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Jun 28

Leave This Space Blank, Continued

Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2012

Last week I shared my fears sheer panic about the summer that loomed ahead. It’s a habitual terror about the loneliness of summer and the potential for a house of bored, quarrelsome children.

I’m here to confess that in the days following my call to embrace this season, I only fell deeper into a place of boredom, lack of purpose, and patience with the inevitable squabbles that came about last week.

I’ve been pondering why these open days arrive as a challenge instead of  an opportunity to relax, and a few thoughts come to mind.

Eight of the eleven years that I’ve been a Mama have included our homeschool life.  Which means, in addition to changing a lot of diapers and laundry, we’ve been engaged in a range of purposes throughout our day.  Learning about art, crying through math, experiencing stories-my purpose in the day has reached beyond maintaining the house and being a driver for the kids. Having a sense of purpose hasn’t made life easier, but it has influenced and partially defined my role since it’s been part of my mama life for so long.

These June days have me feeling like a babysitter, letting myself believe that my only jobs in life are to clean the house and keep the kids happy.  It’s left me feeling, to be honest, unfulfilled.

Quickly that feeling leads to a view of my selfish heart, which leads to guilt, which eventually leads me back to “This is really my whole job for the summer?”

Okay, the confession part is over.

Here are a few things that have led me to a more hopeful place this tepid afternoon.

A Patient Husband

My husband doesn’t do guilt.  He doesn’t ask “Why do you have to make things so difficult?”.  He doesn’t ignore me and watch a ball game.  He’s a guy, so he’s a fixer, but after I turn down enough suggestions he’ll move to the next stage. “How can I help?”. He took an early day friday afternoon and spent a lot of time over the weekend loving on our kids and giving me some rest.

I borrowed a book to remind me of my purpose.

I know that being a mama is so much more than the day to day, it’s why I chose this career over any other.  I get to share the Word of God, guide young hearts, love through the disappointments, prepare these kids for life beyond our house.  I know that.  But mamahood doesn’t always feel like that, does it?  Most days are a series of mundane moments.

It’s been years since I’ve read Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson but I called out to friends for a copy this week because I need a reminder of how my mission mixes with the mundane.  What intention is hidden in the folds of making sandwiches and planning play dates?  I’ll let you know if I regain that sense after I’ve read the book.

I planned something for myself this week.

There are three areas I long to spend more time exploring-art, writing, and theater.  The luxury of having the summer off as the teacher is that I can build in some time for my passions-right in the middle of the day.  I signed up for an online art class by one of our favorite artists and for just $35 dollars the kids and I have spent several hours a day with our hands in charcoal and watercolors.  It’s a gift to myself to be the student instead of the teacher.  Art is extremely therapeutic and refuels me with energy to turn around and share back with the family. I’m signing up for another week long class in July and I’m planning a theater class that I’m going to teach in the fall.

We’ve been intentionally pursuing friends.

I can easily fall back into this line of thinking, “Well, none of our friends are calling or asking to get together so they must be having super fun summers and they don’t care if they see us.”  Instead, I’ve pursued a group of our co-op friends, offering up my house the first week and gathering us all together.  We’ve had two extended mornings of pancakes, playtime, and mama talk.

And finally this e-book renewed my desire to find the fun in summer, and allow for some loose scheduling.

Twice in the last week friends have mentioned making a big list of fun activities to check off over the summer.  Then I read the same suggestion in this e-book and the planner side of me has kicked back in as we fill in a calender of fun.  The Summer Survival Guide is packed with planning sheets, suggested activities, family movie and book suggestions, summer meal plan tips, travel tips, weeks of themed activities, and more.

After fighting the initial instinct to super-plan my summer in order to keep it under control, this ebook reminds me that I can put things on our calender, not to control, but to have a sense of anticipation for fun, myself included. It was absolutely worth the 9 dollars to renew my hopes for summer.  (The author of this ebook has never heard of me, I found the book on my own and I’m suggesting it to you only because it helped me.)

Now I’ve got to go do my art class assignment while the little one with the fever is sleeping!



To read the first part of this two-part blog, click here.

