Archive | February 2013

Dear Chickens, You Make Me Happy (and it’s not just the eggs)

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A few years ago, thanks in part to a gift from my Mom, who purchased for me a subscription to Mary Janes Farms magazine (www.MaryJanesFarm.org), I began daydreaming about having a little flock of back yard chickens. We didn’t plan to stay in a neighborhood for so many years. A few of our children are more than half way to adulthood, our family has almost doubled in size and here we are. We dream of a farm and a wood, of space, a milk goat….perhaps someday. But somewhere along the way I have grown to love my “bit o’earth” small though it be.

When Blue-eyes saw that this was my earnest desire, to care for and raise some nice chickens, he employed the help of our sons and designed and built me the dream chicken tractor. All out of recycled materials, I might add. The only things he spent money on were a few pieces of hardware and the paint. The frame he made from an old TV satellite. I must say I was totally impressed and smitten with his resourcefulness and ingenuity.  Image

My chickens enjoy a attachable enclosed yard. We have been moving them all around the back yard to help our grass be rich and green this summer. They are happy to graze and find new yummy bugs. Once the nicer weather is here to stay we will keep them in a more out of the way area so the kids can go barefoot. “Earthing”, we’re all about it!

The nineteenth century educator, Charlotte Mason, who’s philosophies I greatly uphold, teaches that every child should have “something to love, something to do and something to think about” each day.  It is good for our children to have the responsibility of caring for God’s creatures.  I love to go out in the morning with my man-child and move the cage to a fresher spot. I love to watch my little girls feed them clippings and vegetable scraps. And whatever could be better that looking for and finding a nice warm egg? Smooth and brown and carefully carrying it into mama, who always says,”Oh, how wonderful, an egg!”  Then she cooks it just right and you eat it on toast.

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Best of all, my chickens have opened my eyes and heart to the idea of “city or urban farming”.When I am outside working in my gardens or enjoying a cup of coffee and I hear their pretty, contented chicken noises I am reminded of a couple of things. First of all, I know that no matter how slowly, my dreams are coming true. The original dream has changed some but the core of it all is already a reality. My precious Blue-eyed husband loves me and believes in me and my kids are growing into fine young folks. The other thing is that even if my dream farm is always only a dream and I never have more than this, I am no less happy.

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House Keeping Gypsy Style

Image…….I am a housewife, I love that word. Whenever I get a chance to tell someone my occupation I say “I am a housewife”. It sounds so quaint and homey. I love Noah Webster but his definition in Websters Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, my favorite dictionary by the way, does not give a satisfactory definition. It just says “a woman in charge of a household esp. she who does all or most of the cleaning and cooking.”  So unromantic~sigh.

But there you have it, house keeping, it is a large part of my job as a housewife. The cooking I like, the cleaning not so much. Mostly because with many children whom we home school our house is very well lived in. Often it feels like I am constantly keeping chaos at bay. Sometimes the chaos takes over and it looks frightful around here.

When we just had a couple of little ones around I liked to keep everything well ordered but as our family has grown and I have more school aged children I have had to reassess my priorities. To keep my sanity I’ve had to learn to let things go a little.

We have three bathrooms in our house and I must say that our master bath gets awfully neglected at times. When my husband starts commenting on it then I know it’s time to get serious. See, the problem is that I notice how bad it looks in the morning when I’m in a hurry to get going on my day and I think, “I’ve got to get back in here later and clean this place!” But, alas, I forget all about it until I’m brushing my teethe before bed. Too tired, I’ll get to it tomorrow…… I hate using chemical cleaner in the tub because I usually just scrub it out while I’m in the shower, easier and less mess. My tub was really looking sad…….. I used about two cups of baking soda and a scrub brush. That’s it! It worked really well. I was so happy and my feet were nice and soft from soaking in the soda water.  Add that to my list of uses for baking soda. It is becoming a staple around here for a lot more than baking.

After our fifth baby was born my husband took over the mopping. Most of our main floor has wood flooring. Every Saturday night for at least a year he would put all the chairs up while I bathed the kids upstairs and wash all of the floors. At that time our oldest was not quite eight years old.  I love how we are able to work as a team to get through the tough seasons. Nowadays my oldest daughter does all the mopping in exchange for postage stamps. Fourteen pen-pals from all over the country, who write back often, we had to think of something!

