Category Archives: Mothering

just the two of us

For months now, Galen has been wanting to take me to see all of the special places they visited during the nature program he attended last year.  We started talking about it in winter and decided it would be best to wait until spring.  Time after time, something came up; illness, weather, scheduling conflicts.  Finally one night I told Steve, “That’s it, tomorrow we are going.  This is the most important thing I can do with this day.”  And go we did, albeit four full hours later than I intended, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves at home.

I’ve been jokingly referring to it as our immune boosting trip.  We stopped at a friends garden on our way to munch on some rose hips (very high in vitamin C).  Once in the woods we gathered ripe elderberries to snack on (general immune support) and Galen built a little fire on which to prepare us some hemlock needle tea (also high in vitamin C).  Between that, the fresh air and all that good ole’ vitamin D, I figure we were pretty thoroughly bolstered up.  The pleasant company and laughter probably didn’t hurt either.

I have to say, it took every last bit of everything I had in me to make that trek, but it was worth it.  I know it meant so very much to him, and being there with him, just glowing with happiness, meant the world to me as well.

Fact: the start of the (home) school year along with our various commitments and new schedules is kind of kicking my backside all over town at the moment.  I want to be posting here with more regularity, but as with our hike, other things keep cropping up to prevent me.  Things are going well, except I’m not sleeping nearly enough.  I read something the other day (I have no idea where!) about how if you find yourself up at 12:30 trying to put together lesson plans, then something is out of whack with life and it’s time to address it.  It’s not that I don’t see the wisdom in this, it’s just that, well, when else is everything going to get done?


now we are 6….and also 15!

Iain’s birthday sweater; Mairi’s birthday sweater; tutu pattern; Rosebud’s hat

She grew 2 1/2″ in the last year, he grew 3.  No one warned me how strange it would be to be looking at my child and speaking to my child and to have him all of the sudden answer me back in an entirely new voice.

She made the candles for her cake.  The cake itself was a surprise.  This lovely confection was the inspiration, like a Beatrix Potter tea party.  When we go for walks she likes to leap and skip ahead.  I call her my little prancing deer.  “Look at me Mama!  What am I?”  You are my darling, my sweetheart, my love, my little prancing deer.

The day itself was mostly about her.  We went skating, which made them both happy.  He had a father/son movie double date a few days before and a sledding party coming up this week, more elaborate celebrations that somehow feel more private.

Her hat was actually a Christmas gift.  I made it on a whim a while back.  We accidentally got a newer edition of Milly-Molly-Mandy from the library, which I had never seen before.  In it Milly-Molly-Mandy wore a pale pink beret, just like the one I had made.  Only hers had a pom-pom.  Mairi said it was the pom-pom that made it cute.  And that is how her simple hat got a last minute, pre-gifting make over.


autumn days

Here in New England September and October are the months of county fairs and harvest festivals, cider pressing parties and bonfires.  Iain often dances at local events and 4-H (did I mention the big boys joined 4-H?) draws us out to others.

Can you tell this post has been a long time in the making?

I’m often asked what a typical homeschooling day looks like for us.  That is very difficult to answer because of course there is no “typical”.  Another question I’m frequently asked is how we balance schooling so many children of different ages.  The answer to that one is a little more straightforward.  While each individual child has a nice balance of work and play, free time and structured time, I pretty much “do school” all day long.  It’s a little unconventional, but I don’t mind and it works for us.

I thought I would try to post how this plays out on a random day, with a few disclaimers.  One: there is no way I remember every last detail, so this is not a comprehensive account, more a general over-view.  And secondly, I’m going to try to just mention the school specific activities, but honestly our home life and education are so intertwined that it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other ends because really in most cases they are one and the same.

On this morning Iain (age 14, grade 9) and Elijah (age 12, grade 7) both had their math completed before breakfast.  We’ve recently started using the “Life of Fred” series in addition to the “Key To” workbooks that we’ve been using for years.  This allows them to do the majority of their math work independently.

