Category Archives: Homeschooling

Hello friends

I started a post about Seraphina’s birthday, one about finishing a quilt for Iain, one about how I thought I was done with blogging.  Not a one of them ever went anywhere.  I know that some of you have been worried and for that I am very sorry.  Others have been sad or frustrated and I apologize for that as well.

I’ve been asked a number of times if I’m no longer in this space for good reasons or for bad and the frank answer is a little of each.

A few months ago we joined a homeschooling co-op.  We meet twice a week for two very long days.  It is both satisfying and all consuming.  I think that for Seraphina it’s like suddenly having 15 new siblings.  She always wants to go so desperately and when we are there it’s running from one thing to the next, all smiles for everyone.  Her current favorite game is to see how outrageously she can behave before Mommy will stop teaching to reprimand her.  When it’s time to leave she cries.  And when we get home, more often then not, she has a complete breakdown and spends the intervening days clinging to me like an infant.  It’s all mommy, all the time, making it pretty impossible to accomplish just about anything.

I’m co-leading a book club for the oldest kids (including Elijah and Iain when he has the time), where we’ve been reading the likes of Wuthering Heights and To Kill a Mockingbird.  And yes, I am  still not-so-secretly in love with Atticus Finch.  Fun fact: I attended the 7th grade book fair as the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw after having donned a lacy nightgown of my mother’s and powdering my face white.

I’m leading a book club for the next level down, including Galen, where we are just finishing up Swallows and Amazons, even though Galen has read it before.  That kiddo is a tough one.  It’s hard to find an appropriate book he hasn’t read.

I teach what I tend to think of as a small, mixed age, Waldorf kindergarten type class, which Seraphina has lovingly christened her “circle time class”.  I have a huge age range, with ten 1-8 year olds.  I lead a circle time with dancing, singing, story telling and finger plays followed by nature crafts.  We’ve made nests and nature weavings and played with snow dough, little clay pinch pots planted out with cress and more.

I’m also assistant teaching two drawing classes and helping out with a singing class.  It’s a lot.  With our dietary restrictions even just the food prep is an ordeal.  We’ve just shifted to a much more laid back, one day a week schedule, with lots of outdoor time and most classes being done until Sept.  I’ll be glad to take a step back and regroup.  Of course we have a singing concert, two performances of a play, an Irish dance concert and a ballet concert, with all the associated dress rehearsals over the course of the next three weeks, so we are still keeping quite busy, but things truly do ease up after that.

This is all the hectic but good developments.  Also in our world…

We were informed that Steve’s job of 14 years is moving several states away at the end of the year, and as we have made the decision not to move with it, there is a lot to consider.

Our ill little one, who miraculously and inexplicably grew well again around Christmas time, just as inexplicably began to decline again by Easter and we’ve found ourselves back in the world of long sleepless nights and seemingly endless worry.  I come unmoored at these times and loose all concept of time or priorities beyond what is in front of me.  I can’t even see beyond that.  It’s not even possible.  Full weeks just drift away without my being able to account for them.

Honestly, the only reason I am managing to finally post at all is that I’m laid up with “post vital cough syndrome”, Pleurisy (inflammation of tissue lining the lungs) and a resurgence of the RADS that hasn’t really given me trouble in over a decade.  In layman’s terms: whenever I try to move about I start coughing so hard that I see stars and feel like I’m going to vomit.

As to my future here, I truly don’t know.  Perhaps this post will be the catalyst that propels me back into regular blogging or maybe this will forever serve as my farewell post.  I feel like it could go either way.  There is so much up in the air right now that I have no idea what the future will bring.

No matter what, please know that this space and your involvement in it has been incredibly dear to me over the years.  Thank you all so much for sharing this little window into our life.  I’ve so enjoyed all of your comments and messages.

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Modeling Mondays

My darling Mairi Rose is many things, but easy to shop for is not one of them!  I confess to being entirely stumped as to a gift for her this Christmas.  No one else could think of anything either.  Believe me, I asked!  I finally settled on creating a kind of hand pottery set.  Perhaps not the flashiest of gifts, but it’s frankly been a beautiful experience that has added much to our homeschooling week.

