You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2012.

Goodness this week:

* Water color painting with my kiddos (actually a Five in a Row assignment to accompany The Story About Ping)

* Gingerberry kombucha

* A meeting over green tea with a client and former student, who is serious about a children’s book that he has been working on for more than a year. His challenge for me this week? Cut his manuscript by half. Chop chop. My favorite part of editing, thanks to excellent training from Mrs. Altaras in high school. She pushed us constantly to rethink our relationship to words…

* Running into one of my favorite people Jen Ruby, keeper of the kind of energy that is essential to the vitality of the Universe (and if that sounds dramatic, just meet her—she really does radiate Life with the Emily Dickinson capital “L”).

* Low fat peanut butter frozen yogurt with carob chips

* Gymnastics with both kiddos

* Anticipating two parties this weekend

* Booking our Disneyland trip

* Making a family tree with Katie (we actually had to stop because we ran out of room for branches, and we know most of our history on all sides for half a dozen generations or more)—I love that our history this week has focused on family and defining family values.

* Eric trying out new words constantly: “Winnie Po” is his new favorite, along with all his friends from The Hundred Acre Wood

* Special dates with my boy to Toddler Time on Monday mornings

* Receiving an e-mail from Katie’s soccer coach to start the season—can’t wait for soccer games and the scent of the autumn fields. Brings back memories…

* Running

* Thinking about what a cozy season this is truly going to be this year

* Making it through two weeks of home schooling and feeling like it is more smooth this week

* Homemade applesauce and cottage-cheese-dill yeast bread

* Beatrix Potter

* Finding a recipe for a Name Day cake (guglhupf) which I want to bring to Nana’s on our visit to honor Uncle Eric’s birthday September 8th. Both of my children have a Name Day (well, at least, I decided they do—on their namesakes’ birthdays). I think this will be a good year for the guglhupf. Katie’s first soccer game is the 8th, but hopefully it will be early, or we can work around it, because we always spend Uncle Eric’s birthday with Nana.

* Almost finishing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader…we love The Chronicles of Narnia so much. Katie has decided to be Lucy Pevensie for Halloween. Leave it to Katie to surprise me! I rummaged around and found a dress, a gossamer blouse, a Renaissance belt, and a few spare pieces of lace and fabric that I intend to alter/put together/re-sew to make a Queen Lucy dress for Katie’s costume. She wants to carry Eric’s stuffed lion as Aslan. I am tempted to get her a lion pendant for her birthday (a few days before Halloween) so she can wear it. Now, what will Eric be?

* Productivity and staying busy: I am usually happiest when I am busy, a trait which runs in the family! This fall the kiddos have: Toddler Time (Eric), gymnastics (both), soccer (Katie), and Music Together (both). Plus we have school, family time, our harvest moon celebration with apple strudel and moon dancing, birthdays, apple picking, Halloween, Disneyland, my dad’s half marathon… And we want to make time to visit my cousin Kd at her new college, see little Chelsea Rae as much as possible, and enjoy all of our favorite autumn traditions and recipes. This is my absolute FAVORITE time of the year. Autumn is my very essence.

 

Katie and Eric paint: Katie learned how to represent a reflection on water as well as how to make broken half circles to show movement of a boat.

 

Putting together an alphabet puzzle in Toddler Time

 

He balanced on his own for a few steps before asking for assistance

Here comes a fun season!

 

 

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“In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don’t try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present.”

-Lao Tzu, Chinese philosopher and author of the Tao Te Ching

As I unhooked Eric from his car seat in Nana’s driveway, he saw her in the doorway and said excitedly, “Me see my Nana! Me see my Nana!” After I put him down he ran—both arms stretched out wide (it couldn’t have been sweeter)—to her and gave her a big hug around her legs. Those two share such a magical bond. He loves to spend time with Nana, and we talk about her all the time.

Nana made hot dogs for us for lunch, which we all enjoyed around her kitchen table as we reminisced about times when my mom and aunts and uncle were little and where they all used to sit. These are the moments and days I cherish. So much of my life, too, has been lived at Nana’s house, and I often think about what that shared family space really means and how it is sacred in its own way. When we walk, sit, stand, and play in that house we are connected to all the years that came before. If I start thinking about how much I wish I could have one more time with everyone—Grandpa Mitchell, Uncle Eric—around the dining room table, I find still in myself a sadness so deep that I know it will never leave me no matter how much time passes. The only thing we can do for it is to be present at this moment in our family journey.

During his afternoon snack of raisins, Eric went over to Nana and climbed up on his own to sit with her. He talked and giggled with her…and cuddled. Shortly after I took these pictures, he leaned in toward her and put his forehead on her forehead and looked into her eyes for a moment, as if to pass something from his heart into her heart. He is such a sweet and soulful little boy. After this, he started asking Nana about the pictures on the shelf behind her chair. The first one he took down was of my first birthday, with me in my high chair and Uncle Eric and Aunt Jenny on either side of me.

These are the precious days…

*                                                 *                                                *

After publishing this blog (the first time) I went to check my sleeping son, his soft baby breath puffing into the night and his arm clutched around his “E” (Eeyore). As I stood looking at him and savoring the curve of his body and the roundness of his cheek, I thought about how much he loves his Nana and how we talked about how he wanted to have a good dream about their day together. Perhaps he is dreaming that dream, even now.

And then I thought, “How will I ever explain to him when the time comes for her to pass on from us?” I hope that is many, many years away—so many, that by then he might understand. Then I had this epiphany that parents sometimes have about our real role in life. It is my job to lead him toward loving people with his whole heart, knowing that one day we lose them and knowing, as I do now, the pain that comes with missing someone you really adore. In all his baby innocence, he knows nothing of those nuances yet: how the reward of loving people is so much greater than the grief that comes when they must leave us. As parents, as adults, we know so much better now—don’t we?—what life has in store. We must teach our babies to hold their joy and be grateful for it, but then to learn how to live without it. Life gives and takes. It is always made new, but underneath it all there is loss. For a heartbreaking moment, I stood and looked at my son in his crib with a lump in my throat and tears.  How will I explain this all to Eric? How will I explain it to Katie?

