Saturday, November 28, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-Seven

Giving Thanks

The day of Thanksgiving was a glowing, happy day of family, food and joy, the way you hope it will turn out. The children got along (having more tv and game screens than the total number of children had to help, sigh), the adults were kind to each other and nothing got burnt. All of this without excess alcohol consumption...mainly, perhaps, because my sister is expecting again, after an eleven year hiatus between children, it will be twelve by the time baby arrives. I am delighted for her and her family. I am so happy to think I will be an auntie again...a new baby to cuddle and spoil.

Thank you to all involved, from the cooks to the cleaners to the drivers (I got to knit and nap both ways). Happy Advent to all, may the coming season of Hannukah, Christmas or Solstice be a blessed one.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day Twenty-Six in Days of Joy

Showing love

Without instilling guilt or shame, one of my wishes for my children is that they understand how privileged they are to have enough; (and then some!) and to realize that not everyone does. I hope they will cultivate a sense of gratitude and abundance, then be moved by the desire and rightness of sharing what we have with others. As we begin the Advent season; be it a countdown to Christmas, to the Solstice, or Hanukkah, I want to share with them a sense of reverence for this special time of the year, to bring light and warmth where there is darkness and cold in the world and in our own hearts.

I have days when this becomes a boring lecture, to little avail, I am sure. When we find a news story or a book on someone whose generosity and living among the poor has changed the world, my husband and I share it with the children. Mother Theresa is a household favorite, as is Ghandi and Sister Emmanuelle (champion of Cairo's poorest).

Yesterday, before a promised annual trip to the mall, I brought up the subject at circle time. Circle time is our daily morning gathering to light a candle, share joys and sorrows, remember those of our friends, say a blessing, learn a verse or poem, toss around our math beanbags for practice. I reminded them that while we were going out for a fun day, there were children who were hungry or without a home. I asked what we could do to help out one child today and throughout the holiday season. Alienor, 8, immediately brought out the "guest at your table" box from church. She told the story of the people on the box, and everyone ran to get money to contribute. There were pledges of allowance money and thoughts and prayers.

This was a good start to the day. On our way home from our day of bad food and tons of fun, we decided we would choose a really cool toy for a contribution to Toys for Tots. Once again, allowances were offered and wrapping services proposed. I guess it is easy to be a little generous when you have just had a wonderful day, but I am glad to see little hearts and minds turning towards others. I wish it could become more concrete for them. Yes, we've volunteered at the soup kitchen and we will again. Their question from that experience was; "why can't parents who have a (Ouii, PS3, other video game thingy) buy food for their families?" Hmmm, maybe not the best lesson, but we'll work with it. We frequent inner-city libraries where the homeless hang out when it rains and parents drop their children and disappear, then the children are reprimanded...for being abandoned children? I am never sure who to be most angry with in those cases.

As I was searching for ways to begin the Advent season in reverence and awe, I found this sermon from last year. I find it so inspiring that I will post a link to it here:

It was given last year by Robert W. Henderson last year at the Covenant Presbyterian Church, but its message is positively universal. I will take his suggestion of incorporating silence as a way to calm the outer din of commercialism and folly (especially with Black Friday coming up). It may be a challenge to create ten or twenty minutes of silence with a two-year old around, but teaching the concept and giving the older three a space and time in which to pray and meditate on their own, is something that will benefit everyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Day Twenty-Five in Days of Joy

Designing Lace

I would not term this a new-found talent, more like a new idea and adventure, but I am satisfied to have designed my first lace shawl. I have been looking at patterns and books for months now, never happy with what I found for some reason or another. To begin with, I bought the yarn before I decided on a pattern, so that limited my choices. Then I thought I would find a project that would not be so challenging as to make me work on it in the wee hours of the morning when no one could talk to me. Now I have realized (after knitting up the yarn into a disaster of a "no-fuss" project and frogging the whole thing), that the only time I get to knit anyway is when no one else is up and I might as well make something interesting and beautiful if I am going to do justice to the yarn. This particular yarn is just right for the person I am knitting for; Schulana Sojabama, I won't reveal the color, but it is soft and lovely and a joy to knit. I used a combination of lace patterns from "A Second Treasury of Knitting Stitches," by Barbara Walker, her books are true gems in the world, and learned how to chart from a Meg Swanson book on lace and an online site with explanations for charting.

I kept wanting to buy another present for this person, feeling that this project was not to have a happy outcome, but now I am pleased to see it take shape and having ventured into designing lace, can echo those maddening knitting books that love to say; "It's really not that hard."

