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.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

To C, who is eight - soon to be nine

Dear Bubby,

Writing has taken a backseat the last year or two with our moves, our schooling, our adventures, and just our day to day living. You have been eight for almost a year now, and while I have documented so much via Instagram pictures, most of my written words to you have remained inside my head and heart.

You grow taller and taller every week it seemed. In a matter of just a few weeks you grew a couple of inches. The Wild Explorers t-shirt we bought you for Christmas is already looking like it won't last the summer, and you like to see how tall you are compared to me on a regular basis. It won't be long until you are as tall as I am.

We listened to The Hobbit on audible this winter, and then you decided to read it on your own. Last week you decided to read A Wrinkle In Time, and after we watched the movie you could tell me several of the differences. I knew by your chatter you had read and understood the book as well as a third-grader can - even though you said a few parts were a little confusing. You liked both the book and the movie, but you said the movie was more magical. You are a fan of stories of magic and adventure, and I hope that never changes. It isn't a genre I really ever got into, but I love that you love it. I love that you are a more diverse reader than I was at your age. I love how you re-read your favorite Roald Dahl and Beverly Cleary books. I love that you tried Treasure Island, but put it aside because you thought it would make more sense when you were a bit older.

Every week you go to choir practice. Your assistant director compliments you on your behavior and attention, and it is hard for me to not what to take pride in that. We ask if you want to try out for the main choir next year, but that means twice a week practices, and you aren't sure you want to give up your free time. You still like to have plenty of time for books and Legos and using your imagination.

You have become a better outdoors-guy this year. This isn't something we were very used to in Missouri, but so many of your friend meet-ups involve hikes or nature gatherings that we have adjusted and embraced it as best as we can. You prefer running around with your friends creating stories and games to spending all of your time observing, but you ask good questions when you slow down for a few minutes.

You continue to be a helpful and loving big brother. You play games that aren't your favorite. You are patient in moments that require extra patience and understanding. This character trait spills over to your interactions with younger kids most of the time. You ask good (and sometimes hard) questions about God and faith and the Bible.

You are working on conquering a few fears/challenges this year. When you get to pick a composer to listen to, you almost always pick John Williams. You have now watched all of the Star Wars movies, and are making your way through Indiana Jones. Several times a week you get your dad to build Legos with you when he gets home from work. I am pretty sure these simple moments will stick with you forever.

It is bittersweet to watch you turn into a big kid, but mostly it is a joy. You are funny and compassionate. It is a great adventure to get to be your mom, and I am so thankful for you.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

books I read in 2017 - books to read in 2018

At the beginning of last year I attempted a reading challenge that had me needing to read twenty-six books in a variety of interesting categories. I was looking forward to it because I love to read, but I don't always make time for it like I should nor do I stretch myself as much as I would like. I started off strong, but with the move and all that came with it, I let the challenge go. I wondered as I was looking at everyone's "Best Books of 2017" lists if I even read anything. I have also been asked for book recommendations, and my mind has been going blank. So I sat down through my library history from the year, as well as some instagram photos and my bookshelves to figure out what exactly I did read. The list that follows is not necessarily a recommendation of a book, but it is what I can remember reading this year. I am not listing authors because I am too lazy today - but if you need to know an author of one of the books, I can try to help. I tried to organize them a bit by category. I am also including the challenge I created for myself (and anyone else who wants to join) for 2018.  Happy Reading!

The Life-Giving Table
Mere Motherhood

Gospel Fluency
The Drama of Scripture

Anne of Green Gables (again! and on audio)
I Let You Go (this is a dark read if I remember correctly)
The Secrets of Midwives
Love, Alice
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
The Kitchen House
Homegoing (this was one of the best things I read this year)
The Dinner

Children's Fiction (I read a lot with the kids but some of these stood out from our morning or evening read a loud time or some I just read by myself)
Most of the Narnia series (we have just one and a half books left)
The Poet's Dog
The Green Ember (one of Cole's favorite things we read this year)
The Penderwicks (I read this because it was on several booklists, and I thought it was boring!)
Wonder (I have mixed opinions of this story.)
The Courage of Sarah Noble

Amos Fortune 
Falling Free (part memoir, part theology)
At Home In The World

New Collected Poems by Wendell Berry

Books I Started But Didn't Finish (for various reasons)
Glory in the Ordinary
The Benedict Option
The Broken Way
Irena's Children
The Zookeeper's Wife
Bird By Bird
The Vanishing American Adult
Chasing Slow
Give Your Child The World
Moon Over Manifest

Books I Am Still Reading This Year
Charlotte Mason Vol. 6 Philosophy of Education (doing with a book study)
For The Children's Sake (have read before - doing with a book study)
The Life Giving Home (going through this slowly this year to follow the calendar)

2018 Book Challenge

1. award winner from the year you were born or the year you graduated from high school
2. Newberry winner
3. Caledcott winner
4. a book of poetry
5. a biography
6. a memoir
7. a book that takes place in your city or state
8. a book about an animal
9. a book that is science fiction or fantasy
10. a book you should have read in high school but did not
11. a book that you have not read since you were a child
12. a book that a friend recommended
13. a book that has been made into a movie
14. a book about traveling
15. a book set in a country you would like to visit
16. a book another book mentioned/reference
17. a book about philosophy, theology, or religion
18. a book with a pretty or an intriguing cover
19. a controversial book
20. a book that you think will help you in some way