I am reminded of a poem, In Blackwater Woods, by Mary Oliver, excerpted here:

“To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

While our first week of school has not been totally smooth sailing (Mommy sometimes needs to relax and remember that 1. although she is a classroom trained teacher, she is not in an actual classroom and 2. we do not need to finish every assignment before Christmas), most of the week has been productive, positive, and promising for our little McGaugh Academy. Our online lesson planning guide, Moodle, came online tonight, and I have been rapidly sucking it into my brain. I relish creating our own lessons, and I am terribly excited for next week…The lesson suggestions in Moodle are fabulous, and my mind is already playing with ways to use, extend, and tweak them for our “Around the World” theme.

Our past two days:

 

Katie took this picture during our “cloudspotting” activity for science, a lesson that went well, I thought, with our hot air balloon motif and our “Around the World” theme. We printed out all of the pictures, pasted them into her science journal, and then identified the cloud types (cirrus, cumulus, etc).

 

 

The kiddos also went to gymnastics together for the first time. They loved it. Two age-appropriate classes were being run in parallel, and the kiddos got to use the same three courses through rotation. Periodically Eric would look for Katie and call out to her to see him jump, “My Kate! My Kate!” Although they have their little sibling squabbles at home, it is in a mix of people that I most appreciate their deep and true bond. They stick together when it comes down to it. Beautiful.

 

 

Eric was thrilled to receive his end-of-workout stamp. He is truly an endearing child. He sat next to his sister to do the warm up exercises and he was so intent on watching his coach. When she put her hands up in the air, he would do the same.

 

 

Both kiddos worked with the hot air balloon numbers 1 – 20 cards I made. I found clip-art online, printed them out, and pasted little typed numbers on them and laminated… Having cards to fit our theme is fun! As we travel around the world, I might make number cards to represent the different countries.

 

 

Today Katie and Eric finished painting their papier-mâché hot air balloon.

 

 

Then Katie asked to paint some more… For Katie, creating art (specifically painting) is how she relaxes. She’s been having a mix of emotions this week that have to do with growing up and new expectations. A couple of days ago she mentioned the need to make art, and we just didn’t (it seemed ) have time that day. But she really needs that art time, and I need to listen to her. She painted for maybe half an hour on her canvas just humming to herself. She used mostly very cool colors this time, and entitled it “Rainforest.” There are actual thicker drops of paint to represent rain cascading down the canvas and she showed me how she made the “jungle.”

 

 

Our finished papier-mâché hot air balloon. I am thinking I could put some little sentence strips in the basket, have Katie draw one out, and then read and copy it… OR…OR!…I could put some journal starters in there. Yesterday she wrote about her favorite place to travel (Hawaii). Either way, it would be neat to incorporate this project into a practical feature of our “classroom.”

 

 

Last night as I was drifting off to sleep (yes, nearly all I think about as I am going to sleep are lesson ideas), I was trying to think of a way to get Katie away from worksheets and moving. She is so kinesthetic, and here I was bombing her with language and math worksheets the first two days in order to gather work samples of what she can really do. We varied it a bit on Day 1 and Day 2, but I wasn’t really feeling true to my teaching style either—which tends not to be worksheet heavy. I am strongest in my own teaching style, which tends to be active, creative, thematic, and quirky. I knew I wanted to play a game outside…and I knew I wanted to focus on some of the word families we’re reviewing this week. I had decided to try a riff on four square, when right before I fell asleep I had one last thought, “NO! I will draw hot air balloons….” Zzzzzzzzzzzz.

We drew three gigantic hot air balloons on the driveway. Katie decorated the balloon part, and I drew baskets that had one of three word families written on it (-at, -an, -et).

 

 

To play the game, I had her start at the bottom of the driveway and explained that I would say a word. She then had to run to get into the word family balloon that matched the word, and we would pretend she was going to use whatever balloon that was to fly away to Narnia.

Honestly? This was probably the most fun she has had all week. And she was learning. And we were outside. And I was staying true to the McGaugh Academy vision.

For math today, we stayed away from practice worksheets (which tend to be optional anyway), and we just sat down with our textbook on our couch and discussed. I had Katie use her finger to point, circle, and trace….and we were both so much more relaxed and agreeable with one another. She understood the concepts we were practicing (intuiting fewer or more without having to count, just by looking…as well as reviewing pattern sequences), and the change felt good to us.

 

 

 

Katie’s pumpkin continues to evolve. This past week, we watched it turn all the way to orange. I am not sure it will get much bigger, but it is so cute!

 

Eric and Katie invented their own game this afternoon: bike shop. They wash and dry and repair (with Eric’s tools) their bike and trikes. Keeps them very entertained!

Eric had his annual check-up with Dr. C this morning. He has grown and is now “long and lean” like his sister. I’ve never experienced a child who actually likes the doctor visit so much. We play with the toy medical kit all the time at home, and he felt like he was playing I guess. He did not cry or scream at ALL, not even during his shot (his sister helped distract him for that one). I still always have a moment where I want to cry when I get shots (although I suppress it and definitely don’t), so it was strange to behold a child who is so nonchalant about it. His behavior was uncanny, as I am used to Katie not particularly enjoying her appointments. When the nurse asked to take his blood pressure, he stuck out his arm as we have done at home. He talked happily with Dr. C (“Eric, I am going to check your tummy now” and Eric replies, giggling, “I know!”) He wanted to look at her stethoscope and otoscope, and opened wide when she asked him to. Even the doctor complimented that his compliance was “unprecedented.” He was so stoic, affable, and interested in the whole process. It was the easiest visit to the pediatrician I’ve ever experienced as a mother. I hope he keeps this sanguine approach next year at his annual!

