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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Retirement...What Comes Next? Giving Thanks for What Is

"A year ago"...just the words are evocative of so much for every human on the planet, but they feel particularly poignant today, at home in this huge nation of the ever-dissatisfied and ready to believe in fairy tales called the United States of America. No, I will not take on the big picture for longer than a phrase or two, but if you are on the outside, looking in, please have a thought for the sane left here. We are hopeful, we are grateful, but we are mourning as well, for the loss of life and livelihood that need not have been as great, for the families grieving today. And still we deny. I choose to affirm, to believe in new life.

(This is where I was hiking a year ago, back when travel was a safe thing to do, remember?)

 

Enter the new homebound entrepreneurs; housewife and househusband starting all over at 50.

We have taken a leap of faith, but not an unusual one, the way I see it. MY quarantine conclusion is one I have already written about in a previous post: using the time at home to unvent* the online French school Commence le Dream.

While I was in the midst of creating the concept, I mentioned to my beloved husband that I would need his particular gift of a French voice in order to record the lessons that would be dialogs. He grumbled, as husbands do: "I am not an actor, I am not into radio, I do not like cameras..." And one day, in his inbox appeared an early retirement offer from his employer, and he started to consider his options.

Retire? Start over? Start a business that I love? Mais oui!

There has been some heart-skipping excitement around here for the past few months.  It is a combination of anticipation, relief, wonder, gladness, and Now What?! And that is just me.
 
Thierry, who is leaving a career and a place of many friendships, strong connections and a decent living, has additional layers of feelings. 

We felt much the same when we bought our first house when we were 25, in an urban environment where even the realtors acted as though we were trying to do something not quite kosher, making a large purchase so young. We were committing to the unknown, to a huge project; like now. It was so frightening it felt intoxicating.

The next big move was just five or six years later; moving from France to Iowa. Again; thrills, chills and what-ifs competed for space in our minds and souls. And, we did it anyway. We are primed for one more.

In the mean time, I have been raising five children: navigating the ever-changing landscape of these beautiful souls as they develop, soar, crash, and pick themselves back up, over and over. I have had to learn and relearn to make time for meditation, exercise and reading. I have figured out how to keep families on two sides of the Atlantic part of our lives; on a budget. Every day, we must reinvent new ways to thrive as a couple and as a family unit: through homeschool, public school, triumphs, regrets, sickness and health. Building a business? Piece of gâteau.

We still have kids to raise, college tuitions to help navigate, food to be put on the table, and big dreams to live out. We plan, however, to do it on our own terms, in freedom and in gratitude for all that has been and all there is today. 

This is Thanksgiving week here. Have a marvelous holiday, whatever it might look like this year. Giving thanks for family, loved ones everywhere and dear readers that you are. 

 

*Word coined by Elizabeth Zimmerman, who recognized that there is nothing new under the sun, but sometimes one stumbles upon a method that seems like it is entirely novel, so "unvent". 


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

French Learning: Skip the Boring-Start Speaking

As my husband and I prepare to launch the first of a half a dozen French programs I have been dreaming up for years now, the topic on my mind most often is how to best help someone who wants to speak another language. This has been ruminating about for some time; since I was 19 and noticed that many of the exchange students went back home after a year abroad fluent in French, yet others were still woefully inadequate as speakers of anything other than their native tongue. Why? I had no special skills or gifts in learning, I was certainly not the kid who finished my year with no accent. I did, however, end the year with fluency in French. Were we not all immersed and thus in the most favorable conditions for acquiring a new language? It was not the old disadvantage of age; we were all between 16 and 19 that year. In the following years, patterns would emerge, some involved method, some the company one kept. 

I went on to successfully teach English to the Spanish and later to the French, then French to Americans. The running joke between my students and myself was; 

"How did you learn French so well?"

"I live with my teacher. Don't suppose your partner would object to you moving out for six months, would they? Get a local fellow/gal." 

Right, how about that  of French we were working on again?

The idea of learning with a partner stuck with me, and grew into a plan to make it easy to do. Speak each day with the one you're with? Oui. Sure, you can wake up and say; "Let's speak in French today," and way to go, if you do! But having a method that incorporates meaningful dialog and a script makes it easier to implement. So I wrote one; the original French with Kids, for people home with children, to accompany a daily rhythm. Did I finish recording it and put it out into the world? No, but I am recording right now. Then I wrote one especially for this year, for Corona Times, for two adults to share; at home, across the world via video, anywhere; French at Home. 

