It always ends so unceremoniously, our winter school term.
At the end of last month I was faced with an extra work load of rental management (we own a house in Maine that we rent out) and tax deadlines. E-mail correspondence, documents, and financial records were the must-dos of the day and something had to go in the schedule for me to make room to attend to these responsibilities.
As luck would have it, at the same time, we hit a spell of gorgeous spring weather, and that was it. School was over.
I've always found it curious how some families manage to "wrap up" their homeschooling year nice and tidy, like a package with a bow. How do you do that exactly? Somehow, the end of our elementary school term always looks like a peetering out, instead of a "putting together".
I subscribe to the Brave Writer email newsletter by Julie Bogart. The Brave Writer newsletter, along with the Project-Based Homeschooling blog by Lori Pickert, are my two favorite homeschool resources right now. These homeschool mothers and writers are hitting it out of the park.
I love Julie's daily newsletter, which is mostly about homeschool writing, a subject I haven't yet shared much about here at FIMBY.
Writing is such a big topic, and our homeschool writing curriculum does not fit into a box, at all, and is therefore hard to explain and I keep dragging my heels on it. See Patricia's blog (ok, so that makes three favorite homeschool writers) for a close approximation of how I approach interest-led homeschool writing.
As I was saying... the Brave Writer newsletter... it's about writing, but it's more than that. Julie is a veteran homeschool mom with an out-of-the-box approach to writing instruction and a heart to encourage homeschooling families. I need that, ideas and encouragement.
In a recent newsletter Julie wrote this:
Our homeschool goes something like this:
In the fall, classical education
In the winter, Charlotte Mason
In the spring, unschooling!
I think a lot of us can relate. And for those of us who start the school year on the unschooling side of things - where does that land us in the spring?
It lands us right where we are - enjoying the season with abandon.
In that same newsletter Julie writes:
Our relentless need to push our kids (and ourselves), our insecurity about what progress looks like, and our memories of school (which are distorted by time and self-doubt), lead us to miss the evidence in front of our eyes-ease in learning, happiness in subject areas, brevity in finishing a task-these are evidences of successful education.
Of course our kids will misspell or miscalculate. Of course they will sometimes use their worst handwriting or get distracted by a toddler who wants to play rather than finishing the chapter.
But that's okay too! All of it adds up to learning.
Today, instead of looking for what's missing, turn away from your fantasy homeschool vision. Notice reality.
So here's the reality I'm noticing this spring. The reality is that childhood is fleeting. I am seeing the evidence of this in my own home.
I am now living two homeschool worlds. The world of elementary/middle years and high school. And from this vantage point I can say with confidence it's ok to drop it all when spring arrives.
Because here's what happens as your kids get older...they don't want to drop it all. They are in a stage of learning where they want to apply themselves to hours of study.
I remind you, study does not always look like we think it will. You may have to open your mind here a bit, but when you do, you'll see it. I also remind you that if you've pushed hard on academics in childhood your young adults may do the opposite during these years.
Your children will reach a point where they are not content to spend hours a day playing. They will be ready for more... when they are ready.
So why are we rushing them towards this "readiness", rushing them towards study, when if we let it happen naturally, it will unfold in its own due time?
On the day I took these photos, my oldest was in town with her dad, working and studying. This weekly adult time at the cafe is one of her favorite activities. It is followed by another adult activity; grocery shopping on the way home. Freedom and responsibility. Growing up.
What constitutes a favorite afternoon for her would be boring and tedious for her younger siblings.
On the afternoon when Damien and Celine go to town I spend focused time with the younger two. We live the elementary and middle school years that we all used to experience together.
I mourn the ending of those years with my oldest but I am rejoicing in the natural progression of her learning.
She does not want to spend her afternoons exploring the pond, making mud pies in the backyard, and listening to stories on the couch. She's busy with her own projects.
It used to bother me a bit, when my kids were younger, how unceremoniously we would drop our itty bitty lessons and usual routine (which was sporadic at best) to live Spring.
I'd look at the homeschool families around me who were ploughing through till "the end", whatever that meant, and wonder what was wrong with me, that I couldn't stick to it. And of course the fear and doubt, "how will my kids ever learn to apply themselves if I don't require it when they are little".
If I could go back and encourage myself I would. I did let go of my plans to follow our spring whims. But I did so with more internal angst than was necessary.
I can't go back to encourage me, but I can encourage you.
Your children will not always be children. They will be teens and then adults. And when they're ready for more, you won't be able to stop them. So there is no need to push the more before they are ready. Really.
As for ending our elementary school term, very unceremoniously, with the arrival of spring, I like to remind myself that a commitment to lifelong learning frees us from the need to start and end at certain times.
It also frees us up from the need to complete the workbook, complete the lessons, complete the term. Learning does not reach completion. Discreet projects and courses may be completed but the learning and application of math, writing, reading, history, etc... are not something you "finish".
During a season of school lessons (roughly fall and winter) I like having a plan to follow. I also like having this plan as a fall-back for those relaxed spring and summer months, on days or weeks when more direction and structure are needed.
I love making school plans but those are always subject to... pretty much everything else. Subject to taxes, subject to birthday weeks, subject to spring, subject to my inspiration and motivation, subject to... real life.
And what I've learned through the years is that this is ok. It doesn't mean I am raising lazy, sloth children who will never apply themselves. It means I'm raising lifelong learners who know that learning is not limited to school lessons and textbooks.
I want to leave you with another quote from Julie's most recent encouraging newsletter. To subscribe for yourself, click here.
In the end, the book learning will come (sometimes quickly and ahead of schedule, sometimes taking a little longer, sometimes in college, sometimes not until one of your children decides to home educate his or her offspring).
Homeschooling is a performance of love between family members, over a sustained, daily, intimate period of years, led by a parent who puts relationship ahead of books.
If you're not doing so already, go forth and enjoy spring (or summer, or winter). Don't worry about the last half, or quarter of the math workbook you didn't finish. It will still be there in a couple months. But spring won't.
Finding critters in a mountain stream, digging for clay in the backyard, riding bikes on a sunny spring morning - these are fleeting. These are the elementary school lessons you don't want to miss. And it is worth dropping it all to make sure you don't.
The coming of the green was almost missed in the busyness of our life last May.
This summer, except for a couple trips, we are staying put. And most significantly, we're not moving. What a big difference that makes!
This month the days are rolling one into another, not rolling me over. I have marveled at each one. Some wet and chilly (toques and gloves are still kept in the front closet); others deliciously warm and summer-like. Each day, a bit more green arriving to our mountain valley.
And yesterday it occurred to me what to call this time of spring - these days of greening. This is fiddlehead season.
It is not early spring, when the days start to warm, but are still devoid of color. And this is not late spring either. Those few short weeks, mere days sometimes, where the greenery is fully out; and the temperatures and light are sublime before the full heat of summer. (The bugs of late spring are another matter entirely.)
This is the middle of the spring season and where we are, fiddlehead season describes it well. The fiddleheads are in abundance, and their green unfurling bespeaks spring's intentions.
So, fiddlehead season it is.
You can even eat fiddleheads, they are one of the first edible greens. Unfortunately I had a bad experience with them once (they tasted like swamp) and haven't been eager to try cooking them since. But we've got a bag of them in our fridge. Gifts from friends who came harvesting in our backyard, so I should probably give this local, wild edible another try.
Friends came to visit this weekend. These are our friends with a farm, and the only other homeschooling family we know on the peninsula.
Having them stay for a couple nights was a real treat. Their children speak French, our children speak English. Spending time together is a great way to develop friendship and language learning.
On Saturday afternoon we took our visiting friends to a local greenhouse, owned by some other friends.
They were having a big do on Saturday celebrating the arrival of spring and the greenhouse opening, but also celebrating fashion and design; as well as featuring a local company with aims to produce and sell raw food in the community. Flowers, design, raw food - yep, we are all over that.
While at the greenhouse I ran into a lot of friends. Like I was telling Damien afterward, "I know people here and they know me".
We've lived here for 18 months and the area is starting to feel like home for me. Anyone who has pulled up stakes from one life to start another can appreciate this feeling of friendship and belonging.
Late Sunday morning our friends left and we all crashed. I spent a long time sitting in the sun, watching the birds. And then, leaving the dishes and clean-up undone, I laid down for a delicious Sunday afternoon nap. I was awoken an hour later or so by the sound of different friends arriving at our door.
They were in the neighborhood and decided to pop in. We don't get a lot of friends "dropping by", we live at the end of the road. But these friends were out collecting fiddleheads for their supper, along the river where we live, and they truly were in the neighborhood. A rare treat for us.
It was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. I awoke from my nap refreshed and happy to visit some more. Isn't that what weekends are for?
The house was in a state of post-visitor mess, but it didn't matter. Friends don't care. We sat outside in the sun anyway.