Another thing I have done is to ask Blue eyes what is important to him as far as the house keeping goes. I think it is a good idea to do this. You may be surprised to hear what your husband has to say.  All that my love asks is that the kitchen sinks be empty and clean in the morning and that he has socks in his drawer.  I make an honest effort to always at least have these two things done.  When I was growing up about a half hour or so before my Dad came home my Mom would have us do a quick pick up, wash the kitchen table, and put a fresh pot of coffee going.  I have endeavored to follow her example in this simple way of ministering to my husband.

Otherwise as long as I have an underlying cleanliness I have grown to not mind the mess so much.  Pretty much at any given time I can tell the kids that we are going to do a “twenty minute cleanup”, where I set the timer for twenty minutes and we all race around and clean, and get the house set back in order and looking nice.  Once a week, usually on Saturday,  we do a deep cleaning.  And when the spring weather comes and the sun shines in the windows I get in the mood for a good old fashioned spring cleaning.  This is where I systematically go through each closet and drawer in my house and get rid of “stuff” and vacuum and scrub all those hidden places.  It’s only once a year but it really helps in the long term to keep things that we are not using from accumulating.  The more “stuff” we have the harder it is to stay clean and organized.

In September before we start our new school year I help each of the children make a morning chore list to put up on their wall.  They must have the things on their list done before they come down for breakfast.  For the little pre- readers we cut out pictures from magazines, an outfit, meaning get dressed, a toothbrush, a hair comb, a pile of toys to be picked up, a bed to make,  they must take care of their dirty laundry and fold up their pajamas. The older kids have a little more, like wipe down the kid’s bathroom or put away a basket full of laundry or pick up the loft/play area etc.  We’ve been doing “morning chores” for a few years now and seldom do I even need to remind anyone. Once a habit is established it is practically effortless to maintain.

 So, if you stop by unannounced, which you are more than welcome to do,  don’t  be surprised to find a well lived in house. A train made out of the kitchen chairs, a hut made out blankets in the living room,  remains of a tea party/picnic in the corner,  the bathroom sink full of soap suds from little hands washing the tea party dishes, golden retriever tracks in the hall, at least a couple  mugs half full of cold coffee, laundry to be folded on the couch, math books and pencils scattered around, some cheerios on the floor……….if all that sounds crazy just call and give us twenty minutes.;)

Raising self disciplined Children

A Walk in the Forest 015Last week Blue -eyes was out in the mid-west all week. We have over the years let our children take turns traveling with us when it is at all possible. Our little seven year old son proudly packed up his stuff and set off with Dad. A whole week of talking and thinking together, meeting new people, seeing new places. Attending a funeral of a young man, playing with a boy his own age who’s father’s body lies silent in the grave. Seeing a young widow mourn and his own Daddy crying because life is really tough sometimes. But he knows it’s ok because his little hand is tucked safely in Dad’s when things are sad and at night and sometimes in the day they pray. My son comes home a little older and thoroughly bonded with his Dad.

Some people might doubt the wisdom of bringing your kids into a situation like that but we don’t. Dying is a fact of life. When we raise our children with an eternal perspective and a heart for the Lord these realities of life must be addressed. And sometimes I think my boys who are nine and seven years old are wiser in some ways than many of the full grown men of our time. When ever my husband is out of town we’ve made it a tradition that all the kids are allowed to sleep in our bedroom. Now that I have a strong little son around he happily hauls everyone’s mattresses in and they set up camp. It helps us feel cozier when Dad’s not here to tuck us in.

This time I thought I’d read The Little House in the Big Woods, as we settled down for the night, especially for the little girls, who I thought probably didn’t remember the last time I read it aloud. They loved it, of course.

It got me thinking about modern day children and our expectations of them. One chapter, you may remember, tells the story of how long Sundays felt to Laura and how on Monday Pa had to spank her once for being naughty on the Sabbath. Then Pa tells her and Mary a story about when his dad was a boy. What really amazed me was the level of self control these children were taught to possess.

Now I am not advocating that we should make our children sit quietly and not smile of laugh on the Sabbath but I am thinking that teaching our children a great measure of self control would probably be a very good thing. Again, the children then had much more self control than the adults of our time. More than I have!

I am glad that my husband was wise enough to make the keeping of our Lord’s Day a discipline in our family life. We have always had our children with us during the church service and they sit quietly (we hope!) without books or toys and listen to the sermon. My husband never works on Sunday and we do not normally do our shopping on this day. We also have a few other rules that we have set, we do not turn on the computer, and we read only the Bible or theological books, kids included. We also stick together, visiting friends as a family, rather than doing our own things. Now this is not to be legalistic but rather so that we can enjoy our day of rest, being fully present with one another.  We have found that by setting and keeping these general rules of thumb we are able to more freely enjoy the gift of a Sabbath (which is a Hebrew word meaning rest, therefore we feel free to keep Sunday as our Sabbath, rather than the actual seventh day. Read Col. 2:16). I am pretty sure that Sunday is the favorite day in this house hands down!

