Friday, August 25, 2023

Reflecting on Third and Fifth Grade

 As usual, I'm late to mentally recapping our school year, and also pleasantly surprised as I sit here looking back on the past academic year -- as I first observed several years ago, "We didn't do everything, but we didn't do nothing!" My first inclination tends toward a sense of failure at the "check marks" we didn't attain to, and it's a constant battle within myself to step away from judging myself too harshly in this regard. 

Our book club with other homeschoolers continued to be a highlight of the year-- this year, featuring Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, Hans Brinker by Mary Mapes Dodge, and Dr. Dolittle by Hugh Lofting. We paddled small boats around a pond, made paper windmills, went to a zoo, and as always, ate plenty of thematic yummy foods. 

Another highlight of the year was continuing our weekly hikes with friends. We live in a beautiful place, and it's always good to walk out the door and go exploring. 

Nell finished fifth grade. We read lots of good books, many together and some she read on her own. She looked at great art, particularly enjoying Van Gogh and John Singer Sargent. She made a deep connection with the historical figures of both Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan. We read part of Richard Halliburton's Book of Marvels and absolutely loved it. She started keeping a Book of Centuries. She participated in a wonderful Shakespeare club, reading A Midsummer Night's Dream and performing a scene from it, and then reading Henry V, and memorizing the Crispin's Day monologue. She loves calligraphy and hand-lettering. We read some wonderful science books, including a collection of general science and nature stories and a more specific book on anatomy. A friend from church led a group of girls in weekly quilting sessions, and Nell made both a small wall hanging size quilt and a quilted pillowcase. She continued her violin practice, and although I'm never as consistent with her as I want to be, she's currently working on the Bach "double," the Concerto for two violins, and I know it'll be such a deep pleasure to be playing it with her before long. She's also been practicing the piano, with the occasional impromptu lesson from me, and has continued singing in our church choir, as well (she sang the solo for Once in Royal David's City for the second time this year at our church's Lessons and Carols, and also sang a small solo in Wash Me Throughly by Samuel Wesley). She still loves ballet, and was in her ballet school's performance of The Nutcracker this past December as a cherub and a lamb.

Here's Nell, age 11, with books representing our school year as well as just a few favorites she read for fun. (Thursday's Child!)

Somehow I can't not include a picture of this sweet little acorn fellow Nell made for me for Christmas. His violin is made of pinecone scales. He's been perched on a low shelf near my kitchen sink since Christmas, and he brings a smile to my face every time I see him!

Marie finished third grade. She loves being read to and listening to audio books, and just this summer she has finally been discovering the joy of reading to herself, too. (Harry Potter seems to have worked his magic in turning Ree into a certifiable bookworm at last!) She loved a biography of Marie Curie we read together, joined Nell in her obsession with Helen Keller for a while, and developed a passion for the Victorian era and all of the finer things. She's kept up her violin playing as well, making her way through Suzuki Volume 2 at the moment. She has a remarkable ability to sing harmonies she makes up herself, and it so often brightens my day to hear my girls singing folk songs or other bits of music in harmony with one another as I go about my day. Marie also takes ballet, and was a mouse in last winter's Nutcracker

Marie, age 9, with books representing our school year, and some favorite fun ones, too. 

Molly turned six in March. She'll start school officially this fall, but she listened in a lot over the past year, as we read books about birds, stories from the Bible, Dr. Dolittle, some Dallas Lore Sharp nature stories, and more. And surprise of all surprises to this mama, this girl can READ! (Having a child practically teach herself to read at age five is very new to me, since my two older girls definitely learned later and were slower to reach a point of really enjoying it.) She's a full-fledged reader these days, powering through Ramona books, All-of-a-Kind Family books, and even biographies (she joined the Helen Keller obsession around here) and Life of Fred math books for fun.

And Molly! Age six, and "clever as clever," as the A.A. Milne poem goes.

* * *

All in all, it was a good school year. The best part of the year was also the part that threw school (as such) into a bit of turmoil and contributed to our ending the year a bit "behind" some of my aspirations -- sweet Cecily joined our family! So, along with reading good books and encountering interesting things of all sorts, four big sisters have had lots of opportunities to practice their baby-care skills.

Aside from adding a fifth daughter to our family, if there was a theme to the year from my perspective, I'd say it was trying to level up in our organization, specifically with regards to the girls' chores. I began the past academic year with newly updated chore charts for everyone individually, as well as a family chart with bigger daily chores that rotated every couple of weeks. Remembering, reminding, and supervising these daily efforts of theirs required a lot of effort of mine, not surprisingly, and I adopted for myself as motivation Proverbs 14:4: "Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox." And while our 'manger' was rarely truly clean, there were some pretty substantial glimpses over the past year of the abundant crops my little oxen are bringing to fruition.