As to method, way back when, I began in a strictly prescribed trio of lesson plus workbook plus group exercise used by the language schools of the 90's. That worked sometimes, but what worked best was a student interested in learning, engaged in their own progress and conversations on topics relevant to their life. 

A friend of mine hit on the prime impetus for language and for the dialogs we use today; "a statement should elicit a response. If you tell your child, "go take a shower," and they understand, you will see them head to the bathroom. You both see a direct correlation between what is being said and the answer; spoken or acted upon." In other words, use language for communication. 

The other key element was frequency words, or basing the dialogs on the 500 most used words in the French language, I started at the top, and added in what I know people use every day at home, with a partner or with a family. 

The next post is the email I sent out to a few people to find testers before launching the paid version, this is a free test, and I still have a spot and a half left (meaning; if you do not have a speaking partner, I have one who needs the same. Send me an email.) I am looking forward feedback, because this is all about YOU speaking French, the progress you are making, the ease with which you communicate in French. 


            





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Friday, September 18, 2020

Alignment...in the Eye of the Beholder

My mind was occupied almost the entire time my body was participating in my gym class this morning;  chattering a mile a minute in time to the music; "isn't this just swell? I am strong and vibrant. I'm going to return home and write one humdinger of an inspiring blog post about how fantastic I feel today. It is all going so well. Everyone deserves to feel as good as I do right now, let's cheer them all up and share this abundance of joy."

One: The French at Home: A Conversation program is about to go live for a first round of testers. (The website is up, but the "free mini-course" link is sending readers on a merry-go-round of pages that do not end at the signup page, so more on that when I've fixed it.)

Two: I slept enough hours to feel good when that 5:00 alarm sounded. Small but mighty victory.

Three: My wrist/thumb has been sore, but I decided to weight train anyway. Arthritic thumb confined to a brace all the way to my elbow? Yes, but HERE I AM. I am showing up, growing and making the most of this fabulous life I get to live. 

Back home, I had breakfast, watered the vegetables, new shrubs and flowers, tossed in a load of laundry, all mostly one-handed, and headed upstairs to the office to write. I opened up my laptop, began typing and yelped. pain. I tried a few more key strokes and had to give up. 

The universe may be falling into place as it should, but the wires are all crossed on the messages I am getting. Instead of making progress on a hundred dozen projects, I iced my wrist and had a day of reading, meditation, hovering as my kids did their at-home schoolwork, phone conversations with family, and wondering what it was that life is trying to tell me. Should I not be accomplishing something? Or is the picture bigger, the neglected parts equally needed to fulfill a life and make it whole? 

-Typed with six fingers. Take care, lovely, marvelous readers, and good night. It will look better in the morning. 


...at that point, Blogger crashed, leaving me with this post open and unpublished...but since it was still  here this morning, I'll consider it a keeper. I went back to the gym today and only did things that would NOT hurt. You know, one-handed pull-ups, one-handed push-ups, with a (gentle) clap on the way up? I did not. I worked through an Essentrics routine and did squats. I am also typing with all ten fingers. Carefully. 

I've added the above photo of a beautiful, beautiful road, tree-lined along the water, the way I like my paths to look. It reminds me of country roads in France. The end exists somewhere, perhaps, but the flowing water and the trees are right here, beside and above you, a reminder that what you feel, hear, see, smell and know in your heart to be true holds sway over the invisible end. Permission to jubilate.  

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Spaghetti Sauce, Pesto and Other Joys of Being Home

Back in the dutch oven with you. I gave the weepy sauce a mournful look, but then instantly it came to me that this year, it was OK. 

This is a radical thought to have in the year 2020 of the Common Era, I know, but here it was, bubbling up at me from a big, blue pot on my stove. 

This year, I would be home and able to supervise the sauce from beginning to end. Too soupy? No worries, back on to simmer you go. No need to quickly can and or bag and freeze it until I was good and ready to do so; no "surprise tomato substance with no date" found two months later in the deep freeze. 

