Tuesday, January 1, 2019

2018 books

Like many other people, at the beginning of 2018 I posted a book challenge. I did not complete every category on my list, but I did read a lot of books this year. In 2019 I am going to focus a bit more on quality over quantity. My local evening schole' group/book club through our Charlotte Mason group is reading a Bonhoeffer biography for January and February, and the daytime CM group is going through Mason's Ourselves this year. I have a couple other books I started already for 2019 - The Hobbit (because my oldest loves it and I only half-listened to the audiobook in the car last year) and Beauty in the Word (which I started in October but lost somewhere at a beach in San Diego). What are your reading plans and goals for the new year?

Here's what 2018 looked like for me:

The 2018 Book Challenge
  1. An award winner from the year you were born or the year you graduated high school: I did not finish this. I started The Hours, but I didn't get very far.
  2. Newberry winner - Number The Stars by Lois Lowry (bedtime read with my family)
  3. Caldecott winner - Blueberries for Sal (another year where I read this more than one time - it is one of  my youngest's favorites.)
  4. A book of poetry - Two Funeral, Then Easter by Rachel  Joy Welcher (highly recommend - I will be reading this again)
  5. A biography - I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (technically autobiography or maybe even a memoir - what makes something a memoir?)
  6. A Memoir - Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
  7. A book that takes place in your city or state - Watching Desert Animals by Jim Arnosky (I read this to my co-op class)
  8. A book about animals - Where the Red Fern Grows (bedtime read with my family)
  9. A book that is science fiction or fantasy - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (bedtime read with my family)
  10. A book you should have read in high school but did not - Night by Ellie Wiesel
  11. A book that you have not read since you were a child - The Entire Ramona Quimby series (technically I've read a couple of these since childhood, but not all of them - and this series was via Audible)
  12. A book that a friend recommended - Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (great children's author)
  13. A book that has been made/is being made into a  movie - The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
  14. A book about traveling - So there were books I read where people traveled, but I don't know that that was the main thing about the book - possibly Peace Like A River has enough of a journey/road trip to count
  15. A book set in a country you would like to visit - Maud by Melanie J. Fishbane (this book took me to PEI, Canada, a place I very much want to visit. The book wasn't great.)
  16. A book another book mentioned/referenced - ?
  17. A book about philosophy, theology, or religion - Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper - probably the most challenging thing I read this year. The evening schole' group read it this summer. Some of us loved it more than others. I really enjoyed it, and I want to re-read it.
  18. A book with a pretty or intriguing cover - Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
  19. A controversial book - East of Eden by John Steinbeck - another book for evening schole' group. This was my least favorite book I read this year, I think, although it is extremely well written. This book confirmed by belief in total depravity.
  20. A book that you think will help you in some way - Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins - I read this twice this year (I think!) - Once with the evening schole' group. This book was a real encouragement to me in many areas of my life.
Additional books
  • Peace Like A River by Leif Enger - The best fiction I read this year. I think this has become one of my favorite novels. If you read only one modern novel next year, I think it should be this one.
  • The Tech-Wise Family by Andy Crouch
  • Finished Brandy Vencel’s Start Here with a few local CM friends. It meant (re)reading For The Children’s Sake and Mason’s Philosophy of Education. We started the summer of 2017 when we formed TACM, and a few of us finished it this December.
  • Know and Tell by Karen Glass - great information on narration 
  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepyts (this book has nothing to do with any of those other "gray" books people read)
  • A Long Walk to Water - Linda Sue Park 
  • Rethinking School - Susan Wise Bauer (I didn't like this book as much as I wanted to but it might be helpful for people who aren't homeschoolers who are looking at different ways to think outside of the education box)
  • Teaching From Rest - Sarah Mackenzie (I read this every year, I think. Very fun to go through it with the evening schole' group.)
  • Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng
  • Death By Living - ND Wilson
  • Trouble Maker - Leah Remini (I don't have cable so I don't watch any of the shows about exposing Scientology, but I decided to pick up this book when I saw it on the shelf at the library. Not a great read, but I learned some things about the cult.)
  • Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren - I think I will purchase this book at some point and reread it
  • No Little Women by Aimee Byrd - I wanted to throw this book across the room a couple of times BUT I really enjoyed it overall. Aimee has a passion for women knowing the Word of God and being able to serve in the church.
  • Everything Happens for a Reason - Kate Bowler - I saw many people recommend this book, but I honestly don't remember much about it. I guess that is my review of this one!
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles - another book I didn't read in high school. Meh.
  • We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter - Fascinating story about a Jewish family in WWII - based on the author's family.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen via audible - Love it, obviously.
  • Farmer Boy and By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder via audible
  • Mr. Poppers Penguins - always funny (via audible)
  • Winnie the Pooh via audible - I've said this before, and I will say it again, Disney does an okay job with these characters, but the books are so much better!!
  • The complete Henry Huggins collection via audible (NPH is a great narrator)
  • Mary Poppins via audible
  • The BFG by Roald Dahl via audible
  • The Green Ember via audible (C loves this series)
  • The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis - we finished our time in Narnia as a family, but we will return again someday!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Highlights and Adjustments - The End of First Term, The Beginning of Second

