Can you believe that the Advent season is just around the corner?! I know, me either!
I love this season for the magic, the lights, the coziness of snuggling in with blankets and hot cocoa and the family traditions built around the holidays.
I am not such a fan of the consumerism, the rush to get things done, the pressure to create a perfect holiday or the endless to-do lists. So much not a fan.
For the past few years we have started a few simple traditions for our family, but one of my favorite is our Advent Books.
During the Advent period I fill our reading nook bookshelf up with our holiday books, many of which we have had for several years, and read one aloud at bed time. I don't do this every night, and it is not all brand new books, but cozy-ing up on the sofa to read, makes for a sweet and simple tradition. Sometimes we read by candle light with cocoa and (vegan! - these are amazing!) marshmallows, and sometimes we don't!
It's lovely! It doesn't add undue stress to our days (nothing kills a moment than having a frazzled mama!), it's not a budget breaker (I think I added four new-to-us books to our holiday stash this year for a grand total of $10, and even have a few library books that I'm adding to our shelves and returning after they've been read) and it's centered around one of our very favorite things to do - reading aloud!
Here are some of the books that will be included in our Advent collection this year:
I've felt a little vague about the big holidays since becoming an adult; in part I've known that this was because I did not live in the States as a child, and that the way of celebrating, the very holidays themselves, are not my own. Its always felt difficult to put my own mark on holidays traditions when the holidays aren't 'mine'.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and the kiddos and I had the morning to ourselves. Baby Girl asked what our plans were, and when I told her that I had planned to go to a local park for a walk, The Little Guy piped in with 'That's what we do to celebrate'.
And I realized that he is right!
It is what we often did to mark the big holidays when I was growing up: go for a walk as a family!
And that one comment helped me realize that we DO have our own family traditions around the holidays.
We do one big feast with friends and family, simple meals and snacks for the rest of the day.
We go for a walk as a family.
We spend our time together, slooooow down and enjoy each other's company.
There is usually a board game or two involved ...
We have FUN!
But more over we keep it simple. Not much hoopla, not too much fanciness beyond getting out the nice glasses and digging through the stack of cloth napkins for the nicer ones.
I'm realizing that we do have traditions throughout the year, but they are simple ones for sure.
What do you do to celebrate the holidays? Simple or fancy?!
I've been actively working this year, on gratitude, on being more grateful, and slowing down to say thank you more. All good things.
I recently heard about a different way of looking at gratitudes from Julie Bogart (the owner of Brave Writer, and all around homeschool advocate and Wonder Woman). Her advice was to look for the surprise of happy each day - the little things that make us happy. Isn't that lovely?!!
One of the things Julie Bogart mentioned was that finding things each day to be grateful for can start to be a burden ... "oooh! the stress of finding three things to be grateful for today ... "
So! It's Thanksgiving! Perfect time to be thankful, look for gratitudes, and start paying more attention to those Surprises of Happy!
1. Dinner ready in the crock pot at the end of a long and busy day.
2. Being invited to the museum that The Little Guy had set up in his bedroom ... it was pretty amazing! He set up different exhibits and artifacts, created a tour guide brochure and a map. It, and he, are pretty awesome <3
3. Sunday night with my Scholé Sisters; wonderful friends who amazingly share my love of things literary, cerebral, goofy, raucous and irreverent. They're wonderful.
4. Children old enough to do painting projects without making a huge mess.
5. Moby Dick.
Yes - I'm reading Moby Dick (well, technically, I'm listening to it on Audible), and so far I'm enjoying it. Let's see if it lasts.
6. Being mostly caught up with laundry.
7. Half an hour at Target. Alone. It was pretty glorious.
8. Having friends who challenge me to think outside my box, push me to go beyond my own preconceived ideas.
9. Branston pickle.
10. Scalding hot showers.
And you?! What is on your Gratitude List these days?
On my children’s birthdays, I interview them, asking them the same set of questions each year. It's fascinating to see how they’re changing and if they have interests that remain the same.
I first heard of these Birthday Interviews on the Sparkling Adventures blog (which is worth checking out, for free range, unschooling, travelling inclined folks).
