mountain farm museum

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Maybe they were some of the last hot days of 2019, and if so, thank goodness!  As we left the campground the other weekend, we stopped by the Oconoluftee Mountain Farm Museum down the road eager to explore the little old homestead.  The historic log farm buildings were moved to this sweet valley tucked beside the Oconoluftee River in 1950, and it was neat to peek inside this old home built from chestnut wood before the chestnut blight hit our mountains in the early 1930s and 40s.  I found the home to be quite charming and marveled at how much of that lifestyle from over 100 years ago now appeals to me (and many of you too, I would guess).  It would be a beautiful little spot for a real homestead.  The children enjoyed running free and seeing the free-range chickens and the smelly old sow in her picket enclosure by the river.  And of course, the elk again with the sweet fawns, so close to our car.

Afterward we had planned to begin the drive home but the kids begged and pleaded for us to let them swim in the river again before we left.  It’s truly a beautiful river so we let them swim one last time before heading home.  It was a really sweet, fun weekend (even though camping with kiddos is a ton of prep and work!) and a good way to make the best of these last warm summer days.

maiden voyage

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About a year ago, a very kind neighbor of ours gave us their pop-up camper.  It has since been an eyesore in our backyard for lack of a better place to store it.  We’ve set it up a few times in the yard, but it took us this long to finally take it out on it’s maiden voyage.  It is pretty old but they kept it in mint condition and made many happy family memories in it and they wanted us to be able to do the same now that their kids are well out of the home.  Isn’t that so generous of them?

We went to a beautiful campground that is close to Cherokee, NC with my brother and sister-in-law and their daughter.  It was their first time camping as a family so it was a maiden voyage for them, also, I suppose.  The weather was beautiful, there were no bugs pestering us and there was a good breeze.  The daytime was warm and sunny, the evenings and mornings were cool enough to be cozy.  We enjoyed all the things that make camping special — strong coffee, food that tastes better cooked out in the open air, hanging out around the campfire, hiking, swimming in the river, s’mores, and good conversation.  Phoebe made a sweet little friend named Holly which worked out well because she had hoped to have someone her age to play with.  We also enjoyed watching the elk nearby, and I loved hearing them bugling in a field just a short drive down the road from the campground.  So neat to be able to share that with the kids and see their wonder and excitement to be so close to such majestic animals!  (They were really close at times, right up near the edge of the road).  We also had some rowdy campground neighbors who kept us up late into the night, but we paid them back with early morning screaming babies.  Good sleep is not something you can typically expect while camping, but it is truly all worth it.  Coming home tired and smelling like equal parts sweat and campfire is all part of the experience and we truly loved it.  It was a treat to have some extended time family, and I could really see Brandon unwind, too.  The pop-up is pretty fun but I don’t mind tent camping at all either.  We didn’t get to use too many of it’s fanciest features (we didn’t hook up to electricity or water) but it is fun to dream about taking it on a longer voyage one day.

(I’ll share a few more photos from camping in another post, this one seemed long enough.)

another school year begins

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I have been trying to get this post up for two weeks now but we have been busy getting our “school legs” back under us again, and also I’ve not been feeling well with full-body hives all over since Tuesday morning of this week (honestly made me feel really strange).  So, here I am with a post at long last, and a good long one for you today, too!

We are wrapping up our second week of school today, and it has been good to back in this rhythm, finding our way once again through what always feels a bit like new and unfamiliar territory.  This is our fourth year homeschooling.  Phoebe is in 3rd grade, Noah is is 1st.  I’m not doing any formal schooling with Philippa or Wren, although Philippa is participating for the first time in our weekly co-op (Classical Conversations) in her own class so she is getting some instruction here and there.  However, there’s no real pressure or expectation on her yet.  She’s only 4 years old and I’ve always erred on starting my children later than earlier, longing to give them as long of a childhood as possible to explore and wonder without busying up their day with book work.  Philippa can join in and do whatever work she finds interesting but when she tires of it she happily trots off with Wren.  I see a new little bond forming between the two younger girls as they begin to have longer morning stretches playing together while the older two are engaged in work.

