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Author: Sara Dutilly

Fear is Not Allowed

Fear is Not Allowed

Before you read this, I want to be clear about one thing: I am not advocating that parents put their kids in bad situations, and I am not saying that we shouldn’t comfort our children when they are scared.

What I am saying is that what you are about to read has been an unfolding story in my home.

It is the story of breaking fear.

It started with a small voice. “I’m scared of the dark,” he said.

From a little person’s voice, fear moves us to compassion.

My first response was to go to my child and hug him. Before I could even stand up, my husband’s voice came forward. “No you’re not,” he said, “Go back to bed.”

Fear is a lie. It seeks to stop us and to isolate us. We are afraid of rejection. We are afraid of failure. We are afraid of dark, unknown things.

Sometimes fear can be reasoned. Our son’s room was dark. He couldn’t see.

“I’m afraid of the dark,” he said again, another night.

“No you’re not.”

When a thunderstorm shook our home, our two-year-old lay crying in his bed. “I’m afraid,” he said.

We went to him. We hugged him. We told him it was okay. We prayed for him. In the next bed, his four-year-old brother said, “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

He knew that he could speak to fear, and he did, for his brother.

Fear is a lie. If we had calmed our children without equipping them to speak to fear, we would have been setting them up for lonely, isolated lives.

We are not perfect parents, but we have been given these children. As long as we speak truth, we are giving our children the tools to live abundantly.

Born out of emergency, a grasp at hope and desperation in a time of need, it is a lifelong principal. – Neil, my husband.

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When our children were 7, 5, and 3 years old, we watched Jumanji. It was my idea. I thought they would think it was hilarious. Monkeys in the kitchen? Yes, please!

But it was the scene where little Alan Parrish gets sucked into the game board that did us in. Our five-year-old, the same one that was afraid of thunderstorms, was terrified by that scene.

At bedtime, he couldn’t sleep. He walked to our bed. He asked to read a bible story. He wanted to snuggle close to me. For weeks, he asked us to leave his bedroom door open overnight.

“Perfect love casts our all fear,” we said. Over and over. We kept saying it.

“What is perfect love?”

“Jesus.”

“Where is Jesus?”

“Right here.”

“Fear is not allowed here.”

For weeks, the terrifying images were stuck in his head.

Then, one day, he started saying it for himself. “Perfect love casts out fear,” he said, “Fear is not allowed.”

It’s just a movie. It’s just a door left ajar. It’s just a five-year-old wanting an extra hug. “Give it to him,” you might say. “Make him feel better.”

It might begin as a small thing, but if tolerated, fear remains, and grows.

Fear is not allowed is a tool that I grabbed when I was facing “dad I’m scared” and didn’t have any preconsidered or predetermined response. It came out naturally because it is a description of reality. I’ve considered the fear that shaped my childhood and decided I would not allow it in my life. As my children’s lives are an extension of my life, it will not be allowed in their lives. So, fear is not allowed. -Neil, my husband

I know fear for myself. All the time, I feel it creeping up, telling me that I’m not good enough, that I made the wrong decision, or that what I create is worthless. In college, I took an elective class called “Violent Crime Profiling.” It sounded exciting, but for years the stories of notorious serial killers haunted me.

Fear will try to creep in, but we speak to it. We remind fear that it is not allowed, and it flees.

Fear is intangible, not real. But it is incredibly real, if you allow it to be. If you give it strength, it is the most powerful force. If you bow to it, it will conquer all. But it is not real. It is not tangible. It is a construct, sometimes for good (fear of bears and snakes), self-preserving (fear of heights, thin ice). But often times misused, abused, exploited. – Neil, my husband

He was scared of the dark. He was scared of thunderstorms and scary movies. Many children are. It’s natural, we might say. But then what? If we had simply hugged our children through a night of fear, we would still be dealing with it.

We will not coddle our children’s fear. Neither, our own. Fear is not allowed.

DIY Exercise Die

DIY Exercise Die

I made this exercise die for two reasons:

1.) I want to exercise more, but often I forget because I have four small children and am terrible at routines, so the time I have for exercise usually just passes.

2.) My kids love to move and I thought it would be great for homeschool breaks.

I actually made this about a year ago, and it has held up pretty well. I had to reattach one side, and my kids have peeled off a little of the puff paint, but these are easy fixes.

