Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas Books & Homeschool Musings

Since we travel each Christmas, our family has gotten into a tradition of opening our gifts to each other sometime during the 12 days of Christmas after we return home. In recent years, we've tended to open gifts on New Year's Day, for the very practical reason that my husband has off from the office and we can have a relaxed and leisurely family morning.

Gifts are relatively few this year, but I suppose it's still possible I might have a book or two lying unopened beneath the tree (along with some socks, of course...) I've got a share in a family gift certificate to B&N thanks to a precious friend, and am pondering my endless list of books I'd love to read (there are many titles on my wishlist). Thanks to my very generous sister, however, I've already received two books, both from my Amazon wishlist, this Christmas: Alice Gunther's A Haystack Full of Needles, and Bob Hartman's Telling the Bible.

So tell me, what books did you get for Christmas?

It struck me, after I asked for these particular books, how much my reading tastes have changed in the past several years. For starters, both titles are non-fiction, something I used to read far more sparingly than I do now. These days I find myself far more drawn to the "new non-fiction" shelves at the library than the "new fiction" shelves, at least the adult fiction.

Secondly, the books represent deepening and ongoing passions in my life: my desire to build more community into our daily lives and homeschooling experience (hence the Gunther book) and my desire to be a better, more faithful and creative teller/writer/teacher of the Bible, at home and in other contexts (hence the Hartman).

It also dawned on me how much of my reading tastes are shaped by the internet. I would never have found Alice Gunther's book without having first read her blog and the blog of her friend Melissa Wiley. Those dear ladies, and a handful of other Catholic moms, writers, and homeschoolers, have no idea how much their blogs have meant to me in the past couple of years. As an Anglican homeschooler, I am in real awe of the richness of the Catholic homeschooling community and am so delighted I get to eavesdrop on their wonderful creativity. The way they share their lives with one another (and by extension with folks like me) is inspiring. My longing to build similar kinds of community and pockets of friendship is intensifying all the time. My desire to shape our homeschool experience by our observance of the church year and our unique traditions as Anglicans is also deepening.

The difficult thing, of course, is that most Anglicans don't homeschool...or at least relatively few of us in comparison to Catholics and non-Anglican evangelicals. Frankly I get lonely. The fact that I'm Anglican, that my family's life is shaped by urban mission and ministry, and that I only have one child can sometimes make me feel like an oddly shaped jigsaw piece trying to fit into a gorgeous puzzle. All the other pieces are shiny and well-cut and know where they're supposed to go. I'm the one that fell out of the box and got stuck under the sofa and then bent by the toddler. Whenever I start to feel that way though, I make myself stop. I think about the amazing diversity I have found among the homeschooling movement (where there seems to be no such thing as a "typical" homeschooling family, despite the abundant stereotypes). I laugh to think how some acquaintances of mine, who I'm pretty sure think homeschooling is only for crazy people, would marvel if they could see the depth and beauty of home learning in lives as diverse as the ones found at A Circle of Quiet, Karen Edmisten, and Mental Multivitamin.

Well, I've wandered far afield in these musings, which basically started out as "here are the books I got for Christmas"...but the point of good books is that they make me wander. And wonder. And ask questions. And think about who I am and who I'm still hoping to become.

All good things to ponder before opening presents on New Year's Day.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Fourth Day of Christmas, and Richard III

I hope everyone had a wonderful and blessed Christmas (or soon will...a note of greeting in case any of my eastern Christian friends are reading this!). We got home from our travels last night, a little worn out, a lot grateful, and mostly glad to be here.

It's snowing outside, and I've spent the day going back and forth between writing work and laundry, with an evening of grocery shopping and paper grading ahead of me. We're taking some days off from school, which I'm hoping will give me time to both catch up on end of semester work as well as an editing project. Then I need to move ahead, with joy and energy! to lesson plans and syllabi tweaking for the new year.

