~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~
It’s funny how sometimes a simple solution really hits the spot and solves more problems than you hoped it would. I found one of those these last couple weeks, and I should savor it. It might not last all year – in fact, I know it won’t – and there are still issues and conflicts and difficulties in our days – but one small change totally shifted our mornings into a different gear.
~ Pretty & Not So Pretty ~
Unassuming tea. Plain white mugs. Simple and cheap.
You see, somehow my older two boys thought they could buck the pattern of the last 6 years and go play Legos after their chores were done instead of getting to their math or Bible reading. It’s true, I was frequently distracted by my email inbox or by an oatmeal-encrusted toddler or by an overflowing laundry hamper, but still.
I tried being more on top of the situation in the morning, but it came across as clamping down on their fun and being the morning kill-joy and slave-driver. It was decidedly not pretty.
And even so, our morning start was creeping later and later, which translated into less being done overall.
~ Happy Answer ~
So, one Sunday evening I told the older two boys: “If you have your chores done by 8, then you can make yourself tea.”
Now I’m fun mom! Now I’m extending privileges! I’m happy, they’re happy. They can heat the water, get their tea, add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, and clean up their own mess. It adds zero additional work to my day and a lot of joy to theirs.
The younger children have been told this is a privilege for those 8-and-up. The younger ones don’t really care for a cup of hot tea, but every morning they think they do until I’ve made them one. A policy of age privilege, though, seems to be acceptable.
~ Funny Consequences ~
The funny thing is, the tea answer not only stopped them from holing up in their rooms in the morning, it also has made their mornings incredibly more productive – and it’s not the caffeine.
Once they have a cup of tea, they have to be at the table. And they feel quite accomplished to be sitting at the table with a mug and some work. So they tackle their math over their tea and we’ve had significantly fewer math meltdowns and passed lessons much faster.
And it’s all because of their mood going into it. They are self-starting: making their own tea, asking for their math, and feeling like they’re getting somewhere. Part of that mood uplift is definitely that I have removed prodding and ordering from the morning routine as well. I don’t give the signal to start anymore, they get to their tea and then their work as soon as they can get their work done – by 8am.
It’s a Christmas miracle.
~ Real Life ~
Not that there aren’t ever tears or frustration anymore, of course. Let’s be real. But the entire atmosphere of our mornings, which were steadily declining, suddenly and drastically did a 180 with the introduction of this small ritual.
It’s not the tea. Yes, I let them choose English Breakfast if they want, but they often prefer herbal. It’s not caffeine.
It’s that they have a starting ritual, a signal to begin their work day, and it no longer requires my input at all.
This is the start of taking responsibility and stepping into real life – it’s provided a way for them to become self-starters and take that authority for themselves. They are ready for it and they have seized their opportunity and own it.
It’s made me look at the day and wonder what other small tweaks I can make to foster independence.
Any ideas to share?
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In Elementary Lessons we just finished reading M.B. Synge’s The Awakening of Europe, the middle book in her series on English history written in 1903. I am so glad I picked this one as the one to read aloud! It was an absolute pleasure to read aloud.
History stories deserve strong prose.
This section is from The Awakening of Europe in the chapter on Bonny Prince Charlie’s attempt to seize the throne through Scotland.
All that courage and despair could do was done. There was the howl of the Highland advance, the scream of the onset, the thunder of musketry, the din of trumpet and drum, the flash of firearms, the glitter of broadswords. And then came the end. The battle was over as rapidly as all other Highland conflicts. Soon, very soon, the Highland force was fleeing from the field, away from the field of Culloden, never to be banded more in the hopeless cause of the Stuarts.
I am fond of alliteration, especially when woven into prose, and Synge seems to have a natural alliterative bent. Even for myself, who does not like reading aloud, I did enjoy reading this book aloud and am glad there are two more books to follow up with.
I am loving Beowulf, but that’s so surprise. It would be a great one to read aloud. Like I said, I love alliteration, and it is plain Wilson does too (but I already knew that).
We bailed on The Periodic Kingdom; though it was a good conceit, it was dully executed and the evolutionary stance was so interwoven that I couldn’t edit on the fly while reading it aloud. I also quit halfway through Marshmallow Test because it was too condescending and redundant.
As Francis Bacon said,
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
Poem: Thou that has given so much (George Herbert), The First Thanksgiving of All (Nancy Byrd Turner), George Washington’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
Short and sweet and heavy on the singing rather than the reciting. :)
These are the ones I’ve collected so far, and they only come out for Thanksgiving.
