A collection in progress. I intend to keep adding photos as others share them. What a deep joy to spend time in the company of these smart, creative, funny, wholehearted homeschool moms/Brave Writer coaches. Every conversation was full of new discoveries, meaningful connections, and belly laughs.
Who could have imagined that the Yahoogroups we joined in the ’90s would bring us lifelong friends and nourishing work? So happy to get some IRL time with my brilliant, inspiring, visionary friend Julie Bogart. Not that you can tell from these pics because I always play it cool.
Jeanne Faulconer is another fortuitous connection made on homeschooling lists in the mid-90s. I loved her voice in the Home Ed Magazine discussion groups and was thrilled when our paths crossed in person at Virginia Homeschoolers events in Charlottesville and Richmond. Here we are all these years later, still talking shop and bonding over writing & relaxed education.
I met Farzana Minty at the 2016 Brave Writer conference, at which I was a guest speaker. She came up to me after one of my talks and spoke movingly of some of the parallels between our motherhood experiences. She radiates warmth and kindness in all she does. Getting to spend time in conversation and laughter with Farzana was one of the highlights of a truly magical weekend.
We were supposed to sit with different people at every session during the retreat, to give us all a chance to get to know one another if we didn’t already. But somehow the lovely Rebecca Pickens and I kept ending at the same table, and I enjoyed her company immensely. What a gem my new friend is!
Jai Tracy, Jen Holman, Farzana Minty, and me
Many of us who were supposed to fly out of Cincinnati on Sunday evening encountered cancelled flights. I had just gotten through security and was retrieving my phone from the TSA bin when it pinged in my hand: my flight was delayed and I would miss my connection in Minneapolis. Delta put me up at the Marriott, where I found three more Brave Writer coaches in the same position. (A whole other crew wound up at different hotels.) Our dismay at not getting home on schedule was quickly overtaken by delight at getting to spend some extra time together. Somehow I hadn’t managed much conversation time with Jai Tracy and Jen Holman at any point during the retreat, so I was happy we got to linger over dinner in lively discussion. And I’ll take all the Farzana time I can get!
All my other retreat selfies were taken with other people’s cameras. I plan to scoop them all up to add to this album (starting with my beloved pal Karen Edmisten—a long overdue reunion for us! One worth every minute of lost sleep as we sat up late gabbing). Too delicious an event not to capture.
Heads up, homeschooling friends! I’ll be teaching two sections of my Comic Strip Capers class at Brave Writer this fall. Registration is open now & this course usually fills up quickly. Can’t wait to see the comics your kids will create!
They’re whiteboards! I bought them a zillion years ago from a website called markerboardseconds.com or something like that. Discounted for scratch-and-dent, and man, what a great purchase that has turned out to be. What you’re seeing in the pic above is the backside, which we use constantly for puzzles–that little card table is right next to the big dinner table, so we need to be able to lay out our pieces and move them off the big table when it’s time to eat.
The other side is the whiteboard surface. We use some for homeschooly things, but mostly under watercolor paintings. Again, it’s nice to be able to move the wet paintings off the table to dry. They’re coated with years of spatter at this point.
That old markerboard seconds site seems to have disappeared, but you can find something similar (albeit considerably pricier) at Waldorf suppliers like Lyra, where they are sold as painting boards. And I’ve seen plain brown ones (no whiteboard side) at art supply shops. When I mentioned in yesterday’s post a topic idea about our best homeschooling purchases ever, these markerboards are what sparked the idea. We use them constantly, daily. The U.S. Presidents are listed on the back of one of them—probably permanent now since I think we wrote them out at least five years ago. And there’s a House of Stuart (or Tudor? both, probably) family tree stained into one of them. And then years and years of watercolor backsplash, as you can see in the top photo here. If you need to move a bunch of wet paintings off the dinner table, you can stack the boards up with Legos or blocks to create space between each tier.
If anybody says the word “August” to me I shall scream, ’Enry ’Iggins, I shall scream. It’s simply Not Possible we are almost there.
School doesn’t start for my rising 9th grader (!!! — now it’s your turn to shriek at the passage of time) for another month, but the rise of restlessness and quarreling among my smallest fry signaled to me that it was time for the tide to come back in. We picked up some dropped threads this morning—the Shakespeare speech they were learning in June (which I was pleased to see they remembered in full, so now I get to choose the next one); our German lessons; the study of ancient counting systems that Rilla is so enjoying. “Who knew I would be SO INTO numbers?”—/endquote.