Every year this endeavor becomes both more comfortable and more daunting.  Children grow and change, their needs, weaknesses, and strengths fluctuate and we keep a close eye on where help is most needed.  While I gain more understanding of my little learners and myself as a teacher, there are always new wrenches thrown into our best laid plans and the home dynamic changes as the littles grow and interrupt in different ways.  I understand now why older more seasoned homeschool mommas told me at the outset 4 years ago that I would need to be prepared to be more tired than I ever imagined.  I can feel that now and we aren’t still that far along.  Truly, this is such a monumental task.  Teaching to multiple ages, keeping a close eye on their progress, adjusting as needed, juggling the work of being both their mother and teacher–it truly is far harder than I imagined.  I am learning so much about myself, and also my understanding of “education” is really shifting and morphing, coming from a traditional public school background.  I studied Outdoor Education in college, which falls under the umbrella of experiential education.  I fell in love with that major because I found it to be so effective, teaching and learning experientially.  I am thankful for that background which helps just ever so slightly as we find our way along this arduous journey.  I never imagined giving so much of my life and mental energy to this work, but I do truly love it, even despite the many days and moments where I feel totally overwhelmed and under qualified.  I don’t know where this journey will lead us, but I feel confident we are in the right place.

And so we embark on another year.  Even as a child, I loved the beginning of a new school year, the fresh supplies, the excitement about growing older and discovering new things.  I try to fill our children’s hearts with that same eagerness, purchasing some fresh supplies, filling our morning basket with new books, showing each of them what they’ll be tackling this year and asking them what they hope to learn as well.  I love dreaming up a few field trips or ways to bring learning to life.  I love surprising and delighting them.

Occasionally I get questions about what curriculums we use and I always hesitate to answer because I guess I feel inadequate in a lot of ways and it feels vulnerable to open our little humble home school to others opinions.  I also feel like there’s a lot of temptation for us mommas to compare ourselves to one another and measure ourselves against one another, which is never the goal.  However, if those specifics can be helpful to someone, then I’m happy to share.  I’m still learning and fumbling my way through this in so many ways, and nothing is done perfectly.  We have many frustrating moments, and there are tears and arguments had by all.  Such is the nature of being together 100% of our time.

I have always used The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer as the backbone for our curriculum choices.  We have also always done one day a week with our classical community (Classical Conversations) which takes a bit of pressure off as they provide basically everything except language arts and math.  I love the emphasis on memory work through music and am always amazed at my children’s capacity to memorize huge amounts of information.  They always astound me!  This year I am beginning to do more Ambleside Online readings as I’ve always been drawn to move fully in that direction.  Charlotte Mason’s philosophy has resonated with more than any other approach I’ve encountered.  Some other books that have been instrumental in shaping our home school have been For the Children’s Sake by Susan Schaeffer MacAulay, Mother Culture by Karen Andreola, Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola, The Brave Learner by Julie Bogart, Teaching From Rest by Sarah Mackenzie, The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer, Mere Motherhood by Cindy Rollins, and Home Education by Charlotte Mason.  There are many I’m forgetting, I’m sure, but these have been so helpful and memorable.

Last year was such a challenge with our mornings being interrupted with a baby who needed mid-morning nursing and nap time and who was frequently up in the night, leaving me very groggy and slow to get up in the mornings.  It felt like we weren’t getting into a good groove until 10 am.  This year I am enforcing a stricter schedule for our morning and it’s been making a huge difference.  I am getting up far earlier to ensure that I have time to enjoy coffee, the scriptures and some knitting before our day begins.  Phoebe begins promptly at 8 am with math, which is her most challenging subject and it is her preference to tackle it first rather than dread it.  (My aim this year is to recapture her wonder and love for math, if at all possible.)  By about 8:30 am Noah begins and I bounce around between them both doing hand writing, copywork, grammar, spelling, reading, and math until about 10am.  Then we break for snack and morning time — scripture reading, hymn singing, catechism memory work, poetry, ambleside readings, or whatever else strikes our fancy.  Then we get back to work wrapping up whatever we can until 11:30 am.  If the weather allows we head out for a walk.  By noonish we are having lunch, some read aloud time, naps, and then everyone has a quiet time from about 1-3pm.  This break allows them to read or play, while the little girls sleep.  During this time I usually catch up on housework, workout, rest/knit, or work on this blog!  If we still have work in the afternoon (usually history, science, nature journaling, or art), we will finish that up between 3-4pm.  Then they are free for the remainder of the day and usually encouraged to spend the rest of the afternoon outside.  As the warm days give way to cooler temps they will enjoy being outside for longer stretches.  Of course we still do some read-aloud or game time in the evenings before bed and we finish our day off with scripture and prayer once again.  I try to allow for at least one day a week that we do lighter work in order to be able to get out for a fun outing or hike.  I’m also trying to fit in a few more extracurriculars, like music lessons and sports.  Anyway, that’s a loose picture of what we are attempting this year and so far it is working more smoothly.