Jun 18

Leave This Space Blank

Posted on Monday, June 18, 2012

I can panic with the best of them.

Back in February and March it was the depths of winter homeschooling.  Seized by worry, I yielded completely to my anxious thoughts. “How can I continue to be school and taskmaster all day long?  How can I spend time with my young children instead of just keeping them occupied so that I can work with the older kids?  How can I spend less than 3 hours on saturday preparing for each week?  How can I deal with the disrespect of my pre-teen each and every day?”

After some hair pulling weeks, prayer, and wisdom from older homeschool moms we finished off the year with an overall sense of peace and plenty of enjoyment in those last months.

Now the school work is filed away, the schedule is entirely uncluttered from demands and expectations for the day, and just like every other summer, it sends me off in a new tremor of panic.  Isn’t that bizarre? A complete flip of the situation from a few months ago and instead of relaxed appreciation for the summer, it’s “What the heck are we going to do now?!

Anyone out there familiar with this particular genre of panic?  For homeschool moms and children, the school year is spent at home and the summer is spent at home, that can be a lot of at home.  When summer arrives, suddenly daily goals which seemed so burdensome before, sound like an offering of structure and forward motion to the day.

Sure, open time can lead to creativitiy, getting out forgotten games and toys, connecting deeper with friends, it can also mean bored, grumpy kids (and a tired, grumpy mama).

I know I’m not the only momma who’s felt this way.  Just a few weeks ago a good friend and mother of five said,

So I don’t know what we’re going to do with all of this open time!  I’ve started to write down everything I can think of to fill our schedule. Library time, Regular Playdates, and anything else I can think of!

I’ll confess it felt good to know I wasn’t the only one thinking along these lines.  I had been brainstorming ideas all week and had uttered these stressed out words the previous night to my husband,

I’m going to need a few hours this weekend to plan out summer, I really need to get some things locked into place.”

At that point I was pretty convinced I could plan my way out of a potentially lonely and none-too-thrilling summer.  My brain raced with ideas-prayer groups, girls bible study, regular play dates, library storytime, adult bible study…you name it, and I thought about adding it into our summer.  (You’ll notice camps and the swimming pool aren’t on the list as out budget doesn’t allow for more expensive activities.)

My next confession is that all of this panic, both in the school year and out of it, has a whole lot to do with control, and my need for it at all times.

Think about it: I want to make sure I don’t have any chances of bored, whiny kids and to ensure that I’m going to fill up every single day for the entire summer to guarantee that it will not happen.

But I wonder what I lose when I hold tight to all of that control?

Do I lose opportunities to spontaneously jump on an art project that we would all enjoy?

Do I miss the chance to sit down on the floor and meet the grumpies straight-on by playing board games and making lego figures?  (My seven year old has been asking me to do both of these.)

Do I miss being fully present to each moment, so that I can ensure the next moment will be just the way I want it to be?

And do I miss the chance to give my kids control over their own boredom/happiness level.  Is it really my job to make sure they are happy and entertained every day of the summer, or should they own some of that for themselves?  Are they going to grow into adults thinking someone else is always responsible for their happiness? (And should shovel out large sums of money to make it happen.)

As a side note, I don’t even think it’s healthy or godly for the whole summer to be about how well entertained they can be or about how calm and controlled my own life can be.  I want my kids, and myself, to open our eyes to a world that is so much larger than ourselves and find a useful place in it.

Our kids actually like to have purpose, they feel important when they realize they can be a part of something bigger, even when they are relatively small.

I can take that side note and start planning it all out with a list of “Things to do to connect my kids to the larger world”.

Or I can leave a lot of blank spaces in our summer.

I can allow some boredom and quick conflict into their lives and then ask them how they are going to change it?  Their ideas might be cheaper and more interesting than what I could schedule myself.

I can grab them and go draw wildflowers at the nearby trail just because it’s something I want to do and I left open space to do just that.

I can ask them to pray about ways they want to impact the world and then offer suggestions and help equip them in their goals.

I’ve had the summer panic attack, now what am I going to do  (or not do) about it?

