What I learned on my summer vacation

Summer Vacation meaning homeschool retreat, of course. The main theme I heard through out the conference was one of Faith. It stood out to me in all three of the main sessions as well as much of the smaller breakout sessions and even just in my talks around the table with other moms. 

I did a quick narration on the forum the day after the retreat and came up with a couple bullet points but as I've been thinking, I've added to them. I'm not sure if it will make sense to anyone else because honestly, I'm taking hours of talk by woman with years of experience and trying to reproduce it in one blog post but I'm going to try anyway. 

Faith in the mind - the mind of a child to assimilate and process the mind food of ideas we offer and grow as they need and our minds as mothers to apply Charlotte Mason's principles in our family.

The very first talk, given by Karen Glass, was about believing in the Mind. We as Christians can't fall for the modern worldly trap of believing that the mind is the same as the brain. The big question of the day during Charlotte Mason's times was "What is consciousness? What is the mind?" but in today's modern times, "we" don't even think it needs to be answered. But "we" are wrong. A person is more than a data machine. Our children have souls and minds that need to be nourished and feed with ideas.

What we believe we are doing - filling a brain with data or feeding a mind - impacts how we educate. Charlotte Mason's principles require belief in the mind. But we can trust these processes (Narration, learning through literary works, etc) because they are natural and inate. A child will assimilate the ideas it needs. He is  eclectic and he may reject 9/10th of the ideas in a book but still take what he needs as long as we get out of the way. That seems risky, but it really isn't anymore than feeding a child a meal with a variety of flavorful real foods is riskier than figuring out what vitamins and minerals that meal contains and giving it to the child in a pill form. It does requires faith though. Faith that God designed the human brain to grow on ideas just as he designed the human body to grow on food.

Anne White also talked a little about this in her session on Living Books. She describes the need for a living book to have many ideas because part of the will's function is to choose. A mind can't choose what ideas it needs to grow if a book doesn't offer lots of choices. But again, this means that it won't choose them all - and that's okay!  That seemed so obvious when she stated it that way but it was a huge shift for me. But it comes back to trusting the mind and having faith that it will grow. 

Faith that the little things we do day in and day out, the habits we develop, will produce God's fruit in due time.

Cindy Rollins also talked about Faith. Faith that all those little things we do, day in and day out, really do make a difference. We can't see the fruit after a week, we have to wait for it. She gave practical ideas for both moms of littles and bigs but I focused on those for littles - to guard your "10 minutes here and there," to find time to read the bible even if its short, to make your top priorities habits and not allow other opportunities to interfere with those. I had to laugh when she mentioned that habits wasn't always her favorite topic because it isn't mine either but after hearing her talk, I might have to retract that. She talked about decision fatigue and moral fatigue, how habits free you to use your energy on other things and how we can have faith that those little habits really do make up the essence of your home and the lifetime of education you want it to contain.

I really enjoy all the seasoned mother's talking about fruit. Because, I'll be honest, while I may have fun moments now and then when I see teeny tiny buds forming, Jonah telling Craig to "Do it properly, with breadcrumbs!" and Lucy amazing me with her observations at the aquarium, for the most part when it comes to fruit - the pickings are slim. But they reminded me that I really do need to add a "for now"  to that last sentence.

But the emphasis wasn't just on the future part of the fruit, it was also on who's fruit we are to be expecting. Karen's food to body/ideas to brain analogy helps illustrate that we don't feed a child's mind in order to manipulate the outcome anymore that we would try and control what color hair or eyes our child has by what we feed them. We offer a generous feast, the child's mind takes what it needs and the natural (God ordained?) results occur in time.

Cindy brought this up on a more personal level. She spoke of being amazed at how God used the things she had included in her morning time in her children's lives in completely unexpected ways. Someone else brought up in a Q&A session that neither you nor your child knows enough to decide what doesn't need to be in their education. You don't know, or get to control, what God's plan for your children entails (of course, there is a balance there, but generally speaking). They aren't yours to manipulate into what you want (although having two large car repair bills lately, I can't help but think having some sort of mechanic in the family in the future might be nice :-) but are simply entrusted to you by God for a short period of time. So prepare a feast for them and see where God takes them! 

