"It's amazing how lovely common things become, if one only knows how to look at them." ~ Louisa May Alcott

Friday, July 19, 2019

Beyond 'the Little Years': Grieving and Rejoicing

Our beautiful daughter just turned five. Our eldest is six. Even though it seems only a year or two ago that we first became parents, it has been six years. And, because we have two children, those hard, early years of sleepless nights, nappies, spit-up, croup, crying, tantrums - gone. 

We have no babies, or toddlers, or preschoolers in the house.

It truly is hard to believe. I remember thinking that, with a newborn in my arms, the feeling of being dead tired would last forever... I couldn't imagine feeling normal. I couldn't imagine going to bed past nine o'clock and sleeping all the way through. Staying up to 10.30pm, enjoying a hobby, sleeping well, and rising just before eight? Couldn't even contemplate it.

Yet, here we are. We are officially out of 'the little years'. 

The past six months my baby-radar has been going ballistic. Friends have been having number three. I've taken on running the Creche at church on Sundays. Babies have been just everywhere. 

And I've been looking at our beautiful daughter, reaching five, intelligent and a light that fills a room, no longer the cuddly, demanding baby from a few years ago. And our son, tall and funny and boisterous, seeming older than his six years. 

Everything in me has been: I want more! 

But, unfortunately, having more babies just isn't a safe option for us. It grieves us, but we have accepted it for awhile now. Sometimes though, when that deep maternal need to give life, to nuture, and to love arises - it can feel hard. Not only do I grieve not having any more children, but now that Rosalie is five, I grieve just all the things that come with those little years.

Yes, I haven't forgotten how hard it was. I know too well. And it's not like we don't have hard times now, either. I'm still deep in character training, showing their hearts and hands how to love others more than themselves. And, we've thrown homeschooling into the mix.

But things are different now. Not a breeze, at all. I think, there is just more breathing space. Less demanding physically, but still emotionally whole-hearted.

I don't have any sage advice for those still in the trenches. But I do have one encouragement: it does get easier. I promise. 

Increment, by increment, little pockets of margin appear in your life again. Sleep comes, bottoms don't need to be wiped, water can be fetched without me, even seatbelts can be buckled in without my help. Tantrums, heart issues, and all those things abound. But, with more breathing space, there is more of an ability to step back and think about things, rather than react. Life is less of survival.

So, as I grieve chubby toes and round eyes looking up as a baby is fed, I also rejoice in the new stage we are in. There are now little people that I spend my days with. Little people with thoughts, opinions, ideas, and legitimate concerns. And that is so wonderful.

Instead of days of baby talk, we now have meaningful conversation. Instead of board books, it's Harry Potter or Paddington. There are jokes, we hold hands on our walks, lots of games of UNO. Our days are full and fun, together. There is slightly more equal footing.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts that have been swirling in my head of late. Nothing ground-breaking for motherhood. But, a mother's heart all the same. 

I hope it is encouraging to one mother, out there, who was like me - wondering where her life had gone. I promise you though, your life hasn't gone. Just a new one has been made and, fully and completely, a better life than before. You just need to embrace it and not run away from the hard things. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

My Favourite Books for Christian Unschoolers

I thought I would share with you a few of the books that have greatly encouraged, challenged, and inspired me to the freedom of the unschooling/delight-led learning life we're on. My hope is that if you need building up or are looking for other Christian families experiences with unschooling, these books will be a resource for you.

This post contains affiliate links.

Christian Unschooling: Growing Your Children in the Freedom of Christ {Teri J Brown}

This was my first ever discovery of a Christian unschooling book and I think it was exactly right for when I was curious about the whole idea, but very influenced by my own misconceptions and presumptions. It is a book that goes into great depth, but gives a good overall idea about the Christian and unschooling, as well as other mother's experiences, thoughts, and day-in-the-life. I'm currently re-reading it and it is a wonderful refresher. My score: 3.5/5

God Schooling: How God Intended Children to Learn {Julie Polanco}

I have never liked the title of this book as anything that seems to present itself as a 'biblical authority' on a issue that isn't clear-cut makes me deeply skeptical. So, hear me when I say that I don't think that unschooling is the right and only way to educate our children! That being said, this book really is excellent. Julie shares with us her own journey with her children - which sounds just like my own journey! I really appreciated how Scripture and characters of the Bible influenced her decisions as well as how she gave recommendations on the different stages of childhood. My score: 4/5