Iain is an early riser.  He likes to get as much of his school work and chores out of the way as early in the day as possible to leave time for other things later.  After he had completed most of his chores and math he settled in to read The Adventures of Robin Hood to Galen (age 8, grade 3), while Galen knitted.  He’s working on a pair of mittens for Mairi for Christmas.  Shh!  don’t tell!*

Over breakfast we all played Timeline.  I’m a huge fan of games as an educational tool.  This one involves trying to place various inventions in chronological order.

After breakfast and after-meal chores, Iain and Elijah set to work making a Albertian Veil for their perspective drawing lessons.  Then Iain went out to work on a landscape drawing, utilizing the veil, while Elijah worked on a writing assignment, then they switched.  Galen made his Weather Journal entry for the day.

When I returned from settling the baby for her nap, Mairi (age 5, Kindergarten) was dressed in a mouse costume.  My plan had been to do some sort of creative movement/story telling exercise with her.  I made sure to incorporate the mouse theme, knowing that would draw her in right away.  First we tidied and swept the playroom, to make space to work, while singing cleaning songs (including one about a mouse tidying her house!).  I started in on a story about a little mouseling being rocked to sleep by her mama (using the rocker board to rock her and singing a “mouse lullaby”) as the story progressed, the little mouse had a dream about being a seed that got buried under layers of leaves, rain, snow, etc (playsilks), many animals ran over the seed without even knowing it was there (massaging her in different ways to show different animals….a rabbit hopping, tiny nail tip bird claws, etc).  We continued on like this…the seed grew to be a tree, stretching towards the sun, being blown about by the wind and so forth, until the whole thing came full circle with that tree creating a seed, which she became.  That seed dropped to the ground, all curled up, whereupon mama mouse gently work her slumbering mouseling.

Time to check in with my other scholars.  The bigs boys shared their drawings.  I looked over their writing and gave them a few suggestions/corrections to be made.  I looked over Galen’s Weather Journal.  Since it was a cloudy day, I gave him a book on clouds to read aloud.  He read the story part.  We looked at the pictures together and I explained about the different types of clouds, their names and so forth.  This information is in the back of the book, but the presentation is a little too technical so I paraphrased.  I set Galen and Mairi up for painting.  Galen painting different types of clouds (at my request) and Mairi painting whatever she wanted (it started out as a mouse, but then she decided she didn’t like it and turned it into “blobs of color” instead).

Occasionally Iain and Elijah go to the stables early to get a couple of hours of extra work in before their riding lessons.  This was one of those days.

After they left Galen and I worked on his math together.  Afterwards I took the three little ones for a nature walk where they identified tracks, scat and trees and played in the woods for a while damning up a stream among other things.

Back at home I had planned on having them help me bake pumpkin bread to go with the soup I was serving for dinner.  They asked if they could try to make it themselves.  I said, “yes” and instructed and supervised them while preparing my own contribution to the meal.

Everyone was back home by dinner time.  After dinner we went through the usual bedtime routine with Mairi (which involves reading a book, singing songs, my writing what she dictates into her journal and saying a blessing).  Steve played a game with the boys during this time.  Then Galen went up.  He’s working on writing a story as a gift for Steve and I (side note: he’s been working really hard on this and I can’t wait until I finally get to read it!).  I try to make sure he has some quiet time set aside to work on it.  He usually writes for half an hour or so before going to read.  I insure the right kind of books get into his hands and he’s more then happy to take care of the rest.

Everyone 12 and up watched an hour long documentary together, followed by the big boys going off to bed to read for a while.  At this point I assign them a book a week.  They read a lot so they have no problem accomplishing this in addition to whatever pleasure reading they might do.

And that was our day.  More productive then some, less productive then others, just a little glimpse at what a random day might look like.

