Thursday, April 30, 2015

Homeschool Planning Thoughts after the Feast of Our Lady of Good Counsel, 2015 Edition

This is the third year I've prayed the Novena in honor of Our Lady of Good Counsel, asking specifically for wisdom and guidance as I consider our next school year.   Each year I've found this an excellent and clarifying experience, and a wonderful way to kick of the homeschool planning season.  

Last year, my revelations centered around how much I had misunderstood what I had learned from my first Novena.  I didn't really discuss how I was going to move forward, largely because I didn't know at the time.  I wanted to write a post about my decisions, but it never happened.  The closest I came was this, written last November.  This year has been a tough one for me as a person, and it hasn't left much time for things like blogging.  The most relevant aspect of my reflections is that I decided to use Ambleside Online for our course of study, substituting or combining only when absolutely necessary. 

As much as I wanted to love Ambleside Online and to embrace it fully, I also had to come to terms with the fact that it is a very Protestant curriculum using some very Protestant materials.  Some books can be easily substituted wholesale.  Other books are trickier to deal with, as I consider issues of bias, the omission of factual material, and even outright erroneous statements.  I also have a BA in History, which can be frustrating when trying to work with historical materials written for children.  I know there's more to the story, and that events and motivations are being vastly simplified.  And sometimes I think the way the events are being described serves the author's agenda far more than promoting a greater understanding of the issues at hand.  

There's a fallacy that says that the closer the author is to the time period he writes about, the more true what he's writing is going to be.  So for example, Bede writing in the early 7th Century about the 5th Century will be more accurate that someone writing about that time period later.  Or Scott, writing in the early 1800's, is going to have a better idea of the 12th Century than someone writing about that time period today.  Or even that Chaucer, writing stories for people of his own day, is going to be able to accurately describe what an entire nation or class of people thought and felt at that time period.  Any piece of writing is going to have a bias - it is impossible to write as a human being and not bring some piece of yourself to what you are writing - and it is vitally important in the study of history in particular to be aware of the author's bias.  Is the author writing what he is writing because it fits his narrative of events?  Is he highlighting something about a group of people because it is a nascent component of something he holds true about those people in the author's time period?

Perhaps the best thing to say at this point is that the study of history is complicated.  We can never know what really happened, or exactly why certain people and groups of people decided to do the things they did.  And even if we read what they wrote, we don't know that they are being entirely truthful in their reflections, or that they even really understand their own motivations.  How often do I completely understand my own motivations for my actions?  

And in all this, I have to consider my children.  As children.  But also as people who are growing into adults, adults who hopefully can weigh and consider and contemplate.  I also have to consider my highest goal in our home, namely to grow our family in Wisdom and Virtue by exposing ourselves abundantly to the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.  

Does this mean I wouldn't read Ivanhoe with my children again, or Robin Hood?  Books that supposedly take place in the 12th Century, but in some ways have just as much to say about attitudes and perceptions in the 19th Century as they do about the 12th?  No, absolutely not.  But to read book after book after book with a similar bias and worldview - a worldview I find flawed and incomplete - risks my highest goal for my family.  What are we internalizing when we read work after work in that same worldview?  How can we not help but to at least partially internalize that worldview, even if it is at least somewhat at odds with Truth, Goodness, and Beauty?

And this, finally, leads me to my greatest revelation in this recent time of prayer.  Ambleside Online is not THE Charlotte Mason course of study.  It may be the 800 pound gorilla of Charlotte Mason booklists, but it is not the only way to implement Charlotte Mason's Philosophy of Education.  And while I have no intention of abandoning Ambleside Online, I do intend to abandon the perspective that to follow Ambleside Online to the letter is the only way to implement a Charlotte Mason curriculum.  That if I don't follow Ambleside Online to the T it means there is something lacking in me, or that I can't cut it as a Charlotte Mason educator.  That if I use more recent materials I am somehow diminishing my children's education.  And I know none of these perspectives are officially part of Ambleside Online, but I know they are ones that I have internalized, and ones that I feel are present in the Ambleside Online community to varying degrees.