To put together the kit I started with ordering 25 lbs of white air dry clay.  I can’t find the clay I bought, but I’ve heard good things about this one.  Lots and lots and lots for sharing and long-term use.  I re-purposed a caddy that we already owned.  I keep most of the clay in a closet in the original packaging and bring out five pounds at a time.  Even with at least three young people playing, this lasts a long time.  We’ve found that the best way to store it is in a ziplock bag with a damp paper towel and with as much air as possible removed.  We’ve had no problems with dry out when stored this way.  In addition to the clay I purchased a set of wooden sculpting tools.  These are great and just right for kid sized hands.  As well as some acrylic paint for finishing the dried clay pieces.  To these I started adding bits and pieces from around the house: doilies to roll prints onto the clay, a giant silicon baking mat that didn’t fit any of my pans to use as a work surface, toothpicks for poking holes and supporting larger and more detailed sculptures, a piece of sponge for smoothing the clay.  I found a flower mold ice cube tray at a library sale for 25 cents to use as a paint pallet.  Mairi discovered that empty thread spools make a pretty little flower print.  Rubber stamps, both with and without ink, are fun to play with and the kids really enjoyed embedding beads into their projects for Valentine’s Day.  We’ve also made a lot of prints of flowers and leaves (taken from our house plants at this time of year!), with beautiful results.

Every Monday afternoon we take everything out and create.  Right now just the clay is entirely satisfying, but now that this family rhythm is established I’ll be mixing it up at times to keep things fresh, swapping out clay one day for say modeling beeswax, home-made play dough, or kinetic sand working with different themes and projects in mind.

Since people are likely to ask, the candle above was made using this candle making kit which Mairi received for her birthday.  As you can probably tell, art supplies are our major expenditure when it comes to gifts for the children.  We spend very little on toys, preferring to make most of what they own, but we do try to ensure that they have quality supplies to work with.

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Flight of fancy…

Or perhaps fancy of flight?

Measuring in at just over 6 feet tall, this is a replica of the 1783 hot air balloon built by Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier that was the first to ever carry a human aloft.  We all played some part in its construction and subsequent launch, but really it was Elijah who did the lion’s share.

Each panel took at least a couple hours of constant hand cramping work in order to trace and fill in the design.  And as there are eight gores that was quite the investment of time and energy.  I suggested we just do a few…leave the other ones blank or embellish them with some simple stripes or polka dots or something.  But no, this perfectionist boy of mine had to have everything just so.  Not sure where he could possibly get that from (insert not so discreet throat clearing noise here).

We invited friends and neighbors over for the launch and afterwards toasted the Montgolfier brothers with sparkling cider.  Those of us who worked on it weren’t as impressed with it’s flight as we were hoping, but we’ve been talking through some potential modifications, both to the structure and our inflating methods.

The kit was put out by the Smithsonian Institution in 1998, so I don’t know how readily available it is at this point.  I found that Ben Franklin’s Balloons was the perfect documentary to go along with it.

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Evolving

“It is something to know what to do with ourselves when we are beset, and the knowledge of this way of the will is so far the secret of a happy life, that it is well worth imparting to the children.  Are you cross?  Change your thought.  Are you tired of trying?  Change your thoughts.  Are you craving for things you are not to have? Change your thoughts; there is a power within you, your own Will, which will enable you to turn your attention from thoughts that make you unhappy and wrong, to thoughts that make you happy and right.  And this is the exceedingly simple way in which the Will acts.” ~Charlotte Mason

I think (hope) that we are finally past this recent bout of illness.  Never ending sickness seems to be everywhere this winter, doesn’t it?  I’m wiping all of the doorknobs, handles and drawer pulls with germ killing essential oils, and I added a bit to our hand washing soap as well.  We are quite ready to be done with all of this!

We are slowly getting back into a rhythm, adding in one thing at a time, including trying to be back in this space more often.  I’ve missed sharing here.   I’m reading A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflextions on The Gentle Art of Learning, which I started before, but was unable to finish before it had to be returned to the library.  I’ve taken it up again, this time with my own copy, which is rapidly becoming dogeared- even though I’m usually quite against that sort of thing.  But I  kind of bought it for just that purpose.

I’ve sign on for the 2017 in 2017 decluttering challenge and it feels fully soul satisfying and just very right at this moment to be distilling what is most important to us.