Do you have favorite Thanksgiving picture books?
I’m not much of an activities or fun-and-games mom, but these have become traditions now at our house:
We bring in branches from the yard, stick them in a tall vase, and then cut out leaf shapes from fall-colored construction paper. The kids write out what they’re thankful for and hang them with string from the branches.
Ours never turns out looking particularly good, but it’s still a fun and appropriate thing to do.
Frosted Leaf Sugar Cookies
I have a leaf cookie cutter, and so we make some sugar cookies and the kids decorate their fall leaves. Messy, but everyone loves it, of course.
We inherited the Winckler family tradition of doing a gingerbread house on Thanksgiving Day after the meal. Some years we use a kit, some years we do a graham cracker version, but after the year where Matt tried making his own gingerbread from scratch we don’t start from scratch anymore.
And that’s it. Some singing, some books, and even a few activities. And other than the short Circle Time, we take the whole week off of school, which is the children’s favorite part, of course.
~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~
I thought it’d be fun to take some shots throughout one day of my kitchen counter. It sees a lot of action, and maybe seeing the whole progression start to finish might be both enlightening and encouraging.
I had the idea and thought it would make a great phfr post, but by the end of the day I learned something that I think will help the state of our counters and the clutter they attract.
~ Pretty Start ~
So I made extra certain Monday evening that I really cleared and washed the counter all the way to provide a blank slate and a fresh start for the photos over the course of Tuesday.
Here’s 5am and then 8am:
~ Happy Productivity ~
We started school. Here you can see our math crate and the fact that we made a “quick” pre-lunch Costco run.
Hans was a little baffled as to why I was taking pictures of the kitchen counter.
~ Funny & Unexpected ~
I thought after the school day was over, the counter would get progressively more clear. But it didn’t work out that way. In fact, in the late afternoon, more and more clutter seemed to accumulate, especially as I generally answer the EHAP question, “Where should I put this?” with “On the counter.” And that really means, “I’ll deal with it later.”
~ Real Life ~
So, I totally would have left at least half of that junk on the counter if I hadn’t been snapping pictures and wanting an end-of-day shot that was “restored” and back to clear. It was good motivation – and, apparently, needed motivation.
My unexpected finding during this Tuesday of progressive counter-top photos was that this day the counter didn’t seem to get as cluttered as it typically is. I almost felt like it was a little anticlimactic.
But while I was clearing and washing for the final photo, I realized why. If I had not been taking photos, I knew I wouldn’t be taking my evening counter-clearing all the way to “done.” And that would mean starting off Wednesday with clutter on the counters, and it would (and does) slowly build and build over the course of the week.
But since I completely cleared the counter the night before, I didn’t start off half-cluttered and so – surprise! – the clutter level also didn’t get out of hand. The week before I had simply had a slow accumulation that became mounds simply because I never actually cleared it all the way off at the end of the day. I cleared it off at a rate slower than the accumulation rate.
Plus, I think there’s a little bit of the “broken window syndrome,” too – what’s another pile added to a surface full of piles? Blends right in. However, when the counter is all clear, the pile stands out like a sore thumb. It wants to be put away. A clear counter attracts clearing and a cluttered counter attracts more clutter.
So this little photo experiment has increased my resolve and motivation to clear to neutral at the end of every day.
I finished The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher this weekend and really enjoyed it. Until this year, I’ve never really read memoirs, but so far I’ve loved all (four) I’ve read! Dawn will have to recommend more to me. ;)
A little way toward living a life of love
The business done in the home is nothing less than the shaping of the bodies and souls of humanity. –G.K. Chesterton
This is my signature quote not because I think having children and being in the home all the time is always the right and only thing to do. This is my signature quote because creating and being home is one of the central roles we have as women, regardless of our station in life.
I thought this was portrayed beautifully in The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, the story of a small-town wife, mother, and public school teacher who touched everyone with whom she interacted with love and compassion. Dreher deftly showed how small acts, such as simply seeing a person, as well as more sacrificial acts, can affect another person’s whole course of life.
I had somehow come to think of her living in a small town as equivalent to her living a small life. That was fine by me, if it made her content, but there was about it the air of settling. Or so I thought. What I had seen and heard these last few days showed me how wrong I had been.
