pickles, flowers, birds, and a schoolroom update

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It never fails to surprise me how quickly the summer weeks go by.  It seems we barely have anything going on, this year especially, and yet somehow it feels full and busy.  Then all of a sudden it’s August and we are nearly ready to begin another school year.  It may have something to do with the fact that I put off a lot of bigger projects until the bigger breaks (Christmas and summer) and then suddenly I feel like I have a small window to get a lot of things done.  I want to clean and tidy and reorganize all the chaos that has spilled out over the last several months, but attempting to do so with four children underfoot is challenging and feels like an exercise in futility.  I realized this summer that since we will be adding another student this fall (yay, Philippa!) I need a bigger work space to gather children around and sit by them to assist.  I have been cramming myself into a kiddie chair at a very small kiddie table for the last year when I’ve worked with Noah and it finally dawned on me that this wasn’t going to work any longer.  Praise the Lord.  Environment does make such a difference.

So with some moving around of furniture that we already had and buying a few new items to spruce up our school room, we’ve slowly been making changes over the summer.  After three years of living in this house and the prior owners leaving the wood windows half painted in the schoolroom, we finally painted them and the laundry room door also.  It is amazing how something so small makes such a nice difference!  It just looks tidier.  We were given a couple of old hutches and I decided to use one in the school room as a homeschool cabinet.  I will probably paint it in the future, but I do like the original wood.  We’ve been filling the glass top part of it with nature finds that we’ve been saving.  The bottom part will hold puzzles, manipulatives, books, and whatever else we need to keep organized in there.  Brandon put better lighting in also (can lights) because this room is the darkest in the house and that doesn’t make for a great school space.  It has been fun to focus on just one room and make it suited to our needs.  It’s amazing how the kids are drawn more to this space now and I think it is going to work better for us this school year.  I used to spread out and do school at the kitchen table or in the living room, and we still do that for some subjects.  But it has made a big difference for us to work in a dedicated space and keep all of our supplies handy.  It makes it easier for me to grab what we need and helps everyone’s attention spans.

Meanwhile, the garden has been growing, growing.  I’ve neglected weeding it for the past couple of weeks with the high heat, humidity, and the more pressing projects in the house sorting curriculum, planning, and reorganizing.  It’s a bit wild out there now as one can only expect it to be come August.  Our cucumbers continue to abound so I made a batch of refrigerator pickles using this recipe.  (I didn’t use as much sugar and used more peppercorn and mustard seed.)  So good and easy.  We are able to share a lot of what we grow with others and that is always a joy.  I’m thankful for all the flowers, enjoying watching them bloom and cutting some to bring indoors.  Noah has been obsessed with drawing birds from this atlas, he has done at least twenty different drawings by now and they’re really good.  He told me tonight that he wants to set up a stand tomorrow by the road and sell them.

The kids seem relatively happy but I wonder how all of these changes in our world are affecting them.  Noah said at dinner tonight that he wondered when the virus would be over and all the stores could open up again.  I realize we forget to tell them some of the updates happening, that many places are open again but there are still restrictions in place.  Still, it doesn’t feel “normal” to them yet and it’s uncertain for all of us what normal will be from here on out.  Our homeschool co-op will begin in a few weeks, it is a very small group and we are able to continue meeting.  Hopefully that will restore a bit of normalcy for them, but who knows what this fall and winter season will hold?

Some “before” shots of our school room:

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In progress:

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Current iteration:

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I will share a few more photos maybe as I finish up in there.  I am still organizing the shelves and my desk area.  Little bits of work in little chunks of time.  I hope in the next few weeks we are well prepared for a new and maybe altogether different school year.  I’m beginning to feel excited about it.

 

 

 

a different Easter

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Beautiful, sunny warm Saturday was filled with productivity and work.  Early morning grocery shopping, lawn care, cleaning floors and bathrooms, all the house work tended to so we could enjoy a restful Sunday.  We thought about doing an egg hunt on Saturday while it was sunny out, knowing Easter Sunday was slated to be rainy, but it just didn’t feel like Easter.  We finished that day with dinner outside under the budding Crepe Myrtle and with a large bonfire.  I made gluten-free cinnamon rolls that evening to bake on Easter morning.

