Friday, February 12, 2016


About two weeks ago on a cold morning walk I stepped off the trail to watch a seasonal stream course over the rocks through a small meadow near the creek.  As I surveyed the meadow, I noticed a strange red coloration and bumpiness to tips of the dead reeds in the meadow.  As I bent closer to look, I realized what I was seeing was actually ladybugs, clustered tightly together on the top one to two inches of the reeds.

As I looked around, I realized that many of the reeds had ladybugs on them.

I got really excited when I noticed the large clusters of ladybugs under the leaves and hiding amongst the tufts of grass.  I suddenly realized that there were thousands upon thousands of ladybugs in this small meadow!

Some species of ladybugs while in their winter diapause state group together and cluster in sheltered spots until the weather warms and they can return to their aphid hunting grounds.  When it is cold, the ladybugs are completely still and sometimes covered with dew, frost or snow.

But when it warms, the ladybugs are in almost constant motion, only to be still again once it grows cold again overnight.  The motion surprised me, as it doesn't seem like there would be much purpose for it, and there is little food available for an insect that preys primarily on aphids and scale insects.

As you can probably imagine, we've been learning a lot about ladybugs around here!  We've added entries to our nature journals, read about them in the Handbook of Nature Study, and visited them many times.  We're all wondering how long they will stay and if we'll ever get to see this again.

If you'd like to see more ladybug pictures, as well as other daily life pictures, you can follow me on Instagram.  Thanks to Celeste's gentle encouragement, I've started sharing photos there and I'm enjoying it.  

Saturday, February 6, 2016

CM West :: A Beach Retreat and a Goals and Projects Update

In the interests of accountability, I'd like to share a little update with you all regarding the projects and goals I shared about a month ago.

Community Building

CM West :: A Beach Retreat is live and accepting registrations!  I'm very excited about this small, Charlotte Mason style retreat that Celeste and I are hosting in April.  We announced yesterday, and already have more than half our registration slots booked.  I think it is going to be fantastic.

Nature Study in Nevada County met for the first time in January, and we had a good turn out.  I was hoping we'd get a few more older kids, but I'm also very glad people showed up!  The next one is February 15th.

I had a decent response to the Teaching from Rest Live Online Video Discussion announcement last month and I ended up scheduling two chat times for this group because of how availability worked out.  The first sessions will meet later this month, and will continue through March and April.

I haven't moved forward with the Start Here: 20 Principles Discussion yet, but that's because I'm not planning on starting until April.  So that is still going according to plan, even though I haven't done anything!

The Shakespeare Co-op has not received the welcome I had hoped for though, as only one other family will be able to join us.  I am thankful that they are interested, but I was hoping we'd have at least one or two more families as well.  Our first meeting will be on Feb. 19th.

The First Saturday Adoration and Social is a non-starter, as Adoration doesn't actually happen on the first Saturday at my parish.  It is just listed in the bulletin, and has been for ages.  Ahem.  

Our Home
Books on the left are weeded books,
on the floor on the right are to be sorted,
and the bookshelf closer is all sorted,
the bookshelf farther is about half done.
I've also sorted a smaller one in my room, but
then there's still 3 smaller bookshelves of fiction
and one more bookshelf downstairs left.
Maybe I'm just a third of the way done?

As I mentioned in my first post, my first project was going through the books.  At this point I'm almost halfway done, and I have accumulated a prodigious pile of weeded books.  I've also realized that the real struggle is going to be in trying to figure out what to do with these books that didn't make the cut. Some are worth selling, but many will need to go to the Friends of the Library.  I'll probably try to bring a box of Catholic books to the religious education program we attend, although I feel a little awkward about it because I feel like I'm saying, "here's some books I didn't think were worth keeping on my shelves, but maybe you'll like them".  There's got to be a better way to say that!

Friday, January 29, 2016

A New Keeping Habit for a New Year

Let us observe, notebook in hand, the orderly and progressive sequence, the penetrating quality, the irresistible appeal, the unique content of Divine teaching [...] Let us read, not for our profiting, though that will come, but for love of that knowledge which is better than thousands of gold and silver. - Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education

This year I've begun a new way of keeping.  In the morning I sit with The Gospel of John and The Catena Aurea and copy a small section of the Gospel.  Then I read the commentary and write a short narration of what I read.  The Catena Aurea (The Golden Chain), was complied by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century then translated into English by Blessed John Henry Newman in 1841.  It contains excerpts from the writings of over eighty church fathers, and arranged such that it feels like I am eavesdropping on a learned discourse in Heaven.  I by no means understand everything I am reading, but it is a marvelous gift to sit with the Church Fathers in the morning and slowly contemplate the Gospel.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Mother's Morning Walk

I made a few little changes to my Average Daily Chart at the beginning of the year.  I didn't make any drastic changes, just a few little adjustments to the flow of our day to try and make things even better.  But with kids being sick and a few days out of town, we've had a rough start to the year, and I'm still in the testing and adjusting stage with most of the changes.

Heading to the trail
One change, however, has been wonderful.  I've started taking a 15-20 minute walk by myself each morning before Morning Time begins.