Materials:

  • 1 Cereal Box
  • Craft Paint
  • Puff Paint
  • Hot Glue Gun and Sticks

Directions:

1.) Cut one side of the cereal box away from the rest of the box so it lays flat on a table.

2.) Measure six squares that are all equal sizes. I used an oversized Cheerios box from Costco, and my squares are all about 2.5″

3.) Cut out the cross-shape. Paint to your liking.

4.) Puff Paint whatever exercises you think would be best for you or your kids or family.

6.) Fold along all the lines so that when you’re gluing the exercise die together, you don’t put pressure on the whole thing.

7.) Hot glue along the open seams.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8.) Take turns tossing the die in the air, and do whatever it says!

DIY Book Stack Christmas Ornament

DIY Book Stack Christmas Ornament

Every year, my husband and I get our children Christmas ornaments. Our goal is to somehow capture the year in an ornament so that over time we have a nice stack of memories when we decorate the tree. Sometimes this is really easy, like last year when we went to Willamsburg and let our children pick out their own ornaments from a store called “Christmas Mouse.”

This year, I wanted to make our children’s ornaments, but I had a hard time deciding what that would look like. It was only a few days before Christmas when I finally made them. Sometimes it seems that deadlines are incredible creativity boosters. Do you agree?

Ultimately, I chose to make these:

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For the footie pajamas, I cut two pieces of felt and glued them together with felt glue so that it would be double-sided. I put the ornament hook inside so that it would be secure enough to hang on the tree.

For the beaded heart ornament, I cut a length of jewelry wire and formed it into a heart, then strung pony beads onto the wire. I had to keep manipulating the wire as I went to keep the shape. I also added an anatomical heart charm (I had this lying around because I had purchased it–from Etsy–a couple of years ago but never used it for anything.)

For the elephant, I wish that I had taken pictures along the way. I honestly was not really sure that it would turn out. For the legs, I cut narrow strips of felt and rolled them up like a cinnamon roll, then sewed the seam closed. For the body, I cut out a kind of oval/rectangle shape and stuffed it with scraps of felt (I thought this would be better than pillow stuffing because it wouldn’t be pulled out as easily should my hand sewing not be precise.) I sewed the body closed on all sides, folding the fabric to my liking. For the head, I cut two pieces of felt in the general shape of an elephants head, and then adjusted until I was satisfied. I stuffed it with just a little piece of felt to give it dimension.  The ears are flat and so is the tail. I looked up images of elephants so I could keep the right proportions for all the body parts.

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The following tutorial is for my 8-year old’s ornament: the book stack.

When I told my husband about my idea for a book stack ornament, I described to him a stack of little blocks of wood, with certain titles painted on the sides, as if the books were closed up and sitting on a table somewhere. I asked my husband if he could cut the wood for me. There were a couple of problems: it was too close to Christmas to accumulate the wood and cut it and then sand it down and paint. We kept thinking. My husband made a comment, wondering if I could bind a book for our son. That comment brought this ornament to life. While I made it, I took photos. Here I am to share this process with you.

Materials:

  • Scrapbook paper or Cardstock
  • White paper (printer paper is probably a little too thin for this, but it may work if you’re careful with it. Cardstock is likely too thick for the inside pages. I had some in between paper that I tore out of a sketchbook.)
  • Scissors
  • Paper Cutter/Trimmer (optional, but it will just help you keep your edges very straight)
  • Needle
  • Thread
  • A Pen/Other Drawing or Writing Utensils (I used a black Tombow brush pen, and Prismacolor colored pencils.)
  • 1 Popsicle Stick
  • Tacky Glue
  • Crafter’s Tape

Directions:

1.) Cut out nine 5.5cm x 4cm sheets of white paper. These will be your book pages. I made three books, each with six pages. You could use more or less depending on how big you want your books to be.

 

2) Cut out your book covers. You should use a thicker paper for the book covers, and they should be just slightly bigger than the book’s pages. My covers were actually colored on one side and white on the other, but I wanted them to colored on both sides. So I cut out two covers for each book and adhered them together with crafter’s tape. You could use a paper that is double-sided, or just go with a white inside cover.

When you fold the book pages in half and the book covers in half, it will look like this:

3.) This is the step where you will bind the books. If you’ve never tried to sew paper before, don’t worry! You can do this! I started by threading my needle and then doubling the thread over, tying it to itself at the end so that it would not become unthreaded in the process of binding these books.

