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


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. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

As You Were, Child. Coronavirus is Here and So Are You

The Before I wrote of, was it 2 days ago? 3? And The After is now, or perhaps this is the preliminary stages of during, but the fact is that I will now be home with four of my five beautiful children every day for the next month. Like many of you, I suppose. No school, no sports, no gatherings.

My kids just heard the official news. They are not rejoicing. Especially not my sweet senior girl who has had to renounce a spring break trip with show choir to Florida, senior prom, probably graduation, soccer season, and perhaps even finishing high school until sometime in July. This seems so very minor to us adults, but her heart is being torn in two. She's decided to eat a box of GS cookies and cry in her room. The boys are so upset about not being allowed to go hang out at the YMCA for hours on end, that they have resorted to playing godawful video games in the basement. I am practicing The Letting Go for now. At some point, post-spring-break, we will have to come up with a plan for life, lessons and work. But not just yet. 

There will be so many disruptions of life; the career I chose as a court interpreter is completely shut down, for now, and the one I gave up on in health care, I am rather grateful not to be dealing with, actually. 

If the above are the only things we have to give up this year, we will be among the most fortunate on earth. I am giving thanks for the wisdom of the leaders who have had the courage to take these decisive measures. 

I have been scrubbing things and baking. My defaults for days at home. I finished a book full of small life lessons on dealing with hardship gracefully; "A Gentleman in Moscow." Rather a good choice for the days in which we find ourselves.

The great gift is that this has begun in health. May it end in health for you as well as for us all. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Before (Pre-Coronavirus Here)

Listening to jazz is a new thing for me. I have finally realized that it is an act in itself, a testimony to art and poetry in musical form. Sit, listen, breathe. Flow into the moods of the music. It is not in my nature to sit and breathe and flow, but I am learning, note by note. It comes to me in flashes of comprehension, this understanding. I see, I breathe, I fall in love. 

I could clearly see, last night, listening to the music, that our society is on the brink of a cataclysm. Yesterday was the before, today is the beginning, tomorrow is unsure. Everything will change, as it has for anyone who has ever suffered a natural catastrophe or war. Our country has been so long without a nationwide sorrow, that we have forgotten, unless we were in New York in 2001, what it means to work together to figure this out. Can you feel the tide of it? Are you doing all you can to stay the disaster?

Italy is trying to warn us. We are not listening. I am home with my family, which is a source of great joy, tinged with apprehension. I went to work yesterday, the kids went to school, but by the time we all came home, every single activity had been put on hold for the next week, at least. 

I stopped by the store on the way home. People were shopping for the oddest things. A Chinese man was encouraging a group of women to buy the 50lb bags of rice; "there will be none tomorrow,"  (this seemed like a wise choice to me, rice, beans, salt). Many, many people were pushing around carts filled with cleaning products, but looking as though they should be shopping for something more important, they just did not know what. There were buckets of complaints about the lack of any "bath tissue" to be found. (That is what the sign in the aisle selling t.p. still calls it in my neighborhood grocery store.) 

I want my children to be careful. I want them to be responsible citizens and help CONTAIN THIS. I also want them to have hope and faith and live in joy and gratitude. There will be an "After". May it come at a price with not too many regrets. Sing a glad song. And stay home.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Taking Measure

The fated day has arrived, and like most fated days, it has come in small, quiet steps, right up to one's door. In this case, it was to my knee, then my waist, then my shoulder, and now, past the top of my head. My youngest child is taller than me. It happened last night, sometime in the night between Wednesday and the early hours of rising and getting ready for our day. He went to bed under 5'3" (161cm) and woke up an inch over that mark. I swear. 

It gave me pause, but not, I suspect, anyone else. They will continue to grow and celebrate each half inch, each victory and new experience along their path, and so will I, just from somewhere slightly lower in the atmosphere. 

The "right way" to take a selfie, according to the one in the middle.

Our oldest in her very own apartment, Christmas tree and all. 

As soon as I set my phone down anywhere in the vicinity of this one (either, actually)...this happens. 

It looks like my phone camera is on its last useful legs, but if these amuse me, or you, they will do. 

Monday, February 17, 2020

Stoicism Tossed Out

Stoicism has its ups...but oh, the downs! I wrote about it in a positive light in an earlier post, as a way of creating a braver, better attitude about life.  I've rethunk my thought a little. Blame the insomnia.

If we can agree that it is vital to accept what is and move forward in life, for our well-being, the dwelling upon of how bad it might really be to achieve greater enlightenment is NOT a tool for a worrying-sort of mother. 

Not homeschooling anymore? No toddlers at home? (I do love babies.) Another child prepping to leave home for college? O.K., that's cool, life does go on, you know. I recognize that I have been grieving the homeschooling life we once led, but overall, what a marvelous existence it is. And hey; "It could be worse."