 

Happy Back-to-Homeschool from the McGaugh Academy! Today marked the official start of Katie’s Kindergarten year, although we started working on some of the curriculum this past weekend (overachievers!) I must admit. I felt we needed to take the time to find out where in the texts Katie should actually begin and to build up evidence of her existing skill sets, since we’ve been doing K work prior to this year. Getting some work done over the weekend also means a greater sense of calm during this busy week: we have extracurriculars and also an annual check-up for Mr. Eric.

Since our online pacing/lesson plan guide through River Springs won’t be available to us until this Friday, we were turned loose to design this week entirely on our own. Hurrah! Lesson planning is my great hobby and passion, so that worked for me. In fact, I love the feeling of freedom to start the school year that way.

Before I share more about what we’re doing, here are a few of the Back-to-Homeschool pictures we took to commemorate the start of Katie’s Kindergarten year:

Katie, with all of her books for this year

Apples for the teacher?

Where do you go to school, Katie? McGaugh Academy!

So our normal schedule (for the past couple weeks and even before that) goes something like this:

5:25 AM: I get up and run/bike/lift weights

6:15 AM: Kiss Bill goodbye, make tea, find something that needs to be done and do it

6:30-7:00 AM: Katie gets up, and we have about an hour until Eric gets up at 7:45-8:00AM. Normally, we read… We’ve been using that time to read The Chronicles of Narnia lately. Today, and likely for awhile, we will use the hour to make progress one-on-one in her school work.

8:00 AM: Breakfast!

8:30 to 11:45 AM: Calendar time, school work (often involving differentiated or same assignments for pre-school Eric), recess, art, extracurriculars (tomorrow they both have gymnastics at the same time), enrichment

12:00 PM: Lunch/free play/free learning

By 1:30 PM: Reading followed by a nap for Eric.

During Eric’s afternoon nap, which is variable in its length, Katie and I have one-on-one time. Last year, we applied this time to her work, to her enrichment, to our individual hobbies in the same room, to our mutual reading, and to domestic arts (she often helps with dinner prep or sometimes we sew). I hope to keep this time as free and evolving as it has always been, but it is also prime time to get some schooling done.

We eat dinner anywhere from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM, though it has been closer to 6:00PM on our summer schedule.

Bedtime is 8:00 PM, though there is much reading and singing involved so they really aren’t asleep until closer to 8:45 PM.

We did get quite a bit done on our first official day of school today! Katie started off with an “All About Me” project, and we used one of her pictures from yesterday’s photo session that I had printed out. I also ran a sight word diagnostic on her: she knows far many more words than I even thought she knew, and we were only using one list. Through all of our activities today, she was reading instructions and sentences. The key is to build up evidence of her reading ability this week. I knew she was taking off with it this summer (after starting reading short words last spring), but even I did not know how far she had gone… What is funny is that I was able to narrow in on the appropriate chapter in math for her this weekend fairly quickly (Chapter 5, graphing). She has done work in later chapters, but I want to make sure graphing (which she has also done last year) is very solid for her since it is the basis for much of higher level math. So here I am, an English teacher, and I am surprised by my own diagnostic tools—hm. I am feeling some stress about this. Review is good—and our basic issue is that her penmanship (she can make all of her letters, but we’re working on clarity and spacing) is still catching up with all that she can read and answer—but I do not want to keep her in content review beyond August. So, I feel a pressing need to figure out the sweet spot for her in our curriculum.

We had a big language arts work session today. She read aloud, and we worked through some basic worksheets in our Amish books to build evidence of skills. She likes that I read from Prince Caspian when she has to color things.

As we work through that, I also want to keep our school creative and thematically-driven. I noticed that all of our lit books take place in different countries or regions of the United States. As I pondered what I could do with that, I started thinking about our imaginary worlds that we have loved so much: the world of Harry Potter and the world of Narnia. I wanted a theme that would give me versatility with respect to River Springs curriculum and our personal study of The Chronicles of Narnia this year. I decided to use an “Around the World” theme and decorated our dining room door with the theme printed out and cut to look like clouds, along with colored paper and maps: of the world, of Narnia, and our own Marauder’s Map of Hogwarts we made during our reading of all the Harry Potter books last summer.

Katie made a “Kindergarten Passport” today in one of her composition books. I am thinking we will fill it up with cultural studies/ideas/keepsakes/recipes from the countries we visit with each of the seventeen lit books this year, as well as our own trips to Narnia and Hogwarts.

To keep with our theme, I thought about what we would use to travel the world. Since we live in Temecula, we obviously need to use hot air balloons. I mean, right??

Eric loved our craft today: I had pre-cut pieces to make paper hot air balloons and yarn to attach the basket. We made them for all four of us and attached them to our “theme door.”

After more math work and calendar time (counting, moon phase, season, months, days of the week, question of the day, quote to memorize for the week), we took a break with another project:

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The kiddos worked on making a papier-mâché hot air balloon. We have to let it dry tonight, and we hope to be able to paint it when we return from gymnastics tomorrow. We’ll attach a small real basket. To add in some science, we reviewed how it is that a hot air balloon rises.

Katie also worked on a “school words” booklet today, as well as the “an” word family booklet, both from Enchanted Learning (online). She said she loves making her own books.

Then Katie helped me to braid the challah:

This bread is sheer math. Each batch of dough makes two loaves, so she uses the cutter to cut the dough in half. Then she has to cut each half into thirds. After that, she knows how to pull them gently into ropes so she can braid them.

My diligent bread maker.

After his nap, Eric rejoined us to make applesauce:

He was laughing and smiling while putting the apple chunks into our pot.

