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.
Getting the Bones Right
Bones. Without them we would be a useless heap on the ground. We would get nowhere fast. Our bones are the structure and foundation of a body in motion.
And using that metaphor I would say the same thing about the homeschool lifestyle. Without bones our days begin to feel like a useless heap of nothing. We suffer from a lack of healthy structure and because of this we just spin our wheels. After a while guilt sets in, then irritability, then panic, then burnout. The only way I have found to avoid burnout and to live a healthy and happy life is to always make sure we are…getting the bones right. This job is never completed, it is the joyous repetition of a life built one moment at a time…one day at a time. What is done today has to be repeated tomorrow, and through the habit of good living we find true fulfillment and happiness. And the homeschool lifestyle makes this process so easy…it is the main reason I have continued to homeschool all these years. I love the lifestyle it affords.
When I find myself in any of the various burnout stages I listed above, it may take me awhile, but eventually I begin again. I recommit to bone health, and before I know it things are running smoothly. (As smooth as things can in a household of seven.) As I begin the very fulfilling process of building healthy bones I have a few principles I try to follow. They are simple, but they are the most important for me as I work because I could very easily succumb to idol fashioning and perfectionism. And those two things give the appearance of health and happiness, but in reality they produce the exact opposites…anxiety, stress, covetousness, envy, and strife. It is a real temptation when things on the homeschool front feel completely out of control and chaotic, to go at our lives in a frenzied panic and try the fix everything. This is not what I am speaking of when I say I begin again, and the principles I follow ensure that I keep my true desires, which are health and happiness, as my goal. They are:
- Do not try to be someone I am not.
- Accept the family personality and natural environment of our home.
- Lower my expectations…less is more.
These three principles were hard fought…it has taken me years to know and accept. I still struggle, but at least now I know what my true enemies are, and they do not include schedules, curriculum, or the lack thereof. As I look at each of these principles I am filled with a wisdom that only personal struggle could produce, and I know I still have so much to learn and work out in my own heart. However, the principles are full of potential and they bring a sense of freedom into my life that can only be characterized as JOY!
When I accept that I do not have to be scared, when I open my arms to the gladsome lights and let the sun set in my heart, I do not fear the dark..the unknown. Because the sun rises in the east, and our days are redeemed because of the resurrection…every morning is a new PASCHA! We live Pascha everyday in our hearts…every day is full of life generating potential.
So how can I refocus and let the principles guide me? Before I begin any real work it is essential for me to center my heart on the principles…then the work is fun and easy!
Do not try to be someone I am not. The first word that warrants considering in that sentence is try. I can try to be someone else, thinking I am the real problem in the home…my tendencies, my weaknesses, my personality, my expectations, my interests, they ALL have to change. I can try to change the core of who I am, but I will fail. And this trying will be like beating my head against a brick wall until it is bloody.
Know thyself, accept thyself, better thyself.
A few things I know and accept about myself.
-I work good under deadlines.
-I need time outside of the home on a weekly basis to interact with people.
-I am not a rule person.
-I do not enjoy schedules, but prefer routines.
-I am slow and contemplative in the morning.
-I like to get up before everyone else is awake.
Accept the personality of my family and the natural environment of the home.
The same guiding principle can be applied to the family. It is fruitless to try and make my family be something we are not, or to fashion the home environment in a way that does not speak to the core of our family style. When I try it is a bit like herding cats. However, when I settle in and find the natural rhythm and energy of our family lifestyle everyone in the home flourishes.
A few things I know about my family.
-We like good, wholesome, tasty food.
-We like to relax in the evenings with uninterrupted free time.
-We are social, but value time alone as well.
-We are not black and white rule people.
-We like to watch movies together.
-We love to be spontaneous and explore.
-Our core belief system is found in finding the middle way. We believe that virtue is in the center of two extremes.
-We like to work together.
-We live at a slower pace…but we are steadfast and consistent.
-Nobody in this house likes schedules…but thrive on routine.
-We get burned out and irritable if there are no groceries in the house, if the calendar gets too full, or there is too much drama in the house.
Lower my expectations…less is more. I am not advocating mediocrity. However, I have come to realize that the plan in my head is a plan on steroids. In reality the plan for our family, including our homeschool day, needs to be brought down about three or four notches before I try to implement any requirements or routines. The guiding principle is…less is more. And this cliche is popular because IT WORKS! I would rather do small simple things with full attention and heart, than fail at big things because they were just too big! When I consider the first two principles, my personality…my family’s personality, I know that there are some things that are just TOO BIG for us.
-A 5 AM wake time…or even 6, maybe 7…8 AM is more doable.