The sweet girl gave her dolls a Christmas party this morning. We spent time curled up reading Christmas picture books this afternoon, and she's spent the rest of the day doing various art projects.

I've not had much time for reading in these oh so busy weeks (nor for writing about what I'm reading) but I did just finish up William W. Lace's The Little Princes in the Tower, a fascinating introductory book about the two young princes imprisoned in the Tower of London by Richard of Gloucester in 1483. I got interested in the topic when we covered the War of the Roses in Story of the World in our last week of school before Christmas break.

Lacy's book is a quick read, at only a bit more than 100 pages long, and is going on my book list for 6th grade, the next time we plan to cover medieval history. Yes, I'm finally getting wise and starting to make book lists that far ahead. So often I pick up library books which aren't quite "right" for the sweet girl's current age level, or are a bit advanced so we only use bits of them, but I find myself thinking "this is a good book for down the road." It finally dawned on me that every time I think that, the book should go on a list for the future!

Reading about Richard of Gloucester, who became Richard III, made me think of Richard III, of course, as in Shakespeare's Richard III. I honestly can't recall if I've read the play or not, though I've seen the film version starring Ian McKellan. (I remember it's a rather odd version...does anyone have any thoughts about how it compares to the old Olivier version?)

It's been a long while since I've tackled reading any Shakespeare, and I decided I wanted to try this particular play while the subject's on my mind. I need a copy I can carry around with me, not the hardback Riverside Complete Shakespeare from my college days (which could work well as a boat if we ever got caught in a flood) so I went looking in the library catalog for a suitable paperback. Who knew just how many paperback versions of the bard existed?

I went with Penguin's Penguin. But I'd love to know if any seasoned Shakespeare readers out there have a favorite version of his plays to recommend, either in paperback or in online sources (one with particularly good notes would be especially helpful). I don't do e-readers, and I spend way too much time working on our slow computer to be able to enjoy reading anything of length and complexity on screen, but if there's a good online version with helpful notes, I'd love to bookmark it and visit it periodically while I'm waddling around with my Penguin paperback this January.

Happy fourth day of Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Why have I never read this poem before today? Certain lines seemed vaguely familiar, but like faint if I have read it, it must have been a long time ago.

The more I read Chesterton, the more I love him. I was so moved by this that I almost wept. I really needed this poem before heading out, weary as I am, for our holiday travels. It's getting tucked inside my journal.

Thank you to A Quotidian Life for posting it.

I'm so glad I know where Home is, and who.

The House of Christmas

G.K Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I Wonder What I'm Getting for Christmas...

A little while ago, the sweet girl and I were working our way through a big pile of laundry, chatting as we folded.

She held up one of my more pitiful socks.

S: Mommy, why do most of your socks have holes?
M: Well, a lot of my socks have worn out. And I haven't been able to replace them. So I'm keeping the ones with holes until I'm able to replace them.
S: (all in a rush) Don't do that till after Christmas! ~a pause, then ~ Not that I'm telling you what you're getting, just don't go out and buy any socks.

Hmm. Methinks my feet are going to be a lot more warm and cozy in January than they've been in December!

Of course, this slip-of-the-tongue can work both ways. I came close to doing it myself this morning when she came running over, holding up one of her favorite twist-up crayons with almost no crayon left in it. "Mommy, I'd really like it if we could get some more of these twisty crayons sometime. Lots of my favorite colors are out or almost out."

And I was this close to saying "Oh that's all right, honey. Daddy wrapped a package of those last night." Caught myself just in time!

Any good Christmas surprises hidden at your house?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Jesse Tea

December is flying by, filled with its usual crazy mix of mundane end-of-semester duties and delightful seasonal joys, including people to see, places to go, work on the annual family letter and the writing of my annual advent poem. I feel crammed to bursting with too much to do and too much to ponder (if that second is possible) and too little time to do it in. I think that's true of most Decembers, but it feels particularly true of this year (just more work has come my way than usual recently) which means sometimes I feel like I'm running on fumes.