In the ten years since I began working and being called away at odd hours or out of town, there may have been a year or two in which free tomatoes did not coincide with ideal canning moment. As usual, last week, we made both spaghetti sauce, from my grandmother's recipe, and piperade, from my husband's grandmother's recipe. Hard to tell which is which in the deep, dark bottom of the big freezer. A quick sauce is better than no sauce, certainly, but a perfect sauce...is even better. A perfect sauce that has been properly canned and labeled? That is living life to the fullest. 

This comfort may be small, but it is grounding and real. 

Ditto for the pesto; the temperatures were dropping to 50 tonight? Crud, my friend, that is how you lose an entire crop of the pansy stuff. Go out in bare feet in the moonlight to harvest basil: check. Wrap in damp towel, knowing tomorrow I will get to it: check. On hand we have pine nuts: also check. We are never without fresh garlic. We are cooks.

Finding joy in the perfect cup of tea, or in being home to cook, home to complete a project, no matter how small, is a tiny burst of joy in a day. 

The sauces were not bad either. 

Recipes? Sure, go ahead, especially if someone just called you with an offer of free produce. Bon appetit!


Spaghetti Sauce

A lot of tomatoes: all the ones you don't want to use for piperade or for a tomato salad with fresh mozzarella and basil, with a vinaigrette made from a mild vinegar; red wine works nicely, the rest of them then:

(cored, peeled (drop in boiling water, remove leaving skin behind)

Garlic (1 clove per 3-4 tomatoes)

Basil (a few leaves, to taste, if dried; 1/4 teaspoon to 3-4 tomatoes)

Oregano (1/4 teaspoon to 3-4 tomatoes)

Olive oil (for sautéing)

Salt 

Maybe a dash of pepper

Mince garlic, and sauté in the olive oil until golden

Add tomatoes, cook half an hour over medium low heat, reduce to simmer, add basil, oregano, salt, simmer until liquid has been almost all the way reduced. Taste for spices once every hour or so, add salt, pepper, others as needed. 


Piperade

Is much like ratatouille, but minus the aubergines; garden harvest plus, you guessed it, onions and all the tomatoes you have been given or harvested. 


Pesto

Classic recipe

2 cups of basil leaves, rather packed

1/3 c pine nuts

3-4 cloves garlic (depending on size and taste for garlic)

1/4 c olive oil

1/4 c Parmesan

Salt

In food processor/blender/coffee grinder or Nutribullet, blend basil, add pine nuts, blend, pour in a tiny stream of olive oil as needed to continue mixing.  Add garlic, blend, Parmesan and salt, blend and add olive oil to help with mixing until you have a nice paste. Serve (or rather, add a tiny spoonful) to pasta or anything else.

A word of advice: use copious amounts of mouth wash before venturing forth into the world again.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Surprising Myself with a "Yes"

The most extraordinary thing just happened, and you should know all about it. I would not have believed it if you told me it could happen, all of about twenty minutes ago. 

Like every mother on the face of the earth, I know there are two or three things I could have, would have done better, if given a chance at a "re-do." I have always believed fate to be doubly cruel in giving us the power to regret and the power to remember, but nothing at all in the way of a "reset" or "do-over" button for those moments. And the real number of these little gems is closer to two or three billion, to be real with you. But you knew that. 

Here is what happened. I have given myself a two-day retreat, while still at home, but a break from the constant everything that makes my brain spin from worry and fear and stress. These two days are to delve into meditation, the books I have on mindfulness, healing of spirit and of self, and for quiet introspection. 

Today's first book, a water-logged, dog-eared, much beloved copy of Thich Nhat Hahn's "Peace is Every Step." I read until I came to what I needed to read and meditated on it for the rest of the morning. This is, of course, between sitting in meditation and doing laundry (this is a real home and not a hotel retreat center, after all). The passage was about a lost smile, and how everything around you is holding on to that smile for you until you can let it return. The lines; "You don't need to feel isolated. You only have to open yourself to the support that is all around you and in you." Sometimes, as the "head of household" be it mother or father, we take it upon ourselves to hold it all, hold it in, hold it together, hold ourselves apart, marked, separate and solely responsible for the mayhem and pain. 

The second book is brand new to me. According to my Kindle, I had previously read about 12% of it, but today I wanted to take the time to read it all. The title is "Radical Acceptance" by Tara Brach. The exercise that just changed me forever is about learning to say "yes". You sit with a difficult experience and allow the emotions of that to come to mind. As they do, you first apply denial; say "no" and keep saying "no", and as you do so, you remark how you feel; in your throat, your gut, the tightening of your eyes and clenched fists. Then replay the same difficult experience and say "yes", "yes" as the memories and feelings roll past you. 