If you're still reading, here are a few more glimpses of our year, demonstrating school as "a life" around here, in ways both overtly academic and not so much! 

This post barely touches on the full year we've had, but it's nice to look back and see that we really did accomplish something, I think. And now, back to my efforts of planning our next school year, which begins in just over a week...! Building on our highlights of the year I mentioned above, we're leaning into all the good that friendship and community have to offer, and together with a number of like-minded mothers implementing a Charlotte Mason philosophy of education in their homeschools, we are starting a two-day-a-week school. It's a lot to wrap our heads around, and we're going to have to get a little better at getting up early in the morning, but we are really excited about the possibilities it will offer. Here's hoping it's a beautiful and rich experience for the ten families and their 35 children, collectively. 

Monday, June 19, 2023

Thoughts on Turning 40

I turned 40 on June 10. Leading up to my birthday, I found myself suddenly recalling a poem I read years ago, Fiddler Jones by Edgar Lee Masters, an American poet from the late nineteenth/early twentieth century.  
The earth keeps some vibration going
There in your heart, and that is you.
And if the people find you can fiddle,
Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.
What do you see, a harvest of clover?
Or a meadow to walk through to the river?
The wind's in the corn; you rub your hands
For beeves hereafter ready for market;
Or else you hear the rustle of skirts
Like the girls when dancing at Little Grove.
To Cooney Potter a pillar of dust
Or whirling leaves meant ruinous drouth;
They looked to me like Red-Head Sammy
Stepping it off, to "Toor-a-Loor."
How could I till my forty acres
Not to speak of getting more,
With a medley of horns, bassoons and piccolos
Stirred in my brain by crows and robins
And the creak of a wind-mill--only these?
And I never started to plow in my life
That some one did not stop in the road
And take me away to a dance or picnic.
I ended up with forty acres;
I ended up with a broken fiddle--
And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories,
And not a single regret.

A poem about a fiddler who never got ahead in life, whose forty acres never multiplied into more worldly goods or wealth, who dropped what he was doing over and over again to go play his fiddle for dances. The birds and the sounds of everyday life made him think of his music; his plowing was often interrupted by the opportunity for another jig. 

I re-read it a few weeks ago and it settled into my heart just as it had years before when I first encountered it. "...fiddle you must, for all your life." "I ended up with forty acres; I ended up with a broken fiddle-- And a broken laugh, and a thousand memories, and not a single regret."

A year or two ago Nathan was sorting through old CDs and cassette tapes (!!) and listening to snippets of things as he came across them. I heard some violin music floating out of his study -- The Lark Ascending by Vaughan-Williams. "Who's playing that?" "It's you." "What? No. This sounds fine, but I never played it well at all." "Well, it's you." A bit later, piano music -- Chopin's Fantasie-Impromptu. "Who's this now?" "You again. In high school." "No! I remember recording it because my teacher wanted me to submit it to a competition, but I tried and tried to get a good take and it was always wrong..." 

I've thought about this experience a lot in the past few years. Am I only able to appreciate something when it's far behind in the rear-view mirror? Is perfectionism hindering me from enjoying life in the moment, whether it's my experiences in music, or anything else? How many times have I thought something was not worth documenting or enjoying or celebrating because it wasn't "perfect"? What if all along, those things were wonderful and my eyes were clouded from seeing it? What if all those summers where I wished I weighed 5-10 lbs less, I could have just enjoyed the sun on my skin, my toddlers in my arms, my kids leaping in the sand, and seen more beauty in it? What if all the recitals and concerts I played were worth enjoying exactly as they were, the imperfections less perceptible than they seemed to me at the time? What if my yard and gardens were perfectly nice places to be in spite of the weeds? What if my professional life has been a greater accomplishment than it's ever seemed to me? What if life was worth enjoying even when the house was messy? What if my kids are doing pretty well, and being slower to learn to read, or struggling with math for a while, or taking time to progress through violin repertoire is OK after all? 

What if things being imperfect doesn't make them any less worth enjoying, remembering, celebrating? 

* * *

So, I threw myself a party for my fortieth birthday. I had said for years that I would do it when I turned forty - that I would let my kids see me face it head-on, no black balloons or gag gifts involved. It was cocktail attire, under the lights on the back patio, with my kids passing appetizers. (They were so excited about this.) And when Nathan's work life got turned a bit upside-down in the weeks leading up to my fortieth and he didn't have time to help plan or prepare, well, I'm incredibly thankful for friends who offered -- no, insisted -- help: baking me exquisite cakes, helping with food, and even coming up with a signature cocktail (which has become a new favorite of mine). 

