Silent Salute

I look with longing up the hill

to where my little sweetie lies.

A strip of tall, green trees topped with crimson

stand at attention along the oft-walked road

like a line of fire

through the graveyard

and up the hill where my baby ever sleeps.

Glorious fall silently saluting the fallen–

my heart shouting without sound

as the bus rumbles by and whisks me away too soon.

10 Homeschool Hacks from an Experienced (not expert!) Parent

Often when people hear I’ve had eight kids (seven here on earth and one gone ahead), they get wide eyed and exclaim something like,

Oh, how do you do it!? You must be an expert!

I always feel a little awkward, because how do you tell someone you just met,

Actually, I struggle just as much as the next mom…my only expertise could be in making mistakes. I’ve probably made more than most people.

I’m no expert; I’ve had lots of experience with babies and kids, but I’m still learning every day. So I don’t have an expert e-course to offer, or a fancy printable for your fridge, helpful as these things can be. When I share any of my adventures in parenting with you on my blog, it is in the spirit of one friend speaking to another over coffee. I hope we will both laugh and come away encouraged. Maybe you’ll be able to skip making some of the makes I have, or at least to know you’re not alone if you do!

Many things that come to some people a bit more naturally, like being organized or planning ahead, are a huge challenge for me (squirrel!) so lots of the things I’ve learned might be things you already know. Hurrah! You’re doing great.

Homeschool Hacks

  1. The Myth of Multitasking…Make a Time for Things

Women are often praised for being great multitaskers. It’s true that we often need to juggle many things at once, and can. But is it ideal? Is it actually the best approach? For years I’ve been trying to homeschool the kids, answer the phone, plan activities, cook meals and clean the house at….well, basically the same time. It’s exhausting.

Finally I took an awesome, practical and insightful online homeschool planning course from Pam Barnhill, called: Put Your Homeschool Year on Autopilot. One of the best takeaways for me from this course was the idea of having a basic but flexible schedule so that I wouldn’t always have to be deciding what’s next. I always resisted the perceived constraint of a schedule, but I realize now that having a set time for school to end, for example, means after that, I’m free to do other things…like mark and plan, or cook and clean, without feeling like I should be doing educational activities with the kids at the same time. Relief.

2. Professionals Don’t Pick Up

Another thing that’s been helpful this year, because I’m more clear when is school time, and when is not, is that it’s easier to be more professional about my teaching, and avoid distractions. So I leave my phone and iPad upstairs when we are in session in the school room, and just check messages at lunch and after school. It’s hard for me to resist being always available to everyone who might call or text, but it’s more important that I’m fully present to the kids while we homeschool.

3. There’s no such thing as “just one more thing.”

It’s easy for people to assume that because we homeschool moms are generally home, we are generally available….and therefore free to do them little favours or errands…”just this once,” “just once a week,” “just for an hour,” or whatever. All these little “justs” can completely derail homeschool days. Also, for the busy mom with an ongoing to-do list of 18,264 things, the last “just” could be the straw that breaks the camels back.

I would encourage homeschool moms (actually, any moms) to really mull over any new activities before agreeing to them, and even to consider any current extra obligations: do these things bring you life and joy? Do they fulfill you and make you feel enriched? Great! But if they cause stress, emotional drain, or additional fatigue…then…maybe they just need to go! Quitting some extra’s is not failure; it’s intentionally choosing where to invest your precious and limited energy, so you can give your family your best.

4. Accordion Binders are Magic

As I already mentioned, I’m pretty scatterbrained, and while I have lots of good ideas, I’m also good at forgetting them. And losing things. And wasting time trying to find them again. The dollar store came to the rescue with lovely accordion binders. I got one for each child, so they can easily slip their work into the right labeled slot, and close it up, instead of piling their work on my desk to get lost. Little ones have no trouble with this, the way they often do with using a hole punch and metal ring binder. Also, when our homeschool coach comes to visit, their work should be much easier to find!

