Thursday, October 27, 2016

Saturday's Kid

As the summer days began their surrender to fall, I found myself dreading Saturdays. Summer Saturdays were blissfully slow - wide open spaces to weed, read, and grill dinner at seven as the sun started to sink behind the hillside out back. All the while, September Saturdays loomed like a tempest on the calendar, the small white boxes filled with angry black sharpie marching orders: ballet, gymnastics, soccer games, grocery runs.

Busy is often necessary right now. We're in a busy season. Greg and I considered each yes carefully before we said it on behalf of ourselves or our children, sifting through the consequences of that choice before the words left our mouths. We have no regrets.

Even so, busy is hard. I sometimes find myself thirsting for grace as I heave the carseat in and out of the minivan and bark orders at my kids to hurry up, slow down, get your shoes on, grab your bag. And when that begged-for grace is faithfully imparted, it always catches me by surprise.

Greg usually heads in one direction with the older boys, while I head in the opposite direction with Chloe and the littles. With time to kill, we've taken to meandering the streets of one of our favorite little towns, hitting up the library and the sweets shop before the clock strikes twelve and our ballerina is ready for us. We love to walk down a few of the lovely tree-lined lanes running parallel to the main street, picking out our favorite houses and kicking up the leaves. 

God took what I was dreading and made it sweet.

As they say, all is grace.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Artist, Baker, Butter Maker

Never has there been a more eager kindergartener than our Charlie - at least not within the Smith family. Give this kid all the crayons, all the snipping, all the glue sticks. He'll churn through 'em and ask for more. I bought him his kindergarten  handwriting book (the same one his older brothers didn't even finish because they were so uninterested) and he cruised through the entire thing in - no joke - one day. I died - it was twelve bucks! It was supposed to take us all the way into May of next year, and instead I was back on Amazon four hours later.

When I casually mentioned as we were learning about the letter B that we might make butter, I was speaking from a purely hypothetical standpoint. What I meant was, It says here in the book that we're supposed to make butter because it starts with B, but I'll be honest, I'm not really into it. What he heard was, Let's get churning.

Way back when his big sis was in kindergarten, we attempted this very same project. The experience left me simultaneously unimpressed and filled with wonder that someone would rather do this than just buy some at Costco. They sell it in bulk there. 

But persistence is Charlie's middle name, or at least it should be. Every few days he drove the guilt bus through town... Mom, we still haven't made that butter, and Mom, we're already on G and we still have no butter! I realized there was only one solution to this problem, and it involved heavy whipping cream, a mason jar, and a whole lotta shaking.

He loved it. Of course, he loved it.

And we sure do love him.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Success Redefined

One of my fourth graders has a really tough time sitting still. He insists that he thinks best when he's dribbling a ball up and down my hallway. He invented this annoying game called "Hitball," and he has the uncanny knack of deciding to play it as soon as Oliver hits REM sleep during naptime. I'll be creeping and shushing my way through the house with a basket of laundry when, like clockwork, I hear the dreaded thud! thud! thud! of a dirty old deck hockey ball being hurled at my stairs in the latest round of Hitball. I drop the basket and skid like a maniac toward the stairs, shushing furiously, but it is always too late. REM sleep is broken, furious cries erupt from the nursery, and lo and behold, I'm teaching math to four different kids with a cranky baby on my hip.

Being this kid's mom is a schizophrenic experience. I often simultaneously want to hug him and shake him. On a recent morning I was running behind, so I wrote three sentences on the board for the fourth graders to diagram. The plan was that I would take a three minute shower and Oliver would remain in REM sleep. My sixth grade resident grammar scholar was on standby to assist in my stead if questions arose. A few minutes later I emerged from my room to check on their work. One of the fourth graders had neatly and efficiently diagrammed the sentences on his notebook paper, per my request. The other had abandoned his paper and had written, sloppily, on the white board instead.

These are the sentences he was told to diagram:

This is what he did instead:

At least he knew he had created an interrogative sentence that began with an interjection. Success, redefined.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Friday Wanderings

Science was held in the woods last Friday...
Vine swinging.
Constant companions.
Wide eyed wonder.
Sunbeam breakthroughs.
Crisp Autumn air.
"Keep close to nature's heart, and break clear away once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean."   ~John Muir

Friday, September 9, 2016

First Day Hurray

Our first day went off without a hitch! Every year since our very first year of homeschooling, we have heralded the first day of school with a breakfast date with Daddy. This year was no exception.

Our happy baby came along for the ride...

Then it was back to the homestead for the annual pictures in the front yard.

Our Sixth Grader...

Our Fourth Graders...

and our Kindergartener!