Nell has really enjoyed learning hand-lettering over the past year, and made lovely little signs for me.

mini galettes were fun to help make and even more fun to pass around the mingling adults.

one of the cutest three waitresses of the evening!

every bit as delicious as they look - I had to try a small slice of each, of course!

blurry imperfect photo captured by one of my kids

Molly, who is six now, went up to a friend at my party and said with a happy sigh, "I'm SO glad my mother is forty!" The friend told me of this later, saying, "She sees it as a great honor bestowed upon you!" And I love that. 

"Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the days to come."

It drizzled a tiny bit at one point, that evening of my 40th when we celebrated on the patio. I am still carrying some extra weight from having Cecily five months ago. Nathan's work life continues to throw a fair bit of stress in our direction rather continually. But that evening, after everyone had gone home, I stood on the patio for one more minute listening to the music that was still playing, enjoying the glow of the lights and the sudden stillness. And I said to Nathan, "It was exactly the party I wanted." I looked around that evening and felt that if this is forty, I'm here for it.

I intend to try to spend the next forty years worrying less about all the imperfections and failures, and finding the wild wonderful successes that have been here all along. To make and store up those "thousand memories." I hope someday I can say that we've fiddled for all our lives, stepped away from the work to go and dance at every opportunity... "not a single regret."

Saturday, February 11, 2023


This girl! This past fall, Sylvie's language skills exploded and she was suddenly speaking in complete sentences, giving us a wonderful glimpse into all that was going on in her head. She's had so many things to say to us that it seemed like a good time to record her most quotable expressions of late! We've loved watching her go from her earliest words and phrases to the sweet halting sentences with pauses as she figured out what she was trying to say to the talkative almost-three-year-old she is today.

* * *

She spent last summer and the fall referred to a pool as a "cool." And when one day she wriggled herself out of her puddle-jumper poolside at our neighbor's, and walked right back into the pool and promptly submerged herself... she spoke of it with wide eyes for a long time after, saying "Shylfee fall in the cool!" (It was utterly terrifying to see her underwater even though it only took me a few seconds to get to her... that mental image of my submerged child will stay with me as a reminder to constant water-side vigilance, oof.)

* * *

A typical two-year-old, she quickly learned and frequently utilized the phrase "Self do it!"

A lullaby was a "yubabye," and a little bit was "a yibabit." "I'm guck!" means "I'm stuck!"

Her earliest approximation of "thank you" was "gee-oo," and this one has stuck with her. She's very polite and utilizes it frequently! 

* * *

She's in that fun stage where her tenses are a bit mixed up, and she says "Mama, I was findin' you!" when she means, "I found you," and "I was going..." when she means "I went..." We rather love this stage and I notice that Nathan employs her two-year-old "tense sense" on the regular lately.

* * *

I asked her one day, "Sylvie, do you want to go play in a park?" And she responded, "Yeah, play! Play in parking lot!" Well... not quite, kiddo.

* * *

Upon biting her finger while eating: "Oh no, Mama! Sylvie eat my own finger off!"

* * *

Early in her speech development, she seemed to think that all words should have two syllables, perhaps like words like Mama and Daddy do. So Nell was "Nell-Nell," Marie was "Ree-Ree," Molly was "Mo-Mo," and even words like "my" became "my-my," and "your," "your-your." So her sweet compliments would run like this: "Aw! Nell! Yove your-your earrings!" "Mama! Yove your-your dress!"

* * *

One day I asked her, "Hey Sylvie, who's the sweetest two-year-old?" and she tapped herself on the chest with a finger and replied modestly, "Right here." Subsequently we all enjoyed asking her "Who's the smartest? Who's the most fun?" etc., and she would repeat the trick with aplomb.

She shares her opinions on music freely, including whether something is "bad scary music" or "good nice music." (And the word "music" was previously "hanguck," an approximation none of us quite understood but all of us found amusing.) Examples of bad scary music include Mahler 1, the last movement specifically, and examples of good nice music include Haydn's Surprise Symphony, among many others. 

* * *

One evening some of the girls' bedtime music was not to Sylvie's liking, and she expressed from her toddler bed in the room she shares with Nell that this was "bad scary music." Nell responded, "It's ok Sylvie, it's not bad, it's just in a minor key!" Sylvie replied matter-of-factly, "Don't want it minor key!" Subsequently she decided any and all music that she didn't care for must be in a minor key. When our church choir did the Rutter Requiem in November, she came and whispered in my ear during some of the movements, "Don't want it minor key!" And when listening to O Come, O Come Emmanuel during Advent she declared, "Don't want it Emmanuel! Don't want it minor key!"