The trail
I can vividly remember a time when I heard a mom with older kids remark that she was taking a walk by herself each day after lunch, leaving her kids home to clean up after the meal.  At the time I couldn't imagine being able to do that...  and now, here I am, almost ten years later, leaving the breakfast clean-up in Emma (13) and Nathan's (7) capable hands.  Emma is also tasked with dressing her two year old sister, and Justin, my 4 year old, is supposed to get dressed, play quietly, and not be a nuisance while I'm gone.  Gregory (10) does some independent work like practicing the piano and typing, and reviewing geography.

The trail junction.  This tree dropped in a early snow storm a few years ago and we left it there to discourage people exploring with ATVs.
There's a not insignificant part of me that feels guilty for not taking the kids with me, and feels guilty for enjoying the solitude and the beauty of the woods without making the effort to bring them with me.

Our recent rain have turned this portion of the trail into a small seasonal creek.
A good mom would take everyone, wouldn't she?  Everyone needs some fresh air and exercise to start off the day!

And then swells into a large puddle that requires some cross country travel or wading.  The sign on the tree says, "No Prospecting, Panning, Sluicing, Dredging, Sniping, or Metal Detecting"  This is gold country, after all, and this section of the creek is claimed and occasionally worked.
But if I bring everyone, the walk balloons into an expedition.  The two minutes it takes me to change my shoes and grab a jacket becomes at least 10, if not 15.  Someone doesn't want to wear that jacket.  Someone wants to bring a large stick and accidentally whacks someone else with it.  Someone starts crying.  Someone wants to be held.  Someone doesn't want to go in the stroller.  Someone else does want to go into the stroller, which makes the first child want to go in too.

Amazing to think this was the dry creek bed of late September!  I wonder what happened to all the banana slugs.
Much of the child-wrangling energy I have is expended getting out the door, getting everyone pointed in the same direction, and then getting everyone home again.  What was supposed to be short, restful, and invigorating becomes long, exhausting, and draining.  Most of the children will come home in good spirits, but there will be one or two who will not be, and will require additional soothing and care before they are ready to be content again.  I'm willing to do it once a week for our nature walk, but every day?

In a few months, this meadow will be a wonderful place to find wildflowers.

And so I go by myself.

The shortcut back to our property, can you see the house just peeking through the trees?

And I come back refreshed and invigorated and I'm much more able to be present and cheerful all day long.


But I still feel a little guilty.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Looking Ahead at 2016

I feel a little conflicted about sharing my goals and projects for 2016.  I suppose it is largely pride that holds me back, the fear of looking like an idiot if I manage to do very little of what I set out to do.  But in an effort to keep that pride in check, I'm going to share this anyway.  My goals and projects fall largely into two areas, community building and our home.

I hadn't planned on choosing a word for 2016.  But as I was praying in Adoration on Sunday, I knew I had a word for the year anyway.  Something similar happened to me in 2013, when the word was Hospitality.  And that was the year when I had my hardest pregnancy and I learned a lot about what hospitality is and isn't, and about how to accept hospitality and ask for hospitality, and how to handle accepting hospitality only to find that the well intentioned people don't follow through.  There was a lot of good growth (and, really, I'm still processing some of the things that happened that year), but it certainly wasn't what I expected at all.

So with that background, I'm feeling some trepidation about my word for this year.  The word is Persistence.   So as you read through these goals and projects below, keep that word in mind, and perhaps say a little prayer for me.  Something tells me I might need it.

Community Building

Nature Study in Nevada County - I'm starting a monthly nature study group at a local nature reserve.  I've already started to publicize it, it'll be on the third Monday of each month.  I've also started a Yahoo group to help organize it.  I'm committing to going each month, rain or shine, for all of 2016.  My hope is by the end of the year that there will be 12 people on the Yahoo group and at least 4-5 families showing up each week.  But frankly, I'll be thrilled if even one other family shows up each month.

Teaching from Rest Live Online Video Discussion - I want to facilitate a three month study of Sarah Mackenzie's Teaching from Rest, using Google Hangouts or Skype.  I'm hoping to do this with people who live at least near-ish to me, so there's the possibility that we could meet in person.  I hope to start this in February.  I don't know if I'll even be able to get this off the ground, but I'm hoping I can find at least two to three people who will commit to it.  If you're interested, let me know!

Start Here: 20 Principles Live Online Video Discussion - In the same vein as above, using Brandy's 20 Principles study guide.  I'm hoping to start this in April or May.  I think doing a group like this could be really great for people like me who live rurally and just can't get enough people together to have a discussion group locally.  It could be a great way to still have that immediacy of conversation but without the driving and child care hassles.  Again, if you're interested, let me know!

Charlotte Mason Conference - This has proved more challenging than I expected, back when I volunteered at the end of the Seattle conference to head up a conference in Northern CA for fall of 2016.  Suffice to say, there are still plans in the works, but it is looking like there will be a California conference in Southern CA in the summer rather than one in Northern CA in the fall.

Shakespeare Co-op - I held a Shakespeare co-op at my house in the fall which culminated in the performance of an abridged version of The Tempest.  It was a success, and I am planning on doing something similar in the spring and perhaps the fall as well, if I can get people interested in coming out here.