Our first term of the school year ended a couple of weeks ago, and the beginning of our second has started more slowly than I anticipated. Both boys have had a few days of illness, which has meant lighter school days or having to take an entire day off. And Thanksgiving week arrived, overlapping our fever-filled days. We keep moving forward, and I do my best not to get anxious about my original calendar. The beauty of year-round schooling is that I built several breaks into the year, so instead of four weeks off at Christmas, we will take three.

What was most meaningful of the second half of the first term? My heart says, "Fall Break!" We were able to once again go to San Diego for a few days, which enabled us to visit the zoo, relax at the beach, and eat so much delicious food. Other than break, we spent our weeks continuing to meet with both our local Charlotte Mason group and our non-CM co-op.  O.T. for Bug came to an end for awhile, and I am still trying to figure out the next steps to take for his therapy needs. I feel that after all of these years of therapy, there is only so much to learn and implement, and so now we are doing our best to practice these skills and build strength during the day. Swim lessons also ended. Both of these endings have allowed a bit more margin in our schedule.

One of the blessings of end-of-term were exams. I saw a lot of growth in both boys in their narrations, and it also allowed me to see what books and activities they did not connect with or understand. I am so thankful for the practice of narration for my child with communication difficulties. Narration is hard, but he was able to answer more exam questions this year than last year. His sentences are short, but narration allows me to treat him as the person God created him to be. I can meet him where he is at developmentally, and we build on that throughout the year.

As we look ahead to term two and three of this year, and even beyond, I made the decision to start transitioning back to more of the Ambleside Online curriculum for C, which is where I began when he started in year one a few years ago. I am still using Tea Time, Morning Meeting, Classical Studies and some of the other AMCM books - and will continue to use part of this curriculum long term for G because of his needs. But looking at the big picture, I knew we needed to make a shift back to what seems best for C. The few books swaps I have made in the last couple of weeks have been good decisions, and I am seeing better connection and understanding. There are so many wonderful options and ideas for Charlotte Mason homeschooling out there, and I don't take it for granted that many who came before me had to figure things out completely on their own.

One last exciting thing that has been happening behind the scenes for the last several weeks (months?!) is that I have been asked to help with my friend's amazing new resource for Charlotte Mason moms. Common Place Quarterly is a print magazine that will be coming to mailboxes in January. It is a lovely compilation of encouragement, inspiration, and ideas from Charlotte Mason moms and educators of all walks of life. The contributors are amazing women, and the magazine will feel like a good conversation with friends over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your beverage of choice).