I think we all fought some sorrow on Easter due to the fact that celebrations are overshadowed somewhat by the corona virus.  How we miss gathering!  But our hearts fought for joy, also.  We were thankful for the simple graces of family life: the warm smell of cinnamon rolls as children colored in early light.  Squeals of children’s laughter and screams of delight as they dodged raindrops and hunted for eggs in the yard.  Morning worship that was so very sweet with our church family via the internet.  Then a restful afternoon amidst pouring rain.  An Easter feast with lamb my parents had given to us, the scriptures read over us by Brandon.

We rejoice now more than ever in the hope we have in Jesus, the Savior who conquered death  and took away all need for fear.  Sending you lots of love in these sometimes dismal days, hoping you are all well, body and soul.

beside still waters

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Hello friends.  How are you all doing?  I hope you’re ok, not just in body but also in mind and soul.  We’ve been ok.  We are all healthy and for that I’m grateful.  These are challenging times for us all, and I have felt quite overwhelmed.  All of our usual extra curricular activities have been cancelled and we have been home for many days.  I’m thankful for a big yard and sunny days when they come, it lifts the heaviness and helps us not to feel so cooped up.

However, in anticipation of a “shelter-in-place” ordinance, we decided to get out on the parkway this last weekend for a proper hike.  The more popular areas were packed with cars and we decided to avoid those. We found a trail we haven’t hiked before that ended up being so beautiful and peaceful, and we really only saw a handful of other hikers.   There are few things that are as restorative as the wilderness for us.

At the beginning of the “social distancing”, my pastor shared this quote from C. S. Lewis with us and it has stuck with me throughout these past two weeks.  Lewis was writing this as they lived under threat of the atomic bomb:

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

C.S. Lewis, On Living in an Atomic Age

I admit that in these last many days, it has been challenging for me to keep to the basic activities of being human.  I’ve had to be intentional in still lighting the candles at dinner, snapping photos of sweet moments and pretty things, folding the laundry, scrubbing the bathrooms, reading good stories, setting out the next day’s schoolwork in the evenings.  Sometimes these things feel so meaningless when facing such imminent health and economic threat.  Yet I have also been anchored by these same human activities; kept from endless scrolling of headlines, worrying and fretting.  The activities of being human help me to continue on being human.  And it is essential in times like these that we don’t lose our humanity.

Being outside in the sun, having moments of stillness, carrying on with normal work as much as possible, knitting, music, connecting with friends virtually, reading scripture–these are some of the anchors.

Be well, friends.  It may be quieter here on the blog, it may not be, I’m not sure.  I hope you are well, I hope you are finding the things that anchor you, too.  A song we sing often at church is this one, and it feels more appropriate now than ever before.  Sending you warm hugs, friends.

xo
Martha

 

 

touring the grounds

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I have an annual pass to the Biltmore Estate that expires soon, so last weekend we planned to go for a Sunday afternoon visit.  I had a couple of vouchers for free tickets as well, so Brandon was able to get in for free as well as my dad (my mom has a pass, also).  Originally we thought we would do a quick tour of the house with the kids, but now all the tours are scheduled and we hadn’t planned much in advance so we decided just to enjoy the grounds instead.  I’m so glad we did.  There is just so much space and trails that we haven’t really explored much, and it was soul-filling to be out in the beautiful weather.  We stopped in at a cafe on the grounds to get some water and coffee, and seeing the swarms and crowds of people made me realize being outside on the grounds was probably better anyway considering all the sickness spreading lately.  I grew up in Asheville and have seen the house interior many times, and the children have visited before also.  I did request however that we make a stop to the gardens and greenhouse, and it was so lovely.  I could have spent a lot more time in there, but little ones were ready to move on.  We did end our trip with a visit to the stables and barn because of course Phoebe insisted we do just that.  It was just a beautiful and nice day together and with my parents.  I hope you enjoyed this little virtual tour as well. ❤

a bunny turns 2

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Little wren-wren,

It’s hard to believe you are two.

Up early before the sun, with everyone rushing you to wake.  You are at the happy stage where you sort of understand birthdays after celebrating all of your siblings birthdays in the last few months, and yet you are easy and happy-go-lucky without any expectations.  Except that you definitely wanted us to sing happy birthday to you. 🙂   You were practicing for days ahead of time.

Everyone else couldn’t wait for you to open your gifts so they could play with them see what they were.  It is a joy to watch you so carefully open each thing and enjoy it for a few minutes without rushing onto the next gift.

