handmade_salt_dough_ornaments_christmas_homeschool-12015 | week 492015 | week 492015 | week 49

Although, like most children, you all have always loved the Christmas season, we’re bridging new years as a family, years where you enjoy the giving of gifts and crafting just as much as receiving. You are also beginning to understand the deeper meaning and gift of Christmas, too, and I’m loving our conversations about this somewhat culturally complex holiday. Together, we’re understanding, it’s actually quite simple.

Olive // You helped me pick out gifts for an eight year old girl who has so very little. We picked a doll on her list, and you held that doll tightly, and told me, “I think she’s going to love it.”

Blythe // You and Liam worked together to wrap gifts for our little angel girl, helping me tie a salt dough ornament to one of her packages–a small gift from our home to hers.

Burke // I watched you carefully craft a list of everyone to whom you wanted to make or give something. It was thoughtful and personal. I love that.

Liam // You asked to give all of your allowance money to help gift something to someone else instead. I love your maturing heart, the moments when you offer yourself to help others without solicitation.


Every year on the weekend following Thanksgiving, we pack into our car and pick out a tree together. It’s a simple tradition really, one that’s not particularly unique to our family, but something we look forward to every year just the same. This year, it was mild and drizzly, the preface to a cold, wet storm. Blythe grabbed the empty wagon. My husband held the saw. Burke helped cut and catch the tree. Liam supervised and helped push the loaded wagon to the car. Olive found a ladybug and had her toe rolled over by the wagon. And in the quick 2o minute adventure, I took the pictures and forgot to get in one myself. It wasn’t an overly romantic outing, but it was an honest welcome to the Advent season.


Liam | We’re having more conversations with you about your interests and talents, about university and life when you leave our roof. We still have a handful of years, which I’m grateful for, but admittedly it still feels weird to think of you as a man one day. Where ever life leads you, you’re going to be a good one, that I know.

Burke | I’ve only recently noticed you are a gift giver. When you want to express your appreciation or love of someone, you give them something special, often purchased with your own money. To the common eye, these gifts might seem small–a bar of dark chocolate for me, a small truck for your cousin. But I know how little money of your own you have, and in my estimation, your generous heart makes these little things extravagant.

Blythe |  Last week, I overheard you reminding the boys to put away the [movie or video game] discs when they’re done. Liam responded, with a slight laugh and encouragement, “you’ll make a good mom one day, Blythe, keeping your little army right in line.” Whereas this might have been given as an insult or out of annoyance, his tone toward you was gentle and full of esteem. He’s quite right, too.

Olive | You love chewing gum and tend to carry a dollar or so with you any time we grocery shop, just so you can buy a fresh pack to enjoy. Yesterday, you opted to chew three pieces at once, and I had to ask you to throw it out since it was hindering your speech. One piece is a good rule of thumb. You have sometimes tried to save your gum as well, like Violet in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Last week I watched you leave it on your neck during your meal, and again I made you put it in your mouth or in the trash. Years from now, when I think of you at age six, I will remember a large, gap-toothed smile and a wad of gum.


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Olive | You are always moving. Bouncing. Running. Talking. Slowly your words are catching up to your deep sense of emotion. You told me this week, “Blythe is really distressing me! Look [pointing to a stool in the play tent]! Is this where the stool belongs? I don’t think so!” The irony is that you are the one typically making a mess or leaving bits about the home. I loved the turning of the table, as they say.

Blythe | This week you woke up, ate breakfast, and immediately set about your work, timing yourself as if it were a race. By the time you had finished, everyone else was merely wandering to the table. You are such a diligent worker, so faithful in the little things. Sometimes, at the sweet age of nine, the hardest lesson for you is how to be patient with those who are not as fast-paced or so highly motivated.

Burke | I regularly find you snuggled up in or on something soft, reading or thinking. Sometimes on the sunniest of days, I’ll find you lying in the grass, motionless, and I have to step closer to make sure you’re alive. “I’m okay,” you respond, “I’m just resting in the sun.” I call you my kitten, because of the way I find you lying around places so still, although you prefer to be likened to a puppy, which is only appropriate when you are wrestling with your brother.

Liam | You are changing, which you recognize, too. Sometimes your emotion will swing and surprise the both of us. We’ll joke about “pre-pubescent mood swings” referenced in Big Hero 6 which makes both of us laugh. The coming years will be new territory, one I’m slowly treading into with joy and a little bit of caution.

