Monday, July 25, 2016

Nature Study Outing :: Thinking Back to Late Spring

Okay, so I'm way behind in sharing about our nature study outings.  Sadly, all the wildflowers here are pretty much gone, the stunning variety of shapes and colors replaced by thistle, more thistle, and the dried up remains of what once was. I'm only sad because I love wildflowers, not because there isn't plenty still to observe and discover -- there certainly is! More about that another day.  Today, I'm going back in time a couple months to the near-peak of our wildflower season.  A day with lots of color... and some unexpected adventure!

Our day started here, at the water's edge:

The kids spent the first hour collecting frogs.  They headed out by themselves along the trail holding the terrarium, and we moms got distracted by the wildflowers.

larkspur -- new for us this year!

young curly dock, I think

having trouble identifying this one amidst the million yellow flowers that bloom in our area -- help?
it looks like a yellow chickory!

mariposa lily
yellow mariposa lily

sticky monkeyflower
Meanwhile, the kids were busy by the water.

When they came back to us, they had a whole terrarium full of jumpers!

We made them release them right away at the pond's edge, but most of them ended up in the water.  My friend remarked that it looked like the start of a triathalon.  Ha!

They all seemed to be okay in the end and we had a little chat about not over-collecting.  Ahem.

Most of the group had to head home at that point, but one friend and I had a little extra time before we had to leave, so we decided to explore a little trail we hadn't been down before.  I was pretty sure it looped around toward the lake and then would deposit us back onto our trail down to the parking lot.  So off we went, with all the littles in tow.  (Yep, wait for it.)

And then we started climbing!  The trail was a bit steeper and rockier than we were expecting, but we kept thinking it was almost finished.  Did I mention it was in the 90s?  For my California kids (and who am I kidding -- for me!), that is hot.  But we kept trekking and finally wound up with these views:

We also ended up seeing a lot of new flowers, including two kinds of owl's clover and four kinds of clarkia!

narrow-leaf flax flower


another variety of clarkia

An hour later than expected, our dirty, sweaty troupe arrived back at the cars -- thankfully with a nice variety of specimens to draw (the silver lining!).

I didn't have my littlest two boys along (they stayed home with Daddy), but I carried my three-year-old for the last half mile.  And my friend was wearing her infant and pushing her toddler in the double stroller -- with her older kids' help, thankfully.  Did I mention the trail was rocky?  Yeah.  But we have plans to revisit it on a moms' hike soon.

So does this ever happen to you -- you get a little overeager and pretty soon you're in out of your depth, with your kids along for the ride?  And when that happens, do you find your silver lining in new varieties of wildflowers? :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

{From My Commonplace} :: Thinking about Singing

It was lovely timing to happen upon these passages from Wendell Berry's Jayber Crow a few months ago, just as we were finishing up our school year and my mind had begun thinking about the next.  Such an inspiring look at the how and why of a life enriched by traditional songs.