I also use a binder for my own projects, such a my second poetry book that I’m slowly compiling and editing. Now my precious papers aren’t lost, and I can grab the whole thing to take with me on rare times I’m out alone and can work on it…even if it’s just on the skytrain.

5. Sticky Notes Save the Day

I can’t believe it’s taken me till now to realize how awesome sticky notes are! I got beautiful coloured ones, a different shade for each child, for them to keep their places in the textbooks and workbooks. It makes marking so easy because I know where the kids’ current work is. Sticky notes make their work easy to grab and get started without wasting time trying to remember what we did last and looking for the right page. When you multiply 4 text or work books by 5 kids–considering it takes a minute to find your place if it’s not marked–I figure sticky notes save us at least 20 minutes a day!

When they don’t have mistakes, I move their sticky note forward to the next new page. When there are corrections to be made, I leave it where it is, and move it after marking the next assignment. If we miss a day of a subject, we just look for the note and start again. No problemo.

6. Clipboard Checklists Keep Things Running Smoothly

One of Pam Barnhill’s great tips was to give each child a clip board with a notebook on it, and to write their daily checklist of assignments on it each day. When I take time to do this, usually right after school while the kids have a quiet time show, the next day runs more smoothly. Right away the kids know what’s expected, and can work ahead. If they don’t feel like doing the first one right away, they can also choose to do a different activity on the checklist, knowing they are still getting the day’s work done.

The clipboards are also super handy for filling with any printouts the kids will need that day, as well as additional quiet activities like colouring sheets, mazes or word searches in case they finish before the others. I have a clipboard, too, which I write my basic daily plan on. When I’m writing it, it reminds me to grab all the books I need and stick them in my teacher basket on top of my desk. (You guessed it! Another handy tip from Pam: visualizing your school day to make sure everything you need is at hand.)

7. Plan as if you’re having a new baby

This year, before starting our new homeschool year, I did the same prep I’d usually do if I was expecting a newborn–that is–anything to make life a bit easier! First we delayed starting school for an extra week in order to clean the house. Then my Dad bravely took me on a giant Costco shop (we don’t have a car) and we filled the poor vehicle to the brim with every possible staple, easy school snack, freezable meal, and even some really cool homeschool books and science kits.

I got the toddler, who thinks that she is Van Gogh and every surface is a canvas, a giant erasable-marker ABC book she can lie on the schoolroom carpet and scribble on. I picked up some new alphabet stacker blocks for her, too, and some superman books for her preschool brother, who has a desk and sits with us, too, during school, when he’s not rolling around on the ground wrestling his older brother or attacking people with a sword.

8. Not every meal has to be fancy

Since the kids are often out at extracurricular activities later in the day, my husband had the good idea that we have our main meal at lunch and then do simple sandwiches and fruit, or wraps and veggies, etc, for dinner. This way I can pack sandwiches for kids who will be out, and have them ready for the others who are home. Also, I don’t have to spend the evening doing tons of dishes, because dinner was really simple with minimal mess.

I find I have more energy for cooking mid-day, anyway, and it gives the kids a welcome break mid-school day to go practice music or hang out a bit between lessons. My handy instant pot makes it easy to make things like curry or stew quickly. I save leftovers for my husband’s dinner, and with the kids help, get things cleaned up from lunch before we continue school.

9. Loops are Lovely

One of the other insights tips from Pam’s course was how to use loop schedules. We have basic blocks within which we do certain topics, but they are on a loop. For example, I have a language arts loop, with things like spelling, writing, and grammar, and in that block the kids just do one topic after the other until the time is up, and then start at the next part of the loop next time. There’s no need to feel pressured or behind, or to assign dates to every page…you simply keep swimming! Here’s a list of potential topics for various loops:

This concept of flexible routine is so helpful, kind of like a dancer’s arms: they are firm enough move their own body with them, but supple enough to respond to changes in their partner. Have a plan to ground you, and be flexible enough to smile and give the chocolate pudding covered toddler a bath in the middle of math class! (Math and morning snack always go together for us…but this time was a rather sticky combo!!)

