to acknowledge that here. I’ll likely continue to post but just less often (it’s been a month since my last, which has probably never happened before). Of course, after writing this out I’ll probably have like 6 posts drift to the front of my brain and demand to be written, because that’s the way of it. (If you don’t want to keep checking but don’t want to miss the next random-whatever, you can scroll all the way to the bottom and subscribe via email.)

I don’t know. But do I ever?

Thanks for reading; I’m honored.

November Lately

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I’m glad for:

Weekends. Kurt has travelled almost every week for the past 3 months. There were a variety of reasons for this, and we expect next semester to be easier. He really likes his job and he’s quite good at it, and for those things I am enormously grateful. But the traveling rhythm has worn heavily on us during this season. We’ve spent our weekends in a weird mash of scrambling (soccer, grocery, budget, etc.) and trying to claim some family time. We’ve missed church more Sundays than I care to count, but I am trying to remind myself that this is just a season. Next semester should be different.

Our home. We go back and forth about buying (should we? can we?), but meanwhile we have landed in probably the best rental scenario possible. Our landlord is fantastic, our property manager is stellar, and the house itself is a great place to be. I’ve worked over the last two years (!) to make it feel like ours, which is a slow, layered process. And it does. I’m grateful for a home that has just the right space for our family of 6. I’m grateful for an enormous yard, with a flat part for kicking a soccer ball, a hill for sledding down, plenty of trees to climb….and a lawn service. ! It’s home.

Our community. Coming up on our 2-year mark of leaving home and moving to Virginia, I’m doing a lot of reflecting. I’m a mega-reflector in general, but anniversaries seem to bring it on in extra doses. It occurs to me that we couldn’t have made a softer landing. We love it here, and I am immeasurably grateful that we came, despite how difficult it seemed at times. We live in what must be one of the most beautiful spots in the country, and it never ceases to make stop and notice. And we have found ourselves surrounded by fantastic people – the best part.

Audiobooks. Audiobooks have been a part of our world for years, but mostly in the car on road trips. We do own some on CD that the kids will listen to on a fairly regular basis while they build Legos or whatever, and the library has been a great resource in this area. But thanks to a couple of great apps and a spare iPhone after I upgraded, audiobook listening has reached a whole new dimension here. We turned my old phone into a book listening device, basically. We installed strict parental controls that virtually eliminate its internet capabilities, and instead loaded it with the Audible app and the Overdrive app (which allows you to borrow audiobooks in digital form from your local library….read: FREE!!). There are ways to get books for almost nothing on Audible, and I am happy to be building up a decent library. Sometimes the kids listen all together, and every day at rest time they take turns. Jack’s listening to Redwall, Sam’s listening to On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and they’re all listening to Pippi Longstocking. My heart sings, people.

I’m listening to:

Jaime sent me Jars of Clay’s new album, 20. It’s a collection of 20 of their songs, chosen by fans, and reimagined and rerecorded. I loved Jars back in high school but haven’t really kept up with them through the years, although the kids and I have listened to their first album quite a bit this last year. It still holds up! Anyway, Jaime sent me this 2-CD collection and I LOVE it. It’s gorgeous. It’s like I grew up, and the music grew up too.

NPR’s new podcast, Serial. Hugely addictive. I kept trying to get Kurt to listen too so that we could discuss it, and then finally just put all of the episodes on his phone. He kindly promised to listen to the first one this past week as he travelled. By the time he got back Thursday night he’d listened to all 8 episodes. We discussed; we have theories. I’m just saying. It’s that good.

Sarah Mackenzie’s podcast, The Read-Aloud Revival. I love this one as much as Serial, though for entirely different reasons. It’s fantastic! Inspiring, encouraging, and super interesting.

The Quiddity Podcast, put out by the CiRCE Institute. All things classical education. Great conversations. So good.

The Boys in the Boat – the audiobook of this one is all queue’d up; it comes highly recommended!

I’m rocking:

(I recently read a blog post by a college friend reflecting on the idea that our superhero moments are often the small things. Those deserve notice. So, here’s what I’m managing really well right now. Let’s talk about this stuff instead of the stuff I am NOT managing well.)