Faith in the Personhood (of the child and the mother)

Faith in God's fruit ties in very closely with the idea that children are persons. I've always thought of that mostly in immediate terms of what avenues are open to me as educational tools and how I treat them in the now, but it also plays a huge role in long-term planning and expectations. 

BUT, the flip side to that is that mothers (and fathers) are people too. We were reminded that CM believes in the minds of mothers. I've heard AO and CMers being described as always philosophizing when asked for practical tips but Charlotte Mason believed nothing was as practical as an idea. And that she offers parents her philosophy because she trusts that those who understand her ideas and principles can bring them to forms of vitality in their homes. 

We were reminded to cultivate our minds as mothers. This means a lot more coming from a mom about to send their last child out into the world after having been a homeschooling mom for 10, 15 or even 20 years. As hard as it is for me to imagine that day (I still can't imagine a day when I don't have to help someone "potty"), I know it will come.

Faith in God

This was everywhere. Everything I mentioned above really starts with faith in God. But our closing session brought me, and others I'm sure, to tears when Donna-Jean implored us to remember the reasons we have for being here, the blessings we are trying to educate. I'm going to completely fail at narrating this talk because it was so encouraging and uplifting and all I can think of to summarize the message is - love your children and trust God. But isn't that the point of the whole thing? God loves us, God loves them. And he has entrusted them, these little (but soon to be not so little) people, into our lives so that we can love them and show God's to them. So never forget that. Be faithful to Him and love them with the love that He has given us. That's all we can do so. Rest in that and don't be afraid. 


Heading down the mountain

Ah, the Monday after an exciting(AO at home) retreat weekend. It's always part - "whew, I'm exhausted and ready for our schedule to return to normal". And part "oh sad, it's over." Yesterday was no exception.

I was a bit worried about how my body would handle the trip. I tend to get motion sickness at the best of times but apparently, zofran helps with that too because that part was fine. And I did my best to balance out the time I spent sitting in the car - the first day the kids and I spent 2 hours at a park walking around before the drive and once we got to day 1's destination, we walked around Ikea (it was for my health! Not the cute teal cart I got out of the it. No, certainly not).

The next day we spent a few hours at the aquarium. Nature study + indoor in July + lots of walking = yay! But between sitting at the conference and sitting in the car, and letting myself get dehydrated and paying for it with lots of braxton hicks contractions, by Sunday afternoon, my body was done. I actually fell asleep around 8pm. Craig had to wake me up for my shot and then I went right back to sleep.

And the kids were feeling the effects of super fun weekend too. In addition to the aquarium with me, they got to go exploring with dad while I was "retreating" so they - swam in a hotel pool, toured a dairy factory and saw a calf being born, made several stops at a playground, ate ice cream, visited a farmer's market and a nature center and then we all went to a wolf park for howl night where we both howled and were howled at. So basically, they suffered for my sake.

Okay, maybe not. But even if they had, I think it still might have been worth it. My basic feeling through much of the weekend can be summed up like this:

I got to listen to some incredible woman give talks and answer questions. Woman that I, against their own recommendation, consider homeschooling gurus, like Karen GlassCindy Rollins, and The Headmistress (and yes, I did talk to her about k-drama, I don't even care if that is shallow of me - I went there)...

Funny story, I was standing around the registration area with a couple of other forum ladies that I knew and we all spotted Cindy. But she was a last minute speaker and we hadn't heard she was coming yet so we were all trying to nonchalantly see if we read could her name tag or hear someone talk to her. We were pretty sure it was her but well, you just don't run in to Cindy Rollins every day. Finally, we saw someone else we knew talk to her and yes, it was her!

And hearing them speak would have been encouraging enough but I got to meet them and talk to them and they were all just as wonderful in person as you think they would be from reading their words. And then to meet-up with some of the woman on the forum whom I've been talking to and doing book studies with and being able to put real faces (and voices!) to those screen names. It was great.

I learned so much its hard to put into words but I do want to try and sum up my learnings - to give a short narration if you will. I've already started that post. But for now, it's time to get back in the daily grind of life. It's hard, but "luckily" Jonah has seen fit to be oh so very two this week and I've got no other option but to jump in with both feet. Wish me luck!


Joy and Imagination

I'm still chugging away at my "magical tidying" experience - and making lots of progress. I'm sure I'll talk about it more and give you total bags of trash/donations later but I wanted to talk about one of her main points, and it's critisicms, first.