10. Kids Matter Most

All of these plans and tools are meant to serve your family, not to cause stress, if they don’t go exactly as hoped. To paraphrase Todd from The Smiling Homeschooler: Ultimately, curriculum doesn’t matter, your plan doesn’t matter, your schedule doesn’t matter, your kids matter. They are the reason for it all. Watch their faces….little smilo-meters. If they’re generally smiling, you’re doing well. Not that there won’t be challenges each day, but if they’re always frowning, stop and reassess your priorities. Relationship is first.

Todd’s wise wife Donna’s motto is: “If we’ve laughed a little, and learned a little, we’ve accomplished a lot.” I love that! When things go sideways, and kids are too worn out for another lesson, I remember it and pull out the storybooks for a cosy break. Sometimes the unplanned moments create the best memories.

Do you have any favourite homeschool tricks or general teaching tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you!

The Case of the Missing Mom

It’s been kinda quiet on the blog lately and you might be wondering…where’s my mother? Didn’t she come back from summer vacation?

Is she off having a wild toga party??

Did she shrink into a fairy and get lost in the wild chives in our garden?

Is she a total basket case who forgot she loves writing??

No, she’s homeschooling us! She misses you all and hopes to appear again soon!

We’re working really hard…see? Look at the floor!

Dry Bones Blooming

They look like a bowl of dried bones,

cold and lifeless–

a tragic ode to time lost

and utterly incapable of change–

but look more closely!

Within their crinkled-shut hearts,

clenched in the knuckles of their bony hands,

are tiny gems

bursting with possibility!

When the sun’s warm gaze melts

the unfeeling snow

into lovely spring water,

blooms will unfurl

from these dusty bones.

After winter’s grimness,

we’ll see the world in colour again,

and the flowers will laugh

that we thought them dead.

The Unnecessary Burden of Manufacturing Our Own Worth

We feel, in our society, a very strong pressure to prove ourselves. To show we are successful. Worth knowing. Accomplished. We define ourselves by our external achievements, and are in turn crushed by our external failures. Is this necessary?

Does our value indeed come solely from what we do? I don’t think so!

But before I explain, let’s consider what kind of world we create when we do think this way. When we determine human worth based on externals, we claim the right to judge others. What’s in their soul doesn’t matter, because it’s all about results. Did they succeed in this job interview? Did they obtain this degree? How much is their salary? Is it more than mine….because if so they must be better than me. 

See the trap we set for ourselves? Not only do we judge others harshly, which is a terrible thing, but we also do the same to ourselves, and risk falling into depression and despair. We feel we are not good enough–that we are failures. Well, you can’t be a failure, you can only be a person, a human being…perhaps one in challenging circumstances, but a human all the same. No one is a failure.

We are not defined by what we do, but who we are

So who are we anyway? We are children of God, called out of all eternity to love and be loved. Each one of us is precious and utterly irreplaceable. We all have unique talents we are called to generously share with the world…and this despite all our weaknesses and mistakes. God made us as we are, fragile and beautiful, so that when we are humble enough to acknowledge the cracks in our hearts, His light can shine through us. 

So when the sirens of the world lure you to the rocky reefs of self-doubt, remember He who made you is perfect, and has a plan for your life more beautiful that you can imagine. It is cooperating with this plan, with all its challenges and opportunities for interior growth, that makes everything worthwhile. 

At the end of our lives, we will be judged on love. St. John of the Cross

Focused as a Flower

I wish I knew how to grow

with the single-minded purpose of flowers.

Up, up and ever increasing in beauty,

focused on the source of light and

undistracted by the tangle and clutter

of weeds and other plants nearby.

Neither thorns nor thistles

causing them to pause in self-doubt,

or think their mission would be better

if they were holding up

the heavy golden head of some other stem–

richness enough to be oneself.

A Walk to See Her Sister

The toddler tumbles like laughter

over the dry grass.

Disregarding all signs of mourning,

she chases the crows with open delight.

She greets everyone she sees,

all the mummy’s and daddies and “bapa’s,”

convinced each one is part of her family.