I have many other thoughts on topics other than homeschooling I hope to blog about over the next few weeks, but I wanted to get caught up a bit on how things are going at Mason Fulbright Academy. today For now, I have a pecan pie to pick up and pumpkin bars to bake. Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

when life is still different

As my children get older, I write about them less. It is a tricky thing to always know what to share and what not to share. There isn't always a clear line between what is my story to tell and what are their stories to tell. Sometimes I think that if I do not share certain things others will not know that we are dealing with things. I wonder if people think things are easy for us these days; then I wonder why I even care what other people think.

For me I think so much of it goes back to not feeling alone. Motherhood can feel lonely. Being a stay-at-home-mom, a homeschooling mom, a mom of a child with disabilities - each of these labels can make me feel unconnected, not all the time and not in every season, but definitely in certain moments. Even in the best communities, my life is still different than the average person's.

This evening a few things weighed heavy on my heart, and these things aren't even "big deal" type of things. Yet I think where I can feel most aware of the differences is in the mundane average moments that are not so average for us. I am not even sure what to do with these feelings because they are much more fleeting than they used to be, but they still exist. They still show up when I'm assisting with a task or skill or a chore. They show up sometimes when I enter or exit a location or an event. My heart can twist and turn sometimes in these moments, and tears might even show up unannounced and uninvited. I hate these moments not so much because I see how different things still are, but because I realize how vulnerable I still am. To be emotionally vulnerable is to show others my need when I would much rather have it all together.

So what is my need? Where don't I have it all together? My need is to find rest. Rest from worry. Rest from trying to stay three steps ahead of any issue. Rest from trying to make sure I find all of the things that will help my children. Rest from feeling guilty when I cannot find or do all of the things.

I heard a quote today from a Schole' Sisters retreat I was able to watch via the internet. Cindy Rollins said, "The way you guard your heart is you find your home in Christ." People often associate the term "guard your heart" with purity, especially sexual purity. But this one line Cindy said caught my attention so much I don't know that I heard everything else she said after it. For the last ten weeks I have been doing a study on 1,2,3 John with the focus on the term abide. Making my home in Christ and Him making His home in me means that my heart can be protected from all the worry of things I cannot control by resting in His love and in His care.

I still am not resting well. Even just now while I was writing out these thoughts,  the door opened and two sets of eyes looked in. I felt a bit of weariness about the games that still need to be played and the entire bedtime routine we have to go through. I am not good at resting; I default to trying to control so many of the things and being sad when so many of the things are out of my control. But I'm praying my new default would soon be finding rest for my soul in abiding in Christ, even on the days that are still so different from most everyone else's days.

Friday, August 31, 2018

first six weeks and the importance of community

My east coast friends are getting ready to start their school year on Tuesday, and we are about to take a break. We finished the first six weeks of our 2018-2019 school year today around lunchtime. I can honestly say this has been the best start of our school year so far. There have been exhausting moments and re-arranging of subjects, even eliminating some tasks to do  or moving them over to our scheduled breaks.  Homeschooling can take mental, physical, and emotional energy. But one evening this week I sat around a table drinking coffee with my local Charlotte Mason friends, and I felt encouraged and excited about the year.

Since C is in year four, new things have been added to the schedule. Latin, actual Shakespeare, more intentional focus on studied dictation and a weekly written narration. We also had to remove a book (the one I mentioned he liked on a previous post) because the copy we had included some things that did not line up with our worldview. Apparently there are edited copies out there, but I just wanted an entirely different book, and that led to a beneficial discussion about why we should not stereotype people based on the color of their skin. One does not need a prescribed curriculum on diversity discussions, they can happen organically as we open our eyes to the beautiful and the damaging literature that we come across.

We had our first poetry in the park of the year, which included a lot of time to play in the splash pad before and after the recitations. Poetry in the park might be my favorite thing I organize because I love giving my children and their friends a chance to read or recite, to listen, an to appreciate. I also love that there is a ton of free play after and often that allows me a chance to talk with other moms. G has developed more endurance for our outings, both for poetry and for nature meet-ups, and I am praying that he will connect with a handful of kids this year. He always recites a  little something, and our group is always encouraging and supportive of him.