And with this revelation, I am considering our next year in a new light.  I'm going to use the framework of Ambleside, and many of the books, but I'm going to be substituting more.  In particular, Year 8 is going to get some substantial changes.  I am also going to read through Charlotte Mason's Volume 6 again, and perhaps the Living Page again as well.  There's much to consider and contemplate, but I no longer feel anxious.  I feel like I am seeing a way forward, one that will help my family to grow in Wisdom and Virtue as we consider the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

And Sometimes the Problem is Me

When I'm dealing with these baby sleep issues, it is easy for me to look at my baby and think, "What is wrong with you?  Why won't you sleep??" but in this case I think the real problem is me.

After my blog post from last week and a "here's what you gotta do" conversation with another mom who I really respect, I realized I needed to expand my toolbox.  It is so easy for me to hunker down and think, "oh well, I guess I just have to suffer" instead of trying to figure out how to improve the situation.  I decided to buy a book I had seen mentioned last summer, one that seemed gentler than a straight cry it out approach, but hopefully more helpful than the attachment parenting type books I had read before.  (The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight, in case you're wondering)

I read through the first chapters and the chapter about Hannah's age group, and felt hopeful.  Finally some other tools!  Finally some different strategies!  Here was something I could try where I didn't have to just plunk her in the crib and walk away, but I also didn't have to respond to every little whimper with nursing or cuddling either.

I won't go into all the details, but in a week and a half we've gone from Hannah waking at least three or four times a night to barely waking at all.  She's napping well, and she's also happier and less fussy during the day too.  And there's been remarkably little crying, and she gets happy in the evenings when I get her ready for bed and talk about night-night with her blankies.  In just a couple nights, she slept through the night two nights in a row.  It hasn't been perfect - she didn't for the next three nights - but she did again last night.

I really feel like we've turned a corner and we're heading in the right direction.  Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks after all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Stupid Tired

I was catching up on some financial paperwork yesterday by reconciling a couple months worth of statements from a credit card account.  I was absolutely astonished when I realized that we had almost $30 of interest charged on that account in February.  I quickly looked to make sure that I hadn't somehow missed a payment...  but no, I had paid the card on time.  I checked the following month and the previous month, and they both had on time payments, plus another $20 worth of interest paid.  What on earth did I do?  Was there some mistake?

After a little more digging, I realized that somehow I had only paid 2/3 of February's credit card balance.  We always pay our balances in full, and I always do so by clicking the "pay statement balance" button on the bank website.  How did I somehow change this amount?  How did I not notice this?

I'm noticing more and more strange things like this.  Things put in strange places, words that just can't come to mind, ending up in places in my house, holding things that don't make sense and not knowing why...  but what is far worse are the times when I blow pass the exit I was supposed to take, or miss a turn to a place I know well.  I'm trying to drive slowly and to never tailgate because I know my reaction time is not ideal... but can I guarantee that I'm always remembering to do so?  And what about those times when I find myself creeping up on the car in front of me because I've become inattentive?

Last night was a pretty average night.  I nursed Hannah, then put her in the crib at about 9:30.  She woke at about 11, then I nursed her and brought her into bed with me.  She was awake again at about 1, then 3, then 5, then up with me at 7.  She's 16 months old.  She slept better when she was four months old, and then it gradually got worse until it settled into this sort of pattern in October or November.  Some nights are better, it might only be two or three times...  but then other nights are worse.

Do you see a problem here?

I've come to realize that even though I have five children, I never really learned how to handle infant sleep.  Not that they're all the same, but my strategy has long been to suffer and wait it out.  And eventually they do learn to go to sleep alone, and to sleep through the night.  Some learned at around 16 months, and others took until 2 or even two and a half.  We're not one of those families where all the kids are in and out of bed with us all night, or up half the night asking for a glass of water.  Everyone else sleeps in their own bed and sleeps through the night without any hassles.  Everyone but the baby toddler.