*This is a perfect example of time that I consider to be educational and productive, but that they would never think of as school time.  It’s just the way we live life.  Really there is a lot to be said for a lifestyle that’s conducive to learning!


kindergarten in the garden

Honestly I sometimes resent the amount of time and energy it takes to homeschool the older boys.  We now have one at middle school level and one high school.  That is a lot of work, not just for them, but for me as their teacher.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy teaching them, very much (well, most of the time!  There are days…).  Add in a third grader and baby and my days are full, full, full.  I’m sometimes nostalgic for the quiet, slower paced days when we could just “do kindergarten” all day long.

Mairi Rose had a challenging summer.  I spent a lot of time meditating on how to approach the coming school year with her, trying to figure out what would nourish her soul, ease her troubles and hopefully nurture her into a calmer phase of development.  It didn’t come all at once, but eventually, what became clear to me was that this girl needed a deeper connection to the natural world around her.  I set about planning ways to immerse her in the magic of the ever changing seasons, to give her the chance to be grounded by the earth.

After much frustration last year, I decided it was better to do one thing in a day well and with great care and attention then to be frazzled and frantically trying to create a “full day” for her.  We now have one yoga day (I’ll try to post more on that at a later point), one project day, a nature walk day, baking day and story day where I try to do something a little special with, say, props or puppets.  I do wish we were getting out for walks every day, but right now that is just not happening.  I try to make our one day as unhurried as possible.  Even if we do make it out other days, this is the day where we don’t have to rush back home, in theory anyway.  Even with this simplified arrangement there are days and even the better part of weeks that we miss.

In the notes section of my calendar I jot down the planned projects and baking items assigned to each week.  I’m working from a general theme that everything is related to.  We started off with “herbs” and have moved on to include both herbs and the harvest.  We made dream pillows full of sweet herbs from the garden.  Rosebud has been enjoying mixing her own herbal tea blends and takes great pride in serving them.  Together we made lavender-chamomile lotion for the girls bedtime massages.  Actually Elijah swears by it for sore muscles after riding!  We’ve planted garlic and daffodils.  I’ve been sharing stories about herbs with her.  After learning that chamomile is good for teething, she began bringing in bunches from the garden for her sister, whenever she thought her uncomfortable.

Together we made a garden loom.  I was going to make it myself and just show her how to weave with it, but we had the gift of time together, apart from the others and I thought I’d give her the chance to do some building herself.  She really got into it and again showed a lot of pride in her work.  These are her special things.  They are dear to her heart.

A Kid’s Herb Book: For Children of All Ages by Leslie Tierra has been a wonderful resource.  I have two minor criticisms regarding this book.  I wish they used more natural sweeteners in the recipes and maybe less sweets in general.  I also feel like occasionally they ruin the magic of the stories by over-explaining at the end, stating exactly what you were supposed to have learned, instead of just letting the lesson sink in through the power of the tale.  But both of those things can be altered for personal preference and otherwise I find it invaluable.

I try to keep a list of ideas on hand to give our life and lessons some continuity while kind of rounding things out for her, so if I have a spare moment I can implement them.  Little things like harvesting some herbs to go with dinner, playing a game of Wildcraft, turning her normal bath into an herbal bath or simply brewing a pot of tea together.  At the moment we have one day a week where all three boys are at their own nature program for a full morning and afternoon and I take advantage of that time together trying to channel that laid back all day kindergarten mindset of yesteryear.  It’s rapidly becoming my favorite day of the week.



Years ago, all of the kids used to pile into our bed every morning.  Together we would talk and laugh and plan our day.  It was a good way to start the morning.  Lately, as I lie awake at night waiting for sleep to overtake me, I’ll think about the day that has past.  Very often, especially if it was a hard day, the kind of day where I’m harsher than I mean to be or feeling like someone was overlooked, I’ll picture gathering them all into my bed in the morning, in a circle of love, all together- all seen, all heard, all at peace.  I resolve to start the next day just that way.  But than morning comes and everyone is already scattered and I wake up, groggy, to the sound of bickering.  Or someone asking what’s for breakfast? lunch? dinner?  And might we have ice-cream for one of those meals instead?  And do I know where their boot/ballet slippers/writing project got to?  And shouldn’t I tell so-and-so to not do fill-in-the-blank?!?  And already the day has begun and already I feel like I’m behind and my picture of calm and loving time together before the world comes crashing down around us has already shattered.  So when they all just showed up one morning, for no apparent reason, I thought it was worth noting.  And cherishing.  And trying to repeat if possible.    



