autumnal equinox

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Usually I rush off from the last hot days of summer and try to hurry fall’s arrival.  I’m learning though that any time we rush ahead, we lose.  We lose time.  We rush through the good as well as the bad, and we miss the beauty of this moment with all its nuance,  both the dark and the light.  So this summer’s end I’ve been forcing myself to slow and to savor these last summer days of 2019.  These days when Phoebe is 8 years old, straddling the fence of childhood and “big girl-ness,” when Noah is 6 and loves to fly through the yard on his bike, Philippa is 4 and trots along behind big brother into whatever he’s doing, and Wren is a feisty 18 months, toddling to keep up with everyone and fiery mad when she can’t.  I know next summer will have its own flavor and I don’t want to miss these days that will never come just exactly like this again.

It has been a good summer, one in which we traveled near and far, enjoyed our own mountains and the west coast mountains of California.  It was a summer of learning how to swim and intentionally trying to make progress in that area for each of the children.  It was a summer of garden triumphs and failures.  The ground is giving us the last bits of harvest, the zinnias are firing off their final blooms, the mighty sunflowers bow their heads to the gentle fade of daylight.  Wren wears her fairy dust cardigan for the first time on the chilliest morning.  Philippa stirs soup in her little outdoor kitchen.  Goldenrod and pokeberry blaze, the first leaves carpet the lawn.  Noah pretends to chop firewood, lays in the hammock and reads books to his sister.  Daddy cleans the canoe to take out for summer’s last hurrah.  I trim more little bundles of lavender to dry for the winter, and then I trim little girls’ hair and marvel at how sweet they look now with their little matching bobs.  It was a sweet one, this summer, even with its pockets of pain and heartache along the fringes.  We are missing the thunderstorms, the heaps of cucumbers and tomatoes, but we are ready to lay it to rest and welcome the crisp cozy air of fall, the beautiful new light of October, the lighting of the first hearth fire.  Alls well that ends well, as they say.

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.

sweaters and swimsuits

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Looking at these pictures today made me chuckle, the juxtaposition of sweaters and woolens with sprinklers and swimsuits.  We had a few cooler days (more like 80s instead of 90s) last week and cooler evenings, and thankfully here we can escape on the Blue Ridge Parkway to higher elevations and it is usually always chilly.  I’m thankful for those little respites from the heat, the glimpses of fall.  On the weekend we went for a picnic with my parents and of course, I didn’t pack enough warm layers because I couldn’t imagine it being that chilly, but it was.  The fire was so cozy and we hope to get out camping soon, soon!  The kids helped hunt for firewood and good climbing trees, and played hide + seek.  We lingered in the beautiful evening light and Brandon did a short, impromptu map + compass lesson with the older three.  Time up there in the quiet wilderness is always refreshing to my soul.

Meanwhile at home, flowers are growing, the garden is still giving its gifts, and bored sweaty children plead for sprinkler games.  I’m in the thick of planning for the coming year, and I’m getting excited for school days to begin soon.  I mentioned on instagram that I listened this week to the Charlotte Mason Poetry podcast latest episode (from Jul. 23) titled “Habits for Life” and was so reinvigorated by it.  I highly recommend it!

Anyway, these are simple little snippets from my week.  It is the first of August now, and the last days of summer freedom are upon us.  May we savor them!

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.

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!

no big plans

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Quite a few people have asked me over the last few months if we have any big plans for summer.  I was sitting in a dentist’s chair last week and she asked me about summer plans, and when I said no, not really, she looked truly puzzled and like she maybe felt a little sorry for me.  Any big summer plans?  Fun trips scheduled?  I had hoped to make a checklist on our kitchen chalkboard for our summer goals, but really we don’t have much on the agenda and I think that’s the point.  I feel a bit small and a bit simple but these are our big summer plans: being home, watching things grow.  Having time together.  Swimming at my parent’s neighborhood pool or in a river nearby.  Hiking, camping.  Catching fireflies.  Trying out the pop-up camper in our backyard, then taking it out on the road.  Enjoying the afternoon storms.  Watching tomatoes ripen on the vine, swiss chard push up from seed.  Reading together.  Yarn, pulling through fingers.  Quieting.  Regrouping for a new school year.  Letting there be long stretches of unplanned day, enough time for some boredom even.  Don’t such fascinating discoveries and creativities come out of a little boredom?  Also, the not-as-fun essentials of some medical appointments for the kids, learning about some changes we will have to make in our schooling with phoebe, working on house projects that are neglected during the busyness of school.

A homeschooling family of six on one income makes for tight years (financially) especially with the special dietary and medical expenses we face.  Truth is, we are happy to make the sacrifice to be together and enjoy these little years and raise our brood.  It is the main reason I homeschool: time together.  It is costly in the sense that we do have great limitations, but I do so hope and believe we can still make great memories together with our family even with our simple summer of no plans.  (Of course, don’t misunderstand me.  We are so imperfect and the proximity can often cause us to grate on one another.)

Brandon is working some Saturdays to help pay for the new AC unit we will have to soon buy, so it was a bit glum this weekend without him.  Then he called on his way home Saturday and said he wanted to put up the pop-up camper and have the kids sleep in it for the first time.  It was stormy and cool and the perfect evening to do so, and the kids had such a blast.  I opted to sleep inside with baby wren which was a bit of a treat for me, too (a quiet house!)

I read the other day that the word Sabbath literally means “to stop,” and so we try to plan some time into our weekend where we cease.  Where the work sits untended, the laundry stays in the basket and wrinkles, and we allow ourselves to just be.  To rest and to even be a little bored and agitated with the slowness of the pace and “unproductivity” of the day.  It reveals to me how much I mix my sense of accomplishment with my sense of worth, how much I need to produce in order to feel worthwhile.  The permission to rest is so wise and kind of God, and I have to tell my soul and my God over and over in those moments of tension (when I fight rest) that He is our provider and the One who carries us, not our own work and effort.  When we “sabbath,” or cease from working, we fast from reliance on our own strength + work.  We remind our soul that we are dependent on a good and faithful Provider.  We say to the world that our confidence comes from whose we are, not the work of our own hands.  Maybe summer could be sort of like the sabbath of the seasons?

Anyway, I feel a bit ramble-y and scattered but hopefully you are encouraged, as I am, to rest a bit and enjoy the slow and even boring/mundane parts of summer instead of needing it to be big and flashy and busy.  May you find in your limitations a wise and kind boundary set by your God.  I have thought often of Psalm 16:6, which in my earlier meditations of it always seemed sweet to me when my boundaries/limits were easy.  But it is a hard thing to thank God for (limits/boundaries) when they are difficult and truly limiting.  It presses us to cast our eyes beyond what is temporal to the delightful inheritance that is being kept for us.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord,
With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Psalm 16:5-8 esv

Ps. Refrigerator pickles recipe pictured above from Allison Little on Instagram, and they are truly the best pickles I’ve ever had.