What’s working right now…

Since it’s usually better to focus on the positive, what is working for my family right now?

Sunshine.  Today (and actually for the past few days) the sun is actually shining.  That always changes my entire energy level–I feel like I can move mountains.  I know the sun won’t shine every day, but I’ll definitely take it when I can.  (And when it does rain?  At least my girls are happy.)

 

Projects.  Art projects, craft projects, house projects…I’ve been digging into my Artful Parent book and my youngest and I have spent afternoons trying this and that.  The liquid watercolors are still out on the kitchen table after a week, just in case.  We have salt paintings stacked up on one counter and a large fairy house (still in process) smack in the middle of the kitchen island.  Fabric is piled up next to the bookshelf in the kitchen; my youngest sewed herself a little cat this weekend.  Stuff for potential projects (egg cartons for planting seeds) and almost finished projects (painted wooden discs about to be turned into magnets) are everywhere.  My kitchen is not a minimalist showplace right now….but we’re happy.

Music.  It can be Studio Ghibli piano music in the background of our mornings, or Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony while I’m prepping dinner:  music helps.  I dare anyone to still be in a bad mood by the end of Beethoven’s Seventh.  Truly.

Time outside.  I spent one Saturday afternoon simply weeding and cleaning up flowerbeds.  It was one of the most peaceful days I’ve had.  If the weather cooperates (thunderstorms turn our backyard into a swamp quickly), being outside is a blessing.  A friend commented last night to watch the birds–they don’t realize there’s a pandemic going on.  Sitting on your porch (or deck) and simply watching the animals in your backyard can give you a tiny dose of normal.

Free stuff to do from sympathetic souls.  I’m surrounded by people crowding my inbox with here’s something to help you through this time, for free (or heavily discounted).  We’re in a unique place where everyone, to a certain extent, is dealing with similar problems–and people are ready to help.

Books.  A secret stash of books, to be precise.  After our last trip to the now-closed-library, where I stocked up on things for my youngest, I sorted everything and hid over half of them on the shelf of the living room closet, complete with dividers telling me what was where.  She’s plowing through things faster than I anticipated, so it won’t last long, but for at least awhile I can trade out her finished Magic Tree House book for another one, and set out “fresh books” downstairs on occasion as a surprise.

My new morning “alone time.”  This is actually me trying to spin something that’s honestly making me crazy.  My youngest has been sleeping in a ridiculous amount, rivaling her teenage siblings.  She admitted one morning–after stumbling downstairs at eleven o’clock–that she’d read until after midnight.  Somehow, the little girl who was picking her way gingerly through the Puppy Mudge beginning readers not even a year  ago is now inhaling the Rainbow Magic Fairy books in one sitting–and not sleeping.  I’m horrified.  Our daily routine is totally shot.  Except that it does allow for bonus alone time for me as I start my day, giving me time to do things….like write this.

Think on it awhile.  What’s working for you?

Minimalism vs. the six-year-old

I have learned to let go a lot of needing things especially tidy.  Homeschooling three kids while owning two dogs and having a husband working from home means we live in this house; really live in it, day in and day out.  My focus on “less stuff” means things are definitely easier to keep clean and picked up.

And then there’s my youngest.   

My good friend was her pre-K/Kindy teacher, at a home-based Reggio-style program two mornings a week.  I was complaining to her about how different this one was from my other two.  “When the bigs played, they’d play with the Thomas the train set, or they’d play with Legos, or they’d play with the blocks…. when she plays, she plays with Thomas with the Legos with the blocks.”  My friend just chuckled a little and said, “Yeah, that’s very Reggio….sorry about that.”