And on the subject of taking what feels good and right and letting the rest go, I’ve decided that our birthday sweater tradition needs tweaking.  It’s a tradition that we love in many ways, but the last couple of years it hasn’t flowed smoothly as it has in the past.  This year I told Iain and Mairi Rose well in advance that I wasn’t even going to try to finish their sweaters on time.  I’m not sure what this tradition is going to look like going forward.  I’m still thinking it over.  It did occur to me that when I started making a sweater for each child on every birthday, I had 3 small boys; one with a birthday in January, a tiny one in February and one in May.  Now I have two in January, one in February, one in March and one in May, with this year’s sweaters ranging in sizes from 4 to men’s large, and yet I’m still acting like things are just the same!  Including aspects like keeping them a complete surprise, even though with two teens in the house there are now multiple “children” who don’t go to bed until I should be!  I say should.  That doesn’t mean I do, but I’d like to see a shift there as well.

There are many changes happening in our lives right now.  This feels like a period of intense growth.  It feels strong.

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The First Week of (Home) School

Homeschooling quote of the week: “I am not talking to myself, I’m hosting an impromptu parent-teacher conference”

We managed a little walk in the woods together, I believe for the first time all summer.  And a trip to the pond as well.  In a normal year we would go from the end of spring, through the beginning of autumn at least once a week for the better part of the day.  I think this was only our third 1-2 hour visit of the year, so it felt like a big deal.  The teeny-tiny people on the teeny-tiny island out in the middle there are my great-big boys.  We came home with a bucket full of treasures and much to detail in our nature journals.

I’m not squeamish about snakes, and I say this as someone who has been bitten by a snake- everyone present freaked out, I found it totally (perhaps morbidly?) fascinating (it didn’t hurt at all, it was crazy to see this thing attached to me and the fang marks on my arm were pretty cool).   Snakes don’t bother me, except when there is the possibility of an overlap between bare baby feet and poison/fangs.  Last summer Steve and Iain were pretty sure they spotted a copperhead sunning itself in our squash garden.  And while I don’t mind snakes, I’m also not particularly knowledgeable about them, though we all learned quite a bit in this last week.  So we were very cautious around and in identifying this neonate that we found on the driveway.  Thankfully, from what we can tell, this one appears to be a type of brown snake, and therefore harmless.  Unlike the poisonous “White Baneberry”, also known as “Doll’s Eye’s” (Actaea pachypoda) that we came across later in the woods.

My first batch of apple themed books came in from the library.  Emily of New Moon is not, in fact, apple related, but with the pretty apple speckled cover on this edition, it fit right in.

We started school a week earlier than usual this year, because there have been some big changed in our little homeschool.  With the intention of earning an official high-school diploma in a couple years time, Iain is now enrolled in a virtual high-school.  Classes started for him this week and I wanted to be sure we had a bit of time together, to ease into the school year, before so much of his day was taken up in a room closed off from us.  This is a totally new experience for our family.  So far it has been much more time intensive for me than I was anticipating!

Speaking of time, there is none.  Ever again.  In August I sat and got my homeschool binder in order and it seems our calendar is full to bursting, and still going strong three to four months out.  I refuse to look beyond that point.  I’m not sure how this is even possible.

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Confessions of a Frazzled Mother

I was scrolling back through recent posts, looking for something, and I got drawn into reading a bit here and a bit there.  And all I could think was, “For goodness sake.  Out with it woman!  Come on now!”  How ridiculous it must be for you as the reader to be subjected to all of these posts with their little cryptic hints and glimpses.  So I gave myself a stern talking to in which I told myself to either explain the situation or shut up already.  In truth I didn’t mean to mention any of this here at all, it just somehow seeped into my writing unbidden.

My issues with sharing this particular subject are that I don’t think I can succinctly explain the situation.  There are matters of privacy and stories that aren’t really mine to tell.  And it’s just depressing, which is not what you come here for and not what I want out of this space.

The very short version is that one of our children has been quite ill, for a long time now.  Over a year now struggling with various issues, with the last six months being desperately intense.  Thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of tests and treatments have not yielded much in the way of answers or improvement.  We know that Lyme Disease is a factor.  We know that EDS is probably contributing to the situation.  We know that there are some heart issues that may or may not have been triggered by Lyme.  But on the over-all picture, including why the logical treatments aren’t really having the desired effects, we’re still somewhat in the dark.

