Monday, September 26, 2011

Nature Study - Backyard Style

"In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace." 
- Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods

I believe this. I witness that freedom, that separate peace each time we head to the beach or the woods. These moments compel me to find more moments; to unwrap the gift of time and space while these younger years are still upon us.   

At times our manicured home life leaves me longing for something different. That different has been affectionately coined The Perfect Farm by Phil and I. There we would grow organic crops and watch from a distance as our girls explored the creek that curved delicately through our property. There would be no flies, no harsh weather conditions - simply enough variance that we could continue forward in our culinary pursuits of eating seasonally. Doesn't that sound nice? 

The neighborhood trees are beginning to change colors here. Last Friday I was feeling particularly homesick for the PF. Our time was limited and so were our surroundings. After lunch I opened our door and gently nudged the girls outside - all the while resenting the street lamps, the possibility of dog poop and the perfectly spaced Agapanthus. 

Where's the freedom I bemoaned within. I wanted more in that moment. Thankfully, my internal dialogue stopped just long enough to notice something outside of myself. 

The girls were captured. With concrete underfoot they explored with the same wonder of Solimar's shores. Each leaf held its own design - igniting their imaginations. 

Hailey set about making soup. There were herbs and spices,vegetables and noodles. 

Hannah invited a neighbor friend to join her in stringing leaves on to a piece of twine. They tied knots, poked holes and arranged this fallen foliage with creativity and care.

Humbled, I stepped back - essentially got out of the way, and began to soak in the warmth of this early afternoon. And there I was reminded in delicate form...

...that more often than we realize, nature is within our midst. That given time and space children (and adults) are incredibly resourceful. 

That discontentment is contagious and that the littlest are among the most astute when it comes to the grownups in their lives. 

That we can choose to see the beauty or not. That we can set our sights beyond today - everyday - and miss living the real and rich moments we have been given.

Soup's on!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bucket Filling

There's an insatiability we all possess. We long for our buckets to be filled. Not the literal ones of course. Rather, the ones housed in our souls. I'm learning that little people have very big buckets. I'm also noticing that these buckets seem to contain holes. I'm pretty sure that's by design. 


Sunday, September 11, 2011


"Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. 

The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows." 

- Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts


Monday, September 5, 2011

Rotten Cheese and Apple Pie

Last week felt uphill in its entirety. It was my final week to prep for the school year. Hannah got pretty ill - lots of Kleenex, two trips to the doctor, a breathing treatment and a prescription inhaler to boot. We had to cancel plans every day. I bumped my shin really hard by walking into a misplaced step stool late one night (it still hurts when I swim). To top things off, someone decided to wedge a big chunk of rotten cheese on our front door knob late Thursday night. Come Friday morning, the girls and I were nearly knocked down by its stench when I unknowingly opened the door to take some mail to the box. Before I figured out what was going on, our entire downstairs wreaked of rancid food ... at 7:30 in the morning. 

While none of these challenges were insurmountable, combined they wore me out. With a bit of perspective (brought to you by a long weekend and two swim sessions) I am choosing to believe that this completely jumbled, annoying, taxing and at moments obnoxious week was perfectly timed. With our school year hours away my internal pendulum has swung out of Type-A land ever so slightly, helping me to keep it real.

I sat down with Hannah this afternoon to give her the lay of the 2nd grade land. We talked about diligence and gratitude - the words that we've attached to this year's studies. She seemed to be tracking; she was also busy picking at the skin behind her ears. That's what it is to teach children. When you're knee-deep in planning mode, you can forget that you're dealing with real-live-ear-picking human beings!

That was the gift of last week as well. I was reintroduced to the bumps and the bruises we all must endure in our daily, hourly, sometimes minute-by-minute existences. These things get in the way. They interrupt our rhythm and leave us feeling down. Yet what I'm coming to see is that the beauty of imperfections - of life's interruptions - often leave the largest imprint if only we let them. 

Yesterday and today we got our hands dirty in the name of nature study. We made our way to a miniature donkey farm (that housed an odd assortment of creatures including a Zonkey). We spent time with the animals and then harvested nearly ten pounds of Gala apples. 

This morning we turned our apples into pie. We talked about Almanzo Wilder and how many pies his mother made each Saturday. We recalled how fast and how much pie Almanzo consumed and felt an even deeper appreciation for how hard his family worked. 

I slipped Hannah a small chunk of dough and her own stack of apples. We essentially parallel-played our way throughout most of our time in the kitchen - she forming her own little tart while I worked on the actual pie. Phil joined in too and Hailey was more than happy to consume her fair share at dinnertime.

Last week left me feeling ill-prepared to teach science in particular. I have grand plans in the area of nature study, but to date they exist mostly in my head. I imagined that by now my entire year would be mapped out in Excel spreadsheet sort of terms. Instead, I know what we're doing this week (sort of). 

I think that's part of the lesson here (and this one is for me). We need room to wiggle, both literally and figuratively. A week of bumps with the exclamation point end of rotten cheese led us to pet donkeys, pick apples and experience much as a family. Part of me thinks that the  most important experiment I might conduct this year is to not plan everything. There, we just may find the key to weathering life's promised unpredictability with a bit more grace.       


Thursday, September 1, 2011


Bible is an interesting one for us. While our faith extends beyond the classroom each day, I have not yet settled on how to integrate this naturally and with ease within the context of our home studies. Often it just comes up as we explore topics and questions arise. I've liked this approach. And I'd also like to build on it a bit.

What I fear is turning our Bible time into something we have to do. That's not the tone I'm going for in any subject really, and especially not Bible. Still, inevitably those days will come when my one and only pupil will have her heart set on something other than the parting of the Red Sea. Then, we'll learn about grace.

At this point, Hannah seems to struggle most with the intangibility of it all (don't we all, really)? On the one hand her heart is deeply moved by the plight of the poor, stories of the Bible and accounts of missionaries. She pours over her Children's Bible and takes a genuine interest in the children we sponsor through Compassion International. Meanwhile she struggles deeply with life's big questions; why is there suffering in the world and why did Eve have to eat that stupid apple? She has also wrestled with the idea of prayer - where the heck is God anyway? 

At the end of the day, I can totally relate. My hope is that over the course of this year I can provide her with a bit more context and understanding for God's word - that her heart will find comfort in His love for her even when things don't exactly add up.  I'm excited to explore this realm with her!  

So when it comes to 2nd Grade Bible in these parts, we're aiming to follow her passions and her lead. While I'm a stickler on things like memorizing math facts and mastering grammar, Bible study is simply different territory - at least in my mind. She may never pray - not once this entire year. We will skip all over the place and back again. And some days, beach time may trump Old Testament. That's okay. We're going to roll with it and trust that seeds are being sown. 

Here are my 3 aims for our more formalized learning: 

1. Building on the historical time period that we're already studying (Ancients)

2. Exploring how people around the world live their lives and how we can be praying for them

3. Reading inspirational accounts of how God has worked in the lives of other people