We spent the week reading, practicing Latin vocabulary, struggling through math lessons, learning sight words, painting, imagining, talking, baking, singing, and playing. 

We got back in the saddle fairly easily this year...

I only had one meltdown, on day four. It ended like this:

The degree to which homeschooling has challenged me is in direct proportion to its value in both my life and the lives of my children. 

It is a joy to be home learning with these people.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Twas the Night Before the First Day of School

And all through the house...
All my kids were in bed,
And so was my spouse.

It's 11:30 and I was supposed to be in bed by 10:00 so I could be suitably rested for our first day of school. 

Oh well.

Ready or not, we're beginning 6th grade, 4th grade, and Kindergarten tomorrow!

This I know: there will be moments of impatience and occasional bad attitudes. Someone will forget what six times six equals even though we drilled it a thousand times last year. I will remind them, and then they will forget it again. Someone will try to snip zig zags and get frustrated because it's so much harder than snipping straight lines. Someone will bother someone else by humming the States and Capitals song in the middle of the math test. The house will start out clean and get gradually messier throughout the day. By dinnertime I will be exhausted. 

This, too, I know: this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. God clearly called me to this work and has blessed me and my family immensely as we have stayed the course. My children consider each other their best friends. I have learned more teaching them the past six years than I did in the 17 years of formal schooling I received. We start each day together, gathered around our table feasting on that which is lovely and worthwhile: prayer, scripture, hymns, poetry, and literature. I will fail in front of my kids and humbly ask for their forgiveness. Homeschooling is not right for everyone, but it is right for us. I receive more than I give. I am loved when I am not lovable. 

I learn more than I teach. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Safety First

You never know what danger might be encountered while coloring. Best to be prepared. Also? This newly minted five year old brings so much joy to our family. It is impossible not to adore him.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Livin' la Vida Loca

For months I have wanted to sit down before a blank computer screen and fill it up with words about the changes we've been walking through as a family. I wanted to take the hurricane that had rolled in and enveloped our life and write about it until my words forced it into tranquility. In the past twelve months we have lived in three houses in two different states and grown into a family of seven, and it has been impossible to wrangle my thoughts into meaningful sentences. Greg and I are stalwart people, pragmatic and predictable. You know those people who move around like lighthearted gypsies, changing jobs and houses so prolifically that you cut them from your Christmas list out of sheer frustration? We are not them. We favor stability. We pick one thing and stick with it, rooted in the belief that good choices, given time, will bear fruit. So what happened? It's taken me time and silence to uncover the simple truth: God had other plans for us.

I remember when a good friend told me that she just wanted to hold everything dear to her in an open hand, stretched out as an offering to God. That sounds hard, I thought. I like things to fit neatly into a box that I have time to wrap and ribbon, nice and neat. I looked at people whose lives seemed unmoored and I judged them, assuming it was the result of poor decision making or lack of vision. What I understand now is that in order for God to accomplish certain things in Greg and me, He had to drop us into a hurricane. I've learned that sometimes He opens the door and we walk through it. Sometimes, metaphorically speaking, of course, He puts His foot on our back and gives us an almighty shove into the place we're unwilling to walk ourselves. He loves us too much to let us stay in a place spiritually that is simply not enough for us anymore.

So we moved away. We lived in a new place for a while. It was hard, and it was good. We grew closer to God and to each other. We learned what we were willing to settle for and what we would not compromise on. We sharpened our vision for what we wanted for our family and took risks to get it.

I've missed this blog. I don't have much time these days, but I'd like to record as much as I can in this little space, and I realize that time is fleeting. My first nephew, the one who was born yesterday, just graduated from high school. I flew down to Georgia so I could watch him walk the aisle in his royal blue gown and matching cap, take his diploma and shake his principal's hand, grin triumphantly at the camera. The passage of time is bitter and sweet. Those of us who held him when he was brand new rejoice at the fine young man that he is, packing his boxes for college already, training his eyes on a future full of possibilities. But we mourn, too, for the cherubic little boy he was to us so recently, laughing through tears at the funny things he used to do and say. So I will take my pictures as often as I can and I will write my words here in the wee hours of the morning. I will do my best to keep recording the moments of the crazy life God is allowing me to live.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Country Livin'

First, a disclaimer: the house that we bought is not exactly in the country. But it is on 2 acres, and we do have a well, and I had to fill out some weird form about "rural postal service" when we moved in, so it's about as country as I'm ever going to get. 