We gave you a Poppy and the Orchestra book since you have loved Philippa’s Poppy/musical book so much.  You were delighted!  Bunny also wanted to give you a gift that had a bit of an ulterior motive: she bought you a basket for your bike so that you can carry her along on all of your adventures.  Boy, have you both loved this new addition to your favorite toy.

Mommy + Daddy gifted you a kitchen all your own with a few new food items, pots and pans, and a lovely little enamel pot that matches your older sister’s tin tea set.  I think you really love this, but your older siblings definitely do.  Thank you for sharing it so kindly with them.  Mommy knit you a happy yellow sweater, but it is much too big and so we will tuck it away until you are three.  I’m so glad though that when you opened it you put it right on.  Sweet girl.  Now mommy has to get busy making you something that WILL fit. 🙂  Also, you got a sweet birthday dress which you really love and looks so, so sweet on you.

After all the morning fun, we carried on with a regular old school day for the older kids (which they were quite disgruntled about) but we had a surprise visitor mid-morning, your BFF Liam (and Rainey).

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He brought you a sweet gift and stayed for a little bit to play and have a birthday lunch together.  So sweet.  Bunny was very tired at this point and had to have a nap, so you went with her.  After nap, the sun came out (it had been a very rainy morning) and bunny couldn’t wait to try out her new bike basket.  What fun!  It was just right.  Meanwhile, Mommy baked a carrot cake, the same one I made for your first birthday and I had fun making it simple and pretty.  We Facetimed with far-away family.  Then Rainey + Grandpa came over for one of your favorite dinners, spaghetti.  You were so happy to see your birthday cake and have everyone sing to you, and you clapped with glee when it was all done.

We all adore you, sweet baby Wren.  Maybe not so much a baby anymore, but still you will always be our little baby.  I am so proud of the way you are growing and learning.  You are a delight to us all, my sweet girl.  Happy birthday and always remember how much your momma and daddy adore you, how God adores you even more than that.

Love always,

Mommy

 

snow day at the museum

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Last week we did a field trip with a few friends from our homeschool co-op to the Asheville Art museum.  In our co-op art segment we’ve been studying about the Impressionists and our local art museum happened to have some American impressionist art on display, so it dovetailed nicely with our studies.  I dropped Wren off with my mom for the morning knowing that it would probably not be fun for her to be quiet, listen, and not be able to touch all of the art displays.  The snow was falling heavily all day, which meant a lot of the roads were quiet as people stayed home.  It also made for a really cozy time to visit the museum.  We did an hour guided tour focused on the impressionists, then the children had an hour of studio time.  The guide taught us how to do block printing, and the kids really enjoyed designing a cityscape much like we were seeing out of the museum windows.  Each child designed a building and then made prints of it onto their paper.  They also had the option to switch buildings with someone else and it was really fun to see everyone’s various creations.  After our fun morning, the kids were eager to get out in the accumulating snow once back home, building snow men and sledding.  I’m thankful for every bit of snow we’ve had this winter!  Although it makes for a lot of muddy drippy mess at my door, it is usually short-lived and makes a new playground out of our yard.

Meanwhile, we’ve still been at it with the puzzles.  Yes, I am completely inspired by (copying?) Ginny of Small Things with the puzzle craze.  The first one pictured I mainly worked on myself as the pieces were quite small and it was very challenging.  It was really fun but I think frustrating for the kids who couldn’t really help much with it.  So I got this set of 12 mini puzzles and put each puzzle in a little bag as a fun thing to pull out for the younger children while the older two are busy with school.  Philippa and Noah have been especially into them.  I also got the 300-piece puzzle of the sea planes with the kiddos in mind and we put it together super quickly.  It is one they can do on their own which they love.  I think I’m enjoying these puzzles so much because the scenes in them are so beautiful.  I want to visit and live in each one.

a february birthday

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Brandon’s birthday fell on a Monday this year, so we planned for him to do some fun things over the weekend to celebrate.  He did a long trail run in nearby Dupont Forest for most of the day on Saturday.  Sunday he took Noah fishing on a nearby river for the day.  I was happy for him to get out and have lots of time doing the things he loves outside.  Monday we had a very full and busy day planned but I woke up that morning to a spinning world.  Every once in a while I have vertigo and it hasn’t happened in a couple of years but it hit me that Monday.  I was so bummed because not only did we have a full day of homeschool co-op and piano lessons, but it was also Brandon’s birthday.  My mom came to help for the day as I couldn’t get out of bed/sit up without everything spinning.  I didn’t think to take dramamine until a little later, and it did seem to help (though my mom picked up a “natural” kind which was just straight ginger root).  Thank goodness for moms, right?!  Anyway, in the early afternoon I managed to pull myself out of bed to try to make Brandon’s cheesecake as I knew it would have to sit for a few hours before serving.  As I began to move around the vertigo slowly lifted.  Usually it lasts for a few hours for me so this was a longer day of it, but I was just grateful it lifted.  It’s amazing what a blessing normal functioning is!

