Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Beauty, and Learning to Appreciate It

In the interest of training our eyes, minds and hearts to recognize what is beautiful; a painting, great music, a well-crafted speech, architecture, as well as a desire to take advantage of events in our community, I have made a resolution to say "yes" more often to invitations and opportunities. Within reason. There are, after all, meals to be cooked and little people to tend to. What I have mostly stopped doing, is coercing those who are not interested into coming along. It makes for a more peaceable, enjoyable experience, and they are old enough to pursue their own interests without me.

Prompted by a friend who was away this past year and had made the same resolution, I was inspired to catalog the wealth of the past month in terms of what we have seen and learned:

A zoo visit for our animal block and for fun. How come we can never spend less than 30 minutes in the hotter-than-Hades reptile house?

The Highland Games; a free Celtic festival along the Mississippi River. They could boffer (hit each other with foam swords) and shoot arrows, to their heart's content while I enjoyed the view of the river and a chat with a friend. They also explored runes, weapons and Irish language.

A trip to the Figge Art Museum to explore, muse and create, which also coincided with our art week; a study of lives of artists, "-isms" in art, books and Memo Art card game.
Hiking at Wild Cat Den, with only the two youngest boys; Gael and Charles. While we were there, the grist mill, the oldest one still running in our country, was functioning and open for free tours.
As a family, we attended a speech by a pastor from Uganda, who works hard to minister to all people, regardless of their race, tribal affiliation or sexual orientation. A rarity in Africa.

 An exhibit, yesterday, at the Augustana Library (a local college), to see the fantastic exhibit on Color and Pattern in Nature, as well as bug-based art. It was stunning.  And fun. A great combo for my class of three young boys. It was Spanish day, so I taught them to say; "Quiero ver la mosca," and two other bugs before leaving. Even though none of our chosen ones were exhibited, with the exception of the dragon-fly, who was almost a fly, we had a lovely visit.

A trip, just me and two friends, for a weekend retreat of knitting and hiking and eating. We have so many pretty places in our region to camp and walk. Getting out to enjoy them is a treat, and a reason for gratitude. Knitting an entire weekend is the best. Ever. Add two friends and lovely woods, a campfire and some chocolate and it is perfect. I'm getting off-track.

We also make some time for taking care of people in need. We have some family projects, (no exceptions for not showing up for this); making a meal for a shelter or helping serve there, and some on our own. Discovering that people, no matter what their material circumstances of the moment, have depth, intelligence, beauty and maybe more to offer you than you than the other way around, is a beautiful gift. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mama Fitness: Don't Stop: Pain or No Pain!

Advice from the doctors when wondering what to do about pain, be it joint, muscle, tendon: keep exercising! Really. See here: When it's OK to Run Hurt.

I had heard this from my GP and also from a rheumatologist, who says even if I have arthritis in my foot, knees and elbow, the best counsel she can give me is to keep going with my weight lifting, walking and biking, "at least 60 minutes, 3 or 4 times a week." Yes, ma'am.

As my elbow bit the dust badly two weeks ago, I had my doubts. I added painting the walls to my list of activities, when it already hurt to knit, elbow was so stiff and sore it kept me awake at night and kept me from straightening my arm or even picking up the car keys without pain. I asked the teacher after class yesterday about modifications in Body Pump and CX Works (my latest add-on to classes). She told me to lighten up, to use free-weights instead of the bar or tube when it helped, drop all weight if need be and just do the movements, but she did not say to stay home and sleep an extra hour.

I think I was sort of hoping she would say to go home and sleep an extra hour. But not deep down.

I went back this morning, followed all of her advice, and I felt BETTER after my morning workout.

As for my questions about why we weigh more in America, I found a super blog post here; DoctorMama, confirming much of what I've suspected and going into more depth on the topic.

Don't let pain or lack of results that the scale can measure keep you from getting out and staying active. You will feel better with each extra step you take, each 2lb.weight you pick up. I promise. And if you don't feel better right away, be patient with yourself. You will. Go slowly, and if that fails, go more slowly, but don't stop, don't ever give up.

Mama Fitness...or This Stinks. Rants and Raves.

Attitude is everything, dah-ling. Yes, quite, and this morning, I am happy for the cool weather, a healthy family and a warm home. So much for the grateful list, I could go on, life is wonderful.

My gut and butt are another matter. This is not the happy weight-loss success story you were hoping to hear. Go to one of those skinny magazines for that. Not that I despise my looks. I love the second takes I get from people when I tell them I have five children. I don't look so bad for a mother of many, and two of them teenagers. I am more fit than I was a year ago, without a doubt. However, bottom line: I have NOT been successful at losing weight and keeping it off. There are fat molecules in the air. My thyroid is off-whack, and maybe I just like sugar more than I should. Burp.

