Thursday, December 31, 2015


 (Photo by Jocelyn Cook)
 (Photo by Jocelyn Cook)

Christmas was...

-a new "Christmas Adam" tradition(the day before "Christmas Eve", get it?)with just our family in the Sea Kettle and an intentional quiet end to advent; a homemade candle-lit meal, meaningful letters written and read to us by Papa, hand-painted tea cups for me from Levi, liturgical books and oratory elements for Brian, an adventure pack for Levi and dress up clothes for Maggie
- cinnamon rolls and singing to celebrate Jesus' birthday on Christmas Eve morning and a candle-lit service with our church family
- A comfort food "Hygge" dinner at my Mom's house with a last minute guest who was missing her family in Pakistan. Gifting some Hygge kits (more on that later!) and our traditional all-family sleepover
- Christmas morning excitement with my family and stockings, presents and excited, well-loved kids
- Christmas lunch and gift exchange with Brian's family and a christmas movie to end the day 
- a bittersweet first Christmas without my father; in-between the good food, family, thoughtful presents, happy children, more than ever before I felt the tangible need for Emmanuel, God with us. Which is hard but okay, really, because that is what it's all about.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

20 years from now

I recently read the book, "Teaching From Rest: The Homeschooler's Guide to Unshakeable Peace" by Sarah MacKenzie and it was wonderful. I am so thankful to have found it right at the beginning of our homeschool journey. It held such good insight, wisdom and practical tips to keep anxiety and unrest at bay. 

One of the simple challenges the author gave was to imagine our children, 20 years from now, being asked about what it was like to be homeschooled.  Next, she asked us to write down the words or phrases that we hoped our children would use to describe their childhood. It didn't take me long to come up with my words: warm, conversational, full of stories and laughter, peace-full, beauty-full, wonder-full, and characterized by grace. 

Brian and I can't control how our kids turn out- what their SAT scores will be, what college they will get into, what job they'll choose, what good/bad choices they will make... but one thing we CAN do is to pray for them daily and create a family environment that encourages goodness, truth, beauty and grace. 

For the foreseeable future, my short list of words will serve as simple reminders to direct how I interact with my kids; how I speak to them, what we'll study, what activities we engage in, how I set up my home, what books we read and how I love and serve my kids day in and day out. Thinking about my parenting/education goals this way has been much more inspiring and positive than giving in to anxieties that can sometimes take over my thoughts and motivations.

I created this image to place at the beginning of my homeschool binder and to hang in my kitchen as a constant reminder of the type of childhood and education I want to give the precious people God placed in my care. This simple exercise made a huge difference in my approach to schooling and parenting this year and I pray our home environment will live up to these chosen ideals. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

these days

These days, I'm ....

- thankful for slower days, the natural cloistering in of winter
- lighting candles, wearing slippers, sipping tea, cuddling under quilts with my family - making the most of the cold weather settling in
- playing my favorite advent albums on repeat: "Prepare Him Room" by Sovereign Grace Music, "Behold the Lamb of God" by Andrew Peterson, "Sounding Joy", by Elizabeth Mitchell, Handel's "Messiah" and the local Christmas radio station thrown in for good measure.
- savoring our daily homeschool morning times, particularly hearing my children happily memorize true and beautiful things
- working on some fun wintery lessons with my students before classes end for winter break
- treasuring Levi's funny, curious, insightful and interesting thoughts 
- listening to Magnolia start to assert herself and communicate her wants, needs, jokes and sweet little sayings. 
- excited about plenty of Christmas festivities planned in the coming days
- painting a commission for a friend and hoping I can finish in time for it to be wrapped up for Christmas
- trying to have "tea" time with the kids as regularly as possible while reading through our current pile of advent/Christmas stories from the library.
- smiling at Brian, as we watch our kids play, talk with and love each other well(most of the time, that is) ;)
- full of excitement in my research and reading of homeschool methods and philosophies; folding laundry and doing dishes to the tune of some amazing, inspirational podcasts
- missing my Dad, at expected and unexpected times and places
- finishing a purposefully slow read through "For the Children's Sake" by MacCaulay and soaking in every word.
- saying some "no's" so that I can say more "yes's" (not easy for me)
- almost done putting together Christmas presents for our family; a little less crafting than usual, but a very fun concept for Brian and I to work on together
- enjoying advent in a more peaceful and purposeful way than ever before

