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Archive for the ‘The Girls’ Category

Plan B

Today we were supposed to head north for the day to take in one of our favorite spots. It’s a magical place for us. There are tide pools filled with sea stars, tall Eucalyptus groves and miles of ocean bluffs to explore.  

Hailey hasn’t been there yet and it seemed as though this holiday was the perfect opportunity. Then, Phil’s throat started feeling funny. Prudence told us to stick to a more basic plan. And so, with a few tears behind us, we loaded up the car with simple snacks and explored a familiar path closer to home.

With kids comes the need to be flexible – to live it ourselves with the hope of modeling it for them. Sometimes this feels incredibly difficult. Other times, the beauty remains in tact. 

 

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We had a great time at the LA Zoo yesterday with Nana; we spent the better part of four hours exploring the grounds and meeting all sorts of interesting creatures. Although you wouldn’t know it from my pictures, we did see animals far more exotic (although not necessarily cuter) than meerkats and prairie dogs.

The littlest mastered saying “zoo” just in time and proclaimed this three-letter word with great inflection throughout our day. She also fell deeply in love with the paper map and was passionately opposed to her big sister borrowing it for even a moment; thankfully, we had two.

I’ve found that the day after field trips I often have a less than motivated student on my hands. Mostly, I’ve concluded that this is a result of the aforementioned pupil running her legs off the day before. Still, I struggle to not take this behavior personally at times – believing that somehow my seven year-old’s appreciation ought to translate into direct enthusiasm for mastering grammar the following morning.

Regardless, we made it through and as always found happiness in several good books (once the subtraction part was over). My parenting conclusions of the day are as follows:

1. I need to expect that some days Hannah will complain about her school work. While I would love to believe that my child would be forever grateful for all my efforts, that is of course not reality. Accepting this keeps me from being internally shocked and undone when we face one of those days.

Having said this, I’d also add that accepting this doesn’t mean I need to tolerate the heavy sighs, eye rolling or flopping one’s body on the ground. Today she had the opportunity to spend a bit more time on her own, considering whether or not such outward expressions move her any closer to having her work completed.

2. I have a people-pleasing perfectionist on my hands. This poses some interesting challenges within our educational and behavioral environments. This past weekend Phil and I were able to attend a screening of A Race to Nowhere. This only further solidified my desire to help equip Hannah to set realistic standards for herself and to learn how to work through those inevitable bumps she’ll hit along the way. 

Today we spent a fair amount of time talking through the idea that in life we will make mistakes and we will at times intentionally make a bad choice. We talked about there being a fork in this road – how some people choose to let these moments swallow them up. 

Then we talked about another route – the one that involves both remorse and grace. Here one owns up to the mistake or choice and then decidedly moves toward the best resolve possible, because often there is something that can be done to at least partially rectify the situation. I used smaller words of course; I also used Crocs as props to demonstrate the proverbial fork.

There were tears, some fidgeting and several quiet declarations of just how hot she was feeling; that’s all part of these discussions, at least in our house. Still, I think this day – zoo hangover and all – left us a bit more educated not only in the realm of pronouns and word problems but also in the area of  life.

 

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We’ve been on the homeschooling path for nearly five months now. We took our winter break last week and are back at it. I intended to write my first term summary last week. Instead I spent my best blogging hours coughing. So now, in no particular order, here are my thoughts for this evening.

1. Color coded spreadsheets designed to order your entire life as a homeschooling family look really, really great! I made one, put it in a sheet protector in my master binder and referred to it for approximately four days.  My littlest rapidly set me straight on this one.

2. Having said this, I would add that a well-defined plan is in fact critical for a person like me. I just have to add a large dose of flexibility to the mix each day as well.

3. As parents our natural inclinations and giftedness lead us in how and what we teach our children. I do best when I lean into this truth and work literature and words into every subject possible. I can also rapidly lose sight of this outlook and panic when I stare down the pages of  third grade math and realize that I will be educating myself as I teach my daughter…at least the first one.

   

4. I have a new love for Friends of the Library bookstores. They are an amazing resource for good quality used books. I’ve procured spotless Usborne titles, some great classics that I’ve identified in my books about books and a good showing of the American Girl series. I’ve never spent more than $2.00 on a single item. This can still add up if you walk off with 18 books. Next time I’ll take a ten-dollar bill and leave my checkbook in the car.

5. Snacks continue to be a very important part of our school day – the fancier the presentation, the happier the child.

6. Like so many aspects of life, the homeschooling crowd can tend to be an internally polarized bunch. It reminds me of my first years of motherhood when I dabbled in the various camps  – the natural vs medicated birth folks, breast-feeding verses bottle feeding ladies, stay-at-home vs working mothers – you get the idea. These topics are difficult and can in their worst moments start feeling like a bad religion. 

Now, enter the land of the proverbial jean jumper connoisseurs. There are those of us who are fiercely opposed to charter programs and others of us who see great value in them. One group thinks it is close to a crime to teach your child to read before they are at least seven or eight. The other side, encourages early exposure and swears by their results. There are those who live by boxed curriculum and others who abhor it. There are those who lead very traditional and conservative lives and others who seem better suited for life in a VW Vanagon.