(An aside: I never apologize for my house, for its cleanliness or uncleanliness. "Sorry about the mess", is a phrase that makes me cringe.)
Our kids served our new guests some snacks - ricecakes and leftovers from the weekend. And a new posse of kids took turns jumping on the trampoline. And then the water hose came out and it felt like the perfect end to a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
This week, Heather's 30 Day Vegan course starts. I don't know if I mentioned it on the blog this time around. I know I mentioned it in my newsletter.
For this new session I wrote an article about vegan hospitality. And I thought how fitting our weekend was in light of that topic.
Also, I thought it ironic that a lot of the food I prepared and served this weekend - vegan, whole-food fare - were Heather's recipes from her most recent Whole Food Kitchen course.
Heather's recipes are really good and they are becoming go-to meals in our home. They are, "I want that recipe" kind of good. If she ever releases her Lemon Un-Cheesecake recipe - run, not walk, to prepare that for your family and friends.
I want to share one small snippet from the piece I wrote for the current 30 Day Vegan course. I think it weaves the threads of this blog post into a nice conclusion.
Hospitality is a big part of our family culture. Sharing meals with family, friends and even strangers is just something we do, and often.
We've moved around a lot in the last two years and from that experience we have learned even more the importance of hospitality in meeting people and creating friendship.
Someone asked me on my blog recently if I had any advice for making new friends and settling into a new community after a long distance move. Without a doubt the most important thing for us has been our eagerness to accept, and willingness to extend, hospitality.
For us, hospitality is about building relationship. And relationship building is one of our core family values.
Health and wellness are also core family values. We eat a plant-based diet to maintain and build our health. We've eaten this way for over a decade, raising our children on mostly plants.
Building relationship through regular hospitality and building and supporting health with plant-based eating - both of these are key pieces to our family culture.
The rest of my piece, to be published at 30 Day Vegan, is about bringing together these two values - hospitality and plant-based eating.
It's going to be a good week around these parts. Celine turns fourteen in a few days. More friends, more food. (Not all vegan, wiggle room is part of our plant-based eating philosophy.) We're two weeks away from race weekend (health and physical fitness in the context of community) and a short visit with my parents. More food, more family.
And then we launch into June and a full summer of local plant foods in our kitchen (yeah!), travel and hospitality, family, friends and community.
Fiddlehead season into summer, it's a good time of year.
This just in - registration is still open at 30 Day Vegan, until Wednesday this week. If you haven't joined yet and want a gentle (in Heather's signature style) nutritional boost for this spring, there's still time to sign up. I highly recommend Heather's courses, but I think you got that already (smile).
My children live in the world of fantasy; the world of Middle Earth and Araluen. They walk the land of wizards, orcs, kobolds, and rangers. They strategize in the worlds of Neverwinter Nights 2, Baldur's Gate, and Pathfinder.
They speak the language of bestiaries, hit points, and armor class. They build with cobblestone, redstone, and sticky pistons. And they write stories, characters and plots; draw pictures and make art, about these worlds.
My children have active, vivid and fantasy-world driven imaginations.
And so I spend my days learning about things that don't exist, being told of campaigns and characters. I have started gaming myself so I can understand a bit of this world that fascinates them so much. This world that captures their imagination and takes them places I have never been and that frankly, don't exist.
For the most part, this is all fine and dandy. We don't limit our kids interests to the things we parents know and love. In which case my kids would be little clones of me and we'd all talk about beauty and nature, homeschooling, and blogging. Or little clones of Damien, talking about shoes, science, and technology.
We like being individuals sharing a loving and supportive family life. And we support our children's fantasy interests; Céline's whole curriculum right now is about building a fantasy world and game. We are totally behind our kids, but there is a limit, and we reached it.
Our supper time fantasy table talk was becoming tedious. It was time to re-engage with the "real world".
Supper is a key coming together point in our day. It's funny, we share our living space all day, but we're busy - with school, play and work. Things happen in our day that we don't have the time or energy to share until we sit down to eat a meal.
Increasingly our supper meal was being taken over by the fantasy realm my children live in. Damien and I were starting to wonder, "have our children experienced anything from the real world today?"
Of course they had, they just weren't coming to the table ready to share that. They were defaulting to what came easily and naturally - their fantasy interests.
But as fascinating as fantasy is to our children, it isn't always so fascinating to us and we didn't want to spend our supper living in another world. So we instituted "real world" supper conversations. Specifically show and share supper (I just made that phrase up right now).
Since kiboshing the fantasy talk at the supper table we had to give our children something to fill the void. They wondered, "if we can't talk about our characters, our hit points, or the beasts we slayed today, what can we talk about?" (I know, what else is there?!)
Here's what we told them, "come to the table with something you learned today."
You know the classic, "what did you learn at school today son?" To which the son replies, "nothing".
That's kind of what show and share supper is about, but "nothing" is a no-go response of course.
We all participate and the only rules for what you share are that 1) it has to be based in reality and 2) should be something that other people can relate to.
We're all very unique individuals with diverse interests. We need to keep our audience in mind when bringing something to the table. Damien is learning things all the time that are way over the kids heads and I am learning things all the time that no one cares about (blogging related things for example). We try to share something that other people can relate to. This is actually an important social skill.
Show and share supper has been interesting. We're sharing things we've learned that day, or recently, about history, science, nature, art, language, and more.
The younger two are actively looking throughout the day for something to add to the conversation. They're serious about this. And they are expanding their horizons a bit beyond their fantasy pre-occupation. Céline usually brings something to the table from her self-directed studies that day.
Recently, for show and share supper Brienne gave us a mini-presentation on coltsfoot (an easily identifiable spring herb) and I talked about Harlequin ducks. (Did you know their summer habitat is turbulent mountain streams and where we live on the Gaspe peninsula is one of the few eastern regions you'll find them in summer? I saw a mated pair on my morning run.)
Céline shared her insights and enthusiasm for medieval Japanese puppetry (part of her research for the fantasy world she's building) and Laurent gave a presentation on the manufacturing of electric cars (summarizing what he'd learned in a Nature of Things episode).
Just the other night, the discussion was all things salamanders, inspired by an afternoon of science. (This is a fabulous documentary by the way. Highly recommend.)
Out came the books and the iPads, complete with creepy photos of amphibians bigger than your dog (gives me the weeby-geebies).
You'd be amazed the amount of "school" that is covered in these discussions. And what is especially fun for me is when my kids come to the table with something I did not teach or facilitate. Laurent giving a presentation on electric cars for example, leading into a post-supper conversation about photosynthesis. Brienne, I found out, hadn't learned about this yet so Wednesday night at 8:30 pm was good a time as any.
Some people wonder, "what does interest-led learning look like?"
In our home, interest-led learning looks like letting our kids live in a fantasy world. And then pulling them out from that world now and again to share what they know from the real world.
It looks like learning to give oral presentations and reading poetry around the supper table, fielding questions from family.
It looks like everyone bringing something to the table, because they want to, because it interests or intrigues them. And it looks like spin-off discussions in new and interesting directions based on what you've just found out.
It's not that complicated, it's quite simple really. As simple as a show and share supper.
Mother's Day was pretty much off my radar until late last week. I don't do a lot of shopping and I rarely frequent stores where you might see cards, knick-knacks, etc... being sold for Mother's Day. And I hadn't read blogs for a couple weeks, my usual "what's going on in the world" outlet.
We didn't make any special plans. I'm not big on special plans for Mother's Day anyway. Special plans usually involve a lot of thinking on my part (being the maestro of family parties and hospitality) and I don't like surprises, which makes it hard for my family to make secret plans for me.
It was already Saturday afternoon before we gave much thought to the next day. It was Mother's Day so I was told I could do whatever I wanted. I wanted to be with my family in the outdoors. That's what we do on Sundays. I look forward to that during the week and I'm a routine loving girl.
I wanted to spend the day being together, unplugged (this is getting harder and harder it seems between our online interests and our kids' computer pursuits). I wanted to have a family breakfast. And other than making breakfast pancakes, I didn't want to cook. I was almost shooed out of the kitchen while making pancakes but that was something I wanted to do. And I'm allowed to do what I want on Mother's Day, right?
After breakfast, we packed up and Damien made a quick lunch for the trail. Our usual easy mix of beans, rice and salsa. (Some of our trail recipes were recently featured in the A.T. Journeys Magazine, the official magazine of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.) We were out the door before noon with no stress, another request for Mother's Day, and were able to spend the better part of the afternoon on the trail.
We are still finding our hiking legs after a winter of skiing and this is the first hike we've done this spring where snow and ice weren't an issue. I haven't shared any photos from the last month and a half of hiking. Imagine evergreens, melting snow and ice, and crazy carpets (a fun way down the mountain).
I love being in the woods with my family and as it started to rain I marveled a bit at how Mother's Days have changed for me over the years.