To read part two of this blog post, click here.

Jul 12

Do the Summer Reading Stretch

Posted on Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In our family we have:

  • 1 ten year old who loves to read a great variety of books, including biographies for fun
  • 1 eight year old who loves to read and has greatly improved in her endurance and skills in the past two years, but who still gravitates toward the Magic Treehouse series if left to her own wiles.  She resists books that might be a bit challenging.
  • 1 six year old who is struggling, still on the upside of the slope, and I’m underneath giving him a leg up.
  • And a two year old who thinks she can read chapter books.

For the struggling readers in our family we’ve devised the summer saturday morning bookstore which I’ve written about in the past and I might share about again soon.

But to enlarge the reading world of our elder two, I found this idea for Book Bingo.  Inspired by the idea, I created two bingo cards with a mixture of categories and specific book titles.

When the girls read five books in a row, they get to pick an extra book from our saturday bookstore.   I like to keep reading rewards related to reading, so a grab bag filled with books would also be great.  But you might have ideas that better suit your family.

I chose the types of books and book titles based on my individual children, their strengths and weaknesses.

I then laminated the cards and gave them smiley stickers to mark the boxes as they read a book.

I also created a list with a few recommended books for the categories on the Bingo card.  Many of these I haven’t read, I just pulled them from the Sonlight booklist, which I like to refer to occasionally.

You can take a closer look at the Bingo Cards by downloading them here: Book Bingo.

Jul 2

100 Faces: A Summer Goal

Posted on Saturday, July 2, 2011

It’s true I just posted something not too long ago about being a relaxed, non-homeschooling mama over the summer. But even as I wrote it I knew that too many days in our house  + our number of children(4)  + their ages (2, 6, 8, 10) + no goals for the day would = a dead end of bickering.

And so it has.

Introducing the first goal imported into our summer: 100 Faces.

Toward the end of the school year I happened across an art book that got my creative energy whizzing. I tucked the excitement away until summer.

Drawing Lab: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun is a goldmine of art projects which require pretty basic art supplies and a willingness to get loose.  Most of the exercises are designed to break the artist out of rigid perfectionism and just, well, in some cases scribble. But scribble with a goal!

For example, the first exercise in the book is “Drawing Cats in Bed” and you literally get cozy in your bed and start drawing cats.  There are ideas for drawing from clay, creating from ink blots, and using the cracks in the sidewalk to find the shape of your drawing.

If all that sounds too abstract or vague-it’s not.  Each project has clear guidelines.  I’m telling you, check this book out.

Before I get to the summer goal, here’s an example of another project inspired from this book (completed before school ended).  We wrote poems about dreams and decorated with journal page with the exercise on page 30 in Drawing Lab.  First you paint various blobs and lines with three colors and then you look for shapes within the colors and trace them with a fine tip permanent marker. The style fit well with the dream theme.

I have one particular child (the 8 year old, nickname Jellyfish) who loves to draw and loves to draw perfectly, the first time. She even believes that her first drawing of a particular subject will always be her best drawing so she does not like to sketch roughly or do exercises that don’t get to the final product. I thought of her immediately when I looked at the projects in this book.

After a a little Groupon shopping spree at the art store I flipped open the book to see how we could begin. And I found the challenge on page 50.

Create one hundred faces by the end of the summer. I added in the “by the end of the summer” and I also told them that was my goal but they didn’t have to do it-it’s summer, it’s not an assignment.

They all decided to do it. So we cut our fresh, crisp watercolor paper into the recommended 4 x 5 inch rectangles. And I flipped to page 36 to give us a start on our first face.

“Wrong-handed portraits” are exactly how they sound in the title. With a fine point black permanent marker, using your non-dominant hand, draw the face of someone in the same room. Spend more time looking at the person than the lines on the paper.

I chose to do this project first in honor of Jellyfish, because she has a cast on her dominant hand. So we matched her and all used our wrong hand.

Note: Jellyfish mostly wanted to draw people from her head during these projects, not people from her actual life.  I said sure (it’s summer, no big mama-teacher rules).