Sunday, December 31, 2017

reflecting on home, my word for 2017

Like so many others, I am relieved to be done with the year 2017. Unlike many others, I am struggling to articulate exactly why. There have been some disappointments this year both for me personally and for how I would like the world to be, but overall it wasn't a bad year for me in my own little sphere of circumstances and situations. We moved across the country. The Hubs started a job that he really likes, and which I like because he likes it and for the fact that he is home each evening and weekend and holiday. I am in the process of cultivating friendships. We have a found a church that is gospel-focused. There I am reminded each week of the bigger story of creation, fall, redemption, restoration, my place in that story, and God's sovereignty in it all. We had a house full of new friends for Bug's seventh birthday, and for that I am so thankful. And in a couple of weeks we will purchase a home where, Lord willing, we will spend the remainder of our boys' childhoods.

We are already home here in Tucson, but it doesn't quite feel completely like home yet. Maybe these seasons of adjusting, of adapting, and even of being in escrow are symbolic of the state of my soul. The kingdom of God is already and not yet. The state of my soul is purchased, and yet I am still working out my salvation with fear and trembling. The world is not my home, and yet someday, at the renewal of all things, it will be my forever home.

I would like to say that after a year of focusing on the word and a year of settling into a new home, a new place, a new city that I understand the concept of home better. I read books with home as a focus, recognized it's theme in movies and music and Scripture. I know here in this city which we now call home I am beginning to connect with others through the Charlotte Mason group and through our church. Slowly, I am beginning to feel settled. And yet I miss the familiarity of being well know - of not having to explain my backstory or the backstory of my children. I miss our old routines, our old classes, our old ways of doing things mostly because they were good and safe and familiar. I realize in this longing for the safe and the familiar how home is really defined for me.

Home is when I am well-know, or at least when I am in the process of being well known and of knowing others well. As an INFJ, home is being past the small talk and delving in to conversations that matter. Sometimes this means serious discussion while other times it is light-hearted banter, but either way it is conversation with the purpose of knowing, of fellowship, of intimacy. Perhaps that is what home actually is. It is not an address or a club, a name or a gathering, but a place of knowing and being known. We were created for this. And while it happens imperfectly now, the longing for it points us to the one through whom such knowing happens and in whom we find our true rest and home.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

grey hair

A couple of weeks ago I was at a large gathering where they were identifying three subgroups by age. Eighteen to thirty-four, thirty-five to fifty-four, and fifty-five and up. I stood for the second group a bit shocked at first to realize I was part of the middle age group. Most days I feel like my adult life is just starting to take off, that I could still use a mentor or two (or three) to help me figure out things, but in all actuality my children are closer to traditional college age than I am. This shocks me. In ten years I could potentially have one of my children out of my house either gainfully employed or in college. Ten years!

I have been thinking a lot about how much I have changed in the last eight to twelve years. My hair has grey in it, and I don't think I will color it, unless I color it something fun like streaks of purple. My body has more or less settle into a clothing size that I am not thrilled with but I am less thrilled with the idea of giving up dessert at this phase of life. I've had two babies and I don't like sit-ups, therefore I will have a pooch. I have age spots on my hands, and I had my first mammogram this summer, which will be a yearly thing from here on out even if insurance doesn't pay.

But more than the physical changes, I think of the subtle changes that have taken place over time. I have figured out a lot of what I believe to be true about myself, the world and God, but I know there is still more to learn about all of those things. I have become passionate about some educational practices and parenting styles while also realizing my passion doesn't have to be dogma for someone else to live by in their own homes and families. I think that took me longer to realize than it should have. I am still figuring out how marriage works, almost thirteen years in. We are in a really good place in marriage overall, but there is always work to be done in communication and service and humility. I am lazy enough to wish that there wasn't work to be done in any of those areas.

Moving across the country has helped me recognize some things about myself that I don't know that I would have realized otherwise. I realize I was really lucky to have fairly easy to come by friendships the first twenty-two-ish years of my life, but the last decade and a half have required more effort and patience from me. I have realized more than ever that probably one of my favorite things is just sitting in someone's kitchen or living room with a cup of coffee with no agenda other than to just converse.  I'm introverted enough to not want a party but extroverted enough to need regular interaction with adults, and because I am an INFJ small talk doesn't cut it.

I think twenty-something Amanda would have thought I would have accomplished more by this point - a book, another piece of paper stating more of what I've learned, a few local bosom friends - but most days thirty-six year old me is a bit too tired to think about the what ifs. Most days, days when I'm not asked to stand up to identify with a certain age group, it's enough to just be where I am, plugging along with marriage and motherhood and catching up on a This Is Us episode when the schedule allows. Most days I am okay with the grey hair and the mama-pooch because I know both are blessings that not everyone gets to experience. Most days I can remember at some point before the sun goes down that each day is a gift.