And we began the second Penderwicks book. I had a different readaloud in mind but I was shouted down. “No offense to your choice, Mom,” I was assured. “It’s just…I mean, the Penderwicks.”
Indisputable logic. We’re on Chapter 3 of Gardam Street now.
Huck is clamoring for a return to Poetry Teatime (our July Tuesdays were full of misadventure), so that’s tomorrow. And if the heat breaks, I’d like to get them doing some baking once a week. I miss baking bread. Ooh but also! A German bakery is opening in our neighborhood! I may be a wee bit excited.
I read approximately one zillion Mary Stewart novels in June and early July, and then I completely forgot how to read. No wait, that’s not accurate—I read two entire Jean Webster novels on the plane to and from San Diego. But I got home a week ago and I’ve been floating from first page to first page ever since, like a butterfly sampling nectar and not finding anything quite satisfactory. Which is ridiculous, given the size of my TBR pile, not to mention the queue on my Kindle. Hundreds of options. I keep pulling out stacks and then…not committing to anything.
I’ve been steady at art, though, and that’s not nothing. Drawing or painting almost every day, and quite a bit of embroidery. This topic requires pictures but I can’t be bothered just now, please understand. I’m trying my long ago (so very long ago!) trick of using a quick blog post (timer set for twenty minutes) as a transition between the homeschooling mom and writer-with-a-deadline parts of my day. I daren’t go a minute over.
But here—three people to visit for gorgeous needlework pictures and patterns:
As often as not, this is what our Poetry Teatime looks like: circus animal cookies on a Dominoes napkin. Yesterday we didn’t even remember to bother with something to drink. Although it doesn’t take much to elevate the event (plates would be a good start) 😉 — there are days when you know you’ll miss your moment if you don’t jump right in. This was one of those days. We had just enough time left in our morning for a no-frills poetry teatime and a short nature walk, or a frillier tea and no walk at all. The vote was to squeeze in both.
Huck certainly doesn’t care, as long as poetry teatime contains the two essentials: cookies + Shel Silverstein. He had us all howling with “The Nap Taker” (“I did not take a nap— / The nap took me”). Beanie picked the Lewis Carroll collection (more howls) and Rilla chose a family favorite: Jack Prelutsky’s Imagine That! Poems of Never-Was. (When she read “The Multikertwigo” I had such déja vu. I will always hear that poem in wee Jane’s four-year-old voice.)
The sign that greets me outside the treatment room is ominous, and in context the words are sobering. But as I lie there on the table—for only a few minutes; the procedure is beautifully streamlined—I think about the words on the sign and realize the core message is one worth embracing. Radiation in progress…in philosophical terms, it’s really only a stone’s throw from Education is an atmosphere, isn’t it?
I just went on a little stroll through my archives, looking for an atmosphere post to link to. I didn’t find the one I wanted, but this one popped up and gave me a few happy pangs: This First Day, about Rilla’s first day of High Tide back in (gulp) 2012. The timing pierces, because today is S’s first day of school and that means the tide is shifting for the rest of us, too. This was a good passage for me to revisit this morning.
I used to waffle about methodologies: was I a Charlotte Mason homeschooler? An unschooler? Something in between—eclectic, perhaps? But it was all just groping for a label—and not even a label for my kids; it was about how to characterize myself in conversations with other homeschoolers, so that we might better understand one another. All the while, my kids and I went on simply doing what worked for us. If something stopped working, we did something else for a while—usually this has meant facilitating a child’s need to immerse deeply into a single passion or pursuit. I grok that; it’s how I love to learn, too. This blog is a chronicle of my own sudden immersions, some of them finite, some recurring at intervals: breadbaking, gardening, sewing, Irish pennywhistle, British period drama…it’s a long list. My kids have lists of their own, each one different, some interests overlapping.
Always, always, after one of these immersions, the diver comes up for air eventually. And there’s a restlessness, a pacing at loose ends, that has, for us, always been cured by a return to morning lesson time. Rose has told me she likes having the structure there to push against: knowing there are things she is expected to do fills her with ideas for things she longs to do. One of my jobs is to keep ears open for the longings, and drop resources and opportunities in her path to help her realize them. I love that part of the job.
After this summer’s upheaval, I’m ready for a return to some of the old rhythms that have served us well for so long. Of course, everything is constantly remaking itself, and the ‘old rhythms’ are overlain with new melodies.