Here is what happened next for me;  few minutes after this experience,  I had gone downstairs, to make tea. Of a sudden, all of the other memories that had happened at the same time, but were not associated with the many parenting mistakes I always dwell on, came rushing back in all of their happiness, peacefulness and joy. I had access to beautiful moments that my monkey brain had locked away behind the guilt for so long. My gratitude is overwhelming. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Homebound After Saying Goodbye to College Student: As Goes My Spirit, So Goes My Knitting or Vice-Versa

I do not think I am quite ready to write about it yet, although it is not a heavy heart today, but a bright, hopeful one for the adventures that lie ahead for her. Here is my child as we left her at her college dorm on Tuesday, all of us smiling as big as we could before the tears escaped. 



My knitting before, on the way to the new place my sweetie will be spending the next 4 years or so, as I wonder what it will be like, for her, for me, for us, and how in the world I am going to manage to say "See you soon, take care, have fun, ma petite chèrie d'amour." 


And after, the determination to be tidy in thoughts and actions vying with the emotions with no such intention. The discipline of lace soothing me into a new rhythm: (Mermaid Walk).



Saturday, August 1, 2020

Language Learning and FRENCH

Since the very first time I heard someone speak in Spanish, I was probably six or seven, and it was on a train in Chicago, all three of these events being rare enough occurrences that it has stuck with me. I was enthralled. I only think it was Spanish because I had heard it on Sesame Street. I have no memory of the people who were speaking nor of where my family might have been headed on a train in Chicago (a zoo, a museum, a ball game?), but the exotic sound of the words rolled off in another language stayed with me, as did the tiny knot of passion for languages that would later unfurl into linguistic enamor, joy and becoming bilingual.

Another language is another opportunity to connect, another set of eyes that open upon the world. It can be a pathway to another destiny; travel, sure, but scholarships and employment offers also present themselves, attracted to the fact that most Americans do not have that toolset in their backpacks or purses. 

The first of such bits of luck presented themselves in the humble form of Pig Latin in Mrs. Miller's 6th grade classroom. I was in a reading group in the back, and I was supposed to be reading Chapter 2 of our assignment. As I perused the boringest reading selection in the world, my ears caught the lesson of how to form words in Pig Latin; "remove the first consonants, put them at the end of the word and add a long "a". If the first letter is a vowel, add the sound "way". " An avid fan of Trixie Belden and secret codes, I wrote it down and listened intently to their practice session. I went straight home and taught it to my little sister. We suddenly had a language all our own that we could use in front of our brothers and say whatever we wanted to say. Then we discovered that our parents did not understand it either when we spoke in our rapid other language. Sweet victory.

I was heart-broken when I was not allowed to join the after-school French classes offered by Madame Kopp in 7th grade. It was not in our family's budget. However, as soon as class selection rolled around for high school, I was dying to get in. Would it be German, for my heritage, French for the romance or Spanish like everyone else? I really hated doing things like everyone else, so I told my great-grandma that I had decided to take German. Her name, after all, was Kleinschmidt, with a maiden name of Schwartz. I thought she would be thrilled and that maybe she would have some remnants of German and we could discuss life in our own language, during the commercials while watching game shows. NO DICE! Twerpie, as we called my great-granny, said that if it were her, she would take French. 'But why?' I had to inquire. She had always dreamed of visiting Switzerland, and French was the language to speak when one visits that part of the world. 'The lakes are beautiful and there are mountains on the lakes,' said Twerpie. I adored my great-grandmother as no one else on this earth, so I took French. 

In college, I would go on to major first in Spanish, and then in French. Along the way, I took three years of Chinese, one each of Italian, German and Basque. I had a Latin class taught in Spanish, not to learn Latin, but to study the roots of Spanish. Latin had to be self-taught, which did not turn out to be the best way for me to learn a language. My children and I learned together, me always just a few lessons ahead of them. 