I love to see her amazing creativity (truly; I love it).  But it is SO. HARD. for me to not swoop in every few days and put everything back where it belongs.  My current tolerance level is about two weeks, which honestly I feel is not unreasonable, especially since by then she’s usually wandered on to something else.  Right now we have Legos all over the dining room table (which I’ve had over a decade of practice with–that part’s fine by me). We have Thomas’s entire Island of Sodor in the middle of the living room floor, also including a handful of Legos, most of her fairy friends, and a friendly baby dragon.  The dollhouse is also in the living room and occasionally gets pulled into the story, too.  Her tiny bedroom stays clean for less than 24 hours at a time, because once it’s dealt with, it’s all open and lovely and she gets excited and immediately fills it up.  Last week she learned she could move her bed by herself; it’ll never be the same again…..

That room, mind you, is the same one I was in love with just a few years ago; so empty and inviting.  It’s amazing how things change once kids start developing their own opinions.  😉

In theory, we could move things out of her room.  I do, with some frequency.  But this is a child who, when deprived of paper, will simply use Kleenex, boxed for her convenience and sitting on her bookcase.

I’m having trouble balancing my Simplicity Parenting background with keeping her creativity fed and nourished.  I especially hate for her room to be so trashed, when I feel like it needs to be reasonably clean for her to sleep peacefully (nightmares two nights in a row has got me really focused on this right now).  I am someone constantly focused on simplifying and getting rid of stuff, and she is someone who seems happiest surrounded by stuff.  Trying to figure out how to coexist will be an adventure over the years!

Choosing Quiet

We had an exceptionally quiet day today.

This week is just full enough that when my husband needed the car this afternoon, I declared it was a stay-at-home day, all day, for the rest of us.  It’s been so peaceful.

The weather has played a part….fall is remembering that it’s supposed to show up, and we’ve had the windows open and a cool breeze blowing in.  My youngest woke with a sweet spirit and discovered the coloring books a friend had passed on to me the night before, so we started our morning coloring at the sunny kitchen table.  Breakfast involved simply pushing our things to the side while she ate her toast.  It was so quiet she realized she could hear the squirrels’ feet as they scampered up and down the trees outside the window, much the same way she noticed the steam rising from her spoonful of oatmeal when she was four.

We counted the rainbows in the laundry room, cast by the crystal hanging in the window,  throwing colors in every direction.  We “caught” the rainbows in our hands. She decided it was time for some fall clothes, so we worked in her room a bit; putting away her summery sundresses, getting out her black buckle-up shoes.

She found a clouded sulphur butterfly in the yard, which led her to bring her Legos out onto the deck to play before lunch.

Now she’s playing peacefully in her room while she listens to an audiobook, and I am here.

I’m writing all this down because I want to remember it.  I want to remember that we are choosing differently, that we are living differently, and that we’re doing it on purpose.

While I colored with my little one early this morning, I got a phone call from a friend, apologizing for having to miss out on a gathering we’d been planning.  She’d forgotten a thing, she was double-booked, she was so sorry, she couldn’t make it.

And that’s fine.  Mistakes happen, I understand.

What’s funny to me is that this is the same person who gives me such grief when I say “no” to things.  I have, occasionally, mentioned Courtney Carver’s idea that I don’t say no because I’m too busy….I say no because I don’t want to be busy.  Of course!  She understands.  Completely.

Until the next time I choose not to do something.

That is her choice.  For my part, I will continue to pay attention to my family’s need for rest, especially during busy seasons.  I will keep taking lessons from my youngest, my Noticer.  I will keep choosing slow and steady over fast and furious; choosing different.

Choosing quiet.

My Paradox

It is officially “nest” season over here again, this time with my six-year-old; the big kids have moved on.  I was watching her arrange blankets yesterday and it reminded me of this post.

Originally published June 12, 2012

I moved the living room furniture last week, pushing the sofa directly in front of our bay window.  (It’s air conditioner season here, so I don’t anticipate opening the window anytime soon.)  I was completely not expecting the enthusiastic response I got from both my kids, who appeared to be positively thrilled with the new arrangement.  My daughter was actually dancing around the room.  “Why?” I finally asked.  “Why do you like the furniture this way?”

