36: I-95

Each year since I turned 33, I’ve documented my birthday. 33, 34, 35. Here’s 36.

*****

My alarm goes off at 5, and we stumble into motion. I don’t even remember that today is my birthday until Kurt reminds all of us in the midst of rinsing breakfast dishes and filling water bottles. Well, that’s nice, I think happily. I think I’m 36 this year? Did I turn the porchlight on? Who has used the bathroom? A scramble of activity later, we pull out of our driveway. It’s 6:09. Two days ago, the stomach plague struck me and Sam, and though we are well, we are not quite right, so I start my day armed with  saltines, Gatorade, and anti-nausea bands around my wrists. We’re off. Since I started yesterday barely able to move with not a thing packed, I can’t believe we did it.

*****

We are 25 minutes down the road when a development in Oliver’s diaper situation necessitates a stop. This sort of early stop is against everything I stand for on road trips, but what can you do? I try to wave good-bye to my expectations. Haven’t I learned anything in 36 years? At least I’m not throwing up.

Are we almost to the causeway? -this is Elisabeth at 7:15. No, not for like nine more hours, we tell her. Maybe don’t ask again for awhile. Do you want a peppermint? She asks again 30 minutes later. I pass her some pumpernickel pretzels. Food works, friends.

*****

Before we had kids or smartphones or even a CD player in our old truck, we would read aloud to each other on road trips. Specifically, we would read The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, age 13 3/4, and laugh until our ribs hurt and we became a road hazard. These days it’s audio books and music, mostly music since Oliver came along and made his preferences loudly known. Today we listen to Sandra Boynton, Garth Brooks, Jack Johnson, and Mat Kearney.

When our trip to Georgia took us through the Smoky Mountains, we’d count tunnels and mark our way through the magnificent views in Tennessee and the twists of the deep ravines in North Carolina. We’d sail out of the mountains after Ashland, feeling like we were on the downward slope of our trip, literally and metaphorically. Flat land all the way to the coast; it won’t be long now.

Now the bulk of our trip takes place on I-95, and we count South of the Border billboards. There’s nothing else to count. Every mile looks exactly like every other mile. Sam and Elisabeth have a dispute about whether or not Pedro’s hat counts as a billboard. PLEASE don’t count that as a billboard Lissie, because IT ISN’T, pleads Sam. Elisabeth refuses to agree. EIGHTEEN!! yells Jack.

*****

At 11 a.m. we pull into the parking lot of the Chick-fil-A in Lumberton, North Carolina. This marks the halfway point of our journey. I haven’t thrown up yet. I even eat some salad. Salad! We take up two tables these days, with our sprawl of children and diaper bags and a high chair. But we’re fast. People are fed, escorted to the bathroom, and at 11:37 we’re back on the road.

By 12:30, we’ve stopped two more times. TWO MORE TIMES. Two people needed to use the bathroom (again) but not at the same time (because of course). Then someone thought maybe we should change the baby, and I said this was NOT how I liked to do things, but that someone was right because the baby was stinky (again) and I attempted to shed my fascist travel nature yet again. We are not stopping again, I said (calmly, peacefully). You can all hold it.

Is this what they’ll remember about family road trips?

*****

At 1:30 I receive a text alert about a fraudulent charge on my credit card. I attempt to call but we’re in the middle of nothing in South Carolina, so I eventually give up. But I keep my earbuds in, pull up my podcast app, and spend the next couple of hours tuning out everything. It’s fantastic. I listen to the first episode of a new podcast that I knew I was going to love as soon as I listened to the preview a few weeks ago: The Mystery Show. I do. I love it. Kids chatter, music plays, Kurt sings, and I gaze out at the unending swath of billboards that make up I-95 and listen to podcasts.

*****

At 4:18, our windows are down. We make a left turn onto the causeway that will take us onto St. Simons Island. As soon as the turn is complete, I press play on Jack Johnson’s album To the Sea. We listen to this every single time we make this turn. It is our we are here music. The volume is up, the wind tangles my hair, I have not thrown up, and I can see the ocean in that little crack in the horizon between St. Simons and Jekyll Island. We made it.