In the last 14 months, quite apart from on-going EDS/POTS issues, I’ve had two cases of lyme/babesiosis myself (If you’ve not heard of it, babesiosis is tons of fun.  It’s basically like having malaria).  Steve who is usually a rock health-wise has been dealing with his own complicated medical issues, also still unresolved.  That’s not even counting the constant barrage of minor issues that are bound to come up in a house full of seven people.

All of this comes after several years in a row of what felt like one endless health crisis after another.  Just to give you a feel, some of the highlights from last year alone included a stroke scare, worries over a potential aneurysm, three herniated discs, three members of the family requiring extensive cardiac work ups, followed by a recommendation of heart surgery for one, a sleep apnea diagnosis, concerns about a potential hole developing in a major blood vessel in my brain, and grounds for a dementia screening when a particularly fierce strain of Lyme went to my brain and I had trouble remembering what a month even was, much less what month it was.  Just to name a few.  Folks, I’m fried.  We all are.  It’s just too, too much.  And it’s been too, too much for too, too long.

What this means right now is that for three-four of the last six months I’ve had a child who can do next to nothing during the day and who is up literally all night, every night, in pain.  And by all night I mean until 5, 6, 7 am or later.  With the months on either end featuring maybe a good week or two where things seemed like they were getting back on track, followed by a decline ending right back where we started.  As the sole night time parent this means I’ve been up all night on every occasion.  Thankfully, Steve is able to take the early morning shift, from 3:30 or so on, on the weekends.  But with four other children, I can’t exactly sleep away the weekdays.  I’ve been tied to home, deprived of sleep, driven to desperation and frankly on the verge of collapse.

We’re in a “better” period just now.  Where I’m getting that last child off to bed once and for all by between 12:30 and 2 most nights.  With the child having a degree of wellness during the daytime that we can work with.  That picture above was taken just before two in the morning, when I finally had a chance to sit down to correct the day’s school work and prepare for, well, later that same, seemingly endless, morning.

I’ve honestly been very anxious, depressed and over-whelmed within this whole situation, though I am trying hard to fight it.

All the knitting and sewing and “where does she find the time?” projects?  This is what I do because I need to be near by, I need to force myself to stay awake, and I just don’t have the strength or brain power to do anything more.  And while my little projects are immensely comforting to me, I assure you I would far prefer a well child, a bit ‘o peace of mind and a good night’s sleep.

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Summer Solstice

The children found a fallen and abandoned nest in the woods, nothing very out of the ordinary about that, but this one happens to be lined with a lock of Mairi Rose’s hair!

Breakfast fixin’s from the garden: garlic scapes, onion tops, sweet thyme, mint, pineapple sage and regular sage to season our sausage patties.  Lemon balm for tea.  Once the sausages were cooked I tossed all the greens from the bottom of the basket; collards, kale and the last of the bolting spinach, in the pan with the juices, added a bit of broth, then covered them and steamed.

 

We usually have a Solstice celebration.  Last week I was thinking about how I wanted to do something special, but I never really got beyond that thought.  The day of, on my way up to put the baby down for a nap, I told them all to come up with a plan while I was away.

This is what they came up with: A picnic dinner in the garden.  Burning the Swedish Torch that Iain made a few months back.  Baking and eating strawberry-rhubarb pie (as we are not currently eating any sweetener or grains and they made up the recipe themselves, this part was kind of gross, but they seemed happy with it anyway!).  And launching rockets.  I added a sun inspired craft and our celebration was complete.

 

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dapper

Despite having been born in 2002, Elijah somehow managed to celebrate his 14th birthday circa 1942.  His Wartime Farm Pullover was finished in record time. No one is as shocked by that as I.

And I had enough yarn!  Which had been a concern.  The main yarn is Stroll Tweed in ‘Oyster’,  The bright blue is Stroll Tweed in ‘Marine Heather’.  The other colors are all Stroll Sock Yarn in: ‘Forest Heather’, ‘Peapod’, ‘Fedora’ and ‘Firecracker Heather’ respectively.

