Monday, December 23, 2013

Celebrations of Light

Warning: Longest Blog Post Ever....

"And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.  And let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.' And it was so.  And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.  And God saw that it was good."  Genesis 1:14-18

If it weren't for homeschooling I don't think I would have appreciated this passage as much as I do now. I believe we were created to depend on the Light of the World and that light is in His Creation. And He wants us to see the light, depend on it, and appreciate it as a fact of His Divine Order. But I didn't know how to do that as a modern gal with electricity, other than as an intellectual exercise. Enter educating kids at home.  Enter researching educational philosophies that jive with my vision of the world and it's potential reflected in my children. Enter in traditions from around the globe and through time.  Now I am starting to get a small idea of how important it is to celebrate the light and for our family, to celebrate The Light. Sometimes adopting celebrations means dabbling here and there across cultures and across belief systems: we take what we can see as Truth and leave the rest.

A link to a Waldorf Circle


The first observation we practice is Martinmas, November 10th. The story of Saint Martin in a nutshell: A Roman soldier riding through the city gates on a cold winter night notices a beggar, near naked and hungry. Martin dismounts from his horse and divides his cloak in two, giving half to the cold man and then taking him to get something to eat. Later that night, Martin has a dream that it was Christ himself that he shared his cloak with and fed. We are reminded that when we serve those deemed the least in the world, we are serving our Lord. Over time this came to be a practice in Martin's example of bringing light to those in darkness, to share what we have with those who have less, to keep light alive. We observe this by making lanterns to carry on a walk- spreading light just as the days seem to be lengthening and getting colder.

We sing:

 Sunlight fast is dwindling, 
My little lamp needs kindling.  
It's beam shines bright on darkest night, 
Dear lantern guide me with your light.

Then we share cider and treats together and discuss how we can help the needy in our community. Parents discuss pacing ourselves as we go into winter and how our inner light gets taxed as the darkness gets thicker. We brainstorm ways to fight the challenges that come with little sun, both mentally and physically.  For our family it is a reminder to rely on The Light, not our own strength.

St. Lucia Day

Our next celebration is Saint Lucia Day. Saint Lucia was a martyr in Italy and a saint adopted by Sweden. The basics of her story is that in the midst of famine and deep winter, she sailed to Sweden bringing food.  In order to have two hands to serve, she put candles on her head. We visit family early in the morning bringing gingerbread scones (our own riff on the traditional Lusekatter buns and gingerbread cookies). Her saint day used to fall closer to winter solstice and was combined with Norse traditions. We have a lot of fun with this day, especially my daughters who love to carry candles (battery powered) and wear the white gown. They bring their good cheer (and sunny morning dispositions, lol) to waken relatives with light in the early morning dark, and with food symbolic of St. Lucia's mission to Sweden. As our kids grow older, I hope they internalize this holiday as a day of self-initiation and serving others.

We sing:

Santa Lucia, 
Thy light is glowing,
Through darkest winter night,
Comfort bestowing.

Dreams float on wings of night,
Comes then the morning light,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

This picture shows lanterns being used, but we use candles. Link to example of a Solstice Spiral Walk

Winter Solstice

Our friends set up a giant spiral of evergreen branches in their backyard. With a small bonfire surrounded by stumps for seats and the smell of yummy soups drifting from the house, we wait by the spiral allowing each child to take their turn. Carrying an unlit candle inserted in an apple as a holder, each child walks the spiral into the center where a big candle is lit.  They light their candle from the center one and then as they walk out of the spiral, they can choose where to put their candle down. What starts as darkness quickly becomes a mini galaxy of lights as the children's line nears completion. It is truly beautiful and defies capture on my own phone's camera. Afterward we read a poem together:

Down with darkness, up with light,
Up with sunshine, down with Night.

Each of us is one small light
But together we shine bright.

Go away darkest, blackest night,
Go away, give way to light.

In the pagan tradition a Solstice observation would be a prayer to the sun to come back.  For us, it is a reminder of the need for sun, for light, for the Son of God, for the Light of the World to come to earth and save us from darkness. He made the sun and for us the celebration of Solstice is a celebration tied to Christmas, waiting for the birth of the Son, and the creation of the world that depends on Him. The world is beautifully made, but in it's fallen state (impending darkness) all of Creation groans, waiting " be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God...And not only creation, but we ourselves, who... groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8:21-23. Winter Solstice can be a reminder that we wait for redemption by our Redeemer. This is an interesting read: The Mercy Blog

Advent wreath
 Sample observance

Throughout December we light candles every Sunday around our Advent wreath. I am just discovering the rich traditions around celebrating the season of Advent, so our observance is very simple. We have a wreath with four candles on the outside and one in the center (to be lit on Christmas). The 4 outer candles represent: Hope, Preparation, Joy, and Love. For each corresponding week of Advent we light the candle of the week and the previous weeks until all are lit on Christmas. We talk about our hope and anticipation of a Savior, how we can prepare our hearts for him, the joy we have because of Him, and the love He gives us. We light each candle with a verse:

Light the Advent candle one, now the waiting has begun
Hope fill our hearts upon our way, time to think of Christmas day
Candle, candle burning bright, shining in the darkest night
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light.

Light the Advent candle two, think of humble shepherds who
Heard from angels, wondrous sight, love the child was born that night.
Candle, candle burning bright, in the darkness of the night
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light

Light the Advent candle three, think of joyful harmony
Angels singing “Peace on Earth”, at the Blessed Saviour’s birth.
Candle, candle burning bright, shining in the darkest night
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light.

Light the Advent candle four, Peace on Earth forevermore
Christ child in a stable born, Gift of love that Christmas morn.
Candle, candle burning bright, shining in the darkest night.
Candle, candle burning bright, fill our hearts with Christmas light.

After Christmas is a time of quiet and slow waiting for the days to get longer.  Candlemas or Ground Hog's day marks the halfway point between Solstice and the Vernal Equinox. It deserves a post too.  We will always be celebrating it because it somebody's birthday and she definitely deserves a write up! She represents much joy and light to us through Grant's darker months of diagnosis and surgery. God saw that she was very good to send to us!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Late Fall Wrap Up

Today, the last day of Autumn, the first real snow has fallen and our company's plows are out in operation.
Just like that, I realize another season has flown by. I love fall so much and am always sad to let it go. Here are a few pictures to sum up October through now.

I love the low light in Fall.  The way it comes through our windows in the afternoon helps me see all the dust bunnies under the furniture!

For a brief time as the leaves change color, our dining room windows give us the feeling of living in an enchanted land.

As the weather gets cooler, the Lego playing warms up.

"Mom, play blocks with me?!" Then as I proceed to build, he needs every block I pick up for his creation.

After a walk in the backwoods, Fairy Girl discovers some mushrooms growing near Douglas Firs.

Ice Skating lessons last six weeks. Mom discovers that it is cold to sit and watch.
Walking through Riverfront Park on the way to skating lessons is a delight.

I love our river view on the way to lessons!

This is the best picture I could get of our lantern walk for Martinmas. This is an annual event with friends at Cannon Hill Park.

Walking on the old trails behind our house.

We chased turkeys out of the woods and kept this souvenir.

The view through the woods (looking East).

The leaves have all fallen off the maples and exposed the new beams for the future tree house.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

An Extraordinary Day.

Mary Cassatt, "After the Bath."

It was Monday. At breakfast, Fairy Girl suggested we do something extraordinary with the day. All I wanted to do was clean house after the playful neglect of the weekend, but I racked my brain trying to think of something that would qualify as more than ordinary. That's right, the yarn shop. An old two story factory full of everything fiber related. That sounded fun, and just down the block was a coffee shop the kids had never been to. Wouldn't that qualify?

Two hours later as we head toward the shop, I realized it's time to eat and proceeding to the shop with four hungry kids was asking for meltdowns. To be honest, I would probably meltdown faster than the kids, but it was their stomachs I was thinking about.  I stopped at Chipotle. Found a table. The rest was a blur of impossible acoustics, bad service, food refusal by the four year old, asking stares from other customers, and BAM, mama was in no mood for an extraordinary day! Back in the car with the two youngest crying frustratingly from my embargo on chocolate milk, and the boy announcing triumphantly that he didn't want to go to the yarn shop anyway, I gave in to the pressure.  That is, the pressure you feel when you have more than 2.5 kids, out in public during school hours.  The pressure to make your counterculture family look shiny and perfectly coordinated.

I started explaining this to anyone not crying and willing to listen in the back of the car (Fairy Girl).  In our culture there are people who don't like kids.  There are people who think they should be in school and not out and about living life at large unless it is a holiday. Even then, children are seen as a temporary nuisance that will soon be back under control by public and private institutions. Like it or not, we are ambassadors for homeschoolers. Yeah, I know toddlers and preschoolers shouldn't be held hostage to any idea like that.  But I just don't want to give those naysayers anything to say about us. Ugh.  Then I explained how I didn't want to care about naysayers because I really like our lifestyle and I believe what we are doing is beautiful and good.

I am almost thirty-six and I am still learning to throw off societal expectations. You know, be the family no one suspects of going against the grain because we look so normal and non threatening.  I do my part not to dress in denim jumpers or let my son wear snow boots year round. (That really bothers some people!) But could my children please be the paragon of cooperation when we are in public, even if it's developmentally inappropriate to expect?

Fairy Girl said, "You have given me a lot to think about.  About stuff I never really considered." I replied, "well that's why I am bringing it up."  But I was guilty.  I was feeling so hypocritical. Conform, don't conform, resent it, fight it, but still service it?  What's up with these insecurities? Mama needed to sort things out.

A couple of miles later while I was still feeling like a bag of poo because I was wrapped up in appearances, Fairy Girl asks, "Mom, what are your top priorities for your time on this planet?"

The brakes in my mind screeched.  Yeah, my current thoughts were definitely not lining up with what I would say are my priorities in life. I fumbled to find words. I got something out like, "that's a really important question," still trying to buy time.  But then she jumped in first.
"Mine are: making my Mom and Dad proud, helping others, and doing the best I can with what I have."

My eyes welled up. Bubba interjected something and my chance to respond disappeared. All I could think was, "I am humbled. How beautiful are her intentions!  But I hope she doesn't live her life to try and make me and Grant proud of her. We are so full of flaws and, as I demonstrated thoroughly today, insecurities that I hope really hard don't thwart her true calling." I have baggage and I don't want to pass it on to my kids.  They are hard-wired to learn everything they can from us.  We've got to hold the space for them despite ourselves. The spiritual journey of parenting transforms us if we allow it.  I want to be an authentic Mama. I thank God for sending Fairy Girl to remind me.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Autumn in Earnest

Elderberries and tomato

Yellow the bracken, golden the sheaves
Rosy the apples, crimson the leaves,
Mist on the hillside, clouds grey and white,
Autumn good morning, Summer good night.

The beginning of fall is always rich with the harvest of summer coupled with the anticipation of the leaves changing.  That is the"morning" of Autumn. We have worked our way into the afternoon of the season. The garden is roto-tilled, the sunflowers pulled out, the perennials stunted and the annuals turned brown. Beautiful days starting in fog are almost all gone. Now are the cold days followed by below freezing nights. The rain and wind knock the color down from the trees, but I still try to remember the gilded parks and streets.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sunday Evenings

Sundays became family days long ago. Recently, creative urges have compelled us to paint together or carve pumpkins at the late hour of 7 pm.  That's not a traditional time to start a project that requires cleanup before bed! But I have given into their creativity without regrets.

The Sunday before Halloween we carved pumpkins instead of painting. With lots of help from Nana and Papa, and Meenu who sadly, are not pictured, we accomplished pumpkin carving 2013. Lots of ideas came tumbling forth, and they all turned out well (except for my Pinterest Fail, also not pictured: it's between a hedgehog and a puffer fish.)

One of Boo's pumpkin's many faces

Fairy Girl made a fairy house
Daddy went with a spooky house

Eggbert went traditional

And Z for Zibs

 It was fun to have everyone in on the action. We rounded out the carving night with a viewing of, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown." Late bedtime again, but totally worth it!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Handwork Inspiration

Spools of yarn. It's something we spend money on, just like paint and drawing pencils. They are natural tools we're always using and don't really know how to live without. I am not a knitter.  I have knitted.  I find sewing more gratifying. Despite that grudge, I think learning to knit and eventually crochet are important parts of our homeschooling. First, children finger-knit, then they learn on needles, and then they learn to follow a pattern. In Waldorf schools, knitting is used to reinforce math skills, develop fine motor skills, prepare children for handwriting, and give them the satisfaction of making something with their own hands. (It is much more than that, but that's the gist of the motivation behind learning fiber crafts.)

Within a few days of each other, Fairy Girl mentioned she wanted to know how to knit better, to make something other than a washcloth, and Bubba said he was ready to learn on needles. So being the non knitter I am, I asked my friend who knits avidly to give us a lesson. We were invited up to her parents house and while I intended to only require 15-30 minutes of instruction for the kids before they ran off to play with their friends, the day wonderfully exceeded my expectations. It was a beautiful fall day, in an ideal country setting.

The sunlight on the nape of her neck, nom nom nom!

After parking the car, the kids found their friends and disappeared. My friend's mom was winterizing her bee hives and she invited me to watch. If only I had had my camera/phone! I watched as she removed the drone frame and checked broods. I smelled the heavenly bee food supplement she handmakes with essential oils, bee protein, and honey. She showed me the fuel she preferred for her smoker. I watched a young worker bee emerge from her cell and drones without stingers hiding out still in the boxes. In the meantime, Zibs had wandered into their garden where my friend's dad was pulling up all the squash and getting beds ready for winter. As a seasoned grandpa, he handed her a toddler sized hoe and let her mess around.

I love the leaf in his hair, evidence of other play...
With food as a lure, we gathered the kids on the deck in the lovely sun. My dear friend taught Fairy Girl how to purl and start a pattern for a cat and then she patiently started Bubba on needles. After he finished a row, he retreated for a trampoline break and surprisingly came back for more knitting. He was hooked.