We made a very old-fashioned kind of meal tonight, including a baked cabbage recipe from my Uncle Eric’s Mennonite cookbook. When he passed, a few of his cookbooks came to me, along with some serving pieces and a setting of his china. All of these objects are used at special times in our house and very much a part of our traditions and lore…yet, I had not yet cooked out of his Mennonite cookbook. As I have mentioned, I am identifying strongly with my Amish heritage right now, for a variety of reasons, and so I took it into my head a few nights ago that I really ought to work my way through much of his cookbook (I do have a Lancaster County cookbook myself, which I have used). Katie helped me to prepare the cabbage, which was really good—but then again, I really love cabbage so I am quite biased—and using Uncle Eric’s cookbook to do it led to this incredible feeling of connection.

So it was a busy, productive day. I felt heartened that, even with all the direct teaching, diagnostics, and worksheet practice, and booklet making, we still had time to put our own flair on it….we still had time for our kinds of projects and enrichment, still had time to play, still had time to prepare mind and heart nourishing food, still had time to do laundry. I do wish we had had more reading in Prince Caspian today, and we also didn’t have as much downtime in the evening (cuddles, free play, an episode of Caillou, a dance party) as I prefer.

Tomorrow I hope to calm it down a bit: math and English before gymnastics; painting the hot balloon and looking at and identifying cloud types (I thought this would fit well with our hot air balloon travel) for art and science in the afternoon. Katie and I both need to use Eric’s nap time tomorrow to cuddle and read from our novel, and I am missing my cross-stitching time.

The start of school for a teacher is both exhilarating and intense as we think about the work we need to do for the whole year. It is fun work—work I truly, deeply love and work that is my essence—and for me it is hard to slow down sometimes. I have this desire to prep everything right now to have it ready to go, and I just can’t do that. Nor should I—since I have to be flexible to head where my student needs to go.

Above all, though, I am so thankful to be her teacher. This morning after breakfast, she was working on language arts at the table and Eric and I started the challah dough. We talked about how much we would miss her being with us if she were at a public school and how cozy it felt all to be together working on different tasks.

Looking forward to Day 2 tomorrow!

As we drove along Pacific Coast Highway singing together to Taylor Swift’s new song and with the rollicking blue waves beside us, I thought about how grateful I am for my cousin Kd and how much I love her. A writer, a painter, a ballet dancer, a perceiver, Kd is in every nerve and atom an artist. She creates memories; she creates love. She so openly creates herself and searches for herself, the most refreshing kind of spirit. She is passionate and gentle, interested and interesting. I read her blog daily to uplift myself. Spending time with her in person? She breathes her life into everyone in her presence. She notices; she listens; she questions; she evolves. Lady, I swear you sparkle.

We are the first and last of our grandfather’s eight grandchildren. Between us: twelve years. That can be much as children but nothing as adults. She is my kindred spirit. To be in her presence is to remember the better parts of myself. Those who bring out the best in us are always to be treasured, yes?

Last year she gave me the gifts of many visits to my house as we worked on her first quilt together. Rather, I gave a few verbal instructions and she sewed her beautiful blanket all on her own while I relished the light of her company as she worked.

This morning we decided to meet at her house. She is transferring to a new college in a couple of weeks, and though we see each other semi-frequently, I wanted to celebrate her life with a “Tour of Kd” in the Carlsbad/Encinitas/Vista/Oceanside area. I thought it might be fun to go with her to some of her favorite places—and it was. I have found that we know a person most when we experience his or her normal, day-to-day routine. Intimacy is in the details. Show me your life.

With no particular plan, we decided to see where the day took us. How soul-refreshing to live a totally spontaneous day! We knew of a couple of places we hoped to go; aside from that, we knew we’d figure it out as we went along. In spontaneity, creativity begins.

The most amazing part of embracing adventure for the day? Well, as is so often the case when we just go with the flow and stop over-thinking, we found ourselves in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. We were wanted and needed for a good purpose this afternoon, and we could never have planned it so well. Serendipity.

We were not planning to see new Baby Chelsea (daughter of my cousin Beth) today, or her parents, since they are in the midst of a move to their new house (much of my family lives in the same area) today and tomorrow and are going back and forth between properties dealing with it all. We thought if something happened to work out, we’d be more than glad to see them of course, but really I supposed we might stay out of their hair.

It turned out, though, that Beth and Marsh (who own their own remodeling business) had an important hours-long meeting with a major client this afternoon. Beth’s mom, a principal, is back at work, and so Beth dropped Chelsea off with Uncle Brad at his work, his church Living Hope. Since he was at work, it turned out that Kd and I were both wished as extra helpers for babysitting Chelsea—and by the merest chance, we were both in the area—together!!!—and both eager to help. What were the chances? Life has a funny way of working sometimes…

We got to feed her and change her and play with her in the nursery for hours. When I sang to her, her whole expressive face lit up my heart. Is there anything like eye contact with a baby? And the scent of her hair… Kd and I gave her tummy time and we did little baby leg exercises with her. I propped her up with my legs and hands facing me and went through basic sounds: “ba ba ba ba ba,” “ca ca ca ca ca,” etc. Her little astute eyes were fixed on my lips. She smiled when I got to “ma ma ma ma ma” no doubt thinking of her mama.

What a lovely, heart-renewing sort of day! We got home late into the dinner hour, and the kiddos and I sang songs to the sun all the way home, making up extremely silly rhymes and giggling all back down the 15.

Adventure:

One of our stops: Swami’s Cafe. Kd has lunch here often, and she has written about the delicious acai bowl a few times. A Tour of Kd would only be complete with an acai bowl!

Kd signs her name on the door of Swami’s (a tradition).

Katie signed, too.