I poked a hole on the inside of the book cover, near the top, but behind the pages. It was a little difficult to push the needle through, but with some gentle finger strength, it did! Then I sewed through all of the pages and the cover, and tied a knot. Then I continued sewing down the fold until I was satisfied by the structure of the books. I went down and then back up, so that I could tie my thread where I had left a little bit of extra thread at the top.

4.) Decorate your book covers. You may decorate the inside pages, too, if you’d like.

I chose to make three books: Johnny Tremain, Harry Potter, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid because these are three books that my 8-year old has read this year. He’s read multiple Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and he’s read all of the Harry Potter books and he loves them all. He’s reading Johnny Tremain for homeschool, and he has told me that he likes it. It’s a special book because he reads one chapter and then brings it to me to tell me what he’s read. This is a beautiful time that I get to spend with him, listening attentively. I write down what he tells me, and I’m going to type it all up for him once he’s read the whole book.

Inside each book, I wrote a few things about why he’s reading these books (such as, his cousin was reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid and told my son about it.) In the Harry Potter book, I drew a lightening bolt on one page and Harry Potter’s circle glasses on another. In the Johnny Tremain book I wrote how he reads a chapter a day and narrates it to me.

5.) I wanted these books to hang vertically, so I basically made a big mess trying to tie them to each other. They were still very floppy, so I glued a popsicle stick to the back. I used tacky glue, but Elmer’s would likely work as well, or even glue dots or almost any glue that is good for paper. I tied a loop at the top of Johnny Tremain with the excess string, but I will attach an ornament hook to actually hang it on the tree. I left the strings on mine, but you could cut yours off. I kind of liked the strings because I thought they looked like bookmarks.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and the little story about our ornament tradition. Creativity is such a process but absolutely rewarding when something turns out right!

Let me know if you have questions or if you try this at home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything is Meaningless. Nothing is Meaningless.

Everything is Meaningless. Nothing is Meaningless.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Oh, Ecclesiastes, how I love you. Just. People. Go read it. And read it again.

All streams flow into the sea, yet the sea is never full. 

To the place the streams come from, there they return again. 

All things are wearisome, more than one can say. 

The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. 

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. 

Is there anything of which one can say, “Look! This is something new”? 

 

Whatever I can make, whether a painting or a poem or a sing-songy thing—always out of tune—there is so much of this already in the world. I love to paint and write and craft along, but sometimes I get focused on looking too long at other creations. I think about why I would even try to add my own.

To children, everything is new. The world for them is not crowded or oversaturated, but full of possibilities, and at the same time completely lacking their own originality. My children, and likely yours as well, draw and color and paint and create things all the time with complete abandon. I don’t live anywhere but in my own home and so I cannot truly see anyone else’s home. My home can be cleaned and tidied and organized just like anyone else’s, but I am me, and my children are my children, and so my home is my home, and if you look at it through the lens of anyone else’s ability, my home will become a shadow as well.

As I work out this thought, I am in the sunroom of my home. The sunroom gets almost no sunlight, however (so is completely poetic and a little tragic, in a literary kind of way.) The sunroom is literally and completely one giant shadow. Sitting in this room, I can hear that a neighbor is mowing his lawn. The sound of that homeowner’s work is soothing. It’s the sound of someone else’s mess.

I am reminded that everyone has their own single life, surrounded and supported by others. Lives intermingle but shouldn’t be exchanged, and none is to be compared.

In my home, six people live. Four of them are children. I am the only mom here and I do a disservice to my household if I shrink away from whatever that means to my family—to my home—whatever I am called to—and wherever that may be. Whatever my home looks like, it is and should be different from another’s.

If all the moms were gathered in one place, I might think, “There are too many. I’ll be something else.” But when I stay in my home and look here at my own four children, I am reminded that I am my children’s only mother.

May we all dwell where we are, seeking to live fully in who we are, along the way celebrating each other, and therefore living in the full sunlight of our own lives, away from shadows that seek to darken what was made for absolute glory.

*And may we all read Ecclesiastes and be filled with poetry and wisdom that twirls and seeks only One thing.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

 

 

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash

 

 

Photo by Simon Matzinger on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

You Can’t Lose What is in You

You Can’t Lose What is in You

I know you know this, but I am writing a novel. Big surprise: that’s what I”m writing about today.

