Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why I've stayed up far too late reading

I just finished reading Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis. They are sort of hard to classify as to what kind of books they are. The library classes them as science fiction since time travel plays a part in the plot, but they are also really excellent historical fiction. Hang in there with me if you heard science fiction and are ready to move on. I'll explain. The conceit of both books is that the year is 2060 and time travel has been invented (discovered?). The way time travel works is that anyone travelling back in time can do nothing to change history and the mechanism for time travel will not allow anyone through if there is a chance they could affect history. Thus, historians are the only ones who use the technology so that they can travel to a certain period, blend in with the people and observe history first hand.

In this pair of books, the Blitz in London is the main focus of the historians' study. I found the best part of the book to be the descriptions of what life was like in London during the Blitz. I realize it was an event that I had a vague idea about, but didn't realize the extent of what it was really like. What an astounding and devastating time of history. I also didn't realize that there were V-1 and V-2 rocket attacks over England after the Blitz had ended. What I realized is I didn't know a whole lot about England during WWII... well, other than I knew it was hard, bombs were dropped, people died, and rations were short. These books really filled in some blanks in a very engaging way.

A few notes about reading the books themselves. A friend of mine recommended them to me and told me to be sure that I had the second one in hand before finishing the first. The first book ended rather abruptly and you would really want the second book to keep reading. I thought she was exaggerating a bit, but, wow. No she wasn't. The first book ends as if she had finished a chapter, decided to make one book into two, and began the next chapter as the next book. Nothing tied up in the first and nothing explained in the second. I'm glad I had some warning.

The second thing I need to warn you about is to give them some time if you are going to read them. It took me a long time to finally begin to sort out who everyone was, what time period they were in, how each story was related, and where everything was going. This feeling of being a little off balance lasted for quite a while, but I'm glad I kept at it. Because of these issues, I would consider it a challenging read. It takes a bit of patience to get where you need to be to really understand what's happening. Also, somewhere in the second book, I very nearly gave up on them. The same things seemed to be happening over and over and no progress was being made in the story. I even set it aside a couple of nights while a read a couple of mysteries. Well, it turns out that I set the book aside, right before the chapter when all the loose ends begin to get tied together. The rest of the book was fantastic.

I recommend these books to you, but be a little patient with them as you read. They are definitely worth it. And, you'll never hear the word Blitz in quite the same light again.

If you want to try out the author with a lighter, easier read. She uses the same world in her comedy, To Say Nothing of the Dog. I might actually start with this one if you are new to the author.

Happy Reading!

Monday, July 21, 2014

A different biology lesson

I think we have solved at least one of the mysteries I wrote about over the weekend. All morning at Saturday various children kept staring at the monarch caterpillar trying to decide it if was really and truly dead. (It was, but hope springs eternal and no one seemed to believe me.) Thus it was that several children had front row seats to a very different biology lesson than watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Instead they received a lesson on...

Parasites of the Butterfly World.

And it was gross. As they were watching, they saw the back of the caterpillar split open and some sort of larva emerged from the caterpillar. It was light green and almost as big as the caterpillar. There was a general uproar and it took a minute for me to fully understand what many children had run to tell me. Seeing the larva out of the caterpillar was yucky enough, I was glad that I didn't see it emerge. Eeewww!

I did manage to find another monarch caterpillar who was very, very small. I am hopeful that he hadn't been around long enough to get infected. Plus, we are also now washing the milkweed leaves before we feed them to the caterpillar in case there is anything toxic on the leaf. A friend did remind me of the city's mosquito abatement policies.

So we are now on caterpillar number three. Maybe this one will actually become a butterfly. I hope so for H.'s sake. She love butterflies and I really want her to be able to see the progression from caterpillar to butterfly. Third times the charm, right?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The mysteries of life

Aside from the perpetual question of what happens to single socks, why is it that...

Every single time I walk by the children's bathroom I must flush the toilet and turn out the lights... even if I walked by it just five minutes before?

I routinely pick up random nails and screws which appear on the ground?

There seems to be some force which repels game instructions from being placed inside the game box?

There are no pens in the drawer (or anywhere else) even though I buy them by the bucketful?

and related to that...

Why are there no erasers on the nearly new pencils?


What is going on with the monarch caterpillar who seems to be trying to turn into a chrysalis but, from experience, I know he is not nearly big enough?