The past 23 years, I have dedicated myself to raising my children in a bilingual environment with the goal of fluency in both languages, and the acquisition of one or more others. I have done everything in my power to make this a natural and joyful part of life, helped along by many small things. During what the French have aptly named "confinement" or "Corona times" while sheltering at home, I turned my French skills from the closed courtrooms where I was not working, toward developing a way to share French with others who might want to take the leap. More on the programs and a new website: free lesson here dedicated to "foreign" languages to come. Although, in passing, they are only foreign until the moment you have not begun to discover how to say "Have a marvelous day," in French: Je vous souhaite une journée merveilleuse!

Monday, May 11, 2020

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Celebrate Our Mothers Day! I know I am a day late, it is so, so clear that this is Monday and not Sunday. The fact is that, yesterday, I was very busy being mama, and just a lazy person who reads instead of writing, who knits instead of cleaning, and who hangs out with her children eating all the good food that was cooked in her honor and playing kahoots until way past her bedtime. It was such a good day. Thank you, my dear ones.


Remember to pause for a day like that once in awhile, whether or not there is someone to cook for you, whether you are an uncle, a mother, alone or living with half a dozen people. 

Happy Mother's Day to my mom, who deserves it, more than anyone else I know. She did it all; she loved me, she fed me, she never left me. As Garfield put it; that's all you need. 

Nobody is perfect, I would fling my stone right back at myself if it were a blame contest for parenting mistakes, and most moms feel the same way. Although each of us spent time far, far from home; (I think my sister wins the long-distance contest with Japan), my siblings and I all live within three hours of our hometown today. They are within reach, available to gather as a family any time we are given the chance. How is that for a tribute? I believe, it must be because we feel a connection to our family identity, to our roots. That connection is forged through good parenting, steadfastness of purpose and dedication to ongoing improving of adult-parent relationships. 

A footnote I need to add, although I hesitate to do so, lest my children take this for permission to move any further away than across town (NOT GRANTED), is that it might have ended differently and that would not have been a reflection on my parents. My husband and I very well might have remained in France, near my in-laws, my sister or brother could have ended up in Texas or Florida, where it is warm enough for their lizard natures. It might have been Boston for the other brother, for that New England crispness he likes. Somehow, though, miraculously, I have the good fortune to live within shouting distance of all of them, despite my wandering, gypsy nature and love of the ocean. Happy Home-Sheltered, Land-locked Mother's Day!

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Sanity Soothers and Sheltering at Home

Things are maybe heating up at home, as this period of living under quarantine lags on. I've come up with a list of small things to help, to be done over the course of a single minute or an hour:

*Slicing citrus scraps into small strips over the compost bowl. The smell is divine, the sense of purpose all-encompassing.

*Pulling weeds, the tiny spring-time weeds, one by one. Bye-bye Creeping Charley, I didn't know you made such teeny tiny hair-width tendrils before blowing up all over my lawn and into the crevices of my garden boxes again. I'll let you survive out in the open until you've done your flower-pollenator duty, then I'll see you later, my stinkies.

While you are worrying about everything, remember to start with a breath, with love, with gratitude. See: Unexpected Homeschooling and Homeschooling? One Minute and Two Hours a Day.

*Knitting lace, just one row, watching the intricate stitches scroll forth.



No lace? Knit a row in a new washcloth, between serving dinner and proofreading your son's schoolwork. Breathe as you do, it feels like playing hooky, doesn't it?

*Non-knitters; braiding your husband's growing hair, or anything else you can get your fingers on; the strings on a mop, dental floss. This is the time to learn how to waste time. It is an acquired skill.

*Pulling burrs or pills off of a garment, just 5 or 6 at a time.
Any more and it becomes a chore of overwhelming proportions.

* Throw something away. And one more thing.

* Rearrange a small or large corner; of your desk, of a room. Feel the new energy released. Especially if you threw something away in the rearranging.

* Make a pot of tea with real tea, take your time.

There are all sorts of household chores one could do, but I imagine you have already discovered them. You know; cleaning the filter of the shop-vac again, maybe out on the patio, preferably on a day with little wind, so the dust bunnies do not escape straight into the neighbor's yard. If it is a nice day, they are out too, wondering what you are doing now. "Is she; cleaning the ridges on the filter of that thing? Is that a...?" Yes, and probably. It is such a satisfaction to have a clean shop vac, isn't it? As my grandfather used to write in his letters to me; "A clean house is a thing of beauty and joy forever." Ah, I see you know me too well, certain of my readers. Did you laugh hard enough to?  Never mind. This was supposed to be about calming activities.

