12/20/16

Solstice

We have reached the shortest, darkest day of the year.  The sun sets early and the wind blows cold.  The sidewalks are icy and anxious holiday shoppers honk at other drivers in crowded parking lots.  The to-do lists multiply as the year rushes to its close.  It is easy to become despondent during these cold, dark, hectic days.

And yet, there is hope.  The Christmas lights twinkle on the newly fallen snow as we prepare again to celebrate the birth of a Child in Bethlehem.  Just as surely as we know the light will return, we also know that our Savior has come.

christmaslights

The light will return, the days will grow longer, and just as we reach the longest, lightest day of the year, another child will be due to arrive.   This year, the winter solstice also means the end of my first trimester, and the beginning of the second.  It means looking forward in anticipation as we wait for our the arrival of our new baby with the beginning of summer.

Merry Christmas, dear Solstice Baby!  We can’t wait to meet you!

 

 

09/21/16

New York City

The chronology of my summer posts is a little backwards.  Before our pastor moved, before Thomas was confirmed, and while I was still throwing rocks, Thomas, Jack, and David went to New York City.  They had a great time so I want to give their summer “field trip” a little mention on this space before the calendar and the weather officially turn to autumn.

metropolitanmuseum

Tom’s favorite picture from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

We had a few reasons for sending just the two older boys with David on a trip like this.  First, I am at a stage in my life where I really do not like to travel.  Perhaps this is just a temporary stage.  I don’t know.  I do know that I am currently a homebody. That does not mean, however, that I want our children to grow up to be homebodies too.  David and I thought it would be good for Thomas and Jack to see and experience something outside of western New York.  What better way to do this than to hop a train with Dad and travel across our Empire State to New York City?

Our second line of reasoning was that Walter is just too young for a trip like this.  He would neither appreciate it nor remember it; and even if I did like to travel, the logistics of taking a toddler on an eight hour trip to New York City are complicated at best.  Clearly the older boys would be less encumbered and would have more fun without their anxious mother and their little brother in tow.

Finally, with just bit of homeschool math, one can figure out that a trip for three people will cost less than a trip for five people.  Our limited travel budget was able to stretch a little further with Walter and me staying home.

After we thought through all this quite logically, David bought tickets for the train and booked an Airbnb for two nights in Times Square.  I helped the boys pack their bags, and they were off!

In Times Square.

In Times Square

The trip was a huge success!  My three travelers are already planning a return trip next summer.  Upon their return, I asked the boys to write blog posts about their experiences, which they did gladly.  Thomas is the photographer of the pair.  You can see his post at Thomas Duke 2003.  Jack is our young writer in residence.  If New York City from a ten-year-old’s perspective sounds interesting, you can read about it on his site, EpicJetMan 1780.

What about Walter and me, you might ask?  We enjoyed the quiet.  We enjoyed the not cooking for five people.  We enjoyed walking at the river in the morning and napping in the afternoon.  We enjoyed playing the piano and getting some house projects done.  It was wonderful.  I’m looking forward to next summer’s return trip too!

Not New York City

Not New York City

 

 

08/27/16

Our Confirmand

tomconfirmation1

I don’t know how I became the mom of a big kid, but somehow over the course of thirteen years, it has happened.  July was a big kid month for Thomas.  First, he got his second round of braces, and then on July 30, he was confirmed as a member of our church.

We hadn’t planned on a July confirmation, but Thomas was ready, and when we learned that our pastor would be leaving soon, we decided to go ahead with it.  I cut a good two inches off his hair and bought him dress pants and a tie for the event.  My parents graciously ordered a cake and then drove the three hundred miles to be here; and several family friends came to show their support.  Jack also helped to make the day special for his brother by playing his Boccherini Minuet at the beginning of the service, this time without any cello mishaps!

confirmationcello

The service itself was just right.  Our pastor has a way of making people feel special, and I think that was certainly true for Thomas on his confirmation day.  As for me, the experience was kind of surreal.  I still have a toddler so I am used to being pretty hands-on at church, and yet here was my firstborn, standing all on his own and confessing his faith.  I didn’t have to do anything.  I was simply a witness to the faith that the Holy Spirit had planted in my son.

tomconfirmation2

So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  John 11:16

Thomas, the disciple, is usually remembered for his moment of doubt, but in this verse we see how loyal he really is.  This is the confirmation verse Pastor Andrew chose for our Thomas.  We pray that by God’s grace, our confirmand may be loyal and faithful to his Savior all the days of his life.