I remember very clearly the way I felt twelve years ago on Mother's Day. Laurent was a colicky three month old and Céline was not quite two years old. On that Mother's Day, what I wanted more than anything, was a break from motherhood. Just for one day I didn't want to be needed so much by the little people in my life.
I got through that day; the worst part was the expectation. I was used to being needed 24/7 and had adapted quite well to life as a mom to young children but you expect on Mother's Day to maybe get a break, but not that Mother's Day. Three month old babies don't give their mamas a break!
Yesterday I didn't want a break from my family at all. The only thing I wanted a break from was cooking, which I got. We splurged for supper out.
Over the years I've wanted different things for Mother's Day. A day for gardening used to be a popular request.
These days there's no garden in my life and I don't even want one. What I wanted for Mother's Day was to be in the woods, even in the rain.
While we were hiking yesterday we were talking about this, my personal growth through the years of family hiking. Brienne recalled the times "you cried on the trail and we just waited for you". Oh yes, I remember those times clearly. Not each and every one of course. They are a montage of memories from a couple years of intense personal transformation as I surrendered myself to the weekly practice of hiking.
Yep, you read that right, I surrendered myself. I love the outdoors. I chose to spend Mother's Day hiking, in the mist and rain with my family, because I love doing that. I didn't always love that. But I grew into it.
I remember the years I wanted nothing more than to scrapbook, sew, and garden in my free time. Now I like being in the woods, hiking, and taking photos. And I don't consider those "free time" activities either. They're just part of my life. As much as cooking, writing, and homeschooling.
I've grown into a lot of things. And just like with kids' clothing, "growing in" usually means "growing out" of something else.
I'm growing into mothering young adults and have said goodbye to the early years. I've grown into adventurous living and closed the chapter on "staying put".
With each growth stage I open my hands to something beautiful and life altering. And in grabbing hold I have to let go of old patterns and expectations.
I get to keep my memories with me, and oh how I treasure those, but I don't live those same experiences over and over (nor would I want to). I get to live new ones. I get to be alive in new and exciting ways.
Mother's Day, a day with lots of memories, helps me mark my changes as a mother and a woman through the years.
I'm thankful for where I've been. I love where I am. I'm excited for where I'm going.
I think that's a pretty good Mother's Day gift in itself.
I promise not to make this into a running blog. I know, two posts in one week about running, a bit of overkill.
the ski hill where we live, as seen from the trail where I run
Today's post is really just an excuse for more photos.
Yesterday I published a little post at Toe Salad about trail running with the girls. But I had more photos. And don't you know, all good photos must be published? Ha!
Mostly, I want to share the sense of the fun and beauty I have in running through the woods with my girls. A newfound sense of fun.
I've always been a "let's go for a walk" kind of mom. But lately, I've become a "I'm going running. Who's coming with me?" mom.
Not big time running, mind you. Just a few kilometers through the woods, three times a week. But it's a start and I'm actually doing it. And that's what matters.
For years I have wanted a bird feeder. This last birthday Damien made me one for a gift. This feeder is the gift the keeps on giving. Thank you Damien.
The most recent arrival to the feeder is the Purple Finch. This spring is the first time we've seen a purple finch; and we're all in love with the rich red of the males.
These beautiful birds have been hard to photograph. I spent the winter in the company of friendly chickadees and bossy nuthatches, both of which are comfortable with human comings and goings.
Not so with these purple finches; every photo of these birds has been taken through a pane of glass. And even then I have stalk carefully and slowly to get my camera into place. These crimson beauties take flight with just the hint of movement.
The kids have been inspired to paint the birds; turning the bird feeder into a spring nature study. Actually the feeder has provided non-stop nature study since Damien installed it five months ago.A little note about nature study
For the record, we have never done nature study in the true Charlotte Mason sense, nor do I feel the need to. I mention this only because some people get hung up on form, when you really needn't.
Are we doing this right? There isn't a right way, so stop worrying about it and just enjoy what you're doing. Whether that's biking on a wooded path and appreciating the trees as you zip along. Or, watching a bird feeder and cataloging, or not, the birds that come visit. Or going for walks in the city where you live, looking for anything that blooms and taking home some petals to press.
The best kind of nature study is the kind your children are inspired to do.
We don't do a lot of sitting in the woods to sketch what we see. In fact, we never do that. Our outdoor time is usually pretty active. The kids instead paint, draw, and sketch (at the kitchen table) based on photographs found in books, on the internet, or ones I've taken.
We've never even had nature journals, gasp. I tried, it didn't take. We just use pieces of paper and the ones the kids want to keep are often displayed for a time and then saved in their learning portfolio.
Also, nature study is a self-directed study at our home. Not something I need to plan or schedule for, except in terms of having supplies on hand for when the spirit moves.
In case you're interested, the Peterson Birds of North America is one of our favorite nature study apps for the iPad. We also refer to our paper technology guide book quite often. We like the eastern birds guide. But there is a western guide also.
How do you like to do nature study in your home?
The house we currently live in has the most "living space" of any home we've had.
There are three distinct shared living spaces: a small finished walkout basement with a woodstove; a one-room addition that houses our outdoor gear, the treadmill, a desktop computer, a futon and all the craft supplies - we call this "the studio"; and our living and dining room which is an extension of our open kitchen. This is the space you see most often on the blog.
There are a few reasons you see this space more than any other. It has fabulous natural light, so it photographs well. It is attached to the kitchen where I spend a lot of time and where my camera is close at hand. And it's the place where nearly all the action happens, and therefore most of the photos are taken.
When we moved into this house last summer I imagined the studio (the addition I mentioned above) with its wall of windows, high ceiling, easy access to craft materials, and oriental rug floor (the only carpet in the house) would be the place for doing stuff. That's why I called it the studio.
I imagined a living room floor and futon that would remain mostly clean and clutter free. (Which would have been the first time ever in our family life, but hey, a girl can dream.) I imagined the clutter of family living and creativity would be kept in another room. I named the room in anticipation of that. Ha, ha!
It turns out, after living nearly a year in a home with ample space to spread out, my kids want to be where they have always been. Close to the kitchen and close to me.
Even our young adult, who has a private loveseat nook in her room, spends most of her day at the kitchen counter - learning, creating, and connecting with friends on her computer.
It would seem she wants to remain smack dab in the middle of the action, surrounded by cooking and clutter. I love it. I wouldn't wish for it to be any other way.
I wonder if this is what happens when you don't push your children away as babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Maybe, when you spend years keeping them close as littles (exactly where they want to be at that age) they want to stay close when they are bigs.
Or maybe it's just because we've always lived in smaller, modest homes and the only space to craft was the dining room table and living room floor. That's what they are used to.
There are other factors no doubt that contribute to our living room being a literal living room. It is a lovely space with large windows and with a direct view to the birdfeeder, a source of amusement and fascination for our family.
Also, all the children have their own portable computer devices, there is no need to use the desktop computer in the studio except for access to certain software programs.
So this is how it works in our home. All the stuff - the lego, the craft supplies, the books, the toys - they're all stored somewhere else. But whatever the kids want to read, use, or play with is dragged into the living area; and sometimes for days, like when they make tents or boats. And I will spend the week walking around a tent every time I move from the kitchen to the couch and around to the dining room table. (Friday afternoon is the day everything must be cleaned up and put away in time for weekend hospitality.)
For the first time ever in our family life we have space elsewhere for playing and crafting,yet the living room is where they play, the dining room table is where they craft. Just like when they were 6, 4 & 2.
And when we sit down to eat lunch we sometimes share the table with paint projects (we always clean off the table for supper), but so what?
There are worse things than having projects on the dining room table, like no projects at all.
Dreams of a clutter free living room floor... are still just dreams. My kids are (almost) 14, 12 and 10 and I still regularly step on itty bitty pieces of Lego.
My kids will be the first to tell you I do not always approach this part of creative family living with utter equanimity. I occasionally "freak out" about messy floors and messy counters.
But for the most past I cherish this because I see what is around the bend. I have an older child that is around that bend already and I know what's coming.
Our young adult is starting to live in a mostly digital world. No muss, no fuss but also none of the beauty that accompanies the hands-on creative process. No bright red paint splashed against the tin palette. No lego piles, sorted by color, strewn on the sunlit floor.
I know, after fourteen years of parenting and homeschooling three active, creative, and inquisitive children you don't need a special space to create the "right environment" for creativity or learning.
You don't need a learning room, a library, or a studio. It's nice if you have a bit of extra space for storage of supplies, a large closet will do. But the right space is not the prerequisite for creating the right environment, a right relationship is.
Right relationship is when you value relationship more than stuff and you work on how to share space and how to give and take. It's when mama lets go of her need to control and have perfection. And the kids in turn, learn how to respect and clean up when asked to do so.
Right relationship creates the environment for learning and living together, the space is secondary.
