“a portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2014″
liam // We cut your hair this weekend, making you look older and so much like your uncle Dave. I often notice how you bite your lip like this when you’re nervous or extremely focused. In this instance, we were both standing outdoors barefoot, thinking we were stronger than the cold, misty afternoon. We were wrong and quickly tucked back into our cozy home.
burke // We bought another hat for you to rotate wearing this winter because you love soft, warm things so much. Your father says you remind him of Holden Caulfield in it. I think you’ll like that character one day.
blythe // This weekend we went to see the Nutcracker ballet, and as I watched you lean forward and focus on the story and movements, I knew one day we’ll be watching you, too. I love seeing that sliver of your heart that comes alive with music and dance.
olive // This week you made me coffee, adding cream and sugar to your own liking. After you gave it to me, you hugged me tightly and said, “I missed you so much last night.” I had to remind you we were only sleeping–though I imagine your night dreaming to be just as busy as your activity in the day, my very busy bee. I’m sure it felt like ages to you.
In the South, we really have two seasons: hot and cold. Since our family has always lived in an older home with small (and shared) closet space, typically, we only have enough room for what we can wear right now. This means every fall and spring season, we clean out each of our closets (the kids, with my help) and transition them for the new season. We also use this time, to actually clean our closets and dressers, to inventory what we have outgrown or outworn, and to list what we need for the upcoming season. Over the years, I have found this process to be almost therapeutic. It helps us to discover what we really love, our style, our needs. For the kids, it gives them opportunity to remember their favorite shirt or dress and to choose a friend/family member who might enjoy it as much. When I had babies, it also served as a time of closure for me, a time to tuck away what has passed and prepare for where and who they are now. Cleaning out our closets is another tangible way we prepare for the changing seasons and simplify our home.
Since cleaning out closets can be dreadful for so many, I thought I might share a few ways we move through this bi-annual process in our own home.
PART ONE: CLEANING OUT YOUR CLOSET/DRESSER
Set aside an entire afternoon per closet and only move through one bedroom at a time. If your children share a closet, allow for more time. You will want to work through each room until completion.
Create four piles: KEEP, STORE FOR NEXT SEASON, REPAIR/ALTER, and GIVE AWAY
Observe the way you currently use and organize your closet and dresser. Is it ordered well for how you use it? Do you feel overwhelmed looking at it or have trouble finding what you need or want? Are some drawers bulging or over-stuffed? Do you have heaps of shoes on the floor? Are your hanging clothes lying around? What about bags, ties, hats, scarves? Make organizational notes. What do you need to allot more space? Do you need something to contain smaller items like socks or undergarments?
Empty each drawer and section of your closet, one at a time, placing each garment/shoe in one of the four piles. Be ruthless. Did you wear it this season? Does it fit you well or work well with your style (what you’re comfortable or enjoy wearing)? Do your children’s clothes have holes or unremovable stains on them?
Vacuum and wipe down each drawer and closet shelf. Throw away or recycle broken hangers, empty shoeboxes, and clothing tags/paper you’re not using. Add a fresh lavender sachet to each drawer.
Neatly fold and organize the garments or shoes you’re “KEEPING” and place them in the drawer or shelf.
Place the “GIVE AWAY” pile in a bag and place them in your car. If you are giving select pieces to certain people, place them in separate bags now also, and move the bags near the front door or into your car. This part is important to do quickly with children, since they are likely to begin pulling pieces back out of bags.
Move the garments needing “REPAIR/ALTERATIONS” to the room where you might do it. If you send them away, place this pile in a marked bag and place in the front seat of your car. This way you’ll remember to take them next time you’re running errands or heading to work. Make a note in your planner or agenda to set time aside to do it this week.
Temporarily set aside the “STORE FOR NEXT SEASON” pile in a clear corner or shelf in your room. You will put them away in a bit.
PART TWO: UNPACKING YOUR PREVIOUSLY STORED SEASONAL GARMENTS
Pull out your stored seasonal clothing. We keep ours in long flat containers under our bed.
Inspect your clothing for holes and stains to make sure they stored well.
Wash all stored seasonal clothing before putting them away. This will freshen any of the musty odors or dust that has collected while they were stored.
Vacuum and wipe down storage containers.
Place your “STORE FOR NEXT SEASON” pile neatly in the storage containers. Add a lavender sachet to help keep moths away and put the containers away. Since I store the clothes Blythe has outgrown for Olive, I label the clothing size and season on the outside of the container (i.e. WINTER 4T). This helps me easily know what container I need in future closet transitions. This was particularly helpful when all of my children were babies/toddlers and regularly changing sizes.
Once your clothes are finished washing, fold or hang them neatly in your closet/drawers.
Create a list of what you need and want this season. Do you need to replace a well-worn basic? Is there a piece you want to tie together or mix up a few things you already own? Do your children have all they need for the upcoming season? Write it down or add it to your holiday gift list.
I hope this helps. Enjoy your freshly cleaned and organized closet!