First Saturday Adoration and Social - Years ago I read a wonderful book called A Haystack Full of Needles and one of her suggestions was setting up a time where teens (and parents) could be at Adoration together for an hour, then go to a local ice cream shop or restaurant for some social time.  I filed that away, and now I'm ready to bring it out and dust it off as we have a teenager and our youngest can be put to bed without my intervention.  I expect to start this in February.

Our Home

Due to various issues and circumstances such as pack rat tendencies, difficulty in saying no, lack of time and mental energy to tackle dealing with possessions and the like, we've dug ourselves into a position where we just have Too Much Stuff.  I read Marie Kondo's book over the summer and it was a big help.  (Yes, some of it is decidedly odd, but I don't have to thank my socks to still find a lot of usefulness in her book and methods)  And perhaps more importantly, my husband read Kondo's book over the summer and is on board.  I've since gone through everyone's clothes as well as all the hand me down clothes in storage and drastically reduced what we have.  And it feels great.  I'm going to go through the rest of the house in 2016.  Next up, books!  

This summer I want to revamp our study/school room.  Right now the school age kids and I all have individual desks, but the kids use them far more for piling than for working.  We also are storing the craft supplies on a different floor of our house, which is not working well at all.  The other problem is that my children prefer to create things in three dimensions - I'm not drowning in paper over here, I'm drowning in popsicle stick catapults and airplanes, cars made from wood and plastic lids, balls of yarn, and various findings and salvagings that are just waiting for inspiration to strike.

We also need to redo our oldest daughter's room to put in trim (we were owner builders, so most of the house does not have trim, as we didn't need trim to move in.  But once we moved in, we largely stopped working on the house because we had been living and breathing working on the house for two years and needed a break.  But here we are, six years later...  and, well, I would really like trim!) We also need to make room for her younger sister, who is currently in a porta-crib in our bedroom.  That'll be a summer project too.

And then in the fall we're going to continue the trim project, this time in the hearth room.  Yay!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Considering 2015

2015 was a transitional year for me.  I started the year incredibly sleep deprived and feeling like I was just barely hanging on, and I'm finishing the year feeling healthy, strong, and reasonably on top of things.

So, what changed?

1.  A friend recommended The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight and I implemented it.  Within a short period my youngest (then 15 months old) was sleeping through the night and after some catching up, I felt so much better!

2.  I finally went completely gluten-free.  Since March of 2013 the only gluten I ate was whole wheat (mostly sourdough) breads and such and that helped with my hip pain and inflammation quite a bit.  But while my husband was doing a Whole 30 in March, I decided to cut out all gluten too and I noticed a huge improvement in my inflammation level and energy.

3.  I worked through Mystie's absolutely excellent Simplified Organization course.  The combination of mindset changes and routines that I set up through that course have made our lives run so much more smoothly and with so much less stress and confusion.  It was so worthwhile!  If you are struggling with balancing the todo's with the people in front of you, or figuring out how to establish good routines, or managing all the stuff and activity that is part of our busy modern lives, I recommend taking a look at this course.  Really, it has changed my life, and I am looking forward to teaching these skills to my children too.  I'm planning on working through Work the Plan this year to refine and improve my routines.

4.  My husband and I started working together to give ourselves some regular time off.  Each month we get to have one day off (we leave after breakfast and come home by dinner) and once a year we get to go to a conference or retreat.  This has been huge for me.  My introverted self has needed this space and time away to think and plan and recharge, and having it has made a world of difference.

5.  My husband helped me make the connection between a drop in energy and the time of year, and I finally got a therapy light.  Come November I was starting to feel really tired in the early afternoon and having trouble making it through the middle of the day.  I remembered feeling this way every year, but attributed it to doing too much in the beginning of the school year and wearing myself out.  And while there's probably an element of truth in this, I think a light would have been a big help.  As it is, I've had it for about a month and the only day where I felt any of that middle of the day fatigue and the desire to curl up in a little ball with a pillow over my head was the day when I didn't sit by the light for 15-20 minutes that morning.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Our Advent

Ah, here we are, the day before the fourth Sunday of Advent.  How did we get here already?

This is our ninth year of celebrating Advent, and it is so wonderful to reach a point where Advent and our traditions feel like home.  I usually add one or two new things each year to try in our family, but this year we did not add anything new.  It is a great comfort to see how this steady growth of thoughtful traditions has enriched our family life over the years, and has created many warm and wonderful memories.  

Some of our traditions include:

  • Homemade beeswax Advent Candles
  • Making chocolates for the Feast of St. Nicholas
  • Decorating the house with lights on the Feast of St. Lucia
  • Bringing down the great big box of Christmas books to read and enjoy during Advent and Christmas
  • The Jesse Tree
  • Handel's Messiah, in small sections using Cindy's guide
  • Praying and singing to mark the O Antiphons
  • The St. Andrew Christmas Anticipation Prayer (Thank you, Celeste, for your lovely prayer card)
  • Mexican hot chocolate on (or near *ahem*) on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe
I hope you and your family are having a lovely Advent!