But you know what?  I'm tired.  Really, really tired.  I'm not sure I have it in me to wait it out again. I'm not as young as I used to be, and maybe that's part of the problem.  But I'm also really stretched right now too, far more stretched when there were just little people around.  Right now I can go from a conversation about the probabilities of extraterrestrial life and if such life would have a soul to the latest and greatest plans for the drawbridge outside to "Mom, can I have a snack?" to "Mom, will you read me a story?" to "Ahhh!" with little arms waving in the air.

All in about three minutes.

And while I'm trying to make dinner.  I think.  At least that's what it looks like, because there are veggies everywhere and I'm holding a knife.  But I have to search my mind pretty hard to try and remember what exactly it was I was doing.  Or making.  And I've become too tired to try and focus enough to follow a recipe most nights.  I just cook by instinct.  Thankfully I've been cooking long enough that my instincts are pretty decent.  And people are still eating and complementing me on their dinners, so that's a plus.

Ages and ages ago, back when our thirteen year old was a wee little one who never wanted to nap or sleep at night, I read a lot of Dr. Sears.  And I'm starting to think that perhaps that was a mistake.  I know they had a gaggle of kids - more than me, if I remember correctly - but somehow I can't help to think that I've been led astray.  Or at least my memory of those books has led me astray? Entirely possible.

But I looked at his site a little while back, and I was struck by how much fear-mongering there is in what I was reading.  Do these things, or BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN!  Subtle bad things that you won't notice or realize until it is TOO LATE!  I'm simplifying and exaggerating, but nonetheless...  my impression of what I was reading is vastly different as a mother with thirteen years experience than that brand new mom over a decade ago.

And I'm left wondering...  perhaps there are subtle bad things that can happen to a child if you don't co-sleep and nurse all night long on demand and all that sort of thing.  But aren't there bad things that can happen to my marriage because I'm so tired all the time?  Bad things that can happen in my relationships with my other children, because I'm forgetful and short tempered and inattentive and sometimes just can't get up the nerve to gather all of those energetic little bodies together and try to do what I'm supposed to do with them?  (And what was that anyway??)  And what about all these little lives who are trusting me behind the wheel as I try to get them to Atrium and clay class and field trips and the grocery store?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Commonplace in My Day and Family

The first couple quotes in my Commonplace are from 2012.  I put it aside for a time while I struggled through a tough pregnancy and a difficult post-partum period.  I picked it up again about a year ago, and while I am not as consistent as I'd like to be, I have copied about 40 pages of quotes in the last year.

I've tried several different ways of using it.  I've copied as I read, which was a dismal failure since I tend to read and nurse Hannah.  I spent about four months setting aside a morning or two a week to copy from that week's reading, which was successful until the baby decided that waking 3-5+ times a night for months on end was really the way to go.  I tried valiantly to still get up early even with this, but had to concede defeat in the face of sheer exhaustion sometime around the beginning of December.  I'm still struggling with this, but I've hit upon a solution that is working even better for me and has some additional benefits as well.

When I read, I either lightly draw a line in the margin of the book and circle the page number or mark the text with the highlight feature in the Kindle app.  If it is a physical book, the line is light enough that I can erase it without damaging the book.  The bulk of my reading is in ebooks, however, and the highlight feature is so convenient.

I've found the best time to copy these quotes is while I'm helping Gregory (9) and Nathan (6) with their math and copywork.  We do these subjects in the early afternoon once the baby and toddler are down for naps because I have a really hard time helping kids with this sort of work while they are  climbing on me.  However, I don't need to be - and shouldn't be! - spending all my time watching my kids' math and copywork because I tend to micromanage the work.  And if I don't have something of my own to work on, I tend to jump up and start working in the kitchen, washing dishes, tidying, or the like.  I need something reasonably simple and interruptible to keep me at the table so I can be present and accessible.