Homeschooling With Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling {Suzie Andres}

It took me a long time to finally buy this wee book. I'm not sure whether it was because I am not Catholic or whether I thought I had read too many homeschooling books! But I remember, as I read it a year ago, it felt like coming home. Suzie explains unschooling and the complications we could have as Christians with it, and both brings peace to the heart and a laugh to the soul. I will forever be thankful for Suze Andres because I truly believe both her books changed me as a homeschooling mother. My score: 4.5/5

A Little Way Homeschooling: Thirteen Families Discover Catholic Unschooling {Suzie Andres}

I thought Suzie couldn't get better - but she did! Humble, quiet, and a little way is how she describes unschooling with her children, with encouragements drawn from the life of St Therese. She shows that home education doesn't have to be a burden or a weight, but with unschooling, it can be a life that lifts one upwards. What built on this beautiful beginning was the thirteen mothers who shared their journey with unschooling in honest and encouraging ways. To me, it showed that unschooling is not a one-fit methodology. To say that there is only 'one right way' to unschool is against it's very meaning, and the variety of unschooling experiences in this book just shows that. It doesn't matter if you are not Catholic, this is an encouraging and uplifting book for all Christians. My score: 5/5

If you have been thinking about unschooling, but don't think a Christian can do it, let me encourage you: Yes, you can! If it seems that God is leading you down that path (into whatever aspect of the spectrum), follow Him! It really is scary and unnerving and takes an enormous amount of deschooling for you, as the mother. Trust me. I am still on that path! But the fruit I have seen in my children, in me, and in our connection together - it truly is wonderful. And these books have helped that so much. I hope they bless you, too.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

An Honest Homeschool Post About Comparing and Feeling a Bit Crazy

I am just so, so, so thankful for the homeschooling community on the internet. In so many ways, we are homeschooling because of all the blogs and mamas I followed when our two were itsy-bitsy. Seeing them online and reading their words planted the idea in my heart, and the Spirit fed it over time. Now, on hard days, taking to Instagram and connecting with like-minded mothers makes all the difference for me. Honestly, God uses this whole new world for mothers for so much good.

Can I share with you my biggest struggle, though?


For me, the comparison isn't Oh, dear, I am such a failure kind of comparison. Rather, it's a Oh my, I love what they're doing, maybe we should do that? kind of comparison. Seriously, it must be a fear of missing out or something (which is apparently shortened to FOMO, something I didn't know until recently). 

Like I shared in my last post (which, by the way, resonated with so many which is so encouraging), I have had Charlotte Mason dreams since the beginning. I love to follow CM-style mamas out there because the little Instagram-squares they post are so beautiful and so inspiring. I think I would have loved to be homeschooled under a Charlotte Mason philosophy, and dreamed one for our own home.

In the last few weeks, I have tried to do it again. Those beautiful squares were making me get giddy and longing to have my ideal realised. So I made a quick plan for the rest of the term and we got to it. And, you know what, it went really well. Much better than I thought it would, making me pleasantly surprised and happy. And the reason why it hadn't worked before - my darling boy - actually did super well. 

And yet, I just don't know...

That's been my stumbling block right from the beginning of this journey: I just don't know what I want for us. All the families doing all the homeschool styles look amazing and inspiring and would be wonderful for us, too. So I have frog-jumped onto almost all of them. For a few weeks or months, we'll be ticking a long doing unschooling/Charlotte Mason/unit study etc. but then, I'll be inspired by others and change it all.

Is anyone else like me out there?

Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who can't stick to something. I have heard this is common for curriculum - a mother always wondering if that other curriculum would be the missing puzzle piece to the 'perfect' homeschool. So far, that hasn't been too hard (living in a far away country probably helps with that). But our homeschool style? I just can't stick!

So, in the last two months, we have Five in a Row-ed, unschooled, Charlotte Mason-ed, and back to Five in a Row. I feel like I'm a little crazy.

