Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Autumn Butternut Soup

Yesterday we made a visit to our local Tanaka Farms to hand pick vegetables for soup. After walking through the corn maze we headed over to where we saw the green tops. The children enjoyed the farm land, pulling the carrots and onions right from the earth. The carrots were so loose in the ground and came out with such ease, unlike our carrots at home where we struggled and pulled and tugged just to have them break in two!

by Eleanor Farjeon
The country vegetables scorn
To lie about in shops,
They stand upright as they were born
In neatly-patterned crops;
And when you want your dinner you
Don't buy it from a shelf,
You find a lettuce fresh with dew
And pull it for yourself;
You pick an apronful of peas
And shell them on the spot.
You cut a cabbage, if you please,
To pop into the pot.
The folk who their potatoes buy
From sacks before they sup,
Miss half of the potato's joy,
And that's to dig it up.
When leaving the farm late yesterday afternoon, the weather became cooler, more dry, and windy. The leaves were falling from the trees... Perfect weather for making soup!

After art class today, we journeyed to the market to purchase the other ingredients we needed to make our soup. We first picked out our butternut squash, celery, garlic, and fresh sage. Then over to the canned section for the vegetable stock, tomato paste, and white beans. Lastly, in our basket came breakfast sausage and Romano cheese. We have the basics on hand, water, oil, kosher salt, and ground pepper.
My little man offered to wash the dirt off the vegetables we pulled up and picked yesterday.

And both asked, "Mama, may I cut the vegetables?"

The carrots, celery, onions, and garlic were cooked in olive oil for a few minutes, then the rest of the ingredients were added (not the cheese and sausage yet!). Once the butternut squash was soft, after about 20 minutes, I added the cheese and mashed the soup till smooth, but chunky, then added the browned crumbled sausage. Our rustic, rich and creamy Autumn soup was enjoyed by the entire family!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shelby and Daisy

Hello All,

Rachelle here, this is my first time blogging/posting, anywhere, woohoo! I am the mother of 4 wonderful daughters, and love CMism in my life.

We recently moved to a more rural area and home and are beginning our "Homestead" adventure, starting with Shelby and Daisy. Well, we actually started with their home...

my girls painted it....

THEN (Saturday Oct. 17th), we brought home Shelby and Daisy.....
and started waiting for our first egg.

We have had so much fun getting to know their personalities, feeding them Blue Marine Butterflies by hand, and waiting for them to lay their first eggs.

I was awakened this moring by a great squaking from the chicken coop and went to investigate. No egg, just loud chickens, so I thought. A little while later one of the chickens was in the nesting box making another fuss so went out again and.......

OUR FIRST EGG!!! (well, Shelby's first egg for us).
At the time we did not know it was Shelby's because after we had removed the egg, Daisy was sitting on the same nesting box, fussing and fixing and adding straw, we thought she was brooding after laying her egg. Later, Jolie came running in....."Mom, did we leave the egg in the chicken coop?" NO! Daisy had laid HER first egg for us. We had learned that chickens commonly use the same nesting box.

What an exciting morning. We will have them tonight with Daddy. He wishes he could have been here. Me too.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Picture Perfect Homeschooling

I used to have this picture perfect image of what homeschooling would be like, especially after reading some of Charlotte Mason's writings. I imagined joyful children delighting in living books, asking for "one more page pleeeeaase!", dancing to classical masterpieces, painting beautiful pictures, running through grassy meadows with butterflies and songbirds fluttering about. Ahhh.... so wonderful, so beautiful, so natural...

...so far from my reality many days.

While some days things really do go so well, many do not.

My husband runs his marketing business from his office in our kitchen and my mother has dementia and we care for her in our home and my almost 2yo is in this phase of exerting her very stubborn will by fussing really loud. (Yes, I'm training her!)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this equation:

Real Life Circumstances + Irrational Expectations = Frustration, Discontent, and Discouragement.

And this can be the danger, or so I believe, for some of us overachiever type Mamas in implementing CM, or any other type of homeschool for that matter. As we read some of her writings, our picture perfect expectations can grow and grow, and as we talk with other, more experienced CM Mothers and begin to compare curriculum, school work, ourselves and our children, our discontent can grow to not-so-nice proportions.