I think sometimes that we are too quick to frown upon rules and discipline, fearing legalism, but the Bible exhorts us to “mortify the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13) and that “everyone aught to know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor” (1 Th 4:4). Recently I had a conversation with a little 5 year old girl around here about why I sadly needed to spank her. I explained to her that neither God nor I wanted to cause her pain or make her sad but that I trusted God in that he says this small momentary discomfort will save her from serious hurt later on by teaching her self discipline. If she doesn’t like the spank then next time she can practice self discipline and mom won’t need to discipline her. I explained to her that when she is a grown up she will need to, through the Spirit, do the things that are right with out anyone making her. We prayed together and asked God to help her not to react in her anger next time. And true to the word (Hebrews 12:11)  this chastisement  “yielded the peaceable fruits of righteousness” for the remainder of that day.

I know as a Mom it is so easy to become lazy and let things slide with my kids. But in the long run it is them who will suffer for it. What a gift to help our children learn self discipline when they are very young so that when they are husbands and fathers, wives and mothers they will be well practiced in choosing the path of righteousness. In this way they will prosper and be happy. It breaks my heart to hear of men, who profess to be Christians,  who use pornography and have affairs, or even on a smaller scale, lack the self discipline to read the word to their families on a regular basis or pray with their children. Perhaps these men were not properly taught to practice self control as children.  We can see over all in our time a horrendous lack of self control, resulting in many selfish and hurtful decisions and actions. Do not become faint, fellow moms! Let’s ask the Lord to help us raise up men and women who will not obey the lusts of the flesh but rather the will of God!

“Lord, please help us mothers to not become weary in well doing. Help us to be “wise as serpents and as gentle as doves” in regards to our precious charges. Help us not to lazily or timidly overlook wrong but to gently and lovingly “raise up our children in the way that they should go”. In Jesus’s name Amen.

Staying Grounded

Image      I spent my morning “earthing”. Haven’t heard of it? It’s the idea that the earth is negatively charged and when we are in direct contact with it, bare feet, bare hands in the soil, it neutralizes our positively charged bodies. So many in our modern culture are never in direct contact with the earth. Shoes, sidewalks, gardening gloves. The more I think about it the more it makes sense. My boys spend at least a part of every day climbing trees, digging in dirt, and they are seldom sick and (almost) always happy! My kids love this idea,”See, Mom, who needs shoes?” Now I can attest, everything I’ve read about it must be true……

Today I worked in the good old dirt. Baby Lucy slept in her stroller nearby. The other kids were by turns painting salamanders in their nature notebooks. Kindly modeled by the few they caught yesterday afternoon. My oldest son worked along side me. I love how he uses the shovel, like a little man. He loves to shovel. Turning the garden soil. Asking if he can have “a bit o’earth” for a salsa garden this year. He helps me prune the apple trees then wanders away.

The sun is warm on my face. My small flock of backyard chickens makes their contented little noises. There is a small creek that runs between our lot and that of our neighbors, it sings it’s water song as it meanders it’s way along. All the stress and troubles drift away and my thoughts are pleasant ones. I love my “bit o’earth”. I love my faithful tulips and hyacinths and the hopeful purple-red phlox shoots that are there waiting for me to discover them on spring days like today.  I love my good old chives with their delicate oniony smell. They make me think of tender baby potatoes and butter. I even love the black berries that valiantly try to take over my gardens every spring. My neighbor just doesn’t get why I don’t buy some Round Up and get rid of them once and for all. He already think I’m a little crazy, seven kids, homeschooling, chickens…….so I won’t tell him that I like my yearly battle with the black berries. It makes me feel like an over-comer to go out there with leather gloves and clippers and fill the wheelbarrow with brambles a few times. It helps me remember that I am strong ’cause sometimes I forget.

When my hands are in the soil and the sun is warm on my body sometimes I experience perfect complete contentment. Like this morning, and I breathe in deep and I feel it in my whole being. My heart is full of praise because I know that the creator of the whole universe has extended his grace to me. I lift my face to the sun. I am so happy. I am standing in His presence, on His good earth, and He has washed all my sins away and made me as white as snow.