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Olive | I grabbed a scarf from my closet last week, and it reeked horribly, which I assumed might have happened during its summer hibernation. The other day, I went to grab a shirt in my closet and smelled the same wretched smell, and decided to search my closet’s top shelf a little better. Upon removing my small scarf basket, I discovered a bowl with blackened something and a billion fruit flies to accompany it. I ran it out to the trash immediately and loudly called your name. You are the only one who sits at the top of my closet, and I never allow food there. You stared at me with wide-eyes and a quiet mouth, while I asked you about the black stuff in the bowl. “I think that was banana peel,” you shyly responded. Double-blink. I was speechless. Horrified and disgusted and speechless. I clarified with you about my food policy (pointing to the fruit flies swirling my closet air space) and left it at that. I’m sure I’ll laugh about it one day, maybe after the fruit flies leave my home for good. Wink.

Blythe | You look so grown up here, and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for it yet.

Burke | A different book. A different day. Same activity. My old soul.

Liam | You made each of the kids swords with some scrap wood, gorilla tape, and spray paint you found in the garage. These sort of projects make you so happy.



2015_week-452015 | week 452015 | week 45

Most of this week you spent time in your friends’ homes while Dad and I traveled to Boston for a few days. You each were ecstatic and gladly kissed us and waved goodbye. Although I think any of you would have been happy to travel to Boston as well, I love your confidence in being away from us, too. I’m so grateful for friendships that feel like home.

olive | You still sort of hate cleaning up after yourself, and we find your things littered everywhere. Literally. I’m hoping this skill will grow as you do. Until then, happy sweeping dear one.

blythe | You were so proud when you realized you could reach this limb without effort.

burke | My favorite laugh of yours.

liam | Always with your nose in a book.

2015_week44-52015 | week 442015 | week 442015 | week 44

Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker. – Linus,  It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

This year, we wandered the one usual neighborhood street with the cousins, mingling with neighbors, enjoying the mild weather. It reminded me of the family walks we used to take together when you all were little, strapped to our chest or back or riding in the stroller. Time seems overwhelming some days. After collecting your small bags of goodies, we joined friends for their annual party, where you all ate sugar in various forms for dinner, I think, and ran around in the grass howling and giggling like wild creatures.

liam | It’s funny as you grow older how I can quietly predict little nuances in your behavior, such as waiting until the last minute to finish your costume. You are never short on ideas. The hard part (for everyone, honestly) is always how to follow through with them. Although you had originally planned to be Scarecrow from Batman, you opted to watch the annual viewing of Arsenic and Old Lace with Dad instead of finishing sewing your costume. At the last moment, you opted to be a very serious elephant, probably a close friend of Babar.

burke | The head for your original costume broke at the last minute. Although I offered to help you hot glue it, you instead improvised by snatching a piece of fabric and turning yourself into a bandit.

blythe | You knew from the beginning, you wanted to be a Monarch butterfly. The variety of neatly arranged colors suits you well.

olive | A baby bat, just as you wanted with a set of proudly made wings.

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Every year, around this time, I grow a bit heart-sick. While I scroll through images on my phone of apple orchards, cozy sweaters, and brightly colored leaves, our air remains warmly humid and summer foliage endures. I love our small town because of the people we are connected with here, but it is not in itself a beautiful place. It is our home and that is what makes it beautiful. Everyday friends stroll by with their children in wagons or walking their dog and simply pop in to say hello. Although not all of our friends live on our street, many live within two miles, and I realize there’s something special about our small town living that has little to do with foliage or weather. Still I do love the outdoors. My children and husband love the outdoors, and we live in a somewhat forgotten neighborhood, with no immediate wild parts to roam. This is the season where I learn to look a little deeper to find beauty right where I am.

It’s easy to look view online lives on my little hand-held screen with a sense of longing, whether it is over a dreamy home, a style of living, or the natural beauty of mountains, woods, and ocean. Any amount of my own discontentment can cause my heart to ache a bit. Without realizing it, I can find myself with thoughts, “if only. . .” and left unregulated those thoughts can quickly send me spinning. While online connections can be in so many ways a large sense of encouragement and inspiration, they can also distract me, keep me from taking a deeper look at our life, at my heart.  I’m sharing this so you know no one is invincible to distraction, to heart-ache, to longing for something other than what we have. Even here, I am learning to let go, to put down my phone more often, to live and enjoy right where I am.