The exciting part of our week was yesterday when something went wrong in our laundry room/kitchen plumbing, and water started running down behind the washing machine into our hallway. It is fixed now, but it made me thankful that while some household chores are difficult for me to want to keep up with (dusting, yard work, de-cluttering our bedroom), I usually do a load of laundry everyday, so I knew we would be okay on clothing for awhile. I did not even cry when the disaster happened, which is usually how I respond to stressful situations. I think because I was not running on empty yesterday. I have been around others the last few weeks, having actual conversations with other women in a coffee shop, at a park, in a car, or in a living room. There were so many years, especially when my boys were very small, that I lacked the kind of community I am beginning to experience here, and it really does make a difference. To not feel alone in parenting, in homeschooling, in following Jesus, makes the difficult days manageable.

So even with some interruptions this week and the weeks prior, we have had a great start to the year. I am ready for a week off from teaching to do some housework, re-examine a couple of aspects of our school, take a field trip, and rest up for September.  

working on studied dictation

Switched how I was teaching reading to BOB books because the print on the page is not overwhelming to G
and therefore it is easier for him to focus and learn. We are still using our AAR letter magnets with these books.

Fun field trip to the local planetarium and science center.

First local CM nature meet-up of the school year.
We went to a place with shade, a pond, and grass because it is still hot in the desert.

Working on OT skills of focus, hand strength, and coordination.

a science experiment about Jupiter's red spot

I wrote down G's narration yesterday.
Narration can be a struggle for a child with autism and other disabilities,
but we are seeing progress and glimpses of what G understands.

Friday, July 27, 2018

The First Week of School - Fourth and Second Grades

I feel like doing a better job of documenting our school year this year. I always keep records, and at the end of each term and at the end of each year I print out exams and lists and explanations of what we have done, where we have visited, what we have learned to along with the lesson plans I keep. I document a little bit on Instagram with pictures and a little bit on Facebook with things the boys say or do, but I'm a keeper, even in a non-traditional sense, and thus here I am sitting down with my neglected blog in an attempt to remember. Perhaps in an attempt to hold on.

C turning nine this spring reminded me that his life here at home with us is most likely halfway over. Halfway! In nine years he will be heading off to college or travel or a job or an apprenticeship, and the thought of that makes me excited for him while at the same time I want to cry my eyes out. But I won't right now. Because Lord willing we have nine years left, and much of them will be filled with learning and fun and memory making mixed in with all the stressful every day stuff of laundry and feeding the dog and unloading the dishwasher.

The first week of school went really well overall. I am using A Modern Charlotte Mason's curriculum guides and adjusting them to fit our family's needs. One of the best things about the Charlotte Mason philosophy and methods is the way they can reach my diverse learners. G is in second grade in school years, but I am able to pick and choose things to meet him on his level, to slow down with math and reading skills, while still exposing him to beautiful literature, art, music, poetry, history, and nature studies. C is now in fourth grade, which is the grade level of my heart since I spent five of my six years of teaching in that grade. It looks different at home with the Mason methods, but it is a jump from last year, just like it would be in traditional schooling. We have added a couple of subjects and increased expectations. There are still things we are reading together, but I am able to hand off some books for him to read independently. This means I have to figure out the best way to pre-read all of his books so I know what to listen for in his narrations and how to have grand conversations with him.