The children were so happy to see me up and able to move around and Phoebe helped to make daddy’s birthday cake.  He loves cherry pie but my kids don’t really like pie and Brandon isn’t really picky, so we made a cheesecake instead with my own cherry topping.  For the topping I basically used a bag of frozen cherries, juice from half a lemon, about a 1/2 c. of honey, 1 c. water, and a couple teaspoons of arrowroot powder as a thickener.  It was really delicious, even Phoebe liked it and she is my pickiest.

Philippa asked to decorate the table for daddy’s birthday which was very helpful as I felt still so brain-foggy.  She did a lovely job.  Brandon was truly surprised to see his hand knit sweater and I think it fits just right (though when I gave it to him I hadn’t had time to block it yet).  The “children” gave him a jigsaw which he was very happy with.  I have in mind an item or two he could make for me now that he has it. 🙂  Noah gave him a little notebook/journal he had kept with notes and drawings in it while they had been out fishing.  Phoebe gave him a little woven item.  All in all, I think he was quite spoiled this birthday which we well-deserves.

We had a little bit more snow this past weekend and so enjoyed it.  I’m grateful for any wintry weather!  I convinced Brandon to let me get a couple pictures of him in the sweater, which did take some convincing since he doesn’t love being in front of the camera.  (He’s also wearing a hat I knit for him awhile ago.)

joy in january

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And then the last of January comes, and with it our first blanket of snow for the winter.  We throw our usual morning work to the side and bundle up in layer upon layer for this special and rare occurrence in North Carolina.  When the snow comes, you might as well get out and enjoy it because by day’s end it will likely be gone.

So the first month of the year stretches long and quiet, maybe even a bit dull — but it ends in joy.

JOY… maybe my word for this new year, and not because I’m feeling it but precisely because I’m not.  Last year was shadowed over with a lot of heartache and sorrow, things I cannot share here because it involves other people, stories that haven’t finished playing out yet.  But I’ve spent too much time in that sorrow and maybe it’s time to put away the effect of other people’s brokenness and broken choices and move on into joy.  I don’t want to miss the beauty and joy that is here even now.  I have been given so much, blessed beyond measure, and I choose to see and focus on that.

Only God is able to turn our mourning into dancing.  And He is sufficiently able!

He sends the snow from His storehouse and it covers all this old familiar territory with sparkling clean white and just like that, everything is new again.  And we are dancing in the freshness of it, reminded of a great God who washes us white as snow.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD; though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Isaiah 1:18

 

january mild

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What a mild winter it has been so far.  I feel a bit complain-y but I do miss a good cold/snowy cozy winter.  I hope we still have some of those days ahead.  Yesterday the warm sun felt so good and who could resist sitting out in it and basking in it in the middle of January?  Certainly not me.  I am a firm believer in taking the gifts of each day’s weather.  Still it feels unnatural to move from fall into spring.  I’m missing my old friend winter, the way she makes us crazy toward her end and ready for thawing soil, spring rain, vibrant color, and the smallest glimpses of new life.  It strikes me that maybe we just can’t fully enjoy the glories of spring without the quietude and bleakness of a long winter.

We’ve been back to our usual routines and though there’s always a rub to the mundane parts of life, there is a simplicity to it that feels healing.  Our mornings are full of books, writing, arithmetic, our afternoons full of time spent outdoors, music lessons, tutoring, or running household errands.  We had a fair bit of rain the last few days, and in the glorious sunshine that follows, I find myself wandering about the garden, starting to think about what we will grow this year.  I knit up a pair of baby bloomers for Wren.  They are knit top-down in yarn from local-to-me Bovidae Farm, with a sweet little lateral braid separating the rib and the squishy fisherman’s rib on the body.  They are simple and darling.  Wren seems to love anything I make for her, she loves dressing up and trying things on, so she is always game for new hand knits.  I snapped a few pictures of her this morning in the blustery morning air.  She was very busy tidying up her little house outside, bringing me all sorts of items the older children had left out there and throwing whatever else she didn’t want down the slide.  She is full of big feelings, this little one, one minute ecstatic and the next minute screaming her frustration.  In a little more than a month she will be two and I can hardly believe it.