This is a post on the topic of wight in America, by a brilliant writer friend, who, in case you get bored with my posts, has a magical way with words that enthralls and makes you want to read everything she's ever written:
How to Live in LA

Post-European Vacation Update:

I did not gain weight in France. Yee-haw. Not an accomplishment and not a disaster.

Total weight loss in the past year, that stayed off: 9lbs.  I had done away with 6.5 more...but read on.

In France, Italy and Germany, I ate tons of duck, french fries, mushrooms and cheese,  drank too much wine on a daily basis, never said no to chocolate or ice cream, and did not see the inside of a gym even once. I did walk a lot. Still...

I have been back home for a month. I've been to my class at the Y faithfully 3-5 times a week, biked or walked on the days in between and have gained 4 lbs. I have not had one single bite of foie gras nor the merest sip of champagne. I'm not devastated, just mad.

What is making the difference? I wonder if it is never needing to walk anywhere, ever here? Do those daily jaunts across the street to pick up bread and maybe 3 times a week downtown; a half-hour walk and back matter so much? Is it drinking coffee black in Europe as opposed to sugar and almond-milk enriched here? Is it simply not spending as much time outside, in fresh air, which was the norm for 2 months? (Which meant you walked more, which in turn burns more calories?)

My thyroid is practically non-functioning, according to the latest tests. But then, I've noticed all of those symptoms for years, now the blood-work simply matches the reality. So, can't really blame that anymore than I could before.

It's not the fat molecules in the air. My husband, who did not leave his office during the day to walk downtown or even get bread, came home with an extra 12 lbs. He has lost 5 already. Skunk.

Tips and comments welcome...but maybe not if you are a guy, who has never had to lose more than a pound or two in your life. We love you, but you probably don't get us. 

P.S. Last statement does not apply if your resumé includes training Cher, Shailene Woodley or Ann Hathaway.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

France and Interior Design

Over the years in France, I have admired many different ways of making a home beautiful, elegant, inviting and warm. I was also born to parents with a fabulous sense of style and the work ethic to make it happen. The French are so good at this art! From France, I have posted photos of places that were prepared for us with love by relatives; 

A blog by a lovely, incredibly creative, French friend:

Among the many castles, modern homes and urban chic that I have visited and soaked up, there is one home that speaks to me more than the others. The reason might just be this; my friend, Elise, lives in a fairy-tale world she has created and brought into reality, just like me, except she is also good at decorating. 

The world is one where it is not insanity to be married with seven children, nor to homeschool them, nor to educate them in music, art, literature and, in her words; "l'apprentissage du beau," or "training in the recognition of beauty." We both know perfectly well that the world thinks we're nuts, and in more lucid moments, we are aware that there is some truth to that, but generally, we go along our merry way and heed not the less enlightened.

Here are shots of their country home, which, according to them, is a work in progress, and this was photographed with 12 children present and active throughout the house:

Entry hall:
Library/game room/extra guest bedroom:

    How's this for an elegant growth-chart? A row for each summer:

                           Two of many sweet little corners:

Detail of new flooring: designed to look as old as the house:

It's all in the attention to detail...and an eye for "le beau."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seasons: It's Autumn Because...I Said So

I woke this morning to a smell that made me smile and dig down under the down comforter for another minute...the heat came on in the night. The smell? It is the first time warm air pushes through the vents; hot dust. With the thermostat set to "automatic", this means it had to get pretty dang chilly for the house to cool down enough to under 63. Yippee. It's fall.

Through the years, we have had many discussions about when you can say it is the next season. We live in a part of the world where there are four definite seasons, and they never, according to good sense and observation, (or me), begin on the calendar date set for them. 

Some of the children (and husband) like to believe in the calendar date in, even if it is 102 degrees in the shade on June 2nd, it is NOT summer. Since daily walks have always been a part of our rhythm, I taught them to look, to listen, to feel the temperature on their skin. Seeing the first returning robin in February was a sign that spring was coming. Not needing a winter coat even in the house is spring in Iowa. (We call them sleepers or big, fat bathrobes inside, same thing.) 