So I'm feeling extra grateful for any opportunities to catch my breath and also to exercise some creativity. Last Friday was a little bit of both those things, when I hosted a "Jesse Tea" for five children in our local little homeschool group.

I fell in love with the Jesse Tea idea when I first read about it here on Alice Gunther's blog Cottage Blessings. I probably first saw it a couple of years ago, and it's been in the back of my mind ever since to try to do this. I'm so glad I was able to do it for the homeschool group this year.

The Jesse Tea takes the traditional advent idea of a Jesse Tree (I love the play on words!) with its symbols of God's promises in Scripture, and moves it into the realm of a tea/celebration with the snacks taking on the symbolic roles. The snack ideas themselves are incredibly simple and I adapted/tweaked them even further to help my budget and to exercise some bits of my own creativity. I spent more time pondering the devotional thoughts that I talked through with the kids as I presented them with each snack or activity (I skipped one of the snack steps, the Noah boats, and had the kids color place cards with arks and rainbows on them instead). God's faithfulness to keep his promises and his loving and rescuing work each step along the Story were natural themes that kept coming out in the devotional ponderings.

I wasn't able to take many photographs -- and hesitate to use photos of the other kids without their parents' permission -- but these couple of photos will give you a glimpse of the "Joseph's coats" the children decorated (bread shapes, soft butter, colored sprinkles) and also the "Flowers of Jesse" we enjoyed at the end (shaped from spice gumdrops).

I wish I had gotten photos of some of the "Isaac's Bundles of Sticks" (pretzel sticks tied with red licorice laces) and some of "Abraham's Stars" (white chocolate chips with a dark purple plate for background). The kids also enjoyed "Moses' Burning Bush" (broccoli florets dipped in honey mustard dressing) and several other creative treats. We even had gummi worms (a big hit!) with our apples, to remind us of how sin entered the world, the disobedience of Adam and Eve to which God responded with his redemptive, rescuing work.

I was delighted to see how well the children responded to the whole thing. I'm already thinking about how I could do it again and do it even better, but this really was a lovely event! What I especially loved was hearing the kids answer questions I asked about the Bible stories and seeing them "make the connections" between the symbols and stories and between the stories themselves. My favorite was when we talked about the root of Jesse, and how God promised a "small shoot" would grow from the stump, all that was left of David's once great royal house. When I asked the kids "and who was the tiny shoot that grew from the root of Jesse," a lovely six year old girl piped up "Jesus -- when he was just a little, tiny baby!"

Monday, December 14, 2009

Just Imagine It's a Garden...

When we left for church this Sunday morning, it was raining -- freezing rain. The skies were filled with lowering gray clouds, the hills misted with fog and we were running late. I slipped a bit as I hurried into the car, and made some sort of disgruntled noise. And then I just plain old grumbled: "It would be much easier to walk over here if this was still grass."

Remember we used to have a bit of grass there? But last summer, it got ripped up and paved over to make...sigh....more sidewalk. That's the sidewalk I found myself inadvertently skating on this a.m. I've been grumpy about it for such a long time, venting about it on an icy morning seemed all too easy.

The sweet girl told me I shouldn't complain. She said the people who paved the sidewalk must have needed to. I agreed I shouldn't complain but told her that I didn't think they'd really needed to. And then I sighed and said something about the gray day and the expanse of icy parking lot.

"Just imagine it's a garden, mommy," my seven year old said. (She knows me well!)

And you know what? It helped.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Thankful for the Light

Monday, a new work and school week, a new opportunity to share some of my thanksgivings.

This morning I find myself particularly thankful for:

24. A beautiful weekend with D. and the sweet girl, full of Christmas preparation and events. The festival of Christmas trees, a horse and wagon ride down Church Street, candles in the cold. Good time around the advent wreath. Putting up our tree.