Once, at workshop in the West Virginia mountains, I heard Meredith Sue Willis say,  that whatever your novel is, you should know it will change, and that you will change, too. She also said that novels are made out of scenes, and then words.

Both are true in this case. Over the past 12 years this novel has been a short story, a first-person present-tense account, and then, now, a past tense third-person omniscient. It has remained dormant in notebooks for years before coming back alive with a ferocious sprint, and then slowing down again to a light stroll with copious breaks for trail snacks. While my characters have remained (except for one that I cut pretty early on), almost everything else has changed.

How like life, to change, yet to also remain true to itself. Though things change, much remains the same and when we look through history, we cannot be surprised by what we see now. Life has always been life, and people have always been human.

The long of it is 30,000 words, and more than that. It goes beyond what I have written or typed. Now, in my notebook of new chapter drafts, I find myself copying passages of scripture, in a way of submission, instead of actively writing more of the story.

Are your ears awake? Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches. –Revelation

Worthy, O Master! Yes, our God! Take the glory! The honor! The power! You created it all; it was created because you wanted it.-Revelation

I find myself copying passages about writing that encourage me.

Do not worry about the whole. Write what is next, the idea that comes now, at the moment. Don’t be afraid. For there will be more coherence and arrangement than you think. -Brenda Ueland

I find myself journaling my insecurities and whatever nonsense pops into my head. I find myself submitting to the will of God. I find myself questioning the call of this novel. Is this something that I want, or something that He wants? I want to be sure that I know, though at this point I really want to drop it, but I can’t. So, I guess I do know.

I find myself learning more about the process of writing than I find actual scenes and words for this novel. I find myself taking joy in the ease of writing poem drafts (no matter how terrible they are, I can at least get an entire draft finished in a few minutes, and that is deeply satisfying when, for other projects, there is no end in sight.)

I find myself trying to remember all that I’ve written regarding this novel. Most of it is in one of two notebooks, but a lot of it is also scribbled on loose pages that I had meant to organize with everything else. When I can’t find something I thought I had written, I feel a bit distressed, as if I’d lost something important. Perhaps I did lose something important, but really, more truthfully, since you can’t lose what is in you, I know that the exact words of a first draft are not always as vital as I imagine they are.

If I recall a scene but can’t find the draft, surely I can rewrite it. What is important will remain. Keeping every exact, initial word is not my goal. And that is true for life as well as writing.

Where to Begin

Where to Begin

Where to begin?

A beginning. A starting over.

Just fragments. Just brainstorms.

Begin: to start, to come into being, to complete the first part of something.

What if we are always beginning, and in that way, are never beginning?

These are the kinds of things that roll through me this evening, when it is dark and quiet and a thunderstorm is coming softly. The fan in my room is circling its small space, affecting the whole room with soothing wind and white noise. My desk is filled: folders and notebooks, envelopes and bills, homeschool booklists and books themselves.

It looks like I’m in the middle of something. In some way, I suppose that I am.

It’s called life.

The school year is beginning again, but life doesn’t start and stop, so as I plan and think over our next school year, I am hesitant to say that we are about to begin. Truly, we already have. Though some things are new, the whole is a continuation.

More than anything, with the next season of homeschool coming up, I didn’t want a list of lesson plans to follow, but something to stand on. Sure, I look at various curriculum and I dream about what will bring peace and abundant excited wonderful learning for all subjects, but I’m starting to think that it doesn’t really matter what we use.

We just need books. Yes, all the best literature. But activities and lesson plans? I’m not so sure about those.

As Charlotte Mason says, Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life. 

As Paul says,

Don’t be pulled in different directions or worried about a thing.
Be saturated in prayer throughout each day, offering your faith-filled requests before God with overflowing gratitude.
Tell him every detail of your life, 
then God’s wonderful peace that transcends human understanding, will make the answers known to you through Jesus Christ.
So keep your thoughts continually fixed on all that is authentic and real, honorable and admirable, beautiful and respectful, pure and holy, merciful and kind.
And fasten your thoughts on every glorious work of God, praising him always.”  

This is what we need. While we listen to The Pilgrim Stories, and read The Life of Fred and American Tall Tales. As we learn about George Washington and then the Civil War. As we begin to put history into our own Book of Centuries. As we frequent the zoo and learn to bake. As we observe the natural world around us, can we Rejoice in the Lord always? As we begin some things but mainly continue many others, can we Rejoice together, remaining focused, stopping the distracting thoughts that seek to sway us into areas we are not called?

