Packing up a House

Well, I was feeling twinges of guilt about packing up (nearly) all the children’s toys, but no more.

I sat next to Melody for a huge chunk of time yesterday afternoon while she made up an entire fantasy with…

(…wait for it…..)

…A cribbage board.
And its little colored pegs.

And we’re talking epic fantasy here.  At one point she pulled her brother in, occasionally giving him lines to say for a character, but mostly just holding him in thrall with the perilous adventures and consuming passions of nine one-inch sticks of plastic.

Opening 2010. Lots going on.

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written here.

A lot’s been going on, but I’ve waited because none of it “stable” enough for me to write about it; to set in stone as “reality.”

But now I figure if I wait till it’s all at that level I might not remember enough to record a bunch of the neat things that God has provided recently.

While Jay was home over the holidays we made a major effort to pull the house together and (since then) to maintain it on a daily basis.  Two weeks now we’ve maintained the house at what I would call a company-ready level. (A *major* accomplishment for us.)

We have two or three “clean-up sessions” a day: one after breakfast, a sweep somewhere between lunch and Jay coming home and sometimes a third before bedtime.  The kids are getting a little better at responding to the daily (small) tidying, but they’re still not fully on board when it comes to the bigger work days (e.g., when there are 6 baskets of laundry to fold and put away).

They are nearly perfect on their morning staples though: beds made, breakfast cleared, jammies away after getting dressed.  I’m relieved at least one set of jobs is becoming automatic.  I use it as hope for the future, that there will come a time when even more things will happen un- (or minimally-) prompted.

A few days before the end of the year Jay initiated family bible reading.

Our church is following the M’Chayne bible-in-a-year reading plan for the second time this year, and Jay began before the year ended with the assignments for those days.  We read two chapters a day “privately” and two Jay reads aloud to everyone.

It’s a total of four chapters a day, a pace I’ve never been able to maintain before, but reading two per morning and snuggling the kids a bit later while Jay reads us the rest; that’s been quite comfortable.  Morning reading works especially well for us because the children are already inclined to be still and snuggly when they first wake, and having scripture be one of the first things they hear in the day seems very appropriate.

Jay started reading to us from the version he reads from (ESV) but now we’re reading from the NIrV, an adaptation of the NIV to a 3rd-grade reading level.

At the beginning of the year I pulled out my cardfile boxes (the only chore system I’ve ever attempted/maintained with a measure of success) and set it up between what I remembered the “guidelines” being and what I felt I needed to maintain.

The original system (that I maintained between Melody’s and Elisha’s births) divided card color based on chore frequency (yellow was daily, blue weekly, green monthly, etc.).  My current system is divided by assignment, and it works very well for us, allowing for a single (mom-maintained) box that everyone–sans Jay– can work from: Blue are mom’s jobs, yellow the kids and pink are school.

Frequency is listed on the top right corner, and as each job is completed (or day ended) the cards are moved to the next day that assignment is scheduled for, allowing for a perpetually renewed to-do list that requires no additional set up on the day of working.

This in intensely useful in two ways:

  • I don’t have to discover/find/remember what needs to be done in a particular day; it’s already laid out.
    • The biggest thing I learned form my exercise in scheduling last year is that anything already settled doesn’t require further energy from me.
  • I know when I’m *DONE*
    • Everybody reading this knows that housework is never finished, that there is always more to do, and if I ever feel discouraged “at home” it is usually for that reason.  With this system I know that I’ve already planned for the proper time/intervals to accomplish everything that needs to be done, so I only need to wait until the next assigned day comes around.

It was toward the end of our first full week of maintaining this system (and the rest of the house, as I mentioned before; the card system helped with that), that I saw some unexpected maturity bumps (as in, leveling up) in both Melody and me.

Actually, all the children seem more level and “secure” to me, and I’ve had (overall) more patience and perspective in parenting as we’ve been closing our days.  There are more factors and elements than the cardfile, of course, but having the clear plan to work with each morning has helped all of those areas.  I pray now that this will continue to be an effective tool.

~ ~ ~

Jay put Elisha in underwear all day his last several days at home, hoping the experience would motivate Elisha to use the toilet more.  It didn’t.

This week (Tuesday, actually) I asked Elisha in some exasperation if he wasn’t ready to leave diapers behind.  He said no, and I asked when he would be ready.

“In a week,” he said matter-of-factly.