...and BING, there goes my overactive imagination, straight to any number; did I say any number? no, to an insanely high number of scenarios which the children that I cannot physically see right in front of me might be facing right this very minute. Or in the future. The future is uncertain. No one knows what might happen then; in 45 million years there might not even be an earth, and today at 3pm, there could be an X     Y     Z, fill-in-the-blank disaster. 

You see what I mean? The things that keep a parent awake at 4 in the morning, are the things, in the end, we are better off not contemplating on a daily basis. Thanks anyway, Stoics. I'll take my gratitude undiluted by the addition of having first considered what is NOT wrong. 

So, the kids are growing and thriving, my husband is healthy and happy, and I am fully appreciative of these simple facts. It is everything to me. I have no need of putting myself into a sad place on purpose to be reminded of how sweet life is. As a matter of fact, now that a little free time has opened up once in a while, I plan on enjoying that time doing something perfectly marvelous; an exercise class, cooking, reading, knitting, or; my puppy's favorite; taking a long walk in the woods. Someone else can exercise their right to imagine the worst. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Joy to You! Make it Easier This Year.

I recently enrolled in a program you may have heard of called "Toastmasters," designed to make one a better public speaker. No, not to add one more thing to my plate, but rather to hone the skills needed to do the job I have and love better. I took last week's blog post and crafted my first official speech out of it. This was designed as a speech, so forgive the formatting. The assignment; a speech about something that you are passionate about (although, it might have said; "your interests or your hobbies," with research-backed bits to support your premises. Must site research. It is meant, not as a lecture, but as a personal reminder to just me, so to speak. 

Intro: Too many things on one’s to do list creates chaos and craziness, neither of which contribute to a happy holiday.
Strategies for making it joyous again.

1) Think like a Stoic; how could this situation go wrong?
The ancient roman philosophers known as Stoics knew that a life of fear, anger, envy and grief was a sad life. They observed the workings of the human mind and came up with techniques to prevent negative emotions and methods to rid oneself of them if they dared appear despite said techniques.
Think for just a moment: How could this situation possibly go wrong? What is the worst thing that could happen? (I can get carried away here too, so keep it to a thought or two.) Now aren’t you glad it didn’t go all that wrong? How lucky are you today, to be right here, right now? Did you car or your feet or your great-great auntie get you here today? It could have broken down, been broken or been out of town. Is the heat working? The furnace could have quit and we’d all be giving our speeches in parkas and mufflers.
How can this be applied to Kwanza, Yule, Hannukah or Christmas? I can look around and think that the tree might fall down and kill the pet birds or dog, or burn and take the house with it, there might not be snow, we might all get the flu- again- this year, someone I love with all my heart might not be there this Christmas. And then, I can be so very grateful for who is there and what we do have. According to Stoicism, this is not borrowing trouble, this is a way to cultivate gratitude. 
2) Simplify activities, choose wisely;
Choose according to what you need, not what your second cousin needs, what your neighbor thinks you need, (“hey, son, gonna’ get those lights up? It’s just about Thanksgiving already.”) but what you actually need to thrive and be cheery and bright.
What is it that you most treasure at this time of year? Is it the neatly lined up tins of 37 different kinds of cookies, candy and treats to share with everyone? Why does it have to be 37? Would one tin of cookies do? Would no cookies be a novel way to be healthier this year?
Is it writing to each of your friends in a card, which, may, incidentally, have turned into an annual marathon of family photo-in-October/order-before-Black-Friday-to-get-the-discount-while-cooking the turkey and homemade pies slash be the first to get them in the mail? Would writing a handful of meaningful notes later, for New Year’s wishes, perhaps, be just as fulfilling? Or maybe delegate someone else to create an email message of holiday cheer with photos or a poem?

Is it spending an afternoon in the woods with your children choosing just the right tree, chopping it down while your fingers freeze and getting full of pine resin as you strap it to the car, and bringing it home to roost? Would an artificial tree that can be kept year after year and simplify the holiday rush be a satisfactory substitute? No, it would not. Never mind. Bad idea.

Is it making homemade candles for the Solstice Spiral or the kinara?

Caroling around the community?

Making sure you have a hand-knit gift for everyone, for every single day of Hannukah?

Pick. Pick one or two.

I hereby propose that a thing done with joy and reverence is worth a dozen done in haste.

According to Seneca, echoing the modern-day philosophy of abundance; “We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.” If you interpret this to mean that using it implies being utilitarian about each and every minute, you miss the point, and miss incorporating what makes life wonderful.

3) It can be hard to let go, why is that?

Despite the success of movements like Marie Kondo; “Hold the object in your hand. Does it spark joy? If not, thank it, and let it go, preferably straight to the recycling bin,” or the Voluntary Simplicity movement before that, we are not hard-wired to let go. The basic human instinct to hoard what we have to guard against hard times to come is over-powering.

The need, however, to be constantly doing, and doing it better and doing more, is entirely a phenomenon of our fast-paced, American society. We create our own level of stress and eventually, break-down in health; mental and physical. OSHA has declared stress a “hazard of the workplace”. According to Mayo Clinic, 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments. Stress plays a role in causing headaches, high-blood pressure, anxiety, heart problems, asthma, diabetes, arthritis, depression and eczema.