“Therefore if any (girl) be in Christ, she is a new creature: old things are passed away: behold, all things are new, And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ; as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be reconciled to God! For He hath made Him sin who knew no sin: that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor 5:17-21Image

Vermeer, His World and Girl with a Pearl Earring

If you have read my earlier post entitled The World Of Rembrandt and Free Books you will know that I have created an art curriculum this year that has my children and me convinced that the study of art should definitely become a mainstay in our home education. We have always enjoyed some “picture study” but hadn’t taken it a step farther to where we are studying the art as well as the artist until now. My oldest daughter is happy to devote a large portion of her day to these lessons, even setting up a “class” in which she shares her enthusiasm with her younger siblings. Whenever this happens I know I’ve found a keeper! Enthusiasm and inspiration seem to be catchy! 

Her favorite lesson so far has been that of the Dutch artist Vermeer. Choosing a favorite artist might be similar to choosing a favorite book, each new one seems to be more wonderful than the last, until we pick up the previous work again! I really like Vermeer myself, with his simple, peaceful looking scenes of every day life as well as the idealistic Holland landscapes. (And I am happy to say that I didn’t run into the nudity dilemma with Vermeer like with some of the others.) 

I have been so happy (and relieved) to see in the last couple of years that my older children are making connections between things we have learned over the years. For example, last year we became sidetracked while studying the pilgrims and spent a few weeks immersed in The Netherlands. We even took a virtual tour of Amsterdam. I mean, what’s not to love? Wooden shoes, tulips and flower markets, windmills. Wouldn’t it be dreamy to ice skate down the canals during the winter celebration? The Netherlands became my new dream adventure, sorry, Italy! Add the story of Hans Brinker between times and now Vermeer. I always have all of my children find the places we talk about on the globe. And, perhaps the main reason I love teaching my kids at home so much, I am receiving a higher education myself. Upon hearing about our Vermeer study my mom recommended that I read the New York Times best seller Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. A very well written historical fiction about the mystery model in Vermeer’s painting Girl in a Turban. So my children learn and I am inspired to learn and grow with them. A man once made the comment to my husband that he feels bad for home schooled kids because they will only learn as much as their mothers know. Wow! Nothing could be farther from the truth! As the preacher in Ecclesiastes has said, “there is no end to knowledge”. Frightening if someone thought that they should complete twelve years of public school and receive a diploma and call themselves educated and cease from learning. 

Here is an outline of our lesson on Vermeer. As always you are more than welcome to modify and use my ideas. The only thing I ask is that if you have it written or re-blogged you give me credit. Thanks!

Monday: Look up Vermeer in the  World Book encyclopedia. Read the entire article and write a short essay about what you have learned. Be sure to include dates and locations. Where is Delft? Find it on the Globe.

Tuesday: Look through The World of Vermeer and find some paintings that you really like. Tell me about them.

Wednesday: Spend twenty minutes or so in a quiet place studying the painting Christ in the House of Mary and Martha found on page 168 in The World of Vermeer. Read the Biblical accounts that inspired the painting.

Thursday: Write a few paragraphs comparing and contrasting Vermeer’s depiction of the scene and the way you would have shown it.

Friday: Spend the afternoon, using either acrylics or watercolors, trying to copy Vermeer’s painting or creating your own rendition of the scene.  

 

 

Home Schooling in the Midst of Life

ImageMy lovely mother has been here in our area of the country for a month and a half  now. Laying her father to rest and helping her frail little mother adjust to life without him. It’s like I have been given a taste of what it would be like to live close to her………sleep overs, invites for dinner, Grannie to snuggle beside on the church pew, offers to hang out with the kids when I need to go somewhere without them. We got to bring her with us on an “adventure” yesterday. I’ve been able to appreciate her ability to bring out the best in my kids. The other night she slept in the girls room and they all got the giggles. Precious memories. Part of me feels like packing up and moving across the country, back to New Hampshire, back to where my mom can be an every day part of my life. It will be hard to say good bye next week when the day comes for her to go.

I wonder sometimes if she doubts the existence of our “homeschool”.  I hope she sees the evidence of it at least. I don’t know about you but the structured day to day school doesn’t happen here unless I am completely focused on it. It used to really bother me, a new baby, a sickness, out of town guests, and I would feel like I was failing because we weren’t able to keep that schedule going. It would make me wonder if blue eyes and I were doing the right thing, trying to raise a big family and provide them with their education.

Somewhere along the way God has released me from that burden and taught me to roll with real life. I’ve stopped thinking of home schooling as life with a school at home tucked neatly into each week day. I no longer believe that education is passing a certain number of tests and receiving a certificate to prove that you’ve done it. I don’t compare my kids with their public school peers anymore (or at least I make an honest effort not to!) And I have fallen in love with being a home school mom.