I think he is dead. Perhaps he had secret hopes of joining L.'s pet collection. That makes us 0 for 2 in raising caterpillars this year, which is odd because we have raised them successfully (in the same way) many times in previous years.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Life with L.

Life with L. is never dull. She is currently sitting on my lap because her "pet" [read dead] moth has disappeared. She was happily playing with her pet and now he has vanished. It's terribly sad because now the moth cannot meet the "pet" [read dead] lady bug she keeps in her room. I think it would be an understatement to say that L. has an active imagination.

Two nights ago, as people were getting ready for bed, I noticed L. had found a small electronic game which she was using as a cell phone. She had it up to her and was pacing and talking and gesturing with her other hand. (I'm sure that reminds me of someone I know. M. claims it is me.) I just happened to overhear a brief part of her conversation. To listen to it, it sounded all the world like any other conversation you would overhear when an adult is talking on their phone.

L.: What the heck do you mean?!
(Pauses to listen to reply)
L..: I have two suggestions...

She then goes on to elaborate on these suggestions, but frankly, I was too occupied with not laughing out loud (and she had paced away) that I didn't catch them. I'm really dying to know what they were. This was just the middle and I think the conversation went on for about five minutes or so. It sounded so much like a real conversation, I could almost believe that she really did have Mickey (or whoever it was she was talking to) on the other end.

Her imagination is like that. It acts like some sort of vortex which pulls in unsuspecting passersby.

A. holding G. (in blue shirt) and L. (in grey)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Unusually ordinary

The Hearts at Home link-up prompt today is "Loving your Ordinary," or something like that. This seems a perfect topic for me given the name of my blog and the number of times I've written about the topic. (Ordinary Times and Purpose in the Ordinary are two past posts from quite some time ago and you may not have seen them.) I actually wondered for a minute if I really had anything different to say after I went back and read those posts. They seem to pretty much cover it.

And then I got to thinking about some of the various comments I've heard over the past several years. Comments that would seem to imply that there is nothing ordinary about my life. There seems to be a tension there. Parts of my life seem terribly, terribly ordinary. I cook and go grocery shopping, do laundry, read stories to children, apply numerous band-aids, pick-up toys, pay bills, just like nearly every other mother around. It's not terribly exciting. Important, yes, but there's nothing spectacularly different about it from anyone else. I will agree the scale in which I do these things is bigger than some, but that's really just a matter of practice and habit. Anyone could learn to routinely triple a recipe or drive a 15-passenger van.

I also know, compared to most people, my life really is unusual. Our choices of being open to more than the normal number of children, our choice of how we educate them, voluntarily choosing to add children with special needs, practicing extreme hospitality... these mark us as different. What soon becomes ordinary to us, remains a rather baffling mystery to those who don't know us.

I can't count the number of times I've heard, "I don't know how you do it!" My standard response is, "What do you think I'm doing? Because I'm pretty sure it's not what you think." Yes, if someone were to be dropped into my life as it is right now, it would be overwhelming if they hadn't had practice running a large family. It would gradually become easier, but it would be a steep learning curve at first. But we didn't just start here, it was a process. One decision led to another and each step a stretch, but not outside the realm of our imagination.

So where am I going with this? (Sometimes I'm not sure myself and I have to stop and think about it.) Most of life is filled with normal, everyday things, no matter your situation. We all need to eat, to have shelter, to care for our young. These are basics and people across the world do these things. They happen everyday over and over and over. We also quickly become accustomed to what we do a lot. Our brains are very good at creating habits; at making things automatic. Something may require work and effort and first, but over time, we stop having to think about it. When we look at someone living an unusual (to us) life, we forget that to them it is normal if they have been doing it for any length of time. What we often lack is imagination.

People entrenched in their own ordinary lack imagination as to what they are really capable of. It is this inability to imagine that something outrageous could ever become normal that, I think, stops many people from choosing a different, less ordinary path. It's what stops them from taking a chance. A chance on a child, on a different job, on a different living situation, on exhibiting outrageous love. What is your ordinary?