This is not a practical blog post, though sometimes I wish I had that gift.

This is Haiku the Day Away, where Motherhood is Poetic. This carries fragments and unfinished thoughts, because while we can be fooled into thinking we are beginning, we are actually surrounded by continuum.

Continuum: a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.

As we continue this year, I hope to share with you our progression in education; the atmosphere, the discipline, the life of rejoicing in learning together. It’s not all about homeschool. It’s learning and it’s life.

My readers, I offer no help. Just stories. Just a place for conversation, where fragments are allowed because sometimes we just don’t know, because though we think we might be beginning something new, we all have a past that brought us here, where a desk is filled and a fan is spinning and it’s dark and quiet and that thunderstorm has subsided but predictions say it’s coming. Tomorrow, the sun will come up and show off for us again. We will begin a new day, but simply continue many other things.

How to Write Acrostic Poems with Your Kids

How to Write Acrostic Poems with Your Kids

An acrostic poem is the kind of poem that looks like this:

Piecing words together
On paper like this
Emits a certain
Memory

Well, that’s just the first thing that came to mind. Do you get what it is now, though? Acrostic is not often used as high literature, but it is a fun way to help kids write poetry.

We use The Good and the Beautiful language arts, level 2. It’s good. It’s beautiful. It’s free. It’s absolutely sufficient for us right now.

Our last lesson was about poetry. My son read two poems out loud and then was supposed to write two acrostic poems. My son is eight years old and he does not like to write. Sometimes this is because he doesn’t like to physically write, and sometimes it’s because he doesn’t want to come up with ideas. On this day, I believe both were at play.

I am a writer. This is the stuff I live for. It’s always a little bit heartbreaking when my son doesn’t like it.

Poetry is not a need, but it does help with so much understanding. It delves deep into humanity. It requires extra thinking. It brings pleasant surprises. It can be a great joy to homeschool life. My kids are little (my oldest is 8 years old), so we mostly read sweet and silly poetry books like A Child’s Garden of Verses and Sing a Song of Popcorn. These children’s poems rely heavily on images and are light in nature. We also read the poetry of A.A. Milne quite a bit. Every once in a while, I pull out my big literature book and we’ll read poems like “After Apple Picking” or “I Wondered Lonely as a Cloud” or whatever flits to me as we go through the seasons of life.

Andrew Simmons wrote in The Atlantic “Yet poetry enables teachers to teach their students how to write, read, and understand any text. Poetry can give students a healthy outlet for surging emotions. Reading original poetry aloud in class can foster trust and empathy in the classroom community, while also emphasizing speaking and listening skills that are often neglected in high school literature classes.” He is speaking of a kind of poetry my kids have not yet seen, but I believe this still applies to a child’s early years.

That is to say, simply, that I understand this lesson on acrostics was not critical to my son’s development. But if I could help him through it, and if we could find some joy together within the lesson, then we would.

First, my son was supposed to write an acrostic of his own name. We read an example in the lesson, but he was still unsure. He thought he couldn’t do one himself. He didn’t know where to start.

I wrote one with his sister’s name, to show him how it’s done (yes, this is on a random piece of scrap paper):

He thought this was silly. I showed him how, even though the word was “Susan” I didn’t write her name into the poem. Instead, I wrote about her, describing her actions. This is not a requirement of the acrostic, but I believe it helps to instill good writing skills and higher thinking.

I wrote his name vertically on a sheet of paper and asked him to first think of some words for each line. This is a first draft, a brainstorm.

Was I surprised that the first word he thought of was “butt”? No. Not really.

He wanted to use “Byron” as the first word. I asked him to think of another word that started with a B that described him. I was thinking “boy” but I kept my mouth shut. He thought of the word “brother” and we went with it.

“Now, what do you want to say about yourself?” I asked.

I tried my hardest not to suggest, but just to ask questions, making him think about his decisions. “What does a yak run like?” I asked. “Do you really need to say, ‘or something’ at the end?”

My son is working through a handwriting program, and he has to write on his own almost daily in other subjects. When I can, and especially when he is creating his own  piecesof writing, I am his hands. This frees him up to think more about what he’s saying than how to form the letters.

Then next poem was about birds.

