• celebrations,  daybook

    Fresh beginnings…

    It’s our first day of (home)school today, September 4.

    It’s also my Namesday. My chrismated name (or Christian/Baptized name, as Westerners might be more familiar with) is Hermione, for St. Hermione of Caesarea. As most Orthodox will tell you, the Saint choses you…mine certainly did. While a catechumen waiting for my Chrismation, I could not decide which was the wisest to chose and so told my priest. The three saints’ names I had narrowed the list down to were written on strips of paper, left under the Gospel throughout Liturgy, and then pulled at random by lots by my Priest after the service. Anyone that knows me well knows how much I resemble (moreso in temperament and thirst for knowledge that physical appearance) Hermione of the Harry Potter books, so it was rather a sweet, yet funny thing that the original Hermione chose me. (Hermione in the books is named for none other than my St. Hermione; J.K. Rowling often referred to Foxes Book of Martyrs for names. It’s also where she got the name for the hospital- St. Mungoes. There’s a few more Easter eggs like that throughout the books.)

    It’s also the ecumenical new year, as the new church year started on September 1.  My parents came for a visit over the weekend.

    Just a new page all around, really.

    It has been a sweet, quiet day.

    I’m not sure what September holds for us yet. Looking back over August, I feel a sense of relief. It felt like the first month that we really and truly found our footing in many areas after months- years, really- of upheaval. Doesn’t feel like we’re running frantically from one plate to another and tossing them, just trying to keep it all in the air.

    I’ve been looking back over August as I look forward to September and establish my goals, and I thought I’d drop some of those thoughts here.

    Things that we did well in August:

    our food prep/kitchen/grocery budget flow. (This has been a huge goal for me for at least two years, so to see some progress feels SO good.)

    –  staying in the moment.  One of the unfortunate side affects of medical trauma-rama is focusing *in* the moment, because it feels like there’s always something barreling down at you and also that you barely stood up from the last thing that ran you over. It gets hard to just enjoy the moment and not think about it all. I feel like we really truly did this as a family in August, just enjoyed each other’s company and celebrated the every day things. That’s with my husband having a kidney stone that necessitated an ER visit about mid-month. I feel like we did the right things to recover and didn’t rush the process and trusted our intuition as to what was needed both for him and for our family. Trusting that voice is hard after what we’ve been through, and I’m really happy to report that we did. And James is definitely on the mend!

    – working hard to get all the past-due and collections medical bills PAID in full this month. It was so unbelievably squeaky tight in August because of it, but it is SUCH a relief to start September in the black. There was a huge paperwork snafu when the two medical systems here merged into one (we had bills at hospitals in both networks) and the new merged network sent a bunch of bills repeatedly to a decade-old address right after the merge. I found it odd that we had stuff showing on our EOBs from our insurance but no bills were coming. It took a solid month and a half and a billion phone calls to get it straightened out and then we got slammed with a number of collections as soon as they got the right address dating all the way back to the merge in January. No chance to negotiate. It was so frustrating and humiliating, especially when it was the new medical system’s fault in the merge, and they had correct phone numbers for us the whole time. (Sigh.) But it’s over with now! We still have larger bills set on payment plans that are okay and weren’t affected by the merge, but no more collections! Yay! That’s huge. The more important thing to me is that we didn’t just survive while doing it this month, we thrived on the challenge of it. It didn’t knock the wind out of us like it has often done before, keeping us up at night. We did our best each day and slept well.  I don’t think the kids really noticed a difference one way or the other, and that is really important to me! They don’t need to be worrying about it. It’s been a stressor for all of us for so long that having healthier responses is BIG.

    Things that I’d like to focus on for September:

    building up our pantry. I have planned to set in some ‘winter stores’ like a proper squirrel in September. We’re already halfway there on the fourth day of the month: my parents gifted us a membership to a bulk store with better prices on our bulk daily needs, we found an even cheaper place locally for 50 lbs of rice and oatmeal than I had originally researched (score!), and there was enough wiggle room in the grocery budget to take advantage of both. Some of the things we still need I am researching for best prices, and we’ll finish it up in the second half of the month. The fact that I can even say (and know!) that there is space in the grocery budget is HUGE! YAY! I want to work on baking and freezing some meals, too.

    – keep pounding away at the medical bills. Again, this is already showing fruit- James and I both have some side hustles going, and we’ll able to put some extra towards that goal this month. This is the first month we’ve felt comfortable taking on extra work, knowing that it won’t burn us out or unbalance our rhythm.

    – more art, more art, more art! I’ve been working on a collection all summer called Bird-In-Hand. It is a culmination of many quiet, healing moments of painting and drawing this summer, and God willing, I’ll introduce it the world on or around September 15. With the return of our school rhythm, I’ll have more time to devote to art, and I am very excited about that. I have so many things going that I am always sorry to put away and having more focused time will be wonderful!

    Things I’ll leave behind:

    – giving up. I tend to shut down when I feel overwhelmed instead of finding some practical steps forward away from whatever it is that has me so locked down. Sometimes it’s just a simple thing like getting dressed. Making good food for myself. Calling someone who might know the answer to the quandary or has similar life experience. All small things, but they aren’t standing still and not doing anything at all, and that’s where the forward movement comes from. Step by step.

    – crappy food. And crappy people. Both seem to be hitting me on the same level lately. I want to invest my time in life-giving things and not life-taking things. Stronger boundaries and fences! And better food, for crying out loud. My body deserves better. So does my soul!

    – escapism. I notice that I start to check in to social media and mindlessly scroll when I am feeling overwhelmed. I am checking in with myself when I pick up any technology as to whether what I’m about to do is life-giving or life-taking. The answer is usually pretty obvious to me when I ask that- I know when I’m using it as a tool towards something that gives me life (like art tutorials or dear friends’ thoughts or looking up a recipe I’ve forgotten, balancing the checkbook, writing blog posts etc.) or whether I’m just escaping from the noise of the kids or the school day or whatever. One is usually done with intention, and the other is done mindlessly without a goal in mind.

    How about you?

  • Books

    Restored hope…

    “…I hope that simple love and truth will be strong in the end. I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.”

    -David Copperfield

    I have been reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens of late, as much as out of a desire to return to more meaty fare as to correct a defect of my education as an English major. I avoided him; I hated both A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist with almost equal measure. It really is a pity that those are put forth as his best, as the more I’ve read of him the more I feel that those two are actually his worst. I also read Little Dorrit earlier in the summer. I want to read Bleak House next, as my fellow friends have told me it is by far and away their favorite. David has been good for me though. His comments upon his life, his upbringing, his early adult years- they have all given me ‘thoughts to Think” as Pooh says. I find that David’s words (as performed by none other than the highly talented Richard Armitage on the audio book when I am in the car) have slowly given me back my humanity, which I’m afraid was becoming sorely out of shape and twisted lately. Restored my hope in people, I guess you could say, in spite of, or because of, their failings. Dickens is so gentle and yet truthful with characters of all stripes. He reminds me of Austen in that way.

     

  • the learning arts

    A generous feast…

    The lovely folks over at Charlotte Mason Poetry have been making available some of their video workshops for free this week. (Here’s the link, if you’re interested- they will come down Aug. 31) Above are my notes from Art Middlekauff’s workshop on Charlotte Mason’s twenty principles. I was pretty familiar with them before this workshop (and maybe you are too?) but even so, I learned so much from it! I’d definitely recommend it whether you are a CM newbie or a seasoned veteran. I was particularly struck this time by the connections between my own Orthodox faith/theology and Charlotte’s thoughts, especially in principles one, thirteen, nineteen, and twenty, and I want to dig into those connections in this space, as I have time. Noting it here for accountability, ha!

    I deeply enjoyed Richele Baburina’s workshop on Mathematics called Charlotte Mason and Math: A Mountain Perspective.