Jellyfish Draws her Brother

Mookie Draws her Dad

After Wrong-handed portraits, we moved on to Modigliani style, page 64. (Jellyfish, of course, made wrong-handed Modigliani portraits).

Mookie Draws the Woman from the Post Office

And the final style for the day was One Liner Portraits, page 56. Without lifting our pen from the paper, we completed a portrait from life or photograph (or an 8 year old’s imagination).

Jellyfish Draws the Guy in her Head

Mookie Draws her Grandad

Note: I didn’t watch our six year old at all.  I let him go and just do what he wanted to, because sometimes it’s hard for him to track along with our art projects and he gets frustrated.  If he was creating happily and freely, I was happy.

In our future I see “At the coffee shop” portraits, Eyedropper faces, Collaboration Portraits and More.

Because we’re still really excited about the vast variations of beauty in birds, we decided, why not alternate the faces with birds and do 50 birds/50 faces?  Our 10 ten year old got started.

Drawing Lab is not written specifically for children, but it’s evident from our first attempts that the projects are adaptable. Do be careful with your youngers not to give them challenges way beyond their comprehension or it might lead to frustration and  a refusal to do art. My 6 year old didn’t like the assignment I mentioned above with the splotches of paint that we used with our dream poems-the idea of finding images to trace inside the color was too abstract for him.

Six year old Drummer Boy draws Happily and Freely

Jun 27

Learning Near a Big City

Posted on Monday, June 27, 2011

I grew up in a city but my heart belonged to the beach on the edge of the city.

I moved to another city for college and another city for marriage and it’s no New York, but it’s a great city and we love it.

One of our favorite questions to ask each other is “Do you want to live in the city or the country?”

None of us can answer with a distinct yes or no.

I love the idea of wide open spaces for my children to roam, of a slower life, of a closer relationship with nature.

I also love my library, my coffee shop, a short drive to the grocery store, and a life without wildlife that gets too friendly.

No matter how we might answer the question in the hypothetical, our trip to Chicago this past week had me mentally planning school as if all of the great places we visited were just around the corner.

First we visited Oak Park, and took a walk around the neighborhood, picking out our “new” house.  A lot of the houses looked prime for secret crawl spaces and hidden rooms.  The neighborhood is also home to the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright and many houses designed by him can be found nearby.  We dragged our hot and sweaty selves into our friend’s favorite bookstore.  I’ve always dreamed of walking from our house to a coffee shop, park, and library.  (That’s one point for the city side of the question).

For the rest of the week we parked ourselves in Batavia, an hour out of Chicago and surrounded by great little towns and more than we could do in our short time (add 4 kids and two tired parents).

We were all impressed with the Dupage Children’s Museum.  If you’ve been to a children’s museum, you tasted a piece of this three story exploratorium.  Famous art lined the walls with correalating activities in color, sound, and structure.  In my head I planned our return trips.  First we’d study color and shadows and head back to that section next time.  Then we’d study construction, a unit on wood and tools and head back to the construction exhibit.  Then we’d come back and just explore the section with giant tools to build marble runs. If we lived there.

The next day we took the train to the Field Museum.

The Museum blew us all away and we didn’t even get to see two of the exhibits because there is so much to see. Oh my, the Underground Adventure where you get to see what’s under the soil as if you’re the size of an ant. Our six year old still sincerely believes he was shrunk to half and inch for thirty minutes of his life!

The egyptians, the native americans, the dinosaurs, the animals, oh my.

My favorite area was the section on North American Birds.  Every single bird was represented. Birds we had only read about and now we got to examine them up close.  I wanted to get sketch books and come back-every week!  If we lived there.

And finally we visited the Aboretium.  If you’re familiar with Nashville, this was like Cheekwood hiked up three levels.  An amazing children’s section designed to get kids close to nature.  A garden maze, and miles of trails.  My friend asked me, “If you were a member here, how many times would you visit in the year?”  Twice a month, or even better yet, once a week and that would be school for the day.

We’re not pulling up roots and moving out of Nashville, but I do wish we could pull up Nashville and move it atleast four hours closer to Chicago.