Take a walk. Every evening when the work day is done, my husband and I go for a bike ride or a walk, the days it has not snowed, that is. We have had an insane amount of snow for April. I take pictures so I can share with my family. We check in each day in a group text.












* Check in with loved ones. This has been a sustaining detail of my days. Two group texts; one for my siblings and parents, another for my kids and husband, have us feeling connected although far apart, or in stitches over a dumb meme or thrilled over photos of the earth's changing environmental pollution-clearing. Keep in touch, even if you are in the same house.

Others I've given up on or that do not fit my lifestyle:

* Nail-painting. Since I do not have an opportunity to be in a courtroom or anywhere else just now, I thought it might be fun to paint my nails outrageous colors. Color is fun. Learning to paint precisely enough to mimic a professional manicure is even fun. Chipped color 24 hours later is not fun. The painting of the nails is not fun enough to warrant repeating it every day. I've been through blood red, mint green and irisy purple. It's time to go back to Naked Nelly for me.

* Joining any new group, organization or planning committee, no matter how valuable their contribution to the world may be. Due to no sports, music or theatre activities of the kids, I have been available for every group, committee and other meeting proposed the past two weeks, so I was able to see, first-hand, how over-committed my previous self allowed me to get. This is not a time in which you are obliged to become a super-human. You are already a super-human. Let it be enough. Take care.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Great Unread Books Fail

Be honest; did you not at least think about reading all of the books you may have waiting unread on your shelves during this time of sheltering at home? Did you have BIG PLANS to systematically read them, maybe in order of acquisition, or alphabetically by author's last name, or by some other extrinsic method of ranking order?


Yeah, me too, until confronted with the actual reading part. Here are my first four attempts. I began with the most recently purchased; Colson Whitehead's "The Underground Railroad", it is, after all, a work of fiction, so how hard could it be to get through? While compelling, it is, like "Crime and Punishment", distinctly unnerving to a soul already troubled by current times. The cruelties of slavery are so precisely depicted that my heart hurts reading it. Likewise, the world described in "Crime and Punishment" is one of such abject desperation and depravation that I barely lasted three chapters. Besides, it is a nasty, small paperback form that does not invite an enjoyable read.

They have both been moved from "nightstand fiction" to "during daylight hours, once I've read the non-fiction selections". Chomsky is an excellent read, but not at all reassuring either. Nevertheless, I've picked up where I left off, seven or eight years ago, and once in awhile, I am reading a few pages. As to SPQR, I bought it for a child, for whom it was much too dry and academic. I picked it up, read for a bit, and then, like now, allowed myself to be distracted by something easier, brighter, more fun. Today, it is back to an old favorite; "Eats, Shoots and Leaves," by a fellow lover-of-punctuation; Lynne Truss. I'll tackle one of the others tomorrow. Happy quarantine reading.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Now Homeschooling? One Minute...and 2 hours

Put kindness and love first. These are extraordinary times. Let's not make it any harder on ourselves than it needs to be. There is more fear floating around than most of us can easily deal with, and kids are vulnerable to the world's fear and to their care-giver's. Treat yourself with tenderness; it is normal to worry, you may be feeling afraid of many things; your child need not be one of them. Find joy in anything and everything; and live in that joy for a moment, before moving on to the next part of your homeschool to-do list.

The word on the street (and the t.v. networks), according to "experts" in education, is that a student at-home needs about half to two-thirds of the time they would normally spend in school to be spent in work at home. This would mean 31/2 to 4 hours, 5 days a week. Quantity over quality is not a recipe for success. The "how" matters more than the "what" in this learning equation. 

How you choose to face each day is more important than what you do or how many hours of schoolwork are getting done. After 19 years of homeschooling, my opinion is the same as that of many others who have experience with learning at home; in purely "sit down at home learning time" it looks more like 2 hours a day, less for a young child, more if one is attempting to prep for an AP chem exam or study literature. 

I do have a child who went on to college without ever going to elementary or high school, she has

graduated college and is now in law school. Her high school years were entirely self-directed. I think she studied German, math, piano and kung-fu. I never counted the hours and neither did she. Do I feel our time homeschooling was entirely successful? Yes and no. Academically? No question. Functionally? We all survived, my kids are the most wonderful human beings I know, but I spent more time worrying about how I could get everyone to behave and conform to the ideas I had about how our school at home should look, than the amount of compassion employed as I went about accomplishing it. This is a real regret. 

