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Read Alouds July 2016 – June 2017

We spend a lot of time reading aloud, but don’t be fooled, a lot of these we listened to while driving in the car together.  These don’t include any of our many picture books or nonfiction titles.  If we don’t like it, we don’t finish it, so all of these books come recommended by us.

For this year I have designated (in a very sexist way) which books have been read separately to my boys and my daughter.  I’m working on rereading a lot of the boys’ old favorites for my daughter’s sake.

The Magician’s Nephew by Lewis

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by Lewis

Prince Caspian by Lewis

The Horse and His Boy by Lewis

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by Lewis

The Silver Chair by Lewis

All of a Kind Family by Taylor

Beasts of Olympus Books 1-5 by Coats

James and the Giant Peach by Dahl

Wings of Fire Books 1-3 by Sutherland

Just So Stories by Kipling 

Tashi by Feinburg

The American Story: 100 True Tales from American History by Armstrong

The Story of the World Volumes 4 and 5 by Bauer

 

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Selective Hearing

via Daily Prompt: Noise

My mother always found me a hard child to punish because I loved to be sent to my room. I never remember a time in my life, no matter how young I was, that I didn’t relish quiet time alone.

Being the poster-child for introverts I sometimes find homeschooling overwhelming, working with children at the library over the weekend can be trying and social media is best in once-a-week-or-so doses. I suppose it comes as no surprise then, that the political landscape and news media can be inordinately difficult.

After the last election I felt a surge of desire to get involved, to make a difference in the world around me, to teach my children about our country and what it means for us as a people to actually be “great”.

We live in an area with a large minority and immigrant population and the safety of my neighbors was forefront in my mind. The kids and I made a poster of the Statue of Liberty, including an excerpt from the poem by Lazarus, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”. We posted it to the front door of our house for months. We added to that a sign that we bought at our church that reads, “Love your neighbor* *your black, brown, immigrant, disabled, religiously different, LGBTQ, fully human neighbor.”
My husband brought the kids to our local March for Science (I worked that day). We brought the kids to local Rise Up Singing events at a cafe downtown. I signed up for email lists and had impassioned talks with friends about activism.

Several months into the presidency I was feeling that old familiar feeling of being “all peopled out”. In that time I had lost my grandmother, we had renovated two apartments, I had hit bottom with my drinking and started to get sober and I just didn’t have the bandwidth. I stopped looking at Facebook. I stopped watching the news unless it was on downstairs while I was caring for my uncle. I pulled back and in and hunkered down.

If (when) my sobriety is still intact when March 27th rolls around I will have hit 6 months. Our church is gearing up for a big partnership with a local organization in our city. I am coming out of my winter and self care induced hibernation. I am feeling re-energized and ready to jump back in.

This week, while nor’easters rolled over our house, I read this book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. It’s a small book and not a difficult read but, I think, an important one. Out of fear I kept it on my nightstand for a long time before finally picking it up. Surprisingly I finished it feeling motivated rather than depressed. Don’t get me wrong, there are terrifying things in this book, even more so because the political situation has only gotten murkier and more more tyrannical since it was published last year, but it gave me several doable ways to be of service to the cause.

So back to noise. What I am not going to do is hop back on Facebook and start sharing apocalyptic articles. I’m not even going to read other people’s posts. What I am going to do is be of service, whenever I can, through my church because they are politically active in a way that is in alignment with my values and it will keep me from trying to reinvent the activism wheel. I subscribed to the New York Times online so that I can support the press and it’s journalists. I am going to revisit, with my children, what our country stands for: the history and meaning of democracy, the freedoms of religion and the press, the importance of acceptance, of a global world view, the need to develop and participate in community, etc. I am going to give 30 minutes of my time every day to letting the noise wash over me, either with the newspaper or trusted local and international radio sources. I am going to make eye contact and small talk with the people around me and lead my children by example. I am going to read books. Lots of books.

I don’t doubt that I will get tired and overwhelmed. Part of this process for me is understanding that in advance and preparing for it. The world out there is loud, but I’m willing to spend the time hunting for meaning and parse out what matters.

Homeschool Resolutions 2018

This fall I was intrigued by the Waldorf philosophy of alternating “in breath” and “out breath” activities. I wanted to structure my days with the kids into blocks with focused activity, outdoor exploration, group classes and quiet independent play. I think, in some ways, this year has been a great success so far, but there are a couple of places where my plans didn’t intersect with reality. There is no typical homeschool day, but this is what I would have wanted to Mondays to look like, for example.