The rhythm of our year is off to a decent start. I did not fit in things like handicrafts or a nature walk (way too hot right now here) or folk dancing this week. I only fit in a good block for chores on one afternoon. Life is filled with other things than just our lesson plans - occupational therapy, swim lessons given for families with special needs, making cinnamon rolls for life group, and an unexpected trip to the doctor this morning due to a bug bite reaction. (We are okay!) Soon we will add in our non-CM co-op one morning a week, choir, and our CM group activities a few times a month. I'm sure I will need margin somewhere, but I don't know what to let go. I currently have peace, and I have to remember that what my family needs isn't what other families might need and vice versa. I have to remember there isn't a Charlotte Mason police checking up on me to see if I am doing things "right," whatever right is.

So all of that to say, we had a good week. My highlights were learning a silly folksong, G's quoting a small line from Shakespeare from last year, and C surprising me with an awesome job on his first map drill. G said his favorite part was "reading Dr. Seuss (one evening) with Daddy" and C said his favorite was reading Penrod.  

Monday, April 30, 2018

Every Good Endeavor

This spring I am reading through Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavor with a few other people. I haven't finished the book yet, but I highly recommend it even with a few more chapters to go. Especially helpful and thought provoking to me was chapter four on work as service. In it Keller writes, "But the gospel frees us from the relentless pressure of having to prove ourselves and secure our identity through work, for we are already proven and secure. ... All work now becomes a way to love the God who saved us freely, and by extension, a way to love our neighbor.” 

 I don't entirely grasp this yet beyond head knowledge. Being freed from the relentless pressure of having to prove myself -not actually 100% there yet. Yes, I know in Jesus I am proven and secure, but in the day to day things of life I find myself battling the desire to prove myself, especially in my line of work. I have to "prove myself" because if I don't, what proof will there be that my work matters?

 Proving myself in this stage of life looks different than it did a decade or so ago. There is no paycheck. There is no ladder to climb. There aren't scholarly journals about motherhood. (Are there?) There is just me often wanting the less sophisticated labor I do to be noticed, forgetting that for much of Jesus' time on earth He went about without anyone noticing, just being a carpenter. How can doing laundry be a way to love God? How can driving to OT appointments be a way to love God? I'm still trying to figure it out. I find myself cranky on a Sunday evening for things not going the way I wanted them to go in my week, in my day. I feel the need to attempt to prove myself more often than I find myself remembering I am secure in Christ.

I don't remember feeling this struggle as much when I was a classroom teacher. Sure, I felt unappreciated by certain parents or students, or even sometimes certain co-workers. Maybe some of those feelings were balanced out by tangible evidence of what my job did and did not include. Maybe it is different these last almost nine years because before there was an actual going to work and a time at the end of the day I would come home, even if I brought work home with me to grade.  

Now someone depends on me, well two someones, but one depends on me for almost all of his care. I have spent the last year filling out the paperwork, answering therapist and doctor questions, rehashing how far my son has come and how far he still has to go. Our Arizona providers have not seen the six years of work we have put in with other doctors and therapists. Every one of these new visits feel like a time where I have to prove myself - as his mother, as his teacher, as his caretaker. Not once have I been affirmed by a professional here during one of these very hard appointments this year that what I do every day has made a difference. I do hear it from friends and loved ones, but still inside there is this battle of wanting to prove I am enough. Am I enough for my sons? Am I enough for my family? Am I enough for myself? Am I enough for God? And honestly, I am not enough and never can be, and that is a hard thing to say because if I am not enough, then who or what will be?

And the Sunday school answer of course is Jesus. And the good news is that Jesus is more than the parroted back Sunday school answer. I suck at remembering that. I took communion today - just about thirteen hours ago - a tactile reminder that Jesus is enough - but here I am just a short time later wanting it all to be about me. Trying to prove myself through my work, through my parenting, through anything at all will only lead to frustration and grief because in trying to prove myself I often intentionally or unintentionally demand that others appreciate me, which sets up a vicious cycle of sadness and disappointment. 