Anyhoo, Little Boy and Baby Girl just turned four (FOUR!!) last week. And I'm finally getting around to posting part one of their interviews. Enjoy ... these guys are so cute! (I'll be posting Baby Girl's interview in a few days).
What are you going to be when you grow up?
What’s that going to be like?
I'll probably be a funny green monster.
What are your favorite toys?
Race cars. And nothing else.
Who are your best friends?
Feeny and Niko.
What makes you happy?
Building stuff and carving pumpkins.
What makes you sad?
When people hurt me.
When you dream at night, what do you dream about?
Riding my bike and pumpkins and that's it.
What do you like to do with Papa?
Hold hands and take a walk to the playground.
What do you like to do with Mama?
Work on things.
What’s your favorite color?
What’s your favorite book?
The Star Wars books.
What does Daddy do during the day?
Goes to work.
What does Mama do during the day?
Stays with us.
What do you do during the day?
Ride my bike and climb trees. I can climb trees now because I'm 4!
It's funny sometimes, the things that you wish for in your children. For me, one of my silent yearnings was for a child who had a love for the Little House books as deep as mine. I had always imagined that this love for LIW would come from a daughter, but I love that right now the child who is as passionate about all things Little House is seven year old Little Guy.
We are immersed in Laura and Pa and Baby Carrie and log cabins and sugaring and covered wagons and everything Little House. All day, everyday. And can I tell you that I am just loving it.
A few things we've been doing!
Although this is something that I do, I invited the children to help me make bread for the family, and then we made our own butter, which feels very very Ma. The Little Guy asked whether we would be shaving a carrot and adding a little boiled carrot juice to the butter so that it was a pretty yellow color as Laura describes Ma doing in Little House in the Big Woods; I replied that we wouldn't. Apparently Ma had a much greater need for 'pretty' than I do! (Here's a link to a post I did a while ago about making butter; it is so so easy, and the kiddos think it is just magical!)
We have been listening to a lot of early fiddle music, which has lead to lots of jigging-style dance parties and whooping in our home. Trust me, it is so much fun to spontaneously jig! I've got my eye on the Arkansas Traveler CD, but for now we are listening to the Pa's Fiddle station on Pandora.
We are working our way through listening to the Little House books on CD in the car; we have been completely enamored by the Cherry Jones narrations (here, here and here), and despite the dozens of times I've read the books, listening to these recordings has brought a new depth of understanding for me. The children have never been so eager to spend time in the car as they are these days - "just one more chapter? Pleeeeeease?"
We have been researching covered wagons, threshing, panning for gold, how to build a log cabin and breaking ponies. We have spent so much time researching these areas, that I think we will be making it official and be doing a Little House unit study this coming year as part of our homeschool curriculum. We'll be using The Prairie Primer by Margie Gray, which is out of print, but there often seem to be copies available on Amazon and eBay.
One last thought! I mentioned that I had often imagined it would be a daughter who would share my love of LIW; but chatting to The Little Guy about the books, he is convinced that Pa is the hero of the books. He is strong, capable, kind and generous of spirit. What more could we want in a hero figure for our young boys! (Check out what Cindy Rollins, a well known Classical homeschooling blogger, says about the Little House books in her post about Books for Cultivating Honorable Boys ... it's all the way down at the end, but the whole post is a good one!)
Although I am never without a book at my side, I was certainly reading less during the first years of mama hood; even I choose sleep over reading. But now that life has a little more down time, I'm enjoying being able to read more.
(I should add here that although I do read a lot, I also listen to at least a third of my books either on CD while I'm in the car, or through Audible or Overdrive via my smart phone . I tend to listen while I do chores around my home, washing dishes and folding laundry and such. I've never been so eager to do chores before!)
I've always loved to check out other people's reading lists, and thought it would be fun to post mine, both noting what I have read and plan to read, and updating now and then.
To be honest, I often have a hard time shifting culinary gears when the seasons change. The soups and stews which are our mainstay during the cooler winter months, just don't feel as nourishing during the hot and humid summers of Virginia.
My go-to summer meal is a big salad, but the three kiddo's ... and My Good Man (if we're being honest!) are not fans. But I've think I've discovered my new quick and easy, summer supper - Confetti Salad.