Day Twenty-Four in Days of Joy

Joan of Arc in the Basement

I was visiting a friend yesterday and she asked what the children were up to. I told her that when I left the house they were putting on a play in the basement. As I told her about it, she questioned me, and I discovered what a cool project this really was. She asked if I had written it myself or if it were a pre-made script. "No, Lily wrote it herself. We read about, talked about and saw a film about Joan of Arc, or Jeanne d'Arc, last week, and this was how she decided to complete the unit, it was all her idea." Aragorn wrote a semi-serious, irreverent report on her life that made me glad he is not in a Catholic school as I once was, and Lily wrote a play. When I left they had spent three hours in the basement, building sets, hanging curtains and creating costumes. When I returned they were in rehearsal and as happy as clams. There will be a performance in the near future, don't miss it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-Three

Remembering to be Grateful

I have renewed a couple of projects this week and taken on a new one or two, and all of a sudden, the blog has been abandoned. The biggest change is my promise to myself to make my mornings run more smoothly by beginning the day with meditation, getting the necessities done before the children wake up...and knitting while listening to inspiring lectures and essays.

Since baby has been waking up around six (am, yes), this has left me no time to write, dang it. The point of the exercise (meditation, discipline) is to remind me to be more grateful and more focused. I guess I can't grump about that, so my joy for today will be that of gratitude itself. (And my prayer for a little more time in the morning tomorrow.)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-Two

The Buck

Aragorn and I went out for a short walk yesterday, and just as we were approaching the woods, he stopped stock still and said; "look!" I stopped just as suddenly, being used to his superior spotting skills...and stared. There was a really big buck right in front of us, giving us the once-over as well. We have seen many deer along this path, but I have yet to see a buck. It was a magical moment, he was magnificent. No one moved until he turned and trotted off into the woods.

Days of Joy: Day Twenty-One

Paper airplanes

Arthur has learned to make paper airplanes and he is as proud of it as only a five year old can be! The result is that we have a regular flotilla of planes all about the house, and one does hate to recycle them, as he holds them very dear...but I'm afraid we may be under siege from an abundance of airplanes soon if I don't start retiring the older models.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Twenty

Charles Dickens

Our read-aloud these days is "A Christmas Carol," the original tale. Quote of the day from this work:

Dickens' description of the first time Scrooge sees his old pal, Marley's face in the door knocker:

"Marley's face. It was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar."

Please be so good as to improve upon that, if you will.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Nineteen

An Office!

We have made an office out of a bedroom, and this is the first time I am sitting in it alone, looking out the upstairs window at the sunrise and the beautiful fall colors in the remaining leaves.

Not that we had a spare bedroom, but there was somehow an empty one, reverted to the name "mama's sewing room," which never lasts long around here because they love to play musical bedrooms all the time. I had so much given up hope on that ever happening again that I removed the fabulous sewing table to the basement, imagining dark, long hours of working on whatever the next project might be...poor me. (I don't mind sewing, but I would really rather be knitting. Sewing is done out of necessity; duvet covers for our French down comforters, curtains, fairy or knight capes, baby slings in a fabric I like, etc.) However, now that it is for the adults to use for work, they may not move into or otherwise take over this space. And guess what the "desk" is for the space? The sewing table with a laptop on it, of course!

To make more space in their bedroooms, two of them have moved their desks into here. This works just fine, they work at their desks in the day time, we use "the office" in the early morning or at night. So when they all unexpectedly woke up with the roosters this morning and daddy had not yet left for work, I took the steps two at a time and promised "just ten minutes" in my new office, joy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Day Eighteen in the Days of Joy

Knitting and Sewing

It seems that we have finally found the joy in these activities when performed together. For years, Lily and I have been knitting happily, and they have all done a little sewing with enthusiasm, but there are partially completed projects all about the house and the guilt I feel each time I come across one is terrible. There has also been the little matter of Aragorn not wanting to knit, "knitting is stupid and I don't want to do it. I want to go to school so that I won't have to knit, it's not real work," have been some of the more pleasant comments.

That all changed this week. Two birthday gifts to Alienor changed my mind. One was a lovely gift of sheets of good felt and needles and embroidery floss. The other was a wreath made by a seven-year-old friend. The one gift was so simple and perfect that we had to put it to use, the other so beautiful that it absolutely inspired me to give time to these endeavors, wherever they may lead.