- Supplies for Creativity ~ Paper Crafts
- Supplies to Stock the Craft Cupboard
- Small Space Craft Storage
- Raising Kids that Craft, (or not)
- Creativity in our Homeschool ~ A Little Background
This last week has been non-stop sunshine. It was the kind of weather - blue sky days and warming temperatures - that makes you think all is well with the world. Getting out each day to exercise was not a challenge, coming back indoors was.
But the week before last was overcast and grey and I was less-than-inspired to lace up the shoes and go running. One morning in particular hinted strongly at tea and blankets, not running shoes and sweat.
I laced up my shoes anyway. (Yay me!) And part of what helped me get out the door was taking my camera with me. My little Sony camera, not my Nikon, which I simply can't imagine running with strapped around my neck.
Once determined to share the beauty of my misty morning run, my motivation improved significantly.
I can't help it. I love noticing, capturing, and sharing beauty. When faced with a task I don't relish, looking for the beauty and taking a photo of it brings pleasure. Which is why I sometimes take a picture of a clean bathroom.
In the case of my morning run it wasn't long before I was high on beauty and feel-good exercise hormones. It was way more enjoyable than cleaning the bathroom, though I do love the "finished product" of a clean bathroom. Which lasts for all of 10 minutes till a dirty, barefoot kid comes through and makes a mess. (We have white tiles which show every toeprint.)
While I was on my trail run, I kept thinking, "oh, I can't wait to share this!" The river, the woods, the way it feels to run through wet, mucky trails and not care that your shoes are dirty. To run like you're a kid again.
This explains why the kids feet are always so dirty. It feels good!
Are you letting yourself get dirty these days?
Also, if you're less than inspired to get outside for exercise, take your art with you, (in my case a camera) and see what happens. Looking for and sharing beauty might be a good motivator for you also.
(All these photos are shown in sequence from my misty morning run. Starting in my back yard and down through the river valley. To get visual of my loop see this post.)
Early this week I told you about an ebook bundle you might be interested in purchasing. An ebook bundle I am proud to be a part of and proud to promote and support at FIMBY.
"in real life" homemaking
I love working with other creative and resourceful women and mothers who are trying to share their ideas with the world, help other people, and make some money doing so.
And that is why I contribute to ebook bundles and mention them here. I want to be a part of a community of women working together towards common goals - writing what they know, encouraging other women, and supporting their families.
Women are relational and most of us love a good deal. Ebook bundles feel like a big blogger party - for writers and readers alike. And they are an excellent way for bloggers to make money while offering real value to readers.
I am happy to contribute my own writing and audio teaching to make these ebook bundles attractive to a large audience. (The Ultimate Homemaking ebook Bundle includes two of my audio teachings - Homeschooling from the Heart and Learning in Love.)
However, I realize that many of my readers, like me, don't identify with mass mommy blogger media. Many of you are in a different stage of life than the early homemaking years. And still others are in a completely different culture, and yes, culture matters!
Much of the advice shared by suburban American homemakers about saving money on groceries, freezer cooking, and even getting organized does not "translate" well for those of us living in different cultures or non-standard North American lifestyles.
Also, I am attuned to the fact that many of my readers don't have much in common with the Christian mommy blogger crowd. I understand that since I feel the same way.We interrupt this post for a word about mommy bloggers.
I used to think of myself as "just" a mommy blogger. This gave me an inferiority complex and I preferred to call myself a writer.
But I have recently re-claimed mommy blogger, proudly, as a fitting description for what I do. I'm a mommy. I'm a blogger. I write mostly about family life. I feel this lands me squarely in the mommy blogger crowd.
The mommy bloggers I know are a crowd of wonderful women who, like me, are intent on beautifying their lives, saving money, living green, raising wonderful kids (sometimes home educating these kids), eating healthy, living with gratitude and purpose, and changing the world - one mommy blog at a time. I'm there, I'm all over that.
And yet, not everything that most mommy bloggers write about will apply to me, or to you. And such is the case with this ebook bundle.
I'm totally done with the pregnancy, birth, & toddler years. So I'll skip those. But if you're in those years, this bundle has a nice selection of resources for you.
I've also got a good handle on time management, budgeting, home organization, simplifying and de-cluttering, menu planning, and cleaning systems. Organization and management are two of my strengths and I've been a homemaker for nearly 17 years, I've had lots of practice. And now with older kids I do a lot of delegating.
If you are still getting established in this area, or need practical ideas and inspiration, oh woman, you are in luck with this bundle. You will be organized, budgeted, and balanced out your wazoo with these ebooks.
We're plant-based eaters and this isn't well represented in this bundle (I don't think it's represented at all actually). Bummer. But I'm used to being in the dietary minority. If you find yourself in the majority, i.e. you eat animal products regularly, you'll probably like these food resources.
Need mothering or marriage help? This bundle has you covered also.
This bundle has some early years education resources but most of these are Christian (which isn't everyone's cup of tea) and a bit more "curriculum-y" than I'm comfortable with. However, the bundle includes my audio teachings which are neither Christian or curriculum-y, so it all balances out (smile).
Ok, so what's left? Well, quite a bit actually. And what's left is still worth $29.97. So even if most of the bundle doesn't apply, the ones that do, are still worth the price. You don't have to need or want it all, you can pick and choose.
So, here's my picks:
Handmade Walls by Jamin and Ashley @ the handmade home. This is a book about making beautiful frames to decorate your walls. Full disclosure: I will not be making any of these frames. I'm just not a DIY diva (oh, there's a book with that title in this bundle also!). But... the pdf is gorgeous. It's home decor eye candy. The quality of this ebook is phenomenal so I have to mention it, even though I will not be doing any of the projects in this book. If you are a DIY diva you'll like this resource.
iPhone Photography: The Visual Guide by Alli @ Alli Worthington. I have an Android smartphone and I love using it for Instagram, that's pretty much all I use it for since we don't get cell coverage in our woods. (I really want to put some French language resource apps on there.) If you like to play around with phone photography this little book has some neat ideas.
The No Brainer Wardrobe by Hayley @ The No Brainer Wardrobe I'm not really into clothes or shopping but this book almost makes me wish I was! You can do some real cutsey things with some time on your hands and a trip to the local goodwill. And Hayley shows you how to pull it all together so it truly is No Brainer, which is good for folks like me (if I actually cared more about my wardrobe).
Simple Scrubs to Make and Give by Stacy @ A Delightful Home. I have a scrub right now from Graham Gardens. It smells so delish I want to eat it. Sometimes I do. This little ebook teaches me how to make my own. So I can eat and scrub to my heart's content. It's too early for Christmas but these would be nice presents.
Reuse, Refresh, Repurpose by Kristen @ The Frugal Girl. What a fun ebook. This crafty mama shows you how to get creative with old clothes. There are some really sweet ideas in here that even the most diy-challenged person could follow. This would be a great project resource for kids also. Two thumbs up.
Music: An Essential Ingredient for Life by Ryan @ Resound School of Music. Music education is not part of my kids' life, perhaps it should be (except that I don't live under shoulds anymore so, take that back). If music is a part of your kids' education, or you're just starting out with music education, would be a good ebook to read.
Vibrant Living Strategies for Moms by Lisa @ Well-Grounded Life . It's no secret that I adore Lisa's presence on the web and ever since taking one of her courses I appreciate her work that much more. This is an e-course, not an ebook and it's worth more than the price of the whole bundle.
Even if you only bought the bundle for these seven resources, which of course you wouldn't because your picks would be different than mine, you've got a good deal. See here for how to purchase and don't wait much longer. The bundle is only available till Saturday.
Now what I really want to see is ebooks for the following:
Planning for your 6 month AT thru hike. With a special bonus section on how to keep your teenagers and pre-teen satiated during that hike. (I'll tell you it won't be with freezer meals!)
Parenting and providing an education for independent minded young adults, letting them study their interests as their education (not on the side of Engish, Algebra, & History lessons) while preparing them for an adult world. Recording and keeping track of said interest-led learning in a way acceptable to higher learning institutions. Help!
Helping your children make friends in a different culture and different language.
Living as adventurers while building community and local relationships.
Working in the world, from home, as a wholehearted woman, homemaker and homeschooler. (I would like this advice from an older woman who has homeschooled her children through high school. I want to see the fruit of her philosophy and living.)
Anybody seen these ebooks anywhere? And if you're a plant-based eater, the other p in this age of paleo and primal, and you're planning an ebook bundle - I am all over it!
In the last 24 months we've lived in five homes, three different provinces/states, and two countries. At the end of 2014, if all goes as planned, we will add another house to that roster and six months in the American outdoors hiking through fourteen states.
(Prior to our current life we lived a fairly fixed-address existence, residing in one state for almost a decade and at one address for five years.)
Since November 2011, the Gaspe peninsula is where we call home, but I think "home base" is a more apt description. In all this moving and adventuring I am doing my best to really appreciate the places we live, whether we live there for one month or two years.
