When I first mentioned the Wild+Free conference here in May, the fall seemed so distant. We were in the midst of planning a summer of home projects and wrapping up the previous school year. So much has happened since then, but it’s now here. September. Fall. I’m still in shock. The conference is now only two weeks away, and I’ve been excitedly gathering notes and anticipating some of the incredible women I’ll be meeting there.
In case you missed it, this week Wild+Free launched a new subscription–monthly “content bundles”–created to inspire and encouraging homeschooling mothers internationally. Right now, you can download the first issue, PRAIRIE, for free! It includes beautiful projects, stories, images, and practical helps from so many impassioned mothers. You’ll even find a bit of our own homeschool in there each month, too, so go check it out! (Wink.)
It can often seem a small thing to say thank you. As a parent, I coach my children with these words regularly, “say thank you,” whether for a meal, a day, a gift. When they begin to turn to complaints of boredom or inconvenience or unfulfilled wants, I listen and often respond, “I hear you. Now tell me something you’re thankful for.” Mostly, in those moments, they’re annoyed and mutter their list with long exasperation. I can feel the same way when I’m enjoying a good moment of self-pity. Still, each time, it shifts something in their little hearts, even if it’s just enough to help them over an invisible hump and direct them onward.
I have recently been dwelling on the 23rd Psalm, poetic lines so common I almost miss their significance. Here, we read the ways God shepherds us: how he protects us in dark valleys and leads us into rest by quiet waters, how he restores us and prepares feasts for us in the midst of enemies. ”Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all of the days of my life,” the psalmist adds. Perhaps this is where I have paused the most lately, allowing these words to roll around my heart, to steep. Goodness follows us. Every. Day.
Generally, it feels easier for me to give thanks when circumstances happen the way I want, when life feels smooth and pleasureful. Yet in a culture that allows me daily visual peeks into friends’ and strangers’ lives alike, I can easily become wedged in by that want. Instead of gratitude, my thoughts and sight can become directed to lack, to struggle, to the hard things. I can become frantic inside, afraid I won’t get what I want, what I need. In better moments, I’ll remind myself that everyone has difficulties to overcome even when we don’t see or know about them. I remember the sweet people in our lives who have helped and given of themselves to us. I remember God’s faithfulness and provision for me, for our family. But sometimes I hit places where circumstances feel insurmountable, that I’ve somehow missed a sign leading us to [healthier, easier, wealthier, etc] lives. In these places, gratitude is a discipline. The practice of thanking God or other people in our life is a way to train my eyes and heart to see the gain instead of the deficit, the gifts instead of the loss. Gratitude focuses my attention to goodness. It teaches me that pleasure and goodness are not always the same. Goodness follows us where pleasure cannot: into the hard things. Every day.
I can hardly believe it’s September already, the beginning of my favorite season. Soon enough, we’ll be bundling up in blankets and using our outdoor fire-pit again. The leaves will change color and everywhere people will be talking about pumpkins and turkeys and gatherings. Since everyone can use a little something–or a few little somethings–to spruce up their fall wardrobe, I am joining the fall fashion giveaway Janee organized with several other bloggers. This year I hope to add a new clutch, fall hat, and oversized cardigan to my own closet–you know how I love those oversized sweaters. (Wink.)
By entering below, you can win a $450 gift card to the shop of your preference. Fun, yes? The giveaway will run today through September 15 and is open to all international readers. Best of luck to you all!
I popped out of town this last week for an impromptu get-a-way to visit my parents and catch-up with my sister-in-laws and a few long-time friends from college (the reason for the lag in posts here). Regardless of organizing our school materials and space, I was having a somewhat difficult time transitioning to the fall semester, feeling denial that summer is really coming to a close. Even though it will be a while before our weather cools to fall temperatures, our routine is shifting toward academics again. Mark has returned to his classes and we are slowly creeping into our own. This little trip was just the thing I needed to reset my spirit and preparation for a new year.
“a portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2014″
liam // I bought you all running shoes this week so we could run together. Each morning after breakfast you remind me, “let’s stretch. It’s time to run.” You hate tying your shoes though. Here you grimace trying to slip on your already-tied shoes, a trick to save time. I’m unsure if it does.
burke // We bought you a guinea pig when you turned seven. You have loved Squeak and taken good care of her. In the last several months, your interest in her has waned and I regularly have to remind you to take care of her. This week you wrote me a letter explaining that Squeak deserved better treatment than you could give her right now. It was the sweetest, most thoughtful note. You also wore this foam dinosaur visor the entire time at the science and history museum. I love your honest nature and hope you will cherish it always.
blythe // You began a new level in ballet this week and are thrilled to be learning new and more complex movements. Although you are whimsical and imaginative, you are focused in all you do, whether learning ballet or playing a new instrument on the playground.
olive // You skipped through the water carefully holding your dress to protect it from the water. You kept it dry so that you could ride in Nina’s car afterward–a thoughtful plan.