 

05/11/16

Present vs. Efficient

From toddler to teen, my children are teaching me what it means to be present.

walterrocks

Toddlers, especially, are good at teaching this lesson. For the past few nights, Walter has been overtired, and his bedtime routine has looked rather like a crash and burn event. We have been necessarily efficient, but that is usually not the case. Ordinarily bedtime looks more like a gradual unwinding of the day.  We put all the lids away, and then I go with him to his bedroom. We close the door, and he plays for a bit while I watch. Only after this playtime do we get to putting on pajamas, nursing, reading books, singing lullabies, and saying our prayers. It’s a long process, as anyone with a toddler knows. During this process, it’s my job not to rush, but to be present for each step before Walter finally puts his head on his pillow, ready to sleep. It’s not very efficient.

jackseaglass

boysriver

It’s also not very efficient to linger on the river bank for a half an hour looking for what may or may not be “sea glass.” (It looked a little more like regular glass to me, but again, this was a lesson in presence, not correct terminology, so I let it be sea glass.) A brisk walk without pause would have been much more efficient, and I probably would have gotten more exercise. But what we would have missed! I love the river, and I love these two boys.  There was no better way for us to spend that time than by being present together.

With teenagers, being present sometimes looks more like holding a space. A few weeks ago, Thomas had to make a rather large decision.  At least five adults were waiting on his answer so that we could move on with our plans, and it was tempting to rush the process. It would have been more efficient just to make the decision for him, but instead, we gave him counsel, and then let him alone for a whole day. We let him putter around in his workshop, giving him space while he processed, and by the next morning he had made a mature decision suited to his needs.

Our family lifestyle lends itself to this kind of presence. We have time to put Walter to bed slowly, we have time to spend down by the river, and we have time to let our kids putter and process and decide for themselves. Homeschooling plays a large part in affording us this time. We have whole days to spend together. We don’t have to rush, and we don’t have to structure our time to meet an institutional agenda. I think it would be more efficient to put my school age children on a big yellow bus and have them sit in class with their same age peers, but efficiency is not one of my goals for their childhood or for their education.

There are plenty of parents who do send their children to school and are still present for them when class is dismissed. Some might even find that being present is easier this way. The theory of quality versus quantity comes into play here. Perhaps it is actually easier to be present for your children if you haven’t been dealing with their noise and their messes all day long. As someone who sometimes checks out or at least takes a break, I can understand how this might be the case. It is also possible to not be present even if you are homeschooling. Pushing through curricula, scheduling too many activities, and parental burnout all come to mind here.

Presence is ultimately a state of being. Homeschooling parents can be present, or not. Parents who send their kids to school can be present, or not. Presence is also a bit of a balancing act, because efficiency is not essentially bad. Indeed, there are times when efficiency is helpful and even necessary.  If we want to get to a scheduled activity on time, we may have to be efficient in our preparations.  If the toddler is whining because he is hungry, we may want to be efficient in getting food on the table. A degree of efficiency is a good thing, and how much of a degree depends largely on the situation and the people involved. There are some people who would be driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household. In fact, I think I am sometimes driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household! It’s all about finding the right balance.

jackriver

I am learning to hold the balance between presence and efficiency. My particular balance leans more towards presence because this is what works for me and my family. I am taking my cues from my children. They are good teachers.

 

05/3/16

April in Review

“April is the cruelest month.”  Someone lent me an anthology of poems this month, and therein, I found these words penned by T. S. Elliot.  The entire poem is very long and difficult, and my attention span being what it is, I honestly did not read the whole thing.  I do, however, tend to agree with that first line.

April is a bit of a tease.   I get excited by a day or two of warm weather, and then it snows.  I feel relief that the boys’ hockey season has ended, but then I remember there are still taxes to pay, home school reports to write, and a violin to take to the repair shop.  (It’s funny how the poets never write about taking kids to hockey practice.)  I feel hopeful that blue skies and sunshine will lift my spirits, and then I find myself stuck in the kitchen, overwhelmed by all there is to do and struggling with the tyranny of the urgent.  It was a tough month, at least for me, but enough about that.

My boys continue to learn and grow, and for that I am grateful.  It’s been awhile since I’ve done updates about them, but I am hoping to make it a monthly post.

caterpillar3

Walter turned 18 months old on April 2.  His walking is starting to look more like running, and it is so cute.  His favorite “toys” are the four lids from the kitchen.  He twirls these like tops and watches them over and over.  His favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and we have read it over and over.  He likes to put his finger or my finger in all the holes that the caterpillar eats.  At church, Walter likes to be blessed.  When it is almost his turn, he puts his hand on his head in anticipation.

jackchalk1

jackchalk2

jackchalk3

jalkchalk4

Jack is ten, and has been ten for quite some time.  In true middle child fashion, he had a rather quiet April, and so I had to cheat a bit and use some photos from March.  Jack was quite prolific during March, writing stories, drawing pictures, and even recording the events of Holy Week with sidewalk chalk.  During the month of April he started his own blog for the purpose of sharing his stories.  You can read the first chapter of Jonathan Marden: The Boy Who Saved EpicJetMan1780’s Kingdom on Jack’s website, EpicJetMan1780.  (Did I mention, he’s ten?  His subject matter is very ten-year-old-boy!)  Hopefully chapter two of these epic adventures will be coming soon.