We went to our sunroom for this one because that is where we can always hear and watch birds flying and singing from all directions. We also did this one as a family, each of us taking different letters to make a poem together. Maybe there are some assignments that should be completely independent, but for our family, I am coming to believe that we all benefit from working together.

 

That was our little journey with acrostics. I hope you enjoyed it. Now, may I encourage you to write poetry with your children? (As I write and publish this, it is National Poetry Month, so get on with it!! Poetry can be so fun!)

Get started with these tips on writing acrostics:

Tips for Writing Acrostics With Kids

  • Start with Something the Child Enjoys
    • Does your child play soccer? The piano? Do they love looking at books about frogs? Choose something they are interested in. This way, they will already have a storage of knowledge and inspiration from which to draw ideas.
  • Look Through Books
    • The dictionary has every word in it, so if you need help coming up with words for the different letters you could start there. Of course, you probably don’t have time to read all the words for every letter, but skimming through a dictionary, or a child’s dictionary, could help. Another resource could be to look through magazine pictures, or a family photo album. If the acrostic is of your child’s name, think of things they like, toys they play with, their hobbies, and their friends. Once you have a couple of letters done, the rest will likely fall into place more easily.
  • Write on Sticky Notes
    • Write every letter on a sticky note. (My kids absolutely love sticky notes. Do yours?) Do this as a family, allowing everyone to contribute their ideas. Take your sticky notes for a walk in your neighborhood, and talk to people you pass, asking them for ideas. Don’t worry if the words go together. Just get some ideas flowing first. After you have several ideas, go back home. Pick your favorites and write a poem from there. Maybe you could write a few different acrostics with the same original word, exploring how the word choices change the tone and theme of th poem.
  • Don’t Complicate It
    • Just one word per letter is a fine place to start. For instance, with BIRDS, we could have written: Beaks/Insect-eaters/Real pretty/Delicious/Singers. After that, if we wanted, we could have written whole sentences, allowing the acrostic poem to make a statement or ask a question.

 

[Featured Image: Photo by Taylor Ann Wright on Unsplash]

Burnt Toast, Handwriting Lessons, and Drawing Close to Hope

Burnt Toast, Handwriting Lessons, and Drawing Close to Hope

Mornings are hard.

I know I’ve written about this before. I’m not complaining (though, admittedly, I have complained about it in the past.) I’m simply stating it out of recognition. There is a difference between complaining and recognizing.

Complaining says “Oh man, I am upset about the way this morning is going, and I’m going to choose to stay upset about it.”

Recognizing says, “Mornings are hard.” Then, maybe, “How might they get better?”

One way to make a hard thing worse is to wallow in the hardship. One of my sons did this today. I’ll get to that later.

This morning, I woke up when my husband’s alarm went off. I thought about how my kids would be up soon. I thought about getting up before them, and showering in peace. I thought about the dark, quiet morning and how wonderful that is. Then I thought about how I could just stay in bed and sleep.

I heard someone get up and go to the bathroom. My 8-year-old walked into my bedroom and I told him that he could read in bed for a while. I showered while the house was still mostly quiet.

I know of many moms who choose to wake up before their kids, and I admit that when I do this, I feel much refreshment. But I like to stay up late, and I simply can’t do both.

After I showered and dressed and brushed my hair, both the boys followed me downstairs. They ate some zucchini bread. I poured a cup of coffee, had a banana, and read by myself. Then the baby was up. I got her out of bed. I fed her a banana. The boys read Dog Man and Harry Potter and then did a math lesson.

Fast forward about an hour. All my kids were making toast. I was perusing Literary Mama’s Calls for Submissions. They’ve only sent me rejections, but I’m still trying, i.e., I’m not living in the hardship, but going for hope.

Suddenly, I heard someone say, “Smoke!”

The toaster was smoking something fierce. A thick grey took over the house. The bread was completely burnt, and its essence was spreading into all our breathing air. I’m thanking God that nothing caught on fire.

Apparently, my 6-year-old son had wanted his toast to stay hot, but he wasn’t ready to eat it. After one toasting cycle, he pushed the toast back down into the hot metal grates for one more go. I was upset, and trying to make him understand the severity of his actions. I allow my kids to make toast, but not to play with the toaster. I was trying not to overreact. I understand why he did this. Hot toast is better than cold toast. He didn’t know that it would smoke like that.

We opened all the doors and windows. We turned on all the fans. That was five hours ago and my house still smells like smoke.