So many friends’ children begin school this week, and as we fumble our way into our own year, I admit I’m a little sad to say good-bye to this care-free season of flushed cheeks and bare feet. I bought a new planner this weekend, a favorite I use each year and replace each August. When I first began using a planner for our family many years ago, I thought of it merely in terms of order and tasks, a tool of organization. I realize now, my planners are more a sort of journal, a story stringing together randomly scribbled thoughts and tasks. They tell a different side of our family narrative. Looking back, I can see anything from the food we prepared to the books and favorite quotes we read or even a new friend’s number or email. I often have pictures my children have drawn or tracings of their handprints and can identify patterns, such as periods when planning and organization become more difficult (i.e. emptier pages). I have a hard time replacing them each summer. But it’s time–time to fill blank pages again with lists of tasks and ideas and food and books and gatherings and ordinary.
I’ve re-read this Mary Oliver poem recently and am reminded of the beauty each season offers us. Some parts of the year grant us large fields to wander and explore while others hold us more tightly indoors or with routine and tasks. Each teach us something new and help us to appreciate the other, and together they amount to something we term life. To all of you packing backpacks and lunches or preparing spaces and routine at home, best to you this week.
“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
“a portrait of my children, once a week, every week in 2014″
liam // You discovered a new favorite skate park and beg to go everyday. You also passed my shoe size. As another of your birthdays looms around the corner, I prepare myself for the soon-arriving days when your childhood is the things of words and photographs.
burke // You’re very emotionally sensitive, and although it can make for difficult moments and communication right now, I know this will be one of your greatest gifts as an adult.
blythe // You have so much volume. Sometimes I have to remind you, “I’m right here. You don’t have to yell.” I know it’s partly your place in birth order and for some part wanting to make sure you’re heard, but I love the strength and confidence your voice holds, the sounds of leadership, of direction.
olive // I’m convinced you are a gift to keep me from laziness as a parent. Although in many ways I have relaxed as a parent, your curious and driven temperament demands my attention. Always. Thank you.
The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences. — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
I’ve always appreciated how our environments affect and impact us. As parents, our ideologies about childhood and family inform how we create our home–the toys and furniture we buy (or don’t buy) and the way we arrange them, the color palettes for the walls and, of course, how we un/organize different spaces. If we were to browse the world, we might notice the margins for “healthy” homes are broad and diverse. The same is true in home-education. Some families prefer individual desks and formal school rooms while other families leave “school” less defined, a mixture of the home and outdoors at large. Like our style, our own “school” area has varied over the years, evolving with different family needs and spaces within our home. We have used everything from our dining room table to an entire bedroom complete with open shelves, a child-sized table with chairs, and an indoor swing. Both worked well in different seasons.
Our new home is quaint and simple in layout, a rectangle divided into 6 sections: living room, dining room, kitchen, and 3 bedrooms (2 bathrooms in the mix). We love its simplicity and size, something that has required us to be intentional about every corner and wall in order to accommodate all six of us. Since we needed to use all three of our bedrooms for sleeping, we gave our boys the large master and then artificially divided the room with open bookshelves: one (larger) part for the boys’ room and one part shared learning space–cleverly right where the kitchen and two kids’ rooms meet–a natural hub for everyone.
Like the rest of our home, this space is organized with natural materials and colors (minus a few plastics from our math curriculum) and open shelving. The bedroom also has two closets, so we were able to build out one for the kids’ books, puzzles, and games, while the low-dividing bookshelves house the kids’ individual cubbies, art supplies, paper, teacher manuals, baskets of math manipulatives, and beginning readers. We painted the large (and only) wall in the space in chalkboard paint, where we write/draw everything and anything. Although the space is large enough for a kids’ table, my kids often prefer working and playing on the floor, so a nice rug, floor pillows, and a couple of lap desks work perfectly and easily tuck away when they’re finished. Generally, we have math and other group writing activities at the dining table. For independent reading or work, they go where ever–to their beds, the couch, or even the outdoors when the weather is nice. Inspired by Montessori, I try to leave as much as possible within their reach. This way they learn to initiate their own art projects or writing or play. If you have younger toddlers or infants, you’ll want to keep certain activities out of reach for safety purposes, but make sure to keep baskets of special toys/age-appropriate activities available for them, too. Like many other parts of our home, this area is still in process. I hope to add some lights along the ceiling since the windows are on the boys’ side of the room and intend to hang a few things on the wall eventually, but for now, this works. I hope it inspires your own!