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What's in our Morning Basket: December/Advent Term

(Note: I wrote an introduction and explanation of our Autumn Term morning basket HERE.)

Morning Basket: Advent Term

1. Gather the Jesse Tree ornament, treats and activity from the advent calendar.

2. Read the activity for the day and plan when we will do it (is it something we'll wait to do with Dad? Do we need to get anything for it?)

3. Light a candle ("The Lord is my light and my salvation") and read the day's selection from the Jesse Tree devotional "Unwrapping the Greatest Gift" by Ann Voskamp.

4. Prayer: Write down what we are thankful for and prayer requests, then pray for them. 

5. Memory Work: 
-Luke 2:8-12 
-Part of a poem by Christina Rossetti: "What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, If I were a wisemen I would do my part- Yet what can I give Him, Give Him my heart."
-This month's motto/habit training: "No fussing, no whining, no complaining, respond with gratitude!" 

6. Hymn: Joy to the World!

7. Picture Study/Art History: Rembrant's "The Adoration of the Shepherds" (see below)

8. Benediction: Sing Doxology

9. Read alouds (to be read aloud throughout December):
A Christmas Treasury Illustrated by Christian Birmingham 
The Tailor of Gloucester by Beatrix Potter
The Legend of the Poinsettia by Tomie dePaola
The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie dePaola
The Christmas Pageant by Tomie dePaola
An Early American Christmas by Tomie dePaola
Merry Christmas Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
The Story of the Three Wise Kings by Tomie dePaola
Little Tree by e.e. cummings
Erik and the Christmas Horse by Hans Peterson
The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
The Christmas Story by Carol Heyer

 Studio of Rembrandt ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ 1646

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent Planning: 2015

I have taken particular joy in planning our advent activities this year. Levi is getting older and able to participate in more aspects of the season and in general, Brian and I have been trying to add more ritual and liturgy into our home throughout the year. Advent is an especially meaningful time in the church year; it has been enlightening to learn about different traditions and choose which ones would work well in our family during this time of life. I'm excited to continue some old traditions and start some new ones! 

Advent Plan 2015:

Friday after Thanksgiving: Pick out a tree with my Mom and siblings, take Christmas photos for each other 

Thanksgiving weekend: Decorate the house and tree. Set out the Christmas/winter books. Prepare the advent calendar.

Starting December 1st: I made an advent calendar with 24 tiny baskets hanging on twine. Each basket holds a piece of paper with an activity written on it that we will do that day (see ideas below). I have scheduled these out very specifically, so the activity makes sense for what is happening in our schedule on that day. Some days, I might add a little treat to the basket, like a piece of chocolate or lollipop. I'm putting these in at the last minute, for obvious reasons (aka, a smart and mischievous 4 year old sweet tooth!).

Each basket also holds the Jesse Tree ornament for the day.  We are using "Unwrapping the Greatest Gift" by Ann Voskamp. Each night, Brian will read the passage/devotion and one of the kids will hang the corresponding ornament on the Jesse Tree (simply some branches in a vase). While we do the devotional reading, we also light the candle on our wooden advent wreath and move the wooden figurine of Mary along the spiral.

Throughout Advent, we are trying a new tradition called "Preparing the Manger". I put out an empty "manger" (another small basket) and I cut pieces of raffia to lay around the manger. When someone in the family does or says some especially kind or loving, that person can put a piece of hay into the manger to make it more soft and to prepare it for baby Jesus. The idea is that one way to prepare our hearts for Jesus is to treat one other with love and kindness. (‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40.) On Christmas Eve, one of the kids will lay baby Jesus in the manger which will hopefully be full of soft hay!