We moved on with our daily lessons. Handwriting was next.

My 6-year-old started crying. He said he didn’t want to do his handwriting. He didn’t want to write or draw. I still don’t know why. He usually loves handwriting and drawing. I told him that he needed to tell me more. I told him that just saying, “I don’t want to” is not helpful. That doesn’t tell me anything. I told him something I’ve been saying to both my boys lately:

BE A PROBLEM SOLVER, NOT A PROBLEM MAKER.

Living in a state of grumpiness is a problem. Talking about it, moving on, is a solution.

I get sad, too. I get angry. There are lots of things that I don’t like to do. But I do not allow my children to just tell me, “I don’t want to.” They must tell me more. If I were to allow my children to only do what they wanted, all our lives would be miserable. This is an exercise in communication, and one thing that I never anticipated when we decided to homeschool. Because we are a family (because we are human), we are constantly finding ourselves engulfed in selfishness. I encouraged my son to look deeper into why he didn’t want to do this lesson.

I took my 6-year-old into the sunroom. I sat him on the couch. I tried to explain to him that he was not to live in grumpiness. I told him that this is a house of peace. I urged him to say, “I receive peace.” He just sat, wailing, as if in terrible pain.

Maybe he was in terrible pain. I don’t know. Maybe he was still hurt by the burnt toast episode. I don’t pledge to be a superstar mom, or to tell you that you should do what I do. This is my story, and I believe that life encouragement is buried in this story.

I wrapped my son in a blanket. I left him alone. I heard him saying, “I want mommy,” tears falling from his eyes like a waterfall. At first, when he was just a little upset, he sat gently wallowing in his rill of misery. But that rill got bigger. Then he was helpless, free-falling off of emotional waterfalls.

I grabbed a book called, “God’s Gifts.” This is a Little Jewel Book, one of many from that set that were given to my family a few years ago. They are just sweet little, easy readers. In this moment, I thought it couldn’t hurt to remind ourselves of some goodness. I started to read it and my son started to calm down. Then we read two other books, giggling and snuggling close.

It wasn’t about the books, but about the closeness.

We stayed in the sunroom, a cool breeze blowing into our lungs. We finished our lessons there.

My 8-year-old son’s language arts assignment today was to read poetry and write two acrostic poems. He loves to read, but really does not like to write. This is hard for me because I love to write. Still, I know that he is a kid, so I try to help him. Stay tuned for a post about the beauty of acrostic poems and how to actually help your kids (or yourself) write one that has a little bit of literary value!

 

[Featured Image: Photo by Patrick Selin on Unsplash]

DIY Birdseed Ornaments

DIY Birdseed Ornaments

When I began this blog, I said that I wouldn’t do tutorials. Then, I made birdseed ornaments with my kids and I thought I would share them with you.

Here’s why I want to share these: I tried to make them last year. They were cute but crumbly. I don’t remember what kind of fat I used, but it may have been coconut oil. Whatever I used didn’t keep the ornaments together. Then, a couple months ago, I saw a picture of birdseed ornaments that were left inside of metal cookie cutters and hung on trees just like that. Genius, right? I was inspired to try once again.

Without much preparation, I’ve simply had this thought floating around in my head. This happens a lot with me– does this happen with you?– where I just think about doing something for a while until BAM! It’s time, and I go for it. Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) this ends in failure because I either don’t have the supplies I need, or somewhere in the process I just decide against it.

Last week in our homeschool, the day arrived. It began with a couple of psalms and some watercolor painting. It continued with a penmanship lesson and a math lesson. Then, I just knew it was time to get outside, and I know making birdseed ornaments would get us there because we’d have to go outside to hang them. I told one kid to get the birdseed, another kid to scrape the lard out of a jar, and still another child to cut apart our paper towel rolls.

–Why, yes, I do have a cabinet full of paper towel rolls. Do you need one?–

I had previously looked through our stash of cookie cutters only to find one rusty metal ornament. I thought we’d spread lard and birdseed on the outside of paper towel rolls, and I was preparing for this adventure when I had an idea.

–Are you ready for this?!–

We would cut the toilet paper rolls even narrower and fill them, as if they were the cookie cutters we had wanted all along.

The afternoon was a raging success, so here I am to tell you how we did this. Please let me know if you’ve ever made these. Or, let me know if you try my technique. I am fascinated!