I am perfectly guilty of it myself.

In my own defense, for the most part, my heart is in the right place - I want the very best for my kids. But I would be remiss to say that pride hasn't reared its ugly head more than I like to admit.

It was such a relief when I was at a CM meeting a while back and one lady there said we need to keep things in perspective.

She pointed out that CM had no children of her own and teaching and education were her life's work and passion. She taught at a school with many other teachers and assistants who could help her. This is my own assumption, but she probably had caretakers and cooks and everything else needed to run a school as well. I doubt she was 'doing it all' like we do today. And in those days (late 19th century, early 20th) Mothers had nursemaids to care for her children while she attended to her various duties.

In other words, they weren't cooking and cleaning with a baby on one hip while they were doing their lessons like we do sometimes. They didn't have all the responsibilities and distractions that so many of us have.

So as we ponder CM's writings and our own expectations, let us consider these things and keep it real. What I've found is that my expectations are the only variable in that equation that I have complete control over.

And I'm learning to adjust them. Rather than forcing a book my daughter disliked and struggled with, I swapped it out with one she liked that was less intimidating for her. Rather than harping on the kids to be completely quiet when my husband has an important business call, I pack school up and take it outside, or go for a nature walk first then do lessons in the afternoon. And when my son has trouble sounding out an easy word, rather than drawing it out into a long uncomfortable situation until he gets it, I'm just sounding it out for him and moving on.

Adjusting my expectations is a continual process of tweaking and fine tuning that I don't think will end anytime soon. But isn't that part of the beauty of homeschooling after all? That we have the flexibility to adapt ourselves and our curriculum to our child's unique needs?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

scheduling a life

I love my schedule. I refer to it throughout the day. It's like having a road map to know what comes next. Over time, parts of my schedule become habit, and I hardly need it, but I still find satisfaction in checking something off my list, feeling productive, doing as I ought.

I have a chore chart that I keep on the fridge for me more than for the kids. I'm learning the habits of a good wife and mother. What needs to get done? Does someone need a job? I’ve got one! Sometimes I find that I just don’t know what to do next if I haven’t made it a habit. I love a visual.

I have had many school schedules; each year’s has varied a bit or a lot. I am happy with this one so far that includes three of the boys’ work on it. I was inspired by Ann Voscamp’s planning days.

I write notes as things are accomplished (or not). I can jot down what we did or where we are. When I didn’t have a visual of what we were doing, I could let days go by and not realize that we had continued to skip out on things someone didn’t want to do.

It takes me about a month into the school year to get into a groove and realize where I have overestimated in my plans and tweak things to accomodate. I always aim high and am very ambitious about what we can accomplish, but that ambition can sometimes affect how effective I am as a mother.

I can be so eager to complete my schedule that I speed through something just to move onto the next item. My kids get short changed so I can keep up with a schedule that I created in the first place! (Actually, we follow Ambleside’s schedule of Year 2 and 3.5 for the most part and a varied year 0. But I change things up a bit.)

I find myself mumbling that we are behind, rushing my children to sit and hear a fabulous story.

My oldest asks, “What do you mean when you say we’re behind?"

What do I mean?

Charlotte Mason says: “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

Can’t we just continue what doesn’t get completed tomorrow? Isn’t that one of the beauties of homeschooling? Education is a life. It is not rushing through just to check off a list. It is savoring the moments.

It is a discipline. It requires forethought and a plan. It requires getting things out the night before and referring to the schedule.

It requires diligent training of children.

It requires getting up earlier than I’d prefer and going to bed earlier than I’d like . . . if I want a smoother day.

Education is an atmosphere. Children learn from real things in real life. It’s the opportunities that God places in our lives that are the real education; which may mean I don’t get to Latin today, or we do mental math in the car, or we linger with a chapter longer than the week it is scheduled.

It means forts get made during the day,

messes are allowed for creative hands to work,

birds and lizards capture our attention,

and sometimes we just need to get outside.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living Book Review: Time of Wonder

How does one explain "living books" to someone not familiar with this cornerstone of Charlotte Mason philosophy? Sometimes it helps to put it into language people are more familiar with. Here is one of my favorite quotes about good literature, which, of course, is what a living book is.