“For our nest!!” my daughter announced.  And, yes, by the next afternoon there was a pile behind the sofa, and the spot was officially dubbed their “nest.”

There are no fewer than nine blankets and six pillows back there.  The amount of stuff in that nook, which is maybe eight feet at it’s very widest point (but it’s a bay, so it narrows to about 3 1/2′), looks ridiculous.  (Actually, to be honest, it looks quite comfy.)  All the blankets and pillows are tumbled and tossed together, in a jumble of chaos where the “dividing line” between my kids’ spaces is vaguely discernable by a color change:  one side is mostly blue, one side is mostly pink.  It’s the definition of “excess.”

But….

If one of the high points of my kids’ summer is the ability to make a “nest;” to snuggle in behind the sofa, in the dappled shade of the trees that grow just outside the window, and read a book; or to just hang out together (as they often do)…..then, isn’t that a definition of simplicity?

Connections

Sometimes I think we make things too hard.

That statement covers a lot of ground; it’s one of the reasons I’ve been so focused on simplifying things in our home.  What I’m specifically thinking about right now, though, is finding connection with our kids.

All parents want to connect with their children, but I think homeschool parents have this added dose of…..something.  Maybe because we’re with them all the time, but are aware that time together does not necessarily equal true togetherness.  Maybe it’s the extra responsibility we feel that other parents don’t have, as we’ve committed to this whole “school” thing in addition to parenting.  Everywhere I turn, I’m being reminded that it’s all about the relationships.  

I think there’s this vague idea of what we want connection to look like–what it “should” look like.

  • Bonding over a read-aloud.
  • Discovering something new and unknown in the world around you, together.
  • Deep conversations over cocoa on a cold day (or over ice cream when it’s hot).

Something about all these ideas seems very serious and….I don’t know….intense.

What if it really was as simple as watching a movie?

What if you and your spouse pulled out the weirdest movie you both loved from years ago, warned the (big) kids repeatedly that they might not like it, explained that it really took a special sort of person to enjoy it…..and what if they loved it?

What if the 13-year-old “I don’t really ever laugh at movies, I just smile” couldn’t stop laughing?

What if the 15-year-old cynic laughed just as hard?

(Y’all….there was audible gasping.)

What to make of the ensuing conversation post-movie of the sheer ridiculousness of it all?

          Daughter, at the final, final scene:  What was that??

          Me:  That was the Space Shuttle built from household appliances taking off!

          Daughter:  NO!  Not that--I know what that was.  What was THAT?  That entire                                         movie? (Begins laughing uncontrollably)

What if you get up the next morning and discover the teens have usurped the six-year-old’s magnetic letters?  (This, by the way, was the inspiration for this post.)

What if, when they finally stumble out of bed the next morning, we are all still laughing?  Together?

It’s June, people, and I’m tired.  I”m tired of trying to evaluate every. single. thing my kids are doing to try and figure out if there’s some kind of educational value in it.  I’m tired of thinking about school and what school should look like and how much school is enough.  All I want, right now, is to simply connect with my kids.  To enjoy them.  To enjoy things together.

To laugh.  A lot.

 

 

*The movie in question is “Better off Dead.”  No need to go watch it….truly…..you might not like it.  It really takes a special sort of person to enjoy it. 😉

Reading

I’m watching our youngest begin to learn to read.  And I want to capture every. single. moment.

This has been so different from my older two.  My son…..well, I’m not sure I remember a time when he wasn’t reading.  He just read.  And I know there must have been a process and it must have been at least slightly gradual, but it was pretty much all internal.  At some point during those two-mornings-of-preschool a week, he could read.  I still remember nearly driving off the road as we passed the exit for “New Horizons Parkway” and his little voice piped up from the backseat:  “Is that word ‘horizon?'”