I don't know what your goal in life is, but mine is to make the practice of the outrageous love of Jesus my ordinary.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Being a creative family

Our current lunch time read aloud is Applewhites at Wit's End by Stephanie Tolan. It is the sequel to Surviving the Applewhites which we have listened to more than once and all love. If you haven't read either of them, the first book has all the right components... bad boy makes good; large, crazy family; and let's put a show on in the barn... all rolled into one. An added bonus is that the Applewhites are homeschoolers and rarely have I seen such a realistic portrayal of homeschooling in main stream fiction. The sequel, which we are in the middle of has the Applewhites strapped for cash and so decide to run a camp for creative children. We are all enjoying it.

The reason they chose to run a creative camp is that every single one of the Applewhites is some sort of an artist. (Well, all but one, which is part of the plot of the first book.) This plays into my enjoyment of the book because I have always been a little obsessed with large families populated with creative people. Part of it was that the reality of living in such a family was so far removed from my own experience that I found it fascinating, and the other part was that it just looked like fun. My first experience with such a family was in the movie, You Can't Take it With You. My only complaint was that though I loved how the family pursued the things they were interested in, none of them was very good at it. My competitive nature just couldn't imagine pursuing something without seeing decent results... and I also couldn't quite understand how you could be so unaware as to the true nature of what you are creating. But it also is what made the movie, so I could let it pass.

Perhaps this is why I love the Applewhites. Not only do they all pursue creative endeavors, they are also good at what they do. Since I still have a tendency to focus on product over process, I find this satisfying. But creativity is really more about the process... the doing. I know my own tendencies and try not to pass them along to my children. We talk a lot about the enjoyment we get from what we do; about how nothing will be perfect; about trying again another time.

But this isn't the only ingredient in becoming a creative family. I find much of it depends on me and my attitude... about mess and effort. Encouraging children to be creative also means that there will be messes. It means that I have to take the time to get the watercolors out for the littles. It means that clay will sometimes be stuck to the table. It means that I can't get upset when my children have used up yet another role of tape. Creativity and the excessive order that I sometimes crave just can't live in the same house.

This is the other reason I love the Applewhites. It's because in reading about their family, and the crazy, messy, uninhibited, colorful existence that they lead, reminds me that mess is OK. Life should be joyful and relaxed and that excessive order is neither of these things. It encourages me to allow my children to be creative... and myself as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer homeschooling tasks

I realize that in a good year, there are certain things I do throughout the summer that makes the school year go more smoothly. Last year was not a good year and I had zero desire to do anything, much less think about school. Stress will do that to you. So, if you are feeling as though you are barely keeping your head above water because various of your children are going through a rougher patch than normal, just don't read this; you don't need more guilt. For you I would prescribe respite in any way you can get it and doing the much harder work of connecting with your child. Been there, done that, we're in a much better place this year.

I think because there has been such a difference between this year and last that I am more aware of what normal looks like, as opposed to just survival. I realized that there some important things I do now that makes for a smoother school year. Here is my short list.

1. I clean my house. Let's be honest and say that cleaning is rather cursory during the school year. Life is busier, school does take time and effort, and schedules are more hectic. It all adds up after a while and when summer comes I look around and realize that things have really gone down hill. I have spent that past few weeks going through the house a room at a time and really cleaning... and putting away... and straightening. I'm a great one for piling when busy and so those need to be excavated as well. It feels so good to restore order again. I feel as though I can think. And breath. And relax. Having a clean house is a good thing.

2. Reorganize my homeschool supplies. These, too, get a little chaotic during the school year. Children look at books and I pull out things and then pile them over and over again. Plus, I don't use my resource room as much because I've done my planning for the year and I forget what is there. By reorganizing it, I make it usable again, plus I remind myself of what is there. I also use this time to purge things we don't need or want anymore. As my children grow and change, there are things that we are done with or interests have changed or just never worked out. I don't need their clutter or the collective guilt the failed resources bring.

3. I do a lot of brainstorming and research and a lot of list making. What would be interesting to learn about this year? What are my children's current interests? What resources would be good to use to learn about these things? Plus my continual and ever present search for new chapter books to read aloud. By doing this work gradually during the summer, it makes the actual planning for the school year a bit easier. It also serves another purpose in that it helps me get excited for another year of learning with my children. This will be my 17th year of homeschooling and it takes some effort to keep up the excitement of what I'm doing. Planning new studies and projects keeps things interesting for me as well.

I know it's hard to think about school during summer break, but none of these things is terribly hard, and they do go along way to a smoother school year.
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