An acai bowl. One of the most delicious, healthy lunches I’ve enjoyed. It is thick, almost frozen acai over granola with pepitas and other yummies, topped with berries and bananas, shredded coconut, and bee pollen. Have you ever had bee pollen? It tastes like springtime on your tongue, as though you were tasting the scent of flowers on the warm wind. I have never had anything like it…I feel like I must, must return to Swami’s soon for another bowl. Or get my hands on bee pollen somehow…

Eric savored many bites of my acai bowl. I’ve had forms of acai that I have not liked much, but this was perfect. Very tasty.

I also tried kombucha for the first time today. Apparently people either love or hate it. I love it. Kd has many details in her world that fit my essence. Thank you for sharing these details with me, Kd.

Uncle Brad and Chelsea

Eric investigates Baby Chelsea while Kd takes the first part of the feeding. Later he asked me to sing a song to him that I had sung to Chelsea. He was so busy playing, I didn’t think he had noticed, but he did. He always does. He even wanted me to move his legs the way I moved hers. I asked him after I sang to him, “Was it strange to see Mommy with a different baby?” His response? “I know!!”

Feeding my newest cousin

I love these people so much.

Chelsea spent much time making eye contact with Kd. They are already so bonded forever.

Little one…

Eric and Katie had a grand time on these horses! There was also a playhouse. Truly, they played contentedly the whole time. If ever there was a good time to be content together, this afternoon was the time, because it allowed me to savor the babysitting and bonding with both of my cousins.

They love her.

So do I.

Until the next adventure, Kd!

Does anyone reading remember the film Signs (released August 2002, directed by M. Night Shyamalan)? The central thesis of the film argues that fate governs our lives and that all details have significance. Should this frighten us or comfort us?

Are we in a narrative of our own making, or are we characters walking through a book already written for us?

I cannot say with any certainty what we’re doing. Can you? Goodness knows, I’ve pondered this question many a night. I’m not sure what I would wish for in this regard. In any case, most of us agree that we walk around the majority of the time believing we are free agents and acting as if we were.

The natural world and the universe we’re in quite often amaze and thrill my every nerve. My passions rise up at the smallest beauty just as they do under the grandest awe. In Jungian typology, I am the Mystic—the rarest of types (resource 1, resource 2, resource 3) supposedly, which (if that’s true and if we can put stock into types at all) would give me no end of pleasure. The world is poetry, and we Jungian mystics often dedicate our deepest enthusiasm to decoding signs, although just as often as not this takes place at an intuitive level.

Every once in awhile, I experience a sequence of events that not only grips my mind in both strong hands but also shakes the deepest parts of my intuition. This happened, in fact, just tonight.

Those wholly, or even partially, familiar with the ongoing Kindergarten curriculum saga know:

1) Our River Springs liaison is amazing. She answers every question almost immediately and came to our house on her day off to sort out our misconfigured order (not her fault, as evidence shows the order was put in correctly). Credentialed in elementary through high school, she is fabulous colleague. We love her.

2) New curriculum was shipped on Monday and arrived last night. When I opened it, we did finally have the right math books…along with an ELA parcel identical to one we had just sent back and still possibly incomplete based on what we could see should normally be in it…along with fifteen pounds of duplicate texts that we already had and that were correct in the original box. (Keep track of what I say about the ELA parcel—it’s important to this story).

3) Our liaison picked up all of our duplicates this morning at our house, and then set about asking her curriculum directory for the complete K ELA set. She was given something…(more on that to come in a minute).

4) I liked the original ELA set, as we all know. It was a first grade set, but it looks right (a touch easy in the first book of two) for what Katie already can do…which is read hundreds of words. She worked through most of my K readers last year. She tracks on her own when I read chapter books, and points out where we are on a page full of text. She can read some books to her brother at night. Since the claim that she can already read sounds outlandish (and goodness knows, she is still working on phonics), my choice has been to play it cool, not make many assertions, get the curriculum, and prove what she knows. Claims about ability, lacking evidence, are perilous. My plan has been to show what she can do within the system we’re given and then move forward, which, I feel, shows everyone respect. Nonetheless, I wanted to keep the first grade ELA pack.

So… Now onward to tonight.

I was just sitting at the kitchen table looking again at the language arts (ELA) materials that we do have. This time, I read the forward in the teacher’s manual and the prefaces in the practice books.

 

It turns out: these very books are made to be used in—wait for it—Amish schools, first grade.

 

(We all know my growing obsession with my Amish heritage. How did I not see this when I first previewed the books? Naughty me, skipping over the introduction)!

Not only that, they ship to River Springs from…..INDIANA!

(Indiana is the site of the original Yoder farm (near Goshen) and the site of our Yoder family reunion next summer. Lineage: My mom is Rebecca Matics (nee Yoder); her dad is Ervin Yoder, Jr.; his parents are Ervin Yoder, Sr. and Hannah Reed; Ervin Yoder, Sr.’s parents are Moses Yoder and Katie Hostetler). My daughter Katie June takes her name from her great-great-great grandmother and the nickname of my mom’s mother. My son Eric William shares his name with my mom’s brother Eric Yoder (who passed in 2007) and my husband. It has been a desire of mine to see the farm for quite some time)!

Sitting at my kitchen table, I started thinking it must be fate that we have those books.

I was just sitting down upstairs to write when our liaison e-mailed to say she  had just dropped off at 9:15 PM tonight.

I ran downstairs. I opened the door… I unwrapped the new parcel…

IT WAS THE SAME SET AGAIN!!!!

I now have received THREE identical sets of the Amish first grade ELA books. Three times, this set of Amish language arts books from Indiana has landed on my doorstep.

Obviously, we’re meant to have them. (My colleague did confirm later that this set is indeed the set we’re using).

It’s clear that now I am rambling a bit. What is the message in this blog? Sometimes life seems to give us a series of signs. How do we interpret these signs? Random coincidences? Or a deep connection at work?