Only 2 hours a day?! What else can the kids be doing? What else do they normally do? Do you spend time outside? Go!  (When allowed by your local powers that be, or having a back yard.) Do you read aloud together? Do more! Do you cook or bake together? Make lunch or dinner an elaborate affair. Do they play Legos while listening to audiobooks? (Our kids also like to fold origami, draw, paint, twirl a baton or work on a puzzle while listening to audiobooks.) Are there chores that need to be done? You are all home; recruit the forces. If you have an adolescent who likes to dance, maybe you can be an extra cool parent and agree to make a Tik-Tok thingy with her. I may cave soon, I already let her give me a makeover, gosh...maybe we could increase the amount of hours needed for schoolwork after all. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Thank you, I am ready to receive the gift of this day

was my thought as I ended an early morning "lying down meditation" which is not as good as a sitting up meditation, according to the experts in meditation, but it is Better Than no meditation at all. My day was off to a good start, in spite of a poor night's sleep, with that simple epiphany. Today is a gift. 

The phrase from Catholic mass came to mind; "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Yes, this was the same thing, only taking responsibility for my worthiness and my well-being. "Worthy" has always been a weighty topic, hasn't it? My 7-year-old self, learning my Catechism, did not at all enjoy the thought that she had to say, out loud, "I am not worthy." 

There is enough in real life to beat us back down to size, no sense repeating it every single week. Yet, there is the deeper truth that this is how we feel deep down: not good enough; until we heal from the last set of wounds, or from an older, perhaps ancient bruise to the self. Healing is important, and gratitude for the present instant is the first step on the journey. 

For my sweet girl, on her own, quarantined in Chicago, her fave member of our household, one who is always ready to receive his due: caresses, treats, play time, adoration of all sorts:


Monday, March 23, 2020

Joys at Home...Because You Can't Be Anywhere Else

The mood is more subdued on this first Monday of real life while under siege. It does feel like the encircling of some distant enemy right now, doesn't it? As I stood on the banks of the creek for a moment yesterday, dog's leash in my hand while he sniffed and scratched, the thought swished through like a wisp of early morning fog; "this is what it must feel like to wonder if bombs will be dropped today. This is unsettling. I'll just lose myself in the water for a bit, as it flows, bubbles and gurgles its way, on and on. This is good."

Sharing some of today's joys, not to lighten the mood, but to inspire warmth, kindness and hope. Friends who mean the world to me, offered the gift of this tea kettle. I have always it thought the most beautiful sort; a real, copper, proper English tea kettle. Look! Then, a dear man polished it to a gleam by the fireside, for something to do. I would have to marry this guy, if I hadn't already done so.


An afghan I am working on for my son; contemplating the color scheme, half-way through:



And the weather, which, whilst not making going outside much easier, is at least conspiring to give the impression that inside coziness is the mood du jour:



That was last night. I fully expected it all to have melted this morning. I was wrong. Did I really, just last week, prep these beds and tomato cages for planting? I'll enjoy the vision of a snowy wonder world, one last time for the season. Happy Spring.



Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Big, Giant, Choose-Your-Own Adventure-During-Quarantine Plan

Now that we have had a full week of rest and relaxation, have you come up with What We're Going to Do yet? Besides survive, survival is very important, and that is why we are Sheltering at Home along with you and every person who has the luxury of doing so. 

I am excited. I like order and having time carved out for my own writing. We cannot predict what else may happen in the coming weeks, (and, aren't all of our nights filled with recurring thoughts of The Very Worst?) but we can create an atmosphere of calm and joy, one in which each has a chance to grow and become the creative self they are meant to be. 

Today was the deadline we gave ourselves to determine the Course of Action to be Taken During the Days at Home. It has evolved to a personal growth series, one per person. The parameters are parent-led and flexible in our house, due to having older children who can be and prefer to be autonomous most of the time. But part of the autonomy means presenting your plan at 5 pm today.

The general outline: 

We meet for a brunch/lunch, depending on what time your day started, call it as you wish, at 11:30. Tea at 3:30 and dinner after 6. During Dad's work day; no streaming. No noise after 9 pm, get up by 9 am. Study something, read something and write something. If school sends work, take advantage of it and do it. In the meantime and in your spare time, find and pursue something you want to know more about. Ask if you need resources or feedback. 