A great solution for me is to bring over my Commonplace, a book or my iPad and open it up.  Nathan really likes seeing me do copywork, because I think it somehow makes his easier to bear.  If I'm copying from an ebook, I really like using because it shows just my highlights and notes in one place across all my books.  I don't lose my place in the book I'm reading, and I'm not trying to switch around from one section or another in the book.  It makes it easy for my to look through what I've read recently, pick what I'd like to copy, and write it down in my Commonplace.

I seldom write out more than two quotes at a time, but by steady effort I'm gradually filling the pages.  And after seeing me do this for a couple months, Emma (13) asked me one day, "Mom, do you think I could have one of those books too?  I think you call it a Commonplace?  I'd like to have a place where I could write down some quotes too."

Emma's Commonplace (age 13), copying from Tolkien's Silmarillion

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What a Difference a Storm Makes

We finally had our first storm of 2015 and we were able to visit the South Yuba River the day before it hit and the day after the weather cleared.  The contrast was fascinating, and we all marveled at how much of a difference the storm made in the river and the surroundings.

The river last Thursday

And just about the same spot on Tuesday

A great swimming hole on Thursday

And on Tuesday (notice how the sandbar is completely under water now!)

And some very unhappy looking moss

Looks much happier on Tuesday

And look at the amazing emerald color of the water

But of course that's gone by Tuesday

We also spotted two California Poppies, a small patch of Fiddle Neck, and what I think is a type of Larkspur and a type of Brodiaea.  It seems so early to see those flowers, but with how warm it has been I guess I shouldn't be surprised.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Things I'd Like to Write Longer Posts About

I feel like I have a blogging logjam.  I have lots of things I'd like to write about, but between  perfectionism and a full life, I'm finding it ridiculously hard to do it.  So, I'm at least writing a little, and perhaps this will help me to get going.

I decided to use Ambleside Online this year and we've just finished our first term.  I made a few substitutions and modifications, but I tried to stay as close to the proscribed plan as possible.  It has been a great choice, and I'm really glad we're doing it.  It has made my yearly and weekly planning so so so much easier, and our educational journey is stronger for it.   I really want to write a post about our substitutions, and what we've done to make the curriculum more Catholic.

I've also implemented a version of Celeste's naptime school (I got to meet Celeste and her children a couple weeks back - what a lovely experience and conversation!  She's the first CM homeschooler I've ever met in person, and the first non-family blogger. It was so nice to be with someone who gets what I do!).  I've broken up our morning time into several pieces to make it easier with the littles.  I'd like to say that there are no more time outs during morning prayer, but alas that is not the case.  But still, a fantastic change for our family.  Emma stays in with me in the morning and I work with her while the boys go out and play.  I think a longer post about what exactly this looks like - naptime school with a bigger range of ages - would be a good thing.

Another new thing for this year - Sabbath Schooling.  We are doing formal lessons for six weeks, then taking a week off.  That rest week (this week is one of them) is fantastic.  "Rest" is a bit of a misnomer though, as these weeks are very full too - but full of different sorts of activities.  On Monday we had term exams and Atrium, then went to Costco (I go every seven weeks, as it is over an hour away), getting home at 9:30.  I've also canned 10 quarts of applesauce, 8 cups of apple butter, cleaned and reorganized part of the pantry, did a huge stuff dump onto paper, planned and prepped for Monday's co-op meeting, set up all the Term 2 work for next week, installed a 47 tile Flor rug in our family room, and...  well, there's probably more, but that's the stuff I can remember right now.  Of course there's the laundry and the meals and the dishes.  Phew.  It is nice to see it written out because I've been feeling like I haven't gotten all that much done this week.  It is easy for me to focus on what I still need to do this week!

And another new thing - Mystie's interval planning.  Absolutely brilliant, and it goes along with the six weeks on, one week off thing so well.  [edited - I at first said 6 on, 6 off, which contradicts the 3rd point and is incorrect - we're doing 6 on, 1 off]

Ever since I read Jennifer Fulwiler's Family First Creative (her free ebook for pre-ordering her wonderful book) I've been wondering what my creative endeavor is - what fuels me?  And really, I don't know.  I finished that book feeling like there were a lot of great suggestions, but it made me realize that I can't quite even answer the question that it begins with - namely, what is it I even want to do?  And if I'm generally content managing my home and homeschooling and all that entails  and trying to do a good job of it, am I somehow selling myself short?  Do I need to be doing something more?  Should I be?  Do I have a responsibility to do more than this?