thomasbirthday

Thomas is officially a teenager!  He turned thirteen on April 25.  The day itself turned out to be rather low key, but I think thirteen is still a big number for Thomas.  He is working hard at growing up, and we are proud of him.  He spent his birthday day in his basement workshop setting up his computer, which we finally let him move downstairs, and installing a new graphics card.  I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have been much happier.  Aside from his techie aspirations, Thomas has become quite the topic of conversation at church.  Nearly every weekend this  past month people have mentioned Thomas.  They tell me about his contributions at Bible class, comment on his violin music, or thank me for his help with the spring clean-up.  They don’t seem to mind his backwards baseball cap and long hair, and that’s a good thing!

Perhaps April was not so cruel after all.  Despite the weather, and the taxes, and my general disposition, I have three wonderful boys.  They are my sunshine and blue skies, and I might even take them to hockey practice again next season!

 

 

04/12/16

Too Boring for a Bullet Journal?

Have you seen all the posts and pins about bullet journals? These journals are the newest system for planning and reflecting all in one, and they are everywhere I look on the internet. Some of them are colorful and well-organized, while others are even quite artistic, and I must admit they have caught my eye. For months I have been on the sidelines, merely looking at other people’s journals but not really keeping one of my own. I mean really, do I need a lovely decorated page in a notebook to tell me that on Monday I’m going to roast two chickens, do a load of laundry, and pay the bills? The simple answer is, no I do not. All of these things are foregone conclusions, and I will probably get them done whether I write them down or not. I guess I’m just not much of a planner, and there’s really not that much going on in my life that I need to plan. I think that really, I am just too boring to keep a bullet journal.

I may or may not be boring, but regardless, the siren call of the internet is too hard to resist, and so I have started a new journal.  I don’t think what I have started can truly be called a bullet journal because I am terrible at following anyone else’s directions for doing pretty much anything. (I rarely follow lesson plans when I teach or recipes when I cook.) I prefer to think of my new notebook as “bullet journal inspired.” It’s basically a place to keep anything I need to record, complete with a handy index.

bulletjournal

I’ve been using my journal as a calendar and a place for things like the boys’ spelling lists since January, but this month I’m adding another element that I call my “Daily Pages.”  I have a place to list tasks (like roasting the chickens), a place to keep track of my anxiety triggers, a place to keep track of joys and thanksgivings, and a place for general reflection.  These four items cover a two-page spread each day.  In the end, I don’t think the question will be whether I need to remind myself in writing to roast the chickens, but rather whether writing about my day helps me to be more intentional and fulfilled, or whether it instead makes me hopelessly narcissistic.

It’s too soon to answer that question, but I do know what is helpful: making the “Daily Pages” my habit for April is helping me to actually get them done.  Thomas and Jack are completing the “Daily Pages” habit with me.  This is the second month we have worked on a habit together.  There are numerous books on habit out there, but I read (most of) this short little volume from Charlotte Mason and decided to give it at try.  During the month of March we worked on the habit of cleaning up after ourselves.  Our efforts made me wonder if Charlotte Mason ever encountered boys like mine, but in the end I think we did get a little neater!  The April “Daily Pages” habit has been somewhat easier to enforce.

The boys’ pages are different from mine.  On one side of their two page spread they have a task/assignment list written by me that they need to follow.  On the other side, they are to write a paragraph about the events of their day.   I am hoping this will help us incorporate a little more structure and accountability in our home school days.  My inspiration for their “Daily Pages” came from this post on spiral notebooks, and also from this article about Montessori journals for elementary students.  I have long aspired to follow the Montessori principle of “freedom with responsibility,”  but this is not always easy to do.  We did try to follow the Montessori idea of recording times and activities completed in list fashion, but it did not work for us because our loosely structured home school day does not really have a definite beginning or end.  If my kids are “learning all the time,” it would follow that they would be listing activities all day long, and that gets a bit tedious.  Instead, we’re just catching the highlights with a paragraph at the end of the day.  So far, our combination of task list and summary paragraph seems to be working well.

Flowers from Trader Joe's. Another internet idea I couldn't resist!

Flowers from Trader Joe’s. Another internet idea I couldn’t resist!

We’ll keep up our “Daily Pages” habit for the month of April and see how it goes.  If we really like it, I may report back with an update.  For now, I can check “blog post” off my daily task list.  The next thing on my list is the laundry….

