• the learning arts

    Mrs. Thistle’s Almanac

    My dear friend Christy Mandin sent me a prototype of her Mrs. Thistle’s Almanac early this year. I have been using it for our homeschool planning and tracking since, and it is by far my favorite one to use of all I have tried over the years. I hope that she will be producing one for this upcoming year. I have fallen deeply in love! Her brain works like mine in the way I group things and what I need where and when, and it is so beautiful while being entirely helpful and functional.  I also deeply appreciate the BIG spaces for each day in the weekly layout. I need space!

    One of my absolute favorite parts of her planner is the opening pages to each month, which has lists of flora and fauna that one might find each month. This alone has encouraged me to simply pay attention as we are out and about,  and makes nature study each month a rather easy prospect without a whole lot of forethought or preparation. We have done so much more in this area since and it is entirely due to this planner. I’ve wanted better outcomes in this area for years and now it happens naturally and organically each month, thanks to Christy.

    My other favorite part has to be the monthly at-a-glance she did. I had been meaning to make a similar sort of landing pad for years in my bullet journal and never got around it to it, and I love how hers is laid out. It has the relevant things I want to know as a homeschooling mom, with quick reminders as to what is needed when and goals we might have for the month. Christy is Catholic, and she includes all of the Catholic feast days and celebrations for each month, as well as the readings for each week and a Saint to focus on each month. I’ve found this easy to adapt for our Orthodox needs and I love the encouragement to keep a liturgical focus each month, too.  I can’t wait to see where this planner goes in future!

  • Art,  WIP Fridays

    Art Friday Returns!

    Well, technically it never left, exactly. It just wasn’t here.

    If you follow me on Instagram you know that I never stopped making art over the last year. There was a significant lull from August to December-ish. Part of that was due to illustrating a book for a dear friend, Vince Costa. I couldn’t manage any more brain space than that! Towards the fall it was sheer exhaustion and keeping one’s head above water, as Elliana steadily deteriorated and was just not sleeping well, which meant I wasn’t sleeping well.

    I kept drawing and painting as time allowed, but not in any significantly formal way. I picked up my 365 Handbook project again sometime mid-March, and finally filled in the second of the two Handbooks. If I had kept to the original intention, I would have filled up six of those little sketch books in one year, but that clearly didn’t happen. I’m happy with the two I have now. I don’t know that I’ll return to that project ever again, but it gave rise to such fertile ground for further explorations.

    I got a bit sidetracked after I finished the Handbook project on my watercolor work, because the sketch book I chose that was supposed to handle wet media profoundly did not. Oh the bleed! The muddiness! The wrinkling! It was awful. I had made my choice oh so carefully because of my limited finances and was so disappointed when it turned out so bad and wouldn’t be fit for watercolor or gouche at all. I resigned myself to having to use it for awhile.  Funny thing, though. It was perfect for charcoal and pencil work. And would you know it? All of the sudden, these little characters came pouring out on the page. These old-timey ladies and gents. They’ll come for a visit next week, but you can see them over on Instagram.  Somehow, I can’t help but think that the sketch book snafu was the best thing to happen to my art process lately. I had no idea these people lived in my head!

    Thanks to my brother’s kindness, I was able to purchase another sketchbook for watercolor, and I chose the Handbook Journal Co. Watercolor 8 x 8. I should have known after using the smaller 4 x 4 Drawing ones for my 365 project. They were meant for charcoal and pencil work, and they held up to all sorts of media throughout the project, even when they weren’t intended for it. The Watercolor is dreamy. It takes the media so beautifully. I am itching to get to work in it! I never thought I’d have two sketchbooks going at one time, or have a billion more ideas for both sketchbooks than I’ll ever get time to do in them, but Glory! What a wonderful ‘problem’ to have.

    I told you yesterday of my intense artist’s crush on Breezy Brookshire. I have been following her for ever so long, all the way back to the olden blog days. She is self-taught, and it was her illustrating style that I first fell in love with. There’s a direct line between my ever starting an art pursuit and Breezy’s work. She inspired me so much! Without her, I wouldn’t be here, three years into pursuing art and illustration. I still have such a long way to go, but the journey is so much fun.

    The other artist that I just discovered this week via Jeanne Oliver is Mish Wooderson. I am falling head-long down the rabbit hole of her IG feed and blog! I love the sense of rootedness and place you get from her work. It’s making me think. I love her decorating style too.

    I’d love to see what you’ve been up to lately! Share in the comments. It doesn’t have to be “art” either- poetry? Good bread? A delicious steak? A cozy corner? I wanna see!

  • the kitchen arts

    ‘Beyond gluten free’ and other woes, and the life-saving solution!

    Feeding my large family is always well, interesting, but it got so much more…erm…challenging after Elliana’s Celiacs diagnosis. Oh my word, that first grocery bill afterwards! I still shudder when I think about it. I realized very quickly what a friend of mine meant went she said “we eat beyond gluten free”, echoing Joel Salatin’s “beyond organic” quip. If you buy the gluten free counterparts to your normal processed food (like macaroni and cheese), you will pay double and triple what it usually costs, and don’t even get me started on gluten free “bread” that runs $6-8 dollars a loaf and tastes like, well, cardboard. Over half of the things we bought her that first month she never ate because it tasted so bad.

    Then we tried to have two separate cooking areas and cooking her meals separately from ours. This never worked properly. Up until recently, she was extremely sensitive to cross-contamination. For her, cross-contamination meant at least twenty four hours of severe gastrointestinal upset and high fever for three or four days. It was not. fun. For her or for us. It also felt doubly expensive to me, and much of her food would sit in the refrigerator until it was eventually thrown away because she was only one small kiddo with a near toddler sized stomach and never could fully eat even the single sort of portions we’d make for her.

    The only option left, as my friend gently and teasingly tried to tell me, was for us all to eat gluten free from scratch. We figured that out about oh, month two.

    It’s taken me FOUR years to finally get a handle on it. Our grocery budget has been all over the place over the intervening years. I’ve tried all sorts of gluten-free and vegan cookbooks (vegan/vegetarian cookbooks are often easy to make gluten free). It’s been a mess. What’s also been a struggle for us, too? The unpredictability of our schedule. I always meal plan and shop for the week (our finances would never survive without it), but there have been times that a whole week’s worth of food rots in the refrigerator because someone has been admitted or something else unexpected and without James or I available, the meals planned can’t be made. It was always one thing when we knew that something was coming up- there would always be caregiver friendly meals on the plan- frozen, crockpot, simple type things. I swear, though, that seemed to happen only one time out of five. It has been a formidable thorn-in-my-side for years now.

    On one such occasion sometime in January of this year…an ER visit, if I’m not mistaken…a nurse heard me bemoaning this very aspect. I can’t remember if I was on the phone with someone or if I was speaking to my husband as she came in or out but the bottom line is, she said that she overheard me talking about the whole gluten free, kids, meal-planning thing, and “had I ever heard of Trim Healthy Mama?” She said, their “plan” aside, the cookbooks were chock full of kid friendly gluten free (or almost gluten free) recipes “and a lot of them can be frozen ahead of time”.

    Y’all, I wish I had her name. I could literally kiss her and name my first grandkid after her. It has been a tremendous life saver, and we are finally on track in both meal prep and planning and our grocery budget. Actual predictability? Sanity? What is this rare bird of which you speak? <weak grin>

    We have yet to hit a THM recipe that my kids have hated. Do you have any idea how impossible this is? Do you know how many ‘gluten free’ meals I’ve made from recipes over the years have sat poked at and barely eaten and some we’ve just given up and thrown away because none of us could stomach them? It’s like angels are singing somewhere, seriously. We also choose to eat vegetarian due to religious reasons during parts of the year, and it was, quite literally, something that would leave me in tears trying to deal with and plan for. For something that was supposed to reduce distractions, it was a profound distraction. Not anymore. Glory!

    Obviously, we started using the THM recipes just for survivals sake, not worrying what it was (E, S, FP, or XO)- I didn’t even look at that! We just wanted good food that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and was relatively easy to make. I have ever so slowly been transitioning my family “on plan” since about half of us have some weight issues we need to deal with, and I’ve found it very doable. That being said, I noticed right out of the gate using those recipes just for dinner that it started making a change in my kiddos. They were fuller, happier, and calmer, and some health issues started to shift. And that was one meal a day. It will be interesting to check in again in another six months to see what we think with us eating on plan. The best part, though, is Elliana. She loves the food- she eats seconds and thirds and fourths sometimes, a miracle I never thought I’d see. She gets ‘bread’ that she likes. (We like it too.) My child is eating! Can I put it in all caps? MY CHILD IS EATING.

    Most of the meals can be made and frozen ahead of time. We take an afternoon one Saturday a month and have at it. No more grabbing food on the go, no more caregivers being caught in a lurch, it’s already there, easy to pull out when it gets all harum-scarum. Cue angels singing again.

    Our favorite book, of course, is the Trim Healthy Table that came out just over the last year. It is especially geared to families. The Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook is good too (and it has some single-serving recipes that might be helpful if it’s just one person), but it doesn’t seem to have as many kid-flavor friendly recipes, so if you’re debating with kids in mind, go with Trim Healthy Table first. I recently checked out the actual Trim Healthy Mama Plan book from the library, and I’m learning tons. My favorite online sources for help? Breezy Brookshire’s mom, MamaShire, and Briana Thomas. I have a crazy artist crush on Breezy, but that’s a story for another day. If you have diet/allergy meal issues, I can’t recommend these cookbooks enough. They’ve already done all of the hard work for you, and it’s one less thing you have to puzzle over. Whether or not you ever use ‘the plan’ itself, they are worth every penny.