I made the tie from a lovely, thick wool tweed, using this free pattern.  It’s a bit long for him yet, but he’ll grow into it.

I think he was pleased.

I’m currently reading Life of Pi because a librarian suggested for a reading list I’m making for the older kids and I wanted to check it out first.  In my current state of mind I’m finding it rather depressing.

Speaking of books lists!!!  I’ve ever so slowly been making ones for each and every grade as a resource for myself, but I’m going to share them here as well and hopefully save other parents a bit of work.  And I’m hoping that you will all pile on suggestions as well.  My children are such prolific readers that I’m always on the look out for quality books with which to tempt them.

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flowers and books and wool

I just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird again, so that it will be fresh in my mind for discussing with the child I’m assigning it to.  That’s one of the nice things about homeschooling, you find yourself actually re-reading the classics instead of just thinking you should.  I am every bit as in love with Atticus Finch as I was twenty-odd years ago.  I’ve moved on to Sensible Physics Teaching (I know how you all envy my crazy, madcap life!).

What a difference a week can make, in terms of both weather and knitting alike!  I don’t want to jinx myself by saying it out loud, but in the back of my mind I’ve kind of been thinking that maybe, just maybe, there is a chance of finishing this vest in time for his birthday?  Of course all of those ends in need of working in must be taken into consideration.

He selected all of the colors.  All except for one are very close to the shades in the original.  He couldn’t find a yellow in the yarn we were using that suited, so went with a dark green instead. I’m not sure it has enough pop.  That star motif seems kind of murky to me.

In other knitterly news, I finally broke down and bought a set of interchangeable circular needles.  Remember Seraphina’s sweet little birthday romper?  The part I didn’t mention was that I managed to break 4 needles on that collar!  The first one was a valid break, just the strain of a great many stitches (almost 400 I think) on a well crafted teeny-tiny wooden needle.  The next three however were complete negligence on the needle manufacturer’s part.  For my birthday, Iain and Elijah plopped down what turned out to be a really cheaply made set of circular needles in front of me and declared that I was never allowed to complain about not having the right needle again!  This was a very sweet an thoughtful idea of course.  But when I couldn’t slide the stitches down the needle at all or the needle slipped right off the cord, dropping most of my stitches off the end, I quickly found other things to complain about!  Thankfully they were in bed at the time, so I was left twitching, muttering to myself, and wishing we kept hard liquor or some sort of sedative in the house, away from their scrutiny.

With a sigh I realized I needed to replace two of those broken needles for Elijah’s vest.  The more I thought about it the more all this buying a needle here and there, as needed, was getting ridiculous.  So with a friend’s encouragement and after assuring my family that chipping in for this would be an early Mother’s Day present that would make me deliriously happy, I took the plunge.  And can I just say, I LLLLLLOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVE them!  I mean so much.  I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.

After a whole lot of deliberation I went with the 4″, small tip set with regular points and I am very happy with them.  Also almost every size needle I ever knit with is all organized in this one tiny packet.  I’m still amazed by that.  It seems like nothing and yet it’s everything.  Brilliant.
KCCO

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Week in the Life, Tuesday

Steamed broccoli, topped with leftover turkey and gravy for breakfast.

Can you hear the constant clicking from there?  Sometimes it’s maddening, but mostly it’s fun.

Happy-at-home clothes: an old beloved dress (I bought this one when I was 14!) and my folded, both of which have seen better days!

Glorious day!  We brought as much of our schoolwork outside as possible.

A lot of melting and a lot of splashing!

Feeding the birds at our neighbor’s house where the chickadees will eat right out of your hand.

These days, no matter where I am, I always have a bit of work with me.  Sometimes just managing to sneak in a stitch here and a stitch there is the only way anything ever gets done.

They tapped a few birch trees on one of the last days of gathering maple sap.  Tapping birches is a first for us this year and part of a self-directed Woods Day school project for the younger set.

Frost burned pansies uncovered around Seraphina’s apricot tree.  She asks to go and visit her tree everyday and tells people about each of our fruit trees.

Cassava Oven Fries for a late day snack.  A real treat!

She helped me pull all of the evergreen boughs off of the lavender, a delightfully fragrant job.

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