"The classics are books that refuse to be eradicated from your mind and hide themselves in the folds of memory. A classic is a book that is never finished saying what it has to say."
Italo Calvino

We don't often think of children's literature fitting into the "classics" category. We should. C.S. Lewis wrote that any book worth reading at age 10 should be worth reading at age 50.
The books we read to our children, should bring us as much pleasure and enjoyment as they do to our kids.
Here is a perfect example.

You have probably read some, or all, of Robert McCloskey's books: One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings. This one, Time of Wonder, is my favorite.

The illustrations are beautiful, like this spread of the rain coming across the water of the bay.

The language is beautiful, like this passage about the ferns:
"And that other sound--not the beating of your heart, but the one like half a whisper-is the sound of growing ferns, pushing aside dead leaves, unrolling their fiddle-heads, slowly unfurling, slowly stretching."

We walked through a growth of ferns today and saw fiddle-heads for the first time. It made this page even more real to us.

There is shared delight with the children jumping from the rocks and into the sea. There is shared experience as the next page shows the tide out. "Just like at our beach, Mommy."

And then there is this page, when the family packs up to leave their island. This page that brought tears to my 5 year old son's eyes because he understood the emotion, the sadness that something beautiful was coming to an end.

That is a living book. There is an emotional connection to the characters, the story, the moments in the book. James has never spent a summer on an island, weathered a hurricane, or even been to Maine. But he understands the feelings of these characters because he has felt them too.

"Good literature helps me understand who I am in relation to what others experience. Far from being an escape from reality, good literature is a window into reality." Gladys Hunt

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cloudy Day Hike

The kids came up to me this morning jumping up and down with excitement saying, "Rain!! Rain!! It's Raining!!" They immediately headed for the closet where the dusty umbrellas were and headed outside to play.

Oh to be so filled with elation at the simplest things and to be able to express it so freely like a child.

It wasn't long before my daughter, who laments over any day wasted entirely indoors, came in asking me if we could go for a walk before we did school. Surprisingly, I said "sure!" It was Canadian Thanksgiving (my husband's a Canuck) and I was in the mood to get outdoors and feel the brisk fall weather. And the "rain" had already stopped; as usual, it was only a five-minute California sprinkle.

As we headed out, my son asked if we could head to the park; a well manicured patch of grass with a sand pit and jungle gym. I told him I had something else in mind and headed that way.

We crossed the main street, past the shopping center, and over to an empty lot tucked up next to the mountains where a Catholic Church is going in. I parked the stroller, unbuckled my 2yo and walked onto the empty lot full of burrs, weeds, wood chips, etc.

Before long, the kids were busy covering up holes with twigs and things to see if they would catch something in their trap before their next visit. My 2yo happily tromped around and I took pictures of what looked like just weeds.

This patch of weeds...

looked like this close up.
Click on the picture for a larger view - can you see its fruit and the rain drops on it?

And this big weed bush...

looked like this close up with the most delicate little pink flowers on it.
Reminds me of Japanese cherry blossoms...

On our way back, I headed up a fire-road that heads into the hills. I thought I'd go a little ways and head back since the baby was fussy and tired already. When I said it was time to turn around, the kids asked if we could take the trail up to the top.

I thought about the rather large scat (animal excrement) we saw a few feet back and thoughts of mountain lions started creeping into my mind. We'd been on the trail before with Daddy, but honestly, I was afraid to go.

My son said, "We came all this way to turn around?"

I consented.

It's a fear I need to get over anyway.

So we headed up the trail...

all the way to the top. Unfortunately I only had my cell phone camera with me, but isn't it beautiful? How often do we get to see clouds like that?

But Beauty is everywhere -- in white clouds against the blue, in the gray bole of the beech, the play of a kitten, the lovely flight and beautiful colouring of birds, in the hills and the valleys and the streams, in the wind-flower and t
he blossom of the broom.