I’m often up before the sunrise, and right now, as it’s the coolest part of our day, I am enjoying these first moments of dark passing to light right on my front porch with my morning coffee. It doesn’t matter where you live, the warm, hazy glow of morning light will always reveal beauty, even the most obscure. For thousands of years, people have written about the miraculous newness of morning, even simply that it happens every day. In my opinion, a morning walk is the best cure for a longing heart. It gently revives the soul. It reminds me to pay attention. It cultivates gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago at first light, I went for a walk with my camera. The girls, still in their PJs, joined me on their bikes, and the boys not long after. Here are a few snippets of morning from our humble street, a gentle reminder for all of us: beauty is found everywhere.

unravel your photosuyp

I’ve been quietly working through the photography boot camp, Unravel Your Photos, with Life:Captured and Artifact Uprising the past few weeks. These lessons are a sort of retreat for myself–efforts I know will pay enormous dividends in my own workflow, but also as my own children begin taking and editing their own photos, too. For those of you unfamiliar, the online course is designed to help organize photos in Adobe Lightroom, a photo software I’ve used for over two years now (and highly recommend). You can read more about why I’m taking it and what I learned after lesson one here. Unsurprisingly, I am shocked by how little I knew about Lightroom and am so impressed with how direct and clear Ronnie’s lessons are. (I also adore hearing her Australian accent on the videos.)

The second lesson of the course is entitled “See the Big Picture,” which tackles the more confusing topics surrounding the Lightroom catalogue, such as how to label and organize folders in one system. Do you remember how I likened my computer’s photo storage to a closet? Well, this class turned on the lights so I could see exactly how messy and disorganized my hard drive “closet” really is. My phone images were separate of my DSLR camera photos. I had photos in multiple places, labeled by date but also by writing topic. Basically, I had photos everywhere. Ugh.

In “The Big Picture,” Ronnie demystifies the Lightroom catalogue by showing exactly how to find where the master files are stored on the computer’s hard drive and what happens to the photos when you edit in Lightroom. She uses step-by-step video tutorials to teach how to create a new master folder for all of your images, clearly labeled by date down to the second. This is SO helpful! Still, perhaps the best new habit I’m establishing as a result of this class is the weekly or bi-weekly importing and backing up of my photos. Clearing my phone and camera of photo clutter and keeping all the images in one place makes the task of sorting and processing feel far less daunting. As with any area of my life, bringing order to this mess is bringing a new simplicity to my work flow and time. If this class might be helpful for you, Ronnie and Trish have opened registration for the same class beginning in January. I’ll be back with lesson three sooner this time. Wink.



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You must do the things you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt

olive | You feel things deeply, and for being still so small, you often express yourself with equal emotion and zeal. Don’t ever wish it away or believe that you are too much. Your spark is a gift, one intended to bring life.

blythe | You turned nine this week. As we sat around the dinner table, telling you the reasons we’re grateful for you, your face and spirit came alive.  We love you, and it’s just so beautiful watching you grow into yourself.

burke | You are a quiet, deep thinker, something I’ve always appreciated about you. I love seeing you learning to take time away from the crowd, learning to give space for that which nurtures your heart. You’re almost finished memorizing Kipling’s If. Last night, you told Nina your favorite line is “If you can dream and not make dreams your master / If you can think and not make thoughts your aim.” A fitting answer, I think.

liam | There is a hidden light and wisdom in you, currently cloaked in glasses and braces and boyhood.  As Paul once said to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.”

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You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  –Matthew 5:14, The Message 

olive | You’ve lost so many teeth the last few months, leaving large gaps in your bright smile. Sometimes when you first wake up and your hair is matted from your sleep, you look a bit zany. You smile with large gapping teeth and eyes full of spark, like anything is possible.

blythe | Most days, you’re still the first to wake up. You always come to find me and snuggle. You purchased a more sophisticated coloring book last spring, similar to one I had received as a gift. Since your toddlerhood, you have loved to order color with smooth, strong strokes. On the weekends, when life is a little slower, we often pull out the colored pencils and fill in our favorite coloring books together until everyone else wakes up. I love this simple time with you.

burke | Ten has been such a pivotal year for you. In most every manner, you’re growing more confident in your voice and thoughts, and although it can be hard at times, I love that you’re growing into a richer version of you. The edges will smooth with time and maturity. Also, this Ghostbuster tee is your new favorite, and when you walk into the room, your dad and I chorus, “who you gonna call?” And you smile.

liam | Since your young years, I’ve noticed how other children flock to you, drawn by your playful, gentle nature and magnetic in energy. Your name means “strong defender,” and as I watch you bolt more quickly toward manhood each day, I also notice your kindness and wisdom growing, too. A bundle of flowers in one hand and a stick in the other–one who defends with gentleness. You’re going to be a good leader one day.