Jumping over the Beltane fires, celebrating our Gaelic ancestry and the return of life, is spring:

Being able to plant outside without fear of frost means it's getting very close to summer. June 21st means summer solstice, the position of the sun and the length of the days. Summer is hot, too hot for jeans and long-sleeves. If it's hot, it's summer. If you can go to the beach and still be hot, it's summer:

And as for autumn, the one that sneaks up on you in some ways, but in others is not so subtle...autumn starts with more leaves than just the August ones falling, a nip in the wind, candles at dinner, and then, bahm! you are freezing your tushy off when you walk outside in the morning and back to t-shirts in the afternoon. The wicked, bad ragweed along the bike path has wilted over-night. Then one day, long sleeves in the afternoon too, the kids put on fleeces of their own accord, and the heat comes on. That's early fall, when the sun can shine brilliantly, but a hat feels nice:

Late fall, we all know; pumpkins and hay rides and winter coats. It's early fall that is the elusive (it can and will warm up, then cool back down again) and lovely seasonal miracle. Autumn is the season that makes me glad to live in the Midwest again.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eagle Point Park: A History Lesson, A Family Picnic and A Fascinating Legend; thank you, Ben, my littlest brother, for the photo!

Eagle Point Park; the fish pond. This and the park's buildings were built during the Great Depression, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt initiated the WPA or Works Progress Administration, which funded projects around the United States to help create jobs for unemployed workers. The site had been chosen earlier and named for the legend of Eagle Point. Here it is; a noble story: 
According to the Encyclopedia of Dubuque, the naming of the hill has its roots in 1828-29, when an eagle's nest was found in a tree near Dryden, N.Y. The tree was cut down and the eaglets captured.
A local merchant raised one of the eaglets and gave it to a silversmith. The silversmith banded the eagle with an inscription and set it free. A Native American, hunting along a bluff overlooking the Mississippi, shot the eagle, but he was startled by the silver band, having never seen one before. As news of the eagle spread, the bluff upon which it was shot became known as Eagle Point.
The name of the park, sadly, coincided with the demise of the eagle in Iowa. A nesting pair reported in Jasper County in 1905 would be the last active nest in our state until 1977, when one was spotted in Allamakee County. Since then, eagles have thrived. Once again, eagles are a common sight in and around Eagle Point.
The architect chosen for the project was a visionary; Alfred Caldwell, who created prairie-style structures, in harmony with the land and the natural terrain. The limestone used is native to the area; all of the cliffs and bluffs surrounding the Mississippi here are of limestone. 

As a child, I suppose, picnicking at Eagle Point ruined my appreciation for any other park. The rest of them were just so...tiny and blah. I did love Swiss Valley, because we could go creek stomping...when my mother wasn't looking! 

Thank you, again, my fabulous family, for coming together and getting the next generation out to the park, at least once a year!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Man and Animal Unit: Cheetahs of the Kalahari -- National Geographic

We have begun our "Man and Animal" block, as it is known in Waldorf/Steiner schools. We learn all about animals and humans and more for the 7th grader, and visit the zoo as many times as we can. Of course, I woke up to storms and rain, so our daily dose of beautiful National Geographic photos may be our only source for the big mammals today, here it is for you to see, (you will have to click on the link below):
Pictures: Cheetahs of the Kalahari -- National Geographic

Friday, September 5, 2014

First Week Back to Lessons at Home

From the first week and our first poem of the year: "Cargoes" by John Masefield, a "quinquereme." Poem taken from A Journey in Time Through Verse and Rhyme, by Heather Thomas, our Waldorf-inspired go-to poetry book for all grade levels.

This particular illustration is from my oh-so-reluctant daughter who claimed she "can't draw". I chose hers to show how even the most reticent person can find the art inside of them. I hope she remembers the lesson as an encouraging, pleasant one, proving that no one has a license to beauty and art.

Breakfast; when you are facing a full morning of work, it is good to be well-nourished. A morning favorite for Charles; hash browns, eggs and toast:

This week's focus was a math review and getting settled into our routine again. For the three youngest, this means beginning the day together with a poem and seated work; art, math, writing, interspersed with walks or trampoline time. Cate, the college-bound, is usually at the dining room table working on her online classes or ACT prep.

For math, for my 7th-grader, I use Making Math Meaningful, by Jamie York. The Bookstore at Rudolf Steiner College, the above (non-sponsored) links, is a wonderful store with excellent service, where I can find almost anything Waldorf or Steiner. They will even look on their shelves to see if there is a slightly damaged copy they can sell for a little less when you call. Valentine, 12, and I are also reading and working through Life of Fred, Geometry, by Stanley F. Schmidt, a book we borrowed from the library, but which is available through Rainbow Resource. The younger two are reviewing skills with their Miquon pages, also available at Rainbow Resource, and having fun with lessons from Dorothy Harrer's Math Lessons for Elementary Grades and Melisa Neilson's Waldorf Math Grades 1-5. None of these links are sponsored, I am just trying to make it simple to find resources.

