July things + Deer Mouse vs. The World

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It is Friday and another summer week has flown by.  As I type, a half-drunk mug of tea sits besides me, thunder rumbles low in the distance while rain patters on outside.  In all my grumbling about summer, the heat, and how deflated it makes me feel, I am reminded of the many things I do really cherish about summer.  There are few things as lovely as a summer storm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  I treasure their almost-daily predictability and the coziness and reprieve they lend to the hot days.  I am grateful for the produce of the garden, though it has reached the unruly stage where I feel like a gardening failure every time I step foot in it.  It’s only because I can’t keep up with it and manage it perfectly, but really, is that what defines a good gardener? Perfection?  Hardly.  We are still harvesting good food for our table with enough to share, and that is a blessing and a sweetness I always miss come cooler weather.  I savor the long bright days where children can play well after dinner outside and we can enjoy late walks in the cool of the day.  I’m especially grateful for the shift in our schedule, the setting aside of our formal school work and the embracing of the quieter rhythm of learning by inspiration.  My mind so needs the break from the churn of teaching, planning, executing, analyzing, and the children do also.  Lately they’ve been “playing school” and admitting that they are missing it, and it’s always important for them to experience that, I think.  I was reminded at a homeschool conference I attended recently that our brains are able to receive and connect concepts best in our REST.  Over the summer our little children’s minds are marinating the concepts we have taught.  So many concepts click and seem far easier when we pick up our school books again come Fall.

So, those are some of the really wonderful enjoyable parts of summer.  Picnics on the parkway, muggy hikes, the way we cherish a breeze.  Pool visits weekly, farmers markets.  So many things really, why do I complain?  But the truth remains that I am a winter girl through and through, and the best part of summer is the anticipating of fall, the turn, the cozy evenings, the camping, the daily fires, the hot stews and soups, the opening of school books, and all such loveliness.  I feel more inspired/creative in those seasons, more myself.

I don’t often enroll my children in activities mostly because of cost and secondly because of my own need to keep a simple and open schedule.  I am content to keep our running around to a minimum.  However, as our children grow, they need all sorts of experience and enrichment, don’t they?  We mothers will stretch ourselves so far and wide for these little ones we love so much.  So this summer has been busier with activity than normal, and that has been good.  I am feeling the adjustment of children who are getting older and needing different things, outlets and experiences beyond what I can provide at home.  And I do believe we will be introducing more activity this fall, though I will still fight to keep it simple and manageable for myself.

Phoebe spent last week in Drama Camp and finished the week performing in her very first play.  It was truly so special.  She is much braver than her mom!  She played the part of “the farmer” in “Deer Mouse Vs. The World.”  When she was ready to say her first line on stage, she took a big breath with a grin on her face like for a second she was overwhelmed with joy, nerves and excitement.  I held my breath, too, wondering if she would freeze or forget her lines, but she dove right in and did such a great job.  I am so proud of her and marvel at the way she is changing, growing up, transforming right before my eyes.  I can’t help but miss the little Phoebe she used to be but also feel so much joy and excitement about the stage we are in and what lies just ahead of us.  Motherhood stretches us in incredible ways, doesn’t it?  Always, this capacity to increase, to rise to the next challenge, to expand and make more room, to go farther than we thought we could. Always, this holding of our breath as our child takes a new “first step” and we watch them soar.

let the children play

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“There is a little danger in these days of much educational effort that our children’s play should be crowded out, or, what is from our present point of view the same thing, should be prescribed for and arranged until there is no more freedom of choice about play than about work.  We do not say a word against the educational value of games (such as football, basketball, etc.)… But organised games are not play in the sense we have in view.  Boys and girls must have time to invent episodes, carry on adventures, live heroic lives, lay sieges and carry forts, even if the fortress be an old armchair; and in these affairs the elders must neither meddle nor make.”  -Charlotte Mason (quoted in For the Children’s Sake)

“There are many reasons why children have been reduced to a point where they don’t play with joy, initiative, and creativity.  Often so far as their personality is concerned they are wheelchair cripples, too disabled even for crutches.  Restorative actions means scheduling time, time which is not obviously “improving.”…Certain factors encourage play.  It is often easier home-based than institution-based.  There should be space, and lots of free time.  Children need to be outdoors (for hours).  They need to make noise, mess, and to have access to raw materials (old clothes for costumes, hats, tables to turn into camps, etc.).  They need privacy from intruding adults, but they need interested support in quarrels, thinking of another way around a problem, providing food, and, at the end, bringing the children tactfully back into the world where supper is ready, the camp has to be packed up, children are tired and ready for the soothing routine of evening stories.”
-Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, For the Children’s Sake

Our home days are my favorite days, “home days” meaning the days we aren’t running around doing errands, restocking our various shelves or visiting with friends.  We love all of that, too, but we always try to have some uninterrupted hours outside, too.  One rainy days, we go hunting for puddles and momma gears up mentally for a tub full of muddy, sodden boots and clothes for laundering.  There are things that matter far more than a perfectly tidy home.  I heard a quote on the radio this week that a perfectly tidy home is a sign of a life misspent.  Maybe I’m just comforting myself with those words, but it is a comfort.  Of course, I dream of a perfectly kept home, and there is a great value in a tidy and relatively neat home for providing structure, refuge, and sanity for the family.  But there are more important things at stake than a handful of stray crumbs, cheerios stuck to placemats, laundry heaped clean in a basket.  Children are growing up day by day.  They need affection, affirmation, encouragement.  They need eye contact.  They need to be unhurried.  They need spontaneity, curiosity, exploration, dirt and discovery.