In today’s world, our most prevalent attitude is one of hustling while the hustling is good, doing more, getting ahead. No one knows what tomorrow may bring. The realization that we have enough to be happy, right now, we do, is often fleeting, followed by the inevitable what-ifs.

Luckily, our earlier and more basic aptitude for finding joy in what is, here, in front of us, is even deeper and older. We know, instinctively, what gives pleasure; a good meal, a magnificent sunrise, a welcome hug, beautiful yarn on one’s needles, and the warm glow of caring and being cared for.

The courage to do less, to say no to time commitments without deep meaning for you and make space to breathe, be and enjoy what is, comes only when one has the conviction that this is the right thing to do.

Or does it? 

Maybe a trial run of taking on less, promising less, prioritizing what truly matters, and, for a week or so, for the season, for the year; doing less, (as suggested by Kate Northrup, author of "Do Less") can bring the rewards needed to make greater change, and bring greater peace on earth and in your own heart.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Outline for a Happy Holiday; Simple

5:15 on a Saturday morning, me having a cup of tea with you and writing, is my full-blown, Olaf-style happy place. The mittens I am going to work on in a little while are in that space as well. On the first Saturday in December? With so much to do and so little time? What in the world?

Something dawned on me the other day;

Making the home one in which we all feel the love, and the space for happiness, was the real job of pre-Christmas prep. You cannot do that when you are prioritizing every single outside activity and inner obligation. The math does not work. 

Advent implies expectant waiting, it means, literally; arrival or coming, and the thing that is coming toward us in the month leading up to Christmas, can look either menacing or welcome.

I have dropped the need to make everything picture-perfect this season. I do not plan on picking that mess back up off the floor. It is a thermometer of mercury, heated to boil, breaking and now scattered, rolling under furniture, out doors and away. 

I am going for peace, because perfection is a stress-bomb in the making. Peace is up to me and the rest is not. There will be food and gifts, yes, lucky us! And there is a real tree standing, as yet, unadorned, in the middle of the sunroom smelling like pine, the manger and its inhabitants have settled onto the usual table. But as to the rest, it can take its time. I am doing what makes the season happy, and finding harmony is at the top of my list.

A number of "must-dos" have been crossed off early, and it helps. However, a much larger number of "usual should-dos" have been eliminated. It will be a busy month, but the busy will be of our choosing and not imposed by what I think I should be doing.

Last night we got out and enjoyed the Christmas walk downtown among the small, local shops. The weather was right (you know; "winter-right", hovering around 30 F), and the lights were beautiful. It was the first time I had gone in years and years, a pity. The Christmas walks of my childhood, in the historic district and at the Ham House in Dubuque, were my favorite outings of all.

Today I am headed to Des Moines to celebrate 50 years of life, 43 of friendship, with a friend, because it is important; to her, to me. Life is looking well-lived  and as precious as it truly is. Happiness is right here. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Request: "More Photos"

This is for Irena, Godmother to Duncan, who would like less yacking and more photos. Note for Irena; I just figured out yesterday how to get photos from computer to blog again. Here are the kids!

                          A stained-glass window student creation: by Gael and three others.

                                         Snow-boarding on the great slopes of Iowa
        Visiting the U of Chicago with Valentine; The Robie House across the street from campus
(*Note: I am working on the photo quality problem. I will meet with my tech guy as soon as he has a free minute. The pictures look good on the photo ap, and dreadful here...any ideas?)
                                                  Lunch with the sisters in Chicago

                              Homecoming, Davenport Central, senior year (Valentine in white on left)
                     Performance of "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" Valentine as Gracie.
Boys helping and kayaking for Floatzilla; a world-record-setting annual attempt on the Mississippi River; greatest number of kayaks joined in one spot at one time.

                                       On Cate's windy rooftop garden in Chicago
It has become more and more of a challenge to get smiling faces in photos; next time I'll dangle a pack of beef jerkey in front of the camera...
Fall garland; my autumn knitting project completed in time for...Thanksgiving. I was grateful, and it must come down to make way for Christmas. Today is St. Nicholas and the stockings are hung and waiting.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Traveling the Great Southwest

Not this one, this one is home, a couple of weeks ago. 

                                Palm Springs, California, visiting a friend here from France.
Breakfast as served by the pool in Palm Springs on a sunny morning. Believe it or not, every single other hotel guest chose to take their meal inside, by the big screen t.v.

Rome, not in Italy, in Las Vegas. I was obliged to go to Nevada for work...and to wait for my Sunday plane. I was at a loss as to what to do in Vegas for three days; I do not gamble, smoke weed nor drink, and strippers are not my thing. So I visited and...hiked the desert; incredible!

                                        Ladies and Gentlemen...The Valley of Fire
I know, I know, I was with a somewhat younger, snap-chat crazed, group of hikers who thought it was important to pose...and I am not going to include the kissing of the cactus photo.