I finally named our school this year after deliberating over it for, well, the past few years.  A name that we will carry with us throughout the years feels important and shaping somehow.  So, I have named it Scattered Beams Academy after a very favorite quote of mine from Jonathan Edwards:

“The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.  To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here.  Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of earthly friends are but shadows; but God is the substance.  These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun.  These are but streams.  But God is the ocean.”

And these words by Matt Papa in his book Love and Live reflecting on this quote:

“The creation is ‘scattered beams’–God’s artwork, full of glory and dignity.  But Christianity is not secularism–we do not run to the world.  We don’t feast upon the world for its own sake, because these are just ‘scattered beams.’  They are not the sun, and thereby they are unable to bear the full weight of our worship and interest.  To be a Christian means we don’t from the world, and we don’t look to the world.  To be a Christian means we look through the world.  Idolatry looks at the world in amazement.  Worship, true worship, looks through it in amazement.  To its source.  To the One who is infinitely more amazing.  More interesting.  These things God has made–these shadows, these scattered beams, these shallow streams–are good.  And God is better.”

Romans 1:20 tells us that God has revealed his invisible nature and eternal qualities in everything that He has made, so we can look at every subject as a scattered beam that points us back up to the source, the brilliant Sun which we cannot gaze on directly but by which all things are visible, beautiful, enriched, alive.  Every creature and every subject of study has value and finds its place in the kingdom of God, revealing His nature, His beauty, His order, His brilliance, His delight, His creativity.  I could go on. 😉  It is our aim to see everything through that lens and find Him in everything.  (Hello, name of my blog..)

So that’s a little bit about us, four years in.  To everyone else who is beginning a new year, whether homeschool or public, private or some combo in between, may we do that work before us (of shepherding our child’s hearts and minds) with diligence, with curiosity, with fresh eyes and faith, with joy and dependence on the one who breathes the energy and ingenuity into our sails daily.  And to the students, which is hopefully all of us in one degree or another, let us keep an open learning mind!  Know that I’m cheering you on from here, dear ones!

California (pt 2): to the Golden Gate and beyond

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Most of the week we spent nearby the house where we were staying (my aunt and uncle’s beautiful home).  We would head out for walks and short adventures in the mornings, then spend the rest of the day by the pool.  Meanwhile I had been hoping to get to explore a bit more, driving on Rte 1, seeing the Golden Gate Bridge, and visiting the nearby yarn store A Verb For Keeping Warm.  Brandon and my dad worked some extra evening hours so that we could spend Friday out on those adventures before we flew out Saturday morning.

No trip would be complete without a forced “down day,” and Thursday was that day for us.  Phoebe and Noah both woke up with high fevers.  For the first time ever, neither of them got out of bed for an entire day.  They slept and laid in their sleeping bags listening to audio books, managing to listen to 1 1/2 books from the Narnia series.  They must have felt super awful and neither of them really ate.  Noah’s fever broke Thursday evening, Phoebe’s lasted until Friday morning.  Thankfully they were well enough for us to do our day of adventuring.  We drove again to Half Moon Bay to hit Rte. 1, then drove to the Golden Gate Bridge, marveling all along the way at the beautiful weather and beaches.  Driving across the bridge was unforgettable and we all thoroughly enjoyed taking it in.  Then we drove to Muir Woods, but hadn’t reserved parking ahead of time so we had a picnic lunch and then just hiked around above Muir Woods area.  It was still so beautiful, and the trail was covered in huge bushes of wild dill and eucalyptus!  Wren slept during the hike.

Then back in the car to drive through Sausalito to Oakland, CA where the yarn store was.  Brandon happened to find a parking spot right in front of the store, so Phoebe and I hopped out to explore.  I had some birthday spending money and was able to splurge on some really nice yarn.  I cannot wait to knit with it but I’m also hoarding it a bit because it is so, so lovely.  Experiencing AVFKW was well-worth the drive.  As I said in my last yarn along post, it was full of inspiration and beauty, the staff were very helpful and welcoming.  I could have spent an hour or two in there, but because everyone was waiting in the car I went through it as quickly as I could.  Then we drove back to the house for our last evening there.