However, before beginning again with "school", we first had a summer, whole-family get-together. It started at my parents' house under thunder storms, but ended, as planned and hoped-for, at Eagle Point Park, overlooking the Mississippi from high above on the bluffs. (The picnic might have been rained-out, and eaten at a table inside, but s'mores were obligatory once we reached the park):

                                                          The Mighty, Muddy, Mississippi:

Friday, August 22, 2014

Homeschool to College: How To, Part 1

The time has come. Cate, 17, is ready to apply to college and figure out how it will be paid for. Daunting!

That is what I wrote when I first began this article, back in July. I had no idea. I am home now, and have been working unremittingly on lesson plans and college admissions. It is time to take a break and blog a bit about it all.

I am publishing our research here and will have a continuous input of information as we pursue our task this year...and next, as Duncan will be in the same boat next school year, and they are two very unique individuals.

May I say, that in our family, our children are encouraged to pursue what they believe is their true calling. Do I sometimes whistle a bit when they are listening? Sure. 

First of all, then, neither my husband nor I think that a four-year college immediately following high school is the only route to go. Myself, because I left the country as soon as I legally could. I put college on hold for a super fun year of staying with host families, hanging at the beach, hunting mushrooms in the forest, skiing the Pyrenees, attending formal balls and eating fabulous food, every. single. day. I have NO regrets about postponing college. I learned much about the world and the way it works in that year, and I came home psyched and ready for serious studying. My husband, because he was caught up in a system where that idea had never been in the cards for him. He had a certain high school diploma and a certain school followed that diploma. No holds, delays or breaks allowed. His family had been hosting exchange students from all over the world for ten years when we met. He also wonders what might have happened had he not gone on to the school he attended. What if he had been encouraged to choose a trade or another profession, what if he had had time to explore and think before starting another year of school?

Our children have different ideas; the eldest says that she has had a very long time to think, dream and make plans and that they now include college, pre-med even. The next one says he wants to "get through school with a degree so that he can then do what he really wants to do." So, the merry-go-round begins.

From the top: your child's dream is an Ivy League education? Here is what Harvard has to say about homeschool college admissions:

''Harvard University uses the same requirements for homeschoolers and traditional students. Harvard requires applicants to submit the results of either the SAT I or ACT standardized test and the results of three SAT II Subject Tests, which applicants may take in different subjects to demonstrate a mixture of academic interests.

"There is no single academic path we expect all students to follow," according to their Web site, "but the strongest applicants take the most rigorous secondary school curricula available to them. An ideal four-year preparatory program includes four years of English, with extensive practice in writing; four years of math; four years of science: biology, chemistry, physics, and an advanced course in one of these subjects; three years of history, including American and European history; and four years of one foreign language."

Traditional applicants can supply a letter from a teacher who knows them well and who has taught him or her in academic subjects (preferably in the final two years of secondary school.) However, McGrath Lewis says, "While we can make careful evaluations with required recommendations, we are happy to read helpful letters from people directly familiar with applicants' lives outside the classroom. Such letters are not necessary, however, and it is generally advisable to submit no more than two or three."

In addition to academic standing, Harvard is looking for well-rounded individuals who have participated in personal development outside the institution.

McGrath Lewis offers this advice: "Follow the passions you have and develop them. We are looking for non-academic criteria – maturity, social facility, and non-academic talents, which is the same range as for traditional students."

"It is not harder or easier for homeschoolers to get in. It is difficult for anyone to get in."

As a typical unschooler/homeschooler path, Cate has chosen to begin with some classes from a community college this year, while she is still completing high school. I believe, as of now, that getting her registered for a single class at the local community college will have proved itself more difficult than going to a "normal" college later. More on this option tomorrow.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Home Again...with Pending Posts on France

It is beyond good to be home, and yet, there are so many lingering thoughts, photos and events to chronicle, and so many things to do first. Sadly, the yard work, hair cuts and household organization, not to mention the extreme sport of homeschool planning with 3 weeks to go before the "start date," must come before writing. I will catch up soon, and add little bits of photos and info in the meantime.

Here is what "Country French Homes" looks like in the presence of 12 children...beyond gorgeous, despite us all visiting.

The Library...includes two window seat beds to the left:

Yeah, that's my sweetie, taking a break on the outdoor bench:

The dining room...note table covered with board games and a tiny embroidery bag on the side table: