Christmas Gifts for a Homeschool Mom
The average “gifts for mom” list is not necessarily a good fit for a homeschool mom. Don’t get me wrong…I love perfume and scarves and expensive handbags just like the average girl, but if you really want the wow factor for this homeschool mom of five I have a better list. Maybe you can forward this post to your hubby or whoever is asking you that pressing question, “What do you want for Christmas?” I hope this list will inspire you to answer with every bit of the quirkiness that defines a homeschool mom.
Christ in Our Midst
Tonight I headed out to the art shed to look for a set of Logic books that I need for a class I am thinking about teaching in the spring. When I opened the door to this small space I was aghast at it’s condition. My two oldest daughters use this space the most, and it was amazing to me that such little care is taken with all the very expensive art supplies in their room. This space is intended to be an artist’s retreat…a renovated plant shed fully furnished with oils, canvases, watercolors, chalks, charcoal, drawing pencils, instruction books, etc. I left the little wreck of a room quite angry. Before prayers I had a chat with the girls about caring for our home and respecting the things in it as objects of great value. Because things do have value…and not just monetary value. They have value in themselves.
In a world that has gone spiritually mad it is often difficult to understand the material world…to value it in such a way that elevates it as holy. And yes, I believe paint and pencils and books are holy things, along with everything else in the created world. One of my favorite authors, Madeleine L’Engle, sums it up quite nicely in her wonderful book Walking on Water,
“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.” (And if you love the subjects of art and faith this is a must read…a must purchase.)
When I first read that book in my early twenties it was like a butterfly effect in my life…a small change that created an earthquake later down the road. And since, I have been utterly undone by the knowledge of the Incarnation and its implications. A simple shift, yet so profound…no longer must the material world be subject to the murderous accusation of being evil, or worse, mundane. No longer must men decide if some thing is good…if some thing is evil. Everything God created is good!
Christ became man, taking on flesh, showing that man can become by grace what Christ is by nature…we become the body of Christ. Christ showed us that the material world is good, and real, and valuable. It’s all very deep, and I do not intend to get in over my head in theology. But, at the same time I know that this knowledge, however limited and shallow, has changed my life. This knowledge can change one’s entire inner posture and experience. Because of Christ man has the power to redeem his world….to live the incarnation. Every good work is essentially an incarnational work. And what we would deem as bad works, or sin, have no material value because evil cannot create anything.
But, I am a common housewife…busy with so-called mundane tasks…tasks that go unnoticed and undervalued by a world that is high on ideological promises and rhetoric. A world that believes ideas change the world, not home cooked meals and prayers before bed. How can this common housewife be anything more than the one saddled with all the unpleasant necessaries…the stuff that has to be done so we can get on with the real business of the world? Is my work really valuable…the work of my hands? Is it incarnational…dirty diapers, really?
And yet, here I am tonight thinking about art supplies and how they are holy and how if my children will value them it will grow in them a heart after God. And how lately I have been in a modern mood…not really valuing things…and barely tolerating people. A momentary lapse of heart…that’s what it really is.
After I came in from the art shed I opened the altar cabinet doors, and I decided to take care of something valuable…something I have been neglecting…the liturgical supplies. Incense has permeated the wood along with the earthy smell of beeswax. It is a wonderful smell, and it did my heart good to touch the things in the cabinet, holy things. I looked across my living room and an interesting thought crossed my mind…everything in this room is holy. This is the antidote for my modern mood…for my lack of enthusiasm. Every thing and every person in this home has value…in and of itself. And I am the keeper…the keeper at home…the keeper of home.
My work is holy. And every thing I encounter in my day; the laundry, the crying, the dishes, the food, the neighbor, the phone call…every demand, every interruption, every failure, every trill of laughter is…
Christ in our midst.
Most days these kinds of thoughts do not pass through my mind. Most days I just get up and put my work boots on…one at a time. But sometimes it is good to remember, especially when life begins to stretch me thin and and I feel like my work is drudgery. Sometimes we keepers at home can get in a bad way.
Tomorrow I am going to help the girls make things right in the art shed. I plan on cooking a nice dinner and finishing up the laundry. I hope to steal away for a bit and finish my Journey to Nativity calendar. There’s always school that needs doin’, and babies that need rockin’, and dishes that need washin’. And I am going to read this post again in the morning…and remind myself that all of this…this big life that wears me out…it’s holy…it’s valuable…it’s incarnational.
It’s Christ in our midst.
I challenge you to a Housewife challenge, a silly insane game that has no winner:
Text to begin each challenge.
Text after you finish each challenge.
No cheating…(like getting the kids to help, or stuffing stuff under beds, couches, or in ovens.)
Level 1: An entire home rescue pick up.
Here are the rules:
- You can only spend 10 minutes each of 3 rooms.
- Send a picture to your opponent of the “before” of each room before the timer begins.
- When the timer goes off send an “after” shot of the same room.
- Start the music and turn it up loud.
- When the timer goes off clean like mad.
When we are done with this phase of the game we level up.
- Dishwasher and sink must be unloaded.
- Dirty dishes must be dealt with.
- Counters must be wiped down.
- Floor must be swept.
- Trash must be taken out.
- Sink must be shined.
- This challenge must be done with red lipstick on. (or any bright color you can find.)
- The toilet, shower, tub, and vanities (including the mirror) must be cleaned.
- You must sweep and spot mop the floor.
- Trash must be emptied.
- This challenge must be done in silence. (That includes no moaning and groaning in disgust.)
Next level: Car in 15 minutes.
- Everything from the car must be put away or thrown away.
- The front dashboard must be wiped down.
- This challenge must be done barefoot.
Next Level: Dusting in 10 minutes.
- Living room must be dusted entirely.
- Master bedroom must be dusted entirely.
- This challenge must be done with sunglasses on.
Next Level: Floors in 20 minutes.
- All floors that can be vacuumed must be vacuumed.
- This challenge must be done in socks.
Next Level: Dinner in 15 minutes.
- You must start dinner and have all components going.
- This challenge must be done in high heels.
Well this has been a very difficult recovery for me. After an allergic reaction to a pain medication, a trip to the ER for what turned out to be post pregnancy hypertension, and a more painful recovery than ever I finally feel like posting something today. Before today I could not even set at the computer, and I did not feel like doing anything. Thankfully I have been able to hold my precious new baby boy, and nurse, and snuggle practically non stop. That part is wonderful.
I hope to return to my homeschooling series this coming week. I am also looking forward to getting our homeschool plans finalized and a few things organized. I have high hopes for some cooking and general homemaking. After being practically immobile for 21/2 months, surgery, and recovery complications my body is slow and a little weak, however I do not mind taking it easy. It feels so good to be up and moving and really present. My mom pointed out that instead of surviving my day I could now take things in and let things go out again…I could be at peace after a hard work.
Things can never go back to the way they were before Samuel was born. My work, my schedule, my time, my priorities…they are all changing and adjusting and coming into a new normal. I love it! And I love making a place for Samuel.
As fall approaches and summer fades I can barely write this post without crying. For all those who prayed for Good Strength…thank you. A season has come and gone…it was hard, but I love the fall. My struggle is now my joy…it is joy for my whole family.
Liturgical Life: May & June
Well, I have not posted in quite some time. I have been spending ALL my energy growing a baby. I have a litany of illnesses, pains, and problems I could share, but why bother? All is well with baby, and that is the most important thing. My struggles, when discussed, sound like complaints and bitterness. I am sure those two ingredients are in the cake mix, but there is also joy, and great expectations, and pleasure. It’s all there mixed up together, and the timer is about to buzz, and out will come the yummy deliciousness of a baby. Don’t babies just make you want to eat them up? The hot time in the oven is worth a cake any day.
So, this Liturgical Life post is going to be a little unorthodox, in the sense that I am going to post about the liturgy of just living. I have no great books, or prayers, or services, or projects to report. No, we have nothing to share in the traditional sense, but I do have a story. The liturgical story I can honestly tell is one that is hard to put into words. When something is hard to say, it usually means it was hard to understand. Our liturgical life from May through June has been hard to understand. But, life is not always easy to understand, especially if I am trying to put everything in a check the box kind of list. So, here goes, I hope I say this right:
What we are reading:
A wonderful book lies on the side table in the living room. We are on chapter something, I cannot remember. What we have read is enough for me to have a certain heartbreak every time I look at its cover. The girls asked about it for a while after we stopped reading it, but now they have stopped. It’s stories are haunting, in the sense that they are wonderful; a truly humble priest who loves God very much struggles for himself and those around him in a Communist labor camp in Communist Russia. Why did I stop reading it? Because I imagine I cannot. Because I am tired. The very thing that might cure my weariness is the hardest thing to do. This realization is humbling, and I know who I really am…no spiritual giant, no hero, no suffering servant. I am a sinner. I have deep seated faults and weaknesses. Lord Jesus have mercy on me and help me.
Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father
I have read the books of Hebrews, Galatians, and Ephesians, in that order. I have been meditating on righteousness, and what it means to be a friend of God. I have cried out to the Lord for years to help me with guilt, the kind of guilt that is unhealthy and a result of perfectionism, pride, and self-righteousness. In this very unproductive season of my life, a time when I am forced to stop production and just rest, I am experiencing the righteousness of Christ Jesus. I wrote a little expository piece entitled A Persistence in Innocence that I may share in the future. But, for now I am contemplating the finishing work of Jesus and the revelation that He is. He is the full revelation of God and Man. He alone is perfect, and I am His. I have not included my children in these readings, but on a heart level I believe they are experiencing Christ through the work of grace going on in my heart.
PASCHA May 5
Ascension June 13
Pentecost June 23
We have not attended any special services outside of Sunday Liturgy (we have missed some Sunday Liturgies due to my hip pain) and the above listed. This Saturday we did go to the Hermitage for Liturgy, but my comment afterwards to my husband was this, “Is it wrong that the only reason I went to the service today is because I love Father Gregory so much, and I miss him?” I have not been able to talk with Father Gregory, our spiritual father, very much in the last few months. He has called several times to check on me and the family, but I have not seen him. In a very real sense I believe that there are times in our life when people are Christ to us. Sometimes we have a hard time with the unseen, and men and women of God help us to hold onto the faith. I see Christ in Father Gregory, I feel safe resting in his piety and love, and I long to be with him when I feel weak. A monk is a special gift to the church, and Father Gregory is a blessing to our family.
This section is a tribute to my husband, and especially my daughters. To be in the service of another, to bear their burdens, and to bind their wounds is the very essence of Christ. My daughters have had to bare a large burden sense I have been unable to work, cook, or plan activities. They have cooked, watched little ones, kept the laundry going, and cleaned while I have been down. Their little ways make me feel very vulnerable, and I have learned a lot watching them as they obey and serve. It has been hard at times, and attitudes and tempers flare as we are all stretched and pushed. However, the love they have shown and what they have had to do is the true work of salvation. Although I struggle with guilt and anger about them having to care for me, I also know that if I shelter them from this time of service I will rob them of a true grace. This is not to say that I will always depend on them at this level, and I definitely do not want to take advantage of them or hurt them. I look forward to things getting back to some semblance of normal. But, this is a special time, and a very special project. It has definitely been ugly at times, the house looks like kids have been running it, as my oldest daughter would say. But, we are a family and we are pulling together, and that is very special.
Being pregnant always gets me going when it comes to matters of marriage, femininity, homemaking, and the likes. I have recently found a charming blog that captures a kind of innocence that I wish I had. The blogger”s posts on feminine dress, homemaking, parenting, and church life seem to be coming from some place within her that is truly genuine and beautiful. Too many times I have read things that seem to be gadget oriented, as if something from without can create something beautiful within. This sweet blog is different. I tire of ideological living; if I do a,b,c it will produce e,f,g. However, I truly love being a woman, and without becoming fake or legalistic, I have always tried to explore the makings and disciplines of beautiful womanhood.
Girly stuff has not always come natural to me. When I was a young girl my boy cousins teased and called me Randy, because, I suspect, I could beat most of them in an arm wrestling match. Those days were short lived, and as I grew I realized that being a tomboy was not something I would like to continue into adulthood. So, the quest for beauty and love and romance began, and then I had four daughters. I am amazed at how feminine they all are, especially because I have never really viewed myself as a particularly girly girl. In fact, my husband’s friends are all jealous of him because I love me some football on Sunday afternoons, I love to work hard and get my hands dirty, and one of my favorite date nights is going out for wings and beer. True, I think one of the reasons my husband was so attracted to me was because I am a little boyish, but in a girly kind of way. Does that make since? Here in Texas I think women have a knack for being boyish in a girly way.
This week I have been thinking about my relationship with my husband and the way I get on with my children, and how that relates to feminine virtues. My main purpose or job is being a wife and mother, and this Lent I have tried to examine the areas where I could improve upon my vocation. A few things have come up: I am idle, I complain, and I struggle with boredom, all of which greatly hinder my job as a wife and mother.