25. And oh, that tree! The sweet girl decorated most of it, so it's heavy (dripping!) with ornaments from about four feet and downwards. I know lots of people decorate beautiful, designer looking trees, but give me our homemade hodge-podge anytime, with every ornament collected over the past eighteen years a story in and of itself.

26. A lovely service at church yesterday, honoring our retired pastor. It was both a good and challenging time for me, as it brought up emotions and feelings on a lot of levels (including some, connected to our church's journey, that I didn't know I had). But ultimately good.

27. Lights! I love the lights on our tree, and the purple lights (for advent) that we string around the living room wall. Craving light as I am at this dark time of year, there couldn't be a better time to enjoy these tiny bits of brightness in our home. And how I loved hearing the sweet girl at prayers this morning (we prayed and did Bible reading by the tree) when she said so sweetly and simply "and thank you for the lights on our tree and how they remind us of Your light."

28. Slipper socks. This is not a joke, though I feel very Albus Dumbledore (well, early pre-DH Albus, anyway) when I write it. I have been so incredibly cold the past couple of weeks and I confess I've been having a bit of a pity party for myself because my heating pad died several months ago and all of my socks seem to have sprung holes at the same time (and we're having one of our very, very lean months where purchasing things like socks and heating pads just aren't on the list). Imagine my delight yesterday when I scrounged around in my drawer and found an old pair of slipper socks (warm, fuzzy, sky-blue, sans holes!) stuck way in the back. I think my sister might have given them to me for Christmas a few years ago, and they've still got some good wear in them. My toes are so much happier today!

29. The advent poem is coming. The advent poem is coming! (I feel like a breathless herald, like Paul Revere!) It's currently in embryo in my journal -- a very rough draft, in its most scribbled, lines-crossed-out, margin-noted form. But it is on its way.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent 1: "To come remain awake"

Our thanksgiving trip was full of blessings, though the travel itself was exhausting. We came home and "hit the ground running"...and it feels like we haven't stopped running yet!

I've been trying to move this week into a watchful, listening attitude, as of course we have also moved into Advent. Due to lots of traffic delays, we got home so late on Sunday evening that it was tempting to just push the beginning of Advent off by one day. But we love this season so much that it felt important to go ahead. Note to self next year: get the wreath and candles set up before we leave for our trip, so it's waiting and inviting us as soon as we walk in the door.

I'm discovering this year just how hard it is to stop and rest and listen when life feels stuffed with a long to-do list. Most of these "to-do's" aren't holiday related (though of course there are some extra activities connected to advent and Christmas and the almost inevitable stresses of our travel schedule) just ordinary work, life, family, ministry. Among other things, I'm a teacher, so it's end of semester crunch!

I hadn't realized how much I've been taking on and now it seems like everything is coming to a head all at once, with deadlines looming and many things needing attention. Most all of it is good, but I'm beginning to feel like I'm living in an overrun garden that needs pruning.

It's been helpful to dig back through some old journals and read snippets of poems, reflections, and quotes from other years, including some years when I seemed to have an easier time moving into listening/reflecting mode. Of all the books I have inside me to write (I told D. the other day that I think I have 7 or 8 books inside me at the moment, to which he replied "sounds painful!") the book of advent reflections feels closest to the surface.

Looking through a nine year old journal the other evening, I stumbled on this quote by C.S. Lewis, whose feast day we just celebrated.

"We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake."

I've loved that quote for a long time, but it's speaking to me on deep heart levels in this particular busy time. How comforting to know that in this "crowded world" (crowded with people, things, feelings, obligations, and so much more) that the world is "crowded with Him" -- that in fact, He walks among and through and in the midst of all that other stuff, trying to get our attention, often using it to get our attention. Our labour is to walk through the world on the lookout for signs of his presence, and to walk with attention -- not sleep-walk (as it's so easy to do when we're feeling so tired, or when we're experiencing emotional stress) but to really walk with our eyes open, paying attention.