The fab thing about this dish is that it lends itself to substitutions and using what you have on hand. And it's delicious. And quick. And delicious!
(Makes four hearty servings)
Approximately 2-3 cups of cooked grain, such as quinoa, bulgar wheat, rice, couscous, amaranth etc
Veggies of your choice.
Current favorites are cucumbers, broccoli, bell peppers, raw shredded spinach and red onion. I prefer my vegetables for salads to be fairly finely chopped, about half an inch.
A few luxury add ons.
A small handful of something to add a bit of pizazz, like chopped green olives, pistachios, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries or feta cheese.
1/4 cup or so of your favorite dressing. This almost deserves a post all on its own; I love making salad dressings, although I rarely follow a recipe. Which can make it tricky to reucate a particularly good batch!
My current favorite is a Greek-inspired salad dressing with EVOO, lemon juice, a splash of maple syrup, garlic, salt pepper and oregano. It's fabulous!
Mix everything together well in a large bowl, then let sit in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
That's it! Couldn't be easier, and I love how versatile this is.
The thing with blogging is that, these days, there are so *many* blogs out there. And so many blogs out there about everything you could possibly imagine, from travel to writing, from parenting large families to 'what I'm wearing today' blogs.
It can be hard to find a niche, something fascinating that an audience will want to read about day in and day out. And how to write, with content rich blogs, easily searchable by Google, for higher rankings and what-not. And there was a time that those things were really important to me, when I read the books and learned all I could about creating content rich pieces, driving search engine optimization and reaching a larger audience.
Fun for some folks? Maybe! Fun for me? Not so much.
So now I blog much more simply. I write for fun, because I enjoy it, on things I want to share.
A much better fit for me and my simpler lifestyle!
Which is why you won't see posts from me everyday, or even every week. And why I don;t run give-aways and ad campaigns, links to eBooks and online groups. All great things ... but not for me.
And honestly, there is enough content out there; I do not need to be another of the voices here in internet land contributing to the daily in-box clutter of unread emails and blogs!
So, I'll just be over here, simply blogging at my own pace about things that I find interesting, simply!
Between my personal reading and reading aloud I do with the three kiddos, it constitutes a significant part of my day. More about my reading another though. Today - let's talk children's books!
Our homeschooling approach draws from lots of different influences, but I am particularly inspired by the Charlotte Mason approach, which has a large emphasis on 'living' books. (I really enjoyed this article's explanation on what makes a book a 'living' book).
It's always fun to have a little look back at what we've been reading, so here's a quick look at a handful of children's books that we have been particularly enjoying just recently.
Old Henry, by Joan W. Blos
I'll be honest, that when I started reading this book aloud to my three Little Ones, I was a little unsure about it. By the time I was half way through though, I was smitten. Later I went back and re-read it by myself, it was that good!
Beautifully illustrated, a gentle story about accepting others.
Each Peach Pear Plum, by Janet and Allen Ahlberg
Something for the Preschoolers, I remember this book from my own childhood, and was delighted to find that it had lost nothing in the intervening years. Fun rhymes, lovely illustrations and a fun i-spy through the nursery rhymes.
The Little Airplane, by Lois Lenski
Another one for the younger set, this is part of series about Small and the different adventures he gets up (Cowboy Small, The Little Sailboat, etc). Very sweet, and gently informative.
Non-Fiction Picture Books
Sky Boys, by Deborah Hopkinson and James E. Ransome
Stunning art, and a wonderful combination of fictionalized story and facts about the building of the Empire State Building, this book proved to be a wonderful springboard for all sorts of construction, architecture and demolition conversations.
One Small Square: Cactus Desert, by Donald M. Silver
We have now read several books in the One Small Square series, and they are all great. Really informative, great for zoology and geography studies. Each book studies a different geographical location, and shares such information as weather, animals that live there, annual life cycles, plants and habitats. Fabulous!
Wolves, by Gail Gibbons
I found this book for my six year old Little Guy, feeding his current wolf obsession - but also, it's by Gail Gibbons which really is enough for me! If you aren't familiar with her books and you are homeschooling or parenting young ones, you must must check them out. Between the factual information and the illustrations, her books are winners. Run, don't walk!