Wendell Berry on folk music:
"They would greet me and one another as they came in.  They took chairs, sat down, commented on the weather and other events, smoked maybe. 
"And then one or another of them would pick up his fiddle or guitar or banjo (you could never tell who it would be) and begin to tune it, plucking at the strings individually and listening.  And then another would begin, and another. It was done almost bashfully, as if they feared that the silence might not welcome their music.  Little sequences of notes would be picked out randomly here and there. (Their instruments just happened to be in their hands. The power of music-making had overtaken them by surprise, and they had to grow used to it.) 
"Finally Bill Mixter would lower his head, lay his bow upon the strings, and draw out the first notes of a tune, and the others would come in behind him. The music, while it lasted, brought a new world into being. They would play some tunes they had learned off the radio, but their knowledge was far older than that and they played too the music that was native to the place, or that the people of the place were native to.  Just the names of the tunes were a kind of music; they call back the music to my mind still, after so many years: 'Sand Riffle, 'Last Gold Dollar,' 'Billy in the Low Ground,' 'Gate to Go Through,' and a lot of others. 'A fiddle, now, is an atmospheric thing,' said Burley Coulter. The music was another element filling the room and pouring out through the cracks."
And on hymns...
"What I liked least about the service itself was the prayers; what I liked far better was the singing. Not all of the hymns could move me.  I never liked 'Onward Christian Soldiers' or 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'  Jesus' military career has never compelled my belief.  I liked the sound of the people singing together, whatever they sang, but some of the hymns reached into me all the way to the bone: 'Come, Thou Font of Every Blessing,' 'Rock of Ages,' 'Amazing Grace,' 'O God, Our Help in Ages Past.' I loved the different voices all singing one song, the various tones and qualities, the passing lifts of feeling, rising up and going out forever.  Old Man Profet, who was a different man on Sunday, used to draw out the notes at the ends of verses and refrains so he could listen to himself, and in fact it sounded pretty.  And when the congregation would be singing 'We shall see the King some-day (some-day),' Sara May, who often protracted Saturday night a little too far into Sunday morning, would sing, 'I shall see the King some-day (Sam May).' 
"I thought that some of the hymns bespoke of the true religion of the place.  The people didn't really want to be saints of self-deprivation and hatred of the world.  They knew that the world would sooner or later deprive them of all if had given them, but they still liked it.  That they came together for was to acknowledge, just by coming, their losses and failures and sorrows, their need for comfort, their faith always needing to be greater, their wish (in spite of all words and acts to the contrary) to love one another and to forgive and be forgiven, their need for one another's help and company and divine gifts, their hope (and experience) of love surpassing death, their gratitude.  I loved to hear them sing 'The Unclouded Day' and 'Sweet By and By': 
We shall sing on that beautiful shore 
The melodious songs on the blest... 
"And in times of sorrow when they sang 'Abide with Me,' I could not raise my head."
Hymns and folk songs aren't just memory work.  They are memory work, in that we hope they lodge in our children's memories and abide there for always.  But the door to the memory isn't just the mind.  We aren't treating the memory as a faculty -- as simply a means to an end, something to use and exercise, with the goal being as much knowledge as our students' minds can hold.  We are treating memory as a gift, one that we may enter sweetly, gently, delightfully, calmly through the mind, but also through the heart and soul, the ear and eye, the community, our faith, sacred spaces, family moments, shared experience, relationship.

It is a beautiful thing, our memory.  As Robinson shares in Gilead, which I was fortuitously reading at the same time as Berry's book, memory is pure gift:

"I wish I could give you the memory I have of your mother that day. I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own sort of mortal loveliness. And memory is not strictly mortal in its nature either. It is a strange thing, after all, to be able to return to a moment, when it can hardly be said to have any reality at all, even in its passing. A moment is such a slight thing, I mean, that its abiding is a gracious reprieve." (emphasis mine)
In that vein, we can view hymns and folk songs as memory contained in song, and when we play them for our students, we give them the opportunity to enter into a collective experience of beauty in word and tune.  More than that, we can think of learning those songs as an invitation to add our own layer of texture to the song, as our family memories of singing them bind together with that collective experience and create something moving and special -- something new to us yet linked to all that came before us.

That is a powerful invitation and beyond anything a checklist can convey, no matter how masterfully crafted.  When we play, sing, or even just listen to a song, we open a space for the Holy Spirit to move and stir our soul.  It's a beautiful thought.

May we always think of memory work as a gracious reprieve!

Monday, July 18, 2016

{This and That}

Hi there!  We had a productive start to our school year last week (very few tweaks needed!), and this morning we are on to Week 2.  After a few weeks testing out our schedule, I'll be ready to share it all here.  But if you'd like a sneak peek...

That up there is our Average Day Chart, a la Brandy.  We don't have many "average days" around here, but I found that the practice of making one was well worth my time.  I'll chat more about that when I share our plans.  Lots more to come, including how I'm handling our Form I rotation with Cate (Year 2) and Xavier (Year 1).


Speaking of planning:

I'll be talking with Mystie tomorrow afternoon in a live webinar on planning for smooth days with little ones underfoot.  If you'd like to sign up to join the chat (or get the replay link afterward), you can do so here.  I get a lot of questions about this topic via email and comments -- so if you have questions and would like to brainstorm together LIVE, you can join me over there!  I'd love to see some familiar names in the chat box. :)


I already mentioned this on Instagram, but last week I had the great pleasure of attending an Introduction to Nature Journaling class with John Muir Laws.  He lives locally and gives free workshops every month, but this was the first time it was close enough for me to attend -- about a half hour away, and definitely worth the drive!  You probably already know what a fan I am of his book and videos.