Unfortunately, I don't have a particularly inspiring ending to share, rather, I'm just sharing - what I feel is - a failure of mine so far as a homeschooling mother. Perhaps there is another mother out there who is the same, or a further-along mother can share some advice or encouragement to help me. I think I need it!

And for your information, this week we have been doing Five in a Row in the mornings and Interest-Led Learning for all the rest of the time 😂

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Homeschooling Path I Never Thought I Would Go On

"Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths."
Psalm 25:4

In so many areas of my life, God has led me onto paths that I never would have expected. New ways of thinking or living have taken root by His planting a tiny seed of an idea. Sometimes it has been from a personal struggle and His answer has changed me forever. Sometimes it has been through reading a book and everything in my mind has fallen into place. Sometimes I have gone kicking and screaming onto a new path, not because I don't think it is from Him, but because it feels so out of my depth.

Homeschooling has been one of those last experiences for me.

Though I ran eagerly into homeschooling when He laid it on my heart, as I sought what I thought our homeschool life would look like, God began to strip my own ideals and Instagram-square dreams away, and for the past two years I have kicked and screamed a little

You see, I dreamed of a Charlotte Mason homeschool like Elsie's family from Farmhouse Schoolhouse:

I love the Charlotte Mason method and ooze over homeschooling families the world over who learn in the way that I would love to. But trying to implement a heavy CM-style of homeschooling into our lives has not worked at all. We do elements - like being outside a lot and reading good quality, living books - but it just does not work for our son. Any form of a lesson - even as beautiful as CM - just seems to drain away any sort of love of learning for our son.

About two years ago, I began to investigate unschooling. Though I had brushed it aside in the early days of our homeschool research for all the normal preconceptions people have against it, something began to intrigue me about it. As I read family blogs and read thoughts from mothers on Instagram, I could see how we, as a family, had been living that way since the children were born. I never taught them to walk or talk, and yet, they are made to do so and learned themselves.

"If we taught children to speak, they would never learn."
~ Bill Hull, teacher

Most parents tend to leave toddlers and preschoolers alone because we know, by instinct, that they will learn all they need to know for the stage they are at. But as our children head towards five, we begin to panic and, as homeschoolers, we feel an intense urge to "get serious" about learning and education. Suddenly, we believe children need to be taught and can't learn without us. 

This has absolutely been my own experience. 

I have tried on and off for a year to teach our son to read. But we have stopped each time because it was just horrible. Even when he wanted to learn to read, any time we sat down and did a lesson (of various kinds and curriculum), he would ooze onto the floor in frustration and boredom and tears (the oozing part is figurative!). 

Yet, guess what he has been doing for the last month? He has been teaching himself to read by his sudden passion for Asterix comics. And Garfield and Tintin. All of a sudden, he's spending an hour or more pouring through a book, sounding our words he knows and asking questions and crying out, "Mum! Listen to this!" It is so, so exciting. (This is a helpful read on children learning to read by themselves.)

He's been lit by inner motivation. He's found something he loves and wants to understand. And He has done it himself.

God just keeps humbling me and stripping away all sense of control I have over our children. He keeps reminding me that it is Him who teaches and guides and enlightens. I need to step aside and ask Him how I can facilitate that. And right now, it's taking Josiah to the library and getting four or five comic books for him to devour every few days.

I never, ever thought we would be unschoolers. 

I still struggle with it every day. The more I read about it, research learning, and see my children as evidence before my eyes, the more I believe in it. I see it's beautiful benefits of freedom and respect and joy. But it's hard! It goes against so much of my own schooling, my own ingrained ideas and experiences. 

Yet, I have continually asked God to show us the path He wants us to be on and, no matter how much I keep trying to do what's comfortable and what is normal, He keeps leading us back here. There is so much more I could share from this journey we have been on, and I will. But from here, I wanted to share a few beginning thoughts in case there are any other Christian mothers on a similar path.

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference."
~ Robert Frost

Has God led your family down a homeschool path you never expected?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Happy Homemaker 6th May, 2019

Hosted by Sandra at Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

We are staying with my father in a remote bay for a few days. The children love it here and, being where I spent part of my childhood, I love bringing them here when I can. We miss Daddy, but he is busy working, and wishes us well.

W E A T H E R: 

Overcast, the clouds hanging over the top of the harbour hills like a blanket.