I’m still finding my place. Another time I plan to explore the seemingly unrelated topic of being a vegetarian who is  coming to terms with the fact that I love bacon. Somehow I think my own journey of  living within such paradoxes could help me to forge positive relationships with the various subsets. We’ll see.

6a. I say all of this and would also immediately add that homeschooling families are incredibly creative, gracious and resourceful people. I have been given invaluable counsel, practical tools and even an inside view into several families’ homes as I put my own school house together. There is tremendous opportunity to collaborate and for that I am incredibly grateful.

7. The littlest is very industrious these days! She continually seeks out jobs and wants so much to be a part of things – big girl things, please! As she continues to nudge her way into the school house by way of exploring math manipulatives, coloring and looking at books, I want to welcome her with thought, patience and grace. While eating the crayons she was just moments ago drawing with or tossing the counting beans across the table feels disruptive and annoying, I am trying to remind myself that she is a real, live toddler – not a seven year-old. 

8. Outsourcing is a fabulous strategy. Most recently, I signed Hannah up for an art class taught by a woman who is herself an artist with a background in the Social Sciences. She is clearly gifted and passionate about what she does. My talents happen to fall in different areas. How thankful I am for these outside opportunities. I’m keeping my eyes out for a fun and brilliant math-inclined individual. The person I have in mind happens to be out of the country for the next four years.

9. It is okay to turn your kids loose on some school work while you attend other matters – like retrieving your toddler from the kitchen island or even grabbing a cup of tea. In our case independent work has built confidence, creativity and internal drive and oftentimes produces work beyond what would have occurred had I been standing over her. 

10. I have fallen in love with children’s chapter books and I’m also pretty sure I could never write one. Recent favorites include Caddie Woodlawn, Sarah Plain and Tall, Addy: American Girl Series,  George Muller: The Guardian of Bristol’s Orphans and Little House on Rocky Ridge.

10. By stepping outside of the norm, I need to accept that I get to explain myself and my daughter a lot. Presently, I’m working on refining my 5 second, 5 minute and more lengthy conversation points for why we decided to do this. On good days I see the encounters with our pastor, the mailman, the Trader Joes clerk, the acupuncturist as opportunities to share one of the many options available to our children. On my not so great days my emotional posture exudes something entirely different. 

11. As I look back over the past five months, I’m mostly encouraged and also pretty tired. I’ve learned a bit more about what I can and can’t do. I’d be toast without grandparents. We’ve relaxed into a flexible routine and our plan is to wrap things up by late June. I’ve come to see the value of taking time off through our not-long-enough winter break. I have since revised our schedule and our content so that we can enjoy a traditionally long summer. We all need it and I see this now. I would have never imagined this is where I’d be and yet it somehow feels entirely right for this season.

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Wisdom From the Sea

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“The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children; the running of a house with its thousand details; human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to creative life or contemplative life or saintly life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home, Woman and Independence. It is more basically; how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life; how to remain balanced, no matter what centrifugal forces tend to pull one off center; how to remain strong, no matter what shocks come in at the periphery and tend to crack the hub of the wheel.”

– Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift From the Sea

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A Season

A couple of weeks ago, author Bill Roorbach caused me to sit up a bit straighter and create a plan for how I would add consistency and strides toward my goal of writing on a more consistent basis. He reminded me that writers read – something I know and practice. In exercise two he told me to select a collection of difficult books and go about consuming them in a timely manner.

I went about selecting my titles (you can see my list below). I began with Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa and thoroughly enjoyed the first thirty pages. I enjoyed them so much that I flipped to the back of the book in order to learn a bit more about the man behind the prose (I was a Social Science major for those scratching your head in wonderment at my lack of familiarity with the details of Hemingway’s life). Turns out, he killed himself. You probably already knew this. Well, I didn’t and somehow his tragic end cast an entirely different hue on the pages I’d just ingested. No longer was I enjoying my nightstand discipline.  

Add to this grey cloud, two sick girls and Christmas days away. My self-imposed syllabus of sorts was all but forgotten. At first, I felt bad about this – as though I’d somehow failed. Yet with perspective and a Barnes and Noble gift card from my mother-in-law I began to see this experience with different eyes.

I’ve been a mother for over eight years now (if you count pregnancy, which I definitely do). On the one hand, I would like to think that I’ve embraced this role and live well within it. Still, it is in moments like my self-imposed reading list I come to understand even more that I continue to hold on to desires and ambitions that are difficult to fit into my present season. Being a mom is hard work – it requires more than I ever imagined and leaves little time for reprieve and personal development.

This is a sticking point for me if I’m really honest about it. In my most candid moments, I long to develop my writing, my culinary skills and my fitness regime. Instead, most days involve more American Girl books than Hemingway, more grilled cheese than frittatas and more toddler chasing that serene yoga poses. Part of me would love to travel and hike to places beyond the county line and without having to pack rice puffs and raisins wherever I go. I really like the idea of  a carpet without spots, a car without sand and a social life that included an occassional lunch out. At times I look longingly at women in their slacks with laptops gracing the bar at Peets while I schlep my kids to the counter and pray that nothing breaks at the hands of  the littlest while procuring my once a month Soy Cafe au Lait to go.