Staying calm I carefully asked if he was ready to put his last diaper day on the calendar and he agreed.  So we are looking at January 11 being special to Elisha and Natasha both. (I’m very thankful we don’t have many places to go that week. Lord-willing we’ll have several days to solidify things before church and the busier following week.)

January 11 is special to Natasha because she gets both her birthday and party on the same day.

I’m thankful because she agreed peacefully to a very small party (few people) and that excites me as a chance to do interesting stuff (i.e., slightly complicated stuff) with a smaller group, and I think that will make for a more memorable party.

I “picked up” my novel again for the first time in hmmm, 3 months? and cut over 12,000 words in the first go.  I’ve got another perspective on the story and hope working it into reality will both make it better and bring down the word-count significantly.

Just now those words seem like an, “I’ll eat less and exercise more” resolution in its vague meaninglessness, but I’ll try to refine it as I clarify for myself what they look like in reality.

Today was the first in a series of planning meetings for the 2010 Care Net Sonshine Tea that Mom and I co-chaired last year.

We’ve both committed to lead again this year, hoping before we’re done to form a template for whomever comes after us.

Also this week the girls re-started ballet.

Natasha is more enmeshed than ever, moving gracefully through the day (often with sweeping arm-movements), but Melody indicated she might want out.

It was in a tired-but-lucid moment, and I’m praying about how to handle the question.  I’m beginning to sense the beginning of  a desire to differentiate from her sister– something that has not been very strong up to this point.  I want to support her in that (I sometimes imagine I’m a better parent to Melody than Natasha, having grown up the middle kid), but I don’t want her to leave ballet too soon.

And I had my first ESL (English as a second language) class with the two homeschool moms in my group who asked me in December to teach them.

This was amazing, and I wonder if this is the beginning of the more meaningful friendships with women I’ve been praying for.

In all the “class” was simply perfect.  No matter what I talked about it was useful and of relevance.  These are two smart women fluent enough in English to converse with and listen to me, but new enough that specialized words (bias, paraphrase, paradox, extrapolate) still need explanation.

This resulted in a situation where my tendency to fill most of the conversation (and fill it with extensive–if relevant– tangents covering all manner of life and experience) was perfectly suited for the setting.  I pray this interaction continues to be useful and mutually encouraging.

Melody seems to be picking up her interest in reading.

Earlier this week she read to Elisha a book Natasha read to her. Some of it might have been memorized, but we’d just gotten it from the library and if she can recite after one or two hearings she’s a different kind of genius.

Even so, she used her finger under the words with perfect one-to-one correlation, so at lest some of it was word recognition. I’m very excited for her.

Really, I think I was more excited than she was.  My hanging over her shoulder seemed to unnerve her and she asked what a particular line said before she finished the page.

She’s been watching me giving Natasha spelling tests and has asked for her own.  I think we’ll be starting simple 3-letter words on Monday.

This is what I meant by a maturity bump– she seems becoming aware of the world outside herself and beginning to look for her place in it.  By turns I see in her a desire to fit in, stand out, be independent and be catered to.  This is why I’m moving very slowly (for me) in relation to the question about ballet; she’s still learning her own mind, and I want to let it be her mind that is expressed in the conclusion we reach.

In Value Village last night Natasha was cooing over the horse coloring book we found, burbling about the pictures she was going to color first, when a subdued Melody admitted, “I like horses too.” Natasha expressed genuine surprise. “I thought you just liked kittens!” “I didn’t learn I liked horses till just now.  I’m still learning things about myself.” She sounded defensive and confused.

I assured her it was just fine to continue learning new things about one’s self, and that I’m still learning things about myself too.  She seemed surprised and relieved at this and visibly relaxed.

Another first with Melody was a discussion about her appearance, where I was able to tell her exactly what I find beautiful about her and that seemed to be very effective– not to mention God’s good timing.  (I’ve always been reluctant to complement one child at a time– about the same thing– and to complement everyone at the same time, well, I never trusted that kind of complement, since I couldn’t be sure if it came out of fairness rather than full truth.)

And Melody was the first one up so we had a very sweet and meaningful time together where I could focus just on her.

SO there you have it.  The last couple weeks, basically, but mostly the last three days.

Can’t promise I’ll do better with posting in future, but I know I don’t want to forget these steps.  God’s good faithfulness is beyond words.

~ ~ ~

Last Sunday the topic under discussion was Psalm 1.  The question was offered, What is *BLESSING*?

Most answers thrown out were along the lines of “happy” “good” and variations on that theme, sometimes with material implications.