 

 

 

04/4/16

Easter Celebration

easterboys1This evening as I write, it is snowing outside.  Honestly, I doubt that many of us in Western New York are surprised. We were more surprised, and quite delighted, with the gorgeous warm weather of Easter Sunday.  Our family had planned a nice Easter dinner, but after the events of the morning, we were quite exhausted.  Instead, we scrapped our dinner plans and spent the afternoon napping and then playing outside.  The big boys hid eggs for Walter, and once he figured out there were little cookies inside, he quite enjoyed his first Easter egg hunt!  We discovered that he does not like to walk on the grass because it is too bumpy for him and makes him feel unstable.  We consequently had to move all the eggs to the edge of the sidewalk.  I guess the activity could be more accurately labeled “Easter egg gathering” rather than “Easter egg hunting.”

After gathering eggs and eating cookies, Walter enjoyed a ride in the stroller as we walked around the neighborhood, and Thomas and Jack ran off to play with their friends.  The entire neighborhood was ringing with children’s happy voices.  It was lovely.

And for dinner?  We ordered pizza!  It was one of the best decisions we made the entire day.  We still set the table with nice plates, and even candles.  We traditionally give up lighting candles for Lent.  Back when David and I were young newlyweds we would give up Doritos and Coke.  Now we are a bit more health conscious, and needless to say, there really aren’t any Doritos or Cokes to give up! (Or caffeine, or chocolate, or Facebook, at least for me. It’s like my whole life is Lent.)  So we give up candles.  It’s kind of like giving up the “Alleluia” in church.  Everything is a bit more somber until Easter Sunday arrives.  Then we light the candles again because Jesus, the Light of the World, has risen from the dead!

We ate our candlelight pizza, and we talked about what it was like for the disciples that first Easter evening.  I don’t have any pictures because we were too busy enjoying one another’s company.  After supper, everyone stayed together in the living room and just played until Walter’s bedtime.  We were not somber.  On the contrary, I’m sure that Walter banged all his lids, and there may have even been a party horn involved.  Throw the balls!  Bang the lids!  Blow your party horn!  Jesus is alive!

waltereggs1

walltereggs2

waltereggs3

waltereggs4

walteregg6

waltereggs5

crocus

 

 

 

11/20/15

Autumn Again

walterleaves

About this time last year, I wrote a post about autumn in Delaware Park.  Walter was still a newborn; I typed with one hand, and held him with the other.  Several posts were completed in this fashion.  Then the holidays arrived, and with them came the arrival of “real life” once more.  I kept meaning to get back to this page.  Here I am, a year later!

Autumn has been good to us again this year.  Winter was interminable, spring was rather short, summer was just so-so, but autumn has been good.   Think of that statement as a comparison rather than a complaint.  Truthfully, all the seasons have been good and filled with blessing, but autumn seems especially so.

This autumn, Walter turned one.  He is the delight of the family.  He is cruising, but not yet walking; babbling, but not yet saying words; sleeping well, but not yet sleeping through the night; getting bigger, but not really growing hair.  He loves to eat, he loves his brothers, and his newest source of pleasure is flopping down on his tummy to go down the slide at the playground

walterballoon

waltertunnel

jackpumpkin

tompumpkin

Thomas and Jack have been delightful in their own ways.  They have been busy with music and hockey, and have kept us busy as chauffeurs.  Oddly, I usually don’t mind all the hockey runs.  It takes a little bit of planning and a little bit of food to keep Walter occupied, but it’s nice to get out of the house!

The weather has been beautiful so we try to get out of the house on a regular basis.  We enjoy the once colorful and now fallen leaves, the deep blue skies, and the golden sunlight.  We come in, drink apple cider, and munch on corn chips while feeding Walter his yogurt.  We turn on the white Christmas lights and light a candle as the sun goes down on these ever-shortening days.  The house is cozy, but not quiet.  There is a perpetual undercurrent of activity as the five of us and the cat share our days and nights together.

ivespark

threepumpkins

That is my autumn update.  I feel like I’ve written a Christmas letter!  Perhaps I’ll write again sometime, and perhaps next time I won’t wait an entire year!

 

11/17/14

Fourteen Days and Delaware Park: 10/31-11/13

underbridge

Thomas:

  • Scored his first hockey goal of the season.
  • Backed-up my old, dying laptop and set up my new one.  Thanks, Thomas!
  • Was not too old to enjoy our afternoon with friends at the park.

tomwillow2

bluecapewillow2

Jack

  • Went trick-or-treating dressed up as “Everything Man.”
  • Finished watching Liberty’s Kids, and immediately incorporated what he learned in his dramatic play.
  • Was the only child at the playground wearing a blue cape.

jackwillow2

boyswillow2

Walter

  • Spent a lot of time hanging out on the kitchen table.
  • Seemed to gain more control of his hands.  His movements may be unconscious, but even so, he bats at his toys and moves his pacifier in the general direction of his mouth.
  • Marked the one month anniversary of his birth.
  • Weighed in at the pediatrician’s office at seven pounds, twelve ounces.
  • Went on his first outing to Delaware Park.

leaves2