On Monday Steve was home and I decided to make our very first day back to (home) school a field trip.  We had recently heard about a local historical area where remains of old mills were to be seen and we were both eager to check it out.  We’ve been living here for two and a half years now and we honestly haven’t learned as much about the area as we would like.  One of our personal goals this year is to remedy that.

An afternoon spent in and around the ruins and adjoining creek turned into not just a history lesson (as we had planned) but also a natural history and geology lesson as well.  Elijah figures he could spend a year or so exploring that particular site before he got bored.  Unfortunately we only had the afternoon.  This time anyway.

Our first week back is going well, but I am busy all. the. time.  This afternoon I told Steve that I really felt like I was doing well by them just now (she said a whooping half a week in).  Sometimes I still feel like we are really just starting out on this whole homeschooling journey.  Then I remind myself that this is our 9th year and that not one, but two of my children are much closer to the end then the beginning.  And there are many things that I’ve learned in that time, but the very fact that I’m still learning so much, each and every year, if not each and every day, is exactly what makes me look over my shoulder when someone mentions the “veteran homeschooler in the room” before realizing…oh, right, yes, you mean me! got it. One thing I’ve learned for sure is that the first week is important.  I’ve found it can set the tone for a whole season of learning.  If everything goes wrong, yes, there is always tomorrow, and any mother or any sort will tell you that’s a motto to tie your heart strings to.  But often times tomorrow will go a lot easier if you can just manage to get things right in this moment now, it’s a momentum sort of thing.  As such I try to make our first week back a very enjoyable one while easing into new rhythms.  I recently joked to a friend that I kind of sneak up on them with the work.  I’ve recently started “naming the days” with Màiri, as I used to with Galen, and both of the last two days were some variation on “the day we had fun”, so I think it’s been something of a success.

Yesterday, after a morning of school work and chores, seeking balance, I took the children to the pond.  Ombré blue sky with huge dollops of fluffy cartoon roving clouds, looking oh-so-close enough to touch.  Splashing and laughter and sand.  Baby sleeping by my side as I knit woolen tights and the breeze ruffles the leaves of the tree above our heads.  I was thinking that there are times in life when you can look back and remember them as such a happy golden time.  How much better still it is to be able to recognize them as they are happening.  Back home after a hot shower, pajama clad, ringlets still damp, ukelele in hand, Galen sighed a deep sigh of contentment and said to me, “Mommy, hasn’t this just been the most wonderful day?”


by the ocean

Photos of our trip, more or less in chronological order…

Because this is the same trip that we take every year, with many other families, the amount of time that we saw our children was in direct proportion to their ages; Seraphina never left my side, whereas I barely recognized Iain by the end of the week, it had been so long.  He, and Elijah to a lesser degree, were absorbed into the pack of roving teens and tweens that I used to hold as babies and chase as toddlers, almost every one of them taller then me now, with these deep, booming voices.  Each June seems to bring up questions of independence and boundaries, a growing experience for us all.  I find myself watching all of these great big boys and girls and wondering if someday we’ll be making this same journey with our grandchildren underfoot and what that would look like as a truly multi-generational event?  Or will they have long lost interest by then, leaving us old folks alone telling stories of them around a campfire, if the tradition even survives at all?  All I know is that it seems like yesterday that I cradled baby Elijah in my arms while planning the first of these trips.