-Scheduled school that lasts past 2 PM.
-Educational activities in the evenings. We like to relax and do leisure activities.
-A schedule that has time blocked off in thirty minute intervals or even hourly.
-Scheduled activities in the evenings more than one or two nights a week. Two is pushing it.
-Family read aloud.
You get the idea. Before I begin any real work, ordering books, making plans, arranging schedules, making commitments I have to remind myself of my three guiding principles. And I have to hold myself accountable to what I know and accept about real life in this family. What is interesting about this exercise is that it almost eliminates fear and control. Instead of living our lives in blocks of time, measuring success by the accomplishments of the hour, our life takes on a more fluid and peaceful feeling of being REAL. And that feels good.
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.
C-Section and Mama’s Hospital Bag
Packing my hospital bag for a scheduled C-Section has been fun this week. Some of these items are essential for a natural birth also, but after four c-sections I can recommend that some of these products be in your bag.
- My cousin recently gave me this little tote from Thirty-One, and I thought it would work great for the hospital. I packed all my toiletries in the handy little bag for quick access and for great organization. With a c-section I will stay in the hospital for at least three days and two nights. That means that when the nurses finally unwire me completely I will be allowed to shower. Oh how I look forward to that first shower to wash away all the sticky surgical stuff. It’s wonderful! So, after a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up small toiletries: body wash, shampoo/conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste/ tooth brush, mouthwash, and lotion I organized everything in this little tote. I am excited about how compact it is and hoping it will make things a little easier in the bathroom.
- Also packed in the tote are pre-shower essentials: lip balm, belly butter, facial wipes, and flushable sanitary wipes. The lip balm is wonderful when I come out of recovery and my lips are so dry. I also like to wash my face after surgery and freshen up a bit before the family joins me. (I also brush my hair.) A few hours later I put belly butter on my wrinkled, sore, and parched belly. It feels so good to have the baby delivered, and it feels wonderful to moisten the skin that has been stretched to its limits. I get HUGE when I am pregnant. The sanitary wipes are for day two when I am not yet able to shower, but I would like to feel clean and comfortable.
- After my shower I usually change out of the hospital gown into a comfy pair of modest pajamas. I bought these online at Wal-Mart, and I have washed and wore them already. They are the most comfortable pj’s I have ever worn, and they do not look or feel cheap. I may buy another set in a different color. Did I mention they are also nursing pajamas? They are my favorite buy so far. I will pack two extra pajama sets, one for day three and one for accidents.
- Another Wal-Mart online score I found was a pair of very comfortable nursing bras. I like to wear soft bras before my milk comes down. It keeps me supported and the dropping is less painful. I even wear a bra at night, and so the bra has to be comfortable. I love this bra. It is soft, but supportive, just what I was looking for. And the price was great!
- I also pack about four pairs of granny panties. These wonderfully big and comfortable panties are a must after surgery. They DO NOT touch in all the right places. I bought a size larger than I would have if I were my normal size. The hospital supplies mesh panties that I love, and I usually save my cotton panties for the day I go home. I pack extras just in case, or if I have an accident.
Some other goodies to take along:
- A small make up bag with only the essentials: a pressed powder, tinted lip gloss, blush, mascara, and eyelash curler. Yes, call me vain, but I do think I look refreshed and relaxed when I put on my basic face.
- A brush and elastic bands for my hair. ( I put these into the tote.)
- A robe. I am not sure that I will need this. It is very hot, and the hospital supplies an extra gown to put on backwards for the walks in the hall after surgery.
- A small traveling icon set.
- Electronics: camera, video camera, and phones. I have fully charged all these devices, but I am taking along charging cords just in case.
- A very loose and comfy going home outfit. I was so inspired by the blue polka dot dress that Princess Kate wore when presenting her son to the world. So, I decided to wear a pretty maternity sundress that I have as my going home outfit. I packed a little pair of espadrille shoes to go with it.
- A nursing cover.
- My own feminine products for going home. I will use what the hospital provides until I get ready for the trip home. I bought the overnight product because they looked large and comfy.
- Socks with grips on the bottom. My first steps in the days after surgery are very unsteady, and I feel secure with grips.
- A strong support maternity belt. I have a condition called diastasis recti, and this garment has helped me function. This is by far the best maternity support belt I have ever used. I am taking it to see if it will help postpartum.
I am getting so excited for the surgery day. I used to get down about having a c-section, but I am older now. I just pray for safety for me and baby, and I am thankful for the modern technology that allows me to have babies. What have you packed in your hospital bag? Or do you have a suggestion that I must know about? Happy Packing- I know I am having fun!
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.