This is easy for the senior, 18. She knows there are exams she wants to take and there will be resources forthcoming from the teachers and from the AP test centers. She  says she will be playing piano at 11 each morning,  and she is practicing Spanish on DuoLingo. 

The sophomore, 15, seems to think he has it all worked out, but he is more private with his plans. The deadline is approaching; 20 minutes, as I type, so I will leave you in suspense for now. 

The 7th grader, 12, plans on drawing. He is in an arts program, so this is part of his daily life. He reads a lot, so that part will be easy. I may have to offer writing prompts. And, um, encouragement, in the form of bribery...or something. 

Hang in there, and when you get a chance, take a deep breath and look at the beauty around you just now. 




Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Unexpected Homeschooling: You CAN Do This

Wow; we are all in one big, worldwide homeschooling club, aren't we? And most of us had not expected to be here today. From the looks of it, this ride may be the long-term sort, so buckle up, relax, and let's look at what may be in store for you. First, remember; this time is pretty precious. Whether or not you've figured out a rhythm yet, these days spent at home, wondering where the heck the world is headed, together with your family, are creating unique memories already.

Circa 2010, homeschooling for 3 months in France in a tiny aparment


True, I have been here before, but in different times and different circumstances. The children were...children, and I made the decisions about great portions of their lives. Now, my husband and I are thrilled to co-exist with four real humans who have separate realities outside of this house, or they did until about two days ago, and it is not the same. 

You are most likely in the same type of ship; they may be younger, there may be less of them, or more. You may have a more precise idea of how you want this to go down, or still be floundering in the waters of denial. 

In any case, first things first; breathe, and give yourself a few days permission to sit with this and see what presents itself; both in your own mind and that of your child's. It is not a race, my friends. This is not school, this is life. Life is nothing without tenderness, so start with love. 

Homeschoolers often talk about a period we call deschooling, like detoxing in a way. It means allowing for a free mind to emerge from the habit of having much of one's day scheduled in a familiar way. This is not always easy, and in uncertain times, it will present challenges yet unknown to our era. I believe some of the same principles still apply to the situation of forced-to-be-home. Expecting a family to go from all-day-school to zero school and a plan for home all at once is unrealistic. Take time to take care of yourself, and in the best of unschooling traditions, do two things:

1) Follow your own interests/passions/things that need getting done.
2) Let your kids share their interests with you. 

In our house, this has looked like a lot of things over the years.
Cookie maps of the world

Spending time outside: sailing

Camping




This week, it resembles this:

The past few days, we have all slept in (this is, after all, our spring break). We've cooked, baked, and cleaned and threw things away that should have been thrown away 12 years ago. The kids slept in even later, and joined us in cleaning or cooking or listening to French podcasts or the Presidential Address from Emmanuel Macron. We have read books, gone on walks (not together, it is no longer cool to head out on a 7-person walk), played Uno and watched movies. 

I looked at the weather forecast and saw only one day of sunshine all week; yesterday. We dropped everything else and did spring yard work for one glorious day, reveling in the good fortune that we have a backyard and it was warm enough to be out in it.

Today, when we talked about maybe coming up with a plan for the next month or so, the topic of Kahoots came up. I was the only one who knows nothing about this questionnaire/contest thing all kids play in school. They were more than happy to oblige, and we were soon immersed in a trivia game that we played all morning, had lunch, then played some more. We took turns picking topics and winning our faves; geography (Thierry beat the pants off the rest of us), anatomy (Charles, future sports medecine-something), chemistry (Valentine, hands down), Spongebob (Gael, naturally), 19th century lit (mine!) Is this game aligned with my Waldorf homeschooling values? Why not? It is on a screen, on many screens, as answers have to be picked on a phone or laptop, but it is also a fantastic way to bring people together in fun and challenges. 

We will come up with more of a plan by next week, and so will you. I have faith in you as a parent. Have faith in yourself as a parent. And enjoy the time that is now. 

For more resources, including another lovely blogger's straight-forward, zero filters take on it here, you might want to read Leonie Dawson:


Or for a Waldorf-inspired source of curriculum, but also parenting advice, including free videos and resources, Melisa Nielsen of Waldorf Essentials:


If anyone would like to work on their French skills, drop me a comment; Skype-pals may be a thing starting soon. Stay well and sleep tight.