She called to me frantically from the stairs one day: "Oh no! Daddy feet! Daddy feet!" I ran in to see what the problem was and discovered a Daddy Long-Legs spider in the corner of a step was the cause of the commotion. Well, she had conveyed a solid part of the idea! 

* * *

Chatting with Nell one evening just after bedtime, she declared her food-loving intentions for the coming day: “Nell? Cracker. With cheese on it. And ‘yami (salami). Shylfee eat it tomorrow!"

* * *

And speaking of food, she goes to bed thinking about food and wakes up thinking about food. "What's for dinner?" she'll ask me first thing in the morning. "It's not dinner time, Sylvie. Do you want some breakfast?" Throughout the day she asks for meals irrespective of time of day. Right after breakfast, "What's for dinner?" Upon being reminded again that it's not dinner time, she'll try any other word for a meal to see if she can eke some more food out of us. "What's for lunch? What's for snack? Breakfast? ... Dessert?" A few favorites at the moment include oatmeal or polenta for breakfast, smoothies any time of day, homemade bread all the time, a variety of soups, clementines, peppers, and pears.

* * *

Her demands after Mexican food one night for dinner: "I need forty chips! I need forty-five or forty-six chips! Why go bed now? If Sylvie go bed I can’t have forty chips!"

* * *

One morning I was making waffles when Sylvie asked what was for breakfast. 

Mama: "Are you ready for a waffle?" 

Sylvie: "Um, no, I don't like awful." 

* * *

One evening at dinner I asked her, "Sylvie, do you want some more mac and cheese?" She responded matter-of-factly, "No gee-oo. I want a glass of wine."

When Sylvie was snuggled up in bed with me early in the morning as Nathan left for work, she sat bolt upright in horror when she heard the front door close behind him and said: "Uh-oh mama! Daddy didn’t kiss you!"

* * *

And while she's fully potty-trained now, much to my joy, there was a time last fall when I was failing to commit to the process but also growing weary of diapers. Each day, I'd ask her, "Sylvie, when do you think you'll be potty trained?" And she'd respond either, "Um, last night," or "Um, last year," or "Um, tomorrow."

* * *

When she was wearing fairy wings for Halloween, I asked her, "Sylvie, can you fly?" She responded matter-of-factly, "No I can't fly. Because it's too cold to fly."

* * *

With similar logic, another day she informed me, "I can't dance, Mama. I'm too tall to dance."

* * *

Pointing to the drain in the bathtub she informed me with a clear sense of trepidation, "I am not gonna fall in the... in the... in the that thing."

* * *

Apparently perturbed after watching me get my blood drawn at an appointment with my midwife, Sylvie asked me several days later, "Mama, why that lady take out your blood? Why? Why Mama?"

"I'm hiding'!"

Lest you think that being a mother of all girls saves me from gross jokes and humor (oh, you would be wrong!) -- 
Upon passing gas and coughing at the same time: "Haha, I just toot on my cough!"

* * *

The whole family went to work with Nathan for a day, helping him with a variety of tasks. Sylvie carried around her pocket-sized little dolly all day. I suppose it was understandable, then, that she became quite distressed when she heard Nathan talk about putting away a "dolly" (hand cart) in a closet within the facilities. Sylvie immediately began to wail: "No Daddy, don't put my dolly in the closet!"

* * *

In December, when Nell and Marie were in a production of the Nutcracker, Nell hopped in the car after a dress rehearsal, with her adorable lamb face paint still on her face. Sylvie was perplexed by the look, to say the least.

Sylvie: "Nell, why your face looks... bad? Why, Nell?"

* * *

At bedtime: "No I don’t want to go to bed today. And I said that before."

Oh! Well, in that case.

* * *

Out of the blue: "Mama is nice. Daddy is weird."

* * *

Among my favorites because it's oh-so-sweet -- Snuggling up with me in the rocking chair at bedtime one evening she whispered, "I am so safe. I am so so safe."

And the ultimate toddler burn, so good it stopped me in my tracks:

Sylvie: "I don’t like Daddy."

Mama: "Hey, it makes Daddy and me both sad when you say that. It’s not nice. We love Daddy!"

Sylvie: "Ok. I like Daddy." (Long pause) "I said I like Daddy, but I don’t like Daddy."

Girl, you are a handful and you have so many opinions and thoughts. We love you, Sylvie!