Materials:

1 Cup of lard, melted
2 Cups of filling (birdseed, and add in seeds and dried fruits as you like)
Paper towel or toilet paper rolls, cut into 2-3 inch wide pieces.
A cookie sheet or other portable hard surface
Natural hemp cord

Simple, right? Well, yes. Read on for some secrets I discovered while making these cuties.

The lard I used was homemade. My husband made it a few months ago out of really good, local beef parts and it’s been sitting in our refrigerator since. I don’t really know what he used or how he made this lard, but I’m sure recipes exist somewhere. Else, you could hop on over to your local grocer and purchase some for cheap.

SO, we melted the lard and then I measured it to make sure that we had the amount we needed.

We made the filling: as much birdseed as we had, then added some raisins and sunflower seeds from our pantry.

I lined a cookie sheet with an old cereal bag (my grandma always saved these because they are the perfect surface for rolling out pie crusts, so I save mine too.) You could use wax paper or parchment paper, or you could just do this right on your cookie sheet. I just didn’t want a big lard mess to clean up, so I lined my cookie sheet with a cereal bag before beginning.

My three-year old scooped the birdseed into our paper towel roll ornaments.

Here’s where ingenuity kicked in and surprised me.

I cut straws to make holes in the ornaments, so we could string some hemp cord through them later.

**This part is important! I kept the straws in place and strung the cord through the straws. This made it much easier to get the cord through the ornament because straws are smooth and birdseed is not!

For the most part, the cord went through easily, but on a few of these, I had to first remove the straw and use a nearby stick to poke a hole all the way through the last end-piece of hardened lard-birdseed.

Along the way, I found that lard is sticky and gross, but thankfully it washes off of hands and cookie sheets when you use hot water. I also found that when my hemp cord frayed at the ends, excess lard was useful for acting like a glue to keep the frays together.

One thing I’ve learned over the past year of birdseed ornament fascination is that there are many different ways to make these. Simply, I was excited to finally find one that worked for me without becoming a crumbled mess.

My daughter was really excited today when she saw birds munching on these ornaments. Though I couldn’t get a photo of that scene, if you make these ornaments you’ll likely have something far better than a photo to watch.

 

Did You Know that It’s Fall?

Did You Know that It’s Fall?

The leaves are slowly falling, slowly changing, and I’m realizing that this autumn season makes me think that other things will change, that autumn is the best metaphor and I want to see all the pretty colors cover my world like a postcard.

But life is not a postcard.

–this is profound, I know.

Can the changing not be left to leaves and temperature, but used for life itself?

–Life doesn’t follow nature’s seasons.

Still, if I’m thinking about my life changing, what would I want to change?

I could list these things, but what is the purpose in listing what I want? Then, I would just be like my children who, without a thought, impulsively speak their desires.

Now, here’s a story:

I’ve been making my kids say, “There is no lack in this house.” I tell them to repeat, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Because they are always (*okay, not ALWAYS. Just a lot of the time) bickering over petty things like [whining-ly] “Can I stir the eggs?!!!!” “No me!!” “NO! I WANT TO STIR THE EGGS!!!”

Sometimes I get frustrated and banish everyone from the kitchen. But, more recently, I have begun saying to my children, “Guys. Everyone can stir the eggs. There’s no end to the stirring.” This is when I make them repeat, “There is no lack in this house. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

My kids act like only one person can stir the bowl of soon-to-be-scrambled eggs when actually, the eggs only get better with each subsequent stir.

“There is no lack in this house,” I say.

–But

is the Lord my shepherd? Shall I not want?

It’s a gift, the unwanting.

A completely miraculous, amazing, wonderful thing, to have a shepherd and to see the world in abundance.

But we shun the shepherd’s abundance. Somehow, we think we know better.

Us adults, we’re supposed to have it all together. We’re supposed to speak well and calmly. We’re supposed to be able to let our kids learn, to let them figure things out, to cherish all the moments naturally. We’re supposed to be able to put together a blog post that makes some kind of sense. We’re supposed to have something to add to the world besides our ramblings.

But ramblings like this, these are the looks of a beginning, like those deciduous trees.

This may be my favorite word: deciduous. Those trees and shrubs who, every year, shed their leaves and go bare-branched into the winter.

But trees are supposed to have leaves, right?

And I’m supposed to have a conclusion.

Soon, the trees will be cold and covered in snow.

We’re sitting on something.