More personally, perhaps the message I need to remember is this: so much stress over this, yet it all turns out the way it has to. Truly when I opened up that third parcel, I actually started laughing out loud. The universe is nothing if not persistent in giving us the lessons we need most to grow. Or maybe that’s just the way I choose to look at it.

 

OK. Realities. All within the span of this weekend. Bill’s car needs $3,000.00 worth of work and is in the shop as school begins. When I dove into Katie’s box of curriculum on Friday, both the math textbook and the language arts pack were not the correct grade level and have had to be reordered (school for Katie begins next Tuesday). There was an infestation of maggots in our kitchen—yes, I realize this is not a socially acceptable thing to admit. The maggots were followed by troves of ants.

Our garage door handle broke off.

Up until yesterday, the kiddos were on a squabble-about-everything-with-each-other bender. Since I find all negativity to be soul-eating, that squabbling really got to me.

And, oh yeah, it is really hot.

I have heard people say that I am happy all the time, and some have even asked me personally how that can possibly be so. I certainly experience a range of emotion in any given day, so I have never been sure that “happy all the time” is the proper descriptor for me. I am joyful and content a large portion of the time; other moments, not so much. I would certainly say that I am grateful almost all the time. The one tool I do have, usually, in spades is this: perspective.

Perspective. I know that everything passes. I know the difference between annoyances and true sadness (death, loss of someone we love). I know that life always continues. I know our experiences are most definitely not a matter of “fair” or “unfair.” I know everyone bears his or her own burden, and it is never for me to judge or to be judged. I know that I have been blessed with a comfortable life that does not in any way warrant any complaining, taken in the context of all the horrible things that happen in the world.  I know that we are more than our material objects, more than our incomes, more than our petty vices. I know that many things are not worth getting angry about. My Nana taught me that.

Any one of the stressors I experienced this weekend, when taken alone, would have been easy enough to keep in perspective. The truth about stressors, though, is that when they come “not in single spies but in battalions” it is difficult to keep a broad, philosophical view. Hamlet finds that out. The basic problem is that we are humbled when we don’t want to be. We remember that life makes us take our knees every once in awhile. The rosy, beautiful world we work so hard every day to make for our babies and our husband can be infested or wobbled off course. We can’t, it turns out (repeatedly turns out—when will I learn?), control everything or make everything good constantly and forever just by our sheer will. Though it is not for lack of trying…

I regret to say I was in a bit of a funk on Monday night/Tuesday morning.

A mentor in my young, teenage life was fond of an Aristotle quote: “We are what repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” How funny that when I was in high school, I thought that this applied mainly to my schoolwork. It turns out, when we’re thirty-two-years-old, that Aristotle entreats us to cultivate our whole lives in this way. Really, he is giving us a suggestion for how to make it through the hard times.

I am far from excellent, personally, but I can at least try to order my behaviors—my habits—so that when I am feeling weary, I have something on which to fall back. Aristotle is the ultimate pre-planner.

On my run this morning under the moonlight, I thought about the other times in my life when I have started to feel overwhelmed. How about those moments at Stanford when you have 30-something books plus course readers to read and know in a single quarter? While working anywhere from one to three jobs? (I always worked at least one job at Stanford since my frosh year, but at one small point, I had three jobs going at once plus a full course load—it was my philosophy to do whatever I could to make myself less of a burden on my parents).

What about giving birth to two children without pain medication?

What about that year when I taught five periods every day and went to school until 10:00 PM three to four nights a week plus some weekends? That was a crazy year, but I wanted to pay for my credential myself and to have the dignity of working.

Those were all points in my life when I wondered whether I truly was tenacious enough to meet those challenges. Those were all moments when I had to work through the feeling of being overwhelmed.

This morning’s longer run cleared my head. I thought about my habits, developed over many years, and I remembered that I can rely on them now and just have faith that they will work. That’s the beautiful thing about habits:

* Work hard, and if that doesn’t yield results, work harder

* Exercise

* Count my blessings

* Look for the silver lining in the bad

* Try to turn a stressor into a joke (My mom helped with this yesterday when she called to ask how my “kitchen biosphere” was doing)

* Take the focus off myself and figure out ways to help others who need it more

* Go into Nature to rejuvenate (everything about the outdoors is designed to remind us of perspective)

* Write, or do something else soul-filling with my hands

Now, to have my Earl Grey and see how my biosphere is doing…

In an hour or so I might tiptoe out into the darkness while my husband and babies sleep to watch the meteor shower. I remember so vividly watching the Perseid shower in August of 2007, my belly filled at seven months pregnant with my growing Katie, sprawled on the front lawn with Bill, and talking of all that we dreamed of for her. I felt more connected at that moment to the Universe and its life-giving forces than ever before.

Now my eldest will be five years old in October, and she is starting her Kindergarten year. Our curriculum arrived yesterday, and to open that box was beyond thrilling. We’ve already begun to read all the books for the term that came in our Five In a Row set (a handful of which we already own, and some of which have been on my list to collect even before now). Of the fifteen books that came, we’ve now read all but two (they are grade level picture books and several are Caldecott winners), and we’ve talked about behaviors of excellent students, i.e. reading (or even just previewing) as much of the material as you can before the term starts so that you begin class ready. The exciting part was that I did not have to initiate this with her: as soon as we opened the books, she was begging to read them all, as if we’d just returned from one of our normal library trips. Now that we have experience with these books, we’re much more prepared to revisit them during the term and study them in depth.

We’ve also continued with our Chronicles of Narnia: we’re reading our third, Prince Caspian. These books are so alive for Katie.