When I hear “blessing” the word seems more like being wrapped in a huge blanket.

It’s nothing small enough to hand to someone or wrap in another single word.

After a few minutes listening I couldn’t sit quiet any more and burst out, “It’s so much more than something you feel or get!”

I felt an unexpected surge of emotion and felt a desperate need to say more; to say something that had meaning to more than me.  My mind was swirling with the hugeness of what God has given me– the tangible, yes, but so much ineffable beyond that that the physical things are just an outward manifestation of.

I knew I didn’t have much time and I fought to keep the emotion out of my voice as I tried to hold the floor long enough for my words to reach the essence of my thought.  I finally lost the first battle as I won the second: “Have you ever had the feeling like falling back into a ball pit and being completely buried?”

You know, those play places with the bins of light, colorful balls are piled in an area almost deep enough to swim in. At least a few people seemed to know what I was talking about.

That‘s what it feels like God is doing for me.  It continually feels unreal; how so many things just work, how the connections happen, and the *joy* that permeates it all.

“How can I keep from singing?”

Scaling Back

We are dropping grammar and spelling for now.

I’ve decided it’s too soon to really push those for Natasha, and I expect regular copy work to open those topics in a more complete and natural way than I’ve yet come up with on my own.

Math continues to be insanely easy for Natasha, but has just begun to be a bit of a challenge for Melody.  It’s interesting: I decided to use one book for both girls, thinking it would simplify my (teaching) life to have them at the same level, but even in the same book they are clearly not at the same level.

I really am teaching everything twice.

But it was really neat to watch Melody *get* something this evening.  That was delightful.  And Natasha’s enjoying her sense of mastery, and the feeling (different from summer) that this is *real* school now.

I’ve tried to tell her that all our reading is part of school, but she wants *math.*  “It’s exciting,” she said, with her I’m-being-so-honest-I’m-embarrassed laugh.

From an e-mail I recently sent:

At home our current issues are self-control and deciding whether my not-planning-enough-ahead absolves certain poor behaviors, and, if so, how much.


We’ve started school now, and the kids love it so far.  The challenging thing there is figuring out the right amount of stuff to fill each slot, and denying myself (so completely) to stay on-track with the schedule God game me to balance the children.

They love the regular change of activity and increased interaction with Mama.  I grow weary of my continual-on, but am trying to think less of me.

It’s a slow process, but Lord-willing I’ll mature.


Now I’m using my new laptop.

Just now I’m actually using in the children’s room, with the illuminated keyboard (*yes* it’s everything I hoped!).

Starting to input my library, starting with the books I want to pack away– so that I can reclaim the playroom as a tangible mark of my progress.

I’m going soon to have to decide how much poetry to hang on to, and where to put it. For me it’s always been more about browsing than anything purposeful, so till now I’ve always kept it out, knowing it will be out of mind as soon as it’s out of sight…

Had a successful visit to FMN’s 1/2-off children’s sale.  Got a stack of historical novels that (once these kids are asleep) I plan to divide by years of the cycling 4-years of history plan.

I also picked up a number of YA and folktales for my own purposes, and I’m less sure how best to use/access them.  I’ll tackle that one once the school books are entered and packed away.

We have a Name

Untangling Elementary School

For Elisha we call it Untangling Preschool.

I’d been trying to decide on a name for our homeschool that both wasn’t cliché and that Jay could agree with.

I wanted to have something I could put on a little ID card for each of the girls, and to back up my request for a teacher’s discount, if they wouldn’t take my word for it–though this latter issue seems less-applicable so far; no one has asked for an ID yet.

So this was fun– being both a name and an image and an action.  Not to mention sort of my trademark (in a small way).

Anyway, it’s fun to have an identity of sorts for this growing project called school.

Getting Ready for Homeschool, 2009

We’ve just about finished ordering everything for school this fall.

The girls are very excited.  They’ve asked if we can start early.

Elisha has no clue, and I’m cool with that.  I’ve found a pre-school workbook (50-cents) that we’ll save for him for next year when, as a 4-year-old, he’ll actually be able to do something with it.

For now I expect he’ll do preschool stuff in whatever room we’re working in or else go play/read to himself like he already does when the girls are ignoring him.

At this time we’re planning to use the Tapestry of Grace curriculum with the Well-Trained Mind as another resource for a sort of classical approach in our organizing structure.

Other than Language Arts (Melody’s still learning how to read, and I’ll be requiring more handwriting from Natasha this year) I expect the girls will be using the same teaching time as a class of two.