Seeing the sights and sharing the west coast with our children was a big highlight, but spending time with my California family was also a real treat.  We don’t get to see each other very often and it was good to catch up and reconnect.  The children absolutely loved being doted on by their great auntie and great uncle.  We felt very spoiled to have had such a fun week together in all that west coast beauty.  ❤  Now, back to ordinary life here in the Appalachians! 🙂

California (pt 1): farmer’s market + half moon bay

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We had an unforgettable, extravagant week last week, quite out of our usual ordinary if you couldn’t tell from the photos!  Brandon and my dad were doing some remodeling work for the week at my Aunt and Uncle’s house in the Bay area in California.  My parents generously offered for us to all come along, and we couldn’t pass it up!  It was quite an adventure for us and required a good bit of planning on my part to be sure Phoebe would have what she needed (food-wise) for the long day of travel and the time away.  Being that we don’t usually do this sort of thing, I was a bit overwhelmed but it was such a good experience.  I’m hopeful that it communicated to Phoebe that she doesn’t have to be limited by her (celiac) disease.

It was so much fun and such an incredible treat for all of us!  To see the children experience the thrill of taking off and landing on an airplane alone was neat.

We flew out the day after my birthday, and on my birthday Philippa suddenly had a high-ish fever, so on top of last minute packing and prep I had to squeeze her in to the doctor to make sure it wasn’t something that would inhibit travel.  Thankfully, she woke up fever-free the next day.

The first day there was a Sunday (Father’s Day), and the only day we had planned to take off together (with my parents, too) to do some sight-seeing.  First we went to the local farmer’s market to get our fruits and veggies for the week.  So fun to explore a local farmer’s market any old place, but especially in California!  Afterwards, we drove to Half Moon Bay and happened to see horses along the way and then again on the beach.  Phoebe was in heaven and also very jealous that she wasn’t on horseback herself.  The beach was windy and cool, but very pleasant.  We walked around a bit, had a bite of sushi for lunch while watching a couple of seals in the marina.  Everyone felt a little groggy and off due to the time change, but they all did remarkably well!  I was blown away by the wild eucalyptus and massive nasturtium all along the roadside, as well as the beautiful garden at my aunt and uncle’s home, complete with avocado, lemon and fig trees!  It’s so incredible to explore a different part of the country.

a summer rhythm

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We have finished up another year of school and it feels so good to do so!  Last week was our first full week off.  I found myself both happy with the wide open free schedule and also feeling a bit odd/paralyzed without our usual rhythms to ground the day.  I mean, there are some structures that remain in place, of course, like quiet times after lunch, morning and evening devotional time and such.  Last summer I remember hoping to do a lot of reading and hiking in the summer, yet finding that it got sort of choked out as we weren’t super intentional about it.  So I came up with a little loose and easy summer plan, because that’s about all I can handle.  Something very simple, flexible, and attainable, with the goal of providing space and motivation to do those summer things we don’t want to miss out on.  (If you follow me on instagram you’ve seen me sharing a snippet of our daily rhythm in my stories for the last week.)

It all just sort of came to me the other day, so I wrote down the few major things I want to accomplish each week with the kiddos, the things I hope to emphasize this summer.  I’m trying it out and the children are loving it so far.  The part of me that likes to just have the freedom to do whatever we feel like each day is revolting just a tiny bit, but at the same time, I know we can toss the schedule out of the window when we need to.  (Like this week, when we are busy prepping and packing for a sort of big trip coming up this weekend.)

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share my little idea/venture here with you in case anyone else would be helped by it, or spurred on to try your own little summer rhythm.  On weekday mornings we have been having “morning time” after breakfast, where we do some bible reading, singing, and catechism questions.  I’ve put together little simple binders for each of the children to compile the hymns we are learning (one a month), and anything else we are memorizing or using during this time.  After morning time is over, we are implementing our “morning focus,” each day centered around one theme.  After lunch it is quiet time for the older kids and nap time for the younger two, and the rest of the afternoon is generally free play time, because I firmly believe children need hours of open play/free time daily without the management of their every minute by an adult.

Sunday: worship + rest

This is pretty self-explanatory, but this day is devoted to worshipping with our church family and spending the rest of the day resting.  Rest could look like getting outside for a hike, or it could look like being lazy at home.  Whatever is needed.  For me, it usually means leaving the laundry unfolded and trying to minimize my time in the kitchen, while giving myself permission to take extra time to knit, read, nap, or get outside.

Monday: tend to home

Mondays are days my mind is usually busy with catching up on housework, bills, and such, after taking a rest day on Sunday.  I’d like to pull the kids into helping more with house work/chores and help us all to remember that tending to our home helps to ground us and gives us a nice place to come home to after our fun outings.  Part of life is setting aside a little bit of time to care for what has been entrusted to us, and I think making this our morning goal on Monday helps me feel more free mentally to do other activities during the week.