  • the learning arts

    Measuring time: Chronos and Kairos and learning…

    I could start this post off with some wise quote about homeschooling, but sometimes, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Sometimes, things just, well, stink.

    The 2017/2018 school year went upside down, sideways, and so far off center it still leaves me fighting back tears to reflect on it. We have managed to homeschool through some incredibly difficult situations (like the first year that Elliana and Josiah fell sick, for example). We’ve homeschooled through great, smooth years. As stress and all goes, this year was nowhere near as complicated or intense as that first year of illness was, and yet somehow, we managed to accomplish so little. We had a great start. We got through about a third of our Term 1, and then things just rapidly deteriorated. Elliana’s hospitalization happened early November; James’ car accident followed closely after, and then the holidays swept through.

    We started back in January with every good intention, and then the whole family promptly got sick, as families tend to do in the winter months. Each kid kept up with their individual work as they could, but our group studies, which had already taken a substantial hit late in the Fall, fell behind even further. Elliana began to deteriorate again towards the end of the month, and then Cincinnati Children’s happened- meaning we’d have to leave all of the other children home with a caregiver while we spent almost a week away. Our group studies fell even farther behind. I blinked, and it was suddenly early April before everything stabilized again.

    I was shocked to discover in mid-April that we had not come close to completing our Term 1 work- a term that usually ends the last week of November. It’s not that our Term 1 work was overly difficult or demanding (which can sometimes be the problem-expectations too high- but that’s another post altogether), but the sheer amount of time to actually sit and work was utterly lacking this year in ways that haven’t been true previously. And it really showed. A lot of our learning days together in late March and early April felt just awful. One student was taking ages and ages to read a short, short passage. Another child was crying over one math problem for half an hour. And read alouds? What read alouds? It’s not unusual for us to read somewhere around a hundred books (picture books, audio books, novels) each year together. This year? Three. We all felt miserable.

    With Easter/Pascha coming up, I decided to take a true break and reconnoiter. This was also a weird situation, too–the fact that it wasn’t until ‘Spring Break’ that we were actually taking a true, official, put it all away and breathe, break. Because things had been so off kilter we hadn’t been taking any Sabbath weeks, like we usually do. We just kept picking up where we left off prior to whatever appointment or crisis had occurred. I think this was my first mistake. As much as was possible, we should have tried to stay true to our original rhythm. It works well for us; it’s been honed over many years of learning together.

    The second mistake I made, truthfully? I forgot that the point of education is not to tick off some box or finish some book or what have you, but mastery. And mastery moves on a completely different time table. If you’re getting locked into plans and schedules and all, or (like me) you’re guilting yourself into finishing a whole bunch of lessons because ‘you’ve gotten so far behind’ due to illness, you will, as I learned to my sorrow this year, shove your kids forward into concepts they aren’t ready for or you will overwhelm them with too much to learn in too short a time. This is when a kids starts crying over one math problem, another kid struggles mightily for much longer than they should need to read aloud a short passage, and everyone is miserable. You lose the joy and the reason why you all wanted to do this in the first place!

    Don’t confuse kairos and chronos time. If you’ve only got ten minutes, make sure it’s ten minutes of kairos with that kid! Love on them. Listen. Read. Talk. Don’t let those precious minutes get stolen away in a pile of ‘things needing done’. Ten minutes of kairos will add up to hundreds of chronos minutes, trust me. That’s the juicy, lovely, wonderful, best-kept secret of homeschooling- that God’s grace and your little loaves, lovingly given, will multiply. And how!

    I am grateful to report that we returned from Spring Break with fresh perspective (and I stepped off the guilt train), things rapidly improved. I went back to what I knew to be true: spend time with your kids, play games, read books. Really listen to what’s going on. The kid that was struggling with math needed to play some math games with me for a few weeks to reinforce the missing link that was causing so much terror with that math problem- after that, not only that problem but whole pages of math disappeared under the student’s pencil, done with a smile and a laugh and “hey, mama, did you notice that when you do this to this it can make this happen” aha moments of mastery. Same with the kid that was slogging through their Reader. Has it been perfect since? No. But we’re all wanting to come to the table each morning, and that’s the difference.

    As it stands, we really just needed literal time to invest where we want to go, so we’re working through the summer, which is new to us. We are getting together on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the rest of the the week left to more typical summer pursuits. I’ve been surprised at how much gets accomplished in a few short hours, and also, at the one on one tutoring time that is somehow happening again. It wasn’t exactly ideal to work through the summer at first, but I do feel like it has been a wise investment: a kairos investment, the way I want to spend my time.