Màiri and I made a mermaid in the sand.  Her favorite book right now is Jane Ray’s Can You Catch a Mermaid?
I was extremely grumpy about going to the beach and not being able to at least bury my feet in the sand or dip my toes in the water. harrumph.  I’m in compression stockings every day now.  Maybe by next year I’ll be able to experiment a bit, but it was just too risky this year…too much at stake, too many people depending on me.  I’m still a bit…fragile?  Come autumn I think I’ll be able to cultivate a kind of cute look, pairing them with dresses.  At the moment though I’m just that nutter walking around in tights on the beach.  It’s astonishing how much of my wardrobe is medically mandated. (grump. grump. grump.)  So…what to wear?  I certainly wasn’t going to be trotting a swimsuit out there.  As it turns out I needn’t have worried.  Blankets and sweaters featured heavily in Seraphina’s first visit to the Atlantic and I seriously doubt that say, all of the dads huddled in pink children’s beach towels would have judged me whatever I wore!  But of course I didn’t know that in advance.  My very vague thoughts ran somewhere along the lines of the stockings and a nursing cami with some sort of easy-to-nurse-in, long-tunic-y, loose-cover-up-type-thingy over top.

The pattern is a slightly altered Color Twist Kimono Top.  Deciding to make something, spur of the moment in the middle of the night, doesn’t exactly leave you with a large selection of fabric possibilities.  This particular jersey, chosen almost exclusively because there happened to be the right amount of fabric, was originally intended for kid pants.  I will say that’s it’s very, very soft; comfy and nice for little people to cuddle up to.  Steve was thoroughly unimpressed with the whole thing.  When I asked him what he thought, he said, and I quote, “eh”.

So I mentioned the rain.  And the motel.  There was also some bowling at the height of a storm.  Read as: knitting, nursing, sipping tea and watching bowling for some of us.  Which had the advantage of hot tea, not to be underestimated, especially on a day when you woke up in a cold puddle, but on the whole I greatly preferred the days of knitting, nursing and watching kids playing in the sand, in the pond, in the ocean.

She built up quite the reputation among the children for her well honed biking skills.  I love watching this girl of mine, so strong and confident in her body and her abilities.  Who am I to tell her what she can’t do? Well, alright, sometimes…but mostly I just watch and am in awe of the grace and ease that she takes for granted.  Such a gift.



One of our apples trees is blooming, full and frothy, it’s young twiggy branches positively over-whelmed with blossoms.  It’s mate has buds only just beginning to unfurl.  A bit of wool in every form, a good weekend!  Our neighbor watched 4/5 of the children so that Steve and I could celebrate our anniversary.  I somehow thought that we might be able to capture some of that feeling of deep relaxation that we cultivated while we were away last year…silly, silly girl that I am.  A whole series of events lead to me not even being dressed when our neighbor showed up, much less “prettied up” (that part never happened at all) and at that very moment, the baby spit up all over the outfit I had just managed to contort her wriggly self into.  Right.  I often try to channel that relaxed, earth-mama, go-with-the-flow vibe and maybe even sometimes succeed.  But I’m pretty sure there was a point during this particular day when I was chanting, “just try not to cry, just try not to cry” over and over again in my head.  I knitted a bit in the car to calm my nerves.  Which really only lasted a few minutes, because as it turns out this sweet little violet, who doesn’t care for the car, but will mostly tolerate it when she can see four sibling’s faces chatting with and soothing her, gets outright incensed when trapped in the torture device known as a car seat all by herself. Thus I ended up in the backseat of the van much of the time, in an effort to sooth tiny human rage.  Very romantic.  That’s not a fair or accurate assessment actually.  She was lonely and probably scared, poor darling.  And contrary to how this all sounds, I didn’t mind a bit that she needed me, nor did the papa.  It’s just a stark contrast to relaxed, laid back, carefree!  We really had a very nice time, it just took so much more effort, you know?  Everything, but everything does these days.  I can see how it might be really easy for some folks to get over-whelmed and caught up in the hard parts to the point of letting it all over-shadow the joyous parts.  I think of the people who look at large families with a gasp, a shudder and a shake of the head and figure that it would just tip their scales too much, everyone has their breaking point.  Mostly I think you just have to shake it off, laugh and move on, kind of like getting peed on for the second time that day….these things happen!