It didn’t come quite that easily for my daughter.  I remember her curled up with Henry and Mudge and Annie’s Perfect Pet, and practicing, practicing, practicing the page about the hutch Annie’s dad built for her bunny.  It took a lot of work.  It wasn’t nearly as easy as it had been for her brother.  But by five, she was reading.

And now I have my littlest.  While the older kids went to a church preschool (two years), half-day kindergarten and first grade in public school, my youngest has traveled a very different path.  She’s attended a play-based preschool/kindergarten two mornings a week these past two years.  We are playing around with All About Reading’s Pre-Reading level (by “playing around” I mean we started in early December and are still on capital W).  That’s the extent of her “school.”  Mostly what we do for reading is, snuggle up and read together.  A lot.

And at six, she’s starting to read.

I feel like we had a few months of “she needs to learn more letters/ letter sounds;” the desire to read was there, but she was lacking an ability to sound anything out because she didn’t know quite enough.  Suddenly, she knows her letters, she knows their sounds, and she knows it’s weird that “knows” starts with a “k.”

The babysteps started when we were reading the Sophie Mouse series.  Each chapter title was written in such a nice, large, simple font, she wanted to sound out the words.  So we did that together.  Book after book.

Her other favorite way to practice is to hear me read a sentence, and then read it herself.  She’ll listen to the words, then put her finger under each word as she repeats them back to me.  Every book we read, I have to pause frequently, because I know there will be those moments of now it’s my turn.

It’s funny how things begin to click.  Those two simple things have worked together and she’s really starting to get it.

At the library recently, they had an end-cap display with a matching game of farm animal pictures and words.  She sat there, very quietly sounding out the words and matching them with the animals, while my older daughter looked at me in excitement.  “She’s reading!  She’s reading them!”

She was in her room the other afternoon and my husband heard her talking.  “Do you need something?” he called.

“No!” she hollered back.  “I’m just reading my book!”

Honestly, I’m not quite ready for that yet.  I want to keep snuggling up on our bed with a pile of picture books; especially those nights where we have a “Big Read” and bring in a STACK of new books from the library.  Or those times when we read a real chapter book (not an early-reader-knock-it-out-in-one-sitting) and she just doesn’t want to stop reading:  Can we do another chapter of Ramona? first thing in the morning.  I don’t want to miss the excitement on her face–she kept turning around to look at me in her enthusiasm–when Mary found the key to The Secret Garden (or her laughing eyes when Martha demonstrated how to jump rope).  I do not want to give up that together time we have every time we read.  I’m thankful we don’t have to.  But I’m thankful, too, that the door to reading has been unlocked for her and she’s on her way through on her own.

What’s working right now

It feels like most stuff isn’t working right now.  Both my girls have had varying degrees of sickness, ongoing, since February 4th.  I finally consented to doctor visits for both, and we now have two bottles of antibiotic in the fridge.  My youngest is especially temperamental when she doesn’t feel well, so random, surprise tears have been added to the mix.  The weather is less than cooperative here (especially according to the public school folk, who have just logged their 57th snow day…..approximately 😉 ).  We are full of snowed in, iced over, sick, cranky people in this house.

I thought I’d spend at least a little time focusing on what is working.  In no particular order:

Walks and talks with my oldest.  I don’t know if this will actually become a habit or not, but right now it looks promising.  The two of us, who hate anything even remotely close to exercise, are actually willing to leave the house after dinner and walk around the neighborhood for awhile.  We can’t possibly be burning calories, but it’s given him some much needed sister-free time and it’s also helped me realize how full his brain is of wonderful and amazing things.

Christmas lights in almost-March.  This is the second year where, after taking down the tree in mid-January, I kept out two strands of lights to hang over the curtain rod on our living room bay.  Two strands of tiny, multicolored lights are exactly the right amount of light to be cozy (and, surprisingly, functional–it’s enough to read by).  I keep them on the same timer I had for our Christmas tree, so every morning when I come downstairs they’re there to greet me.