ps. Wren is wearing the wiksten animal bonnet which I knit in naturally-dyed yarn, and in the earlier pictures she’s wearing her flax light sweater from her first birthday.  Yes, I’m already contemplating what her birthday sweater should be for this year. 🙂  I’m thinking about another Camilla Babe sweater in my own hand-dyed worsted eco yarn dyed with marigold.

a sweet Christmas

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Sweet Christmas.  With all our effort to minimize activity and slow the month down and savor each day, it still flew by in a flash.  It has come and gone, today being New Years Eve, and the next year crests just over the horizon.  How sweet the Christmas season is.  When the children woke up Christmas morning, they opened their stockings.  We filled them with dried fruit, a little bit of sweet treats, rainbow pencils, fun wooden animal pens from world market, a new pack of markers, a christmas ornament, naturally-dyed head scarves for the girls, bunny hair clips for wren, mood rings for Phoebe and Philippa, a new watch for Noah.  Wren got her own beeswax crayons and notebook, which she is so proud of.

Then we had breakfast and our last Advent reading from the book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  (I was proud and excited to have found pumpkin and carrot muffins (cupcakes?) that were all natural and from a dedicated gluten-free facility for Christmas morning at a local health food store.)  After that we opened gifts.  As much as we try to slow the morning down so we can see everything and enjoy each present being opened, the children just can’t help rushing into it all.  They had some gifts from loved ones besides the ones we had chosen for them, so that made it feel quite abundant and full.  Truly, they have no idea how blessed they are, but then the same could be said of each of us, I am sure.

Noah and Philippa got some new lego, Phoebe got a table top easeland new art supplies. The older three all got nice large sketch books with a mini set of higher quality watercolor paints (for natural journaling, I hope).  Noah received the The Ology book, Philippa got Poppy and Vivaldi, and Phoebe got some new Horse Diaries books.  Wren got 1 is One by Tasha Tudor.  I gave Brandon New Morning Mercies and maybe secretly hope I can share it with him. 🙂  Wren received a Melissa and Doug barn (she has loved Philippa’s smaller horse barn) and also a wooden tricycle which can adapt to be a balance bike.  Not that we need another bike, really, but it is nice for her to have something just her own and something she can ride right away.  Noah received from us a sweet of K-Nex and a cd player for his room, as well as a lullaby cd for he and Wren.  Phoebe and Philippa also received a new lullaby cd for their room.  All the kiddos have been loving listening to peaceful music at night to help with bad dreams or for Phoebe when she isn’t feeling well (headaches and nausea have been happening more often lately).  We gave all of the kids Bird Bingo and a new puzzle as a family gift.  We have already played Bird Bingo so much and I can’t wait to add Bug Bingo and Ocean Bingo to our games one day.

I had hoped to knit a small item for each family member.  I managed to finish socks for Philippa, a slipped stitch tam for Phoebe, and a doe cap for Wren.  Noah’s socks are half done, and I have nothing in the works for Brandon just yet, but he never really wants anything.  I do hope to knit him some socks soon.  Maybe he will be swayed to prefer hand-knit socks if he just tries a pair. 🙂

Brandon and I had agreed not to buy presents for each other this year, maybe just a couple small things for stockings.  We needed to replace our living room rug and I was wanting to do a few other small things to spruce up our living room/entry area, so that was our gift to each other.

Anyway, although it felt like it whizzed past us, Christmas day was really fun and special.  Later that day we went over to my parent’s house nearby and gathered with all the siblings who were here.  I was even able to squeeze in a solo trail run on my favorite running trail in the woods and didn’t see another soul the whole time.  It completed my Christmas to get out in the woods and quiet.  My parents always make the most amazing feasts, and it was just cozy and special to be together with family.

The next morning we all went horseback riding as a family (well, except for Brandon who needed to work.)  I had hoped to take more pictures but I was riding while holding Wren on my lap a bit precariously so I only snapped a few.  It was adventurous and fun, and Noah, Phoebe, and Wren seemed to really love it.  Philippa rode on my mom’s lap and talked the whole way and then said she hated it when were done (with a big smile on her face).

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I hope you all had a merry Christmas and may it be a blessed and happy New Year + decade!

See you in 2020!