R E A D I N G: 

Almost finished The Last of the Mohicans by James C Fenimore . Even though I am not American, I can see why it is a classic. I have been gripped by it from the start and I am almost at the end. Is it worth watching the film afterwards?

M O V I E S + T V : 

Nothing in particular, really. 

M E N U: 

Whatever I can scrounge up here at my father's!

T O  D O: 

Watch the children enjoy being in this beautiful place, spending time with Poppa. // Finding books I need for Five and a Row from my father's personal library (yes, he has a library of children's books of around 5,000). Found Make Way for Ducklings! // Do a lesson or two with the children when it seems right. 

C R A F T: 

I have set up a homeschool bullet journal. I tried a number of years ago, but I don't feel like I had the right tools and never felt satisfied with my creative work. But I am slightly less perfectionist and have tried various homeschool planners, and feel that a bullet journal will best suit. 

L O O K I N G  F O R W A R D: 

Seeing my husband again! But, mostly, enjoying this time with my father and keeping him company after he lost his long-time dog last week. I'm very thankful that I have the freedom to support him in this way, that I am not tied down to things that would prevent me putting family first.

F R O M  T H E  C A M E R A: 

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my camera with me, so this photo is from the last time we came here as a family on holiday. Isn't this place stunning? I love New Zealand and I am incredibly grateful that part of my childhood (about nine years) was spent in this beautiful place. And now, it's in my children's hearts also.

W E A R I N G:

It's terrible - a hoodie, slacks, and sneakers. 

S I M P L E  P L E A S U R E S: 

A good book, a fireplace in a cool morning, and apple pie.

C H R I S T I A N  E N C O U R A G E M E N T: 

G K Chesterton,
"There is nothing more extraordinary than an ordinary man, an ordinary woman, and their ordinary children."

Thank you for coming a long with me!

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Five in a Row: The Blessings of Togetherness + Learning

In this post, I would love to share with you our experience so far with the homeschooling curriculum, Five in a Row. Released in 1994, it has been a blessing to families for many, many years. It may not look as exciting or nostalgic as other homeschooling curriculum/styles, but I promise you, it is well worth looking into for your family.

3 Reasons Five in a Row Will Bless Your Homeschool

Snuggles on the Couch with Good Books

Sitting down together with my children and reading good books is my number one favourite thing to do with them - and I think it is their favourite thing to do also! The closeness, the pouring over pictures, the words creating worlds in our minds, the giggles we have, the conversations that are sparked - books bring families together. And Five in a Row is based upon digging deep into books.

The books suggested by the makers of FIAR are excellent and picked for their beauty, depth, and perspective on the world. Of course, there will be some books that your children don't love as much as others, but as a mother, it's a blessing to be able to sit down with trustworthy and beautiful books.

Natural, Well-Rounded Learning

Five in a Row is essentially a literature-based unit study curriculum. This means that the book of the week, say Lentil by Robert McCloskey, is the basis of all activities of the week. When we read Lentil, because of the content of the story, music and the harmonica were something we looked into. The children had never heard the harmonica before, so watching some videos on You Tube was a great activity. For science, we studied a little about the tongue - the four main tastes we have - because Old Sneep sucked a lemon and made everyone pucker their lips!

There is nothing forced about the activities for each book. From art and culture to science and history, there are a broad range of beautiful and meaningful learning opportunities that are drawn from the story. And this is what makes the learning meaningful and lasting - the children can see how learning is, as Charlotte Mason said, a "science of relations".

The Freedom of Flexibility

I learned fairly quickly that I am not a super structured homeschooling mother. Though I like freedom, I am not so relaxed that I don't want some routine or intentional learning with the children. This is one of the reasons why I think Five in a Row has suited us - and me, the mother! - so well. 

Within each unit, there are around twenty activities to choose from. You can do as many or as little as you think will suit your children. Some people just use the manual and others supplement with Pinterest or lapbooks found at Homeschool Share. Some weeks you may be able to do a vigorous week of learning, other weeks only minimal. Sometimes we have gone a few weeks between books, and many times, we 'row' a book over two weeks and not just one. The flexibility of Five and a Row is one of it's best assets.