Which brings me to the CMI Western Conference, where he'll be giving something like two plenaries and three workshops, all in one day (!).  I'm all registered and can't wait to immerse myself in lots of nature journal goodness.

Will you be there?  If so, please leave a comment here.  I'm trying to get a mental list of which friends/readers I can expect to meet. :)


I am not a handicraft person.  Technically I am proficient at some traditionally "crafty" things, but I don't actually enjoy them all that much.  Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I used to enjoy them before I was trying to teach them to young children while chasing the littles around. ;)  But my kids really enjoy handicrafts and I see their many, many benefits, so I try to schedule them into our days as best I can (which is not always that well).

To do that, I often use craft kits and instruction books for learning a new skill. They are open-and-go, and now that my Big Kids are old enough, they can even do them on their own much of the time!  So in the past year, handicrafts have gotten much more doable.

I recently ordered some Woolpets kits.  (They are a bit pricey, but I was able to buy them through our charter.  I do think they're worth the money if you are clueless like me, though, and they'd make a nice gift for an older child)  I have never tried needle felting but was intrigued.  Turns out it's a bit fussy and yes, a challenge to do with littles around.  But it's pretty neat to sculpt with fibers!  We're doing this first one "together" (which means I'm doing it and my older four are watching me -- LOL) and then I'm hoping they'll be able to do the next kit side by side with me. And I have a feeling I'll eventually be buying roving to design a project of my own -- so many possibilities!

almost finished -- just needs the eyeballs and mouth!


Some good reading:

Students Will Forget What You Teach, But So What?

Little Women is our scheduled free read selection this year.  Here's part of the reason why.

I've always taken a more subtle approach to habit training (mostly because to do otherwise has felt artificial to me in light of CM's writings on Authority and Docility), so I was pleased to read Nancy Kelly's The Habits Pendulum.

I so appreciated Melanie's thoughtful look at book discussions: What the Book Really Means.


We've had some chilly but fun mornings at the beach lately...

watching the mole crabs

a split sand dollar, revealing its middle

the siren call of driftwood -- build, build, build!

building a log cabin "like Pa"


We got our First Communion pictures back from our parish, which included a family photo with (almost) everyone looking and no one obviously scowling!!

miracles do happen


See you tomorrow at the Live Chat!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Keeping Company :: July

I know it's mid-summer and everyone is out enjoying the sunshine and the campfire, so I'll keep this brief!

Did you mark the summer solstice in your nature journal?  Keep a travel log of a recent vacation?  Spend some time reading with diary alongside?  Are you thinking big thoughts and trying new things -- and keeping track of it all somewhere or somehow?  Feel free to jump in and share!

Starting the Discussion

This month I've done quite a bit of reading and spent a few very enjoyable evenings with my current favorite drink (fizzy water with a splash of passiofruit-mango juice over ice!) and my commonplace book, catching up on keeping quotes.  I'll be sharing a few of those over the next couple weeks.

I've also been trying to do a bit more painting (as opposed to just writing and drawing), so the kids and I have pulled out the watercolors every Friday afternoon to work in our nature journals.  I'm experimenting with shadows, so the kids end up experimenting too! Whatever I try always seems to find its way into my kids' work.

my leaf
Gianna's leaf

my wild grasses

my baby buckeyes

xavier's grasses and buckeyes

My shadows still look artificial despite my attempt to mimic what I see as carefully as possible.  But I'm trying!  Gianna's turned out great -- I was so impressed.  And Xavier is so earnest in his journaling that as he carefully draws alongside me, I'm inspired to do my best work.

This Month's Round-Up

Kristyn is finding nature journal inspiration in the same place I am: John Muir Laws' new book.  She shares her recent journal entries using his prompts.

from kristyn at beraca valley

Meanwhile, over on Instagram...

top (l to r) - happylhomemaker1 - athena_amidstthereeds - ambervanderpol
bottom (l to r) - mariasugiyopranoto - sarahjonna - sarahjokim

And a couple lovely entries from Sally, one from child and one from mama:


And now it's your turn!