For the next few weeks I have decided to be industrious, to work at being content with my situation, and to rekindle creativity. Here are a few focus areas all inspired by that sweet little blog I mentioned before:
- Waking early
- Being faithful to my daily readings and prayers
- Making sure my husband’s practical needs are met (lunch packed, work clothes ironed, cook a small breakfast before work)
- Getting my grocery budget under some control and making frugal choices when it comes to food
- Resuming my skin, hair, and nail care regimes
- Cleaning out excess to prepare for a yard sale and to donate (starting with clothes bins in the shop)
- Take walks or swim every weekday
- Examine my wardrobe and dress with less (quality over quantity)
- Be patient with my kiddos as I still struggle with acute nausea and fatigue
- Rekindle a womanly atmosphere of creativity in my home with small things like scented candles, fresh picked wild flowers, etc.
- Reaffirm my love and affection with clean crisp sheets, soft music, warm dinners at the table, a smile, a pleasant tone in my voice, lots of hugs, and whatever creative ideas come to me.
Update: How do I feel womanly when all womanly pursuits come to a screeching halt? Explore the wonder of a round belly. Enjoy a baby kicking and moving inside me. Take in the joy of watching my body provide for another living thing. Pregnancy is the one truly exclusive womanly expression. Every bullet point above could be done by a man. However, only the woman can bear a child.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars
Last night after we watched the American men win silver in the 4/100 relay, the last track and field event of the London Olympics, we headed outside to watch a meteor shower. Slade, Addy, and I pulled the trampoline into a open spot with a clear view of the sky (over sixty fully mature trees makes this task a challenge). We all laid on our backs, gazing and waiting, and after a few minutes we saw our first meteor blaze across the sky. It had a beautiful arched tail, and as it traveled it lit up the dark with a flash of white. Everyone oohed and when it was over the horse in our neighbor’s pasture neighed so loud that it made us all laugh. When the horse neighed at every meteor from then on we decided that he was enjoying the night sky as well. It was hilarious, and even Elinor listened for the horse. She would say, “The horse neighs, horses neigh, daddy.” When the horse stopped neighing, we decided he was tired, and it was time for us to head to the house as well and go to bed after a long day’s work.
The day was very productive. The girls and I cleaned out the closets, organized the clothes bins in the shop, while Slade cleaned out the barn, and cleaned and organized the shop. The closets were full of unused clothing, clothing that was out of season and not the right sizes. We sorted piles of keep, throw away, and give away. The same went for my bins in the shop. We sorted by sizes and seasons. I culled deeply, and it felt wonderful. Although, it was sort of emotional. Going through baby clothes is bitter sweet. I was having so many memories surface of the girl’s, each outfit revealing another time and another place. It is hard to accept how fast kids grow up. Maybe that’s why I have avoided dealing with the mountain of clothes chaos that was in the shop. Maybe that’s why my scrapbooks are unfinished. However, today as I write this I feel such a sense of peace and harmony. Being stuck in a rut, or in the past is not a healthy feeling. Things change, and nothing stays the same…might as well jump in the river and keep moving, enjoying the now. Now that my closets are clean and my seasonal clothes are organized I feel stronger and better equipped to deal with the clothes issues that a family of 5 girls faces…oh my, the laundry, the accessories, the outfits, the drama…it’s great!
Slade did man stuff… hauled off trash, cleaned tools and lawn equipment, organized the work spaces, and made room in the barn for more bunny cages. He has been like a bird out of a cage sense he finished graduate school. The three years of school took a toll on the outside maintenance regimen, however since May Slade has been steadily catching up. Things are looking great around here again. I love to see the progress of family, husband, wife, and children, working together to make a home beautiful. My attention to details, Slade’s big picture vision, and the girl’s willingness to work alongside us both makes work meaningful and surprisingly fun. There is nothing like shared vision. When we as a family think of our family we have a certain vision in mind, the way we want things to be, the feelings we want to have, the atmosphere we want to create. As we work together to bring that shared vision into existence and with each accomplished goal, the family grows up, grows stronger, and creates the family experience; together.