This is not to say that we don’t keep a daily discipline with our math, hand writing, memorization and reading because we do, when life permits. My children have been taking turns staying over nights with my Mom and my 87 year old Grandmother. My Grandmother is so full of goodness and faith. It seems as though she knows her time on earth is short and so all these stories of her life are pouring out of her heart. She is finding old things stored away for years and bringing them out. Pictures that my Grandfather took in Germany and other parts of Europe during the second world war, a transcript of the first sermon that my Grandfather delivered at age 20, old publications with the cover price of $.02!

My kids have been having a lot of vacation days from “school” but these days are worth much, much more than spelling or math! These are days when their spiritual heritage is being passed on to them. These are days that capture the essence of life. I am so thankful that I do not have to answer to an absence policy that says these good things must take second place.

The Bible says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. I know that all the days of my children’s lives are under the blessing hand of the Lord. Sometimes my husband goes around our whole house in the morning while the rest of us are asleep and puts his hands on each of us and prays for us before he leaves to work. He often has an hour long drive to work which he spends praying for us. Every night he spends an hour or so reading the KJV Bible and breaking the word so our family can eat of the bread of life. He reads a chapter from the old testament and a chapter from the new and works his way through the Bible. And sandwiched in between is our leisurely “homeschool”, full of whole or living books, writing, poetry, some classical music and picture study, and a daily dose of math.  To me this is education. Learning to live and living to learn. I have a quote written on the wall in our dining room that sums up my philosophy of education. “I have learned that the head does not hear anything until the heart has listened and what the heart knows today the head will understand tomorrow.” (James Stephen) Today I want the hearts of my children, today while they are so young and mold-able.  Blessings to you, fellow home schooling Mamas, as you go and reach for the hearts of your children today!

I must tell you that there are two books that have contributed greatly to this change of mind set. They are the two books that I recommend to every homeschooling mom out there. A Charlotte Mason Companion  by Karen Andreola and Educating the Whole Hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson.

A Word Fitly Spoken is Like Apples of Gold in Pitchers of Silver………….

I am from the east, an east coast girl living on the west coast. I was born and raised in southern New Hampshire. My parents are New Englanders, strong, independent, self reliant. My mom is beautiful. Someday I will let my hair be silver and long and curl at the ends just like her. She has a lovely singing voice, babies and children melt into her lap.

My Dad has a beard, it is gray now and long. His eyes are brown like mine. He rides all over New England on his motorcycle with his biker dude friends. Other than that he doesn’t really travel. He has softened with time. They have been married for almost fifty years. They’ve lived in the same house for forty five years or so and raised fifteen children together.

My mom comes to spend time with us often. Almost every time we have a new baby she has come. In her quiet, gentle way to love us, with pancakes every morning, in all sorts of wonderful shapes for the kids. With long walks and many, many stories read aloud. My kids take turns sleeping with her while she’s here. They take turns sitting beside her at the table. They love their Grannie.

My dad on the other hand had never been here at my house so it was with eager anticipation that we waited for him this winter. Grandpa was coming with Grannie this time! I was just as excited as the kids, or even more so. I felt so honored to have them for guests. My sweet parents, grown old.

My relationship with my dad has not always been easy. When I was young it seemed like we didn’t understand each other at all. He just did not get me and I just did not get him! We talk about it now and laugh, but still there it is.

One day while he was here he pulled me  and one of my sisters close. He told us,”You know, Job and I have a lot in common and it isn’t in patience. It says that Job had the fairest daughters in all the land.” He must have seen how it pleased me because several times while he was here he told me that. Sometimes he would just wink and say, “I’ve got a lot in common with Job.” And I would smile and think, yes, and I know that beauty is only in the eye of the beholder.

I have been thinking about how even though I am in my thirties and a parent myself the approval of my father still means so much to me. I am so glad that my dad thinks I am beautiful! I know I’ve seen at certain times how our daughters seem to glow with happiness when their dad tells them how beautiful they are to him.

I love that in the book of Isaiah it says that God will “restore the years that the locust have eaten” and “that He is a repairer of the breach and one who lays new foundations”. It is never too late with the Lord. My husband brought my dad to the airport when the morning came for him to fly back home and on the way there my precious blue eyes thanked my dad for affirming me like that. My dad started to cry and blue eyes cried too. These two men who have impacted my life like no one else ever could, bond together by love for the Lord and for me………Thank you for these “words fitly spoken.” Proverbs 25:11