This adventurous, slightly nomadic way of living is not everyone's cup of tea, but in truth we're all just passing through. Some of us live this philosophy more lustily than others.
Perhaps because we are not committed (at this stage) to staying in one place for a long time I appreciate the beauty of those places that much more. I don't take any of it granted.
For me, appreciating involves sharing. Sharing very literally - opening our home to family and friends; and sharing here, in words and photos.
Today I'm taking you up and out. To give you a bird's eye view and to introduce the neighbors.
This is the mountain where we live. I'm calling it "our mountain" in the same way I would say "our street". We don't own it, in fact, we own less and less these days and our quality of life keeps going up and up. It's just like all those simple living gurus have been saying for years.Meet my neighbors
We live at the base of ski hill, at the end of dirt road. We have seasonal neighbors.
In winter, it's the locals who stay at their ski chalets on the weekend. In summer, it's tourists and travelers, fisherman and families; renting chalets and accessing the river, nearby beaches, and mountains.
It would appear I live in paradise, as long as your definition of paradise includes a long winter and a buggy summer.
Our year round neighbors are the wildlife. Wild animals are a part of our daily life and include deer (we see deer nearly every day), the ubiquitous squirrel, rabbits, porcupine, raccoon, fox, and multiple species of birds that visit our deck feeder and add their song to the quiet mountain air.
Last week, on a particularly beautiful spring morning, our family all went separate ways for our outdoor time. I hiked up the mountain, and took these photos. Damien went trail running along the cross country ski paths. The kids went to the river.
I met Damien back at the house while the kids were still out. We both marveled at the beauty of our backyard. This lifestyle and location is better than our dreams. How did this happen?
Our experience living here is upping the ante a bit. Having experienced the freedom of the outdoors from our door, the beauty of the woods and access to the mountains, we wonder, how could we possibly do better than this?
We are still just passing through and enjoying every moment we can.
I'm participating in an ebook bundle sale this week. I think some of you would appreciate the books in this bundle. And if not all of them, at least some of them. The bundle is being sold for $29.97 and includes a mind-numbing 97 ebooks and ecourses.
Ok, don't freak out at that number and don't freak out if you're tired of ebook sales. I won't be hounding you about this, and you're welcome to stop reading anytime (smile). But for those of you who are interested and want to know what books are included click here for the complete listing.So, here's how ebook bundles work.
Authors contribute their books to the package and instead of being paid the usual price for their product, say $5.00 for an ebook, they earn a commission of the whole package price from each bundle purchased through their site. If you think this ebook bundle would benefit you I'd be thrilled if you purchased through FIMBY.Why am I supporting this bundle?
I'm a homemaker and many of you are homemakers. This is a homemaking ebook bundle and there are many (nearly 100!) useful tools for homemakers in this product.This package of homemaking resources include topics such as mothering, organization and cleaning, recipes and kitchen helps, home education, spiritual growth for both moms and kids, home décor and DIY, pregnancy and baby care, frugal living, health and fitness, and even work-from-home and financial tools.
And to sweeten the deal, the sale organizers (amazing women who are really good at marketing type stuff - God love 'em) have teamed up with 10 companies to bring you over $140 in bonus offers. You can get products, not just digital resources, you’ll use and love for only the cost of shipping, or in some cases, entirely for free!
Two of my homeschool audio teachings are included in this bundle. Homeschooling from the Heart and Learning in Love. Purchased individually, these audio teachings cost 16 bucks. This homemaking bundle is only 30 bucks and you get like, a bazillion more resources.
So, it's a pretty good deal. If ebook bundles scare you because there are so many books in them, just ignore the ones you don't need. Even if that's 80% of them you're still getting a really good price for the ones you want. And, in the case of this sale, you're getting some good bonuses also.
That's it for my pitch. If you are considering purchasing, the sale ends on May 4th. (May! It's almost May!!)
To see a complete list of everything offered in this sale (including all the bonus materials), FAQ's, and to learn more about how to download these books to your e-reader click here.
It all started in January with our weekly French lessons. Céline and I left the house every Saturday afternoon, driving to a nearby community where our course was offered.
We were gone all afternoon and Damien felt antsy stuck at home with the younger two and no vehicle (we are a one car family, as we always have been).
After our first or second week of this Damien said, "we're coming to town when you go to French." There's not a lot of places to go in town on a Saturday afternoon in winter. But there is a cafe. And a swimming pool. And so a new routine was born.
On Saturday afternoon we'd all leave the house together. Damien would drop Céline and I off at our French class and then he and the kids would go to the swimming pool, and after that, the cafe. Then they'd pick us up when our class ended, late in the afternoon.
When our first semester of French was over, mid-March, the Saturday afternoons in town continued.
Now I'm the one dropping Damien off at the cafe, where he can work in peace for a couple hours. I take the kids swimming - where I sit on the sidelines and do my own computer work - writing, photo editing, household planning stuff.
Then we meet Damien back at the cafe, where the kids and I have our own hot drinks before we head home for the late afternoon and evening.
A nice local swimming pool is a treat. Maine is not known for its fabulous recreation centers. It's known for beaches and camps, woods and mountains. We have that here also, but we also have a local pool. Score.
Last week, I asked Brienne if she would like to ask a friend to join us for Saturday afternoon swimming. "No", she said, "I like swimming with just Laurent and Céline".
As Céline grows up she lives in another world, intellectually and socially, from her siblings. The time my kids spend doing things together is less than it used to be.
When Laurent and Brienne enter young adulthood I suspect my kids' worlds will align once more. But now, it's Céline mostly in one world and the other two still in childhood.
But not when they swim. When they swim, or run (or pretty much do any active outdoor pursuit) together, they share the same world. The same activity, a common experience.
This is as important to me as the physical activity itself. These children of mine who have lived nearly 24/7 for their entire lives, still like to be together and enjoy each other's company. I love that.
Yes, they need friends and we are thrilled that Céline especially has started to find her tribe (online mostly). She will be fourteen next month. Friends mean more and more to her and we understand that.
But siblings are first friends. And when you homeschool, your siblings are the peers you spend most of your day with.
Enjoying their company isn't just nice, it's necessary to have peaceful and happy days together. I am thankful my kids share this kind of relationship with each other. And I'm happy to add swimming to our schedule if it helps to foster their friendship.
If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know that my logo has always been a daisy shaped flower and I've used Rudbeckia as my icon for ages.
Rudbeckia? If you're a non-gardener, Rudbeckia is commonly called Black Eyed Susan or Brown Eyed Susan.
I wrote about my FIMBY flower in this post. I love Rudbeckia. It's both beautiful and not particularly fussy about its growing conditions. (And yes, you can read things into that, about the kind of person I want to be.)
Four years ago or so, at the time I got serious about my blogging intentions, I was a very active gardener and so I gravitated to that flower image as an icon for my blog. It seemed like a good representation for what I wanted to communicate. This was a blog about my back yard (literally and figuratively). And flowers were a big part of my back yard.
Life has changed a bit since then. There are no flowers in my yard, except for the wild daisies that grow along the road.
For this life season, gardening as a hobby and activity has been largely replaced with adventuring. We have adopted a semi-nomadic lifestyle and investing in a garden is no longer an interest of mine given our frequent moving and traveling.
But I'm still the same person, the same mother who wants to share about the fun in my back yard. A writer who wants to tell a story. I think we all want to tell our stories. I am not unique in this regard.
I started calling myself a writer a few years ago.
At first that felt strange because I was hung up on writers being published authors. Or, at the very least, having studied English in post-secondary school. I have one year of university English as a requirement for my Education degree. I remember none of it except my heavy Norton's Anthology, full of stories I mostly disliked.
And as for being a published author, well, anyone can publish these days (for better or for worse). That measure hardly matters anymore.
I'm not a writer because I have training in writing or because I know how to diagram a sentence. In truth, I've been working with a grammar coach to learn how to write better.
I'm a writer because I write. Because almost every day I wrestle thoughts into some sense of coherence with the written word. And the more I do it, the better I become and the better I want to become.
I've grown into my writer skin the same way I've grown into my mother skin, simply by doing it. And realizing that calling myself a writer has nothing to do with earning money from writing, though it's nice when I do (smile).
When re-designing FIMBY and thinking about a graphic I could use to express my message and vision for this space, my fountain pen became the clear winner.
Damien gifted me this pen for my 36th birthday. Probably my most expensive birthday gift from him to date. (We're not expensive birthday gift people.)
my birthday gifts from last year
Damien is a pen aficionado. He loves good design and function, expressed in beautiful ways. And so he's always had a thing for fountain pens (and Japanese aesthetic and pretty much anything well-designed and beautiful).
When I met Damien I used the cheapest pens and pencils I could find. After years of being married to my engineer husband I have developed a "thing" for good writing instruments also. But still, a fountain pen was a bit of stretch for me.