The kitchen. I’ve found my own evening rhythm within Kurt’s traveling schedule, a way to not be exhausted at the end of every day. I nurse Oliver to sleep at 6, and put the big kids in their room to read. I come downstairs to a quiet house, put on a podcast, and work in the kitchen for awhile. I wash dishes, I scrub counters, I throw together muffins or whatever baked good is on the menu next. When I’m done, I go upstairs and read a book to my upstairs people and then turn off their lights. By that time it’s usually about 7:30. I spend the rest of my evening reading or working on other projects. Sometimes I put on a show via Netflix. It’s all very civilized. Whew. Then I stay up too late and get up really early the next morning to grab a cup of coffee and do some reading/journaling before the day starts…so I’m tired. But, paradoxically, rested. Right now, it works.

Couch time. Making this an intentional part of our days this year has been groundbreaking. We’ve read some great things together: Story of the World, children’s biographies of Shakespeare and da Vinci, and a couple of great novels. We’re currently reading The Sign of the Beaver – so good! Best of all, we’re memorizing some great stuff together. Our poetry book has been a huge success. The kids really, really enjoy it, and I am continually surprised at how quickly and easily they commit things to memory (how many years are we into classical education and STILL this surprises me?!). Even Elisabeth can recite poems with multiple stanzas. We’re also memorizing the first 18 verses of John 1, Psalm 121, and a passage from Macbeth. It’s fun and satisfying.

I’m making:

Christmas presents! Shhh. Star Wars pillowcases for the big boys’ stockings and a stuffed dragon for Oliver. A quilt! The first full-sized quilt I’ve made since we moved here. Good grief. T-shirts! We have two birthdays coming up. Somebody is turning 5 (five?!) and somebody is turning 9 (I can’t even talk about nine. Nine. NINE.). And a stuffed mermaid for Elisabeth’s birthday.

Soul Soothing African Peanut Stew from the Oh She Glows Cookbook. Oh my goodness. It’s my new favorite fall soup. I put off trying it because- peanut stew?? But- yes. Yes. Garnished with cilantro and unsalted peanuts. I’m making it tonight.

I’m reading:

Mere Christianity (still). The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear – the subtitle is A Novel of the Great War. I’ve just started it but it’s really beautiful. I finally gave in and read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’d passed by it for years because romance novels aren’t my thing at all. But time-travel intrigues me as a plot device, and I kept hearing it recommended by people whose taste I generally share, so when I saw it cheap for Kindle I downloaded it to my phone. And couldn’t put it down. I read all 600-something pages on my phone. My eyes crossed, I got a headache, but I read on. If I decide to read further in the series, it will be in book form! I have Thoughts on this one; coming soon to a book list post. I’ve discovered a new (to me) author in the British mystery genre- Martha Grimes. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far. I also finally finished Deconstructing Penguins, which is about leading book discussions with children. A really great book. And I’m most of the way through Evolving: My Journey to Reconcile Science and Faith by Steve Davis (a pastor and the brother of my friend!). Such a great book- logical, full of grace, and very much mirroring my own experience. More to say on this too!

I’m cooking:

African peanut stew. Hello. And chocolate zucchini muffins. And gooey pumpkin-spice latte mocha cake. Both from Oh She Glows. Sweet potato pie from Joy the Baker. How have I lived 35 years without experiencing sweet potato pie?! This recipe contains coriander, which I am convinced is the magic ingredient, and is made in a buttermilk crust, which is hands-down delicious. Chicken quesadillas from Pioneer Woman, served with sour cream and fresh salsa from Trader Joe’s. My mom’s homemade chicken noodle soup, which I make in spades this time of year. Yum.

I’m planning:

Oh, the to-do list is full of good things, and my eyes are bigger than my hours (or my energy, frankly). I need to get the chimney cleaned out. I need to go to the dentist and the optometrist and the dermatologist and maybe just ALL of the -ologists. I want to host women for a mom’s night out. After reading Deconstructing Penguins, I want to start a book club for kids. I want to start a book club for women! Never mind the kids. (Is there time for both?) I want to clean out Oliver’s closet, which is mostly full of boxes and functions as our main storage for the things we don’t use regularly. I’m convinced we could get rid of a chunk of those things, if I could only find the time to sort through them. We’re planning our next trip south, hooray hooray. I want to learn to crochet (Mom? help!). I want to make Christmas crafts with the kids, and since I am the un-craftiest person ever, this just shows that I have really been inhaling the autumn air and it’s left me kind of buzzy.

I even bought craft glue. !!!

Look out.