Addendum: here’s another 2012 post that turned up and gave me a smile (and a pang) this morning. This one’s for the curriculum-junkie homeschooling mothers of 2002. I’m going to try not to think about the boatload of books and things we left behind in San Diego—it’s time to go shop my shelves and rediscover the treasures we did bring with us. We made a lot of packing decisions in a tearing hurry and I’ve had moments of wishing I hadn’t been quite so ruthless in the purge. But we still have shelves bursting with literary riches, and my job this morning is to stock the living-room shelves with a few dozen gems. And where’s the giant world map, Huck wants to know?
The antlion bit was especially fun. On Tuesday, as I was finishing our Moomintrolls chapter, I noticed that the next chapter was the one with the antlion in it, and I wasn’t sure either Huck or Rilla knew what that was. So without telling them why, I grabbed our Handbook of Nature Study and we read a bit about them. And then of course we needed to see one. We watched a short National Geographic video and then followed the suggested link to this delightful video made by a homesteading dad, accompanied by his four young children. At least, I think I counted four.
The video is embedded below, along with one for The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy—our folk song this week.
Heads up: I’m the guest on this week’s episode of the Brave Writer podcast! I had a fantastic time chatting about tidal homeschooling and other good stuff with the brilliant Julie Bogart, who became one of my very first online friends in the mid-1990s. We finally met in person at last summer’s Brave Writer Retreat. I always come away from a conversation with Julie feeling energized and happy, and this interview was no exception. Enjoy!
This is going to be terrible, so start with something easy. Let’s say: board games. Collect all the boxes from the playroom shelf and put them in the middle of the floor. Go through each box. Have an old Tupperware container handy; you’ll need something to hold the stray buttons and loose change you’re going to find rattling around each box. (Don’t worry that the Tupperware is missing its lid. You’ll get to Tupperware lids in Step 13, That Box of Miscellany in the Garage.)
Collectively, your board game boxes will contain seventeen dice, forty Pictionary drawings, six Mousetrap pieces, eleven paper squares from Caves and Claws, some D&D minifigures, and 1 1/2 actual game boards. Add the minifigures, dice, and Caves and Claws squares to your Tupperware container. Throw everything else away. I know, I know, the rest of Caves & Claws is long gone and saving random game pieces is pointless, but you’re just getting started here and your heart hasn’t hardened yet. Give it time.
Next up: art supplies. This step will be easier than you think, as long as you steadfastly refuse to let your brain access budget records.
Paint in tubes and bottles: If item was first opened more than six months ago, toss it.
Brushes: If they came from a Crayola or RoseArt paint set, toss them. If your toddler dipped them in glue, face the fact that you are never going to get around to soaking it out. Toss them. All other brushes go in an empty mason jar. Place this jar on a centrally located shelf. Consider artfully leaning your old tin of beeswax crayons behind it. This display will afford you feelings of satisfaction. You will need to summon those feelings in moments of despair as you work your way through subsequent steps.
Crayons: Gather all loose, blunted, and broken crayons from around the house. Place them in a clean five-gallon ice-cream tub. (You’ll find two of those under the kitchen sink and four more stacked on the dryer.) Dig your hand into this glorious collection of crayons. Bring up a fistful and gaze upon them, recalling to mind all the times you resolved to melt them into wonderful homemade crayon balls, blocks, and tapers. As you gaze, ask yourself the one crucial question: Does this spark guilt? Of course it does. Throw them all away. Ignore any lingering pangs of regret. Ten minutes from now you’ll remember it’s your turn to bring a snack to your child’s Little League practice. The ensuing waves of panic will obliterate any memory of the broken crayons.
Delete your Pinterest account.
Glance at your kitchen. Realize people are in there making snacks. This will never not be the case. You will never KonMari your kitchen. Move on.
If, however, you open a cupboard one day and find a refillable plastic cup from the local zoo—it will be giraffe-colored with an accordion-pleated straw—discard it immediately. You are never, never going to remember to take it with you for the 20¢ discount.
Toys. One does not KonMari toys. That way lies madness. You can’t pick up every single toy and ask a question about it. That process would spark many feelings, and none of them would be joy. Anyway, most of the time the question would be “Why is this sticky?”