My youngest and almost-reading.  My five-year-old isn’t reading yet, but she’s suddenly starting to make huge leaps in connections and understanding.  She spends large portions of her day thinking out loud:  “There’s Koda.  K-K-K-Koda starts with K.  She’s furry.  F-F-F-Furry.  F.  F is furry.  Hey, Mama, I can spell ‘run!’  R-U-N.”  I suspect it’s making her siblings crazy, but I love it.

My big kids reading.  My oldest–who will still insist that he doesn’t like to read–has been devouring books over here.  Apparently, the kid who sees absolutely no need or purpose for algebra has no similar concerns with the classic canon of literature, and has polished off The Grapes of Wrath and Brave New World for school while also reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and No Country for Old Men just for fun.  (Um….fun?!?)  That’s only a bit of the list that I’ve been keeping track of over these past six weeks.  After requesting to not have specific “reading for school,” my daughter has been polishing off books at the rate of one per day; some, yes, pretty light reading, but others not so much (she’s knocking out the Mary Poppins series right now).

Snow days on our side.  With both my daughters alternating between “just a cold” and “flattened” simultaneously, there’s been the potential for a lot of missed extracurriculars.  Somehow, the weather that everyone else has been cursing has come to our rescue almost every time, and classes have been cancelled on days (or nights) when my girls would have been too sick to attend.

And, finally….

My husband quitting his job.  Because when you’ve been planning something for six months, it feels good to finally pull it off.  The countdown to “last day” has begun.

 

It’s funny how if I just keep my eyes on the good, the bad stuff tends to fade into the background.

But….math

When we started school back up after winter break, I talked to both my older kids about what they really wanted school to look like.

This is different than what I’ve always done before, which has consistently been some form of “what would you like to study for [insert subject here]?”  We’ve had a very check-the-box kind of school, and they’ve had lots of freedom inside that framework.  The framework has always existed, though.  For this round, I told both of them we were approaching our next six weeks like a zero-based budget:  if we started over, completely from scratch….what do YOU want school to look like?

My 15-year-old son’s response was immediate:  NO MATH.  All caps, at the top of the blank sheet of paper I’d set in front of him.

My daughter was less passionate as she spoke to me separately…..but sounded a bit defeated.  Well, I don’t like math, but I guess nobody likes math, right?  

So we dropped math for this six weeks.

Writing it sounds so simple, but this was hard, people.  It’s terrifying, even if I’m telling myself it’s only for this next little bit, reassuring myself we’re not necessarily committing for the long haul.

My son is currently glorying in his freedom and writing with pretty much every new spare moment he has (not that math took that much time, but still….).  Ironically, he uses math regularly as he compiles his rankings of all the things he ranks and reviews, but I’m not about to point that out.  (If I did, he’d just point out it’s not algebra.)

But my daughter…..

The 13-year-old lasted exactly one-and-a-half weeks before she looked at me and said, “I need to be doing math.”  Much to my relief, it turns out I have one kiddo who isn’t ready to buck the system quite so strongly.  We talked it over and came to a few conclusions:  No more Teaching Textbooks.  No video math curriculum.  Somehow, a book, with maybe a parent going through it with her if necessary.  I got online and looked at the Kansas math standards for 7th grade (yes, I know Common Core is the enemy, but sometimes you just need a list of “stuff they’re doing in X grade”).  Then I got on our library’s website and Amazon and just looked around awhile.

And now Winnie Cooper might be teaching my daughter math.

When she first looked at Danica McKellar’s Math Doesn’t Suck she literally made a face.  “It looks like a magazine!” she announced with disdain.  (A hardback, inch thick magazine, but…..you know.  Cover styling and such.)

I asked her to read just the intro and FAQ pages, and she was hooked.  Actually, I think she might have been hooked reading the chapter titles (“How to Entertain Yourself While Babysitting a Devil Child”).  But a few days in and this seems to be a very real possibility for getting us over the middle-school math hump.  And I am SO grateful.  It’d be nice to have at least one kiddo staying contentedly in a “check that box” mentality for high school.  It’s a heck of a lot easier.