Also on Friday we went to purchase Katie’s “back-to-school” materials. We picked our a pencil box, all kinds of supplies to fill it, a big box of crayons, a binder, folders, and also (at Katie’s request) two composition books. After noticing that our Five In a Row books each take place in different geographic regions (China, Japan, Appalachia, Italy, Russia, New England, Canada, etc.), I think I will probably transform one of the composition books into a passport and, in addition to the activities in the teacher’s manual, I’ll probably overlay our own culture/geography study onto the whole set to give thematic coherence. I’ve been casting about for a Kindergarten theme, so perhaps I will just try to come up with something involving world travel. I have to work this out (I have a week!!!) though.

After picking out all of her supplies, Katie was terribly excited. She felt like such a big girl. That’s what I’d hoped. Even though we are schooling at home, my goal is to preserve the tradition and fanfare that comes with beginning a school year. Education is such a tremendous privilege to receive. We celebrate it, whether it happens in a traditional classroom setting or at home. We cannot wait to enjoy our extra classes on the River Springs campus, too. To emphasize the special-ness of the new school year, I surprised Katie with a trip to Rosa’s Cantina for lunch after we bought her supplies. Rosa’s Cantina is one of her favorite restaurants in town (her very, very favorite is Pamir, which serves Afghan cuisine). We rarely go out for big meals since I prefer to cook, so this really was a huge treat for her!

When we got home, we put Eric down for his nap and organized all of her supplies. Over the last twenty-four hours, she has reorganized her pencil box at least half a dozen times if not more. That pencil box is it right now. All of our curriculum is out on the dining room table as I am planning with it. Some books are on loan to us and some are consumables. We have something called the Draw Write Now series (looks FABULOUS), and two of the three books are textbooks/instructional, meant to be read and worked out on a separate sheet of paper. I explained this once (as well as briefly how to use it) and a little while later, I came into the kitchen nook to find this:

 

Katie had retrieved one of the books herself and was following all the directions on her own, working from the textbook on her own sheets of paper, her pencil box opened to the side of her.

I will work every day to make sure this passion for learning thrives. I will work every day to give her the tools to be a self-directed and lifelong learner. I will work every day to show her the power and majesty of her own mind, so that she may never lose her spark or her uniqueness.

This is my mantra as I enter this new year as her teacher.

 

There are morning glories and cups of Yorkshire tea. There are gentle twilights as I, on my back, look up at the darkening blue sky and watch the pepper trees change into silhouette. There are barefoot foot races with my children on the grass, which is by turns prickly then silky then fluttery. There are luncheons outdoors and afternoons full of long light in which all seems possible. There are evening swims, early apples on our tree, and morning runs with hot air balloons high above me.

I adore this moment of the year, right before autumn rustles in, right on the cusp of brisk air and cider and the scent of sweet damp straw and hay. My favorite season approaches, and the birthdays of both of my children are part of this joy: my Lion Boy and my Pumpkin Girl.

It is a beautiful time of year:

Katie is making steady progress with her “big girl” bike.

Eric found the peanut butter jar on a recent morning…

He was pretty pleased… What is it about eating peanut butter straight out of the jar that is so wonderful?

Eric wanted to climb the big ladder…

He has an independent and tenacious spirit, like his mama…

We put up the cloth birthday bunting I sewed last year for his 1st birthday party. His birthday is this coming Wednesday, but I love the festivity of having it up for at least the week before and the week after. It is long enough to adorn all of our patio cover and to lead out into the trees. This is definitely a new tradition…

The kiddos have been loving lunch outside this week.

Beautiful afternoon

Yesterday Eric was so excited to see Nana. As we got out of our car, he said, “My Nana! My Nana!” He always walks quickly to her garage door…

He gives her a hug first thing, without even being prompted. He just loves her. Look at the smile on his face.

Eric was truly excited to see her—that emotion is all over his face. He is such a sweet little boy…

Katie always loves her Nana, her namesake.

We visited with Nana, went with her to the grocery store, ate lunch together, and then went to visit Uncle Ross (really, my great-uncle and the kiddos’ great-great uncle) who is in an assisted living home nearby. He mentioned how nice it is that we bring our “brood” and he remembered that we visited just last week, too, because he said it was nice to see us again so soon. Nana helped him with his fingernails, and we all had the busy hum of chatter and family filling his room.

At the store, I gave Eric the freedom with Katie to walk on his own. At our Ralph’s, I always keep him in the cart, so this is the first time he has ever been in a market with the liberty to wander, albeit under supervision. He loved it, and he did not want me to pick him up much or even to hold hands. So when Nana asked him if he wanted to ride in her cart on the way out, I was a bit surprised when, without hesitating, he piped up with his words of total agreement, “I know!!” (Eric uses “I know” to mean something similar to the word “grok” in Stranger in a Strange Land. To him, “I know” means more than just “yes”—it means something akin to complete harmony and understanding. I have several months of data and observation with respect to this, and I find Eric’s language and expression quite fascinating).

So here was a boy relishing his freedom in the store, but who immediately wanted to relinquish that freedom to be with his Nana in her cart…It was as if he could intuit what that would mean to the both of them to have that special moment. Eric has a pretty extraordinary little golden heart and perceptive ability. Sure, he gets into little squabbles and grabs toys from his sister and all the rest of things that almost-two-year-olds do, but on the BIG things he seems to have an unusual awareness. He especially treats Nana with gentleness: he likes to bring her her cane without being asked and seems to be watching out for her. I was thinking last night while rocking and singing to him before bed that, when the time comes for Nana to leave us, Eric is really going to feel that as much as anyone in our family. I hope they have many, many more years of their friendship and love…

Riding with Nana…

Sunday mornings are my “lazy” mornings, so it has been a pleasure to fit some writing in before the day really gets going. I do need to work on cleaning the house today, oh boy! But why hire out something I have the ability to do myself? I am young and strong. Hard work is good for me, and it feels good to work with my hands to produce a beautiful environment for my family. Anyway, Sunday mornings are the single morning of the week that I don’t pop right out of bed to exercise—-I am either running or biking and weight lifting the rest of the week. Katie woke up about when I did, so I finished reading the news and then we did a bit of reading. We finished The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and we began The Magician’s Nephew (yes, I know that we are reading them according neither to the originally published order nor to the Harper Collins order—we make our own order here)!