    It’s no secret that math and I are not exactly on friendly terms. My own calculation speed and ability to follow large form equations has increased over the years with the constant teaching and reviewing of elementary math principles with my children these last eight years or so, simply from having to teach it. I don’t think I (or my teachers) realized how many fundamental pieces of foundational mathematical knowledge were missing in my vocabulary, but boy, they were…extensive. So much so that a few of the teachers I had suspected that I might have dyscalculia . (I had a very consistent habit of switching whole equations and number sequences.) Looking back, I don’t think I did or do have dyscalculia- my switching had more to do with how little I understood the processes of multiplication, division, and fractions. That might slip by in the elementary years but really becomes telling in the upper abstract maths. If you haven’t mastered (not learned) those processes, the yawning chasms between different rungs of the abstract maths ladder will become very deep indeed. Anyways, I breeze through my older children’s Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 work now, something I wasn’t capable of even five or six years ago. It amazes me.

    Needless to say, I was so interested in what Richele had to say given my storied history with the language. I absorbed so much from her workshop that I am still unpacking it four or five days later. I will probably watch it again before it disappears, it’s that good, and so full of information! Two things that I have been thinking about constantly since: keeping the concrete>imaginary>pure number continuum in mind when teaching and evaluating, and also, the need to include more mental math processes in my teaching. (It’s my weakest point, still. I could answer only one of the five or six examples Richele gave.) This is where the holes were in my own mathematics education, and I want to make sure it’s something I pay attention to with my own children. There are so many resources and ideas she presented that I am still unpacking it all! I’m sure I’ll have more to say as I digest it.

    I want to catch Charlotte Mason and the Educational Tradition workshop this week, but haven’t been able to swing it yet. Hopefully!

    What has been really making you think and inspiring your own education lately? 

  • the home arts

    Mindful Money: Good New Reads

    There are two good personal finance/frugal living books that have come out recently. I have been using the YNAB app for just about two years now, and I have learned a lot simply from using it. The book however, is absolutely stellar. I would choose this to hand to anyone lost in the money mess first over anything else, any other book, absolutely first. This is not this quick discussion of debt and then eighteen chapters on investments and retirement accounts and things that most of America can’t even contemplate right now book. It’s the real deal, right in the nitty gritty, say this is your goal, here are some things to think about, what happens when a medical emergency decimates your finances (HMM, sound familiar?) and how can you move forward, how to really manage your money, book. So much common sense, written in approachable, non-judgmental style. Absolutely recommend. I would recommend it over Dave Ramsey’s body of work every day of the week. (Not to say that I don’t like Ramsey, but it’s often felt like to me that there aren’t much practical helps for when you are pre-pre-pre-Baby Step 1 and are dying under the weight of your debt.)

    Meet the Frugalwoods is by Elizabeth Willard Thames. I don’t quite remember how I first ‘met’ Elizabeth, but I think it was a ‘spend-nothing’ challenge group on Facebook. I have never strayed out beyond that one little group- I didn’t realize she had a blog or a significant social media presence beyond that group, and it flits in and out bi-monthly or so…I just don’t engage with social media and blogs like I used to. Imagine my surprise when I saw new book at the library! It’s an interesting read. She clearly comes from a place of privilege and she readily admits this- both her and her husband were raised by parents that gave sound financial education, and by the time they decided to start on their ‘frugal’ adventures, they were already saving over 60% of their combined income and had been major savers since before they even got married. That just isn’t the mainstream access point for the majority of America. It just isn’t. Most are living paycheck to paycheck up to their eyeballs in debt working at a job they hate, sick and tired, and don’t even realize there is another way and their parents are in the same boat, and had no better financial education, either. That being said, she readily acknowledges that and the book is still very interesting, and you will walk away with plenty of ideas to try, which was why I was attracted to her spend-nothing group on FB in the first place- I don’t do everything she and her husband discuss, but I always walked away from the conversations with simple next steps for my own needs and finances.

  • the learning arts

    Another in the collection…

    Yet another of those ideas tucked into my homeschool aims and mantras, seen here, as bumper sticker on our van. (Side note: I love how much my Coexist sticker makes all my nerd friends laugh. I’ve even seen it tickle the funny bones of monks and nuns. Which makes me smile all the more.)