Morning Basket: For our school "morning basket" time, I will add some advent elements. For example, we will be learning a Christmas carol, reading and memorizing parts of Luke 2, and doing other Christmas/Advent readings. Stay tuned for a more detailed post about this. 

Some activities from our advent calendar:
Read the Christmas story (Luke 2)
Do a Christmas craft (TBD!)
Go to the library to find books about Christmas
Take a drive to look at the lights
Have a family sleepover in the living room by the tree
Popcorn and "The Polor Express!"
Decorate a gingerbread house
Invite friends over for a Christmas poetry tea 
Make Christmas cookies
Christmas music dance party
Read/tell Christmas jokes
Make peanut butter/seed pinecones for the birds
Bake cookies for police men
Choose gifts for people in need (Compassion Catalog)
Make popcorn/cranberry garlands
Go Christmas shopping for your sibling
Wrap gifts
Watch a Christmas movie
Go to the Christmas Eve service, have a sleepover at Grammy's

Here's to a fun, peaceful, intentional, meaningful and memorable advent season!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Our Morning Basket - Introduction and Autumn Term

(My bookworm and a few of our current morning read alouds)

This year we began the homeschooling practice of Morning Time. I fill a "Morning Basket" with readings, prayers, memory work and other activities that we engage in each morning, usually around the breakfast table. Our morning basket is always changing, but I try to keep the four "R"s always in rotation (Ritual, Recitation, Reading, Relationship). This practice has proved to be a beautiful way to begin the day and a blessing to our life, schooling and relationships.

Our Autumn-Term Morning Basket Plans (September-November):

First, I light a candle in the middle of the breakfast table and we recite Psalm 27:1 "The Lord is my light and my salvation". (Sometimes I use this time to talk to the kids about what it means that God is our light and what it means that he also wants us to be lights.)

Mom: "The Lord be With You"
Levi and Magnolia: "And also with you." 

Next we write in our prayer book; we list what we are thankful for and what requests we have for ourselves or others. Then we pray about these things. I am working on creating a photo prayer book of our friends and family that we will pray though, one by one. 

Levi attends AWANA at our previous church and he has one memory verse to memorize every other week. We spend a few minutes learning his new verse and reviewing the verses he has already mastered.

Next, we read one devotional reading from "Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing" by Sally Lloyd Jones and a story (or more) from a children's Bible. 

At the beginning of each month, I read a poem from "A Child's Calendar" By John Updike and we talk about what is special about the month that we are currently in (holidays, nature etc.)
We also use this time to look over a nature calendar that we get from the Audubon society quarterly magazine. This lists things that we might see in nature during the month on our nature walks. 

Next, we practice a poem and/or prayer that we are memorizing. They just finished memorizing "Day by Day" by Richard of Chichester. I try to come up with hand motions to help them memorize, which they love.

We are learning/singing a hymn each month. In November, we learned "To God be the Glory" by Fanny Crosby. Usually, I sing it, Maggie hums happily and Levi drums a beat. :P

Each month I choose a new artist to study. We read a book about the artist (as an art teacher, I have MANY to choose from) and then I choose 2-3 paintings that we spend a few moments looking at each day. We look at it, describe it, find the beauty in it, become "friends" with it!

To end morning basket time, we sing "The Doxology" with our hands open and facing up. 