When Roorbach provided me a structured and disciplined plan for writing I jumped at the chance, until I remembered that I don’t live in a bubble. For me, writing is that thing that makes me feel most like myself – more than parenting, more than most things. Yet I was quickly reminded that my present capacity and my commitment to my girls and Phil limit what else I can take on. That’s hard to admit, but in my case it is true.

At the end of a long day of straddling the world of a toddler and that of a seven year-old there’s little left for striving on the word front. When Hemingway’s fate came to light that evening, I quickly realized that this heavy plight was more than I cared to pursue as I drifted off to sleep – even if that meant forgoing the worthwhile end of taking on difficult books. And here’s where the gift card comes into play.

With twenty-five plastic dollars in hand, I went about finding books that soothed my soul rather than restricted or upset it. I released myself of the self-imposed limitations that had no place in this season and replaced them with the freedom to meander. And there, in this wandering I have to believe that creativity and groundedness will coexist.

So far, this path has led me to Wendell Berry’s work, Jayber Crow as well as some other titles that you’ll find in my margin. I’ve found the aforementioned to be pleasant bedtime reading, insightful and most importantly not draining me of the energy I need to reserve for the things that matter most. It’s a season. I know it is. How I long to face each moment of it with authenticity, acceptance, inspiration and hope.  

Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.  – Jayber Crow

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Happy Half

So the littlest is officially 1 1/2 years old today! Half birthdays are always (well, almost always) remembered in our household. This tradition dates back to my own childhood; it was my mom’s brilliant strategy for providing a half-way mark when I started asking her about when my next birthday would be…the day after my birthday. Anyway, little is actually done to celebrate these mini-milestones. It’s more the recognition than anything else. Who doesn’t like to be remembered for just being alive at least twice a year?

So, Hailey Elizabeth, in honor of your presence on this planet I am jotting down a few words to mark this day. In so many ways, you remind me of myself. You’re a bit on the small side, but far from fragile. You’re funny amongst your tribe yet might strike the rest of the world as the pensive type. You crack yourself up – which in turns make the rest of us laugh too. You are fascinated by your sister and are pretty positive that you can do anything that she can.

You’re undyingly devoted to your binks. You’ve already declared a few favorites in the realm of soft friends and you’ve got your animal noises down pat; I’d expect nothing less out of a Stone girl. You love music and are fully versed in how to request that a song be repeated again, and again … and again.

You love the ocean, but you love being warm even more. You’re particular in your palette, which has humbled me completely. You long to explore every inch of off-limit territory while simultaneously find yourself feeling near desperate to be held by me most of the time. You thrive in nature and all that she offers; you sometimes like to eat it too. You love the blender, the bath and The Runaway Bunny.  

You are a gift – one that requires a whole lot of energy to keep up with. Your timing was impeccable for arriving on the scene and in so doing changed the landscape of our family forever. We love you littlest one.  

 

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Advent

Advent. It is a season of anticipation and also exhaustion. In our home, we’ve had sweet moments around the table talking about peace and joy. These same moments have also included the toddler flinging food, baaing like a sheep and raising up out of her high chair declaring herself all done

Responding in part to my hate for clutter, an adventurous toddler and a large dose of personal conviction, our Christmas decor has been dramatically scaled back. It’s felt simple and right for us … until I took the girls on an evening walk and watched the seven-year old’s wide eyes take in the beautiful lights of the neighborhood with wonder … and I wonder … does her heart carry a bit of remorse deep down inside for her only marginally festive abode.

We’ve tried to keep the girl’s gifts to a minimum – treasures we hope they will love and that will take them to the places that only childhood can. We’ve attended a tree lighting, opened doors on our wooden Advent calender, read Scripture, created a Christmas library, decorated our gingerbread house, received Christmas cards, curled up with beautifully illustrated books, listened to Handel’s Messiah (the littlest loves this), celebrated when Grammie came to town, ate cookies, danced to the Nutcracker in our living room, caught colds, rested, recovered, visited a gingerbread house display, baked sweet bread, popped popcorn and warmed apple cider, caught more colds and still we wait.

We have one more week of school. I’m hoping to surprise big H with a trip to Reagan’s library next Thursday. They have trees decorated for each decade, something I know she would love. She’s supposed to sing a special part in church this Sunday. We’ve started the zinc routine once more. Today her throat is sore and I’ve declared it a pajama day.  She’s read, memorized state capitals, stared out the window and later listened to me finish out a book about George Mueller while braiding my hair.        

The rain is falling. The toddler is napping. The husband is working away at the business we both hope will thrive. The essence of this season is alive in our parts – an imperfect and often interrupted version, of course. I know it is. It sometimes feels muffled beneath life’s daily circumstances. Yet I have to believe it is here.

What blessed truths rest within those five small candles – that joy and happiness are not synonymous, that peace is not snuffed out by the craziness of this world and that the hope we’re talking about here moves well beyond the dreams of this world. He is coming. He came and He is coming back. What more could we ever ask for or imagine?

 

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