I don't have a checklist for how to face my Monday better than I faced my Sunday afternoon. It's not as simple as that because I am a flawed human living in a house and a community of other flawed humans. But I am going to come back to this truth - help me come back to this truth, Jesus - that You have freed me from the need to prove myself, and the work I do, both seen and unseen, can be done out of love for You and out of that love for You, done in love for my neighbor, my husband, my kids, as well.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

wandering through homeschooling

I don't write very much about homeschooling on this blog. I don't write very much about anything lately. Life is full and good, but it is also challenging. I have so many thoughts in my head, and some of them I jot down and post on Facebook or Instagram, but mostly the thoughts remain in my head because as my children have left the little kid stage of life and are in the school age stage of life, it becomes hard to discern at times what to share and what to keep for just our nearest and dearest. I don't have any concrete answers yet on the what to share question.

What I will share is that we are in our last term of our fourth year of homeschooling. We re-evaluated homeschooling when we moved to Arizona because there are so many more options available to us here than there were in Missouri in terms of schooling - at least there are for Bubby. There are public schools, charter schools, private schools, hybrid schools, online schools, or continuing to homeschool. Theoretically most of those options are available for Bug as well, but in reality, his options remain public or home school. It is something as an educator, as a believer, as a school choice advocate, and as a special needs parent that annoys me - how little options there really are for someone who lacks fine motor skills and the ability to communicate in the same way as his peers. But I suppose that is a post for another day.

We have ten weeks of school curriculum left, and for the first time in our homeschooling years, we will be schooling through the month of June. We discovered June is the nastiest month here, so I don't want to waste taking time off during that month. We will stay inside, in the air conditioning, with our books and notebooks, and we have taken time off at other points in the calendar. The grace to have a modified year-round schedule is one of the perks of educating in this way. Four weeks off at a time is about all my children or I need or can handle.

During this 2017-2018 school year I feel like I have learned so much about what works for us in terms of education as well as have gotten into a pretty good groove on how to apply it. I am always learning. Every week it seems I read or hear something that just adds another piece of the puzzle, as I learn how to tweak the way we do nature study or how to substitute a book that actually works for my child for a book that was recommended by a curriculum guru. We have learned that easing into our morning with books or audiobooks or a bit of free play before we really sit down is what works best for us these days. We also need to be done most days around one o'clock for optimum attention. I have learned that I still don't know how to sew, even though Bubby has learned a few things about it this year, and that is okay. Babushka can sew, and therefore I will outsource more of those lessons to her when she comes to visit. I have learned that we thrive on flexibility with specific end goals - meaning we can adjust our day or week for appointments or times in nature as long as during the week or month or term we do what we said we would do in terms of learning, milestones, and development.

I have been blessed to meet so many new homeschooling families in the last year. Many have been through the Charlotte Mason group, but some have also been non CM families in a co-op. Through all of these families and conversations with moms I have learned many things. What works for one family might not work for another, and that is okay. Every family has strengths and challenges, and we need each other. Not everyone has a child with a disability, but there are other things that other families struggle with. It is important to have grace to give one another. It is important to encourage one another, to challenge one another, and to even have boundaries with one another. Different seasons need different things, and there is grace for each season and each need.

My books have started arriving for August already. The teacher in me is ready to dive into the next thing, and forget what we still have left to accomplish. But that is unwise and unnecessary. In the remaining two and a half months, I still have goals and methods to try. I am going to add more math games into our week. I have learned there is more than one way to keep a nature journal, and so I will be sharing what I have learned with my kids. There are books to finish reading, and one book at least that will carry over into the summer. We have new occupational therapy goals for Bug, and we have swim lessons to persevere through and hopefully enjoy. The weather is still decent enough to get outside regularly before we hide away for a few months in artificial coolness. There is no Charlotte Mason judge coming around to see how the remainder of our school year is going. There is peace in knowing this - in applying the principles to what practices make sense for our family. There is grace for making education an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life in this home in this season. We have wandered a bit inside and outside the lines to get here, and I know some wandering is still ahead. But I am excited about the remaining weeks instead of counting down the days till July, and that is a gift for which I am thankful.