6:30 Mom gets up, takes care of animals, does yoga
7:30 Mom reads and writes while kids play
8:30 Breakfast together while working on Morning Basket
9:30 Chores and getting dressed
10:00 Take a walk
11:00 Table time (group or individual)
1:00 Lunch with read aloud
2:00 Together for one more educational activity
3:00 Leave for swim and martial arts
6:00 Dad feeds uncle and starts dinner
7:00 Dinner and showers
8:00 Stories
8:30 Bed
9:00 Uncle’s shower and housekeeping

Seems fine, right? Except that I take care of my wheelchair bound uncle who lives downstairs. These last couple of months he has been bed bound trying to heal a pressure wound and I need to bring him three meals a day. He likes to eat at 9, 2 and 6. See how that never lines up in my dream schedule? Every time I needed to feed him I would be frustrated about it interrupting our educational time. The whole lot of us is slow moving in the morning, so when I tried at first to push breakfast and morning time earlier in the day it fell flat. Why did it take months to fix? I have no real answer for that. I just get attached to my plans, I guess.

Being the beginning of a new year, this seemed like the perfect time to revamp my plan. The difference is that I am going to give this plan one month and then schedule in a time to reevaluate to try to avoid the ridiculousness that I’ve been slogging through since September.

So here is the goal schedule, starting with Monday again for comparison’s sake.

6:15 Mom gets up, takes care of animals, does yoga
7:15 Mom reads and writes
8:15 Morning basket in Mom’s bed
9:15 Breakfast for kids with Audible book, feed uncle
10:15 Take a walk
11:15 Table time (group or individual)
1:00 Lunch with read aloud
2:00 Individual reading and free play, feed uncle
3:00 Leave for swim and martial arts
6:00 Dad feeds uncle and starts dinner
7:00 Dinner and baths
8:00 Stories
8:30 Bed
9:00 Uncle’s shower and housekeeping

On Tuesdays we have a standing appointment at 11am, but no afternoon classes, so everything after breakfast just gets shifted back into the afternoon. The week continues on like that with different classes cycling in and out of the slots on the schedule, but the major concepts/blocks repeat in every day.

One helpful thing is the Amazon Echo Dot that my husband received as a Christmas gift. Before I felt like I needed to be at the table with them during breakfast to get all our read aloud time in, but now I can move the morning basket into the slow, cuddly early morning and have the Dot read to them during breakfast from our Audible playlist. If this works out it will actually sneak more read aloud time in (which is really exciting since we use that as a big part of our homeschool/unschool experience).

I know that the changes are very subtle, but I’m hoping that incorporating a way to work around my other responsibilities will help me focus on the kids during their time and cut down on the feelings of disruption and resentment that tend to derail me.

My One Thing

via Daily Prompt: Calling

Before bed last night I picked up The One Thing by Gary Keller.  I had grabbed it on an impulse from the lending library at our chiropractor’s office this week, maybe in response to my feelings of holiday overwhelm.*

Needing to choose the most important task and doing it first shouldn’t be an epiphany.  Of course I always knew that was how it worked.  So how do I get so far off course?  I have lots of responsibilities, like everyone: homeschooling, caring for my uncle, loving my husband,  maintaining friendships, feeding everyone, my own physical well being, land-lording, being a good daughter, having pets, keeping house.  These are commitments of time and energy and lately I’m not focusing.  You could compare me to a pinball, a goldfish or a housefly.  They would all be accurate.  I’ve started having to set 10 minute timers for myself when I clean so that I don’t wander off into other rooms mid-task (which I highly recommend, if anyone has that same trouble).

One quote shared in the book says, “There can only be one most important thing.  Many things may be important, but only one can be the most important.”, Ross Garber.

Again, should this surprise me?

So what is my most important thing?  My people, of course.  But what is on the top of my to do list?  Everyday?  Housework and errands.  Not that my house is clean or that I ever remember all the items at the grocery store.  I choose these things because they are easy to wrap my brain around.  I can make a list full of these simple things and knock them out in fifteen minute increments.  But the book says, “We can’t be trapped in a game of ‘check off’ that never produces a winner.  The truth is that things don’t matter equally and success is found in doing what matters most.”