Monday we began. The older two chose yarn and began to roll it into balls, that took the better part of an hour. I cut two pieces of rectangular felt for five-year-old Arthur, who really wanted to be a part of things, pinned them together, drew dotted lines to stitch along, threaded his needle and away he went. Alienor, eight, liked the idea of making a stuffed animal. She chose a piece of black felt and worked on her drawing on scrap paper all morning before putting it on felt in white chalk for me to cut out. A friend arrived for a knitting lesson, so everyone took a break from handwork to play with the others.

The friend, I am happy to say, got on beautifully with her knitting. It has nothing to do with me, she is just naturally talented, but by giving ourselves time to focus just on learning to knit, she was able to do it very quickly. Another day, I might have tried to over-achieve and start everyone in the house on a project and help out and not get on with the knitting we meant to do. After producing one holey trapezoid, the hallmark of all novice knitters, she made the nicest little square of pink and yellow yarn, no mistakes, no holes, no extra stitches. Nice going!

Later that day, Arthur finished stitching, with very neat, tiny stitches, his entire "backpack" he wanted to make. Alienor learned the blanket stitch and hemmed her little black bear and Lily decided to make a dove from felt A. loaned her from her stash.

The next day I took up knitting again with the two eldest. Our project had shifted from slipper liners to actual slippers, so I needed a moment to find a pattern simple enough, yet in the round, for slippers. We all sat down together at the table. I expediated the younger ones to the playroom, though they were clamoring for help with their own projects, in order to create a focused atmosphere for our lesson. Wow, what a difference. With me wholly focused on their stitches, they made great and quick progress. Aragorn, who had never managed to complete more than four rows in a day of knitting, was increasing, following a pattern and knitting like a pro. Lily, who had never consented to follow a pattern in her many years of knitting, was not only following it, but explaining it to her brother. Those slippers will be works of love, not stupid at all.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Day Seventeen in Days of Joy

The Sound of Music

Example not lecture. Children learn by imitating. Both true, as this experience has shown. I have always longed for all of us to have enough interest in music to each play and enjoy a musical instrument. My approach was paying for lessons for interested parties and poking around a bit on the piano I dreamed of having in the house for years. Interest waxed and waned, lamely, on a very small scale.

Yes, I noticed that if I wanted to practice piano, I would soon have little hands all wanting to pound on it too. But until I began a penny whistle program to teach myself* and then the children, and encouraged my husband to take those guitar lessons he'd always wanted to take, there was not much happening musically in our house. All of a sudden, our walls echo with music. The two piano students seem to occupy that instrument non-stop, the guitar players are constantly strumming and the recorders, harmonicas, and yes, penny whistles, are blowing melodies at all hours of the day.

I am amazed, I am grateful, I may be going deaf, but it is with the sound of music in my ears.

* The penny whistle program is called Living Music From the Heart, it is by Jodie Mesler. Her blog/order site is:, I highly recommend it!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Days of Joy; Day Sixteen

Yoga class

I have returned to my yoga class after two months of absenteeism. No good reason and a dozen reasons for not going for so long; the baby is ill, everyone else is ill, vacation, it's too nice out, it's too yucky out, I'd rather stay home and knit, someone needs to buy; jeans, rat food, paper, licorice, the cockatiel pooped on my yoga duds as I was walking out the get the picture. That time when there are two adults in the house and it is neither too early nor too late to "get things done" is rare and much needed sometimes. It is so easy to let other things replace what can be viewed as a mini-vacation for mama.

But...everyone does better when mama takes time to go to yoga class! There is something special about relinquishing all actions to someone else's dictation for an hour, stretching the limits of body and mind in a way that does not involve carrying a toddler, stirring soup and talking with the chiropractor on the phone while two kids fight, one plays guitar and another screams for a band-aid. I appreciate the quieting of mind, the wooden floors beneath the yoga mat, the warmth and peace of the room. Thank you to my wonderful teacher and fellow students who make it such a great place to be.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Day Fifteen in Days of Joy

A Perfect Day

With the whole family home for a day of no school, no weekend obligations, and plenty of good food, the day of Alienor's birthday was a thing of beauty and joy for all of us. There were pancakes for breakfast, just like a Saturday. Then the older children read their chosen book of the day and tinkered about their rooms. Alienor, Arthur, Puck and I cuddled up on the sofa and read "Harry Potter." It had been years since I actually read the book and I had forgotten how very good it is.