Tuesday: read

During this time, we just loaf around and enjoy either independent reading time with some music playing, or I will read to the children.

Wednesday: create

Making time for art, hand crafts, baking — these are things that so easily get choked out of our week during the school year because schoolwork and household chores take longer than expected.  Setting aside a morning devoted to the theme of MAKING something together is really freeing for me, to feel like we have time and room to do so.  The kids absolutely love when I pull out paints, or invite them to bake cookies with me.  I plan to do a fun little “knitting class,” embroidery, writing haiku, or woodworking project with them, too.  (I have really enjoyed using this book as a help for seasonal craft ideas to do together that are simple, like leaf pressing, rolling candles, etc.)  Also, just letting them tell me how they’d like to be creative.  I think it’s important to stir up all of our creative juices over the summer!

Thursday: serve

During this day we look for ways to serve one another and hopefully also serve our neighbors or community in some way.  This one requires a bit more forethought and planning for me potentially, and pushes us all a bit out of our comfort zone.  Last week we took cookies to a neighbor, recently we did a neighborhood road clean-up, and we’ll see what other little ways we can find to serve those around us and reach outside of our home a bit.  Maybe we’ll deliver vegetables and flowers from our garden to neighbors, take a meal to someone in need, or offer to help a neighbor with a yard work project.

Friday: explore + play

I for sure want to make hiking, river splashing, or pool time a weekly event at minimum this summer, so this day is for those sorts of adventures.  Of course, if the weather is better for a hike on a day other than Friday we can just switch things around.

Saturday: connect

We often do house projects, yard work, grocery shopping and errands on Saturday, but I’m hoping we can remember that Saturdays are a really good day to connect all together since Daddy is home for the day usually.  So our aim is to do something that day to connect even in the midst of the work we also need to accomplish, whether its play a game together, picnic, walk, ride bikes, hike, visit the farmers market, etc.

So, we are trying it out and doing it without a lot of pressure or guilt.  I’m hoping it helps give us room to squeeze in all the fun things we want to do this summer.  It has been helpful so far!  Do share any fun ideas you may have or ways you’re trying to be intentional this summer to enjoy time together and make time for the things that matter to your family.  And if you’re thinking of trying out something similar, let me know how it goes!

eastertide

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If there’s anything Easter teaches us, it’s this: there can be sorrow and still there can be joy.  There can be life borne from death.  What a victory!  In fact, the greatest joy I have tasted came out of death.  First, His death.  Then the resurrection.  If there’s anything Easter teaches us, it’s that we can be adrift on the waves of pain and loss while also rejoicing in that unshakeable Hope.  There is a future coming for us that will far surpass our imagination.  Indeed, there is a weight of glory.  I was struck by these words on Easter:

“It still feels like Saturday to me – the loss of a best friend’s youngest son this year, Rachel still in a coma, the Sri Lankan bombings this morning, other sadnesses of this year, and the weight of the world’s longing still feels as present in our sanctuaries as the fulfillment of those longings. Maybe even more so. I’ve cried off and on all morning, unable to rouse my usual celebrations or rituals… As we sang a hymn together at the end, I was struck by the line, ‘Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain.’ In the brooding longings of our Saturday world, we feed each other, we pray, we remind each other of all that is beautiful, true, and good; we feast, we ‘drink the wine of resurrection, not as a servant but a friend.’ Perhaps that is what Easter can be today for us, too – bread and wine, hope and each other, even when the world is still in pain.” (Sarah Bessey)

There were bombings in Sri Lanka and the loud headlines.  There was my own broken heart.  There was the unexpectedly cold Easter weather, the children with coughs and runny noses.  There was a broken family held together and holding together in the midst of it by this Savior who takes the failures and the doubters, the deniers and the deserters, and restores them.  Resurrects them.  Sometimes I can hardly believe its true.

This Easter we surprised the children with little Easter baskets in the morning with a new naturally-dyed hair bow for each of the girls, a new hat for Noah, a small simple journal and some new coloring supplies for each.  We worshiped together with our church family, came home for a very cold Easter egg hunt, naps, and then dinner and another Easter egg hunt at my parents house nearby with my brother and his family.  I hope I didn’t bore you with my millions of photos of a bonneted baby looking a bit like mother hubbard shuffling around in her linen dress.  Every first is so fun with a baby.

I hope it was a blessed Easter for you, and that you were able to catch a glimpse of the Risen one and the glory once again that awaits us, too.