Jun 7

Summertime Mama

Posted on Tuesday, June 7, 2011

“Do you school all year round or just the normal school year?”

I pondered this question in those first few years and a older friend said something that’s always stuck and always led me to choose a true summer break.

“My kids have me as teacher mom all through the school year,” she said, “I’m always assigning tasks, telling them something they need to do.  During the summer, they need me to just be Mom.”

Her simple explanation continues to resonate.

There was the spring that we had taken many breaks because of a medical issue with my Dad.  I felt pressed to “finish” school, to work long into June, to keep going with Math through the summer.  After several weeks of schooling in June, I realized we needed to stop.  I needed to stop.  And not look back at the books until August.

This morning, our second day of summer break, the 3 older kids played Monopoly until the toddler and I showed up for breakfast(around 9).  I read aloud during breakfast, they ran off to do their morning chores, and then I surprised them by putting on a video.  (Only a homeschool family watches Winged Migration, a documentary, for fun, but we did and the two year old acted out the flight patterns of birds. )

My 8 year old made a wise crack during the movie and couldn’t stop laughing at herself.  I watched her, my eyes lingered on her, without thinking of what task I needed to remind her of, and I smiled.  We then watched the two year old do acrobatics on the living room chair, and I didn’t have to think once about sending her off with an older sibling so I could do math with the 6 year old.

After a leisurely lunch they headed off to play their marathon monopoly game.  As I sat here to begin this blog, I realized that the 3 siblings hadn’t fought once during the game over the last few days.  My dark mom side told me that they would fight soon enough, after the luxury of less schedule turned into bored picking and fighting.  And then I stopped myself from predicting doom and I remembered my daughter’s laughter from earlier and I thought,

Let’s just take it day by day.

My children need me to have less outside goals and desire just to be with them and delight in them.

So what about math and reading?  We have a creative way to incorporate reading into our summer and some math games we’ll play so those multiplication and adding skills don’t get lost in the backyard pool(though monopoly seems to be doing the trick right now!).

What about you?  Do you school in the summer?  Do you have any secrets for spending time with your children during the school year without always having an agenda or reminder?

Jul 8

Discovering a Nothing to Do Kind of Day

Posted on Thursday, July 8, 2010

We happened upon a sweet picture book that I wanted to share with you.  We’ve been happening upon a lot of great picture book finds now that summer has begun and I’m not pulling chapter books for school.  I’d forgotten the joy of walking through the aisles and pulling out a book with great illustrations, maybe something I’ve never seen before or maybe an old friend.

Tonight’s surprise grab from the library bag was Nothing to Do by Douglas Wood and Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin.


Nothing to Do begins likes this:

“Once in a while, along comes a day when there is nothing-absoultely, positively nothing to do.”

Which at first sounds similiar to our children’s cry of boredom, but it’s actually the voice of a boy who’s celebrating the day that has no “school. homework. dance class. soccer practice. no anything.” And he embarks upon a day of true childhood fun, entreating the person with the “big shoes”(aka, us, the adults) to give it a try.

With whimsical illustrations, the girls and I were reminded of the potential of  a There’s Nothing to Do Today kind of day.

In this book Halperin chooses six patterns from nature and uses them as the base of each picture.  We might try our own take on her ideas tomorrow.  With pure happenstance(I didn’t even know what the book was about before we opened it) waiting on the printer was a list of things to do when you’re bored that I’d printed out the night before.  The girls ran and grabbed the list, giggling at “organize your room” and “walk the dog”(mom, we don’t have a dog).

It turns out we’re familiar with Halperin’s illustrations through another series from the summer.  If you enjoy her illustrations try the Cobble Street Cousins by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Halperin as well. Be prepared for your kids to ask if they can start their own cookie company in the neighborhood.


The next book kept our good mood rolling,


Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale(Introducing His Forgotten Friend) by Deborah Hopkinson

If you like this one try another book by Hopkinson,

2009 ApplesToOregon

Apples to Oregon Being the (slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries(and Children) Across the Plain Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Both are based on true events but told with tall tale humor.

Enjoy your day, reading or doing nothing.