At 6, we are all in the swimming pool. The water is warm, the evening air is cool, and everyone is so happy. Later I sit in a rocking chair on the back porch, wrapped in a beach towel while Kurt manages the drying off and dressing of small people. I’m looking out at woods and marsh and sky, and everything here is quiet. I consider never moving again, but there’s cake. I think I want some cake.

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I remember the dreams I dreamed at 26, at 16, and I’m so glad I don’t write my own story. I wouldn’t have made it enough.

The Sweater Song (1500 words on Language Arts, not sweaters) (or Weezer) (sorry)

And. I STILL love that song.

(This is a overly lengthy post about my thought process and likely of interest to no one but my mother, who has heard it all over the phone already, but my thoughts are only considered complete when I’ve written them out so….)

So over the last couple of weeks my whole Language Arts plan has come completely undone and a whole new thing has taken its place, and it’s all because I had this one little thought that I started tugging at. JUST LIKE THE SWEATER SONG.

It was, very simply, the realization that Sam has trouble identifying the parts of speech.

Sam has finished second grade. He has had two years of First Language Lessons (Jack has had three). He ought to know his parts of speech. I really do love FLL for many reasons, but somehow FLL 2 didn’t take root with Sam. As I thought about this, I also thought about our writing program, Writing With Ease. We’ve loved it as well, and both boys have done really well in it. I’ve noticed that they have different strengths – Sam puts together really clear, beautiful narrations, but he struggles with dictation. He can almost always repeat it back in general terms, but not exactly. He’s quickly grasping the idea, but not the specific words. Jack, on the other hand, excels at dictation. Jack just has a natural bent towards memorization. He can do it quickly and almost effortlessly. However, Jack’s narrations tend to be rather unfocused. He includes too many details, or unimportant information.

I realized that Sam may need to go a different route for grammar next year. I don’t think he’s ready for FLL 3, and I don’t think repeating FLL 2 will help. Sam is very visual, and he grasps main ideas quickly. He doesn’t linger on details, but sometimes details are important. Memorization doesn’t come quickly to him. FLL is very repetitive and linear; it relies on memorized definitions and the application of those directions over and over again.

And it hit me – this is my chance to jump into a program that makes my heart flutter and that I’ve been wanting to do for 2 years but have had trouble figuring out how to do on the side or in bits and pieces. Sam will be at the perfect age, 3rd grade, to jump all the way in. The program is Michael Clay Thompson’s Language Arts (from Royal Fireworks Press).

It’s multi-pronged, synthetic, Socratic in nature, and quite fluid. There’s very little in the way of implementation direction. It relies on multiple books with grammar as the core, then relying on grammar to weave together instruction in writing, vocabulary, poetry, and literature. It takes a 4-level analysis approach to grammar, which I really love. I plan to add in some diagramming, because I believe the two models compliment each other beautifully and present a really complete picture of the relationships between words.

The books are pricey, but I already have two, and I’m mostly only purchasing Teacher’s Manuals (they’re identical to the student books, but are sprinkled with notes and discussion points). They are really gorgeous. Language IS the star of each page, and the illustrations are full-paged and fantastic.

I’m eager to jump into this with Sam; I think it will fit him perfectly. Because I do value the practices of narration and dictation, we’ll work out of both Writing With Ease 3 and Classical Academic Press’s Fable, probably alternating weeks between the two of those while doing our MCT work daily.

And of course continue with one of my favorite pieces of curriculum ever, All About Spelling.

So Sam – set! Erin- happy!

BUT THEN.

I started to think about Jack.

Susan Wise Bauer published updated recommendations for her writing programs (Writing With Ease for elementary & Writing With Skill for middle grades) and I was in whole-hearted agreement – 3 years of WWE was plenty. Hoping to do WWS in grade 6, but lacking a clear direction for the ‘meanwhile’, I went ahead and enrolled Jack in Classical Conversations’ Essentials class for next year. Essentials is a pretty intense (and definitely strong) grammar and writing course. CC recommends students take it for 3 years, from grades 4-6. CC uses its own grammar material in Essentials (and it is really incredible) and the Institute for Excellence in Writing’s material for the writing piece.