Fountain pens are particular. They take some getting used to. They are a wee bit arcane and even high brow. I wasn't sure a fountain pen was for me, down-to-earth girl that I am.
Damien has convinced me otherwise. I am now the fountain pen user in the house. Damien writes with real ink so rarely these days he is now the one grabbing for any old pen in the jar.
But for me, only my fountain pen will do. It took me at least eight months to get used to it. The ink flows differently than the Pilot rollerball pens I was accustomed to.
I dropped my pen once, on the nib. Those of you who use quality pens can wince now. I had to buy a replacement nib. It cost me as much as 15 extra-fine Pilot rollerballs, sold separately.
But now that I have used my pen for over a year, gotten over the initial "bleeds", and learned how to take care of it properly (regularly refilling the ink, storing it properly, and not dropping it), this pen is mine. It's mine in a way that a rollerball pen could never be, used for some months and tossed in the garbage.
I own this pen in the way I own my writing.
I have gained the privilege of calling it mine by taking care of it and making some mistakes along the way. But mostly I call this pen mine because I use it - every day.
FIMBY is the place I write our family story.
In our culture, a pen (or quill) is an time-honored symbol for writing. A FIMBY fountain pen felt like a good fit.
I've worked hard at learning to use a fountain pen. I've worked hard at writing and learning how to blog.
Laurent drew the pen graphic for me based on my own red fountain pen. My son, bringing this idea to life for me, from his own creativity and genius, feels like such a good fit for my blog. A blog about family life, homeschooling, and creativity.
My pen writes love notes, Christmas cards, and grocery lists. It flows through my journal and scribbles post-it notes for the bathroom mirror.
My pen tells a story and so does this blog.
by Laurent Tougas
(Laurent does private art commissions. Contact me if you're interested.)
In an effort to survive March I made some changes to our daily routine. Almost every February and/or March (that I can remember of recent memory) I make changes to our New Year's routine when we hit the winter doldrums.
Inevitably, a scheduling or schooling idea that looks good on paper doesn't play out so well in real life. Usually, I plan for more than I am capable of achieving and I have to re-adjust my expectations. And very often I simply get tired of day-in, day-out routines and need to change things around to stay inspired. I'm guessing a few of you can relate.
I introduced a change last month that I've never tried before - afternoon homeschooling.
We are interest-led homeschoolers and we allow our children a large degree of freedom to pursue what they want to learn. This is not hands-off for us. There's a lot of parental assistance that accompanies this type of learning.
Also, in the elementary years there are a few foundational skills - reading, writing and math - that we actively teach our children. These activities: the hands-on assistance for interest-led projects, time for skill building, and the inspired mama-led learning is what our designated "school time" looks like.
Mostly, it's the time I set aside in my day to focus on our kids' education. I am thinking about our kids' learning almost all the time. It's my responsibility and passion. But there are certain times that I stop the other activities I'm doing to actively teach and facilitate - this is our "school time".
There is so much reading, discussion, and life learning activity that happens outside of our designated "school time" that the term seems somewhat artificial. But in our home everyone knows what "school time" means. The kids expect there will be some combination of reading, writing, math, maybe science or history. There could be games, stories, or poetry. It's never the same each day.
This routine has always happened in the mornings. Not every morning, we average about 3 days a week for "school" and we take complete breaks often, but morning was the time for it.
Last month, for the first time in our homeschooling history, I changed this routine.
I started exercising every day and decided the best time for me to do that was mid-morning. (This reflects a general trend last month of recognizing my physical, emotional, and mental needs and taking care of those first. And if that meant no school in the mornings, then so be it.)
Damien is also more available in the morning than he is in the afternoon and evening (the times of day he does his main income earning work). I have enjoyed loosening the tight grip on my mornings, which used to be my workhorse, so I can spend more time with my husband. Going for walks together, chatting on the couch leisurely instead of me stressing out about "getting things done" and cranking through my morning routine.
My morning has shifted from "check, check, check" my way through the list to "what feels like the right thing to be doing right now?"
I find I don't even have to plan as vigilantly in the morning either because I'm not hitting the ground running, so to speak, with our schedule first thing. This frees up a bit of my early morning time, so I can make a fire if I want, or sleep in if I need it.
I am writing simpler to-do lists these days also. Little paper notes (how old school) in a sweet little notebook that Miriam, from the Netherlands, sent me. I still do most of my note keeping and planning in Evernote but a switch to simpler to-do lists is a nice change.
My needs required a new schedule; but the kids' changing needs also demanded a new routine. As they grow their sleep cycles are changing. And everything I've read about teenagers staying up late and getting up late has come to pass in my own home.
Our old schedule was based on a 7:30ish rising time. 7:30 just ain't happening anymore.
I have no problems with the kids staying up late and sleeping in, as long as we can still get our stuff done (throughout the course of the whole day). And get it done without too much angst.
The kids' later bedtime, and subsequent later rising time, was resulting in too much morning angst. I was stressed about getting the kids up by a certain time so we could "do our routine". But the routine was not serving us anymore so it was time to change it.
Our mornings are slower now and I don't have the stress of unrealistic expectations and ill-fitting schedules.
I changed the chore system also so that everyone can work independently and at their own pace. (Chores used to be more shared.) The kids love this change. I had no idea how ready they were for this next level of independence.
So now my mornings go something like this: I get up and putter, start laundry if a load needs washing. Earlier this month I was lighting a fire, though that's starting to change.
Most days I read my Bible and usually try to grab hold of one particular verse that speaks to me and try to carry that with me through the day. I may read my e-mail, I may not. If I feel I might get stressed by reading it, I don't. I'll save it for later in the morning, to read after I've had some creative writing time or taken care of a few household tasks.
I do my writing with not quite the same intensity I used to. I was burning out writing alone in my room (I'm an extrovert). Now I like to sit with the family and be available to chat, but not too much. As it is, the kids are bed for most of this time anyway.
At some point the kids get up and do their thing - breakfast and chores. Mid-morning is when we exercise, the whole fam-damnly. Sometimes together, sometimes on our own.
In between and after exercising I fit in my major homemaking tasks for the day. Early in the week these are food related tasks - menu planning and grocery list stuff. Later in the week my attention turns to cleaning, organizing, home management, or creative projects.
This leaves school stuff for the afternoon. I'm not sure how long this will last. When the weather truly feels like spring we will take a break to revel in the outdoors which usually includes a large dose of science exploration and nature study. And then of course during summer everything is up for negotiation. So we'll see how it all works out.
But for now it's working well.
Have you ever switched your school routine from morning to afternoons or vice versa? Or maybe you scatter your school activities through out the whole day? Feel free to share.
That was a rough spell wasn't it? But we made it through and I'm proud of you, and truthfully I'm more than a little relieved.
That was one of the toughest Marchs on record. Now that we are through it and Spring is firmly rooted in your heart I wanted to write you a little love note. Ok, it's a long love note, I'm a bit wordy. But you know that already.
First off, you know that oft quoted phrase, "this too shall pass"? Try to remember that next time around. Maybe write yourself a little note, like the rest of the notes I write yourself. Also, now that you are feeling yourself again you can be reassured that you are not your struggle.
You are not your anxiety. You are not your insecurity. Those are things you experience, ebbing and flowing with season and situation, but they do not define you. But this winter, oh the burden of those was great, was it not?
By the end of the winter you learned some fabulous tricks and truths that would have helped a little earlier on. That's why I'm writing you this letter. Tuck it away somewhere safe and then read it next winter. Once in January will probably suffice, and a couple times in February will do. But I'm guessing that by the end of March the edges of the letter will be worn from reading.
Honey, you read this letter as often as you need to during that dark and difficult month. And maybe the month won't be so dark and difficult after all.
So, Renee, one of the things you learned about yourself this winter is that anxiety can cripple you. Some people battle weight and other health issues, your health struggle is with your mind. Anxiety and negative thought patterns may be a weakness, but that is not a condemnation or weight you must bear.
Now that you know what's going on, you know how to deal with it.
You are a thinking person, more than a feeling person (in the personality typing sense). You love to order the world in your mind, to bring control to the chaos. Most of the time you thrive doing that. Ordering, sorting, and classifying thoughts. Giving each its due and putting it into place.
This winter you learned there are some thoughts that don't deserve your attention. They don't need to be sorted, organized, or classified. In fact there are many thoughts that assalt you in a day that don't deserve the time it took you to read this sentence.
When you dwell on those thoughts, those fears, those insecurities, you give them power Hon. I know you don't mean to. You think, "I just need to follow this train of thought to know if it's true, to know where it belongs, to put it in its box." You can't do that.