Joy. Marie Kondo's method for when deciding whether to get rid of something is not if that items is used or has been worn in x months or anything like that, but simply to ask yourself if that item sparks joy. And one of the big criticisms that I see thrown out a lot is that it only sorta works because you can't throw out your toothpaste or laundry detergent just because they don't spark joy.

Now, I won't say that that there isn't any chaff to be thrown out from this book but every time I see that particular remark, I have to laugh. And yes, I've seen more than one person refer specifically to toothpaste and laundry detergent. After laughing, the next thing I want to tell this people is to go read Anne of Green Gables (and perhaps Pollyanna too) because they need to develop a better imagination!

But perhaps it's more than just a lack of imagination. Perhaps the meaning of joy is just as misunderstood in our culture as the meaning of love is. Joy isn't some magical giddy feeling I get when I hold something I like. I know that feeling (new soft tiny cloth diaper fluff!) and it's nice and it certainly makes finding joy easier, but it isn't joy. Joy doesn't come from giddiness, it comes from gratitude. That spark of joy comes from feeling thankful.

My understanding of her book is affected by my religious convictions and while I am fairly certain that Marie Kondo and I do not share those convictions, I do think we must share an understanding of what joy because I have no problems following her "spark joy" mantra. She's right - you should be thankful for everything you choose to have in your home.

And if you don't, there is a problem. Perhaps that problem is with your attitude and you need to go spend some time with Paul in the New Testament. And no judgement from me if that's the case. Let's just say there is a reason God called me to lead a study on Philippians - he wanted me to study it! But that's not to say it comes easily to me now either though.

I just finished reading both The Small Woman and The Hiding Place. Either book alone would have me feeling convicted about the lack of gratitude I show in my daily life - the combination was brutal. And at first they left me confused about whether I should be finding joy in material possessions at all. Then I realized, it isn't the objects themselves that are the issue, it's the choice to own things or not. That's really where we differ from so much of the world when it comes to material possessions - we have lots of choices.

And it's not more righteous of me to choose to keep things I don't need and then struggle (or fail) to be grateful for them when I can instead choose to be thankful those things were in my life and that I can now let them go. Yes, it's a bit kooky to send a text to your old phone thanking it for its service so that is one example of hers I won't be following, but I don't find it difficult to thank God for his provisions. In fact, I'm really enjoying it. I'm going through what I own, category by category, picking things up and choosing to have joy and to be grateful for what God has provided for us - the parenting book I learned a lot from but now that I have gained knowledge from it and grown in my parenting skills, I can pass on to someone else. The clothes that kept me warm and cozy that I can now donate with the hope that someone else can be kept warm and cozy. And after a season of struggling to find joy and being frustrated by my failure in that area, all this practice has been a great blessing (and one I'm grateful for :-)

 So while the "Spark Joy" idea may not be helpful to others trying to tidy (aka declutter), it's been the key for me to finally get that last bit of stuff out of my house.

The ugly cardboard box of needles and progesterone in my closet that makes me cry on a twice weekly basis - no giddiness there. But joy? Yes! Joy in the knowledge that God has provided doctors to help my body do its best to grow a strong healthy baby. It stays, no question (at least until that strong healthy baby makes his/her appearance - then I'll have a lot of joy in dumping it all in the trash!).

Those few dresses of my mom's that I have had for three years and could never bring myself to get rid of? The one I took from her closet to wear to her funeral? The yellow outfit she wore to my wedding? There are a lot of emotions in those. But joy? No. I have joy when I see the picture in my wedding album of her wearing that dress. In fact, I don't even need the photographs, I have several vivid imagines in my head even without them that always make me smile. But the dress itself. No, it's gone and I haven't looked back.

Does it spark joy? It's not that hard if you have a bit of imagination.


Classics Challenge - The Europeans

Who would have thought that the Novella selection would be one of my hardest to pick? I had planned to read 1984. It is one of several books that has been in my tbr pile for far too long. But I realized that it, along with several of the others, have stayed in the tbr pile because I have no actual desire to read them. I want to want to read them but when it comes to picking them up and reading them, I'm just not interested. So then I tried The Vicar of Wakefield. It wasn't necessarily bad but it wasn't very interesting and despite its short length, I was not making much progress. So I tried again! And this time, my choice stuck...and now for that choice.