Reading was (and still is) one of the more intimidating parts for me of teaching my children at home. On one hand, like so many other parents, I want my children to LOVE reading, not just know how to do it. I want them to enjoy the large varieties of stories and characters and ideas within books and, of course, to glimpse the freedom and gift of the written word. As a home-educator (especially if you are new), it doesn’t help the intimidation factor that reading often feels like the litmus test for outsiders looking in, “so is (____) reading yet?” And of course, we all know or have met the children who are reading Don Quixote or something like it at age three (insert shock and awe). While I’m always impressed by these prodigious children, I have never experienced it. In their four and five year-old years, my own children always seem to be the ones running away from lessons. They say things such as, “do we have to practice reading today?” To those of you facing similar questions, keep at it a little each day. They’ll get there.
Although there are several wonderful reading programs out there (and if you’re using one that’s working, stick with it!), All About Reading is one of my favorite resources for so many reasons, including its multi-sensory approach, organized materials, manageable lessons, beginning readers, and pre-made consumable activities. I began using AAR with my oldest daughter, Blythe, when I realized how much she wanted more hands-on activities during her lessons. I ordered level 1 and we both immediately loved it! She loved the paper-cutting, coloring, and gluing mixed in with the more formal reading and decoding–and of course, the sticker chart too! I, on the other hand, loved how that these activities were already organized and ready to use, that the lessons were manageable in length and easy to follow, and that there were leveled readers which naturally integrated with the lessons.
Still, perhaps my favorite parts is the word/phonogram card organization, which easily sorts between what has been mastered, what needs review, and what is for future lessons. In other reading programs, I always felt confused about that line separating mastery and review. In this program, we review the same cards each lesson until they can say the word or phonogram without hesitation. Plus, I’m learning the rules and phonograms right alongside my children. I guess, in short, I love that All About Reading has everything I would have wanted to create on my own but don’t always take the time to do. Instead, I follow the simple 20-30 minute lessons! My one criticism is that the program can get pricey, as you have to purchase a new level each year (on average). As with any curriculum there are creative ways to offset these expenses or re-sell when you’re family is finished with it.
Since moving last spring, I haven’t found a place in our school room for my magnet board–something we’ve always used for our spelling and reading phonogram magnets. Fortunately, I have a moveable alphabet on hand that I have used during the pre-K years with all of my children. The kids have always enjoyed building words and playing with the letters. Right now, we’re using it for our reading and spelling lessons. We use all of the concepts from All About Reading with these wooden letters. The only difference is my girls have to recognize the letter teams on their own, instead of seeing them together on a single magnet. This hasn’t caused any trouble thus far, instead it forces them to recognize associations through repetition, much like words on a book page.
:: learning :: phonetic, multi-sensory approach to reading
:: time :: 20-30 min, 4 days/week
:: matierials :: AAR materials, magnetic board or moveable alphabet
:: lesson :: I meet one-on-one with each of my children for their reading lessons (one of the reasons I can at times be inconsistent). Where we meet depends on what we’re doing that day. Both of the girls enjoy snuggling and often want to meet on one of our beds. We just bring the moveable alphabet with us (as shown). I follow through the directions written in the manual, usually beginning with reviewing old phonograms and words and then reviewing a previous concept. Then I introduce the new material. Sometimes we finish the step within the 20-30 minute window, if not, we return to the same spot the following day. I find shorter lessons are better for everyone involved.
“a portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2014″
liam // You decided to make my favorite dark chocolate cake for my birthday this weekend and insisted that I shouldn’t help. Although I did help pour the batter, you all did the rest, only forgetting the baking soda in process–a minor detail. (Wink.) You also gifted me with a poem you wrote. I always enjoying the playful ways you use words. Thank you, sweet boy.
burke // Your gift will always be your deep bear hugs and your quiet heart. I so appreciate these things in you–and also your love for Mad Libs and a good joke.
blythe // You made a tiny bracelet and very artistic birthday card with plenty of swirling letters and sweet, poetic words beginning with “you are like” for me on my birthday this week. I love seeing your careful tenderness in all you create–certainly, a gift to my own soul. I hope this gift always grows and strengthens within you.
olive // Making magic from sand–just your style. You’re making me coffee right now, and I have no idea what it will taste like, but I appreciate that under all of your craziness and intense emotion is a very generous heart. I love you, sweet girl.
Nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, it is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy that we can scarcely mark their progress. –Charles Dickens
While the last few years have been difficult (mentioned in the last post), they have also been a sweet journey in simplicity. My husband and I have always appreciated simple aesthetics and well-made things. Even so, these years have caused us to reevaluate most every aspect of our life, and in the process we are discovering and enjoying the new ways to live with less, to prioritize what we really need and want, and how to recreate/use all we already have. For parents, simplicity only becomes more challenging, and increasingly so as children grow (having their own opinions and styles). I’ve wanted to share bits of our own journey here and somehow mark a few lessons we’re learning along the way for all of you interested or inspired by simple living.
During these transitional years, nature has been a source of comfort and restoration for me. Observing the cyclical seasons and recognizing the constants within them has helped me to appreciate the metaphorical seasons in my own life. Over the years, we have learned ways to gather, display, and enjoy the natural season within and around our home, like the images above of our home in Autumn season. Although specific aesthetics will vary home to home, the first part of simplicity is evaluating your stage/season of life so that your home can reflect and complement it.
