• daybook

    Well, hello October…

    My goodness. It is October 15.  The school year took off without me! It has been such a helter skelter month and a half that I feel as if I am just now coming up for air and just barely at that. All that margin I thought we had built in to our days was apparently the teasing placidness of summer break talking.

    Needless to say some things need adjusting.  So let’s check in, shall we?

    Things we did well in September:

    Um. We held on for dear life. HA!

    I think, the success I see in September is that those rhythms we’ve really built in to our family culture held somehow over this last month. We ended September relatively right-side-up even though no one had really had any time to think about or put towards those rhythms. They just held. We are consistently praying together and reading aloud together as a family just about every night, which has been a huge goal for a long time, and I wondered if it would hold during this new season. It has. Our kitchen/dinner/meal planning routine held, relatively speaking, and that in itself was a wonder to me, as I didn’t feel like I had any brain space to devote to it.

    Laughably, the second two of my goals for September, keep pounding away at the medical bills and more art, more art, more art barely blipped the radar. I had no idea what was coming around the bend when I wrote that.

    As seems to be a constant in our lives, lately, we had a series of breaks. James’ car, which has been quite literally limping for nearly a year, had another catastrophic failure. We had to devote all of our financial margin to get it back to some useable form. It seems to be a constant measuring for us with so many of our large appliances/tools as to whether to finally scrap it and go without or attempt limping some more. We couldn’t find any more of a workable solution for the financial margin available than the reality we already had, so it limps along and lives to fight another day. We keep having things break for no other reason than perhaps to frustrate us: our lawn mower, most of our large appliances (save the oven and dishwasher, which were finally replaced around Christmas time last year), sometimes even just the simplest things…it feels a bit perverse!

    It has been a lesson in taking deep breaths and just living with the reality. It’s hard in this culture of ours, but it’s necessary.

    I’m thinking here of our lawn (and recalcitrant lawnmower(s), yes-plural- we have three, only one of which *sort of* works) which has been at all levels of shorn and meadow-like and half-hacked throughout the summer. Our side and front gardens have completely gone to weeds multiple times this summer, only to be weeded back to presentable-ness, only to get completely out of hand again. We live in your typical suburban has a home-owner’s association and perfectly manicured, cared for by professionals green lawns neighborhood. A lot of the owners are middle-aged or retired. They have expectations, is what I’m saying. And we can’t do a thing about it. We do what we can, when we can.

    Just this last weekend, James was able to somehow-rig the sort-of-working lawnmower enough to start again, and we set to work with a vengeance, all of us older ones, each taking turns. The back yard was nearly a foot long, the front, about half that. I started in on the back yard late in the afternoon, got about four rows in, and then…OUCH. ouch. OUCH. ouch. Glance down, and then, as calmly as possible and as quickly as possible, get out of the back yard. I had run over a yellow jacket nest that had somehow established itself in the three weeks we couldn’t get the lawn mower to work. They were so angry. I got nailed, twice, and I think it was only by God’s grace that it wasn’t much, much worse. My body was working faster than my brain for once, and I was moving before I even realized I needed to move, if that makes sense. Needless to say, a decent sized patch of the back yard remains un-mowed until we figure out how to wisely deal with the yellow jackets. I was so angry when it happened- though that might have been the adrenaline talking- but I was just so frustrated that we just couldn’t, for just once, get the yard mowed all the way. And I couldn’t even walk the rest of the day. OH, how I stewed! But maybe it was the Bendadryl haze, or the prayers, or the sleep, but the next morning, I couldn’t stop laughing and rolling my eyes at how ridiculous and perverse this stuff has been, and a bit of an awed laugh of grateful thanks that the Lord preserved my life! It could have been a thousand times worse! It could have been James, and I would never have been able to get to him in time.

    James can’t go near it- he is life-threateningly allergic. It would be suicide for him to try…which leaves me. And I don’t know how to ‘fix it’. So we have to figure it out. And it’s yet another thing…another smudge and besmirch on our standing in the neighborhood. They don’t know our lives though. And I’ve learned to just shrug and get back to work. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. I understand that it a pretty profound way now. The lawnmower is just the last in a long, long train of lessons.

    Sometimes you can’t fix or change things. Sometimes what is, just IS. 

    Which leads to the third goal, more art, of which there has been precious little. I had wanted to launch a new collection on September 15. It is now October 15. I have serious doubts that it will arrive on Nov 15, but that’s my new re-set goal. I did, somewhat for my own sanity, jump on the #inktober2018 challenge wagon over on IG, only to promptly fall of said wagon due to more pressing concerns. I have serious doubts there will be much of it in October. It just isn’t in the cards for me right now. For some reason, September to December are always my absolutely nuttiest months, and it’s time for me to recognize and embrace that and stop trying to shoe horn more stuff into it.

    Things I’d like to focus on in October:

    Erm, October’s half gone at this point.

    I think my main focus has to be on a bit of weeding. None of us in the family are happy with the current state of margin, so we’ve got to weed back until we feel like we’ve got the proper amount of breathing room. I hate that it takes me nearly a week to read/respond to emails, the sort of administrative side of being a homemaker and homeschooling mom type things. I can’t think straight, and that’s a bit problematic. When I don’t have enough time to brain dump and plan, that’s when I really start making mistakes. Costly mistakes. Easily avoidable mistakes. So yeah- MARGIN. That’s my goal for the last two weeks of October.

    Things I’ll leave behind:

    GLUTEN. *cough*laugh*cry*laugh*cough* Guess who was diagnosed with Celiacs in September? Yours truly. I was already pretty decently gluten free but would often ‘cheat’ (more like ‘not care’) when not around Elliana. Since the diagnosis, walking that last quarter mile to being zero gluten— UGH. It has taken so much brain space. And it’s hard. It was, perhaps, so much the easier for Elly four years ago because she really didn’t know what a good something-or-other tasted like. She’s always had the GF version. Me, though. My Scotch-German genes are rebelling LOUDLY. I haven’t been doing any grains (not even GF options) at all, or sugar. I’m okay as long as I can’t smell the real deal. My brain just can’t handle smelling yeasty, bready goodness without being all engines GO. NOW. Every time I’ve been near a bakery or something like that my body goes in over-drive, and all of the sudden my stomach is growling like I’ve never eaten in my life….each time….major head ache. It’s so weird. Even if I’ve literally just eaten. So now I can’t even enjoy the smell of it! Hopefully that will eventually fade. I am having a hard time dealing with the hangry that happens if I get too far out of a meal. I haven’t quite gotten my protein balance right. BUT. I will happily leave behind twenty pounds last month. It balances itself out then!

    How about you?

  • 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.