When you are feeling well you can indulge more in mental gymnastics that cause you to question and doubt. There are times you are strong enough for that. Winter is not that time. And there are some thoughts that you need never open the door to. Thoughts about your worth being one example. You need never go down a thought trail to establish your worth, or your strength, or your identity in Christ, your provision or your freedom. Let's just be done with that.
The mantra that you created was a great idea. When these doubts creep into your mind, you shut them down Sister with the truth. If you have to speak it out loud, you do that; but Love, do not listen to those lies. They do not deserve your attention. Ever.
I know you don't like labels but finally naming your mental suffering, in part, as Seasonal Affective Disorder, is a healing step, not a hindering step. This is not a diagnosis so much as a direction. Naming your winter despondency for what it is will help you face next year with the right tools.
Let's face it Love, you live in a northern climate (we can't help where we're born and Canada is better than a lot of places to end up!), and getting through winter is not for the feint of heart. Lucky you! You are not feint of heart. You are a strong woman.
Don't forget this summer to buy a sunlamp and start using it in the fall. Your regular morning rising will be a benefit to you in this regard as you spend time each day "soaking in the rays".
Tanning last month was a stop gap measure but you may want to do that again next winter, but maybe you should look into safe tanning practices first. This is new to you and I'm proud of you for getting over your "au natural" hang ups to give this a try. Once you got over your fear of lying in that small space you certainly did enjoy the warmth and the mental boost it gave you.
Also, don't forget to keep taking your vitamins and fish oil (and of course keep eating your greens, but I don't need to remind you of that). These supplements are worth the cost Hon. Your health matters, don't scrimp here.
And speaking of your health, who knew that daily exercise made such a difference. I know you are used to hiking and skiing regularly but Love, you need the outdoors, the woods, and heart pumping exercise every day.
And as you've learned from doing this now for over a month (yay you!) the house does not fall apart and the schooling does not stop; in fact nothing suffers when you exercise every day. But a lot suffers when you don't.
You have the freedom in your days to exercise whenever you want so take that freedom sister! Those morning walks in the woods and runs through the mud, as winter turns to spring, are more necessary than you ever imagined for your mental health. Your mom was right.
You know what was the best gift this winter? Without a doubt the best gift was the people in your life. Aren't the people in your life wonderful?
Let's start with your family. I know you like to "have it all together" and be the mom in charge. The mom who is upbeat, happy, and energized. But when you can't be that because you are suffering, like the time your grandmother died and then with your struggles this past winter, have you noticed how your family rallies around? They can take care of you once in awhile. You don't have to always "have it together".
Love, you have poured years of your life and your very heart and soul into your children. You have been rooted in God's grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit, day in and day out. You have drawn from this rich and unsurpassed well of blessing to pour love, belonging, and rootedness into your children. You have stretched in ways you didn't think possible to love, nurture and educate these children. You are not perfect, and they know that. But just as you love your children unconditionally in spite of their imperfections - they love you back, the same way!
And when you can't be everything you want to be, and everything you know you are capable of being (isn't that the most frustrating part!) all those years of training, teaching, patience, love and understanding - they carry the load.
Love, the foundation you've already laid is secure. By God's grace you and Damien have done well, and though you're not done this parenting journey, you have an amazingly close relationship with your kids. A bad month is not going to change that.
You are a fabulous mother. And I know how fiercely proud you are of your children, you have every right to be. They were God's gift to you and you have stewarded that responsibility well.
And when you married Damien, you picked well. God honors your commitment to your husband, how you support and respect him. Damien loves you and by God's grace he provides for your family. Hon, you can rest in that. You are blessed woman and when your husband carries you, let him. And know that your time will come to do the carrying. But don't be scared, God will give you the strength when you need it.
You have some amazing friends and I know you don't see them very much, seeing as your closest friends don't live in your province, but they are there for you. Your warrior sisters in Maine are one of God's gifts to you. So is Krista in Alberta. Have you stopped to consider how much God loves you and takes care of you by providing friends? And yes, you have to work at friendships. And sometimes in the past you thought the work and the vulnerability wasn't worth it. I'm glad you are learning that it is worth it.
And remember that time last month you broke down on the ski hill? Sobbing into the arms of a local friend who asked innocently enough "ca va bien?" I was good to be honest with her. Her experience and wisdom, given with such love and compassion, was again, God's gift to you.
I know you want to have it all together but when you don't you learn so much for other people.
Your vulnerability and wholeheartedness scares you sometimes. You feel raw and open; you wish you could compartmentalize your life a bit better so you could crank out work projects in spite of your emotions.
Love, you are not wired this way. You are who you are. Your vulnerability and wholehearted, integrated living is your strength, not your weakness. And I have complete faith that you will figure out, as you journey forward, how to do the work you want to do, in a way that honors who you are.
I know one of the hardest parts of not being at the top of your game last month was shelving your ecourse plans. A decision you made looking realistically at what fills your well; what drains your well; and how much time, mental, and creativity energy you have to give to your work right now. It was the right decision, for right now.
It turns out you don't have a lot of time or energy right now to give to your "work in the world", as you like to call it (though you do realize that the work you do in your home, is in the world, right?)
Winter is a struggle for you. Let's face the facts here. You miss the colors and vibrancy of summer. You miss living green plants. You miss garden vegetables. You miss the parts of yourself that are alive during summer.
You are a vibrant, bold and rich woman - high summer seems to be the natural expression of your energy. It's no wonder that winter and the tail end of winter especially drains you.
You can find your own creative work path. I know; you have so much you want to share with other women, mothers, homeschoolers, and families. You have experienced the richness of a freedom education lifestyle, of living your interests and your dreams.
You have seen how families struggle under unrealistic expectations and society pressures and what that does to compromise family life and to deflate and defeat big dreaming and living. You have a message to share Renee and the integrity of actually living a family life in that freedom to back up that message.
But I think we learned that winter might not be the best season for you to move those ideas forward. At least this winter wasn't. And that's ok.
I'm not sure when is the right season for you and I know you felt bad about not pushing through this resistance. All those books and blog posts you're read in the past about pushing through hard things. They make it sound like you just "gotta do the work". But you're a hard worker so I know you've wondered, "why can't I just do this? What is wrong with me?"
You and I have talked a lot about this and I will tell you again Love, there is nothing wrong with you. There are seasons in our lives for pushing and seasons for resting. Seasons for turning in and seasons for turning out. Seasons for cranking out and producing and seasons for caring for our souls.
The message isn't going anywhere. Your family, which is your resume of sorts and the evidence of your work and ideas - will still be there when the time is right to push through. But right now Love, you need to rest and rejuvenation. You need to enjoy the season unfolding before you.
You had a hard winter and your work is to be well. And of course your work, as always, is nourishing, encouraging, and teaching in your home. First and foremost. It's your mission. You know the work you gotta do. And you know you can do it. You are not lazy. You are not less than. You are not missing the boat. You are being faithful with what is right in front of you.
Speaking of your mission statement Sweetheart, remember the part about beauty? You feel called to create and share beauty. You keep doing that, with your whole heart. Sometimes that is expressed in your home. All those instagrams you are taking of beautiful nooks and life moments, keep doing it. Stop, notice, and share - it fills your well.
And when you don't have any words to write, like the way you felt for most of March, that's ok. Your creative gifts are not going to disappear because you have a hard month. I know you find March as about inspiring to photograph as a tub drain. I'm not sure what to say about that, except that spring does come. Maybe you need to buy flowers every week next March. You are not defined by your photography and if your camera is unused for weeks you are still a creative, beauty seeking person.
Not just that, you're actually physically beautiful. I know you've always thought of yourself in the cute category but as you get older I think of you as beautiful, a matured cute. And your hair! Renee you have such gorgeous curls. Isn't it fun to have longer hair again? A pain some days also, but mostly wonderful.
Love your beauty Renee. Live your beauty. There is something electric about a woman who radiants her inner beauty. Don't be afraid of that.
You're an extravert. You're a teensy bit introverted but definitely more extraverted. You need conversation, engagements and action with people.
That was another thing you learned this winter, perhaps the hard way.
You are an adventurous soul and you choose to move to a Francophone province, where it is admittedly difficult for you to communicate, en francais. But most people here do speak English, don't be ashamed you don't speak French very well yet. Don't let your pride or your desire to please people get in the way.
Keep learning, keep trying, keep "putting yourself out there". But in the meantime girl - you gotta make sure you are talking regularly to people in English. Friends on the phone and friends in your community, you need regular and frequent conversation with people.
I know last month was hard and you would have bypassed the more difficult moments if you could have. But it was in these moments that you learned some of the most important lessons of this difficult time.
You learned how to have compassion for yourself. You learned how to speak the truth.
When you don't have answers for things, when you are doubting yourself, when you feel "not on top of your game", when you are laid low, there is nothing else for it but compassion. Beating yourself up does not make the situation better.