I wasn’t sure about doing Essentials, and wasn’t sure IEW was our cup of tea, but I am a fan of Andrew Pudewa (who is the brain behind IEW) and I didn’t have any other plan in place, so it seemed like a great year to jump into Essentials and see what we thought. I signed up and paid my nonrefundable registration fee. And then I had my language arts epiphany regarding Sam.

And I started to think that we were going to be paying quite a hefty fee for Jack to do Essentials next year – registration, tuition, materials, and afternoon childcare for the younger three kids. I’m not one to have a beef about the cost of CC – I think it’s absolutely worth it, and I feel the same about Essentials. For the kind of course it is, it’s not overpriced. But suddenly I wondered if maybe it wasn’t worth it to me. What else could we use those dollars for, educationally speaking? Extracurricular lessons, trips, books?

Maybe, I thought, waiting a year makes the most sense. I spoke to a couple of friends about this who were both hugely helpful in helping me clarify my own thought process. What I realized, finally, was that I didn’t want to delay Essentials a year. After all, it’s designed as a 3-year program, and is at its strongest when taken that way. (As my friend Holly, our campus’s current Essentials tutor, accurately pointed out to me.)

Actually, I realized, I didn’t want to do Essentials at all.

(We are all still doing Foundations! Love Foundations.)

It was such a lightning bolt moment! I was so HAPPY and relieved to identify that. I know Essentials is a great program but it’s not for us, the same way I know Saxon math is great but it’s also not for us. I dove headfirst into research (!!) and have landed on what I feel like is going to be a great (comprehensive, inspiring, solid, pick your adjective) direction for Jack. This should take him up to where he can begin Writing With Skill in grade 6 or even The Lost Tools of Writing in grade 7, whether or not we do LTW through CC’s Challenge program.

Jack will also be using MCT materials. We’ll work a bit first in the Island level (Level 1) before moving on to the Town level (Level 2). The two components of this program that Jack and I will be using that I am MOST excited about are vocabulary and literature. The vocabulary piece is called Caesar’s English and is a 2-volume set packed with gorgeous photographs; it’s unlike any vocabulary book I’ve come across. The literature piece gives me the perfect answer to my old dilemma – required reading. Jack and I will read and discuss 3 novels this year: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and the Wind in the Willows. MCT’s editions of these novels are unabridged but annotated, weaving together and highlighting each element of language – grammar, writing, poetry, and vocabulary.

Jack can continue to read whatever he wants on his own, I can continue our planned read-alouds, and this literature piece will be the final piece of the reading puzzle. Hooray!!

For very structured, scaffolded writing lessons, we’ll also work through a fantastic little writing curriculum I discovered online – it’s called Treasured Conversations. It’s truly a gem. This will really help him identify important ideas, organize his own ideas, and put them together in a way that is both organized and thoughtful. He’ll continue in All About Spelling as well. I’m also going to purchase CC’s charts for grammar and parsing (quid et quo), because they’re awesome resources to have on hand.

The moral of the story is that I think I spent all of the money bookmarked for Essentials tuition on other writing curricula (but not the money for materials or childcare! so there’s that!) and I am so happy with our plans.

*****

I set on this writing & grammar course for Jack during his Kindergarten year. I knew we’d use FLL and WWE, and I’m so glad we have. But as we approach this bend in the road, I’m finding myself thinking from scratch again. Where are we going? How are we going to get there? Why are we teaching grammar? What is the point of studying language – writing, vocabulary, poetry, or any of it? What kind of kid do I have here – he’s twice the age he was when I planned all of this; it’s time to examine who he’s becoming, where he’s going, and how I can help him get there.

If you read through this whole post, I owe you a frappucino. Charlottesville has a drive-thru Starbucks now (!!!) so I am all over that.

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??