And the reality is us adults need all of that, too.  Having children is a very good thing for us “grown ups.”  It is helping me to be a child again, to remember what a world full of wonder we live in.  It is bringing laughter and silliness again, where once maturity and sensibility was so prized.  It is teaching me, as C.S. Lewis wrote to his goddaughter in the dedication of his book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that I am “finally old enough for fairy stories again.”  And I’m so glad.

I’m only learning, though, and often regress.  I’m thankful for these words from For the Children’s Sake, and find myself reminded that children are born learners.  Its often our systems and programming that bore them to death and teach them amiss that learning is a tiresome, bothersome endeavor.  The reality is that if we take them out into the natural world, which is so full to the brim with curiosities, beauty, ugliness, creativity, function, pain, and philosophy, they are sure to find things that spark their wonder, and we can stoke the embers of that wonder into flame.  We do that by getting down with them, exclaiming with wonder over their discoveries, asking questions and prompting their thought, finding books and videos that explore the matter further.

The geese on our nearby pond are nesting, and we just happened to check out a book from the library all about geese families.  We have been checking the geese every day if we can, whether walking to the lake, or hoping on our bikes after dinner in the dusky evening to see if any goslings have hatched.  I am learning wonder again, over things so small and things that didn’t matter much to me before.  I am learning to notice again, to wonder and to find ways to see the glory of God on display in these small and simple things He has seen fit to fill the world with.

“For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,
in the things that have been made.”

Romans 1:20

a home weekend

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This weekend we had our first frost, and some of our coldest temps yet.  It was a “home” weekend for us, getting some projects taken care of here, like finally turning our empty raised garden bed into something useful for the kids: a sandbox.  (Unfortunately at this house we have no full sun in the yard and thus didn’t attempt a little garden plot this past summer.)  The little ones have really been into making mud pies lately, and we realized we don’t have a ton of things for them to do outside in the yard.  Part of me wants to say I believe that gives them more “scope for the imagination” (as Anne Shirley would say), but part of me knows that is just laziness/cheapness on our part.  We do want to encourage them to play outside and be creative and interact with the natural world as much as possible, so a sandbox/mud pie kitchen is a great option.  Maybe it wasn’t the best weekend to make a fun play area outside, being frigid and all, but the kids loved it!  First they went to Lowes with daddy + helped pick out the sand, then they helped unload it and spread it in the “sandbox.”  Meanwhile it was cold enough to warrant a big pot of chili + some time spent knitting (I’m just learning!) and some hot tea.  Sand can now be found in all sorts of cracks + crannies, but I guess it’s worth it. 🙂

The Discipline of Play

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Somewhere along the way I traded exploration, creativity, imagination for utility.  Somewhere along the way I decided usefulness trumps play.  When time is short, and the reality of the darkness of our world creeps in, and work threatens to suffocate, who has time for art?  Who has time for recreation?  Who has time for pleasure?  When my Christian brothers + sisters around the globe are losing their heads for their faith, how can I justify sitting idly and losing mine in a book?

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian and pastor in Germany during the Nazi regime, desperately fighting against the dominance of the Nazi mindset and theology, its putrid sectarianism creeping into Christ’s very church.  What a time to live in!  Believers during that time were facing intense persecution and the daily knowledge that their time was short, their lives were at risk.  Hardly was there time to waste when doctrines must be fought for and upheld, lives must be rescued.

And yet, even in the midst of this time of war, Bonhoeffer, who led + taught a seminary, regularly included recreation as part of the seminarians disciplined life.  Did you catch that?  He made sure they had time to P L A Y.  Who could possibly think about playing in a time of such great risk and suffering?

But the reality is, who can think at all if one doesn’t have the release found in play?

One of Bonhoeffer’s students said,

“Bonhoeffer wanted a genuine, natural community in the Preacher’s Seminary, and this community was practiced in play, in walks through the richly wooded and beautiful district of Pomerania, during evenings spent in listening to someone reading, . . . in making music and singing, and last not least in worship together and holy communion. He kept entreating us to live together naturally and not to make worship an exception. He rejected all false and hollow sentiment.” (I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p.155)

Sometimes when the world is spinning crazy and threats of war overwhelm, we must remember our humanity, we must still honor the creativity with which our Creator instilled in us.  He made us to be creative in His image.  He made us to be moved by music, to be triggered by the beauty of nature toward mediation on His divine attributes.  When we are tired and weary, we must discipline ourselves to play.

We must make art in the face of war.

And even in the weariness of our regular work, we must sabbath and refresh our souls.

Something God has been teaching me lately is to honor His creativity in me, the desires I have to pursue the arts.  It was more natural to me as a child; I have journal after journal of poetry, drawings + scribblings, and stacks of songs I had written from my younger years.  Then I “grew up” and gave all of that up in the name of maturity, adulthood, in the name of pursuing God.  Somehow I separated “creating” from true spirituality, no longer seeing it’s use in the Kingdom work.

But God is calling me to be a child again in my creating.  To honor the longing to write, to get back to the work of play.  Plain and simple play, play that isn’t for any purpose other than play.  No agenda, no hoped-for-outcome.  For a utilitarian like myself, this is a discipline!

So, yesterday, after the kids were napping and my household tasks were mostly done, I sat down with a paintbrush + paper.  I’ve never worked with watercolors before, never really painted much before.  It was humorous to me how many times I got nervous about what I was doing, afraid to “mess it up,” and literally had to say out loud to myself, “This is just play.  Just fun.”

This was the outcome (and, not pictured: a restful, happy me):

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Let’s take time to play, let’s discipline ourselves to play when all the world is telling us that only what is profitable, only what is measurable is valuable.

Who knows what we could create?  Who knows what beauty we might bring forth?