Next, depending on how the kids are doing, we do a little or a lot of reading aloud of classic stories, poems and books. This part of our morning time varies, but we try to choose living books that encourage goodness, truth and beauty. We read until someone falls apart or we have something else on the schedule. :)

For more inspiration on the practice of morning time:

(post-morning time, grinding Mama's coffee beans) :)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Sea Kettle School - 2015-2016 (Levi, Age 4, Magnolia, Age 1)

The question is not- how much does the youth know?  When he has finished his education - But how much does he care? And about how many orders of things does he care?  In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? And, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?
-Charlotte Mason

This year we continue to do light preschool activities at home. Our "curriculum" is mostly Charlotte Mason inspired (with a Classical twist? haha) and our aim is to provide our children with a feast of the great ideas, literature, art and music and to gently foster an insatiable curiosity and love of learning. We don't do every subject every day, and our schedule varies, but here are some of the intentional activities we are engaged in these days. 

Morning Basket:
This year we have started a morning basket time(inspired by Pam Barnill).  We begin each day at the breakfast table and go through the activities in our morning basket. At it's most basic level, our morning basket includes the four R's; Reading, Recitation, Ritual and Relationship. We light a candle, list things we are thankful for and things we need to pray about, pray, memorize Bible verses, read from the Bible, sing our monthly hymn, memorize and read poetry and read aloud. Some days we do more, some days we do less, but this is a habit we have formed this year and it has really transformed our days. Most of the activities are geared more for Levi, but Magnolia has picked up on many of our rituals and readings and will participate quite a bit. She is actually sometimes more attentive than her big brother and is a good role model! The books, songs and poetry in our basket will change throughout the year and I hope to share what's in our basket throughout the seasons. 

We continue to work through various booklists inspired by Charlotte Mason's philosophy(here is a great one from Ambleside Online (year 0). When I choose books, I'm looking for books that are well written, aren't dumbed down and encourage goodness, truth and beauty. Current favorites: A Child's Garden of Verses, The World Treasury of Children's Literature, Beatrix Potter, Just So Stories. Sometimes I ask Levi to explain what happened in the story or encourage him to draw something that happened in the story. These are our little beginnings of narration. In general, I try to read aloud to the kids as much as possible. We read around the breakfast and lunch table, at various points throughout the day and Brian reads to Levi before bed at night. Recently we started inviting friends over for "Poetry Tea Times" where we gather around the table to drink tea (or hot chocolate, as the case may be), eat a small treat and read poetry. I have been listening to a great podcast, The Read Aloud Revival, which is wonderful inspiration for those of us who aspire to "build our family culture around books". We aren't doing any formal reading program yet, but Levi recognizes all of his letters and numbers from books we've read and works on writing them every so often at his new (picked up from the side of the road) desk. ;)

For Math, we continue to talk about numbers throughout the day as we do our daily tasks. We count, add and subtract as we cook, walk, work, read and play. This year, I also bought a simple math activity kit. This kit has some fun little games to play that involve counting, sequencing and number recognition.

For Science, we work on nature study throughout the week. We meet with other homeschooling families regularly to go on a nature walks and to draw/make observations in our nature journals (although I'm not pushing this right now). We also collect things to put on our seasonal nature table, such as shells, rocks, pinecones, colored leaves, seed pods and wildflowers. We make careful observations of the world around us, notice the seasons changing, watch the birds in our window feeder, ask questions and read books about things that interest him. (As a sidenote: he's also really into watching old episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy) :)

We aren't doing anything very formal, but I have picked up a few living books about the history of America that we read on occasion. We talk simply about different time periods and events as they come up in our reading or if he asks questions about something he has heard about.

We listen to it, sing it, play it, dance to it.  I play music all day in the background; classical, folk, jazz, rock and roll, you name it. Family jam/dance sessions happen regularly and there are a plethora of instruments around the house to play. Levi is quite partial to the drums and he even got a few real drums for his birthday this year. 

Levi is much more interested in drawing/art this year (which is good for his Mama's soul, haha). We try to keep drawing, painting, lacing materials easily accessible at all times. We spend a lot of time at the Peabody Essex Museum, especially enjoying their special exhibits, maker lounge and expansive children's area. 

I'm really enjoying these early years of simple discovery, nature exploration and lots of good books. Slow and precious days, these are.