What we call Nature is all Beauty and delig
ht, and the person who watches Nature closely and knows her well, like the poet Wordsworth, for example, has his Beauty Sense always active, always bringing him joy.

~Charlotte Mason

I'm so glad I said "yes" to their requests today. It brought us all joy.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Death and Nature Study

I really like the old naturalists, John Muir, John Burroughs, and John John James Audubon, who weren't afraid to approach animals, and who didn't wait for a government permit to touch a species for the purpose of study. John Muir made his own gun to shoot Sea Gulls. John Burroughs hunted, and he dug up the den of a weasel to see its burrow (although he regretted that choice). John James Audubon captured swallows and tagged them. Many people today seem to think it's okay for university students and government employees to make these kinds of choices, but they think children should learn about nature from the safety of the path, without physical contact with the plants and animals God made.

I have taught my children not to ever kill an animal, including an insect, just for fun. But for the occasional study, we have put insects under our homeschooling scalpel. We have learned more about butterflies, their names, their habits, and their habitats, then I had initially thought we would. They know a Gulf Fritillary and a Queen butterfly from a Monarch, they know a Giant Swallowtail from a Tiger Swallowtail, they can identify Grey Hairstreaks, Cloudless Sulphurs, American Ladies and Mourning Cloaks. And all without me sitting my children down for one lesson! That is may favorite kind of homeschooling.

Here is my process for mounting our butterfly specimens:

In my freezer:

After it's dead, the specimen goes in a butterfly envelope, and into a jar with damp paper towels and a little Pine Sol. It stays in the jar for two days, so the wings get soft:

After two days in the damp jar, The insect is pinned to a mounting board. The wings are spread out with insect forceps, held down with a little strip of paper on each side, and the paper (not the insect) is pinned to the mounting board. It dries this way for two days:

The finished product!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Finding Our Way

From my earliest memories, I have always loved two things: books and nature. I could not read enough as a child. I brought my book to the breakfast table and propped it against my cereal bowl to read through breakfast. I did the same thing at lunch. My dad banned books at the dinner table so that I would talk to the rest of the family. Hours spent reading was my idea of pure bliss.
I often picked books like, My Side of the Mountain, a tale of a young boy who runs away from home and lives for a year in a hollowed out tree, deep in the forest. I'd climb my own tree fort and imagine I was living off chestnut flour pancakes and wild blackberries too. I had rock and shell collections. Wandering the field next to my house, I'd get a thrill if I saw that elusive, bright yellow bird, or an orange and black butterfly. If I could l have jumped into the pages of The Swiss Family Robinson, I would have.
These two worlds, the natural world and the world of books, were the places I chose to be over any other.

It makes sense then, that I should choose to use the Charlotte Mason philosophy to teach my children. It is a way of educating that speaks to my heart, and not just to my head.

Yesterday, I sat on the couch with my boys, reading poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, singing Amazing Grace and practicing our Bible memory verse together. My 3 year old points out the letters he knows on the title page of the book, and I get share his excitement when he remembers a new letter. "That's i Mommy! I know i!"
I am there when my 5 year old figures out the pattern in counting by 2s. I sit and listen to him as he makes it all the way to 20, and then I guide him on to 30. I see the delight in his eyes that he got it!

I am there when we walk the trails at the nature center and find the acorns in "our" oak forest. I rejoice with them at their discovery.

"Fortunate are they whose children learn delight in small things."
Jerimiah Gotthelf

Every day that I am with them, doing these things, stepping out on this journey together, I am amazed and awed by how wonderful it is. I like it. I like it a lot.

But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there are things that are hard. It is hard for me to let the pile of laundry sit on the chair across from us as we do our morning reading. It is hard for me to get up an hour before everyone else so that I can get a shower, and breakfast ready and maybe pack our lunches for our day at the park. I don't like those days when it is 3 pm and I am still in my sweats with greasy hair because I can't manage to get everything, or anything, done. This life style takes discipline. And not just for them.

We are blazing a new trail. We are finding our way. Sometimes I feel like we are stuck trudging uphill. It is steep, and rough, and we are out of breath. But there is a view waiting for us at the top.
And it will be worth the climb.