The Link-Up

:: For bloggers: Click on the "Add my link" button below, and it will prompt you to include the information for your post.  Once you submit it, your link will be added to the list, and others will be able to click over and read what you have shared.
:: For Instagrammers: Tag related photos with #KeepingCompanyCM to join the link-up.

:: Remember to link to a specific post and not to your blog's homepage. 
:: Any posts about CM-style Keeping are welcome!  The prompt is optional.  Your post can be as simple as a photo of your commonplace book.
:: Feel free to add more than one post.  The link-up will be open for a month, so you can come back and add more if you are so inclined.
:: You can grab the button over there on the sidebar if you'd like to add it to your post or site.

Thanks for "Keeping me company" here this month!  :)

Monday, July 4, 2016

{This and That}

Happy 4th of July!

I didn't mean to take a blog break, but school planning took over my brain!  New chore routine, new schedule, new Keeping opportunities, new organization for our Italian materials, lots and lots of new books... It has been a busy month but I think we're almost ready to start our new school year next week.

I was originally planning to start with a light list of assignments this holiday week, but I decided instead to wait on schoolwork until we dive in on the 11th.  Instead, we'll do a test drive of our schedule and chore routine this week.  My kids are also doing some school prep with me: setting up their binders and history notebooks, organizing their pencil boxes, and giving me lists of anything we might be missing to make their lives run more smoothly this term.  And I have a little extra time to finish up some pre-reading and finally decide on a strategy for our weekly checklists.  (That has proved to be a challenge for me this year as I add a new student!)  So far so good!  This has been a great way to ease into the new year.


Before I say anything else...

AmblesideOnline provides the backbone of our homeschool.  I love the book selections and am blessed by the community, and I'm happy to give back where I can by moderating on the forum and sharing resources here on my blog to help you use AO effectively with your family.  My heartiest thank you to AO and the wonderfully clever and generous ladies behind the scenes!


In the midst of these past few busy weeks, we celebrated a birthday: Vincent, my oldest, turned ten last week.  Double digits!  A whole decade! Excuse me while I'm over here indulging in cliches and wondering where on earth those years went.

Vincent is a rough-and-tumble, curious, adventurous boy who is always up for a challenge and loves nature, numbers, and being in charge.  He is a mystery to me in some ways because we are so different, but the more I read Charlotte Mason's work, the more I feel like I understand him better.  He is very easy to please and his personality is a great match for the oldest brother of a troupe of littles.

 And I can't say I have eight kids under ten anymore! :)


Speaking of how time flies, I was going through our photos from an outing a few weeks ago and came across this random snap of my kids having a snack...

only missing the baby

...and it reminded me of this picture from eight (!) years ago, of my oldest two on the same steps:

Yikes, right?


And a little update on the current baby of the family: Justin turned seven months old!  He took his first couple lunge-steps this week (!) and keeps me busy at the beach.


Reading around the web...

I've been thinking about weekly time budgets.  Do you do one?  I think this might be the weekly planning tool I've been missing.

Three Easy Ways to Begin Keeping a Nature Journal -- from the wonderful artist, Jan Blencowe.  (She recaps her past eight months of nature journaling in an inspiring slideshow. See what a simple habit can become?)

Local friends: the San Francisco Bay Area mapped a la Tolkien.

Karen Glass attempts to define classical education

Cindy Rollins describes my reading experience (and probably yours too).

We'll be reading an Audubon biography this coming term, so I found this article particularly fascinating.

I'm sure these literacy practices we should abandon will come as no surprise to you, but they are still dominating the curriculum of our nation's schools.


I love how imaginative little kids are.  We have been going to the aquarium every few months, and one of the wonderful shows they offer involves a scuba diver going into the kelp forest to feed the tiger sharks and such.  This is how Bridget and Xavier came to me the next day:

"mommy, we're divers!!"

My husband has been taking the oldest four kids running with him on Saturday mornings, so I'm able to do all my Saturday running solo -- and early!  It's working out really well.  I get to enjoy this view on the way to my Saturday run...

...and this view when they're heading out for theirs.  :)


Okay, I have loads more to talk about but am out of time for today.  I'll catch up soon!  In the meantime, I'll be back tomorrow to chat notebooking -- with our Keeping Company link-up for July.  See you then!