Is it totally wrong that I derive so much amusement from complete strangers reactions to our family?  It isn’t even our family that they are reacting to, just the idea of a certain number.  After Mairi was born I used to joke that having four kids is like sneezing in public, people say “God bless you” a lot…but that’s rarely what they actually mean.  It’s not “God bless you” as in may God’s blessings be upon you and your lovely family (except on rare occasion), but “God bless you” as in “heaven help you!  better you than I, you crazy woman!” followed by the speaker turning and high-tailing it out of our presence, lest I try to foist an extra kid off on them.  Also an inordinate number of people would bring up “that Duggar family” and ask if we knew about them.  After the third or fourth person to comment along these lines I finally had to go home and look them up, because no, I didn’t know.  Yup 4 kids, 19 kids, that’s pretty much the same thing…at least if you can’t do simple math.  Have you seen this really funny stand up bit on life with four children?  Hilarious.  I actually thought people’s reactions would be much worse with 5, but it seems to kind of leave them bewildered and speechless.

Some of the funniest interactions are when strangers glimpse me alone with just the babe and deem it prudent to warn me about the future.  “She may be cute now, but just you wait, heh, heh…” with a knowing shake of the head.  They really don’t know how to handle the conversation once they discover that she is our fifth child, from teenager on down, and that I still enjoy the company of each and every one of them.  Why is it that in our society it’s generally accepted that you are supposed to be at constant odds with your children as they age?  That is until they finally become adults and are therefore “reasonable” and (possibly) pleasant to be around again, or at least tolerable, at which point you are supposed to like them again.   So strange.



A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week.

I feel so honored and blessed to have the opportunity to mother sisters.

This week Seraphina has been:

~fascinated by the light fixtures in the living room

~cooing a lot

~giggling in her sleep

~entertaining everyone with her new game involving kicking off blankets every time they are placed on her

~kicking a lot in general

~less predictable in her sleep habits



A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week.

So, the good old 52 project….  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue it this year.  Ultimately I decided to in part because I wanted to document this Wee Sweet Violet’s first year.  I loved having that record of the year gone by for all of the kids.  At the moment however, I’m not really in a position to go chasing after them on all of their adventures to get the kind of shots I like.  If I do have free hands to photograph them, it’s generally because they are holding her.  I’m making it a huge priority at the moment to spend extra quality time with them, every chance I get and honestly, I don’t want to interrupt those special moments by running off to grab the camera.  I’ve decided, for the time being, to continue on with just a photo of Seraphina each week.  I feel a bit guilty about this.  I know we have some far away family members who count on those little weekly updates as kind of a way of keeping in touch.  Also, even though at the moment I feel that this is the right thing to do for the sake of my other children, I feel like people might judge…new baby comes along and suddenly everyone else is abandoned kind of thing…  At this point I’m trying really hard to focus on being in the moment, relaxing and just really enjoying the time I’m spending with my family.  I’m trying not to commit myself to anything that takes away from that feeling.  This was starting to feel like a strain and so (for now anyway) it goes, simple as that.

Playing catch up for the last couple of weeks that I didn’t post while I was deciding how to proceed….

Already she has changed so very much.  Her eyes were such a very dark grey when she was born that we thought for certain they would stay that way or turn brown, but each week they seem to lighten and brighten a bit and turn just a shade more blue.  I wonder if it will continue on this way?  She is a month old now.  To commemorate the day I took pictures of her wearing the outfit that I came home from the hospital in (we’ve established that I’m ridiculously sentimental, yes?).  The last picture above is one of the ones from that day.  It felt like a last chance sort of thing as the outfit goes up to 13 lbs.  And guess who just happens to be 13lbs?  That’s right, on average she’s gaining over a pound a week!  She’s grown around 3 inches in the last month.  It’s looking like she’s going to be tall like her sister.