She even ambles after a thin, pink-shirted man

with a slight bend in his back,

calling: “Bapa! Bapa!”

When we reach her sister’s grave

she sits happily on my lap,

and leans over to pat the “Staahhh.”

I tell her it’s Josephine, a name she can’t yet say.

Unphased, she takes her nursing blankie

and flaps it about and pats it

until her sister’s stone is nicely tucked in

with her name peeking above the blanket.

“Baby, nigh, nigh,” she tells me.

Then grabbing her blankie

she trundles off to seek new adventures

and waves, “Baa-bye!”

trusting I will follow.

I kiss the dusty stone

and rise.

10 Reasons I love rereading the Anne of Green Gables Books!

If you’re like me and grew up reading LM Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables series, you may also find that rereading them gives all the comforting feeling of coming home again after a long journey, to find that “God’s in his heaven, and all is right with the world.”

No matter what you’re going through, the wisdom, beauty and humour of Anne’s stories can’t help but bring a little more romance and hope to your life. I’ve read or reread them when home sick from school as a kid, on lazy summer afternoons and in the hospital after having a baby. I’ve been binge rereading them last week while my husband was away, but why am I enjoying them so much?

Here are 10 reasons, cause I’ve got to stop somewhere! 😉

  1. Anne is so dauntlessly hopeful. She refuses to give up on anyone, no matter how prickly on the outside. She truly believes that everyone has a story worth knowing.
  2. There are no boring characters. There are eccentric ones, stubborn ones, gossipy ones, vain ones, humble ones, brilliant ones and hilarious ones, but even one portrayed as boring or dull-witted is so cleverly described that they are amusing!
  3. Gilbert. Gilbert. Gilbert. Ok, if that seems silly to you because you haven’t met him yet, stop wasting your time and get reading! ‘Boy next store’ par excellence. Honest, kind, loyal, generous, funny, devoted and willing to sacrifice for Anne. And of course, super cute, and torturously in love with Anne for years before she clues in! I got the Kevin Sullivan Anne films for my daughter’s 13th birthday recently, and she loved them. “But mom,” she lamented after, “I don’t think they’re very realistic. No boy could ever be that nice!” Don’t give up yet honey!
  4. Every time I read one of the books I learn something new about life. These books, so full of crazy characters are also so full of life, and brimming with wisdom, but it’s shown by example, rather than preached at length. In living, loving, rejoicing and suffering with Anne, I learn along with her as well.
  5. Anne’s zest for life is so attractive. She finds beauty everywhere she goes, and joyfully shares it with everyone, helping them see the world shine through her eyes.
  6. Because in these pages I find my life…like Anne I moved a lot, have “auburn” hair and a matching tongue and temper, went to college, love writing, married my first love, had a big family, lost a little baby girl, am passionately attached to my friends, find God’s presence most strongly in his creation, and can’t quite give up in the romance of believing in fairies.
  7. Because Montgomery’s writing has all the interest of lively fiction combined with the delicious beauty of poetry.
  8. What better escape that lovey old Prince Edward Island…a little sand-swept gem, with red roads winding down blossom-laden lanes, covered in little apple orchards and rolling farms, and sweet houses bedecked with flowers.
  9. Because Anne shows that with passion and determination, humour and joy, anything is possible, even if you started out a skinny little orphan like her.
  10. Because they’re simply the best. And there are so many to keep you company. So there.

As an extra bonus, I discovered a Montgomery novel I didn’t own yet while treasure hunting at a used bookstore with the kids last week. I didn’t know any more existed! “Kilmeny of the Orchard” is a lovely, surprising tale of a beautiful mute musician who discovers love and the power to speak.

I also highly recommend Montgomery’s last book, which she delivered to the published the day she died, though it wasn’t published in its unabridged form till years laster. “The Blythes are Quoted” is full of poignant poetry by Anne and her (by then deceased) son Walter, and also short stories, some of them with a darker flair than usual. It’s a bittersweet testament to the later years of Anne and Gilbert’s marriage, written during World War II, and the sorrow of loss runs through it. Beautiful, mature and challenging…a must read!