Awhile back I had a post about how I was breaking up my reading into categories and how wonderful that all was.  Well, I still think it is wonderful, but when I started also trying to read all my books as well as pre-read for Ambleside's Y3 and keep up with Y7 as well, everything just fell apart.  There are no where near enough hours in the day available for reading that I could keep up with a list like that.   Now I'm trying to find space to read three books of my own- something having to do with education, something faith based, and a general non-fiction book.  Right now those three books are Consider This, by Karen Glass, The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic by Matthew Kelly, and well, I just finished the The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and haven't figured out what my next non-fiction read will be.

I wrote recently about a little hike we did as a family, and I've also been wanting to write about a day trip we took about a month ago.  Can you guess where we went? 

As you can tell, the weather wasn't all that great, so we didn't get to see the Blue Angels fly much, but we still had a wonderful day.  We visited the Golden Gate Bridge, watched the ships sail into the Bay, walked down to Crissy Field, walked through the Palace of Fine Arts and then back up through the Presidio.  We walked over nine miles!  Justin, our three year old, was in a stroller most of the time, but even Nathan (6), who is not the most willing of walkers, persevered and did it.  It was a long day, but a wonderful excursion.  I'm hoping to do day trips to SF every few months, now that we've shown we can do it.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Family Hike

Obligatory Baby in the Ergo photo
Hiking with five children, ages 12, 8, 6, 3 and 10 months, is a daunting process.  However, my husband and I decided to make it a family priority, so we persevere. As with most things, we are getting better at it with practice.

We eat like hobbits on Sundays, eating a light first breakfast, attending the 8 am Mass, then coming home and cooking either sourdough pancakes or waffles.  This last Sunday Matt and I had planned a hike after our second breakfast.  The sky was dull and grey, and there was intermittent drizzle that sometimes threatened to turn into actual rain.  We looked at each other, wondering if we were really up to hiking with the kids in the rain.  I declared that I didn't want our family to be fair weather hikers and my intrepid husband agreed, donning his rain hat and jacket to go put our cheaper-than-upgrading-to-a-Suburban hitch mounted platform on the back of the Tahoe.

Ah, finally there and ready to go!

  Challenges ensued - a bolt had vibrated off our ancient hand-me-down jogging stroller, necessitating a scrounge for something that would suffice as a quick fix, the three year old's rain boots wouldn't fit with his warm socks and we discovered that somehow he only has sandals, church shoes and rain boots that fit right now, the six year old was determined to wear shorts no matter what - but despite the temporary setbacks, water bottles were filled, jackets were found, appropriate shoes were placed on feet and everyone eventually piled out to the car.

Isn't this the greatest drainage pipe you've ever seen?  I'm looking forward to hiking here when there's some runoff.

We decided to try a local canal trail so Matt could push Justin (3) in the jog stroller rather than carry him in the backpack.  I had Hannah (10 mo) in the Ergo, and since the trail was reasonably flat, we brought Nathan's (6) bike.  He loves his bike, and is a much happier person on hikes with the bike than on foot.  This also allows us to keep a faster pace, something that makes the older kids and parents happier too.
The brand new suspension bridge over Deer Creek.  It is nice and bouncy with some great views.

We had some rain on our way to the trail, and a little drizzle now and then as we hiked, but overall we did quite well, proving the Swedish proverb that there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.  We only walked a little over two miles, but we decided that was sufficient for the day.  Justin and Nathan were starting to venture near the edge of whiny-ness, and it seemed best to turn around while spirits were still high.  And little by little, hike by hike, a family culture of being outdoors and hiking together is born and grows.

A tributary to Deer Creek, with some beautiful sculpted rocks and just a little bit of water.  Everyone wants to go back once the water starts flowing again in this area.