Who do you live with?
What type of home or locale do you live in?
What are the goals for your home? In other words, how do you want to use it?
How well does your home currently reflect the way you use it?
Do you have un/under-used space in your home?
How do you reflect the natural world in your home? Do you? Would you like to?
Are there things in your home working against your home life or family goals? List them.
Are there things taking up space (physically or emotionally) that you no longer need in this season?
I encourage you to write down your answers and discuss them with whomever lives in your home. Happy weekend!
Although you might not always see or read about it here, our family has endured quite a few hardships the last few years, the sort that have worn down our bodies and drawn out our depths. I know we’re not the only ones to encounter difficulty and loss, to have to work through challenging decisions and constraints. Isn’t it encouraging to have that thought, to know we’re not alone? I’ve noticed a few more wrinkles in my skin and gray strands on my head since then, something I may have cringed about a decade ago, but I see them differently now–markings of perseverance, of bravery, of hope. It’s funny how perspectives change.
Whether we recognize it or not, stress and anxiety touch all of us at different points in life, and while the topic itself is much larger and more layered than I could possibly give attention to, I thought it might be helpful to hear some of the skills/tools I’ve learned in the process.
meditate on truth // As stated in my bio, I believe in Jesus. I believe he was God’s only son, and that he came to earth, died, and rose from the dead so that we could be free–the type of free that releases us from stress and anxiety. Over and over, Jesus beckons the weary, the sick, the broken, and enslaved, “come to me, and I will give you rest for your souls.” Still, we are human. Our scope and vision are always limited, and in our nature, we’re prone to worry. Take time to let go of this worry and stress and meditate on true, life-giving words. (If you need a few to get you started, please email me.)
give thanks // It can feel over-said and cliche, but recording or speaking gratitude always realigns my heart in a good way. It forces me to see beyond what I am experiencing, feeling, or thinking in the moment. During these times of thanksgiving, I have often found God’s goodness and faithfulness in the most unexpected ways.
stretch // One of the ways I’ve learned to notice stress in my body is soreness in my shoulders. When I feel stress, I shirk my shoulders up toward my head without even knowing it. Over time, my shoulders and neck become knotted and tense. This happens in less obvious ways over the rest of my body. Taking 10-15 minutes each day to stretch different parts of my body helps release tension and helps me recognize how I may be feeling at the moment.
get outside // Sometimes our souls need physical space to breathe. We need fresh air, exercise, and to be surrounded by things that are greater than us. Go for a walk or try to work outdoors when possible.
eat + drink well // When I feel anxious, I tend to gravitate toward coffee, wine, delicious cheeses and baked goods. Although these things aren’t terrible for me in moderation, I can lean on them more heavily to relax or comfort myself when I feel both stress and anxiety. Our bodies need water, fruit, and vegetables. (This note is for me, as I’m currently finishing my second cup of coffee.)
write // When I feel overly stressed and anxious, it almost always interrupts my sleep. I’ll wake up too early or in the middle of the night, thinking. Writing helps me process and release those thoughts and emotions. While I don’t journal daily, I always prioritize journalling in more difficult seasons. Sometimes I even write it here. (Wink.)
I am not a therapist or medical professional. If you’re anxiety or stress feel too overwhelming to do any of the above or if it is not improving, please seek professional help.
Each Halloween, the kids rummage through their closets and dress-up to prepare their costumes. I always wish I could sew at this time of year, but I really do love giving them ownership of their creations, especially as they grow older. For many years, the kids have re-created their dress-up (like Olive did this week). However, this year, I noticed the older three plan out their costumes and search the household for pieces that might work toward their vision: a black cardigan, skateboard pads, cardboard, paper, spray paint. The plans changed a few times as they each encountered problems, but each time they re-created their idea or learned to improvise. It was such a beautiful process for me to watch in them.
liam // You originally planned a Green Goblin costume and even made origami claws, but eventually you decided no one would recognize you and opted for Batman with his clear symbol instead. You made a mask from a paper plate, notebook paper, and tape. Dad helped you spray paint it when you were finished. You made and taped your Batman emblem and six-pack to your shirt, too. I laughed really hard at the six-pack.
burke // You used a Sharpie to sketch in facial hair and grabbed your flannel and favorite hat to become a lumberjack. During dinner, you tweaked your costume to become a hobo by creating your own cardboard sign, “Will work for candy. God bless.” I loved how you used your power of observation to transform your costume, and while it stirred up a few controversial comments online, I know you and am quite proud of your generous, kind heart.
blythe // You joined your brother’s bat-theme and created a batgirl version, also using paper and tape to create a mask and emblem. You and Liam really enjoyed working on this project together.
olive // Until the evening of Halloween, I had no idea what costume you would choose. You had tossed out everything from a cowgirl cook to a ballerina to a runner to an artist. You finally opted for your favorite dress-up and went as a little princess–a simple, sweet choice.