After a lunch of nachos and quesadillas, Alienor and Arthur and I attended a nature program and went for a long walk in the woods. The day was sunny and warm, perfect for being outside and rare for November. We stayed until the sun was setting on the river across the way, a glorious end to a wonderful day.

Dinner was hamburgers on the grill and homemade fries (French, of course). We read some more Harry Potter and went to sleep. I hope their dreams were as good as their waking moments.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Day Fourteen in our days of joy experience; fostering and enjoying the high spirits of seven-year-old Alienor, my little girl who was about to turn eight. Her whole little self was excited about the coming day. We teased her a little throughout the evening; birthday? no, I don't think there's a birthday happening here tomorrow. You're going to be how old? Five? Six?

There was such sweetness in her expression and such happiness to think that we would all be thinking of her for a day, that it would be impossible to label it selfish or greedy. It was the anticipation of a family tradition and a shared love and joy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Thirteen

An Afternoon Outdoors

Everyone was very excited to be going back to playgroup after a two week hiatus. Where to hold the event became a hot topic. Our general rule was 50 degrees and over, we go outside. The day promised to be sunny and warm-looking, but only 45 or so at noon. The question was soon decided by the holder of the keys to the alternative; her church. She was brave enough to face the elements, we would be too. Thank goodness! I had really been looking to spending some time in the sunshine, and though we froze our... exterior parts a little, it was great to be outside. Lovely day, thanks for the push, fellow homeschoolers!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day Twelve

Celebrating the Life of a Friend

Dr.Jim Hodges; teacher, scholar, bringer of wit and wisdom, character. He chose All Saints' Day to depart to another realm, with typical insight and one last wink to the world. Immediately upon meeting him, you realized that Jim was someone special. His wit was lively, his knowledge of the world thorough and his opinions decided.

He was an expert on birds, their songs, their migrating habits, their mating grounds and practices. I learned quantities of things from him on birds over the years. His approach was thorough and simple. Each day, he said, he walked outside and greeted his Creator and then fed and watched the birds in his yard. They would come to him, eat from his hand, sing. From the time he was a boy he observed and studied birds, one island in particular received his attention as a wild place to observe their spring rites and learn their calls and song.

He was a professor and continued his studies every day of his life, reading four newspapers and one book a day, and studying, just last week still, two or three languages, Hebrew, Greek and Arabic being the ones I remember.

A week and a half ago he gave a class on personal finance, the state of the world and how to survive in it. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. As was his habit, it was riveting, controversial, and educational. Until the end, he remained true to himself.

Though I miss him, like so many, I am grateful to have known him in his last years, he touched lives everywhere he went, our family's included.

I do hope Jesus speaks the right dialect of Arabic when Jim meets him!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Days of Joy: Day Eleven

A Long Library Visit

Lily, Aragorn and I took a trip to the library without the younger three today; bliss! I got to ask the poor reference librarian all of the questions I had been saving up; can you find a biography of Harun-al-Rashid? The black and white movie of Thomas Edison? Canterbury Tales, children's version? How about ordering a book on CD for a seeing-impaired friend? Thank goodness the reference person gets "credit" for each question they take while on duty; I went through two of them while I was there.

I wandered through a guided tour of the children's and young adult section with my kids, they pointed out all the cool books I have not yet read and I offered suggestions of what I had read that they might have missed; not much!

Libraries have always been hallowed, favorite places for me, I am so lucky to live in an area with seven or eight at my disposal, what better resource could a homeschooler ask for?

Day Ten in days of joy: cranberry sauce and postponing grocery shopping

We are obsessively organized where food is concerned in our house. We make out a menu each week, a shopping list to go with it and shop once. No take-out, no restaurants, unless we are traveling or the occasional exception. However, with the bouts of swine flu the past two weeks, I have been putting off shopping forever, adding a couple of things here and there in quick trips to the store and using up items in our freezer.

Last night I found cranberries from last year; time to eat those! Although it is not yet Thanksgiving, I have sauce simmering on the stove to go with our chicken tonight. We will celebrate with family out of town this year, and the kids will miss their favorite cranberry from scratch sauce, so we're having a mini-holiday now. I'll bake the angel food cake I've been promising Lily as well...a real 1950's dinner.

Days of Joy: day nine: a haunted house

We made our haunted house from the gingerbread house kit we bought; fun and sweetness! I mixed the dough, Lily baked the house, I assembled and everyone decorated. I'll have a picture up just as soon as I figure out how to remove it from the camera.