As you can see, we just love Five in a Row. My children are 6 and almost 5, and I can foresee that we will be doing it for the next few years. There are more volumes for older children also, which we may very well go on to. 

My favourite thing about our journey so far with Five in a Row are the memories we have been cultivating together, with the books themselves and the things we learn and do from them. Nine months since rowing Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel (our first book we rowed), we still talked about it. I loved hearing my kids giggle through Cranberry Thanksgiving and hearing them repeat fill sentences after reading The Story of Ping.

If you're looking into a gentle, literature-based curriculum that builds togetherness and organic learning, Five in a Row could definitely be the one you are looking for.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Quieting My Spirit in Jesus (So I Can Love My Husband)

Here is a story about God leading me to trust Him so I can love my husband.

There has been a possibility of us going to England for a number of years now. Tim, my husband, has a passion and gifting for apologetics, and there is an excellent school there. When we first applied in 2017 (for the 2018 year), everything was so hopeful - people were encouraging, provisions came from left-field, and we were easily accepted into one of the college's required. But then, the other university (Oxford, to be truthful) couldn't accept us for that year, but would hold a place for us for 2019.

Fast forward to this year, we reapplied for both schools. After months waiting, we found out that we were declined at the main apologetics school because of things out of our hands. So we had to turn away Oxford's place for Tim and, after two years of many up-and-down's, we were back to square one. It was so confusing and disheartening...What seemed clearly something the Lord wanted us to do for ministry, apparently was not.

And then, things got more confusing.

A friend, with connection within the apologetics school, communicated to us that there had been a mistake and we were actually supposed to be accepted. We just needed to reapply again (for the third time). This, we found out in early March.

By this time, everything seemed so unclear that we had decided not to pursue this door, even with this new encouragement. There seemed to be no strong direction from the Lord. Furthermore, in the up-and-down's of the previous year, both of us felt drained and thankful for a home to be rooted in.

I have an anxiety disorder and, for me, with all the uncertainties, my anxiety had flared up and I was struggling to even be open to going. Even though I had been the one to encourage Tim to do this, anything to do with leaving home (safe) and pursuing England (bad) caused me to shut down.

Overtime, I had built up in my mind all the negatives and, because stability enables me to function well, I began to see all the things that could cause me to find England very difficult. There was a source of tension between us as I could not even have a discussion with my lovely husband, who was so disappointed, because - in all truthfulness - all I could think about was me.

Turning to the Lord the other night as I went to bed early in a low mood, I opened my Valley of Vision, hoping for a prayer that would turn my heart toward Him and give me wisdom. I sensed that my resistance to England was only partly rooted in my genuine anxiety, there was sin lurking in my heart, and I didn't know how to find it out. It can get dark in there.

Turning to the page 'Shortcomings', the following lines lit up the lurking darkness,

"My sin is to fear what never will be; I forget to submit to Thy will, and fail to be quiet there. But Scripture teaches me that Thy active will reveals a steadfast purpose on my behalf, and this quietens my soul, and makes me love Thee."

My sin was not being anxious, but to fear what may never be. There are things that my brain does that I cannot control. But when I actively fear and train my thoughts upon what could happen, I sin. I forget to be quiet in the safety of God's will where there is peace, even with chaos without.

I forgot that God's will for my life as my husband's wife is to be his helper. In so many ways, I seek to be a pillar of strength for him, even in my weakness. Going to England causes parts of my brain to trigger off my anxiety, but my will shut down my heart to the possibility. God's steadfast purpose for me is to love my husband and "do nothing out of selfish ambition or empty pride, but in humility consider others more important than yourself" (Philippians 2:3).

So, we have reapplied. A few weeks ago, neither of us would have believed we would. But our friend asked us again...and again...So, we are listening. It all may turn out, again, that this isn't God's will for us as a family. And that would be perfectly good (we are homebodies, after all). But, if it is His will, I don't ever want to not listen and follow it, despite my anxieties and fears. 

And that is what drives me, even with an anxiety disorder. I love my God, and I want to follow Him, wherever He may lead - even if it is a quiet life at home or flying to the other side of the world with challenges unknown. Sitting and submitting and trusting Him will always keep us quiet under the rest of His care, in those pleasant places.

friend, have you experienced something similar?