When the day was done and as we all laid on our sore backs on the trampoline everyone enjoyed the stars a little bit more. We enjoyed the ice cream after supper a little bit more. Hard work has a way of making play meaningful. Everyone chimed in as I sang to Elinor, her all snuggled up next to me with her blanket and sucking her thumb. I sang, “Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder what you are. Up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky.” It was fun, and we all giggled and wondered how far away the stars really are, and how scary space is, and how mosquitoes bite, and what the difference is between meteors and comets, and what Haley’s comet is, and how dark the sky is in West Texas, and how we had a great day, and how we were going to sleep hard tonight, and how it was amazing to think of all the people who were watching these same meteors, and how much we enjoy being together.
When an old aunt from Virginia comes to visit…
I asked her, “Have you ever considered moving back to Texas, Aunt Chris?” We were all seated around the dinner table enjoying Guatemalan soup, crusty bread, and iced tea. She looked calmly at me and said, “No, honey, Virginia is my home…Ralph was raised in Woodstock, and the cemetery is close by, I could never leave him.” Immediately, I understood, and I was sad I even asked the question. A person’s home is not where they were, it is where they are…a lesson I could learn.
Ralph and Aunt Chris were married for over fifty years, and although she was born and raised on a farm in Texas, Aunt Chris considers her husband’s home her own. When he died twenty years ago, she stayed in Virginia with her son and grandchildren. She visits Texas every year to attend the Loveless Family Reunion. Afterwards, she usually stays on a while, stopping in Quanah, Texas, her birth place and where her late brother’s (my grandfather) children farm the family land. She usually ends her trip in Oklahoma where she visits another brother who settled there. Her one night stop at my home was in route to the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, where she would catch a plane after a hot stop here in the friendly state, and go home to Virginia.
Did I mention that she is 88 years old? She is not your typical octogenarian. She flies in airplanes, she works in her gardens, she wears very fashionable clothes, her make-up is always perfect, and she is rarely tired. She lives in a Greek Revival plantation house on a farm outside of Strasburg, just a few miles from the famous Civil War battlefield, Fishers Hill. She speaks with a seasoned southern accent, which is very different than my Texas twang. She is methodical and patterned, and her manners are polished. She does not put her nose in other peoples business, but she gives her opinion freely.
When my mother first asked me if she could bring Aunt Chris here for the night before she took her on to the airport, I was very excited. She had never seen my house before, and I wanted her to be comfortable in our humble abode. I immediately scheduled an appointment for my carpets to be cleaned. After that the girls and I just dove right in, and it was fun transforming the blah of summer that had accumulated and piled up in the house into a freshly vibrant home again. It was just what we needed to uplift our spirits and kick start the back to school campaign. I am thankful I had this motivation to get up and get some projects put behind me, and thanks to my mother who came a few days early, my home looks amazing. The team effort made all the difference.
Aunt Chris’ stay here was too short, but I enjoyed my time with her. We laughed and drank cocktails and she told us about her friends that she goes to lunch with every week. The girls are very blessed to know their great great aunt from Virginia, a true southern bell, and a dying breed. We are planning to visit her in the fall 2013. I cannot wait to experience the mystique of her restored plantation, and her unique hospitality. I hope our family’s hospitality was pleasant enough for Aunt Chris, I know it was. We loved making our home comfortable, and we worked hard to give the best we had. That’s what hospitality really is anyway, isn’t it? Just giving the very best, whatever it is, and doing it with warmth and joy.
I hope my girls see that cleaning, decorating, and entertaining is not about the show, and therefore it need not be stressful or a drudgery. It is about making a home, big or small, a place that facilitates all that a family desires to be, and all that a family is designed to be. Hospitality, if done properly, allows people to move effortlessly through our home, in our space without feeling uncomfortable or unwelcome. This is the joy of homemaking, and what makes it so rewarding. It is an art really, and it is so inspiring to create in this way. As the girls work alongside me in this home, I feel this is the best education they could ever receive. This is true Home-schooling.
- Clean carpets
- Do all the laundry and put it away
- Wash all the sheets, and fluff the pillows
- Clean out the fridge
- Plan a tasty meal, shop and cook as much as possible before hand
- Sweep and declutter porches
- Buy a new candle and let it burn a few hours before they arrive
- Dust the entire house
- Declutter desks and bookshelves
- Make a pie and buy Blue Bell ice cream to go with it
- Make sure that the bathrooms are clean and well stocked. Each bathroom should have a trash can
- Schedule time to get pretty yourself before the guests arrive, no need looking like a martyr
- Put a bouquet of fresh seasonal flowers on a counter, mantle, or table
- Practice smiling in front of a mirror, you would be surprised how just a smile warms a home
- Have fun!!!!