Charlotte's Web, by E. B. White
Another book on CD for the car, I was a little hesitant that this might be a little too intense for my sensitive little ones, but they LOVED it! We finished this one about three weeks ago, and are still talking about Wilbur and Charlotte.
Added bonus, I found an audi version read by the author himself, which was amazing - worth finding.
Olga da Polga, by Michael Bond
Another one by the author of Paddington Bear, this was a firm favorite of mine as \a child, and we have been giggling and chortling our way through it. A sweet book about the funny tales a silly and sassy guinea pig - not to be missed.
Although popular in the UK, this is harder to find in the States, but worth looking for. The original illustrations were done by Hans Helweg and are just wonderful!
What have you been reading with your children recently?
So maybe it is just me, but I find it very difficult to live 'simply' when my life is disorganized.
Knowing what is coming up and how I am going to get things done, really gives me the confidence to let go of those aspects a little bit. If I have a plan, I don't have to THINK about it all!
Along with my monthly wall calendar where I keep track of the bulk of my day to day events (classes, meetings, trips, birthdays), and my smart phone calendar where I keep track of the day to day minutiae (library books due back, subscriptions and bills due) I also take time each weekend to create to plans for my upcoming week - one for meals and the other for our homeschool plan.
Before I go further I should add that I am not a natural planner. I don;t feel a strong need to map things out like this, but that doing so stops the daily panic of 'what ARE we going to eat tonight?' and 'WHAT did we do for school last week?!'
My meal plan is a really basic affair, and one that I received as part of a bundle from Waldorfish, but I really like the simple layout, and that there are blocks for breakfast, lunch and grazing platters (affectionately known in our home as monkey platters!) I've written before about how I tend to go about creating my menu plans, here. It's still working for us!
And before I go any further with my homeschool plan, I should add a humongous caveat.
Yes! - I make a plan each week.
No - I don't expect us to do this each week.
Again, I've found that if I make a plan, it frees up a little extra brain space for me. When we are ready for our next 'school' project, I can just check my book for inspiration. I'll write more on how we homeschool another time, because honestly that's a huge multi- post project all by itself.
After struggling to find a homeschool planner that I loved, that had the flexibility I wanted for our family's schooling needs, I created my own out of a 50 cent composition book. I used this post as my inspiration, but honestly my planner has evolved so much since I first started doing this at the beginning of the school year. But that's the beauty of it! - now it's my own creation,a nd it perfectly fits my needs. Joy!
And lastly, my To Do book. This is a newer addition for me, and was borne from the need for me to write out to do lists and random notes. Am I the only person who finds that physically writing something out with pen and paper helps me remember it better?!
This one is still a bit of a work in progress, and I know it will be evolving over the upcoming months, but it's good to have a collected place to jot everything down, and a beautiful book at that, rather than the countless scraps of paper.
I use a lovely Moleskine notebook for this; it had all the features I wanted; a ribbon for marking my place, an elastic strap for holding it closed, and a pocket int he back for any random scraps of paper that may just need to be contained (ahem).
Ah! - the irony of blogging about living simply, is that life often isn't!
With three young children, a hubby with a demanding job which requires long days, my WAH-business and now homeschooling, life is often hectic. But despite how hectic our days and weeks often are, we still strive to live simply.
Some weeks are better than others; heck, some YEARS have been better than others!
But we still go in for home cooked meals, long afternoons with books and tea, puddle jumping and backyard mud pies, local hikes and expanses of time at home for the children to fill as they wish.
And now - homeschooling!
My eldest kiddo, known around these parts as The Little Guy, or TLG, is coming up to 7 years old, and although I try to keep our learning approach as 'simple' as our lifestyle, there is a fair amount of teaching and learning going on. The twins are coming up on 3 and a half and they tag along, learning effortlessly as we go.
I was considering starting another homeschooling blog, to keep track of what we are doing, our plans, our adventures and projects, but it occurred to me that I might just segue this blog a little, and incorporate what we are doing for 'school' here (I use that word very loosely!)
One more note, before I go!
Know that I don't have all the answers. That sometimes homeschooling terrifies me, that the prospect of failing looms pretty large sometimes. That none of my children are gifted or geniuses - just averagely bright. That my way is not THE way.