Here is what you do with toys: gather assorted large cardboard boxes or, if you are one of those fancy types, Rubbermaid storage bins. Dump random armloads of toys in these boxes/bins. Label them Box 1, Box 2, and so on. Allow only one box into the house at a time. Three weeks from now when your children are bored, make them refill Box 1 with all the toys they’ve dumped out in the interim. Swap it out for Box 2. They’ll greet its contents like long-lost friends. Repeat this process, rotating through boxes, at monthly intervals or on the third day of a rainy streak. Store the other boxes in your garage or attic. Your children can deal with sorting and purging these items when they’re grown. I mean, you can’t possibly be expected to remember which My Little Pony is the one that must be kept for all eternity.
Eh, while you’re at it, stick the lidless Tupperware container from Step 1 into one of the toy boxes. There are probably at least three other Caves & Claws pieces in there somewhere.
Look, those nondescript rocks and pebbles are VERY IMPORTANT to someone in your home. If you do not understand what Marie Kondo means when she talks about things “sparking joy,” ask your seven-year-old if these are his rocks and observe the expression on his face. That’s the feeling you’re chasing here.
Clothing. There is no point in attempting to KonMari your children’s drawers and closets. Those places are subject to particular laws of physics which cause any neatly folded or hung matter to expand and accumulate in untidy heaps. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does your child’s sock drawer. Who are you to alter the laws of space and time? Move on.
Craft supplies. (You can distinguish these from art supplies because they exist in a different room of your house and usually involve thread.) Outfit yourself for an archeological dig, because that’s what this stage will be: an expedition through the strata of your previous selves. A dozen fabulous iterations of you will be unearthed as you work your way through the layers. You, the erstwhile quilter. You, the maker of beaded jewelry. You, the needle-felter. You, the handstitcher of faceless cotton dolls. You, the…wait, what’s quilling?
Do not lament the incomplete manifestations of these past selves. Each of them was awesome for at least a week, maybe a whole second trimester. Also, each one of them undoubtedly sparked an enthusiastic blog post which inspired some other woman with more follow-through to actually become accomplished at said pursuit. I mean, that has to count for something, right? Right?
Anyway: here’s what you do with all these craft supplies. You say airily, “Oh, hey, [insert name of nearest child], any interest in [random craft]?” Rotate through children’s names until someone gasps with delight. One of them will, and you’ll look extremely cool for having all the materials on hand already.
You knew it had to come, sooner or later. The homeschooling materials. Brace yourself. This is just a warm-up for your books, which is where the real pain lies.
First, assemble all packaged curricula. If an item is intended for second grade or younger, box it and give it to that sweet-faced young mom at park day, the one with a kindergartener and two babies. She’ll be delighted and will leaf eagerly through the instructor guides, each item sparking joy. As a courtesy, strongly advise her not to use any of it, just as you wound up not using it. She’ll ignore you, and this coming September she’ll suffer through one impossible week in which she tries to “do school.” Then she’ll stuff it all on a shelf and avoid looking at it until her oldest is in college, at which time she’ll repeat this time-honored cycle. This is a necessary stage in the metamorphosis of a homeschooling mother. In inflicting these materials upon her, you’re simply participating in an inevitable, natural process. I mean, really, it’s the same thing as planting milkweed.
Survey your remaining materials. You will be surprised to find that’s it’s all good stuff that your family actually uses. That’s because you successfully emerged from the homeschooling-mother pupal stage about the time your fifth kid was born, and also you were too broke to order anything new.
Have someone sharpen all the stray pencils and put them in a jar next to the paintbrushes. Post a picture of this on Instagram. We’re sparking now!
Who put all these pigeon feathers in the linen closet??
You’re getting kind of bored with this and anyway, Lent is almost over. You know you have to deal with the books. It’s impossible, but there’s no avoiding it. Marie Kondo says to begin by assembling them all in one place. This is good advice. Gather every single book in the house into one place, preferably the living-room floor. You’ll be bombarded with emotions as you handle each book. Do not, repeat DO NOT, stop to flip through Brambly Hedge or Swallows and Amazons. It is acceptable to sing “Bed in Summer” while adding A Child’s Garden of Verses to the pile.
Complete the process by placing your copy of Home Comforts on the top of the heap. At this juncture, your floor will collapse under the collective weight of your family library, and your entire house will be swallowed into the abyss.
Congratulations! You’re now a minimalist!
Footnote: you’ll notice this guide, and your Kon Mari endeavor, ends before Step 13, the garage. You’re welcome.