What does my version of success look like?  What do I need to see when I am 80 to believe that I have done well?  Maybe I can’t know the complete answer to this, but I know a few things that won’t matter.  I will not care how many times I checked the box next to “wash windows”.

I’m willing to bet that it looks something like fond family memories and strong relationships with my husband and children.  It looks like being able to say I was there for people when they needed me and also that I knew when to ask for and accept support from others.  It looks like having built a village.

I am not so naive that I think I control the success of my children, not really.  But I do have control over how I pour into them and the number of hours spent wholeheartedly in their company.  I know that a successful marriage takes work, play and dreaming side by side and that I won’t be satisfied at the end of my life by a marriage that was simply maintained.  My to do list needs to reflect my commitment to these people of mine.

One caveat is that I can’t quit the other things.  Family and friends don’t feel steeped in love when they sit in a filthy house with empty cupboards.  It’s going to take some planning and reorganization to get to the place where the background work of life isn’t encroaching on my One Thing.  “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

I’ll be posting after the holidays about any solutions I find, but until then I’ve edited my to do list.

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*(I know that I haven’t finished journaling through May Cause Miracles yet, but I’m debating whether I can bear publicly posting all the way through the book.  The next exercise I should have put here is my letter of forgiveness to myself and I’m not sure all of the internet needs access to it.  I may have to work on that one on my own, but I do highly recommend the book, so consider it if you are hearing about it for the first time here.)

What I’m Really After

When my husband and I were planning our family I insisted that I didn’t want any babies after the age of 34.  The risk of all the terrifying things goes up and up after 34 and I was determined to have all of my children born before then.

Enter the 35th birthday.

Two days before my birthday I found myself with tears running down my nose and dripping onto the front of my husbands sweatshirt.  I’m not ready to give it up.  I don’t feel too old for babies.  I loved my pregnancies.  I loved my tiny sweet smelling babies.  I love my big kids.  Where are the rest of them?  The other three I planned to have?

The short list of reasons why we aren’t having more children:

1.) I am already claustrophobic in the tiny space we live in.

2.) Our finances aren’t in order to make the move to another space.

3.) Another baby would mean less working for me, so the money is unlikely to get better.

4.) I’ve passed my own self-imposed time limit.

5.) I gave away all our baby stuff.

6.) We are planning to hike the Presidential Traverse this summer.

7.) It would mean my uncle would have to hire a stranger to help with his care.

I can keep going on.  My wonderful, steadfast, responsible husband has an inexhaustible list of reasons not to have a baby.  Rational Me agrees with him, but Other Me keeps filling up with regret and resentment and bitterness.

My narcissistic martyr brain, which I know lives all twisted up with my addictive personality, is blaming the outside world for imposing this decision.  It travels down a worn out path of reasons that are honestly too shameful to write here.

The truth?  I haven’t been in control of my own life because I haven’t taken control of it.  My boundaries were/are a mess and rather than say “I’m sorry, I can’t.  That would be too much.”  I said “Sure.” and when I felt overwhelmed afterward I had a drink and tried not to think about it.  I couldn’t bear to disappoint anyone, especially if the only reason I could give was my own happiness.  Had I bothered to make a decision six years ago my life would look very different now.  Maybe there would be more babies in it.  Maybe there wouldn’t.

So what is it about a new baby that I’m really after?  Please don’t get me wrong, I love my children and if we had more I would be overjoyed.  I would never pass up the chance for another amazing little person to squeeze into our family.  But when I think about pregnancy, I think about time sitting in reflection and awe.  I think about people offering help without my asking.  When I think about the postpartum time I think about weeks spent at home.  I remember my husband taking time off of work and the way that time slows around the nuclear family.  I think about connecting with each other and the kids in light of the new development.

It’s starting to feel like maybe it isn’t the baby I’m after.

First Snow and Broken Things

Mid-morning on Saturday while I was at work it started to snow.  I love the dense, slightly slushy type of snow that we got this time because of the way it clings to and coats everything it touches.

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This was the view out my sons’ window last night at bedtime.
This morning I woke up, made a cup of coffee and ran out the grocery store to have all the errands out of the way before tree decorating this afternoon.

Back story, we live on a “family compound”.  The three family house we live in contains our nuclear family, my uncle, and my sister-in-law and her fiance.  The two family house that we share a driveway with has a friend of ours and my husband’s cousin and girlfriend.  This matters to the story, I promise.