It affected me all the more because it was a year and a half ago that I went to the funeral of a wife, mom, and teacher who also touched many lives. It has been long enough that the impact her death brought home to me had faded, and it wasn’t until I turned the page to the middle insert with a photograph of Ruthie Leming and I was startled by it that I realized I’d been picturing Ruthie as my acquaintance-mentor-friend who had also lost to cancer, leaving three children and a small town’s worth of touched lives.
I was able to see the effect of Ruthie’s love, given and returned, in steadfast acts of ordinary faith, hope, and charity. The little way of Ruthie Leming is the plainest thing in the world, something any of us could choose. And yet so few of us do.
Yes, that of course is first and most often our children and husbands, but it extends to grocery store clerks, the lady in the parking lot who makes a comment that sounds rude, the annoying neighbor, and so on.
Ruthie’s example is one of seeing that there is pain and hardship behind most flubs, rude comments, and jerky behavior. We can take offense or we can give grace. Charity is giving grace.
Wherever we are called to be, whether it is a small town or medium town or big city, a land native or foreign, we serve best when we take the time to really see and acknowledge the people in front of us. I’m good at projects; I’m less good at people. But I can look into eyes and smile; anyone can.
Ruthie’s charity was not monetary but a disposition: having a charitable opinion of people. That is a charity within all our powers to give.
I feel somewhat sheepish being the one to write this post. Charlotte Mason is one of my favorite education authors, but I am not really a “Charlotte Mason” homeschooler. For one, I’m a narration drop-out.
Secondly, I enjoy synthesizing rather than going by someone else’s rules. Miss Mason was all about synthetic knowledge and connections, so I like to think she’d be ok with that.
Charlotte Mason’s 20 Educational Principles apply to life in general as well as education in particular. And two of her methods for putting her principles into practice apply quite handily to housework. These two principles help us not overburden our immature students, and they help them on the road toward relational, poetic knowledge.
It turns out those same methods can also help us immature or flailing homemakers get on in the way of learning to love what must be done.
CM Method: Short lessons.
Charlotte Mason writes,
Again, the lessons are short, seldom more than twenty minutes in length for children under eight; and this, for two or three reasons. The sense that there is not much time for his sums or his reading, keeps the child’s wits on the alert and helps to fix his attention.
Short lessons for short students. It’s wise counsel. Even twenty minutes can seem like an eternity to an eight-year-old, but knowing that this particular misery or strain is going to end helps him not despair. I know the times my students have despaired is when I’ve told them they aren’t done until they get 100% – which they sometimes feel is impossible and so they despair from the outset. If, instead, you can say, “Ok, we’re going to do this thing and give it our best shot for 20 minutes,” it’s easier to overcome that hurdle of starting and the fear of failing.
The same goes for us and our housework. If, instead of saying, “I’m not going to stop until the kitchen is clean,” we say, “I’m going to set the timer for 20 minutes and see how big a difference I can make,” then we’re much more likely to move in with energy and a strong will to tackle the situation.
Going all out for a short time will lead to more progress in the long haul with less grumping and whining, even for moms.
Use a timer and tell yourself you’re only going to do x job or tackle y room for 15 minutes. Then stop! Be done before you burn out and start wandering aimlessly and distractedly.
You can do another 15 or 20 minutes later in the same day, but first apply the second method.
CM Principle: Alternating lessons
if the lessons be judiciously alternated––sums first, say, while the brain is quite fresh; then writing, or reading––some more or less mechanical exercise, by way of a rest; and so on, the program varying a little from day to day, but the same principle throughout––a ‘thinking’ lesson first, and a ‘painstaking’ lesson to follow,––the child gets through his morning lessons without any sign of weariness.
Here’s another tip for working with gusto, whether it’s a child and handwriting or a mom and folding laundry.
Don’t work at one job for too long – method #1 – and then after your time is up, do something that is quite different and requires a different set of muscles or eyes or type of energy. For instance, if you reserve an hour to do housework, do 15 minutes of a high-energy and fast-paced general tidying, then 15 minutes of sitting and paying bills or making phone calls or sorting a desk drawer, then 15 minutes of cleaning bathrooms quick-as-you-can, then 15 minutes of standing to fold laundry or wash dishes, you’ll get more done in that hour than if you just purpose to “clean up” for an hour.
Moreover, you’ll feel better while doing it and thereafter as well!
Working in a concentrated burst for a short time and alternating the sort of work you do helps motivate and reluctant learners as well as reluctant homemakers.
Give it a shot!
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