Jay picked out the Science and thinks he may want to teach the math, and I am wrestling again with how many “extracurriculars” to include.

And by this I do not yet mean any outside-the-home extras.  I mean non-core stuff like Spanish/French, drawing, and musical instruments.  I have resources for any and all of these, I just have to learn where they’d belong.

I have a measure of ability and enjoyment in all of these, and would like to share them with my kids (not a little because that would give me more time with them too), but I know that they could wait, too.

I have a funny little list in my homeschool notebook (apparently reading is such a *given* it didn’t even make the list):

Important to Mother

  • Writing and speaking coherently
  • Understanding, loving music

Important to Daddy

  • Math
  • Science

Important Because They’re Important

  • Study of the Word
  • Study of History

See as Beneficial (if we can fit them in)

  • Foreign language
  • Drawing
  • Musical instrument

~ ~ ~

And that’s the outline of where we’re starting from this year.

I made a little chart to compare what “year” we’d be at for each of the kids’ schooling, and how old they’d be for each pass through the material.

Tapestry of Grace, if you didn’t follow the link, follows a 4-year cycle through history, repeating three times over the 12 traditional years of school, increasing in depth as the children mature.  The progression of time is the organizing structure for the curriculum, with a focus on philosophies and personalities and how they shaped history.

After making the chart I realized I’d be 45 by the time Elisha finished high school (yes, with this system I’d expect to be teaching them through high school), and I felt like writing a letter to my 45-year-old self, begging me to remember I’m not making any of these plans out of any imagined certainty or revealed wisdom, but only doing the best I can do with the understanding I currently have.

You see, anytime I see such farsighted “certainty” (Hi, I’ve decided what I’m going to do for the next 15 years), I get uncomfortable, but at the same time I can only make decisions based on the information I have now.

So here I go.

On-the-road Entertainment

I can nearly recite all of Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child, except for the bit about his journey to the Limpopo.

My favorite bit is, The next day, when there was nothing left of the equinoxes (for the procession had proceeded according to precedent)…

I had the entertainment of reciting long chucks of it to my kids while we waited in line at Sam’s Club last week (I’ll admit I was watching the other choppers to see if they noticed my impressive feat), and the delight of having Natasha correct my accuracy on a few points and recite with me until she was sure I’d gotten back into the way of it.

They all prefer to listen, and I like the idea that I’m “normalizing” for them the acquisition of large amounts of material.  We aren’t making an effort now, but come August, I hope to line up a system of regular memorization.

What kind of nonsense…

Natasha received a delightful word-toy that allows kids to build their own sentences out of phrases (parts of speech color-coded, for the most part).

What I now need to figure out is how to teach the difference between sentances that are nonsense because of content, and sentances that have no sense because they don’t contain a noun or a verb.

Story Prompts (#1)

I have this game I bought a couple years ago to use for the storytelling class I was developing at the time.

Looking for something new to do with the girls (I’m experimenting with letting Melody skip naps) I pulled it out and tried on the fly to see if I could adapt it to their level.

The gist of it is to tell a story using the elements shown on your dealt cards to reach the ending written on your “happily ever after” card.  Complicated to explain, simple enough to do.  With a little practice.

Anyway, I only got so far as to say it’s about telling a story from a card and laying out three “place” cards as examples when Natasha said, “A forest!  I have a story for that one!”  And Melody picked up the Island and said, “I can tell a story from this one!”

So I put away the other cards and came to the computer to write down what they told me.

I couldn’t type nearly fast enough; certainly not enough to catch the inflection and pauses that (seriously!) added so much to the basic stories their words expressed.  But it was only our first time, so I hope we’ll both get better at this.

Natasha’s story:

Once upon a time there was a princess and one day her father who had a beard wanted her to go to the forest.

Now, the princess didn’t quite want to go, but her father insisted because he wanted her to go so she had to go.  But because it was a dangerous place ….he made a good solution they would both go to the forest.

Still the king would protect.

They all loved their educational ride through the forest and one day they soon died from a very bad forest fire from a dragon that burned the whole huge forest.

Melody’s story:

Once upon a time there was a king, an island, who wanted his queen to go to the dangerous land of the deep, deep, deep stream of futures.  And there’s trolls in the water.

So the king went himself and killed all the trolls and then he walked silently through the water until he came to his home again.

The end.

“That’s the short story,” she finished, in her normal voice.