I came home to find my husband, his sister and her fiance standing in a circle around their cousin’s car, which was sporting a sizeable hole in the rear window.  They all turned to look as I pulled in and my sister-in-law laughed, I’m assuming at the look of horror on my face.

The kids were helping clear the snow off the cars.  It wasn’t anyone’s fault, the telescoping snow brush my son was using is broken and the end flops from brush side to hard plastic side on a whim.  He wound up to make sure the brush cut through the snow, the end flipped and he nailed the window hard enough to punch a hole in the glass.

My husband shop vac’d up the glass and covered the hole with plastic, his cousin has insurance, my son got to practice making amends to a sympathetic and loving victim and we all had hot chocolate.  It really couldn’t have gone better, but there were a few profoundly uncomfortable moments for us grownups.

Then there was the tree decorating.  We chose this tree, not because it was perfect, but because my daughter said it needed us.  We’ve been reading this book a lot and she has taken it to heart.  I can only hope the tree is satisfied.

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All Houses Have a Story

via Daily Prompt: Relocate

Silas Loder and his parents bought this house in the 1930’s.  These houses, I should say.  We have a theory that the little one in back was once a carriage house to the bigger because it has three different layers of foundation underneath, as if it were expanded a couple of times.  They renovated the two buildings and turned them into a five apartment compound.  Silas’ mother and father took an apartment and Silas, his wife Maude and their daughter Janet took another.

I wish I had listened better to my Nanny when she told me stories of the house.  I know the yard is sandy under my vegetable garden because they had an above ground pool when my mother was small.  I know that every cabinet, shelf, and door are precious because my great grandfather built them with his own hands.  I know that when they unearthed a giant rock during the driveway paving my Nanny asked to keep it and that my daughter swears it is the most spiritual spot the yard and often goes there to be still.

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The stairs my mother tripped on as a little girl carrying a bowl of soup to her grandparents.  She still has a tiny scar on her hand.
I know all these things, and many more, but not whether I will stay. The struggle began the day my grandmother told me that I would take over the property.  The options for staying are as varied as the options for leaving. They all require extensive renovation to create one house out of two apartments, but there are three combinations to consider.  The options for leaving are simpler, sell it and buy a house outright with the profit or keep it and rent the apartments to high paying strangers while we live someplace else.

I imagine that to be free of what my mother affectionately calls my “albatross” would feel like flying, like newly liberated shoulders after a ten mile hike with a full pack.  No more worrying about 4,400 square feet of house divided over two crumbling foundations.  No more worrying about ancient wiring and whether the tenants know how slowly to add water to their furnace in a February cold snap to keep from cracking it.

But who in this world, where children fly thousands of miles every holiday to be spoiled by grandparents, can say that they are the fourth generation born in a house?  Who can laughingly joke about both brothers and in-laws all living in the same zip code?  How do you pack up 87 years of memories in a Uhaul?  And would I be able to fit all the cabinets in it?

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Si Loder’s cabinets in our apartment.

Miracle Hunting Day 4

This post is my journal response to Day 4 of May Cause Miracles: A 40-Day Guidebook of Subtle Shifts for Radical Change and Unlimited Happiness by Gabrielle Bernstein.

Today’s work is to have an attitude of gratitude.

Morning

Gratitude.

Let’s start with a beginner list of three things to get me through breakfast.

All the lamps that I inherited when my Nanny died.  It feels so powerful and meaningful to have my inheritance be light.

The “autumnal” flowers that my husband surprised me with when I looked disappointed about the brightly dyed “crazy daisies” my daughter picked last week.

That same husband who wakes up with the sun everyday and sacrifices bits of his own freedom to a 9 to 5 while the children and I set our own pace.20171201_084012[1]

Evening

I stayed in gratitude all weekend.  Here are some highlights.

My boy who raise his hand in church to say “We give to try to make things even, because they’re not.”

This view, which I took a very mediocre photo of while sitting at a traffic light.  We live in an urban area, but this conservation land around the reservoir is just three blocks from our house.  All my children’s lives we’ve used it as a 2,200 acre extension of our own backyard.

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For several months I’ve been dreaming of escape.  Through the spring and summer I watched my grandmother, who lived next door, decline and pass away.  My husband and I care for my wheelchair bound uncle, who has been confined to bed since January.  Some days the pressure of it was too much.  Extending this gratitude exercise out for several days let me see how interwoven we are in our community and what that means.