The day will come and it has already, firmly planted as I am the sun and spring thaw of late April, when you can look at the situation and yourself more critically. You will be strong enough again to do that. But until that time you need only compassion for yourself. Just as you would have compassion for your children when they are struggling.
Really, treat your heart and your tender soul with the same love you lavish on your children. Believe in yourself they way you believe in them.
You are so beautiful. So loved. So strong. So talented and gifted. You are provided for. You are rooted in love. How could you think anything else?
I know why you are tempted to think otherwise. There is an enemy of your soul and sometimes you forget and you let your guard down. I don't blame you (we need to be done with blame, once and for all). We live in a society that doesn't believe the same things we do and sometimes we lose sight of the truth ourselves. That's ok. We found it again.
You are in control of your mind Love. When the negative self talk track starts and the outright lies are bombarding you, you need to fight. Now. You fight with truth. The truth of who you are.
Keep reading your Bible every morning and writing encouraging words for yourself to read throughout the day. Recognize the lies and replace them with truth.
I should wrap it up here. If nothing else, remember you are loved and this too shall pass. Treat yourself kindly Hon. Be exactly who you are and don't doubt your strength or courage. The time you spend investing in relationship with your family and friends, that's the best investment of all. Relationships are what support us. And when you are strong again you will do the supporting, we all take our turn.
We are waiting right now for the colors of spring.
The weather is warming and the snow is melting but lime green leaves, buttery yellow blossoms, and pastel purple petals are still weeks away in our world.
It is at this time of year, waiting for color outdoors, that I especially appreciate the color of creativity indoors.
Even Lego looks pretty on the floor.
And a terrarium of weeds (the kids are desperate to nurture growing things again) in an old plastic container adds green life to our windowsill.
Paints, pencils, and projects all bringing color into our lives.
I've warned you all that spring arrives late where I live, which is a more pleasant way of saying the winters are long. This winter has seemed especially so.
This past Sunday we hiked at a nearby mountain through calf deep snow. This is a local mountain, not one of the mountains deep in the middle of the peninsula where we expect snow this time of year.
Last week there was snow on the ground every morning. (If you follow my instagram you know what I'm talking about.) The snow would melt by the end of the day, but still. Snow every day.
To fight back the dreariness of late winter/early spring snow I've been making fire in the wood burning stove.
Wood heating is new to us. Last winter we lived in our first home with a wood burning stove. We used it sporadically. Our living space was tiny and the electric heaters warmed it up super quick and clean (wood heating is messy).
This is our second year, and second home, heating with wood. Or rather, supplementing with wood. Heating a whole house with wood is an homemaking art and science that we have not perfected.
To heat well with wood you need a good system; which includes sourcing good good, stacking, chopping, etc. We haven't become adept yet at the system and so we use our electric heat a lot. Thankfully electricity is relatively cheap in Quebec.
As we neared the end of March we were relying on electric heat more and more. The days were slowly warming and I think Damien was tired of the wood and fire management. Like I said, we're new to this and it's not yet an easy part of our living routine.
But I missed the wood heat. The house does not have the same quality, or quantity of warmth when we use electric heat only.
At the end of March we took a spontaneous trip to visit my parents for Easter. Thursday morning we e-mailed my mom asking if we could come ("of course!"). Friday morning we were loaded in the car ready to go.
My dad is a master wood burning stove man. Ironically, I didn't grow up with wood heat. Wood is a more precious commodity on the prairies than it is in Nova Scotia or Quebec. This wood burning routine is new to all of us since living out east, but my Dad has it perfected.
Each morning I woke up at Mom & Dad's to a roaring fire in the hearth and I was warmed in my soul as much as my body.
I came home wanting to create the same effect. I need warmth in my soul this time of year as we wait we long for spring's warmth and color.
Something else I need this time of year is physical labor. I need to use my muscles and be in my body doing something grounding, something earthy.
So I'm chopping wood and making fire.
Not every day, but often. There is something so satisfying about an axe splitting wood. That heavy thunk, crack. And then the snap and sizzle of kindling catching flame.
I used to light a candle on winter mornings. A way of welcoming warmth and beauty into my days. Now, when I get up the sky is already bright. No candle is needed to break the dark.
But now, making fire has become my ritual for greeting and warming the day.
My kids, who love mythology, tell me I'm like the Greek goddess Hestia, goddess of the hearth and home. I'm not too sure about the goddess part but keeper of hearth and home sounds about right as far as my job description goes.
(For the record, there has been no snow this week, yet. Spring may be just around the corner.)
I don't know what to do with this. I don't know how to respond to yesterday's running related tragedy in Boston. I've been a spectator at the Boston Marathon. I've been at that finish line, waiting with my children, for my parents to cross.
My Dad met Laurent for the first time, as a six week old baby, at the Boston Marathon weekend. I am angry and sad and so very tired of bombs and guns and people killing people.
This post was written and scheduled for today and I am going ahead with it. I think the subject matter is fitting at least.
I've been thinking for a while now that one day I would start running but I've been digging in my heels, quite literally. The last time I did any serious running was when Céline was a baby. That seems like another life.
I believe in healthy living and well being. It's one of my core values. But I also believe in doing things I enjoy and doing them for a purpose. There never seemed to be much of a purpose for me in running and it was definitely something I didn't enjoy doing.
Running makes your muscles tired and it makes you sweat. And where I live, at the end of a dirt mud road, running makes you dirty. I just haven't enjoyed running in the past and I thought of every excuse to avoid doing it. And felt perfectly fine about making those excuses.
I am physically healthy. I hike or ski every weekend with my family and usually get a couple walks in during the week. That's good enough, isn't it?
It used to be good enough but it's not good enough any more.
I thought I could get by with exercise every other day and then one longish day of physical exercise on the weekends.
I found out this winter that I need more physical, outdoor activity than that. I don't need to run to lose weight. But it turns out I need to run for a different kind of health - my mental health.
I started simply by walking every day, for about an hour.
In order to make this happen in my life I have to do it in the mornings, because then I know it will happen. This is not an early morning routine. If I knew I had to exercise, outdoors, first thing when I got up I wouldn't get out of bed.
For me exercising has to happen during my daytime work hours. It's a commitment I'm making to my health and it's work. It can happen during the "work" hours of the day.
Sometime between 10:00 and 12:00 (I want to be all done by noon), I leave the house for an hour of exercise. Sometimes I walk, but three days a week I run. I'm training for a 5K in June.
I had a difficult mental struggle this winter and one of things that came out of that was a commitment to daily (or near daily) exercise. My mental health depends on it.
Once I committed to being outside everyday for physical exercise it wasn't much of a leap to running.
I used to think running was hard. You get sore muscles, side stitches, leg cramps. Blah, blah, blah.
Let me tell you, the pain I have experienced running is nothing, nothing, compared to what I put myself though learning to telemark ski this winter. Once I made this realization I viewed running in a whole new light.
Telemark skiing gave me burning thighs, bruised shins, sore ankles, and more. My body hurt after skiing. And while I was on the hill I felt defeated as often as I felt elated.
Telemark skiing is hard. Running is like child's play compared to that. It's as easy as putting on the right layers, the right shoes (minimalist of course), and simply running out the door. (Keeping in mind I'm only going out for short runs at this point.)
This is such an amazing turn of events for me I can't quite believe this has happened.
I used to need my exercise to be fun and purposeful to get me out the door. But once I made a commitment to exercise for my mental health, knowing I would get out the door whether I felt like it or not, the decision to run was easy. If I'm going to exercise anyway, why not run?
Our whole family is running now, picking up where we left off last fall.
With my daily commitment to outdoor exercise and Damien's continued commitment (he's always been a dedicated exerciser), our kids are getting in on the running also.
They are required to spend time outside every week day and of course Sunday is our day for family outdoors, so that's at least six days a week that they get outside. As they get older "playing" outdoors has less appeal, but they still need outdoor physical exercise. Running and walking are perfect activities for this.
We require our kids to spend time outside (because we require ourselves to spend time outdoors). They can choose what they want to do with that time. They are choosing to exercise with us.
So now we're all training for a race in June. Damien made training plans for us all. He's training for a half marathon, way out of my league right now. The rest of us are training for a 5K.
You can download our 5K training plan here in case you want to do something like this yourself. Our usual training route is 2.5K from our door. We do it twice, so a R R W R stands for Run out, Run back, Walk out, Run back.
Damien wants me to add that this is a very unscientific training plan. It's simply a guide to help the kids and I gradually ease up to running 5K. (Damien's own training is the near opposite of mine; involving a heart rate monitor, a computer program, GPS technology and other technical wizardry. Damien's training program is science through and through, complete with altitude graphs and maximum heart rates. My training plan is sheet of paper with check boxes.)
All these years I have dug my heals in and refused to "go running". I laugh now at my stubbornness. This feels really good.
I'm finding that once you make that commitment to your health, and find a way to make it work in your schedule that works with who you are, there's really nothing to stop you.