See, knitting in the warm autumn sun, ahhh!
Setting traps; something is at the chickens.
Meanwhile the other children were petting goats and getting cart rides behind grandpa's four-wheeler. It was a pretty great way to keep everyone happy.  When one of my friend's twins went missing, he was always found in the garden. What a lovely afternoon. I feel like I said that too many times, but it was just one of those days you'll remember fondly for a long time. Before I left, I had some black tea with fresh honey and I think I may have found something I like more than coffee!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Arboretum Season Comes to an End.

Fall at the arboretum is magical. The weather is cooler, the colors are brighter, and it feels like a small getaway. With families coming in and out of the group over the years, some moving onto school and others just moving to town, the kids always seem to know just how special the once a week meeting at the arboretum is.  They devise their own games: sometimes bringing props from home, ideas from shared camp experiences, or just whatever the day inspires them to play. Our big kids are ten/eleven and the youngest are just a year old. The big kids incorporate the littles into their play and bring them back to the mamas' blankets when they've strayed too far. Fairy Girl is a bit outnumbered by the boys her age, but the gender pendulum swings back to female for the under five years old group.


Sporting color shirts from our "Not-Back-to-School" tie dye party.

Mamas dole snacks out and chat about homeschooling, child development, marriage, politics, recipes, library dues, and getting ready for winter. Speaking of winter, our arboretum time will be replaced with ice skating lessons and visiting the Mobius Science Center. There are rumors of archery lessons and leather working too, then hello ski season!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Knapps Farm

We made the annual pilgrimage up to Greenbluff to pick our pumpkins from the farm. One of Boo's friends had a birthday party up there and it was good timing for the whole family to come. Family pictures are hard to gather with both parents and 4 children looking. One child loves posing for now. You'll never guess who. The rest are just nice to have in the same frame.

He immediately named his pumpkin, "Eggbert."

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Beowulf and the Peg People

Fairy Girl narrates the very condensed version of Beowulf.

Grendel the Monster

I have been so excited about this unit study of Beowulf with Fairy Girl for 4th grade. We use a combination of Live Ed and Waldorf Essentials curricula for our homeschooling and Norse Mythology is a shared theme in both. Although Beowulf is an Anglo Saxon poem, it reflects ideals from the time in history that the Norse Myths integrated with Christianity. The story of Beowulf is special to our family because our late beloved family dog shared the name, and our late (also loved) tabby cat went by the moniker, Grendel.

We spent about 4 weeks reading the Norton edition of Beowulf, along with several other versions: my favorite being my high school copy with my dialectic journal notes inside. I approached the topic both enthusiastically and tentatively because Fairy Girl (FG) is not one for the discussion of blood and guts. Gratefully, when reading an unabridged version the old language is hard enough to understand that most of the gory details went over her head. When some days the readings were too confusing, we would refer to a children's version for clarity. To finish up our study of the saga, I encouraged FG to perform a play for her brother.  Up to this point, we ushered him out of the room during our readings and narrations because he couldn't keep himself from all the questions he had about ogres and dragons and was a distraction to our work.  I thought, if FG could break the saga down into simple scenes and narrate a play just for him, he would finally feel included while, simultaneously, FG would show her understanding of the material.

There was no chance of giving Bubba nightmares by using our building blocks and wooden toys to act out the scenes. Writing the scenes out for herself proved too daunting of a task, I recorded as she dictated and then I assigned her the task of deciding what props she needed for each scene and recording those herself. FG can draw and color all day, but her hand tires after about a page of writing (partly because she draws all the time and partly because of her left-handedness). It took a few attempts until I realized she needed a deadline or it wasn't ever going to be complete. So I gave her a two day notice that she would perform a simple narration with her props and that it didn't need to be rehearsed.

I am so glad I pushed for that approach because it released a lot of the pressure that she was putting on herself. When you are listening to old English and your copywork is written in old English you tend to elevate your personal art (that's part of the goal, isn't it?) To balance her artistic side with her perfectionist side, we had to work with props that were readily available and adaptable. Here come the peg people!

Beowulf sets sail for Daneland

Grendel attacks Heorot Hall

"Take this mead cup as a token of our gratitude," said Queen Wealhtheow.

Terrible dragon that plagues Geatland.

Beowulf's funeral pyre.

There were a couple of good lines that came out of her impromptu paraphrased play. One of my favorites came as Wiglaf tries to convince the other warriors to help Beowulf fight the dragon, he utters, "It is better to die in smoke than to leave a friend in need." The warrior culture of Beowulf valued dying in battle rather than in your sleep, old age or disease. They valued loyalty and just and generous kings. We were both a little sad when Beowulf died and his men deserted him except for Wiglaf. I think her Wiglaf quote sums it up nicely.