Hope everyone has a great Sunday!

Perhaps there is nothing in the world so still as a blade of grass in a small town cemetery in Waldron, Arkansas. Not even the electrical buzzing of the cicadas can disturb it. On a summer evening the humid air pressed on our necks and arms with a thickness I could almost hear. And hanging in the air, a scent of sweat and sweet decaying leaves…

We were the only visitors, intruders, pilgrims—I hardly know. Whatever we were, we entered that stillness and swallowed wet air through our mouths and noses. At first it was decided that Katie and Eric would stay with Bill while I quickly scanned headstones for our surname. (We did know, according to online records, that Bill’s uncle and grandfather were both buried in Duncan Cemetery: this research was one of my tasks while driving through Oklahoma earlier that day). Alone in my wandering, I felt the twilight pressing in about me and I thought about the Godric’s Hollow scene in the Harry Potter series. Bill suggested that of course the most logical approach would be for me to start with any headstones that looked particularly aged: that strategy, combined with intuition and quick reading, yielded efficient results for Bill’s grandfather’s grave:

 

This is Earl Reeves McGaugh’s gravestone.

 

This is a picture of Earl that he sent to his half-sister Addie, possibly around 1915. (Link to the original source). On the back of the photograph is written, “To Mrs. Addie Williams, This is me in my cooks apron. Don’t look at the frown. I was facing the sun. Earl”

Apparently Earl worked at a cafe in Waldron for quite some time before opening Earl’s Cafe, which was known by locals for its chili. Here is a picture of the cafe:

 

 

We tried to find the site of where Earl’s Cafe used to be. We think perhaps we did.

Katie and Eric with their daddy at the gravesite of their great-grandfather Earl McGaugh. Bill’s middle name is Earl. My husband was named after both of his grandfathers, actually.

 

Katie at her great-grandfather’s gravesite. He died in 1942 and now, seventy years later, one of his great-granddaughters finds herself below the Ozarks in Waldron visiting in the warm twilight on her way to a three-day Indian wedding in Pennsylvania.

It turned out that finding Earl was the easy part. Uncle Dewey’s gravestone was not so readily observed, and it was relatively far from Earl’s. Bill thought about calling it a day, but I am nothing if not persistent. We aren’t often in Waldron. In a small cemetery, how long could it take using a methodical approach? In the end, we still found ourselves relying more on the “stumble upon” strategy:

 

Bill’s Uncle Dewey was the County Clerk, and Bill’s brother Patrick remembers that Uncle Dewey actually died on the night of a re-election. Bill recalls being fourteen-years-old and visiting Uncle Dewey on a road trip with Bill’s dad to Arkansas.

Here is a current picture of the building in which Uncle Dewey served as County Clerk.

 

On the way out of Waldron, we stopped by a small market for dinner items that the kiddos could eat in the car. As the sun set, we wound our way through backwood forests toward Russellville, where we planned to spend the night. After dinner and after darkness settled, I reached into my magic box (one of my tricks on this adventure) and pulled out glow sticks. Katie and Eric were both excited and surprised. One never knows what I have up my sleeve… I told my children, as they waved their glow sticks, to be intentional about making a memory right then.  We described our time in the cemetery and really focused on the imagery. I hope they have it…

When we got to Russellville, all the hotels, motels, and inns were almost completely sold out. Why? By coincidence there was a huge fishing competition taking place the next morning. We lucked out at a La Quinta, where were upgraded to a suite—one of their last two rooms at 10:00PM—for a discounted rate, which included a hot breakfast of biscuits and gravy. All in the parking lot were the most ginormous (*yes, that is a technical term) crickets I have ever, EVER seen. I happen to like insects really quite a bit, so I found the huge crickets to be entertaining to no end the next morning as I reloaded the car with some of our night things.

That night before retiring I reflected a moment on where we had been just that morning, as we traveled through Oklahoma:

 

We found a large park in the small town of Sayre, OK which happened to be a perfect rest stop for us. The park had a pond, bridges, and a big train structure.

 

 

Pushing my little people on the swings…

 

 

The park also had one of these spinny-things (yet another precise term). I’ve dreamed about playing on one of these my whole life, though good luck finding any in California (at least, speaking anecdotally from my personal investigative measures)! I think we are probably too litigious here, though I could be mistaken. This retro spinny-thing made my day. Bill showed us how to get it going, and I truly felt like we were in another time far away in the small town of Sayre, Oklahoma. I had an almost immediate rapport with this land, especially as we drove through the town. I felt how much I could live there and teach there and suck in the open air and fields and run so free and far.

 

 

A stray dog came to see us at the park. She was friendly.

 

 

I made a stop at Pucketts for a couple of items we needed, and as I walked through I savored all the Oklahoman accents. Ever since we’ve been back at our home, I find myself imagining all of the places and people we saw and met. What is life like in Sayre tonight?

All along the road, I kept remembering pieces of novels that are dear to me. Obviously, no one can go through Oklahoma without thinking about The Grapes of Wrath, which happens to rank among my very favorites. All along the road I kept thinking about that turtle and about the first time I finally understood what it meant to have to pick myself up like that turtle. I also reflected on some of my favorite lines about Ma Joad:

She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt or fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build laughter out of inadequate materials….She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall.

Of course, we were also singing the score from Rodgers and Hammerstein as we traveled! I could just imagine Curley coming around the bend on his horse!

From Amarillo, TX to Russellville, AR, this was one of my favorite days of travel during our road trip.