Hope and Change

A little over a week ago I finally planted the crocus bulbs that I’d bought last fall.  Winter hit early here, and my ridiculous to-do list of “things to do before the first freeze” was pretty much thrown out the window–I was glad simply to have gotten the hoses disconnected before the temps dropped.  (I did also manage to plant six shrubs….and that was it.)

Then it was January and for nearly a week, we had fall again.

Temperatures started out in that “not too bad when it’s sunny” 40 degree range, then up into the 60’s, and suddenly it was genuinely warm.….and I realized that with the ground thawed, I might be able to get those two boxes of crocus in the ground.

That’s when I started plotting this blog post.  Thoughts of hope and spring were collecting in my head and knocking about; I knew I had to work in Anne Lamott’s quote about how

It helps beyond words to plant bulbs in the dark of winter.

So that’s what we did, my five-year-old gardening partner and I, on a blustery 50 degree afternoon in January.  (50 degrees!  In January!!)

 

That was a Tuesday.  Then Saturday came, and the snow poured down…..this is Kansas, after all.

Honestly, even this weather makes me happy.  Nine inches of snow is more than that five-year-old has ever seen….this was the year she finally got to build her first snowman.  And this was decidedly the best kind of snow; the stuff that sticks to the trees and makes everything glorious, but melts on the still-warm streets.

So my thoughts shift to change.  Yes, hope and spring; but also, yes, change….things can go dark and silent quickly.  Those warm, sunny days can come crashing down days later, branches overwhelmed with heavy snow.  Bulbs planted in hope are now buried, a foot deep, under all that’s fallen.

Pay attention, though, to what that means.

If things can turn that quickly for the worse, they can also turn for the better.

Change works both ways.  For the bad…and for the good.

So this is still a post about hope.  Because it is January now.  But in time it will be April.  “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalms 30:5)

 

Christmas, slightly excessive

We’ve been watching The Great Christmas Light Fight on television this season.  It reminded me of this post, which I had to share again.

Originally published December 24, 2013:

Last night we drove around neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights, something the kids ask to do every year. Over our five years in this house we’ve discovered a few good streets, a few great streets, and what my children refer to as “the inflatable house.” (Every time they say it, I have visions of a puffy home floating in the sky above their neighbors.) This is the place that has dozens upon dozens of inflatables in their yard, on their roof, in their driveway, and–the crowning glory–a perpetual DVD loop of the movie Happy Feet projected on the front of their house. You can actually get out and walk through their yard, though the weather has been so bad when we’ve gone we’ve never braved it.

In our last house, we lived next door to a couple who really decorated for Christmas. While they weren’t quite the place that people drove for miles to see each year, they did have a yard full of goodies. When my oldest was a toddler, he would plant himself at the dining room window, peering out across our dark lawn to all the lights next door; at that point, their light-up train (with “moving” wheels!) was a special draw. Once, when my older daughter was around two, I stood in the driveway with both my kiddos and watched them set up for awhile.

As I stood looking at their display I counted no fewer than twenty-one light-up objects in their yard, ranging from elves, polar bears, reindeer, and a toy soldier, to the aforementioned train. Also in this total count were inflatables, including a snow globe with actual blowing “snow.” Not included in this count were the dozens of strings of lights; some of which, as we watched, they were hanging in a tree.

The wife was standing on the ground, watching her husband perched atop a ladder; lights in one hand, pole in another. He was focused, working with great intensity on creating glowing perfection. She would occasionally call up helpful comments and observations. My absolute favorite (note: for full effect, this must be said with a slight southern drawl):

“Now, Rick, make sure none of the bulbs are burnt out…that’s just tacky.”

Years later, it still makes me laugh.