The Europeans might be my first Henry James*. Unlike my failed attempts at a Novella, this one was a pleasant read. Not much happens. Basically, two siblings (the Europeans) come to America and stay with some relations. Eventually, some people may or may not get married. Between those things, people do a lot of talking. Yep, that's about it.

It's really more of a character study and in that it does a great job. It's not clear at the beginning, exactly who we are supposed to root for. Is Ms. X good? Or Mr. Y? Even at the end, one can't really divide everyone into a good column and a bad column although if forced, the good column would probably be much fuller. This makes it excellent for thinking about the individual decisions and personalities and conversations. So it is fun on a light superficial level and if you want to go a bit deeper.

Having said that, I'm not sure I totally understand the ending. I mean, I can tell you what happens but I feel like their is some lesson that I'm supposed to have learned but don't quite get. I wonder if I looked it up on Clif Notes if there would be a sentence explaining the moral but I don't really have a desire to spoil my reading experience by doing that. Perhaps I'm just trying to read to much into it.

The Europeans is in the public domain and available for free from gutenberg.org. It was my Back to the Classics Challenge Novella selection.

* I am not sure if I have read The Turn of the Screw or not. I didn't think I had but I picked up Craig's library book of short stories one day and started it and while I couldn't remember what happened next, everything I read seemed awfully familiar. But then he returned it and I was never able to finished it/find out. Perhaps I should.


Finally Friday

This was a bit of a crazy week. We started school up again which I mentioned earlier but, because I'm me,  I couldn't stop at just starting school this week. That would be too simple. No, I had to start on a week Craig was gone on a business trip. And then the day after he left, the library emailed to let me know my e-copy of the The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up was available. I feel like everyone and their mom is talking about this book right now but I've officially jumped on the tidy-up train too.

Perhaps the week we are starting school and I'm solo parenting two small children while fighting third trimester hip and back pain is not the time to start a major decluttering project, but why let those things stop me? I've made it through (my) clothes and books this week and have 3 garbage bags full of clothes in the breezeway and several boxes worth of books waiting downstairs for Craig to haul up for me. Up next is paper!

Now, on the energy input side, I am finally able to take vitamins again and just last weekend started iron. I know I tend to run low during my pregnancies but it was amazing how much more energy I have when I add a good iron supplement. My midwife checked me yesterday and its still a bit low so I can't imagine what it was like last week. But even that boost has enabled me to get up early (between 5:45-6:30) and get a good start to my day. I really am a early morning person. I have to adapt this as baby/toddler/sleep seasons come and go but my preference is early to bed, early to rise so an early start with my bible just sets a good tone for my day.

Although I'm currently having to stop myself from feeling bad knowing it might not last long. These have really been the first days since Lucy was born that I have be able to get up before the kids. I've always had at least one morning snuggler that seems to sense when I try to get up and feels the need to join me. So normally I get up with them and lately it has been after them. But Jonah seems to be past that magical sensing period now and even when he does get up, he's been well trained over these past few months to get himself a snack and play quietly. And miraculously he seems to be able to keep that routine up whether I'm in bed sleeping or on the couch reading! Although if I'm up he does feel the need to come over and show me his snack and tell me what he's going to play with. I doubt I'll be able to keep it up after the baby comes but I will try to enjoy it while it lasts!

I also committed to stay off facebook which I'm sure helped my productivity. It's my big social media time suck and I'm surprised at how much I didn't miss it. I think I end up there out of habit more than I realize. I've got several really good groups there that I don't want to leave permanently so I need to work on a balance with it somehow. And while I normally feel a bit adult-deprived when Craig is gone and thought the facebook fast would exacerbate that, I actually had several great people activities this week, all one-on-one or small groups which, as in introvert, is my favorite way to interact with people. So it's been a crazy but very good week.

But I'll be honest, with all that and a midwife appointment, a chiropractic adjustment, several playdates, a trip to the pool and a wonderful night catching up with one of my best friends (sans kids! well, except a baby but babies don't count) and a trip to drop off a computer at the repair shop, another to pick it up but - just kidding, it's still broken and then a third to really pick it up, I'm a bit pooped. Craig comes home tonight and I am definitely counting down the hours!