At any rate, Greg was on a plane to Dallas and the kids and I were blissfully digging into some school work this morning when a plump, dazed, incredibly creepy raccoon ambled onto our deck. I shot out of my seat and ran over to the glass French doors that look out onto the deck with the kids gleefully at my heels. The thing saw me, turned, and proceeded to march (Do raccoons march? Yes. Yes they do.) right over to me. It got as close to the door as it could without going through it and glared at me. Terrified, I checked to make sure the door was locked. In case, you know, it was about to break in or something. Then I hustled the kids into the family room and we huddled at a different window where we didn't feel as threatened. It marched over to the window we were at and stood up on its haunches. I almost died. I called my dad, the first person I always call in these situations. My mom answered. "Put Dad on the phone!" I yelled. After I reported the distressing news of our rabid friend, he said calmly, "Why don't you call animal control?" 

Of course! Why didn't I think of that?

I googled. I dialed. A man answered, clearly annoyed that I was interrupting his morning coffee. "A rabid raccoon is on my deck!" I announced loudly. I'm pretty sure I heard him sigh. 
"What makes you think it's rabid?" he asked, as if we had all the time in the world. 
"Well, it's 11 am!" I retorted.
"So?" he said.
"Well, raccoons are NOCTURNAL," I said importantly.
"So?" he said.
"Well it's sitting on my deck glaring at me!" I yelled.
"Is it acting aggressively toward you?" he asked. 
"I said it was glaring, didn't I?"
"Maybe it's hungry," he suggested. 
"Well is that NORMAL?" I asked. "Because nothing about this situation seems normal to me."
This time I know he sighed. He didn't even try to hide it. 
"Mam, in warmer weather like we're havin' today, raccoons could come out during the daytime if they're hungry. It's not abnormal. But if you want, I'll send someone out," he said. 
"Yes, well, I think that's a good idea," I replied. 

Three hours later, after our creepy visitor had all the time in the world to glare at us through several more windows and finally wander, dazed and confused, back into the woods, the Game Commission guy arrived. 
I proceeded to show him several incriminating pictures I had taken of the raccoon that morning on my iphone. 
"SEE?" I asked triumphantly. "How creepy is THAT?" It may have been my imagination, but he seemed amused. "Let me take a look around, mam," he said politely. "It's probably not rabies, it's probably distemper. Either way, if we find him we'll have to dispatch him."
"Oh," I said. "And what does 'dispatch' mean, exactly?"
He laughed, even though I wasn't trying to be funny. Then he pointed to his gun and winked at me. Lovely.

He walked around my yard and shined a flashlight here and there as I nervously followed him from window to window. A few minutes later he was at the front door again. "Well mam, it seems he's gotten away," he reported. "If you see him again, definitely give us a call, but I wouldn't worry too much. If it's sick like I think it is, the coyotes or black bears around here will probably get him."

Oh, good. I feel so much better now.

An hour later, I received a text from my friends, all of whom found the day's emergency situation to be hilarious. "The new Laura," it gleefully announced:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Music Through the Seasons

Last week we were privileged to go to a free concert given by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. It was titled "Music Through the Seasons" and the orchestra played compositions expressing the various emotions one might feel in each season. It was held in the incredibly beautiful Heinz Hall, which is a place that never gets old. My friend Sarah charmed her way into the balcony directly overlooking the orchestra, and of course we all shoved our way in behind her. Keepin' it classy. The kids were entranced with their bird's eye view of these talented musicians playing Vivaldi with gusto. We're beginning our annual six week study of famous composers and the orchestra in a few short weeks, and this was the perfect opportunity to once again ignite their enthusiasm for the gift of music. We finished the day cashing in our Book It coupons at Pizza Hut. As always, a wonderful day with a wonderful crew. So grateful for my people.

A few days after our trip, my sis texted me a picture of my sweet nephew James drawing the orchestra.
Oh, my heart.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Our Beautiful Ballerina

What happened to that shy little girl we used to know? What a beautiful and confident young lady she is becoming!

Our lovely Chloe danced the parts of Party Girl and Bon Bon in her dance school's production of The Nutcracker this past December. This is her first year in an exclusively classical ballet program, and we are so proud of our girl. It is excellent, challenging training, and she is turning into such a beautiful dancer. We can't wait to see what God has in store for her on the stage in the years to come!

Excitement backstage! Five minutes before the curtain went up.
Nana and her favorite ballerina.
The party girls and their wonderful teachers, Cynthia and Damian. They both are from Cuba and have danced professionally all over the world, including our very own Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. We are so grateful for their kind and excellent instruction!
Chloe and Genevieve. She has made such wonderful new friends this year.
Chloe and Isabelle.

Nana and Pop are proud of their girl!
Grammy never misses a performance. We love her so!
The fact that our beloved Aunt Cece could come because we all live in the same town again made this night extra sweet.
Flowers from two handsome brothers!

Chloe and David, The Nutcracker Prince.
Our wonderful family. What would we do without these people?!
The sweetest picture of the night. She will always be his little girl.